Month: December 2021

Scientist Under Investigation by the Royal Society of New Zealand for Defending Science

In my column in the Spectator this week I’ve highlighted an egregious assault on free speech in New Zealand that was brought to my attention by the NZ Free Speech Union, which has issued a statement about it. A distinguished biochemist, Professor Garth Cooper, is being subjected to a disciplinary investigation by the Royal Society of New Zealand that could result in his expulsion. Here’s an extract:

Why is this distinguished scientist at risk of being expelled from New Zealand’s most prestigious academic society? Several months ago he was one of seven signatories to a letter in the New Zealand Listener that took issue with a proposal by a government working group that schools should give the same weight to Maori mythology as they do to science in the classroom. That is, the Maori understanding of the world — that all living things originated with Rangi and Papa, the sky mother and sky god, for instance — should be presented as just as valid as the theories of Galileo, Newton and Darwin.

The authors of the letter, “In Defence of Science“, were careful to say that indigenous knowledge was “critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices, and plays key roles in management and policy” and should be taught in New Zealand’s schools. But they drew the line at treating it as on a par with physics, chemistry and biology: “In the discovery of empirical, universal truths, it falls far short of what we can define as science itself.”

In a rational world, this letter would have been regarded as uncontroversial. Surely the argument about whether to teach schoolchildren scientific or religious explanations for the origins of the universe and the ascent of man was settled by the Scopes trial in 1925? Apart from the obvious difficulty of prioritising one religious viewpoint in an ethnically diverse society like New Zealand (what about Christianity, Islam and Hinduism?), there is the problem that Maori schoolchildren, already among the least privileged in the country, will be at an even greater disadvantage if their teachers patronise them by saying there’s no need to learn the rudiments of scientific knowledge. Knowing about Rangi and Papa won’t get you into medical school.

But the moment this letter was published all hell broke loose. The views of the authors, who were all professors at Auckland, were denounced by the Royal Society, the New Zealand Association of Scientists, and the Tertiary Education Union, as well as by their own vice-chancellor, Dawn Freshwater. In a hand-wringing, cry-bullying email to all staff at the university, she said the letter had “caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students and alumni” and said it pointed to ‘major problems with some of our colleagues’.

Two of Professor Cooper’s academic colleagues, Dr Siouxsie Wiles and Dr Shaun Hendy, issued an ‘open letter’ condemning the heretics for causing “untold harm and hurt”. They invited anyone who agreed with them to add their names to the ‘open letter’, and more than 2,000 academics duly obliged. Before long, five members of the Royal Society had complained and a panel was set up to investigate.

Worth reading in full.

If you’re a scholar in the sciences or the humanities and want to defend Professor Cooper you should write to Roger Ridley, the Chief Executive of the Royal Society of New Zealand, at He could use your help.

Stop Press: You can read more about this scandal here.

GPs May Soon Stop Monitoring Vulnerable Patients In Favour of Focusing on the Booster Jab Roll-out

Sajid Javid, accompanied by NHS bosses, are in discussion with the British Medical Association (BMA) about potentially scrapping the Quality Outcomes Framework (QOF) – a move which the BMA fully supports. The QOF means that doctors have a financial incentive to assess the health of vulnerable patients, but the Government wishes to scrap this policy in favour of GPs spending more of their time assisting the booster jab roll-out – an operation which the Health Secretary has described as being the Government’s top priority. The Guardian has more.

Ministers may allow GPs in England to halt regular monitoring of millions of patients with underlying health problems as part of the urgent new blitz on delivering Covid booster jabs.

Sajid Javid and NHS bosses are locked in talks with GP representatives at the BMA about relaxing rules which mean family doctors undertake checks on people with diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions that mean they are at higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

On Wednesday the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) identified 10 further cases of the Omicron variant, bringing the total detected in the U.K. to 32.

The BMA, the doctors’ union, has been lobbying Javid for months to suspend or scrap the Quality Outcomes Framework (QOF), which it says is “bureaucratic” and interferes with GPs’ right to judge how they care for patients.

Ministers and NHS England want to free up more GP time to help increase the delivery of boosters from 350,000 to 500,000 a day to counter the threat posed by Omicron, which is feared to be more transmissible with the potential to evade vaccines. Vaccine firms are trying to establish whether Omicron has the power to reduce the efficacy of jabs, and whether the jabs can be tweaked in response.

