Day: 21 July 2021

Premier League Players and Staff Also Face Mandatory Vaccination

The reach of the Government’s plans for mandatory vaccination continues to grow, with reports now suggesting that Premier League players and staff will need to have received two doses of a Covid vaccine for matches to go ahead later this year. This follows the news on Tuesday that, under new Government plans, fans will be denied entry to sports events with capacities of 16,000 spectators or more if they can’t show proof of vaccination. The MailOnline has more.

The Government announced earlier this week that fans would require a Covid pass showing their vaccination status to attend matches from October 1st.

Now Sportsmail has learned that this guidance will also apply to players and other match-day personnel. Testing twice a week and Covid-secure red zones at stadiums and training grounds have kept the Premier League going almost without interruption since its resumption after the first lockdown in June 2020.

But under the Government’s new guidance, negative tests will no longer be enough for players. Top-flight clubs were anxious to avoid being seen to jump the queue for vaccinations, but many now face a race against time to ensure their players receive two jabs within the stipulated eight-week window. …

The Premier League are supportive of Covid passes as they believe the measure could help them operate stadiums at full capacity next season and they are planning to bring them in next month.

However, not all the players are so enthusiastic, with youngsters at numerous clubs understood to have reservations about being jabbed. …

Sportsmail has been told that only two of the 20 Premier League clubs have so far succeeded in vaccinating all of their staff.

Any players unwilling to be vaccinated would be able to seek an exemption on medical or religious grounds, although the process for doing so has yet to be established.

Several British and Irish Lions declined a vaccination before leaving for South Africa, while not all of the Olympians in Tokyo have been jabbed.

The Government guidance applies to all sports, some of whom are less enthusiastic about the introduction of Covid passes. Numerous EFL clubs have raised objections, arguing it will deprive them of young fans and hurt them financially. …

The Premier League are working with clubs to ensure all players and staff are vaccinated as soon as possible, as they are committed to supporting the Government’s policy.

Worth reading in full.

Iceland Forced to Hire Thousands More Staff Because of “Pingdemic” Shortage

Supermarket chain Iceland is having to recruit 2,000 backup staff to stave off disruption caused by the “pingdemic” after the Government told businesses they “should not be encouraging [staff] to break isolation”. Iceland has been forced to reduce opening hours and to shut some stores due to staff being told to stay at home by the NHS Covid app. The Guardian has the story.

Richard Walker, the Head of Iceland, said that a handful of outlets had been forced to close after more than 1,000 workers – just more than three per cent of the group’s total – had been asked to self-isolate after being ‘pinged’ by the app.

However, he said the company had decided to take on more staff as the problems were patchy – with some stores experiencing much higher vacancy rates than others – while the number of people having to isolate was “growing about 50% week on week, and that was really alarming”.

Grocery chain Iceland is aiming to recruit 2,000 spare staff to help cover absences caused by the self-isolation “pingdemic”, as retailers warned it was becoming difficult to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked.

Walker called on the Government to adjust the app or self-isolation rules urgently, ahead of planned changes on August 16th. “Supermarkets need to focus on feeding the nation not writing to Government departments,” he said. He said that about 96% of those alerted by the NHS app who worked for Iceland did not test positive for Covid.

Andrew Opie, Director of Food at the British Retail Consortium trade body, said staff shortages could have an impact on opening hours and shelf stacking. 

“The ongoing ‘pingdemic’ is putting increasing pressure on retailers’ ability to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked. Government needs to act fast,” said Opie. “Retail workers and suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be allowed to work provided they are double vaccinated or can show a negative Covid test, to ensure there is no disruption to the public’s ability to get food and other goods.”

The warning came as the British Meat Processors’ Association (BMPA) said some plants had already been hit by staff shortages of up to 16% even without the impact of the pingdemic. 

“On top of the underlying worker shortage, we’re also hearing from some members that between 5% and 10% of their workforce have been ‘pinged’ by the [health service] app and asked to self-isolate,” said the Chief Executive of BMPA, Nick Allen.

The shortage of workers affected the meat products that require more labour to produce, he said, meaning those lines would be the first to be cut.

Worth reading in full.

Poetry Corner

Lockdown Blues
(The W.H. Auden Variant)

by Peter Mills

Turn off the box; don’t fiddle with your phone,
Stop the child from dancing; leave her all alone,
Shut down the night clubs and with muffled clatter,
Bang on pots and kettles to forget the ones who matter.

The jet overhead makes no noise, just vapour,
Writes in the sky as if it were paper,
You’ve lost your freedom; you know they’re lying,
Let the masks cover up what we know; we are dying.

Alpha, then Beta, the Delta, the Plus,
Stay home, work from home, making fools of us,
Unwittingly, gullibly, we all played along,
I thought it couldn’t last forever; I was wrong.

The stages are not wanted now; close down every one,
Pack up the beach and dismantle the sun,
Flush away the beer and do without the food,
For nothing now can come to any good.

