Day: 18 October 2021

And Finally…

In this week’s London Calling podcast, the topics are the murder of Sir David Amess and the unseemly haste with which politicians tried to weaponise it, Elon Musk eclipsing Jeff Bezos to become the richest man in the world (a victory for lockdown sceptics), James’s going hunting with Laurence Fox, Greta Thunberg’s dancing video, the hiring then firing of Matt Hancock by the UN, and, in culture corner, Squid Game, the new Bond and season three of Succession. Big news of the week: James has finally finished the audio book of Crime and Punishment.

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

News Round-Up

Child Vaccination Rates as Low as 3.5% In Areas of England

Covid vaccines have been available for young English teenagers for almost a month but take-up rates are as low as 3.5%. Wokingham has jabbed the highest proportion of 12-15 year-olds in the country (just over 36%) but the figure for the whole of England (15%) lags far behind that of Scotland. MailOnline has the story.

The picture is very different in Scotland, where the rate stands at around 46.5%, with some areas of the country jabbing almost two thirds of their young teens.

The figures come off the back of rising concerns about a surge in coronavirus cases among young teens in England.

Random swabbing data suggests around 8% of secondary school pupils were carrying the virus last week. Separate figures show infection rates in children have reached record highs. …

First doses of Covid vaccine started being rolled out to all the UK’s 3.2 million 12-15 year-olds on September 20th.

But the move was controversial, with concerns over a very rare risk of heart inflammation called myocarditis, estimated to affect 3-17 per million children under the age of 16 after their first Covid jab.

This risk increases to 12-24 per million children when they receive a second dose of the vaccine.

While in most cases the condition is mild, scientists do not know the long term implications. …

More than a third of England’s 149 upper tier local authorities (55) have vaccinated fewer than one in 10 young teens.

The three worst areas for England and the U.K. are in London.

Worth reading in full.

Cases of Psychosis Soared Over Past Two Years of Lockdowns

Data shows an increasing number of people suffering from hallucinations and delusional thinking over the past two years in England (and across the world) during which time our lives were plagued by the social isolation caused by numerous lockdowns. The Guardian has the story.

There was a 75% increase in the number of people referred to mental health services for their first suspected episode of psychosis between April 2019 and April 2021, NHS data shows.

The rise continued throughout the summer, with 12,655 referred in July 2021, up 53% from 8,252 in July 2019.

Much of the increase has been seen over the last year, after the first national lockdown, according to data analysed by the charity Rethink Mental Illness. More than 13,000 referrals were made in May 2021, a 70% rise on the May before when there were 7,813 referrals. …

A study earlier this month found that anxiety and depression around the world increased dramatically in 2020, with an estimated 76 million extra cases of anxiety and 53 million extra cases of major depressive disorder than would have been expected had Covid not struck. Women and young people were disproportionately affected, the researchers said.

Psychosis can involve seeing or hearing things that other people do not (hallucinations) and developing beliefs that are not based on reality (delusions), which can be highly distressing. It can be a symptom of mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression, but psychosis can also be a one-off, potentially triggered by a traumatic experience, extreme stress or drug and alcohol misuse.

Despite the continued pressure on mental health services, Rethink Mental Illness is highlighting the importance of rapid access to treatment to prevent further episodes of psychosis and reduce people’s risk of developing severe mental illness. …

Brian Dow, the Deputy Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said: “Psychosis can have a devastating impact on people’s lives. Swift access to treatment is vital to prevent further deterioration in people’s mental health which could take them years to recover from.

“These soaring numbers of suspected first episodes of psychosis are cause for alarm. We are now well beyond the first profound shocks of this crisis, and it’s deeply concerning that the number of referrals remains so high. As first presentations of psychosis typically occur in young adults, this steep rise raises additional concerns about the pressures the younger generation have faced during the pandemic.”

Worth reading in full.

