Day: 1 January 2022

Infections Are Already Declining in London, Data Suggests

New daily infections are already falling in London, data suggests. The ZOE Covid Symptom Study shows infections falling in the capital since December 27th (see above), a trend that appears to be confirmed by the latest Government reported infection data, where positive tests by specimen date have not been topped since December 21st (see below).

Reported infections in London by specimen date (HMG)

While there will be some testing artefact in the Government data, the corroboration of the apparent peak and decline by the ZOE study (which uses modelled data based on self-reported symptoms) suggests the trend is real.

The infection peak in England last winter occurred around December 26th, according to antibody-based analysis by Imperial College London. If it happens around the same time this winter then it may give support to the notion that it is the festivities of the Christmas season themselves that drive the winter peak to a seasonal herd immunity threshold, triggering a sustained fall throughout the rest of the winter, despite the weather typically becoming colder in January and February.

Covid Hospital Admissions Rising, but a Third Admitted For Something Else

There follows a guest post by the Daily Sceptics’s in-house doctor, formerly a senior medic in the NHS. He’s run his eye over yesterday’s data release from NHS England that has given rise to some panicky headlines (“Frightening new Covid data shows Boris Johnson’s omicron gamble may be about to implode” – The Telegraph). Covid hospital admissions are indeed rising, but a third only have Covid incidentally, i.e. it’s not the reason they were admitted to hospital.

Yesterday afternoon the Primary Diagnosis update was released by the NHS. Readers of this site will be aware the spreadsheet contains information about which patients are being treated for Covid as the primary diagnosis (in other words symptoms sufficiently severe to put them in hospital for a while) and patients testing positive for Covid but being treated for something else.

The NHS concealed this information until they were forced by parliamentary pressure to publish in July 2021.
Graph One shows the overall situation in English Hospitals. Daily admissions in blue bars. 7 day moving average on the brown line. Readers will appreciate that the current seven day MA is the same as it was in mid-September and lower than mid-October. It can be seen on the right-hand side of the graph that on December 28th there was a sudden spike in cases. This may be recording artefact due to delay in logging cases over the bank holiday. There may also be some delay in discharging patients over the extended four-day weekend. Or it could be the beginning of a ‘nailed on tsunami of cases’. We will know more next week.

What we can’t tell from this graph is the turnover of patients in hospital. The NHS has this information but will not release it. It’s actually quite important because it gives a better impression of the severity of Omicron vs Delta. For clarity I should say that even if patients are less unwell, a large number of them can still stress the system, but as long as the inpatients can be managed through the hospital phase in an efficient manner and the numbers going out keep pace with the numbers coming in, the problem is manageable. The real difficulty with high turnover is the intensity of the workload on staff to keep up with the pace, and clearly there is also a problem with staff absence due to positive testing.

A Third of ‘Covid’ Hospital Patients Are in Hospital For a Different Reason

Data published on Friday shows that the proportion of ‘Covid’ hospital patients in England who are in hospital for a different reason and only test positive for Covid incidentally has increased to 33%. Mail Online has more.

One in three patients hospitalised with Covid in England aren’t actually being treated for the virus itself, official data revealed today.

NHS figures show the proportion of so-called ‘incidental’ admissions – patients who happen to test positive after seeking care for a different ailment – is continuing to tick upwards.

Just 5,578 of the 8,321 virus-infected patients receiving hospital care in England on December 28th were primarily being treated for Covid, equating to around 67%.

This is down from 71% from a week prior and 74% down from the start of December, in another sign the Omicron wave is milder than previous surges.

These cases are from patients taken to hospital for an unrelated reason, such as a fall or broken bone, who just happen to then discover they also have the virus.

It means thousands of patients who are being counted as coronavirus admissions – suggesting they are severely ill with the condition – are not actually suffering seriously with the virus.

Many only tested positive once they were on wards – and may have simply caught the virus while there.

It has raised concerns that the headline statistics – which drive Government decisions on restrictions and lockdowns – are overestimating how many people are dangerously sick with Covid.

Worth reading in full.

Did Omicron Come From a Lab?

Omicron, the latest variant of concern, is rapidly spreading across the world. It’s already overtaking the previously dominant Delta variant, in part because of its immune escape properties – both the vaccinated and those with natural immunity have less protection against Omicron.

But the new variant’s ability to evade immunity isn’t the only unusual thing about it. Scientists have reconstructed SARS-CoV-2’s evolutionary tree, and it appears that Omicron’s most recent common ancestor was last seen in April of 2020, which is a long time ago in the history of this virus. See the chart below:

What could explain this pattern? One possibility is that the variant was spreading “cryptically” (that’s a technical term) in a region with poor genomic surveillance – rural Botswana, say. So maybe the chart above looks the way it does simply because we haven’t observed Omicron’s more recent ancestors.

However, the “cryptic circulation” hypothesis doesn’t seem very plausible. Given how transmissible Omicron is, it would be surprising if the variant had remained confined to an unmonitored region for such a long period of time. 

Another possibility is that the variant emerged within a chronically infected, immunocompromised host – someone with HIV, for example. Yet this too seems unlikely.

A paper published on 16th December makes a compelling case that Omicron actually evolved in mice. (The paper has been accepted for publication by the Journal of Genetics and Genomics.)

Sajid Javid Says New Restrictions Unlikely as England Wakes Up With Hangover

The Health Secretary has said additional Covid restrictions are unlikely this year. Let’s hope that’s not wishful thinking on his part. MailOnline has more.

