Day: 21 September 2021

News Round-Up

Wuhan Scientists Submitted Plans to Release Coronaviruses into Bat Caves in 2018

Leaked documents have revealed that, 18 months before reports emerged of the first Covid cases, scientists linked to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) were planning to release coronaviruses into Chinese bat caves in order to inoculate them against diseases that could pass on to humans. The Telegraph has the story.

New documents show that just 18 months before the first Covid cases appeared, researchers had submitted plans to release skin-penetrating nanoparticles containing “novel chimeric spike proteins” of bat coronaviruses into cave bats in Yunnan, China.

They also planned to create chimeric viruses, genetically enhanced to infect humans more easily, and requested $14 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to fund the work.

Papers, confirmed as genuine by a former member of the Trump administration, show they were hoping to introduce “human-specific cleavage sites” to bat coronaviruses which would make it easier for the virus to enter human cells. 

When Covid was first genetically sequenced, scientists were puzzled about how the virus had evolved such a human-specific adaptation at the cleavage site on the spike protein, which is the reason it is so infectious.

The documents were released by Drastic, the web-based investigations team set up by scientists from across the world to look into the origins of Covid.

In a statement, Drastic said: “Given that we find in this proposal a discussion of the planned introduction of human-specific cleavage sites, a review by the wider scientific community of the plausibility of artificial insertion is warranted.”

The proposal also included plans to mix high-risk natural coronavirus strains with more infectious but less dangerous varieties.

The bid was submitted by British zoologist Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance, the U.S.-based organisation, which has worked closely with the WIV researching bat coronaviruses. 

Team members included Dr. Shi Zhengli, the WIV researcher dubbed “bat woman”, as well as U.S. researchers from the University of North Carolina and the United States Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Centre.

DARPA refused to fund the work, saying: “It is clear that the proposed project led by Peter Daszak could have put local communities at risk”, and warned that the team had not properly considered the dangers of enhancing the virus (gain of function research) or releasing a vaccine by air.

Grant documents show that the team also had some concerns about the vaccine programme and said they would “conduct educational outreach … so that there is a public understanding of what we are doing and why we are doing it, particularly because of the practice of bat-consumption in the region”.

Worth reading in full.

Vaccine Mandate Could Force Holiday Homes for Disabled People to Close

The vaccine mandate for care homes is having “devastating consequences” for the sector, according to Revitalise, a charity offering respite holidays for disabled people and carers, with some of the few holiday homes facing closure due to staff shortages. The Guardian has the story.

The 60 year-old company, whose patron is the businesswoman and former Prime Minister’s wife Samantha Cameron, runs three specialist holiday centres in England which cater for 4,600 disabled people and their carers each year.

Janine Tregelles, the Chief Executive, said the future of the charity was under threat because of the policy that all care staff in England must be fully vaccinated against coronavirus by November 11th.

“For Revitalise and for the care sector, the mandatory vaccination policy will, if implemented, have devastating consequences,” she said.

The Government said it was vital for care home staff to be fully vaccinated to protect some of the most vulnerable members of society. More than 90% of eligible staff had received their first dose of a Covid vaccine by last week, it said. …

Ministers have previously said they estimate that about 7% of the 570,000 CQC-registered care home staff in England – about 40,000 people – will refuse the vaccine and therefore no longer be able to care for residents after November 11th.

Tregelles said the future of at least one of its three specialist respite centres was at stake. She said five key, longstanding colleagues had chosen not to be vaccinated “because they believe in their right to bodily integrity, which is enshrined in the Human Rights Act”.

Another seven employees, who have been vaccinated, are threatening to resign if their colleagues are made redundant, she said. This means that one holiday centre may have to close, putting “the rest of the charity under threat”. …

She urged ministers to ditch the policy before it deepened the staffing crisis “they have exacerbated beyond measure”.

Worth reading in full.

Extra 10,000 Brits Likely to Die of Cancer Due to Drop in Emergency Referrals during Lockdown, According to New Study

A drop in emergency referrals for cancer over the past year of lockdowns is likely to result in an extra 10,000 deaths from the disease, according to a new study. In particular, the “stay at home, protect the NHS” message is believed to have put people off coming forward and ‘burdening’ the health service for check-ups, meaning their symptoms were not investigated. MailOnline has the story.

