Day: 6 September 2021

News Round-Up

And Finally…

In this week’s episode of London Calling, James and I discuss the horrifying prospect of having to show a vaccine passport to go to a West End play, the absurdity of actors wearing masks on stage – which James just experienced at an outdoor production! – and whether the theatre industry, which is already on its knees, can survive this new onslaught of Covid balls.

You can listen to the podcast here and subscribe to it on iTunes here.

Government Planning an October ‘Firebreak’ if Hospital Admissions Remain at Current Level

The Government has drawn up plans for an October ‘firebreak’ if hospitalisations continue at their current level and threaten to overload the NHS, a senior Government scientist has said. The odd thing about this statement is that at present hospitalisations are a fraction of what they were at the beginning of the year (see above). The i has more.

The member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said the UK is about to enter “an extended peak” of infections and hospitalisations, which are in danger of pushing the NHS beyond breaking point and could force the Government to re-introduce restrictions over the school half term period at the end of next month.

A full lockdown is unlikely and would be a last resort, but there are a range of measures the government could introduce.

“This is essentially the precautionary break that SAGE suggested last year,” said the SAGE source. “It would be sensible to have contingency plans, and if a lockdown is required, to time it so that it has minimal economic and societal impact.”

The Government scientist added that while Covid deaths are significantly higher than at the same point 12 months ago, they would have to rise fivefold to match those experienced in late October last year.

“We are going to be at a peak, albeit an extended peak, quite soon, so it’s not really the same situation as last year, when failure to reduce prevalence would have resulted in collapse of NHS and people dying in car parks,” he added.

“Hospitals might be overflowing before deaths reach the same level. Acting early will prevent this level.”

It is understood that the Government’s contingency plan for a ‘firebreak’ lockdown could lead to an extension of the half-term, from one week for most schools to two weeks from late October into early November.

Worth reading in full.

The fact that the Government is already drawing up plans for a lockdown in October, albeit a mini one, gives the lie to the argument that the reason we should bring in vaccine passports and immunise children is to avoid another lockdown.

Stop Press: Depressingly, the public have already resigned themselves to another bout of school closures. According to the latest Ipsos MORI poll, 45% think it’s likely the Government will close schools again versus 26% who think it’s unlikely.

It Would Be “Irresponsible” to Allow All ‘Temporary’ Covid Powers to Expire, Says Prime Minister’s Spokesman

There’s some more news today on the Government’s plan to renew its ‘temporary’ Covid powers, with the Prime Minister’s spokesman saying: “It would obviously be irresponsible to allow all temporary provisions to expire.” The Guardian has the story.

Downing Street signalled its intention to renew the Coronavirus Act later this autumn, although some temporary powers may be allowed to expire.

“It would obviously be irresponsible to allow all temporary provisions to expire. These are provisions that would, if removed, take away the Government’s ability to protect renters from eviction, for example, or to give sick pay to those self-isolating from day one,” Boris Johnson’s spokesman said.

“So it’s important that we take a proportionate approach to the Coronavirus Act because there are elements that do still provide protections for the public.”

Number 10 said some provisions in the wide-ranging legislation may be allowed to expire. “As you know, we’ve allowed temporary powers in the act to expire wherever possible, as we have at previous review points, and we are now, as a result, one of the most open societies in Europe and indeed the world.”

The confirmation is likely to spark some questions from Conservative MPs about whether the Government is reserving the right to introduce new restrictions if cases spike later this year.

Johnson’s spokesman said it was “fair to say” a rise in cases was inevitable this autumn, based on the scientific advice.

Worth reading in full.

A Third of Under-40s in England Haven’t Had a Single Covid Vaccine Dose

The Government has confirmed that vaccine passports will be introduced later this month, by which time all U.K. adults will have had the opportunity to get both doses of a Covid vaccine. But the latest figures show that a third of under-40s in England have – up till now – decided not to take up this offer – not even for their first dose. The Telegraph has the story.

Just 66% of these young adults have had a first dose, with rates barely rising since the start of July. 

Broken down, those aged 25 to 29 have the lowest first dose rate at 63.1%, followed by 18 to 24 year-olds on 64.9%, 30 to 34 year-olds on 65.8% and rising to 70.3% for those aged 35 to 39.

And only 52% of under-40s in England are fully jabbed with both doses. 

