Day: 29 September 2021

News Round-Up

Biden Administration Plans to Increase Fines on Companies with Unvaccinated Employees

Through a provision attached to the $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” spending bill, the Biden administration is attempting to increase the financial penalty tenfold for companies which continue to employ unvaccinated citizens. Due to previous emergency legislation, Federal law identifies the spread of Covid as a workplace hazard, allowing President Biden to become further unimpeded in his task of fully vaccinating the American workforce if the provision passes both chambers of Congress. MailOnline has the story. 

The increased fines on employers could go as high as $70,000 for serious infractions, and $700,000 for wilful or repeated violations – a sum which can be applied to each instance of a violation rather than a total limit.  

If enacted into law, the fines could rapidly bankrupt companies whose employees are not vaccinated, in effect forcing businesses to comply with Biden’s inoculation drive. 

It comes after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published an emergency Covid rule in the Federal Register this summer, which added Covid to a list of possible workplace hazards for healthcare employment.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not yet announced when the House will vote on the reconciliation bill that includes the new vaccine enforcement mechanism. 

On Thursday September 9th, Biden announced that companies with 100 or more employees must ensure every worker is either fully vaccinated or gets tested at least once a week, or face fines of thousands of dollars.

He also demanded that all workers in healthcare settings that receive Medicaid or Medicare reimbursement – roughly 17 million people – must get vaccinated, and signed an executive order requiring all federal workers and contractors to get vaccinated.

Now, the raise in fines included in the new bill formulates the latest part of the President’s drive to get 100 million employees across the federal government and private sector vaccinated. 

Any business that violates the rule can already face substantial fines of up to $14,000 per incident, but the legislation that has been included in the new $3.5 trillion bill could raise the fines for non-compliance 10 times higher, with a limit of up to $700,000 for each “wilful” or “repeated” violation according to Forbes. 

Worth reading in full.

And Finally…

In this week’s episode of London Calling, James Delingpole and I talk about the fuel crisis (which James inevitably links to the Great Reset), whether Jedi knights are ‘white saviours’ and the cringeworthy second season of Ted Lasso.

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

Premier League to Reward Clubs with Highest Numbers of Vaccinated Players

Amid concerns of a low vaccine uptake among professional footballers, the Premier League has sent a briefing note to all 20 clubs outlining that the body might reward teams for making sure their players are double jabbed. What these potential incentives may be remains unclear. In addition, the Premier League has cited concerns over international travel and the likelihood of vaccine passports being introduced in the near future. The Mail has the story.

The Premier League has written to clubs informing them of plans to “reward” teams who have the highest numbers of vaccinated players

Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante was confirmed on Tuesday as the latest player to contract Covid, forcing him to miss his side’s Champions League clash against Juventus on Wednesday night. 

And Sportsmail can reveal that in a briefing note sent to clubs last week, the Premier League are stepping up their efforts to ensure more players are fully vaccinated due to fears over a slow uptake.

The document read: “According to the data we have, only seven clubs’ squads are more than 50% fully vaccinated, so we have a way to go.”

Sportsmail revealed last week that at least two Premier League sides have no more than six players vaccinated.

But Wolves, Brentford and Leeds have reported between 89 and 100% vaccination levels and there is growing optimism that the figures at other clubs will increase in the coming weeks.

The note continued: “We are considering if and how best we can ‘reward’ those squads/players who are most Covid-compliant and who have opted to be vaccinated.

“It is increasingly clear that full vaccination will be the key criteria for Government and health authorities, in terms of international travel and potential Covid certification at large scale events.”

Worth reading in full.

YouTube to Advance its Crack-Down on Vaccine “Misinformation”

YouTube says it will soon remove any content that argues the Covid vaccine can cause serious side-effects and is unsafe to use. Matt Halprin, the Global Head of Trust and Safety at the Google-owned company, is alarmed by the presence of “vaccine misinformation” across the world. For example, vaccine scepticism relating to concerns over infertility will be struck from the platform. Guardian has the story.

From Wednesday, the video streaming site, which has already banned Covid jab falsehoods, will take down content that claims any approved vaccine is dangerous and causes chronic health defects. Under previous guidelines, the platform demoted – effectively hiding from view – videos that spread misinformation about non-Covid vaccines or promoted vaccine hesitancy.

