Month: June 2021

Infections Are Rising in Scotland but Hospitalisations Remain Low

Compared to the other U.K. nations, Scotland’s third wave of infections appears to be more advanced. On June 22nd, 3,253 cases were recorded (going by date of specimen) which is the highest daily total since the start of mass testing. See the chart below, taken from the government’s COVID-19 dashboard:

However, as even Nicola Sturgeon has acknowledged, “Most cases are now in younger, yet to be vaccinated groups, so fewer are becoming v ill.” In fact, the recent surge appears to be related to Euro 2020.

A dramatic gender gap has opened up in the last two weeks, with men aged 15–44 substantially more likely to test positive than their female counterparts. The BBC quotes behavioural scientist Stephen Reicher as saying “the obvious explanation is that people were getting together for the football”.

Compare the chart above with the one below, which shows the number of patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19:

The first time there were over 3,000 cases recorded in a single day, on 29th December, the number of patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 was 153. Yet on 22nd June, the number was only 35 (roughly four and a half times lower).

As Fraser Nelson noted in a tweet yesterday, the number of hospitalisations per 1,000 cases 10 days earlier (for the whole of the U.K.) has been trending downward for the past four months. At the end of February, the number was about 100. It has since fallen to less than 30.

People Who Have Had One or Zero Doses of a Covid Vaccine to be Barred from Indoor Hospitality When it Reopens in Ireland

The Irish Government is delaying the reopening of indoor hospitality, along with other indoor activities, due to fears over the Indian Delta variant. To add insult to injury, only those who have been fully vaccinated against Covid, and who have a pass to prove it, will be allowed into indoor venues when restrictions are finally eased. People who have only received one dose of a vaccine, or who – for medical or other personal reasons – are unvaccinated, will be forced to stay outside. BBC News has more.

Indoor hospitality was due to reopen on July 5th.

When it reopens, indoor hospitality will be limited to those who are fully vaccinated against Covid, Taoiseach (Irish PM) Micheál Martin has said.

The recommendation had been made by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). …

Mr Martin said while there will be an increase in the number of people who can attend outdoor events and the number who can attend weddings will be increased to 50 as planned, “the return to other indoor activities including hospitality will be delayed”.

“NPHET’s clear advice based on the modelling it has done is that given the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant, the safest way to now proceed with the return of indoor hospitality is to limit access to those who have been fully vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid infection,” he said. …

“The simple truth is that we are in a race between the variants and the vaccines and we want to do everything we can to ensure that the vaccine wins.” …

The Taoiseach gave no date as to when indoor dining and drinking in pubs and restaurants will resume.

Restaurateurs and publicans have expressed their anger and frustration at Mr Martin’s comments…

The plans have been criticised by the Restaurants Association of Ireland, which said it was “astounded” that indoor hospitality will face a further delay.

In a statement, the group said it believed the policy is discriminatory and unworkable. 

“Restaurant, pub and café owners will now be placed in the unenviable, complex and difficult position of allowing vaccinated customers enter indoors and restricting non-vaccinated customers to outdoor dining,” its Chief Executive Adrian Cummins said. 

“Such a practice of refusing access to goods and services in currently illegal under equality acts.”

He added that many people working in the hospitality sector are in the unvaccinated age groups, and could potentially be asked to refuse service to their peers.

Worth reading in full.

Raising the Alarm on Myocarditis After Covid Vaccination

We’re publishing an original article today on the risks of heart problems following receipt of a Covid vaccine by Dr Clare Craig, a Diagnostic Pathologist in London and member of HART, and Dr Andrew G. Bostom, MD, a MS Research Physician at Brown University’s Center For Primary Care and Prevention at the Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island. They originally submitted it to the BMJ as a ‘Rapid Response’, but it was rejected. Here is an extract:

