Day: 22 April 2021

Boris is the Great Appeaser Who Caves in to the “Experts” at the Expense of Ordinary People

There follows a guest post by Dr Timothy Bradshaw, a retired Oxford Theological Lecturer.

Allegra Stratton, Boris’s replacement for Lee Cain as policy communicator in No.10, has gone, to the BBC as an eco-analyst, after a short spell of announcing nothing, maybe she offended Carrie too? And that communications room, fitted out for a couple of million, won’t be used. So that “reset” of No 10 has itself been reset, maintaining that sense of fairground chaos so beloved of our leader.

But his utterances are, as Janet Daley has shown in her Telegraph column, less and less convincing and being taken as incoherent by a growing number of intelligent people, not just “conspiracy theorists”. He bizarrely proclaimed that the successful lowering of Covid cases and deaths in the UK was not caused by the vaccination programme but by… the lockdowns, which therefore must remain the chief weapon against the epidemic – if the epidemic should return. Hence the shutting of the Nightingale hospitals and no plan for future epidemics being developed. As Daley said, this statement was surely plain wrong, and also politically a gaffe as it portrayed his one massive success as an irrelevance. It also would discourage the population from offering to be vaccinated, a Macronic blunder. Why this idiocy from our leader?    

“Save lockdowning” is the only credible answer, combined with the fact of Boris being, apparently willingly like Patty Hearst, held hostage by that strange and frightening gang of “experts”. Boris is in effect their glove puppet. Their latest utterance through him is that “a third wave is definitely coming” – “hurricane Boris” is building up in India and will soon be blowing us away. Really, or is this just more “precautionary” weather forecasting to get us to board up the economy again, more fear-inducing talk?

At present we can hardly be said to be in an epidemic, but the “experts” are very keen to keep finding Covid wherever they can, and so “save lockdowning”, as if hoping to keep this phenomenon going to maintain their grip on the population. 

The grotesque plan is to keep perfectly healthy and non-vulnerable people taking two home tests per week, followed up by a PCR test for positive results, and these go to a central lab. These tests are for the Covid “genome sequencing” programme and can hardly be defended as a sensible use of the health budget. It is predicated on scanning for and locking down any tiny group of people infected with a new variant, and not on getting a medically based plan for treating future SARS viruses. It is clearly in line with keeping the lockdown hammer available, permanently. 

Imperial College’s Modelling is Even Worse Than We Thought

When Professor Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College London have been challenged on their model’s miserable failure to predict the pandemic death toll in Sweden they have always pushed back saying they didn’t model Sweden, disavowing the work of the team at Uppsala University which adapted their modelling to the Swedish context. But it turns out this is not exactly accurate. Phillip W. Magness explains on AIER:

In the House of Lords hearing from last year, Conservative member Viscount Ridley grilled Ferguson over the Swedish adaptation of his model: “Uppsala University took the Imperial College model – or one of them – and adapted it to Sweden and forecasted deaths in Sweden of over 90,000 by the end of May if there was no lockdown and 40,000 if a full lockdown was enforced.” With such extreme disparities between the projections and reality, how could the Imperial team continue to guide policy through their modelling?

Ferguson snapped back, disavowing any connection to the Swedish results: “First of all, they did not use our model. They developed a model of their own. We had no role in parameterising it. Generally, the key aspect of modelling is how well you parameterise it against the available data. But to be absolutely clear they did not use our model, they didn’t adapt our model.”

The Imperial College modeller offered no evidence that the Uppsala team had erred in their application of his approach. The since-published version from the Uppsala team makes it absolutely clear that they constructed the Swedish adaptation directly from Imperial’s UK model. “We used an individual agent-based model based on the framework published by Ferguson and co-workers that we have reimplemented” for Sweden, the authors explain. They also acknowledged that their modelled projections far exceeded observed outcomes, although they attribute the differences somewhat questionably to voluntary behavioural changes rather than a fault in the model design.

Ferguson’s team has nonetheless aggressively attempted to dissociate itself from the Uppsala adaptation of their work. After the UK Spectator called attention to the Swedish results last spring, Imperial College tweeted out that “Professor Ferguson and the Imperial COVID-19 response team never estimated 40,000 or 100,000 Swedish deaths. Imperial’s work is being conflated with that of an entirely separate group of researchers.” It’s a deflection that Ferguson and his defenders have repeated many times since.

In fact, though, as Phillip points out, it is not true to say that the Imperial team never estimated 40,000 or 100,000 Swedish deaths. Hidden away in a spreadsheet in the appendix to Report 12, published on March 26th 2020, are the team’s estimates for other countries including Sweden. The projections are expressly intended to encourage those countries to follow suit with social restrictions. They write:

To help inform country strategies in the coming weeks, we provide here summary statistics of the potential impact of mitigation and suppression strategies in all countries across the world. These illustrate the need to act early, and the impact that failure to do so is likely to have on local health systems.

