Day: 14 December 2021

News Round-Up

The Rebel Alliance

We at the Daily Sceptic, and countless others across the nation, are forever thankful to the Rebel Alliance, a contingent of House of Commons heroes who saw through the Government’s fearmongering, and voted against the introduction of vaccine passports. Although their efforts were in vain, their defiance shall not be forgotten. 127 MPs stood against the motion, and their names, accompanied by their party affiliation, can be found here, but are also listed below.

Conservative (100 including two tellers):

Adam Afriyie

Lee Anderson

Shaun Bailey

Siobhan Baillie

Steve Baker

Harriett Baldwin

John Baron

Scott Benton

Bob Blackman

Peter Bone

Ben Bradley

Karen Bradley

Sir Graham Brady

Andrew Bridgen

Steve Brine

Miriam Cates

Sir Christopher Chope

Brendan Clarke-Smith

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown

Tracey Crouch

Philip Davies

David Davis

Dehenna Davison

Jonathan Djanogly

Jackie Doyle-Price (teller)

Richard Drax

Sir Ian Duncan Smith

Tobias Ellwood

Dr. Liam Fox

Louie French

Richard Fuller

Marcus Fysh

Nusrat Ghani

Jo Gideon

Chris Grayling

Chris Green

Damian Green

James Grundy

Robert Halfon

Stephen Hammond

Mark Harper

Sir John Hayes

Philip Hollobone (teller)

Adam Holloway

Tom Hunt

Mark Jenkinson

David Jones

Simon Jupp

Alicia Kearns

Julian Knight

Sir Greg Knight

Robert Largan

Andrea Leadsom

Sir Edward Leigh

Andrew Lewer

Dr. Julian Lewis

Pauline Latham

Chris Loder

Mark Logan

Jonathan Lord

Tim Loughton

Craig Mackinlay

Anthony Mangnall

Karl McCartney

Stephen McPartland

Esther McVey

Stephen Metcalfe

Damien Moore

Robbie Moore

Anne Marie Morris

Holly Mumby-Croft

Sir Robert Neill

Dr. Matthew Offord

Mark Pawsey

Sir Mike Penning

John Penrose

Andrew Percy

Tom Randall

John Redwood

Laurence Robertson

Andrew Rosindell

Gary Sambrook

Bob Seely

Greg Smith

Henry Smith

Dr. Ben Spencer

Jane Stevenson

John Stevenson

Julian Sturdy

Sir Desmond Swayne

Sir Robert Syms

Derek Thomas

Craig Tracey

Tom Tugendhat

Theresa Villers

Christian Wakeford

Sir Charles Walker

David Warburton

Giles Watling

William Wragg

Labour (8):

Diane Abbott

Apsana Begum

Dawn Butler

Emma Lewell-Buck

Clive Lewis

Rebecca Long Bailey

Bell Ribeiro-Addy

Graham Stringer

Liberal Democrat (10):

Alistair Carmichael

Wendy Chamberlain

Daisy Cooper

Tim Farron

Sarah Green

Wera Hobhouse

Christine Jardine

Layla Moran

Sarah Olney

Munira Wilson

Green (1):

Caroline Lucas

DUP (6):

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

Paul Girvan

Carla Lockhart

Ian Paisley

Jim Shannon

Sammy Wilson

Independent (2):

Jeremy Corbyn

Rob Roberts

Find out how to contact your MP here, and even if your local MP was not part of the Rebel Alliance, we encourage our readers to write to any parliamentarians who were to thank them for their vote.

Update: Sir Desmond Swayne has confirmed he voted against the measures, taking the total to 127 MPs and 100 Conservatives. He was initially put down as an abstention owing to an “error in the voting lists”. Pauline Latham was also initially omitted, while Luke Evans was included though he also voted for the measure so effectively abstained.

Vaccine Taskforce Ex-Chief: “The Vaccines Were Not Designed to End Transmission”

Former Vaccine Taskforce Chief Clive Dix has said the “vaccines were not designed to end transmission”. In a key confession that demolishes the Government’s strategy behind vaccine passports and vaccine coercion, the former Interim Chair of the U.K. Vaccine Taskforce writes in the Telegraph that “the vaccines will not stop the spread of the virus in the short or medium term”.

The battle over Covid transmission was lost some time ago. I am afraid that the vaccines will not stop the spread of the virus in the short or medium term – but that is not a disaster. Indeed the vaccines were not designed to end transmission. It was evident to me at the time I helped with the procurement of doses, as interim chair of the Vaccine Taskforce, that the intention was to stop people from getting severely ill or dying.

