Day: 4 July 2021

SAGE Scientist “Frightened” by Sajid Javid’s More Lax Approach to Covid

Professor Stephen Reicher, a leading SAGE Psychologist, says the new Health Secretary’s view that people should learn to live with Covid “as we already do with flu” is “frightening”, despite such a large proportion of the population (including the most vulnerable to the virus) having been vaccinated. Professor Reicher criticised Sajid Javid for wanting “to ditch all protections while only half of us are [fully] vaccinated”. “The key message of the pandemic,” he said on Twitter, “is this isn’t an ‘I’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing. Your behaviour affects my health.”

The MailOnline has more.

The broadside from the University of St Andrews academic comes after Mr Javid, who replaced disgraced Matt Hancock last weekend after the former Health Secretary was caught flouting lockdown with his mistress, called the health reasons for lifting restrictions “compelling”.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, the new Health Secretary says the U.K. is “on track” to escape almost every vestige of lockdown on July 19th, adding: “We will have a country that is not just freer, but healthier, too.”

But he makes no secret of the challenges he faces as Health Secretary, admitting that he has “the biggest in-tray I’ve had at any department – and I’ve run five”. …

The Prime Minister is preparing to announce a raft of measures to come into force from July 19th which will “make Britain the most open country in Europe”. Under plans expected to be signed off by the Cabinet tomorrow, fully-vaccinated people will be able to travel to “Amber List” countries including Spain and Greece without having to self-isolate when they return.

The school “bubbles” system that has seen hundreds of thousands of pupils being forced to self-isolate at home will be axed and replaced with daily testing, while hospitality businesses will no longer have to demand that customers provide their personal data or sign in with a “QR” code.

Worth reading in full.

Covid and the Death of the Scientific Method

We’re publishing an original piece today by John A. Fairclough, an Hon. Consultant Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgeon at the University Hospital of Wales and Professor Emeritus at Cardiff Metropolitan University. It’s very critical of the way in which a few medics and public health directors have dictated government policy over the last 15 months. Here is an extract:

While Matt Hancock was running around in nursery, I managed a polio epidemic, had malaria, treated leprosy and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease in cannibals (Mad Cow) – also abandoned my pregnant wife for safety in a convent in Papua New Guinea to rescue a voluntary worker, had a career in medicine of over five decades, published widely, including on infection ritual, the wearing of masks, and once appeared in the Times Top 10 surgeons.

I was married to a Welsh geography teacher who survived eclampsia, cerebral oedema in ITU and fractured jaw, breast cancer and ectopic pregnancy.

I lectured Internationally on the Myth of Surgical Ritual (including the nonsense of cloth masks). The above photo is a slide from the lecture.

We are now the grannies and grandads whom Matt Hancock patronised by asking the younger generation to save. We can’t apparently assess our own risk.

The absence of scientists in the political masters and some media correspondents has rendered them incapable of interrogating the validity of data suggested by some scientists. It may be a surprise to many that epidemiologists are mainly mathematicians not medics and that most scientists on SAGE are not practising clinicians who wear masks as surgeons do as part of their practice.

We now have a new Health Secretary but sill the lamentable voices of SAGE, the BMA and a host of individuals who appear incapable of distinguishing scientific data from opinion.

Worth reading in full.

Legal Rules Could Soon be Downgraded to Advice in Wales, but More Clarity is Needed

A Welsh minister has suggested that Covid rules could be downgraded to “advice” in the coming weeks, just as is expected to happen in England on July 19th. But the Welsh Conservative opposition says that more clarity is needed on the timeline of unlocking. BBC News has the story.

[Welsh minister] Mick Antoniw said Wales was “moving to a stage where we are having increasing normality” but that ministers and officials would evaluate data ahead of the next review on July 15th. …

With no date set in Wales, the Conservatives have accused the Welsh Government of being “stuck in lockdown mode”.

Responding to reports on Sunday that England will move into a period without legal restrictions, where the public will have to exercise “personal responsibility”, Andrew RT Davies MS, the leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd, tweeted: “It’s time for Welsh Government to provide clarity on Wales’s route to normality.”

Counsel General Mr Antoniw told the BBC’s Politics Wales programme the Welsh Government’s “current thinking is that we have obviously an increase in the level of infections, but we have less hospitalisation out of that”. 

“We want to maximise the vaccination rates still further, and then around the 15th or 16th of July, we’ll have a review, and we’ll consider what further easings can be taken within the data that we actually have,” he said.

“Setting a date has its own problems because, if you’re saying you want to achieve these certain things on this particular date… it is still always dependent on what the latest information is in respect of the infection rates.

“We are certainly moving in the direction of a much greater normality.

“But the pandemic is going to be with us for some time,” he added.

There have only been minor changes to the rules in Wales since June 7th after the first minister announced a pause in a bid to reduce daily hospital admissions and allow time to vaccinate more people.

Ministers had considered permitting more indoor mixing, allowing more people to attend indoor events and reopening ice skating rinks, before deciding to hold off.

In Wales, people are currently able to meet in private homes if they are in an extended household with a fixed set of other homes, unlike in England where six people from any household can meet.

Nightclubs remain closed, as they do across the U.K., while limits on social distancing and how many people can meet outside remain.

The restrictions will be reviewed the week starting July 12th, with any further lifting due to be announced by the first minister towards the end of the week.

Worth reading in full.

