Toby Young

Zero Covid Zealot Jacinda Arden Cancels Wedding, Imposes Mini-Lockdown and Insists on a 24-Day Isolation Period After New Zealand Recorded 84 New Covid Cases on Saturday

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has cancelled her wedding as her Government imposes new restrictions to slow the community spread of the Omicron variant. Reuters has more

New Zealand will impose mask rules and limit gathering from midnight on Sunday after a cluster of nine COVID-19 Omicron cases showed community spread from the North to South islands after a wedding.

A family returned to Nelson in the South Island by plane after attending a wedding and other events in Auckland in the North Island. The family and a flight attendant tested positive.

New Zealand will move to a red setting under its COVID-19 protection framework, with more mask wearing. Indoor hospitality settings such as bars and restaurants and events like weddings will be capped at 100 people. The limit is lowered to 25 people if venues are not using vaccine passes, Arden said.

“My wedding will not be going ahead,” she told reporters, adding she was sorry for anyone caught up in a similar scenario. Ardern had not disclosed her wedding date, but it was rumoured to be imminent.

Asked by reporters how she felt about the cancellation of her wedding to longtime partner and fishing-show host Clarke Gayford, Ardern replied: “Such is life.”

She added, “I am no different to, dare I say it, thousands of other New Zealanders who have had much more devastating impacts felt by the pandemic, the most gutting of which is the inability to be with a loved one sometimes when they are gravely ill. That will far, far outstrip any sadness I experience.”

New Zealand’s borders have been shut to foreigners since March 2020. The government pushed back plans for a phased reopening from mid-January to the end of February out of concern about a potential Omicron outbreak as in neighbouring Australia.

People able to travel to New Zealand under narrow exceptions must apply to stay at state-managed quarantine facilities. The government last week stopped issuing any new slots amid a surge in the number of people arriving with Omicron.

About 94% of New Zealand’s population over the age of 12 is fully vaccinated and about 56% of those eligible have had booster shots.

According to MailOnline, New Zealand will make household contacts of Covid cases isolate for 24 days.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has brought in the strict measures as the country battles to stay Covid Zero despite the threat of the highly contagious mutant strain.

But critics say the lengthy quarantine period is ‘unworkable’ and will lead people to avoid getting tested.

Anyone infected with Covid is now required to isolate for 14 days, up from 10 days under the new interim rules.

Household contacts must then stay in quarantine for a further 10 days, stretching the time alone out to three and a half weeks.

Jacinda Arden is behaving like a character in a Don’t Look Up-style satire about the absurd lengths Zero Covid fanatics will go to avoid abandoning their crackpot agenda. Ninety-four per cent of the over-12s vaccinated and the toothy tyrant still won’t give them their freedom back.

Worth reading in full.

Ofcom Warns ITV Over Dr. Hilary Jones’s Inaccurate Claims About Percentage of Hospital Patients Unvaccinated

ITV has been issued with a warning by Ofcom following a Covid segment with Dr. Hilary Jones on the morning show Lorraine. The Glasgow Times has more.

The broadcaster has been told to take “greater care” after Dr. Hilary shared inaccurate vaccine statistics in December.

The programme attracted 3,833 complaints from viewers over a discussion about the number of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients in hospital.

The segment, on December 6th 2021, saw host Lorraine Kelly and resident medical expert Dr. Hilary encouraged viewers to accept the offer of a coronavirus vaccination. …

ITV viewers lodged complaints after ITV’s resident medical expert, Dr. Hilary, shared inaccurate information.

He said: “Those people who haven’t been vaccinated, we’d really love you to think again and be vaccinated because 90% of people in hospital are unvaccinated right now with Covid.”

On Monday, media watchdog Ofcom ruled it would not be launching a formal investigation, but has issued ITV with guidance.

In a statement, Ofcom said: “This programme incorrectly referenced the proportion of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients in hospital.

“We have told ITV that greater care should be taken by trusted medical experts when presenting facts and figures on public health issues.