Blasting the U.K.’s current booster strategy for “sacrificing the care of elderly diabetes for the very marginal benefit of boosting the antibody concentrations of the young and healthy”, Dix writes he fears that we will be “inadvertently causing a lot of human suffering”.

Given that young and healthy people not only have a very low chance of suffering severe Covid in the first place, but also already have substantial immunity from severe disease thanks to the first two jabs, I cannot see how boosting them is more valuable for public health than doubling our focus on the most vulnerable and cracking down on the backlog of chronically sick patients, such as those with hypertension, diabetes or even cancer. 

Worth reading in full.

The Disturbing Impact of Face Masks on Victims of Abuse

We’re publishing an original piece by Dr. Gary Sidley, a retired clinical psychologist with over 30 years’ experience working for the NHS and one of the founders of the Smile Free campaign, on the traumatic impact of mask mandates on victims of violence and sexual abuse. Here is an extract:

For those who have suffered traumatic events in the past, masks can escalate painful emotions in a number of ways. Victims of previous physical and/or sexual abuse that involved an assailant’s hand over their mouths can be particularly sensitive to the somatic sensations associated with the wearing of a face covering, the tactile feel of them typically evoking ‘flashbacks’ and the reliving of the assaults. If the violent perpetrator wore a mask, merely the sight of someone wearing one can trigger the same disturbing memories. Jenny describes her trauma-driven torment as follows:

“Mandated mask wearing has caused me numerous problems. I was sexually abused for years as a child where I was smothered and muffled, anything to stop me crying out. So mask wearing has been a trigger for me, both wearing and seeing people in masks… particularly children.

“Many weeks ago I went into a shop and was aggressively followed by a man who wore a mask under his nose! It was very intimidating and luckily my husband was with me and it did not escalate. Hence also my reluctance to go into shops. They give me a feeling of dread and depression and panic.”

Gary has included testimonies from half a dozen such people in his piece.

Worth reading in full.

The Omicron Variant Is Much Less Serious Than Previous Strains, According to South African Study

Recent research from South Africa suggests that the Omicron variant is much less dangerous than previous strains of the virus, even when increased immunity in the population is taken into account. Examining the first three weeks of the spread of the Omicron wave, researchers found that those infected with the Delta and original Wuhan variants were more likely to be hospitalised due to Covid, even though the new variant has a higher transmissibility rate. The Times has the story.

The findings come from a healthcare provider responsible for 3.7 million patients in South Africa and are based on the first three weeks of their Omicron wave. They suggest that some of the effects of greater spread could be offset by a lower chance of hospitalisation.

Dr. Ryan Noach, the Chief Executive of Discovery Health, said that although the data was preliminary, they were confident they were seeing a less severe wave than they might have expected. “This is clearly a highly contagious variant,” he said. “What’s encouraging at this stage is a flatter trajectory of hospital admissions, indicating a likely lower severity of the illness.”

For every 1,000 infections, 44 people ended up in hospital in South Africa in the first wave, 101 in the Delta wave and 38 in Omicron. He and his colleagues estimate that after correcting for vaccination status, age and prior infection Omicron is a third less severe than the original Wuhan strain of coronavirus, which itself is less serious than Delta…

Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, insisted today that the Covid vaccination campaign meant “people can look forward to spending Christmas with loved ones in a way that we couldn’t last year”.

However, ministers will not rule out further restrictions such as the closure of pubs and restaurants to tame the Omicron variant. “These issues are always discussed but we have got ‘Plan B’. That’s what we think is required over the Christmas period,” Raab said.

Officials are understood to be drawing up options for further restrictions that could be implemented before New Year’s Eve, but no decisions have been made.

However, health chiefs said this morning that Covid restrictions were likely to be needed for a month or two. Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Adviser to the U.K. Health Security Agency, warned of a “very difficult four weeks ahead” as the new variant surged across the country.

Worth reading in full.

70 Strong Tory Rebellion to Vote Against ‘Plan B’ Today – But Labour Intends to Back the Government

The Government face its largest backbench rebellion since the Conservatives won the 2019 general election, with roughly 70 Tory MPs expected to vote against the Government’s new ‘Plan B’ restrictions intended to stop the spread of the Omicron variant. These new measures include imposing mask mandates on most indoor settings, compulsory vaccination for NHS staff by April 2022, as well as requiring the use of the Covid pass in order to enter certain public venues. Despite this backbench backlash, Labour has pledged to support the Government, which will ensure that ‘Plan B’ passes the House of Commons. BBC News has more.

Around 70 Conservatives are expected to vote against plans to introduce mandatory Covid passes to enter large venues such as nightclubs.

