Month: May 2021

Homelessness More Than Tripled in Bristol during Lockdowns

Homelessness rates in cities like Bristol have increased significantly over the past year of lockdowns, including the number of families with children needing temporary accommodation, with figures surging after each lockdown. Reasons such as domestic abuse have been cited for causing this surge. BBC News has the story on homelessness in Bristol.

Paul Sylvester described the 330% increase during the past year as “absolutely massive”.

He was speaking during a multi-agency housing group meeting on the impact of Covid on homelessness in the city.

Families with children in temporary accommodation went up by 11%, but the number of rough sleepers fell.

Mr Sylvester, Head of Housing Options at Bristol City Council, said homelessness surged after each lockdown, with the biggest rise after the third, as coronavirus took its toll on families and relationships.

The number of people made homeless because they were told to leave by family or friends doubled during the past 12 months, he said. 

Relationship breakdown and domestic abuse were also factors, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“The increase in singles has been absolutely massive, up by 330%, compared to before Covid,” he said.

Mr Sylvester said the “Everyone In” campaign in the first lockdown saw nearly 300 people given beds in hotels and youth hostels.

He said emergency funding had helped bring the number of rough sleepers in Bristol to an historic low of 20 in January 2020 but this had since risen to around the “mid 40s”, compared with around 130 in 2019.

Worth reading in full.

A report from the Observer in January suggests that the rise of homelessness is not isolated to Bristol.

More than 70,000 households have been made homeless since the start of the pandemic, with tens of thousands more threatened with homelessness, despite Government pledges to protect tenants and prevent evictions, according to figures compiled by the Observer

But despite the Government banning evictions for most of the last 10 months, the Observer’s figures show that 207,543 households approached their local council for help with homelessness or the threat of homelessness between the start of April and the end of November 2020.

Of these, 50,561 were “owed the prevention duty”, meaning they were judged to be threatened with homelessness, while 70,309 were “owed the relief duty”, meaning they were already homeless, which is defined more broadly than rough sleeping.

Also worth reading in full.

Letter in the Telegraph Says Modellers Are Partly to Blame for Care Home Fiasco

There was a good letter in the Telegraph yesterday, pointing out that SAGE and its modellers need to accept some of the blame for the care home fiasco. After all, if the Government and the NHS hadn’t been persuaded by their apocalyptic models that hospitals would be overwhelmed if they didn’t clear out elderly, care home residents, they wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to get rid of them.

SIR – Matt Hancock, the NHS and the Prime Minister have all been blamed by Dominic Cummings for the appalling care-home Covid deaths at the start of the pandemic, but I feel none of these are the real culprits.

At the time, pandemic data modellers were forecasting huge numbers likely to need hospitalisation. So the Government, using the Armed Services, built Nightingale emergency hospitals in double-quick time.

The NHS, spooked by alarmist modellers, cleared the hospitals of all the non-Covid patients they clinically could, anticipating a deluge of Covid patients. Unfortunately, no one knew of non-symptomatic carriers, and the care homes were infected, with devastating results.

The hospital deluge predicted by modellers didn’t materialise, nor anywhere near it. The Nightingale hospitals were hardly used.

So, in apportioning blame for the horrendous care-home deaths, excitable modellers and their statistics, based on unrealistic assumptions, must be the primary culprits. It was a case of “following the science” that led policy-makers astray.

Steve Male
Highampton, Devon

More Than Half of People in Their 30s Have Been Vaccinated in Just Two Weeks

With the vaccination of those most vulnerable to Covid achieved some time ago, Britain’s vaccine roll-out has encompassed younger and younger age groups. Most recently, more than half of people in their 30s have been vaccinated in just two weeks, and polling suggests that the overall uptake will be close to 90% in this age group (as well as in all others). Yet Government advisers continue to insist that the June 21st date for unlocking is “too early”. The MailOnline has the story.

NHS England said that, since it began opening up the vaccine roll-out to this age group on May 13th, some 53% of those aged 30 to 39 have been given at least one dose.

People aged 30 to 31 were the most recent group to be invited for their jab – from Wednesday – with more than five million appointments made through the national booking service within 72 hours.

It means the Government continues to be on track to hit the deadline of offering a vaccine to every adult by the end of July.

The continued success of the rollout is also one of the Government’s four tests to allow a further easing of restrictions, with the final one in just over three weeks time.

