Day: 10 April 2021

The Paralysis of Caution

We’re publishing a new essay by Guy de la Bédoyère about the excessive cautiousness that is preventing the Government from being more bold. Guy traces it to the cautiousness of the modellers and points out how odd that attitude is to the adventurousness of pioneering scientists like Edward Jenner and Marie Curie. Here’s an extract:

Regardless of your views about vaccines, it is a fact that Edward Jenner took the reckless step of infecting his gardener’s eight-year-old son first with cowpox and then with smallpox. As we all know, the experiment was a success. By today’s standards of gibbering caution, it was the most outrageous example of recklessness imaginable. Yet how else was he ever going to find out if it worked? If that happened today, Jenner would probably never have dared try his theory out and if he had he’d have been struck off and imprisoned. I have no doubt that had a predictive modeller been on hand, busy calculating the risk, there wouldn’t have been a virus in hell’s chance of him being allowed to go ahead.

On December 23rd 1750 Benjamin Franklin electrocuted himself when he tried to kill a turkey with electricity, believing the meat would be more tender. He survived, chastened by the experience. In 1839-43, James Clark Ross took two sailing ships, the Erebus and Terror, on an epic voyage of exploration and scientific experiment around Antarctica. Today he wouldn’t have been allowed out of port.

There are so many other examples from those days of early science it would be impossible to list them. But the underlying approach reaches right into more recent times. We have aviation because people were prepared to throw themselves into the air with bizarre pieces of winged equipment or brave their way across the Atlantic in a Vickers Vimy from Newfoundland to Ireland, as Alcock and Brown did in 1919. Imagine the risk assessment if anyone had bothered to think of writing one at the time, and the same applies to Marie Curie’s work on radiation.

Worth reading in full.

“Vaccine Bounce” Gives Tories Largest Poll Lead Since May Last Year

With approval of the Government’s management of the vaccine rollout standing at 72%, the Tories have extended their lead over Labour up to nine points, according to new polling by Opinium. This is the party’s largest lead since May last year. Approval of the Government’s handling of Covid overall is also net positive for the first time since May (at 44%), and over half of those polled believe that Britain is unlocking at about the right pace.

Conservative Party voters were also shown to be the most supportive of vaccine passports, both for domestic and international use. Here are the key findings.

The Conservatives expand their lead to nine points, their largest lead since May last year, according to Opinium’s latest poll.  The Conservatives currently have 45% of the vote (+4 from two weeks ago), while Labour have 36% (-1), Lib Dems have 6% and the Greens 4%. …

Overall approval of the Government’s handling of the pandemic is net positive for the first time since May last year. This rise coincides with the vaccine rollout in February, and 44% now approve of the Tories’ handling and 36% disapprove.

Unsurprisingly, approval for handling of the vaccine rollout remains strong with 72% approving and only 8% disapproving. This is high even among Labour voters (71%) and SNP voters (57%). …

As lockdown measures continue to ease next week, over half (54%) think the roadmap is easing is at about the right pace, up slightly from 47% two weeks ago. Those thinking it was moving “too quickly” has dropped from 31% to 27% and “too slowly” from 12% to 10%.

The public is, on balance, supportive of the idea of vaccine passports, with 57% supporting this for entering busy venues within the UK and over two thirds (68%) for international travel. In both cases, the Conservative voters are the most supportive (70% for domestic and 83% for international) and Labour voters are more mixed (57% for domestic and 69% for international).

Adam Drummond, the Head of Political Polling at Opinium, has pinned the extension of the Conservative’s lead over Labour on the Government’s handling of the vaccine rollout.

The vaccine bounce continues to yield political benefits for the Government with their strongest figures for handling the pandemic since they first became negative last May. In terms of voting intention the figures bounce around due to statistical noise but there is a consistent Conservative lead in the high single digits.

Worth reading in full.

More Than Half of People in England Living In Areas with Almost No New Covid Cases

Many areas across England have now gone months without enough Covid cases to justify the publication of their data, as the Prime Minister is urged to honour his pledge of following “data not dates”. The Telegraph has the story.

Over half of people in England now live in an area in which new cases of Covid have all but vanished, with some places not reporting a case in public data for more than a month.

