Day: 5 April 2021

Imperial: “It Will Be Vital to Emphasise the Importance of Normalising and Ensuring Adherence to All Measures Even After ‘Full Lifting’ is Achieved”

There follows a guest post by Lockdown Sceptics regular and second-year maths student Glen Bishop.

I thought I would just write with a few points from the Imperial College paper for SAGE released today that might be useful. I haven’t been through the Warwick or LSHTM ones yet, but I am sure they are similar. It is the same bad modelling with dodgy and out-of-date assumptions.

They are using the same vaccine efficacy assumptions they used in their paper released on February 22nd for the original lockdown release plan. They were out of date and underestimates then and haven’t been updated. AstraZeneca efficacy against severe disease (and therefore death) is assumed to be 80% in the model. The EAVE study in Scotland put it at 94% and the latest AstraZeneca study in the U.S. put it at 100%. The difference on projections is obviously massive. Even if the real figure is only 90% and all vulnerable groups have had the vaccine, then projections will be over-predicting deaths in the vaccinated population two-fold and if it’s 95% then they will be over-predicting deaths four-fold. The difference between 80%, 90% and 95% seems small, but the implications for end results are enormous and this is just one of a dozen assumptions, with uncertainties that compound together to make the projections absolutely useless.

Even with their dodgy modelling and assumptions, the Imperial team predicts a worst-case scenario of 40,000 deaths between June 2021 and June 2022 with a central estimate of 15,700 deaths. Winter flu season in 2017-18 had 22,000 flu deaths, so this is well within normal tolerance for death from respiratory disease which everybody accepts with zero interventions except voluntary vaccination. Also, worth noting that a significant number of those Covid deaths would be people who chose not to have a vaccine.

More alarming is this part in their summary: “Whilst the impact of Test Trace Isolate (TTI), mask wearing, hand hygiene, and Covid security on R is difficult to quantify, it will be vital to emphasise the importance of normalising and ensuring adherence to all measures even after ‘full lifting’ is achieved.” In other words, they have no idea if masks, TTI and the Orwellian-named “COVID security” (which I assume is social distancing and all the niggly little rules that busybody managerial types love) actually have any effect, but they are going to insist they become part of everyday life anyway.

The models assume – and the Imperial group advocates – that masks, TTI and “COVID security” remain indefinitely after June. They mention no end date. They seem to want to make this a new normal that lasts forever. This is typical out-of-touch, irrational and neurotic behaviour from SAGE. As we know, if everything returns to real normal, SAGE members lose their celebrity status as advisers and all that comes with it. An advisor will always advise that you need more advice and keeping masks, TTI and “Covid security” allow them to do just that.

Boris and the ‘Conservatives’ are going to have to cut SAGE off at some point or they might as well go back to their country homes and hand SAGE the keys to No. 10.

UK Health Regulator May Restrict AstraZeneca Covid Vaccine for Younger People

The Prime Minister received his first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine last month and said that all Brits should get theirs when told to do so. But now, the UK’s medicines regulator is being urged to restrict the AZ jab for younger people because of fears over blood clotting.

At the end of March, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) said that the risk of blood clots is greatest for women aged under 55. In response, both Canada and Germany limited their AstraZeneca vaccine rollouts to those over 55 and 60, respectively. Channel 4 News has revealed that Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is also considering issuing similar advice. Reuters has the story.

Britain’s health regulator is considering a proposal to restrict the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in younger people over concerns about very rare blood clots, Channel 4 News [has] reported…

“Two senior sources have told this programme that while the data is still unclear there are growing arguments to justify offering younger people – below the age of 30 at the very least – a different vaccine,” the broadcaster reported.

The UK’s regulator, the MHRA, has previously said the benefits of the vaccine in the prevention of Covid far outweigh any possible risk of blood clots.

The MHRA did not immediately respond to a comment on the Channel 4 report.

After receiving his first dose, Boris Johnson said: “The Oxford jab is safe… The thing that isn’t safe is catching Covid, which is why it is so important that we all get our jabs as soon as our turn comes.” Channel 4 News reports that authorities are now investigating whether the AstraZeneca vaccine might actually pose a greater risk for younger people – particularly young women – than Covid itself.

