Day: 31 December 2021

News Round-Up

A Hogmanay Tale From Central Edinburgh

We’ve been sent a semi-autobiographical, satirical short story by one of our Scottish readers who, for understandable reasons, wishes to remain anonymous. We hope you enjoy it.

It was the night before Hogmanay 2021 and all through the silent Edinburgh streets bored tourists walked past closed pubs, shuttered nightclubs and barely-filled restaurants. Lured by promoters’ tales of “legendary” Scottish hospitality in the alcohol-fuelled, self-styled capital of the New Year party world, they had risked quarantine at an airport hotel with a daily diet of Tunnocks tea cakes in the hope that the spontaneous Princes St kiss with a hairy highland stranger as the bells struck midnight might not turn out to be a snog with another South East Asian tourist under a wee Jimmy wig. Too late, these disappointed visitors, who in a parallel world might have contributed to the needy coffers of the Caledonian economy in fair exchange for “a guid time”, had come to realise that the entire country was under the iron, liberty crushing, control of one woman, Scotland’s very own Old Nic.

Meanwhile, in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge, favoured residential suburb of precious professionals seeking proximity to the cathedral of lockdown virtue-signalling, Waitrose, the McAllister family returned home from the last of the annual Christmas visits to Ma McAllister’s relatives which Pa McAllister and daughter, Dotty, had for once been unable to avoid as their conveniently essential prior engagements had been cancelled by Old Nic. “Please tell me I don’t need to see any more of these people for another year,” came the cry as they stumbled through their own front door adorned with its tasteful, homemade holly wreath. “That’s definitely it,” Ma assured them, yet at the back of her mind was the niggling doubt that someone had been missed, somebody, or indeed several somebodies, who had come to play such a central part in their lives that it would be shocking if, as the year drew to a close, Ma did not let them know how much, for good or ill, they meant to the McAllisters.

It was then that Ma noticed Pa slipping off up the stairs into the bedroom with that dreamy smile on his face, softly closing the door behind him. Of course, how could she have forgotten…

It had all started about 21 months ago. Alarmist news flashes were warning of an apocalyptic illness sweeping the globe, as journalists salivated that the rerun of the Spanish flu story they had been preparing for (some might say longing for) every time an exotic bird sneezed, could finally keep them all gainfully employed. In Pa’s study it was business as usual. “How do I save a document again?” he was asking for the 156th time. “Click on File, then on Save,” replied Ma without drawing breath as she continued the daily rebalancing of the McAllister’s global equity portfolio whilst making two rounds of french toast. There was silence from Pa. Then: “It says on my phone that Boris is closing the country for three weeks, no one is to move, shops and schools will shut, but you’re allowed out for an hour to exercise or get essential food.” “Don’t be ridiculous,” said Ma, as she recalibrated the chain saw whilst mentally debating the risks and benefits of a small cryptocurrency position. “Only a mad man would do that, and anyway, we don’t live in North Korea.” But for once, Ma was wrong.

NHS Providers Chief Tells U.K. to Brace for “Tighter Restrictions”

Chris Hopson, the Chief Executive of NHS Providers, has said that the country should prepare for “tighter restrictions”, arguing that additional Covid measures may be needed to curb the spread of the Omicron variant in order to save the NHS from being overburdened by Covid patients. The Guardian has the story.

Boris Johnson must be ready to restrict social mixing to stop hospitals being overwhelmed by an Omicron-driven surge in Covid cases, a senior NHS leader has said.

The rapid spread of the new variant means the Prime Minister may have to introduce “tighter restrictions, at real speed” to reduce the number of people falling ill with Covid.

But any new curbs would take two weeks to cut the number of people needing hospital treatment, added Chris Hopson, the Chief Executive of NHS Providers.

His comments came as a leading scientist predicted that the sharp increase in Covid infections seen in recent days means that the NHS will be overwhelmed “quite quickly”.

Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), warned exposure to only “a whiff of infected breath” could lead to catching the Omicron variant.

He also said that mingling during New Year celebrations may well lead to a further increase in those testing positive.

Hopson said that hospital chiefs understood that the Government had set “a high threshold” for how much pressure the NHS would need to be under from Covid before it would tighten the rules.

“Trust leaders can see why the Government is arguing that, in the absence of a surge of a large number of seriously ill older people coming into hospital, that threshold has not yet been crossed,” Hopson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“But we still don’t know if that surge will come. Indeed, the NHS is preparing for it right now,” he added. Eight hospitals in England have begun creating their own “mini-Nightingale” on site to help care for patients at “super-surge” capacity.

Hopson added: “We are therefore in the same place we have been in for the last fortnight. The Government needs to be ready to introduce tighter restrictions, at real speed, should they be needed.”

Worth reading in full.

