Face Masks

Vaccine Passports, Mask Mandates and Another Lockdown All on the Cards If Covid Infections Don’t Stay Low This Winter

Just days after it led the public into believing that plans for vaccine passports were off the table, the Government has announced that they will be introduced – along with mask mandates and potentially another full lockdown – if booster jabs and vaccines for healthy teenagers fail to keep Covid infections down this winter. Laying out its new plans, the Government said it is “committed to taking whatever action is necessary to protect the NHS”. MailOnline has the story.

Fronting a press conference alongside Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, the Prime Minister insisted that the U.K. was “incomparably” better placed to deal with the disease this year.

He said he hoped the situation could be kept stable with more jabs and the public behaving sensibly – although ministers have made clear another lockdown cannot be completely ruled out.

Professor Whitty gave a more downbeat assessment saying that infections were “high” relative to last year, and the NHS was under “extreme pressure” even though vaccines were helping significantly.

Meanwhile, Sir Patrick seemed to send a thinly-veiled message to Mr. Johnson by saying that when it comes to measures to stem cases the lesson was “you have to go earlier than you want to, you have to go harder than you want to”. …

Earlier, Sajid Javid was heckled by Tories admitting that ministers can only give Britons the “best possible chance” of avoiding brutal curbs.

In a statement to MPs, he stressed that vaccines can help “build defences’ against the disease, with boosters for the over-50s and jabs for under-16s starting next week.

But Mr Javid was hit with howls of rage from Conservatives in the Commons as he said the blueprint includes the ‘Plan B’ of making masks compulsory “in certain settings”, more working from home and social distancing if the NHS is under threat.

Vaccine passports will be kept “in reserve” and could be introduced in England with a week’s notice, even though they will not go ahead from next month as originally intended. …

The Winter Plan document lays out the details of ‘Plan A’ and ‘Plan B’. But although it does not go into detail about other contingencies, it states that further steps cannot be ruled out.

“While the Government expects that, with strong engagement from the public and businesses, these contingency measures should be sufficient to reverse a resurgence in autumn or winter, the nature of the virus means it is not possible to give guarantees,” the document says.

“The Government remains committed to taking whatever action is necessary to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed but more harmful economic and social restrictions would only be considered as a last resort.”

Worth reading in full.

Ministers Considering Bringing Back Mask Mandates

Reports suggest that ministers are concerned by the supposed lack of people wearing face masks, despite telling Brits it is now a matter of personal choice, and are considering reintroducing mandates for indoor public spaces if “things are getting increasingly difficult in the NHS” this winter. The Mail has the story.

Ministers are now concerned by falling compliance in supermarkets, trains and buses amid rising infection levels. Yesterday there were another 37,622 Covid cases and 147 deaths.

There are also 8,098 patients in hospital with the virus – a six-month high and a rise of 6% in a week.

Although Government sources insist a mask mandate is not imminent, the fact it is being considered will concern Tory backbenchers.

They are already angry at being asked to renew the emergency Covid powers that allow ministers to impose restrictions.

A source said: “We are looking to strengthen guidance on masks if it gets to the point where things are getting increasingly difficult in the NHS.

“We expect and recommend that members of the public continue to wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet – for example, on public transport.”

Next week the Prime Minister will publish a winter Covid plan, expected to include plans for coronavirus vaccine booster shots and the biggest flu jab roll-out in history to ease pressure on the NHS. 

But at the same time he will urge MPs to extend the 2020 Coronavirus Act which gives ministers the powers to bring back restrictions if cases rise to unsustainable levels. 

Steve Baker, Deputy Chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of anti-lockdown Tory MPs, said he would vote against any extension to “egregious” Covid powers. …

“Once again the Government isn’t willing to give up powers once they have been gained.” …

Mr. Johnson has told ministers another lockdown is out of the question and has ordered the Government to do everything possible to avoid future restrictions.

Worth reading in full.

Rotherham School Defying Government With Strict Covid Rules

Children at the Wales high school in Rotherham can only dream of returning to normal school life, with mask-wearing outside of the classroom and a ban on different year groups mixing continuing into the future. “We’ve got to remember that Covid is still here,” says Headteacher Pepe Di’Iasio. The Guardian has the story.

