Will Jones

WHO Claims We’re Only at “Halfway Mark” of Pandemic and Warns Against Treating Covid Like Flu

The World Health Organisation has said we are only at the “halfway mark” of the pandemic and warned against treating Covid like flu, days after the Government said it intended to do just that. MailOnline has the story.

David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy for Covid, said the comparisons were irresponsible because they suggest coronavirus “has suddenly got incredibly weak”.

He told Sky News: “It can also mutate and form variants and we’ve seen several but we know there are more not far away. 

“So quite honestly, we are not saying that this should be considered to be like flu or indeed like anything else – it’s a new virus, and we must go on treating it as though it is full of surprises, very nasty and rather cunning.”

The official called on leaders to “stay focused on the job” as he claimed we were only at the “halfway mark” of the pandemic. 

Parallels between coronavirus and influenza are being drawn in the U.K. now that Omicron is causing around the same number of deaths as a bad flu season.    

Boris Johnson last week signalled his intention to lift isolation rules for Covid sufferers, highlighting that people with flu don’t legally have to quarantine. 

And Health Secretary Sajid Javid pointed to the U.K.’s falling case numbers and relatively low hospital rates as he said “we need to learn to live with Covid in the same way we have to live with flu”.

Asked about the comparisons, Dr. Nabarro told Sky News: “I keep wondering what the people who make these amazing predictions know that I and my colleagues in the WHO don’t know.

“You see, what people are seeing from around the world and reporting to the WHO is this is still a very, very dangerous virus, especially for people who have not been vaccinated and who’ve not been exposed to it before.”

Did you spot the factual error there, saying Omicron was causing the same number of deaths as a bad flu season when deaths in the most recent week were well below average?

Dr. Nabarro’s comments also make no sense in the U.K. context, as he refers to “people who have not been vaccinated and who’ve not been exposed to it before”, which refers to almost zero percent of the U.K. population.

Will they ever let the emergency end?

Worth reading in full.

2021 Less Deadly Than 2015, ONS Data Show

Many lockdown sceptics have recently been sharing statistics from the ONS showing that just 17,371 people died of Covid in England and Wales up to the end of September 2021 where COVID-19 was the only cause of death recorded on the death certificate. This compares to 148,536 official Covid deaths in the same period (also for England and Wales, as are the estimates below) where COVID-19 was mentioned as a cause of death somewhere on the death certificate. Separately, the Government dashboard reported 126,384 deaths recorded as occurring within 28 days of a positive Covid test in the same period, while the ONS reported 117,247 excess deaths.

A more recent response to a Freedom of Information request in January gives a figure of just 6,183 deaths, again where COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned on the death certificate, this time up to December 31st 2021. The reason for the difference in these two figures is likely to relate to the definition used – the first figure (17,371) came from a dataset on pre-existing conditions that has been published throughout the pandemic (so didn’t actually need an FOI request to provide the data) and the definition is stated in the dataset. The definition and source of the second figure (6,183) is not stated.

Either way, the figures are an order of magnitude lower than official Covid deaths – for example, 17,371 is just 12% of the official ONS tally of Covid deaths of 148,536 – and some sceptics have inferred from this that up to 90% of the official Covid deaths are not really Covid deaths, or at least were likely to have happened around that time anyway, and thus that the pandemic death toll has been hugely overstated.

Government Scraps Covid Tests for Travel – But Only For the Vaccinated, Despite Government Data Showing the Vaccinated Have Higher Infection Rates

Holidaymakers who are double-vaccinated will no longer have to take any Covid tests for travel abroad, Boris Johnson has said. The Telegraph has more.

Speaking on a visit to a hospital, the Prime Minister said that day two lateral flow tests – which are currently required for fully vaccinated people entering the U.K. – would be ditched, saving a family of four around £120. The changes are expected to come into effect at 4am on February 11th.

