Day: 17 December 2021

News Round-Up

Downing Street Christmas Party Investigator Accused of Breaking Lockdown Rules

Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary who has been tasked with investigating last winter’s Downing Street Christmas parties, faces accusations that he himself broke lockdown rules by attending an informal Christmas work party with his colleagues in December 2020, in violation of London’s Tier Two restrictions which were in place at the time. Although the regulations meant that indoor socialisation was banned, Whitehall officials claim that alcohol was brought into the office, and that Case was seen mingling with the guests. The Independent has more.

Britain’s top civil servant – who is investigating claims parties were held at Downing Street – has been accused of attending an impromptu Christmas drinks himself last year in breach of Covid rules, the Independent has learnt.

Simon Case, who was asked by Boris Johnson to look into potential Government gatherings at the end of 2020 , is alleged to have shared drinks with 15 to 20 staff in mid-December 2020, according to two Whitehall officials who attended the event.

The informal event, according to a joint investigation by the Independent and Politico, was said to have taken place at his office and in the waiting room outside in 70 Whitehall.

A third official, who did not attend, said the event was discussed the following week and they were asked whether they attended the “waiting room drinks.”

Today, Labour and the SNP questioned whether Case was suitable to lead an investigation into Downing Street’s allegedly rule-breaching parties, in light of the revelations.

A source close to the Cabinet Office said they could not rule out that drinks had been consumed at civil servants’ desks, but a spokesman rejected claims of an organised gathering, saying in a statement: “These allegations are categorically untrue.”

At the time, London was in Tier Two restrictions, meaning people were not allowed to socialise indoors and were told to work from home where possible.

Several bottles of wine and Prosecco were poured in the office, the two officials present claim, and in the waiting room of the cabinet secretary. Case allegedly carried a glass through the group as he greeted staff who gathered for what one official characterised as “last-minute” drinks, including civil servants from other departments.

Case was described as “in and out” of the gathering, drinking with colleagues. Crisps were also served and there were Christmas decorations on the tables, one of those present claimed. The same official said it was “a fairly regular occurrence” for civil servants to drink at their desks during this time but claimed that the gathering in Case’s office was “a piss-up” including his team and members of other departments.

The Whitehall employees who spoke to the Independent and Politico questioned the suitability of Simon Case to lead the inquiry into Downing Street parties.

Worth reading in full.

Finally! YouGov Poll Finds Public Opposed to Lockdown

A YouGov poll for the Times, has revealed that a majority of the British population are opposed to further Covid restrictions. Guido Fawkes has more.

Guido can’t remember the last time a poll on Covid saw the public really reject any proposed restrictions on civil liberties, however a new one in today’s Times demonstrates just that. According to a poll of 1,714 people between the 14th and 15th, the arrival in Omicron saw very little movement on the public’s opposition to:

– Shutting pubs and restaurants: 60% opposition
– Shutting non-essential shops: 65% opposition
– Banning indoor meetings with people from other households: 62% opposition
– Banning indoor meeting people from other households on Christmas Day: 68%
– Pubs, bars and restaurants not being allowed to open on New Year’s Eve: 53%

According to YouGov’s polling, the government has already maxed out its support for anti-Covid measures – facemasks and passports – while leaving very little room for further restrictions if, as predicted, a wave of Omicron sweeps the land. For potentially the first time during this pandemic, civil liberties defenders have the overwhelming backing of the public…

Professor Lockdown Predicts ‘5,000 Omicron Deaths a Day’ Unless We Lockdown

Gloomy modelling by Neil Ferguson has forecast up to 5,000 Omicron deaths per day this winter unless restrictions are tightened within a fortnight. As usual, the fact that he’s got more or less every previous forecast wrong does not mean he won’t be taken seriously. MailOnline has more.

Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College London found “no evidence” the variant is less severe than Delta but estimate it is five-and-a-half times more likely to re-infect people and make vaccines significantly weaker.

Drawing on data from Omicron’s spread in the UK and South Africa, as well as lab tests on vaccine effectiveness, they concluded: “Omicron poses a major, imminent threat to public health.”

Professor Ferguson – a Government adviser whose modelling has spooked No10 into lockdowns before – said tighter curbs were needed “in a week or two” to have a significant effect on the size of the peak of the new wave.

The latest projections will raise fears that Britons could be stung by last-minute festive restrictions once again, with Boris Johnson repeatedly refusing to rule a full lockdown out if hospitalisations start to surge.

Wales has already announced the return of social distancing and closure of nightclubs from Boxing Day, while Scots are urged to limit mixing to three households and people in England are advised to “prioritise” social events.