The FDA has expressed concerns around the rate of reported myocarditis within the VAERS reporting system, especially in the young. A presentation by the FDA on June 10th 2021 compared the reported rates of myocarditis with background expected rates, with data up to May 31st 2021. However, the expected rates to which observed rates were compared were those expected over a 31-day period. For under-18s, 90% of cases had an onset by day five after vaccination, making comparison with expected rates over 31 days unreasonable. A further meeting on June 23rd 2021 examined the reports in a seven day window with data up to 11 June 2021. A four fold increase above baseline was evident in the seven days after the first dose for under-24 year-olds, rising to over 27-fold for the seven days after the second dose. The rate per million doses given in males 12-17 years old was 17 times higher than in men aged over 50 years seven days after the first dose, rising to 74 times seven days after the second dose. (For females the risk was 50% higher and 13 times higher respectively.)

Worth reading in full.

Ministers Could Announce End of Automatic Isolation for English Pupils in Days

Following a good deal of pressure to end the policy of sending schoolchildren home if someone in their ‘bubble’ tests positive – which the Telegraph has launched a new campaign against today – the Government is said to have decided that pupils will no longer be required to automatically isolate. The change is likely to occur when schools return in September, with an announcement to be made in the coming days. A testing regime is likely to be introduced in the place of automatic isolation.

The Guardian has the story.

A quarter of a million children missed school in a single week because of coronavirus infections, self-isolation or school closures this month – the most disrupted week since schools fully reopened across the country in March.

It came as the new Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, said most Covid restrictions in England “must come to an end” on July 19th…

But, in a move likely to anger some Conservative backbenchers, he did not rule out keeping measures such as masks and social distancing in place.

The Guardian understands that ministers plan to overhaul the system for pupils, under which they are separated into bubbles – sometimes numbering more than 200 children – and forced to quarantine at home if anyone in their group tests positive for Covid.

An announcement is expected to be made in coming days to give schools time to prepare for the return in September, likely to be replaced with a testing regime.

A senior Government source said: “We will have a different system when schools return in September which combines proportionate protections when someone tests positive with trying as much as possible to keep schools open.”

The Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, confirmed on Tuesday morning that the Government was conducting trials of daily testing in secondary schools which were due to be completed on Wednesday. This regime would enable schoolchildren to go into school provided they receive a negative result, eliminating the need for the entire classroom to self-isolate when a single child contracts the virus.

“We’ll look at the data and see whether that is an effective alternative to self-isolation,” Gibb told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme…

Steve Brine, a former Health Minister, said he was “looking for a change in policy as much as a change of tone” [following the replacement of Matt Hancock by Sajid Javid] and called for the rules on isolation bubbles to be overhauled. “Haven’t our young people suffered enough?” he asked. “Are we really going to continue to do this to ourselves?”

Jason McCartney, the Tory MP for Colne Valley, said children and families were being forced to isolate up to four times in a matter of months. He said it was “having a huge impact on education, mental health and wellbeing” and called for extra PCR testing and a new approach to the policy.

Areas in northern England have been particularly affected by the rise in children isolating, with Government figures showing one in 30 children in state schools were out of the classroom on June 17th. That included 9,000 pupils with confirmed Covid and 16,000 with suspected coronavirus, and more than 7,000 whose schools had shut because of outbreaks.

Worth reading in full.

Singaporean Ministers Announce That Country Must Learn to Live With COVID-19

Singapore has recorded fewer deaths from COVID-19 than almost any other country with reliable data: only 36 to date, which equates to a rate of just six per million. (The U.K.’s official COVID-19 death rate is 1,890 per million.)

And according to the World Mortality Dataset, Singapore has had zero excess mortality since the pandemic began. On the other hand, the country did take a sizeable economic hit last year – with GDP falling by 5.4% (compared to only 2.8% in Sweden).

What’s more, Singapore has not recorded more than 100 cases in a day since August of last year. If any advanced country has come close to “Zero Covid”, it’s Singapore.

Despite that record, three Singaporean ministers have announced that “COVID-19 may never go away” and “it is possible to live normally with it in our midst”.

Writing in The Straits Times, Gan Kim Yong, Lawrence Wong and Ong Ye Kung (the ministers for trade, finance and health) say that “COVID-19 will very likely become endemic”. This means that “the virus will continue to mutate, and thereby survive in our community”.

