Day: 29 October 2021

News Round-Up

As the Autumn Covid Surge Declines, is SAGE Right to Predict No Winter Epidemic?

As reported daily infections fall once again, giving a temporary reprieve from calls for social restrictions to be re-imposed, the new ONS Infection Survey data published today shows record levels of prevalence in the country in the two weeks ending October 22nd.

One in 50 people in England or 2% of the population are estimated to have had coronavirus during that fortnight. In Wales it was around 2.5% or one in 40.

Importantly, this recent epidemic is almost exclusively in children, especially those aged 11-16, and to a lesser extent in their parents (aged 35-49). Prevalence in primary school children rose to around 4.1% by October 22nd while in secondary school children it was 9.1% or one in 11.

Since then reported infections in children have begun to fall, leading some experts to declare that, with an estimated 75% of the cohort now having been infected, “England has seen the peak of cases in children“.

Modelling for the Government is now predicting a persisting slump in infections going into the winter, with some estimates envisaging as few as 5,000 daily reported infections by Christmas.

This puts me in the unexpected position of being more pessimistic than SAGE, as I would be frankly amazed if there was no winter surge in Covid infections. We’ve seen before how SAGE models seem not to take sufficient account of seasonality, and this may be another example of that.

Covid Cases Fall For a Sixth Day in a Row

According to today’s official data, the number of Covid infections has fallen for a sixth day in a row. In addition, the most recent data available shows that Covid hospital admissions have fallen by 2%, while the death rate remains flat with no sign of a dramatic upward trend. The MailOnline has the story.

Bosses at the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimate that around one in 50 people — the equivalent of 1,102,800 — would have tested positive on any given day during the seven-day spell ending October 22nd. It claims infections have risen by almost 13% in a week, soaring to a level not seen since the darkest days of Britain’s pandemic crisis in early January. 

Meanwhile, separate data from the UK Health Security Agency, which took over from the now-defunct PHE, today showed that the R rate also rose and is now thought to be around 1.1 to 1.3, up from 1.0 to 1.2. It means for every 10 people infected, between 11 and 13 others will get the virus.

However, both estimates are based on old data and the fresher Government statistics show the country’s outbreak has already started to shrink, even before children broke up for half-term. 

Today’s Government figures take Britain’s total Covid death toll to 140,392, with more than 8.98 million having been infected with the virus since the start of the pandemic.

No10’s advisers said it was likely that cases would eventually fizzle out in children because they have built-up such high levels of immunity following the back-to-class wave. They also claimed half-term would act as a natural fire-breaker by curbing indoor mixing of children. 

‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson, an Epidemiologist who sits on SAGE, yesterday argued ‘Plan B’ — which would see the return of face masks and work from home guidance if the NHS becomes overwhelmed — “shouldn’t be necessary”, if cases keep dropping and the booster roll-out continues at speed. 

Separate data from the country’s largest symptom-tracking study yesterday suggested Britain is ‘worryingly close’ to recording 100,000 new Covid infections per day. Professor Tim Spector, the Epidemiologist running the study, suggested the official Government daily count could be vastly underestimating the extent of Covid prevalence. 

It comes as Health Secretary Sajid Javid today called on all secondary school and college students to get tested regardless of symptoms before they return to classrooms next week. ONS data showed 9.1% of children in years seven to 11 had the virus on any given day last week.

Mr Javid said: “it is vital that they are taking free and easy rapid tests that will help detect Covid infections from those who are not showing symptoms to keep the virus at bay.”

Worth reading in full.

Is Covid Caused by More than One Virus?

We’re publishing a guest post today by John Collis, a recently retired nurse practitioner and a regular reader of the Daily Sceptic. He thinks that people presenting with Covid symptoms may be infected with more than one virus, not just SARS-CoV-2. Could the herpes family of viruses – such as mononucleosis/glandular fever – also be playing a part?

