Day: 20 July 2021

Border Officials Told to Stop Checking Test Status of People Arriving in England From Green and Amber Countries

While restrictions are set to hot up for unvaccinated Brits hoping to engage in domestic social life, reports suggest that Border Officials have been told to stop checking if people arriving into England from countries on the Green and Amber lists have tested negative for Covid, as well as to stop conducting other basic tests, in an attempt to reduce queuing at the border. The Guardian has the story.

Leaked instructions [to border officials] have prompted claims that the Government is turning a blind eye to the risk of importing Covid cases.

A change that came into effect on Monday means Border Force officers no longer have to verify whether new arrivals have received a negative Covid test, have booked a test within coming days, or have a passenger locator form showing an address where they will isolate if necessary.

Border Force sources contacted the Guardian on condition of anonymity to raise serious concerns with the shift in approach, meant to reduce queues as foreign travel restarts.

The Government said it would not comment on leaked documents and stressed that airlines were legally required to conduct all the necessary checks.

Ministers’ approach to the border has been one of the most heavily criticised aspects of the Government’s Covid strategy. Critics claim the Government was slow to act in shutting the borders to arrivals from India this year, ultimately allowing the more infectious Delta variant to take hold. …

An instruction sent to Border Force staff, seen by the Guardian, explains that for arrivals from countries on the Amber and Green lists:

~ Officers are not required to routinely check for a passenger locator form or pre-departure testing or tests to be taken on day two and eight after arrival.

~ Where the IT system indicates a passenger locator form has not been found, officers are not required to check for the form, or question the passenger unless the passenger displays other “warning or behavioural indicators to suggest non-compliance”.

~ Electronic gates (eGates) will no longer refer passengers to in-person checks by Border Force officers if a passenger locator form is not found. …

Border Force officers told the Guardian the changes were brought in because the IT systems used at the border were struggling to cope with the number of checks and the new policy allowing fully vaccinated passengers to avoid self-isolation on return from amber list countries. There were fears of a surge in arrivals and significantly increased queue times, they said.

One officer said: “The only rationale for this change is to speed up queue times when travel is expected to increase. At a time when the country is unlocking, this is the time when we should be using every tool available to mitigate the risks, not turn a literal blind eye.”

A Government spokesperson has denied the claims: “All passenger locator forms are still being checked by carriers, as they are legally required to do, and to suggest otherwise is wrong. This legal requirement on carriers is underpinned by a robust compliance regime, which is overseen by regulators.”

Worth reading in full.

Vaccine Passport Checks Could Be Introduced at Football Grounds

The definition of “large venues” remains unclear in the context of the introduction of domestic vaccine passports. Reports suggest that unvaccinated Brits could be denied entry to sports events with capacities of 16,000 spectators or more, under new Government plans. The MailOnline has the story.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last night that everyone who wants to go to a nightclub in the autumn will have to be fully vaccinated.

And he indicated that “other venues where large crowds gather” could also be made to adopt the checks.

Sportsmail understands that would include football matches and other sports events, with large crowds in attendance.

And if the measure is introduced, it is understood Government could be expected to fall back on the previous definition of “large crowds”, set out in step three of the roadmap out of lockdown, which was a capacity of 16,000 spectators. 

However, any legal requirement on football fans to be vaccinated before they attend games – a negative Covid test would not be enough – would only come into force if coronavirus infections rates, deaths and hospitalisations are high or there are dangerous variants circulating.

While the current focus is very much on nightclubs, Government sees the ability to mandate event organisers, including football clubs, as an additional tool “in the locker” should Covid cases surge and cause serious problems.

Scientists have been encouraged by the results of the early phases of the Events Research Programme, which revealed few infections linked to outdoor sports events.

Results from the latest phase, which included much larger capacities at the Euro 2020 final and semi-finals are yet to be analysed and published.

It is worth highlighting here that results from 10 other trial events identified only 28 positive Covid test results among 58,000 participants. Either way, it seems as though some football officials support the move to have vaccine passports checked at the gates.

