Day: 8 November 2021

News Round-Up

And Finally…

In the latest episode of London Calling, James Delingpole and I discuss James’s aversion to answering emails; David Starkey’s jaw-dropping assertion that vaccines should be compulsory; the new head of NHS England’s misleading claim that there are currently 14 times as many Covid patients in hospital as there were this time last year (in fact, there are fewer); Matt Hancock’s Telegraph comment piece saying the case for insisting all health workers are vaccinated is “unanswerable”, even though he doesn’t actually answer any of the standard counter-arguments; Obama’s speech at COP26 in which he blamed ‘nationalism’ for lack of progress on climate change while in a country run by nationalists; the ‘unholy trinity’ – Covid, Climate Change and Social Justice – used by governments to exert more and more control over their populations; my trip to Blackpool to see QPR away; and, in Culture Corner, Midnight Mass, Invasion, The Morning Show and American Crime Story: Impeachment.

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

How Could the Head of the NHS Have Got the Covid Hospital Admissions Figures So Wrong?

We’re publishing a second post about today’s wildly misleading claim by the CEO of NHS England that the number of patients being admitted to hospital with COVID-19 is currently 14 times greater than it was this time last year, this one by the Daily Sceptic’s in-house doctor. He is a hardened former NHS consultant and it takes a lot to shock him – but even he was taken aback but just how inaccurate this statement was.

Earlier today, Amanda Pritchard, the CEO of the NHS, made a statement to the effect that there were currently 14 times as many patients being admitted to English hospitals with COVID compared to this time last year. The purpose of this article is not to point out that this statement is factually incorrect – it’s so obviously incorrect that there have already been plenty of other commentators running fact checks.

Rather, I aim to quantify how incorrect that statement was and consider why the person running the NHS could have made such an egregious error of fact. So far, I have not seen a formal retraction or explanation from Ms Pritchard.

Firstly, the figures as we see them on the official NHS dashboard. In graph 1 I have plotted the number of patients admitted to hospital each day and the number of diagnoses of Covid made in hospital from April to November. The brown line is 2020 and the blue line 2021. It can clearly be seen that currently there are fewer patients being admitted and diagnosed in hospital with Covid than at this time last year. The only point at which one could possibly stand up an argument that there were 14 times as many patients being admitted in 2021 compared to 2020 would be the middle of August. In mid-August 2020 there were roughly 40 patients per day being admitted to English hospitals with Covid. In mid-August 2021 there were about 650 a day – this is approximately 14 times the 2020 figure.

My guess is that someone panicking in NHS England looked at Graph 1 (which they clearly have access to) and trotted out the line that Pritchard was referring to the numbers in August, giving the pathetically mendacious excuse that “these are the latest data we have”.

The Follies of ‘Net Zero’ Carbon Risk Consigning Millions to Energy Poverty

There follows a guest post by Ian Hore-Lacy, Senior Adviser to the World Nuclear Association, who is based in Melbourne, Australia, and is concerned about the direction of travel in his home country as it begins to take seriously cutting CO₂ emissions following COP26. Ian was recently interviewed on the Titans of Nuclear podcast (also available on iTunes and Spotify).

In Australia, media reporting of COP26 in Glasgow has been doubling down on reporting every anomalous weather event or sea-level concern as due to climate change, despite some fairly clear scientific findings in the AR6 science report showing such attribution as nonsense. Having spent the best part of two days looking at the AR6 science it is quite clear that we can live with the likely scenarios. The report itself notes that the very high emission and warming scenario SSP5-8.5 “has been debated in light of recent developments in the energy sector” and discounted but cannot be entirely ruled out. It projects a very great increase in coal use and has been carried forward from earlier modelling without real modification. Including this highly improbable, obsolete and extreme scenario, however, has fed a lot of extreme rhetoric by people who should know better, including the head of IPCC, António Guterres.

The language of crisis and catastrophe is used uncritically and without justification. It’s becoming evident that no panic measures will emerge from the Glasgow theatrics, but perhaps a steady focus on improvement, to minimise human contribution to CO₂ levels. In Europe the media focus has been on the current energy crisis, especially in the U.K. Australian PM Scott Morrison did well in Glasgow; he now needs to flesh out the ’technology’ that will save us. He needs to avoid a fight with the opposition Labor party, but somehow prevail in his fight with the renewables rent-seekers who are adding $7 billion per year to Australia’s electricity bills for little effect.

