Day: 28 April 2021

Coronavirus Spike Protein Alone May Cause Lung Damage

Research on mice has found that exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein by itself, without the rest of the virus or any viral replication, is enough to cause COVID-19-like symptoms, including severe inflammation of the lungs. Dr Pavel Solopov, Research Assistant Professor at Old Dominion University in America, who led the research, told the Medical Xpress:

Our findings show that the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein causes lung injury even without the presence of intact virus. This previously unknown mechanism could cause symptoms before substantial viral replication occurs.

The researchers injected genetically modified mice with a segment of the spike protein and compared them after 72 hours with a control group injected with saline. The outcome was unmistakable, according to the Medical Xpress.

The researchers found that the genetically modified mice injected with the spike protein exhibited COVID-19-like symptoms that included severe inflammation, an influx of white blood cells into their lungs and evidence of a cytokine storm – an immune response in which the body starts to attack its own cells and tissues rather than just fighting off the virus. The mice that only received saline remained normal.

The researchers did not, according to this report, indicate whether the finding has any significance for the vaccines and their side effects. The Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines all work by delivering genetic material that induces cells around the body to produce the spike protein, which the immune system then becomes primed to recognise. A question arising from this research is whether, if the spike protein is pathogenic in its own right and not just a means of gaining entry to cells, this explains any of the Covid-like side-effects of the vaccines, including some of the rare serious ones.

Other research has suggested that “the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein (without the rest of the viral components) triggers cell signalling events that may promote pulmonary vascular remodelling and pulmonary arterial hypertension as well as possibly other cardiovascular complications”. These matters should continue to be investigated.

Worth reading the Medical Xpress report in full.

(Image: Using a newly developed mouse model, researchers found that exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein alone was enough to induce COVID-19-like symptoms including severe inflammation in the lungs. The left images show healthy mouse lung tissue while the right images show tissue from mouse lungs exposed to the spike protein. Credit: Pavel Solopov, Old Dominion University.)

Germany’s Domestic Spy Agency Monitoring Anti-Lockdown Activists for Suspected Sedition

German authorities are not taking criticism of the Government’s handling of Covid lightly. On Tuesday, we covered the raiding of the house, office and car of a Weimar judge who earlier this month ruled against the wearing of face masks in schools. Now, reports have emerged that the country’s domestic spy agency is monitoring anti-lockdown activists for suspected sedition. Reuters has the story.

Germany’s domestic spy agency is monitoring individuals who have joined anti-lockdown protests to decide if their rejection of Government curbs amounts to subversion and incitement to violence.

The surveillance includes some members of the “Querdenker” or “Lateral Thinkers” movement, which has been organising increasingly violent protests against coronavirus lockdowns and includes conspiracy theorists and suspected far-right extremists, a spokeswoman for the BfV spy agency said.

The movement started with small demonstrations in the southern city of Stuttgart last year but has grown in scope and reach, drawing to its protests Germans from all walks of life frustrated with lockdowns in place since November.

Authorities fear that far-right extremists and conspiracy theorists who either deny the existence of Covid or downplay its threat to public health are exploiting lockdown frustrations to stir anger against politicians and state institutions five months before a general election…

Domestic spies fear far-right extremists could seek to boost anger against state institutions such as the police after parliament gave temporary powers this month to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Government to enforce lockdowns in areas with high infection rates.

The new powers have drawn fierce criticism from opposition parties, including the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, whose leaders have joined anti-lockdown protests.

The BKA federal police agency has told parliament that the names of lawmakers who voted for the amendments figured in an online document titled, “Death list of German politicians”, while adding that they were in no imminent danger.

A spokeswoman for the BfV said: “Organisers of demonstrations which are mainly led by protagonists of the Querdenker movement have an agenda that goes beyond protesting against the state’s measures against the coronavirus.” The Interior Minister of the eastern state of Thuringia added that attacks made against the police demonstrate the extent of the radicalisation among anti-lockdown protesters.

Worth reading in full.

Reduced Interaction Caused by Covid Lockdowns Has Left Children Vulnerable to Other Illnesses

A lack of exposure to the natural environment (as well as to a variety of microbes) caused by lockdowns and “social” distancing is likely to have stunted the development of children’s immune systems, making them more prone to allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases. The New Scientist has the story.