The Prime Minister’s willingness to enforce the requirement for Covid vaccinations by law, goes some way to meeting the demands of the Premier League.

It has repeatedly called for the use of Covid Passports to maintain large crowds in the autumn and winter, even if the virus surges, as well as asking for a consistent approach.

However, the top flight, the EFL and other sports have said the passports should include proof of vaccination, but also evidence of a negative test of natural immunity from previous infection, in order to give everyone, the chance to attend the game. …

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said he could not rule out Covid passports being used for matches, but said work was ongoing into where they might be needed.

Worth reading in full.

The Loneliness of Herds

We’re publishing an original piece on the Daily Sceptic today by Dr. Sinéad Murphy, a Research Associate in Philosophy at Newcastle University and a regular Lockdown Sceptics contributor. She starts by teasing out the implications of a new bench on St Thomas Street in Newcastle, which advertises itself as being for people who are “happy to chat”, and from there draws some gloomy conclusions about the gradual elimination of spontaneous, un-signposted social interaction. Here is an extract:

Has the person sitting on the “Happy to chat bench” sat there on purpose to chat and are they completely indiscriminate about whom they chat to? Did they see the sign before they slumped onto the seat? If they are sitting on the section of the bench with the sign posted to it, then they are at least partially obscuring the sign from the view of passers-by. Does that mean they’d prefer not to chat to complete strangers, thank you very much? The difficulties abound.

The irony is that we are much more sure of ourselves in implicit human interactions than we are in explicit centrally-administered interactions.

Things can go wrong, of course, even in the implicit human mode. We can turn to talk to someone and find that they are not in the mood to talk, or cannot speak English, or have earphones in and cannot hear us. But the mortifying effect of these errors in judgment reveals just how rarely they happen.

We are practised at casual human encounters. They arise for us in contexts in which almost everything is already clear. We read their cues without effort, mostly even without knowing that we’re doing it.

By contrast, we are wrong-footed by centrally-administered encounters; the number of directives required for our easy negotiation of them is impossible to generate. And anyway, there is neither room on the back of a bench to post them nor time as you pass it by to read them.

Worth reading in full.

Vaccine Safety Update

This is the ninth of the regular round-ups of Covid vaccine safety reports and news compiled by a group of medical doctors who are monitoring developments but prefer to remain anonymous in the current climate (find the eighth one here). By no means is this part of an effort to generate alarm about the vaccines or dissuade anyone from getting inoculated. It should be read in conjunction with the Daily Sceptic‘s other posts on vaccines, which include both encouraging and not so encouraging developments. At the Daily Sceptic we report all the news about the vaccines whether positive or negative and give no one advice about whether they should or should not take them. Unlike with lockdowns, we are neither pro-vaccine nor anti-vaccine; we see our job as reporting the facts, not advocating for or against a particular policy. The vaccine technology is novel and the vaccines have not yet fully completed their trials, which is why they’re in use under temporary and not full market authorisation. This has been done on account of the emergency situation and the trial data was largely encouraging on both efficacy and safety. For a summary of that data, see this preamble to the Government’s page on the Yellow Card reporting system. (Dr Tess Lawrie recently wrote an open letter to Dr June Raine, head of the MHRA, arguing 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,” a claim that has been “fact checked” here.) We publish information and opinion to inform public debate and help readers reach their own conclusions about what is best for them, based on the available data.