The latest Government dashboard data, up to September 4th, comes as Boris Johnson plans to impose vaccine passports on nightclubs and other large indoor venues from the end of this month, when all over-18s will have been offered two doses. …

Uptake levels are far higher in older age groups, and overall 88.8% of Britons aged over 16 have had a first dose and 79.8% a second. More than 90% of adults are also estimated to have Covid antibodies.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The New Statesman has produced a graphic on the uptake of Covid vaccines in different age groups in England from January to September 2021.

If the Government isn’t Following the Science When it Comes to Vaccinating Children, Who is it Following?

We are publishing a guest post today by Dr. Peter Hayes, a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Sunderland, pointing out that when it comes to vaccinating healthy 12-15 year-olds the Government can no longer claim to be following the science.

“Follow The Science” has been the defining slogan of Covid policymaking for the past year and a half. However, we may now be at turning point. On September 3rd, that august and scientific body The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised not to start vaccinating otherwise healthy 12-15 year-olds. The Government, however, seems likely to set about vaccinating them anyway.

In his letter to chief medical officers, Health Secretary Sajid Javid says that the JCVI is against vaccination of 12-15 year olds because its margin of benefit against harm is “too small” and tacitly suggests that the officers come up with something to enable him to override this advice. However, Javid’s spin on the committee’s advice is misleading. It is not only the marginal benefits of the vaccine but also the unknown extent of its harms that has led the JCVI to recommend against it.

(1) The JCVI states that in advising whether or not to vaccinate it has focused on “the benefit to children and young people themselves, weighed against any potential harms from vaccination”, and that it has done this to the exclusion of other issues such as cost.

(2) It states that overall “the benefits from vaccination are marginally greater than the potential known harms” [emphasis added].

Vaccine Passports For Theatres Will be ‘Nail in Coffin’

Hospitality chiefs have warned that insisting on vaccine passports for theatre visits will mean the permanent closure of many theatres. The Telegraph has more.

Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of Hospitality U.K., said the Government would open itself to legal action if it excluded theatres where people mixed but required it in other smaller live venues. “It’s potentially discriminatory against a younger age demographic and an industry sector,” she said.

Hugh Osmond, the founder of Punch Taverns, has already threatened legal action against the Government over vaccine passports for nightclubs as discriminatory against the young.

Ms. Nicholls warned it could cut customers by 20%. “There is a significant proportion of people who don’t want to use passports or are not vaccinated. It has settled at 20% in France. We expect something similar here,” she said.

She added: “It will also add administrative costs for part of the industry which is already facing an uphill battle of getting back. This would be a further nail in the coffin of returning for many venues.”

Michael Kill, of the Night Time Industries Association, said the plans had already started deterring people with ticket sales from the end of September “flatlining”. “We are seeing a lot of pushback from people who don’t want to come and have to show their health status on entry,” he said.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Steve Baker MP and Professor Paul Dolan have written a joint piece for today’s Times arguing that vaccine passports will create a two-tier society.

Hospitality Sector Faces Surge in Bankruptcies as Government Support Dries Up

Months of forced closures during lockdowns followed by staff shortages due to the ‘pingdemic’ means it’s not just shops that are struggling to survive but hospitality businesses too. The number of bankruptcies is already on the up and is expected to peak as Government support runs out. The Telegraph has the story.

The insolvency firm Mazars said the end of pandemic subsidies over the next six months and staff recruitment woes meant those businesses which had just about managed to stay afloat during the pandemic were now starting to feel the pain.

Partner Rebecca Dacre said: “It is clear that we have yet to see the full extent of the pandemic’s financial hit on hotels and restaurants.

“Businesses that are just keeping their head above water are likely to be taken under by the end of Government support schemes, the repeated cost of reopening and restocking, difficulty recruiting staff and lower occupancy or covers due to people’s changing habits or working patterns.

“Those businesses that have benefited from U.K. tourism this summer may still find themselves looking for support after the holiday season ends.”

Hotels and restaurants struggled to repay the loans even as Government support schemes remained in place, allowing them to furlough staff and avoid landlord action for unpaid rents. The Government had also put in place a block on so-called winding up petitions, preventing lenders from asking courts to close businesses which owe them money and sell their assets.

This block is due to be lifted at the end of September, at the same time as the furlough scheme will be completely wound down. Next March, a suspension on landlord action for rent arrears will be lifted. …

The noodle chain Wagamama has become the latest to feel the pinch of labour shortages, warning a fifth of its restaurants are having difficulty hiring chefs.

