Day: 7 October 2021

Just Seven Countries Left on Government’s ‘Red List’

47 countries have been removed from the Government’s ‘Red List’ in what has been described as one of the biggest reopenings of overseas travel since the pandemic began. The Telegraph has the story.

Only seven countries will remain on the list which requires travellers to be quarantined in a hotel on their return to the U.K. at a cost of £2,285 per person.

Ministers also abandoned plans to force holidaymakers to video themselves taking tests after a backlash from the travel industry, which argued that it would be costly and a logistical nightmare for families.

The Government is confident that the more expensive PCR tests will be scrapped in time for October half term, with families allowed to use cheaper lateral flow tests when they return to the U.K.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said: “With half-term and winter sun around the corner, we’re making it easier for families and loved ones to reunite, by significantly cutting the number of destinations on the Red List, thanks in part to the increased vaccination efforts around the globe.”

Winter sun destinations including Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, Seychelles, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Brazil and Bali in Indonesia will be removed from the Red List at 4am on Monday, as will popular safari resorts in Tanzania, Botswana and Namibia.

The seven countries remaining on the Red List are Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Haiti, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

Nine of the 47 countries, including Argentina and Uruguay, remain closed to Britons unless they have exceptional reasons to travel to them. There are also growing fears the U.S. will maintain its ban on British holidaymakers until Thanksgiving at the end of November.

Mr. Shapps succeeded in killing off Department of Health proposals for fully jabbed travellers to video themselves taking lateral flow tests while supervised by a health adviser from a private firm.

Holidaymakers will now only be required to send a picture of their test kit result, possibly with ID such as a passport.

Worth reading in full.

Is Tom Chivers Right to Say PCR False Positives are “So Rare” they can be Ignored?

Tom Chivers at UnHerd has published an article headlined “PCRs are not as reliable as you might think“, sub-headlined “Government policy on testing is worryingly misleading”. The core argument of the article is that due to high rates of false negatives, a positive lateral flow test followed by a negative ‘confirmation’ PCR should be treated as a positive. I pass no comment on this. However, the article makes a claim that itself needs to be fact checked. It’s been quite a long time since PCR accuracy last came up as a topic, but this article provides a good opportunity to revisit some (perhaps lesser known) points about what can go wrong with PCR testing.

The claim that I want to quibble with is:

False positives are so rare that we can ignore them.

Claims about the false positive (FP) rate of PCR tests often turn out on close inspection to be based on circular logic or invalid assumptions of some kind. Nonetheless, there are several bits of good news here. Chivers – being a cut above most science journalists – does provide a citation for this claim. The citation is a good one: it’s the official position statement from the U.K. Office for National Statistics. The ONS doesn’t merely make an argument from authority, but directly explains why it believes this to be true using evidence – and multiple arguments for its position are presented. Finally, the arguments are of a high quality and appear convincing, at least initially. This is exactly the sort of behaviour we want from journalists and government agencies, so it’s worth explicitly praising it here, even if we may find reasons to disagree – and disagree I do.

Please note that in what follows I don’t try to re-calculate a corrected FP rate, alternative case numbers or to argue that Covid is a “casedemic”.

Let’s begin.

American Woman Removed From Kidney Transplant Waiting List Because She’s Unvaccinated

We’re used to reading about people being refused work – and even education – because they’ve not been vaccinated against Covid, but it is perhaps a new low that a Colorado woman has been refused medical treatment because she’s not had the jab. Leilani Lutali says she has been marked as “inactive” on a kidney transplant waiting list for her act of “non-compliance”. Sky News has the story.

Leilani Lutali shared with U.S. media a letter she received from the UCHealth Transplant Center near Denver, which stated she would be removed from the transplant list unless she begins the vaccine process within 30 days.

The letter, which was also shared on Twitter by state representative Tim Geitner, said the patient would be placed as “inactive” on the transplant waiting list for “non-compliance by not receiving the Covid vaccine”.

The letter read: “The transplant team at University of Colorado Hospital has determined that it is necessary to place you inactive on the waiting list.

