Day: 25 May 2021

Lockdown Has Tipped Many Into the Category of “Problem Drinker” – the Impacts Could Take Years to Repair

The Telegraph has published a harrowing report on the increase in the number of dependent drinkers as a result of lockdowns which highlights the fact that, while the amount of alcohol consumed in the U.K. decreased during the shutting down of regular life, the number of deaths from alcohol abuse reached a 20-year high. “The physical and psychological impacts,” it says, “could take years to remedy”.

It was two months into the first lockdown when James Roberts, 45, received an ultimatum from his partner. Ever since he set up a travel firm aged 29, Roberts had used alcohol to “self-medicate… to control the stress that comes with running a business”. His career took him to most countries in the world; almost all of the trips involved heavy drinking. But his boozing worsened considerably after Covid hit last March. Cooped up inside his home in the Scottish Highlands and panicked about the economic climate, he turned to the bottle as a source of emotional pain relief.

“I just drank to drown out everything that was happening in the world,” Roberts remembers now. “It was almost like a numbing effect.”

Eventually, his partner told him to seek help – or their relationship was under threat. Roberts was driven to Cheshire to start a four-week residential rehabilitation programme at Delamere Health Ltd at a cost of £15,000. He hasn’t touched alcohol since. Roberts now counts himself lucky: with the steadfast support of his partner, as well as the funds to pay for professional help, he is firmly on the road to recovery.

But not everybody is so fortunate. Doctors are becoming increasingly worried that 14 months of pandemic life have created a dark legacy of alcohol abuse. Whilst overall alcohol intake decreased in the U.K. during each lockdown (probably because of the closure of pubs and restaurants), at the extreme end of alcohol abuse the numbers of deaths shot up.  

More than 7,400 people died from alcohol misuse in England and Wales over 2020, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics published earlier this month. It was the highest figure for 20 years, even once adjusted to population. About four in five of those deaths were caused by alcohol liver disease, with a smaller number killed by accidental alcohol poisoning, and mental and behavioural disorders linked to alcohol abuse.

Even among those not diagnosed with alcoholism, alcohol intake seems to have shot up, way beyond the 14 units per week recommended by Public Health England, according to mostly anecdotal reports from doctors and alcohol specialists, who stress that systematic research is needed. 

These “Covid drinkers” seem to be concentrated among the middle-aged, including many in stressful high-level jobs.

Just as the cancellation of routine medical appointments has created a worrying backlog in cancer diagnoses, experts worry that successive lockdowns might have created a new generation of dependent drinkers still mostly hidden from the NHS’s view. For some lockdown proved a catalyst, tipping them into the category of “problem drinker”. Others had already been diagnosed with alcoholism long before 2020 but saw their recoveries swing into reverse.

The physical and psychological impacts could take years to remedy – as could the burden on the NHS, which already spends £3.5 billion each year on treating alcohol-related illness in England.

Worth reading in full.

Why Social Media Companies Were Wrong to Muzzle Lab Leak Theorists

I’ve written a piece for Mail+ today on why it was wrong for YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to remove content defending the lab leak theory and label it ‘misinformation’, given that it’s now entered the mainstream. One of the best arguments against censorship on Social media is that the ‘independent’ fact-checkers the companies rely on to determine which points of view are respectable and which are ‘conspiracy theories’ will inevitably make mistakes – and the transformation of the lab leak theory from fringe hypothesis to most likely explanation is a perfect illustration of this. Here’s an extract:

A few weeks ago, former New York Times science writer and freelance British journalist Nicholas Wade wrote a blog post setting out the case for the lab leak theory in meticulous detail and it was as if the spell was broken. Suddenly, those putting forward this hypothesis were no longer “conspiracy theorists”, even if the Wikipedia page on Covid-19 Misinformation still describes us in that way.

On May 14, 12 days after Wade’s piece appeared, 18 scientists, including some from MIT and Harvard, wrote a letter to Science, a prestigious journal, saying both theories were “viable” and deserved rigorous investigation.

Shortly afterwards, the editorial board of the Washington Post called for the lab leak theory to be properly looked into and – a few days ago – even Dr Fauci himself conceded defeat, saying he’s “not convinced” Covid-19 developed naturally and calling for further investigation.

What all this goes to show is that no one has a monopoly on the truth when it comes to this virus – not eminent scientists, not government advisors, and certainly not social media companies. Those of us who depart from the official narrative should not be accused of spreading “misinformation” and silenced by the powers that be. Rather, we should be permitted to set out our case in the public square, supporting it with evidence and reason, and if the gatekeepers of respectable opinion think we’re wrong, they should set out their reasons in the same spirit of open debate, not smear us as “cranks” or “conspiracy theorists”.