  • Norway has announced vaccine injury compensation for at least three claims following AstraZeneca vaccination. An Oxford man has called for a review of U.K. Government vaccine injury compensation after he developed Guillain-Barré Syndrome following AstraZeneca vaccination. 
  • A 16 year old boy in Singapore suffered a cardiac arrest when exercising after his Pfizer vaccination.  
  • Some new medical reports exploring endocrine issues following Pfizer vaccination: one looking at a case of necrotising pancreatitis following the second dose of vaccine, and two looking at the development of Graves’ disease in two health care workers in Mexico.
  • The U.K. VITT Organ Donor Study Group has published a report of an analysis of organ donation and transplantation from U.K. donors with VITT (blood clots) to understand the implications. It concludes that transplantation from VITT donors should only proceed with caution due to a variety of possible complications in multiple organs. 
  • The Daily Mail reports that the MHRA has quietly added warnings on Moderna and Pfizer vaccines that they can cause heart damage in rare cases.
  • The Government has uploaded its Technical Briefing for Variants of Concern Number 18, which continues to show that despite rising cases the Delta variant is not currently causing as many fatalities or hospitalisations as the Alpha variant (case fatality rate 0.2% vs 1.9%).
  • Following a FOI request to the MHRA for all vaccine associated deaths between 2010 and 2020, the Daily Expose reports that deaths from Covid vaccines are 407% higher than all cumulative previously reported deaths from other vaccines.
  • ‘Breakthrough’ cases are being reported in Las Vegas, Wales and aboard HMS Queen ElizabethMyLondon reports that London Hospitals are refusing to provide this data.  
  • The Daily Mail reports that Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are both seeking to modify their vaccines to reduce the incidence of life-threatening blood clots. 
  • VAERS – the American version of the Yellow Card reporting system – released new data bringing the total to 463,457 reports of adverse events following Covid vaccines, including 10,991 deaths and 48,385 serious injuries between December 14th 2020 and July 9th 2021.
  • Suspected adverse events in the U.K. as reported in the media: Kent radio host Jules Serkin and Anthony Shingler (57).

Summary of Adverse Events in the U.K.

According to an updated report published on July 16th (covering the period up to July 7th), the MHRA Yellow Card reporting system has recorded a total of 1,059,307 events based on 314,043 reports. The total number of fatalities reported is 1,470.

  • Pfizer (19.7 million first doses, 11.6 million second doses) now has one Yellow Card in 357 doses, 2.8 adverse reactions per card. Deaths: 1 in 68,640 (456 deaths)
  • AstraZeneca (24.7 million first doses, 22.3 million second doses) has one Yellow Card in 214 doses, 3.6 adverse reactions per card. Deaths: 1 in 47,813 (983 deaths)
  • Moderna (1.1 million first doses) has one Yellow Card in 123 doses, 2.9 adverse reactions per card. Deaths: 1 in 157,143 (7 deaths). (This is a high rate of Yellow Card reports but lower fatal reports compared to the other two vaccines.)

To Isolate, or Not to Isolate: That Is the Question

Figures show that more than one million English pupils were out of school for ‘Covid-related reasons’ last week – 774,000 of these were self-isolating after having come into contact with another pupil at school who tested positive for the virus. In London, a Tube line has been suspended due to staff being told to isolate by the NHS Covid app. Meanwhile, businesses across the country – including Iceland and Greene King – have been forced to shut premises because of what is being termed the “pingdemic”.

There must have been a collective sigh of relief, then, when Business Minister Paul Scully told Times Radio this morning that “it’s up to individuals and employers” whether one should follow self-isolation rules after being ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app. (Almost half of app users say they would be unlikely to isolate if they tested negative for the virus after being ‘pinged’, according to a recent survey.) But other Government officials were quick to stamp out the claim. The Guardian has more.

Number 10 said employers “should not be encouraging” workers to ignore isolation warnings, even though the app’s instructions are not legally enforceable, unlike contact from NHS Test and Trace which is a legal requirement.

The comments come amid a furious backlash from Conservative MPs over the use of the app which they claim is crippling businesses. The latest figures released by the NHS show more than half a million people were contacted and told to self-isolate between July 1st and July 7th, the highest weekly figure since the app launched.

On Monday Boris Johnson said that critical workers would be exempt, and would be allowed to use regular testing instead provided they are fully vaccinated, with full details expected later on Tuesday.

In comments likely to sow more public concern over the use of the app, Scully told Times Radio: “It’s important to understand the rules. You have to legally isolate if you are… contacted by Test and Trace, or if you’re trying to claim isolation payments.”