“You will be inactivated on the list for non-compliance by not receiving the Covid vaccine. You will have 30 days to begin the vaccination series.

“If your decision is to refuse Covid vaccination you will be removed from the kidney transplant list.

“You will continue to accrue waiting time but you will not receive a kidney offer while listed inactive.”

Speaking to CBS News, Ms. Lutali, who has stage five renal failure, said she has not taken the vaccine because there are too many unknowns.

She said she only found out that the hospital was now requiring both herself and the donor to be vaccinated on September 28th.

“It’s surgery, it’s invasive. I sign a waiver for my life. I’m not sure why I can’t sign a waiver for the Covid shot,” she said.

Her donor Jaimee Fougner, who received the same letter from UCHealth, told the broadcaster she has not received the vaccine for religious reasons.

Ms. Fougner said: “It’s your choice on what treatment you have. In Leilani’s case, the choice has been taken from her. Her life has now been held hostage because of this mandate.”

The women have said they are now looking for another hospital to perform the transplant but have yet to find one.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: You can read the full letter sent to Leilani Lutali by the UCHealth Transplant Center here.

Local Councils Still Encouraging Schools to Ramp Up Restrictions

Many local councils are still under the impression that it is not safe for schools to return to normal and are pushing for the return of face masks (which Nadhim Zahawi hasn’t ruled out) and other measures to ‘combat Covid’. If they succed, this will “make a mockery of the Education Secretary’s plans to keep children in the classroom”, says the campaign group UsForThem. The Telegraph has the story.

Local councils have been accused by parents of employing “militant Lefty” health chiefs who are advising schools to ramp up Covid measures to control the spread of the virus in schools.

Headteachers have been told by ministers that many of the restrictions which were in place last academic year are no longer necessary. However, as cases rise in schools, public health teams have been called in to advise that measures are stepped up.

Devon County Council has said it is now “encouraging” all secondary school pupils to wear face masks in communal areas, while City of Wolverhampton Council is also asking students to do so. 

Cumbria County Council’s Director of Public Health has told children to self-isolate if one of their siblings tests positive for the virus. They say pupils should get a PCR test after three to five days and only return to school if they get a negative result.

This contradicts national guidance, which says pupils should be off school only if they test positive for Covid-19 or are showing symptoms.

Meanwhile, Staffordshire County Council has given teachers a list of “recommended controls” that can be used to prevent Covid outbreaks, which includes bringing back bubbles to limit contact between pupils as well as staggered lunch and break times. The council said these were measures that schools “may potentially want to consider on a case-by-case basis”.

Haringey Council in London said “additional temporary preventative measures (such as bubbles)” were being put in place in schools with rising cases. And Peterborough City Council wrote to parents this week to remind them that headteachers have the right to “refuse access to school to protect other pupils and staff from possible infection with Covid” if they believe a pupil has symptoms.

Wigan Council’s Director of Public Health has introduced a “suite of measures” after a rise in cases at a local school, including face masks in the classroom and asking siblings of children who test positive to isolate.

Ministers have been urged to “rein in” local public health directors and ensure the children’s education is prioritised.

Molly Kingsley, Co-Founder of the parent campaign group UsForThem, said: “Public health teams appear to be too quick to impose disproportionate restrictions on children’s education and lives again. The Department for Education needs to crack down on councils and schools who are overreaching.

“It is really depressing that we are barely one month into term and we are already seeing these restrictions creep back into schools. This will probably get worse and worse and will make a mockery of the Education Secretary’s plans to keep children in the classroom”.

Worth reading in full.

Education Secretary Reveals that ‘Plan B’ for Schools Includes Mask Mandates

Schools will not reintroduce the policy of ‘bubbles’ to protect pupils against coronavirus, Nadhim Zahawi says, but he hasn’t ruled out a return of face masks. The Telegraph has more.

He said he had contingency plans to keep schools open, but told Sky News: “I don’t want to return to bubbles because actually, you saw the fall off in attendance which really does harm mental wellbeing, mental health of children.”

