Day: 28 October 2021

News Round-Up

Travel Red List Scrapped

Fully vaccinated travellers entering the U.K. from the remaining seven countries on the ‘Red List’ will not have to self-isolate from 4am on Monday but will need to take lateral flow tests. Unfortunately, the Government has left the door open to bring back the policy. The Telegraph has more.

The Red List was effectively scrapped on Thursday but hotel quarantine will remain as a threat until at least the New Year.

All seven countries left on the Red List will be removed from Monday at 4am, which means passengers will no longer be required to quarantine in a U.K. hotel at a cost of £2,285 per person.

Fully jabbed travellers from the seven – Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Haiti and the Dominican Republic – will only have to take a lateral flow test on their arrival in the U.K. without having to self-isolate.

Ministers have, however, agreed to retain “several hundred” rooms in “quarantine” hotels in case restrictions have to be reimposed if a new variant emerges or there is a resurgence of Covid.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said: “We will keep the Red List category in place as a precautionary measure to protect public health and are prepared to add countries and territories back if needed, as the UK’s first line of defence.”

Britain is one of the last countries in the world to have hotel quarantine with even Australia, pioneers of the policy, having dropped it.

Ministers are now expected to review it in the New Year and are likely to replace it with home quarantine for travellers from “high risk” countries.

Fewer than one in 120 travellers returning from Red List countries are testing positive for Covid with none having anything other than the dominant Delta variant, which has squeezed out other strains. Since the policy was launched in February, more than 200,000 passengers have been quarantined in a hotel.

Worth reading in full.

£1.8 Billion Funding Boost for Schools to Address The Disruption Caused by Lockdown

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced that the education system is to receive an extra £1.8 billion in funding to resolve the disruption caused by repeated lockdowns and in-person teaching cancellations due to students or staff receiving a positive Covid test. Approximately £1 billion will be reserved for disadvantaged primary and secondary school children, with the money largely being allocated towards extra-curricular activities and extra tuition for pupils who require it. The Telegraph has the story.

“The Chancellor has shown that we will put money behind enhancing the recovery we know is already under way for young people, building on the real impact of the steps we’ve taken so far, whether that’s tutoring, world-class teacher training or summer schools”.

The majority of the new catch-up cash – £1 billion – will be earmarked for disadvantaged primary and secondary school children aged under 16.

Schools will be allowed to decide how to spend the money but they will be encouraged to use it for evidence-based interventions such as small-group tuition and extra-curricular activities like sports, drama and art.

Meanwhile, the remaining £800 million will allow sixth form students, aged 16 to 19, to have an extra 40 hours a week of lessons over the academic year, which is equivalent to one additional hour a week for each school or college.

The amount of money set aside to fund pupils’ catch-up has been a source of tension in Whitehall. Earlier this year, the Government’s own catch-up tsar quit after warning that the amount of funding did “not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge”.

Sir Kevan Collins’ resignation in June came less than 24 hours after Gavin Williamson, then Education Secretary, announced a new £1.4 billion cash injection for pupil tuition and teacher training. Sir Kevan had advised ministers that Government funds of £15 billion over three years were necessary to reverse the damage done by Covid to pupils’ education.

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, accused Sunak of coming up with a catch-up plan “on the cheap”.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that while the funds were a “step in the right direction” they were “nowhere near what is needed”.

Mr Sunak told the Commons on Wednesday that an extra £4.7 billion of core funding will be provided to schools in 2024-25 and £153 million will be spent on early years education to “address the impact of the pandemic on the youngest children”. He also said that more than £200 million will be made available for holiday activities and food programmes.

Worth reading in full.

Melbourne Waiter with Covid Vaccine Exemption Denied Work

In 2018, Mason Reed suffered a rare autoimmune reaction to a meningococcal vaccination, which left him paralysed in the face and chest, causing him to spend two weeks in a coma. Because of this event, he was granted an official medical exemption to the Covid vaccine. However, the 25 year-old has struggled to find work as employment agencies have demanded physical proof of Reed having received the jab as many firms are unwilling to hire anyone from the unvaccinated workforce, and have disregarded Reed’s personal circumstances. The Mail Australia has the story.