University College London researchers said a drop in emergency referrals from GPs last year across the U.K. resulted in around 40,000 late diagnoses of the disease.

These delays and longer waits for NHS treatment – fuelled by the pandemic – mean thousands will die “significantly earlier” from the disease than would have been the case pre-pandemic.

The study of more than 2,000 adults found nearly two thirds of people worried about bothering family doctors with “minor health problems” because of Covid.

And during the first lockdown last year, the NHS moved GP appointments to online and telephone to limit face-to-face consultations. Number 10’s “stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” messaging put people off coming forward, meaning their symptoms were never investigated. …

Just 57% of GP appointments are now in person compared with 80% before the pandemic. 

A senior coroner in Manchester earlier this month concluded a lack of face-to-face care contributed to at least five deaths in the area during the pandemic. …

23 million appointments, whether face-to-face or otherwise, were also “lost” during the pandemic.

Out of the 2,000 people polled by UCL, those above 65 – the group who require the most healthcare – were the least likely to want to see their doctor remotely.

Some 56% in that age group opposed having more telephone and online consultations, while 24% were in favour of them.

And only 46% of people aged 18 to 24 wanted more remote appointments, with more than a quarter (28%) against them.

Worth reading in full.

Postcard From Southern Europe, Where Mask Wearing is Almost Universal

A Daily Sceptic reader has just returned from a trip to Spain and Italy and has sent us this guest post. Depressing reading.

One of the lovelier benefits to travel is the perspective it lends to life at home. Usually, this revolves around how the British sky and food is more dull than we realise, but after two recent trips to Spain and Italy one would be forgiven for thinking that Blighty is a post-Covid, liberal, free-thinking nirvana.

Both countries in question reported big Covid numbers – broadly in line with ours. Now both have similar vaccination levels and both are reporting broadly similar case daily numbers too. Their supine adoption of the ‘passport’ has been relatively well documented but but to walk the streets or beaches in either is to see a population cowed by face mask legislation. Masks are obligatory more or less everywhere indoors but it is the manner of their adoption which makes it all the more depressing.

Two nationalities (which one might playfully suggest are known for their selective application of some rules) have taken to the wearing of masks with quiet supplication. When viewed with the rapid dropping of masks we are enjoying at home this makes for a most depressing spectacle.

The farcical insistence that a face mask is worn when walking from a beach bed to a bar is barely credible yet the adherence is almost total. Equally, to see a solitary, masked parking attendant standing in a country lane is absurd as it is worrying.

The beautiful and ancient Fallas of Valancia this year were reconvened after the pandemic, but despite taking place in deserted streets the participants were still required to wear masks alongside their fabulous costumes.

Of course, there is the human element, our children grumbled at wearing a mask – it was uncomfortable, new for them and scary – and were barely challenged when they did not. But the fact remains that every other child was happily going about with a mini-mask strapped to their face.

One wonders if this can be traced back to their lockdowns. Neither country closed schools to any great extent but children were required to wear masks at school. Equally, neither had such a wholesale adoption of home-working as here and while offices opened earlier than in the U.K., many people wore masks at their desks and were often banned from using meeting rooms, asked instead to use virtual conferencing with their colleagues a few yards away.

I cannot comment on the mask hesitancy or counter-arguments that have been made – of which I am sure there have been many, but writing this in a charming pizzeria in Milan I note that I was reminded to wear my mask by two people upon arrival and had my temperature taken to walk the 10 paces from the door to the terrace – whereupon my mask is not required.

If it wasn’t so sad it would be funny.

The Vaccine Roll-Out Was Based on Safetyism, Not Science

In a poll of experts taken by Nature earlier this year, only 6% said it was “unlikely” or “very unlikely” that SARS-CoV-2 will become endemic. By contrast, 89% said this was “likely” or “very likely”.

As Professor Francois Balloux has observed: “Eventually, Covid will become endemic everywhere in the world… claims about indefinite elimination are just empty slogans.”

