Day: 4 June 2021

The Collapse of the Attempt to Censor the Lab Leak Theory Shows Why it’s Dangerous to Suppress Free Enquiry

We’re publishing a new piece today by retired lawyer Cephas Alain (a pseudonym) about the lab leak theory, subtitled “Who Suppressed It? Who Uncovered It? And What Should We Do About It?

Here’s how he begins:

A crucial, and often overlooked, event in the story of the pandemic and its associated narratives, including that of the supposed natural origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, was the Press Conference of WHO-China Joint Mission on COVID-19 Epidemic Prevention and Control in China. It took place at The Presidential Hotel in Beijing on the evening of February 24th 2020. The transcript of Press Conference and the forty-page Report issued by the Joint Mission on the same date The China Report are available as follows:

The WHO Press Conference Transcript: February 24th 2020
The Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (The China Report)

The WHO Press Conference was briefed by the Team Leaders of the Joint Mission: Dr. Bruce Aylward (a former Assistant Director-General of the WHO and senior advisor to WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus) and Dr. Liang Wannian (Head of Expert Panel of COVID-19 Response of China National Health Commission (NHC).

Dr Wannian suggested that the source of the outbreak “…according to the currently available data in China, bats may be its host, and pangolin may also be one of the intermediate hosts [i.e., between bats and humans] of this virus”. The China Report added that: “At some point early in the outbreak, some cases generated human-to-human transmission chains that seeded the subsequent community outbreak prior to the implementation of the comprehensive control measures that were rolled out in Wuhan.” (China Report page 10) The ‘best guess’ of the WHO Team was therefore that the SARS-CoV-2 virus originated in bats which jumped species to infect humans, possibly via pangolins.

Cephas gathers together some of the key events and articles to tell the story of the censorship and how it collapsed and what that means.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Douglas Murray has delivered one of his most sceptical pieces to date, lambasting the media for its skewed coverage of the pandemic, starting with the disgraceful silence over the mass protests and then taking aim at the “kidults” who run tech companies for their censorship of the lab leak theory.

Stop Press 2: Katherine Eban in Vanity Fair notes that researchers at the U.S. National Security Council had spotted that the engineered mice with humanised lungs that the WIV used for experiments with SARS-CoV-2 in early 2020 must have been engineered before the pandemic in the summer of 2019, leading to questions about the reason they were created – and how dangerous were the experiments being done on them.

Stop Press 3: The Daily Mail‘s Sian Boyle has carried out an investigation in Dr Peter Daszak, who, as President of EcoHealth Alliance, helped to fund gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology then did his best to rubbish the lab leak theory.

France Will “Welcome” British Tourists from June 9th – but with a Long List of Terms and Conditions

“Now for some good news,” says the MailOnline, as restrictions on British travel into France will ease from June 9th. But it’s not all roses. Brits who aren’t fully vaccinated will need a “compelling reason” to visit the country and will be required to quarantine for seven days if granted entry. The MailOnline has more.

Tourists will have to use the French Government’s “Pass Sanitaire” – a digital document to which proof of negative test or vaccination can be uploaded.

The Pass Sanitaire is currently required for all travellers over the age of 11 – however the French Government says that a negative test will be accepted for children in place of vaccination without specifying an age from which this applies.  

That will be a blow for any families wishing to head for sunnier climes in France because older children in their teens and early 20s are unlikely to receive both doses of a vaccine before the end of summer. 

And there are currently no plans to vaccinate U.K. teenagers, with the British Government prioritising second doses for more vulnerable age groups.

The border opening on June 9th will also allow E.U. passport holders in without any proof of testing at all. 

The relaxation in requirements comes as Britain itself clamps down on travel abroad, with the removal of Portugal from the Green List of approved destinations yesterday unleashing chaos and a wave of cancelled bookings.

France is on the U.K. Amber List, meaning that Britons must quarantine for 10 days on their return and take two Covid tests, as well as testing negative before they depart for France. 

The  British list of approved destinations is due to be reviewed every three weeks.

Worth reading in full.

Photo Credit: The Paris Photographer.

U.K. Medicines Regulator Approves Pfizer Vaccine for Use in Children Aged 12-15

The U.K. has moved a step closer to vaccinating children against Covid today, with the medicines regulator having approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine in those aged 12-15. This comes in spite of the warning from Adam Finn, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Bristol and a member of the Government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), that children should not be given Covid vaccines because of the “side effects“. The Guardian has the story.

“We have carefully reviewed clinical trial data in children aged 12 to 15 years and have concluded that the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine is safe and effective in this age group and that the benefits of this vaccine outweigh any risk,” said Dr June Raine, the Chief Executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

She added it would be up to the JCVI to decide whether this age group would come under the vaccine deployment programme.

More than 2,000 children were involved in the clinical trial to determine the safety of the Pfizer vaccine, the Chair of the Commission on Human Medicines, Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, said. “We have been very careful to take into consideration the younger age group and the benefits of this population being vaccinated against any potential risk of side-effects.

“We have concluded that based on the data we have seen on the quality, effectiveness and safety of the vaccine, its benefits do outweigh any risk. The MHRA will continue to scrutinise all of the suspected side effects data received through the rigorous surveillance programme in place through the yellow card scheme and other safety surveillance measures for all of the Covid vaccines used in the U.K.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: There is a petition on the website opposing the vaccination of children against Covid until Phase Three trials are complete which can be found here.

Fears of Side Effects the Main Reason for Vaccine Hesitancy Across the World, According to a New Survey

Most people who are unwilling to be vaccinated against Covid are concerned about side effects and question whether the vaccines have been fully tested, according to a new survey in 15 countries. The Guardian has more.

