Day: 29 December 2021

News Round-Up

Chinese Lockdown Rule-Breakers are Publicly Shamed and Paraded Through the Streets in Jingxi

Armed riot police in southern China have paraded four alleged violators of Covid rules through the streets. MailOnline has more.

Four masked suspects in hazmat suits – carrying placards displaying their photos and names – were paraded Tuesday in front of a large crowd in Guangxi region’s Jingxi City.

Photos of the event showed each suspect held by two police officers – wearing face shields, masks and hazmat suits – and surrounded by a circle of police in riot gear, some holding guns.

The public shaming was part of disciplinary measures announced by the local government in August to punish those breaking health rules.

China banned such public shaming of criminal suspects in 2010 after decades of campaigning by human rights activists, but the practice has resurfaced as local governments struggle to enforce the national zero-Covid policy.

It comes as locked-down residents in one of China’s biggest cities say they are at risk of starving in their homes after they were banned from going outside even to buy food under harsh new Covid measures sparked by just a few dozen cases.

Apparatchiks running the city of Xi’an on Monday told 13 million people they are only allowed out of their homes when invited to take part in a new round of mass testing, or for medical emergencies.

Worth reading in full.

How long before Nicole Sturgeon and her SNP goons start parading lockdown rule breakers through the streets of Edinburgh?

Stop Press: There are some reports that these public shamings were of people caught people smuggling, not breaking lockdown rules, although smuggling people across borders would be a breach of lockdown rules.

Boris Johnson Tells the Public to Have a “Cautious and Sensible” New Year’s Eve

The Prime Minister has admitted that the Omicron strain is “obviously milder than the Delta variant” and told the public that they should enjoy New Year’s Eve, burdened by as few restrictions as possible. However, Boris has also urged people to be “cautious and sensible” and urged everyone to get jabbed. MailOnline has more.

Boris Johnson today gave the green light for people to celebrate on New Year’s Eve but urged the nation to be “cautious and sensible”. 

The Prime Minister said he believes “everybody should enjoy New Year” despite the spread of the Omicron variant. 

He said the strain ‘continues to cause real problems’, with hospitalisations rising, but the data shows it is ‘obviously milder than the Delta variant’. 

Johnson said the booster jab rollout means England does not currently need new Covid restrictions, despite Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all imposing new rules on socialising.

The premier today repeated his plea to the nation to get boosted as he warned that 90% of Covid patients in intensive care units across the country had not received the top-up dose…

Johnson has promised that there will be no new Covid rules in England before New Year’s Eve. 

His decision not to roll out extra curbs is in contrast to the actions taken in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland where additional restrictions have been imposed after Christmas.  

The Prime Minister said this morning during a visit to a vaccination centre in Milton Keynes that the vaccination programme meant “we are able to proceed in the way that we are”. 

He said: “The Omicron variant continues to cause real problems. We are seeing cases rising in hospitals but it is obviously milder than the Delta variant and we are able to proceed in the way that we are.

“But there is one reason and one reason only why we are able to do that and that is because such a huge proportion of the British public have come forward to get vaccinated and particularly to get boosted.

“We have done about 32 and a half, maybe more, million booster jabs now and that is allowing us to go ahead with New Year in the cautious way that we are.

“But I cannot stress too much how vital it is for everybody to get that booster jab, particularly the 2.4 million people who have had two jabs but haven’t yet had their booster, they had two jabs more than six or seven months ago, so they are eligible for their booster but they are not yet coming forward to get it.

“So I would say to people, come forward and get your booster, it is a fantastic thing to do, it makes a huge amount of difference to you, it protects you, and I’m sorry to say this but the overwhelming majority of people who are currently ending up in intensive care in our hospitals are people who are not boosted.

“I have talked to doctors who say the numbers are running up to 90% of people in intensive care who are not boosted.

“If you are not vaccinated you are eight times more likely to get into hospital altogether.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Boris Johnson said that 90% of Covid patients in ICU are unvaccinated, a claim that may be true but isn’t supported by any of the publicly available date. Read Will Jones’s recent piece looking at what the published data says about the ratio of unvaccinated to vaccinated patients in hospital here.

SNP Tells Scots Not to Dodge Covid Restrictions by Celebrating New Year’s Eve in England

John Swinney, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, has called on Scots not to cross the border into England to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Doing so goes against the “spirit” of the Scottish Government’s Covid restrictions, he says. (No, really?!?) BBC News has more.

Scots have been urged not to travel to England for New Year celebrations to get around the more stringent Covid restrictions north of the border.

There is no travel ban currently in place to stop people going to England, where nightclubs are still open.

But Deputy First Minister John Swinney said doing so would go against the “spirit” of Scottish Covid measures.

