Day: 8 December 2021

News Round-Up

Prime Minister Unveils Plan B – Sort Of

Is this ‘Plan B’? The new restrictions the Prime Minister announced at the Downing Street press conference sounded like a much-haggled-over compromise, with the details still being hammered out minutes before.

  • The mandatory face mask policy will be extended from schools, shops, public transport and beauty parlous to theatres and cinemas – but not to pubs, bars or restaurants.
  • Vaccine passports will be introduced for nightclubs and unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, but not pubs, bars or restaurants – or No 10 Downing Street, presumably.
  • Vaccine passports will be introduced for unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000, and any outdoor venue, whether seated or unseated, with more than 10,000 people. (So some but not all football stadiums?)
  • If you haven’t been double-jabbed, a negative lateral flow test result will enable you to access those venues that require a vaccine passport.
  • Work from home – if you can.

If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, this isn’t ‘Plan B’ so much as ‘Plan C for Camel’.

It goes without saying that there is no evidence these measures will suppress infection of any Covid virus, let alone omicron. After all, vaccine passports in Scotland have had zero effect, as confirmed in the Scottish Government’s recent 70-page report.

Being double-jabbed only marginally reduces your susceptibility to infection from Delta at best, and probably doesn’t reduce it at all, and self-administered lateral flow test are notoriously unreliable and likely to produce more false negatives than false positives. So insisting that people produce evidence that they’ve been vaccinated or have tested negative before admitting them to (checks notes) nightclubs, unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people in them, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and all outdoor venues with more than 10,000 is unlikely to have any impact on infection. Particularly when you factor in that the vaccines aren’t designed to protect people against the omicron variant.

Read more about this omnishambles on BBC News here, MailOnline here and the Telegraph here.

Is Vaccine Efficacy Being Overestimated Because Deaths in the Vaccinated Are Delayed Compared With the Unvaccinated?

There follows a guest post by ‘Amanuensis’, an ex-academic and senior Government researcher/scientist. It was first published on his Substack page.

The latest UKHSA Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths data shows a continuation of an interesting trend – while the majority of deaths with Covid occur in the 28 days following their positive test, there appears to be a relatively larger number of vaccinated dying after this point, compared with the unvaccinated.

This effect can be seen in the following table 1, which shows data from the UKHSA vaccine surveillance reports for weeks 36 to 48:

Note: We’re not simply comparing deaths <60 days and deaths <28 days in the UKHSE table – we have to compare deaths between 28 days and 60 days in the one month with deaths before 28 days in the prior month. For example, for the most recent data (week 48) we need to subtract the <60 days from the <28 days to get the deaths only in the second month, and then compare the deaths <28 for week 44, one month ago. Also, do not pay too much attention to absolute values – the reason that there are far more deaths in the vaccinated for the older age groups is because the majority are vaccinated.

For example, for those over 80 (the final row of the table), there were 480 deaths with Covid in unvaccinated individuals in the first 28 days after their positive test, but an additional 59 in the days that followed, up to day 60 – that’s an increase of approximately 12%. However, for vaccinated individuals aged over 80 there were 3,521 deaths with Covid in the first 28 days and an additional 852 deaths from day 28 to day 60 – an increase of approximately 24%.

This pattern of relatively more deaths with covid between day 28 and 60 in the vaccinated is seen for all age groups:

Omicron Already Declining in South Africa

Is that it? The original epicentre of the Omicron outbreak in South Africa, Gauteng province, has not seen reported daily infections increase for four days now.

One thing we don’t know from the available data is how much of the recent increase was due to increased testing in the country following the discovery of the Omicron variant. This means the spike may have been exaggerated by extra testing.

Combined with the reports that Omicron appears to produce milder disease, does this mean the Omicron scare is a false alarm? It’s looking that way.

On the other hand, a study from South Africa has found that antibodies from the Pfizer vaccine are more than 40 times less effective against Omicron compared to the original Wuhan strain. Data like this will be worrying governments relying on vaccines to avoid restrictions (always a bad idea – restrictions should be rejected on principle, because their harms outweigh any benefits, not made conditional on vaccines working), despite the wider reassuring news about Omicron.

