Day: 18 June 2021

America is Open, So Why Aren’t We?

Lockdown Sceptics received a fantastic response to our call for news from the reopened states in America with which to shame our own timid Government as it delayed reopening for yet another month. We published the first as a taster on Wednesday. Now we bring you the rest.

A Road Trip to Florida and Texas

Mark – a Brit who lives in Connecticut and recently visited Florida and Texas – writes:

I spent the start of the pandemic in Manhattan, NY, where the initial response mirrored the U.K.’s. It was frightening, and to me seemed possibly OTT, but given the explosion of terrifying news and the predicted Armageddon I definitely didn’t consider myself a lockdown sceptic. There was no particular turning point, more just the steady stacking up of evidence that whether or not lockdowns ‘worked’ in terms of a non-zero reduction in R, they very clearly didn’t justify their extreme costs. By the time we got to May and police would harass me for not wearing a mask walking alone down a near-empty street while politicians across the world were getting exposed on a daily basis flouting their own rules, I was a resolute sceptic and found your site one of the few places that would keep me sane while L.A. was filling skateparks with sand the Spanish were disinfecting beaches.

My first trip to Orlando, Florida early in 2021 felt like I’d entered a parallel universe – it was hard to believe I was in the same country as the Northeast, coming from a micromanagement regime that treated me like a leper even once restaurants had their ‘opening’ with the full Monty of plexiglass, 25% capacity, digital menus/ordering and drink-only bans. To be clear, some Covid theatrics remained in Florida, particularly with corporations, but they were largely unenforced – think masks in hotels, six-foot queue marks in banks etc. Although there were no legal restrictions on mass gatherings, there weren’t a huge number of gigs or comedy shows, and the basketball was at pretty limited capacity. Although I didn’t agree with it, I still appreciated what it showed – if individuals or a business took a different view of the risks to me, they were free to limit their own behaviours or capacity without arbitrary rules forcing them to, and I could spend my money in busy venues with a better atmosphere.

Possibly the biggest difference was the attitude of people. In Connecticut and New York many people feel Covid entitles them to a level of rudeness about non-conformists that would’ve been unimaginable pre-pandemic, and even more, like the U.K., seemed to almost enjoy the constant discussion of Covid news. In Florida it certainly wasn’t ignored, but people treated one another like regular humans, and Covid was an aspect of life rather than the aspect. I felt welcomed and had a great trip.

If the above is a good example of how much better life can be when Covid is still very prevalent and other countries imprison people in their homes, my experiences on my recent trip, with Texas and Florida’s approaches now fully justified and cases far lower, highlight the absurdity of the current state of the U.K.’s lockdown-lite when Covid levels are extremely low.

In Texas we enjoyed packed nightclubs, unrestricted baseball games, and had an amazing night in Dallas on May 8th watching the sold-out boxing in front of 70,000 fans (see snap above).

Masks aside (more on that later), in most places Covid effectively didn’t exist. People with symptoms isolate and get tests, and if positive they warn their recent contacts – everyone else gets on with their lives and from my perspective is far happier because of it. Florida – theme parks excepted – was much the same. I challenge anybody who supports anything close to the U.K.’s current approach to visit Texas or Florida and still defend it.

E.U. Fails in Court Ruling to Secure 120 Million Doses of AstraZeneca Vaccine – But Bloc Still Claims Victory

The European Union has failed in a legal attempt to obtain 120 million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine by the end of this month. Despite this, the President of the European Commission has claimed victory for the bloc, saying that the ruling demonstrates the drug maker’s failure to meet its commitments. Sky News has the story.

The two sides have had a rocky relationship over the past few months, with the E.U. accusing the vaccine maker of not producing supplies fast enough.

AstraZeneca was contracted to do its best to deliver 300 million doses to the bloc by the end of June, but it had to revise down its target to 100 million doses due to production problems.

A Brussels court rejected an E.U. request for at least 120 million vaccine doses by the end of this month – something the company has claimed as a win.

Instead, the drug maker said the judge ruled it should deliver only 80.2 million doses by September 27th.

AstraZeneca said it would “substantially exceed” that amount by the end of this month and that the court backed its assertion that the European Commission “has no exclusivity or right of priority over all other contracting parties”.

However, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the ruling supported the E.U.’s view that AstraZeneca had failed to meet its commitments.

“It is good to see that an independent judge confirms this,” she said.

“This shows that our European vaccination campaign not only delivers for our citizens day by day. It also demonstrates that it was founded on a sound legal basis.” …

AstraZeneca has now been told by the court to deliver 15 million doses by July 26th, another 20 million by August 23rd, and a further 15 million by September 27th.

