Day: 17 January 2022

And Finally…

In this week’s London Calling, James and I argue about whether we’re witnessing the end of Covid hysteria; discuss the Johnny-come-latelies who claim to have been lockdown sceptics all along; worry that it may be all over for our old friend Boris (although James isn’t that worried); question why the BBC doesn’t become a subscription service if it’s such great value for money; and, in culture corner, James praises Yellowjackets, while I give lukewarm reviews to The Duke, Being the Ricardos and Red Rocket.

You can listen to the podcast here and subscribe on iTunes here.

Daily Cases Fall 40% as London Returns to Normal

Britain’s daily Covid cases plunged for the 12th day in a row today as the Omicron wave continued to collapse and workers headed back to offices in their largest numbers since it took off. MailOnline has more.

Another 84,429 tests came back positive for the virus in the past 24 hours, according to Government dashboard data, down around 41% on last week. Daily cases have fallen week-on-week since January 6th.

There were also 85 coronavirus deaths registered today in a 10% rise compared to last Monday. Latest hospital data shows there were 2,357 admissions on January 11th, virtually unchanged in a week.

In a sign of public confidence in the promising stats, London’s roads were the busiest they have been during the morning rush-hour since the day Boris Johnson confirmed that England would enter Plan B restrictions.

Congestion data recorded by location services company TomTom found the level in the capital between 8am and 9am this morning was at 69% – the highest it has been for that time period in six weeks since December 8th.

The congestion level represents the extra travel time for drivers on average compared to baseline uncongested conditions – so a 69% level means a 30-minute trip will take 21 minutes more than with no traffic.

Today’s figure was also above the 2019 average of 63% and 2020 average of 49% for 8am on a Monday in London – showing there were more cars on the road in the capital today than before the pandemic. The figure last Monday was 61%, while it was just 2% on Monday, January 3rd but this was a bank holiday.

Worth reading in full.

Antony Worrall Thompson Puts Sign on Pub Saying “Unvaccinated Welcome”

Celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson has put a sign on his pub the Greyhound in Oxfordshire that makes clear the unvaccinated are welcome. It says: “We do not discriminate. Race, gender, age, disability, vaccinated or unvaccinated. Everyone equal here. Everyone welcome.” The BBC has more.

The TV chef, who opened his first restaurant in London in 1981, used to appear on the BBC’s Ready Steady Cook, and came fifth on I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! in 2003.

He told the BBC: “I’m doing it [having the sign up] because I don’t want to discriminate against anyone.

“At the end of the day we’ve done our time, we’ve done two years of this, lockdowns and various things and precautions, and I think it’s time to move on.”

Asked if it was irresponsible, he answered: “I don’t think it’s irresponsible at all. You know you have the choice. Freedom of choice to get vaccinated, freedom of choice to come to the Greyhound.”

He added: “I agree with people getting vaccinated. I’m not an anti-vaxxer… to me if you don’t want to get vaccinated, if you don’t want to put chemicals into your body, it has to be your choice.”

Worth reading in full.

Why Won’t They Release the Data on Child Deaths Following Covid Vaccination?

Parents of children in the 12-17 age group want Government officials to release real-time safety data for Covid vaccines. One mother is so concerned about the possibility that her three children could suffer serious adverse events that she asked the High Court on their behalf to force full public disclosure.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) admits it holds the figures but has not revealed them publicly, so last Thursday parent EF, who cannot be named for legal reasons, put her concerns to Mr Justice Jonathan Swift and asked him to direct the ONS to release the data. Her request was denied.

She said: “I’m not surprised. I feel as though the judge had already made up his mind.”

To those of us in court, it certainly felt as though he had and that no one dared question Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s decisions.

Television and radio presenter Beverley Turner, who helped raise over £100,000 to fund the action and who has been vilified for asking questions about the vaccines’ safety, was also there. She said: “It felt that the judge had already decided the outcome. He was hostile to the plaintiffs and convivial to the defendants. All we’re doing is fighting for transparency and for that, we got a hostile response.”

