Day: 24 July 2021

New Data Casts Doubt on the Effectiveness of Covid Vaccines Against Infection

A snapshot of data from the beginning of the month in Israel suggests that the Pfizer vaccine is not protecting against infection now the Delta variant is in town, with infections in the vaccinated across all age groups being no less than you’d expect if the vaccine did nothing.

Could there be another explanation here? Possibly. It’s only a snapshot. What if infections in the unvaccinated peaked earlier than in the vaccinated, as ZOE data at one point showed happening in the U.K.?

Talking of ZOE data, in the middle of last week the study updated its methods (described here) which had the result of completely removing the peak in the unvaccinated infections and replacing it with the opposite, a further climb (see below, the old method put the peak around July 1st).

Clubs and Bars Packed Out in First Friday Since Easing of Restrictions on July 19th

People should stick to the behaviours that have become “second nature” over the past year of lockdowns, such as mask-wearing in crowded spaces, according to the latest Government ad campaign. But if clubs and bars are anything to go by, many people would much rather return to normal.

Thousands of punters packed out venues across the country on Friday night – the beginning of the first weekend since ‘Freedom Day’. But with the introduction of vaccine passports in sight, it is unclear how long this will be allowed to last. The MailOnline has the story.

In major party hubs across the U.K., from London to Liverpool to Leeds, tens of thousands of young people descended on packed – and sold-out – events on Friday night.

Pictures taken at the stroke of midnight show huge queues forming outside venues in Newcastle, and hundreds of young people partying in Portsmouth.

Approximately 100,000 punters are expected to let their hair down across the country as partygoers dance the night away without major Covid restrictions for the first time in 16 months. …

Furious hospitality chiefs, MPs and civil liberties campaigners have slammed Boris Johnson’s plans to make vaccine passports compulsory in clubs come September.

And with fears growing of a staffing crisis in pubs, clubs and bars, sparked by the record-breaking number of alerts sent to workers thanks to the ‘pingdemic’, hospitality staff will not be exempt from self-isolation rules despite major concerns from industry leaders.

Venues are gearing up to host thousands inside packed – and largely sold-out – clubs, pubs and bars across the nation throughout the week after most legal restrictions on contact were eased on ‘Freedom Day’.

Several club nights advertised the long-awaited return of freedoms, such as face coverings no longer being required and social distancing measures shelved – with many setting lofty targets of pulling in more than 1,000 patrons a night.

On popular online ticket selling platforms such as Fatsoma and Eventbrite, there are over 200 clubbing events lined up in big party cities across the U.K., including London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. …

Using numbers shared on ticket sales websites, there could be close to 70,000 revellers enjoying club nights in major party hubs across the U.K. if the venues operate at full capacity and can attract punters in droves.

Worth reading in full.

Airports Report Busiest Weekend Since Start of Pandemic – But Travel Industry Still Far Less Busy Than Normal

Airports and airlines say they are having the busiest weekend since the start of the pandemic, but continued restrictions on travel mean this summer season will once again be far from normal for the industry. Firms believe that the Government’s unpredictable approach to travel – best demonstrated when it threw Portugal on the “Amber List” with very little notice, ruining the holiday plans of thousands of Brits – has damaged confidence. BBC News has the story.

Heathrow Airport expects 60,000 passengers to depart daily, while Gatwick says it expects 250 flights a day – up from a low of just 15.

But the numbers are still far below pre-pandemic levels.

Spain is the top destination for U.K. travellers, followed by Greece.

After 18 months in which the travel industry has been devastated by the pandemic, companies including Easyjet, TUI and Jet2, as well as major airports, said they would have more passengers this weekend than at any time since the pandemic began.

Air travel companies said the decision to allow fully vaccinated travellers to visit amber list countries without quarantining on their return had encouraged people to consider more destinations.

Manchester Airport said it was “an encouraging but tentative step towards recovery”, but it said the Government’s “chaotic and unpredictable” approach to international travel had damaged confidence.

Easyjet suggested the vaccination programme had given the travel industry a boost, with many Britons saying they were much more likely to be willing to travel once they had been double-vaccinated and that travel had been a major motivation for getting jabbed for many of them.

At Gatwick on Friday, several passengers said they were travelling for the first time since the pandemic began.

