Day: 21 December 2021

News Round-Up

Rishi Sunak Offers £1 Billion Rescue Package to Hospitality Sector

Pubs, restaurants and leisure businesses hit by omicron losses will be eligible for one-off grants of up to £6,000 in a £1 billion Christmas aid package announced by Rishi Sunak earlier today. Hospitality bosses say it’s too little, too late. The Telegraph has more.

The Chancellor said some 200,000 hospitality and leisure businesses would benefit from the grants to compensate for an average 40 per cent fall in revenue from the Government’s ‘Plan B’ restrictions in the run-up to Christmas.

The cash awards will vary according to the size of the business with those with a rateable value of more than £51,000 eligible for the full £6,000, those between £15,000 and £51,000 being offered £4,000 and smaller operations getting £2,666.

There will also be £100 million discretionary funding to be distributed by councils to other businesses hit by Covid restrictions this festive season.

The Government will also reintroduce its scheme to cover the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences for small and medium-sized employers across the U.K.

However, the package is unlikely to satisfy hospitality and leisure chiefs who have been hit by cancellations and face further uncertainty. The Prime Minister on Monday refused to rule out further restrictions, including a possible return of a ban on indoor drinking and eating.

Worth reading in full.

Has Boris Finally Placed His Trust in the Common Sense of the British People Rather than the Cassandras in Lab Coats?

I’ve written a piece for Mail+ praising Boris for deciding not to impose further restrictions at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. This could be a turning point, I argue.

It was the first time a decision about whether to lock down had been made based on real-world data, as opposed to the gloomy predictions of the Sage modellers.

Last week, the UK Health Security Agency – the successor agency to Public Health England – said the number of new daily Covid infections from the Omicron variant had reached 200,000 a day. These figures just hadn’t shown up yet in the Government’s coronavirus dashboard because of reporting delays.

In fact, that number was an estimate based on Sage modelling which, as usual, turned out to be overly pessimistic. In the past seven days, the number of daily Covid cases by specimen date peaked at 102,297 on December 15th, and yesterday, the number of newly reported cases was 91,743. Meanwhile, the UKHSA has quietly withdrawn the 200,000 figure.

We cannot say for certain that daily cases won’t tick up again over Christmas, which is why Boris Johnson has been careful not to rule out any further restrictions. But the data from Gauteng province in South Africa, the centre of the Omicron outbreak, shows cases falling sharply in the past week. That suggests the new variant burns out quite quickly as it runs out of new people to infect.

On Sunday, this prompted South Africa’s ministerial advisory committee on Covid, which is similar to Sage, to recommend that the quarantining of contacts and all contact tracing be halted with immediate effect.

One of the reasons our Government’s scientific advisers have been so gloomy is because the Sage modelling teams have assumed that Omicron is as deadly as the Delta variant, but the data from other countries, including South Africa, implies it’s less likely to result in severe disease or death.

For instance, new data from Denmark suggest Omicron is 60 per cent less likely to result in hospital admission than infections from previous variants.

That might explain why Covid hospitalisations have not been significantly increasing in the UK, in spite of the rise in case numbers, and why they’re falling in South Africa.

Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty have warned of 3,000 new hospital admissions a day if further restrictions aren’t introduced – a figure Sajid Javid quoted in yesterday’s Cabinet meeting when arguing for more severe measures. But on Saturday, just 900 people were admitted to hospital with Covid, not much higher than the 865 daily average for the previous seven days.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Boris has confirmed that no new Covid restrictions will be brought in before Christmas, although he hasn’t ruled out some changes to the rules immediately after Christmas. BBC News has more.

In a video clip released on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said: “What I can say tonight, is that naturally we can’t rule out any further measures after Christmas – and we’re going to keep a constant eye on the data, and we’ll do whatever it takes to protect public health.

But in view of the continuing uncertainty about several things – the severity of Omicron, uncertainty about the hospitalisation rate or the impact of the vaccine rollout or the boosters, we don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas.

