Day: 11 January 2022

Daily Covid Cases Fall 45% Week-on-Week

Daily Covid cases fell by nearly 45% in a week today in the biggest drop since Omicron took off — and an expert claimed the U.K. would be the first country in the northern hemisphere to tame the pandemic. MailOnline has more.

There were 120,821 new positive tests logged across the country over the past 24 hours, according to Government dashboard data, down from the pandemic high of 218,000 last Tuesday. It marks the sixth day in a row infections have fallen week-on-week and strongly suggests the fourth wave is subsiding in little over a month.

There is now growing optimism the U.K.’s outbreak will follow a similar trajectory to South Africa’s, where the virus has almost completely fizzled out after becoming the Omicron epicentre in November. …

There are growing calls for No 10 to learn to live with Covid rather than focus on halting the spread of the virus now there is such a big disconnect between infections and deaths. Final restrictions could start to be lifted this month, it was claimed today.

The promising statistics came as Professor David Heymann, an epidemiologist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), suggested the U.K. was on the brink of beating the pandemic.

He told an online briefing: “In general, now, the countries we know best in the northern hemisphere have varying stages of the pandemic. And probably, in the U.K., it’s the closest to any country of being out of the pandemic if it isn’t already out of the pandemic and having the disease as endemic as the other four coronaviruses.”

Worth reading in full.

Government Guidance to GPs on Vaccine Safety Omits Pfizer Trial Data Showing Twice as Many Cardiovascular Deaths in Vaccinated

When Daily Sceptic reader Ian Price experienced an alarming adverse reaction to his first AstraZeneca jab he decided that he did not want to risk a second dose. However, his GP had other ideas and told him he should have Pfizer for his second dose. Despite being presented with worrying safety data from Pfizer’s own trial results, the GP would not agree to an exemption. Ian writes:

I am pro-vaccine but anti-mandate. However, I have recently discovered via correspondence from my GP that the Department of Health is not ‘following the science’ in the guidance it gives to GPs on vaccine safety.

By way of background, I declined the second vaccine following an adverse reaction to the first AstraZeneca vaccine received in March 2021. I remain partially vaccinated which means that I fall into the category of citizens described by Sir Tony Blair as “idiots”. Resenting the increasing stigmatisation of the unvaccinated, I discovered via Google search that there was such a thing as a vaccine exemption. After all, even Blair acknowledges that it is possible to have a “health reason” for not being jabbed. So I called the NHS number and had a form posted to me. I filled it in and dropped it off at my GP’s surgery.

“I’m struggling a bit with the Covid exemption form,” wrote my GP to me in a text on December 1st. “I am not sure I am comfortable with precluding you from the option of a second injection.” He was about to go away but offered a phone consultation on his return. Puzzled by his framing of the issue as being about not limiting my options, I agreed to the follow-up call.

In our long discussion on December 29th, his advice remained that I should take the Pfizer vaccine. I explained that I felt my risk from Covid was negligible and I was not convinced that it was greater than the risk from a second vaccine. He remained reluctant to issue an exemption but agreed to look into it further and come back to me. His subsequent text message read as follows: “I have re-read the guidance extensively on issuing of vaccine exemptions and unfortunately it can only be issued if there is a medical contraindication to receiving an alternate vaccine.”

He was good enough to attach a link to the guidance document from the Department of Health and Social Care. I looked at this document and found a further link to the Green Book Chapter 14a. As outlined in my letter to him below, the paragraph on the safety of the Pfizer vaccine reads as if the scientific evidence is reassuring. The paragraph cites two published papers that describe safety studies of the Pfizer vaccine: Walsh et al, 2020 and Polack et al, 2020. Both studies demonstrated very limited evidence of systemic events – “generally mild and shortlived”. Reading this paragraph, as a layman, I would conclude that there is no cause for concern.