It is too early to know for certain, but extended coronavirus lockdowns could have a long-term effect on the development of children’s immune systems, affecting allergic responses.

The majority of the components of the immune system go through a process of maturation between birth and the age of six.

“Immune systems learn to regulate themselves during these early years,” says Byram Bridle at the University of Guelph in Canada.

Regular exposure to the natural environment and a variety of microbes enables immune systems to learn to differentiate between things that are foreign but not dangerous and foreign things that are pathogenic. A failure to properly differentiate between the two may result in hypersensitivities including allergies and asthma.

Bridle suspects that for “Covid kids” – children who have spent a significant proportion of their life under lockdown – there may be a higher eventual incidence of such allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases.

Dr Bridle, a viral immunologist, said parents should hug their children regularly to help boost their immune systems.

“Sharing your microbes with your very young child is going to help with this development of their immune system.”

Even though the most beneficial interactions are with other human microbiomes, the presence of household pets is also a boon.

“When people have an opportunity, try and get out in the natural environment,” adds Bridle.

In its report, the New Scientist examines the impact of reduced interactions (caused by lockdowns) on respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections in Australia.

In Australia, which has largely been Covid-free for the past six months, there has been a delayed surge in cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a common, flu-like illness that causes a lung infection called bronchiolitis and often has the most serious effects in children under the age of two.

RSV infections typically peak in winter, but in 2020, the RSV season in Australia was curtailed by Covid stay-at-home orders and public health measures.

The number of RSV cases in Western Australia fell by 98% during the winter months of 2020 compared to the same period in previous years. They then surged in spring. A study published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal found that RSV activity started to increase in September, and soon exceeded the median seasonal peak from 2012 to 2019. There was even a change in the median patient age.

American Universities Order Students to Take Covid Vaccine before Returning to Classes

A number of American universities have announced that they will require their staff and students to be vaccinated against Covid before being permitted to return to campuses this autumn. MailOnline has the story.

Several state university systems will require all students returning to classes and campuses this fall to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

A number of state and public institutions have made the announcement in the past week as they hope to get back to normal campus life after months of online learning.

Similar measures have been announced by some private institutions, but with the policy of requiring Covid vaccinations expanding into state and public school systems, the number of universities with the requirement has risen significantly.

Some private universities – including Brown, Cornell and Stanford – have announced similar requirements, and will be joined by California’s two state university systems, as well as several universities in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and New Jersey.

Thursday’s joint announcement from the 10-campus University of California and the 23-campus California State University represented the largest of its kind in American higher education…

Including private universities, at least 80 have announced their intention to make vaccines mandatory to their students in order for them to return to campus, according to a count by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

But others have said outright that they will not require their students to be vaccinated. Republican Governors in Utah, Texas, Florida and Montana have signed orders banning institutions from requiring vaccines. 

According to Forbes, it is currently unclear how state executive orders banning Covid vaccine passports – such as that recently signed in Texas – will affect universities wishing to force their students to get vaccinated. Should the bans on unvaccinated students go ahead, it is expected that some exemptions “based on sincerely held religious views and medical conditions” will apply. Forbes has published a list of institutions that have said they will require staff and students to be vaccinated before they reopen.

MailOnline‘s report is worth reading in full.

Why Has the NHS COVID-19 App Not Been Withdrawn?

What follows is a guest post by our technology correspondent.

Grant Schapps has been doing the media rounds today announcing that the NHS App is going to be the vehicle for vaccine passports, as I predicted on this site last month. That is going to cause huge problems. What we did not hear in those media interviews were any questions asking when its sister app, the NHS Test and Trace app, is going to be withdrawn. Why would they ask that? Well, because Matt Hancock said that is what he would do.

He could not have been clearer about it. In a letter to Harriet Harman’s Joint Committee on Human Rights on May 4th 2020 he wrote: “We intend to withdraw the app once the epidemic is over and it is no longer required.”

Is the pandemic over? Sarah Walker, Chief Investigator on the Office for National Statistics COVID-19 Infection Survey and Professor of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology at Oxford, says so. The Telegraph reported her saying: “Britain has moved from a pandemic to an endemic situation.” That was on April 23rd so plenty of time for Matt Hancock to have gone onto the app store and withdrawn his app.

Why the delay, Matt?

