Day: 22 August 2021

Face Masks Don’t Work Against Respiratory Viruses. So Why Did so Many Public Authorities Impose Mask Mandates?

There’s an excellent piece on the Swiss Policy Research blog, aka the Swiss Doctor, trying to puzzle out why the world fell for the face mask folly. It comes up with 10 reasons. Here are the first four.

1) The droplet model

Many ‘health authorities’ have relied on the obsolete ‘droplet model’ of virus transmission. If this model were correct, face masks would indeed work. But in reality, respiratory droplets – which by definition cannot be inhaled – play almost no role in virus transmission. Instead, respiratory viruses are transmitted via much smaller aerosols, as well as, possibly, some object surfaces. Face masks don’t work against either of these transmission routes.

2) The Asian paradox

During the first year of the pandemic, several East Asian countries had a very low coronavirus infection rate, and many ‘health experts’ falsely assumed that this was due to face masks. In reality, it was due to very rapid border controls in some countries neighbouring China as well as a combination of metabolic and immunologic factors that reduced transmission rates. Nevertheless, many East Asian countries eventually got overwhelmed by the coronavirus, too (see charts below).

3) The Czech mirage

In the spring of 2020, the Czech Republic was one of the first European countries that introduced face masks. Because the Czech infection rate initially stayed low, many ‘health experts’ falsely concluded that this was due to the masks. In reality, most of Eastern Europe simply missed the first wave of the epidemic. A few months later, the Czech Republic had the highest infection rate in the world, but by then, much of the world had already introduced face mask mandates.

4) Fake science

For decades, studies have shown that face masks don’t work against respiratory virus epidemics. But with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and increasing political pressure (see below), suddenly studies appeared claiming the opposite. In reality, these studies were a mixture of confounded observational data, unrealistic modelling and lab results, and outright fraud. The most influential fraudulent study was a WHO-mandated meta-study published in The Lancet.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Scroll down here for a list of 30 studies that show face masks are useless.

New Zealand Covid Response Minister Concedes Zero-Covid Policy No Longer Viable Following Delta Outbreak

Who could’ve predicted this? New Zealand’s “zero-Covid” policy hasn’t succeeded in suppressing the virus, as an outbreak of the Delta variant continues to spread across the country. Even Chris Hipkins, the NZ COVID-19 Response Minister, has said the elimination strategy may need to be rethought. The Journal, an Irish newspaper, has more.

Hipkins reported a further 21 cases in a virus cluster that emerged in Auckland last week, ending a six-month run of no local cases and sparking a national lockdown.

Hipkins said Delta’s highly transmissible nature was making this outbreak more difficult to contain than others, raising “big questions” about the elimination strategy.

“The scale of infectiousness and the speed at which the virus has spread is something that, despite all the best preparations in the world, has put our system under strain,” he told TVNZ.

New Zealand’s widely praised COVID-19 response – which has resulted in just 26 deaths in a population of five million – centres on eliminating the virus from the community.

It has relied on strict border controls backed by hard lockdowns when any cases do slip through, but Hipkins said Delta may force a rethink.

“(Delta’s) like nothing we’ve dealt with before in this pandemic,” he said. “It does change everything, it means that all of our existing preparations begin to look less adequate and raises some pretty big questions about the future of our long-term plans.”

Neighbouring Australia has also pursued a “Covid zero” strategy and been similarly frustrated as its Delta cases continue to spike.

Worth reading in full.

Government’s Response to Pandemic is Based on Flawed Assumptions, According to 133 Healthcare Professionals

Covid19 Assembly, an anti-lockdown lobby group, has pulled together a powerful letter signed by 133 doctors, nurses, paramedics and midwives challenging the thinking behind the Government’s response to the coronavirus crisis. The signatories list 10 flawed assumptions, starting with the failure to carry out any sort of cost-benefit analysis of the lockdown policy before deciding to implement it.

1. No attempt to measure the harms of lockdown policies.

The evidence of disastrous effects of lockdowns on the physical and mental health of the population is there for all to see. The harms are massive, widespread, and long lasting. In particular, the psychological impact on a generation of developing children could be lifelong.

It is for this reason that lockdown policies were never part of any pandemic preparedness plans prior to 2020. In fact, they were expressly not recommended in WHO documents, even for severe respiratory viral pathogens and for that matter neither were border closures, face coverings, and testing of asymptomatic individuals. There has been such an inexplicable absence of consideration of the harms caused by lockdown policy it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that this is wilful avoidance.

The introduction of such policies was never accompanied by any sort of risk/benefit analysis. As bad as that is, it is even worse that after the event when plenty of data became available by which the harms could be measured, only perfunctory attention to this aspect of pandemic planning has been afforded. Eminent professionals have repeatedly called for discourse on these health impacts in press-conferences but have been universally ignored.

What is so odd, is that the policies being pursued before mid-March 2020 (self-isolation of the ill and protection of the vulnerable, while otherwise society continued close to normality) were balanced, sensible and reflected the approach established by consensus prior to 2020. No cogent reason was given then for the abrupt change of direction from mid-March 2020 and strikingly none has been put forward at any time since.

