Day: 8 April 2021

March Death Rate In Scotland Is Among Lowest For 50 Years

Scotland has recorded its lowest March death rate since 2014. The rate was also among the lowest in 50 years, but the country’s National Clinical Director insists it is too soon to lift lockdown. The Times has the story.

Deaths in March were among the lowest in the past 50 years due to a dramatic decline in Covid and other illnesses linked to old age.

There were 5,529 deaths between March 1st and April 4th – the lowest for this period since 2014 and among the lowest in five decades.

Last week alone there were 969 deaths from all causes – 149 below the five-year average and the lowest number of deaths of any month since the last week of September 2020.

There were 38 deaths linked to Covid last week – including 27 where the virus was the underlying cause – the lowest since October 5th. …

A total of 9,997 deaths have been linked to Covid since the pandemic hit Scotland in March 2020.

There have been 2,784 deaths directly attributed to coronavirus in 2021 but a huge drop in other illnesses that primarily affect the elderly – particularly other respiratory illnesses such as flu which are 1,123 below average.

There have been 148 fewer cancer deaths, 348 fewer deaths linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia and 183 fewer deaths linked to heart disease and stroke.

Despite this positive news on the country’s falling death rate, Scotland’s National Clinical Director said it is still too soon to unlock.

It is fantastic and testament to the work of 5.5 million people as well as the health and social care service.

Is it still worth doing what we are doing now? I would say yes – but we are opening so we are now taking into account the other harms as we have done the whole way through.

That balance is now tipping to opening the economy to allow people to have more of a social life, whereas before the balance was tipped the other way.

Soon we will no longer be able to call it lockdown anymore. Can you call it lockdown now that the barbers are open and you don’t have to stay at home quite so much? Maybe – but on April 26th I think you can probably stop calling it lockdown because non-essential retail, hospitality, schools, universities and colleges are open.

The health advisers, the chief economist, the chief social policy researcher have tried to strike a balance over the past 14 months – and you can judge whether we have got that balance right or wrong.

Worth reading in full.

I Was “Too Risk-Averse” on Church Closures in First Lockdown, Says Justin Welby

The Archbishop of Canterbury has acknowledged that he made a number of mistakes when it came to the closure of churches during the first lockdown. He admits to having been “too risk-averse” on matters such as keeping churches open for at least individual prayer. The Telegraph has the story.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted he “got quite a few things wrong” on the closure of churches during the first Covid lockdown, saying he was “too risk-averse”.

The Church of England came under fire as churches remained closed last Easter, with many parishioners frustrated that the Archbishop did not fight harder to keep them open and the Church’s rules going beyond those of the Government in barring clergy from their church buildings. 

“I got quite a few things wrong at the beginning and I learnt quite quickly,” the Most Rev Justin Welby said in an interview with the Financial Times. 

“I didn’t push hard enough to keep churches available for at least individual prayer in the first lockdown. We also said clergy couldn’t go in, and personally, I feel I made a mistake with that.

“I can make all kinds of excuses. I still think I was too risk-averse.” Asked when he had realised that, he said: “May, June. May.”

In April last year, the Most Rev Welby warned clergy not to go into their churches over Easter in a video message. The warning sparked revolt among some vicars, who defied the rules to hold services in their churches. 

In July, he told members of the General Synod, the Church’s legislative body, that he stood by the decision. 

Last month, the Court of Sessions ruled that the Scottish Government acted unlawfully in closing churches under coronavirus regulations. Unfortunately, the ruling came just two days before communal worship was already due to resume.

The Telegraph’s report is worth reading in full.

More Than Six Million Britons Fully Vaccinated Against Covid

Britain has passed another milestone in its vaccine rollout with six million people now fully vaccinated against Covid. Almost 32 million have also received their first dose. Sky News has the story.

More than six million people in the UK are now fully vaccinated against Covid, while nearly 32 million have had their first dose.

Another 99,530 first jabs were administered on Wednesday, taking the total to 31,807,124.

And there were 408,396 second jabs, the second highest daily total to date, taking the number of people fully protected against Covid to 6,091,905. …

Vaccination numbers have been notably lower so far this month as the focus is placed on administering second jabs rather than moving down the age groups, but have picked up slightly since Tuesday saw the lowest number of first doses given since early January (40,744).

The first doses of the Moderna vaccine were administered in the UK [this week], in Wales.

The jab from the US pharmaceutical giant, along with the one from Pfizer, will be key if the Government is to meet its target of offering every adult a jab by the end of July.

Despite this success, the Government remains uninterested in speeding up Britain’s reopening. Matt Hancock recently suggested that freedom could only be reclaimed through weekly mass testing – yet another shift of the goalposts.

Sky News’ report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: In the latest episode of the Spectator’s podcast “The Week in 60 Minutes“, Kate Andrews asks: “If the vaccine won’t restore our liberty, what will? When does it end?”

