Day: 22 June 2021

UEFA Officials Allowed to Visit U.K. Without Quarantine

The chances of Brits holidaying abroad this year are slim at best. But the Government, while enforcing severe restrictions on its own citizens, has decided to allow almost three thousand football “VIPs” to attend the Euro 2020 finals without having to abide by quarantine rules. The Telegraph has the story.

Ministers are facing a backlash from senior Tory MPs over the decision to exempt UEFA officials, politicians and sponsors from having to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival in the U.K.

It comes days after it was reported that UEFA had threatened to move the matches to Budapest unless ministers relented on the quarantine rules. Sources said the U.K. would have lost out if it had failed to compromise.

While the agreement still needs final sign-off by public health officials, sources told the Telegraph the exemption was due to commence on July 5th – a day before the first semi-final at Wembley. It will remain in place until after the final, which is being played on July 11th. 

The number of VIPs due to travel to the U.K. is expected to be in the “low thousands”, although Government sources say many will only remain for one match.

The exemption was personally negotiated by Dan Rosenfield, Mr Johnson’s Chief of Staff, who is an avid football fan and supports Manchester United. The details emerged after ministers announced on Tuesday that the capacity at Wembley would be increased to 75%, enabling 60,000 fans to attend the semi-finals and final.

The VIPs will be required to provide a negative pre-departure test and undergo testing during their stay. They will be allowed to stay in tournament hotels and travel between matches and official meetings, but will be told to limit their movements outside these permitted activities. It was unclear whether they will be allowed to dine at restaurants. 

David Davis, a former Cabinet minister,  said the decision on VIPs was “morally inconsistent”, while another MP said it was “absurd and indefensible”. 

British holidaymakers currently have to isolate at home for 10 days and pay for at least two PCR tests if they visit “Amber List” countries, from which the vast majority of the football VIPs will be coming.

On Thursday, ministers will consider exempting fully vaccinated Britons from quarantine on their return from amber destinations, but the change is not expected until after the Euro finals. Holidaymakers are also likely to still face expensive PCR tests in order to track variants.

Worth reading in full.

Confessions of a Mask Wearer

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous has sent us this – an account of how they’ve been inspired by my no-more-mask declaration to follow suit.

I applaud Toby’s decision to stop wearing a mask from June 21st. Having made the same decision, I thought I would jot down some reflections on the wearing and the non-wearing of masks in these irksome times.

Perhaps more than anything else over the past 15 months, it has been the masks that have disheartened and dismayed me. The sight of hordes of mask-wearing covid zombies shuffling around the high street on a bright sunny day is a scene of bleak dystopian misery and I can only hope that future generations will regard evidence of this phenomenon with a combination of bewilderment and hilarity. Sceptics will be familiar with the arguments against masks – they don’t work; they are chiefly a psychological tool to remind us that “there’s a pandemic on”; they are a superstitious comfort blanket for the terrified and a symbolic totem for the zealous virtue signallers. I suppose at this stage in the game you either get it or you don’t, so I’m not going to dwell on the case for the prosecution.

But here’s the thing – despite hating the fetid and otiose rags with every fibre of my being, up to now I too have been wearing a mask when required! I know full well that many people have refused to wear one from the outset, and I admire their integrity. But I myself have been an abject coward. I have worn a mask in shops; on the train; when picking my son up from school. Yes, I have indulged in mild acts of subversion – the occasional baring of the nostrils; the chin dangle on the train while drinking a bottle of water that I made last for an hour. But deep down I knew that these petty acts of defiance, like a truculent schoolboy slouching around with his shirt untucked, were pathetic and ineffective.

So why did I comply? I justified it by believing that I had no choice but to obey the law. However unjust we might find any given statute, I lectured myself pompously, those of us who believe in the rule of law and the social contract that underpins our democratic society are duty bound to follow the law of the land. Otherwise the whole system will founder.