In other words, the Singaporean Government is under no illusion that it will be possible to eliminate COVID-19, contrary to the claims of the “Zero COVID” movement. Indeed, a survey by Nature of 119 experts found that 89% believe it is “likely” or “very likely” that SARS-CoV-2 will become an endemic virus.

“We can’t eradicate it”, the ministers write, “but we can turn the pandemic into something much less threatening, like influenza.” How do they propose to deal with the virus going forward?

First, they intend to proceed with their vaccination program, which aims to have two thirds of people vaccinated by August 9th. Second, they intend to continue testing, but “the focus will be different”. For example, the country will cease “monitoring COVID-19 infection numbers every day”. Third, they intend to keep using and developing effective treatments for COVID-19.

As Yong, Wong and Kung conclude, “History has shown that every pandemic will run its course.” Though one might object that even the few remaining measures are no longer necessary, the ministers seem to understand what they’re talking about. Their article is worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

Serco and Mitie Awarded New Testing Contracts That Could Last for 18 Months

The Government is sticking to its line that lockdown will end on July 19th and that this unlocking of restrictions will be irreversible. But, once again, its actions point in the opposite direction. Most recently, Serco and Mitie have been handed new testing contracts – worth up to £687 million collectively – to support the Test and Trace system. The contracts will run for 12 months but could be extended by another six. Reuters has the story.

The [Test and Trace] scheme, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged would be world-beating when he launched it with a £22 billion budget in May 2020, has repeatedly missed targets…

Serco’s contract, which is worth up to £322 million, covers services such as site operations, cleaning and security at around 20% of test sites in England and Northern Ireland, down from the roughly 25% of sites covered by its previous deal.

Mitie’s deal, worth up to £365 million, covers the management of around 28% of testing sites across England, Scotland and Wales, up from about 23% of sites in its former contract.

The two agreements are focussed on testing only but form part of the Test and Trace scheme, which oversees testing of people who think they have Covid, and then tracing contacts of those who test positive to require them to isolate.

While Serco also holds contracts for contact tracing, Mitie only looks after testing sites.

Parliament’s spending watchdog said on Friday the scheme had improved but was still missing targets, and the results of millions of tests to find asymptomatic cases had not been reported.

Worth reading in full.

Australia’s Phantom Menace

We’re reprinting a piece that appeared in the Australian recently by the Commercial Editor Steve Waterson, who has kindly given us permission. He wrote it just before a two-week lockdown in the city was announced, following the recording of 18 new positive test results. Here is an extract:

Not much has changed in the last year. Our visionary ‘leaders’ have come up with nothing new, save a revved-up vocabulary to keep us on the edge of our toilet seats: the anthropomorphised, cunning and clever virus hides and pounces when we least expect it, for it is a “beast” that, unlike any other matter in the universe, travels “at the speed of light”.

So scary is it that everyday descriptions are inadequate. Only the language of airport thrillers and Hollywood can capture the Clear and Present Danger of Jason Bourne’s Delta Variant; that’s why borders have to be “slammed shut” and the virus “hunted down”, “crushed” and “eliminated”. “Flatten the Curve”, an early instalment of the Pandemic Wars franchise, was nowhere near sexy enough.

Sadly, instead of action heroes leading us to safety (whatever that looks like), we have premiers tootling by again in their clown cars – parp, parp! – stuffed with their supporting cast of chief chuckle officers and assorted buffoons, blindly seeking a way out of the quagmire of hypocrisy and contradiction they have created.

Worth reading in full.

Disruption to Vaccination Services During Lockdowns Has Driven Down Childhood Immunisation Rates, New Study Finds

A review of 35 studies comparing changes in the pattern of childhood vaccinations before and during Covid for Collateral Global has found that obstacles to vaccination services have “[driven] down immunisation rates, especially in disadvantaged people and poorer countries”. The review, led by Carl Heneghan, Jon Brassey, and Tom Jefferson, highlights that this reduction in services has affected over 80 million children under the age of one from countries across the world.

