Day: 23 July 2021

Key Workers Must Still Self-Isolate When Not Working

A small list of key workers have been made exempt from self-isolation rules amid reports of food shortages due to the “pingdemic“. Staff in the hospitality and retail sectors have, however, been told they must still stay at home if they are ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app, despite their industries taking a battering from strict quarantine rules. To make matters even more confusing, the Government has announced that exempt key workers do have to self-isolate when they are not on shift! The Times has the story.

Ministers announced last night that emergency measures to protect food supplies will see thousands of workers in critical areas such as supermarket depots and food manufacturing avoid the need to self-isolate if ‘pinged’ or contacted by a Test and Trace official. …

The same exemptions were made for frontline NHS and social care staff earlier this week, with isolation rules being replaced by regular testing.

However, the Government has confirmed that outside work, staff will remain under a duty to self-isolate and should not otherwise leave their homes.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “Participants in daily Covid testing will be exempt from self-isolation to undertake work or essential activities only.”

The “essential activities” exemption is slightly wider than normal self-isolation rules, with workers able to exercise in an outdoor space, buy food if no one else can do it for them, and use public transport “for essential trips”.

[Environment Secretary George] Eustice has suggested that the Government could delay the planned August 16th lifting of all self-isolation rules for double-vaccinated people, saying the Government had only announced the date to give “some kind of indication” of when rules might change. He said that the date could still move “in either direction”.

Tory backbench MPs have been pushing to bring the ending of restrictions forward to avoid further disruption to the economy.

Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary, said the Government risked “losing social consent” for isolation if it did not immediately bring forward the relaxation of quarantine rules for the fully vaccinated.

This was echoed by Greg Clark, the former Business Secretary who is Chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Committee.

The Conservative MP told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “We know that on August 16th a new system will come in, in which you can take a test if you’re named as a contact and only isolate if you’re positive – I don’t see why we can’t begin that now on July 23th rather than wait.” …

The new exemption rules have already caused confusion, with businesses saying they have not been given enough detail of who might be eligible for exemptions or how.

Nick Allen, Chief Executive of the British Meat Processing Association, said: “There needs to be recognition this is a 24/7 supply chain, and you can’t wait to Monday to understand who’s going to be included for this and how it’s going to work – I’ve been inundated with questions from members about how it’s going to work that I just can’t answer at the moment.”

The Local Government Association (LGA) has also urged ministers to clarify who may qualify for exemption from self-isolation. …

Bin collections appeared to be the worst affected, but road repairs, leisure facilities and park maintenance could also be hit, the LGA said.

Worth reading in full.

Are the Vaccines Reducing Hospitalisations?

There follows a guest post by the academic economist who wrote a short post a few days ago about the apparent failure of the vaccine roll-out to reduce the number of over-60s being admitted to hospital with COVID-19 as a percentage of the number of over-60s testing positive rate. It generated a lively discussion in the comments so I asked the author to expand on it.

In the following short essay, I am going to examine whether the vaccines are preventing hospitalisations. We already know that the vaccines are not proving very effective at suppressing cases – which appear to be soaring in many countries, and notably the United Kingdom, in spite of the successful vaccine roll out and even though we are in summer and last summer cases remained suppressed. Some of us expected this to happen. The vaccine trials were rushed, the studies were of dubious quality, and they were released by drug companies who had a vested commercial interest in claiming high efficacy for the vaccines.

In addition to this, it should be obvious to anyone who gives it any thought that vaccines do not suppress highly contagious respiratory illnesses; more than half of Americans get flu shots every year, yet the United States has a flu season that is every bit as bad as Europe – which does not have high rates of annual flu vaccinations. A cynic might say that the flu vaccine business is much like the cosmetic business: a hustle by pharmaceutical companies to sell medicine to people who are not ill thereby massively expanding their market.