The UK [medicines] regulator, the MHRA, and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation are urgently scrutinising whether younger people – particularly women – could be at greater risk of getting a potentially fatal blood clot after the AstraZeneca jab than they are of dying from Covid. In either case, though, the risk is very small.

Last month, the European Medicines Agency said the AZ Covid vaccine is “safe and effective” to use, but highlighted that it “cannot rule out definitively” a link to a rare clotting disorder.

Channel 4 News’s full report can be viewed here.

Meanwhile in Texas…

While go-slow BoJo talks about keeping masks and social distancing in place for another year (at least) and bringing in vaccine passports for large events (just for starters), this was the scene in Texas today, tweeted by Sam Gannon, a sports reporter for KDFW Fox 4. A packed stadium for a baseball game, no vaccine passport required, not a mask in sight.

Texas ended all restrictions and mask requirements at the beginning of March and since then has seen positive cases drop to their lowest level since last summer.

Doubtless Covid is still around and they will see it return at some point to a greater or lesser extent. But Texans no longer live in fear of it or allow their lives to be governed by often fruitless efforts to avoid it. Texas, like a number of other states, has decided that the risk as a society is manageable, and as individuals they have decided it is a risk worth taking to be free and live their lives. The land of the free and the home of the brave indeed.

How long will countries like the UK be able to keep up the draconian emergency measures when their people see Americans back to living normal lives and no medical catastrophe unfolding? When will we have a report from SAGE on the experience of states in America like Texas, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi that have lifted restrictions? When will the Government’s modellers show us how accurately their models predicted the outcomes in those states?

How long until our Government ministers and MPs start questioning the self-serving advice they’re getting from scientific advisers up to their necks in lockdownism and start standing up for freedom?

Keir Starmer Remains on Fence About Whether to Oppose Vaccine Passports

When the Government holds a vote on vaccine passports, the support of the Labour benches will be vital for a victory (presuming that a decent number of Conservative MPs vote “no”). But Keir Starmer has yet to decide whether to back the Government over the introduction of such certification and was “really angry” that an interview he gave to the Telegraph last week foregrounded his criticism of the idea. The Guardian has the story.

Keir Starmer is weighing up whether to support Covid status certificates in a vote within weeks for which he could lend the Government crucial support to pass one of its most controversial coronavirus policies.

The Labour leader has been hesitant to endorse a proposal that would mean people would have to prove they had been vaccinated, had a recent negative test or antibodies from prior infection in order to access venues such as theatres and sports stadiums. …

Labour is trying to keep its options open given that details about the plan are scarce, and will hope that attention remains on the splits within the Conservative party, where more than 40 of Boris Johnson’s backbenchers have branded the idea “divisive and discriminatory” and vowed to oppose it.

But after dozens of prominent Labour backbenchers, including the former party leader Jeremy Corbyn, also pledged to vote against the certificates, Starmer is being forced to decide whether he should give the Government the support it may need.

A Labour source said Starmer’s team was “worried that this issue splits the PLP [parliamentary Labour party] just like it splits the Tory party” and was “really angry” that an interview he gave to the Telegraph last week was headlined on his criticism of the Covid status certificates.

They admitted: “There isn’t really a consensus yet” within the party, though they predicted Labour would probably end up supporting the certificates “but probably not make much of a song and dance about it”.

The “reservations are real”, says another Labour source – but mainly around the “digital infrastructure” of Covid passports, rather than about their implication on liberty.

That’s about as much “opposition” as we can expect from the notional Leader of the Opposition.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Labour has called vaccine passports “discriminatory” and appears to be leaning towards opposing the Government on a Covid ID card scheme. The Guardian has the story.

The Shadow Health Secretary, Jon Ashworth, accused the Government of “creating confusion” by not explaining clearly where the documents may be needed, after Boris Johnson confirmed they were being investigated but would not be introduced earlier than mid-May.

“I’m not going to support a policy that, here in my Leicester constituency, if someone wants to go into Next or H&M, they have to produce a vaccination certificate on their phone, on an app,” Ashworth told BBC Breakfast. “I think that’s discriminatory.”

He added it made sense to ask people to get tested before going to events such as a football game, but warned that forcing everyone to carry an “ID card” proving they had been jabbed was not fair.