Vaccines Not Protecting Over-60s in Scotland From Being Hospitalised with COVID-19

A reader (an academic economist) has analysed the Scottish Covid data and reached a depressing conclusion: Covid vaccination seems to offer the over-60s little protection from severe illness.

Wasn’t busy today so I decided to collect all the Scottish data and do a bit of mining. Many of the datasets are not properly organised and are downloaded from separate parts of the Government website, so I wondered if they were missing something.

Lo and behold, they were – something big. The reason it was hard to track down was because the government does not publish positive test results by age. This is a problem because testing in Scotland – and across the UK – is far higher this summer than it was last year. Lateral flow tests are everywhere now and people upload their results to the Government app. Only neurotics were doing this last year, but now everyone is doing it.

Okay, so I managed to construct a positive test rate for the over-60s. This can then be compared to hospitalisations. If hospitalisations are low relative to the positive test rate in over-60s then we can have some confidence that the vaccines are protecting this group. This means that even if they seem borderline useless at preventing case growth, they would at least be a prophylactic against severe cases of the virus.

But as you can see from the table above, there is no evidence that hospitalisations are lower for the over-60s that are testing positive and so no evidence that the vaccines protect the over-60s from severe illness.

Prime Minister Faces Rebellion in Parliament Over Vaccine Passports – But Decision Will Likely Lie With Labour

Reports suggest that Boris Johnson could face a large revolt from his own MPs in a parliamentary vote on the introduction of domestic vaccine passports. But will it be enough? That likely depends on the Labour Party, which remains undecided. The Guardian has the story.

Tory MPs opposed to the plan for Covid passes to enter nightclubs and other crowded indoor venues said more than 40 Conservatives were prepared to defy the prime minister over civil liberties concerns, particularly as Number 10 has refused to rule out extending the passes to pubs and other sectors.

The scale of the rebellion could put any vote on a knife-edge if opposition parties also oppose the idea, which was proposed by Johnson on Monday in an extraordinary U-turn hours after clubs were allowed to open in England for the first time in 16 months.

At least 42 Tory MPs have signed a cross-party Big Brother Watch declaration against “Covid status certification to deny individuals access to general services, businesses or jobs” in recent months. More MPs privately told the Guardian they were unlikely to back such a move, especially if it remained a vaccine-only pass that did not recognise a negative test result or evidence of antibodies.

The issue is likely to be raised on Wednesday at a meeting of the new 1922 Committee of backbenchers, which is now led by three sceptics of Covid passports. Nusrat Ghani and William Wragg were elected as new Vice-Chairs on Tuesday, joining the longtime Chairman, Sir Graham Brady. On Tuesday some Tory MPs threatened to boycott the Conservative party conference in October over fears Covid passports would be required.

However, Keir Starmer is still undecided about which way Labour will vote, despite the party leader having previously suggested Covid certificates would be against the “British instinct”.

Labour shadow ministers were locked in talks on Tuesday about the party’s position and were expected to have made a decision by Wednesday morning. If they oppose the passports, Johnson could face defeat in the Commons as the Liberal Democrats are also opposed.

However, senior Labour figures are believed to have argued that the situation has fundamentally changed since the party first set out its position. Cases are soaring, and jabs are being offered to young people and pregnant women who otherwise might have been excluded, reducing the argument that they are discriminatory. Ministers have promised exemptions for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

Asked on Tuesday whether access to pubs and transport could eventually be subject to Covid passports, Johnson’s spokesperson said the Government was “going to use the coming weeks to look at the evidence, particularly both in the U.K. and globally before making a specific decision”.

Several Tory MPs spoke of their frustration. Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former Tory leader, said the policy was “without logic”, especially as having two jabs was currently not enough for people to avoid isolating after exposure to Covid.

Steve Baker, one of the main opponents of Covid passports, said: “There is nothing I can do or Conservatives can do if Labour continues to decline to oppose the Government’s illiberal policies. This is really now all about Sir Keir, who described this policy as un-British.” …

One MP said they had “no doubt” Johnson would insist on vaccine passports for the party’s conference, and that “as a result, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if a number of Conservative MPs and activists refuse to attend”.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A spokesperson for the Labour Party has said it will vote against.

The Great Betrayal

Destroy their education. Destroy their jobs and their job prospects. Destroy their social life, their friendships, their mental health. Force them to work long hours at school or in physically demanding jobs in uncomfortable and breath-inhibiting face masks. This is what our country has done to our young people in the past 16 months.

Why? In an attempt (and not a very successful one) to protect a small minority of mostly elderly folk who are particularly vulnerable to one disease while we wait in limbo to develop a vaccine and roll it out to the vulnerable population.

Then do we give them back their freedom? Not at all. Then we move the goalposts, making freedom conditional on more and more people getting the vaccine. Until we make it to so-called ‘Freedom Day’, a month later than originally planned, and Boris Johnson chooses then to tell young people that their freedom to do the things they enjoy will be dependent on receiving a vaccine.