Infections have been so low in areas with a total population of 34.5 million that Public Health England has redacted their latest weekly case tallies in order to protect the privacy of those – if any – who test positive.

These 4,307 areas could have had at most two new cases but potentially zero in the seven days to April 4th – and 1,091, home to 8.2 million people, have had their data suppressed every week since the end of February.

Around 20,000 cases are now being detected across England each week – a fall of nearly 95% from the peak of more than 380,000 during the worst week of the second wave.

At that time in January, only six neighbourhoods out of a total of 6,791 in PHE’s data had low enough cases to require redaction under data protection rules, as the more contagious Kent variant of the virus left few areas untouched.  

However, many places have now gone months without enough cases to justify publication of their data.

Areas of Devon including Bampton, Holcombe, Westleigh, Lynton and Combe Martin have all gone 10 weeks with close to zero cases, while in Cornwall Towednack, Lelant, Carbis Bay, Probus and Roseland have gone nine.

On average, areas that have had their most recent weekly case total redacted are now in their third week in a row with close to zero cases, suggesting infections are staying low even after the recent relaxation of lockdown measures.

Conservative MP William Wragg said that the emphasis now should be on “data and not dates”.

It is good that we are making such strong progress and I would hope therefore that there should be no impediment to progress. If the roadmap can be accelerated, it should be accelerated.

Last month, Mark Harper, the Chairman of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG), said that the idea Boris Johnson is following “data not dates” could look “increasingly ridiculous” unless the opening of some things was “[brought] forward”. Infections rose week-on-week in only one in seven areas across England between March 28th and April 4th, which some MPs argue is not enough to excuse the continuation of the “roadmap” out of lockdown at its current slow pace.

Steve Baker, the CRG’s Deputy Chairman, suggested the “stellar success” of the vaccine rollout meant people should now be treated as “responsible adults”.

Worth reading in full.

Professor Denis Rancourt Banned From ResearchGate For Warning of Harms of Masks

Professor Denis Rancourt has been banned from academic pre-print publishing site ResearchGate for publishing research evidence suggesting masks can cause harm to the wearer.

He announced the news on Twitter: “ResearchGate today has permanently locked my account, which I have had since 2015. Their reasons graphically show the nature of their attack against democracy, and their corruption of science. … By their obscene non-logic, a scientific review of science articles reporting on harms caused by face masks has a ‘potential to cause harm’. No criticism of the psychological device (face masks) is tolerated, if the said criticism shows potential to influence public policy.”

Prof Rancourt, whose paper reviewing research on the harms of masks had been viewed more than 200,000 times, tweeted screenshots of emails he had received from the website warning him of his breaches of their terms of service, one of which stated:

In our view, those reports, among other things, discouraged the use of face masks, which contradicts the public health advice and/or legal requirements of credible agencies and governments. We, therefore, concluded that under our policies the reports had potential to cause harm. Posting content that has potential to cause harm is a violation of our Terms of Service.

Dr Clare Craig of HART tweeted: “We are in full witch hunt mode now. Science – which by definition requires debate – cannot exist in this environment.”

ResearchGate, as a privately owned website, is fully within its rights to have whatever terms of service it wishes and refuse to host whatever content it wants. But that doesn’t mean its decisions aren’t harmful to scientific debate or don’t constitute misplaced censorship of evidence that is inconvenient to governments or supportive of unfashionable views. ResearchGate may be entitled, under its Terms of Service, to censor evidence that runs counter to the policies of Western governments, but that doesn’t make it good for advancing scientific understanding.

Prof Rancourt’s articles are still available here.

An Election Address by Boris Johns-On

Paul Bird, a Lockdown Sceptics reader, imagines a letter he might get from Boris Johnson, listing all his achievements in the run up to the May 6th local elections. They include destroying thousands of businesses, plunging millions into unemployment, ratcheting up the national debt, etc. Here is Boris’s preamble, before he outlines all his ‘wins’:

At the election in December 2019, just 16 months ago, you weighed up the competing offers of the Conservative Party – sound economic policy, living within our means, reducing the burden of the state on the British people; and the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn – a creeping increase in state power, loss of freedoms, and unsustainable spending pushing up the national debt.