‘Plan B’ Restrictions May Cost £4 Billion Per Month

With the announcement of ‘Plan B’ restrictions expected imminently, a study conducted by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) has unveiled that the measures, which include the imposition of vaccine passports and work from home guidelines, could cost the British economy £4 billion a month. Toby, quoted in the article below, has said that part of “the financial cost would be the constant demand from petty officials to see evidence of our vaccination status”. The Express has the story.

Boris Johnson is expected to announce the introduction of new restrictions against Covid at some point in the next 24 hours. A Government source told the Guardian that “new Covid rules are imminent” after a video emerged of Downing Street staff laughing about a Christmas party held last year.

Reports suggest that Mr Johnson could reintroduce work from home guidelines and introduce Covid vaccine passports.

Three senior Whitehall officials told the Financial Times that the Government has decided it will impose these winter ‘Plan B’ measures.

But new analysis by the IEA has revealed that these measures would have a damning impact on the British economy, at a time when the financial recovery from previous lockdowns is already pulling at taxpayers’ pockets.

The think tank has predicted that the restrictions could add fresh costs of £4 billion every month.

Julian Jessop, Economics Fellow at the IEA, said: “Even without a full national lockdown, the additional Covid restrictions apparently being considered in Whitehall could easily knock two percent off GDP – costing the UK economy £4 billion a month – and force the taxpayer to stump up billions more to prevent a new wave of bankruptcies and job losses.”

It is also understood that the costs of new measures would not stop at the economy.

Toby Young, Editor of the Daily Sceptic, said other impacts will be “even worse” than that on the economy.

He told the Express: “It is right to recognise the ruinous economic impact of ‘Plan B’, but even worse than the financial cost would be the constant demand from petty officials to see evidence of our vaccination status.

“Britain is not and never should be a ‘papers’ please’ country.”

Jessop added: “[The economic cost] is on top of all the social costs and harms to people’s wellbeing and liberties, as well as the risk of further disruption to children’s education.

“Some will argue that this would be a fair price to pay to clamp down on Omicron. However, this would require much stronger evidence that the new variant is more deadly, not just more transmissible.

“This is a particularly high bar to clear in the U.K., where most experts agree that the population has now acquired a high degree of immunity due to past infections and from the vaccine booster programme.”

Worth reading in full.

Government Expected to Announce ‘Plan B’ Restrictions Today

It’s being reported that the Government could announce the introduction of new restrictions including work-from-home guidance and vaccine passports as early as today. The Telegraph has the story:

New work-from-home guidance and vaccine passports could be announced as early as today, according to Government officials, as Cabinet ministers move to counter the omicron spread.

A meeting of the ‘Covid-O’ Cabinet sub-committee is expected to take place today to discuss the measures, with a possible full Cabinet meeting and press conference later.

The timing of the move appears to have been sped up significantly in the past 12 hours, with Government sources implying on Tuesday that no decisions would be taken until next week.

The Telegraph revealed today that the Cabinet discussed bringing in vaccine passports in a meeting on Tuesday, which split members around the table.

Michael Gove, the Communities Secretary, and Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, both spoke out in favour of the move, according to multiple sources familiar with the meeting.

But Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, and Alistair Jack, the Scottish Secretary, are critical of the move and are understood to have made comments making that clear.

It is not yet clear when the work-from-home guidance or vaccine passports would come into effect if announced today or how far-reaching they would become.

Is this a ‘dead cat’ to distract from the bad headlines about the 2020 Downing Street Christmas party? Why else would the Government be proposing now to bring in failed policies like vaccine passports when there is no evidence vaccines reduce transmission of Delta (let alone Omicron) and no evidence vaccine passports do either?

What happened to lockdown-lifting being irreversible, and relying on the vaccines rather than endless restrictions to ‘save the NHS’?

Depressing stuff. Let’s hope this proves to be a false alarm.

Worth reading in full.

Vaccine Side Effects Are More Common in Those Who’ve Already Had Covid

Over the last few months, many countries around the world have introduced vaccine passports and/or vaccine mandates. While some of these schemes are more accurately described as ‘immunity passports’ – since they recognise natural immunity from previous infection – many of them of do not.

In the U.S., there are already examples of healthcare workers with natural immunity being fired for refusing to comply with vaccine mandates. And this is despite the fact that natural immunity provides better immunity against infection than the vaccines.