He said travelling would be “the wrong course of action” due to the “serious situation” with the Omicron variant.

Case numbers in Scotland hit “alarming” record highs over Christmas and Boxing Day, with the faster-spreading strain now accounting for the majority of all infections.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is to update MSPs in a virtual sitting of the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, said she expected the figures to rise even more in the days ahead.

Scots have been encouraged to stay at home as much as possible, and to limit any social gatherings to no more than three households.

Large events such as Edinburgh’s traditional Hogmanay street party have been cancelled, with extra curbs in hospitality settings and nightclubs shut down entirely.

Clubs remain open south of the border, where no new restrictions are being imposed, but Swinney told BBC Breakfast that he would “discourage” anyone from travelling to England to see in the new year.

He said: “People are free to make their own judgments. But what we have got recognise is that Omicron is a serious threat to absolutely everybody within our society and we have all got to take measures to protect ourselves by limiting our social contacts and connections and by complying with the restrictions we have in place.

“I think it is the wrong course of action for people to take because we have a serious situation we have got to manage and we encourage everybody to play their part in addressing that.”

People in England have been urged to be “cautious” while socialising, by taking lateral flow tests and sticking to well-ventilated areas.

Ms Sturgeon is to update MSPs on the latest data and plans when Holyrood is recalled from recess for a virtual sitting at 14:00.

Worth reading in full.

Belgian Court Overturns Closure of Cinemas and Theatres

On Sunday the Belgian Government introduced new restrictions designed to stem the spread of the Omicron variant, forcing many public places and venues, such as cinemas and theatres, to close. However, Belgian’s highest administrative court has struck down the ban, claiming that the Government does not have the justification or legitimacy to designate these areas as “dangerous places for health… in that they would spread Covid”. It went on to describe the Government’s actions as “disproportionate”. MailOnline has more.

A Belgian court on Tuesday suspended the closure of concert halls, cinemas and other entertainment venues, a measure announced last week by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo to stem the spread of the Omicron Covid variant.

Under new restrictions that took effect Sunday, movie houses, concert halls and art centres were ordered to shut their doors. Some stayed open in protest.

But the Council of State, Belgium’s highest administrative court, said the authorities have not demonstrated “in what way entertainment venues are particularly dangerous places for (people’s) health… in that they would spread Covid, to the extent necessary to order their closure.”

The Government’s closure order was only announced last week and took effect from Sunday, with the court saying it was “disproportionate”. 

It said in a ruling published on Tuesday that, even if the Omicron variant required further restrictions, the Government needed to show why a given measure was needed on public health grounds. The court still needs to make a final ruling.

The order came despite the assessment of the scientific committee advising the Government that going to such places poses no extra risk to public health. 

It is not entirely clear what counts as a cultural venue, but it will not include cinemas and other indoor venues, such as for bowling, or night clubs.

The Council of State is an advisory body that has legal powers to overturn Government decisions it considers unlawful. 

De Croo’s Government and regional chiefs decided last Wednesday to close cinemas and theatres and play sporting fixtures behind closed doors, while allowing bars, restaurants, gyms and other indoor sports venues to continue as before.

Belgium, home to European Union institutions and the headquarters of NATO, has seen Covid infections continually fall since a late November peak, but Omicron cases are rapidly rising, and now make up over half of all Covid cases.  

The suspension of the order came after representatives of Belgian actors, performers and cinema operators launched an appeal against the decision.   

The FEAS umbrella association for the sector said the lockdown was baseless, unfair and disproportionate and it, along with several cultural and rights groups, appealed to Belgium’s Council of State, which ruled in their favour.

After meeting on Tuesday with sector representatives, health minister Frank Vandenbroucke told state broadcaster RTBF that “there’s no possibility to immediately revise the (Government’s) decision”.

Worth reading in full.

English Border Pubs Bracing For 100,000 to Cross From Scotland and Wales on New Year’s Eve

English border pubs are expecting upwards of 100,000 Scottish and Welsh revellers to cross into England on New Year’s Eve amid mounting anger at Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford for cracking down on festivities. MailOnline has more.

On Monday, Boris Johnson confirmed England will not see additional Covid measures introduced before New Year’s Eve despite nightclubs closing and curbs being placed on large gatherings in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The restrictions on events in neighbouring nations are expected to prompt a flood of people crossing into England to celebrate on Friday December 31st.

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney today admitted the Scottish government is powerless to stop Scots heading to England.

But he said he would “discourage” people from making the trip, arguing it is not in the “spirit of the rules that we are putting forward”.

Mr Swinney said there will be no policing of the border to stop people crossing and ultimately “people are free to make their own judgements”.

