Day: 25 July 2021

Sweden Avoided a ‘Pingdemic’. Why Couldn’t We?

A reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, has sent the following post, comparing Britain’s enthusiastic embrace of a contact-tracing app with Sweden’s more considered approach.

As the U.K.’s ‘pingdemic’ spreads ever wider, wreaking havoc on hospitals, care homes, schools, supermarkets, and the economy, one person at least might afford himself a wry smile.

In the early months of the pandemic, many Swedish epidemiologists, virologists and other medical specialists implored their Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Health Minister Lena Hallengren to build a contact-tracing app. Tech companies fell over themselves to claim they had the necessary expertise to do just that. Development actually got underway, but once state epidemiologist Dr Anders Tegnell and his team had evaluated the viability of such an app and come to the view it would cause excessive fear and large-scale disruption, Löfven was talked out of it and all work ceased.

In an interview on Swedish Television in May of last year, Tegnell said he didn’t think the idea of an app had been “properly thought through'” (He could have said the same of a great deal else of U.K. pandemic decision-making and implementation). He foresaw large numbers of ‘pings’ being generated and vast resources being expended on staffing and testing. Many people would be worried for no good reason and hospitals and care homes would come under more pressure as staff would have to self-isolate. He also questioned whether a distance as great as two metres for a period as short as 15 minutes were appropriate parameters.

Tellingly, when asked: “Wouldn’t it be worthwhile at least in controlling the spread of infections?”, he replied: “Few of the contacts (of a person with a positive test result) would be infected. For every person ill with Covid, I would reckon about 30 healthy people would be urged to self-isolate unnecessarily.”

Is there any evidence that the U.K. Government’s much-vaunted contact-tracing NHS COVID-19 App, run by NHS Test and Trace, has nevertheless been successful? According to politicians of all parties and medics of many disciplines, the answer is a resounding no.

Referring to the current £37 billion projected cost of Dido Harding’s test and trace operation, Lord Macpherson, who was Permanent Secretary at the Treasury from 2005 to 2016 and worked on 33 Budgets and 20 Spending Reviews, went so far as to say: “This wins the prize for the most wasteful and inept public spending programme of all time.”

To paraphrase Tegnell’s famous commentary on Sweden rejecting a large-scale lockdown of society: “It was as if the world had gone mad about contact-tracing apps, and everything we needed to consider was forgotten. The cases became too many and the political pressure got too strong. And then Sweden stood there rather alone.”

Covid Cases Plummet For a Fifth Day in a row

Coronavirus cases across the U.K. have fallen by nearly 40% in a week, dipping below 30,000 for the first time in a fortnight. BBC News has more.

The UK recorded 29,173 new cases on Sunday – down from 48,161 logged a week earlier on 18 July.

The number of new infections by date reported has fallen for five days in a row for the first time since February.

It is also the first time since the start of the pandemic that a sustained drop in cases has not coincided with a national lockdown.

“The data at present is looking good for at least the summer,” said Prof Paul Hunter from the University of East Anglia.

“Today’s figures do not of course include any impact of last Monday’s end of restrictions. It will not be until about next Friday before the data includes the impact of this change.”

Worth reading in full.

Is it too early to start naming and shaming the doomsters and gloomsters who predicted ‘Freedom Day’ would lead to a surge in cases? Prof Hunter says today’s figures don’t include the impact of the unlocking, but why? After all, the average incubation period for COVID-19 is five days, which means that if ‘Freedom Day’ was going to cause a spike we would be beginning to see it by now, six days after July 19th.

Nevertheless, prudence dictates it’s a little early to start gloating.

Stop Press: Experts said last night said the U.K. may have passed the peak of the third wave. MailOnline has more.

Holidays Ruined for Millions of Brits if Spain and Greece are Forced on to “Amber Plus” List

Reports suggest that the Government is considering demoting both Spain and Greece to the “Amber Plus” List alongside France due to fears over Covid variants, a decision that could ruin the holiday plans of millions of Brits – and not for the first time. MailOnline has the story.

