Day: 6 December 2021

And Finally…

In this week’s quick-fire episode of London Calling, James Delingpole and I talk Omicron parties, shooting parties and, evidently, the drug parties taking place in the Palace of Westminster. All this and a pass-the-sick-bag review of the execrable Wheel of Time in Culture Corner.

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

News Round-Up

New York City Announces Vaccine Mandate for Private Sector Workers

Since October, New York City has required all public sector workers, such as teachers, police officers, and civil servants, to be vaccinated against Covid, and has recently announced that the mandate will soon extend to all private sector employees. The policy will come into force on December 27th, with Mayor Bill de Blasio calling it a “pre-emptive strike” against a potential winter surge in Covid cases. Metro has the story.

The aggressive, first-of-its-kind measure, is what de Blasio is calling a “pre-emptive strike” to combat the expected surge in Covid cases this winter, as the Delta and Omicron variants create growing cause for concern.

“We in New York City have decided to use a pre-emptive strike, to really do something bold to stop the further growth of Covid and the dangers it’s causing to all of us,” the soon-to-be departing mayor said Monday morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show.

Vaccination requirement for hospital and nursing home staff as well as city employees, including teachers, police officers and firefighters has been in place since October.

“Omicron is here, and it looks like it’s very transmissible. The timing is horrible with the winter months,” de Blasio said.

“So as of today, we’re going to announce a first-in-the-nation measure. Our health commissioner will announce a vaccine mandate for private sector employers across the board.”

The mayor is expected to provide additional details to the new policy at a 10am briefing.

The policy will take effect on December 27th.

The city’s Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi said Monday children were the group most affected currently by breakthrough Covid cases, emphasizing the need to expand protections for vulnerable youth.

The mayor is also broadening the city’s Key to NYC vaccine mandate for city businesses, indoor dining, gyms, theatres and other entertainment venues to now include children ages 5 to 11 years-old. Beginning December 14th, children in that age group will be required to show proof of at least one shot.

According to the mayor’s office about 20% of those children have gotten at least one shot of the vaccine.

De Blasio said he expects the new mandate to survive any legal challenges. A spokesperson for the mayor said the private sector mandate will apply to roughly 184,000 businesses.

Additional guidance will be issued on December 15th, de Blasio said.

Worth reading in full.

Richard Dawkins Writes Blistering Letter to Chief Executive of the Royal Society of New Zealand About its Investigation of Eminent Scientist for Defending Science

Last week, I wrote about a scandal that’s currently engulfing the Royal Society of New Zealand in my Spectator column (and I blogged about it on the Daily Sceptic here). The nub of the story is that the Society is currently investigating one of its members, an eminent biochemist and a professor at the University of Auckland – Dr. Garth Cooper – for writing a letter to a New Zealand magazine challenging a proposal by a government body to teach Mauri “ways of knowing” in schools alongside physics, biology and chemistry, giving each equal weight when it comes to understanding the material world. I asked distinguished scholars in the sciences and humanities to write to the chief executive of the Royal Society of New Zealand to defend Professor Cooper and Dr. Richard Dawkins, Emeritus Professor of the Public Understanding of Science and a Fellow of the British Royal Society, has done exactly that. I am reproducing his letter below.

I have read Jerry Coyne’s long, detailed and fair-minded critique of the ludicrous move to incorporate Maori “ways of knowing” into science curricula in New Zealand, and the frankly appalling failure of the Royal Society of New Zealand to stand up for science – which is, after all, what your Society exists to do.

The world is full of thousands of creation myths and other colourful legends, any of which might be taught alongside Maori myths. Why choose Maori myths? For no better reason than that Maoris arrived in New Zealand a few centuries before Europeans. That would be a good reason to teach Maori mythology in anthropology classes. Arguably there’s even better reason for Australian schools to teach the myths of their indigenous peoples, who arrived tens of thousands of years before Europeans. Or for British schools to teach Celtic myths. Or Anglo-Saxon myths. But no indigenous myths from anywhere in the world, no matter how poetic or hauntingly beautiful, belong in science classes. Science classes are emphatically not the right place to teach scientific falsehoods alongside true science. Creationism is still bollocks even it is indigenous bollocks.