Four Brits Develop Condition That Can Cause Paralysis After Taking AstraZeneca Covid Vaccine

Four Nottinghamshire men aged between 20 and 57 have developed a condition that can cause paralysis and can even be life-threatening shortly after taking the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine. The condition, called Guillain-Barré Syndrome, has also been found in people who have had the AZ vaccine in Australia and India. The MailOnline has more.

All four cases were spotted in the Nottingham area, where around 700,000 people have had the AZ coronavirus jab. 

British health chiefs have yet to offer a public breakdown of how many cases of the syndrome have been spotted in vaccine recipients across the entire country…

Cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome after AstraZeneca’s vaccine were described in two separate studies in the journal Annals of Neurology.

The complication – normally triggered by an infection – usually occurs in around one in 100,000 people in the U.K. and U.S..

But doctors in India who also uncovered the link say it was occurring up to 10 times more than expected.

One of the articles published in the journal broke down the cases spotted in Nottingham, which all occurred within ten days of each other. 

Symptoms began 11 to 22 days after the first jab and all of the four men were aged between 20 and 57.

One had no relevant medical history. The three others had ulcerative colitis, asthma and high blood pressure.

None had been infected with Covid. They were treated with antibodies and steroid pills.

Dr Christopher Allen, a Clinical Neuroscientist at Nottingham University, who wrote the article, admitted they cannot be certain the jab caused the neurological illness and it could have happened by chance.

But it demonstrates the need for “robust post-vaccination surveillance”, he said…

The second paper by neurologists at the Aster Medcity hospital in Kochi, Kerala, identified seven cases of severe Guillain-Barré syndrome.

They were struck down within a fortnight of receiving the first AstraZeneca vaccine.

Lead author Dr Boby Varkey Maramattom said rates of the condition were between 1.4 and 10-fold higher than would normally be expected. 

Worth reading in full.

Flu and Pneumonia Deaths Now 10 Times Higher Than Covid Deaths

The latest data from the ONS, published today, reveals that just 84 people died of Covid in England and Wales in the week ending June 11th, less than 10% of deaths from flu and pneumonia and one of the lowest weekly totals since the pandemic began. Sarah Knapton, the Telegraph‘s Science Editor, has more.

The number of people dying with flu and pneumonia on their death certificate in England and Wales is now ten times higher than those with Covid, figures show.

Latest weekly data on deaths from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows there were just 84 deaths mentioning Covid in the week ending June 11. In contrast, there were 1,163 deaths involving flu and pneumonia.

Registered Covid deaths fell by 14% since the last update in the week ending June 4th, when there were 98 deaths recorded.

Covid deaths now make up just 0.8% of all deaths – down from 1.3% in the previous week, despite the fact that week included the late May bank holiday, which meant there were fewer death registrations.

The latest figure of 84 deaths is only the third time the weekly total has dipped below 100 since last September, and is one of the lowest since the pandemic began.

Worth reading in full.

Travel Firm TUI Joins Airlines Suing the Government Over “Traffic Light” Travel System

Pressure is mounting on the Government to ease restrictions on overseas travel, with the travel firm TUI joining the list of airlines raising legal concerns about “inexplicable” and “shambolic” decision-making. Sky News has the story.

The travel giant said it was “inexplicable” that ministers decided to put Portugal on its “Amber List” last month – and not move the Greek and Balearic Islands, which have low Covid rates, on to the “Green List”.

Speaking at the Travel Matters conference on Tuesday, travel association ABTA also said it was considering joining TUI, Virgin Atlantic, Ryanair, British Airways’s parent group IAG, and the Manchester Airport Group in taking legal action against the Government.

Last week Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’ Leary described the Government’s international travel policy as a “shambles” and announced legal action along with a number of partners.

Andrew Flintham, TUI Managing Director, accused the Government of not listening to the industry’s needs after Aviation Minister Robert Courts failed to turn up to the conference due to a “diary clash”.

“It is incredibly disappointing that the aviation minister didn’t come to speak with us all today,” he said.

“There is no doubt the Government needs to hear what we have to say as an industry and this once again feels like a sign they’re not.”

Worth reading in full.

