Day: 21 January 2022

Aeroplane Turns Around Mid-Flight Because a Passenger Refused to Wear a Mask

An aeroplane travelling from Miami to London turned back because a passenger refused to wear a face mask, the airline has said. The BBC has more.

American Airlines said flight AAL38 with 129 passengers on board returned to Miami where police were waiting.

They escorted a woman in her 40s off the plane, reports say.

She has been placed on a list of people barred from flying with American Airlines, pending further investigation, the airline said.

The Wednesday flight turned around about an hour into its journey, according to tracking service FlightAware.

The woman was sitting in first class, another passenger Steve Freeman told Miami’s Local 10 news. …

Passengers on the flight to London’s Heathrow Airport were re-booked on to another flight for Thursday. …

“They wouldn’t really say anything, and I don’t believe they told the flight attendants anything either, because they said that all they could say was there was an extreme incident with a passenger and they had to turn around,” [a passenger] told the station.

Airlines reported nearly 6,000 incidents involving unruly passengers last year and 151 in the first two weeks of this year, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Most of them involved passengers who refused to wear masks.

What a ridiculous waste of fuel, time and money over something so pointless.

Worth reading in full.

Ireland Scraps Almost All Covid Restrictions

From this weekend, Irish pubs, restaurants and other hospitality outlets can return to normal operations, and customers will not be asked for to show a digital Covid pass, Taoiseach Micheal Martin has announced. Sky News has more.

The Irish government has agreed to lift almost all coronavirus restrictions from tomorrow – in a move attributed to the passing of the peak of the Omicron wave, and the country’s high vaccine uptake. …

Some rules will continue, however. The requirement to wear face masks is being retained, until at least the end of February, and a digital Covid pass will still be required for international travel.

Self-isolation will remain in place for symptomatic people.

Ireland has now passed the peak of its fifth wave of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

With one of Europe’s highest vaccine uptakes, and a stabilised hospitalisation rate, the National Public Health Emergency Team felt able to advise the Government there was no longer a public health rationale to keep restrictions.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the government was “very, very conscious” of older and vulnerable people who had concerns about a full reopening, but said it was all about “finding a balance”.

The minister said he expected an increase in case numbers in the weeks ahead, but added that the health system had proved it could handle it.

Worth reading in full.

U.K. Government Has “Abandoned the Science”, says Wales First Minister – as He Sets Course For ‘Alert Level Zero’ Which Keeps Masks and Vaccine Passports

The U.K. Government is more interested in distracting people from its issues than Covid and has “long abandoned any sense of following the science”, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said, as he confirmed further easing of rules in Wales. The BBC has more.

Mr Drakeford told BBC Breakfast: “We’ve always taken a different approach in Wales, one that does things step-by-step in line with the science.

“We’re a Government that doesn’t need to grab headlines to distract attention from the difficulties that we would be in if we were in the same position as the Government in England.”

Wales is currently in a three-week process of removing most of its Covid rules, with fans now allowed to return to sports stadiums and pubs and restaurants allowed to operate outdoors without the rule of six or social distancing.

But even when Wales reaches alert level zero, some measures will remain, such as face masks in shops and hospitality venues, Covid passes for nightclubs and large events and self-isolation rules.

In England, however, all Plan B measures will end on Thursday, including mandatory face masks and Covid passes.

Referring to the No 10 parties scandal, Mr Drakeford added: “I don’t think there’s any doubt at all that the U.K. Government has long abandoned any sense that it is following the science. It is a Government desperately in difficulties of its own making and is forever on the lookout for a headline which will distract people’s attention from the awful mess that it finds itself in.”

Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said: “The First Minister’s comments are an uncalled for and opportunistic insult towards medical advisers and the public.”

Russell George, the Conservative MS for Monmouthshire, asked why, if Mr. Drakeford is “so confident that he’s getting things right in Wales”, he is “running away from a Wales-specific public inquiry”, noting that: “We’ve got the worse Covid death rates of any of the U.K. nations.”

The fact that ‘Alert Level Zero’ in Wales still involves the Plan B measures – vaccine passports and mask mandate – that England is now lifting, plus the Plan A measure of self-isolation that Boris has signalled he will shortly repeal, tells you everything you need to know about Mark Drakeford’s idea of ‘The Science’. Does he ever intend to remove these measures? If so he hasn’t said – and he’ll clearly need to think up a new name for his alert levels when he does.

Worth reading in full.

More Evidence for the ‘Healthy Vaccinee’ Effect

How much protection do the vaccines provide against severe Covid? Some people claim that getting vaccinated reduces your risk of death by as much as 90%. They point to charts showing massive disparities in hospitalisation and death rates between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

However, these crude comparisons may overstate vaccine effectiveness. A study published last year by the U.S. CDC found that vaccinated people were less likely to die of non-Covid causes, suggesting that they’re inherently healthier and/or more risk averse than unvaccinated people.

This ‘healthy vaccinee’ effect means that part of the disparity in death rates between the vaccinated and unvaccinated is due to factors other than vaccination. So even if currently-unvaccinated people got vaccinated, they’d still die from Covid at higher rates than currently-vaccinated people.

Now, I’m not claiming that all or even most of the disparity in death rates between the vaccinated and unvaccinated is due to the ‘healthy vaccinee’ effect. I’m simply claiming that crude comparisons overstate vaccine effectiveness – which is probably less than 90%.

