Day: 27 July 2021

The Case for Vaccine Passports Is Strong, Says Michael Gove

Michael Gove says there is a “strong case” for the introduction of vaccine passports “in appropriate locations”, such as at Premier League football matches, arguing that “everything… we can do in order to reduce [the risk of Covid transmission], we should”. He hopes that “some form of certification” will be introduced across all four nations in the U.K. “This,” he believes, “is the right way to go.”

In an interview with the BBC, Gove said that vaccine passports would “make sure we can have greater confidence that big events are not likely to be super-spreader events”. He cited the “spike” in Covid cases following the Euro 2020 games – which experts believe helped squash the latest peak – and said certification would help to “make sure that major activities… are safe” because those who are vaccinated are “less likely to be carriers of the virus”.

This is exactly the sort of “nonsense” that Hugh Osmond, Founder of Punch Taverns, criticised on Sunday when he highlighted that, under Government plans, someone who is fully vaccinated but has Covid will be allowed into a “large venue” but someone who is unvaccinated yet doesn’t have Covid will be barred.

By saying that certification checks will make venue owners more confident that their events are not likely to be “super-spreader events”, Gove also appears to have forgotten the results from 10 recent Government trial events. These identified just 28 positive Covid test results among 58,000 participants *without* the use of vaccine passports.

Despite all this, Gove insists that “the case for certification, overall, is a strong one”.

You can watch the BBC interview here.

Stop Press: Gove says that those who refuse the vaccine are “selfish”, according to Politics For All.

Why It’s Not All About the Football

Some people are suggesting that the recent surges and drop-offs in Covid infections in England and Scotland can be pinned on the football. The idea is that infections rose as fans mixed during the Euro 2020 championship and declined once Scotland was eliminated and England lost in the final.

It’s true that the summer surges in England and Scotland broadly coincided with when their teams were active in the tournament. Scotland’s new daily infections dropped off a few days after its exit on June 22nd, and England’s a few days after their loss to Italy on July 11th. Also, the male to female ratio of new infections briefly went up during the tournament.

However, that’s about where the coincidences end. The fact that the decline has continued for weeks in Scotland suggests it’s not a short term effect.

Perhaps more important, though, is the different shape of the curves in the two countries during June when both teams were still in the competition.

Covid Cases Have Fallen Every Day For a Week

Covid cases across the U.K. have fallen for the seventh day in a row, reaching 23,511 on Tuesday. This is the lowest number recorded in a single day in the whole of July. MailOnline has the story.

The Department of Health recorded another 23,511 infections across the U.K. over the past 24 hours, down by half on last Tuesday. This marks the biggest week-on-week fall in cases since they started coming down last week.

There were 131 Covid deaths, which was up by more than a third in seven days and the highest number since mid-March when the second wave was dying down.

Boris Johnson desperately tried to dampen rampant optimism about falling Covid cases today, saying people must not jump to “premature conclusions” and the Government will be “very cautious”.

But his comments came just hours after ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson hinted the U.K. could be looking back at the pandemic in just two months time.

Professor Ferguson suggested the current dip was down to the end of the Euros football tournament and warmer weather allowing people to spend more time outdoors.

He added there would be “uncertainty” into the Autumn, but stressed that the calculations had “fundamentally” shifted because of the vaccines. …

Experts have suggested that high numbers of young people catching the disease during the Euros could have helped to squash the latest peak, as they now have some immunity and otherwise may not have been vaccinated.   

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: SAGE panjandrums have been trotting out excuses for why they got this so wrong. According to MailOnline, the top contenders are:

  • The vaccine roll-out
  • School holidays
  • The end of the Euros
  • Warmer weather
  • The ‘pingdemic’

But, surely, all of these things were completely foreseeable? Why, then, were they not included in the models? And given that the scientific ‘experts’ left all these things out, why should we trust SAGE’s modelling again?

“This is Still a Very Dangerous Disease,” Says Boris Johnson. But Neil Ferguson Disagrees: “The Equation has Fundamentally Changed”

Boris Johnson today told reporters that Covid is “still a very dangerous disease” as he encouraged people to stick with self-isolation when ‘pinged’. “Don’t forget, we will be coming forward with a new system from August 16th,” he said during a visit to Surrey Police HQ in Guildford. “Until then please everyone, stick with the programme.”

He also warned against drawing “premature conclusions” from the dropping coronavirus case numbers, saying:

I’ve noticed, obviously, that we are six days in to some better figures. But it is very, very important that we don’t allow ourselves to run away with premature conclusions about this. Step Four of the opening-up only took place a few days ago, people have got to remain very cautious and that remains the approach of the Government.