Bill de Blasio’s Successor as Mayor of New York City Vows to Retain Private Sector Vaccine Mandate

On New Year’s Day, New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams will be sworn into office, replacing the outgoing Bill de Blasio. But little will change regarding the city’s Covid restrictions, such as a vaccine mandate requiring all private sector workers to be jabbed. Adams has selected de Blasio’s Health Department Commissioner, Dr. Dave Choksi, to be part of the incoming administration; looking to the future, Choksi declared that, “the private sector employer mandate will stay in effect in the new year”. The Mail has more.

Mayor-elect Eric Adams has promised a seamless transition regarding the city’s Covid response, including keeping outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s planned mandate that private businesses require vaccination for all employees.

“We can’t shut down our city again. We can’t allow the city to go further into economic despair,” Adams during a morning press conference on Thursday, where he unveiled his six-point plan to combat Covid.

At the beginning of December, de Blasio announced what he called a “pre-emptive strike” to prevent another wave of the virus, forcing private employers to require all on-site workers get their shots. 

Businesses were required to start showing proof of employee vaccinations on December 27th, per the policy. The mandate covers all companies in the five boroughs, from Goldman Sachs to the corner bodega. 

Adams’ health advisers are currently mulling the idea to include booster shots in the current vaccine mandates, meaning employers would have to hound their workers to get a third shot. 

School vaccination mandates could also be on the table, officials said. The health commissioner said that his working group will also study a requirement for all public school children to get vaccinated by spring. 

The Big Apple chalked a record 44,000 new cases on Thursday, the largest one-day number since the pandemic began. Governor Kathy Hochul also announced that New York state saw a record 74,207 daily cases on Thursday.

“The private sector employer mandate will stay in effect in the new year with the focus on compliance not punishment,” Health Department Commissioner Dr. Dave Choksi, who will stay on in Adams’ administration, said Thursday.    

“We know businesses share our goal of keeping their staff and their clients safe and their doors open,” he said. “To put it simply, Covid is bad for business and vaccination ensures not just health but also a healthy economy.”

City bars and restaurants have also closed down because of the increase in Omicron infections and the Times Square New Year’s Eve festivities, traditionally an economic driver for Midtown Manhattan, have been pared down from 58,000 to 15,000 revellers. 

Adams will have his inauguration ceremony at the event, after cancelling the in-person event on Saturday, in a move to symbolize that New York City will stay open.  

Worth reading in full.

Latest NHS Data Shows Number of Covid Hospital Patients Half What it Was This Time Last Year

Our in-house doctor reflects on the year gone by, noting the Daily Sceptic’s excellent track record of identifying important issues about the NHS’s management of Covid months before the mainstream media.

As 2021 draws to a close, it is customary to reflect on the year gone by and to anticipate what the new one might bring. Looking back, it isn’t excessively hubristic to feel pride in the achievements of the Daily Sceptic community. We have established a good track record of identifying major issues around the NHS’s management of the pandemic before they became widely known.

We identified high rates of nosocomial infection. Denied by the NHS, then accepted. We spotted errors in attribution of deaths to Covid which were due to other causes. Denied, then accepted. We have exposed numerous public misrepresentations of data by NHS leaders. Often denied then reluctantly accepted, sometimes under pressure from the Office for National Statistics. False positives yielded by PCR Tests? Officially denied. Yesterday accepted by the U.S. Government.

Most recently we noticed a substantial proportion of hospital inpatients classified as Covid were in fact incidental infections. Denied, and ignored until this week when the rest of the commentariat suddenly discovered the Primary Diagnosis Supplement, published weekly since July. We have been analysing that data regularly since the summer. For much of the last 18 months I have been repeatedly struck by the observation by the American writer and politician Upton Sinclair – “It is impossible to get a man to understand something if his livelihood depends on him not understanding it.”

This helps explain why, for the last 12 months, the Daily Sceptic has failed to make much of an impact, but something has changed in the last couple of weeks. Even the Guardian now accept that the figures on ‘Covid admissions’ grossly overstate the number of patients acutely unwell, and if opinion polls can be believed, our points seem finally to be landing with the public at large.

Boris Warns of ‘Challenges in Coming Weeks’ in NYE Message Hinting at New Restrictions Next Week

We’re not out of the woods yet. According to MailOnline, tonight may be our last night of freedom for some time as the usual doom-mongers warn Boris he must impose new restrictions.

Johnson is expected to make a decision in the first week of the New Year on whether to restrict mixing indoors in England…

The Prime Minister opted not to impose new curbs between Christmas and New Year’s Eve but rising Covid case numbers are fuelling fears that new measures could be on the horizon.

A further 189,213 coronavirus cases were recorded across the UK yesterday – a new record high – while the number of hospital patients with Covid in England rose to 11,452, a rise of 61% in just one week.

Johnson said in his New Year’s Eve message that the nation’s position in the battle against the disease is now “incomparably better than last year” thanks to the vaccine rollout.

It came as NHS bosses warned that the Government “needs to be ready to introduce tighter restrictions at real speed should they be needed”.

Chris Hopson, the head of NHS Providers, said new curbs “may be needed at pace if the evidence warrants it” as he said health bosses “still don’t know” if there will be a surge in elderly hospitalisations which could trigger Mr Johnson to act.

