Day: 11 December 2021

News Round-Up

A Doctor Writes… What We Know About the Omicron Variant So Far

There follows a guest post from our in-house doctor, formerly a senior medic in the NHS, on what we know so far about the Omicron Covid variant. He’s also written about the scandal of the Downing Street parties – Secret Santa-Gate – asking: “If Covid really was such a mortal threat as the Government have led the public to believe, do readers really think that Downing Street apparatchiks would be flocking to packed parties in small rooms? I suspect not.

It’s now two weeks since the world first heard of the Omicron variant. Travel restrictions and mask mandates were immediately reimposed on the U.K. population and have since been tightened further. Reports in the press this morning are trailing the reimposition of more curbs on liberty in the U.K. over the next few weeks. In today’s update, I will examine what we have learnt about the new variant and to what extent it may affect the situation in the NHS. This update is a bit data-heavy, so apologies in advance for the graphic fest.

South Africa is widely regarded as the epicentre of Omicron. Having spent considerable time working in that wonderful country, I can attest to the expertise of my South African medical colleagues, particularly in the field of infectious diseases. So, when Dr. Fareed Abdullah writes from the Steve Biko Hospital in Pretoria that the data so far on the Omicron variant suggests it is very much milder than the Delta variant, I’m inclined to take him seriously.

I encourage readers to examine this document themselves – this extract is worth quoting in full:

In summary, the first impression on examination of the 166 patients admitted since the Omicron variant made an appearance, together with the snapshot of the clinical profile of 42 patients currently in the Covid wards at the SBAH/TDH complex, is that the majority of hospital admissions are for diagnoses unrelated to Covid. The SARS-CoV-2 positivity is an incidental finding in these patients and is largely driven by hospital policy requiring testing of all patients requiring admission to the hospital.

Using the proportion of patients on room air as a marker for incidental Covid admission as opposed to severe Covid (pneumonia), 66% of patients at the SBAH/TDH complex are incidental Covid admissions. This very unusual picture is also occurring at other hospitals in Gauteng. On December 3rd, Helen Joseph Hospital had 37 patients in the Covid wards of whom 31 were on room air (83%); and the Dr. George Mukhari Academic Hospital had 80 patients of which 14 were on supplemental oxygen and one on a ventilator (81% on room air).

Protesters Gather in London to Object to Vaccine Passports

Protesters gathered in London earlier today to demonstrate against plans for a COVID-19 pass as part of the Government’s ‘Plan B’ restrictions. MailOnline has more.

Anti Covid pass protestors held up signs comparing Boris Johnson to Adolph Hitler and placards reading “No to exclusion, to checkpoints, to discrimination” during the protests outside Westminster this afternoon.

The passes, which require proof of vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery from COVID-19 are set to become mandatory at clubs and large events from next week.

Demonstrators today called on the government to “Stop Covid passes” as they gathered in Westminster.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the new Plan B rules on Wednesday amid surging COVID-19 cases after the super-mutant Omicron variant reached the U.K.

The variant already makes up 30% of new Covid cases in London, according to confidential data given to ministers, and Government scientists have warned tougher measures would be needed to avoid overwhelming hospitals.

Demonstrators also gathered outside Manchester City’s Etihad stadium to protest against vaccine safety and COVID-19 passes ahead of the Premier League side’s match at midday.

Protesters drew attention to footballers, including Sergio Aguero, who have collapsed after having the vaccine. There is no evidence the vaccine is related to the high-profile collapses.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Michael Gove has hinted that further restrictions may be announced shortly. The Telegraph has more.

Stop Press 2: A poll for ORB has found that one third of the public favour a lockdown for the unvaccinated, while over half would support venue owners who refuse entry to unvaccinated people.

Latest Modelling on Omicron Ignores All Evidence of Lower Severity, Among Numerous Other Problems

We’re publishing a guest post today by former Google software engineer Mike Hearn about the shortcomings of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s alarmist Omicron modelling which has spooked the Government.

Today the Telegraph reported that:

Experts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) predict that a wave of infection caused by Omicron – if no additional restrictions are introduced – could lead to hospital admissions being around twice as high as the previous peak seen in January 2021.

Dr Rosanna Barnard, from LSHTM’s Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases, who co-led the research, said the modellers’ most pessimistic scenario suggests that “we may have to endure more stringent restrictions to ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed”.

As we’ve come to expect from LSHTM and epidemiology in general, the model forming the basis for this ‘expert’ claim is unscientific and contains severe problems, making its predictions worthless. Equally expected, the press ignores these issues and indeed gives the impression that they haven’t actually read the underlying paper at all.

The ‘paper’ was uploaded an hour ago as of writing, but I put the word paper in quotes because not only is this document not peer reviewed in any way, it’s not even a single document. Instead, it’s a file that claims it will be continually updated, yet which has no version numbers. This might make it tricky to talk about, as by the time you read this it’s possible the document will have changed. Fortunately, they’re uploading files via GitHub, meaning we can follow any future revisions that are uploaded here.