Chief Executive Thomas Heier said that he was struggling to fill vacancies at 30 sites. He said competition from delivery and logistics companies had drained the pool of available workers. …

It follows a wave of closures during the pandemic, with names such as Byron, the burger chain, and Italian ­eatery Carluccio’s having collapsed. Both were later rescued, although many of their sites were closed.

Worth reading in full.

Vaccinating Young People Is Unethical; Those Vaccines Should Go to Poor Countries

On September 3rd, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – an independent panel of experts – advised against offering COVID-19 vaccines to healthy children aged 12-15.

The panel concluded that, although “the health benefits from vaccination are marginally greater than the potential known harms”, the margin of benefit is “too small to support universal vaccination”. However, it did recommend expanding the list of underlying health conditions that would qualify someone in the relevant age-group for vaccination.

The panel’s recommendation apparently came “as a blow to the Government”, which for some reason really wants to vaccinate healthy children.

Immediately after the announcement, Health Secretary Sajid Javid wrote to the U.K.’s Chief Medical Officers asking them to “consider the matter from a broader perspective” (which reads like bureaucratese for “ignore the recommendation of the JCVI, and find a new justification for the policy”).

And it’s worth asking: if the Government does decide to ignore the JCVI’s recommendation, and offer the vaccine to healthy children anyway, will it adopt the slogan: “Don’t necessarily follow the science.”

I can understand why children with an underlying health condition would be worried about getting COVID-19, and it seems right that they’re being offered a vaccine. However, for the overwhelming majority of healthy children, the disease poses virtually no serious risk.

The main justification for vaccinating young people is to protect older people. But given evidence that natural immunity provides better protection against infection than the Pfizer vaccine (the only vaccine approved for those aged 12-15), this justification looks increasingly weak.

It’s now abundantly clear that vaccinated people can transmit the virus. Hence the only true safeguard – for a child visiting a vulnerable grandparent, say – is a negative COVID-19 test beforehand.

However, even if the vaccines had no side effects and offered the same level of protection as natural immunity, it would be unethical to vaccinate children at the present time. And that’s because it’s a waste of vaccines that could go to people who actually need them.

Rather than offering vaccines to children and young people, rich countries like the U.K. – which have so far been hogging all the vaccines – should donate them to elderly people in poor countries.

Even though a government must always look to the interests of its own citizens first, the benefit/cost ratio of donating vaccines to poor countries is so vast that this principle is hardly relevant. People forget that the risk of death from COVID-19 is not just higher, but orders of magnitude higher, for elderly people.

I said that Britain should donate its remaining vaccines to poor countries in an article back in July. The same argument has been made by several other commentators, including – mostly recently – two scientists writing in the journal Nature.

Zain Chagla and Madhukar Pai argue against vaccine ‘booster’ programs on the grounds that far more lives could be saved by administering vaccines in poor countries. The global vaccine supply is limited, they note, so “this is a zero-sum game”. Every vaccine given to a healthy British 12 year-old is one that can’t go to a 70 year-old in Africa or Latin America.

Even discounting side effects, it’s unethical to vaccinate 12–15 year-olds in Britain when a such small share of the population in poor countries has been offered a vaccine. COVID-19 is a disease that disproportionately targets older people, while posing almost no risk to children. Our vaccination policy should reflect that.

Why the Government is Wrong to Claim 12 Year-Olds Are Competent to Consent to Covid Vaccination Against Their Parents’ Wishes

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi has said that if a 12-15 year-old wishes to receive the jab and is judged to be “competent” then his or her decision would overrule the parents’ refusal for their child to be vaccinated. The Telegraph has more.

In an interview with Times Radio on Sunday morning, Mr. Zahawi was asked what NHS clinicians could do if a parent says no to their child being vaccinated but the teenager says yes.

He replied: “The NHS is really well practised in this because they’ve been doing school immunisation programmes for a very long time so what you essentially do is make sure that the clinicians discuss this with the parents, with the teenager, and if they are then deemed to be able to make a decision that is competent then that decision will go in the favour of what the teenager decides to do.”

This idea that a 12 year-old can overrule his or her parents in a medical decision is based on the notion of Gillick competence, which derives from a 1985 House of Lords legal judgment (Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority) which provides that children under 16 may be able to consent to their own treatment if they are deemed to have sufficient intelligence, competence and understanding to appreciate fully what the treatment involves.

However, as the U.K. Medical Freedom Alliance (UKMFA) explains in a recent open letter, the judgment in Gillick makes it clear it is to apply only in exceptional cases.