Day: 17 May 2021

New York to Relax Rules on Mask-Wearing – with Many Conditions Attached

New York is set to conform with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and relax its mask mandate on Wednesday. This relaxation will only apply to vaccinated New Yorkers holding vaccine passports. In “settings where vaccination status of individuals is unknown”, masks will still have to be worn, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office. Mask-wearing will also still be required (including by those who are vaccinated) in a number of other settings. The Epoch Times has more.

The Democrat [Governor Cuomo] initially resisted altering his state’s guidance, saying officials needed to review the CDC’s updates.

Consistent with the CDC’s guidance, New York will still require masks for every public transportation rider and all people who enter nursing homes, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, schools, and health care buildings.

The state isn’t letting private businesses eliminate a requirement of six feet of social distancing between small groups or individuals unless all patrons within the business, or a separate designated part of the establishment, present proof of vaccination.

Patrons can use the state’s Excelsior Pass, a vaccine passport system, use a different digital application, or show a paper document.

New York has increasingly begun treating the vaccinated and unvaccinated differently. Major stadiums, for instance, are requiring unvaccinated fans to sit separately from those who have gotten a Covid shot. And a reopening of the Tribeca Festival will only allow vaccinated attendees, the governor announced on May 17th.

“We do want to say directly: 100% [capacity] at Radio City Music Hall. So if I’m not vaccinated, I can’t go,” he said. “If you’re vaccinated, yes, you come to Radio City Music Hall. And if you’re unvaccinated, that’s your choice. But you can’t go into the Radio City Music Hall with vaccinated people.”

Cuomo had previously announced that many capacity restrictions would end in New York and surrounding states.

Worth reading in full.

Boris Non-Committal About ‘Freedom Day’

Fears over the Indian Covid variant – which reports suggest is set to become the dominant strain in the U.K. within days – could mean the June 21st deadline for scrapping all the restrictions is delayed, as the Government says it needs more “time to assess the latest data”. Sky News has the story.

Boris Johnson said last week that the Government would be “saying more later this month about exactly what the world will look like” on June 21st and “what role there could be – if any – for certification [having to prove your Covid status] and social distancing”.

The Prime Minister also told MPs that ministers would “before the end of this month, set out all the details about the marriage world post-June 21st”.

That date is when the Government hopes to lift all legal limits on social contact under step four of its roadmap for easing coronavirus restrictions in England.

But asked about these announcements on Monday, Mr Johnson’s spokesman did not commit to the previously suggested timetables.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said last week that ministers “haven’t ruled out” ending mask-wearing requirements on June 21st, and reports suggest that the Government’s domestic vaccine passport plans could be scaled back even further than previously expected. Other measures, such as caps on numbers attending large events, are, however, likely to stay in place past the “end” of lockdown.

Asked when the Government will reveal more details about the final step of the roadmap out of lockdown, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “We need time to assess the latest data on this variant first identified in India so I’m not going to give a set time for doing that. We want to do everything possible to give people enough time to prepare.” The Sky News report continues:

Matt Hancock told MPs on Monday there are now more than 2,300 cases of the [Indian Covid] variant in the U.K., with 86 local authority areas reporting five or more cases.

The spread of the variant – which scientists fear could be up to 50% more transmissible than the Kent variant – has raised questions about the fourth step in the Government’s plan for lifting restrictions.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A full easing of lockdown restrictions is now unlikely, writes Robert Peston in the Spectator.

The prospect of the final easing of lockdown restrictions in England going ahead precisely as planned on June 21st is close to nil, according to ministers and officials.

“It is clear some social distancing will have to be retained, not everything we’ve set out for June 21st is likely to happen,” said a Government adviser. “But it is also possible some of the easing we’ve done today will have to be reversed.”  …

The ethical and political question for the Prime Minister would be whether to slow down or even reverse unlocking if the disease were on the rise but there was no significant risk of the NHS being overwhelmed. Ministers tell me that is the big question pre-occupying Boris Johnson

Why is this even being considered if there is no real risk of the NHS being overwhelmed? How can something as harmful and costly as lockdown be deemed necessary or proportionate? When did “Zero Covid” become the de facto policy of the U.K. Government?

Also worth reading in full.

“100% Effective in Preventing Hospitalisation and Death”: Repurposed Drug Fluvoxamine Shows Promise for Treating COVID-19

Steve Kirsch at TrialSiteNews has written an excellent new overview of the evidence on three COVID-19 treatments that have been unfairly overlooked or maligned by health authorities including the World Health Organisation and the U.S. National Institutes of Health. They are hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin, and fluvoxamine, and despite consistently good evidence of their effectiveness in early treatment, Western and global health authorities have remained either neutral about them or recommended against their use. Kirsch goes in some detail through the evidence on each and suggests governments should set aside the guidance of the WHO and NIH and “independently evaluate the evidence”.