How Much Loss of Life Was Due to COVID-19 in 2020 Compared to Other Diseases?

We’re publishing an original piece today by an engineer called Paul Bird in which he has tried to calculate the total loss of life due to Covid in 2020 in England and Wales. He’s done that by working out the average life expectancy within each population cohort, calculating the average loss of life among those who died ‘involving’ Covid in each cohort, and then producing a sum total: 814,264 years of life lost. He then tries to put that number in context.

It is difficult to relate to numbers like these. What do they mean?

Clearly, the overall size of the population is important. The impact of 100,000 people dying (for whatever reason) in a country of one million is rather more serious than in a country of 100 million.

The population of England and Wales in 2019 was just over 59 million, so 814,264 lost life-years is equivalent to 0.014 life-years per person, or five days.

Again, that figure is difficult to relate to. No-one wants to lose even one day of his or her life. However, the statistic does give the possibility of comparison with other things, such as the life lost to diseases and lifestyle choices we are more familiar with.

It also provides a way to gauge the proportionality of lockdown. How do the collateral harms of lockdown, which everyone is having to endure, compare to the life-time saved by lockdown? (At the time of writing it is not clear how many Covid deaths were saved by lockdown in 2020. Initial work on international comparisons suggests none at all.)

In strictly numerical terms, how does the time period five days compare to average life expectancy of 81.25 years?3 One way of visualising it would be to take a piece of string one metre long representing 81.25 years and cut off a piece representing the lifetime lost to Covid averaged over the whole population. How long would the offcut be? If you had been closely following the BBC’s coverage you might reason as follows: “Well, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives to Covid, and there are millions of people in the country, so maybe, I guess, the offcut would be a tenth? 10 centimetres?” That dedicated viewer would be wrong. The actual length of string corresponding to five days is 168 micrometres. That is, less than a fifth of a millimetre, a bit thicker than a human hair. You’d need specialist tooling to make the cut, and the string cut off would disintegrate into individual strands which would be hard to see with the naked eye.

This is an interesting way of looking at the impact of Covid and worth reading in full.

“Covert Tactics” Employed By the State to Keep Us Scared… We’ve Seen This Before

Frederick Forsyth has written a stinging letter – published in Tuesday’s Telegraph – linking the scare tactics employed to frighten East Berliners into supporting the Berlin Wall to those employed by the British Government to ensure compliance with Covid regulations. His letter is written in response to an article published by the Telegraph last week on the “covert tactics” used by the Government to scare the public into staying at home.

Congratulations to the Telegraph and Gordon Rayner for revealing that the campaign of mass fear that reduced a once brave nation to trembling terror was deliberately organised to secure obedience to the policy of lockdown.

I have only once before seen anything like it. This was when I was posted to East Germany in 1962. Such a brainwashing tactic was employed to frighten East Berliners into believing that the Berlin Wall was a defensive measure to protect them from tiny West Berlin, and that the Stasi was their guardian. The wall was of course an instrument of enslavement.

I never thought that the government of a country whose uniform I once wore with such pride would sink so low. Those responsible should be identified without delay and ousted from all office over us.

Frederick Forsyth
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

In the Telegraph article published last week, a retired NHS consultant clinical psychologist is quoted as saying that “there is growing concern within my field about using fear and shame as a driver of behaviour change”.

Gary Sidley… said: “It’s as if there is a little industry around pandemic management and it excludes alternative voices.” …

Mr Sidley was so concerned that he and 46 colleagues wrote to the British Psychological Society (BPS) raising “concerns about the activities of Government-employed psychologists … in their mission to gain the public’s mass compliance with the ongoing coronavirus restrictions”.

The letter added: “Our view is that the use of covert psychological strategies – that operate below the level of people’s awareness – to ‘nudge’ citizens to conform to a contentious and unprecedented public health policy raises profound ethical questions.”

The Telegraph has learnt that the BPS’s ethics committee will discuss the matter at its next meeting on June 21st – coincidentally the same day all lockdown restrictions are due to end.

Worth reading in full.

Online Retail Profits Soar While High Street Suffers

The success of online retail over the past year of lockdowns is showcased by ASOS, the online fashion retailer, which has seen its active customer numbers rise from 1.5 million to 24.9 million in the six months to February. The impact of lockdowns on the high street has, on the other hand, been catastrophic. Eleven thousand shops in Britain closed last year alone and thousands more are expected to close in 2021. The Guardian has the story.

ASOS has more than tripled first-half profits to a record £106 million and raised full-year expectations as the online retailer continues to benefit from the pandemic.

Consumer trends accelerated by Covid had boosted trading, particularly in the UK and most of Europe, the company said, but it cautioned that the economic outlook was uncertain and shopping habits would change once clothing stores reopen next week.

