Day: 15 May 2021

With Its Latest Model of Doom, Predicting 10,000 Hospital Admissions a Day in Mid-July, SAGE’s Connection to Reality Has Finally Snapped

SAGE’s claim that the Indian variant could mean 10,000 hospital admissions a day in July assumes that between 30% and 60% of the U.K. population could become infected with the new variant in one week. Glen Bishop, the second year maths student at Nottingham who has buried himself in the epidemiological models SAGE is relying on, has looked at this latest scare story and concluded it is completely and utterly bonkers.

What makes it flat out insane is that the Warwick modelling team that came up with this projection have assumed that the vaccines are as effective against the Indian variant as they are agains the Kent variant – that is, 80% and 90% efficacy against severe illness and death for one and two doses respectively. The only variable they’ve changed to reach their conclusion is to increase the transmissibility. And yet, the team still thinks a plausible scenario – if the Indian variant is 50% more transmissible – is that 10,000 people could be admitted to hospital per day in mid-July if we proceed with steps three and four of the reopening. As Glen says, “Crazy how they got those numbers from their model and took it seriously!” Here’s an extract from his guest post:

To reach admissions three times the January peak, as the model projects, with a vaccinated population, this would mean that between three tenths and three fifths of the population would need to be infected – all in one week in mid-July – just to reach the central estimate projected. Then, the upper confidence interval, shaded in blue on the graph where hospitalisations reach 20,000 per day, would require between six fifths(!) and six tenths (120% and 60%) of the UK population, to be infected in one week. In other words, everybody in the UK would need to be infected and some twice, in one week in July, for the upper bound of Warwick’s projected doomsday scenario to be realised.

Clearly, to anyone who can do back-of-a-fag-packet calculations and type “ONS” into google, these projections are ridiculous and epidemiologically impossible. Yet there were 39 “scientific experts” attending SAGE meeting 89 at which these predictions were rubber stamped for the eyes of the Prime Minister. Is the groupthink so bad that none of them could do a few quick and simple calculations to verify the models were projecting things in the realm of what could be considered reasonable? Or do they not care? SPI-M are so attached to their modelling that they are not even testing it against basic numeracy to verify it.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Prof Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick, has told the Mail on Sunday he doesn’t think the Indian variant should delay reopening. “Any rise in hospitalisations and deaths we see won’t be anywhere near previous waves because we have the vaccines now,” he says. “While it is still spreading we have to be cautious, but I don’t think variants should stop us getting back to some sort of normality.”

Anti-Maskers “Practice a Form of Data Literacy in Spades”, Says MIT Study

We’re publishing a guest post today by retired lawyer Cephas Alain (not his real name) about an unexpected benefit of the pandemic: the emergence of scientifically- and data-literate groups of non-experts who rigorously scrutinise and challenge the official scientific narrative. Groups like the one that has coalesced around Lockdown Sceptics.

Until now, we’ve had to rely on anecdotal evidence about this phenomenon, but now we have some research evidence: a paper by Lee, Yang et al. of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) entitled “Viral Visualisations: How Coronavirus Skeptics Use Orthodox Data Practices to Promote Unorthodox Science Online“. Noah Carl wrote about this study last week, but Cephas Alain has written a more detailed summary. The reason we’ve referred to “anti-maskers” in the headline is because that’s the catch-all term used by the MIT researchers to describe those in the sceptical community. Not very flattering, but could be worse – it’s better than “covid deniers”, the favoured terms of Neil O’Brien, et al.

Here is an extract from Alain’s summary:

In the most scientifically/data literate groups, the following characteristics were observed by Lee, Yang et al. which, while linked to visualisations, have much wider application:

There is a commitment to quality:

* “we find that anti-mask groups on Twitter often create polished counter-visualisations that would not be out of place in scientific papers, health department reports, and publications like the Financial Times”.
* “Qualitative analysis of anti-mask groups gives us an interactional view of how these groups leverage the language of scientific rigour – being critical about data sources, explicitly stating analytical limitations of specific models, and more – in order to support ending public health restrictions despite the consensus of the scientific establishment.”
* “anti-mask groups practice a form of data literacy in spades. Within this constituency, unorthodox viewpoints do not result from a deficiency of data literacy; sophisticated practices of data literacy are a means of consolidating and promulgating views that fly in the face of scientific orthodoxy”.