But he said there was a different legal basis to the app which he said was “to allow you to make informed decisions”. He added: “And I think by backing out of mandating a lot of things, we’re encouraging people to really get the data in their own hands to be able to make decisions on what’s best for them, whether they’re employer or an employee.”

Scully said people should still use the app to check into venues, which he said had saved an estimated 8,000 lives. “So it’s a really useful tool in our armoury alongside the vaccination programme, but obviously it’s up to individuals and employers,” he said.

“I know how frustrating this is, I had to self-isolate last week myself for over a week, and I know how incredibly mind-numbing it is as well as the impact on the economy and the impact on people’s mental health. So I totally get the frustration.”

A Number 10 spokesperson said: “Isolation remains the most important action people can take to stop the spread of the virus. Given the risk of having and spreading the virus when people have been in contact with someone with Covid it is crucial people isolate when they are told to do so, either by NHS Test and Trace or by the NHS Covid app.

“Businesses should be supporting employees to isolate, they should not be encouraging them to break isolation.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Even the official Office for National Statistics “Business impact of Covid survey” email has been struck off “due to self-isolating because of Covid”, according to the Spectator.

Why Not Donate Our Remaining Vaccines to Other Countries?

In its latest U-turn, the Government has announced that full vaccination will be a “condition of entry” to nightclubs and other crowded venues from the end of September.

The Vaccines Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, had previously ruled out vaccine passports, noting, “That’s not how we do things”. Back in January, Claire Fox even asked him on Twitter, “Can we hold you to this?” and he replied, “Yes you can Claire”.

Given the number of delays there have been to the “full” re-opening, this latest U-turn hardly comes as a surprise. Indeed, the Government’s journey out of lockdown has had more about-turns than a middle-distance swimming event.

Making full vaccination a condition of entry for nightclubs seems designed not only to curtail super-spreading, but also to incentivise more young people to get vaccinated. But why is getting young people vaccinated a Government priority in the first place?

We’ve known since the beginning of the pandemic that COVID deaths among young people are vanishingly rare. As I noted recently, only 25 people aged under 18 in England died of COVID-19 up to February of this year, which equates to a survival rate of 99.995%. And the survival rate for 18–25 year olds isn’t much lower.

Rather than for their own safety, the main justification for vaccinating young people is to reduce the spread of COVID-19, i.e., for older people’s safety. But the vast majority of older people – for whom vaccination does offer clear benefits – are already vaccinated.

According to figures from the ONS, more than 95% of English adults aged over 50 have received both doses of the vaccine. And SARS-COV-2 will almost certainly become endemic, which means that most of us will catch it several times during our lives.  

The best we can do is vaccinate the elderly and vulnerable (check!) and accept that the disease will continue to spread in the population until it reaches an equilibrium.

Of course, young people should have the right to get vaccinated. But assuming that some have decided the benefits simply aren’t worth the risks, the Government ought to refrain from imposing even more costs on them that it already has. (I say this as someone who has had his first dose, and intends to have his second.)

Rather than trying to strong-arm every last 18 year-old into getting a vaccine they don’t need, couldn’t Britain’s remaining vaccine stockpile be put to better use?

There are still millions of elderly and vulnerable people in other countries who lack any immunity against COVID-19. Why not start donating our left-over vaccines to these countries (most of which are much poorer than the UK)?

The risk of death from COVID-19 among 70 year olds is about 300 times higher than among 20 year olds. Hence the benefit from vaccinating an additional 20 year old in Britain must be minuscule relative to the benefit of vaccinating a 70 year old in Africa, Asia or Latin America.

Having offered the vaccine to every high-risk person in Britain, isn’t it time we did something for countries with fewer resources than our own?

“Get Covid, Live Longer,” Joked Boris (According to Cummings)

Dominic Cummings has given an hour-long interview to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, due to be shown tonight on BBC2 at 7pm, in which he provides further evidence that Boris is a stone cold lockdown sceptic. As a bug-eyed lockdown zealot, he thinks this is damning stuff, but to people on our side of the aisle it makes the Prime Minister more sympathetic. MailOnline has more.

