Day: 7 December 2021

News Round-Up

Bill de Blasio’s New Vaccine Mandate is the Final Nail in the Coffin of this Bloviating Buffoon

I’ve written a comment piece for Mail+ taking to talk Bill de Blasio, the Mayor of New York, for announcing that private employers would have to enforce a ‘no jab, no job’ policy. This goes beyond almost anywhere else in the United States – and, indeed, the rest of the world – where vaccine mandates are limited to the public sector and health care. Here is an extract:

Not only is this a grotesque interference in the freedom of association of private companies, but it will force New York City’s three-and-a-half million private sector employees to get vaccinated if they want to keep their jobs. Some will already be double-jabbed, but those who aren’t have been told they need to either work from home or have at least one dose by December 27th.

Why should the vaccine hesitant be strong-armed into injecting a substance into their bodies against their will?

The left-wing mayor justified this draconian policy by appealing to… you guessed it, the new variant.

“Omicron is here, and it looks like it’s very transmissible,” he said in an interview on MSNBC.

“The timing is horrible with the winter months [looming].”

But everything we know about Omicron so far indicates it is milder than previous variants of COVID-19, resulting in fewer hospitalisations.

Even if Omicron has a nasty surprise in store, forcing people to get jabbed won’t make much difference since cutting transmission is so far unproven for it. Indeed, they aren’t great at preventing people catching the old variant – they reduce the risk of infection from Delta, but don’t come close to eliminating it. So why deploy them as your main weapon against Omicron?

If Mayor De Blasio was concerned about New York City’s hospitals being overwhelmed in December, January and February, he would offer to re-employ those healthcare workers who’ve been fired because they refuse to be double-jabbed.

As in England, labour shortages are contributing to winter pressure on New York’s health system – and not just because hospitals are short-staffed. Elderly patients who are well enough to be discharged have to remain in their beds because there aren’t enough care-home employees to look after them. This is a crisis of Bill de Blasio’s own making.

Worth reading in full.

Alcohol Deaths Increased at Record Rate Over Lockdown

Over the course of 2020, the number of deaths caused by alcohol increased by almost 19% according to the Office for National Statistics, with last year witnessing the biggest rise in alcohol deaths since records began. In addition, Public Health England (PHE) reported that, during the first lockdown, there was a noticeable increase in the number of people consuming more than 14 units a week, with the Head of Health Analysis pointing out that “loneliness, depression, and anxiety” may have been key factors fostering this trend. The Guardian has the story.

There were 8,974 deaths from alcohol specific causes registered in the 12 month period, up from 7,565 deaths in 2019 – the highest year-on-year increase since the data series began in 2001. It bucks a trend in which fatalities from alcohol remained stable for the previous seven years.

In England, the number of people drinking more than 14 units a week increased after the first national lockdown, according to surveys by PHE, and has remained at similar levels since. As pubs shut, drinking at home soared, with off-licence sales of beer rising 31% and spirits 26% compared with 2019.

Dr. James Tucker, the Head of Health Analysis, said: “There will be many complex factors behind the elevated risk since spring 2020.

“For instance, Public Health England analysis has shown consumption patterns have changed since the onset of the Covid pandemic, which could have led to hospital admissions and ultimately deaths. We’ve seen increases in loneliness, depression and anxiety during the pandemic and these could also be factors. However, it will be some time before we fully understand the impact of all of these.”

Close to eight out of 10 of the deaths were from alcoholic liver disease and although alcohol-related cirrhosis can take a decade or more to develop, most deaths occur as a result of acute-on-chronic liver failure owing to recent alcohol intake, a PHE study in July found.

Scotland and Northern Ireland continued to have the highest rates of alcohol deaths, but the fastest rises were in Wales and England. The sharpest rise in deaths in England was in the West Midlands, followed by the south-west and London. Nearly twice as many men died as women, which is consistent with previous years.

Worth reading in full.

Campaign Group Launches Action Week Against Vaccine Passports

Below is a press release from the group Together (a link to their website can be found here), who are holding an Action Week, taking place from December 6th – 10th, to try and fight the imposition of vaccine passports across the U.K. If you would like more information, please contact: press@togetherdeclaration.org.

The introduction of vaccine passports in Scotland, Wales and now Northern Ireland has been punitive to businesses as well as being illogical and discriminatory.  

