Month: January 2022

And Finally…

In the latest episode of London Calling, James Delingpole and I talk about shooting together last week, Partygate, whether Boris really can claim credit for not locking us down over Christmas, the end of the NHS vaccine mandate, the recent Joe Rogan imbroglio and whether London Calling would fall foul of Spotify’s new anti-Covid misinformation rules. Then, in Culture Corner, we talk about the attachment of trigger warnings to Harry Potter, Oliver Twist and 1984, and the Puppetmaster, Arcane and season four of The Ozarks.

You can listen to the podcast here, find us on iTunes here and – for the time being – on Spotify here.

Vaccination, Masks, Two Weeks of Quarantine and Three Negative Tests Fail to Keep Covid Off Island

The Daily Sceptic reported recently on the plight of Kiribati, a remote island nation in the Pacific Ocean with a population of around 122,000, which until two weeks ago had avoided having any cases of COVID-19 at all, but following an outbreak has now imposed its first lockdown. What we didn’t know then is the detail of the extremely strict protocols the virus circumvented.

Not only were all 54 passengers on the flight fully vaccinated, masked, and tested negative for Covid three times in nearby Fiji before arrival, they had also been in pre-departure quarantine for two weeks before the flight, and were put in quarantine with additional testing when they arrived.

Despite this, two-thirds of the passengers (36 of 54) tested positive for Covid after arriving from Fiji on January 15th. This has led to the island’s first outbreak, which as of January 31st consists of 460 reported infections (and no deaths) and, despite the lockdown, is growing fast.

Kiribati declared a state of disaster and imposed the lockdown on January 22nd. A third of Kiribati citizens are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Paul Sacca on the Blaze notes there was a similar situation last month in Antarctica, when “nearly two-thirds of the research staff based at the Princess Elisabeth Polar Station became infected with COVID-19 despite strict health protocols in place. The workers at the Princess Elisabeth Polar Station were also fully vaccinated, took multiple PCR tests, and quarantined before arriving at the research facility”.

While the episode illustrates once more how hard it is to keep out a highly contagious respiratory virus, it also raises questions about how it got through. It’s hard to discern what exactly happened. How, after weeks of quarantine and multiple tests did a plane rock up at the airport and two thirds of passengers go on to test positive? Did one passenger have a strangely long incubation period and infect the others on the flight? Or was there some laxness in the application of the rules?

Either way, it underlines the pointlessness of restrictions on travel, including testing, privileges for the vaccinated and the requirement to mask, which are just costly inconveniences that deter travel and achieve nothing.

Stop Press: Ryanair has said it expects masks on flights to remain for years to come as “a small price to pay” to avoid other restrictions. Depressing stuff.

Sue Gray’s Report Confirms No 10 (Probably) Broke Its Own Stupid Rules

Sue Gray’s report says Number 10 probably broke its own (ludicrous) rules by continuing having gatherings with alcohol during lockdown. It refrains from confirming this either way because of the ongoing police investigation (because in the 2020s parties are a crime). The line between work with booze and socialising with booze was not clear, it says, and should be clearer.

Boris has apologised. People aren’t happy, mainly because of the hypocrisy and also out of grief over their own sacrifices. His opponents have called on him to resign. His supporters want everyone to move on. It’s not yet clear whether he lied to Parliament.

If you’re interested in this story you can read about it everywhere.

Why the NHS Won’t be Resuming Normal Service Any Time Soon

There follows a guest post from our in-house doctor drawing on his long experience of working in NHS hospitals to explain why the NHS won’t be resuming normal service for a good while yet. Some of the problems it’s facing were unavoidable, but others were of the NHS’s own making.

In this week’s update, I’m deviating from my usual format of assessing Covid hospital data published by the NHS. It is clear to any objective analyst that we are on the downslope of the Omicron wave, which has fallen far short of predictions by epidemiological experts. Over half of all patients with positive Covid tests in English hospitals do not have Covid as the primary reason for admission, and this proportion has been rising steadily since the new year. There is no reason to believe this trend won’t continue.

This week I turn to the ‘recovery phase’ – where the NHS tries getting back to business as usual. Readers will be wearily familiar with senior NHS figures appearing on the media lamenting the unprecedented pressure the NHS faces. As with many facets of the information space over the last two years, this is partly true. The NHS is under unprecedented pressure – but much of that pressure is self-generated and self-perpetuated, arising from the structure of the system, or from choices made by management.