The Royal Society of New Zealand, like the Royal Society of which I have the honour to be a Fellow, is supposed to stand for science. Not “Western” science, not “European” science, not “White” science, not “Colonialist” science. Just science. Science is science is science, and it doesn’t matter who does it, or where, or what “tradition” they may have been brought up in. True science is evidence-based not tradition-based; it incorporates safeguards such as peer review, repeated experimental testing of hypotheses, double-blind trials, instruments to supplement and validate fallible senses, etc. True science works: lands spacecraft on comets, develops vaccines against plagues, predicts eclipses to the nearest second, reconstructs the lives of extinct species such as the tragically destroyed Moas.

If New Zealand’s Royal Society won’t stand up for true science in your country who will? What else is the Society for? What else is the rationale for its existence?

Yours very sincerely,

Richard Dawkins FRS

Stop Press: If any scholars would like to write to the chief executive of the Royal Society of New Zealand about this matter his name is Paul Atkins and his email address is paul.atkins@royalsociety.org.nz.

Italy Tightens Restrictions on the Unvaccinated with ‘Super Green Pass’

From today, all Italians will need to abide by the country’s ‘super green pass’ law, which means that only those who are double jabbed or have recently recovered from Covid are allowed to enter a wide variety of public places, such as restaurants and theatres. Unlike the old ‘green pass’ system, the ‘super green pass’ does not allow for the unvaccinated to provide proof of a negative Covid test, further hindering their right to participate in public life. MailOnline has the story.

Italy has brought in tougher restrictions for unvaccinated people as the holidays draw near, excluding them from indoor restaurants, theatres and museums to reduce the spread of Covid and encourage the unvaccinated to get their jabs.

Only those who have the ‘super green pass’, which requires Italians to be double jabbed rather than providing a negative Covid test result, will be able to fully participate in public life from Monday.

Italian police will be checking will be checking whether those visiting indoor restaurants, bars, concerts, sports events, theatres and public events, have the ‘super’ green health pass until January 15th.

The restrictions follow a steady rise of Covid cases in Italy for the past six weeks, with 15,021 infections recorded on Sunday, and a concern about the new Omicron variant which is believed to be more transmissible than the Delta strain. 

Elsewhere in Europe, leaders have rushed in a raft of new lockdown measures and travel bans amid panic over rising cases and the arrival of the Omicron variant. 

Germany has announced it will lock down its unvaccinated citizens and ban them from most public spaces in the run-up to Christmas, while those in France will have to show proof of vaccination to maintain a valid Covid pass which allows them into public venues.  

Italy’s vaccination rate is higher than many of its neighbours, at 85% of the eligible population aged 12 years-old and older and 77% of the total population. But people in their 30s, 40s and 50s have proved the most reluctant to get vaccinated, with nearly 3.5 million still not having received their first doses.

They are also the same age group that is now being hardest hit by the virus, according to Silvio Brusaferro, head of Italy’s National Health Institute.

Worth reading in full.

Children’s Commissioner and Dominic Raab Accuse Lockdown of Weakening Protections for Vulnerable Children

The Justice Secretary has said that school closures during lockdown had put vulnerable and neglected children at a greater risk of harm and abuse. In turn, Dame Rachel de Souza, the current Children’s Commissioner for England, concluded that the system put in place to protect six year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, who was murdered by his step-mother, was further weakened by the Government’s Covid restrictions, whereas her predecessor, Anne Longfield, mentioned that “very vulnerable children have continued to slip from view” over the course of the pandemic. The Times has the story.

Dame Rachel de Souza said that the voices of children must be listened to following the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.