This means the virus will continue to circulate for the foreseeable future, and most of us will catch it several times during our lives. In fact, it may become one that we first encounter in childhood, leading to immunity that lasts years or decades.

Covid, in other words, is here to stay. And unless more powerful vaccines are developed in the future, permanently suppressing transmission via vaccination is unlikely to work, let alone pass a cost-benefit test.

As the Great Barrington Declaration authors have argued, vaccines are best seen as a means of achieving focused protection against Covid. By vaccinating the elderly and clinically vulnerable, we have turned what – for many of those people – could have been a life-threatening illness, into something much less harmful.

However, since the start of the vaccine rollout, numerous people – including some world leaders – have taken a rather different view of the vaccines. For these individuals, the vaccines are a way of ‘crushing the curve’, and thereby ensuring that nobody ever has to get Covid.

But this view is based more on safetyism than on science. And ironically, it’s causing real harm. How so?

First, safetyism has led to the belief that everyone needs to get vaccinated, regardless of age. This is why the Government is proceeding with vaccination of 12-15 year olds, against the better judgement of its own expert panel. Yet as I and others have argued, a far better course of action would be donating those vaccines to poor countries.

Second, safetyism has led to the belief that everyone needs to get vaccinated, even if they’ve already been infected. Yet evidence suggests that people with natural immunity have better protection against infection than recipients of the Pfizer vaccine.

As Professor Marty Makary notes in a recent article for the Washington Post: “If we had asked Americans who were already protected by natural immunity to step aside in the vaccine line, tens of thousands of lives could have been saved.”

Third, safetyism has led to the belief that we need to roll out booster shots because vaccine-induced immunity wanes rapidly. So far, however, this is only true of immunity against infection; immunity against severe disease appears to hold up well.

In a recent Lancet article, Philip Krause and colleagues argue there is not yet any need for boosters, which could cause adverse reactions if administered too soon or too frequently. They point out that vaccines “will save the most lives if made available to people who are at appreciable risk of serious disease and have not yet received any vaccine”.

Fourth, safetyism has led to the belief that people should be strong-armed into getting vaccinated by means of passports and mandates, rather than persuaded. Although coercive measures may increase vaccine uptake, they risk undermining trust in government and the healthcare system.

What’s more, vaccine passports could have unintended consequences. If vulnerable people are led to believe – wrongly – that the vaccines have strong efficacy against infection, they might take more risks than they otherwise would.

A vaccine roll-out based on science – not safetyism – would have recognised that not everyone needs to be vaccinated. It would have assigned leftover vaccines to people that actually need them. And it would have eschewed coercive measures, in favour of transparency about the risks and benefits.

The Great Lockdown Debate

On September 27th please join me at the Great Lockdown Debate and Drinks Reception being organised by Modern Review, a new international magazine being launched early next year.

The motion is “Lockdowns of the past year caused more harm than good” and arguing for it alongside me will be Professor Carl Heneghan, Director of Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University, and Luke Johnson, businessman, entrepreneur and the former Chairman of Channel 4. Speakers on the opposing side will include Oliver Kamm, a Times leader writer, and Dr. Sonia Adesara, a medical doctor and former director of 50:50 Parliament. The debate will be moderated by former House of Commons Deputy Speaker Natascha Engel.

The venue is The London, a brand new super-luxury hotel just off Leicester Square. The evening will begin with a drinks reception at 6.30pm and the debate will start at 7pm. Tickets are £30, but the organisers have created a special offer for Daily Sceptic readers whereby you can get a 10% discount by going to this webpage.

The Role of Variants in Driving Surges is Good News for Sceptics

As an addendum to my piece yesterday on the evidence for variants driving Covid surges, a comparison between India and neighbouring Bangladesh is illuminating. Once again, the curves below are the positive test rate and they are superimposed on the graphs of variant proportions over time from the CoVariants website.

India

India has had one large surge in 2021 so far, occurring in spring and associated with the Delta variant (which was first identified there; in dark green). It has had no summer surge, and no new variant since.

Bangladesh

Bangladesh, on the other hand, has had two peaks in 2021, a spring peak associated with the Beta variant (light red) and a summer one associated with the Delta variant.