Day: 28 September 2021

Australia: New South Wales Police Commissioner Refuses to Enforce Vaccine Passport Rules

The Police Commissioner of New South Wales, Mick Fuller, has said his officers will not be checking the vaccine status of people in restaurants, cafes or pubs, in defiance of the Health Minister’s insistence that it is the police’s responsibility. The Guardian has the story.

The Government is preparing to make public health orders that bar unvaccinated people from entry to certain businesses and venues, until at least December 1st.

Attention has quickly turned to how the orders will be enforced, and whether the onus will fall on individual businesses. Questions about enforcement prompted conflicting accounts on Tuesday.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said… his officers would not be patrolling venues to enforce vaccine status.

“The role of police in terms of vaccine passports, we will not be walking through restaurants, cafes and pubs checking if people are double vaccinated,” he said.

“[But] we will certainly be assisting restaurant owners and shop owners if they are refusing entry to someone – we’ll certainly respond to assist those people.”

Speaking to the media later on Tuesday, Health Minister Brad Hazzard said police would be responsible for enforcing the public health orders.

“If the law says you have to be double vaccinated, then of course the police will enforce that, they have no choice but to enforce that,” he said.

Hazzard also indicated venues wouldn’t face fines if an unvaccinated person was allowed entry. Asked why businesses would bother to argue with unvaccinated people if they are not to face a penalty, Hazzard criticised the media for obsessing over minutiae.

Worth reading in full.

What Is the Nursing and Midwifery Council Doing About Nursing Shortages?

We’re publishing an original post today by Dr. Ann Bradshaw, a retired Senior Lecturer in Adult Health Care at Oxford Brookes University. She notes that the Government is importing nurses from Kenya as a stop-gap measure to address the shortage of trained nurses, but she isn’t happy with the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s (NMC) proposals to address the crisis long-term. Here is an extract:

The NMC is planning a new policy that will reduce placement practice and replace it with simulation in the classroom. This is despite a promise made to the Government in 1988, in response to Secretary of State John Moores. He granted permission to move nurse training to higher education, but warned of “fears that the changes would place nurse education predominantly in a classroom setting, thus unacceptably reducing the practical, patient-orientated content of training”. In fact, he placed on record the joint understanding that nursing education must retain its clinical focus and students would not spend substantially less time in clinical areas than at present. (Letter of John Moores to Audrey Emerton, May 20th 1988).

And the NMC policy is not only reneging on the professional body’s promise to John Moores but also betrays its official response to the Francis Report, which stated categorically that nursing students would continue to spend half their training in clinical settings (albeit as supernumerary learners rather than as salaried members of the workforce).

Worth reading in full.

The Staggering Hypocrisy of the University and College Union

There follows a guest post by a senior academic at a large city-centre based university. He noticed that at a recent fringe at the Labour Party Conference addressed by Jo Grady, General Secretary of the University and College Union, almost no one in the audience was social distancing or wearing a mask. Yet the UCU has been absolutely insistent that it’s not ‘safe’ for its members to return to face-to-face teaching unless mandatory masking and social distancing mandates are in place across university campuses.

The University and College Union (UCU) has earned a reputation for being one of the most active unions in the U.K. It has also been one of the most vociferous pro-lockdown voices in the country. In October last year it threatened to take the Government to court in order, essentially to prevent students being permitted to return to campus in January. This year its aim is to ensure that universities mandate mask wearing, install expensive new ventilation systems, and maintain social distancing on site. Speaking from personal experience as a member of staff at a large city-centre based university, I can also confirm that local branches are equally strident, and that most staff meetings (still being held online, of course) tend to devolve into bouts of hand-wringing about how “unsafe” UCU members feel about having to teach students face-to-face.

So it was with interest that I studied this photograph, taken at the UCU fringe event held at the Labour Party conference on Sunday when the General Secretary, Jo Grady, was speaking. Note the distinct lack of mask-wearing or social-distancing.

Shared initially on twitter, this photo was quickly deleted (I happened to snap it on my phone, suspecting it would not be online for very long), and replaced with this pathetic apology/explanation. Jo Grady is apparently more interested in avoiding giving offence to the immunocompromised than she is in defending herself from the absolute hypocrisy that she has displayed. Her broader position seems to be that it’s okay for her to take a sensible approach to risk-taking, but not university students, academic staff or university administrators – presumably because they are too stupid or lacking in virtue.

What is behind the UCU’s stand on masks and social distancing? It can’t really be about stopping the spread of Covid – judging by this photo at least, the UCU movers and shakers certainly don’t feel such safety measures to be necessary. I don’t doubt that some members do still feel “unsafe” (I do know of a few). But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this has now for the most part simply become a glorified tantrum on the part of academics about having to pull their fingers out and do some work.

University lecturers have, by and large, had a good pandemic. Teaching online is a breeze: many lecturers have just been uploading old recordings of lectures and putting in a desultory performance at Zoom or Teams tutorials for the past 18 months. This has allowed them to focus on doing what they really care about: writing boring and unreadable papers about obscure topics interesting only to themselves, and tweeting. Those with young families have no doubt struggled, as in any other sector. But those who haven’t have found much to like about the Covid restrictions.

They are now being forced to return to normal – facing students in the classroom and actually having to therefore put some effort into teaching them. A significant minority don’t like this prospect, and are being dragged kicking and screaming back to campus. Making a big fuss about “safety” is the focal point for their rage: as any good psychologist will tell you, when somebody can’t openly express what they are really angry about (for example, having to actually do something in return for receiving a big fat salary), they find something else to make a fuss over (students not wearing masks). This, I think, explains an awful lot of the motivations of many UCU members.

