Day: 13 May 2022

Covid Infections Continue to Plummet – as ONS Data Suggest Omicron BA.2 May Be Half as Deadly as BA.1

Covid levels continued to drop in England last week, falling to their lowest levels since the start of December before Omicron took off. MailOnline has more.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates 1.2 million, or one in 45 people, were carrying the virus on any given day in the week to May 7th, down a quarter on the previous week.

It marks the fifth week in a row that the ONS’s weekly infection survey – now the best barometer of the outbreak – has reported a week-on-week fall in cases, despite no Covid restrictions being in place.

The Government is relying on the study, based on swabs of 120,000 random people, to track the virus now that free testing has been axed for the vast majority of Britons.

Today’s estimate for England is the lowest since the week ending December 16th, when 1.2m people were also estimated to have been infected. At that point, the Omicron strain was just starting to take off and in the following weeks there were mounting calls to follow some EU countries in enforcing another lockdown.

Ministers also resisted renewed calls from NHS bosses for tougher restrictions last month when the BA.2 variant, an off-shoot of Omicron, pushed rates to record-highs.

Meanwhile, the ONS estimates one in 35 people were carrying Covid in Wales and Scotland last week and one in 55 in Northern Ireland. 

It’s good to see the Mail drawing attention to the fact that these declines happen without the need for restrictions. Interesting that Scotland is doing worse than England despite keeping masks and vaccine passports in place for longer.

Why Does Your Doctor Want to Keep You Masked?

There follows a guest post by Paul Stevens, who is part of the Smile Free campaign to end forced masking in the U.K., which is currently inviting signatures to its open letter to the NHS Chief Executives to remove the mask requirement from healthcare settings.

Walk into your General Practitioner surgery and what will you see? Notices demanding that you ‘wear a mask’ and people with ill-fitting face coverings, most of which having been frequently touched, reused, rarely washed and improperly stored.

By contrast, in public spaces such as hospitality venues, retail settings and transportation hubs, you’ll find a lack of signage and a marked reduction in mask-wearing. More and more, people aren’t wearing them.

It’s as if we are living in two worlds: one where we have begun to return to a rational unmasked normality; and one, in healthcare settings including GP surgeries, where we are instructed to remain featureless and compliant with the facemask diktats of nameless NHS bureaucrats.

To understand how, and why, these worlds co-exist we need to start by looking at the frame of reference within which GPs operate. As independent contractors, for all intents and purposes GPs work within the NHS; and many are members of a single body, the British Medical Association (BMA). The NHS and BMA, one guiding and enabling the other, have played major parts in establishing and maintaining masking within healthcare settings.

The NHS has been a major advocate of masking and, as published on the Government’s “COVID-19: Infection prevention and control” (IPC) webpages, its current guidance for mask-wearing within health and care settings remains that facemasks for staff and facemasks or coverings for all patients and visitors are “recommended”.

Russia’s Muted Response to Finland’s Interest in Joining NATO Suggests its Invasion of Ukraine Was Nothing to do With NATO Expansion

After some weeks of national polling, discussion and debate, and following Wednesday’s signing of bilateral security agreements with the U.K., it now looks all-but-certain that Finland and Sweden will apply to join NATO – perhaps as early as next week – and that if they do, they will be welcomed with open arms, swelling the ranks of the alliance to 32 members.

But Finland sits directly on Russia’s western border.

Indeed, amongst European nations, Finland has the dubious distinction of possessing the second-longest land border with Russia – second only to Ukraine’s. So why hasn’t this expected eastward expansion of NATO been greeted with the same hand-wringing from those in the West, and the same threats from Russia that we’ve seen in past years with respect to Ukraine’s “provocative” ambition to join NATO?

The reason is that NATO’s eastward expansion was never viewed by Russia as an existential threat – at least not militarily. In fact, the factitious and pretextual nature of Russia’s claimed fears over Ukraine’s closer ties to NATO couldn’t be clearer: on April 8th, Dmitry Peskov repeated Russia’s long-held position that if Finland and Sweden were to join NATO, this would be a threat but not an existential threat. His remarks were repeated by RT in a clear confirmation of the official line:

Moscow opposes the expansion of NATO, but the inclusion of Finland and Sweden in the bloc won’t become an existential threat to it, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told Sky News on Friday.

Italy Wears its Covid Scars Like a Badge of Honour

Genoa, one of the Italian playgrounds of the super-rich is a city of lap dog lovers. There is no shortage of dogs, or dog turds. But there does seem to be a shortage of poop bags and it was not uncommon on my morning run along the Corso Italia this week to see a face-masked dog walker allowing his dog to leave another infectious deposit of poo, walk away and leave it steaming in the middle of the promenade.

I have just returned from Italy where the proclaimed lifting of Covid restrictions refers only to the paperwork associated with entering and leaving the country. Masks are still very much in evidence and a great deal of this is self-imposed. If not actually wearing a mask, nearly everyone has a mask around their wrist, like a talisman of which they just cannot let go. Normality will only ever be regained when the metaphorical masks are lifted from the minds of the Italian people.

My regular visits to Italy have allowed me to observe over time the reaction of the country to the emergence of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Italy was quick off the mark in the early days of the global panic and, indeed, amongst the first to panic. I returned to the U.K. from Wuhan late in 2019 to discover I had left an epidemic behind me. While we only began hearing about the coronavirus early in 2020 it had already been making its way through the sick and vulnerable in Wuhan since at least November 2019, certainly coinciding with my five weeks in the city in November and December 2019. I had travelled on crowded trains and taxis, eaten in crowded restaurants and taught in packed lecture rooms with impunity. My initial reaction, and one which has not attenuated, was that this was just another virus, it would kill a few old folks like me and some of the more clinically vulnerable amongst us and leave the vast majority alive and unscathed. And that is exactly what happened.

Face Masks Lead to Breathing Dangerous Levels of Carbon Dioxide Even When Sitting Still, Study Finds

Wearing a face mask results in exposure to dangerous concentrations of carbon dioxide in inhaled air, even when the mask is worn for just five minutes when sitting still, a study has found.

With surgical masks, the CO2 concentration of inhaled air exceeded the danger zone of 5,000 ppm in 40% of cases. With FFP2 respirators it exceeded it in 99% of cases. The CO2 concentrations were higher for children and for those who breathed more frequently.

The study, a pre-print (not yet peer-reviewed) from a team in Italy, used a technique called capnography to take the measurements of CO2 in inhaled air over the course of five minutes, following a ten minute period of rest, with participants seated, silent and breathing only through the nose. A medic took measurements at minutes three, four and five, with an average of the three measurements being used in the analysis.

The study found the mean CO2 concentration of inhaled air without masks was 458 ppm. While wearing a surgical mask, the mean CO2 was over 10 times higher at 4,965 ppm, exceeding 5,000 ppm in 40.2% of the measurements. While wearing an FFP2 respirator, the average CO2 was nearly double again at 9,396 ppm, with 99.0% of participants showing values higher than 5,000 ppm. Among children under 18, the mean CO2 concentration while wearing a surgical mask was well above the safe limit at 6,439 ppm; for an FFP2 respirator it was nearly double again at 12,847 ppm. The researchers found that breaths per minute only had to increase by three, to 18, for the mean concentration to reach 5,271 ppm in a surgical mask and breach the safe limit.

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