Over the course of the last two years, as different symptoms were being reported for Covid, long Covid and vaccine reactions, there seemed to be a pattern emerging that rang a few bells with me. To put this into context, for the past 15 years I was a nurse until I retired earlier this year. During that time I worked on a neurology ward and in the Emergency Department. I encountered patients who developed neurological and clotting problems a few weeks after having a viral infection, typically a stomach bug.

The reports of vaccine trial participants developing neurological problems made me think of an autoimmune response initially, but I thought nothing more about it until the symptoms of long Covid were being described, particularly fatigue. Initially, I shrugged this off as a normal post-viral reaction, until I recollected the long term effects of infective mononucleosis/glandular fever.

I knew that some members of the Herpes family of viruses never actually leave the body but lie dormant. The classic example is the virus that causes chicken pox; under certain circumstances a person who has had chicken pox may develop the painful condition shingles.

After researching the herpes family of viruses I discovered that each one of them adopts a dormant state in different types of cells in the body. For example the virus responsible for cold sores (Herpes simplex) and that responsible for chicken pox (Varicella Zoster) reside in neurons. There are others that reside in the B-cells and T-cells of the immune system. These viruses are pretty much ubiquitous across the adult population, around 90% for all but one member where the prevalence is around 15%. Fifty per cent of five year-old children already have the virus responsible for glandular fever, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), although its designation is the somewhat uninspiring HHV-4.

Besides the well known diseases associated with these viruses, I discovered that they can cause respiratory complications such as pneumonia, one even producing “ground glass” images on CT or X-ray; cardiac problems including myocarditis; neurological problems such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, and, in the case of EBV, Multiple Sclerosis; clotting disorders and endocrine disorders.

Mark Drakeford Tells the Welsh Hospitality Industry to Prepare for Vaccine Passports

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has declared that vaccine passports may be imposed on the hospitality industry, along with the return of work from home mandates, to tackle an increase in the number of Covid hospital admissions. The Welsh Government also wishes to introduce vaccine passports to cinemas, theatres, and concert halls from November 15th. The MailOnline has the story.

Speaking on Sky News, Drakeford said: “We have to make a concerted effort over the next three weeks to bring those numbers down.”

It comes as Wales is set to tighten Covid restrictions to tackle a rising number of hospital admissions, with more than 680 people in Welsh hospitals with Covid on October 27th. 

Positive case numbers have also been at their highest recorded total since the pandemic began this month, although numbers have dipped in recent days to fewer than 2,600. 

Official data showed England recorded 33,903 new infections, 2,153 cases were confirmed in Scotland, while 2,664 were spotted in Wales and 1,122 in Northern Ireland. Cases appear to be trending downwards in all four nations. 

And the number of people going to hospital who were infected with Covid seems to be plateauing. Some 962 sought NHS care on Sunday — the most recent day the data is available for — a rise of 0.3% on the 959 patients admitted last week.

Meanwhile, 165 people died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus, a jump of 43.5% on the 115 deaths recorded on the same day last week.

Despite cases trending downwards and No10’s modellers estimating there will be just 5,000 daily cases over the festive period, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the UK is still in a “very uncertain phase'” of the pandemic and warned ‘Plan B’ should not be taken off the table.

Within Wales, adults who are fully vaccinated, and young people aged five to 17, will be asked to self-isolate until they have received a negative PCR test if someone in their household has symptoms or tests positive for Covid.

People who are not vaccinated will still have to self-isolate for 10 days following contact with someone who has tested positive, including close contacts outside of their household.

Asked what more could be done, Mr Drakeford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We can certainly extend the Covid pass into other settings. 

“We will be talking to hospitality over the next three weeks to help them to prepare, should that be necessary. We hope it won’t be, of course.

“We will go back to the risk assessments we carry out in the workplace to see whether there is more we can do, more people working from home, back to social distancing in the workplace, looking at the way that schools are organised to try to prevent more young people from contracting the disease.

