Day: 21 April 2021

No Masks in Classrooms From Next Month

Secondary school pupils will not have to wear face masks in classrooms from next month, according to Gavin Williamson, but masks will still be required in corridors and on school buses. The Education Secretary has revealed that the rules will be eased slightly on May 17th – no earlier than, anyway! The Mail has the story.

Gavin Williamson said secondary school pupils will not have to wear face masks under rule changes expected on May 17th.

Students in year seven and above have to wear masks in communal areas and classrooms where one-metre social distancing cannot be maintained.

Now, the Education Secretary revealed the face coverings rule will be partially lifted no earlier than May 17th – with pupils still expected to wear masks in corridors and on school buses.

The mask rule – while not a legal requirement – proved controversial among parents.

Children were told if they refuse to wear masks when schools reopened on March 8th, they may be kept apart from their friends – with one parent branding it “mask apartheid”.

Removing rules about mask wearing is set to be confirmed with a week’s notice, the Times reports. 

Measures such as on-site testing in schools, increased ventilation and stringent hygiene rules will all remain in place. 

Earlier this month, a German court ruled that two schools should be prevented – with immediate effect – from forcing their pupils to wear masks, along with imposing social distancing measures and insisting on SARS-CoV-2 rapid tests, saying that “the state legislature regulating this area has gotten far removed from the facts, which has taken on seemingly historic proportions”. We can but dream! – but the (partial) removal of the mask mandate is, at least, a step in the right direction.

The Mail’s report is worth reading in full.

Pepsi Max Tests Positive for COVID-19

There follows a guest post by Nic Elliott, host of the Sounding Board podcast.

I decided to order some lateral flow tests now that anyone can request to be regularly tested.

My aim – a simple testing of household available items to see what the results would be. The results are crazy.

  • 3 gave a negative result.
  • 1 gave a void.
  • But 3 out of the 7 tests gave a positive result.

I make that a false positive rate of 43%, or 50% if you remove the voided result from the sample.

First I tested water – that came up negative. Then some tea left in my teapot, also negative.

Then I decided to test my own saliva (but not a swab stuck anyone official). That was negative, and still no voided results in sight.

I decided at this point to get serious and brought out the Lee & Perrins. This did give a void result, so it was time to bring out the big guns.

Pepsi Max (other vegetable extract-based drinks are available) – positive for SARS-CoV-2!

Then milk – a very faint line, but still classed as a positive according my official NHS leaflet.

And finally, mango chutney, the third positive COVID-19 test result.

Obviously, I am not going to report these staggering results, but maybe I’m looking for a conspiracy in the wrong area… Maybe the real bombshell is that COVID-19 is being spread through cola, cow’s milk and curry condiments.

Anthony Fauci Tells Congress Texas Has a Lower Infection Rate Than Michigan Because People are Ignoring Lockdown Rules

President Biden’s Chief Medical Adviser Dr Anthony Fauci has claimed the reason Michigan and other states which have maintained restrictions have a higher infection rate than Texas, which ended all Covid restrictions at the beginning of March, is because people in lockdown states are ignoring the rules. He did not attempt to explain why his prediction from March of a “very troublesome” surge in Texas had not materialised. When Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) attempted to press him on the feeble answer he had given to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, the Committee Chair Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) cut him off and said he’d had his answer. Breitbart News has the story.

Jordan said to Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, “You said when Texas ended their lockdown, ended their mandate, that this was quote ‘inexplicable and would lead to surging cases’. Texas is near the bottom of the 50 states, but all the states, all the states at the top are lockdown states.”

“That guess didn’t seem to be too good,” Jordan added.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on March 2nd lifted his state’s mask mandate and capacity restrictions on all businesses and facilities. Fauci responded to the move on March 3rd in a CNN interview:

“I don’t know why they’re doing it but it certainly from a public health standpoint is ill-advised. … We’ve been to this scene before months and months ago, when we tried to open up the country and open up the economy. When certain states did not abide by the guidelines, we had rebounds, which were very troublesome. What we don’t need right now is another surge so just pulling back on all the public health guidelines that we know work, and if you take a look at the curve, we know it works. It just is inexplicable why you would want to pull back now.”

