Day: 1 October 2021

Deaths Among Teenagers Up 56% Since Vaccine Roll-Out Began

A post on the Daily Exposé on Thursday showed concerning statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicating that deaths among teenagers over the summer have increased significantly on the previous year, coinciding with the vaccine roll-out.

I dug into the data a bit and I have to say I agree that it looks worrying. I’ve plotted above the deaths among 15-19 year-olds by week for 2020 and 2021. (Unfortunately the equivalent data isn’t available for previous years as prior to 2020 the breakdown was into 1-14 and 15-44 year-olds.)

The marked divergence around week 23 broadly corresponds to when the vaccination programme among the age group was being ramped up, as indicated below.

Blame Lockdown – Not Brexit – For Shortages

There’s a good piece in UnHerd today by macroeconomist Philip Pilkington who argues that lockdown – not Brexit – is to blame for the lack of drivers that is causing shortages of petrol and other goods. He draws attention to the fact that the Government’s lockdown policies drove foreign workers back to their home countries (often because “the dole is better where they came from on the Continent”) and stunted the process of old lorry drivers being replied with new ones. Here is an extract.

People are quick to blame whatever political topic is at the top of their mind, and Brexit is an enormously popular choice – and no prizes for guessing why. But domestic concerns are unlikely to explain the shortages and inflation, as the international statistics show. Britain may have had Brexit, but the United States certainly did not – and a bottle of whiskey for anyone who can explain to me how the euro area could leave the European Union.

The driver of the immediate trends seems to be a lack of actual drivers – truck drivers, in particular. Where did they all go? Once again, the stuffed Brexit bear is wheeled out – but he is not very scary. Foreign labour was not scared out of Britain due to an abstract legal change; it was driven out by the Government’s lockdown policies in response to the pandemic, which shuffled many from their jobs onto a souped-up dole. Many realised that the dole is better where they came from on the Continent, especially relative to the cost of living, and so they left.

Data published by the ONS shows this clearly. Between January and April 2019 – when Brexit was but months away – around 200,000 visa applications were being registered in Britain. In January and February 2020, after Brexit had happened, these numbers held up. But in March and April, as the lockdown set in, they collapsed to zero. European citizens making applications for the E.U. Settlement Scheme collapsed, too, from around 350,000 in January 2020 to around 50,000 in April. It wasn’t Brexit.

The truck driver shortage is hitting my home country of Ireland too – a nation that not only stayed in the E.U., but has spent the last few years reminding everyone who will listen that they stayed in the E.U.

On top of the exodus caused by lockdown restrictions, the lockdown also delayed the process of replacing those drivers with new ones. So if you apply for a driving test today, you will not get a date for at least six months. Given that many people fail the first time around, it is not unreasonable to say that it could take up to a year to get a licence in today’s Britain – more if you add on the time it takes to do lessons. This has led to a shortage of new drivers.

Worth reading in full.

New South Wales Premier Resigns over Investigation into “Breach of Public Trust”

The Premier of New South Wales (NSW) has resigned following the announcement that the Australian state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is investigating her conduct between 2012 and 2018 that “constituted or involved a breach of public trust”. Reuters has the story.

Berejiklian’s shock resignation comes as the state, which has an economy larger than Singapore, Thailand or Malaysia, battles the biggest Covid outbreak in the country and is poised to begin ending months-long lockdowns as Australia sets to reopen international borders in November.

Berejiklian said the issues being investigated were “historical matters” but she felt compelled to resign because of the long time frames likely to be involved in the investigation. She also said the state needed certainty over its leadership amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I state categorically I have always acted with the highest level of integrity,” she said at a news conference.

The ICAC said in a statement on its website that it will hold further public hearings as part of its ongoing investigation, Operation Keppel, on October 18th.

That investigation has already heard Berejiklian was once in a secret relationship with a state legislator who is the focus of its corruption investigation. …

Berejiklian is the second NSW premier to resign because of an ICAC investigation. NSW leader Barry O’Farrell quit in 2014 after giving evidence in which he forgot to tell the commission he had accepted a gift of a $3,000 bottle of Grange wine.

Berejiklian said she had told ministers in her Government if they were the subject of an integrity investigation they should stand aside until their name was cleared, but in her case, as Premier this wasn’t an option. She will leave parliament as soon as a by-election can take place. …

Berejiklian gave evidence at an ICAC hearing 12 months ago, and denied any wrong doing.

ICAC on Friday said the scope of its investigation had widened and includes whether between 2012 and 2018 Berejiklian “engaged in conduct that constituted or involved a breach of public trust by exercising public functions in circumstances where she was in a position of conflict between her public duties and her private interest” as she was in a personal relationship with the then NSW MP Daryl Maguire.

The potential breach involved grant funding promised to community organisations in Maguire’s electorate of Wagga Wagga, and whether she failed to report, or encouraged, corrupt conduct by Maguire. Maguire’s legal representative declined to comment.

Worth reading in full.

“Dial 999” If You’re “Really Concerned” about a Police Officer, Says Former Scotland Yard Senior Officer

Prompted by the sentencing of Wayne Couzens for kidnapping, raping and murdering Sarah Everard in a case that has raised awareness about the level of confusion over the powers handed to the police by ’emergency’ coronavirus legislation, Scotland Yard has issued advice for those approached by an undercover officer. MailOnline has the story.

Scotland Yard said in a statement that it is “unusual for a single plain clothes police officer to engage with anyone in London”, although it can happen.