The EU’s Vaccine Passport Scheme Could Destroy Peace in Northern Ireland

Today, the European Parliament will vote on the introduction of vaccine passports within the EU, known as Digital Green Certificates. Ciarán McCollum, a barrister and linguist from Northern Ireland who advises on matters of European law, has written a piece for Lockdown Sceptics expressing his concern that this scheme will destroy the fragile peace in Northern Ireland. Here’s an extract:

The proposed regulation will cost Europe dearly. There are the financial implications of a universal border control regime which involves the constant handling of that most sensitive of data types: medical records. There is the loss of ideals intrinsic to European democracy. But more pertinently for me, there is the situation in Northern Ireland.

The Explanatory Memorandum calls freedom of movement one of the EU’s “most cherished achievements” and a “driver of its economy”. It is also a driver of peace in my home. The Northern Irish remain citizens of Europe without the Union, and will not accept being checked upon entry into what about a million of them consider their home: the neighbouring Member State of Ireland. The prospect of violence is terrible.

Despite these risks and contrary to the recently introduced Better Regulation Rules, the DGC controls are being rushed through with nary a cost-benefit analysis, impact assessment or public consultation and with limited parliamentary debate. Why? Well, in the words of the Head of the Commision’s Covid Taskforce, Thierry Breton, when speaking to RTL in March, so that Europeans can once again “enter a public place” and “live without being a risk to each other”. Could Mr Breton really mean to suggest that there ever was, or ever can be, life without risk? Has the Parisian gentleman, when crossing his home city by car for example, ever encountered the 4-lane 12-exit roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe?

Worth reading in full.

Number of Covid Hospital Patients in England Falls to Seven-Month Low

The number of people in English hospitals with Covid has fallen to the lowest level since last September, according to the latest NHS figures. The total is down by 96% from the peak in January. The Evening Standard has the story.

The number of patients in hospital in England with Covid has dropped to its lowest level for seven months, figures show.

A total of 1,310 patients were in hospital at 8am on April 27th, according to figures from NHS England.

This is the lowest since 1,299 on September 21st, and is down 96% from a record 34,336 on January 18th.

During the first wave of the virus, patient numbers peaked at 18,974 on April 12th 2020.

Both south-east and south-west England are reporting numbers down 98% on their second-wave peak, while eastern England has seen its number drop by 97%.

Patient numbers in the Midlands have fallen 96%, with London north-west England and the combined region of north-east England and Yorkshire all seeing drops of 95%.

The number of hospital admissions of patients with Covid has also dropped significantly since January.

Yet more good news, but will the Government – transfixed by the threat of Covid variants – take any notice?

Worth reading in full.

Almost 70% Of English Adults Have Covid Antibodies

New data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that across the U.K. more than half of adults are likely to have Covid antibodies. The figure is highest in England, where 68.3% are likely to have antibodies based on the ONS’s testing, which suggests that almost 70% of the population has had the infection or been vaccinated. Sky News has the story.

Almost 70% of the adult population in England now have Covid antibodies, the latest figures suggest.

An estimated seven in 10 adults (68.3%) in private households were likely to have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies in the week to April 11th, according to the ONS.

The latest estimate is up from one in two, or 53.1%, two weeks earlier.

The presence of Covid antibodies suggests someone has had the infection or has been vaccinated – and the inoculation rollout has now reached more than 33 million people across the U.K..

In Wales, some six in 10 adults (61%) in private households tested positive for antibodies in the week to April 11th, according to the same new figures.

This is also up from around one in two adults, or 48.2%, two weeks before.

The ONS said that the rise in antibody levels in older age groups is likely a reflection of the fact that over 12 million people (largely in this group) have had a second dose of a Covid vaccine.

The Mail also highlighted that the number of adults with Covid antibodies now is likely higher than the ONS is currently reporting.

Antibody levels are likely to be even higher now because millions more have been jabbed since the blood tests were conducted more than a fortnight ago, and it takes about two weeks for immunity to kick in… 

Official data [also] shows nearly 40 million people in England live in practically “Covid-free” areas, where two or fewer cases were recorded during the latest week. 

The Sky News report is worth reading in full.

The Growing Plague of Mandatory Testing in UK Workplaces

A Lockdown Sceptics reader has written to tell us about mandatory testing that’s happening at his workplace.