Similarly, the UK’s vaccine mandate for care home workers does not include an exemption for those with natural immunity. Indeed, bioethicists at the University of Oxford have argued that it should include an exemption, on the grounds that natural immunity is at least as good as what the vaccines provide.

One potential counter-argument is that even natural immunity wanes, so those who’ve already been infected still stand to benefit from vaccination. However, this ignores the risks side of the equation. And while such risks might be low on average, they appear to be greater for young people – who face almost no risk from Covid to begin with.

What kind of risks are we talking about? First, there’s the ‘tail risk’ that the vaccines have serious long-term effects, which haven’t shown up in the data yet. Although this seems unlikely, it shouldn’t be dismissed entirely. Second, there are the rare but quantifiable side effects that we do know about.

The need to take account of both benefits and risks for those who’ve already been infected was summed up well by the vaccine scientist Christine Benn. (I found this quote in a BMJ article by Jennifer Block, which is definitely worth a read.)

If natural immunity is strongly protective, as the evidence to date suggests it is, then vaccinating people who have had covid-19 would seem to offer nothing or very little to benefit, logically leaving only harms—both the harms we already know about as well as those still unknown.

Of particular importance is the fact that ‘adverse events’ (i.e., side effects) appear to be more common in those who’ve already been infected. This has been found in at least half a dozen studies, based on data from several different countries. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

(I also found two studies reporting that adverse events were not more common in those who’ve already been infected. However, one of these studies had only two people with prior infection in the sample, so it doesn’t really tell us anything.)

Several of the studies that did report a difference simply compared the frequency of adverse events between those with and without prior infection. This leaves open the possibility that any difference is due to those with prior infection being younger.

However, some studies actually controlled for age and sex, and still found elevated rates of adverse events among those with prior infection.

Now, the vast majority of adverse events reported in these studies were mild or moderate – things like fatigue and flu-like illness. Yet one study found that severe side effects were more common among those with prior infection. Of course, this is just one study, so it shouldn’t be given too much credence.

A higher risk of fatigue or flu-like illness might not actually change the cost-benefit calculus for someone with prior infection who’s deciding whether to get vaccinated.

However, the evidence suggests that those who’ve already been infected not only face lower benefits from vaccination; they also face higher – or at least slightly higher – costs. (The cost-benefit ratio may be particularly unfavourable for young people who’ve already been infected.)

Vaccine passports and vaccine mandates are objectionable for a whole number of reasons. And when it comes to those who’ve already been infected – which will soon be most of us – there’s no case for them at all.

BMA and Asthma U.K. Say That Asthma Suffers Should Not be Exempt from Mask Mandates

The British Medical Association (BMA) has declared that those who suffer from asthma should still abide by mask mandates and guidelines, with the trade union’s Dr. Alan Stout stating that “99% of people who have those conditions can wear a face mask”. The charity Asthma U.K. also agree with the BMA’s view, saying that asthma suffers “can manage to wear a face mask or face covering”. BBC News has more.

Most people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease should wear face masks when required, the BMA has said.

The guidance from NI Direct states people with such conditions only need to say they cannot wear a mask when asked to prove they are exempt.

“99% of people who have those conditions can wear a face mask,” said the BMA’s Dr. Alan Stout.

Masks are mandatory in a number of settings including public transport.

Shops, airports and taxis are among the settings which the rule applies to in Northern Ireland, designed to prevent the spread of Covid.

In October, the NI Executive agreed this would continue as a legal requirement throughout the winter.

“There are a small number of exemptions to wearing a mask and they are very, very small, so the vast majority of people should be wearing a mask,” Dr. Stout told BBC News NI’s Good Morning Ulster programme.

The message came after the first three cases of the Omicron variant were discovered in Northern Ireland on Tuesday, and all linked to travel to Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

The BMA’s mask-wearing message came after a woman who was not wearing a mask on a train said she believed she was asthmatic because she was exempt.

“Asthma is not an exemption,” Dr. Stout responded.

“Asthma U.K. and the British Lung Foundation are very good and strong on this too that anyone suffering from those conditions should be wearing a face mask.”

Worth reading in full.