“The current level of restrictions in Wales are the lowest they have been since coronavirus began. I want it to stay that way, to keep Wales safe, to keep Wales open”.

Worth reading in full.

27% Of Unvaccinated Germans Declare That Vaccine Passports Will Harden Their Decision Not to Get Vaccinated

According to a recent survey conducted on behalf of Germany’s Ministry for Health seeking to uncover the reasons as to why the unvaccinated public have so far not taken up the offer of a vaccine, 27% of respondents declared that vaccine passports will turn them away from getting vaccinated. Only 5% of those who answered the survey said that the introduction of vaccine passports would entice them to take a Covid jab. In addition, 86% of respondents mentioned that they will not receive the vaccine if politicians promise to lift Covid restrictions once a certain vaccine quota is attained. The Local has the story.

According to a recent survey carried out by Forsa on behalf of the Ministry for Health, around two thirds of people (65%) said there was “no way” they would get a Covid jab in the next two months.

In the survey data obtained by Redaktionsnetwerk Deutschland, 23% said they would “probably not” get their Covid shots in the near future, while 2% said they would “definitely not” get vaccinated at any point. 

Just 10% of the 3,000 respondents said they would “probably” get vaccinated in the coming months or remain undecided. 

The news comes amid spiralling infection rates and a steep rise in the number of patients in intensive care units in Germany, most of whom are unvaccinated.

The President of the World Medical Association, Frank Ulrich Montgomery, told the Augsburger Allgemeine on Thursday that unvaccinated people were risking their own lives, and those of others, and urged people to get the jabs…

The poll makes for disheartening reading for Government Ministers who have been struggling to convince the undecided to get their jabs to avoid a difficult autumn and winter.

In a press conference alongside the Robert Koch Institute’s Lothar Wieler and Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU), Thomas Mertens from the Standing Vaccinations Committee (STIKO) said he believed that the vast majority of unvaccinated people were “not hardliners” but simply on the fence.

However, the results of the survey, which was conducted in late September and early October, suggest that people with doubts about vaccinations are generally more set in their ways than previously assumed. 

For example, 89% of the respondents had said that it would have no influence on their own willingness to be vaccinated if the intensive care units once again reached their capacity limits. Just 5% revealed that they would be more like to get a Covid jab if hospitals were overwhelmed with patients.

Worth reading in full.

Lockdown and the Pretence of Knowledge

Friedrich August von Hayek, the Austrian-born British economist, titled his 1974 Nobel Prize acceptance speech ‘The Pretence of Knowledge’. A stalwart liberal (in the classical sense), Hayek’s speech criticised the notion that economists have sufficient knowledge to plan the economy.

Those who believed in this notion, he argued, were guilty of “scientism” – of assuming that economics is like the physical sciences, where complex phenomena can be described by simple mathematical laws. 

For Hayek, however, economic planners did not have the same knowledge as physical scientists, but merely the pretence of knowledge. Their theories were superficially similar – mathematically complex, couched in symbols and equations. Yet they lacked something vital: the ability to make accurate predictions.

Re-reading Hayek’s speech, I noticed that it could apply just as well to ‘The Science’ of lockdown as it did to the science of economics in the 1970s. For example, if we substitute just a few words in this sentence, it captures the hubris of epidemiological modelling almost perfectly:

… this failure of the [epidemiologists] to guide policy more successfully is closely connected with their propensity to imitate as closely as possible the procedures of the brilliantly successful physical sciences – an attempt which in [their] field may lead to outright error.

As I noted recently, self-described experts appear to be no better at forecasting cases and deaths than well-informed laymen. And when it came to the crucial test-case of Sweden (the only major country in Europe that didn’t lock down last spring), the modellers erred spectacularly.

Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden predicted 96,000 deaths for Sweden during the first wave. And as Phil Magness has shown, based on some clever detective work, Neil Ferguson’s team forecast almost the same number. As of today, however, Sweden’s official death toll stands at just 15,000.