When it comes to the lab leak theory, we may still turn out to be wrong. But the only way to find out is through a dispassionate, rigorous investigation. Censorship has never been a good technique for finding out the truth.

Worth reading in full.

First Man in the World to Receive an Approved Covid Vaccine Has Died at 81

The first man in the world to have received an approved Covid vaccine – named William Shakespeare, oddly enough – has died in hospital at the age of 81 after suffering a stroke. The MailOnline has the story.

[William Shakespeare, or] Bill, as he was known, made global headlines on so-called “V-Day” on December 8th when he received the Pfizer-BioNTech jab at the University Hospital Coventry.

The former Rolls Royce employee and parish councillor passed away from a stroke last Thursday, University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust said, after a period of illness at the same hospital where he famously received his vaccine. He leaves behind his wife Joy, their two adult sons and four grandchildren…

Paying tribute to her husband, Joy, 53, said: “Bill was so grateful for being offered the opportunity to become one of the first people in the world to be given the vaccine. It was something he was hugely proud of – he loved seeing the media coverage and the positive difference he was able to make to the lives of so many.

“He often talked to people about it and would always encourage everyone to get their vaccine whenever he could.” …

Bill, born in Coventry, served as a Parish Councillor for over 30 years at Allesley Parish Council and as a Governor at Coundon Court Secondary School for more than two decades. He was also involved in planting hundreds of trees in Coundon Wedge, Allesley and the creation of Coundon Wood. 

He helped with the local fundraising to purchase Elkin Wood, now managed by The Woodland Trust…

He was a long-term patient at the Coventry hospital’s frailty ward. He was an in-patient on the ward when he received his vaccine in December, which he described as “wonderful”.

A picture of Mr Shakespeare receiving the shot while wearing a pair of Christmas slippers and his hospital gown made front pages around the world. 

Mr Shakespeare was the second person to get an approved vaccine after Margaret Keenan, 91, got hers at the same hospital moments earlier.  

Worth reading in full.

Lockdown Restrictions to Come to an End In Israel from June – But They Could Return Further Down the Road

The success of Israel’s Covid vaccine rollout means that the country’s lockdown restrictions – vaccine passports included – will be revoked from the beginning of June. But Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says restrictions could return if Covid cases surge again. The sudden U-turn on vaccine passports suggests that, as could be the case in Britain, certification was introduced at venues merely to ‘nudge’ younger people into taking the vaccine. Reuters has the story.

With the majority of the population having received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and about 92% of those 50 and older inoculated or recovered, Israel has been gradually reopening its economy after three lockdowns.

The country reported just 12 new virus cases on Saturday, down from a daily peak of more than 10,000 in January.

Curbs on higher-risk activities and limits on how many people can gather in a specific area remain, with a Government-issued “Green Pass” that indicates immunity post-vaccination or recovery from Covid allowing greater freedom.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Sunday that he will not be extending the arrangement, meaning the restrictions and the Green Pass system will be revoked from the start of June.

“The economy and the citizens of Israel will get extra room to breathe,” he said, but also warned that they could be reimposed should the situation take a turn.

Rules on mask-wearing inside and incoming travel will also be reviewed by the Health Ministry in the coming months.

Worth reading in full.

Scottish Government Covid Adviser U-Turns on Efficacy of AstraZeneca Vaccine against Variants

Professor Devi Sridhar, the Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the Scottish Government Covid Advisory Group, said two months ago (in a tweet that has since been deleted) that the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine does not work against the South African variant. She now claims that the vaccine does work against variants, and that “we have to move away from harsh restrictions and lockdowns”. “Steerpike” has the details on this U-turn in the Spectator.

Eight weeks ago… the good professor was spreading inaccurate information about the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca jab against new variants after she tweeted on March 26th: “Huge risk: watching a slow-moving car crash as U.K. Government stays open to France and other European countries, which have a South African variant our main vaccine (AZ) doesn’t work against. The red list approach doesn’t work. We need blanket international quarantine to avoid future lockdowns.”

Two months later, such a blanket international quarantine has not been introduced. Case numbers continue to fall in Scotland with just 313 cases reported yesterday and zero new reported deaths of those who tested positive. The red list approach is still in place and AstraZeneca is still being administered daily to thousands across the U.K.. You might have thought an academic who had been so outspoken on this might be somewhat embarrassed by this extremely positive data.

Apparently not, given Sridhar’s recent tweets. The professor has now done a complete 180 and switched to being bullish about the resilience of Britain’s vaccines (including the much-maligned AstraZeneca). She tweeted on May 23rd: “My take on current situation: variants will continue to cause issues but our vaccines (both doses!) are effective as an additional layer of protection. We have to move away from harsh restrictions and lockdowns to data-driven, precise outbreak management using science and logistics.” Quite the turn around.

