Day: 12 June 2021

WHO Chief Says Lab Leak Theory Remains “Open” as G7 Leaders Discuss Covid Origins

G7 leaders discussed the origins of Covid on Saturday as the Chief of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that all hypotheses – including the lab leak theory – remain “open”. Sky News has the story.

At their summit in Cornwall on Saturday, G7 leaders were joined by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s Director General, during their talks on the Covid crisis and efforts to avoid future pandemics.

The WHO Chief set the world’s leading democracies the challenge of vaccinating 70% of the global population against Covid by the time of the G7’s next summit in Germany next year.

And, speaking to reporters at a briefing after the leaders’ discussions, Dr Tedros confirmed the subject of the Covid outbreak was raised at the Cornwall summit.

Last month, U.S. President Joe Biden ordered intelligence officials to “redouble” efforts to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, including the theory that it came from a laboratory in China.

Referring to the millions around the world who have died due to Covid, Dr Tedros said: “This is very tragic and I think the respect these people deserve is knowing what the origin of this virus is, so we can prevent it from happening again.”

Dr Tedros confirmed the WHO was preparing for the second phase of its investigation into the origins of Covid, which he said would need “transparency” and the “cooperation” of China.

“We believe that all hypotheses should be open and we need to proceed with the second phase to really know the origins,” he said.

Worth reading in full.

“We Are Seeing Some Worrying Stuff in the Data,” Says PM

Boris Johnson has “all but confirmed” that the June 21st “Freedom Day” will be delayed, saying that “we are seeing some worrying stuff in the data”. The PM is particularly concerned about an increase in hospitalisations – only too late have NHS hospitals been told to change the way they collect data on patients who test positive for Covid by differentiating between those who are actually sick with Covid symptoms and those who test positive but are actually ill with something else. The fact that there is unlikely to be much of a backlash to the extension of lockdown from the public appears also to have bolstered the Government’s decision to delay. The MailOnline has more.

The PM delivered a downbeat assessment of the dangers posed by the Indian “Delta” variant amid growing expectations he will announce a four-week delay to the unlocking roadmap at a press conference on Monday…

In a round of broadcast interviews at the G7 summit in Cornwall, Mr Johnson insisted no final decision will be taken until Monday.  

“We are seeing some worrying stuff in the data, clearly. We are seeing the Delta variant causing an increase in cases, we are seeing an increase in hospitalisations,” he told Channel 5 News.

“The whole point of having an irreversible roadmap is to do it cautiously and that’s what we are going to do. I know people are impatient to hear more but you will be hearing the full picture on Monday.”

Ministers believe the backlash from Tory MPs and the public should be limited as long as the timetable does not slip beyond the school holidays. 

A poll today suggested that just a third of Britons want the total lifting of restrictions to go ahead as originally laid out. 

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A poll for Opinium published last night showed that a majority of Britons are now in favour of postponing the June 21st lifting of restrictions. Over half (54%) think the date should be postponed (up from 43% two weeks ago), with just 37% thinking it should go ahead as planned or even be moved forward (down from 44% two weeks ago). The majority of those in favour of postponing are among the older age groups with almost two thirds (65%) of over-65s in favour of postponing and only 28% in favour of going ahead as planned or earlier. Young people are more evenly split as 45% of 18-34 year olds think it should be postponed and 46% think it should go ahead as planned or earlier.

More specifically, people are most in favour of not removing the restrictions on:

  • Wearing masks (62% vs 31%)
  • Keeping nightclubs closed (60% vs 28%)
  • Limiting large outdoor events (60% vs 31%)
  • Having a maximum of 30 people can gather outdoors (57% vs 31%)
  • Having a rule of six and table service in hospitality venues (50% vs 42%)
  • Having up to 30 people at weddings (48% vs 41%)
  • Having up to six people in people’s homes (47% vs 43%)

It’s official. We’ve become a nation of chin wobblers.

Wembley Will Still Have Euros Crowds of at Least 22,500 But Fan Zones In Doubt

Wembley stadium will still let in 22,500 fans even if Freedom Day is delayed, but pubs will struggle if they’re not allowed to open for the entirety of the Euros. MailOnline has more.

Euro 2020 matches at Wembley will be exempt from lockdown rules and will host a minimum of 22,500 fans even if Freedom Day is delayed.