China’s Extreme Zero-Covid Policies Have Not Shielded It From Its Largest Outbreak Since Wuhan

The Chinese Government has declared that the nation is going through a severe outbreak of the Delta variant, with the epidemic reaching 20 out of 31 provinces. This situation has developed in spite of China’s extreme zero-Covid measures, with the Government now telling members of the public to stock up on food supplies in preparation for further restrictions. The MailOnline has more.

Cases were concentrated in the country’s northern regions of Gansu, Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolia.  

The National Health Commission confirmed on Monday 65 new local symptomatic cases for Sunday, up from 50 a day earlier and the highest daily count since August 9th at the peak of China’s last major outbreak. 

Most of the local cases were found in Dalian, in the northeastern province of Liaoning, where nine infections were recorded on Wednesday. 

And reports from the Sichuan provincial capital said dozens of people had scaled fences and trekked through bushes to avoid being tested for Covid.

It came after the capital was sealed off by authorities for mandatory testing after a person who had visited the city became infected. Police said they had not yet verified the reports or arrested anyone and were investigating.  

The spread and rise in Covid infections comes despite the Chinese Government enforcing tighter curbs to contain the cases.

Henan province’s Communist Party Secretary Lou Yangsheng said on Monday the region would “contain and kill” its outbreak in one week. 

The vow came after Henan recorded the largest single-day rise in local infections of the present outbreak with three on Saturday and 18 on Sunday. 

Lou said officials would improve contact tracing systems and increase monitoring of close contacts and potential cases. He added lockdowns would be implemented and expanded as necessary.  

National authorities also said on Saturday the country would continue to pursue a zero-Covid strategy. 

One expert last week insisted the current outbreak will be contained “within a month”.

Zhong Nanshan, a leading expert in China’s respiratory disease research, told China Global Television Network that China will continue with its zero-transmission policy against Covid, because the global Covid fatality rate of 2% is too high.

Worth reading in full.

Head of NHS England Caught Out Spreading Misinformation About Covid Hospital Admissions

Earlier today, Amanda Pritchard, the head of NHS England, made the following claim:

There is no doubt that the NHS is running hot and there are some very real pressures on health and social care. We have had 14 times the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 than we saw this time last year.

Needless to say, this was faithfully reported by various media outlets. For instance, ITV News ran a story on it headlined: “Hospital Covid admissions 14 times higher than this time in 2020.”

There was only one problem: it isn’t true. The number of COVID-19 patients currently in English hospitals is 7,510 according to the Government’s Coronavirus Dashboard, whereas the number in November 2020 was over 11,000.

When the figures being reported by ITV – and Sky News, and iNews – were challenged, NHS England issued a ‘clarification’, explaining that she was comparing August 2021 with August 2020, neglecting to mention that in August of last year the virus had dwindled away to almost nothing. The reason she hadn’t cited more up to date figures, according to the poor flak at NHS England tasked with explaining away this misleading stat, was that “these are the latest figures they have”.

Unfortunately, the cover up was no more true than the initial claim. NHS England has access to more up to date figures than August of this year – the latest figures on the Coronavirus Dashboard, supplied by NHS England, are for November 2nd.

Despite a Tsunami of Condemnation, Sweden’s Approach to Covid Hasn’t Ended In Disaster

When major Western nations committed themselves to top-down draconian lockdown measures, Sweden was largely alone in allowing life to continue as it had been before. This did not stop journalists or academics, both at home and abroad, from accusing the Nordic nation of performing a dangerous and deadly experiment. But Sweden has fared much better than Western nations which repeatedly shut their societies down for months on end (a fact largely ignored by the mainstream media). Johan Anderberg, writing in UnHerd, has more.

Until recently, prohibition remained the largest experiment in social engineering a democracy had ever undertaken. And then, in early 2020, a new virus began to spread from China. Faced with this threat, the world’s governments responded by closing schools, banning people from meeting, forcing entrepreneurs to shut their businesses and making ordinary people wear face masks. Like prohibition, this experiment provoked a debate. In all the democracies of the world, freedom was weighed against what was perceived as security; individual rights versus what was considered best for public health.

