Day: 27 December 2021

News Round-Up

Scotland Suffers 48% Decline in Boxing Day Footfall Compared With Pre-Pandemic Levels

In England, Boxing Day shopping footfall fell by 40% from 2019, whereas Scotland experienced a steeper decline at 48%. BBC News has more.

Shopping footfall in Scotland was 48% below Boxing Day 2019, before the pandemic.

That was a steeper fall than any region of England, where footfall was down 40%.

However, it was more than a three-fold increase on Boxing Day last year in Scotland, with lockdown restrictions being reintroduced.

Across the U.K., suburban and smaller towns did better for shopping activity, while shopping malls did least well.

Apart from the risk of Covid infection, other reasons for the low figures include some shops choosing to close to give staff a further day off, and lower numbers for a Sunday.

On Monday morning, shopper footfall on Scottish high streets and at retail centres was down by 38% on the levels seen two days after Christmas in 2019.

That is a slightly larger drop than the data, from Springboard retail consultancy, for the whole U.K. shows.

Early indications are that people have returned in larger numbers to retail parks to restock groceries following Christmas, while high streets and shopping malls have taken a bigger hit from consumer caution about Covid infection.

Worth reading in full.

No New Covid Rules to be Announced on Monday

No further Covid restrictions will be announced in England on Monday. BBC News has more.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is being briefed on the latest Covid data during the afternoon, after two days without published figures.

Ministers are expected to continue regular meetings with scientists, and keep the data under review.

Meanwhile, Scotland and Northern Ireland have tightened rules for a second day.

In both nations hospitality venues have returned to table service only and social distancing has been reintroduced in several settings.

Nightclubs have also been closed in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

BBC political correspondent Ione Wells said she understood there would be no new legal restrictions for England on Monday but said that did not rule out more guidance, or stronger language urging people to be careful.

Worth reading in full.

Congrats to Ione Wells on getting the scoop. Let’s hope it’s accurate.

Stop Press: MailOnline has more on Boris’s decision to put off making a decision.

Security Minister Warns That Lockdown Isolation Has Increased Radicalisation

The Security Minister, Damian Hinds, has said that social atomisation caused by previous lockdowns may have increased radicalisation and weakened the U.K.’s defence against terrorism. In turn, the U.N.’s Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) has concluded that extremists had tried “to exploit pandemic-related sociocultural restrictions that have led people around the world to spend increasing time online”. The Guardian has more.

The terrorism threat to the U.K. may have been made worse by Covid lockdowns, a security minister has suggested.

Damian Hinds, the MP for East Hampshire who became Security Minister in August, told the Telegraph that people spending long periods of time in their bedrooms during the restrictions could have pushed them towards radicalisation.

His remarks echo similar warnings from the police and the U.N.’s CTED.

“Clearly, logically, when you have more people who are spending more time in their bedrooms at their computer… you are going to get a growth in that tiny proportion of people for whom that is a dark journey,” Hinds told the Telegraph.

“And as you know, on the internet, if you start to make those kind of downward spirals, you can quickly accelerate with the material that you come across and the other people that you can come into contact with.”

Since Hinds took on the brief, there have been two alleged terrorist attacks, the killing of the MP Sir David Amess and the attack outside Liverpool Women’s hospital.

Counter Terrorism Policing said this month they had foiled seven “late-stage” terror attacks since the start of the Covid pandemic. It took the total number of foiled terrorism plots in the U.K. in the past four years to 32.

Worth reading in full.

According to the Latest ICU Data, the Unvaccinated Are Not ‘Overwhelming the NHS’

We’re publishing a guest post by our in-house doctor today looking at the latest ICNARC data. This is the weekly audit of NHS ICUs. It only covers the period up to November 14th, but suggests that unvaccinated Covid patients in ICU are not placing an unmanageable strain on the NHS, as some health professionals have claimed. On the contrary, as of November 15th, there were only 400 unvaccinated Covid patients in ICUs across the whole of NHS England and they were outnumbered by vaccinated patients.