Discussions have taken place in government over allowing more fans to attend the two round of 16 games, as well as the semi-finals and finals, up to 45,000.

But sources told Sportsmail on Friday no agreement had been reached on the capacities for the knock out stages.

It comes as pubs called for a cash bailout if Freedom Day is moved back and they have to work under restrictions during the football.

UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls said “It’s vital further financial support is forthcoming” because “major sporting occasions always offer bumper sales”.

Meanwhile an official claimed the 3,000-strong fan zone in Glasgow will be one of the safest places to watch the tournament.

Chris Weitz, senior sport development officer at Glasgow Life, said he is confident it will be a safe environment.

But the London Assembly refused to be drawn on whether the official fan park in Trafalgar Square will go ahead.

Worth reading in full.

Government Adviser Says the Prevalence of Covid Variants Means “There’s a Very Strong Argument” for Vaccinating Children

Despite warnings from a wide range of health experts against giving children Covid vaccines, including from a member of the Government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, it seems increasingly likely that Government’s across the U.K. will decide to include children in their vaccine roll-outs in the near future.

On Saturday, Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) and Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College London, said that the prevalence of Covid variants means “there’s a very strong argument” for the vaccination of children. The MailOnline has more.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “A lot of people are sitting on the fence about this but I think on balance I’m coming to the view that vaccination of children – there’s a very strong argument there.”

He said the vaccine was safe for children, while prolonged symptoms of coronavirus meant one in 10 sufferers have not fully recovered.   

He added: “Originally with the Wuhan strain it didn’t seem there was very much amplification of the epidemic going on amongst people who were at school in contrast to what we know about influenza, where schools are often the major driver of spread. 

“But with these more transmissible variants it is evident that they are being transmitted much more amongst young adults and school children and even younger children and that seems perhaps to be a change in the biological quality of the infection. 

“It’s still fortunately not causing very high disease rates amongst those kids but it does strengthen the argument against vaccination.”

He said the Government “absolutely needs to have the discussion” as research proves the “safety and efficacy in terms of generating an antibody response in children”…

Meanwhile, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) last week approved Pfizer’s Covid vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds.

But no decision has yet been taken on whether to extend the rollout to under-18s once all adults have been offered a jab.

And there are now concerns in the U.S. that the Pfizer jab might have health risks for children that outweigh the benefits, with officials there fearing around 200 cases of heart damage among under-30s could have been linked to the jab.

The MHRA said it has not seen any such cases in the U.K. but the JCVI has advised that young adults or children should not be given the AstraZeneca jab unless it’s the only option because of a small blood clot risk.

The JCVI is expected to tell ministers the move to give jabs to children would be a “political decision”.

Worth reading in full.

More Than Half of Brits Who Said They Would Turn Down Covid Vaccine Have Now Had One

More than half of Brits who said they would definitely not get a Covid vaccine last winter have since had one, according to a study by King’s College London and the University of Bristol of almost 5,000 adults aged 18 to 75. In particular, there has been a notable shift in attitudes in favour of the vaccine among people from ethnic minority backgrounds. The Telegraph has the story.

While more than a third [of participants last winter] were certain they would opt for a vaccine and almost one in five thought it was likely, others were unsure or thought it unlikely. Seven per cent said they would definitely not do so.

Researchers questioned almost 2,000 of those who took part in the first survey again in April and found that 52% who had said they would definitely not get a Covid vaccine had already done so if one had been offered. 

Overall, 94% of people invited for a vaccine have taken up the offer, the survey found. 

The study is based on a survey of 4,896 U.K. adults aged 18 to 75 conducted between April 1st and 16st. It follows up research carried out in November and December and tracks 1,879 of the same individuals to see how their views have changed and why.

The research found that vaccine confidence has grown in many ethnic minority groups. While 36% of people from ethnic minority backgrounds had said they were certain or very likely to get vaccinated when asked in November and December, 72% of those have either now been jabbed or intend to be. 

Among white people, the proportion saying the same has increased from 56% to 87%.

The survey found there are still major differences between different religious groups. While 67% of Muslims now express vaccine confidence – up from 23% last year – this is far less than among Anglicans, of whom 94% are certain or very likely to get a jab or have already had one. 

Researchers said hesitancy was not driven by religious practice but by different beliefs in different religious groups, with Muslims four times as likely as the public overall to think that vaccines contain pork products.