Now that it has become obvious that the vaccines are not preventing the spread of the virus, the public health clown show is doing what it does best: moving the goalposts. They are acting as if we knew all along that the vaccines did not prevent transmission. Instead, they tell us, the vaccines are there to prevent serious illness and death. We are supposed to ignore the fact that they are also insisting that groups that are not at-risk take the vaccine, but no matter – water under the bridge and if hundreds of young people die from blood clots or heart inflammation, so be it, better than Whitty and Vallance having to (gasp!) admit they were wrong.

Okay, well let us do what these clods never do: let’s test their hypothesis against the data. We are going to use data from Scotland (see here, here and here). Why? Because Scotland has had an outbreak that rivals previous outbreaks. The U.K. has not. It may appear the U.K. has had a full-on outbreak if you simply look at case data, but this is misleading. Testing has increased due to the proliferation of lateral flow testing. When we control for testing and look at the percent of tests that are positive rather than cases, we see this clearly.

Okay, so Scotland has a verified outbreak. How do we check whether the vaccines are preventing serious illness? Well, we know that serious illness only really occurs in older groups. We also know that older groups are more heavily vaccinated than younger groups. In fact, in Scotland almost 100% of over-60s are fully vaccinated. This provides us with a very nice natural experiment.

What we need to check is whether the correlation between positive cases among the over-60s and hospitalisations has broken down. In the pre-vaccination period we know that a certain percentage of positive cases among the over-60s would go on to become hospital patients. Well, if the public health boffins are correct and the vaccine prevents hospitalisations then fewer people should be being hospitalised relative to the number of cases. Do we see this?

Maybe. Squint and you will miss is. Hospitalisations do not appear to be rising quite as fast as cases in the over-60s. But let us not forget that testing has increased. So, what we really need to do is construct a positive test rate for the over-60s. With a bit of digging and applying a few statistical tricks, we can do this.

No squinting required this time around. The link has not been broken at all. The slight break between hospitalisations and cases in the over-60s is fully explained by the rise in testing. Control for this and the break disappears. Just as many people over the age of 60 are being hospitalised today in Scotland relative to the number of over-60s testing positive as they were before the vaccine roll-out began. The real-world evidence suggests that the vaccines are not, in fact, preventing serious illness. This confirms the impression we get reading the Scottish press. The Herald reports ‘Covid hospital admissions triple in over-60s — and nearly half of patients fully vaccinated’ – in fact, half is probably an understatement.

What about the link between hospitalisations and deaths? Perhaps the vaccines aren’t preventing serious illness, but maybe they’re preventing people with serious illness from dying?

Again, squint and you will miss it. Deaths are rising together with hospitalisations. If there are slightly fewer deaths relative to hospitalisations this could well be due to the better treatments for Covid that we know have been developed. Anyway, the notion that the vaccines will stop our hospitals from being overwhelmed – (were they ever really overwhelmed?) – is nonsense.

As we move into autumn and cases rise, it seems possible that the vaccines may fail spectacularly. What happens next? A rational society would turn on the public health buffoons and the greedy pharmaceutical companies. A rational society would take seriously the grim statistics on vaccine fatalities being reported to the Government’s Yellow Card system.

But we do not live in a rational society. We live in a society gripped by hysteria and fear; a society where control at both a governmental level and in day-to-day interactions has been handed over to the most neurotic and stupid among us. What will likely happen then is that these people double down. Rather than admit they were wrong they will get angry and project that anger on the people who doubted them. Those who have chosen not to get vaccinated will become increasingly vilified. They will be blamed for the hospitals stuffed full of fully vaccinated elderly people. Boosters will be insisted upon – and the dodgy pharmaceutical companies will continue to rake it in as they peddle untested drugs.

Either that, or our leaders grow spines and put a stop to this madness.

Stop Press: Covid hospital admissions among over-65s are a third of the level they would be if Britain didn’t have vaccines, according to PHE. MailOnline has more.

Stop Press 2: The Swiss Doctor has weighed in on this subject with a typically measured and erudite post.