Writing in the Daily Mail, Mr Javid insisted any fresh curbs on freedoms must be ‘an absolute last resort’, adding that the country is in ‘a far stronger position’ at the start of 2022 than it was 12 months ago.

Although Scotland and Wales had strict Covid rules, people living in other home nations flocked across the border for a chance to enjoy the New Year in style and in their best outfits.

In London thousands of people lined the banks of the River Thames to watch the capital’s fireworks and drone display, while Piccadilly Circus was packed despite calls for caution around social distancing.

Thousands of revellers of all ages gathered in nightclubs, bars and pubs in Leeds as they brought the New Year in with huge smiles.

And in one Manchester nightclub, some 10,000 people partied until 4am, although there were some skirmishes in Newcastle, with one man being led away by police.

Meanwhile, after being forced to close under last year’s lockdown restrictions, many bars and clubs in Liverpool were pictured crammed with thousands of partygoers yesterday evening.

The wild celebrations came as Sajid Javid vowed today to do everything in his power to avoid a lockdown this year.

There were heightened fears about the spread of the virus as U.K. had another daily record of 189,846 cases yesterday and 203 deaths.

The Office for National Statistics reported an estimated 2.3million people in the UK had Covid in the week ending December 23rd, setting another pandemic record.

Downing Street sources indicated that the Government’s work from home guidance is likely to be extended when it comes up for review next week because infections and hospitalisations are continuing to rise across the country.

While coronavirus cases are continuing to rise due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant, official figures showed yesterday that in parts of Britain up to four in 10 hospital patients with Covid were actually there to receive treatment for something else. The figure nationally is one in three.

Mr Javid said the numbers in intensive care units remained stable, meaning “we have welcomed in 2022 with some of the least restrictive measures in Europe”.

Mr Javid added: “Curbs on our freedom must be an absolute last resort and the British people rightly expect us to do everything in our power to avert them.”

You can read Sajid Javid’s piece here.

We Will Remember You

I’m republishing a comment that appeared on the site on December 31st 2020. It was by Freddie Attenborough, a regular contributor. I thought it would just apply to 2020, but alas it’s equally applicable to 2021. Will I republish it again on January 1st 2023? I bloody hope not! You can find Freddie’s Substack newsletter here.

To mark the last day of 2020, this post is dedicated to all those whose lives and livelihoods have been lost, diminished or tainted by our nascent, deeply illiberal and socially, economically and psychologically destructive lockdown societies; for all those whose jobs and businesses have been destroyed; those whose medical conditions have been left undiagnosed; those whose cancers have been left untreated whilst the Government ‘saves the NHS;’ those whose aspirations have been crushed; whose financial lifelines and supports have been laughed at, ripped up and thrown to the wolves by well-paid, cosseted and conceited scientific bureaucrats; those who’ve seen loved ones die long before their time at the hands of rescheduled and/or cancelled NHS appointments; for those citizens out on the streets exercising their democratic right to protest against lockdown who’ve been roughed up by the police; for the young woman in Victoria State, Australia, strangled to the floor by a policeman for the ‘crime’ of not wearing a mask; for the heavily pregnant woman led away from her home in handcuffs on a charge of promoting an anti-lockdown event on a Facebook page; for all those who’ve been fined for upholding the most basic tenets of any self-respecting liberal democracy – civil society, laughter, human touch, communion; for those whose elderly relatives have been left to die alone in care homes, bereft of the love and attention that would have eased their passing; for the pain and the hurt felt by those who never got to say goodbye to a loved one; for the children who’ve been left psychologically scarred by an education system now in thrall to semi-functional neurotics; for the university students being taught to fear the unknown, to look before they leap, to strip the joy out of life and to replace it with a risk assessment, to cede personal responsibility to Authority and to always value Security over and above Freedom; for all the women trapped at home with abusive partners; for the children who social workers can’t see on Skype video calls; for those whose mental health has deteriorated, who feel irreparably broken, who’ve got to thinking that they’ll never be able to find their way back to who they once were; for the people who lie awake at night worrying about where the next mortgage payment is coming from; to those who, at some point this year, have felt that they’ve had nowhere to turn but The Samaritans; and to all those troubled souls who’ve slipped unnoticed through the cracks of our desiccated society, and then out into one last lonely, bewildering descent into silence.

We won’t forget. We won’t forgive. There will be a reckoning.

The Lessons SAGE Needs to Learn from Sweden’s Anders Tegnell

There follows a guest post by a reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, who has spotted another important difference between the U.K. and Sweden.

The Prime Minister will be given another crucial SAGE briefing at the start of the New Year, when, once more, he will presumably be steered towards a decision on more restrictions for businesses and the general public by the use of models.

If Professor Graham Medley, the chair of SAGE’s modelling committee, takes part, we can, of course, expect that he will only present a worst-case scenario.

In stark contrast, the Swedish state epidemiologist, Dr Anders Tegnell, known for his aversion to lockdowns from the beginning of the pandemic, routinely produces models with several scenarios and I have yet to see evidence that they are presented to his Government with all scenarios expunged, barring the worst one. 

I’ve applied, below, the ‘SAGE’ presentation principle to Tegnell’s latest Covid models, created last week for the Swedish government.

It’s striking that even the worst ICU forecast is only for a peak of around 50 new patients in mid-January, which would equate to around 280 in England, if the difference in population size is taken into account, whereas the best is little more than the current figure of barely 10, equating to 56 in England.

As of December 29th there were 771 patients in ICU units in England who have tested positive for Covid, with no forecasts for future numbers made public. This is numbers in ICU, however, not new admissions. While new ICU admissions are not published on the Government dashboard, recently numbers in ICU have been declining rather than rising.