Walk-in Vaccine Clinics to Open for 12-15 Year-Olds in England in Effort to Boost Slow Roll-Out

Following a fairly unsuccessful start to the roll-out of Covid vaccines to healthy 12-15 year-olds, the Government has announced that walk-in vaccine clinics will open for this age group in the coming weeks. The Guardian has the story.

Older teenagers in England can already attend walk-in clinics to receive their first dose of Covid vaccine, with 56.5% of 16-18 year-olds now vaccinated. The expansion of the scheme to younger teenagers would bring England into line with Scotland, where 12-15 year-olds can also attend walk-in clinics. …

Ministers are planning to expand walk-in vaccination appointments to younger teenagers amid concerns that the Government has been too slow rolling out the vaccine programme in English schools, the Mail on Sunday reported. …

Professor Kevin McConway, an Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics at the Open University, said the latest [Covid test] results in secondary school-age children were “concerning”. “However you look at it, this is a huge increase, and it clearly follows from schools having reopened and, crucially, from vaccination rates of children in that age group still being low,” he said.

The Government had set half-term as a target for what ministers had hoped would be a speedy roll-out in schools, but with less than a week to go, it is looks increasingly unlikely that that target will be met.

Some parents have told the Guardian that their children haven’t been offered a vaccination appointment until November. There are also reports of sessions being cancelled at the last minute and “poorly prepared” vaccination teams overwhelmed by demand having to leave sites after vaccinating just a fraction of pupils with consent.

Worth reading in full.

Lockdown Sceptic Becomes Richest Man in World – Worth More than Bill Gates and Warren Buffet Combined

Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, has soared past Jeff Bezos to become the richest man in the world, with an estimated net worth of $230 billion. As noted by the Daily Sceptic last week, Musk is a steely-eyed lockdown sceptic, having ignored orders to close his California-based Tesla factory and described some of the Covid restrictions in the Golden State as ‘fascist’. He’s now relocated Tesla’s headquarters to Texas. Also worth remembering that he was chastised by Newsweek for participating in a sceptical discussion about Sweden’s management of the pandemic started by me. The Daily Mail has more.

Elon Musk’s net worth has surpassed $230 billion making him the richest man on the planet after shares at Space X soar by 33% and sell for more than $100 billion, after only joining the Forbes top ten billionaire list in the middle of last year.

The Tesla CEO has now outstripped the former richest person, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and is currently wealthier than Bill Gates and Warren Buffett combined. …

[T]he Tesla founder recently saw his and his SpaceX company’s wealth swell after a share sale at SpaceX on October 8th worth $100 billion in a secondary offering.

The company had an agreement with both new and existing investors to sell up to $755 million in SpaceX stock from insiders at $560 per share, multiple people close with the deal told CNBC.

The 33% increase in its new share price brings the company’s valuation to $100.3 billion after initially offering the deal to investors in February, when SpaceX’s valuation stood at $74 billion at 419.19 a share.

The first round of offerings raised nearly $1.2 billion, the outlet reports.

The company’s new increased valuation places it in the rare company of a private ‘centicorn’ or ‘hectocorn,’ which are companies with a valuation of $1 billion unicorns 100 times over.

According to Forbes Real-Time Billionaires List as of October 17th, 2021

SpaceX is now the second-most valuable private company worldwide behind only China’s Bytedance, according to CB Insights.

That’s a far cry from just over a year ago, when Musk didn’t even make Forbes top ten billionaires list, which Bezos dominated at number one with a then-net worth of $113 billion.

The SpaceX founder was quick to boast about taking the number one spot on the rich list, tweeting a second place medal at Bezos after the Blue Origin and Amazon founder shared some motivational words about his company.

Bezos had previously held the title of world’s richest person at $197.8 billion as of 2021, after the pandemic and lockdowns saw a boom in online sales.

Worth reading in full.

Mass Testing in Schools Must End – President of Royal College of Paediatrics

Dr. Camilla Kingdon, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, says mass Covid testing in schools is sparking “unnecessary chaos” and should be brought to an end. She also warned children should not be left to “carry the burden” of the pandemic. MailOnline has more.