Governor Ron DeSantis Stands Firm Against Lockdowns as Covid Surges in Florida

The summer surge, driven by the Delta variant, is now underway in America, including reopened states like Florida, Texas, Mississippi and Georgia.

It is very welcome, therefore, to see Florida Governor Ron DeSantis standing firm against those calling on him to impose restrictions. He said:

If anyone is calling for lockdowns, you’re not getting that done in Florida. I’m going to protect people’s livelihoods. I’m going to protect kids’ rights to go to school. I’m going to protect people’s right to run their small businesses. …

We’re going to lift people up, We’re not locking people down.

U.K. Positive Cases Plummet 33% in Week Following ‘Freedom Day’

How many positive tests will we reach following the lifting of restrictions? One hundred thousand, as predicted by Health Secretary Sajid Javid? Two hundred thousand, as Professor Neil Ferguson suggested? One thing all the doom-mongers have been confident of is that there will be an exit wave as restrictions are lifted and it will be big. After all, lots of people are still unvaccinated, the vaccines are imperfect, and everyone is mixing again.

Yet what has happened? In the past six days new reported infections have declined from a high of 54,674 on Saturday July 17th down to 36,389 today, a drop of over 33% in just six days. This is despite the lifting of restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’ last Monday.

It can’t be repeated often enough that this demolishes all the models and exposes their assumptions as fundamentally flawed. None of the models predicted anything other than exponential growth at this point as people mingled and dropped the masks. After all, prevalence was high and rising, people were mingling more not less, lots of people are still susceptible (so they assume) – why should it stop? But it did. Unless and until a model can predict data like this it should be regarded as little more than elaborate but flawed guesswork.

Italians to Require Covid “Green Passes” to Get Into Restaurants, Gyms and Theatres

Italy is set to join the growing list of countries preventing their unvaccinated citizens from living their lives as normal ‘after’ lockdown.

From next month, Italians will need a Covid ‘Green Pass’ showing proof of vaccination against the virus or negative tests to be allowed into restaurants, gyms, museums, movie theatres and more so as to assure those who are vaccinated that “they won’t be next to contagious people”. The MailOnline has the story.

Premier Mario Draghi’s Government approved a decree on Thursday ordering the use of the so-called Green Passes starting on August 6th. 

To be eligible for a pass, individuals must prove they have received at least one vaccine dose in the last nine months, recovered from Covid in the last six months or tested negative in the previous 48 hours.

The passes will be needed to dine at tables inside restaurants or cafes, to attend sports events, town fairs and conferences, and to enter casinos, bingo parlours and pools, among other activities. according to officials.

The certification is needed to “to keep economic activity open” and will allow people to enjoy entertainment “with the assurance they won’t be next to contagious people”, Draghi said.

“The Italian economy is going well. It’s reviving, and Italy is growing at a rhythm superior to that of other EU nations,” the Premier told reporters.

Some 40 million people in Italy have already downloaded a Green Pass, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said. 

He noted that the certification is already required to attend wedding receptions and to visit residents of care homes.

However, some have protested against the use of the Green Pass, with people taking to the streets of Turin on Thursday night to protest its use. …

So far, 45.8% of people in Italy have been fully vaccinated. In comparison, 53.9% of people in the U.K. have received two jabs, as have 53.6% of people in Spain, 47.6% of people in Germany and 43.5% in France.

Worth reading in full.

Lecturers’ Union Calls for Full Vaccination of All Students by September and Continuation of Mask-Wearing on Campus

The University and College Union (UCU) remains unconvinced that it is safe for university life to return to normal and has urged the Education Secretary to see that all students are fully vaccinated by September. It is also demanding that universities continue to impose mask mandates on campus. The Guardian has the story.

The UCU has written to… Gavin Williamson, warning that the Covid chaos seen in universities last year will be repeated unless strict measures are in place to protect staff and students.