Worth reading in full.

Boris: Masks Will be Needed For Another Year

Boris Johnson’s Easter Monday press conference was a depressing affair, with the Prime Minister confirming that vaccine passports will be required to access large-scale events (like football games), warning that social distancing measures will have to remain in place after June 21st and a “traffic light” system will be unveiled on May 17th to determine which foreign countries we’re allowed to go to, if any. MailOnline has more.

Boris Johnson laid out a grim vision of coronavirus restrictions stretching into the future tonight amid fears his roadmap is being watered down.

The PM tried to strike a bullish tone saying the country’s hard work is “paying off” as he held an Easter Monday press briefing in Downing Street, confirming that shops can open on April 12th as planned.

Non-essential retail, gyms and hairdressers can get up and running, while bars, restaurants and cafes will be able to serve customers outdoors.

“On Monday 12th, I will be going to the pub myself and cautiously but irreversibly raising a pint of beer to my lips,” Mr Johnson said.

As he struggled to quell rising anxiety about when normal life might resume, he said: “We set out our roadmap and we are sticking with it… We see nothing [in] the present data that makes us think we will have to deviate from that roadmap.”

However, the Government’s SAGE experts and a series of reviews published this afternoon cast serious doubt on the prospects of returning to normal by the June 21st date previously proposed for a full lifting – and Mr Johnson himself seemed to scale back his rhetoric on “freedom day”.

New evidence released by the Government suggested that the relaxation could spark a fourth peak in outbreak.

A paper indicated that “baseline measures”, including some form of social distancing and masks, would need to remain in place until this time next year – while voicing “reasonable confidence” that Covid will be manageable by then.

It said the reopening of pubs, cinemas and indoor hospitality – due to happen on May 17th – could be called into question if vaccine uptake in the under-50s dips below 85%.

Meanwhile, separate updates on a series of reviews gave little more than holding positions – stopping short of confirming that non-essential foreign travel will be allowed from the earliest mooted date of May 17th, with a traffic light system of restrictions due to come into force when the blanket ban lifts.

Mr Johnson said he would not provide a “hostage to fortune” by giving any timeline.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, has branded Boris’s vision of Britain post-reopening a “hellish demi-lockdown”. He gave the following quotes to the Mail after the Prime Minister’s presser:

We were told the vaccine was the way out, no ifs, no buts. We can see from the data that the vaccine is working better than anyone had hoped, but now the scientists are saying the real issue is variants or a third wave.

They want to keep Project Fear going because they are enjoying the control they have, and ministers have caved in to them.

The result is we are headed for a hellish demi-lockdown, where we have to be tested all the time, carry a vaccine passport everywhere and are under the constant threat of being locked down again.

SAGE: Social Distancing and Masks Must Remain For Another YEAR to Avoid Deaths Reaching January Levels This Summer, Despite Vaccines

The Government’s top scientific advisers have released papers today claiming social distancing and masks must remain in place for another year to avoid another wave of hospitalisations and deaths this summer at levels seen in January, despite the high vaccine take-up. The Mail has the details.

Social distancing will remain in place until next year even if Boris Johnson‘s roadmap out of lockdown goes to plan, the Government’s top scientific advisers warned today.

Senior SAGE sources said that while the vaccines prevent the vast majority of people from falling ill and dying from coronavirus, they “are not good enough” to see all curbs lifted “without a big epidemic”.  

All legal limits on social contact were to be abolished by June 21st as part of the final stage of the Prime Minister’s four-step route out of the crisis. It was hoped that festivals, sports events and nightclubs would reopen and that families and friends could reunite in large numbers after that date for the first time since winter 2020.

However, No 10’s experts claimed today that “baseline measures”, including some form of social distancing and masks, would need to remain in place until this time next year. They said they are “reasonably confident” that Covid will be manageable by then. 

The AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines reduce Covid deaths by about 90%, but there are fears high infection rates could see the virus spill into the small number of vulnerable people who haven’t been jabbed or for whom the vaccines don’t work.  

Despite the pessimistic comments, Mr Johnson is set to announce the country is on track for the second stage of his lockdown easing plans on April 12th, which will see shops, gyms, hairdressers and beer gardens reopen again. 