“Big Risk” of Inflation Spiralling Out of Control as Government Borrows Another £24 Billion in May

Government borrowing came in lower than estimated in May, but there is little else in the state of the country’s economy to be cheery about. Following more than a year of lockdowns and heavy borrowing, the national debt stands at £2.2 trillion and a former Chancellor has warned there is a big risk of inflation spiralling out of control. The MailOnline has the story.

The Government was in the red by £24.3 billion last month, down from £43.8 billion a year earlier at the height of the pandemic – and crucially below the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecasts.

However, the figure was still the second highest on record for the month and £18.9 billion more than in May 2019 before the pandemic struck, while national debt now stands at a staggering £2.2 trillion.

The grim fiscal backdrop was highlighted as former Chancellor Ken Clarke warned that there is a “big risk” of inflation running out of control – and urged Mr Sunak to raise more revenue now to make the Government less vulnerable to a resulting spike in interest payments.  

Responding to the figures, Mr Sunak reiterated his pledge to “get the public finances on a sustainable footing”.

“That’s why at the Budget in March I set out the difficult but necessary steps we are taking to keep debt under control in the years to come,” he added.

Concerns over the rebounding economy overheating and causing an inflation spike have been intensifying after the headline rate surged ahead of expectations to hit 2.1% last month.

Graphic from the MailOnline.

In the U.S. it is also at worryingly high levels, as Joe Biden pours money into stimulating the economy. 

Mr Sunak has been wrestling with Boris Johnson over how to fund ambitious “levelling up” spending commitments and a new social care plan.

Downing Street has insisted that the “triple lock” on the state pension will stay in place, even though the warping effects of furlough could mean it rises by 6% this year.  

Number 10 also says the manifesto commitment not to raise income tax, national insurance or VAT in this parliament stands – even though the respected IFS think-tank says that makes it “extremely difficult” for the Chancellor to find ways of raising money.    

Worth reading in full.

Should We Have Relied More on Historical Comparisons and Less on Epidemiological Models?

During the pandemic, the British government has relied heavily on epidemiological models when deciding what course of action to take (e.g., whether to tighten or loosen restrictions). The advice it has received in this regard comes from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), a body comprising 82 scientists from institutions across the U.K. 

Most influential (and infamous) have been the epidemiological models developed by Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College London. Indeed, the Government initially appeared to be following a focussed protection strategy; it was only after the publication of an alarming report by the Imperial College team that lockdown became the official policy. (Ferguson and colleagues’ report has since been described as the “catalyst for policy reversal”.)

As late as March 5th, Chris Whitty told MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee: “We will get 50% of all the cases over a three-week period and 95% of the cases over a nine-week period.” He explained: “What we’re very keen to do is not intervene until the point we absolutely have to, so as to minimise economic and social disruption.” And he added that “one of the best things we can do” is to “isolate older people from the virus”.

Dominic Cummings has since confirmed that the Government did abandon its original plan at the last minute. He claims, “No10 was made aware by various people that the official plan wd lead to catastrophe.” 

However, the epidemiological models that served as the basis for lockdown – both here and elsewhere – have come under substantial criticism. They made highly untenable assumptions, such as that seasonality and voluntary behaviour change do not affect transmission. This, in turn, led to disastrous forecasting errors. For example, Neil Ferguson’s team predicted there would be 85,000 deaths in Sweden; to date, there have been fewer than 15,000 (and that figure’s probably an overestimate).

In a new paper published in History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, George Heriot and Euzebiusz Jamrozik argue that we should have relied more on historical comparisons, and less on epidemiological models. 

They point out that “twenty-first century human communities may bear greater resemblance to communities in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries than to an abstracted representation within an epidemiological model”.

The authors note that the transmissibility and lethality of COVID-19 are “are well within the range described by respiratory viral pandemics of the last few centuries”, whereas the Spanish Flu of 1918 is “the clear outlier”. They suggest that the 1889 flu pandemic (sometimes termed the “Russian Flu”) offers a particularly close historical analogue to COVID-19.