We continue to monitor Omicron very closely and if the situation deteriorates we will be ready to take action if needed.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press 2: Philip Thomas, a Professor at Bristol University, writes in the Daily Mail his Covid model has consistently got it right and it’s telling him there’s no need for another lockdown.

Stop Press 3: Andrew Lilico in the Telegraph says we should be able to get through the Omicron outbreak without any further restrictions.

South Africa’s ‘SAGE’ Tells Government: End Contact Tracing and Self-Isolation for Covid Because It’s Not Worth It

South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on Covid, a similar body to SAGE, has written to Health Minister Joe Phaahla recommending that all contact tracing and self-isolation of contacts for Covid be stopped because it is unnecessary and ineffective. South Africa is the original epicentre of the Omicron outbreak so this advice should be a strong signal to Boris Johnson and the rest of the world that the panic about Omicron is unwarranted.

The Committee’s experts write:

We propose that quarantining be discontinued with immediate effect for contacts of cases of Covid. This applies equally to vaccinated and non-vaccinated contacts. No testing for Covid is required irrespective of the exposure risk, unless the contact becomes symptomatic. We further propose that contact tracing be stopped.

They explain:

Crucially, it appears that efforts to eliminate and/or contain the virus are not likely to be successful. Therefore, it is critical that the role of containment efforts like quarantine and contact tracing is re-evaluated.

They add:

The inability of the current testing strategy to identify the bulk of cases is illustrated by the high SARS-CoV-2 seropositivity rates seen across multiple provinces in serosurveys, implying that only a fraction of cases (perhaps one in 10, or even less) are ever diagnosed.

It stands to reason that if the vast majority of cases are not diagnosed, then the vast majority of case contacts are also not diagnosed. This means that quarantining and contact tracing are of negligible public health benefit in the South African setting.

The Daily Sceptic has been sent a copy of the memo, which is reproduced in full below.

U.S. Journalist Files Lawsuit to Fight Back Against Twitter’s Censorship of Vaccine-Sceptic Content

In August, American journalist Alex Berenson (pictured) was permanently banned from Twitter after penning a post declaring that the Covid vaccine “doesn’t stop infection or transmission”. In response to his removal from the social media site, Berenson has filed a federal lawsuit against the company, claiming that its decision to kick him off the platform earlier in the year violated his first amendment right, with his attorneys arguing that Twitter was adhering to the demands of the Federal Government to silence vaccine-sceptic content. The Mail has the story.

The lawsuit filed on Monday in U.S. District Court for Northern California seeks Berenson’s reinstatement to Twitter and unspecified monetary damages over his permanent ban in August.

A spokesperson for San Francisco-based Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Mail.

Berenson, a former New York Times reporter and prominent sceptic of many pandemic policies, was banned from Twitter over a tweet in which he stated that Covid vaccines do not prevent infection or transmission of the virus.

“Berenson’s claim that the Covid vaccines do not ‘stop infection’ or ‘transmission’ of Covid was true at the time and is true now,” his attorneys said in the complaint.

“It is undisputed that vaccinated persons can contract and spread Covid,” the lawsuit adds, noting that Dr. Anthony Fauci himself has stated in published interviews that vaccinated people can be infected.

However, the crux of the lawsuit does not rest on whether Berenson’s criticism of vaccines was objectively true or not. 

The detailed 70-page complaint alleges that Twitter is legally a ‘common carrier,’ similar to a railroad or a telegram, which is required under California and federal law to provide service to all comers.

“Twitter’s role in public debate in the 21st century resembles that of the telegraph in the 19th,” the lawsuit argues. 

Berenson’s attorneys also argue that he has “a uniquely viable claim that Twitter acted on behalf of the Federal Government in censoring and barring him from to its platform”.

The complaint argues that his Twitter ban came just days after high officials including President Joe Biden called for a crackdown on pandemic misinformation on social media, and that the company was responding to Government pressure in banning him.

The suit claims violation of the First Amendment, false advertising, and violation of California common carrier law, among other complaints.