Zoe Williams Dehumanises Schoolchildren, Excuses Mask Mandates

We’re publishing an original essay today by long-standing Daily Sceptic contributor Dr. Sinéad Murphy, a Research Associate in Philosophy at Newcastle University. It’s a response to a Guardian column by Zoe Williams on January 3rd in which she lauded teenagers for their stoical refusal to “bellyache” and “moan” about mask requirements, which Williams regards as no big deal. Dr. Murphy begs to differ. Here is an extract:

Williams opens her article on the subject of bouncing. She recalls her first trip as a professional journalist to interview a talented young skateboarder who was preparing to enter a competition. As she watched his practice session, during which he “smashed” to the ground many times, Williams reports that his mother observed, “He’s 14. They bounce at that age.”

And so Williams establishes her basic position – that young people bounce back, that young people are “resilient”. It is not an original position: in April 2021, when schools reopened for the second time, the headmaster of my boys’ school decorated his written address to parents with bouncing bunnies and excitedly informed us about the “bounce-back curriculum”.

Like so much of Covid messaging – like the line-drawing signs at the doorways of shops and the simple slogans on government podiums – it is all very cute.

But the cuteness belies a blatant disregard for people aged 11 and over whom Williams and her like so casually lump together as ‘teenagers’, to be chuckled at and then dismissed.

Despite opening her article by recalling the first mission of her professional life, Williams admits that she does not recall its subject – not his name, at any rate, nor even whether he won the competition that he was preparing for and that she was reporting on.

There is nothing much in that, perhaps, except that it anticipates what emerges in her article as Williams’s willful blindness to the fact that those between the ages of 11 and 19 are actual individual people, with names…. and faces… and thoughts and feelings and achievements… of their own.

Williams does not regard young people in this way. To her, young people are “teenagers” carelessly massed and explicitly denigrated. Her house, she writes, is “lousy with teenagers”, revealing her opinion that young people are a kind of parasite whose basic needs the rest of us, including their mothers, must resist.

Williams may end her article by lauding the “maturity” of young people but no closing flourish can undo the lack of care evident in her article.

The fact is, Williams experiences young people as barely individuated instances of a general type. What does it matter what their names are? What does it matter what their faces look like? They are little more to her than an abstract concept.

Worth reading in full.

Coronavirus is Nowhere Near Endemic, Says WHO

The coronavirus is “nowhere near” endemic, the World Health Organisation has said, and will not reach this point until it is “stable” and stops triggering unpredictable waves of infection that don’t “rely on external forces being placed in order to maintain that stability”. The Telegraph has the story.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday Dr. Catherine Smallwood, a senior emergency officer at WHO Europe, said it’s still too soon to suggest the world is moving into an endemic phase of COVID-19 – in spite of assertions from politicians in countries including the U.K. and Spain. …

“In terms of endemicity, we’re still a way off,” Dr. Smallwood told journalists. “Endemicity assumes that there’s stable circulation of the virus, at predictable levels with predictable waves of transmission… that doesn’t rely on external forces being placed in order to maintain that stability. But what we’re seeing at the moment, coming into 2022, is nowhere near that… we can’t just sit back and see a stable rate of transmission,” she said. 

“We still have a huge amount of uncertainty, we still have a virus that’s evolving quite quickly and posing quite new challenges. So we’re certainly not at the point of being able to call it endemic. It may become endemic in due course, but pinning that down to 2022 is a little bit difficult at this stage.”

At the weekend the Cabinet Minister Nadhim Zahawi said he believes the country is “witnessing the transition of the virus from pandemic to endemic”, while Spain’s Prime Minister this week urged Europe to consider the possibility of treating COVID-19 as an endemic illness, such as flu. 

But Dr. Smallwood warned governments “to hold back on behaving as if it’s endemic before the virus is actually behaving as if it’s endemic”.  She added that widespread vaccination uptake on an equitable basis will be “very very key in moving toward this scenario”. 

Worth reading in full.

Note the multiple fantasies in this alarmist statement. “Widespread vaccination uptake on an equitable basis will be ‘very very key in moving toward this scenario'” – even though we already have very widespread vaccine take-up and infection rates are as high as ever.

