Day: 26 April 2021

£35 Million Test and Trace App Only Contacts Half of People Who Need to Self-Isolate

A recent survey suggested that more Brits are now willing to follow self-isolation rules after coming into contact with someone with Covid (90%) than in early March (84%). But how important are compliance rates if people don’t know they are required to isolate? The Test and Trace app – which has cost the taxpayer at least £35 million – is contacting fewer than half of its users who need to self-isolate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The Telegraph has the story.

The NHS Test and Trace app is contacting people who need to self-isolate in fewer than half of coronavirus cases, new data show.

A survey by the ONS found that in early April, only 48% of those who had downloaded the app and were required to self-isolate received a notification.

Of these, just 15% received the app notification at least a day before any other source, such as a phone call from a contact tracer.

The figures are the latest indication of the extremely limited impact the technology has played in reducing the spread of cases, despite costing at least £35 million.

They follow the delay of a software update earlier this month after a new check-in feature was found to violate Apple and Google’s privacy rules.

The ONS figures also found that nine out of 10 people required to self-isolate after being in contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus said they fully adhered to the rules.

However, of the respondents who did not follow self-isolation requirements, 78% reported they left the house for non-permitted reasons during their 10-day isolation period, the ONS said.

Of those who left their homes, 27% said they had gone to the shops, while 13% went out for outdoor recreation or exercise.

Worth reading in full.

Registered Suicides in England Fell in 2020 Because Inquests Were Delayed During Lockdowns

It was reported last week that despite fears of the mental health crisis prompted by the lockdowns leading to a spike in suicides in 2020, the number of people committing suicide in the U.K. did not rise after the first lockdown. While the provisional rate of suicides for 2020 is lower than that of 2019, this may be due to delays to coroner inquests, meaning the actual figure could be much higher, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The Mail has the story.

Registered suicides in England fell in 2020 as inquests were delayed during the coronavirus pandemic, official data shows.

Some 4,902 suicides were registered across the country last year – giving a provisional rate of 9.9 suicide deaths per 100,000 people, the ONS said.

That represents a fall from 2019, when the rate was 10.8 suicide deaths per 100,000 people.

The ONS said the fall “most likely reflects delays to coroner inquests, because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, as opposed to a genuine decrease in suicide”.

The 2020 figures are provisional and will be finalised by the ONS in late 2021.

All deaths by suicide are investigated by coroners, with deaths usually registered around five to six months after they occur due to the length of time it takes to hold an inquest.

Of the suicides registered in 2020, more than half (51.2%) occurred that year. Some 3,674 involved males, and 1,228 females.

Between April and June 2020, during the first national lockdown, the provisional suicide rate fell by 36.1% compared with the same period in 2019.

The number of registered suicides in this quarter was the lowest since 2001.

This is most likely to be due to the impact of the pandemic on the coroner’s service, such as delays to inquests as the service adapted to social distancing measures, the ONS said.

The number of registered suicides increased in the second half of 2020, most likely due to inquests resuming, the ONS said. 

In November, the charity Rethink Mental Illness said the number of people turning to its website for support with suicidal thoughts had tripled in the first six months of lockdown. A new study also found that the lack of in-person treatments – because of lockdowns – has made mental health patients feel as though they “were missing out on care”.

The Mail’s report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A report from the Journal of the American Medical Association shows a decrease in U.S. suicides in 2020 by 2,700, from 47,500 to 44,800. But, at the same time, there was a substantial increase in the number of “unintended injury” deaths (an increase of 19,000 from 2019) which was “largely driven by drug overdose[s]”.

Dr Gary Ordog, MD, from the Department of Health Services in the County of Los Angeles (retired) said:

I was surprised by the suicide rate reported to have a major decrease in 2020. It seems from most other reports that the suicide rate has increased since the pandemic began. This may be explained by the fact that the category of “Unintentional Injury” had a major increase at the same time, and the fact that this category includes drug overdoses. As there is often inadequate history in a fatal drug overdose case, many of these may be purposeful and so suicidal. This would explain the perceived increase in suicide rate since the current pandemic began. Perhaps further analysis of the data would elucidate this incongruity.