In this article I will put forward 10 reasons why the machine will not fire on all cylinders for some time, if ever. This is a subjective and observational analysis, not backed up by published data and open to challenge. Some of my points relate to cultural change, where data is hard to collate. On other points, internal data does exist but will never be widely shared or published. I hope this piece will help readers understand why we are where we are – and help them to decipher official announcements in the coming months.

  1. Loss of efficiency due to Covid protocols: Regulations in respect of Covid testing and periods of self-isolation before surgery are hampering efforts to restore normality. Operating Theatre utilisation rates in many trusts are running at 70% capacity. If a patient tests positive for Covid and is cancelled at short notice, it is not possible to fill the slot because waiting patients don’t fulfil the self-isolation criteria. So, the theatre slot remains empty and is wasted despite the huge backlog.
  2. Poor management of chronic conditions in the community: Many patients arrive for surgical pre-assessment ill prepared for an operation. This causes postponement and short notice cancellations. The need to optimise poorly controlled underlying conditions before surgery consumes yet more medical resources. In normal times, chronic disease management is the function of the Primary care sector, i.e. GPs.

Why, As a Doctor, I Have Declined Vaccination Against COVID-19

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As a Consultant in Infectious Diseases and Internal Medicine in an NHS Hospital, I have been on the front-line throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I have chosen not to be vaccinated against Covid as I am sufficiently protected by natural immunity following infection and repeated re-exposure.

The growing evidence base indicates that a Covid vaccination for someone in my position will not alter the possibility that I will infect a patient I am caring for. It is also of vital importance that we robustly defend the right to personal autonomy as the default position. In order to countenance trespassing the right to personal autonomy, there must be excellent reasons and excellent evidence for its necessity. Mandating these vaccines, whether for healthcare workers or the general public, is counterproductive and will only fuel distrust in government and the medical profession.

Where there is risk, there must be consent or patients will cease to trust us. I asked a patient of mine with Covid, who was certainly at risk and would have benefited from a vaccine, why he didn’t have the vaccine. He told me: “I don’t understand the ins and outs. All I do know is that the Government is not being honest with me.” Tragically, he died a few days later. I have also seen vaccine side effects. Although infrequent, they are a reality poorly covered in the media and not appropriately discussed in order to gain consent. I cared for a young woman whose risk of severe illness was tiny, but developed severe myocarditis following vaccination. She said to me: “Nobody told me this was a possibility.”

My decision not to be vaccinated was not easy. Although it is now reported the Government intends to U-turn, at the time I took the decision I stood to lose my job and career on April 1st 2022 if I did not comply. But this issue is too important. It involves matters that that should give all of us pause to consider and debate.

As a healthcare worker, it is very important not to put my patients at unnecessary risk, particularly as many of them are especially vulnerable. Conversely, it is also true that any expectation placed on a healthcare worker must be necessary, safe, effective and reasonable. In order to satisfy these criteria there should be robust evidence to support it.

Joe Rogan Apologises to Spotify and Says He Will “Balance Out Controversial Viewpoints”

Despite the very limited extent of the wrinklies’ boycott of Spotify over podcaster Joe Rogan’s alleged vaccine ‘misinformation’, Rogan has apologised for “pissing off” Spotify and said he will “balance out these more controversial viewpoints”. It comes after the streaming service imposed new warnings and rules on content covering the pandemic. The Telegraph has more – though reader be warned this article itself (by unnamed ‘foreign staff’) is somewhat misleading (my comments added in line).

Popular U.S. podcaster Joe Rogan has apologised amid a backlash against COVID-19 misinformation [erm, this should be alleged misinformation – Spotify has said Rogan’s content does not breach its new rules] in his programme, as hosting platform Spotify said it would add a “content advisory” to any episode with discussion of the coronavirus.

Rogan, a prominent vaccine sceptic, has stirred controversy with his views on the pandemic and on vaccines and government mandates to control the spread of the virus aired on his top-rated podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience.

In a 10-minute Instagram video post on Sunday evening, he apologised to Spotify for the backlash but defended inviting contentious guests.