We might say that they seek to, and often do, really know their stuff.

Worth reading in full.

Biden Administration Will Allow Businesses and Institutions to Demand Proof of Vaccination

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says that the Biden administration is not planning on imposing a vaccine mandate and will not keep track of those who have been vaccinated, but that it will allow business, colleges and universities to demand proof of vaccination. The Mail has the story.

“Private sector companies may decide that they want to have requirements. That’s up to them. We have no plans to change our approach from the Federal Government,” Psaki said…

Nearly half of Americans (46.8%) have had at least one dose of Covid vaccine, and more than 36% have been fully vaccinated.  

But nearly 20% of Americans are “vaccine hesitant” – with the highest rates among Republicans – and notions of mandates for vaccination or masks have become politically divisive in the U.S..

[Last week, it was reported that some states are requesting small fractions of their allotted Covid vaccine doses from the Federal Government to save them from having to throw misused doses away due to the waning of demand.]

So far, liberal states including New York are using vaccine passports at some events, while conservative states like Texas and Florida have banned companies for asking their employees for proof of vaccination. 

While public health officials are desperately trying to convince Americans to get vaccinated, they worry that mandates would backfire and only make more people hesitant to get the shots…

It’s up to states whether schools require shots or not, and the Federal Government does not legally require any health interventions, nor proof of them. 

Back in April, Psaki said: “The Government is not now nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential.”

She acknowledged that private companies and non-profits likely would consider asking their employees to show proof of vaccination, as is their right, but requiring Americans to get the shots was not on the table for the Federal Government. 

“Our interest is very simple from the Federal Government, which is Americans’ privacy and rights should be protected so these systems are not used against people unfairly,” Psaki said. 

A number of U.S. universities, including Brown, Cornell and Stanford, have already announced that they will require their staff and students to be vaccinated against Covid before being permitted to return to campuses later this year, though it is unclear how state executive orders banning Covid vaccine passports will affect these demands.

The Mail report is worth reading in full.

Anti-Lockdown March in London

Anti-lockdown protests are taking place across the world today. Above are protestors streaming through Central London this afternoon. Needless to say, the BBC has yet to cover this, although one Lockdown Sceptics contributor estimates the turnout at 100,000. More later.

Stop Press: Still no coverage of the march by 4.30pm, other than this short snippet posted on the Guardian’s ‘Covid Live’ page. Just “several hundred” protesters outside Broadcasting House, London, according to one of the paper’s reporters.

Stop Press 2: Nothing on the BBC front, too though editors have found the time to publish stories on cattle grazing in gardens and “a lost whale” on the BBC News homepage, under the banner “Must see”. And, of course, on the pro-Palestine protest.

Stop Press 3: BBC News has stuck a report about an anti-Israel protest in London on the front page of its website. But still nothing about the anti-lockdown protest.

Rule, Britannia! Britannia Take the Knee

We’re publishing an original essay today about the decline of Britain into an authoritarian, one-party state by Dr. James Alexander, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Bilkent University in Turkey. I say “essay”, but it’s more of a splenetic howl of rage – and all the better for that. Here is Dr Alexander’s opening salvo:

Britons are slaves and if they are not yet fully enslaved then there is certainly every sign that they wish to be slaves, and this is what all the taking the knee and taking the jab is about. If we do not want to be slaves, then we need beliefs which will enable us to confound the politics of others. And we also need to maintain a politics of justified opposition – something which collapsed during the pandemic.

The BBC was right, by its own standards, to try to erase the words from the performance of Rule, Britannia at the Last Night of the Proms last year: because these words are no longer part of the official ideology of the United Kingdom. Let us consider its most famous lines, and some of the best lines from ‘God Save the Queen’:

Rule, Britannia! Britannia rule the waves!

Britons never, never, never will be slaves!

Confound their politics,

Frustrate their knavish tricks…

In recent times we might as well be signing these lines instead:

Ruled, Britannia! Britannia take the knee!

Britons never, never, never shall be free!

Adopt their politics,

Applaud their knavish tricks…

Worth reading in full. Bracing stuff.