Bulgarian Government to Give Out Vouchers to Incentivise People to Get Vaccinated

Recent polling by the E.U. agency Eurofound suggests that only 33% of Bulgarians intend to get vaccinated against Covid. The vaccine roll-out there is so slow that doses are nearing their expiry dates. In an attempt to pick up the pace, the Bulgarian Government is considering offering vouchers and other incentives to those who get vaccinated. Reuters has the story.

Only 14.5% of Bulgarian adults are fully vaccinated, putting the country far behind its E.U. peers.

On top of a general mistrust of authorities in the former communist country, Bulgarians often cite a fear of new medical products as their reason for refusing the vaccination. Another reason is that about 400,000 people have already been infected and developed resistance.

“We do not plan to force anyone. But we are considering the possibility to offer people who are getting the second shot some vouchers,” [Prime Minister Stefan] Yanev said.

Sofia has opened special vaccination units in parks to make it easier for busy people to get a shot and is planning campaigns in Roma neighbourhoods to try to convince those communities of the benefits of the vaccines.

Failure to boost vaccine uptake may force the country to destroy shots that are nearing their expiration dates.

Yanev said Bulgaria may face such a risk at the end of August and was working with Brussels to see how it may also donate some 150,000 shots to western Balkan countries.

Worth reading in full.

Working from Home during Lockdown Caused Loneliness and Mental Distress

An increasing number of businesses, tempted by the prospect of saving on hefty office costs, are telling their staff to work from home at least some of the time. The Government believes this should become the “default” position for employees post-lockdown, despite research showing that working from home can not only reduce productivity but can also increase – and has increased – levels of loneliness and mental distress – even for those who do not live alone. The Observer has more.

With ministers still debating how to manage the return to workplaces in the wake of Covid restrictions, a study by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) found that the biggest increases in mental distress and loneliness during the pandemic were felt by the most isolated group – those working from home and living alone. However, in a finding that surprised researchers, people working from home and living with others also experienced a significant increase in loneliness not felt by those working outside the home.

Analysts examined data from interviews carried out with 8,675 people before the pandemic and in May, July and November 2020. They found that people able to work from home have been protected from financial difficulties that can drive poor mental health. When financial circumstances, loneliness and demographic characteristics were controlled for in the research, however, people working from home recorded bigger increases in mental distress.

“More of us than ever now work from home and use technology to replace many aspects of work previously done in person, but this cannot fully replicate the working environment for everyone,” said Isabel Taylor, Research Director at NatCen. “As the Government considers current working guidance, individuals, employers and government departments should be aware of the impact working from home is likely having on people’s mental health.”

People were first advised to work from home by the Government in March last year. A month later almost half of U.K. workers were working from home at least some of the time. While limited numbers of people have returned to their workplaces since, advice to work from home has continued into 2021.

The advice could end on July 19th, though a debate about the measure remains. Experts from SAGE have warned in official papers that some measures are “likely to be needed beyond the end of the current roadmap process” to avoid “the likelihood of having to reverse parts of the road map”.

Government sources have denied reports that it was drawing up plans to give workers the right to work from home for ever if they wished to do so. However, they are planning a shift towards greater flexibility for workers in the future. Even before the pandemic hit, the 2019 Conservative election manifesto vowed to “encourage flexible working and consult on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to”. …

The new NatCen paper states that there are other considerations that should be taken into account, including the interactions between colleagues and the clearer divide between work and personal lives that could be playing a part in its findings about mental health distress.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

Increase in Positive Covid Test Results Once Again Not Matched by Increase in Covid Deaths

An increase in the number of recorded positive Covid tests in the past seven days has not been matched by a corresponding increase in the number of recorded Covid deaths – so why aren’t we unlocking on Monday? The MailOnline has the story.

A further 24,885 people tested positive for coronavirus [on Saturday], up from 18,270 last Saturday and the sixth day in a row the daily figure has surged above 20,000.

But the 18 deaths recorded in the last 24 hours marks a drop of 21.7% on the 23 recorded on this day last week.

It is a positive sign that jabs are keeping the number of serious cases small.

The latest data shows there were 358 people admitted to hospital with the virus on June 29th – up 54% on the last week [but starting from a low figure]. 

Despite the rise, current levels are a fraction of the number of people in hospital the last time infections were this high at the end of the second wave. 

Meanwhile, fully-vaccinated Britons are expected to be free to live as normal after coming into contact with a coronavirus sufferer within weeks. …

Dr Bharat Pankhania, a Senior Clinical Lecturer in Communicable Diseases at the University of Exeter’s medical school, said he thought it was “perfectly OK” for people who had received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine to be exempt from quarantine measures.

Dr Pankhania told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The gold standard would be to be cautious even if you have been immunised twice – in other words, fully immunised.

“However, as a measured action going forward I think it is okay and my reasons are as follows: an immunised person is less infectious and furthermore the testing of people who are in quarantine isolating is pretty inaccurate, so balancing both, I think it is perfectly okay.”

Asked whether he thought vaccines had broken the link between infections, hospital admissions and death, Dr Pankhania said: “You are absolutely right in that we are now noticing that while the case numbers have gone up, a proportionate similar rise in the number of hospitalisations and deaths has not occurred and therefore we feel that the vaccines are working and they are working really well at preventing people from entering ICU, ventilators and death.

“Therefore, having uncoupled that, we can start thinking about other uncoupling measures as well, such as no need to quarantine after being fully immunised.”

Worth reading in full.