Day: 6 January 2022

Ignore Government Guidance and Tighten Covid Rules at School, Teaching Unions Tell Members

With the Government so far refusing to heed calls from teaching unions to tighten restrictions further in schools, the unions are fighting back, telling their members to ignore Government guidance and introduce stricter Covid rules anyway. The Telegraph has the story.

The UK’s largest teacher union has issued a “safety checklist” for schools, saying its recommendations are designed to “slow the spread” of the virus.

But the National Education Union’s advice – which includes a return of bubbles and staggered break times – has been described by parents as a “pandemic straitjacket” for children.

The Department for Education (DfE) has told headteachers they may need to combine classes to redeploy teachers to cover lessons in order to keep schools open if staff sickness spirals out of control.

However, the union briefing document says that classes should not be combined since this would “increase virus transmission” and adds that teachers should not be “routinely expected” to cover classes, advising that if they are this should be “urgently raised” with their union.

The document is also backed by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers as well as Unite, GMB and Unison whose members include teaching assistants and other school staff.

Family groups and MPs have warned that this “inflexible and militant attitude” is likely to keep more children out of the classroom.

“It’s incredible to see these unions suggest something that goes so far beyond what the Government has required for schools,” said Liz Cole of the parent campaign group UsForThem. “This is desperately unfair to children and plunges them back into a pandemic straitjacket.”

The current Government guidance states that children should only be off school if they have tested positive or if they are showing Covid symptoms.

But the unions say that pupils should isolate if one of their family members has tested positive, and only return to school if they have received a negative PCR result.

“Where close contacts are unable to get hold of [lateral flow devices] due to supply issues, they should be supported to work from home for the isolation period,” it says.

Worth reading in full.

The news seems to confirm the thesis of Dr. Ben Irvine, that trade unions have played a central role in driving restrictions both at the start and throughout the pandemic.

On the theme of educational establishments going well beyond Government guidance in their enthusiasm for Covid precautions, a reader sent us this sorry tale of his child’s nursery in north west London.

U.K.’s Daily Covid Cases FALL For First Time in Month

Britain’s daily Covid cases fell for the first time in a month today, deaths declined by 30.4% week-on-week and hospitalisations dropped in London. Meanwhile, Government ministers claimed the Omicron-fuelled staffing crisis in the NHS will be “short-lived”. It looks like Boris’s optimistic prediction in the House of Commons yesterday, in which he speculated we would be back to normal in three weeks, was on the money. Maybe he should join SPI-M! MailOnline has more.

Department of Health figures show another 179,756 Covid cases were recorded over the last 24 hours, down slightly on the 189,213 reported last week.

The drop has likely been helped by the fact two days’ worth of cases were reported in Wales last Thursday, making today’s drop appear steeper.

In England, infections rose 4% over the same period to 152,306. But the small rise may indicate they are starting to flatten in the country, amid a growing body of data showing the capital’s cases are ‘slowing down’.

Latest hospital data showed another 2,078 Covid patients were admitted to U.K. wards on January 6th, which was up 38% on a week ago. Another 231 deaths were also recorded, down 30% on last week.

But in London – which was first to be struck by the Omicron wave – admissions fell 19% in seven days from 456 to 367 a day, marking the fourth day in a row that they’ve tumbled week-on-week.

Even NHS leaders now say there are signs admissions in the capital may be peaking, however, experts note that cases are still rising in the over-60s who are most vulnerable to severe disease.

Boris Johnson today downplayed pressure on hospitals saying they had enough staff to see them through the winter, despite two dozen trusts declaring ‘critical incidents’ and waiting lists hitting new records.

While the Prime Minister accepted the health service was “under huge pressure”, he said it was “not true” that it could be overwhelmed because so many staff are off isolating with Covid.

He said staff numbers had been increased – about 6,000 more doctors and 10,000 nurses were hired during the pandemic – which should ease the strain, combined with the NHS’ volunteer army of trainee and retired medics.

Earlier, George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, claimed the current NHS crisis would be “short-lived” and Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said the situation was “not unusual” for winter.