Of course, you cannot point this volte-face out to Sridhar as she has a disconcerting habit of blocking her critics online. Her tweet of March 26th has now been deleted – not surprising given how inaccurate her AstraZeneca claims proved to be. Other claims are harder for Sridhar to remove, such as her apocalyptic warning on Sky News at the end of February that “there is a huge risk of bringing back all kids at the same time and then having to shut schools again” – another prediction that failed to transpire.

Sridhar herself has shown no qualms about demanding greater accountability and transparency for others, writing online that “secrecy goes against public good esp in crisis when decisions have implications for 66 million people”. Mr S wonders whether Sridhar’s preference for expunging her inaccurate predictions is conducive to good policymaking.

Worth reading in full.

Guidelines on Travel to and from Indian Variant “Hotspots” Changed without an Announcement

Local health chiefs have criticised the Government for advising people against travelling to and from Indian Covid variant “hotspots” without making a formal announcement about the change in guidance. Leaders are particularly irked that the change has been made without a proper risk assessment and without local consultation. The Guardian has the story.

As news spread of the guidance on Tuesday, four days after it was quietly published on a Government website, Dominic Harrison, the Director of Public Health for Blackburn with Darwen council, said local councils had still had no notification from Westminster about it.

Harrison said he was “astonished” that public health chiefs had not been told about the latest advice, which affects millions of people, and that it was “very difficult” to support the advice without seeing the Government’s risk assessment.

He added: “This advice has massive implications for school trips, for hospitality, for people playing football matches, for footfall for small businesses, and for the economic recovery for town centres. The fact that the Government’s just announced it without consultation or evidence is astonishing.

“It does reflect the fact that in relation to our management of surges in areas that have variants, we simply have no strategy at the moment. What we seem to be subject to is random policy announcements.”

Wendy Burke, North Tyneside’s Director of Public Health, said there had been no indication of any additional restrictions when an announcement about extra testing was made last week.

According to the guidance, which appears to have been updated on May 21st and is not law, journeys to and from the affected areas – Bedford, Blackburn and Darwen, Bolton, Burnley, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow, and North Tyneside – should be avoided “unless essential”. Exemptions include travel for work, where working from home is not possible, and education.

The guidance affects not only the 1.97 million people in the eight areas but also the millions of people who enter and leave those boroughs every day to go to work, school or for leisure.

The update did not seem to have been accompanied by an official announcement. On Tuesday, Harrison and Burke confirmed local public health directors were unaware of it.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Government has done a U-turn on this guidance in the face of complaints by Conservative MPs and a spokesman for the Prime Minister now says the guidance was never intended to be statutory and people must exercise their own judgment about whether to visit the hotspot areas.

Fully Vaccinated People Will Still Have to Self-Isolate If They Come into Contact with Covid after June 21st

It turns out that life will not return to normal past the “end” of lockdown – even for those who are fully vaccinated. Reports suggest that people who have had two doses of a Covid vaccine will still have to self-isolate for 10 days if they come into contact with someone infected with Covid after June 21st – even if they subsequently test negative for Covid themselves. The Telegraph has the story.

The continued imposition of quarantine for those who have been vaccinated is likely to undermine plans for “normality” to return next month because people may be deterred from going to crowded places if they face the threat of enforced self-isolation.

Workplaces may also be loath to mix vaccinated and unvaccinated staff if a case of Covid could see dozens of staff being forced into quarantine.  

In America, fully vaccinated people do not need to quarantine if they have come into contact with someone who has had Covid unless they are showing symptoms, according to guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Conclusions from a review into social distancing rules are due to be announced next week, with a relaxation of the need to keep one metre apart indoors and wear face masks possible from June 21st – the final stage in Boris Johnson’s reopening roadmap for England.

However, well-placed Government sources argued that it was important that the contact tracing system remained in place because it remained possible to catch and pass on Covid if vaccinated. “There is still a risk of getting the virus and spreading it on,” said one.

It means millions of people who have had two doses of the vaccine could still be made to spend 10 days at home if the NHS alerts them that they have been in close contact with an infected person.

Close contact is defined as having a face-to-face conversation, being within one metre for one minute or within two metres for 15 minutes. Not even a subsequent negative test would be enough to allow them to end their quarantine…

Continuing the self-isolation rule will prompt questions about the Government’s faith in the vaccines and whether it is maximising the benefits of its successful jab rollout. 

Worth reading in full.

News Round Up