Since his ban from Twitter, Berenson has been publishing his opinion and reporting on the platform Substack, and has released a book titled Pandemia, which reached the bestsellers list.

Worth reading in full.

“Do Not Discriminate” Against the Unvaccinated, Japanese Government Tells Citizens

At this point, almost all Western countries have introduced some form of vaccine passport or vaccine mandate. Despite repeated assurances from the Vaccines Minister that this wouldn’t happen here, Britain is no exception.

Things may go further in some European countries. Austria is set to make vaccination mandatory from 1st February next year. And beginning in January, Greece will impose a monthly fine of €100 on all over 60s who remain unvaccinated.

Even the United States – supposedly the ‘land of the free’ – has not bucked the trend toward use of passports and mandates. Several states have introduced them, including some of the biggest like New York, California and Virginia. Healthcare workers with natural immunity have already been fired for refusing to comply.

You might conclude that introducing passports and mandates is just something that all advanced countries do. But that isn’t true, as there’s one major exception: Japan.

Nobody can doubt Japan’s credentials as an advanced country. It’s a member of the ‘Group of Seven’, along with the U.K., U.S., Canada, France, Italy and Germany. And it boasts the world’s third largest economy overall. Japan is known for its technologically advanced society, where the high-speed trains never run more than a few minutes late.

So what is the country’s stance on passports and mandates? So far, it’s completely eschewed them. Not only that, but the Government and Prime Minister have explicitly told citizens not to discriminate against the unvaccinated.

The following notice appears on the website for the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare:

Although we encourage all citizens to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, it is not compulsory or mandatory. Vaccination will be given only with the consent of the person to be vaccinated after the information provided. Please get vaccinated of your own decision, understanding both the effectiveness in preventing infectious diseases and the risk of side effects. No vaccination will be given without consent. Please do not force anyone in your workplace or those who around you to be vaccinated, and do not discriminate against those who have not been vaccinated.

And a similar notice appears on the website for the Prime Minister:

Vaccines will never be administered without the recipient’s consent. We urge the public never to coerce vaccinations at the workplace or upon others around them, and never to treat those who have not received the vaccine in a discriminatory manner.

Western countries still claim to be the foremost defenders of civil liberties. But in the era of Covid safetyism, it seems that mantle has passed to Japan. Perhaps the country will send a delegation of human rights experts to teach the West about individual freedom.

WHO Tells Public to Cancel Christmas Holiday Plans

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended that members of the public across the world abandon some of their Christmas plans, following concerns that the Omicron variant “is spreading significantly faster” than the previous Delta strain. In hammering home the message, the WHO’s Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “an event cancelled is better than a life cancelled”. BBC News has the story.

Dr. Tedros’ comments come as a number of countries, including France and Germany, have tightened Covid restrictions and imposed travel curbs to try to halt the spread of the new variant. The Netherlands has introduced a strict lockdown over the Christmas period.

The White House said on Monday that President Joe Biden was not planning on “locking the country down”. The country’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, earlier warned that Christmas travel would increase the spread of Omicron even among the fully vaccinated.

In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that the Government needed to “reserve the possibility” of bringing in new rules in England as Omicron cases surged, but did not announce further restrictions.

New Year’s Eve celebrations in London’s Trafalgar Square have been cancelled “in the interests of public safety”, Mayor Sadiq Khan said.

Omicron, first detected in South Africa in November, has been classed as a “variant of concern” by the WHO.

Speaking at a briefing on Monday, Dr .Tedros said: “All of us sick of this pandemic. All of us want to spend time with friends and family. All of us want to get back to normal.

“The fastest way to do this is for all of us, leaders and individuals, to make the difficult decisions that must be made to protect ourselves and others.

“In some cases, that will mean cancelling or delaying events… it’s better to cancel now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and grieve later.”

Dr. Tedros also stressed that the pandemic could be ended in 2022 by ensuring that 70% of the population in every country of the world was vaccinated by the middle of next year.