The union wants all students to be double vaccinated before the start of term in September, with jabs made available to younger students in further education once approved by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

It is also calling on universities to “provide and mandate” the wearing of high-quality face masks by both staff and students, access to free PCR tests, and funding from the Government to support education recovery.

It wants robust health and safety risk assessments ahead of the new academic year, modifications to buildings to improve ventilation, measures to allow for effective social distancing, and improved mental health provision for students. …

The UCU described the dropping of social distancing and mask-wearing in England, and the reopening of nightclubs, as “reckless” and a “recipe for disaster”.

The letter to the Education Secretary said: “Last year, ministers green-lit the mass movement of students across the country and failed to recognise the effect this would have on infections, on those working and studying in the sector, and on the wider communities of which they become a part.

“As the Westminster Government removes all restrictions and the associated public health guidance, there is a real danger that unless we learn key lessons from last year, our education settings become incubators for Covid all over again.” Letters have also been sent to the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland executive.

Covid jabs have been approved for young people up to three months before their 18th birthday, but the UCU says students should be treated as a priority group to ensure they are fully vaccinated before September, in time for the start of term. …

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We strongly encourage all students to take up the offer of both vaccine doses as soon as they become eligible. We also recommend that face coverings are worn in enclosed and crowded spaces where people may come into contact with people they do not normally meet, or in the event of a local outbreak.”

Some universities will not need any persuading. Students at the University of Oxford, for example, have been told that rules on mask-wearing and social distancing will remain unchanged, despite the passing of ‘Freedom Day’.

The Guardian report is worth reading in full.

Only 1.6% of Schoolchildren Forced to Self-Isolate For 10 Days Went on to Develop Covid

A new study by a team of researchers at Oxford has found that of the one million schoolchildren sent home and forced to self-isolate for 10 days every week last term, 98.4% did not go on to develop Covid. The Telegraph has more.

Forcing hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren to self-isolate because a classmate had Covid was unnecessary as daily testing would have been as effective, an official study suggests.

The results of the study, by the University of Oxford, emerged on the last day of term for most schools, when more than one million pupils are off because of the virus and after months of disruption to education. …

The team behind the study said the results also offered reassurance for policymakers trying to end the pingdemic because they showed that the virus could be controlled in a less “destructive” way.

It came as the latest figures revealed that up to one million people a week are being asked to isolate in England and Wales, with record numbers being pinged by the NHS app.

The Oxford study found that 98.4 per cent of children who were sent home for 10 days never went on to develop Covid – a result set to anger parents and pupils forced to stay at home needlessly.

Worth reading in full.

For those that can’t get past the Telegraph‘s paywall, BBC News also has the story.

This study complements numerous other studies – such as this one in Sweden – showing that very, very few people are infected with COVID-19 in schools, whether children or staff, and that school closures were completely unnecessary. Bizarrely, the BBC quotes the lead author of the Oxford study describing his findings as “good news” since it means sending a million schoolchildren home every week just in case they have Covid can now be replaced by daily testing, with only those who test positive being sent home. But, of course, it isn’t “news” since we’ve know how pointless the quarantining of healthy schoolchildren is for at least a year. And I suspect parents of school-age children (like me) won’t regard this news as “good”, so much as confirmation of their worst fears, namely, that their children’s sacrifice over the past 16 months has been for nought.

Domestic Holiday Industry Hit by Staff Shortages at Start of Crucial Season

After missing out on so many months of business, the domestic holiday industry had pinned its hopes on this crucial summer season to make up for lost time. But while “Freedom Day” has been reached and lockdown has officially ended, hotels, theatres, cafes and other related businesses are still being forced to close because of staff shortages caused by the “pingdemic“.

Holiday officials in Devon say “we’ve got a crisis” – one that has come at a crucial time and, as such, is having a “devastating impact”. Despite this, the Government has ruled out exempting staff in the hospitality and retail sectors from self-isolation rules. Sky News has more.

As the school holidays begin, [Devon] is predicting a record number of visitors – up 20% on a normal year.