In his first broadcast interview, with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, the hostile former chief adviser to Mr Johnson accused his one-time boss of putting “his own political interests ahead of people’s lives”.

He also revealed that the Prime Minister also wanted to carry on meeting the Queen in person while Downing Street was rife with Covid, eventually backing down when it was pointed out he could kill her.

Mr Cummings has repeatedly accused the Prime Minister of being too slow in imposing the second lockdown, which came into force on November 5th.

The political adviser, who left Downing Street during a bitter row in November, shared a series of messages from October 15th that appear to be from Mr Johnson to aides.

“I must say I have been slightly rocked by some of the data on covid fatalities. The median age is 82-81 for men 85 for women. That is above life expectancy. So get COVID and live longer. Hardly anyone under 60 goes into hospital (4%) and of those virtually all survive. And I no longer buy all this NHS overwhelmed stuff. Folks I think we may need to recalibrate,” they read.

“There are max 3m in this country aged over 80. It shows we don’t go for nation wide lockdown.”

Worth reading in full.

The reason Cummings thinks this is so politically damaging is because he believes the delay in imposing the second lockdown cost lives. But as we’ve pointed out many times before, there is precious little evidence that lockdowns reduce transmission. And the R number was falling when the second lockdown was imposed, so the autumn wave peaked and fell without the need for a lockdown.

Minister Refuses to Rule Out Forcing Pubs to Check Vaccine Passports

A minister has refused to rule out the prospect of the Government barring unvaccinated Brits from pubs.

Business Minister Paul Scully told Sky News that officials are “not saying crowded pubs at all” as part of plans to introduce vaccine passport checks at nightclubs and other large venues. This is hardly comforting, given the Vaccines Minister’s toing and froing on the matter. Scully confirmed that “we’re not ruling anything out” and admitted that more clarity is needed. Sky News has more.

When it was put to him that some pubs can be as crowded as nightclubs, Mr Scully told Sky News the Government has to “work on the definition” of “crowded venues” that will be covered by vaccine passports.

He said: “We’ve got to define it really carefully and we’ll do that in the coming months until we get there.”

Asked about the prospect of vaccine passports for pubs at a Downing Street news conference on Monday, Boris Johnson said he did not want a situation where people are asked to “produce papers” to get into pubs but did not rule it out.

The Prime Minister, who is currently isolating after Health Secretary Sajid Javid tested positive for Covid, said “I certainly don’t want to see passports for pubs” but in enclosed crowded places with close contact “we reserve a right to do what is necessary to protect the public”.

Mr Scully added that “a number of” sporting venues are already looking at requiring vaccine passports for entry. …

Some 35% of 18 to 30 year-olds – three million people – are unvaccinated, but the minister denied it was effectively a “bribe” to younger people to get them vaccinated, stressing the move was about stopping the NHS being “overwhelmed”.

“This is the right thing to do to make sure that we get on top of the transmission of cases,” Mr Scully said. …

[Labour’s Shadow Economic Secretary Pat McFadden] said Labour would examine the details of the Government’s proposals before deciding whether or not to support them.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Mandatory Covid certification will be required for journalists to enter Downing Street, according to Harry Cole, Political Editor at the Sun. “And they wonder why there are fears nightclubs are just the thin end of the wedge?”

Lancet Paper Over-Estimates Number of Complications Associated with COVID-19 Hospital Patients

Last week, a paper was published in the Lancet that drew some alarming conclusions about the number of complications associated with COVID-19 hospital patients, generating a predictable number of alarming headlines. However, our in-house doctor has cast his eye over it and has spotted a number of flaws. Here is an extract:

My main criticism of this paper lies in the conclusions drawn from the data. The majority of the discussion section concentrates on the incidence of complications from acute Covid in hospitalised younger patients – defined as under 50 years of age. Yet only 12.6% of the sample size were under 50 years of age. Very little discussion is made of the other 87.4% of patients in the older age groups, who actually had the worst outcomes.