“If I pissed you off, I’m sorry,” Rogan said. “I will do my best to try to balance out these more controversial viewpoints with other people’s perspectives so we can maybe find a better point of view.”

Singer-songwriters Neil Young and Joni Mitchell announced last week that they were removing their music from Spotify in protest at coronavirus misinformation broadcast on the platform.

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, have also expressed their concern to Spotify about COVID-19 misinformation but will continue to work with the company, a spokesperson for their Archewell foundation said on Sunday.

Some 270 scientists and medical professionals have also written to Spotify urging the company to prevent Rogan from spreading falsehoods [Actually, of the 270 signatories of the letter referred to, many were not scientists or medics].

Rogan signed a £75m deal with Spotify in 2020 and has an estimated 11 million listeners per episode is, by that measurement, far more popular than any news anchor in the country. [Did a word get left out of that sentence?]

The musclebound UFC commentator says he is not an anti-vaxxer, but he has used his platform to push, and host guests who push, a multitude of baseless ‘theories’ about the pandemic. [This is a smear]

These include the assertion that young and healthy people do not need the vaccine [This is a view shared to varying degrees by, for example, the JCVI and the Swedish health authorities], the idea that “mass formation psychosis” is responsible for people believing in the efficacy of vaccines [The fact that people believe vaccines stop infection and transmission despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary needs some psychological explanation] and that hospitals are financially incentivised to falsely diagnose COVID-19 deaths [That hospitals receive more money for Covid patients was a claim made by Elon Musk on Rogan’s show based on a claim made by U.S. Senator Scott Jensen; it was fact-checked by mainstream outlets and confirmed to be true].

At the time of writing, the top-rated comment by Jonny Chinchen puts it well:

DT please show some professional editorial behaviour!

1) This feels copied and pasted from another news agency.

2) Rogan himself has spread no “misinformation”. If he has, you need to quote it and prove it is misinformation.

3) You are printing misinformation yourselves. The 270 signatories of the petition against Rogan are not all “scientists and medical professionals”. I just looked at the list of signees myself and some were listed as bloggers and podcasters, journalists or students.

4) Re: above – this article is lazy and misinformative journalism. Your standards as a legacy news provider are slipping, this would be shocking if it weren’t already a trend at the DT.

Worth reading in full (well, kind of).

Surveys Show That Democrats Can’t Let Covid Go

In the early days of the pandemic, when we didn’t have much information, partisan differences in concern about Covid were relatively small. A Gallup poll from February of 2020 found that precisely 35% of U.S. conservatives and 35% of liberals were worried about the pandemic.

Since then, a massive partisan gap has opened up, with Democrats being far more concerned than Republicans. This gap persists to the present day.

While being greatly concerned about the disease was not unreasonable in the spring of 2020, when few people had immunity and excess mortality was high, the situation we face now is dramatically different. All adults have been offered a vaccine, and a significant fraction of the population has natural immunity.

More and more people can see it’s past time we got back to normal. Even one-time ‘Zero Covid’ advocates like Devi Sridhar admit the virus has been “defanged”. But in the U.S., Democrats can’t seem to let Covid go.

Their refusal to face reality is laid bare in two recent surveys: one by Morning Consult, which is summarised in the New York Times; one a join venture of Rasmussen Reports and the Heartland Institute.

Let’s take each one in turn. Here are two headline results from the first survey. Remember, the data were collected in January of this year – mere weeks ago.

83% of Democrats are still concerned about their children getting sick from Covid at school. 83%! This is despite the fact that Covid poses almost no risk to children; indeed, those aged 5–14 are more likely to die in a car accident on their way to school.

As a result of these ungrounded fears, a shocking 65% of Democrats want to go back to remote learning – something that has demonstrably harmed kids’ education, while yielding almost no benefit in terms of reduced transmission.

NHS Vaccine Mandate Scrapped

Mandatory Covid vaccination for NHS and social care workers is to be scrapped after warnings of severe staff shortages if the plan went ahead. The Telegraph has the story.

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, will on Monday meet fellow ministers on the Covid-Operations Cabinet committee to rubber stamp the decision on the about-turn.

Multiple government sources said ministers are expected to end the requirement because the Omicron Covid variant, now dominant in the U.K., is milder than previous strains.