It is known that Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA Covid vaccines can cause the inflammatory heart conditions myocarditis and pericarditis, mostly in young males, while the Oxford/AstraZeneca can cause blood clots and strokes. We do not know to what extent, and whether children have died or been permanently disabled as the result of a Covid vaccination.

Most Covid Patients Discharged from ICU Make a Good Recovery, Study Finds

Mounting evidence suggests that long Covid is not the great danger it was initially claimed to be. Research by the ONS indicates that, 12 weeks after infection, the percentage of people still reporting symptoms is only 2.5 points higher than the background rate.

What’s more, several studies have found little or no difference in rates of long Covid between those who were seropositive and those who were seronegative. One French study found that believing you’d had Covid was a better predictor of long Covid symptoms than actually testing positive for Covid antibodies; the only exception being anosmia.

This suggests that many, perhaps most, cases of long Covid are psychosomatic. Thanks to all the media attention on long Covid, people may have been inclined to exaggerate their symptoms; to report things they normally wouldn’t have done.

Fortunately, the vast majority of people who catch Covid get only mild symptoms; at worst, they’re bed-ridden for a few days with a nasty cold. However, a small percentage do end up in hospital, or even the ICU. And most of these individuals experience debilitating symptoms for the rest of their lives – right? 

Apparently not, finds a new Italian study. Alberto Zangrillo and colleagues identified all the Covid patients admitted to their hospital in Milan during the first wave, who’d spent at least one day on a ventilator. Of these 116 patients, 53% survived. The authors followed up 56 of the 61 survivors one year later, and asked them to complete a questionnaire.

Note: none of the survivors died during the intervening year; 5 simply refused to answer the questionnaire. Among those who did answer, the average age was 56 and 89% were male. 

So what did the researchers find? The great majority of patients reported good quality of life. 82% had no difficulty walking; 95% had no difficulty washing or dressing; and fully 84% had no difficulties with their usual activities.

Non-trivial fractions did report some pain/discomfort and feelings of anxiety/depression. However, these patients were in the minority. Overall, 61% reported no pain or discomfort; and 64% had no feelings of anxiety or depression.

And note: some of the patients who did report these things may have experienced them before they got Covid. We can’t be sure the fractions reporting no symptoms would be 100%, or even close to 100%, in the absence of a pandemic. For example, 52% of patients in the sample had at least one pre-existing health condition.

36 out of 56 patients were given a chest CT scan, to assess the extent of lung damage. Only 4 had signs of pulmonary fibrosis (severe lung damage). Though it should be noted that other studies have reported higher rates of lung damage at one year follow-up. 

Zangrillo and colleagues’ findings should be encouraging to those who’re recovering from severe Covid. One year after admission to the ICU, only a minority of patients had symptoms serious enough to affect their day to day life.

Of course, there’s much that can and should be done to prevent people landing in the ICU, such as voluntary vaccination and precision shielding. But it’s reassuring to know that many of those who do wind up there, and are subsequently discharged, can expect to make good overall recoveries.    

Coronavirus Laws May Be Scrapped in Weeks

The Government is drawing up plans to repeal emergency coronavirus laws including the legal requirement to self-isolate when testing positive for COVID-19. However, before you get too excited, this would be replaced by official guidance which encourages people to behave in certain ways. This means while the legal penalty may be gone, the tyranny of the risk-averse insurance companies, trade unions and public officials may well remain. Also, to further dampen the excitement, it won’t happen for weeks or even months, even though the virus is clearly no longer causing a public health crisis. And in the meantime the mask mandate is set to stay beyond January 26th. The Telegraph has the story.

The Telegraph understands Boris Johnson wants to permanently repeal emergency coronavirus laws which have governed how the public can live for almost two years.

Instead, official guidance would remain in place which encourages people to behave in certain ways, but would not result in fines or legal punishment if ignored.

The plans will be worked up over the coming weeks, with an announcement being penned in as early as the spring – although no final decisions have been taken.

It would also mean there would be no legal requirement to isolate after contact with someone who has Covid or to wear face masks in certain settings.

A senior Government source told the Telegraph: “Lots of legal requirements were put in place during the pandemic. As we come into a stage where things are more manageable and those legal restrictions may no longer be necessary, we will look to remove them promptly from the statute book. The Prime Minister is obviously determined to get back to normal as soon as we can.”