Errors

The first shortcoming of the ‘paper’ becomes apparent on page 1:

Due to a lack of data, we assume Omicron has the same severity as Delta.

In reality, there is data and so far it indicates that Omicron is much milder than Delta:

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.

The pattern of milder disease in Pretoria is corroborated by data for the whole of Gauteng province. Eight per cent 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%.

Financial Times, December 7th

Treasury Staff Held a Party During Last Winter’s Lockdown Restrictions, Government Sources Claim

Government sources have unveiled that, last year on November 25th, Treasury staff held a party to celebrate Rishi Sunak’s spending review, even though the Government’s official Covid guidance at the time strongly advised that members of the public must only leave home for exercise or shopping. Although officials say that the event was unplanned and that it “wasn’t a formal party”, attendees had brought alcohol into the Treasury. MailOnline has the story.

Around two dozen civil servants attended the drinks party in the Treasury on November 25th last year.

The party was held despite Covid restrictions which had asked people to stay at home unless exercising or food shopping. 

At the time, non-essential shops, bars and restaurants were closed. 

Sources revealed that Sunak’s officials who had been working on his spending review announcement stayed for a drinks party afterwards. 

Wine and beer were brought into the Treasury but the officials insisted the party had been spontaneous.

A source said: “They’d all been working really hard. They had to be in the office anyway that day.

“It was not a formal party but perhaps in hindsight it was not the most sensible thing to do.” 

Another insider said nobody had questioned the drinks party or thought there was anything wrong with the event.

They described the situation with parties and events coming to light as a “blame game”, according to the Times.  

Sunak was not at the event and it is understood he did not know it was happening.

The latest revelation comes after the Prime Minister’s ex-COP26 Spokeswoman Allegra Stratton resigned this week over a video released by ITV which showed her laughing and joking with other staff about last year’s Downing Street Christmas party on December 18th.

Staff joked about the party as families and friends were separated, many of whom had lost loved ones to Covid.

People had been told to stay at home in their own bubbles for Christmas and to not mix households. 

The video left many people outraged, with some calls for the prime minister to resign.

Despite the footage being released, Johnson has maintained that there was no Downing Street Christmas party.

A spokesman said of the Treasury drinks party: “In line with the guidance at the time, a number of staff came into the office to work on the Spending Review 2020.

“We have been made aware that a small number of those staff had impromptu drinks around their desks after the event.”

An inquiry is set to take place into the three parties which came to light before this latest drinks party was revealed. 

Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, is leading the investigation into last year’s Downing Street Christmas party on December 18th, a leaving event on November 27th and an education department party on December 10th.

He will decide whether to also investigate the drinks party held at the treasury. 

Worth reading in full.

Scotland May Cancel Summer Exams due to Omicron Outbreaks

Summer exams in Scotland may be cancelled for a third successive year as new Government guidance means that entire classes will have to self-isolate if even one case of the Omicron variant is detected. While First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has stressed her commitment to keeping schools open, she admits that there will be a “period of disruption”. The Times has the story.

While Nicola Sturgeon said she would “bust a gut” to keep schools open, leading educationalists warned that the new guidance was likely to be “highly disruptive of children’s education” and would inevitably damage their mental health.

It came as teachers’ unions called for the early closure of schools to “fend off a new wave of infection”.

The First Minister said that there would be a “period of disruption” but insisted that there would be no “blanket” closures of schools.

“Nobody wants that,” she said. “Of course, if there are outbreaks of infections in schools then there needs to be a response to that, but I’m very clear about the importance of minimising the disruption to children’s education.”

She said that under the new guidance “all household contacts of any Covid case should isolate for ten days, regardless of the vaccination status and even if they initially get a negative PCR test”.

The new variant, added Jason Leitch, the national clinical director, had an “attack rate” of 50%. “If you have a room of 100 people and a single unknown Omicron case is in that room, you could in the days after that, find 50, 60 or 70 positives,” he said.

The scale of the impact on education was laid bare during Sturgeon’s Covid briefing today when she was told that schools in Edinburgh had been advising parents that if one child tested tested positive for Omicron, all their classmates would have to isolate for ten days even if they tested negative,

Earlier this week, a primary school in Paisley closed because of an outbreak of the Omicron variant, and a secondary school in Irvine, Sturgeon’s home town, has reverted to blended learning for the S3 year group, because of “significantly high levels of staff absence”.

The latest advice on isolating would make a “woeful situation even worse”, said Lindsay Paterson, Professor of Educational Policy at the University of Edinburgh. “This new prospective disruption to students’ learning brings into serious doubt the fairness and viability of the exams next May.”

Worth reading in full.