The PM calls them a sensible response to rising Omicron cases – but the plan has sparked civil liberties concerns.

The measure is still likely to pass, as Labour plans to vote for them.

It would mean that from Wednesday, people will have to prove they are fully vaccinated or have a negative lateral flow test to enter large venues.

In a series of votes in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon, MPs will also vote on: a new regulation making it compulsory to wear a face covering in most indoor settings, except for pubs and restaurants. A measure allowing fully-vaccinated people who have been exposed to a positive Covid case to avoid self-isolation if they take daily lateral flow tests, and receive a negative result, as well as making it compulsory for frontline NHS and social care staff to be fully vaccinated from April 2022.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told the BBC he hoped the measures would mean “we go into this Christmas in a very different position to last year” and “people can feel reassured” about the their festive plans.

He added that the new Covid passes were not “an unreasonable thing” to ask of people to enter large venues, adding: “I would do it voluntarily.”

The Covid pass measure has proved controversial on the government’s own benches, with one Conservative MP, Marcus Fysh, telling the BBC it was “the thin end of an authoritarian wedge”.

Another Conservative, Andrea Leadsom, said one of her constituents was now “now less afraid of Covid than she is of intrusive and incoherent Government regulations”.

Johnson sought to reassure his colleagues, describing the measures as “balanced and proportionate”, but added there was “no room for complacency”.

The BBC estimates around 70 Conservative MPs are expected to vote against the introduction of Covid passes, which would be the biggest backbench rebellion against the prime minister since he won a Commons majority at the 2019 election.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The campaign group Together has warned that this your last chance to contact your MP before the pivotal vote today (the MP directory can be found here), and has provided a form (here) asking how your MP voted, and what reasons they gave for doing so.

First Omicron Death Shrouded in Mystery Due to Government Secrecy, Experts Claim

Experts have expressed outrage towards the Government for not revealing key details relating to the U.K.’s first Omicron death, with Professor Karol Sikora saying that the Government’s secrecy is likely causing unnecessary panic. So far, the Government has not provided information on whether the deceased was vaccinated, if they belonged to a vulnerable demographic, or even if Covid was the leading cause of death, with the Prime Minister’s Spokesman stating rules surrounding patient confidentiality as the reason for this lack of transparency. MailOnline has the story.

Experts are demanding answers about the U.K.’s first Omicron fatality, such as the individual’s vaccination status, if they were part of group vulnerable to Covid, and if the virus was the leading cause of death. 

Professor of Medicine and Consultant Oncologist Karol Sikora said the Government was not providing the nation with enough information about the death, and that this was causing “unnecessarily alarm”. 

“Were they in hospital for Covid or were they there because they had been run over by a bus?,” he said.  

Boris Johnson revealed the U.K.’s first death due to Omicron on a visit to a vaccination clinic in Paddington, west London.

He said: “Sadly yes Omicron is producing hospitalisations and sadly at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with Omicron.”

Johnson did not reveal the age of the person who died, or if they had underlying health conditions, which made them vulnerable, or whether Omicron was the leading cause of their death or a secondary factor. 

The death in the U.K. is thought to be the first confirmed Omicron fatality in the world.

However, given the variant makes up almost every case in South Africa it is likely that the vast majority of fatalities there are due to the mutant strain but a lack of testing means these are not picked up.

Health bosses today also revealed that 10 Britons have already been hospitalised with Omicron. But the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which confirmed all were aged between 18-85 years-old and that most had received two doses of Covid vaccines, refused to say if any had already had a booster.

UKHSA however did reveal that the individual who died of Omicron was diagnosed in hospital. 

Sikora said the Government should release more details about the death to put people’s minds at ease.   

“Have they had booster? Are they elderly?,” he said.  

“There are all sorts of nuances to this thing, and we’re not being given proper information.”

He added that given the average age of Covid fatalities in the U.K., and that the individual may have died while being infected with Omicron, as opposed to because of the variant, there was no reason to panic and the Government should calm fears rather than stoke them. 

“The average age of death of Covid is 82.5 so a lot of 82 year-old people die in a year, at any one time,” he said.

“No details have been released, I suspect it’s just some old boy that’s tested positive, he may have died in his sleep or with a heart attack, who knows?

“It is unnecessarily alarming.”

Professor Sikora said his suspicion is that the silence regarding whether the person was vaccinated or not indicated to him that the person died of another cause while they had Omicron. 

“I suspect that it’s a death, which is unfortunate, but is due to something else, and it just happens to be Covid positive that’s why they’re not making a big noise about them being vaccinated or not,” he said.