While the reopening of “non-essential” shops next week will shift consumer attention from online to the high street, the continued imposition of rules on social distancing and mask-wearing will act as a brake on any recovery for the high street. ASOS said in a statement:

In the coming months we expect a portion of consumer demand will move back to stores as restrictions are eased throughout our markets, but we expect online penetration to remain structurally higher than pre-Covid levels.

The company’s recent performance is as follows:

Profits increased 253% year-on-year increase to £106.4 million in the six months to February 28th, as total group revenues climbed 24% to £1.97 billion.

Asos put a number on the amount of profit generated by the pandemic, identifying £48.5 million of “net Covid tailwind”. …

The company said the Topshop and Miss Selfridge brands as well as the activewear label HIIT, acquired from Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia empire for £330 million in February, had been “seamlessly” integrated into its online platform and had achieved “great early customer momentum”.

The number of active customers rose by 1.5 million to 24.9 million, which the company said was a good performance given the lockdown had led to fewer “event-led” reasons for people to shop for formal and occasionwear.

Last month, we reported on the damage done to the high street by the lockdowns and the tough restrictions in between. A study by the Local Data Company found that 11,000 shops permanently closed in the UK in 2020. This is expected to be followed by a further 18,000 closures in 2021.

Deaths In England and Wales Now 5% Below the Five-Year Average

The ONS announced today that there were 10,045 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending March 26th. This is 266 fewer than the previous week (which was the lowest since 2014 for that week). In addition, this week’s number is 5% below the five-year average, and marks the third consecutive week of “negative excess deaths”. Here’s the chart from the ONS:

Over the last three weeks of ONS reports, there were 1,800 fewer deaths than you’d expect based on the average of the last five years. (And note that, because the population is ageing, the five-year average slightly understates the expected number of deaths.)

What’s more, the number of deaths registered in the week ending March 26th was below the five-year average in seven out of nine English regions. (Only the East Midlands and West Midlands saw positive excess deaths.) Compared to the five-year average, weekly deaths were 7.5% lower in London, 9.3% lower in the South West, and a remarkable 10.7% lower in the East of England.

As I’ve noted before, there are several possible reasons why the number of deaths is so low at the moment. But whatever the exact reason, or mix of reasons, today’s numbers are surely cause for optimism.

If the Vaccine Is Not an Exit Route From Lockdown, Then What Is, Asks Lord Sumption

Lord Jonathan Sumption in the Telegraph delivers a blistering attack on SAGE’s “garbage Covid models” and the ever-changing position of the goalposts for exiting lockdown.

The modellers have been at it again. The modelling committee of SAGE (which goes by the unlovely name of SPI-M-O) has produced a report projecting the consequences of ending restrictions in accordance with the Government’s Covid Roadmap. The projection which has attracted the most attention, and was surely designed to, is that on “pessimistic but plausible” assumptions there will be a third wave in the summer if the restrictions are eased, leading to hospitalisations as bad as at the January peak.

Does that seem odd? It should. The January peak reflected the situation before vaccinations took effect. So we are being told that it is “plausible” to think that the vaccines may make little difference to hospitalisations.

When Imperial College produced its modelling report last March, which pushed the Government into the first lockdown, they pointed out that unless restrictions were kept in place until there was a vaccine, infections and associated hospitalisations and deaths would simply surge again once the restrictions were lifted.

The goalposts are now being shifted. We are being told that the restrictions may have to be kept in place even though there are now highly effective vaccines. Hospitalisations and deaths are at rock bottom. Almost all of the more vulnerable groups have been vaccinated. Even accounting for the MHRA’s changed advice regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine, a high proportion of the rest will have been inoculated by June. If the vaccine is not an exit route, then what is? The logic of the modellers’ more extreme projections is that the restrictions may have to stay in place indefinitely.

Tell Your Local Conservative Candidate in the May 6th Elections You Won’t Vote For Them if the Govt Brings in Vaccine Passports

A reader has written in with a suggestion for how to influence the Government on Covid vaccine passports – “make the Conservative Party fear for their jobs”. Having received a Conservative Party leaflet for the local elections on May 6th (with the name and telephone number of the local candidate), the reader sent the candidate the following text.

Thank you for your letter and application to vote by post. Are you in favour of the use of Covid passports within the UK for access to venues and events such as sporting events, theatres, cinemas, restaurants and pubs? If you are in favour of Covid passports within the UK I shall not be voting for you. My vote will go to the Liberal Democrats, who – unlike the current Conservative Party – seem to be both liberal and democratic. If you are NOT in favour of the use of Covid passports within the UK, please lobby the local constituency office to have a word with Mr Gove that he should re-discover true conservative values. Thank you.

If enough people do this, a powerful message could be sent from the grassroots to Conservative Campaign Headquarters. But will they listen?

News Round Up