The PM’s remarks may be little more than prudent caution, but describing Covid as “still a very dangerous disease” doesn’t tally with the fatality rate, always very low for most of the population at below 0.1%, and now apparently reduced further including for those at higher risk by the vaccination programme. Does Boris not believe the vaccines are effective? If he doesn’t, what was the point of them? The Government needs to sort out its messaging on this.

Can We Say, Definitively, that the SAGE Models are Wrong?

Today we’re publishing a guest piece by a PhD epidemiologist trained at a Russell Group University and a retired former Professor of Forensic Science and Biological Anthropology looking at the most recent models submitted to SAGE from Warwick University, Imperial College and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and concluding that all three got their projections for the summer badly wrong for the usual reasons – the modellers underestimated the impact of seasonality on the lifecycle of the virus and overestimated the impact of lockdown restrictions. Here is the conclusion:

The rest of the U.K. is now following the trend in Scotland, which showed a rapid fall in infections from the end of spring and beginning of summer, as Sweden did in 2020. Are we simply experiencing a late impact of seasonality on suppression of spread, which has finally taken effect?

Reported positives peaked just prior to ‘Freedom Day’ in England and about three weeks earlier in Scotland. There is no sign of any stall in the falling trajectory of infections in either country, as could be attributed to the relaxation of restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’. This would be not at all surprising to those who observed the lack of impact of ‘opening up’ in Texas and Florida some months ago.

On the basis of current infection data, the SAGE models are already wrong.

So must be the assumptions of virus transmission and effects of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions – and lack of effect of nature – on which they are based.

It begs the question as to why the Government and media have again so enthusiastically engaged with consistently disappointing predictions leading to such damaging public health policy.

None of this should be a distraction from the point that lockdowns cause a good deal of harm to physical and mental health and to the economy, far outweighing any presumed benefit – if any can be shown. The models, NPIs and lockdowns are about politics, not science.

Worth reading in full.

End of Self-Isolation Rules for Fully Vaccinated Could Be Delayed Beyond August 16th

Earlier this month, the Government announced it would treat vaccinated and unvaccinated Brits differently when it came to self-isolation rules from August 16th, allowing those who have had two doses of a Covid vaccine to go about their lives as normal after being ‘pinged’. The Policing Minister has, however, confused things by suggesting that this change could be delayed and we will have to “wait and see” what the scientists say.

In the meantime, some ‘key workers’ have been made exempt from self-isolation rules but must still quarantine if ‘pinged’ when they are not on shift. The Sun has more.

Kit Malthouse said Number 10 will have to remain “agile” even after new infections dropped for the sixth day in a row.

He said a final decision on whether to end quarantine for the double-jabbed will be taken on the advice of scientists.

Number 10 has repeatedly insisted that the restrictions will be scrapped on August 16th come what may. …

Mr Malthouse said the school holidays are acting as a “natural firebreak” against the further spread of the virus.

And he also cited the fact that people are staycationing this year rather than travelling abroad for helping keep cases down.

He said: “It’s quite an interesting cocktail of effects going on. Six days of drop is great but we have to be very careful.

“We have to wait until mid-August, see what’s happening on the numbers, hope they continue downwards, and then take the next step.

“Let’s all hope the numbers go well. People will be assessing in the week before what the numbers look like and then taking a decision nearer the time.”

Mr Malthouse said ministers will have to “wait and see” what impact the ‘Freedom Day’ lifting of restrictions has on cases. …

“There are wiser heads than mine looking at all the data, both in this country and across the world, to assess how we need to move in the future.

“And if we have to be agile, then we’ll have to do that in two or three weeks’ time.

“But for the moment looking good so far, fingers crossed for August.” …

Under the PM’s plans, from August 16th all double-jabbed Brits will be able to replace mandatory self-isolation with testing. …

But the communication around it has been a shambles, with ministers and Number 10 contradicting each other on whether the date could be pushed back.

Worth reading in full.

“Outrageous Proposal” to Introduce Vaccine Passports Could Split Tories “Irretrievably”, Warns Steve Baker

Introducing vaccine passports wouldn’t just create a two-tier society but would risk splitting the Conservative Party “irretrievably”, says the Conservative MP Steve Baker, warning the Prime Minister against proceeding with this “outrageous proposal”. Reports suggest that upwards of 42 Tories could vote against the Government’s plans in Parliament, but the deciding vote will likely lie with Labour. The Sun has the story.

Mr. Baker, Deputy Chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tories, told the Sun: “It is an outrageous proposal, and one that doesn’t seem likely to do any good.

“Who are they now trying to coerce? Whose education are they now trying to deny?