If the company misses these deadlines it will face a penalty of €10 (£8.57) per dose not delivered, the European Commission said.

Worth reading in full.

NHS Doctor: Matt Hancock is “Not Fit for Public Office and Needs to be Removed Before He Inflicts Further Harm on the People of this Country”

NHS GP Dr Helen Westwood, a member of HART, has written a letter to her MP Sir Graham Brady expressing her concerns about the possible Government plans for mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers and others. She previously wrote to him at the end of April and received a reply from Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi that we published on Lockdown Sceptics offering the paper-thin reassurance that the U.K. “currently operates a system of informed consent for vaccinations”. “Why does he need to use the word ‘currently’?” she asked. “Are there plans for mandatory vaccination in future?” There were indeed, and she is not impressed – to the point of calling for Health Secretary Matt Hancock to be shown the door before he does any more damage. Here is her letter in full.

Dear Sir Graham,

I refer to my earlier correspondence dated March 2nd and April 26th regarding the concerns I have about the COVID-19 vaccination program.

I am grateful to you for raising these concerns with the Minister for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment. Sadly Mr Zahawi seems to be either unwilling or unable to respond to my questions. Perhaps he is just delaying until the vaccine rollout has reached the whole adult population as it is due to imminently.

Mr Zahawi said in his letter to you that “the UK currently operates a system of informed consent for vaccinations”. Clearly the current proposals to make vaccinations compulsory for care home workers and possibly frontline NHS workers is completely counter to this. If a medical intervention is mandated for one group in society why not others? What about visitors to care homes? Delivery drivers? Shop workers? The list will go on and on.

I would like to draw your attention again to Article 6 of the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. It states that “any preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic medical intervention is only to be carried out with the prior, free and informed consent of the person concerned, based on adequate information. The consent should, where appropriate, be express and may be withdrawn by the person concerned at any time and for any reason without disadvantage or prejudice”. If an individual is being coerced into undergoing vaccination, through fear of losing their livelihood, then they are not giving “free and informed consent”. In effect, the person administering the vaccine in such circumstances is committing the criminal offence of Assault and Battery. We know that the pharmaceutical companies have been granted legal indemnity by the Government but what indemnity does the vaccinator have in this situation?

In my opinion to ask anyone to undergo a medical intervention for the benefit of others is profoundly unethical. Population immunity, achieved through high vaccine take-up, is a by-product rather than the primary reason for immunising an individual. This ethical problem is particularly pertinent to the arguments given for rolling the program out to children, but is also relevant to the majority of healthy working-age adults. The mortality risk from COVID-19 in this cohort is lower than that for seasonal influenza. People are being persuaded to have these vaccines to protect society at large. Why is nobody in Government paying attention to the significant morbidity and mortality being reported on the Yellow Card system in relation to the administration of the vaccines? Young healthy people are being exposed to risks, both known and unknown, in taking these vaccines yet have little to gain in terms of personal benefit. Dr Tess Lawrie wrote an open letter to MHRA Chief Executive Dr June Raine saying that “the MHRA now has more than enough evidence on the Yellow Card system to declare the COVID-19 vaccines unsafe for use in humans”. At the very least we should be pausing to review the data before coercing young care home workers into having this vaccine when the results of the phase 3 trials are not yet known or understood.

In my discussions with patients who have undergone vaccination I have come to realise that many are unaware that these vaccines do not yet have full marketing authorisation. Sadly, the vaccine trials have now been compromised by being unblinded and control arm participants being offered the active drug. Given that these vaccines are still in their experimental phase, surely point 1 of the Nuremberg code applies: the voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential. How is this in any way compatible with mandatory vaccination?

According to Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister referred to Matt Hancock as “fucking hopeless”. Having heard the Health Secretary say that there is a “material difference” in the duty of care owed by the state to those who have not yet been offered the vaccine compared to those that have not taken up the offer of vaccination, I would go as far as to say he is dangerous and a menace. He is not fit for public office and needs to be removed from his post before he inflicts further harm on the people of this country. The GMC’s Good Medical Practice guidance states that Doctors must “treat patients and colleagues fairly and without discrimination“. I do not think there is an exception to this based on vaccination status. Similarly the NHS constitution says that “the NHS provides a comprehensive service, available to all” and that staff has a “duty not to discriminate against patients or staff and to adhere to…human rights legislation”. With regard to patients it says “you have the right to accept or refuse treatment that is offered to you, and not to be given any…treatment unless you have given valid consent”. Perhaps the Health Secretary ought to familiarise himself with these documents.