Mr Zahawi did not, however, rule out the return of the wearing of masks in the classroom in England.

He said: “We’ve got a contingency plan, as you would expect me to do… it contains lots of contingencies, including masks, absolutely.”

The bubble system, which led to whole year groups being sent home to self-isolate for 10 days because one of their classmates tested positive, was scrapped by the Government after more than one million pupils were kept off school in July.

The controversial approach was stopped on July 19th, as Boris Johnson announced that the “obvious way forward” was testing pupils rather than sending large numbers of children home to self-isolate. …

The mandatory wearing of face coverings in schools and colleges was scrapped in May, but Government guidance says that directors of public health could advise schools to reintroduce them if cases spike.

Worth reading in full.

Sweden Suspends Use of Moderna Covid Vaccine in Under-30s Due to Concerns about Side Effects

Swedish health authorities have suspended the use of the Moderna Covid vaccine in people aged 30 and under due to concerns about side effects, including inflammation of the heart muscle. The Independent has the story.

The reason for the pausing is “signals of an increased risk of side effects such as inflammation of the heart muscle or the pericardium” – the double-walled sac containing the heart and the roots of the main vessels, Sweden’s Public Health Agency said in a statement. “The risk of being affected is very small.” 

Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s Chief Epidemiologist, said they “follow the situation closely and act quickly to ensure that vaccinations against Covid are always as safe as possible and at the same time provide effective protection” against the disease.

In July, the European Medicines Agency recommended authorising Moderna’s Covid vaccine for children ages 12 to 17, the first time the shot has been authorised for people under 18.

Moderna’s vaccine was given the green light for use in anyone 18 and over across the 27-nation European Union in January. It has also been licensed in countries including Britain, Canada and the U.S., but so far its use hasn’t been extended to children. To date, the Pfizer vaccine is the only one approved for children under 18 in Europe and North America.

Hundreds of millions of Moderna doses already have been administered to adults. In a study of more than 3,700 children ages 12 to 17, the vaccine triggered the same signs of immune protection, and no Covid diagnoses arose in the vaccinated group compared with four cases among those given dummy shots.

Sore arms, headache and fatigue were the most common side effects in the young vaccine recipients, the same ones as for adults.

U.S. and European regulators caution, however, that both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines appear linked to a rare reaction in teenagers and young adults — chest pain and heart inflammation.

The Swedish health authorities said that the heart symptoms “usually go away on their own,” but they must be assessed by a doctor. The conditions are most common among young men, in connection with, for example, viral infections such as Covid. In 2019, approximately 300 people under the age of 30 were treated in hospital with myocarditis.

Data point to an increased incidence also in connection with vaccination against Covid, mainly in adolescents and young adults and mainly in boys and men.

Worth reading in full.

India Confounds the Modellers

What happened to India’s summer and autumn waves? After suffering a large surge with the emergent Indian variant (i.e., Delta) in the spring, India has defied modellers’ predictions by remaining very quiet since.

In August, Rajib Dasgupta, Chair of the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health at Jawaharlal Nehru University, wrote for the Conversation about the “likely” imminent new autumn surge.

With about 40,000 cases and 400 deaths each day as of mid August, a new uptick is likely in the cards. The Indian states experiencing most of these new cases are those with relatively lower sero-prevalence, ranging between 50% and 70%. The 400 million sero-negative pool – that is people who have not been infected or had the vaccine – continues to be a large vulnerable group.

Forecasting by modellers indicates a third wave beginning in August and peaking at 100,000 to 150,000 infections a day by October. An alternative projection expects the peak in cases going until November.

It’s October now and the reality, of course, is a low level of infections since June and no new surge throughout summer and autumn so far. Below is the graph showing the predictions from the modelling of Mathukumalli Vidyasagar and Manindra Agrawal of the Indian Institute of Technology that Rajib Dasgupta cites above. I have added in the line of actual ‘cases’, which shows that they have trended well below the ‘optimistic’ scenario since the moment the prediction was made.

News Round-Up