Rotherham… is currently one of the most infected areas in England and Di’Iasio is worried that the cases will increase with the beginning of the academic year, as university students return to Sheffield. “There is going to be an influx of people to the area that has one of the highest rates in South Yorkshire,” he said. “And so we wanted to establish some routines that can be maintained for the next three or four weeks. If things go well, we will scale those routines back rather than bring new routines in.”

Di’Iasio said that the stricter measures have been met with support from staff and parents, but he thinks it will be a learning curve for the pupils, especially those arriving from primary schools who did not have to wear masks before. “When students have to have a mask on all the time it is an easy rule to maintain, whereas now they have to remember to put their mask on when they leave the classroom,” he said. …

“With the face masks during lessons it was harder to learn the names or tell who is misbehaving. Many pupils would be agitated towards the end of the class,” said Grace Stansfield, a languages teacher at the school. “And especially when teaching languages, it is useful for the children to see you speak.” Like other staff members, Stansfield hopes that the school’s current measures will prevent a return to the stricter regime from last year.

The Guardian throws its weight behind the enforcement of strict measures at the school by quoting from a number of students who seem to be happy to carry on wearing face masks.

“The masks can be irritating, but they are there for protection,” said Alistair Daoud, a year 12 pupil who has lost his grandmother due to the virus. “I would rather wear a face mask than lose 12 days of valuable learning time for isolation.” However, Alistair is glad that he will only have to wear a mask outside the classroom, as he found it distracting during lessons. Many of his teachers agree with him.

Worth reading in full.

Face Masks Don’t Work Against Respiratory Viruses. So Why Did so Many Public Authorities Impose Mask Mandates?

There’s an excellent piece on the Swiss Policy Research blog, aka the Swiss Doctor, trying to puzzle out why the world fell for the face mask folly. It comes up with 10 reasons. Here are the first four.

1) The droplet model

Many ‘health authorities’ have relied on the obsolete ‘droplet model’ of virus transmission. If this model were correct, face masks would indeed work. But in reality, respiratory droplets – which by definition cannot be inhaled – play almost no role in virus transmission. Instead, respiratory viruses are transmitted via much smaller aerosols, as well as, possibly, some object surfaces. Face masks don’t work against either of these transmission routes.

2) The Asian paradox

During the first year of the pandemic, several East Asian countries had a very low coronavirus infection rate, and many ‘health experts’ falsely assumed that this was due to face masks. In reality, it was due to very rapid border controls in some countries neighbouring China as well as a combination of metabolic and immunologic factors that reduced transmission rates. Nevertheless, many East Asian countries eventually got overwhelmed by the coronavirus, too (see charts below).

3) The Czech mirage

In the spring of 2020, the Czech Republic was one of the first European countries that introduced face masks. Because the Czech infection rate initially stayed low, many ‘health experts’ falsely concluded that this was due to the masks. In reality, most of Eastern Europe simply missed the first wave of the epidemic. A few months later, the Czech Republic had the highest infection rate in the world, but by then, much of the world had already introduced face mask mandates.

4) Fake science

For decades, studies have shown that face masks don’t work against respiratory virus epidemics. But with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and increasing political pressure (see below), suddenly studies appeared claiming the opposite. In reality, these studies were a mixture of confounded observational data, unrealistic modelling and lab results, and outright fraud. The most influential fraudulent study was a WHO-mandated meta-study published in The Lancet.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Scroll down here for a list of 30 studies that show face masks are useless.

Brit Sentenced to Six Weeks in Prison in Singapore for Not Wearing a Face Mask

A British man who refused to wear a face mask on public transport in Singapore and who reportedly harassed the police sent to arrest him for breaking Covid rules has been sentenced to six weeks in prison in the country. He has been charged, in part, for being a ‘public nuisance’. The Guardian has the story.

The city-state, which has had comparatively mild Covid outbreaks, has taken a tough line against people breaking virus rules, and there have been several cases of foreigners being punished.

Benjamin Glynn was arrested after footage of him not wearing a mask on a train in May went viral.

The 40 year-old subsequently harassed police sent to arrest him, and refused to wear a face-covering during a court appearance last month.