A vaccine that uses experimental technology and was rushed through trials without waiting for the full safety data (trials which will never now conclude as the control groups have been vaccinated). A vaccine, or rather vaccines, which the authorities now acknowledge increase the risk of dangerous blood clotting and heart conditions, particularly in younger people. Vaccines for which there are now more reports of fatalities in the U.S. than all other vaccines put together for the past 30 years.

New Paper Claims Lockdowns Do Not Cause More Health Harms Than They Prevent, but It Misses the Big Picture

A new paper in BMJ Global Health purports to debunk lockdown sceptics’ claim that “the cure is worse than the disease”. However, it misses the big picture; in fact, it hasn’t shifted my priors one jot.

The paper contains no new data or analysis. Rather, it comprises a review of the existing literature. The authors focus on the claim that “lockdowns cause more health harms than COVID-19 by examining their impacts on mortality, routine health services, global health programmes and suicide and mental health”.

In other words, they attempt to show that lockdowns do not cause more health harms than they prevent. Notice: this is not the same as showing that lockdowns pass an overall cost-benefit test. Even if lockdowns were a net positive for public health, they could still be a massive net negative for society (taking into account their effects on the economy, education and civil liberties).

The strongest argument the authors make (with which I was already familiar) is that excess mortality in countries like Australia and New Zealand – which managed to contain the virus – was zero or negative last year. Since these countries did not experience an epidemic of COVID-19, but did see weeks or even months of lockdown, the lack of excess mortality suggests that lockdowns themselves do not cause many deaths.  

However, some lockdown sceptics would argue that – even if lockdowns don’t cause many deaths in the short-term – they do cause more deaths in the long-term, via missed cancer screenings, drug overdoses etc. And here the authors are much less persuasive.

They concede that “the connection between lockdowns and missed contact with health systems is very well established”. However, they claim this association “may be related to lack of capacity of healthcare services or impacts of the pandemic itself rather than measures taken by governments”.

There is “no doubt”, the authors admit, “that global health programmes have been disrupted”. But they argue such disruptions were caused by “multiple complex direct and indirect consequences of COVID-19, not just stay-at-home orders”.

So they acknowledge that lockdowns do have harmful long-term effects. And given that those long-term effects are yet to be quantified, the authors have little basis for concluding that lockdowns are “unlikely to be causing harms more extreme than the pandemic itself”.

Mandatory Face Masks and Advice to Work From Home Should Be Reintroduced to Keep Figures “Under Control”, Say SAGE Scientists

Just how final was the July 19th “terminus date“? If Government advisers in SAGE have anything to do with it, then not at all. Some have argued that a number of restrictions, such as mandatory face masks and advice to work from home, should be brought back at the beginning of August if hospitalisation levels increase to keep the figures “under control”. And it’s hard to imagine the Government standing firm against this pressure, given that both a minister and the Chief Medical Officer have said Brits will “of course” face a new lockdown if the NHS comes under further pressure. The i has the story.

Scientific advisers have warned that Boris Johnson should be prepared to act in the first week of August to prevent the NHS becoming overwhelmed by the end of that month.

Modelling has suggested that the central case for U.K. daily hospitalisations at the peak of the third wave – expected at the end of August – could be between 1,000 and 2,000, with deaths predicted to be between 100 and 200 per day. …

Last week Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said hospitalisations were doubling roughly every three weeks. 

This would suggest close to 1,500 admissions by the end of the first week of August, well above the trajectory for the central case scenario for the third wave. It would point to 3,000 at the peak by the end of that month, which would match the peak of the first wave in April 2020.

Insiders stressed there is a lot of uncertainty in the modelling, and the picture will change all the time depending on vaccine take-up and people’s behaviour after July 19th.

But if admissions are outstripping the central estimates, SAGE scientists have advised that some non-pharmaceutical measures should be reintroduced, such as mandatory face masks and advice to work from home, in early August, halfway between the July 19th unlocking and the predicted peak at the end of August.

This early intervention, they argue, would prevent the NHS becoming swamped in a late summer crisis. …

Last week, when the Prime Minister gave the go-ahead for the fourth and final stage of the roadmap in England, he accepted that some restrictions may have to be reimposed if the situation worsened.

A source said what was needed was “less of an emergency brake and more of a gear change” in readiness to keep the third wave “under control”.

While mandatory face masks would be the “easiest” route to curb transmission, with minimal impact on the economy if it were kept to public transport and essential settings like supermarkets, this would have to be weighed against the “totemic” impact it would have on the public if they were ordered to cover up once again.

But others are arguing that the Government should be prepared to take tougher action.

Professor Dominic Harrison, Director of Public Health for Blackburn, said: “Any return to non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to control spread would have to focus on those that give the biggest suppression effect. 

“Essentially we might expect a reverse through the lockdown lifting steps with each ‘reverse step’ being introduced to match the scale of the surge in cases.”

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up