Other reasons cited in the survey of 68,000 people, led by Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation in collaboration with YouGov, were the uncertainty that people would not get the vaccine they preferred and worries about efficacy.

The survey was carried out in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Excluding eligibility, the top reasons for not having the vaccine across all 15 countries surveyed were “concerns about side effects” and/or “concerns that there has not been enough testing of vaccines”.

Trust in vaccines was highest in the U.K., at 87%, and lowest in Japan, at 47%. The U.K. respondents also had the highest level of confidence in their health authorities (70%), while South Korea had the lowest (42%).

Among those who had not yet been vaccinated, confidence was highest in the Pfizer vaccine in nine out of the 15 countries, and in three others – Canada, Singapore and Sweden – among those under 65.

The U.S. had the largest number of people across all ages saying they did not trust any of the Covid vaccines. The survey, which has been running since last year, found that until March the AstraZeneca vaccine was the most trusted in the U.K. among the under-65s, but confidence in it has declined in all age groups with the publicity over side effects. In most other countries, trust in AstraZeneca is low, as with Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm vaccines.

These findings echo those of another survey recently conducted by the E.U. agency Eurofound which suggested that more than a quarter of adults in the E.U. are either “very unlikely” or “rather unlikely” to accept a Covid vaccine. The main reason cited by participants was a lack of trust in the safety of the vaccine. Almost half of those who were unlikely to accept a Covid vaccine said the risks associated with the virus has been exaggerated and eight per cent believed that Covid didn’t exist at all.

The Guardian report is worth reading in full.

German R Number Has “No Direct Connection” With Lockdown, Say Researchers

Since the start of the pandemic, Germany has seen the lowest level of excess mortality of any major European country – just 4% according to the World Mortality Dataset. Is this because the country effectively suppressed the virus using lockdowns? A new research note suggests not.

Annika Hoyer, Lara Rad and Ralph Brinks – three researchers at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich – sought to compare the epidemic’s trajectory to the timing of lockdown measures. (Their paper is written in German, but you can translate it using Google.)

Hoyer and colleagues begin by noting that, due to changes in testing, case numbers are unsatisfactory for tracing the epidemic over time. They note, “Varying test behaviour should be understood here as the fact that in the course of the epidemic… the execution of tests has changed and changed very strongly, both temporally and regionally.”

They argue that the R number (the average number of people an infected individual transmits the virus to) provides a better guide to the epidemic’s trajectory. According to the authors, “The estimation of the R-value also involves some statistical difficulties, such as the necessary nowcasting, but the main disadvantage of the dependency on test behavior, which can imply large fluctuations, does not apply.”

Hence they plotted the R number over time, and looked for major changes or “breaks” in the series – as shown in the chart below:

The R number decreased dramatically in March of 2020. It rose slowly over the following six months (the apparent spike in the summer may be a random fluctuation due to the small number of cases at the time). It then rose more quickly in September, only to fall again in October. It fluctuated around 1 during the winter months, and has fallen since the start of April.

Given that Germany’s first lockdowns (which varied from state to state) were imposed around March 22nd, it’s clear that the initial decline in infections preceded them. (The statistician Simon Wood has argued that the same thing happened in Britain – i.e., infections were already declining when lockdowns came into force.)

Hoyer and colleagues point out that changes in the R number don’t seem to be correlated with the timing of winter lockdowns either. They note, “there has been no direct connection with the measures taken since September – neither with the lockdown light on November 2nd and the tightening on December 16, 2020, still with the ‘Federal Emergency Brake’, which was decided at the end of April 2021”.

Their research note provides further evidence that lockdowns have little impact on the epidemic’s trajectory beyond the effects of voluntary social distancing and restrictions on large gatherings.

SAGE Member Says We Must Learn to Live with Covid without the Restrictions

SAGE member and Director of the Wellcome Trust Sir Jeremy Farrar says lockdowns are “awful” – citing their effects on mental health, education and job opportunities, to name a few – and that Brits must learn to live with Covid without restrictions. Sir Jeremy is “optimistic” that lockdown will end on June 21st, however, he believes that guidelines on restrictive measures such as mask-wearing should remain past this date. The Mail has the story.

Sir Jeremy… said the measures had had “very profound consequences” on the nation’s mental health, education and jobs.

But he was hopeful that the Government would be able to open up on June 21st based on the data so far – but stressed the next few weeks would be “crucial”.

He pointed out that more than eight in 10 adults would be vaccinated by then, adding that he was “very confident” the jabs were working.

“There is a danger of not opening up and this infection is now a human endemic infection. It’s not going away,” he said. “Humanity will live with this virus now forever. And there will be new variants. This year, next year, the year after, there will be new variants – and we will have to learn to cope with that.

“Lockdowns are awful. They are a mark that you haven’t been able to control the virus in other ways. They have very profound consequences on mental health, on education, on job opportunities particularly affecting people on lower incomes.

“Societies can’t stay in that mode forever.”

Earlier this week Boris Johnson said that while there was nothing in the data to suggest the June 21st ending of lockdown could not go ahead, the numbers were “still ambiguous”.

But Sir Jeremy said he was hopeful the jabs had “separated” the inevitable rise of infections which comes with easing restrictions and the subsequent increase in hospitalisations.

Asked whether he thought the country would be able to open up on June 21st, he added: “If you really push me today, I would say I’m more optimistic because I think that the vaccines have been so incredibly successful.”

He added that based on current data, although he would lift restrictions, sensible advice such as wearing a mask indoors should still be in place.

Sir Jeremy also said: “If hospitalisations have remained low and deaths have remained low, I would accept a degree of transmission and I would open up.

“I think this is the hardest decision, frankly, of the last 18 months actually. I am optimistic in the sense that I do believe that vaccines are incredibly safe and very effective.”

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up