In a best case scenario, Imperial said without further curbs there could be in the region of 3,000 daily Omicron deaths at the peak in January – significantly higher than the previous record of 1,800 during the second wave.

Professor Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at the university and one of the researchers behind the modelling, said it was an “illustration of the need to act”.

Yesterday, Chris Whitty told MPs yesterday that he was “extremely cautious” about SAGE’s modelling of Omicron because there are still some “really critical things we don’t know” about the variant.

SAGE’s models have been criticised several times in the past for overegging the UK’s epidemic, most recently projecting 6,000 daily Delta hospital admissions in October.

Worth reading in full.

Time Magazine is Right to Select Elon Musk as Person of the Year

Writing for Mail Plus, Toby has stood by Time magazine’s Person of the Year award going to Elon Musk, and has praised the tycoon’s bravery for being a devout lockdown sceptic. As Toby points out, earlier in the year, Musk tweeted a favourable response to one of Toby’s tweets commenting on how well Sweden had fared during the pandemic, with the tycoon’s internet fame ensuring that the original post got plenty of attraction. In his article, Toby explains why he was so delighted to get a response from the eccentric multi-billionaire.

There’s also the fact that in 2021 he became the richest man in the world – or, indeed, in the history of the world, with a net worth of over $250 billion. If Elon Musk is following me on Twitter, I thought, maybe he’ll buy me a new car for Christmas. Among other things, he owns Tesla, which controls two-thirds of America’s electric vehicle market and is worth a trillion dollars.

But the main reason I was so chuffed is because the tweet he was responding to – favourably, I might add – was about how well Sweden had fared during the pandemic. As anyone who’s been following the news will know, Sweden was almost alone in not imposing a lockdown in 2020 and experienced one of the lowest excess death rates in Europe.

So Musk, it turns out, is a lockdown sceptic, something that’s attracted a lot of criticism in the U.S. For instance, in May of last year he reopened his Tesla factory in northern California in defiance of a local public health order shutting down businesses and ordering citizens to stay at home.

“Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules,” he tweeted. “I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”

The local authorities decided to do nothing in response, proving it was possible to defy its authoritarian diktats without being punished.

Almost alone among the billionaire class, Musk has been fiercely critical of Covid restrictions, describing them as “fascist” and, at the height of the lockdowns, tweeting: “FREE AMERICA NOW.”

Earlier this year Musk relocated Tesla’s headquarters to Austin, thanks to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s more laissez-faire approach to dealing with the pandemic.

He isn’t a vaccine sceptic and has been vaccinated himself, but draws the line at ‘No Jab, No Job’ and believes any attempt to strong-arm people into having the jab is wrong.

“You are taking a risk, but people do risky things all the time,” he says of the unvaccinated. “I believe we’ve got to watch out for the erosion of freedom in America.”

Others will be fans of the eccentric industrialist for more conventional reasons. Time magazine made him its ‘Man of the Year’ in 2021, primarily because of the success of Space-X, his rocket company…

But Elon Musk is my Man of the Year because of his courageous stand against the madness that’s engulfed the world over the past year and a half. Being a lockdown sceptic can be a lonely business, with the vast majority of rich and powerful people ranged against you and dismissing you as a ‘denier’.

Worth reading in full.

Wales to Tighten Covid Restrictions Immediately After Christmas

On December 27th, the Welsh Government will introduce a series of new Covid restrictions which include shutting nightclubs, mandating that shops abide by social distancing protocols for both staff and customers, as well as bringing back work from home requirements. First Minister Mark Drakeford has declared that the spread of the Omicron variant necessitates this course of action, calling it “the most serious development in the pandemic to date”. MailOnline has more.

Until December 27th, the Welsh Government is encouraging people to follow five steps: getting vaccinated, making sure to have a negative lateral flow test result before going shopping or meeting people, meeting in well-ventilated areas (preferably outdoors), spacing out socialising to allow test days in between, and adhering to social distancing, wearing a face covering and washing hands.

It is also urging people to reduce contact with others over the coming days, especially if Christmas plans include seeing older or more vulnerable people.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Delta will continue to be the main cause of Covid infections in Wales up to Christmas. But we are seeing cases of Omicron increasing rapidly every day in Wales, and across the U.K.

“We need a plan to keep us safe this Christmas and we need stronger measures to protect us afterwards, as we prepare for a large wave of Omicron infections.

“Omicron poses a new threat to our health and safety. It is the most serious development in the pandemic to date.

“It is one we must take seriously. We will continue to put in place proportionate measures to protect people’s lives and livelihoods.