Last year, YouTube implemented a ban on Covid vaccine misinformation videos, which has led to 130,000 pieces of content being taken down since then. YouTube, which is owned by Google, has removed a total of 1m videos for spreading general Covid falsehoods since the pandemic broke out.

Matt Halprin… said vaccine misinformation was a global problem and had spilled over from the spreading of falsehoods about Covid jabs.

“Vaccine misinformation appears globally, it appears in all countries and cultures,” he said.

Halprin added that falsehoods around the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, which has been wrongly attributed to causing autism, were an example of the misinformation YouTube will target.

“There is still a lot of challenges around MMR and people arguing whether that causes autism. And as we know, the science is very stable that vaccines do not cause autism,” he said.

Worth reading in full.

Vatican Imposes Vaccine Passport Checks on Staff

Vatican staff – including the most senior members of the Catholic church – who choose not to fulfil their “moral duty” of getting vaccinated against Covid will be forced to undergo a regular testing regime or will be refused work (and, more importantly, pay). Pope Francis believes the mandate is acceptable because “humanity has a history of friendship with vaccines”. MailOnline has the story.

Vatican employees without the proper certificates proving they are either vaccinated or have returned a negative Covid test would be considered “unjustly absent” and would be paid no salary, according to the Washington Post.

Pope Francis was vaccinated in January and has advocated for Roman Catholics to get the jab, with the firm stance from the Holy See being seen as a message to Catholics across the word.

Vaccine mandates have become a contentious issue around the world, with some debating whether they can be refused on the grounds of religious exemptions.

In the case of the Vatican, no exemptions have been announced so far, although it noted that the issue would be discussed with the Secretary of State in consultation with the city-state’s health department.

The new rules are set to go into force from October 1st.

The Vatican has said that it considers it acceptable for Catholics to use vaccines, even those that use stem cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research. …

“It’s a bit strange because humanity has a history of friendship with vaccines,” [the Pope said earlier this month] after a visit to Slovakia, according to BBC News.

“Even in the College of Cardinals there are some vaccine negationists but one of them, poor thing, has been hospitalized with the virus. These are the ironies of life,” he added, in an apparent reference to U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, who is a vaccine sceptic.

Cardinal Burke is now out of hospital recovering from his Covid infection.

Worth reading in full.

PM to Appoint Chair of Public Inquiry into Government’s Handling of Covid by Christmas

After meeting members of the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice on Tuesday – far too late, according to the group – the Prime Minister has signalled that he will appoint a Chair for the public inquiry into his Government’s response to Covid by Christmas. Whoever is appointed, it is likely that the inquiry will focus on questions that presume ministers were right to lock the country down in the first place (e.g. “Did we lock down too late?”, not “Did the costs of lockdown outweigh the benefits?”). Sky News has the story.

In May, [the Prime Minister] announced an independent public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic will begin in the spring of next year.

“Although we wish this meeting had taken place a long time ago, we’re pleased that the Prime Minister has chosen to finally engage with us and that he explicitly acknowledged the importance of ensuring that bereaved families are at the heart of learning lessons from the pandemic,” the group said in a statement after the meeting.

“However, we are still disappointed by the lack of urgency the Prime Minister displayed as we see no reason why preparations for the inquiry cannot begin now, particularly as nearly 1,000 people are still losing their lives each week.”

They said Mr. Johnson must deliver on his commitments, adding: “We hope that we can accept the Prime Minister’s commitments in good faith and, going forward, that there will be ongoing and meaningful dialogue with bereaved families.”

The group had asked for the meeting to be held outside with social distancing in place.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister gave a commitment that the Chair of the inquiry would be appointed by Christmas.

“He set out that for now it is right that public servants continue to focus their efforts on tackling the pandemic before moving on to the inquiry in the spring of next year.

“He welcomed the opportunity to hear from Bereaved Families for Justice on the areas they would like the inquiry to cover and the importance of choosing the right chair and panel members, and reiterated that he takes full responsibility for the Government’s handling of the pandemic.

Worth reading in full.

Unvaccinated Freshers Arriving at University Told to Wear Wristbands so they can be Identified

First year students at Bath are being given wristbands by university authorities to signal whether they’ve been double-jabbed amid anger at emerging “two-tier” university campuses. The Telegraph has more.

Students arriving this week at the University of Bath have been given a different coloured wristband on club nights if they can prove in advance they are double jabbed, or have COVID-19 immunity.

COVID-19 passports are required for nightclub or arena events in Bath students’ union, but those who can only show a negative lateral flow test enter through a different queue.