They said that an lone officer could be seeking to arrest you, but if they do then you should “expect to see other officers arrive shortly afterwards”.

As of yesterday the Metropolitan Police announced they would not deploy plain clothes officers on their own.

Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House said: “We will not operate plain clothes officers on their own. If we do use them, they will be in pairs.”

However he said there will be “occasions” where that is not possible – such as when a pair of officers are split up – and noted that off-duty officers [will] not [be] in uniform. …

You would expect a lone police officer who is arresting you to soon be joined by backup, although it is possible that this might not happen and you are still alone.

Scotland Yard said in this case that it was “entirely reasonable for you to seek further reassurance of that officer’s identity and intentions”.

The Met said it advises people to “ask some very searching questions of that officer”, including:

~ “Where are your colleagues?”

~ “Where have you come from?”

~ “Why are you here?”

~ “Exactly why are you stopping or talking to me?”

Former Scotland Yard Senior Officer Parm Sandhu told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that there were things people could do if they were concerned about an arrest.

She said that people should not get into the vehicle unless it’s a marked police vehicle and ask to see the radio, or ask the arresting officer to call their colleagues and make sure they are on duty. She added: “If you’re really concerned dial 999.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Peter Hitchens asks how does “such a person become a police officer and *remain[ed]* one” in the first place.

Air Filtration/UV Light Can Remove Airborne SARS-CoV-2 From Hospital Wards, Study Finds

In a study published earlier this year, Paul McKeigue and colleagues analysed data on all diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Scotland, as well as a large number of matched controls. They found that a staggering 30% of severe cases (those that resulted in critical care admission or death) were linked to a recent hospital visit.

This suggests widespread nosocomial transmission of SARS-CoV-2. In other words, a lot of people caught their infections in hospital, and then became seriously ill.

The fact that such a large portion of severe cases were linked to a recent hospital visit is actually not so surprising. After all, people vulnerable to COVID-19 (the elderly and persons with underlying health conditions) are overrepresented among those who make frequent hospital visits.

Nonetheless, it’s rather concerning that hospitals – places where people are meant to come out healthier than they go in – were a major site of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.  

Given that COVID-19 patients, as well as those vulnerable to COVID-19, tend to be concentrated in hospitals, making efforts to reduce nosocomial transmission would seem like a top priority. Indeed, one would expect interventions that did reduce such transmission to have a large benefit/cost ratio.

Which makes a new preprint so interesting. Andrew Conway-Morris and colleagues investigated whether airborne SARS-CoV-2 could be removed from hospital wards using portable devices that filter and sterilise the air.

Their experiment involved two units within an English hospital: an ordinary Covid ward, and an ICU containing Covid patients. The presence of airborne SARS-CoV-2 was measured during three consecutive weeks: one in which the devices were turned off; one in which they were turned on; and one in which they were turned off again.

In addition to measuring the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the researchers measured the presence of various other microbial bioaerosols, such as E. coli and staphylococcus. Their results for the Covid ward are shown in the figure below.

When the devices were turned off, many microbial bioaerosols (including SARS-CoV-2) were detected. Yet when they were turned on, all of these except candida were undetectable. This means the devices were successful in removing not only SARS-CoV-2, but also other potentially dangerous pathogens.

As the authors note, SARS-CoV-2 was detected on “all five days before activation of air/UV filtration, but on none of the five days when the air/UV filter was operational”. The virus was again detected on “four out of five days when the filter was off”.

Interestingly, SARS-CoV-2 was barely detected in the ICU (regardless of whether the devices were turned on). This may be because viral shedding is lower among critically ill patients, or because ICU staff were wearing proper N95 masks.

It’s important to note: the study didn’t show that the devices actually prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in hospitals. However, the results constitute strong circumstantial evidence that they would reduce transmission.

While attempting to halt transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in the community at large is costly at best and futile at worst, attempting to do so in high-risk hospital environments makes a great deal of sense. Further investigation into the efficacy of these devices is clearly warranted.  

Canary in the Cultural Coalmine

There’s a terrific interview with lockdown sceptic hero Lionel Shriver in the latest issue of the Critic. The interviewer is Robin Ashenden, someone I commissioned to write several essays and interviews when I was an Associate Editor of Quillette. Lionel doesn’t actually talk about the events of the past 18 months, but has plenty of interesting things to say about the attempt by the authoritarian left to police novelists and literature – a trend she has courageously resisted. Here is an extract.

What would you say are your detractors’ main objections to you?

I suspect my most egregious transgressions are those of tone. I am direct. I don’t hedge my points. I don’t preface my statements with a lot of “of course slavery was terrible” stuff, which is a waste of time, and I don’t qualify my positions. Multiple other authors have claimed that they can be “culturally appropriate” because they’re so respectful and they do so much humble homework, but other writers aren’t likely to be so magnificently sensitive, so those people shouldn’t put their sticky fingers on another culture’s sacred stuff.

I think this whole fake taboo is patently absurd, and all writers, no matter how talentless, careless, or crass, have a moral right to make up whatever characters they want. That kind of unabridged assertion drives the opposition insane. The other thing that drives them nuts is a sense of humour. I make jokes. Being droll about subjects that are meant to be deadly serious shoves an electric cattle prod right up the wokester ass. Of course, in my detractors’ terms I am a racist, ableist, white-supremacist, colonialist, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, hate-speech-spewing Islamophobe. Yawn.

Worth reading in full.