When queried on the lack of details regarding the Omicron death, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman cited patient confidentiality as a reason, but added more details may be forthcoming in UKHSA end of week report.   

“Obviously when it comes to individual deaths there is a right to patient confidentiality so we are limited in what we can say,” he said. 

Worth reading in full.

There’s No Hint of a Negative Association Between Stringency Index and Excess Mortality in Europe

I previously reported on Youyang Gu’s analysis of Covid death rate and average stringency index across U.S. States. As you may recall, Gu found essentially zero association between the two variables: there was no evidence that states with longer and more stringent lockdowns had fewer Covid deaths.

One weakness of Gu’s analysis is that he used the official Covid death rate as a measure of mortality. This is problematic for two reasons. First, different states may count Covid deaths in slightly different ways. And second, the official Covid death rate doesn’t account for differences in the age-distribution across states.

Since older people are much more likely to die of Covid, states with more old people will tend to have more Covid deaths. For example, more than 20% of Floridians are over 65, compared to only 12% of Alaskans. Hence you’d expect more Floridians to die of Covid, all else being equal.

Incidentally, Gu did find an association between average stringency index and the unemployment rate. (States with longer and more stringent lockdowns had higher unemployment.) This suggests that average stringency index at least partly captures the extent to which different states curtailed economic activity.

As I noted before, the ONS recently published estimates of age-adjusted excess mortality for most of the countries in Europe, covering the entire period from January 2020 to June 2021. And this measure doesn’t suffer from the two problems outlined above.  

I therefore decided to check whether there’s a negative association between average stringency index and age-adjusted excess mortality. Other commentators have produced similar plots before, but I haven’t seen one based on the latest estimates from the ONS.

Results are shown in the figure below. The left-hand chart corresponds to the ONS’s earlier estimates, covering the period up to 18 December. The right-hand chart corresponds to the latest estimates. (The reason I included the left-hand chart is that the one on the right is somewhat affected by the vaccine rollout.)

In any case, neither chart shows any hint of a negative association between average stringency index and age-adjusted excess mortality. States that had the longest and most stringent lockdowns do not have lowest mortality. In fact, both the correlations are positive.

This doesn’t mean lockdown had no effect on the epidemic’s trajectory in any country. But it does suggest that any effect it did have was swamped by other factors (e.g., geography, population density, household structure).

The countries clustered at the bottom of the right-hand chart are the Nordics, Cyprus and Malta. As I noted last time, these are all geographically peripheral countries that used border controls to contain the virus. The only one that made extensive use of lockdowns was Cyprus (see lower right-hand corner). And this appears to have paid off.

However, larger countries that made similar use of lockdowns (see centre of chart) have had much higher mortality. I take this evidence that lockdowns may work in countries like Cyprus or New Zealand when combined with border controls. But that they don’t seem to do much in large, dense, highly connected countries like Britain.

Why Did Sajid Javid Tell Parliament that Daily Covid Infections are 16 Times Higher Than the Latest ONS Estimate?

According to Health Secretary Sajid Javid, there are currently 4,713 confirmed Omicron infections in the U.K. But in his statement to Parliament yesterday he added that the UKHSA has estimated the true current number of new daily Omicron infections to be around 200,000 (I assume in England, though he didn’t say). He added that this represents around 20% of the current estimated daily infections in England, including 44% in London. Note that these UKHSA figures are based on modelling that has not been released to the public.

Separately, the UKHSA has reported that just 10 people so far have been admitted to hospital in England with the Omicron variant (most of whom are double-vaccinated).

On transmissibility, early UKHSA estimates for the household secondary attack rate (the proportion of household contacts an infected person infects) using contact tracing data is 21.6% for Omicron and 10.7% for Delta. This suggests Omicron (incidentally, pronounced with a short ‘O’ as in orange, not a long ‘O’ as in over – omega is the Greek letter that signifies a long O) may be around twice as transmissible as Delta in the current population. However, to put this in context, note that the Alpha direct secondary attack rate in December 2020 was estimated by the UKHSA at 15.5%, while the Omicron estimate is based on a small number of infections and, according to the UKHSA, “may be influenced by improved ascertainment around Omicron cases”. The equivalent figure for “Omicron confirmed, highly probable, probable or possible” is 15.2%. In any case, even on the likely inflated figure of 21.6% it means that only around one in five household contacts of those with Omicron go on to test positive, and the difference in absolute terms between Omicron and earlier variants is only that 5-10% more of a person’s contacts become infected.

New daily reported infections in Gauteng province, South Africa, the original epicentre of Omicron, continue to plateau with no rise for over a week now.