Cases and deaths are at their lowest levels in six months and more than half of the adult population has been vaccinated with at least one dose of the jabs. 

Papers released by SAGE today show the expert group is confident next week’s lockdown-easing measures will not pile pressure on the NHS, even if there is a slight uptick in infections, because of the success of the jab rollout.

But the advisory panel is less optimistic about future stages of the roadmap, adding that it is “highly likely that there will be a further resurgence in hospitalisations and deaths”.

They said the reopening of pubs, cinemas and indoor hospitality – due to happen on May 17th – could be delayed if vaccine uptake in the under-50s dips below 85%.

Modelling by Warwick University, Imperial College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine (LSHTM) warned of a late summer surge after “freedom day” in June which could rival levels seen this January when hospitals were nearly overwhelmed.  

It comes despite the models being relied on having been consistently wrong in hugely over-predicting deaths due to faulty assumptions about the deadliness of the virus, the susceptibility of the population, the effectiveness of interventions and the seasonality of the virus.

Offering Everyone in England Two Tests a Week Is a Waste of Resources

Everyone in England is to be offered two rapid COVID-19 tests per week as part of the Government’s plans to “ease” the lockdown. According to the BBC, these tests “are aimed at those without any Covid symptoms and can be taken at home”. The kits will be available through community and workplace testing schemes, as well as via local pharmacies and an online home-ordering service.

However, this seems like a huge waste of resources. Recall that the Government has already spent an eye-watering £22 billion on Test and Trace – a scheme that, at best, had only a marginal impact on transmission. The BBC quotes Allyson Pollock, Professor of Public Health at Newcastle University, as saying, “Mass testing is a scandalous waste of money.”

According to the ONS, around 50% of people in England now have COVID-19 antibodies, including more than 80% of those aged 65 and over:

This means that the vast majority of vulnerable people have at least some immunity to the virus. What would make more sense is focusing protection on those vulnerable people who have not yet had the virus or been vaccinated.

As the Great Barrington Declaration notes, this could be done via frequent testing of staff at care homes and hospitals, as well as by offering tests to those who want to visit elderly relatives living at home. (In a recent article for Lockdown Sceptics, I outlined what a focused protection strategy would have looked like.) At this stage of the pandemic, it’s difficult to see how mass testing of young, healthy people could possibly pass a cost-benefit test.

Stop Press: Matt Hancock has tweeted: “Reclaiming our lost freedoms & getting back to normal hinges on us all getting tested regularly.” Yet back in January, he said it was vaccinating the vulnerable that would let us “Cry freedom”. Here’s the relevant excerpt from his interview with The Spectator:

When Covid hospital cases fall and pressure on the NHS is lifted, he says, “That is the point at which we can look to lift the restrictions.” So what about herd immunity, vaccinating so many people that the virus dies out? “The goal is not to ensure that we vaccinate the whole population before that point, it is to vaccinate those who are vulnerable. Then that’s the moment at which we can carefully start to lift the restrictions.” But at that point the majority would remain unprotected. Would he – as Health Secretary – still say it’s time to abolish the restrictions? “Cry freedom,” he replies.

The goalposts keep shifting. First it was vaccinate the vulnerable; then vaccinate everyone; now weekly mass testing… Will we ever be allowed to get back to normal?

Thousands of Foreign Tourists Let in Every Day as Britons Are Ordered Not to Travel

While the rules on travelling abroad have recently been made even tougher for Brits, thousands of foreign tourists are arriving in the country every day. Hundreds of these are arriving on tourist visas issued by the Home Office. The Times has more.

One visa was granted to a tourist from Peru who said on their application form that the reason for their trip to the UK was to “visit Big Ben”.

Of the roughly 20,000 people arriving every day about 40%, or 8,000, are tourists, according to figures compiled by Border Force staff.

At Gatwick and the Eurostar terminals, as many as 80 to 90% of arrivals are tourists. In contrast, the proportion of tourists among arrivals at Heathrow is estimated to be about 20 to 30%.

New Covid rules which came into force at the end of last month make it illegal for Brits to go to an airport without a “reasonable” excuse. Rule breakers face fines of £5,000. Lucy Moreton, of the Immigration Services Union, has said that the arrival of thousands of tourists into Britain each day, set alongside this ban on Brits holidaying abroad, is “deeply unfair”.