“I believe the Government is in terrible danger of splitting the Tory Party irretrievably – after all we have been through with Brexit.”

Tory MP Mark Harper said Number 10 is making vaccines compulsory through the back door by threatening to deny a university education to those who refuse.

He warned: “Persuasion is much better than coercion.” …

Professor Robert West, a behavioural scientist who advises the Government on Covid policy, warned the plan could spectacularly backfire.

He said: “Using a sort of stick approach as opposed to a carrot and stick approach, I think is a mistake.

“By and large, if we want to get people to do things, it’s far better to get them on board with the idea of doing it rather than getting them to do it because they feel they have to.

“When you do that you start to create resentment.” …

The PM’s spokesman said: “We are still looking at the scope for vaccination certification.”

While the Tory Party are at war over vaccine passports, Labour’s stance was mired in chaos and confusion.

Labour had suggested they could join Tory rebels to inflict a humiliating defeat on vaccine passports in the Commons when a vote on it is held in September.

But muddled Sir Keir Starmer today hinted he could back the plan. He told LBC: “What I don’t want to see, just to be very clear about this, is I don’t want to see vaccine passports used on an everyday basis for access to critical things like health, dentistry, food, etc.

“So, for sporting events, I’ll look at what the Government puts on the table.

“I want to be pragmatic because we all want all business sectors and sporting sectors to return as quickly as possible.

But not for everyday use.”

He also said vaccine passports must include the option to have a negative test instead.

Worth reading in full.

Was Lockdown Illegal?

There has been much debate among lawyers as to whether the various “non-pharmaceutical interventions” (i.e., lockdown measures) that have been imposed over the past year and a half are actually legal.

In April of 2020, the barrister Francis Hoar wrote an article laying out the case for the illegality of Britain’s lockdown. While his piece is very much worth reading in full, I will do my best to summarise the main points here.

Hoar argues that lockdown measures were a “disproportionate interference with the rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights”, and were therefore in breach of the Human Rights Act 1998.

To make his case, he appeals to the so-called Siracusa Principles, which were adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council in 1984. These principles stipulate that government responses to national emergencies that involve the restriction of human rights must fulfil certain criteria.

Specifically, they must be: carried out in accordance with law; directed toward an objective of general interest; strictly necessary to achieve that objective; the least intrusive way of achieving that objective; based on scientific evidence, and neither arbitrary nor discriminatory; of limited duration, respectful of human dignity and subject to review.

Hoar argues convincingly that lockdown measures failed to meet several of these criteria. For example, lockdowns were not strictly necessary, since the same outcomes could plausibly have been achieved with far less intrusive measures (i.e., a focused protection strategy).

And it’s highly doubtful that lockdowns were “respectful of human dignity and subject to review”, given that they initially proscribed all political gatherings and public demonstrations without exception – a measure unprecedented in British history.

Hoar suggests that, “were they challenged by judicial review”, the measures should be “disapplied if necessary”. (Recall that he was writing back in April of last year). Incidentally, a longer and more detailed version of his article is available here.

Another figure from the legal community to argue for the illegality of the UK’s lockdowns is Lord Sumption, the former Supreme Court Justice. In a lecture delivered to the Cambridge Law Faculty in October 2020, he claimed that lockdown measures were without legal basis, and described the U.K.’s response as “a monument of collective hysteria and government folly”.

As readers may be aware, there was in fact a major legal challenge to the U.K.’s lockdowns, brought by the entrepreneur Simon Dolan (and funded to the tune of £427,000). The challenge sought a judicial review of the lockdown measures. Unfortunately, it proved unsuccessful.

I’ve been told by people with legal expertise that mounting another challenge would be difficult, given the adverse judgement in the case brought by Dolan. It’s therefore unlikely the Government will be liable for claims from individuals and businesses who’ve suffered due to lockdown.

Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that legal bodies in each of the following countries have found at least some aspect of the lockdown policy illegal: France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Spain, Finland, Czechia, Scotland, Slovakia, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States.

So while the High Court in London did reject Dolan’s case against the Government, lockdown opponents have won important victories in a number of countries.

And given that the evidence against lockdown has only increased since the judgement in Dolan’s case, lockdown opponents will have plenty of ammunition if any future Government decides to lock down in response to a similar virus.

And Finally…

In the latest episode of London Calling, James and I discuss the declining case numbers – and where that leaves SAGE’s crystal ball gazers – as well as why I won’t boo footballers taking the knee and Season 2, Episode 1 of Ted Lasso, which I’m excited about because the new season is set in the Championship, home of my team, QPR.

You can listen to the episode here and subscribe to London Calling on iTunes here.

News Round-Up