Michigan topped Jordan’s list with a seven-day average case rate of 551 per 100,000 people. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has issued mask requirements and set a 50% capacity limit on many businesses, including retail and food establishments, as well as entertainment venues.

Jordan demanded an explanation from Fauci on why Texas, which, per his list, had a seven-day average case rate of 77 per 100,000 people, was “so darn low compared to the rest of the states”.

Fauci replied, “There’s a difference between lockdown and the people obeying the lockdown.”

“You know you could have a situation where they say, ‘We’re going to lock down’, and yet you have people doing exactly what they want –”

Jordan interjected to ask Fauci to clarify if he was suggesting people in states with the highest case rates were not obeying those states’ coronavirus-related orders.

Subcommittee Chair Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) then informed Jordan his speaking time had expired, but Jordan objected, arguing Fauci had not yet answered his question.

“I think the gentleman answered you quite clearly,” Clyburn said. “There’s a big difference in being a lockdown state by order and being a state that obeys orders. That answered the question in my opinion.”

Source: CDC

Even if Michiganders are ignoring the lockdown (and good for them if so), that doesn’t explain why restrictions must be maintained if removing them makes things no worse. There’s certainly no evidence Texans are voluntarily staying home very much at all.

The architects of lockdown aren’t even trying to give answers to why lifting restrictions does not trigger a devastating surge as their models unfailingly predict. Neither have they explained why Florida or South Dakota, which stayed open all winter, did not experience a worse outcome than states which imposed severe restrictions. Is this a sign that their ideology is crumbling? How much longer can lockdownism survive if its leading proponents cannot give answers to basic questions?

Read the article and watch the video here.

Gove Ignores Pesky Mask Mandate

Good to see this picture of Michael Gove in the Times of Israel ignoring pointless rules about indoor mask wearing. As you can see, he has set his to one side while he talks to the Israeli Prime Minister on his fact-finding mission in Israel. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is over there to investigate the country’s ‘Green Pass’ system, which is similar to the Covid status certification scheme that he is currently looking into on behalf of the Government.

No doubt when challenged about this, Gove will say he had just temporarily removed his mask in order to speak and promptly put it back on again when he returned to nodding-and-listening mode. But in those indoor spaces where the Government has recommended mask wearing – when out shopping, for instance – the guidance doesn’t say you’re allowed to remove your mask when you’re talking. Surely, if you’re a believer in the magical properties of disposable face nappies, of the type Gove has put aside in this photograph, you think it’s precisely when you’re holding forth at a small gathering that it should be worn? Or is the Gover, who apparently does believe in this voodoo, just worried about being infected by Benjamin Netanyahu and not about infecting him?

Whichever way you cut it, this is an embarrassing photograph for Boris’s right-hand-man.

Fitness Chain “Burned About £500,000 per Day” After Losing 12% Of Members Through Lockdown

Fitness chain PureGym suffered pre-tax losses of almost £215 million last year after the forced closure of its sites due to Government-imposed lockdowns. Large parts of the fitness industry fought to remain open during lockdowns with some gyms risking £10,000 fines by refusing to close their doors to customers. Before the second national lockdown, one gym owner said: “We should be doing everything we can to get people healthier and fitter,” adding that “gyms save the NHS”. But venues were forced to close, costing PureGym alone about £500,000 a day. The Mail has the story.

The Leeds-based company registered a massive 40% plunge in revenue during 2020 as gyms were shut for 44% of the year’s trading days. In pre-pandemic 2019, it recorded losses of around £40 million. 

Despite trying to strike a note of optimism after gyms in England reopened on April 12th, Chief Executive Humphrey Cobbold called the company’s trading performance “frankly awful” and “out of hands”. The financial statement exceeds his stated fears of a £120 million loss caused by shutdowns. 

PureGym reported seeing more than a million workouts completed across its 240 gyms in the first week of the roadmap as people try to shed unwanted pounds after being trapped inside for three months.