The list effectively strips back ‘Freedom Day’ rules, which allow [fully vaccinated] holidaymakers to return from “Amber List” countries without having to face a mandatory period of self-isolation.

But, just days before the new rules were to be announced, the Government threw tens of thousands of holidays into doubt by revealing that double-jabbed Britons returning from France would still have to quarantine.

Now Greece and Spain, both of which are currently on the Amber List, could follow France onto the so-called Amber Plus List.

But, according to figures released by Labour, that could leave an estimated 5,857,558 people facing the prospect of last-minute quarantine requirements – plunging the holidays into “chaos once more”. 

The Government introduced an exemption for the requirement to isolate at home for 10 days for fully-vaccinated holidaymakers returning from countries on the amber list.

But ministers removed the exemption for France amid concerns over the Beta variant, creating what critics call an Amber Plus designation on the traffic light system for foreign travel.

There has been speculation that Greece and Spain could face the same measures as France, though the Government has not confirmed this. …

The opposition estimated the number of people to have booked holidays to those three nations by looking at official data for past travel and adjusting for lower willingness to travel during the pandemic by comparing with surveys.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The travel list allocations have not changed for Spain or Greece.

“We are closely monitoring the data and will take swift action on travel list allocations and international travel requirements should the data show that countries’ risk to England has changed.”

It comes as holidaymakers faced up to three-hour queues through passport control at Heathrow Airport yesterday after e-gates broke down and the ‘pingdemic’ left just one official at the desks, according to frustrated passengers.

Worth reading in full.

PHE Data Shows Vaccine Effectiveness Reduced to Just 17% In Over-50s

The data from the two most recent technical briefings (No. 18, published July 9th, and No. 19, published July 23rd) from Public Health England shows that vaccine effectiveness against infection in the over-50s has plummeted to just 17% in the month between June 21st and July 19th, which corresponds to the main Delta surge.

The data is derived by subtracting the figures in table 5 in briefing 18 (up to June 21st) from those in briefing 19 (up to July 19th) to give just the data for the intervening period.

Briefing 18 gives 9,885 ‘cases’ of the Delta variant in those over 50 who have received at least one vaccine dose and 1,267 ‘cases’ in the unvaccinated over 50 up to June 21st. Briefing 19 gives 18,873 ‘cases’ in the vaccinated and 2,337 in the unvaccinated for the period up to July 19th. Subtracting the earlier from the later gives 8,988 ‘cases’ in the vaccinated and 1,070 in the unvaccinated for the month from June 21st to July 19th.

To calculate the vaccine effectiveness we need to know the infection rate in the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups. According to the PHE week 29 surveillance report, as of July 18th, 20,331,977 people over 50 in England were vaccinated and 2,016,818 were unvaccinated. This gives an infection rate in the vaccinated of 0.044% and an infection rate in the unvaccinated of 0.053%.

Vaccine effectiveness can be calculated by dividing the infection rate in the vaccinated by the infection rate in the unvaccinated and taking away from 100%. Thus 0.044/0.053 gives a vaccine effectiveness of 16.7%, which rounds to 17%.

PHE has recently published a study in the NEJM claiming vaccine effectiveness against the Delta variant of 67% for AstraZeneca and 88% for Pfizer. However, that was using data from April and May when prevalence was very low. This data is from the recent surge in the Delta variant, which is when vaccine effectiveness is really tested. Like recent data from the surge in Israel, it shows that vaccine effectiveness against infection is not holding up.

As noted yesterday, vaccine effectiveness against serious disease and death appears to be holding up much better. This means that those who see vaccines as the necessary pre-condition to removing restrictions don’t need to change course. However, it does indicate that vaccines do little to prevent infection or transmission and so there is no justification for vaccinating young people and children to protect others, or for any coercive measures like vaccine passports. Each person can be free to weigh up the risks and benefits of being vaccinated for themselves.

This article has been updated.

Nightclub Bosses Willing to Take Government to Court Over Vaccine Passports

Hospitality industry leaders have indicated that they are prepared to pursue legal action against the Government over the introduction of vaccine passports at nightclubs and other large venues, telling the Health Secretary in a letter that the plans are “highly likely to be unlawful”. The Sunday Telegraph has the story.