But Linda Bauld, Professor of Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, has said June 21st is “too early” to lift coronavirus restrictions in England.

She told Sky News: “I really think that it is too early to be charging ahead. I would like to see several more weeks’ data.”

She said the planned date is “very ambitious”, adding: “June 21st is very soon and I think to avoid more preventable deaths… we really need to be cautious at the current time.”

It comes as a scientific adviser warned confusion over the Government’s handling of Covid restrictions was undermining efforts to control the virus.

Professor Stephen Reicher, a psychologist on the SAGE sub-committee advising ministers on behavioural science, said the Government was in a “pickle” because it appeared to have abandoned the “data not dates” principle.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Sun on Sunday reports that half of all U.K. adults will have received both doses of a Covid vaccine by the end of the week.

Pub Landlords Urge Government to End Furlough Because It Is Destroying Work Ethic

Landlords and restaurant owners have called on the Government to end the furlough scheme to help offset a recruitment crisis, saying that those on furlough would rather stay at home than come out and work. There are 188,000 job vacancies in hospitality where more than 250,000 workers remain on furlough. The Sun on Sunday has the story.

[Some owners] are so short-staffed, some have been offering £1,000 joining-up bonuses to coax back uncertain workers. 

They blame the £63 billion Government pay scheme, as would-be recruits prefer to stay home and take state cash.

The Sun on Sunday can reveal U.K.-wide there are 700,000 job vacancies, including 188,000 in hospitality alone where more than 250,000 remain on furlough.

The scheme does not stop until the end of September, amid uncertainty over the economy. 

But experts fear some have now lost the will to work. Professor Len Shackleton, from the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Furlough has been a great success but has gone on for far too long.

“We should wind it up and get back to reality. We should not be holding back new businesses which need workers in a vain attempt to keep old businesses alive.”

Furlough began in March last year to stop firms laying off staff, or collapsing, during lockdown. 

Some  11.5 million workers have been furloughed, with 4.2 million still on the handout at the end of March this year. It has helped keep unemployment at around five%.

A Treasury spokesman said: “Furlough means two million fewer people will have lost their jobs.  

“We went long with furlough to avoid a cliff edge and ensure as many jobs as possible are protected.”

But it is down to employers to stop the payouts, by ceasing to apply for the state to pay 80% of a worker’s wages. 

Meanwhile, trade body U.K. Hospitality says 15% of its workers, or around 270,000, are reluctant to come off furlough, over fears of another lockdown.

U.K. Hospitality’s Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said: “Furlough is still essential, helping to make sure jobs are protected over the summer.

“But it could be tightened up to ensure it is not masking problems in our economy and protecting jobs that are no longer there.

“Lots of people are trying to recruit and in some parts of the country there are vacancies that they cannot fill.” 

Worth reading in full.

New York Times Article Wrongly Claims Britain’s Second Wave Was More Deadly Than the First

In a recent article published in the New York Times, the science writer Zeynep Tufekci argues that the B.1.617.2 “Indian” variant appears to be more transmissible than even the B.1.1.7 “Kent” variant, and could therefore be “catastrophic” for parts of the world with low rates of vaccination. 

As a consequence, she argues, vaccine supplies should be “diverted now to where the crisis is the worst, if necessary away from the wealthy countries that have purchased most of the supply.”

While asking rich countries to share their vaccine supplies with poorer countries surely makes sense, one of the points Tufekci makes in support of her argument is based in error. Linking to Our World in Data’s chart of UK daily deaths, she writes:

Britain had more daily Covid-related deaths during the surge involving B.1.1.7 than in the first wave, when there was less understanding of how to treat the disease and far fewer therapeutics that later helped cut mortality rates. Even after the vaccination campaign began, B.1.1.7 kept spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated.

In other words, she’s saying that the higher mortality rate observed in Britain’s second wave, following the emergence of the “Kent” variant last November, constitutes evidence that new variants can pose serious and unforeseen challenges to national healthcare systems. 

However, it simply isn’t true that there were more COVID-related deaths “during the surge involving B.1.1.7”. As I’ve noted before, the chart showing deaths within 28 days of a positive test (to which Tufekci links) gives a very misleading impression of the relative severity of the first and second waves. 

The correct chart to use is the one the ONS published on 19 March, which plots age-adjusted excess mortality up to 12 February:

The peak weekly mortality in the first wave was 101% higher than the five-year average. Yet in the second wave, it was only 42% higher.