But in a statement released today, Mr Cobbold called 2020 “a very tough year” and blamed restrictions for “preventing us from trading” and causing “a severe impact on our financial performance”. He previously told the BBC that PureGym was “burning about £500,000 a day” due to “brutal” lockdowns. 

“We had to run a business with zero income for extended periods, a previously unthinkable scenario,” Mr Cobbold admitted today. “We had to make major operational changes in the tightest of time frames and alter our proposition in weeks that would have taken years in normal times.” …

PureGym is one of the biggest losers of the pandemic, with Covid restrictions hammering leisure, hospitality and travel industries hardest. 

Trade organisation ukactive has highlighted the impact of lockdowns on the nation’s health and the fitness industry in particular.

Polling by ukactive and ComRes suggested 42% of UK adults were sitting for at least 14 hours longer per week during lockdown.

A survey by ukactive of its members showed approximately 400 facilities had already been lost during the crisis, while lockdown had resulted in £90 million in lost membership fees each week.

January is normally a key period for new joiners and renewals and usually sees 30% growth.  

Worth reading in full.

Border Officials Finding “100 Fake Covid Test Certificates a Day”

Border officials have said that around 100 fake Covid test certificates are found every day at the U.K. border because the documents are “very easy” to forge. Fakes are usually only identified due to spelling errors. The Telegraph has the story.

Around 100 fake Covid test certificates are being discovered at the border every day, in what experts have branded a “very leaky” system, it has emerged.

The fake documents claiming a traveller has a recent negative test result are “very easy” to forge, MPs have been told, and there is no way to tell how many more are being missed…

[Lucy] Moreton [Professional Officer for the Immigration Services Union] told the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus that around 20,000 people are coming into the country each day, the majority of whom are hauliers.

To enter England people must provide proof of a negative test taken in the three days before departure – which can be shown to border agents as a printed document or through an email or text message.

Asked how border agents are able to verify proof of a negative test, Ms Moreton told MPs: “We’re not, is the simple answer, it’s predominantly taken on trust.

“We do get 100 or more a day of fake Covid certificates, that we catch.”

She added they usually identify them due to spelling errors. 

But many certificates are in a foreign language which could make spelling mistakes trickier to spot, she added.

“Otherwise they are taken at face value,” she said.

Ms Moreton also said there is “little to no” evidence on how well people are adhering to quarantine rules. Arrivals from countries on the Government’s “red list” (to which India was recently added) must isolate for 10 days at a Government-approved hotel – and pay £1,750 for the privilege. The Government has attempted to crack down on rule-breakers by paying the private firm Mitie up to £90 million to carry out 10,000 home visits every day.

The Telegraph’s report is worth reading in full.

Evidence Suggests People Overestimate the Risks of COVID-19

One of the most surprising things to emerge from the pandemic, at least from a lockdown sceptic’s point of view, is how overwhelmingly the British public has backed the lockdowns. For example, a YouGov poll taken in March of 2020 found that 93% of people supported the first lockdown. Another poll taken in January of 2021 found that 85% of people supported the third lockdown.

While some lockdown sceptics claim these polls can’t be trusted, I suspect they’re not too far off the mark. And even if they do overstate support for lockdowns (due to unrepresentative samples or social desirability bias) the true number is unlikely to be more than 10 or 20 percentage points lower.

The high level of public support for lockdowns may explain why they’ve lasted as long as they have. Politics is notoriously short-sighted, so why would the Conservatives ease up on a policy that’s kept them ahead in the polls for most of the last 14 months?

Aside from the public’s longstanding reverence for the NHS, an obvious reason why support for lockdown is so high is that millions of people have been paid 80% of their wages to stay at home. In the absence of the Government’s unprecedented furlough scheme, many of these people would be out of work, and presumably much less supportive of lockdowns.

However, there might be a more important reason why support for lockdown is so high: the public overestimates the risks of COVID-19, especially the risks to young people. Let’s review the evidence.

In July of 2020, the consultancy Kekst CNC ran a poll asking Britons what percentage of the population has died of COVID-19. The correct answer at the time was around 0.1%. However, the median answer among respondents was 1%, and of those who ventured a guess (rather than saying “don’t know”) one in five said at least 6% of the population had died.