It causes immense distress to Border Force staff to be constantly granting entry to individuals for reasons that would be impermissible for a UK resident. It’s deeply unfair for staff who cannot visit their own family in the UK or abroad who will be fined for doing so from this week to be seeing these numbers of arrivals of people coming to visit family in the UK, let alone go on holiday in the UK.

Worth reading in full.

It’s Time to Retire the ‘Deaths Within 28 Days of a Positive Test’ Chart

The BBC and other media outlets continue to post the chart showing the number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test. And this is the first chart you see after clicking ‘Deaths’ on the government’s COVID-19 dashboard. Here it is below:

However, the chart gives a very misleading impression of the relative severity of the first and second waves. It has been claimed, for example, that the second wave was “more deadly” than the first. And in fact, if you sum the figures under each of the two curves in the chart above, you find that the total for the second wave is more than double the total for the first wave.

But simply counting the number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test isn’t the best way to gauge COVID-19’s impact on mortality. This method understates the number of deaths in the first wave because some people died of COVID-19 without being tested. And it overstates the number of deaths in the second wave because some people who would have died anyway happened to test positive.

As Sarah Caul (the Head of Mortality Analysis at the ONS) has noted, “For the best comparisons, we really need to look at age-standardised mortality rates.” These take into account the ages of those who died, as well as the age-structure of the overall population.

The ONS recently calculated weekly age-standardised mortality rates going back to 2015. They then calculated excess mortality for 2020 and 2021 by taking the age-standardised mortality rate in each week, subtracting the average over the last five years, and then expressing the difference as a percentage of that average. Here’s the chart they produced:

Although the figures only go up to February 12th, they indicate that the second wave was actually less deadly than the first. It’s time to retire the ‘deaths within 28 days of a positive test’ chart. At the very least, it should only be posted alongside the chart showing age-standardised excess mortality – which gives a much more accurate picture of the UK’s pandemic.

800 Million Children Across the World Still Not Fully Back in School

Schools remain closed or are only offering a mix of remote and in-person learning in at least 90 countries, according to UNICEF. This means that 800 million children across the world are still not fully back in classes, highlighting the need to reflect upon the educational costs of lockdowns. The Guardian has the story.

Across the world 800 million children are still not fully back in school, UNICEF is warning, with many at risk of never returning to the classroom the longer closures go on. There are at least 90 countries where schools are either closed or offering a mix of remote and in-person learning.

The UN agency’s chief of education, Robert Jenkins, told the Guardian that the closures are part of “unimaginable” disruption to children’s education.

“I didn’t imagine the scale of the closures when schools shut last year, and I didn’t imagine it going on for so long. In all our scenario planning for disruption, this possibility was never raised,” he says.

“At the peak of the pandemic 1.6 billion children were not in school and here we are, a year later, and 800 million are still suffering partially or fully disrupted education.

“There are a lot of lessons that need to be drawn, and one is the impact that prolonged school closures have on children.”

In Britain, the number of primary school leavers struggling with literacy has risen by 30,000 over the past year of lockdowns. The scale of the decline in basic reading skills is such that the Prime Minister is devising an “emergency” plan to boost educational support. But the picture in some other parts of the world is even bleaker, with children being forced into work or being married off.

A new Covid Global Education Recovery Tracker from UNICEF, the World Bank and Johns Hopkins University is monitoring closures across the world, analysing where children are learning at home or at school.

Humanitarian organisations say the closures have contributed to a range of increasing abuses and degradation of children’s rights across the world, from increasing use of child labour to a rise in child marriages, often in communities were children already struggled to access education. …

A Save the Children report out this week warns that in Lebanon children are being put into work by parents desperate for money. The charity fears many of the children will never return to school. Jennifer Moorehead, the charity’s Lebanon director, said: “We are already witnessing the tragic impact of this situation, with children working in supermarkets or in farms, and girls forced to get married.”

In Uganda, schools have been closed since March 2020, putting 15 million pupils out of education. Only certain classes with exams coming up have been allowed to return. The rest will return in a staggered way in the coming months, though thousands of girls will not, having become pregnant or been married off in the intervening period.

Worth reading in full.