Return of the Jedi: Rebel Alliance in House of Commons Prepares For Battle Over Vaccine Passports

The Spectator has published a full list of those Conservative MPs who’ve pledged to vote against the ‘Plan B’ measures announced earlier this week. There are currently 60, but the number is growing by the day. If the Government is going to get the measures through the House of Commons, it will need Labour votes. Here is an extract:

When the Health Secretary Sajid Javid introduced the measures in the Commons this week, he was greeted with jeers and calls for him to “resign” from his own party members. There is now a growing backbench rebellion against the Government’s proposals, with several MPs publicly denouncing the winter restrictions, which they feel are a step too far in a society protected by what Boris Johnson once called the “huge wall of immunity” from vaccines.

The full list is below.

  1. Steve Baker
  2. Ben Bradley
  3. Brendan Clarke-Smith
  4. Graham Brady
  5. Philip Davies
  6. Richard Drax
  7. Simon Jupp
  8. Stephen McPartland
  9. John Redwood
  10. Greg Smith
  11. Dehenna Davison
  12. Marcus Fysh
  13. Gary Sambrook
  14. Pauline Latham
  15. William Wragg
  16. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
  17. Iain Duncan Smith
  18. Christopher Chope
  19. Craig Tracey
  20. Robert Syms
  21. Anthony Mangnall
  22. Greg Clark
  23. Esther McVey
  24. Liam Fox
  25. David Davis
  26. Mark Jenkinson
  27. Alicia Kearns
  28. Mark Harper
  29. Darren Henry
  30. Steve Brine
  31. Craig Mackinlay
  32. Simon Fell
  33. Andrew Bowie
  34. David Warburton
  35. Siobhan Baillie
  36. David Jones
  37. Tom Randall
  38. Ben Spencer
  39. Andrew Rosindell
  40. Charles Walker
  41. Douglas Ross
  42. Karl McCartney

UKHSA Calls For “Stringent National Measures” to Fight Omicron Variant

The U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has advised the Government that “stringent national measures” should be imposed by December 18th to stop the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, and ensure that the NHS is not overrun by Covid hospital admissions. Health Secretary Sajid Javid was warned by the UKHSA that, although the new variant appears to be less dangerous than the Delta strain, 5,000 people a day could be hospitalised because of the virus, and that further restrictions may have to come sooner rather than later. The Guardian has the story.

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, received a presentation from the UKHSA on Tuesday warning that even if the new Omicron variant leads to less serious disease than Delta, it risks overwhelming the NHS with 5,000 people admitted to hospital a day.

In an interview with the Guardian, the epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson said the total could be double that number.

No 10 insisted there were no imminent plans to bring in more measures after ‘Plan B’ measures were announced for England this week but Michael Gove, who chaired a Cobra meeting on Friday, said the Government had been presented with some “very challenging information” about the speed of the spread.

The Guardian has seen leaked advice from UKHSA for Javid marked “official, sensitive” saying: “The key point is that under a range of plausible scenarios, stringent action is needed on or before December 18th, 2021, if doubling times stay at 2.5 days. Even if doubling times rise to around 5 days, stringent action is likely still needed in December.”

It adds: “The rapid spread of Omicron means that action to limit pressures on the health system might have to come earlier than intuition suggests.” Its calculations suggest that even if Omicron causes a less severe hospitalisation rate of 1% or 0.5% compared with Delta’s 1.5%, then “stringent national measures” would be needed by December 18th at the latest.

On the current trajectory of 2.5 days doubling time, and without any further restrictions, the document warns that Omicron cases could be at 248,000 cases a day by December 19th. It also stresses that the figures are not a projection but an estimate of Omicron prevalence and doubling times seen in the U.K. so far.

The document does not detail what the necessary curbs would be but defines “stringent national measures” as those that bring the R number below one.

Boris Johnson triggered ‘Plan B’ this week including more wide-ranging mask mandates, asking people to work from home and Covid passports for big venues but a senior Whitehall source said few inside UKHSA believe this will have much effect on slowing the spread of the variant.

Further measures, now being referred to as ‘Plan C’, could include stricter isolation requirements for contacts of Covid cases, masks in pubs, shutting hospitality entirely, more restrictions on visitors to care homes and hospitals or even the return of curbs on social contact.

Worth reading in full.

Majority of Covid ICU Patients in October and November Were Vaccinated

Contrary to the claims made by Dr. Rachel Clarke and Professor Stephen Powis last month and used to blame the unvaccinated for the mounting troubles of the NHS, new data out this week shows that the majority of Covid ICU admissions in October and November were among the vaccinated, not the unvaccinated.

The latest report from ICNARC shows that of Covid ICU patients in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 50.5% in October and 50.7% in November were double vaccinated. Add to that the 2.8% in October and 1.8% in November who were single-vaccinated and you get overall vaccinated proportions of 53.3% in October and 52.5% in November. That compares to 46.7% unvaccinated in October and 47.5% in November. Note that the unvaccinated here includes people who received a vaccine less than 14 days prior to the positive Covid test, so includes some (an unknown number) who are actually single vaccinated.

This is not what the public has been led to believe by some prominent medics and newspapers.