Last year, Gallup ran a poll for Franklin Templeton in which they asked Americans what percentage of people who’ve been infected with COVID-19 need to be hospitalised. Less than 20% of respondents gave the correct answer of “1–5%”. And a staggering 35% said at least half of those infected need to be hospitalised. Interestingly, Democrats were much more likely than Republicans to overestimate the risk of hospitalisation, as this chart reveals:

It should be noted that the poll also revealed some underestimation of risks on the part of Republicans. For example, 41% incorrectly stated that flu causes more deaths than COVID-19. This shows that results can vary depending on exactly which question you ask. (Notice that Republicans did overestimate the risk of hospitalisation; just to a lesser extent than Democrats.)

Likewise, a survey carried out by Ipsos MORI for Kings College London asked Britons what are the chances of needing hospital treatment if you catch coronavirus. The median answer among respondents was 30%, and of those who ventured a guess, one in four said the chances are at least 50%.

In March and April of last year, the economist Arthur Attema and colleagues carried out two surveys of the French population: one two weeks after the first lockdown began, and the other two weeks before it ended. They asked respondents, “Out of 100 people who are infected with the Coronavirus, how many of them die from the disease?”

In both surveys, the average answer was 16 (whereas the correct answer for Western populations is less than 1). The fact that the average in the second survey was no lower than the average in the first indicates that people’s understanding of the risks did not improve over time, despite more evidence accumulating that the IFR is less than 1%.

Members of the public seem to have a particularly skewed perception of the risk COVID-19 poses to younger people. The aforementioned Gallup poll asked Americans what percentage of those who’ve died were aged 24 and under. The correct answer at the time was around 0.1%, yet the average answer among Republicans was 8%, while the average among Democrats was 9%.

Likewise, a poll taken by Ipsos MRBI for The Irish Times asked people what percentage of those who’ve died were under the age of 35. The correct answer was around 1%, yet the average among respondents was 12%.

In November of 2020, Savanta ComRes ran a poll on behalf of The Conservative Woman and asked Britons to guess the average age of people who’ve died after testing positive for COVID-19. The correct answer is around 82. However, the median answer among respondents was 65.

Incidentally, one problem with asking people to estimate very small quantities (like the percentage of people who’ve died from COVID-19) is that humans have a tendency to revise small percentages upwards when they’re not sure. This “uncertainty-based rescaling” probably accounts for some of the overestimation in the surveys mentioned above.

However, taking all the evidence together, people – particularly in Britain – do seem to overestimate the risks of COVID-19. And this may help to explain their high level of support for lockdowns.

NHS England Tells GPs Not to Give Pregnant Women AstraZeneca Covid Vaccine

GPs at sites that are only administering the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine have been told to cancel all appointments for pregnant women. This is in contrast to the advice issued by the Government last week, which was that pregnant women should be offered a Covid vaccine regardless of what stage they were at in their pregnancy. While the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that it would be “preferable” for pregnant women to be “offered” the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines “where available” due to there being more real-world data on these vaccines, it said the AstraZeneca vaccine should still be administered where an alternative was not available. This is in spite of the fact that the JCVI also said “more research is needed” on this vaccine because pregnant women were not included in the trials. NHS England has taken a more cautious approach, telling GPs to direct pregnant women to sites where alternative vaccines are available. MailOnline has the story.

A letter sent by NHS England bosses to practices on Saturday specified sites that do not have Pfizer or Moderna vaccines in stock should cancel all scheduled first doses for expectant mothers. 

It takes a more cautious stance than Number 10’s vaccine advisory panel, which says pregnant women should be offered jabs at the same time as their peers.

The JCVI originally said mothers-to-be should hold off on getting jabbed until there was more evidence. But it performed a U-turn last week after data from the U.S. showed they were safe.