The whole piece is worth reading in full, but I particularly want to highlight here the section on fluvoxamine, which is a promising drug that has not received the prominence the emerging data on it should warrant even among many with their ear to the ground on repurposed treatments.

Fluvoxamine, which is commonly used as an anti-depressant though has more general anti-inflammatory effects, is not acknowledged by the WHO at all in connection with COVID-19. However, Kirsch notes that the NIH is more up-to-date on this one.

The NIH is better; it is listed on the NIH’s Covid Treatment Guidelines, and the NIH  knows that there have been two quality randomised trials done by top US researchers (one trial was a DB-RCT, the other was quasi-randomised which the NIH categorises as “observational” but that’s a debate for another op-ed), both were published in peer-reviewed journals, and both papers were given a prestigious “Editor’s Choice” designation.

In other words, fluvoxamine has something that ivermectin and HCQ both lack: two quality studies, done by highly respected researchers associated with top-quality institutions, published in top peer-reviewed journals, both studies had statistically significant results on a critical clinical endpoint (hospitalisation), both were an interventional trial, both were randomised, and both studies were highlighted by the editors. It is for these reasons that the mainstream scientific community believes that the case for fluvoxamine is superior to the case for ivermectin and HCQ. 

Of the most respected scientists I know, 100% would choose fluvoxamine in a heartbeat over the other two drugs if they got Covid and had to pick a treatment based on the evidence available today. A top medical school looked at fluvoxamine and other options and the consensus was that the case for fluvoxamine was clearly the strongest. I also know of a DB-RCT study, not yet published, which compared the efficacy of fluvoxamine against ivermectin and fluvoxamine had the greater benefit by far.

The consistent superior rating by mainstream scientific experts is important because if a country adds ivermectin and/or HCQ to their treatment recommendations, then adding fluvoxamine should be a “no brainer.” Unfortunately, this isn’t the case today, anywhere in the world. However, the FLCCC did add fluvoxamine to their early outpatient treatment guidelines based on the evidence and the experience with doctors all over the world with the combination.

Fluvoxamine’s safety record is also known and good, Kirsch says.

Long Covid ‘Symptoms’ in Teens are No Less Common in Those Who Haven’t Had the Virus – Study

The risk of long Covid – the persistence of Covid symptoms like fatigue and headaches for three months or more – has been used to justify health interventions including with younger people who are not at elevated risk from acute infection. For instance, Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested in April that young people should get vaccinated to avoid long Covid, saying Covid was a “horrible disease” and long Covid affected people in their 20s “just as much” as any other age group, sometimes with “debilitating side effects that essentially ruin your life”.

New research, however, casts doubt on whether symptoms attributed to long Covid are really associated with COVID-19 at all, at least in adolescents.

The study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, is the first (as far as the authors are aware) to compare the incidence of long Covid symptoms in those who have and have not had the virus, defined in terms of having detectable antibodies. It involved 1,560 secondary school pupils aged 13 to 18 in Eastern Saxony (median age 15) enrolled in the SchoolCovid19 study since May 2020. All have been tested for antibodies throughout the study and in March and April 2021 completed a 12 question long-Covid survey regarding “the occurrence and frequency of difficulties concentrating, memory loss, listlessness, headache, abdominal pain, myalgia/arthralgia, fatigue, insomnia and mood (sadness, anger, happiness and tenseness)”.

The findings are remarkable. Of 1,560 pupils, 1,365 (88%) were seronegative (no IgG antibodies detected) and 188 (12%) were seropositive. Each of the long Covid symptoms was present in at least 35% of the pupils within the seven days before the survey. Crucially, however, there was no statistically significant difference in reported symptoms between seropositive and seronegative pupils (see chart above).

These findings suggest that, in adolescents at least, the prevalence of long Covid is considerably exaggerated, and that the presumed symptoms of long Covid are common to those who have and have not had the virus. One possibility is that this is a background rate for teenagers. However, the authors are struck by the high incidence of the symptoms and suggest they may be linked to the lockdown conditions, saying they confirm “the negative effects of lockdown measures on mental health and well-being of children and adolescents”.

Because the study was only among adolescents it did not include any who had suffered severe illness or been hospitalised, which is where some earlier research on long Covid has focused.

For adolescents it suggests that the threat from long Covid has been greatly overdone, and that the apparent symptoms of the condition are much more likely to be caused by lockdowns than by a viral infection.

Estimated Cost of Government Spending on Covid Rises to £372 Billion

The Government is expected to spend £372 billion in its response to Covid, according to the National Audit Office (NAO), with the estimated cost having risen by £100 billion since January. Almost half of this total will be given to furlough and to other business support schemes. The MailOnline has the story.