Schools in England dropped virtually all virus-control measures in July, except twice weekly testing of pupils. Those who get a positive swab must stay home for 10 days.

But amid rising infection rates among youngsters, some schools are quietly reintroducing measures including face masks and telling children to stay home if their sibling has the virus.

It comes as the NHS plans to unveil walk-in vaccine clinics for school children within weeks in an effort to speed up the jabs rollout.

Dr Kingdon railed against the return of more rules in the classroom today, telling the Daily Telegraph that the age group is at very low risk from the virus.

She said: “You are asking completely healthy children to test, with the potential to be excluded (from school), there is just a real concern that we are increasing a level of chaos into the system that is unnecessary.”

Conservative MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge near Sheffield, Miriam Cates, also slammed the tests as “utterly pointless” and “just another example of treating children as second-class citizens”.

She told the newspaper: “In my constituency, absence rates are considerably higher than normal.

“Not all children are actually ill but because they have had a positive test they are not allowed in school for 10 days.

“There is absolutely no reason to continue with mass testing children. All it’s doing is prolonging the disruption and prolonging the fear.”

Worth reading in full.

Did Denmark Achieve Focused Protection in the Second Wave?

Before the vaccines arrived, lockdown proponents argued that the only way to prevent large numbers of Covid deaths was by completely suppressing viral transmission. A focused protection strategy, they maintained, was just not workable.

The basic argument is as follows. Because the virus is so transmissible, and society is so interconnected, it would have been impossible to protect vulnerable people if we’d allowed community transmission to proceed unchecked. Without a lockdown, the virus would inevitably have found its way into hospitals and care homes, leading to lots of deaths.

It’s not an unreasonable argument, but I don’t buy it. (And let’s put aside the fact that even if lockdown does prevent more Covid deaths than focused protection, the total costs almost certainly outweigh the benefits.)

We already know that places like Utah, Sweden and South Dakota, which refused to lock down last year, did not do substantially worse than places that did lock down. We can argue about exactly how to do the comparison; the fact is that none of the dire predictions made for these locations actually came to pass.  

But is there an example of a country that achieved focused protection? Denmark might well be the closest. If we zoom-in on the second wave, and compare the country’s infection rate to that of the U.K., it isn’t dramatically lower:

Assuming the numbers are indeed comparable (which I’ll admit is a big assumption), Denmark saw 30% fewer infections between August of 2020 and May of 2021. Denmark did do more testing over this time period, but the U.K. had a higher share of positive tests.

If the lockdowners’ argument against focused protection is right, we’d expect Denmark to have had only 30% fewer deaths than the U.K. during the second wave; or at most, perhaps 50% fewer. After all, the country’s infection rate peaked at over 600 per million.

But this isn’t what we find. According to Karlinsky and Kobak, Denmark has had only 1% excess mortality since the pandemic began; the U.K.’s figure, by contrast, is 20%.

Now, more than half of Britain’s excess mortality was sustained in the first wave (which Denmark managed to avoid). But suppose that eight percentage points of the 20% were sustained in the second wave.

This would mean that Denmark’s deaths were not 30% or 50% lower than the U.K.’s, but almost 90% lower. Despite experiencing a moderately high infection rate in the winter, Denmark managed to keep deaths to a minimum.

Note: I’m not suggesting the country didn’t lock down; it did. (Though there was never a stay-at-home order, and the average stringency index was much lower than in Britain). My point is that some degree of focused protection apparently is achievable. There’s no necessary relationship between the infection rate and the death toll.

It doesn’t follow that Britain could have done as well as Denmark, which tends to finish at the top of every international league table. But with a bit of ingenuity, we could have done better than we did – in terms of both lives saved and collateral damage avoided.

The recent House of Commons report described the U.K.’s initial approach as “fatalistic”. But what was really fatalistic was assuming the only way to stop people dying of Covid was shuttering the economy and throwing civil liberties out the window.