Having read my comments you will not be surprised to learn that I still do not intend to take this vaccine currently. I refuse to be bullied into undergoing a medical intervention against my will. It is against everything I would advocate for my patients. With record waiting lists in the NHS it would seem to me to be unwise to risk losing a proportion of the workforce by forging ahead with plans for making COVID-19 vaccination compulsory.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Helen Westwood

Those Who Have Had AstraZeneca Vaccine – or No Vaccine at All – Banned From Upcoming Bruce Springsteen Show

Broadway is reopening in New York, but you’ll need to have received a vaccine approved by the country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to go to a show. Bruce Springsteen will shortly be opening in a one-man show on Broadway, but audience members will be forced to show proof of vaccination to attend – and the AstraZeneca vaccine won’t count! The Telegraph has the story.

The show, billed as “an intimate night with Bruce, his guitar, a piano, and his stories” will run five nights a week at the St James theatre.

“At the direction of New York State, Springsteen on Broadway and the St James Theatre will only be accepting proof of FDA-approved Covid vaccines,” the website says.

Anyone who has received another jab, or is unwilling or unable to have a vaccine will not be allowed to attend.

The news has been met with disappointment just hours north, across the Canadian border, where more than 1.7 million people have had the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Only those who have had a Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be allowed to go to the theatre.

Worth reading in full.

The website says young children will be exempt from the vaccine rule, but no one else.

The only exception to the above will be for children under the age of 16, who must be accompanied by a vaccinated adult and also must provide proof of at least one of the following:

~ negative antigen Covid test taken within six hours of the performance start time, or

~ negative PCR Covid test taken within 72 hours of the performance start time.

Age-Standardised Mortality Rate Falls To Lowest Level on Record, Again

The ONS announced today that there were 35,401 deaths registered in England in May, which is 9% less than in March, and 10.7% less than the five-year average. As I keep mentioning, however, the best overall measure of mortality isn’t the number of deaths, but rather the age-standardised mortality rate.

In May, the age-standardised mortality rate was 12% lower than in April, and a remarkable 16.7% lower than the five-year average. Like April’s figure, it was the lowest on record for that month. In fact, it was the second-lowest figure on record for any month. (The only lower figure was last August’s age-standardised mortality rate.)

This means that the last two months have both seen recorded-breakingly low levels of mortality. (The ONS’s dataset goes back as far as 2001, and given that mortality has been decreasing more-or-less continuously for the past few decades, April and May’s figures were probably the lowest ever.)

This chart from the ONS shows the age-standardised mortality rate for the first five months of the year, each year, going back to 2001:

Although 2021’s figure was higher than the figure for 2019, it was 2.2% lower than the figure for 2015 and 2.5% lower than the figure for 2018. This means that – despite higher-than-expected mortality in January and February – the overall level of mortality in the first five months of 2021 was actually lower than three years before.

The past three months have “cancelled out” more than 70% of the age-adjusted excess mortality observed in January and February. If June’s age-standardised mortality rate comes in as low as May’s, the overall level of mortality in the first five months of 2021 will be below the five-year average.

Stop Press: MailOnline reports that COVID-19 was the 24th leading cause of death in England in May, and made up fewer than 1% of all fatalities.

Government to Exempt 2,500 Football Officials from Travel Quarantine Rules so Euro Finals Can Take Place at Wembley

Thousands of Brits had their holiday plans ruined when Portugal was demoted to the travel “Amber List” earlier this month. But now the Government is considering making 2,500 football officials exempt from quarantine rules so that the Euro 2020 semi-finals and final can take place in England. The Guardian has the story.

The proposal would exempt about 2,500 UEFA and FIFA officials, politicians, sponsors and broadcasters from the quarantine restrictions faced by ordinary travellers, according to the Times.

On Monday, the Government announced a four-week delay to the final easing of lockdown restrictions in England in order to allow more people to be vaccinated to combat the Delta coronavirus variant.

The only teams playing in the tournament on England’s “Green List” of countries that do not require isolation on arrival are Wales and Scotland.

All others are on the “Amber List” bar Turkey, which is on the “Red List”. Travellers arriving from Red List countries must stay in a quarantine hotel for 10 days while those from amber list countries must self-isolate at home for 10 days, although they can get released from quarantine early if they pay for a private test, at least five days after arrival, and it comes back negative.

Asked how it would be fair for VIPs to have a different set of rules from the general public, the Policing and Crime Minister, Kit Malthouse, said: “I haven’t seen the detail of that particular proposal. One of the things we are trying to do though is obviously accommodate the Euros as much as we possibly can.