Among this group, people were far more likely to think that the vaccines affect fertility, with 29% believing people who have had the jab may find it harder to have children in future, compared with seven per cent of the population overall who believe this.

Dr Siobhan McAndrew, a Senior Lecturer in Quantitative Social Science at Bristol, said the driving force behind the change in attitude was often the “concrete benefits of being vaccinated in terms of being able to travel and to see family and friends again”. She is quoted in the Guardian:

Part of the rise in vaccine confidence relates to social proof: people feel more confident because they observe others taking their vaccine with confidence… For some, actually being invited helped them make up their mind.

The Telegraph report is worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

PHE Briefing Claims Indian Variant is 64% More Infectious – But Dig Down and the Finding Falls Apart

Public Health England (PHE) released its latest technical briefing (number 15) yesterday on “variants of concern” which claimed the Delta (Indian) variant is 64% more infectious than the Alpha (British) variant. But look closer and you find this headline finding is not all it seems.

In the underlying study the researchers admit they did not control for the crucial factor of household size – bigger households will tend to have more secondary infections because there are more people in the household being exposed. The authors acknowledge that many of the Delta variant households may have been larger than Alpha variant households (say, because of different proportions of different ethnic groups), and also that many of the matched controls may have lived alone – they have no way of knowing.

We did not have information on household size, which is likely to have an effect on the estimates of transmissibility. For example, some controls (sporadic cases) will have lived alone and have no chance of onward transmission within their residence and therefore becoming a household cluster. However, we were unable to identify and exclude these cases in the analysis. Further studies of household transmission that includes denominators of all individuals in the household and their vaccination status are needed to provide improved estimates of household transmission and allow for the calculation of household secondary attack rates.

This factor by itself undermines the entire 64% claim and means it should be ignored.

Separate to this, the technical briefing provides some raw data on secondary attack rates (the proportion of contacts infected people infect) that give us an important insight into the real transmissibility of the variants.

Nightclubs and Bars May Sue the Government to Prevent Delay to Covid Restrictions

Following the news that the June 21st reopening is likely to be delayed by at least four weeks, reports have emerged that nightclubs and bars are considering suing the Government to prevent the extension of lockdown. The Guardian has the story.

The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) is understood to be weighing up legal action on behalf of venues such as nightclubs that have spent money to be ready to welcome guests after a year of enforced closure.

According to the trade body, 54% of businesses have ordered stock, 73% have called in staff and 60% have sold tickets.

Hospitality bosses said they were increasingly resigned to the prospect that rules such as social distancing and compulsory mask-wearing will not be relaxed, potentially until July.

“It was almost in touching distance and now feels like it’s slipping away,” said Chris Jowsey, the head of the 1,000-strong pub chain Admiral Taverns.

“We need people in the pubs to trade profitably. People might say it’s only a fortnight or four weeks, but [publicans] are hanging on by their fingertips.”

Many pubs and restaurants opened when restrictions eased in April and May under the first two stages of Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown. But nightclubs and smaller venues, where social distancing is impossible, have been shut for either six months or in many cases since the onset of the pandemic.

“If this gets pushed down the line, they’ve used their last cash resource to get to the point where they can open the doors,” said NTIA’s Chief Executive, Michael Kill. “They’ve committed money to preparing, to stocking, staff training. There’s talk about two weeks [delay], four weeks and the uncertainty is killing them.”

He said the anxiety was exacerbated by a lack of any solution to a looming rent crunch. A Government-imposed moratorium that prevents commercial landlords from demanding late rent payments comes to an end on July 1st.

“We’ve got people who have compromised themselves financially who don’t know if they’ll get out of debt,” said Kill. “The anxiety levels associated with commercial debt, which still doesn’t have a solution with two weeks left, is exceptional.”

Richard Nattriss, a nightclub owner who runs Raw in Whitby, North Yorkshire, said: “Our building is owned by a pension fund, like a lot of places, and there’s been no concession on rents. We’ve paid full rent through the entire thing and the grants haven’t covered that, so we’re desperate to open to get the cashflow.”

Nattriss said he had already spent money on stocking up, amid shortage of supply of some drinks, but did not believe nightclubs would be able to open until July 5th at the earliest.

“Even though they say the restrictions are lifting, we know in our heart of hearts they’re not going to do that,” he said.

Worth reading in full.