But there are concerns about whether the industry can deliver what tourists need – with many bookings and reservations being cancelled.

“We’ve got a crisis. It’s a crisis that’s come at a critical summer for us. It is resulting in an extreme shortage of staff at very short notice. It’s having a devastating impact which is presenting an urgent situation that is forcing many businesses to actually close in high season,” says Carolyn Custerson, the Chief Executive of English Riviera Bid Ltd which represents the tourism industry in Torbay. …

“This was going to be the summer of a golden opportunity, not just for the English Riviera but the whole of the U.K. because people are taking staycations because they can’t holiday abroad.

“If we don’t sort out what is happening by introducing a test and release process which is what I have been lobbying for, then we will see more and more closures that will impact visitor expectation and their desire to return and that is what I’m most concerned about.” …

More than a dozen businesses have had to close in the last week due to staff shortages.

The WeSup bar and café on Torquay harbour has been forced to shut its kitchen.

“Our customers are so confused,” says owner Sean White.

“The Government and media say we’re coming out of lockdown, hurrah! But actually, they come to a premise like ours and it feels worse than ever – we’ve got no opportunity to supply the product we are supposed to sell.” …

At Babbacombe Theatre, the summer show is ready with a cast of dancers, singers and comedians on the payroll.

But they’ve had to cancel all performances this week as the whole cast is having to isolate. …

Other tourist attractions are at risk of closing.

Kents Cavern – a network of prehistoric caves underneath Torquay – has had three staff ‘pinged’ in the last week.

Owner Nick Powe told Sky News any plans for relaxation in the isolation rules in August will be too late. …

While tens of thousands of tourists are arriving and enjoying the riviera, businesses are concerned that a much-needed summer recovery could be hampered yet again by rising cases and the very technology [that is said to be] protecting us.

Worth reading in full.

Why is This Government so Wedded to the Ruinously Expensive and Completely Useless Test and Trace Programme?

There follows a guest post by David McGrogan, an Associate Professor of Law at Northumbria Law School.

With the so-called ‘pingdemic’ well underway, and showing no sign of abating, the question naturally arises: why are our politicians obsessed with finding technological ways out of the pandemic? What possessed them to imagine that ‘Test and Trace’ could ever be successful?

The proximate cause appears to have been an unholy alliance between Matt Hancock and Dominic Cummings, who looked at what had happened in South Korea and Taiwan and came to the bizarre conclusion that what had apparently worked there – in societies and circumstances totally unlike ours – could just be transplanted here and deployed as effectively. Whether this should be more properly be described as hubris or stupidity is a question I will leave to the reader to decide.

The problem, though, has much deeper roots. The Hungarian-French thinker, Anthony de Jasay, once made the observation (which, like all great observations, is deceptively simple) that there is a natural bias among politicians towards doing things. It takes a very special kind of person to get elected to national office and then resist using the power available to them. In fact, such a person may not exist at all – it is impossible to identify a leader even remotely resembling that type on either side of the Atlantic since, perhaps, Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s. Why do people decide to become politicians, after all? Because they want to do things.

The idea, then, that Boris and his Cabinet would have been able to simply sit there, apparently passively, while the virus ‘let rip’, was pretty implausible once the Chinese and Italians had gone into lockdown. The urge to do things would have been overwhelming. And it remains to this day. Letting the immune systems and common sense of the public take care of matters is anathema to our leaders, because it doesn’t involve them taking bold action or, indeed, doing anything much at all. This goes against the grain of their very psyches: in their own minds, they envisage themselves ‘winning’ in the war against Covid through their brilliant decision-making and uber-competence, and being hoisted onto the shoulders of the grateful populace and paraded through the streets accordingly. They don’t want nature to take the credit which they believe is theirs. In fact, it is pretty clear that they don’t really want the virus to reach natural equilibrium at all – they want to defeat it, preferably through some fabulous scheme.

News Round-Up