In the past few days, we have seen a predictable knee-jerk reaction to a ‘new variant’ with talk of introducing ‘Plan B’ restrictions in England and further restrictions. This is a complete overreaction given that experts in South Africa and the WHO have all said that the Omicron variant currently presents ‘mild symptoms’.

One of the founding principles of #Together is that ordinary people should have their voices heard. With almost 150,000 signatories, growing daily, #TogetherUK is organising Action Week from December 6th – 10th to stand united against the introduction of vaccine passports here in England and to fight for their removal throughout the rest of the U.K. 

Supporters and signatories of the #Together Declaration will take part in a five day action plan to lobby their local MP daily, culminating in either a visit to their local MP surgery or where that is not possible, to broadcast from their local high street on Friday December 10th. 

Stop Press: GMB is conducting a Twitter poll asking people if they think vaccine passports should be made mandatory in the light of “omnicron cases doubling every two days”. You know what to do.

South African Data Suggests The Omicron Variant Is Mild

Recent data gathered from South African hospitals has implied that the Omicron variant is less dangerous than those witnessed in previous Covid waves, although it may have a high transmission rate. Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said that there could be a “large number” of cases, but this would likely be counteracted by less people requiring medical attention. Financial Times has the story.

Early data from the Steve Biko and Tshwane District Hospital Complex in South Africa’s capital Pretoria, which is at the centre of the outbreak, showed that on December 2nd only nine of the 42 patients on the Covid ward, all of whom were unvaccinated, were being treated for the virus and were in need of oxygen.

The remainder of the patients had tested positive but were asymptomatic and being treated for other conditions.

“My colleagues and I have all noticed this high number of patients on room air,” said Dr. Fareed Abdullah, a director of the South African Medical Research Council and an infectious disease doctor at the Steve Biko hospital.

“You walked into a Covid ward any time in the past 18 months… you could hear the oxygen whooshing out of the wall sockets, you could hear the ventilators beeping… but now the vast majority of patients are like any other ward.”

The data will reassure global health officials who have been alarmed by South Africa’s rapid rise in infections. But experts have warned that the sharp increase in cases, linked to the new variant’s apparent ability to evade immune protection from previous infection or vaccination, could still strain hospitals to a similar extent as the summer Delta wave.

Meanwhile, concern is growing in neighbouring Zimbabwe where surging infection rates are beginning to test the creaking healthcare system in the first sign of the Omicron wave spilling across the region.

The pattern of milder disease in Pretoria is corroborated by data for the whole of Gauteng province. 8% of Covid-positive hospital patients are being treated in intensive care units, down from 23% throughout the Delta wave, and just 2% are on ventilators, down from 11%.

Although the total number of Covid-positive patients in Gauteng’s hospitals is approaching the level it reached at the same stage of the Delta wave, researchers said a large proportion received treatment for other conditions. And the number of Covid patients in intensive care is one quarter of what it was three weeks into the Delta outbreak.

“I’m extremely optimistic,” said Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, who forecast that while there would be a “large number” of breakthrough infections and reinfections, a smaller proportion of cases would end up requiring hospital treatment.

Top U.S. health official Anthony Fauci said on Sunday that early signals about the severity of the variant were “encouraging”.

Worth reading in full.

Scottish Primary School Closes After ‘Suspected’ Omicron Outbreak

Todholm Primary school, located in Renfrewshire, Scotland, has been shut for a week after a ‘suspected’ outbreak of the Omicron variant led to numerous members of staff and two class groups being required to self-isolate. Last week, approximately 14,000 school pupils in Scotland were recorded as absent for Covid related reasons. The Times has the story.

Todholm Primary, in Paisley, Renfrewshire, announced it had been forced to close for a week after a suspected outbreak of the Omicron variant meant it was unable to maintain necessary staffing levels.

Two class groups in P1 and another in P2 are self-isolating, as well as multiple staff members.

The number of pupils absent for Covid reasons throughout Scotland was holding steady at about 14,000 on Friday, some 2% of the total school roll.

NHS Highland has eight confirmed cases of Omicron, with some detected amid a “significant outbreak” of Covid linked to a music event at the Royal British Legion in Nairn on November 27th.

There have been 67 cases of coronavirus detected in Nairn in the past seven days, a rate of more than 400 per 100,000, above the national average of 250 per 100,000.

Greater Glasgow and Lanarkshire has the highest number of confirmed Omicron cases with 49.