It follows the ending of pre-departure and PCR tests for vaccinated travellers earlier this month and will be seen as a major filip for the travel industry in advance of the February half-term break. …

Holiday firms have already reported a surge in bookings for half term after the easing of restrictions and in anticipation of further lifting of curbs.

Speaking ahead of a Covid-O cabinet committee meeting on Monday, Mr Johnson said the country was moving through the Omicron wave and “things are starting to get better”.

“On travel, to show the country is open for business, we will see changes that people no longer have to take tests if they are double-vaccinated,” he said during his visit to Milton Keynes University Hospital in Buckinghamshire. …

Bookings to all holiday destinations have already jumped by 67% on average compared with December 2021, according to analysts Skyscanner.

Some international and long-haul beach and sun destinations are seeing demand return to levels above that in 2019 before the pandemic, according to the company.

The destinations with the fastest growing bookings are Maldives (up 125%), Mexico (up 110%), Costa Rica (72%), Colombia (48%), and Tanzania (39%).

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “When it happens, it will be a terrific boost for the travel sector and crucially for consumers. It will mean cheaper holidays and business trips and the end of the testing nightmare the industry has faced for nearly two years.”

But why only the double-vaccinated? Nobody now pretends that two vaccine doses provides any kind of protection against Omicron infection. The UKHSA estimates vaccine effectiveness of two doses against Omicron after six months of just 0-10%. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has stated that two doses are “not enough for Omicron… We have seen with a second dose very clearly that the first thing that we lost was the protection against infections”. Government data show infection rates in the double vaccinated have been considerably higher than in the unvaccinated across most age groups for some months. Where then is the evidence behind this continued restriction on the unvaccinated? This has no scientific basis, is now solely to add coercive pressure to the unvaccinated to get the jab, and should be dropped.

Worth reading in full.

Macron Says, “No Vaxx, No Citizenship” as France Unveils New, Stricter Vaccine Passports

We’re publishing today a piece by Josie Appleton on the introduction in France today of the beefed-up vaccine passports and how they signify the almost mystical role the vaccines have taken on during the pandemic. Josie – who is author of Toxic Sociality – Reflections on a Pandemic and Officious – Rise of the Busybody State – sees in this an undermining of medical ethics that only harms vaccination itself.

Here’s a taster:

The vaccine passport is a citizenship test for a morally and politically vacuous age. It is entirely passive – it is the simple act of consenting to a medical procedure, after which you are crowned with a civic virtue. This is a citizenship test that occurs on the level of what the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben calls “bare life”; that is, it is a question of merely biological existence, rather than a question of how a life is lived. Receiving a vaccine pass is mute; there are no words, there is no oath of allegiance to party, country or leader. You offer your body and receive a QR code in return: this is the nature of the new social contract between citizen and state. “Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate” is the mantra for reconstituting authority and society in an age where this authority cannot be grounded on a substantial social basis.

The vaccine is being treated as a mystical state or collective substance that incorporates people into the collective body. Vaccination now is like a sacrament, a transubstantiation ritual; through the vaccine we are receiving the body of the state into our body and therefore joining the community.

One casualty in this is vaccination itself. Considered scientifically, a vaccine – as with any drug – is not a protective talisman or means for membership of a community. It is a medical product with particular qualities and uses, and particular side effects and risks. It may be useful for some groups but not others, and in some contexts but not in others. The rational use of a drug is as important as the drug itself, to ensure that it is directed towards the appropriate ends.

The ideological weaponisation of vaccines distorts these cost-benefit judgements. The vaccine is forced upon people who have little or no need of it, such as children and those with natural immunity, while ignoring those who have need of it. (The older and more vulnerable someone is, the less they are affected by vaccine passports.)

This episode is violating the very basis of health and medical ethics. Through vaccination passports and mandates, it has become acceptable to force someone to take a medical treatment, even a treatment that is not really in their medical interest. When Jean Castex boasted that the vaccine passport led to a rise in people getting their first vaccination, the interviewer pointed out “but they were forced”. Castex shrugged. In normal times, medical force is unacceptable; medical force means the Nazis. When France began vaccinating a year ago, it insisted upon consent forms and pre-vaccine interviews to ensure that people were really consenting. Now, the use of force has become entirely acceptable, it has become ethical in fact. It is the duty of the state to get people to do their duty.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

If you have any tips for inclusion in the round-up, email us here.