According to the World Health Organisation’s [WHO] first pulse interim survey published in August 2020, 16/91 (18%) of countries reported severe/complete disruption of routine mobile immunization services, and 10% reported disruption to static routine immunisation services. About half of the countries reported partial disruptions of routine immunisation for both health facilities and mobile services. [WHO first-round survey 2020] …

The WHO’s second round national pulse survey from January to March 2021 reported that more than one-third of 135 countries experienced disruptions to immunisation services: routine facility-based disruption occurred in 35 (34%) countries surveyed and outreach immunisation services occurred in 30 (39%) of countries.

Looking at polio vaccination alone, the review found that the drive to vaccinate children was halted in many countries until the second half of 2020. In Pakistan, for instance, the polio vaccine roll-out stopped in April 2020 and the disruption to services resulted in 40 million children missing polio vaccinations. Pakistan was not, unfortunately, an exemption to the rule.

In a hospital centre in Senegal, polio vaccination was reduced from March to August 2020. [Sow A 2020] Data from Sierra Leone on five common vaccinated diseases from Mar 1st, 2020, to Apr 26th, 2020, compared with 2019, reported decreases in vaccination ranging from 50% to 85% depending on the individual vaccine analysed, including the OPV1 vaccine. [Buonsenso D 2021]

In April 2020, The WHO reported that Niger had an outbreak of vaccine-derived poliovirus that affected two children –having suspended the vaccination campaign due to the pandemic. Niger’s last wild polio case was in 2012. Niger joins 15 countries experiencing vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks in Africa. No wild poliovirus has been detected in Africa since 2016. Niger joins the list of countries experiencing vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks in Africa.

The Collateral Global review is worth reading in full.

Should We Ban Cars?

As I’ve noted before, one of the main justifications for lockdowns has been the “externality argument”. This is the argument that government is justified in restricting our freedom in order to prevent us from harming others – which we might do by transmitting a deadly virus. As Richard Dawkins put it:

You can argue over whether masks, handwashing, banning groups etc are effective. What you can NOT argue is that you are personally entitled to take the risk as a matter of individual liberty. You risk other lives as well as your own. It’s just elementary epidemiology.

However, it seems the same exact argument could be made about the use of private cars (or seasonal flu, for that matter). In 2016, there were 181,384 casualties on Britain’s roads, including 1,792 deaths. Many of these victims will have been entirely blameless road users – cyclists, pedestrians and others – who just happened to get hit by a careless driver. 

What’s more, according to a 2012 paper published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, emissions from road transport cause 4,900 early deaths in Britain every year, and that’s not even counting the impact on conditions like asthma. How would Richard Dawkins put it?

You can argue over whether buses, trains and bicycles etc are convenient. What you can NOT argue is that you are personally entitled to drive a car as a matter of individual liberty. You risk other lives as well as your own. It’s just elementary transportology.

Of course, someone might say that 7,000 deaths from car accidents and emissions is a lot less than the number who would have died from COVID-19 in the absence of lockdowns – so the analogy doesn’t really work. There are several responses to this.

First, the average age of those who die in car accidents is much younger than the average age of those who die of COVID-19, meaning that each fatal car accident takes away more total life-years. And in any case, there’s not much evidence that lockdown did prevent a large number of deaths.

Second, even if lockdowns could have prevented a lot of deaths in the early months of the pandemic, the situation now is completely different. In fact, the age-standardised mortality rate in the first five months of 2021 was actually lower than in 2018. 

Third, by rejecting the analogy on the grounds that 7,000 deaths is “too few” to matter, one is implicitly conceding that the externality argument isn’t an absolute. In other words, there is some level of externalities that society should tolerate, so long as the benefits to other parties are large enough. 

The question then becomes: are the externalities of COVID transmission sufficiently large relative to the benefits of personal freedom (including the freedom to attend school or operate a small business) to justify lockdown? And it’s by no means clear the answer to that question is in the affirmative.