Meanwhile, a Government scientific adviser today warned it is likely the NHS will be overwhelmed by the spread of the Omicron variant.

Professor Peter Openshaw, who sits on the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said: “I think we haven’t quite reached the threshold that was set by Government in terms of the NHS being overwhelmed, but it looks like that will be reached quite quickly.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Spectator has published a handy guide for Scots hoping to celebrate New Year’s Eve in border towns.

Scottish Government Admits That Hundreds of ‘Covid Patients’ Have Been Hospitalised for Other Reasons

Since the arrival of the Omicron variant, the Scottish Government has refused to release any data about how many Covid patients have been admitted to hospital because of the virus, as opposed to those who have been hospitalised primarily due to other ailments, with SNP Health Secretary Humza Yousaf unable to provide any accurate information. Nevertheless, Yousaf still implied that the confirmed total number of Covid hospitalisations includes those who have tested positive for the virus but were admitted to hospital due to another ailment and are being treated for that, not Covid. The revelation has led Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, Chairman of the Scottish Covid Recovery Group, to accuse the SNP of bringing in draconian restrictions which aren’t justified by the facts. The Telegraph has more.

Humza Yousaf was unable to say on Thursday how many patients on wards included in official figures were in hospital primarily because they were suffering from Covid, and how many were admitted for other conditions and only tested positive only after routine testing.

He claimed advice from Gregor Smith, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, was that the “majority” of people recorded as Covid patients were in hospital “due to Covid”, raising the prospect that hundreds of the 810 people classed as virus patients on Thursday were actually admitted for unrelated ailments.

Murdo Fraser, the Covid recovery spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said he was “not convinced” that new curbs, such as the forced closure of nightclubs, the banning of mass events and restrictions on hospitality businesses, were based on sound data.

Data from hospitals in England suggests that around a third of hospital patients officially counted as Covid cases are so-called “incidental” admissions, meaning they may have been admitted for conditions such as broken bones and then tested positive. In London, data suggests the figure is around 50%.

Studies have also shown that the omicron variant, which now makes up around 80% of cases in Scotland, results in far less serious illness than previous strains.

However, the SNP Government has so far refused to release figures showing the proportion of people classed as Covid hospital patients who were admitted primarily because of the virus, since the Omicron variant emerged.

“South of the border the data would seem to suggest that it’s only a minority who are in hospital because of Covid,” Fraser said.

“What’s really concerning is the [Scottish] Government either don’t have the data, which is really worrying as they’re taking decisions without this information, or are not prepared to share it with the public or with parliament.

“The data would be able to inform the public as to whether the choices currently being made by the Scottish Government, which are restricting people’s liberty and having a major impact on businesses, are justifiable.”

He added: “We need to ensure that the decisions that are being made, which are affecting people’s liberty and having a major impact on business, are being underpinned by evidence, and I’m not convinced that’s the case.”

Worth reading in full.

Major Oxford Study into Vaccine Side-Effects Finds Myocarditis Risk in Younger Males Up to 14 Times Higher After Vaccination Than After Infection

A major study from the University of Oxford into risks of myocarditis (heart inflammation) following Covid vaccination has found the risk in males under 40 to be significantly higher than the risk of the condition following Covid infection.

The researchers found that while there were seven additional myocarditis events per million in the 28 days following COVID-19 infection (95% Confidence Interval (CI): 2, 11), there were 14 following an AstraZeneca second dose (CI: 8,17), 12 following a Pfizer second dose (CI: 1,7), 101 following a Moderna second dose (CI: 95,104), and 13 following a Pfizer third dose (CI: 7,15). These findings are depicted above. Most of these figures represent a doubling of the risk compared with infection. However, the Moderna second dose figure is a massive 14.4 times greater. The Moderna vaccine uses a similar mRNA technology to the Pfizer vaccine, but delivers a dose three times as large, which may partly explain the difference.

For females and for males over 40 the study found greater risk of myocarditis following infection than following vaccination. However, some have criticised the study for under-counting Covid infections by using positive tests rather than antibody surveys, which means the risk following infection may be exaggerated. Another criticism was the use of only two age bands – above and below 40 years – which may conceal elevated risks for younger age groups. A third criticism is that by comparing the risk after infection to the risk after vaccination the study does not allow for the fact that many of the vaccinated will subsequently be infected anyway and experience both risks.

The study, which is a pre-print, is an update to an earlier study published in Nature earlier in December which used data up to August 24th. The update brings us up to November 15th, extends the age range down to 13 years from 16 years, and also includes results split by both sex and age (rather than just by sex and age separately) – the original study was especially criticised for omitting this breakdown, leading to allegations of concealing important findings for political purposes.

The authors note: “These findings have important implications for public health and vaccination policy.”

Indeed they do. In particular, given the low risk of Covid to males under 40, the extreme elevated risk of myocarditis from the Moderna vaccine means it ought to be suspended for use in males under 40 with immediate effect.

Image credit: Dr Tracy Høeg.