“However, given official statistics and research have consistently shown that vaccination against COVID-19 offers greater protection against serious health consequences, we do not consider that the error was sufficient to materially mislead viewers on this main point of discussion.”

I suppose we should applaud Ofcom for warning a broadcaster over pro-vaxx inaccuracies rather than anti-vaxx inaccuracies, but claiming the error wasn’t bad enough “to materially mislead viewers” is pretty extraordinary. Claiming that 90% of all people in hospital are unvaccinated is pretty misleading. Moreover, the article also includes the following paragraph:

A clarification was broadcast on the show two days later, explaining the statistic related to patients in intensive care units rather than the proportion of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients in hospital.

In fact, it’s also not true that 90% of Covid patients in ICUs are unvaccinated, as we’ve pointed out many times before on this website. So even the “clarification” was misleading.

The British Public is Having a Periodical Fit of Morality

We’re publishing an original essay today by Dr. James Alexander, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Bilkent University in Turkey and a regular contributor to the Daily Sceptic. He explores what sort of behaviour and attitudes it’s possible to morally condemn in contemporary Britain – anything that offends against the Unholy Trinity of Covid, Wokery and Climate, or is evidence of hypocrisy – and points out how difficult it is to morally challenge what has become, in effect, the official morality of the state. Here is an extract:

The modern state, stripped of the church, has established its own morality. This morality is an almost wonderfully historically self-defeating morality – our enemies laugh at it – whereby we absolutely condemn almost everything our ancestors ever did to establish us where we are, and we relatively condemn the minor hypocrisies of those who now rule us. This is the morality of theoretically marginalised class. Since, ironically, this morality has been adopted by the ruling class, and certainly by the higher educated class, it is also the morality of the actually privileged. Almost all of our elites are therefore hypocrites, to a man – and woman. We are in a state which has a morality that owes nothing to the church, which has had to invent its own moral absolutes, and which has done so in self-condemnation. It is what Nietzsche called a slave-morality. It is the morality of slaves. But it is not a very stable morality of slaves, since those who until now almost always formed the slave class don’t believe it while those who are the master class do believe it and, even worse, impose it condescendingly on everyone else.

This is upside-down morality. Expect to be lectured about your privilege by a university teacher. Expect to bow and scrape a bit if you are wealthy or privileged. Expect no consideration at all if you are a member of the honourable old religious working class. And not much if you are a member of the dishonourable old secular working class: unless you can pose as somehow victimised and ask for some sort of stipend or sympathy from the professionally guilt-stricken classes. Expect to be told to wear a mask. Expect to be told to take a vaccine. Expect to be pilloried if you object.

Like all Dr. Alexander’s essays, this one is very much 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.

The One Thing That Might Persuade Me to Get Jabbed

In my most recent Spectator column, I describe my recent bout of Covid and why it has almost – almost – persuaded me to get vaccinated.

While I was ill I read the following sentence in an article by Ed West, which put the wind up me: “An unvaccinated man in his fifties has about a one-in-150 chance of dying if he catches Covid, and is much more likely still to be hospitalised, put in ICU and left prematurely aged.” He didn’t give a source for the one in 150 figure, but that was on the high side, surely? Concerned, I commissioned a professor of epidemiology to calculate Omicron’s infection fatality rate for my Daily Sceptic website and he came up with 0.04 per cent, or one in 2,500, a figure that includes the vaccinated. Slightly higher for men in their fifties no doubt, but not one in 150.

However, the second part of Ed’s sentence – that the unvaccinated are more likely to end up in ICU than the vaccinated – is probably right. Was that where I was headed? I know, I know. My chances of being hospitalised, let alone put on a ventilator, were low, assuming it was Omicron. But what if it wasn’t? Or what if it was and I just got unlucky? I could picture the newspaper headline: “Unvaccinated lockdown sceptic in intensive care with severe Covid.” It wouldn’t be long before the BBC’s Clive Myrie was standing at the end of my bed, microphone in hand, asking me how I felt about not being jabbed.

