Month: June 2021

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

All Hail the ‘Swiss Doctor’ and His Facts About COVID-19!

Back in March 2020, as the mainstream virus narrative took shape with suicidal lockdowns at the centre and all dissent smothered, there were few sites early sceptics could go to for a solid second opinion. One that stood out as a font of reliable information was the previously little known (at least in the English-speaking world) website Swiss Policy Research.

On March 14th 2020, three days after the WHO declared a pandemic, a “Note on COVID-19” appeared on the site, which simply said: “A Swiss doctor (internist) asks us to publish the following information on the current situation in order to enable our readers to make a realistic risk assessment.” Shortly renamed “A Swiss doctor on COVID-19“, the page began to be updated everyday, sometimes multiple times a day, and became essential reading for all sceptics trying to stay on top of the fast-changing international situation. While the identity of the original “Swiss doctor” has never been revealed (will they ever let us know who they are?), it was soon expanded to be resourced by a team and in April became the “Facts about COVID-19” page. In May 2020 it moved to monthly updates. You can read all the original daily updates on the web archive here – a fascinating time capsule of how an alternative narrative based on data not panic took shape beneath the radar.

The site was early in raising flags on all these key aspects of the crisis:

  • The evidence for a lab origin
  • The problems with PCR testing, false positives and distinguishing deaths “with” and “from” Covid
  • Infections declining before lockdown and being unaffected by restrictions
  • The dangers of ventilators
  • The lack of evidence for surface transmission
  • The ineffectiveness of masks
  • The problem of deaths caused by lockdown and panic, especially in care homes
  • The importance of early treatment, with the site using its medical expertise to introduce its own protocol in July 2020
  • Issues around vaccine safety and efficacy and the post-vaccine infection spike

The site has been especially useful for hearing from some of Europe’s sceptics, who can otherwise get missed in the Anglophone world. Thai-German virologist Sucharit Bhakdi’s lambasting of lockdowns as “grotesque, senseless, self-destructive, collective suicide” was an early highlight.

Wales Takes Super Cautious Approach to Easing Lockdown Restrictions

Restrictions on outdoor gatherings will be relaxed in Wales from Monday, but indoor events have been left on hold due to concerns about the Indian Delta Covid variant, despite the country having the highest vaccination rate in the U.K. The Guardian has the story.

Up to 30 people will be able to meet outdoors and large outdoor activities can resume in Wales from Monday, the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has announced.

The size of extended households can be increased to up to three households and a further household with a single adult or single adult with caring responsibilities will also be able to join.

Drakeford said the move to alert level one would be phased, with outdoor events opening first. Ministers will review the public health situation again, before June 21st, to determine whether indoor events can restart.

The first minister said the two-stage approach would enable more people to be vaccinated – and complete their two-dose course – amid growing concerns about the spread of the Delta variant across the U.K.

Of the 12,431 cases of the variant first detected in India thus far confirmed in the U.K., 97 are in Wales compared with 10,797 in England, 1,511 in Scotland and 26 in Northern Ireland.

Drakeford said: “The emergence of the Delta variant shows the pandemic is not over yet and we all need to continue to take steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”

Worth reading in full.

50% Of U.K. Adults Fully Vaccinated against Covid

More than half of all adults in the U.K. have been fully vaccinated against Covid and three quarters have received at least one dose of a vaccine, amid plummeting, yet still exaggerated Covid death rates. Sky News has the story.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed the achievement, tweeting: “Another Important milestone today. 50% of all adults in the U.K. have had the protection of two doses.

“Thank you to a brilliant team. We keep going.”

On Wednesday, it was announced that three-quarters of adults in the U.K. had received a first jab.

A total of 26,422,303 second doses have now been delivered – equivalent to 50.2% of the adult population – since the vaccination rollout began last December.

Advisers to the Government continue to warn against an easing of restrictions on June 21st, saying also that “vaccine beating variants” will emerge in the future. Sky News continues:

The most significant spike in cases is among people aged between 10 and 29, many of whom are yet to have a jab, according to PHE data.There were 72.3 cases per 100,000 people among this age group in the week up to May 30th – rising week-on-week from 55.1.

The second highest rate is among those aged 20-29 – increasing from 31.6 to 52.0 per 100,000.

Dr Mike Gent, Incident Director for the Covid response at PHE, said: “We are getting some increases in case rates once again, particularly in younger age groups who are not yet being vaccinated and are having regular testing.”

He said this was “to be expected” as the country opens up and people begin to socialise.

Worth reading in full.

Why Boris Must Halt the Child Vaccine Programme

There follows a guest post by Dr Ros Jones, a retired consultant paediatrician and member of HART.

If, a year ago, someone had asked if we should give children a brand-new vaccine with no long-term safety data for a disease that barely affects them, they would have been laughed out of court. But here we are today, considering doing exactly that and not even with the pretence that it is for their own safety. It is because adults think it is okay to ask children to take a medicine which may cause them harm to protect us. Yet the adults clamouring for this have all been vaccinated already. 