Few now remember that for most of 2020, the word ‘experiment’ had negative connotations. That was what Swedes were accused of conducting when we, unlike the rest of the world, maintained some semblance of normality. The citizens of this country generally didn’t have to wear face masks; young children continued going to school; leisure activities were largely allowed to continue unhindered…

During the year that followed, the virus continued to ravage the world and, one by one, the death tolls in countries that had locked down began to surpass Sweden’s. Britain, the United States, France, Poland, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Spain, Argentina, Belgium, all countries that had variously shut down playgrounds, forced their children to wear facemasks, closed schools, fined citizens for hanging out on the beach and guarded parks with drones, have all been hit worse than Sweden. At the time of writing, more than 50 countries have a higher death rate. If you measure excess mortality for the whole of 2020, Sweden (according to Eurostat) will end up in 21st place out of 31 European countries. If Sweden was a part of the U.S., its death rate would rank number 43 of the 50 states.

This fact is shockingly underreported. Consider the sheer number of articles and TV segments devoted to Sweden’s foolishly liberal attitude to the pandemic last year, as well as the daily reference to figures that are forgotten today. Suddenly, it is as if Sweden doesn’t exist. When the Wall Street Journal recently published a report from Portugal, it described how the country “offered a glimpse” of what it would be like to live with the virus. This new normal involved, among other things, vaccine passports and face masks at large events like football matches. Nowhere in the report was it mentioned that in Sweden you can go to football matches without wearing a facemask, or that Sweden, with a smaller proportion of Covid deaths over the course of the pandemic, had ended virtually all restrictions. Sweden has been living with the virus for some time.

The WSJ is far from alone in its selective reporting. The New York TimesGuardian, BBCThe Times, all cheerleaders for lockdowns, can’t fathom casting doubt on their efficacy.

Worth reading in full.

Matt Hancock Demands That Mandatory Vaccination for NHS Staff Must Arrive before Winter

hancock.jpg

The former Health Secretary has declared that NHS workers must be coerced into having both doses of a Covid vaccine before the onset of winter, while criticising unvaccinated staff for dismissing “all the scientific and clinical advice”. However, the current Health Secretary Sajid Javid wishes to delay the implementation of mandatory vaccinations for NHS employees until April of next year to avoid a severe staffing shortage over the Christmas period. The MailOnline has more.

Hancock, who quit in June after breaching his own social distancing rules by kissing a married colleague, said the move would act as another “tool to save lives” during what is projected to be a harsh winter for the health service.

He also scorned NHS staff who are still not vaccinated and don’t have a valid medical reason, warning that it was their “moral duty” and that they had “ignored all the scientific and clinical advice”.

Ministers have for weeks been considering whether to make Covid jabs compulsory within the health service after pushing through the requirement for care home workers in the summer. 

But last week the Health Secretary Sajid Javid appeared to push back the inoculation deadline until April amid warnings from NHS bosses that introducing a ‘no jab, no job’ policy now could leave hospitals understaffed at a crucial period.

Writing in the the Telegraph, Hancock, who was Health Secretary for three years, warned ministers against delaying compulsory vaccinations for the sector into the new year.

He said: “having looked at all the evidence, I am now convinced we must require vaccination for everyone who works not just in social care but the NHS, and get it in place as fast as possible… so as we prepare to a face a difficult winter, let’s use all the tools we have to save lives. 

Imagine the cancer patient, already battling another deadly disease, being cared for by a nurse. Who can put their hand on their heart and say they’d be happy to tell that patient their nurse could have the vaccine, but has chosen against all scientific and clinical advice to ignore it.”

Hancock said doctors and nurses had a “moral duty” to get the Covid vaccine to protect their patients.

A SAGE adviser said today it was a “general standard of hygiene” for anyone in a frontline role in contact with vulnerable patients to be double vaccinated against Covid. But they stopped short of calling for jabs to be made compulsory, saying this should only be done as a “last resort”. 

NHS England figures show only a small minority of NHS staff are still to get two doses of the vaccine, with more than nine in 10 doctors and nurses having already received both jabs. Health chiefs warned yesterday that hospitals are already at peak winter levels of bed occupancy despite it being early in the season. 

All care home workers will be required to have had two doses of the Covid vaccine from Thursday or lose their jobs, under a policy brought in while Hancock was Health Secretary. 