The move comes as hope grows that this winter’s Covid surge triggered by the emergence of the Omicron variant is easing, with daily case numbers continuing to fall. …

Downing Street is looking at three different drives to ease pandemic restrictions, some short-term and some long-term.

The so-called Plan B restrictions are expected to be largely lifted on January 26th, the review date that the Prime Minister set when he imposed them last month.

That means that the legal requirement for Covid passports – proof of full vaccination or a negative test – to be shown before entering large crowd venues is set to be dropped.

So too is guidance that urges people to work from home. However, a requirement to wear face masks on public transport, in shops and in other settings is likely to stay beyond January 26th.

A second drive is easing restrictions on travel. The need to take a lateral flow test on the second day after arriving into the U.K. is expected to drop.

A third drive is longer-term changes, with Government ministers believing the U.K. will move out of the pandemic and into a phase where Covid continues circulating but less frequently.

The Prime Minister and his Cabinet has made clear that an approach of “learning to live with Covid” must be adopted, given scientists say the virus will never disappear completely.

Supporters of the move compare it to the approach for other viruses – such as flu – in which people are encouraged to behave a certain way but not legally compelled to do so.

Depressingly, however glacial and disappointing the Government’s plans are, they will almost certainly be better than Labour’s.

What the Mail’s Take-Down of Natural Immunity Gets Wrong

Dr. Michael Mosley in the Daily Mail has written a piece criticising those like Novak Djokovic who say they regard themselves as in no need of vaccination as they have protection from a previous Covid infection. In the article Dr. Mosley – who is medically qualified but no longer a registered doctor and has worked as a BBC journalist for the past 37 years – makes a series of claims about the vaccines and natural immunity that don’t withstand scrutiny.

The first is that previous infection provides much less protection against Omicron infection than does vaccination.

Just because you have antibodies against a previous strain of Covid, that does not mean you are protected against catching, or spreading it to more vulnerable people such as patients with cancer or pregnant women. A study published in December, by researchers from Imperial College London, concluded that the protection against Omicron, if you have had a prior Covid infection “may be as low as 19%”. A course of vaccines – the double dose plus the booster – on the other hand, offers something like 75% protection.

What Dr. Mosley doesn’t mention is that the December study from Imperial was a preliminary study that also found no evidence of Omicron “having lower severity than Delta”. Omicron is now known to be considerably less severe than Delta, suggesting the study should not be taken as the final word on Omicron and natural immunity. A more recent study puts the protection provided by natural immunity against Omicron infection at 56%. This is higher than the level of protection reported for the boosters by the UKHSA, which finds just 40-50% protection at 10 weeks. The protection provided by previous infection is also more resilient.

Dr. Mosley’s explanation of why the protection from vaccines is supposedly superior to that from previous infection also makes no sense. He writes:

Why the difference? It appears that our immune systems are very good at learning from experience. The more often your immune system is challenged by a virus (or a vaccine, which is mimicking that virus), the better it gets at defending itself against it.

The first time your immune system encounters a virus it isn’t quite sure how to react and it takes time to start building an effective response. While that is happening, the virus is busy replicating, spreading and doing damage.

If you’re lucky, your immune system will spring into action and you will recover after a trivial illness. If you are unlucky, you end up in hospital, perhaps in intensive care. The idea of a vaccine is that your immune system gets the nudge to start working long before you are exposed to the real thing.

The reason for a second, and even third jab, is this amplifies and refines your immune response to protect you, and others, in the future.

This of course fails to explain why encountering the virus should provide less effective immune protection than a vaccine. Just because while your body is working out how to counter the virus the virus can make you unwell tells you nothing about how strong your subsequent immunity to re-infection will be. It is true that a vaccine mimics a virus to prime your immune system, and the idea of multiple shots is to improve that response. However, there is plenty of evidence that the vaccines are weaker and less resilient against infection than natural immunity. For example, see the chart below from a large Danish study, where the orange line for the previously infected (but not vaccinated) is higher and stays much higher than the green line for the vaccinated (but not previously infected).

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