Contrary to grand claims that lockdowns would allow us to ‘control’ the virus, it’s difficult to discern any effect of lockdowns on the epidemic’s trajectory – except in those few countries that managed to stem the tide of new infections using border controls.

Returning to Hayek’s speech, the bespectacled economist warned of the great harm that “scientism” could end up causing. The following sentence (again altered) sounds particularly prescient:

In the physical sciences there may be little objection to trying to do the impossible; one might even feel that one ought not to discourage the over-confident because their experiments may after all produce some new insights. But in [epidemiology] the erroneous belief that the exercise of some power would have beneficial consequences is likely to lead to a new power to coerce other men being conferred on some authority.

In this regard, it may be no accident that Neil Ferguson, whose report of 16th March 2020 has been described as the “catalyst for policy reversal”, was trained in physics – the most precise, yet abstract, of all the sciences.

Looking at the damage wrought by lockdown, it would now seem appropriate for Ferguson and his colleagues to accept – quoting Hayek once again – that “as a profession we have made a mess of things”.

Sadiq Khan Calls for Mandatory Face Masks on Public Transport

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called on the Government to re-impose mandatory face masks on public transport and has recommended that members of the public wear them voluntarily in the meantime. Khan has also called on Londoners to protect the NHS this winter by receiving a Covid booster vaccine when it becomes available, as well as to book a place for the annual flu jab. The MailOnline has the story.

The Government has been resistant to bringing in ‘Plan B’ measures, which would see the reintroduction of mandatory facemasks indoors and guidance to work from home and the use of Covid passports.

Mr Khan called for Londoners to get vaccinated against Covid and the flu to protect the NHS this winter.

It comes as official data shows more and more adults in their 30s and 40s are choosing to wear face masks on buses and trains amid spiralling Covid cases.

An Office for National Statistics poll found 33% of middle-aged adults wore coverings while on public transport at the start of September.

But just a month later this had ticked upwards to almost 40%, despite no change in official guidance.

The London Mayor said in a statement that the “deadly virus has not gone away and this winter we’re facing both flu and Covid”.

He added: “The worst thing we can do is to lower our guard, be complacent and underestimate the risk these viruses pose to all of us.

“The situation with Covid in London is so finely balanced that it needs all of us to act together to protect ourselves, our loved ones, the things we enjoy and our NHS this winter.

“That’s why I’m urging all eligible Londoners to have the booster vaccine and flu jab as soon as you are offered it, continue to wear a mask where you can and I’m calling on the Government to put simple and effective steps, such as mandatory face coverings on public transport, in place to halt the spread of the virus now.”

The Mayor’s comments came after a leading scientist suggested measures in ‘Plan B’ may not be needed if data continues to show a decline in cases.

Worth reading in full.

A Patient Writes…

Jonny Peppiatt, a regular contributor to the Daily Sceptic, has just returned home after a recent hospital stay. He shares his thoughts about what it’s like to be a non-Covid patient in a Covid-obsessed NHS.

“The back left of my throat is extremely painful. It hurts too much to talk, or eat, and feels like if it swells up any more then my throat will close. The pain’s spread through the left side of my jaw, my back teeth, and my left ear now too. I wouldn’t normally come to A&E for a “sore throat”, but I am worried about this swelling and struggling to breathe.”

That was the note I showed the receptionist at A&E this morning at about 3:40am. She took my details and I took a seat, prepared for the wait with some Netflix downloads, Spotify, and some work to do. Anything to distract me from the pain in my throat.

About half an hour later I was called to triage. First question: Have you had your Covid vaccine?” I answered their question honestly, and there was no follow up. Triage concluded that I should stick around, get some blood tests, and see a doctor. So that’s what I did.

The doctor took a look around my throat, asked if I’d had my Covid vaccine, confirmed the results of the bloods showed a very high infection, and told me she’d like to give me some medication and some antibiotics. She then told me to go back to the waiting room and wait to be called through to the main area of the hospital.