“This is a virus which thrives on human contact. Every contact we have is an opportunity for us to spread or catch the virus.”

The changes for businesses comes with the announcement that up to £60 million will be available to support those affected by the new measures.

He added: “This year a smaller Christmas is a safer Christmas. The fewer people we see, the less chance we have of catching or passing on the virus.

“Please enjoy Christmas with your nearest and dearest, and think about meeting up with wider circles of friends when the threat posed by the Omicron variant has passed over.

“I also want to thank the many thousands of people who will be working this Christmas to keep us safe, especially all those who have cancelled their plans to work in the vaccination centres across Wales to increase our protection against this awful virus.”

The restrictions come after Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted today that the Government does not want to “lock stuff down” in England. 

Instead, he urged Britons to “prioritise” social events, get a booster and do a lateral flow test before meeting people. 

Worth reading in full.

North Shropshire By-Election: Humiliation for Boris Johnson as Tories lose to Lib Dems

To no one’s surprise, the Conservatives have lost the North Shropshire by-election to the Lib Dems. Another blow to Boris’s authority and another reason it will be hard for him to impose a full lockdown without triggering a leadership challenge. The Telegraph has more.

The Liberal Democrats have pulled off an extraordinary victory in North Shropshire by taking a lifelong Tory seat in the by-election for the first time in 200 years.

In a shock result, the Lib Dem candidate Helen Morgan secured 17,957 votes, leaving the Conservative Neil Shastri-Hurst with 12,032, and giving the Lib Dems a majority of 5,925 after a massive swing of 34%.

The by-election was called after Owen Paterson resigned following sleaze allegations after he was found to have broken lobbying rules for taking around half a million pounds from two companies and seeking to influence government policy.

The North Shropshire seat has returned a Conservative MP since 1830. It will prove a humiliating defeat for the Tories and will be regarded by many as a referendum on Boris Johnson’s leadership.

Mr Paterson had represented the constituency since 1997 and held it in 2019 with a majority of 22,949 with 62.7% of the vote. Labour came second with 22.1% of the vote and the Lib Dems had just 10% of the vote. When Ms. Morgan, a chartered accountant, ran for the seat in 2019 she came third.

The constituency also voted Leave in the 2016 referendum, at odds with the Lib Dems who became synonymous with the Remain vote.

Worth reading in full.

An interview with David Paton

David Paton is a professor of industrial economics at Nottingham University Business School. He’s also a lockdown sceptic and a member of the Health Advisory & Recovery Team. During the pandemic, he’s written articles about lockdowns, Sweden, the pingdemic and Covid forecasting. He tweets under @CricketWyvern. I interviewed him via email.

On 4th February, you wrote a piece for The Critic titled ‘Seven indicators that show infections were falling before Lockdown 3.0’, which argued that infections probably peaked before England entered full lockdown on 6th January. Could you briefly summarise the evidence you presented?

Working out when infections start to go up or down can be tricky for several reasons: not everyone with an infection will be tested, symptoms typically appear some time after the initial infection, and there will be a longer lag before an infection results in hospitalisation or death. These lags will vary from case to case and in an unknown proportion of cases, there are no symptoms at all.

The interesting thing about January’s lockdown is that every single indicator tells us that infections peaked well before the full lockdown was in place. Since my article in The Critic, two further pieces of evidence have confirmed this.

First, we now have the more formal analysis of mortality data by Professor Simon Wood of Edinburgh University, which concludes that infections were falling before each of the three English lockdowns.

Second, the ONS Official Incidence Estimates were published in mid-March and put the peak of infections between 20th and 26th December. By the time of lockdown, the ONS estimate infections had already fallen by 40%. These are estimates, but even the lower bound of the 95% confidence interval for 20th–26th December is higher than the upper bound for the week of lockdown.

In my view, saying infections “probably” peaked before the lockdown is no longer a fair reflection of the evidence. Rather, we can be “virtually certain” that they did.

This has important implications. It means that, like the first two lockdowns, the January national lockdown was not necessary for infections in England to start falling. Put another way, hospital admissions would not have continued to rise to unsustainable levels in the absence of lockdown. Of course, this does not answer the secondary question of whether earlier tiered-restrictions had any significant impact on infections. However, it is worth noting that infections were falling pre-lockdown even in regions like Yorkshire which were never put into Tier 4.

Then on 18th March, you wrote an article for Spiked titled ‘The myth of our ‘late’ lockdown’, which argued that locking down earlier wouldn’t have made much difference. In the article, you referred to “the discredited assumption that governments can turn infections on or off like a tap”. What did you mean by that?