His comments came as Ms Sturgeon prepares to deliver a Covid update this afternoon after case numbers in Scotland reached record highs.

The festive period has seen daily cases in Scotland climb to more than 8,000, with a pandemic-high of 11,030 recorded on Boxing Day.

It remains unclear whether Ms Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, is planning to introduce further restrictions, stick with the ones she has already announced, or remove some of the existing curbs.

The regional differences on social gatherings are expected to see a surge in Scottish and Welsh revellers crossing into England on New Year’s Eve.

Greg Mulholland, at the Campaign for Pubs, said as many as 100,000 could cross the borders for a “normal” New Year’s Eve without table service-only or mask wearing requirements.

He told the Sun: “We need a more coordinated, common sense approach. It’s confusing for the many thousands of people who live near a border, and frustrating for publicans in Scotland and Wales.”

Social media was flooded with people saying they planned to head to England on Friday to bring in the New Year in the face of stringent restrictions on clubs and bars in their own nations.

Furious Tory MPs and hospitality bosses in Scotland and Wales yesterday demanded Ms Sturgeon and Mr Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister, publish figures justifying their Covid crackdowns.

City centres in the principalities, including Northern Ireland, were pictured desolate and lifeless last night amid the introduction of new Covid restrictions for pubs and clubs, which included the rule of six and social distancing for thousands of venues.

Meanwhile revellers let their hair down in England after Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed no new rules would be put in place before the end of the year.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Former Labour MP Tom Harris says the absurd new Covid Rules in Scotland and Wales prove the Left just loves to boss everyone about.

November’s Age-Standardised Mortality Rate Was 8% Higher Than the Five-Year Average

The ONS announced last week that there were 48,180 deaths registered in England in November, which is almost 5,000 more than in October, and 15.6% more than the five-year average.

November therefore saw a non-trivial rise in deaths. Interestingly, much of the increase seems to be accounted for by non-Covid causes. A comparison between last month’s breakdown by leading cause of death, and this month’s breakdown, is shown in the figure below.

The comparison is confusing because, for some reason, the ONS decided to reverse the colour scheme between the two reports. On the left-hand chart dark blue corresponds to the month itself (October), whereas on the right-hand chart it corresponds to the five-year average.

In any case, if you look carefully, you will see that the age-standardised mortality rates for all the leading causes of death (including Covid) rose from October to November. For example, the age-standardised mortality rate from Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease increased by more than 20% from 102 to 122 per 100,000.

Note: the charts should be interpreted with caution, as determining cause of death is not always straightforward.

November’s overall age-standardised mortality rate was 7.7% higher than the five-year average. This is a greater disparity than last month, when the two figures were approximately equal. Though it is less than that seen in September, when the age-standardised mortality rate was 11.2% higher than the five-year average.

Here’s my updated chart of excess mortality in England since January of 2020. Notice that November’s bump was smaller than September’s.

In terms of cumulative mortality to date, 2021 is now looking slightly worse than 2018. However, it is not yet as bad as 2015. In other words, the first eleven months of 2015 – a year with no pandemic – were more deadly than the first eleven months of 2021. And of course, 2021 is still looking better than last year.

November’s non-Covid excess mortality may reflect the delayed impact of lockdown. However, the overall figure of 7.7% indicates that mortality isn’t that much higher than you’d expect this time of year.

Cut Self-Isolation Period to Save NHS, Boris is Urged

The Prime Minister is facing pressure to stave off an NHS staffing crisis by reducing the coronavirus self-isolation period to five days. The Times has more.

Health service chiefs warned that staff absences caused by the requirement to isolate for seven days after a positive test risked causing a bigger problem than the number of Covid-19 patients being admitted to hospitals.

Scientists, health professionals, hospitality chiefs and Conservative MPs have urged the government to copy the US, which has cut the self-isolation period to five days. Last week Johnson’s government reduced it from ten to seven days.

Up to 800,000 people are estimated to be in isolation, causing widespread disruption to public services from bin collections to rail services and to businesses across the country.

The number of people going into isolation is growing, with another daily record of 117,093 cases in England yesterday. Wales recorded 12,378 new infections, adding up to a new UK daily record of 129,471, even though Scotland and Northern Ireland were yet to report their figures.

There are fears that schools will face a chaotic start to term next week if infection rates continue to rise.

Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the isolation period in Britain would have to be cut further. He said Covid would become “effectively just another cause of the common cold”, telling the BBC: “We’re going to have to let people who are positive go about their normal lives as they would do with any other cold.

“I think the whole issue of how long are we going to be able to allow people to self-isolate if they’re positive is going to have to be discussed fairly soon, because I think this is a disease that’s not going away.”

Worth reading in full.