Many were heading on beach holidays, while others were visiting family for the first time in many months. …

Laura, on her way to the 70th birthday party of a friend in Northern Ireland, said: “It’s just so exciting to get on an aeroplane again.”

But she said it was sad to see the airports still with several empty car parks and closed terminals.

Worth reading in full.

Thousands March Against Lockdown in Major Australian Cities

Anti-lockdown protests across the world seem to be occurring both more regularly and on larger scales. Most recently, thousands have marched in major Australian cities, including Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, against restrictive measures, with more than half of Australians currently under lockdown.

After the protests had ended, the New South Wales Police Minister, David Elliott, issued a stern warning to all who marched – not just the few who turned violent. He announced the formation of “Strike Force Seasoned, which will see 22 detectives work from now until whenever it concludes identifying as many people as possible who attended today’s incident and have them charged”. He went on:

I’m hoping that we issue 3,500 infringement notices, I’m hoping that we have people before the court, and I really hope that we can get some charges and convictions out of today’s work by the New South Wales Police. It’s essential for people to get the message. And to those that are calling for it to occur again next week, look out because these 400 officers will turn to 4,000 if needs be.

The Guardian has more.

Thousands of angry, unmasked people marched through the Sydney central business district on Saturday afternoon demanding an end to the city’s lockdown, which is entering its fifth week.

[David] Elliott said 57 people were arrested and several police officers had been assaulted.

“If we don’t see a [Covid] spike in the areas these protesters came from in the next week I’ll be very, very surprised,” Elliott said.

“It was just a whole lot of halfwits.”

Demonstrators broke through barriers in the Sydney CBD and threw plastic bottles at police.

Similar scenes unfolded in Melbourne and Adelaide, which are both in lockdown, and Brisbane, which is not.

As demonstrators were gathering in Sydney, the New South Wales Health Minister, Brad Hazzard, revealed a record number of new coronavirus cases had been detected – 163 in the previous 24 hours – and pleaded with people to stay at home. …

Hazzard condemned the planned protests as “really silly” on Saturday morning.

“We live in a democracy and normally I am certainly one who supports people’s rights to protest… but at the present time we’ve got cases going through the roof and we have people thinking that’s OK to get out there and possibly be close to each other at a demonstration.” …

In Melbourne, thousands of protesters turned out in the central business district chanting “freedom”. …

Protesters held banners, including one that read: “This is not about a virus it’s about total Government control of the people.”

The protest was brought to a violent end by police. An AAP photographer wearing visible press accreditation was pepper sprayed as police cleared the rally, as were other photographers.

The Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, had labelled the idea of protesting against the lockdown as “ridiculous”.

“Protest against this virus by staying at home, following the rules and getting out of lockdown,” he said. …

A car rally is also planned for locked-down Adelaide, the state capital of South Australia, with police warning they will make arrests over unlawful activity.

Worth reading in full.

Age-Standardised Mortality Rate Comes in Below Five-Year Average for *Fourth* Consecutive Month

The ONS announced on Friday that there were 38,611 deaths registered in England in June, which is 9.1% more than in May, and 0.8% more than the five-year average. However, the increase is relative to an exceptionally low value the month before. What about the age-standardised mortality rate (which is the best overall measure)?

In June, the age-standardised mortality rate was 12.5% higher than in May, but was still 6.1% lower than the five-year average. It was also the second-lowest figure on record for that month. (The only lower figure was observed in June of 2019.)

This means that England’s age-standardised mortality rate has been below the five-year average for four consecutive months. In other words, we’ve had four months in a row of “negative excess mortality”.

This chart from the ONS shows the age-standardised mortality rate for the first six months of the year, each year, going back to 2001:

Although 2021’s figure was higher than the figure for 2019, it was 3.6% lower than the figure for 2015 and 2.4% lower than the figure for 2018. This means that – despite higher-than-expected mortality in the winter – the overall level of mortality in the first half of 2021 was actually lower than three years before.

The past four months have “cancelled out” more than 85% of the age-adjusted excess mortality observed in January and February. Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 was not among the leading causes of death in June. All in all, the first half of 2021 has been pretty normal with respect to the average level of mortality.

News Round-Up