Boris Johnson has pledged that every adult in England will be offered a top-up shot by the end of January, piling pressure on NHS leaders to come up with a plan to ensure that happens.

Officials with knowledge of the talks told the Guardian that those involved spent much of Tuesday discussing the suspension of part or all of the requirements under QOF. “They’re talking about a partial suspension of QOF. But they may well just bin it,” one said.

However, sources stressed that ministers are nervous about approving a move that could lead to claims that vulnerable patients could see any deterioration in their condition go undetected by GPs.

Javid told the BBC on Wednesday that dramatically increasing the number of booster jabs in England was “our new national mission – in terms of the public health of this country, there is nothing more important than this booster programme”.

He disclosed that he was in talks with GP leaders about unspecified plans to reduce their workloads, including his edict that they must see any patient face-to-face on request.

Under QOF, family doctors get payments in return for undertaking checks, often every six months or every year, of the blood pressure or cholesterol levels in patients already identified as at increased risk of a heart attack or stroke. The checks also include assessments of diabetics and drug reviews for those who are on long-term medication to reduce their risk of dying.

“The targets for monitoring blood pressure and diabetes are important for health. But if they remove them, then certain newspapers will claim that they are neglecting patient care,” said one official of the dilemma facing Javid. GPs across Britain have delivered the vast bulk of the 116 million Covid vaccine doses which patients across the U.K. have received since December 8th last year.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

Omicron Variant Is a Mild Mutation and Governments Must Drop the Hysteria, Says WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has demanded that nations drop their knee-jerk international travel restrictions after reports from South Africa indicate that the Omicron variant is mild and is not more lethal than the Delta variant. In addition, South Africa has not experienced an increase in Covid deaths since the discovery of the new variant, with patients expressing only mild symptoms. City A.M. has the story.

The WHO and Covid experts are increasingly convinced the new Omicron variant is ‘super mild’ and has, so far, not led to a jump in Covid death rates anywhere in Southern Africa.

The WHO is calling this morning for countries to drop travel restrictions and end the mass hysteria, and instead be cautiously optimistic as more and more reports out of South Africa suggest the new Omicron variant is not more lethal than the previous Delta variant.

In fact, there have been no reports of hospitalisations or deaths as a result of anyone being diagnosed with Omicron.

Most patients merely experience a severe headache, nausea, dizziness and a high pulse rate, according to hospitals and medics across Southern Africa.

However, the news of the new variant, first reported in South Africa, led to mass hysteria around the world: markets thumbed and dozens of countries imposed travel restrictions and additional checks, including the U.K., U.S., E.U., Israel, Australia and Japan after the new mutation popped up in the U.K., Germany, Italy, Czech Republic and Israel among other countries.

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, Chair of the South African Medical Association, said this reaction was “medically seen, not justified”.

A GP for over three decades, and chair of the South African Medical Association, she was the first African doctor to suggest to local authorities Covid had mutated into a new strain.

Coetzee called the response from many European countries, including the U.K., “just a hype”.

“Looking at the mildness of the symptoms we are seeing, currently there is no reason for panicking as we don’t see any severely ill patients.”

South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla also said the majority of cases of Omicron seen by doctors in his country have been “mild”.

Asked what he knows about how unwell people are who have it, Dr. Phaahla said: “It is still too early at this stage.”

He added he has heard from GPs that the “majority of the people they’ve been seeing are mild”.

Worth reading in full.

Australia Captures and Arrests Three Quarantine Camp Escapees

Three people who escaped a Covid quarantine compound in northern Australia by climbing over the perimeter fence have been found and arrested after the Australian authorities launched a manhunt to capture those who broke out, which involved setting up police checkpoints and conducting vehicle searches. The trio had all tested negative for Covid the day before they snuck out of the facility. RT has the story.

Australian police have arrested three people who escaped a Covid quarantine compound near Darwin in the Northern Territory. They had all tested negative the day before they broke out.

On Wednesday, police alleged that three people had scaled the perimeter fence of the compound in order to break out of the facility situated near Darwin in the Northern Territory. Police say the trio escaped the Center for National Resilience just before 4:40am.  

Officers had set up checkpoints and were inspecting cars in the area in an attempt to find the absconders. The three were swiftly caught and taken into custody. 