He also said China, where the outbreak is believed to have started in 2019, must be forthcoming with relevant data and information.

“We need to continue until we know the origins, we need to push harder because we should learn from what happened this time in order to [do] better in the future,” Dr. Tedros said.

Worth reading in full.

Ofcom Complaint About Collaboration Between Sky and Government-Owned Company to Promote ‘Net Zero’

Laura Dodsworth and I have filed a complaint with Ofcom about a report issued by the Behavioural Insights Team and Sky urging broadcasters to use sophisticated psychological techniques derived from behavioural science to persuade people to support the Government’s ‘Net Zero’ agenda. Sky proudly boasted in the report that it was already using these subliminal techniques, which we think is a breach of Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code – in particular, the prohibition on using “techniques which exploit the possibility of conveying a message to viewers or listeners, or of otherwise influencing their minds without their being aware, or fully aware, of what has occurred”. Here is the gist of our complaint, taken from our letter to Melanie Dawes, the Chief Executive of Ofcom:

We are writing to alert you to a broadcast license complaint we have made about Sky U.K. Our complaint concerns a partnership between Sky and Behavioural Insights U.K., Known as the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), a limited company that was partly owned by the Government at the time the report was published. We believe this partnership – and, in particular, Sky’s adoption of BIT’s recommendations about how to help the Conservative Government successfully implement one of its most political contentious policy, namely, Net Zero – contravenes the Broadcasting Code.

The partnership we’re referring to resulted in the publication of “The Power of TV: Nudging Viewers to Decarbonise their Lifestyles” and the launch of Sky’s ‘Sky Zero’ campaign, which recommended that broadcasters make use of “behavioural science principles”, including subliminal messaging (“nudging” in the parlance of BIT, which is colloquially known as the Nudge Unit), to encourage viewers to endorse and comply with Conservative Government policy. Alarmingly, the report recommends broadcasters utilise sophisticated psychological techniques to change the behaviour of children “because of the important influence they have on the attitude and behaviours of their parents”.

The letter is worth reading in full.

Omicron is Not ‘Surging’, Boris. There’s a Ton More Testing – and Infections Are Already Peaking

Boris Johnson said yesterday that Omicron is “surging across the country now” and warned that “we reserve the possibility of taking further action to protect the public and to protect public health, to protect the NHS. We won’t hesitate to take that action.” The Telegraph reports.

The Prime Minister has said the Government “reserves the possibility” to implement further Covid restrictions amid surging Omicron cases, and warned that the current situation is “extremely difficult”.

Speaking in Downing Street, Boris Johnson said the latest data will be kept under constant review “hour by hour”, and refused to rule out further measures after Christmas. 

“We will have to reserve the possibility of taking further action to protect the public and to protect public health, to protect the NHS,” he said. “We won’t hesitate to take that action.”

Asked about what types of restrictions could be reimplemented, he said: “We are looking at all kinds of things to keep Omicron under control and we will rule nothing out.”

But is it really true that Omicron is surging and warrants the Prime Minister breaking his repeated promise that the lifting of restrictions in the summer following the vaccine rollout was “irreversible”?

Not according to the latest data. Yesterday’s reported infections for the U.K. were at 91,743, down from three days ago.

The peak by specimen date is still December 15th and the figures for the following days, while incomplete, do not suggest it will be topped soon.

And Finally…

On this week’s episode of London Calling, James Delingpole and I discuss the Omicron variant; Boris’s recent announcement that he won’t be imposing any more restrictions today, but may impose them at any moment; the likely reaction of the Parliamentary Conservative party if he does do that, particularly before Christmas; the landmark free speech victory won by Harry Miller and the Free Speech Union in the Court of Appeal; the relative merits of fox hunting versus being a football fan; and, in Culture Corner, Spider-Man: No Way Home, the new series of The Witcher, Bernard Cornwell’s War Lord (top drawer) and Dominic Frisby’s apparent endorsement of Team James.

You can listen to the podcast here and subscribe on iTunes here.