For the past two years, Governments around the world have made policy based on the assumptions that: Covid cases continue rising indefinitely unless restrictions are introduced, restrictions and lockdowns inevitably lead to lower infection rates, and lifting restrictions always leads to cases surging. All of these assumptions are wrong.

Vaccine Effectiveness Drops Below Zero in 18-29 Year-Olds for First Time – But Boosters Appear to be Helping

The latest UKHSA Vaccine Surveillance report, containing data for the month ending December 12th, brings mixed news on the vaccines. First the bad news. Unadjusted vaccine effectiveness based on the raw reported infection rates is still negative for all aged between 18 and 70 (see above). In fact, it’s gone negative for the first time in 18-29 year-olds, down to minus-10.1%, after a sharp drop in the last week. A negative vaccine effectiveness means the infection rate per 100,000 people is higher in the vaccinated than the unvaccinated. This means that vaccine passports and vaccine mandates will be ineffective at preventing transmission, and indeed it implies that the vaccinated are actually a higher transmission risk than the unvaccinated. Far from protecting the vaccinated from the unvaccinated, then, as much current policy seems intended to do, perhaps the unvaccinated should be wary of the company of the vaccinated. For those in their 40s in particular, unadjusted vaccine effectiveness is minus-119%, meaning the vaccinated are more than twice as likely to be carrying the virus as the unvaccinated.

The goods news, however, is that the boosters appear to be having a significant impact. Unadjusted vaccine effectiveness has been rising in the older age groups for some weeks, and is now solidly positive in the over-70s, albeit at a not-very-impressive 39.5% in 70-79 year-olds and 53.3% in the over-80s. That this rise is likely due to the third doses is indicated by the fact it has occurred in staggered fashion in each age group, apparently in line with when boosters were rolled out.

What appears to be the case to the casual eye has been put more rigorously to the test by Dr. Richard J. Booth, a retired civil servant with a Ph.D. in mathematical statistics. In a new piece published by the Daily Sceptic today, Dr. Booth undertakes statistical analysis to compare the booster rollout rates in each age group with the changes in the relative reported infection rates to see if there is any correlation over time. He explains:

It occurred to me that since the third doses have been deployed at different rates in the different age groups, it might be possible to observe, and analyse, a ripple of decreasing infection rates from older to younger people over the last few weeks. So I developed a statistical model for infection rates, including a value dependent on the week (because the epidemic progresses at a rather unpredictable rate from week to week), and a week-dependent value proportional to the number of people who two or more weeks earlier had had the third dose compared with the number having had at least the first dose. I divided out the infection rate data by its value in the first week, to put the different age ranges on the same footing.

He concludes that what appeared to be the case is validated by his model, and the booster rollout correlates well with the changes in relative infection rates.

I conclude that though three doses of vaccines may have been effective from the outset, statistical support for that proposition via these sources did not become apparent until week 44’s data was published, when nearly half of over 80’s had had boosters two or more weeks earlier, but has been sustained since then. Of course, ‘statistical support’ is not a cast-iron proof, as correlation is not causation and there might be ‘unknown unknowns’ at work. Nevertheless it is highly suggestive that the prior statistical work on Covid vaccines is vindicated here.

While not all readers will follow every detail in Dr. Booth’s thorough and technical article, it is well worth checking out.

2021 Was an Outstanding Year For Eco Loons And Climate Hypocrites

We’re publishing an end-of-year celebration by freelance journalist Chris Morrison of all the eco loons and climate hypocrites who have made 2021 so entertaining. Here is an extract:

In January the Isle of Wight council considered planting trees to offset all the island’s CO2 emissions. By 2030 it would mean doubling the area covered by trees, something that was said to be not “totally impossible”. The estimable climate writer and retired accountant Paul Homewood did the maths and found almost the entire island would have to be turned into a forest. Of course, the trees would die within 40 years and the C02 would return to the atmosphere. In Brazil a group of academics suggested that climate change had led to a significant increase in hospitalisations for kidney disease. Marginal increases in temperature could affect almost anything, but a more credible explanation in this case might be better diagnosis in an improving local health care system.

The Potty Prelates section is always highly contested, but this year’s standout winner is the Archbishop of Canterbury. He told COP26 politicians that if they didn’t stop climate change by following an unproven science hypothesis they would be guilty of indirect genocide. Those who failed to take the necessary action, said Justin Welby, “would be viewed in an even worse light than those who had ignored the rise of Nazi Germany”. Pure ecclesiastical class of course, although some points were deducted when he issued a hasty apology following the broadcasting of his remarks on the BBC.

Worth reading in full.