Mr. Johnson has held his nerve despite calls for tougher restrictions to tackle Omicron, unlike his counterparts in Scotland and Wales, winning him praise from Tory MPs. …

In London, which is weeks ahead of the rest of the UK in its Omicron outbreak, hospital admissions fell for the fourth day in a row.

There were 367 Covid hospitalisations on January 4th, the latest date with data, marking a 20% fall on the previous week and the largest week-on-week drop yet.

Fewer than 400 people are now being admitted in the capital on average each day compared to around 900 at the peak of the second wave last January.

Signs that the crisis has peaked in just three weeks in London will raise hope that the situation in the rest of the country follows a similar trajectory.

Worth reading in full.

Pillar 2 positivity has also fallen for the first time (see chart below from Prof Anthony Brookes, plotted using Government data) – which, if it is a peak, is at a lower level than last year, despite ONS data suggesting community infection rates are much higher. This may be because of the much greater level of testing than a year ago, which was before LFTs were made widely available. Deaths currently remain 90% below last year’s peak.

Scottish Fertility Clinic Bans Unvaccinated Women From Using Services as Italy Announces Mandatory Vaccination for Over-50s

A top Scottish fertility clinic has withdrawn its services for unvaccinated women, leaving many people upset and leading to calls for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to address the fact that it may not be limited to just one clinic. EuroWeekly News has more.

Glasgow Royal Fertility Clinic said that “it has been nationally agreed that fertility treatment for unvaccinated women will be deferred with immediate effect.”

Citing Dr Gregor Smith, Chief Medical Officer for the Scottish Government, the update published just before Christmas said that “pregnant women should now be considered as a clinical risk group and part of priority group six within the vaccination programme”.

According to data published in the Scottish Intensive Care Society Report on October 13th, of 89 Covid positive pregnant women who were admitted to critical care between December 2020 and the end of September 2021; 88 were unvaccinated, one was partially vaccinated, and none were fully vaccinated.

The clinic said that said data, from unknown dates, also showed that “98% of pregnant women in ICU with COVID-19 were unvaccinated” and that “all the women who have died during pregnancy or up to six weeks after birth, 88% of them were unvaccinated.”

This has led the clinic, which is located in the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, to withdraw its services to unvaccinated women and the “clinic will review this decision during February 2022 or earlier if appropriate.”

“Older women who have their treatment deferred will have the deferral time added back on to their fertility journey to ensure that they do not lose out on eligibility for treatment due to their age,” the clinic said.

Note that the ICU data above doesn’t take into account the proportion of pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant who were vaccinated at the time.

What happened to liberal societies not coercing experimental medical treatment?

The news comes as Italy announces that Covid vaccination will become mandatory for all over-50s from next month in an effort to tackle surging infections. The Telegraph has more.

The Futility and Hazards of Boosterism

We’re publishing an excellent piece today about the risks of the booster roll-out by Dr. David Livermore, Professor of Medical Microbiology at the University of East Anglia. He points out that Geert vanden Bossche, a critic of the Covid vaccines, may be right – that leaky vaccines deliver a brief adaptive protection against infection but simultaneously impair innate immunity, causing a reduction in non-specific protection once the initial protection has worn off. If that’s true, he doesn’t think it’s an argument for not boosting the over-50s or the vulnerable. But it is an argument for not boosting the young and healthy. Here are the opening few paragraphs:

The Government’s answer to Omicron is boosters, boosters and more boosters. Everyone over 18 is eligible. Early queues exceeded five hours; December 18th saw 904,000 boosted. Israel is doling out fourth shots to the over-60s and Germany plans to follow suit.

Please don’t lump me with the anti-vaxxers as I roll my eyes. The present vaccines are invaluable for preventing severe COVID-19 – probably via a T-cell mechanism – in anyone of late middle age or above, or with vulnerabilities.

But those of us who broadly support vaccination must be honest: Spring’s fond notion that we could mass vaccinate our way out of the pandemic, as with measles or polio, is a busted flush. The dash for boosters only underscores the point.