But the Government’s own figures suggest this will lead to some 40,000 care home workers losing their jobs in the already understaffed sector. This could lead to the closure of up to 500 homes, putting extra pressure on hospitals which will be unable to discharge patients well enough to be taken off the wards.

Worth reading in full.

Scottish Nightclubs Get Around Vaccine Passport Rules by Putting Furniture on Dance Floors

Scottish nightclubs have discovered a loophole in the vaccine passport scheme whereby if they put chairs on the dance floor they are no longer classified as nightclubs and can ignore the rules. This has led to claims that the scheme has descended into “a shambolic mess”. The Telegraph has more.

Lulu, a major nightclub in Edinburgh, has begun marketing itself to unvaccinated Scots by advertising the fact that door staff will not be carrying out checks on whether customers have been jabbed.

Nightclubs and other venues, such as stadiums and concert venues hosting major events, have been legally obliged to check customers’ vaccination records in Scotland since last month.

However, despite describing itself as “Edinburgh’s best nightclub” and being open until 3am, Lulu said it technically no longer qualified as a nightclub under Scottish government rules because it had placed seats on its dance floor.

In several social media posts promoting the changes, introduced at the weekend, the venue boasted that “normal service” had resumed and added: “You don’t need [a] vaccine passport to party with us.”

Under the legal definition, only venues with a space “provided for dancing by customers” are classed as a nightclub, meaning those that install seating instead can claim they are outside the scheme’s scope. Hospitality industry representatives said clubs across Scotland were exploiting the loophole so they could ignore vaccine passport rules.

“SNP ministers should be embarrassed that they designed such a mess of a scheme,” Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Conservative spokesman for Covid recovery, said.

“The vaccine passports guidance is so shambolic that places which are clearly not nightclubs are being billed as nightclubs, and places that are clearly nightclubs are managing to use loopholes to claim they’re not.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Scottish nightclub owners can locate their nearest branch of IKEA here.

Viral Tweet Praises Korea But Doesn’t Mention Japan

In a recent viral tweet, Vincent Rajkumar – a professor at the Mayo Clinic – said the following:

South Korea followed the textbook principles of epidemiology. Kept deaths 40 times lower all the way till 75% of population fully vaccinated. This is success.

His tweet was accompanied by a chart showing the cumulative Covid death rate in the U.S., U.K. and Korea, with the line for Korea being much lower than the other two. In a follow-up tweet, Rajkumar identified the measures that supposedly account for Korea’s success, basically masks and contact tracing.

The implication is that if only the U.S. and U.K. had “followed the textbook principles of epidemiology” like Korea, they too could have achieved very low Covid death rates. But I’m not convinced.

First, there’s one small technical detail, which is that the U.K. did try both masks and contact tracing, and neither had much impact on the epidemic’s trajectory.

A recent report by the Public Accounts Committee concluded that Test and Trace (the U.K.’s contact tracing scheme) had “not achieved its main objective”, despite an “eye watering” budget. £37 billion here, £37 billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money…

So far so bad for idea that all we needed was masks and contact tracing. But there’s another reason to doubt the implication of Rajkumar’s tweet: Japan achieved exactly the same outcomes as Korea, and it did almost nothing until the start of this year.

In 2020, Japan had zero days of mandatory business closures and zero days of mandatory stay-at-home orders. The country relied on “limited contact tracing” (a designation given in the Oxford Blavatnik School’s COVID-19 Government Response Tracker). This is in contrast to Korea, which used “comprehensive contact tracing”.

The chart below plots the stringency index for Japan, Korea and the U.K. Apart from a brief period at the start of 2020: the U.K.’s index has consistently been highest, while Japan’s has consistently been lowest.

In spite of this, both Japan and Korea have had zero excess mortality to date, whereas the U.K. – the most stringent of the three countries – has had between 6 and 20% excess mortality, depending on how you compute it.

The experience of Japan, combined with the global pattern of excess mortality, suggests that some cultural or biological factor that’s unique to East Asia explains the low death rates – and indeed the low infection rates – in that region. This factor could be more diligent social distancing or perhaps greater prior immunity.  

Whatever the explanation, it’s unlikely Korea’s success could have been replicated in Britain – even if we’d ploughed the entire NHS budget into Test and Trace.