“Police and staff at the Centre for National Resilience are currently confirming the absconder’s identities prior to releasing further information,” authorities stated. 

Officials did not confirm whether the inmates were returning travellers or local citizens who had been put into quarantine. According to the BBC, the centre has been used in recent days to house people infected with Covid from an outbreak in Katherine, a town 185 miles away. 

The Howard Springs site can hold up to 2,000 people; it is situated within an old mining camp which was turned into a quarantine centre by the Australian government in August.

The three individuals arrested had tested negative for Covid on Tuesday.

Worth reading in full.

Ursula von der Leyen Says It’s Time to Discuss an E.U. Wide Mandatory Vaccination Law

Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the E.U. Commission, has said that it is “potentially time to think about how we can have mandatory vaccination within the European Union”. Although von Der Leyen reiterated that member states can decide their own Covid response measures, including whether to make vaccination compulsory, she spoke of her concern that 1/3 of Europeans, roughly 150 million, are currently unjabbed which, she claims, is carrying “an enormous health cost”. MailOnline has the story.

Von der Leyen’s comments come after Austria announced plans to make vaccines mandatory for all eligible citizens by February, with an aide to incoming German Chancellor Olaf Scholz saying yesterday that he wants to follow suit.  

Europe is currently in the midst of a wave of Covid cases that has seen restrictions return across the continent amid fears of another Christmas spent in lockdown.

Adding to those fears is the emergence of the new Omicron variant which is thought to be more infectious than the Delta strain, and has been detected in Europe. 

Von dey Leyen was speaking at a press conference to discuss what measures the E.U. is taking to combat these dual threats.

She said the European Union has enough booster shots for every fully vaccinated adult to get one, urging people to take it within six months of their last jab.

Pfizer vaccines will also be available for children as young a five within the next two weeks after the European medical regulator approved it, she added.

Measures such as masks, hand hygiene and social distancing are also being used she said, but “full vaccination and boosters provide the strongest protection against Covid that is available now.”

Asked by a journalist whether she supported making vaccines mandatory for everyone, she replied: “First of all, this is pure member state competence. It is therefore not up to me to give any kind of recommendation.”

“[But] if you’re asking me what my personal position is, two or three years ago I would never have thought to witness what we see right now. 

“That we have this horrible pandemic, we have the lifesaving vaccines, but they are not being used adequately everywhere, and thus this is an enormous health cost.

“If you look at the numbers we have 66% of whole E.U. population vaccinated, which means we have one third of the population which is not vaccinated. 

“This is 150million people – that is a lot. Not each and every one could be vaccinated, these are very young children and people with medical conditions, but the vast majority could.

“Therefore I think it is understandable and appropriate to lead this discussion now, how we can encourage and potentially think about how we can have mandatory vaccination within the European Union. 

“This needs discussion, this needs a common approach, but it is a discussion that I think needs to be had.”

European leaders have been targeting the unvaccinated with measures since the winter wave of infections began picking up speed last month.

Countries including the likes of Italy, France and Germany tightening rules around their health passes to deny unjabbed people access to public spaces. 

France has also introduced ‘expiry dates’ for its passes that mean adults who have not had a booster within the last seven months will be penalised. 

Austria went the furthest, initially locking the unvaccinated in their homes before reversing that policy with a full lockdown and announcement that jabs would be mandatory for all. 

Worth reading in full.

Cartoonist Bob Moran Launches Merchandise

Responding to huge public demand, the celebrated cartoonist Bob Moran is launching a range of exclusive merchandise featuring his legendary cartoons. During a very dark period for humanity, Bob has been seeking to create powerful imagery in the face of a global storm. Following the online success of his prints and originals, he has now introduced a range of specially created clothing – including hoodies, t-shirts and sweaters – with unique designs based on his famous cartoons.

The garments are on sale exclusively at his online store, and include his iconic ‘Stand Firm’ cartoon now brought to life on clothing (below), as well as four other carefully selected pictures, with prices starting at £30.

Bob says: “I am thrilled to finally be able to offer the opportunity to buy clothing featuring my artwork. Over the past 18 months, I have received countless requests for clothing from those on the side of freedom and decency. It is my firm belief that we can only rescue society from this dystopian, authoritarian nightmare by getting the right messages to as many people as possible. I hope that these garments will be worn all over the world as a statement of defiance, a declaration of solidarity and a form of counter-propaganda. They are all well made, ethically sourced and carry high quality reproductions of my images.”