Okay, but is there any evidence for this form of ‘selection bias’ – as it’s known in the jargon – other than the CDC study? Yes: the ONS documented the very same phenomenon in a report published last year. See the table below, which shows age-standardised mortality rates by vaccination status:

Looking at the second column, unvaccinated people have a higher non-Covid death rate than all four groups of vaccinated people.

Note, however, that the ratios in the first column are substantially greater than those in the second column. This implies that the ‘healthy vaccinee’ cannot explain all or even most of the disparity in Covid death rates between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

On the other hand, the ratios would presumably be smaller if the comparison were restricted to vaccinated people who’d received their second dose more than, say, six months ago. We know that vaccine effectiveness wanes over time – for both infection and serious illness.

Do Covid Vaccines Reduce All-Cause Mortality? ONS Data Give Us No Reason to Think So

The accuracy of any data purporting to show vaccine effectiveness or safety against a disease is critically dependent on the accurate measurement of: people classified as having the disease; vaccination status; death reporting; and the population of vaccinated and unvaccinated (the so called ‘denominators’). If there are errors in any of these, claims of effectiveness or safety are unreliable.

The risk/benefit of Covid vaccines is best – and most simply – measured by all-cause mortality of vaccinated against unvaccinated, since it avoids the thorny issue of what constitutes a Covid ‘case/infection’. In principle, the data in the ONS vaccine mortality surveillance reports should provide us with the necessary information to monitor this crucial comparison over time. However, until the ONS released its November report, no age categorised data were provided, meaning that any comparisons were confounded by age (older people are both disproportionately more vaccinated than younger people and disproportionately more likely to die).

The week 44 ONS report and data release from November finally provided some relevant age categorised data. Specifically, it includes separate data for age groups 60-69, 70-79 and 80+, but there is only a single group of data for the age group 10-59. After the November data release the ONS released further data on December 20th 2021, albeit at a significant lower level of granularity that inhibits cross comparison with earlier data (different age categories; monthly rather than weekly data; age-adjusted mortality rather than raw death and population data; death counts updated; and fractional membership of vaccination category based on time spent in category) and with different categories for vaccine status than those used in November (five categories rather than four with double dose vaccinated split into less than and greater than 21 days).

At first glance the data suggest that, in each of the older age groups, all-cause mortality is lower in the vaccinated than the unvaccinated. In the 10-59 age group all-cause mortality is higher among the vaccinated, but this group is likely confounded by age since it is far too wide for the data provided to be sufficient to draw any firm conclusions.

However, despite this apparent evidence to support vaccine effectiveness for the older age groups, on closer inspection this conclusion is cast into doubt. That is because we have shown a range of fundamental inconsistencies and flaws in the data. Specifically:

Austria’s MPs Pass Mandatory Vaccination Law

Austria’s equivalent of the House of Commons voted yesterday in favour of the new Government proposals to fine the unvaccinated the equivalent of thousands of pounds. The BBC has more.

The law, which is due to come into effect on February 1st, would make Austria the first [i.e., only] European country to introduce a mandatory jab.

From mid-March the law will see adults unvaccinated against COVID-19 subjected to fines of up to €3,600 (£2,994).

So far, 72% of Austrians have been fully vaccinated against the virus.

The bill must now pass the upper house and be signed into law by President Alexander Van der Bellen, steps largely expected to be formalities.

The vaccine order is expected to remain in force until January 2024, with the government investing €1.4bn in measures designed to encourage unvaccinated people to come forward for the jab.

Addressing lawmakers on Thursday afternoon, Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein called the measure a “big, and, for the first time, also lasting step” in Austria’s fight against the pandemic.

Chancellor Karl Nehammer told reporters ahead of the vote that vaccines were “an opportunity for our society to achieve lasting and continuous freedom, because the virus cannot restrict us any further”.

A majority of MPs, including those from Mr. Nehammer’s governing centre-right coalition and the three main opposition parties, backed the bill, by 137 votes to 33.

The far-right Freedom Party, which has courted the votes of Austria’s substantial anti-vaccine minority, has taken a stand against the bill.

Its leader, Herbert Kickl, said the mandate “paves the way to totalitarianism in Austria” and vowed he would continue to refuse vaccination in defiance of the new law.

Since authorities announced they intended to introduce the mandate in November the capital, Vienna, has seen regular protests, with some numbering over 40,000 people.

The demonstrations have attracted a coalition of anti-vaccine campaigners and far-right extremists, and authorities have warned that they have been radicalising in recent weeks, with new “protective zones” declared around healthcare facilities and vaccination centres to protect workers.

Similar vaccine mandates are being introduced in several other countries, including in Greece, where jabs are now obligatory for everyone aged 60.

In neighbouring Germany, the new Government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said it will introduce a vaccination bill in the Bundestag in March.

Alarming stuff. Have they learned nothing from history? Worth reading in full.

The BBC article links to an earlier article from last month where the BBC sets out three arguments in favour of forced vaccination (thanks Auntie) and three against. The three in favour include that we’ve tried everything else and it will supposedly “end the cycle of lockdowns” – right, like everything else governments have inflicted on us these past two years. The arguments against include that some people may not like it and, well, maybe we haven’t exhausted all our other options – so not balanced at all, and no mention of the crucial fact that the vaccines don’t prevent infection or transmission, or that the majority of new infections and deaths are in the vaccinated.

News Round-Up