Reed has an official medical exemption explaining why he hasn’t received a Covid vaccine but has struggled to find venues who will employ him alongside vaccinated workers.

The hospitality employment agency he works for have accepted the exemption, which states he has a “medical contraindication” to Covid vaccines. 

“I thought there was no way I would have any problems”, he told the Mail Australia. “I have a valid vaccination certificate”.

He said his agency’s clients though wanted to see physical evidence of his Covid vaccination history.

“All but one of the clients has said no”, he said. “My employment agency initially only had one company that said yes but they’re in Western Australia”.

One of the agency’s clients agreed to take him on as a Covid marshal after his case attracted media attention, but Reed is still unsure whether he will be able to work or not. 

The 25 year-old plans to move overseas and find work as a translator once the border re-opens.

However he is also considering legal action through the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission if his struggle for work in Australia continues.

Worth reading in full.

Californian Burger Restaurant Shut Down For Refusing to Enforce Vaccine Passports

A second In–N–Out burger restaurant has been forcibly closed by the Californian health authorities following the chain’s continuous refusal to abide by Government mandates ordering businesses to check their customers for vaccination passports or proof of a negative Covid test. In a statement, the business has openly declared that it refuses “to become the vaccination police” and segregate its customers based on who has and hasn’t received a medical procedure. The Guardian has the story.

Public health authorities see vaccination enforcement requirements as vital tools in slowing Covid at a time when 1,500 or more Americans are dying each day from the virus. However, In-N-Out, based in Irvine, in southern California, has consistently refused to heed the requirements in the Bay Area, which are some of the strictest in the state.

“We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government. It is unreasonable, invasive, and unsafe to force our restaurant associates to segregate customers into those who may be served and those who may not,” In-N-Out said in a statement.

The only In-N-Out in San Francisco, which is located on the city’s popular Fisherman’s Wharf, was closed for several days in October for defying the city’s public health rules, which a company executive had described as “clear governmental overreach.”

“We fiercely disagree with any government dictate that forces a private company to discriminate against customers who choose to patronise their business,” Arnie Wensinger, the company’s Chief Legal and Business Officer, wrote.

The restaurant reopened last week but is supposed to only offer takeout and outdoor dining. EaterSF reported on Tuesday that the location was again under investigation by the city’s public health department over a complaint that it has continued to allow indoor dining.

The city’s health department told the outlet it would “take the next steps to address any observed violations”.

In-N-Out’s refusal to enforce vaccination rules has prompted an outpouring of support from conservative politicians, including Mike Pence. The beloved chain is owned by conservative Christians, and several executives have made donations to the Republican party and Donald Trump.

Worth reading in full.

Why Sceptics Like Me Lost the Argument

In my latest Spectator column I’ve revisited the theme of why lockdown sceptics lost the argument – and I say this in spite of believing another national lockdown in England is quite unlikely.

I’m optimistic that the government won’t implement ‘Plan B’, let alone impose another lockdown – but not because sceptics like me have won the argument. Why do I say that? Because the public debate is about whether another lockdown is necessary, with the participants on both sides taking it for granted that non-pharmaceutical interventions are an effective way of suppressing infections. For at least a year, sceptics have been arguing that these don’t work, pointing to numerous research studies showing that the rise and fall of infections in different regions of the world has no correlation with stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, business and school closures, etc. But this argument has fallen on deaf ears.

One explanation – the one I like best – is that we made the mistake of trying to appeal to reason. This was a point made by David McGrogan, a professor at Northumbria law school, in a piece for my sceptical website. ‘I am somebody who encourages students to investigate and debate facts for a living. So this has been a very bitter pill for me to swallow indeed, but the reality is that most people are just not actually interested in finding out the truth for themselves. They are much more interested in conforming with what they perceive to be the “moral truth” – the prevailing moral norm.’ The reason the vast majority of the public supported lockdowns is because they believed they were the ‘right’ thing to do.