According to reports, Glynn delivered a rant in court – in which he described the proceedings as “preposterous” and “disgusting” – and said masks were not effective in preventing the spread of Covid.

This prompted the judge to order a psychiatric assessment, but Glynn was deemed fit enough for the case to continue.

On Wednesday, he was convicted for breaching Covid rules, his behaviour towards police, and causing a public nuisance.

A court official confirmed the jail term to AFP on Thursday, saying it was backdated to July 19th – the date when Glynn was first remanded.

As he had already served two-thirds of his sentence on remand, Glynn was freed from prison Wednesday and will be deported, according to local newspaper the Straits Times. …

In May, nine Britons were banned from working in Singapore after breaking coronavirus rules while partying on a yacht in Santa hats.

Worth reading in full.

Vaccine Passports Are Back in Israel

Vaccine passports are back in Israel, little more than 11 weeks after Jerusalem-based writer Arieh Kovler wrote in the Spectator: “The scaremongers who said that vaccine certificates would be some lasting form of social control were wrong.” From today, Israelis over the age of three must show proof of vaccination against Covid or of a negative test to be allowed into indoor public spaces, except for malls and stores. Mask mandates are also back, including for large outdoor gatherings. Haaretz has the story.

Children between the ages of three and 12 will be entitled to receive free rapid antigen swab tests. Those aged 12 and up who are not vaccinated will have to pay for their own tests. Around 220 testing stations will operate throughout the country to carry out these tests, and more will be added according to demand, the Health Ministry said. Results from the rapid antigen swab tests are available in 15 minutes, and a negative result grants a Green Pass valid for 24 hours.

The requirement to present proof of immunity will be applied in most sectors of the economy and public and private institutions, including swimming pools, gyms, academic institutions, all cultural and sporting events, conferences and exhibitions, museums, libraries, restaurants, and hotels. 

However, the Green Pass will not apply to summer school programs, so that parents will not have to test their children every day as a condition of participation.

Starting Wednesday, the number of participants at events will be limited to 1,000 people in enclosed spaces and 5,000 at outdoor events without assigned seating. At events in private homes, where proof of immunity won’t be required, the attendance limit will be set at 50 in enclosed spaces and at 100 in open ones. There will be no limit on crowd sizes at events with assigned seating, but these events will also require proof of immunity.

The renewed requirement for vaccine passport checks comes amid fears over the Delta Covid variant, reports the Guardian.

After its launch in December, Israel’s widely praised vaccination drive helped to drastically bring down infections. But that trend has since reversed, driven by the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of the virus, with restrictions that were lifted in June reimposed since July. …

About one million Israelis have not been vaccinated even though they are eligible.

According to the Health Ministry, more than 8,700 people tested positive for Covid on Tuesday, the highest number for a single day since January.

The Haaretz report is worth reading in full.

The Heresy of Heresies

by Charlotte Niemiec

During the Great Plague of London in the 1600s, an increasingly panicked and ignorant Government battled to contain a disease that ripped indiscriminately through the populace and ordered the slaughter of all the city’s cats. With no understanding of the disease’s origins or how it spread, these unfortunate feline scapegoats were believed to be the vectors of disease. But while the cull – in context – can be forgiven, the consequences were catastrophic; it obliterated, in one fell swoop, the creatures whose instinct it was to keep the city’s rat numbers at bay. The rodent population boomed, along with the fleas that fed on them, giving the bacterium that caused the plauge –Yersinia pestis – a freer run than it had ever had.

The tale may be anecdotal but, almost four centuries later, it serves as a fitting analogy to onlookers of the current U.K. Government as it flails around in an attempt to get a handle on a disease not far off one hundred times less deadly.

Have we lost our heads? The Government has metaphorically (for now – the idea has in fact been mooted) culled the cats, abandoning logic and taking the most counterintuitive course of action available to it at almost every turn. To begin with, it shelved its ready-made pandemic plan in preference for a never-before-tried-or-tested lockdown regime. Not once, in the history of pandemics – including bubonic plague – have we quarantined healthy people. But for this disease, with its roughly 99.7% survival rate, it was done without question. And the people nodded.