Arthur was killed in June last year after Emma Tustin and Thomas Hughes had submitted him to a “campaign of cruelty” that amounted to torture at their home in Shirley, Solihull. The boy was isolated, abused and forced to eat salt-laced meals before dying from an “unsurvivable brain injury” after being beaten by Tustin.

Tustin was jailed for life at Coventry crown court with a minimum term of 29 years last week for abusing, poisoning and murdering Arthur while his father was jailed for 21 years for manslaughter and abuse. The judge described the case as “one of the most distressing and disturbing” he had experienced.

An independent serious case review is under way into the actions of Solihull council social workers who found “no safeguarding concerns” after visiting Arthur two months before he was killed. Social workers received at least three warnings from family members and teachers.

As the Government confirmed that it would be holding a national review to protect other children, de Souza, the Commissioner for England, said that more had to be done to support social workers to spot similar cases, but the coronavirus lockdown had weakened the system.

She told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show: “The life of a child is of inestimable value and his voice was not heard and that’s where we need to start.

“Obviously, there’s a serious case review under way and we need to see what that says but we must take decisive action and now.” She said Arthur was not a baby and had raised his concerns but “the system did not hear him”.

“We must listen to the voices of children and, secondly, these reviews and national reviews… tend to make the same recommendations. It’s not a matter of system recommendations, it’s a matter of delivery.”

The national Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel will lead the review and provide additional support to Solihull Safeguarding Children Partnership to “upgrade” the existing local review that was launched shortly after Arthur’s death.

Worth reading in full.

Covid Passports Reduce Trust in the Health Authorities

It’s often claimed that imposing Covid passports, as many EU countries have done, reduces trust in the health authorities. After all, trying to force someone to doing something isn’t the best way to win their trust. Persuasion usually works better.

However, despite the intuitive plausibility of the idea, good evidence has been hard to come by. A new Danish study changes that. (The study was recently published online, and it hasn’t yet been peer reviewed.)

To examine the effect of Covid passports on trust in the health authorities, Frederik Jørgensen and colleagues analysed data from a repeated daily survey of the Danish population, which has been going since May of 2020.

Crucially, the survey continued throughout November of 2021, during which the Danish government re-introduced Covid passports. Note: the Danish “corona passport” serves as evidence of vaccination or previous infection, so it does at least recognise natural immunity.

On 8th November, the Government held a press conference announcing this decision. During the press conference, Denmark’s Prime Minister explained that life would become “more burdensome” for the unvaccinated, whom he referred to as “a small group that does not play according to the rules”.

The researchers tracked two outcome measures over the weeks before and after the 8th November press conference. The first was simply whether one agreed with the statement, “I trust the political strategy behind the health authorities’ advice.”

The second was based on six statements, including the one above. The other five statements included, “I have been given clear information on the reasons for the health authorities’ advice,” and “The advice of the health authorities are sufficient to prevent the spread of infection.” This composite measure was labelled “collective action motivation”.

The authors main finding is shown in the chart below. It’s important to note that the press conference was held on the first day of week 45.

The interpretation is slightly complicated, so bear with me. Each circle (and associated confidence interval) corresponds to the difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated people relative to the benchmark week, which is week 41.

For example, the black circle for week 44 (which is almost exactly on the red zero line) indicates that the difference in trust between vaccinated and unvaccinated people in week 44 was the same as it was in week 41. Units along the y-axis are percentage points.

The key thing to notice is that the circles for weeks 45 and 46 are all below the red zero line. This indicates that the difference in trust between vaccinated and unvaccinated people became significantly larger after the 8th November press conference, with unvaccinated people becoming even less trusting than they were before.   

Jørgensen and colleagues’ finding constitutes particularly strong evidence that Covid passports are bad for trust sinces it combines a between-group comparison (vaccinated versus unvaccinated) with a before-after comparison (pre versus post press conference). The size of the effect is between 7 and 13 percentage points, depending on the measure.

Denmark is known to be one of the world’s most trusting countries. And in those characterised by less social trust, the researchers note, “adverse consequences of pressuring unvaccinated may be even more negative”.