The core problem is that the vaccines give only brief protection against infection. Moreover, they are ‘leaky’, and SARS-CoV2 can outflank them. Clinical trials suggested that the doubly vaccinated initially enjoyed 90% protection against infection. But, with ageing vaccination and circulating Delta, this eroded by summer’s end. Omicron is even more evasive. At a December party in Oslo, where 98% of 117 guests had been double vaccinated, 74% caught COVID. Boosters restore protection to 71-76%, but this doesn’t last long. Early UKHSA evidence is that it’s down by 15-25% within 10 weeks.

Worse, by using leaky vaccines, we are conducting a huge Darwinian experiment, with ourselves as guinea pigs.

Worth reading in full.

Nadal Blames Djokovic For Being Barred From Australia as There Are “Consequences” of Not Being Vaccinated as Downing Street Falsely Claims Vaccines Are “Completely Safe”

Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic has been told by rival Rafael Nadal that he only has himself to blame for being denied entry to Australia over his vaccination status. The Telegraph has more.

Nadal took aim at his long-time rival, who was facing being deported on Thursday for failing to provide “appropriate evidence” to warrant him being granted a medical exemption to play at the Australian Open.

The Spaniard, who is tied with Djokovic and Roger Federer on 20 grand slams and could now be the only one of the three at the first major of the year, also implied those who refused to be jabbed were selfish.

Nadal said: “If he wanted, he would be playing here in Australia without problems. He makes his own decision. Everyone is free to take their own decisions, but then there are some consequences. I don’t like the situation that is happening. In some way I feel sorry for him. But at the same time, he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago, so he made his own decision.”

Djokovic has repeatedly refused to reveal whether he had been inoculated against COVID-19 but has previously stated he was “opposed” to vaccination.

Stressing the importance of players being jabbed, Nadal said: “We have been going through very challenging [times] and a lot of families have been suffering a lot during the last two years with all the pandemic.

“I believe in what the people who know about medicine say, and if the people say that we need to get vaccinated, we need to get the vaccine. That’s my point of view.

“I went through Covid. I have been vaccinated twice. If you do this, you don’t have any problem to play here. That’s the only thing.

“The only, for me, clear thing is if you are vaccinated, you can play the Australian Open and everywhere, and the world in my opinion has been suffering enough to [not] not follow the rules.”

Nadal’s comments come as Downing Street uses the incident to encourage everyone to get vaccinated.

Government Confirms Covid ‘Disinformation Unit’ is in “Daily Contact With Online Providers”

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has said that the Government’s disinformation unit is “working”, after suggestions from Labour that the counter disinformation policy was scrapped in the summer. The Telegraph has the story.

“It’s not the case, it’s not true – it is there, it is working,” Nadine Dorries told the Commons in response to a question from Alex Davies-Jones, the Labour MP.

“That work takes place daily, and daily we work to remove content online that is harmful and particularly when it comes to COVID-19, [and] daily we have contact with the online providers.”

A Government spokesman had previously said ministers are “providing people with advice and information about vaccines in one of the most extensive public health campaigns ever launched.”

It’s a relief to hear the Ministry of Truth is fully operational, ensuring that the Government’s public health messages, which are always accurate and honest and never exaggerated or in hock to unions or pressure groups, cannot be questioned or contradicted by citizens, which would naturally cause grave harm to the people, comrades. Orwell would be proud.

Should the State Punish People for Their Health Choices?

Emmanuel Macron has caused some consternation by saying that he wants to “piss off” the unvaccinated. And you can understand why. Politicians – especially ones purporting to be liberal – don’t usually base their policies on the goal of “pissing off” a subset of the electorate.

Even Donald Trump chose his words more carefully. Perhaps Macron will call up his old friend to get some advice on the art of rhetoric.

Yet as Will Jones notes, Macron does deserve credit for being honest. Unlike other politicians who’ve dabbled in vaccine passports, he’s not claiming to be concerned about the ‘externality of transmission’. Rather, he wants to punish the unvaccinated until they make the ‘right’ choice.

Under proposed legislation, only the fully vaccinated (is that three or four jabs?) will qualify for the country’s new health pass. Those who present a negative test will not. Since a vaccinated person is far more likely to spread the virus than someone with a negative test, we know this law isn’t designed to stop transmission.