To protect the elderly, our NHS turned them away from hospitals and returned them to their virus-infested care homes, slapping a DNR where it thought it could get away with it – presumably to reduce the pressure on a ‘national’ health service that all but closed its doors to anyone without the disease, while imploring those with symptoms not to pay them a visit. And the people clapped.

To safeguard the vulnerable, the Government commissioned the development of a ‘vaccine’, to be trialled, tested and injected at the speed of light. No matter the consequences – the suspicious post-jab deaths, the eyebrow-raising adverse reactions, the diminishingly small efficacy rate – we are told the jab is ‘safe’ and we all must have it ‘for the greater good’. And the people queued.

The media largely ran with the Government line (and the Government’s money), no matter that the more important, more explosive stories lay on the other side of the debate; were those that rooted out the insanity, that questioned the narrative, that protected our freedoms. And the people believed it.

To further ensure its fully-vaccinated majority really is ‘safe’, the Government will now insist on a ‘vaccine passport’ to protect it from the great unvaccinated. This contradictory move is necessary, it argues, regardless of the current evidence suggesting the vaccine does not prevent infection, does not prevent transmission, may not reduce symptoms and so, logically, a vaccine passport has no scientific or medical justification. The powers that be continue to rescind more and more of our freedoms. And the people cheer.

The Government is now cycling through its tactical playbook to tempt, threaten, manipulate or blackmail the ‘selfish Covidiot anti-vaxxers’ at any cost. Some of its members resort to insults, others promise ‘kebabs for jabs’. Still others threaten to take away our fun if we don’t do as we’re told. Most of those hesitant to ‘get a vaccine’ regard such blatant and patronising coercion as ever more suspicious and double down on their conviction. A more sensible course of action, but one that the Government has not provided, is evidence that the vaccine is safe in both the short- and long-term, for every subset of the population, whether pregnant, on other medication, an allergy sufferer, prone to blood clots or heart problems. Nor has it been able to offer a compelling reason for those unlikely to be seriously affected by the disease to get a medical treatment that won’t prevent them catching it or spreading it. And the people castigate these vaccine hesitant foot-draggers.

Despite pitching Covid as a global pandemic – and therefore a worldwide problem requiring mass vaccination to ‘get us out of the mess’ – the U.K. Government has shown little solidarity with its international counterparts by sharing the spoils of war and is instead insisting on the vaccination of those so far down this disease’s pecking order as to be laughable, if it wasn’t so horrifying. Children, who rarely – if ever – transmit or suffer with Covid, are next in the firing line, despite the risks. And the people rejoice.

Primary school science teaches us that we can ward or fight off respiratory viruses by maintaining healthy immune systems, aided by fresh air, exercise and nutrition. It stands to reason then that the Government thought the best response to the crisis was to confine citizens to their homes, criminalise serious exercise, ‘fix it’ so that only fast food companies could viably function by delivering negligible nutrients to your door and then implement an ‘eat out to help out’ scheme that encouraged us to consume even more fat, sugar and chemicals for the good of the economy. And the people complied.

Next, the Government mandated face masks. Roundly rejecting their use at the beginning of the spread, it instead ushered them in after the first wave was over, in the heat of last summer, as Covid was, it was hoped, on its way out. Until then, SAGE members had repeatedly insisted that masks did more harm than good, that there was no scientific evidence available to back up their efficacy – and certainly not homemade masks hastily constructed from withered t-shirts. But, as Laura Dodsworth points out in her book A State of Fear, as the panic subsided and the Government felt its control slipping away, the masks served to remind us to be fearful, that ‘there’s a global pandemic on, you know?‘. The line changed. Masks now ‘overwhelmingly’ helped to prevent transmission and a naked face in public was a loaded weapon. And the people ceded control.