The Day Lockdown Was Invented

Today, January 23rd, is the day, in 2020, when the world changed as China first implemented in Wuhan the novel public health policy that has come to define the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously regarded as impossible, ineffective and far too harmful to be ethically acceptable, humanity now faces the prospect of lockdowns as a constant threat in the face of future outbreaks of contagious disease.

Initially in 2020 seen as something distinctively Chinese in its authoritarian harshness, within days the World Health Organisation had cast aside its own pandemic rulebook and held the Chinese response up as a model to the world. When Italy and then other countries followed suit in the ensuing weeks it was with the full backing and support of the WHO. Very soon, it became those few countries, like Sweden and the U.K., who refused to implement this novel and unscientific intervention who were regarded as irresponsible outliers. Almost all would fall in line.

Somehow, in the coming months and years, the damage done to humanity through acceptance of this vastly disproportionate and ineffective response to contagious disease needs to be undone and lockdown as a public health intervention consigned to history.

Glorious Leader Nic Sturge-on Refuses to Rule Out Mask Wearing For Years and Attacks England as ‘Outlier’

Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said mask rules could remain in place for years as they are “not the biggest handicap” people are having to endure. MailOnline has more.

Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland’s mask rules could remain in place for years to come if they help the fight against Covid today – as she blasted Boris Johnson‘s decision to axe most restrictions from this week.

The First Minister said that face coverings were “not the biggest handicap” that people were having to endure as the country attempts to recover from Covid.

A range of measures introduced on Boxing Day to deal with the Omicron variant will be scrapped from tomorrow, but laws making masks mandatory in shops and other settings with [sic] remain.

In contrast, the Prime Minister has unveiled a bonfire of almost all restrictions in England by March, including guidance on masks.

Asked on the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme today if she can see people wearing masks for “months or years to come”, in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said:

“I hope not. I don’t want any of these measures to be in place for any longer than is necessary. But masks … are something we can do. None of us enjoy wearing them but they are perhaps not the biggest handicap to endure in order to try to stem transmission. So while they can make a difference to controlling the virus then I think it is something we should do. Again I would suggest that it is England that is the outlier here, not Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, or many countries across the world.”

Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery, Murdo Fraser said:

“Nicola Sturgeon still can’t bring herself to admit the restrictions she imposed over Christmas were unnecessary. The SNP are quick to impose Covid rules but far too slow in getting vital funding to businesses. It’s shameful that so many small companies are still waiting to receive a single penny. It’s baffling that Nicola Sturgeon plans to continue with the vaccine passport scheme even though she can’t point to any hard evidence showing it’s effective.” …

From tomorrow, bars and restaurants in Scotland 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.

In contrast in England, Mr Johnson last week announced plans to scrap all Covid restrictions by the spring.

Plan B will also be ditched as the Omicron wave continued to recede.

The under-fire PM ended working from home with immediate effect, with the remaining Omicron-fighting measures – Covid passports and compulsory face masks – to be dropped from Thursday in an attempt to win back the support of Tory MPs and voters following the Partygate row.

He also laid out his intentions to remove all remaining Covid laws by March 24th, including basic measures like mandatory self-isolation for positive cases and the requirement to give your address to NHS Test and Trace if you have Covid.

Scotland’s approach is similar to Wales’s, where even ‘Alert Level Zero’ retains the mask mandate, vaccine passports and self-isolation laws. Will they ever let it be over?

Worth reading in full.

NHS Vaccine Mandate “To Be Delayed”

The NHS vaccine mandate is likely to be “kicked down the road”, a Whitehall source has told the Telegraph, amid demands by Conservative MPs for it to be scrapped entirely. The Telegraph has the story.