Worth reading in full.

Full disclosure: I am on the Advisory Board of Covid19 Assembly.

Latest PHE Data Shows Vaccine Effectiveness Down to Just 15% in the Over-50s, 37% in the Under-50s. Deaths Cut by 76% in Over-50s, But Just 12% in Under-50s

Public Health England (PHE) has released a new technical briefing on the variants of concern, number 21, and this allows us to update our estimate of (unadjusted) vaccine effectiveness against the Delta variant using the data it provides on confirmed Delta cases.

We subtract the figures in briefing 21 from those in briefing 17 to give the figures for the period June 22nd to August 15th. We also use figures for proportions of the population vaccinated by age derived from the PHE Covid surveillance reports.

Starting with the over-50s, for the period June 22nd to August 15th, PHE reports 29,282 Delta infections in the double vaccinated and 3,915 in the unvaccinated. PHE figures show that in this period the proportion of the over-50s double vaccinated was stable at 88% and the proportion unvaccinated was 10%. Calculating the vaccine effectiveness against Delta infection in the over-50s (1-(29,282/88%)/(3,915/10%)) gives a figure of just 15%, down from 17% using data from the briefing two weeks ago. This is very different to the estimate in the recent Oxford University study using ONS survey data, a study which I criticised for numerous implausible findings.

With regard to deaths with Covid (within 28 days of a positive test), PHE reports 602 in the double vaccinated and 280 in the unvaccinated in the over-50s in this period. This works out (1-(602/88%)/(280/10%)) at a vaccine effectiveness against death of 76%, down slightly from 77% using data from the previous briefing. This is a 76% reduction in mortality including any reduced risk of infection, not in addition to it. It’s an encouraging figure, albeit lower than earlier studies have suggested.

For the under-50s, for the period June 22nd to August 15th, PHE reports 36,855 Delta infections in the double vaccinated and 125,394 in the unvaccinated. PHE figures show that on June 20th 61% of under-50s were unvaccinated while 18% were double vaccinated. On August 15th those figures were 52% unvaccinated and 35% double vaccinated. Taking the average of these gives 56% unvaccinated and 26% double vaccinated for the period. Using this to calculate the vaccine effectiveness against Delta infection in the under-50s (1-(36,855/26%)/(125,394/56%)) gives a figure of 37%. This is higher than in the over-50s, but still very low and much lower than earlier studies (including the trial) indicated.

For deaths, PHE reports 27 in the double vaccinated and 66 in the unvaccinated in the under-50s in this period. This works out (1-(27/26%)/(66/56%)) at a vaccine effectiveness against death of just 12%. Why this would be so much lower than in the over-50s is unclear, but it’s worth bearing in mind that these are small numbers of deaths which may make the estimate unreliable.

These figures are much lower than those commonly quoted and used in modelling, and if they are closer to the truth then they mean the official, self-congratulatory estimates of “100,000 deaths” and “24.4 million infections” prevented by the vaccines are huge overestimates.

By plotting the differences between the reported total Delta cases in the last three briefings we can also get a picture of how they are changing over time in the different age and vaccine-status cohorts. The red and yellow lines in the chart below show that new Delta infections in the unvaccinated have stayed largely flat over the past fortnight, but those in the vaccinated (for this purpose, all who are at least 21 days after their first dose) have surged, so that a majority of new infections (44,038 out of 76,117, or 58%) are now in the vaccinated. This reveals that the recent modest increase in positive cases in England is being driven primarily by infections in the vaccinated. The fainter lines show the trends in the over- and under-50s, indicating that in both age cohorts new Delta infections in the vaccinated now outnumber those in the unvaccinated. This helps to explain the declining vaccine effectiveness estimates given above.

The Dubious Ethics of ‘Nudging’ the Public to Comply With Covid Restrictions

We’re publishing an original piece today by Dr Gary Sidley, a retired NHS Consultant Clinical Psychologist, about the ethics of ‘nudging’ the public to comply with Covid restrictions. Dr Sidley was the organiser of a letter signed by dozens of psychologists and therapists and sent to the British Psychological Association in January that raised ethical concerns about the Government’s use of covert psychological techniques to secure behavioural change. He has now heard back from the Chair of the Ethics Committee at the BPS and, needless to say, he dismisses all of the concerns. Here is an extract from Dr Sidley’s article:

The British Psychological Society (BPS) is the leading professional body for psychologists in the U.K. According to their website, a central role of the BPS is: “To promote excellence and ethical practice in the science, education and application of the discipline.” In light of this remit, I – together with 46 other psychologists and therapists – wrote a letter to the BPS on January 6th, 2021, expressing our ethical concerns about the use of covert psychological strategies as a means of securing compliance with Covid restrictions. In particular, our alarm centred on three areas: the recommendation of ‘nudges’ that exploit heightened emotional discomfort as a means of securing compliance; implementing potent covert psychological strategies without any effort to gain the informed consent of the British public; and harnessing these interventions for the purpose of achieving adherence to contentious and unevidenced restrictions that infringe basic human rights.