* * *

Being generous, we could blame an incompetent Government blindsided by a ‘pandemic’ that hit just as it was popping the cork on finally ‘getting Brexit done’. But the actions it took went beyond naïvety and entered the realms of the Kafka-esque nonsensical. The last 18 months have been those of U-turns and false predictions followed by denials; hirings and firings of ‘experts’ paid to find or fabricate the evidence to fit the theory; promises to follow ‘the science’, to go by ‘data not dates’ – and then do the opposite. The mainstream media has refused to ask tough questions, social platforms have censored anything that doesn’t fit the fear narrative, scientists and medics and employees across the spectrum have lost their jobs and reputations for daring to speak out or refuse injection. The nurses on the ‘front line’ who worked around the clock last year without a vaccine will now be fired if they choose not to have one. This is their reward. The elites have flourished while the proles festered.

Much blame should be laid at the Government’s door for frightening its citizens and turning them into nodding, clapping, cheering automatons. But the people are not themselves entirely blameless, and tyranny does not operate in a vacuum. We are responsible for collectively swallowing the lies, the deceit, the buried evidence, the false predictions, the censored questions, the fairy tales told from Rose Gardens dreamed up in Barnard Castles in the air. Gullible en masse, we have refused to believe the evidence of our eyes, dropping last week’s headlines down the memory hole in favour of the latest scare, forgetting that the Government promised no further lockdowns, no vaccine passports, no jabbing of the under-18s, abandoning that most precious of resources: common sense. Why?

In the now oft-quoted Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith considers that:

In the end, the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it… the heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?

What then, indeed. If we are to regain control of our minds, to reassert our rights – to bodily autonomy, to question authority, to protest against tyranny – and claw back our freedoms and roam where we will, we must stand firm, speak out and reject the Party line. Because, as Winston determines: “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”

Charlotte Niemiec is a freelance journalist.

Assembling Covid Jigsaw Pieces Into a Complete Pandemic Picture

by Anthony Brookes

Abstract

  • A series of SARS-CoV-2 variants have arisen, many of which possessed a transient selective advantage that led to a wave of infection that peaked some three-to-four months later. Several such variants have spread globally, though different successful variants have arisen simultaneously in a number of countries. The result is a three-to-four month wave pattern per country, which is also apparent globally.
  • Seasonality affects variant transmissibility. Colder seasons accelerate the growth and increase the size of waves, but the continually changing environment may also differentially affect the relative transmissibility of competing variants (i.e., negatively as well as positively), thereby helping to terminate previously dominant variants and promote the growth of new ones. 
  • Overall there is a minimal positive impact from quarantine policy, isolation requirements, Test and Trace regimes, social distancing, masking or other non-pharmaceutical interventions. Initially, these were the only tools in the tool-box of interventionist politicians and scientists. At best they slightly delayed the inevitable, but they also caused considerable collateral harms.  
  • Immunity created by SARS-CoV-2 infection, layered on top of pre-existing immunity due to cross-immunity to other coronaviruses, provides good protection against infection, severe disease/death, and being infectious. Immunity created by vaccination also helps protect against serious disease and death, but does little or nothing to provide protection against infection or being infectious (which completely negates the case for vaccine ID cards). 
  • Population immunity stems mainly from natural infections, with vaccines adding only slightly to this (and only in recent months). Population immunity is created by societal waves of infection and is somewhat variant-specific. An emerging new variant is able to infect (or re-infect) some fraction of individuals and this serves to top up and broaden the scope of our population immunity to also protect against the new variant. 
  • This empirical and data-driven understanding of the pandemic allows us to make predictions. Such predictions don’t look good for some of the U.K.’s new Green List countries. But in these and all other places the ongoing arms-race between viral mutations and growing human immunity will always eventually be won by the human immune system. The virus then becomes a low-level endemic pathogen in equilibrium with its human host species. If this were not the case all humans would have been wiped out by viruses eons ago!

For the past one and a half years, experts and amateurs alike have been trying to understand the Covid pandemic, hoping to be able to defend against it and predict how it will develop and end. A multitude of uncertainties has led to an environment of fear, and regrettably, that fear has been exaggerated and employed to justify policies that may or may not have been effective but were uncomfortably authoritarian. Perhaps it had to be this way, given that no one had a working crystal ball (not least the computer modellers) and yet people at all levels needed to feel they had some degree of control over the situation. The sad truth, however, is that our leaders, scientists and the public have basically been stumbling through the Covid quagmire, challenged by complexities of subjective data interpretation, imperfect modelling, political machinations, hidden agendas and unhelpful human egos.