Regarding the story on Durham University today and lateral flow tests, you’ll probably be aware that there’s a growing problem of mandatory testing in workplaces.

I work in an office in London and we were told this week that twice-weekly tests are mandatory to come into the office. We currently have about 10 people coming in out of a possible 200+.

To make it worse, we were originally told these tests were advisory, but now apparently they are mandatory – something to do with the firm’s “duty of care to those with hidden underlying health conditions”. The people being tested are the same people who’ve been vaccinated of course, which shows the senselessness of the whole thing. And arguably makes the testing permanent, given that having been vaccinated doesn’t absolve you of the need to get tested twice a week.

People who hadn’t taken the test this week were sent home halfway through the day, despite having reasonable objections, including having recently had the virus (and so having the antibodies that meant they could neither catch it nor pass it on), and others not being prepared to risk having to self-isolate, given individual circumstances that make that impossible. Of course, companies can do as they please – but this is all so self-defeating and driven by all the wrong instincts.

Those of us grateful to still have a job and income have to pick and choose our battles. But why is there not more of an outcry over mandatory testing? Will mandatory vaccinations be next? You could make a case for all this (I personally wouldn’t) in a care home, but not in a normal office. Many people will say it’s the price we have to pay for getting back to normal, but it’s a high price.

My own circumstances are even worse but probably not unique. I refuse to comply with any of this because my partner had a miscarriage a few months ago, caused, we believe, by having to carry something heavy in her workplace which colleagues wouldn’t help with “due to the social distancing rules”. This is the true hidden horrific cost of lockdown and the other measures. She was then made to suffer alone in hospital on multiple occasions (family not allowed in), and even the paramedics were reluctant to come to the house – for a critical emergency – without ascertaining her Covid status. The cruelty of lockdown and the restrictions is my biggest bugbear, quite aside from its efficacy.

If other readers have stories about mandatory testing in their workplace, do email them to us here (saying whether you’re happy for us to publish your name).

Are We Being Kept in Partial Lockdown by Status Quo Bias?

Status quo bias is when one prefers the current state of affairs simply because it is the current state of affairs. First described by the economists William Zechauser and Richard Zeckhauser, this particular cognitive bias has been documented in many scientific studies.

However, you’d hope that it wouldn’t affect decision-making over something as consequential as a national lockdown. Where the lockdown is concerned, you’d hope that rational judgement based on firm principles, or rigorous cost-benefit analysis, would prevail.

Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case, as the Tory peer Daniel Hannan argues in a piece for Conservative Home:

Would anyone, coming fresh to our current situation, propose a lockdown? The vulnerable have been shielded: around 95% of people over 50, along with healthcare and care home workers, have had what turns out to be a highly effective vaccine. The inoculation programme is now reaching healthy people in their early forties – people for whom, in most cases, the virus would manifest as a cold. As I write, the latest daily death count is six. Not six per million. Six.

Even if you believe a lockdown was necessary to “flatten the curve” (which, incidentally, it very likely wasn’t), the curve has now been thoroughly flattened. And with seasonality starting to kick-in, any remaining benefit of lockdowns is rapidly approaching zero. (Recall that every European country saw declining death numbers last May.) Despite all this, some lockdown measures are still in place. Hannan continues:

The trouble is that lifting restrictions is an altogether tougher proposition than not imposing them in the first place. People tend to anchor to the status quo. Governments are reluctant to relinquish the powers they assumed on a supposedly contingent basis. Just as with post-war rationing, bureaucrats fear chaos if controls are lifted, and struggle to understand the (admittedly counter-intuitive) notion of spontaneous order. Freedoms, as always, need to be prised from the cold grip of the administrative state.

And as Hannan notes, the costs of the ongoing measures are far from trivial:

Well, for one thing, each of the next 19 days will cost us several hundred million pounds. Sums that would have horrified us a year ago have now become unremarkable; but they haven’t become any smaller. To say “just another couple of weeks” is much easier if you are a government official at home on full pay than if you are, say, a restaurateur or hotelier. Every day in lockdown is adding weeks to our recovery.

It’s time for the Government to acknowledge that the last four months have gone better than expected, and the remaining lockdown measures should be lifted immediately. Meanwhile, Hannan’s article is worth reading in full.