The predictions for Sweden are up to 90,157 deaths under “unmitigated” spread (Uppsala projected 96,000) and, under “population-level social distancing” (lockdowns), 42,473 deaths (compared to Uppsala’s 40,000). So, contrary to their repeated denials, Ferguson’s team did make predictions for Sweden very close to those made by the Uppsala team who adapted their model, and those predictions were just as way off. Sweden’s Covid death toll at the end of the first wave, on August 31st, was 5,821.

Phillip summarises further failures of the Imperial modelling in a table showing four non-lockdown countries (Sweden, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan) and the United States (most of whose states imposed a lockdown in the spring) with their one-year death toll and how it compares to Imperial’s projections.

Performance of Imperial College Modelling in Four Non-Lockdown Countries and the United States (AIER)

It’s worth saying, though, that the models for the ‘unmitigated’ scenarios predicted the deaths to occur over the course of a few months, not a whole year including another winter flu season. There will be another ‘wave’ of deaths every winter, possibly from (or with) COVID-19 if it remains the dominant respiratory virus (and if we keep on testing for it). If we keep on adding the deaths over several seasons then of course they will eventually reach the predicted figures. But that wasn’t what the models were claiming to show and would be a case of making the evidence fit the model.

The AIER article is worth reading in full.

Royal College of GPs Opposed to Mandatory Vaccination

Forcing health and social care staff to take a Covid vaccine would lead to “resentment and mistrust”, says the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), which boasts a membership of over 50,000 British GPs. The group “strongly urges” that all professionals (and members of the public) have a vaccine when offered, but says that making vaccination mandatory would be a step too far. Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the RCGP, is quoted on GP Online:

While overall take-up [of the vaccine] is high, among groups where it is not, this needs to be identified, understood and addressed.

We would strongly urge all health and care professionals to have the Covid vaccine, unless there is a medical reason why they shouldn’t, and the vast majority have. Healthcare professionals are at high risk of contracting Covid and getting vaccinated will help protect themselves, their colleagues and their patients.

However, we don’t agree with making Covid vaccination mandatory as informed and educated choice about health interventions would be more beneficial long-term than enforcing them, which risks leading to resentment and mistrust.

The Covid vaccine is our most important tool in protecting people from the virus, and helping to get life back to normal. All vaccines that we’re currently using in the U.K. have undergone rigorous testing to ensure they are safe and effective – as such, we’d urge anyone who is offered a jab to have one.

GP Online has more on the current position of Britain’s vaccine rollout among healthcare professionals.

Polling by the BMA shows that the vast majority of GPs have now been vaccinated – 93% of GP partners, 86% of salaried GPs and 84% of locums have now received both doses of Covid vaccine.

However, increased vaccine hesitancy among some healthcare workers has been reported, and not only among staff working in care homes. In care homes, the Government says that just 53% of care homes for older adults currently meet the required level of vaccination coverage among staff and residents to protect against Covid outbreaks.

Earlier this month, the Royal College of Nursing, which has a membership of 450,000 registered nurses, also came out against mandatory Covid vaccination for health and social care staff, saying it would be wrong for staff to be “coerced” into having the vaccine. Professor Karol Sikora, former Chief of the Cancer Programme of the World Health Organisation, has also suggested that we stop focusing all of our attention on vaccine passports, mass testing and other “grand schemes” (of which mandatory vaccination is certainly one) and instead target our sights on the health-related issues which have been left behind during the Covid era.

The GP Online report is worth reading in full.

Fifth of Government Covid Contracts “Raised Red Flags for Possible Corruption”

The awarding of 73 Covid contracts worth more than £3.7 billion by the Government “merits further investigation”, according to an anti-corruption campaign group. Transparency International UK said some companies – vying, as an example, for contracts for the supply of PPE – were referred into a “VIP lane” because of their political connections, adding further weight behind accusations of a “chumocracy” at the heart of Government. The Guardian has the story.

One in five Government Covid contracts awarded between February and November 2020 contained one or more red flags for possible corruption and require urgent further investigation, a respected campaign group has warned…

The group said Boris Johnson’s Government must urgently disclose the identities of companies awarded public money through the VIP lane, which was set up by the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health and Social Care in the early days of the pandemic…

Transparency International UK said its analysis indicated “apparent systemic biases in the award of PPE contracts that favoured those with political connections to the party of Government in Westminster”, contrary to denials by civil servants and Conservative ministers.

The group said it had identified 73 Covid-related contracts with multiple factors that would ordinarily be treated as red flags for possible corruption, such as the company being politically connected. Twenty seven PPE or testing contracts worth £2.1 billion were awarded to firms with connections to the Conservative Party, it claimed.

The group said it had also identified £255 million of contracts awarded to companies that had only been incorporated within the previous 60 days. The figure is surprising because the short lifespan of the companies suggests they cannot have had any track record of actual business.

Many of the contracts were awarded without competitive tender. The Government has acknowledged suspending tender processes for Covid procurement, arguing that the urgency of the pandemic required it to move more quickly than a tender process would allow.

The report, Track and Trace, is compiled by researchers working for the UK chapter of the international organisation Transparency International. The group is respected in anti-corruption policy circles and publishes an annual corruption perceptions index that frequently informs national anti-bribery strategies.