Debenhams Forced to Close All Its Stores as Lockdown Deals Final Blow to More Than 240 Years of Retail History

Debenhams will close the doors of its remaining U.K. stores for the final time this weekend because of lockdown, bringing more than 240 years of retail history to an end. Sky News has the story.

The department store chain, a staple of high streets since 1778, will close its remaining 28 stores for good on Saturday after the company collapsed amid the fallout of the Covid pandemic.

It closed 21 of its sites across the U.K. for the final time on Thursday.

The retailer was already struggling before the coronavirus outbreak, as shoppers moved away from traditional department store models and moved online.

But it could not cope with the enforced closure of sites during lockdown and quickly went into administration within weeks of the virus fully hitting the U.K..

The company, which began life as a high end draper in London’s West End, started its liquidation process at the start of this year after failing to secure a rescue sale.

Debenhams employed more than 20,000 people before lockdown struck. The closure of its stores is just the tip of the iceberg for the high street. Over 11,000 retail outlets permanently closed in 2020, and the Local Data Company expects this will be followed by 18,000 more closures in 2021.

Image from the Guardian.

The Sky News report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Arthur Beale, a 500 year-old yacht chandler in London, has closed its doors for the last time. The Wall St Journal has the story.

Schools Ignoring Change in Government’s Guidelines on Mask Wearing

The Department for Education (DfE) has, as reported in Today’s Update, made it clear that schools cannot decide by themselves to reintroduce face coverings in the classroom when the mask mandate is removed by the Government on May 17th. Instead, the decision to temporarily reintroduce mask-wearing in response to “localised outbreaks” can only be made by “local directors of public health”. These must take “educational drawbacks” into account. The DfE said in an email to the campaign group UsForThem:

Given the negative impact that face coverings have on teaching, learning and wellbeing and current epidemiological information, their use in classrooms or by pupils and students in communal areas is not recommended at the current time.

Despite this, some schools have decided – independently of “local directors of public health”, and regardless of the costs on teaching and learning – to ignore the upcoming change in the Government’s guidelines and to continue instructing children to wear face masks in the classroom. One such school (the Friesland School in Nottingham) has written to parents saying that their children will have to continue wearing masks because local infection rates are higher than the national average.

Due to local infection rates being currently higher than the national rate, we are taking a measured approach to the easing of our Covid precautions at Friesland School.

We are requesting that face coverings continue to be used indoors from May 17th by students, including in classrooms. Furthermore, and in accordance with Government guidelines, staff and visitors will continue to wear face coverings indoors as they do now.

In the letter, the school’s headteacher justified his decision by claiming some students wanted to carry on wearing masks because they were “used to wearing them”.

[Members of the school’s Student Council] were very much of the view that the majority of students were now used to wearing them and that it would be sensible to continue with masks in the short term.

Perhaps the DfE should be more clear about the right (or lack thereof) of schools to impose mask mandates independently of local public health bodies.

News Round Up

Is COVID-19 Seasonality Driven by Pollen?

It’s well-known that flu-like illnesses are seasonal, and COVID-19 seems no different.

What is not well understood is what drives the seasonality. The flu season is in the winter months so the obvious candidate is temperature. However, closer analyses have tended to rule out a simple role for temperature, not least because seasonality occurs in places with very different climates.

Other potential candidates are sunlight (including UV radiation) and humidity. None is completely convincing, though sunlight has been shown to have a direct role in stimulating the immune system.

Now there’s a new kid on the block: pollen.

Martijn Hoogeveen is an independent researcher who has been exploring the role of pollen in driving seasonality. Pollen is known to be triggered or inhibited by meteorological factors. Hoogeveen explains:

Meteorological variables, such as increased solar radiation and temperature – among others the absence of frost – not only trigger flowering and pollen maturation, they also affect the pollen bio-aerosol formation: dry and warm conditions stimulate pollen to become airborne. Rain, in contrast, makes pollen less airborne, and cools the bio-aerosol down. Very high humidity levels (RH 98%) are even detrimental to pollen (Guarnieri et al., 2006).

The main idea is that the pollen plays a further, significant role in stimulating the immune system (such as when it causes hay fever), which has a strongly inhibiting effect on flu-like viruses. A further, more speculative idea is that “anti-viral phytochemicals in pollen” could directly inhibit viral aerosols in the air.

Hoogeveen illustrates the relationships.