Compulsory Covid vaccines for NHS workers would be delayed for six months, under eleventh-hour plans being considered by Boris Johnson to help quell a seismic revolt among Tory MPs.

On Saturday night, just two weeks before the NHS is due to begin sacking staff who have not had a jab, a Whitehall source said that the requirement is likely to be “kicked down the road”, amid demands by Conservative backbenchers for it to be dropped entirely. …

All frontline NHS staff are required to have had two jabs by April 1st, but more than 80,000 – 6% of the workforce – remain unvaccinated.

The plan being considered at senior levels of Government is to overhaul the requirement so that staff would, in theory, be required to have their booster too. The deadline would also be delayed by six months, ostensibly to give workers time to get their third jab. Such a delay is likely to reassure some MPs opposed to the move that it will ultimately not transpire.

It was starting to feel inevitable, but it’s good to see signals appearing. Now we just need to see it permanently scrapped, and the care home mandate removed as well.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

If you have any tips for inclusion in the round-up, email us here.

Royal College of GPs Calls For Cancellation of NHS Vaccine Mandate as Thousands March in Protest

The NHS vaccine mandate should be cancelled to prevent staff shortages, the Royal College of GPs has said, as thousands took to the streets across England to protest against the policy. The BBC has more.

NHS staff must have a first jab by February 3rd and be fully vaccinated by April 1st to continue in frontline roles.

The Department of Health said there were no plans to delay and it was “the right thing to do to protect patients”.

NHS workers who oppose the Government’s mandatory vaccination policy have staged a protest in central London.

Demonstrations were also held in other cities across England including Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds. …

Martin Marshall, Chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said compulsory vaccination for health professionals in England was “not the right way forward”.

He said the vast majority of staff were vaccinated but some 70,000 to 80,000 were not and they accounted for 10% of staff at some hospital or GP surgeries.

Some 94.3% of NHS trust health care workers in England have had a first dose of vaccine and 91.5% have had a second dose, figures to December 31st show.

If unvaccinated staff were taken out of frontline roles by April 1st there would be “massive consequences” for the NHS, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He said a delay would allow time for booster jabs and a “sensible conversation” about whether vaccines should be mandatory at all.

Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said some frontline staff would have to leave their roles if they choose not to be vaccinated.

He said: “This will reduce frontline NHS staff numbers even further and lead to more gaps in capacity at a time of intense pressure and patient demand.”

In London, demonstrators marched from Regents Park to the BBC headquarters in Portland Place in a peaceful protest against mandating vaccines for health workers.

But Dr. Nikki Kanani, medical director of primary care for NHS England, said health care professionals had “a duty” to make sure they were protected.

She said: “If you’re marching today, just take a moment, think about the people that you’ve been looking after who have experienced Covid, think about your colleagues who you’ve been working with, and think about the best way to make sure that we’re all protected, and that we’re all as safe as possible, because we are very much in this together and it’s down to us to look after each other too.”

Meanwhile, Kate, a nurse in Hampshire, told the Today programme she was prepared to lose her job rather than have a coronavirus vaccine against her will.

“I don’t feel like the vaccination needs to be mandated because we are medical professionals and we have enough information to make that decision for ourselves,” she said.

“When I had Covid I was ill but not particularly unwell and when it comes to me being forced to do something or lose my job, I just can’t understand how they think that’s a sensible position. I’m good at my job, I care about people, and I certainly have never and would never put people at risk.”

Pressure growing on the Government to U-turn on this, which can’t come too soon. With the evidence that Omicron both evades the vaccines and is mild, what justification there might have been has now clearly evaporated. Perhaps the Government is leaving the U-turn to the last moment in order to maximise the pressure on unvaccinated staff to accept the jab. Which is of course cruel, but then so is the policy so we can hardly expect them to care about that.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: talkRADIO has tweeted about the protests taking place today in London and across the country: “Thousands of people have gathered in central London to protest against the mandatory vaccine mandate that could see more than 70,000 NHS workers lose their jobs.