I would like to close this piece by reminding readers that not all academic staff are UCU members, and in my experience a decent majority of lecturers are enjoying the return to proper teaching. Sadly, as so often in life, it is a relatively small but very loud-mouthed minority who are making things difficult for the rest of us.

Vaccine Passports Back on Table as U.K. Government Seeks Public Views on Winter Plan

The U.K. Government is asking for public feedback on the use of domestic vaccine passports in indoor and outdoor venues if cases threaten to overwhelm the NHS this winter. The “Plan B” proposals could see nightclubs, concert halls, sporting events and outdoor festivals require proof of Covid vaccination status, with the opportunity to add more venues if necessary. The Telegraph has the story.

Ministers last night insisted the Government needed to be prepared to “act swiftly” and adopt measures such as vaccine passports “at short notice” if there were “unsustainable pressures” on the NHS as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health Minister Maggie Troup said: “While we are totally confident the careful steps we are taking will help rule out the need for mandatory vaccine certificates, we need to be prepared for all scenarios.

“We know these kinds of contingency plans will only work if businesses and the public get to have their say and I’m urging everyone who could have to use certification: give us your views, give us your ideas.”

Industry and the public have been given until October 11th to respond to the planned vaccine passports, which would be mandatory for all adults over 18 attending the prescribed venues, and will require legislation.

Under the plan, only double-vaccinated people would be certified by the passports. Negative Covid tests and proof of natural immunity after recently recovering from the virus would no longer be permitted.

Worth reading in full.

If you don’t want to see vaccine passports introduced this Winter, please respond to the Government’s consultation here.

Norway Ends Lockdown After 561 Days of “Toughest Measures” in Peacetime

Mass celebrations and street brawls followed Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s lifting of all lockdown measures – including the need to prove your vaccination status – at 4pm on Saturday, having given less than 24 hours’ notice. Despite urging continued vaccine uptake, the PM insisted the country would not implement strict Covid measures “unless they are professionally justified”. MailOnline has the story.

The Prime Minister’s unexpected unlocking kicked off boozy celebrations the following afternoon which lasted late into Saturday night, with an impromptu rave in Stavanger, a mass brawl in Tønsberg and no less [sic] than 50 fights reported to police in Oslo.

Neither vaccination status nor a negative test result was required for any venue, leading to blockbusting queues outside nightclubs and restaurants packed with dinner reservations as people returned to their favourite hangouts in droves.

Queues for the clubs in Trondheim were so long that several people fainted while waiting to get inside.

Police in the city reported a generally good-natured atmosphere, with revellers singing the national anthem in the streets.

In Tønsberg, police were called after a group of around 10 young men started scrapping outside a nightclub near the pier. Fortunately nobody was seriously injured and the police arrested a 20 year-old man. 

The chaos on the streets provoked an angry response from some, including nightclub manager Johan Hoeeg Haanes in Oslo, who said the Prime Minister could have given more warning.

“That’s exactly what I predicted would happen,” he told the VG newspaper. “It was a life-threatening situation in the city because they [the Government] didn’t give us at least a few days advance notice. This was a dangerous situation, as police said all places were packed.”  

However, others were grateful to be getting back to business despite the challenges for staff.

Worth reading in full.

Community Masking: Where did ‘The Science’ Come From?

Before 2020, evidence for the efficacy of community masking – that is, asking ordinary members of the public to wear cloth or surgical masks when going about their business – was shaky at best.

This evidence was reviewed in detail by Jeffrey Anderson, a former director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. He notes that:

of the 14 RCTs that have tested the effectiveness of masks in preventing the transmission of respiratory viruses, three suggest, but do not provide any statistically significant evidence in intention-to-treat analysis, that masks might be useful. The other eleven suggest that masks are either useless—whether compared with no masks or because they appear not to add to good hand hygiene alone—or actually counterproductive.

In another piece that’s well worth reading, Professor Steve Templeton provides a list of quotations from what he calls “the BP era” (Before Things Got Political). Each quotation, taken from one or other expert, testifies to the lack of evidence that community masking works against respiratory pathogens.

For example, in a systematic review published early last year, Jingyi Xiao and colleagues “did not find evidence that surgical-type face masks are effective in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza transmission, either when worn by infected persons… or by persons in the general  community to reduce their susceptibility”.

This is presumably why, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, health authorities in both the U.K. and the U.S. advised against community masking.

For example, on 4th March 2020, Chris Whitty told Sky News that “wearing a mask if you don’t have an infection reduces the risk almost not at all”. And as late as 3rd April, Jonathan Van Tam said “there is no evidence that general wearing of face masks… affects the spread of the disease”.

Likewise, in a tweet sent on 27th February, the CDC said that it “does not currently recommend the use of facemasks”. And two days later, the U.S. Surgeon General urged people to “STOP BUYING MASKS” because they are “NOT effective” at preventing the general public from catching coronavirus.

In a video interview from May of 2019, Anthony Fauci actually laughed at the notion of wearing a face mask. The interviewer asks him, “The best way for me to prevent getting an infectious disease… is what? Wearing a mask?” To which Fauci replies, “No, no no… you avoid all the paranoid aspects.”

Yet by the summer of 2020, the health authorities in both countries had done an about-face, and were now recommending face masks to the public. These recommendations subsequently became mandates.

‘The Science,’ in other words, had changed. But what prompted this change? The charitable answer is that new evidence emerged suggesting that community masking does work against SARS-CoV-2. However, this new evidence looks just as shaky – if not shakier – than the pre-Covid evidence.