This, for me, is the best argument against remaining unvaccinated. Not the risk of being in ICU and left ‘prematurely aged’ or worse, but the absolute certainty that if that happened I would be ridiculed mercilessly by my enemies. Totally undeserved, of course. I’m dubious about the effectiveness and durability of the Covid vaccines and concerned about the lack of medium- and long-term safety data, but I think of myself as a ‘vaccine sceptic’ rather than an ‘anti-vaxxer’ – and even that is over-stating it, as I’ve got nothing against the MMR. Nevertheless, you can bet your bottom dollar that if I was hospitalised with the virus I would be branded a “leading anti-vaxxer” and pilloried accordingly. In the eyes of the vaccine enthusiasts, anyone who expresses the slightest smidgen of doubt is a science-denying ‘conspiracy theorist’ and if they’re laid low by COVID-19 that’s divine justice.

Worth reading in full, obviously.

Stop Press: I’ve just been interviewed by Brendan O’Neill for his podcast to mark the second anniversary of the Free Speech Union. You can listen that here.

Parents Fight Back Against Schools Ignoring the Easing of Plan B Restrictions

Parent group UsForThem has urged parents to fight back against teaching unions and over-zealous health authorities that have urged schools to ignore the easing of Plan B restrictions in schools. As of today, the Government has advised schools to drop the requirement that children should wear masks in classrooms and won’t have to wear masks in communal areas from January 27th. MailOnline has more.

Parents have launched a campaign to prevent “overzealous” schools from imposing masks in schools after teaching unions threatened to derail Boris Johnson’s easing of Covid curbs.

Head teachers in England are set to ignore the Prime Minister’s bonfire of Plan B restrictions by compelling pupils to wear face coverings in classrooms.

Britain’s big teaching unions have accused the embattled Tory leader of making the decision to save his own political career as he handles the fallout from ‘Partygate’, rather than basing it on “sound public health and scientific advice”.

The National Education Union warned against lifting Omicron measures “too quickly”, claiming it could lead to “more disruption” for schools.

Its general secretary Dr Mary Bousted called the removal of masks “premature’” adding: “Rather than announcements aimed at saving Boris Johnson’s job, (the) Government should be exercising a duty of care to the nation’s pupils and the staff who educate them.”

Geoff Barton, the ASCL’s boss, said: “There is a danger that we are heading once again for a situation in which the Government gives the impression that the crisis is over when in actual fact there is huge disruption continuing to take place in education.”

Parent group UsForThem, which campaigned to get classrooms reopened during the pandemic, has now urged its supporters to bombard MPs and ministers with letters to “stop overzealous local public health authorities from unilaterally implementing face masks in schools”.

Worth reading in full.

UsForThem has published a template letter on its website that parents can send to ministers in the Department for Education, copying in their MP, if their child’s school is still insisting they wear masks in classrooms.

Royal Society Report: Big Tech Should Not Censor Dissent

In a welcome injection of sanity into the debate about whether social media companies should remove content that challenges the the scientific establishment’s orthodoxy about climate change, lockdowns and the vaccines, a report from the Royal Society has concluded that the risks of censorship outweigh the benefits. The Financial Times has more.

Calls for social media sites to remove misleading content – for example about vaccines, climate change and 5G technology – should be rejected, according to the U.K.’s senior scientific academy.

After investigating the sources and impact of online misinformation, the Royal Society concluded that removing false claims and offending accounts would do little to limit their harmful effects. Instead, bans could drive misinformation “to harder-to-address corners of the internet and exacerbate feelings of distrust in authorities,” its report says.

In the UK there have been calls from across the political spectrum for Twitter, Facebook and other platforms to remove antivax posts. However, “clamping down on claims outside the consensus may seem desirable but it can hamper the scientific process and force genuinely malicious content underground”, said Frank Kelly, mathematics professor at the University of Cambridge who chaired the Royal Society inquiry.

He added that removing content and driving users away from mainstream platforms makes it harder for scientists to engage with people such as anti-vaxxers. “A more nuanced, sustainable and focused approach is needed,” he said.