Stay tuned for further designs and a wider range of products being added to the collection in time.

Browse the collection here.

Hospitals in Hull Begin Imposing Restrictions on Visitors

From today, hospitals in Hull will only grant patient visits for “exceptional cases only” which must be approved in advance. The Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust has said that the decision to reintroduce restrictions has not been taken “lightly” and revolves around preventing the spread of the Omicron variant. BBC News has the story.

Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said from Wednesday visits will be limited to “exceptional cases only” and must be approved in advance.

Visitors who are given permission to attend must take a lateral flow test.

The Trust said it had taken the decision “to stop the spread of Covid and to address the risk of this specific variant”.

Hospital bosses said birthing partners will still be allowed to attend when a woman is in labour, to visit antenatal and postnatal wards and to attend antenatal appointments such as scans.

One parent will also still be able to visit children in paediatric wards and both parents will be allowed access to the neonatal intensive care unit.

Chief Nurse Beverley Geary said: “Our duty must be to the patients in our care and we must do everything we can to protect them from the threat of Covid.

“We know the vast majority of the public understand that our patients are already vulnerable and catching the virus could have very serious – and indeed deadly – consequences for them.

“We are not introducing this step lightly. We know it distresses relatives and the patients themselves when they can’t have visitors.”

Worth reading in full.

Did Lockdown Make Us Fat?

Unlike the Swiss or Japanese, we British are not known for our health. After Malta, in fact, we’re the most obese nation in Europe. Fully 28% of us have a BMI greater than 30, which for a man of 5 foot 10, equates to a bodyweight of 96kg.

This should be a source of national embarrassment. And you’d assume the Government wouldn’t want to make it any worse. Which prompts the question, “What on earth did they expect lockdown would do?”

Back in March of 2020, we were told that we “must stay at home”. Only “one form of exercise a day” would be allowed under the new regime. Gyms and sports clubs were closed, and children’s play areas were cordoned off like crime scenes. (This was all in spite of emerging evidence that the chance of being infected outdoors was negligible.)

The full effects of lockdown on our waistlines are only now becoming apparent. And they they’re not pretty.

In a recent study, Feifei Bu and colleagues analysed data from the COVID-19 Social Study, a longitudinal survey of British adults that began on 21st March 2020. Note: the sample was not representative, so the researchers applied weights throughout their analysis.

During the initial phase of the study (up to the end of August), respondents were asked about their level of physical activity on a weekly basis. In particular, they were asked how much exercise they had done on “the last working day”. Results are shown in the chart below.

Although the series begin after the start of lockdown, the percentage of people reporting no physical activity increased substantially over the duration of the study – from around 23% to almost 40%. Oddly, the peak of inactivity was not reached until the late summer.

If the government’s messaging had not needlessly emphasised staying at home, it’s plausible this change could have been avoided. In a recent meta-analysis, the majority of studies reported “decreases in physical activity and increases in sedentary behaviours” during lockdown. (Hardly surprising, you might say. But it’s good to have hard data.)

So that’s calories out. What about calories in? Perhaps people compensated for lower levels of activity by eating less. It seems they didn’t.

Omicron Variant Places Question Mark Over Vaccine Efficacy – But Evidence for the Enduring Power of Natural Immunity Remains Strong

Moderna boss Stephane Bancel has said he expects a “material drop” in the efficacy of his company’s vaccine against the new Omicron variant. He told the Financial Times:

I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I’ve talked to … are like, ‘This is not going to be good.’ … There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level … we had with Delta

He also said it would take months for drugs companies to update the vaccines. This means any Omicron wave is likely to have arrived, peaked and receded before the shots can be manufactured and widely administered.

A more sanguine Boris Johnson claimed on Tuesday afternoon that there are good grounds for believing third vaccine doses will give “considerable protection” against the Omicron variant. This view was given support by Dr Ugur Sahin, co-founder of BioNTech and one of the scientists behind the Pfizer vaccine, who said he remains optimistic that the jab will continue to provide protection against severe disease (though, tellingly, did not mention protection against infection). “Our message is: Don’t freak out, the plan remains the same: Speed up the administration of a third booster shot,” he told the Wall Street Journal – though some might point out Dr Sahin may have other reasons for wanting to “speed up” the distribution of his product.