Endemicity requires stability that “doesn’t rely on external forces being placed in order to maintain that stability” – even though there is no evidence “external forces” (i.e., interventions) have done anything to limit the spread of the virus.

Endemicity “assumes that there’s stable circulation of the virus, at predictable levels with predictable waves of transmission” – even though there’s nothing predictable about existing endemic viruses like those which cause colds and flu.

So what’s the idea now? Vaccines don’t stop the spread, restrictions don’t stop the spread, hardly anyone is getting very sick and health services can cope, but for some reason we still have to stay on an emergency footing and not move on from the pandemic?

Meanwhile, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has said that a vaccine for Omicron will be ready in March and the company has begun manufacturing the doses. He also admitted that two doses are no longer any good against severe disease – though he may have had other motives for implying more doses of his product are necessary for protection. The Independent has the story.

One in 12 Teachers Absent in First Week of Term as Class Sizes Reach 120

One in 12 teachers was absent from schools in England during the first week of term, according to the latest data, the BBC reports.

Last week, 8.6% of teachers and school leaders were absent – 4.9% because of Covid, up from 3% on December 16th. This includes large numbers isolating as contacts rather than with a positive test. It’s striking that 3.7% were absent for non-Covid reasons.

The Telegraph reports that class sizes have reached up to 120 pupils, crammed into sports halls, as schools leaders back calls to cut the isolation period to five days.

School leaders have backed calls to cut the Covid isolation period to five days after it was revealed that classes of 120 children have crammed into sports halls amid a teacher shortage crisis.

Dame Maura Regan, Chief Executive officer of Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust, said she would “welcome” the move in England.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Personally, I’d welcome it, because I think the most important thing is there are many staff that actually have no symptoms, many children that have no symptoms, and I think it’s important to get staff back as quickly as possible.”

This comes after a survey by the NASUWT teaching union found that nearly half of teachers have been forced to cover for colleagues who were off work due to coronavirus as remote learning hit its highest level since lockdown.

Dame Maura told Today that “one of the biggest challenges” currently for schools is “effective supply cover”.

She added: “I think the most important thing we have to remember is that while it’s significant for all children, it’s particularly significant for those students that are actually facing exams, and many of them have had two, two and a half years, of disruption and to then have a lack of quality teaching is actually greater disruption for them.”

On Monday, Boris Johnson said ministers were considering reducing the self-isolation period from seven to five days for fully vaccinated people who test positive for Covid, with the Health Secretary reportedly backing such a move.

Here’s a radical suggestion. Rather than spending a fortune crippling children’s education via mass testing and isolation, why not just go back to the old system for dealing with a winter flu virus in schools. That was the system where occasionally one person would say to another: “There’s something going round.” Tried and tested, and much cheaper and less disruptive.

Supreme Leader Nic Sturge-on Tells Scots They May Have to Wear Masks For Years

People in Scotland may have to wear masks in public places for years to come, Nicola Sturgeon has warned – in spite of the fact that masked-up Scotland has a higher number of cases per 100,000 than England. MailOnline has more.

The First Minister insisted that tough curbs dramatically imposed on hospitality venues and large gatherings from Boxing Day had stemmed the spread of Covid, despite official figures showing that Scotland’s virus rate is higher than England’s.

And furious business leaders said Miss Sturgeon’s “gamble” with restrictions must end after they failed to make “any meaningful difference” to infections in Scotland.

Speaking ahead of today’s announcement about extending restrictions beyond next week, Miss Sturgeon said face coverings “might be required in the longer-term to enable us to live with it [Covid] with far fewer protective measures”.

In England, Covid restrictions could start to be lifted this month after Michael Gove said Britain was moving towards a situation where it could “live with” the virus.

Downing Street is examining options to lift Plan B measures in stages if cases remain too high to remove them all in one go. Extending Covid passes, due to expire on January 26th, would require another bruising clash with Tory backbenchers, which No 10 wants to avoid.

