Day: 20 September 2021

And Finally…

In the latest episode of London Calling, James Delingpole and I discuss Macron’s toys-out-of-the-pram reaction to the AUKUS deal, the glorious prospect that lockdown zealot Justin Trudeau will end up with fewer seats in the Canadian federal election than he did in 2019 and James’s gleeful contamination of my brand.

I was referred to in the Belfast Telegraph on Friday as a “renowned anti-vaxxer”, even though I think it’s sensible for people in vulnerable groups to have the Covid vaccine (just not anyone else). I blame James for this career-ending misunderstanding – it must be because I’ve given up arguing with him when he describes the Covid vaccines as “kill shots” and links them to his crackpot conspiracy theories about Bill Gates and the Great Reset.

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

News Round-Up

All Bar Three Top U.K. Universities Refusing to Return to Full In-Person Teaching This Term

Only three of the top 27 U.K. universities have decided to stop bending to fear (or, perhaps, financial pressure) and to focus instead on proper education by returning to full in-person teaching this term. The other 24 say they have opted for a ‘blended’ approach which will include students ‘attending’ lectures online. The Times has the story.

The universities of Sheffield, Sussex and Southampton expect to return to in-person studies, with students expected to be on campus from the beginning of the academic year. …

The University of Sheffield has told students that they are “expected to attend in person, on campus, from the start date of your studies”, while Southampton said it would conduct all teaching “in-person and on campus”.

Sussex is planning for large lectures to go ahead in person, with alternatives available to students who cannot come to campus because of travel restrictions. The majority, including Oxford and Cambridge, will hold smaller group sessions such as seminars in person but larger lectures will remain online. …

Students overwhelmingly believe that the move online has affected their education, according to the latest monthly survey by the Office for National Statistics, conducted in June.

More than 60% of students who were in higher education before the pandemic said the lack of face-to-face learning had a major or moderate impact on the quality of their course. …

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, the Vice-President for Higher Education at the National Union of Students, said she was concerned that some universities could be using online learning as a way to cut the costs of running lectures.

“Nothing can replace the ability to socialise with and learn from your peers, or to engage with face-to-face, interactive teaching and learning and to have a full campus life,” she said.

Some universities are keeping lectures online so they can continue to increase their intake of students, particularly those from overseas, a source at a sector think tank said. “If you don’t have to worry about accommodating people or about the size of lecture theatres, how big can they get before it’s an outrage? You’re not even paying for the cinema at this point, you’re paying for Netflix,” the source said.

A record number of U.K. candidates secured a place at university this year, with 448,080 students expecting to start degree courses from next week, up from 441,720 last year.

Worth reading in full.

More than 50% Increase in Number of Children Going to A&E with Serious Mental Health Issues since Start of Lockdowns

We are told that healthy children should be vaccinated against Covid to benefit their mental health. If only our leaders had taken an interest in this before imposing school closures and wider lockdowns which have helped to bring about a more than 50% increase in the number of children going to A&E with serious mental health issues. The Telegraph has the story.

More than 2,243 children in England were referred for specialist mental health care from emergency departments in May this year, compared with just 1,428 in May 2019.

Experts say children have struggled with schools being closed and without face-to-face interaction with their peers.

Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP and the Chair of the Education Select Committee, called for schools to remain open to stave off a mental health “catastrophe”.

NHS data reveal that nearly 27,000 children are being prescribed antidepressants each month, up more than 8% from 2019. While most are teenagers, 25 a month are aged six or under, and more than 1,000 are aged seven to 11.

Waiting lists for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) have jumped by more than a third in some regions, according to NHS England Trusts.

The number of children admitted to acute wards with eating disorders more than doubled in the three months to June 2021, when compared with the same period in 2019.

Dr. Anna Conway Morris, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, said the increase in A&E referrals “shows that the things that are likely to need CAMHS input, like eating disorders, or like more serious self-harm or suicidal thoughts, have increased”.

Paul Farmer, the Chief Executive of the mental health charity Mind, has written to the Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, calling for extra funding in order not to “betray the next generation”.

An NHS England spokesman said its mental health services were looking after record numbers of children “with over 420,000 treated since April last year”.

Worth reading in full.

Unvaccinated Footballers Could Be Barred from Next World Cup

Qatar is believed to be pushing for unvaccinated footballers to be barred from playing in next year’s World Cup, with fans also having to show proof of full vaccination to attend matches. MailOnline has the story.