Today the Prime Minister will be making a decision on further measures to limit social interactions by British citizens. Information leaked from SAGE appear to indicate the ‘scientific advisers’ to the Government are pushing him to reinstitute more aggressive social controls in an effort to control the virus.

As Monday and Tuesday (the 27th and the 28th) are bank holidays, there will be no release of Covid related data on the NHS website. Therefore, the public will be able to see even less information than usual about the quantifiable evidence on which their liberty is being curtailed.

On Christmas Eve, the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) released an updated weekly report containing useful new information. Readers may recall that until recently, ICNARC had not produced an audit of vaccination status in ICUs. We now have data up to November 15th and this week a more granular analysis has been published. The link to the report is here and the relevant pages are 44-48.

I urge readers to examine this report for themselves in tandem with my analysis as a guide to interpretation. There has been so much misinformation around vaccines and severe Covid on both sides of the argument that a high-quality ICNARC audit is invaluable in assessing quantifiable known facts about the situation.

Readers should note that all patients included in this audit were suffering from the Delta variant. The time period ends on November 15th, well before Omicron became established in the U.K. Therefore, the debate around whether Omicron is more or less severe than Delta is irrelevant for the purposes of this commentary.

Figure 27 on page 46 shows the changing proportions of vaccinated people in ICU units between May and November compared to vaccination status in the general U.K. population. Over this period vaccination uptake increased in the community from around 60% partially or double vaccinated in May to over 80% double vaccinated in November.

Daily Case Numbers Are Not Correlated With Mobility in Sweden

Throughout the pandemic, those in favour of more restrictions have argued there is a straightforward relationship between restrictions and case numbers. When the government imposes restrictions, the number of face-to-face interactions goes down, meaning there are less opportunities for transmission.

A week or so later, you should see case numbers start to fall. Or so the argument goes. Yet as David Paton noted in my recent interview with him, the assumption that “governments can turn infections on or off like a tap” simply isn’t true.

Last spring, almost every country around the world saw a large drop in mobility – as measured by indexes that track people’s smartphones. In most countries, this drop not only coincided with the start of lockdown, but also preceded a fall in case numbers by one or two weeks.

It was therefore widely assumed that mobility could serve as a proxy for the kind of behaviour change that causes infections to go up or down. However, examples like South Dakota – where infections fell rapidly without much change in overall mobility – cast serious doubt on this assumption.

In other words, just because mobility has fallen, doesn’t mean case numbers will go down; and just because mobility has risen, doesn’t mean case numbers will go up. This suggests the relationship between restrictions and case numbers is far from straightforward.

I plotted mobility alongside new daily cases for Sweden – one of the countries where restrictions have been least stringent. If mobility were closely related to infections, we’d be able to pinpoint precisely when restrictions should have been made more stringent, in order to get case numbers down. But that simply isn’t possible, as you can see below.

Don’t Stop People Going to the Football, Prime Minister

Boris is due to meet with Sir Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty later today to discuss what additional Covid restrictions to impose, if any. We already know that he doesn’t want schools to close again and, according to today’s Times, weddings and funerals will also be exempt from any new rules. But what about large sporting events, like football matches? The new rules in Scotland mean that only 500 people can attend games and in Wales they’ll be played behind closed doors for the foreseeable future. Will the Prime Minister be tempted to follow suit?

I sincerely hope not. As I’ve said many times before, the thing I missed the most during the previous three lockdowns was not being able to go and see my beloved QPR. Since we were allowed back into football stadiums in August of last year I’ve tried to go to every single QPR game, home and away, and to date I’ve only missed four. Indeed, my son Charlie and I started a Substack newsletter about following QPR this season that you can find here. The thought of having to go back to watching games on an iPad again is beyond depressing.