Secret Santa-Gate: Health Secretary Cancels All Media Interviews as the Prime Minister Faces Police Probe Over Downing Street Party

Sajid Javid today cancelled all his TV and radio interviews after a video emerged of Boris Johnson’s officials joking about a lockdown-busting Christmas party on December 22nd, 2020 when thousands were unable to visit or say goodbye to loved-ones and millions more obeyed the rules banning social gatherings. MailOnline has more about this burgeoning scandal.

Met Police detectives will consider launching an investigation over the leaked film showing the Prime Minister’s former press secretary Allegra Stratton giggling and laughing as she is asked about the event during a mock media conference.

This morning the Health Secretary pulled out of a round of key broadcast interviews to promote the booster campaign following the emergence of leaked footage showing Government aides joking about a festive gathering last year. BBC Breakfast took the extraordinary step of empty-chairing Mr Javid this morning as vaccines minister Maggie Throup also pulled out of her planned round of regional television interviews.

Downing Street is in crisis over the footage of Miss Stratton filmed last December 22nd – four days after the alleged ‘boozy’ party and when London was under strict Tier 3 coronavirus curbs. The revelation follows a week of tortured denials from No 10 over allegations that dozens of staff exchanged ‘secret Santa’ gifts and drank past midnight at an event said to have party games.

It came as new plans for Britons to work from home and for offices to be closed are being drawn up by the Government to curb a surge in Omicron variant case numbers over the festive period – but Tory MPs admitted the ‘indefensible’ and ‘catastrophic’ video could mean the public will resist or ignore more restrictions because of a lack of ‘moral authority’ in No 10.

Some backbenchers have even suggested that Boris Johnson’s could be forced to resign unless he ‘holds his hands up’ because of the video, which calls into question his insistence that all the rules had been followed at the time.

One said of Mr Johnson’s leadership: “I’m tired of it. He has to go. Clean sweep. It’s unsustainable.” Another said: “It confirms my suspicion of the sheer arrogance and hypocrisy of those orchestrating lockdown measures.”

Worth reading in full.

For lockdown sceptics, this scandal is manna from heaven because it makes it politically more difficult for the Government to impose a Christmas lockdown.

Lockdown Restrictions Have Accelerated America’s Youth Mental Health Crisis, Says Surgeon General

The U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has said that an already existing youth mental health crisis has been amplified over the course of the pandemic. Targeting lockdown restrictions directly, Murphy referred to the “devastating” impact which school closures and a lack of socialisation have had on the mental well-being of America’s children and young adults. The Mail has more.

While youth mental health had been a growing concern before the pandemic with increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, Covid has exacerbated this trend into a crisis, Murthy said.

For example, during the pandemic, the number of children and teenagers reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety doubled, according to one study of 80,000 youth around the world.

Children from minority communities and those at socioeconomic disadvantages, as well as those who lost a parent or caregiver to Covid, are at higher risk for Covid-related mental health conditions, the Surgeon General’s report found.

The Surgeon General’s advisory provides recommendations for improving mental health through increasing mental health care access, addressing economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health, and more.

In the decade prior to Covid, youth mental health has become a growing concern for doctors and public health experts, and the pandemic exacerbated this concern.

A new report from the U.S. Surgeon General’s office (released Tuesday) provides statistics on youth mental health, as well as recommendations for how to address this challenge.

“Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread,” said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in a statement about the report.

“Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide, and rates have increased over the past decade.”

For young people, mental health conditions may be caused by both biological factors and environmental factors.

These environmental factors can include relationships with family members, relationships with peers, neighbourhood safety, and social and economic inequalities, according to the Surgeon General’s report.

Prior to Covid, up to one in five children between the ages of three and 17 years-old had a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioural disorder.

This number has increased sharply over the last 10 years, according to the report.

From 2009 to 2019, the share of high school students who reported feeling sad or hopeless increased by 40%, to more than one in three students.

The share of high school students seriously considering a suicide attempt increased by 36 percent, while the share creating a suicide plan increased by 44%.

The Covid pandemic has added further hardship and stressful experiences for America’s young people.

“The Covid pandemic further altered their experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating,” Murthy said.

Covid caused schools to close across the country, disrupting opportunities for learning and socializing with peers.

In addition, many children who relied upon school for access to healthcare and social services had those services disrupted.

Numerous children also faced housing and food insecurity as their parents and caregivers went through job loss due to the pandemic.

Worth reading in full.