Worth reading in full.

Age-Standardised Mortality Rate Drops 26% From February to March

The ONS announced today that there were 45,567 deaths registered in England in March, which is 18% less than in February, though still 1.5% more than the five-year average. (Note that deaths decreased throughout the month, so that by the week ending March 26th, the number of deaths was in fact below the five-year average.)

However, the best overall measure of mortality isn’t the number of deaths, or even the death rate (i.e., deaths divided by total population), but rather the age-standardised mortality rate. This takes into account the ages of those who died, as well as the age-structure of the overall population.

In March, the age-standardised mortality rate was 26% lower than in February, and 5.5% lower than the five-year average. This chart from the ONS shows the age-standardised mortality rate for the first three months of the year, each year, going back to 2001:

It indicates that 2021 has seen the highest level of mortality in the first three months of the year in England since 2006. However, it’s worth noting that the figure for 2021 is only 5% higher than the figure for 2018. And in Wales, the level of mortality in the first three months of the year was actually lower than in 2018.

January saw a much lower peak than April of last year, and today’s figures confirm that the mortality rate has fallen substantially further since then.

E.U. Will Not Take up Option to Buy 100 Million Extra Covid Vaccines from AstraZeneca

The European Commission has decided not to take up an option to buy 100 million additional doses of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine after safety concerns about cases of blood clotting linked to the vaccine as well as issues with its supply. The European Union’s contract with AZ included 400 million doses of the vaccine, 100 million of which were optional. An E.U. spokesman said that the deadline to exercise this option had passed and that the bloc did not wish to take it up.

The E.U. is also preparing legal proceedings against AstraZeneca over the “fulfilment of deliveries”, though the drugmaker said it was not yet aware of any action. Reuters has the story.

The European Commission is working on legal proceedings against AstraZeneca after the drugmaker cut Covid vaccine deliveries to the E.U., sources familiar with the matter said.

The move would mark a further step in an E.U. plan to sever ties with the Anglo-Swedish company after it repeatedly cut supplies to the bloc, contributing to major delays in Europe’s vaccine rollout.

The news about the legal case was first reported on Thursday by Politico. An E.U. official involved in talks with drugmakers confirmed authorities in Brussels were preparing to sue the company.

“EU states have to decide if they (will) participate. It is about fulfilment of deliveries by the end of the second quarter,” the official said…

“What matters is that we ensure the delivery of a sufficient number of doses in line with the company’s earlier commitments,” a Commission spokesman said in an emailed statement. “Together with the member states, we are looking at all options to make this happen.”

Questions have been raised by the E.U. about how AstraZeneca has spent the money granted to it by the bloc to produce Covid vaccines, as well as about delays to the delivery of the vaccine.

Brussels also questioned how AstraZeneca spent more than 224 million euros ($270 million) granted by the E.U. in September to buy vaccine ingredients and for which the bloc said the company had not provided sufficient documents confirming the purchases.

Under the contract, the company had committed to making its “best reasonable efforts” to deliver to the E.U. 180 million vaccine doses in the second quarter, for a total of 300 million in the period from December to June.

But the company said in a statement on March 12th it would aim to deliver only one-third of that…

Under the contract, the parties agreed that Belgian courts would be responsible for settling unresolved disputes.

Worth reading in full.

News Round Up

Covid Passports Proving Vaccine Status Will be Introduced in Time for the Return of Overseas Travel

The Government has contacted travel industry figures to say that Covid passports will be introduced in time for the return of overseas travel. The passport will feature a traveler’s “vaccine status”, granting those who have been vaccinated entry into countries which demand evidence of such information. The Telegraph has the story.

Covid passports will be made available to prove people have been vaccinated as early as next month, in time for summer holidays, the travel industry has been told.

The Department for Transport wants an official certification scheme that gives British travellers a document they can show at borders overseas in place by May 17th.

In a separate development, a European medical agency recommended that fully vaccinated travellers should be able to sidestep tests and quarantine.

It potentially smooths the path for holidays to more than 20 countries that have indicated they could ask travellers for proof of vaccination, such as Israel, Croatia, Turkey, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus.

Greece has moved to reopen its tourism industry by dropping quarantine rules for travellers from more than 30 nations if they have been vaccinated or tested negative for Covid.

The Covid vaccine certificate could come in either digital or physical form, with Government officials exploring the best way to make it work in the tight time frame.

Critically, the proof of having received a Covid jab would be certified by UK Government, meaning it would be accepted by countries demanding evidence before entry.

The topic of Covid passports was discussed in a call between Government officials and travel industry figures held on Wednesday. A Government official is reported to have said:

We aim to give people the ability to prove their vaccine status by the time international travel restarts where other countries require it. The earliest that will restart is May 17th.

Border officials said this week that around 100 fake Covid test certificates are found every day at the U.K. border. Whether or not Covid passports will be as easy to forge as officials say test certificates are, there is no doubt that some fakes will flow through the system.

The Telegraph’s report is worth reading in full.