But some ministers are pushing for the WFH guidance to be removed first, arguing that it causes the most damage to the economy.

Miss Sturgeon told STV’s Scotland Tonight: “Sometimes when you hear people talk about learning to live with Covid, what seems to be suggested is that one morning we’ll wake up and not have to worry about it any more, and not have to do anything to try to contain and control it.

“That’s not what I mean when I say ‘learning to live with it’. Instead, we will have to ask ourselves what adaptations to pre-pandemic life – face coverings, for example – might be required in the longer-term to enable us to live with it with far fewer protective measures.”

Worth reading in full.

According to the Government’s coronavirus dashboard, the number of cases per 100,000 is currently higher in those parts of the United Kingdom with severe Covid restrictions in place than it is in England, including Scotland.

Stop Press: Nicola Sturgeon has announced that some Covid restrictions in Scotland will be lifted next Monday, including the ban on more than 500 people attending football and rugby matches, and she hoped other restrictions would be lifted the following Monday, pending a review of the data, including limits on attendance at indoor live events, table service in hospitality businesses, and distancing in indoor public spaces. But anyone wanting to access those events will still require a Covid Pass – and merely being double-vaccinated won’t be sufficient if the second jab was more than four months ago. From Monday January 17th only those who’ve had a second dose within four months, had a booster or uploaded the result of a recent lateral flow test will be able to download a Covid Pass. What’s more, she’s thinking about extending those venues that require Covid certification to include pubs, bars and restaurants.

Stop Press 2: Jamie Blackett in the Telegraph says it’s time to disabuse people of the idea that Nicola Sturgeon has had a good Pandemic.

Some Healthcare Workers Have Pre-existing Immunity to Covid, Study Finds

The question of whether some people have pre-existing immunity to Covid has been with us since the early days of the pandemic. Many scientists initially assumed there would be little or no pre-existing immunity. After all, SARS-CoV-2 was novel, highly infectious virus that appeared well adapted for human transmission.

However, in the spring of 2020, scientists began to report cross-reactive T-cell activity in people who hadn’t been infected with the virus, and – in some cases – in those who hadn’t even been exposed. However, it remained unclear whether such T-cell activity played any role in immunity.

Were individuals with cross-reactive T-cells less likely to become infected? Were they less likely to get seriously ill, conditional upon being infected? We simply didn’t know. Some even speculated that T-cell activity might predispose to more severe disease…

Evidence is now emerging that T-cell activity does play a role in immunity. In a recent study, Chinese scientists studied Covid patients and their close contacts who did not become infected. They observed “significant levels of SARS-CoV-2-specific memory T-cell immunity” in the uninfected contacts, hinting at a role for T-cells in staving off infection.

In a separate study, the same group of scientists studied Covid patients who experienced varying degrees of disease severity. They found that activation of two types of T-cell was “strongly and inversely correlated” with the severity of disease. One caveat is that their sample comprised only 12 people.

The most convincing evidence to date comes from a recent study published in the Nature by a team of British scientists. Leo Swadling and colleagues followed 700 healthcare workers in London for 16 weeks during and after the first wave of the pandemic.

They identified a subset of participants who had never tested positive for Covid and were seronegative at week 16. They then matched these individuals by age, sex and ethnicity to participants who had been infected by week 16. They also matched them to healthy adults who’d been sampled before Covid began circulating.

What did the researchers find? The seronegative participants had SARS-CoV-2-specific T-cells that were “comparable in breadth” to those of participants who had been infected. What’s more, participants’ T-cells were higher in “magnitude and breadth” than those of the healthy adults sampled before the pandemic.

These findings strongly suggest (but do not prove) that some healthcare workers were protected against infection by pre-existing T-cell immunity.

One of the study’s authors, Francious Balloux, noted that the “ability to control infections through pre-existing T-cell immunity likely stemmed from constant pre-pandemic low-level exposure of HCWs to endemic coronaviruses”. If he’s right, than pre-existing T-cell immunity might be much less common in the general public.