The new rules, announced by Boris Johnson on Monday, are due to come into effect from September when all over-18s have been offered two Covid vaccines.

From this point, the Prime Minister said, “proof of a negative test” will “no longer be enough” to secure entry.

A group of industry tycoons has written to Health Secretary Sajid Javid, warning him that introducing vaccine passports without “a proper and adequate consultation process” is “highly likely to be unlawful”.

They argue the plans could have “a discriminatory effect on grounds of race”, and risk encouraging illegal raves that lack safety arrangements.

The letter was written by Hugh Osmond, Founder of Punch Taverns and Director of Various Eateries, and signed by Michael Kill, Peter Marks and Stephen Thomas, who head the Night Time Industries Association, REKOM U.K. and The Jam House, respectively. 

REKOM UK runs 42 bars and nightclubs across Britain, while The Jam House is a popular music venue in Birmingham. …

The letter argues that the Government must initiate “a proper and adequate consultation process” with those “involved in the running of the night-time economy”.

It warns that otherwise “any decision to introduce new rules would be highly likely to be unlawful”.

It says: “Mandatory vaccine certification as a condition of entry to any venue will impact disproportionately on younger people, who are less likely to be vaccinated than those in older age groups.

“That impact is further exacerbated when the only venues currently suggested to be affected are nightclubs, whose customers are already likely to be primarily younger adults.

“It is also well known that levels of vaccination are lower in some ethnic groups than others, and there is therefore likely to be a discriminatory effect on grounds of race as well.” …

Mr Osmond accused the Government of “arbitrary” decision making and called for decisions to be based on “evidence not prejudice”.

He said: “Mandatory Covid Status Certification would strike at the heart of our liberal democracy, create a two tier society, discriminate against society’s already most marginalised groups and disproportionately affect young people who enjoy and work in this industry – who have already suffered intolerable burdens on behalf of society over the last eighteen months.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Plans to introduce vaccine passport checks aren’t just potentially unlawful but illogical, says Hugh Osmond. He points out that, under these plans: “If you are fully vaccinated but still have Covid, you can go to a nightclub. But if you test negative but are not vaccinated, you can’t.”

£2.1 Billion Wasted on Useless PPE – Five Times Higher Than Official Estimate

Over the past year, the Government has wasted more than £2 billion on personal protective equipment (PPE) that could not be used in the NHS. The figure is five times higher than initial official estimates and still under-estimates the true cost. The Sunday Telegraph has the story.

Some 2.1 billion items of PPE have so far been deemed unfit to keep doctors and nurses safe in clinical settings – with 10,000 shipping containers-full still to be unpacked as of May this year, said the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The amount of unusable kit is five times higher than the number estimated by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in January, said the select committee, which monitors public expenditure.

The wasted sum forms part of the estimated £372 billion spent by the U.K. on pandemic-containing measures which will expose taxpayers to “significant financial risks for decades to come”, the cross-party committee warned in two reports published on Sunday.

MPs say they “remain concerned that despite spending over £10 billion on supplies, the PPE stockpile is not fit for purpose” with potential levels of waste “unacceptably high”.

As of May this year, out of 32 billion items of PPE ordered by the DHSC, 11 billion had been distributed, while 12.6 billion pieces are on standby at a cost of around £6.7 million a week in storage, the PAC said.

Some 8.4 billion pieces on order from around the globe have still not arrived in the U.K.

For excess PPE that is suitable for medical use, MPs said they are concerned the Government is “yet to create any robust plans for repurposing and distributing this essential stock in a way which ensures value for money and protects staff and patients”.

A public inquiry scheduled to start next spring into the Government’s handling of the pandemic will not come swiftly enough to ensure lessons are learned, the PAC added.

Ministers also risk undermining public trust by failing to swiftly publish the full details of contracts awarded, the report said.

The PAC noted that details of three-quarters of the 1,644 contracts over £25,000 awarded up to the end of July last year were not made public within the 90-day target.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up