The move comes after warnings that almost 80,000 healthcare workers would be forced out of their jobs because they had declined to take two doses of a Covid vaccine.

The Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of GPs have all pushed for the requirement to be delayed, with warnings it would have a “catastrophic” impact.

The jab requirement for NHS workers was meant to come into force in April – making this Thursday, Feb 3rd, the last day on which staff could get their first jab in order to be fully vaccinated in time.

The legal requirement for care home staff to be fully vaccinated came into effect in November. An estimated 40,000 people lost their jobs over the policy. Under the new rules, they are expected to be able to return to work in the sector.

On Sunday night, care home representatives expressed fury at the handling of the issue, saying the flip-flopping had “devastated our workforce and brought providers to their knees”.

The change of approach reflects Downing Street’s increasing focus on how the UK must “learn to live with Covid” as the surge of Omicron cases fades.

The right decision now, and a huge relief of course for staff who were facing the prospect of losing their jobs and careers. But why did it take so long? Why did the Government have to be pressured into making the right move? It also seems to say something that when the care sector faced the same staffing crisis in the autumn due to the vaccine mandate the Government pressed ahead and sacked thousands of workers, but now university-educated medics are making a fuss and the health service is threatened, suddenly it’s time for a rethink. Ministers may say that in the autumn they faced an uncertain winter with Delta, whereas now we have Omicron and it’s in decline. But it still reflects a lack of proper impact assessment and cost-benefit analysis, and as so often in this pandemic, a sense of proportion.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

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Spotify Adds Trigger Warnings to Podcast Episodes that Discuss COVID-19 in Attempt to Quell Protests

Spotify has announced will add ‘content advisories’, i.e. trigger warnings, to podcast episodes that discuss COVID-19, directing people to the platform’s ‘COVID-19 Guide‘, which includes podcasts by BBC News, the Economist, the New Scientist, the Guardian and Nature. In addition, it has published its ‘Platform Rules‘, which include the following description of ‘Dangerous Content’ that will be banned from the music streaming platform:

Content that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive medical information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health includes, but may not be limited to:

– asserting that AIDS, COVID-19, cancer or other serious life threatening diseases are a hoax or not real
– encouraging the consumption of bleach products to cure various illnesses and diseases
– promoting or suggesting that vaccines approved by local health authorities are designed to cause death
– encouraging people to purposely get infected with COVID-19 in order to build immunity to it (e.g. promoting or hosting “coronavirus parties”)

These announcements are clearly intended as a sop to the musical artists and others who are unhappy about Spotify’s decision not to remove Joe Rogan’s podcast in response to Neil Young’s threat to withdraw his music unless it did. But will they be sufficient to quell the rebellion? According to the Verge, which broke the story, an internal memo revealed that Joe Rogan’s podcast doesn’t “meet the threshold for removal” under these new rules.

The Verge also reports that an earlier draft of the ‘Platform Rules’ went further:

[C]ompared to the document posted internally and viewed by the Verge, the wording on examples has changed, and one line is missing entirely. It specifically called out “Suggesting that wearing a mask will cause the wearer imminent, life-threatening physical harm”.

Daniel Ek, the billionaire founder and CEO of Spotify, is keen to stress how on message he is when it comes to COVID-19 – unlike his pesky podcaster. In the announcement in the Spotify Newsroom, he writes:

I want you to know that from the very first days of the pandemic, Spotify has been biased toward action. We launched a variety of educational resources and campaigns to raise awareness and we developed and promoted a global COVID-19 Information Hub. We donated ad inventory to various organisations for vaccine awareness, funds to the World Health Organisation and COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) to increase vaccine equity and supported the Go Give One fundraising campaign. And we established a music relief project to support the creative community. While this is not a complete list, I hope it gives you a sense of how seriously we’ve approached the pandemic as a company.

I trust our policies, the research and expertise that inform their development, and our aspiration to apply them in a way that allows for broad debate and discussion, within the lines.

Within the lines. Interesting phrase. Rogan is currently “within the lines”, but that may change. Note that the ‘Platform Rules’ setting out what you’re not allowed to say, i.e. what’s outside the lines, “includes, but may not be limited to” the various things it explicitly prohibits. So the CEO has given himself the wiggle room to shift the line so Rogan ends up on the wrong side of it.

You can read more about this story on the Post-Millennial.