Of course, if it were designed to stop transmission, that wouldn’t make any more sense. The latest infection numbers show that vaccine passports have failed spectacularly in this regard.

After outlining his shrewd public health strategy of “pissing off” the unvaccinated, Macron added: “When my freedoms threaten those of others, I become someone irresponsible. Someone irresponsible is not a citizen.” Now the unvaccinated aren’t citizens? That escalated quickly…

The only justification I can imagine for Macron’s new policy is the one Andrew Neil gave in his op-ed for the Daily Mail. Since the unvaccinated are more likely to wind up in hospital, they place a greater burden on the national health service.

Yet, as I’ve pointed out before, this argument implies we should punish anyone who makes choices that lead to above-average hospital usage. For example, we could introduce obesity passports; or passports for skateboarders, rugby players or people who get drunk on a Friday night.

By Macron’s logic, obese people’s freedom to get fat threatens his freedom not to wait in line at the hospital. Are the obese also unworthy of citizenship?

More than 90% of French adults have already received the vaccine. And a lot of the rest have probably had Covid. Instead of threatening people with crass barroom talk, Macron might consider that quaint old tactic – persuasion.

The Government’s Case for Masks in Classrooms Accidentally Reveals They’re a Terrible Idea

The Government on Wednesday published the evidence informing its recent controversial decision to recommend all secondary school pupils wear face masks in classrooms.

The new document from the Department for Education (DfE) explains that the decision “has been taken on the recommendation of UKHSA and is based on a range of evidence”. It says the Government has “balanced education and public health considerations, including the benefits in managing infection and transmission, against any educational and wider health and wellbeing impacts from the recommended use of face coverings”.

While conceding that the “direct COVID-19 health risks to children and young people are very low” – and rejecting SAGE’s advice to recommend masks in primary school classrooms (yes, really) – it claims that “the balance of risks for secondary classrooms has changed at this point in time, in accordance with the evolving evidence and the phase of the pandemic”.

The document summarises its evidence as follows:

Face coverings can be effective in contributing to reducing transmission of COVID-19 in public and community settings. This is informed by a range of research, including randomised control trials, contact tracing studies, and observational studies – assessed most recently by UKHSA, described in a review conducted in November 2021. The review’s conclusions were broadly in line with those of a previous Public Health England review; however, the addition of randomised control trials and substantially more individual-level observational studies increases the strength of the conclusions and strengthens the evidence for the effectiveness of face coverings in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the community, through source control, wearer protection, and universal masking.

In fact, though, the UKHSA review from November 2021 found no high quality studies (except, it claims, the ONS study, which really isn’t high quality). Of the two randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that have been done and which were cited by the UKHSA, the one from Denmark found no statistically significant reduction in COVID-19 incidence from surgical masks (the study didn’t look at cloth masks) while the Bangladesh mask study found no benefit from cloth masks and the reported benefit from surgical masks was just 11%, with a 95% confidence interval that included zero. The UKHSA review also considered 23 observational studies, which it said had “mixed” results and many of which were of low quality and small.

This does not seem a strong basis to claim a large effect for mask wearing. A recent more comprehensive review (which included earlier evidence for other flu-like viruses) by Ian Liu, Vinay Prasad and Jonathan Darrow for the Cato Institute, entitled “Evidence for Community Cloth Face Masking to Limit the Spread of SARS‐​CoV‑2: A Critical Review“, concluded that: “More than a century after the 1918 influenza pandemic, examination of the efficacy of masks has produced a large volume of mostly low- to moderate-quality evidence that has largely failed to demonstrate their value in most settings.”

That is a better summary of the evidence than the DfE managed.

Needless to say, the DfE gives the propaganda value of masking a nod: “It can be a visible outward signal of safety behaviour and a reminder of COVID-19 risks.”

Notably, there is no mention in this document of the potential harms of wearing a mask for an extended period, such as the impact on breathing, the heart, or the skin. Contamination gets a brief mention, though it’s quickly dismissed:

News Round-Up