Here, I attempt to pull together an empirical and rational summary of the underlying driving forces behind the whole pandemic. This is aided by the fact that modern genetic technologies have enabled extensive virus testing and variant detection, while vaccines and lockdowns have been applied to very different degrees in different countries thereby giving us many alternatives scenarios and empirical observations for direct comparison. From this, it becomes increasingly clear which factors did and did not truly drive the dynamics of the pandemic.

A central conclusion has to be that despite all our efforts, this SARS-Cov-2 virus has done what it was always determined to do. It spread across populations via waves of infection, and like ripples of water from a dropped stone these waves have been remarkably evenly spaced (by three-to-four months). This repeating pattern of rises and falls in virus prevalence has remained sufficiently synchronised across the planet to be apparent in the global death chart.

To make sense of this picture we need to consider the box of jigsaw pieces from which it can be constructed – that is, the range of factors that are driving (alone or in combination) the ability of the virus to spread well for a while before then losing that ability (operationally even if not innately), with uncanny regularity.

First up has to be the ‘virus variant’ piece of the puzzle. Time and time again we have seen new variants emerge which progressively displaced the previously dominant variant(s). As soon the ‘Wuhan’ variant began spreading around the globe, the forces of mutation and natural selection created an array of more transmissible strains that quickly supplanted the original strain. Many countries saw numerous variants competing with each other to achieve dominance, and several of these variants spread between countries. But within less than six months this initial ‘battle of the variants’ settled down to a far smaller number of the most transmissible variants which started to spread and dominate worldwide. Obvious examples include the Spanish variant (20A.EU1) of last summer/autumn, followed and displaced in many places by the U.K. variant (Alpha) just three-to-four months later over the autumn/winter/spring. And now three-to-four months after that, the Indian variant (Delta) has been establishing itself as the major variant almost everywhere. It is thus apparent that waves are being driven by variants that have some selective advantage(s), but critically we need to understand what the mechanism is that creates this advantage.

One big clue comes from the fact that each variant wave, regardless of location, continues to respect the noted three-to-four-month time period. Theoretically, replacement sweeps could entail variants that possess no or very little transmissibility advantage over other/previous variants. However, given the way some variants have been seen to spread between countries and then replace whatever previously dominant variant(s) existed in those other places, we can conclude that increased variant transmissibility is a large puzzle piece in the overall Covid picture. But saying that some variants have a significant transmission advantage at certain time periods and settings does not mean that this advantage is an inherent or a permanent property of that variant. This is because transmissibility depends on many other pieces of the puzzle.

One such additional puzzle piece is seasonality. Seasons change significantly over the timeframe of a few months, which is compatible with the rate of change for Covid waves. This makes seasonality a good candidate as a second large section of the Covid picture. Seasonality is widely accepted to have helped truncate the first U.K. wave in spring 2020, as the weather warmed up from mid-March. It is also notable that variants that arrive in a country during winter lead to new wave peaks in a far shorter time frame than they do in summer. But variant-driven waves occur in all the seasons, including in warmer periods (e.g. the Delta variant arose in India and spread to many other summer localities). So the seasonality puzzle piece might partly work by differentially changing the effective transmissibility of each variant. Specifically, as the seasons change, an initially dominant variant might find itself no longer especially compatible with the altered environmental conditions (and/or the associated changes in human behaviours). Conversely, one of the myriad background variants being repeatedly re-created by random mutation (or recently imported) might instead now be most suited to the new seasonal conditions. This new variant would then inevitably embark on a rapid replacement sweep. This rather obvious model of how evolutionary selection must work in a changing environment also fits perfectly with the observation that the secondary attack rate (SAR) of a new variant is initially higher (~15% according to PHE) but then reduces over a few months (<10%), even though the genome sequence of that variant is constant.