“And while much of the concern around coronavirus regulations has been about whether one situation is fair compared with another situation what we’re generally trying to do is make difficult decisions about the path of a virus, at the same time as trying to enable the ordinary operation of very special events like the Euros and, no doubt, health professionals and the immigration professionals at the Home Office and then the senior ministers who make a decision will take all of that into account as we proceed.

“And look, it’s a great competition, we’re very lucky to have it, we’re trying to make it happen with as much kind of satisfaction all round as we possibly can and that will be taken into account in the decision over the next few days.”

So what about everyone else, Boris?

Worth reading in full.

No Mandatory Vaccination for Care Home Staff in Wales

Wales will not be copying England in making Covid vaccination mandatory for care home staff. First Minister Mark Drakeford says that staff in positions of care should take the vaccine, but “there is a very big step taken when you move into compulsion”. This decision is likely to have been swayed by the fact that such a high proportion of care workers have already been vaccinated anyway. WalesOnline has the story.

In Wales the take-up of the vaccine has been extremely high, resulting in as many as 98% of care home residents and 92.3% of care home workers having had their first dose. The percentage when it comes to both doses is equally encouraging – 93.7% for care home residents and 85.7% for care home staff.

However, there are still 2,960 care home employees and 295 care home residents who are yet to receive their first dose – despite being in the top priority groups when the roll-out was announced last December.

A spokeswoman for the Welsh Government confirmed there were no plans to make Covid jabs mandatory for care home staff at this point. She said: “Protecting our most vulnerable people in care homes is at the heart of our response to the pandemic and vaccine strategy. 

“While Covid vaccination rates are at such high levels in this group – and in other priority groups and age groups – in Wales we do not see the need at this time to introduce compulsory measures.

“We will continue to work with the sector to promote the importance of vaccination and support any care workers who have not yet been vaccinated to get a vaccine.”

The country has, however, followed England’s lead in delaying the easing of lockdown restrictions by four weeks because “the Delta variant has entered Wales and quickly spread throughout the country”. The First Minister is quoted in Sky News.

There is sustained and accelerating transmission, not just in north and southeast Wales but in all parts of Wales.

It is now the most dominant variant in new cases in Wales. We are once again facing a serious public health situation.

The WalesOnline report is worth reading in full.

Covid Vaccination Open to All over-18s in England

All English adults are now able to book a Covid vaccination as the number of over-18s who have been vaccinated nears 45 million (over 80%) – yet still we wait. Reuters has the story.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday pushed back the full re-opening of England from lockdown until July 19th because of a rise in cases, but also accelerated his vaccination plans, pledging to give every adult a first dose by the same date. 

“Offering all adults a jab less than 200 days after the programme launched is one of our country’s greatest collective achievements, saving over 14,000 lives so far,” he said, referring to Public Health England estimates of the impact of the vaccine roll-out.

Britain has given a first dose of a Covid vaccine to more than 42 million people, almost 80% of adults, while well over a half have received both shots.

Health authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each run their own vaccination campaigns. Wales and Northern Ireland have already made vaccines available to any adult, while Scotland is offering them to anyone over 30.

In Monday’s briefing, the Prime Minister said that current vaccination levels were not enough to justify unlocking the country and that two-thirds of the adult population must be fully vaccinated (a milestone that is expected to be reached by July 19th) if there is to be an effective “wall of immunity”. Even then, he warned that “a proportion of the elderly and vulnerable may still succumb [to the virus] even if they have had two jabs”.

The Reuters report is worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

Chris Whitty Warns of Summer AND Winter Waves as Neil Ferguson Raises Prospect of New Lockdowns – But Data Show the Third Ripple is Already Peaking

The doom-mongers of SAGE were out in force again yesterday, building on their recent victory in Downing Street to keep stoking the fear. The Independent brings us the latest wisdom from Imperial College’s Professor Neil Ferguson.

The third wave of COVID-19 cases in the UK has already began, according to Government advisers – who said it was possible strict lockdown curbs would have to reintroduced at some point this year.

It comes as a new study commissioned by the Government found Covid infections have increased 50% since the start of May – as the country struggles to combat the rise of the highly-transmissible Delta variant first detected in India.

“We’re at the beginning of [the third wave] now,” said Professor Neil Ferguson, the Imperial epidemiologist dubbed “Professor Lockdown” by the tabloid press.

Ferguson told a media briefing that his latest modelling predicts between 100 and 1,200 deaths a day at the peak of the summer “third wave”, before raising the possibility that restrictions may need to be introduced.

I’m very much hoping we won’t need to reverse course [on the easing of restrictions] – and I suspect we won’t. We will inevitably see cases and hospitalisations rise. But the key is [how] manageable the level is.