It is known that professional players’ views on taking the vaccine are mixed and there are some concerns Qatar’s stance could rob the tournament of its stars – something all parties want to avoid.

Qatar, who have already administered more than 4.6 million vaccines so far, roughly 82% of their population, are in discussions with FIFA and medical authorities in efforts to reach an amicable solution.

The Athletic claim a number of options are being considered, including uninoculated players having to report negative tests every three days. …

A number of Premier League clubs are known to have players still resisting the Covid vaccine, including Arsenal and Switzerland star Granit Xhaka.

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted last month “not all of the players have been double-jabbed”, adding: “I have encouraged them to take the vaccination but you cannot force anyone to do that.” …

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce has admitted that “a lot” of his players have not been vaccinated…

Deputy Chief Medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam has been forthright in urging players to take up the vaccine and told them to ignore the myths around it. …

Worth reading in full.

Long Covid Is Even Less Common Than Previously Thought

In a post on long Covid back in July, I said that “estimates of the chance of reporting symptoms after 12 weeks range from less than 1% to almost 12%”. That 12% figure came from the ONS, who found that individuals who tested positive were 12 percentage points more likely than controls to report at least one symptom 12 weeks after infection.

In my post, I argued that 12% is probably an overestimate on the grounds that some people who tested positive might have been inclined to exaggerated their symptoms – to report things they normally wouldn’t have done (thanks to all the media attention on long Covid).

And I noted that a study published in Nature Medicine had observed a much smaller percentage of people still reporting symptoms 12 weeks after infection, namely 2.3%.

A new analysis by the ONS has obtained a figure almost identical to that observed in the Nature Medicine study, namely 2.5% (the difference between the blue and green lines in the chart below). This is clearly much lower than its previous estimate.

Interestingly, the reason for the discrepancy with the earlier figure isn’t the one I suggested (i.e., that some people who tested positive were inclined to exaggerate their symptoms). Rather, it’s a statistical issue.

In both their original and updated analyses, the ONS defined symptom discontinuation as two consecutive visits without reporting any symptoms. (Participants in the ONS’s survey were visited at regular intervals for the purpose of data collection.)

This means that someone would be classified as ‘having symptoms’ if they’d gone one, but not two, visits without reporting any symptoms. However, in their original analysis, participants were only followed for a median of 80 days (less than 11 weeks).

As a result, some participants who would have been classified as ‘not having symptoms’ if they’d been followed a little bit longer were still classified as ‘having symptoms’ at the end of their observation period. (In the jargon, their follow-up time was ‘right-censored’.) This is shown in the diagram below, taken from the ONS:

In the ONS’s updated analysis, which followed participants for a median of 204 days, individuals in the situation of Participant D above were correctly classified as ‘not having symptoms’ before the end of their observation period.

Using this revised method, the ONS found that less than 1% of children aged 2-11 continue to report symptoms 12 weeks after infection, with the figure rising to just 1.2% for those aged 12-16. Hence long Covid is particularly rare in children, further undermining the case for vaccinating that age-group.

While the ONS deserves credit for being completely transparent about the limitations of their original analysis, their updated analysis is still open to the criticism I mentioned above. This means that 2.5% should probably be considered an upper bound on the chances of getting long Covid, the true figure being somewhat lower.

The Compelling Evidence that Variants Drive Covid Surges

Recently, Anthony Brookes, a Professor of Genomics and Health Data Science at the University of Leicester, wrote a piece for the Daily Sceptic arguing that central to the virus’s surge-and-decline behaviour is the emergence of new variants, which are “able to infect (or re-infect) some fraction of individuals”.

He writes:

A series of SARS-CoV-2 variants have arisen, many of which possessed a transient selective advantage that led to a wave of infection that peaked some three-to-four months later. Several such variants have spread globally, though different successful variants have arisen simultaneously in a number of countries. The result is a three-to-four month wave pattern per country, which is also apparent globally.

The global wave pattern is shown below. It features an extended autumn and winter wave, a spring wave and a summer wave (seasons here for the northern hemisphere, of course). Note that this graph is raw positive test numbers so does not allow for increased testing.

To illustrate how this global pattern is reflected in different countries and how it relates to the emergence of new variants, I have superimposed the graph of variant proportions over time from the CoVariants website onto the positivity rate curves (the proportion of tests that come back positive, which takes into account changes in the amount of testing) from Our World in Data. I’ve done this for the 12 countries which have done the most sequencing of virus samples (according to CoVariants), plus Israel and South Africa.