It advised pregnant women should be offered Pfizer or Moderna vaccines in the first instance – but did not ban expectant mothers from getting AstraZeneca’s jab…

But the NHS England letter to practices the following day instructed all practices to direct pregnant women to primary care network sites, if they were unable to offer Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

It said all “sites should implement screening procedures to ensure pregnant women are identified and offered the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine”. 

The letter added pregnant women who have already had a first dose of AstraZeneca should continue with their second dose as planned, in line with guidance for the rest of the population. 

NHS England told MailOnline that patients who have their AstraZeneca appointment cancelled would be rebooked instantly for an alternative.

A spokesperson insisted the cancellation policy would not result in pregnant women receiving their first dose later…

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says pregnant women are no more likely to catch Covid than others, and that most have no symptoms or suffer mild cold or flu-like warning signs.

But there are a small number who can become unwell with the virus, and may be at increased risk of becoming severely ill compared to other women.

Worth reading in full.

Boris Warns of Third Wave – as He Finally Gets Round to Looking at Treatments for Covid

Boris told the country yesterday that, despite the vaccines, there is going be “another wave of Covid” at some point this year. Speaking at a Downing Street press briefing, he said:

As we look at what is happening in other countries with cases now at record numbers around the world, we cannot delude ourselves that Covid has gone away. I see nothing in the data now that makes me think we are going to have to deviate in any way from the roadmap, cautious but irreversible, that we have set out. But the majority of scientific opinion in this country is still firmly of the view that there will be another wave of Covid at some stage this year and so we must – as far as possible – learn to live with this disease, as we live with other diseases.

The warning came as he announced a task force to find new ways of treating COVID-19 before winter, with the aim of developing a tablet that can be taken at home to provide crucial early treatment. He said:

This means for example that if you test positive for the virus that there might be a tablet you could take at home to stop the virus in its tracks and significantly reduce the chance of infection turning into more serious disease.

The task force is welcome, of course, but the question is why is it only just being set up, when we first knew of this virus in January of 2020? Why wasn’t finding effective treatments a priority from the start? Why did none of the journalists at the press conference ask this question? Treatment should always be the first solution reached for when faced with a disease, as unlike lockdowns and vaccines they provide a way of making sick people better.

While the idea of learning to live with the disease, including through the use of treatments, should be reassuring, what the politicians mean by the phrase in the past year has typically turned out to be quite different to what most of us mean by it. We mean getting back to normal. They mean setting up a new “normal” of vaccine coercion, biometric ID passes, permanent screening programmes, face masks, closed borders, and restrictions on social contact and basic freedoms that loosen and tighten depending on the questionable results of mass testing. No thanks.

So why now? Is the Government only turning to treatments at this point because its fears are growing about variants that can escape the vaccines (for which there is some evidence)? Is this a further sign that the Government and its scientists are losing confidence in the vaccines?

In fact, as Professor Philip Thomas argues, there is unlikely to be a “third wave” now that we have the vaccines to top up our acquired and pre-existing immunity (and I doubt there would be a “third wave” without the vaccines). The remarkably low Covid hospitalisation rate for people who’ve been vaccinated that was reported yesterday adds to that hope. However, there is always going to be a winter flu season, and Covid and its potentially immunity-stretching variants are always going to be around. Who knows what the future will bring? Certainly not SAGE and its discredited modelling teams, whose alarmist predictions have consistently fallen flat. (Even in winter they predicted a much bigger surge and failed to anticipate that it would peak before lockdown.)

The question that has never been answered in this crisis is how safe do we need to be from Covid before we can go back to normal? Actually, it was answered once. In the Government’s original Pandemic Preparedness Strategy we know that a death toll of up to 315,000 within a few months from a pandemic virus was envisaged as being acceptable – still far more than we have seen with the (PCR-inflated) Covid death toll of the past year. That scale of mortality was not deemed to warrant any of the unprecedented measures we have experienced since March 2020 (which in any case were, correctly, judged not to be effective).

But since that sensible, science-based plan was ditched, the key question of when we can return to normal – the old normal, not the new normal – has never been answered. Is it because to do so would mean the politicians and scientists would have to grow a spine and endorse an acceptable level of risk and bring the emergency – and their status in it – to an end?

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