Compliance with Covid Restrictions Falls as Vaccine Rollout Progresses, According to New Survey

Compliance with Covid restrictions has fallen to levels not seen since last autumn, with a particular drop among those who’ve recently been vaccinated, according to the results of a new Ipsos MORI survey. Six in 10 people aged 55-75 say they are not completely following the rules. Covid vaccine uptake in this age range recently hit 95% and 12 million people (also mostly within this bracket) have had two doses. The Ipsos MORI survey found that while compliance has fallen the most in recent months among those aged 55-75, this age group is still more likely than others to claim to be following the rules relating to Covid. Here are the key findings.

A new survey by Ipsos MORI shows the number of Britons who say they are following the Government’s Covid lockdown rules completely has fallen from almost half (47%) in January 2021 to just over a third (35%) now. A further 36% are following the restrictions nearly all of the time (up from 31%) while 21% are following most/half of the time (was 16%) and 6% less than half/hardly at all (little change from 4%).

Claimed adherence to the rules reached a peak in January but has now dropped back to the levels seen last autumn. 

Among those aged 55-75, the number of people following the rules completely has fallen from 58% in January to four in 10 now (40%), perhaps related to the success of the vaccine programme among older people. However, overall this this age group is still more likely than younger Britons to say they are following the rules. 

The Government feared that Brits would take Covid restrictions less seriously after being vaccinated and has sought ways to keep people frightened of the virus. At the beginning of April, a Government source told the Telegraph that a poster campaign was being drawn up telling grandparents (including those who’ve been vaccinated): “[If you] hug your grandchildren there is a chance you are going to infect people you love.” These findings from Ipsos MORI suggest that people are more likely to believe that the benefits of resuming normal life outweigh the risks after they’ve been vaccinated.

The survey also looked at what people will be comfortable doing when lockdown restrictions are further eased.

Once restrictions have been lifted, Britons are most comfortable meeting friends and family outside of their household (77%), with another 5% who say this is already back to normal. Overall this is an increase of eight points since February. Seven in ten (71%) would feel comfortable visiting their GP for non-Covid related issues. Two-thirds (66%) feel comfortable shopping in both supermarkets and other shops. 

Six in ten (58%) workers say they will feel comfortable returning to work once restrictions are lifted, 16% say this had already returned to normal. Parents are also more likely to say they will feel comfortable sending their children to school (66%, up from 55% in February), 8% believe this is already as it was before the pandemic hit. 

A majority of Britons say they will be comfortable going to the hairdressers (59%), taking holidays in the UK (61%), having people working in your home (55%) and staying overnight at a friend or family member’s house (54%). Around half would be happy visiting an indoor museum or exhibition (51%) and going to bars and restaurants (50%).

Worth reading in full.

Case Numbers Do Not Always Decline After Lockdowns

Lockdown proponents often argue that, although case numbers sometimes decline in the absence of a lockdown (as in SwedenSouth DakotaFlorida), case numbers always decline in the presence of one. Once you put a lockdown in place, they claim, the curve reaches its peak and the epidemic starts to retreat.

There are certainly many countries where a decline in case numbers has coincided with the imposition of a lockdown. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that one caused the other. 

As the researcher Philippe Lemoine has argued, people start changing their behaviour voluntarily when they see deaths and hospitalisations rising. The government, meanwhile, feels an increasing need to “do something”, and the subsequent imposition of a lockdown happens to coincide with the peak of the infection curve.

Consistent with this account, there are several countries where a lockdown was imposed, but case numbers did not immediately decline; or if they did decline, they rose again while the lockdown was still in place. These examples constitute evidence against the claim that lockdowns have a substantial effect on the epidemic’s trajectory. Here I will present six. 

It’s important to note that some countries went into lockdown all at once, whereas others built up restrictions gradually over several weeks. This raises the question of exactly how to define a lockdown. For the purpose of this analysis, I will rely on the Oxford Blavatnik School’s COVID-19 Government Response Tracker. 