So, Prime Minister, if Sir Patrick and the soon-to-be Sir Chris urge you to ban attendance at large sporting events, here is some evidence that you can point to suggesting that such a measure would be pointless:

  • Last year, Chris Whitty said: “The evidence is very clear that outdoor spaces are safer than indoors.”
  • A systematic review of five studies found that “a low proportion of reported global SARS-CoV-2 infections occurred outdoors (<10%)”.
  • A rapid review of 14 sources of evidence “found very few examples of outdoor transmission of COVID-19 in everyday life among c. 25,000 cases considered, suggesting a very low risk”.
  • An Italian study concluded that “the probability of airborne transmission due to respiratory aerosol is very low in outdoor conditions”.
  • Official figures in Ireland showed that, of the “232,164 cases of COVID-19 recorded in the state up to March 24th this year, 262 were as a result of outdoor transmission, representing 0.1% of the total”.
  • A paper by the PHE Transmission Group noted: “Evidence continues to suggest that the vast majority of transmission happens in indoor spaces; recent reviews considering data from several countries found very little evidence of outdoor transmission for SARS-CoV-2, influenza or other respiratory viruses.”
  • This study from early cases in China found only one outbreak (of two cases) out of a sample of 7,324 infections that could be traced to an outdoor setting.
  • The Cheltenham Festival on March 10th-13th of 2020, which drew crowds of around 250,000 people, has entered folklore as a “superspreader event”, but in fact the evidence that it led to a spike in infections in the locality is threadbare. As the Racing Post pointed out in April 2020, Gloucestershire was one of the parts of the U.K. least affected by Covid: “HSJ statistics for reported COVID-19 positive deaths in England per 100,000 people put Gloucestershire comfortably in the bottom half of a table headed by The Black Country and West Birmingham. … Gloucestershire actually has a lower number of confirmed COVID-19 cases than surrounding counties – the south west itself is very low and within that Gloucestershire is below average.”
  • 25,000 fans were admitted to the NFL Super Bowl in Florida on February 7th, at the height of America’s ‘second wave’, along with 12,000 staff. Even though only a third of fans had been vaccinated at the time, U.S. health officials only found three people who were infected as a result of attending the game.

God willing, Boris will stick to his guns and not impose any further restrictions, as the Daily Mail recommends in a strong leader this morning. But if you’re tempted to do something, Prime Minister, please leave football alone. Like all the other non-pharmaceutical interventions recommended by SAGE scientists, banning attendance at football games will make zero difference to Covid transmission.

Restrictions on Wedding and Funeral Attendance Caused Unnecessary Distress

It has been reported that the Government will not impose any attendance limit on weddings and funerals if a series of new restrictions is brought in. The reason for this is that it ministers believe attendance caps on these events during the previous three lockdowns caused unnecessary distress to those involved. MailOnline has more.

The exemptions for life events are part of all scenarios that have been drawn up by the Government to deal with the threat of Omicron.

It comes ahead of crunch talks between Boris Johnson and Government scientists today to discuss Covid restrictions for the New Year. 

Downing Street is understood to be leaning towards new guidance urging people in England to be careful and limit contacts – rather than imposing new legally binding restrictions.

But this could change if data on hospitalisations suggests the NHS could be overwhelmed by a wave of Covid infections.  

Possible restrictions considered by the Prime Minister over the past few days include closing pubs and restaurants indoors, bringing back the rule of six or restricting the number of households meeting indoors, and limiting capacity at mass events. 

But ministers are said to be against disrupting significant life events with the restrictions, even if they opt to bring back the rule of six in indoor settings, the Times reported. 

Among the proposals are plans to prevent hospitals forcing women to attend scans and check ups – as well as give birth – without their partners.  

And ministers are “increasingly optimistic but very cautiously optimistic” they will avoid re-imposing draconian lockdown rules in England before the new year.   

“It’s not just that there’s a clear gap between cases and hospitalisations, but also that when people are going into hospital they tend to be there for less time,” a Government source told the Times

It is a stark difference from previous restrictions, under which the number of people allowed at weddings and funerals was capped – and saw the Queen attend Prince Philip’s funeral alone in April. 

So far Mr Johnson has resisted calls to go as far as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in introducing curbs on social mixing. Similar restrictions have also been imposed in many European countries – but not yet in England.

This morning the Prime Minister will meet Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance to consider the latest data.

Any new legally binding restrictions would need the backing of Cabinet, and would have to be rubber stamped by MPs.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up