The NAO Covid cost tracker now captures a full year of predicted costs since the pandemic began, with £172 billion already spent.

It includes £26 billion worth of guaranteed loans which are expected to be written off.

Support for businesses such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Bounce Back Loan Scheme had the highest estimated cost, at £151 billion.

This was followed by help for the health and social care sector at £97 billion.

Programmes such as the Self Employment Support Scheme, under help for individuals, came to £55 billion.

And there was an additional £65 billion estimated to be spent on support for other public services and emergency responses.

Chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee Meg Hillier said it showed how public accountability “has never been more important”.

“The NAO’s cost-tracker tool is vital as the primary public data source on Covid spending across Government,” she said.

“With such huge sums going out the door, and Government guaranteeing loans worth over £90 billion, Government faces a long road to recovery ahead.”

The figures were released as question marks remained over whether the public would be freed from working-from-home guidance in June.

Hopes are high that under Step Four of Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown staff will be encouraged to return to city centers to provide a much-needed boost for local service businesses.

But the new Indian variant that is prevalent in some Northern towns is giving scientists pause over whether the lockdown lifting should be slowed down.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: According to a Sky News report, more people were furloughed at the height of the pandemic than were working from home (WFH), despite the number of people WFH more than doubling in 2020.

It is clear that so-called hybrid working is now on the up – mixing WFH and time in the office – allowing staff greater flexibility on how they manage their time, in many cases, and further savings from commuting every day.

But Sarah Loates, Founder of Loates HR Consultancy, warned that the trend was not always in the best interests of employees.

She said…: “While finance directors are rubbing their hands with glee at the cost savings from dispensing with expensive serviced offices, hybrid working comes at a price, both social and economic.”

Did Lockdown Shift the Burden of COVID-19 Onto the Working Class?

One of the claims put forward by the authors of The Great Barrington Declaration is that lockdowns unfairly shifted the burden of COVID-19 onto the working class. As Martin Kulldorff and Sunetra Gupta argued in a piece for the Toronto Sun last November:

Low-risk college students and young professionals are protected; such as lawyers, government employees, journalists, and scientists who can work from home; while older high-risk working-class people must work, risking their lives generating the population immunity that will eventually help protect everyone.

The same idea was captured in a viral tweet by the art critic J.J. Charlesworth:

To evaluate this claim, let’s begin by looking at some of the data from Britain. Last July, the ONS attempted to quantify the extent to which different jobs can be done from home. Unsurprisingly, they found that higher-paying jobs in the professional and managerial classes are much easier to do from home, whereas lower-paying jobs in the skilled and unskilled working class are much harder to do from home. (‘Front-line doctor’ is an exception.)

While “key workers” are drawn from all income deciles, a relatively large percentage are drawn from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th deciles – particularly in the food and necessary goods sector. And according to the ONS, 15% of such workers were at an increased risk of COVID-19 because of a pre-existing health condition.

In January of 2021, the ONS computed age-standardised mortality rates for COVID-19 in different occupations. They found that men in professional and managerial occupations were substantially less likely to die of COVID-19 than those in service and elementary occupations:

The pattern among women was similar, although somewhat less pronounced. (The highest age-standardised mortality rate was for women working as plant or machine operators.)

More Than 500 U.K. Bank Branches Have Closed during Lockdown

More than 500 bank branches have permanently shut in the U.K. during lockdown, according to a report by Which?, despite calls for branches to remain open for those who rely on in-person banking. MailOnline has the story.

Repeated national lockdowns appear to have accelerated a shift to online banking for many customers. 

But there are growing concerns over the impact the closure of branches in towns could have on vulnerable customers who rely on in-person banking. 

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) had urged banks to delay branch closures during the pandemic where possible to do so. 

But Which? found that some 529 branches have closed since March 23rd last year when the first national lockdown was imposed, according to numbers reported by the Telegraph.

Barclays, NatWest, Lloyds, HSBC, Co-op Bank and TSB are among those said to have made cuts.

Gareth Shaw, Head of Money at Which?, told the newspaper he believes bank closures will now “ramp up” as life returns to something closer to normal. 

He said the coronavirus crisis had “put the proverbial foot down” on the ongoing move away from in-person banking to online. 

The FCA’s plea to keep branches open is thought to have delayed some closures but Mr Shaw said the “case for keeping those branches open is not as strong” now as it was last year. 

This report presents another example of lockdown accelerating a pre-established trend with more than 4,000 bank branches having now closed in the U.K. since 2015.

Worth reading in full.