The dataset includes several measures of government restrictions. Each one is accompanied by a “flag” indicating whether the relevant restriction was applied to specific regions or the entire country. I will define the start of a lockdown as the first day on which there were mandatory workplace closures and a mandatory stay-at-home order in place for the entire country.

The first example is Israel, which went into lockdown on December 27th, but did not see the peak of its infection curve until January 17th.

The second example is Lebanon, which went into lockdown on November 14th, but did not see the peak of the curve until January 16th.

The third example is Slovakia, which went into lockdown on October 22nd, but did not see the peak of the curve until January 6th.

The fourth example is Slovenia, which went into lockdown on October 20th, but did not see the peak of the curve until January 10th.

The fifth example is Peru, which went into lockdown on March 16th, but did not see the peak of the curve until June 2nd.

The sixth example is Venezuela, which went into lockdown on September 28th, but did not see the peak of the curve until April 6th.

Note that, in every case, the lockdown measures were in place until after the peak of the curve. The fact that cases did not immediately decline, or proceeded to rise again (as in Venezuela), cannot therefore be blamed on the lifting of lockdown measures. 

The evidence presented here is consistent with the many empirical studies finding that lockdowns do not substantially reduce deaths from COVID-19. 

Most Of the AstraZeneca Vaccines Ordered By the Netherlands Will Go Unused

Most of the 11 million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine ordered by the Dutch Government will go unused because so many other vaccines will soon be available in the country, according to the director of its vaccination programme. The Netherlands recently limited the use of the AZ vaccine to people aged over 60 following cases of blood clots which are also believed to have damaged public confidence in the vaccine. Dutch News has the story.

The head of the vaccination department at [the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment has told] the AD [newspaper] in an interview that the millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to reach the Netherlands in the coming weeks will largely remain unused.

So many vaccines will be delivered that the AstraZeneca vaccine, currently only given to people aged 60 to 64, will not be needed, Jaap van Delden told the paper.

The Netherlands has ordered 11 million doses of the vaccine and some 1.5 million doses have been given to date. Most of the order is due to be delivered in mid-May.

The chaotic introduction of the AstraZeneca vaccine – first halted, then allowed, then halted for the under-60s – because of concerns about very rare blood clots, has led to a low take-up rate in some doctors’ practices.

But the national family doctors association [the National General Practitioners Association] LHV has reacted to the comments, saying that the AstraZeneca vaccine is extremely important and that the interview with Van Delden has only confused the issue more.

“The policy changes surrounding this vaccine are making it more difficult for doctors to ensure high turnout [for the vaccination]”, the organisation said.

“This is absolutely not helping… As far as we are concerned it is clear: if the choice is AstraZeneca now or possibly another vaccine later, then the choice should absolutely be for AstraZeneca now.”

In the interview with AD, Jaap van Delden said the leftover vaccines are likely to be distributed among poorer countries.

The Dutch News report is worth reading in full.

News Round Up

Mad Monk’s Latest Attack on Boris Relies on Naive Faith in Lockdowns

According to this morning’s papers, Boris is to blame for Britain’s huge winter death toll from COVID-19. The reason? According to the Daily Mail‘s “sources”, i.e. Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister stubbornly resisted the advice of SAGE to impose a two-week ‘circuit breaker’ last autumn – which would have nipped rising infections in the bud, or something – instead introducing the tier system as a compromise. But he eventually caved in to pressure at the end of October after he was bullied into imposing a second lockdown by Matt Hancock, Michael Gove, Rishi Sunak, Dominic Cummings, Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty. As he reluctantly agreed, the Prime Minister is alleged (by Dom) to have ruled out a third lockdown, saying: “No more ****ing lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands!”

Here’s Dom’s version of history, via the Mail, which recasts Boris as a liberty-loving lockdown sceptic.

The Prime Minister found himself outgunned when Mr Gove and Health Secretary Matt Hancock led the demand for a new clampdown on the disease.

Earlier in the pandemic, he had been supported by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who warned of the dire economic consequences of national lockdowns.