Responses from the BPS to our initial letter were slow and circuitous. However, on July 1st we received an email from Dr. Roger Paxton, the Chair of the Ethics Committee, which clarified the BPS’s position: in the Committee’s view, there is nothing ethically questionable about deploying covert psychological strategies on the British people as a means of increasing compliance with public health restrictions.

An in-depth inspection of Dr. Paxton’s defence of the BPS reveals that it is evasive, disingenuous and wholly unconvincing.

Worth reading in full.

Full Opening of England’s Secondary Schools to be Delayed by at Least Two Weeks

A decision by some schools to test millions of teenagers for Covid before readmitting them will see the full opening of secondary schools for the Autumn term delayed by at least two weeks in many cases. The Sunday Times has the story.

Parents were warned it would not be “business as normal” in the new academic year after the Department for Education confirmed that schools will be allowed to stagger starting dates while pupils are tested twice for the virus.

Close contacts of children found to be infected will be traced and if they test positive they too will have to self-isolate.

Lessons in many secondary schools are not expected to start until the second week of the new term. …

Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, said in July the success of the vaccine roll-out meant that schools could look forward to a fresh start in the autumn. He ditched measures, including teaching in small groups or bubbles and requiring pupils to wear facemasks.

However, a survey this weekend showed that many schools will refuse to obey Government instructions to open as normal without taking measures to curb Covid transmission. The poll of more than 1,200 senior teaching staff found that nearly one in five schools are planning to stagger the start or end of the school day throughout next term.

One in eight secondary schools will ask that masks be worn in class and a third of all schools said they would take Covid-related precautions. Four per cent of those polled by Teacher Tapp said they would teach outdoors. …

Steve Chalke, Chief Executive of one of the biggest academy trusts, Oasis, said: “This is all last minute again. Head teachers have called for months for a way of opening schools and keeping them open to avoid a third year of academic disruption to children.” He said Oasis would decide next week whether to use facemasks in classrooms from September.

Worth reading in full.

Could Boris Bottle It on Vaccine Passports?

A leaked letter from Government lawyers reveals that “no final policy decision has yet been taken” on introducing vaccine passports in nightclubs and other “large venues”, sparking confusion among hospitality leaders. Hugh Osmond, the Founder of Punch Taverns, sums the mess up nicely: “As so often, rushed rhetoric without any thought to the implications, practicalities or ramifications.” The Sunday Telegraph has the story.

The Prime Minister had said that full vaccination will be a condition of entry for nightclubs and large venues by the end of September, in a move that sparked a backlash by hospitality industry leaders and divided opinion among ministers.

But in a letter written on behalf of Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, last week, the Government Legal Department stated that “no final policy decision has yet been taken” in relation to the issue, adding that “any further announcements will be made in due course”.

The letter appears at odds with comments by Boris Johnson who has said those attending nightclubs and “other venues where large crowds gather” in England will need to be fully vaccinated from that date. …

On Friday afternoon, a Government spokesman simply said that “we reserve the right” to require the NHS Covid Pass “in certain settings”.

But on Saturday night, Number 10 intervened to state explicitly that the Government was “planning to make full vaccination the condition of entry to nightclubs.” …

The ambiguity over the Government’s approach comes after it emerged last month that several ministers had expressed concerns about the plans, including due to the timing of Mr. Johnson’s announcement alongside the July 19th reopening, fears over a possible clash with equalities legislation, and the potential risk of legal action against venues. …

Michael Kill, Chief Executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said: “It seems ludicrous that the Government is falling into a continual cycle of announcing new rules and policies around mitigations through ministers, when it is clear that decisions have not yet been made. All of this on top of the fact that businesses are suffering from further uncertainty, resulting in a drop in trading levels and workforce confidence.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Perhaps the ‘confusion’ is just another way of “coercing and abusing young people”, says Hugh.

Government Launching Antibody Testing Programme for Those Who Test Covid Positive

8,000 Brits who test positive for Covid next week will be sent antibody testing kits as part of a new Government programme seeking to identify people’s levels of protection against different Covid variants. Sky News has the story.

From Tuesday, anyone aged 18 or over in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, will be able to opt in to the programme when receiving a PCR test.

If a participant tests positive for Covid then they will be sent two finger prick antibody tests to complete at home and send back for analysis. …

Up to 8,000 people will be rolled [sic] in the programme, according [to] the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which is running it.

UKHSA, working alongside NHS Test and Trace, will use the results to monitor antibody levels in positive cases.

According to the Department of Health and Social Care, the programme will be the first time antibody tests have been made available to the general public.

The scheme could help DHSC build up information on groups of people who don’t develop an immune response after vaccination or infection.

The data could be used to “inform the ongoing approach to the pandemic and give further insight into the effectiveness of vaccines on new variants,” DHSC said.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up