While illegal content that incites violence, racism or child sex abuse must be removed, legal material that runs counter to the scientific consensus should not be banned, the report said. Instead there should be wide-ranging action to “build collective resilience” so that people can detect harmful misinformation and react against it.

“We need new strategies to ensure high quality information can compete in the online attention economy,” said Gina Neff, Professor of Technology and Society at the University of Oxford, and a co-author of the report. “This means investing in lifelong information literacy programmes, provenance-enhancing technologies and mechanisms for data sharing between platforms and researchers.”

The well informed majority can act as a “collective intelligence” guarding against misinformation and calling out inaccuracies when they come across them, said Sir Nigel Shadbolt, executive chair of the UK Open Data Institute and another co-author. “Many eyes can provide powerful scrutiny of content, as we see in Wikipedia,” he added.

Some fears about the amplification of misinformation on the internet – such as the existence of “echo chambers” and “filter bubbles”, which lead people only to encounter information that reinforces their own beliefs – have been exaggerated, the report found.

Worth reading in full and you can read a summary of the report here.

Stop Press: Dr. Vinay Prasad, an Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, has made a similar case in UnHerd, arguing that Joe Rogan should not be censored by Spotify for inviting Dr. Peter McCullough and Dr. Robert Malone on to his show. Dr. Prasad sets out what he thinks they got right and what he thinks they got wrong, but concludes that any attempt to suppress dissenting voices would be contrary to the principles of open scientific inquiry and would undermine public trust in science. Excellent piece. Worth reading in full.

Deaths Are Below Average For This Time of Year, According to ONS

Deaths in England and Wales were 7.8% below the five-year average for the week ending January 7th, ONS data show, in the latest sign that the pandemic is coming to an end. The Telegraph has more.

The fall remains even though the ONS has removed 2020 from its five-year average figure because the first year of the pandemic was so extreme.

When 2021 was also removed there were just 87 more deaths than expected, which experts said was “nothing unusual”, arguing that the 922 Covid deaths reported that week were being offset by fewer deaths from traditional winter killers such as flu.

The ONS figures also show that the virus was not the primary cause of death in nearly a quarter of the registered Covid deaths.

Prof Andrew Hayward, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said he expected the virus to settle into a seasonal pattern that will cause “much less disruption”.

“We may still get quite big winters of infection but not the sort of level where we can justify wholesale societal closedown,” Prof Hayward told Times Radio. “So I think it is genuinely an optimistic picture.”

For the U.K. as a whole, deaths were down 8.3%, with 1,255 fewer people dying than would normally be expected for the first week of January.

Worth reading in full.

Scotland’s Glorious Leader Nic Sturge-on Graciously Allows Pub Customers to be Served Standing Up

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has agreed to lift those Covid restrictions brought in to combat the Omicron variant, admitting the country is on the “downward slope” of infections. MailOnline has more.

From next Monday, January 24th, bars and restaurants will no longer only be able to serve customers seated at tables, while social distancing will also be removed.

Nightclubs will also be allowed to reopen as she sweeps away restrictions in place since before Christmas, while plans to extend the Covid passport scheme have been scrapped.

Attendance limits on indoor events will also be lifted – bringing them into line with outdoor events in a move that came into effect yesterday.

However baseline coronavirus measures in place before the Omicron wave will remain, including masks are still legally required indoors and on public transport.

The First Minister also announced the Scottish Government would not be expanding its vaccine certification scheme into new venues with the Tories demanding it be scrapped entirely.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament today, Ms Sturgeon said statistics showed a “significant fall” in new cases, though the NHS remained under “acute pressure”.

She said: “Taking all of this into account, and triangulating the various sources of data, allows us to say with some confidence that the rise in cases driven by Omicron peaked in the first week of January and that we are now on the downward slope of this wave of cases.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Daily Covid cases have dropped by 20%, week-on-week, and Sajid Javid hints that ‘Plan B’ restrictions will be “substantially reduced” next week. MailOnline has more.

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.