Cases have also been detected in Forth Valley, Ayrshire & Arran, Fife, Grampian, Lothian and Tayside. Only the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway and the islands health boards remain free of the variant at present.

Dr. Christine Tait-Burkard, a Covid specialist at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, urged the public to follow new guidance to take a rapid test every time they go out in public.

Speaking on Lunchtime Live, on BBC Radio Scotland, she said: “We still don’t know very much more about Omicron.

“The continued information we get from South Africa is, on the positive side we continue to hear that it doesn’t seem to be as devastating in terms of symptoms when we compare it to Delta. Obviously we have to put caveats on that as South Africa has a different demographic of younger people.

“On the other hand we continue to see a very rapid spread in South Africa which is bad news, and we also see increased transmission in the U.K. Time will tell how much quicker that is next to Delta in a highly vaccinated society.”

Worth reading in full.

Studies “Consistently” Find That Costs of Lockdown Outweigh Benefits, Say Researchers

Notable by its absence from the House of Commons’ pro-lockdown report was any mention of cost-benefit analysis. Indeed, the authors sidestepped the single most important question – was the lockdown worth it? – and went straight to saying that we should have locked down sooner!

Had they attempted to weigh up the costs and benefits, their report’s conclusions might have looked very different – assuming, of course, that they didn’t bungle the analysis. Remember: there are things to consider other than Covid outcomes.

Cost-benefit analyses published since the summer of 2020 have not been kind to lockdowns (which may explain their lack of inclusion in the House of Commons’ report). In a new paper, Ari Joffe and David Redman review 11 studies, each of which estimated impact using a common metric (e.g., the QALY).

Their results are shown in the table below. Each study’s main finding is given in the right-hand column.

All 11 studies found evidence that lockdowns do more harm than good. Among the nine that directly compared costs and benefits, the smallest ratio of costs to benefits was 2.5, and the largest was 26.

What’s more, the studies generally made assumptions favourable to lockdowns (e.g., that they have a large impact on the epidemic’s trajectory). Hence, in the authors’ words, their results “strongly suggest that lockdowns do not have a favorable cost-benefit balance”.

Joffe and Redman’s paper not only reviews cost-benefit analyses of lockdown, but also sets out an alternative plan for dealing with Covid (or, perhaps, with a similar pandemic virus in the future). Their plan specifies that the goal should be minimising harm to society “as a whole”, rather than – say – minimising the total number of Covid deaths.

It contains a number of appealing elements: increasing surge capacity; providing focused protection for the elderly; and reporting relevant information with context (e.g., number of deaths from all causes alongside the number of Covid deaths).

The paper by Joffe and Redman contains a lot of useful insights, and is worth reading in full.

Great Climate Conspirators of Our Time

We’re publishing an original article by freelance journalist Chris Morrison disputing the idea that anyone who challenges climate change alarmism is a conspiracy theorist. Some of them are actually quite respectable.

Just before he died the popular communicator Clive James wrote an essay entitled “Mass Death Dies Hard” in which he noted that in reporting climate science the BBC “has been behaving for several years as if its true aim were to reproduce the thought control that prevailed in the Soviet Union”. When he died, the obits mostly glossed over his apostasy, although in his lifetime the fount of eternal doom George Monbiot called him a “sucker”.

“When you tell people once too often that the missing extra heat is hiding in the ocean they will switch over to watch Game of Thrones where the dialogue is less ridiculous and all the threats come true,” wrote James. “The proponents of man-made climate catastrophe asked us for so many leaps of faith that they were bound to run out of credibility in the end.”

The writer Melanie Phillips was the first editor of the Guardian environmental supplement and today is a trenchant supporter of debating the unproven scientific hypothesis that humans cause all or most global warming. She has called the idea of settled science a “scam”. Writing on her Substack after Justin Welby said that politicians failing to address the climate emergency would be guilty of indirect genocide, she concluded that his “grossly inappropriate comparison illustrated the way in which the climate issue has unbalanced people so they lose all sense of proportion”.

The only Apollo scientist who went to the moon, Harrison Schmitt, argues that there is “no evidence” that humans cause climate change, a reference to the fact that the hypothesis has yet to produce a single peer-reviewed, credible science paper that proves it. His scepticism is shared by Buzz Aldrin, causing the polemist (and sceptic) Mark Steyn to note: “Clearly this Buzz Aldrin kook is just some whack job who believes the moon landings were filmed in Nevada.”