What’s more, cumulative excess mortality was 483% in the first wave, but only 328% in the second wave. Of course, the latter figure is an underestimate because the series stops in mid-February. However, extending the series forward wouldn’t make that much difference. Indeed, there were nine consecutive weeks of negative excess mortality in March, April and May.

Countries with low rates of vaccination should certainly remain vigilant with respect to new variants, but decisions need to be based on the best available data – and that means age-adjusted excess mortality wherever possible.

News Round-Up

Thousands “Unite for Freedom” in London

Unlike the last anti-lockdown protest, Saturday’s Unite for Freedom rally has actually received some media coverage. This has, of course, focussed on anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists. Protesters held signs reading: “My body, my choice”, “we do not consent” and “you have no power over us”. The Met, concerned also about a protest against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill taking place at the same time, “urged people to comply with the restrictions that apply to large gatherings”.

The MailOnline has more (although it smeared the protestors as anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists in its headline).

[Those gathered] protested [in part] against the idea of vaccine passports.

It is thought many of the crowd travelled from outside of the capital to take part in the gathering. 

Several people set off smoke bombs and one launched a firework. 

One man, who did not give his name, told the PA news agency he had come to the capital “because I want to be free and I want you to be free and the Government are lying to us”.

Another said she had attended because the press “are lying to us”.

By lunchtime, the crowd had started to disperse and head to Whitehall, with some heading to Trafalgar Square. 

Pictures showed a London bus covered in anti-vaccination stickers.  

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Guardian actually ran a fairly balanced report about the occupation of Westfield by the protestors. The march, which began in Parliament Square, snaked all the way to Shepherd’s Bush and beyond to Acton.

Hundreds of anti-vaccine passport protesters invaded the Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush on Saturday evening at the culmination of a mass march that drew many thousands and snaked miles through central and west London.

There were tussles with police who tried to block access through one entrance to the shopping centre at about 6pm, before protesters quickly realised that another door just yards away was unguarded.

Hundreds made it into the shopping centre where they stayed for about half an hour chanting “no more lockdowns” and “take your freedom back” before they were cleared by police with batons drawn, although without scenes of violence.

Worth reading in full.

“No One is Talking About Covid Here. It’s Over, Life is Normal” – Report From Texas

Government advisers in the U.K. have been out in force in the past week stressing that the unlocking of society will be a “gradual process” (even more gradual than taking four months?) and that face masks and working-from-home may stay after June 21st.

You can certainly see the need for this extreme level of caution. If you look at the states in America that have lifted restrictions then they have suffered extraordinary levels of infection and deaths and are really regretting their “Neanderthal thinking” and quickly getting back to normal. Oh, er, hang on, that’s right – there’s been no new surge at all.

I put this point to a lockdown fanatic friend (yes, we are still on speaking terms) and his response was a feeble “you can’t assume the virus will behave the same in different countries”. Right, well that’s handy, isn’t it? We can’t learn lessons from what happens elsewhere because every country is different. American states might have been able to re-open without suffering hospital overload or mass death (Texas reopened in full at the start of March), but that doesn’t mean we won’t. Better safe than sorry, eh? Happily, lockdown has no downsides so there’s no problem with just carrying on with it indefinitely, just in case…

Another friend, whose father lives in Texas, said his father told him this week: “No one is talking about Covid here. It’s over, life is normal.”

There could of course be another surge of Covid in re-opened states and countries, especially in the autumn or winter. But since Florida and South Dakota (among other states) were open throughout last autumn and winter, we also know there’s nothing to fear about that either, even less so now so many in the population are vaccinated.

But since when did our political leaders and their “scientific” advisers let evidence get in the way of a good lockdown, especially if it preserves for a little longer their reputation, status and power?

It Is “Beyond Reasonable Doubt” That Chinese Scientists Created Covid in a Lab and Tried to Cover Their Tracks, According to a New Study

It is “beyond reasonable doubt” that SARS-CoV-2 was created through “laboratory manipulation”, according to a new study. The paper claims that the virus was made in a Wuhan lab by Chinese scientists who then tried to cover their tracks by retro-engineering versions of the virus to make it look like it evolved naturally from bats. The authors’ study has been rejected by a number of academic publishers but is now set to be published in the scientific journal Quarterly Review of Biophysics Discovery in the coming days. The MailOnline has the story.