Major emphasis is laid on the incidence of renal complications seen in the younger subgroup and what implications that might have for the future health of the patients. Inference is drawn that such acute kidney injury may lead to higher risks of subsequent renal failure and heart disease in later life.

Yet the authors extrapolate those conclusions based on citations of other papers which do not reflect the subgroup of younger patients referred to in their own figures. In my view it is not reasonable to compare a group of patients under 50 experiencing transient acute kidney injury in the context of another acute disease with a cohort of much older patients having AKI after recent heart attacks (as in one of their citations). Equating the long-term outcomes from these two distinct groups is likely to be a flawed assumption.

I note with interest that the incidence of acute kidney injury as a proportion of overall complications in each age group decile up to the over 90s was remarkably consistent at between 32% and 35%. No distinction was made in the analysis between people requiring renal replacement with dialysis or filtration and those experiencing transient biochemical renal dysfunction that was correctable with intravenous fluid replacement and other simple interventions. This observation supports my suspicion that the parameters of ‘renal injury’ have been set too wide to distinguish between mild dysfunction of no long-term consequence and serious renal damage.

Worth reading in full.

The Statistical Case Against Vaccine Passports

In light of yesterday’s announcement about vaccine passports at the Downing Street press briefing, I’m reposting this original piece by Dr. David Livermore, Professor of Medical Microbiology at the University of East Anglia, a member of HART, and a contributor to Collateral Global. David isn’t opposed to immigration officers demanding to see evidence that you’ve been double jabbed as a condition of entering their country. But he does draw the line at internal use of vaccine passports – as a condition of attending a pop concert, for instance. He’s done a back-of-the-envelope calculation and concluded that admitting the unvaccinated, who will soon make up no more than 10% of the population, won’t pose a major risk and in any event will be outnumbered by the vaccinated who can still transmit the disease.

Suppose a concert is attended by 1,000 people, 900 vaccinated and 100 unvaccinated, which is about the current split. Assume also that vaccines confer around 80% protection – 95% for Pfizer and Moderna and 63-76% for AZ, and that 20% of the unvaccinated are immune through prior infection.

On that basis, the audience will include 80 unvaccinated ‘vulnerables’ and 180 potential vaccine failures. In other words, unvaccinated ‘hazards’ are outnumbered 2:1 by the vaccinated ‘hazards’. ZOE app data, showing that infections in the (large) vaccinated population are beginning to outnumber those in the (small and diminishing) unvaccinated population illustrate how, nationally, we are on track to reach such ratios.

In these circumstances, excluding the unvaccinated won’t dramatically alter the risk to the audience. Rather, the good news is that 740 of the 1000 attendees ([80% x 900]+[20% x 100]) are protected by successful vaccination or prior infection and this proportion, replicated across the population outside, should give sufficient herd immunity to prevent the virus regaining traction. Moreover, it’s generally accepted that vaccination gives better than 80% protection against severe infection, meaning that the vaccinated vulnerables aren’t at much risk.

As for the 80 unvaccinated vulnerables, have we not reached the point where it is their business if they choose to hazard more severe infection? They may also smoke or drink excessively. Or, despite limited mountaineering experience, join a commercial climb of Mt Everest, as promoted by this Everest Expedition service, whose blurb includes the wonderful encouragement: “If you want to experience what it feels like to be on the highest point on the planet and have strong economic background to compensate for your old age and your fear of risks, you can sign up for the VVIP Mount Everest Expedition Service.”

The civil rights case against vaccine passports is well-known. But the statistical case – showing that they’d do very little to reduce transmission – deserves a wider audience. Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Nightclub owners are furious with the Government about vaccine passports, according to MailOnline.

Stop Press 2: Professor Livermore has been in touch to point out how bonkers yesterday’s announcement was in light of the SAGE modelling.

Announcing – on the day that nightclubs re-open – that passports will be required two-and-a-half months hence is bizarre, however one looks at it. If they think nightclubs are such a hazard, why allow 2.5 month opening without controls? All SAGE’s modelling (below) indicates peak infections will come long before then and, for once – given that the Delta variant is clearly able to spread in summer – I think they are likely right.