Several additional factors could contribute to making a dominant, highly transmissible variant less transmissible and less prevalent. Lockdown supporters would undoubtedly rummage through the box of Covid jigsaw pieces for anything having the appearance of a quarantine policy, an isolation requirement, a Test and Trace regime, a masked face, or some social distancing behaviour. Objective evidence indicates that such Non-Pharmaceutical Intervention (NPI) measures may together have had a marginal net effect on the rate of viral transmission, but overall they completely failed to halt the progress of the pandemic (see here, here and here). Instead, by slightly reducing the ease with which infections occur, they simply slowed the average rate at which people became infected (e.g. even a 50% reduced exposure would mean it simply takes four instead of two visits to a crowded environment to become infected). We know they did something because the incidence of all other respiratory viruses has reduced dramatically over the course of the pandemic wherever such measures were applied (even in Australia, where Covid is all but absent). Most respiratory viruses have Ro values of less than two, and so suppression measures need only be mildly potent to push these Rt values below one. In contrast, SARS-CoV-2 has a far greater Ro (typically estimated as three-to-four, or even more) and so those same suppression measures will not so easily push the covid virus Rt below one. Furthermore, people instinctively act more defensively when they know the virus is spreading rapidly, and so there may be very little added benefit of lockdown-related measures over just letting people respond naturally. This would then explain why there is no obvious impact of lockdowns in any curves of virus prevalence over time, why studies are yet to convincingly demonstrate any significant beneficial effect of lockdowns or masking, why virus prevalence began falling in the U.K. before the November 2020 and before the January 2021 lockdowns, and why we witnessed nothing whatsoever of the pessimistically-predicted massive ‘Exit Wave’ after the U.K.’s ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19th, 2021. So perhaps we allow NPI jigsaw pieces to have a token role as supporting edge pieces in the jigsaw, so long as we never overlook the enormous collateral damage they also impose (past, present and future).

That leaves just one final type of jigsaw piece – population immunity. Building on pre-existing cross-immunity to other coronaviruses, immunity due to SARS-CoV-2 infection is superior to immunity generated by vaccination in that it defends against a broader range of variants and engenders good protection against infection, illness and infectiousness. By contrast, vaccines do little to stop a vaccinated individual from becoming infected or being infectious (see here and here) and whatever small benefit they may provide in terms of reducing transmissibility will merely delay the occurrence of infections, as explained above for NPIs. Vaccines are, thankfully, very good at reducing serious illness, hospitalisation and death, and so on that basis they are only well merited for use in old and vulnerable individuals. It is critical that the very significant limitations of vaccines regarding infection and transmission control are now widely advertised and understood, as this makes the idea of vaccine ID cards completely nonsensical in scientific terms – as well as highly discriminatory and illiberal. Vaccine safety profiles are an additional consideration.

Nevertheless, to some degree, the combined effect of vaccines and natural infection generates our overall level of population immunity, and this must be playing some role in terminating each variant wave every three-to-four months. Substantial population immunity in the U.K. was achieved by the initial Covid waves of spring 2020, as evidenced by its impact on the development of second waves later that year. The peaking of each Covid wave in all places has little or nothing to do with lockdown measures (as explained above). It also cannot have much to do with immunity generated purely by vaccination, given that the vaccinated individuals still catch and pass on the virus, and that many waves ended in 2020 before vaccination campaigns got underway. This leaves only population immunity as an explanation, working in concert with the seasonality effects described above. 

To fully understand the role of herd immunity in wave termination, one must recognise that while the level of population immunity achieved at any stage may be sufficient to suppress the spread of a dominant variant (whose SAR may also be falling due to seasonality effects), it may not be sufficient to restrain the next emerging variant (whose SAR would be temporarily high owing to partial immune evasion or seasonal advantage). The new variant may also arise and spread in somewhat different sub-sections of society (age, ethnicity, geography, etc.) than did the previously dominant variant. Thus, herd immunity would be expected to have to be topped up and broadened by a wave of further infections and re-infections in society, in order to bring each subsequent wave to an end. This seems to be what is happening, with each sequential wave being generally smaller and ending naturally despite fewer suppression measures being enforced as populations tire of having their lives and freedoms excessively restricted. This also fits with the fact that over 95% of U.K. adults and 80% of 16-24 year-olds now have detectable Covid antibodies, much of which comes from natural infection. Others will be immune without detectable levels of antibodies, and from prior infections and cross-coronavirus immunity. 