The paper’s authors, British Professor Angus Dalgleish and Norwegian scientist Dr Birger Sørensen, wrote that they have had “prima facie evidence of retro-engineering in China” for a year – but were ignored by academics and major journals.   

Dalgleish is a Professor of Oncology at St George’s University, London, and is best known for his breakthrough in creating the first working “HIV vaccine”, to treat diagnosed patients and allow them to go off medication for months.

Sørensen, a virologist, is Chair of pharmaceutical company, Immunor, which developed a coronavirus vaccine candidate called Biovacc-19. Dalgleish also has share options in the firm. 

The shocking allegations in the study include accusations of “deliberate destruction, concealment or contamination of data” at Chinese labs, and it notes the silencing and disappearance of scientists in the communist country who spoke out…

While analysing Covid samples last year in an attempt to create a vaccine, Dalgleish and Sørensen discovered “unique fingerprints” in the virus that they say could only have arisen from manipulation in a laboratory…

Even when former MI6 Chief Sir Richard Dearlove spoke out publicly saying the scientists’ theory should be investigated, the idea was dismissed as “fake news”…

Digging through archives of journals and databases [on experiments done at the Wuhan lab between 2002 and 2019], Dalgleish and Sørensen pieced together how Chinese scientists, some working in concert with American universities, allegedly built the tools to create the coronavirus. 

Much of the work was centred around controversial “Gain of Function” research – temporarily outlawed in the U.S. under the Obama administration.

Gain of Function involves tweaking naturally occurring viruses to make them more infectious so that they can replicate in human cells in a lab, allowing the virus’s potential effect on humans to be studied and better understood. 

Dalgleish and Sørensen claim that scientists working on Gain of Function projects took a natural coronavirus “backbone” found in Chinese cave bats and spliced onto it a new “spike”, turning it into the deadly and highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2.

One tell-tale sign of alleged manipulation the two men highlighted was a row of four amino acids they found on the SARS-CoV-2 spike.

In an exclusive interview with DailyMail.com, Sørensen said the amino acids all have a positive charge, which cause the virus to tightly cling to the negatively charged parts of human cells like a magnet, and so become more infectious. 

But because, like magnets, the positively charged amino acids repel each other, it is rare to find even three in a row in naturally occurring organisms, while four in a row is “extremely unlikely”, the scientist said.

“The laws of physics mean that you cannot have four positively charged amino acids in a row. The only way you can get this is if you artificially manufacture it,” Dalgleish told DailyMail.com.

Worth reading in full.

End of Lockdown Unlikely to Bring an End to Face Masks and Work from Home Guidelines

Professor Anthony Harnden, the Deputy Chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), says that the unlocking of society will be a “gradual process” requiring a “cautious” approach – even if the June 21st date for the end of lockdown is met. He told BBC Breakfast (as quoted in WalesOnline):

Even if we do un-lockdown, if you are in a vulnerable position, particularly if you’ve not been vaccinated, you do need to carry on being cautious, even if the June 21st date goes ahead.

So I think we’ve all got used to living within boundaries at the moment and I think it’s not an all or none, I think it will be a gradual process even if the June 21st date goes ahead.

According to the Times, the Government is prioritising ending social distancing guidelines, but will likely leave guidance around masking and working from home in place.

The Treasury is prioritising the end of the “one metre plus” distancing rule and the “rule of six” indoors, which is viewed as crucial to supporting hospitality and retail and helping the economy to recover. Ministers also want to end rules that limit mass gatherings so that festivals, concerts and sporting events can go ahead…

In an attempt to reduce the spread of the virus, masks could still be required on public transport and in indoor public spaces. Guidance stating that people must work from home if they can may also remain in place. Boris Johnson is expected to make a decision on which restrictions can be lifted within the next fortnight.

For some Government advisers, even unlocking partially on June 21st would be going too far. According to SAGE member Professor Andrew Hayward, there is a “good argument” for delaying the end of lockdown until a “much higher proportion” of the population has been fully vaccinated (a sentiment recently echoed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock).

He told Today on BBC Radio 4: “It’s still going to be a few weeks yet until we’ve got all of the highly clinically vulnerable double-vaccinated and that will probably coincide with the plans to open up more fully. When we do open up more fully, instead of [cases of the Indian variant] doubling every week, it’s likely to double more frequently than that. I think there is a good argument for caution until we’ve got a much higher proportion double-vaccinated.”

The Times report is worth reading in full.