By October, Mr Sunak had moved closer to the stance of Mr Gove and Mr Hancock. Chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance strongly backed the position of Mr Gove and Mr Hancock.

A well-placed source said: “The PM hates the idea of lockdowns. He kept saying ‘there’s no evidence they even work’ and that ‘it goes against everything I’ve stood for’. But he was outnumbered – and ended up sitting in sullen silence as the others told him he had no choice.”

The tipping point reportedly came after a passionate speech by Mr Gove at a meeting with Mr Johnson and senior ministers.

“Michael said that if he didn’t impose a second lockdown there would be a catastrophe,” a source close to Mr Gove said.

“Hospitals would be over-run, people would be turned away from A&E and people would be dying in hospital corridors and hospital car parks.

“He told the PM he would have to send soldiers into hospitals to keep people out.

“TV film of that would be beamed around the globe. Was that the image of his post-Brexit Britain he wanted the world to see? It was devastating. The PM had no answer.”

Insiders say that from that point Mr Johnson “gave in to the inevitable” – and agreed to a second lockdown. But he also made it clear that it was to be the last, and under no circumstances world he agree to a third lockdown.

One said: “You have to understand how difficult this has been for the PM. The free spirit libertarian and journalist mischief maker in him wanted to join the lockdown sceptics revolt. But faced with being told by his Cabinet and experts that he would be held responsible for tens of thousands of deaths he knew he had no choice.”

The problem with this attempt to smear Boris is that it takes it for granted that he was wrong to rule out a ‘circuit breaker’ in the autumn and wrong to resist the pressure from the lockdown hawks surrounding him to impose a second lockdown in November. In fact, he was right on both counts.

First, let’s deal with the canard that a ‘circuit breaker’ in the autumn would have nipped surging infections in the bud, thereby massively reducing the ‘second wave’ death toll.

The argument relies on a counter-factual – a claim about what would have happened if Boris had done SAGE’s bidding. Counter-factuals are usually difficult to falsify, but not in this case because we have a ‘control’ in the form of Wales which imposed a ‘fire break’ lockdown from October 23rd to November 9th. In spite of this, the trajectory of confirmed cases in Wales, on a per capita basis, was almost identical to that of England.

Source: Financial Times

What about the claim that Boris was wrong to resist the pressure to impose a second lockdown in November? It’s become conventional wisdom that cases in England only started to fall after the second lockdown was imposed. But as Edinburgh University Professor Simon Woods pointed out in a paper for Biometrics, infections were falling before all three lockdowns were imposed, including the second. Instead of relying on the modelling produced by Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College – one of the models that SAGE based its projections and recommendations on and which no doubt informed the views of the lockdown hawks in their showdown with Boris, including Gove’s hyperbolic ‘soldiers in hospitals’ claim – Woods estimated the daily number of new fatal infections from the data on daily deaths and fatal disease duration. He summarised his findings in a recent article in the Spectator:

Before the second lockdown it was argued that the tier system was ineffective and that cases were surging. But the reconstructions suggest that fatal infections — and by implication Covid infections generally — were not surging. They were in decline having peaked earlier.

Here’s the model produced by Simon Woods and his colleague Ernst Wit, with whom he wrote another paper that came to the same conclusion. It shows that the R was below one, and hence infection levels were falling (in most regions and in total), before the second lockdown.

As the model shows, far from the restrictions introduced in the second lockdown causing infections to fall, they were already falling before the lockdown was imposed. In other words, Boris was right to resist calls to ratchet up the ‘tier system’ his Government had introduced in October and the hawks surrounding him in Downing Street were wrong.

There’s one more piece of evidence to suggest Boris was right to resist a ‘circuit breaker’ and right to push back against SAGE’s religious-like attachment to Ferguson’s modelling – Sweden. Sweden didn’t impose a ‘fire break’ last autumn or a lockdown last winter, yet its trajectory of Covid deaths per million is remarkably similar to the U.K’s, as can be seen in the graph below.