You overwhelmingly chose the former and handed a landslide victory to the Conservatives. I am immensely grateful to you for putting your trust in me to deliver on the promises we made.

With the local elections coming up in May I would urge you to consider this Conservative Government’s achievements since coming to power. I hope this impressive list will convince you to ‘Vote Conservative!’ in the election.

And here are some of Boris’s achievements:

Lockdowns Have Cost £22 Billion in Lost Sales, Say British Retailers

Lockdowns across 2020 alone cost British “non-essential” retail £22 billion in lost sales, according to a new analysis by the British Retail Consortium (BRC). All the while, online retail profits – such as for the fashion retailer ASOS – have soared. Here are the key findings:

2020 was the worst year on record for retail sales growth with in-store non-food declining by 24% compared with 2019. These results have also been reflected in footfall, which was down over 40% in 2020. After some retailers embraced rapid increases in demand, others found their doors closed for the third time at the end of last year.

The BRC calculates that the three lockdowns cost “non-food” stores – mainly “non-essential” retail – an estimated £22 billion in lost sales. Furthermore, tighter restrictions in the crucial run-up to Christmas hampered retailers’ ability to generate much-needed turnover, which would have helped power their recovery in 2021. Retailers contributed £17 billion in business taxes in 2019, collecting a further £46 billion in VAT. A strong retail sector is essential to ensuring these future revenue streams for Government and local councils, vital for supporting local communities.

A recent 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.

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the BRC, said that retail firms are in desperate need of support from the Government in order to continue trading.

After 2020 proved to be the worst year on record, it is essential that the Chancellor uses the Spring budget to support those businesses hardest hit by the pandemic. Vital support in the form of an extension to the business rates relief and moratorium on debt enforcement, as well as removing state aid caps on Covid business grants, would relieve struggling businesses of bills they cannot currently pay and allow them to trade their way to recovery.

Tackling the challenge of Rates, Rents and Grants should be the Government’s immediate priority to ensuring the survival and revival of non-essential retailers and protecting the jobs of hundreds of thousands of retail workers across the country. The investment we provide to retailers now, will be repaid many times over through more jobs and greater tax revenues in the future.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Guardian has detailed the ways in which various “non-essential” retailers are planning to make real-life shopping trips “a pastime once again” when lockdown is eased slightly on Monday.

Marks & Spencer will instigate “greeters” at the doors of its stores, and contact-free bra fittings. There will be edits designed for current lifestyles, from barbecues in the garden, to working from home. 

At John Lewis, Beautycycle will be in place from April 19th. For every five items of beauty packaging returned, customers will get £10 off their next beauty purchase until the end of April.

Gap will be offering free masks with a purchase to those with their Gap+ app, and Primark will be open two more hours every day next week.

Other retailers are taking a playful approach. River Island, which will launch stores in Coventry and Swindon next week, has a “shop like it’s 2019” campaign; one sign in store says: “In 2019 pyjamas were not acceptable work attire.” Anyone who makes a purchase in April will receive a voucher for 20.19% off their next purchase.

Worth reading in full.

Johnson & Johnson Covid Vaccine Under EU Review Over Blood Clots

In recent months, the term “blood clots” has become associated with the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine, but Europe’s medicines regulator is now reviewing possible links between this rare condition and the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) jab. Sky News has the story.

Europe’s drugs regulator is reviewing possible links between blood clots and J&J’s coronavirus vaccine.

The move comes after four serious cases of rare clots with low platelets were reported after the Covid jab, one of which was fatal, according to the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The J&J (also known as Janssen) vaccine, which has proved 67% effective in preventing infection and completely effective at preventing hospital admissions and death from Covid during trials, is currently only used in the US, under an emergency use authorisation.

The jab was authorised in the EU last month but has not started to be rolled out to members states yet, although this is expected in the next few weeks.

The vaccine stands out from the others being used because only one shot is needed, rather than two.

30 million doses have been ordered by the UK Government, but it has yet to be approved for use by the country’s regulator. Nearly five million people have received the vaccine in the US. Responding to reports of its jab being investigated by the EMA, J&J said it was working with regulators to assess the relevant information.

At present, no clear causal relationship has been established between these rare events and the Janssen Covid vaccine.

Worth reading in full.

News Round Up