According to the authors, “The historical record may provide a richer and more useful understanding of the range of medium- and long-term consequences… than even the most complex mathematical model.” And they go on to say: “Every established respiratory pandemic of the last 130 years has caused seasonal waves of infection and has culminated in viral endemicity.”

Heriot and Jamrozik’s article provides a much-needed antidote to the Government’s modelling malady and is worth reading in full.

Freeing Up Overseas Travel in Coming Months “Difficult”, Says Matt Hancock

Unmoved by the discovery that fewer than one in 200 travellers from “Amber List” countries are testing positive for Covid when back in Britain, the Health Secretary says that it will be “difficult” to free up international travel over the coming months. The Government is concerned that relaxing travel restrictions could undo the success of the vaccine roll-out.

While the MailOnline reports that fully vaccinated Brits could be exempted from quarantine rules linked to Amber List countries from August (despite Matt Hancock saying that the move is not currently “clinically advised”), it seems unlikely that the number of countries on the “Green List”, which frees all travellers from the requirement to self-isolate, will increase much in the near future.

The Independent has more.

At present, the only viable holiday destinations from which quarantine is not required are Gibraltar and Iceland. Many other locations have far lower rates of coronavirus than the U.K., and the travel industry is calling for a rapid expansion of the… “Green List”.

The next review is due on Thursday, with Malta, Italy, Morocco and Spain’s Balearic islands all candidates for moving from the Amber List to Green…

On Sky News, Matt Hancock said the vaccine programme had freed up “a huge number of the restrictions here at home”. But he warned: “It is more difficult freeing up international travel.

“We have one of the tightest border control systems in the world and we have that because we want to protect this amazing progress we’ve made at home with the vaccination programme…

“We’ll get there when it’s safe to do so.”

The travel industry is staging a day of action at Westminster on Wednesday, calling for fewer restrictions on going abroad and financial support for agents, operators and airlines.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

Five Year-Olds Are Suffering Panic Attacks About Meeting Friends After More Than a Year of Lockdowns

It’s not just adults who have been affected by the Covid campaign of fear. Children as young as five are now having panic attacks over meeting their friends following more than a year of lockdowns, according to the Telegraph.

Experts said young children had become increasingly anxious, with some fearful of leaving their homes, amid an explosion in “locked-in trauma” across the country.

Waits of up to four years for help on the NHS have forced a growing number of families to seek help from private psychologists – only to find that they are oversubscribed and unable to take on more patients, a Telegraph investigation reveals.

Leading private therapists said they are taking twice the normal level of calls from worried parents, forcing them to turn away patients, or open waiting lists for the first time in their careers.

Experts said many children were suffering behavioural problems fuelled by lockdowns, social distancing and fear of infection, with many now anxious about everyday social activities…

Dame Rachel De Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, said a survey of more than 550,000 children – the largest such poll in history – will show mental health to be the greatest concern of this generation of children.

She said her visits across the country, as part of a forthcoming commission, had found children suffering “locked-in trauma” and struggling to adjust to changes to their lives since the pandemic…

Dame Rachel told [a meeting run by the NHS Confederation]: “I’ve been around the country and seen those sad little faces… putting their arms around their friends as they tell me about having their trauma from losing a grandparent, not being able to go to a funeral. Coming out of lockdown and not knowing how to make friends anymore, not knowing how to talk to anyone else,” she said…

During the 12 months since the first lockdown, 420,504 children and young people have received NHS treatment for mental health problems, an 11% rise in two years.

But experts say this is just a tiny proportion of those who need help.

Child Psychologist Maryhan Baker has seen demand for her services double in recent months, with average waiting times jumping from two weeks to nearly four months.

“I’m working longer hours and more evenings to fit more people in but the demand is beyond my own individual capability,” she said.

She said many parents who approached her for help had been warned by GPs “not to bother” waiting for an NHS appointment.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better. There are a lot of children who were maybe just a bit anxious before the pandemic presenting now with compulsions, eating disorders, self-harm and other control behaviours,” she said.

Worth reading in full.