Of course, the lockdown enthusiasts wouldn’t have been so quick to conform to that ‘moral truth’ without believing that lockdowns actually did what they said on the tin. But I was astonished by how many intelligent people just swallowed the government line without subjecting it to proper scrutiny – particularly as lockdowns meant the surrender of our liberty on an unprecedented scale, as Lord Sumption has pointed out ad infinitum. It was as if such people were yearning for the social solidarity usually available only during wartime. And the flipside of that – denouncing anyone who refused the accept the restrictions – also had wide appeal. No doubt the government helped this process along by spending hundreds of millions bombarding us with propaganda, much of it designed by behavioural psychologists to penetrate our reptile brains.

But I go on to say that sceptics have to accept some responsibility for their failure to persuade more people that lockdowns don’t work.

Common sense dictates that if you confine most people to their homes then infections will start to fall, so if we’re going to persuade people that lockdowns don’t work we need a compelling theory as to why that hypothesis is false. We never came up with one. We also got a lot of things wrong at the beginning, such as saying there wouldn’t be a second wave and, when the second wave was upon us, claiming it was a ‘casedemic’ not an epidemic. I don’t think we got more things wrong than the enthusiasts – take their prediction that daily infections would rise to 100,000 after ‘freedom day’, for instance – but given that we were arguing against the prevailing wisdom we couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. In retrospect, I wish I’d been more cautious.

Worth reading in full.

Boris Was Right to Release All Restrictions Freedom Day, Says Professor Lockdown

Releasing all Covid restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’ was the right thing to do despite outcry at the time, a study for Imperial College London led by ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson has found. MailOnline has more.

Imperial College London researchers praised the roadmap more generally, saying that it was ‘largely successful at limiting infection levels’.

They said No 10 timed the easing of restrictions well because the dates of each step of the roadmap allowed vaccines to get into the arms of those most at risk.

And the study said it was prudent to delay ‘Freedom Day’ nearly a month from its original date on June 26th after the emergence of the Delta variant.

This decision alone prevented at least 2,000 hospital admissions per day, they found. This ultimately saved countless lives.

Experts previously criticised No10 for being ‘unscientific ‘ and argued Boris Johnson lifted restrictions too early on July 19th.

But scientists like Professor Christ [sic] Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said that abandoning curbs in summer would take some of the sting out of a winter wave by getting infections out of the way.

Scientists including SAGE behavioural science subcommittee member Professor Stephen Reicher and Independent SAGE members Professors Christina Pagel and Martin McKee slammed the return to normality in July as “dangerous and unethical” at the time.

And international health leaders including former Australian health department secretary Stephen Duckett warned opening up was “foolish”.

But the new research suggests the Prime Minister’s course was the right plan of action — even with the unanticipated problems posed by Delta.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Sir Patrick Vallance has advised Boris to “go hard and early” with masks and ‘Plan B’ at first sign of rebounding cases. MailOnline has more.

New Lancet Study From Sweden Shows Vaccine Effectiveness Against Infection Dropping to Zero and Sharp Decline Against Severe Disease As Well

To judge from recent scientific and media output, there appear to be two parallel realities currently existing side-by-side in Covid world. In one, the vaccines are highly effective at preventing infection and transmission, and any data that suggests otherwise is being misrepresented or is biased or contains some kind of basic error. In the other – the one that bears a much closer resemblance to the one we actually live in – vaccine effectiveness against infection has been declining significantly and after six months is basically zero. At some point, one of these realities is going to have to give way because they can’t both be true. I know which one my money’s on.

An example of the first appeared in New Scientist this week, headlined: “How much less likely are you to spread COVID-19 if you’re vaccinated?” The answer: at least 63%, according to a new population-based pre-print study from the Netherlands.

A recent study found that vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant are 63% less likely to infect people who are unvaccinated.

This is only slightly lower than with the Alpha variant, says Brechje de Gier at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands, who led the study. Her team had previously found that vaccinated people infected with Alpha were 73% less likely to infect unvaccinated people.

What is important to realise, de Gier says, is that the full effect of vaccines on reducing transmission is even higher than 63%, because most vaccinated people don’t become infected in the first place.

De Gier and her team used data from the Netherlands’ contact tracing system to work out the so-called secondary attack rate – the proportion of contacts infected by positive cases. They then worked out how much this was reduced by vaccination, adjusting for factors such as age.

The data comes from August and September 2021, when Delta was dominant in the Netherlands. The key table, breaking the figures down by whether the index case and contacts were vaccinated, is below.