Parents expressed alarm at “vaccine passports by stealth” as millions of students return for the first Freshers’ Week in two years, despite the Government ditching plans for the certificates for venues in England.

At Sheffield University, students must present a COVID-19 pass to enter freshers events or union nights out, with double-jabbed students and those with negative tests offered separate wristbands to jump queues.

Meanwhile, Cambridge University and two Oxford colleges have asked students to disclose their Covid vaccination status to staff.

Worth reading in full.

School Closures May Have Caused Large Rise in Illiteracy in India

Evidence to date indicates that school closures led to sizeable learning losses (at least in the short run), and that these were concentrated among children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

As to why children from disadvantaged backgrounds were more affected by school closures, there are a number of possibilities, including differences in parental support, access to high-speed broadband, and the use of private tuition.

In the developing world, large segments of the population have little or no access to broadband, let alone private tuition. So you might expect the impact of school closures would be particularly pronounced there. And indeed, this appears to be the case.

A recent survey in India illustrates just how much the developing world’s poorest students rely on in-person teaching. The survey, carried out in August by a group of independent researchers called Road Scholarz, interviewed almost 1,400 households from 15 of India’s 36 states and union territories.

The sample is not nationally representative. Rather, the researchers aimed to collect data on India’s ‘scheduled castes and scheduled tribes’ (those that have low status within the country’s caste system). So while 25% of the general population belongs to those groups, 60% of the sample respondents did.  

The researchers note that schools in India have been closed for more than 500 days, and that only “a small minority of privileged children were able to study online in the safety and comfort of their own homes”.

They report results separately for households in urban versus rural areas, given that levels of income tend to be higher in the former group. The results are startling.

As a test of literacy, children in the survey were asked to read a simple sentence in Hindi (“since the coronavirus pandemic, schools have been closed”). And those who read the sentence “fluently” or “with difficulty” were judged to be literate.

The table below gives the percentage of literate children aged 10–14 in different groups, as well as the corresponding figures from the 2011 census. Values in the census column are population-weighted averages of the figures for the 15 states covered by the survey.

In none of the groups were more than 74% of children judged to be literate, based on what the researchers note is a very broad definition of that term. By contrast, the figure from the last census was 91%. And that was using the narrower definition of being able to “read and write with understanding in any language”.

The New ONS Study Claiming Masks Cut Infection Risk in Half and Vaccines are Better Than Natural Immunity is Riddled With Problems

What do you do when people have spotted that infection rates are higher in the vaccinated than the unvaccinated and are spreading this ‘misinformation‘ on the internet?

It appears that you commission the ONS to come up with a model that fixes the problem. Or rather, in this case, three models.

The ONS on Monday published a new ‘technical article‘ based on its Covid Infection Survey that provides “analysis of populations in the U.K. by risk of testing positive for COVID-19”. It covers the two-week period August 29th to September 11th, though regular updates are now promised.

It involves no fewer than three models, briefly summarised as:

Our first model, Model 1 (the core model), predicts the likelihood of an individual testing positive based on general demographic characteristics in order to help identify broad groups where infections are persisting or arising. …

We then built upon Model 1 resulting in Model 2, the screening model. This includes the core demographic characteristics from Model 1 and incorporates other characteristics individually to identify other factors associated with testing positive for COVID-19. …

Finally, Model 3 (the behaviours model) adds behaviour variables to the core demographic characteristics from Model 1 and the screened characteristics that were kept in Model 2.

I’m sure this talk of models built on models is filling you with confidence.

I’m not sure it filled the authors with very much confidence, though, as their main findings are stated without specific figures:

● People who had received one or two doses of a coronavirus vaccine were less likely to test positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) in the fortnight ending September 11th 2021.

● People living in a household of three or more occupants were more likely to test positive for COVID-19 in the fortnight ending September 11th 2021.

● Those in younger age groups were more likely to test positive for COVID-19 in the fortnight ending September 11th 2021.

● People who never wore a face covering in enclosed spaces were more likely to test positive for COVID-19 in the fortnight ending September 11th 2021.

● Those who reported socially distanced contact with 11 or more people aged 18 to 69 years outside their household were more likely to test positive for COVID-19, in the fortnight ending September 11th 2021.

The media made much of the mask finding, with the Mail declaring: “People who don’t wear face masks indoors are up to TWICE as likely to test positive for Covid.”