“The Risk Is That a Small Number of Unvaccinated Idiots Ruin It for Everyone Else,” Says Minister

The Government is considering extending lockdown beyond June 21st to protect those who refuse the vaccine from the Indian Covid variant. While one minister warned against “stigmatising” those who don’t take the vaccine, another told Politico: “The risk is that a small number of [unvaccinated] idiots ruin it for everyone else.” The MailOnline has more.

Tensions are rising within Government as the more transmissible [Indian] strain threatens to derail the roadmap, which should see all legal restrictions lifted from next month.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng insisted this morning he is still “confident” that the schedule can be kept despite anxiety about surging cases in “hotspots”.

However, he warned against “stigmatising” those who do not want to get jabs…

Meanwhile, there is swirling speculation that local curbs might be needed in England to keep the wider easing on track – with Scotland already targeting restrictions on specific areas. 

The wrangling is escalating as Boris Johnson urged families to adopt a “heavy dose of caution” with the ban on indoor socialising and hugs finally ending today. 

In a guarded statement before revellers packed into pubs to celebrate the lifting of restrictions, the Prime Minister said the emergence of the Indian strain of coronavirus meant the restored freedoms should be exercised carefully.

Discussions around extending lockdown beyond June 21st are not without their parliamentary critics – but will there be enough?

Sir Graham Brady, a senior Tory MP, urged the Prime Minister not to “panic” over the new variant, which is still rare in the U.K..

And his colleague Iain Duncan Smith said it was “bonkers” to even consider further delays to reopening when evidence suggested existing vaccines worked against the Indian strain…

Former Tory leader Sir Iain said: “People are getting in a panic about this new variant, when we should be celebrating the fact that the vaccines work – it is bonkers.

“Ministers have to avoid the Corporal Jones mentality, tell the scientists to get back to their labs and get on with giving people back their freedom.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A member of SAGE says that the ban on indoor gatherings should never have been lifted and might, at some stage, need to be reimposed.

Fright Night

Today we’re publishing an excerpt from Laura Dodsworth’s new book, A State of Fear: how the UK government weaponised fear during the COVID-19 pandemic, which goes on sale today. Laura has already got a lot of coverage for her interviews with members of SPI-B, in some of which they confessed to misgivings about using behavioural psychology to terrify the British public. In this excerpt, which is the first chapter of the book, she discusses the oddness of Boris’s speech on March 23rd of last year when he broke the bad news about having to stay in our homes. Here is an extract:

What was it that felt ‘off’ about Boris Johnson’s speech? Johnson is a performer, but he normally performs the ‘likeable buffoon’. You would expect such an important speech to be rehearsed, but it felt too contrived and different to his normal presentation. He was controlled, stern, and at a basic level that was hard to pinpoint, it didn’t feel genuine.

I asked two experts to help me decode Johnson’s body language and style of speech.

Naomi Murphy is a clinical and forensic psychologist who has spent many years working in high-security prisons, often with people who don’t always tell the truth. She echoed my reaction: “His words and some of his body language convey one message, but you sense another message, and that rings alarm bells. He doesn’t seem authentic.” She pointed out that there were times when he was giving a message with his head and hands, bobbing his head forwards and gesticulating, but his body was held back, suggesting that personally he did not believe in the essence of his words.

An appearance of inauthenticity could have been simply down to nerves. It would be natural to feel nervous before such a momentous speech to the nation, and that affects behaviour and body language. As Murphy said, “you can hear his mouth is dry, which is incredible for someone who is used to the limelight. This is a man who likes being liked, and he might be worried that the public will not like him anymore.”

Neil Shah, founder of the Stress Management Society and International Wellbeing Insights, has delivered leadership training which includes how to read non-verbal communication. We watched the YouTube video of the speech remotely over a video call, so that he could analyse it blow by blow.

“Twenty-six seconds in and you can see the tension in his fingers,” Shah commented. “He is clenching so hard his knuckles turn white.” He pointed out Johnson was hunched and leaning forwards like he was holding on for dear life. I asked what it means when someone clenches their fists so hard. He told me it can be for emphasis, or as an aggressive gesture, but “it also looks like a tantrumming toddler. The way he is jabbing his fists at us shows tension.”

Johnson also gives the most awkward and uncomfortable smile when he talks about compliance. Shah added that “it’s almost threatening. We smile when things are funny, but also when we are nervous. When he said that no prime minister wants to do this, a grave look would have suited the moment better than a ghoulish grin.”

Like Murphy, Shah thought the Prime Minister didn’t believe everything he was saying: “There doesn’t seem to be congruence between his words and his body language. It suggests he is not speaking from the heart and doesn’t believe what he is saying.”

Worth reading in full – and you can buy Laura’s book from Amazon by clicking here.

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