Professor Balloux also cautioned that “X-reactive T-cell immunity may not be sufficient to control infections by the more aggressive α/δ strains”. (Recall that the study was based on data from the first wave, before Alpha, Delta or indeed Omicron had emerged.)

While more research is clearly needed, evidence suggests that pre-existing immunity to Covid has been underestimated. This is consistent with what scientists like Sunetra Gupta (co-author of the Great Barrington Declaration) have been arguing since last year.

How’s He Going to Get Out of This One? Fresh Allegations Emerge That Boris Attended Drinks in the No. 10 Garden During Lockdown

Fresh allegations have emerged that Boris Johnson attended a social gathering during the first lockdown. Unlike with previous leaks, this gathering appears to be purely social in nature, being described in an email from the Prime Minister’s Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds as “socially distanced drinks in the No. 10 garden”, inviting attendees to “bring your own booze!”. It is hard to see how this can be explained away as work-related and not a social gathering, which were banned at the time. The same day it took place, May 20th 2020, Oliver Dowden, then Culture Secretary, urged the public only to meet one other person outdoors. Witnesses say the Prime Minister and his wife were among around 40 attendees, and Boris refused to deny the allegation in an interview on Monday. The Telegraph has the story.

The email, which was obtained by ITV News, said: “Hi all. After what has been an incredibly busy period it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No. 10 garden this evening.

“Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!”

Unlike other leaks relating to gatherings during the pandemic, the email is particularly damaging for the Prime Minister because it appears to make clear the event was solely a social gathering.

Downing Street has insisted that other events, including the gathering Mr Johnson was photographed at in the garden on May 15th 2020, were informal and related to work.

On Monday Adam Wagner, a leading lawyer and expert on Covid regulations, said: “This looks unlikely to be legal for attendees. Being outside the home was illegal at the time unless (the only potentially relevant exception) it was for the need to work. ‘Socially distanced drinks’/’BYOB’ don’t sound like work.”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “It is terrible and I think many people that see the evidence now will not only think that Boris Johnson’s lies are catching up with him, but will see it as absolutely despicable that when they were actually told to follow the rules, Boris Johnson and No 10 were breaking the rules.

“It is disgraceful and he should be ashamed.”

On Monday, Liberal Democrat spokesman said the party planned to report the leaked email to the Metropolitan Police.

The force has previously said it does not typically investigate historic allegations that lockdown rules have been breached.

It is understood that the email will now form part of the official probe being carried out by [Sue] Gray.

In recent days, her team has been asking a number of officials in No 10 about the use of the garden and the consumption of alcohol.

On Friday, she officially expanded her investigation to include the two gatherings in the garden after Dominic Cummings, the former No. 10 Senior Adviser, said he had told Mr Reynolds that he believed the event breached lockdown rules and should not go ahead.

Despite raising the issue, Mr Cummings said he was “ignored”.

Worth reading in full.

I confess, these revelations are getting kind of tedious now. Plainly, Government figures played fast and loose with the rules they were imposing on the rest of us, not really believing them to be necessary. Much like Professor Pantsdown and Matt Hancock and their lockdown hanky-panky, the people driving the restrictions clearly didn’t actually think there was a virus so deadly circulating that people couldn’t risk getting close to each other. Everyone knows by now this is the kind of thing they were up to. I suppose they should resign over the rank hypocrisy of it – though Neil Ferguson did resign and that didn’t last long – but really they should resign over the absurd, draconian policies that made their behaviour hypocritical in the first place. But that’s never going to happen, and neither will anyone resign over this except perhaps Martin Reynolds. Still, if it helps to turn the public against this miserable regime then that’s probably a good thing – though with Labour only ever outflanking the Government on the side of Chairman Mao, part of me fears what might come after.

Stop Press: Boris says Martin Reynolds has his “full confidence” and will stay in post. Is this because he was only doing what Boris told him to? We’ll see how long it lasts.

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