Two weeks ago, 40 UK doctors wrote to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) calling for a halt to any proposals to widen the temporary emergency authorisation for COVID-19 vaccines to include children on the grounds of major safety concerns. We now learn that this is such a complex ethical question that the JCVI will pass the responsibility to the Prime Minister. The entire management of the pandemic has been politicised to the detriment of open scientific and ethical debate and it is totally inappropriate for child health to become a potential political football.  The urgency for such debate has increased by the approval, first in North America and now Europe, for vaccination of 12-to-17-year-olds, and Pfizer’s application is currently lodged with the MHRA. So what is the medical, ethical and legal basis for such a move?

The medical case for children

Children are mercifully at incredibly low risk for COVID-19, with the vast majority having mild to no symptoms, few hospital admissions and even fewer requiring intensive care. There were nine Covid-associated deaths in under-15s in the whole of 2020, all with prior life-limiting conditions and accounting for 0.3% of all cause deaths in this age group. Any adolescent at extremely high risk may already receive a vaccine and this should not inform policy for an entire age group. Long Covid has also been raised as a concern, but in children it is milder and shorter-lived than in adults, with studies reporting complete recovery.

Safety

So if the disease is extremely mild for children, what of potential adverse effects of vaccination? Tragically, in recent weeks we have seen reports of thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT), an extremely rare condition, occurring in a significant number of young adults following vaccination, with cerebral venous strokes, some fatal. VITT was not detected in any of the trials but the MHRA now quotes the incidence following AstraZeneca vaccination as 1 in 77,000, stating ‘the data shows there is a higher reported incidence rate in younger adult age groups compared with older groups’. Doctors advising an individual on benefits and risks are left to guess how much higher but AstraZeneca vaccine was withdrawn for under 30s and latterly under 40s, and the Oxford children’s trial was suspended. Pfizer appears to have similar thrombotic problems though possibly at a lower rate and this is likely to be a class effect involving the spike protein. With Pfizer, the Israel Health Ministry have confirmed that myocarditis is occurring  at a rate of 1 in 41,730 for the 2nd dose in young men aged 16-30s, but highest in 16-19s. These are not trivial side-effects: they are potentially fatal or life-changing and appear to be occurring at a rate which is higher than that of severe outcomes for childhood Covid infections. This is without considering any as yet unknown longer-term adverse effects and bearing in mind that only 1,134 children were vaccinated in the Pfizer trials. Following the tenet “First do no harm”, routine vaccination of children against COVID-19 is contra-indicated.

Michael Gove Hints at Extension of Furlough Scheme

The Government is “open minded” about extending the furlough scheme, according to Michael Gove, amid pressure from Nicola Sturgeon. Gove insisted that spending in response to Covid will remain high to help the country “build back better”. The Evening Standard has the story.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will use a Four-Nations Summit with the Prime Minister on Thursday to push for the job retention scheme to continue beyond its current September expiry date.

Now Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has indicated it could be continued.

Asked about the possibility of this, he said: “We are open minded, yes.”

Speaking ahead of the Four-Nations Summit on tackling Covid, Mr Gove said the initiative, which sees the taxpayer pay cash towards workers’ wages, had been a “huge success” that was only possible “thanks to the broad shoulders of the U.K. Treasury”.

The U.K. Government minister insisted higher spending as a response to the coronavirus pandemic would continue, as the country as a whole seeks to “build back better”.

The Scottish Government has voiced concerns about a possible return to austerity from the Conservatives at Westminster, but Mr Gove told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “We’ll be spending more.

“We’ll be spending more on the NHS, we will be spending more on education, we will be spending more on criminal justice, because in all of these areas it is absolutely vital that we build back better.

“Extra funding for everyone will continue, and it is important we all learn from each other about how that money should be spent.”

Last week, hospitality industry bosses called on the Government to do the opposite, to end the furlough scheme, arguing that people on furlough would rather stay at home than work. The Sun highlighted that there are currently 188,000 job vacancies in hospitality where more than 250,000 workers remain on furlough.

The Evening Standard report is worth reading in full.

Portugal Axed from “Green List”

Portugal is due to be removed from the Government’s “Green List”, being placed on the “Amber List” from next Tuesday. It seems completely incomprehensible, given that the British Government just allowed 16,500 English football fans to travel there en masse to watch last week’s Champions League final. The Telegraph has the story.

Portugal is set to be axed from the U.K.’s green list, forcing thousands of British holidaymakers to cancel their trips or cut short their breaks to avoid quarantine.

Ministers are understood to have decided on Thursday morning to add Portugal to the amber list from next Tuesday at 4am after tests revealed what are believed to be previously-unknown variants of Covid. It will mean anyone returning from Portugal after then will have to quarantine for 10 days and take at least two PCR tests.