It’s also worth pointing out – for the thousandth time – that in spite of not locking down for the whole of 2020 Sweden experienced fewer Covid deaths per million than most European countries, including the U.K. That suggests that the models the lockdown hawks were basing their prognoses of doom on were wrong and had Boris stuck to his guns and resisted their scaremongering, as the Swedish Prime Minister did, the U.K. would not have experienced an even more deadly ‘second wave’. The Swedish example shows that lockdowns don’t appear to do anything to reduce Covid deaths. When Boris said “there’s no evidence they even work” he was spot on.

One final point: the Telegraph reports that Cummings is planning to blame Boris for the U.K.’s failure to close its borders at the beginning of the pandemic when he testifies before a House of Commons select committee next month.

Dominic Cummings will accuse Boris Johnson of blocking plans to close Britain’s borders and putting lives at risk by failing to prevent the spread of Covid from abroad early in the pandemic.

Cummings may well be right that closing Britain’s borders in January of last year, particularly to travellers from China, would have been sensible. It certainly seems to have contributed to Taiwan’s astonishingly low death toll in spite of Taiwan never having imposed a lockdown. But he’s wrong to blame Boris for this omission. As I pointed out on Lockdown Sceptics in May of last year, when the British Government decided not to impose port-of-entry screening it was following the advice of the Newly Emerging Respiratory Virus Advisory Group (NERVTAG).

The Department of Health and Social Care asked NERVTAG to hold a meeting to consider the need for port-of entry screening in January and one was duly convened on January 13th chaired by Peter Horby, an Oxford professor with links to the World Health Organisation. At that point, seven other countries had introduced temperature screening at airports for visitors from Wuhan, the centre of the viral outbreak in Hubei. The NERVTAG recommendation was that there would be no point in doing this if exit screening at Wuhan airports was already taking place, although they had no evidence it was.

At the next NERVTAG meeting on January 21st, this one attended by Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer of England, and his deputy Jonathan Van-Tam, the boffins were asked to reconsider the question, but again they passed the buck to the Chinese authorities. By now, human-to-human transmission had been confirmed, i.e. China’s attempt to cover-up the outbreak had been exposed and greater doubt should have been cast on any information coming out of the Communist dictatorship. Nonetheless, NERVTAG’s response was the same: “Neil Ferguson noted that from the modelling perspective, with exit screening in place in China, effectiveness of port-of-entry screening in the UK would be low and potentially only detect those who were not sick before boarding but became sick during the flight. NERVTAG felt there was a lack of clarity on the exit screening process in Wuhan, although it was thought that this process would be robust, and statements had been released by Chinese authorities about stopping febrile passengers from travelling. However, as noted, there were no data on the implementation of this programme.” (Minutes of the NERVTAG Wuhan Novel Coronavirus Second Meeting: January 21st 2020)

A lack of clarity on the exit screening process in Wuhan?!? You can say that again. As I’ve flagged up before, the Chinese authorities cut off travel from Hubei to the rest of China on January 23rd, two days after this NERVTAG meeting, but not from Hubei to the rest of the world, including the U.K. If the exit screening process in Wuhan was as “robust” as the boffins thought – if the Chinese authorities really were “stopping febrile passengers from travelling” – why was the process not good enough to prevent infection spreading to the rest of the country?

I’m basing all this on the minutes of the NERVTAG meetings which are available online here.

In short, Boris isn’t to blame for Britain’s failure to close its borders at the beginning of the pandemic last year – that would be Neil Ferguson, Chris Whitty and Jonathan Van-Tam – and he was quite right to hold out against an entirely pointless ‘circuit breaker’ last autumn and right, too, to fight against attempts to browbeat him into imposing a second lockdown in November. The only thing he did wrong was not to stick to his guns about imposing a third.

Stop Press: I got some of the data for the above argument from Phillip W. Magness’s excellent post for AIER in which he debunked the pro-lockdown conspiracy theory that the only reason Boris didn’t impose a ‘circuit breaker’ last autumn was because he fell under the spell of Sunetra Gupta, Carl Heneghan and Anders Tegnell.