Sources said ministers had decided that with just weeks to go to the lifting of the final Covid restrictions on June 21, they should “not do anything that jeopardises further unlocking at this point.”

In another report, the Telegraph speculates that cases could be rising in Portugal due to – you guessed it – the British Government’s decision to allow English football fans to attend the Champions League final in Porto.

Two events have served to spark new concerns over rising infection rates in Portugal – and both involved football.

The celebrations for Lisbon’s Sporting Clube de Portugal title win saw thousands of fans gather in a cavalcade before moving into the city centre, many maskless, with few socially distancing and most singing.

It has been linked by experts to a surge in cases in the capital that saw the city centre placed on alert last week, with more than 120 cases per 100,000 people per fortnight.

The second involved the 16,500 English fans who arrived in Porto at the weekend to see Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Manchester City in the Champions League final. Thousands were pictured ignoring social distancing rules and wearing face masks as they thronged in bars by the Douro river.

The regional health authority for the Porto area said those who were in or near fan zones at the weekend should “reduce contacts over the next two weeks” and look out for Covid symptoms.  

Worth reading in full.

What makes this decision so odd is that cases don’t appear to be rising in Portugal – at least, hardly at all.

Stop Press: No countries have been added to the “Green List” today. MailOnline has more.

Sweden’s Mortality Rate Last Year Was Lower Than in 2015

As I’ve mentioned several times, when you calculate mortality the correct way – as the age-standardised mortality rate, or as life expectancy – the year 2020 in England doesn’t look that unusual. Last year’s rate was a fair bit higher than 2019’s, but that was a year of unusually low mortality. 

Plotting the age-standardised mortality rate over time (as the ONS has been doing each month since July of 2020) shows that mortality last year rose to a level last seen in 2008. So while the year-on-year change was large, the level wasn’t particularly high – at least by historical standards. 

Interestingly, this point even found its way into a BBC article last September. The author noted:

And if you look at the age-adjusted mortality rates, which take into account the size and age of the population, you can see that while 2020 has undoubtedly been a bad year compared to recent years, what has been seen in terms of people dying is not completely out of sync with recent history. It is actually comparable with what happened in the 2000s.

Given that 2008 – which, to repeat, saw a higher level of morality than last year – wasn’t that long ago, one might argue the pandemic’s lethality has been overhyped. Of course, others would contend that, if we hadn’t taken the drastic measures we did take, mortality would have risen to a far higher level.

But I’m not convinced the UK’s lockdowns did do much to curb mortality, over and above the effect of restrictions on large gatherings and voluntary social distancing. And I’d argue that we could have saved more lives with a well-executed focused protection strategy.

However, many people continue to insist that mortality would have been far higher in the absence of lockdowns. It’s therefore worth looking once again at Sweden – the only major European country that didn’t lock down.

We already know that Sweden’s age-adjusted excess mortality up to week 51 was only 1.7% – below the European average. But when was the last time its mortality rate was as high as last year?

Going up to the end of week 52, the rate for 2020 – based on the European Standard Population – comes out as 16.4 per 100,000 (which is actually lower than in Denmark). And the last time Sweden saw this level of morality was in 2015 – just five years ago.

So despite taking the least restrictive approach of any major Western country, Sweden’s mortality rate only returned to the level of 2015. This casts doubt on the claim that mortality in the UK would have been much higher in the absence of lockdowns.

End the Mask Mandates Now: Launch of the ‘Smile Free’ Campaign

We’re publishing today a new piece by Dr Gary Sidley, a retired Consultant Clinical Psychologist and member of HART, to coincide with the launch of the ‘Smile Free’ campaign that he and colleagues have started to campaign for the repeal of mask mandates in the U.K.

Dr Sidley’s core argument is: “Never mind that masks don’t work, masking the healthy harms us all socially and psychologically: all mandates must end on June 21st.”

Here’s the opening:

The Government requirement for healthy people to wear a face covering in a range of indoor community settings, purportedly to reduce the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, has arguably been the most insidious of all the coronavirus restrictions.

Anyone reluctant to wear a face covering risks being challenged by others: “It’s only a mask”; “It’s no big deal”; “If it prevents just one infection, it’s worth it”. These comments are based on the premise that healthy people have nothing to lose from donning a mask when moving around their communities, but they fail to recognise an important truth: Masking the healthy is not, and has never been, a benign intervention.

Anyone remotely sceptical may already know that, prior to June 2020, public health organisations and their experts did not endorse masking healthy people in the community as a means of reducing viral transmission and that, in the real world, mask mandates or the lack thereof appear to have made no discernible difference to the spread of coronavirus.

Famously, the decision of Texas to ditch their mask mandates was called “Neanderthal thinking” by President Biden – only for the Lone Star State to witness declining cases ever since.

Worth reading in full and get involved with the campaign here.