So overall we can be pretty sure that population immunity is now contributing to (and possibly directly causing) the ending of each wave of Covid infections. It certainly has lowered the Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) down to or below that of influenza for society as a whole, meaning that the vaccination of the young cannot now be medically or ethically justified (especially given the substantial known and unknown risks imposed by these novel genetic technology vaccines). A scientific consensus on herd immunity will presumably begin to emerge, as the data and jigsaw pieces all continue to fall into place. Indeed, even lockdown champion Professor Neil Ferguson recently confirmed that because we have now released all lockdown measures in the U.K., this latest wave “will peak because herd immunity has been reached”. And it has indeed now peaked!

Finally, with an essentially complete Covid jigsaw picture now assembled using an empirical data-driven approach, we can offer up some testable predictions. The first is that current Delta waves unfolding in different countries will reach natural peaks around three-to-four months after this variant arrived in each location. For example, considering countries recently added to the U.K.’s Green List, we would expect: Slovenia, Slovakia and Romania (where Delta arrived little more than one month ago) will see their nascent summer waves grow further and peak in about two months’ time; Latvia (where Delta has only just arrived) will face a multi-month wave starting very soon; and Austria, Germany and Norway (where Delta has already been present for several months) will likely see their summer waves peak around the end of August. NPIs will do little to change this, and neither will vaccines (see Israel for evidence of this).

The really big question, however, is whether or not Delta is the last major variant we will all have to deal with. SARS-CoV-2 and the human immune system are basically in an arms race. Population immunity increases and targets the latest variant, causing new variants with different immunological profiles and transmission advantages to rise in abundance, which in turn further strengthens and broadens our population immunity. Vaccines merely help accelerate this arms race. But the end of the war is always the same – the virus runs out of strategies a long time before the highly adaptable immune system runs out of defences. The virus then gives up and resigns itself to becoming a low-level endemic pathogen in equilibrium with its human host species. If this were not the case all humans would have been wiped out by viruses eons ago! What we do not know is whether Delta is that last throw of the dice for Covid, or whether one or a few more guises of troublesome variants will yet come along. If they do, from what we now know we should probably place more trust in our immune system than we have in previous waves. And in either case, we can be very sure we are far closer to a permanent and natural end of this pandemic than we are to its beginning.

Anthony Brookes is a Professor of Genomics and Health Data Science at the University of Leicester.

Sturgeon Won’t Rule Out Further Lockdowns, as Restrictions Partially Eased in Scotland

Restrictions have been partially eased in Scotland today, but it’s not all good news. Scots must continue to wear face masks on public transport and inside public spaces and, more worryingly, Nicola Sturgeon has refused to rule out introducing further lockdowns in the future, saying: “Keeping this virus under control depends on all of us continuing to do all of the sensible things I’ve been talking about.” She told BBC Breakfast (as quoted in the Guardian):

This has been a long, hard year-and-a-half, but we’ve got to continue to exercise care and caution – this virus is unpredictable, and I think it’s true that we underestimate it at our peril. …

Every fibre of my being hopes that the restrictions we are lifting today in Scotland will never, ever have to be imposed, and am I optimistic about that? Yes.

Can I guarantee it? Well, I could tell you that right now for the sake of an easier interview, but it wouldn’t be the right thing to say because keeping this virus under control depends on all of us continuing to do all of the sensible things I’ve been talking about.

We also know that this is a virus that has already mutated, new variants continue to be our biggest threat, so we’ve got to be careful and we’ve got to be realistic.

But I very much hope that all of that, coupled, of course, principally with the power of vaccination, will mean that never again do we have to face lockdowns.

Worth reading in full.

Universities to Continue Holding Online Lectures and Will Tell Students to Wear Face Masks and to Follow Social Distancing

Many students hoping to begin a normal university term this autumn will be disappointed to find that, while the Covid figures give cause for restrictions to be abandoned, very little will actually change from last year.

Almost all of the leading Russel Group universities have indicated that a proportion of their teaching will continue to be held online while students will still be expected to wear face masks on campuses and to continue social distancing. Not to mention the impending introduction of vaccine passports. The Sunday Times has the story.

The universities’ decision coincides with a clear fall in Covid cases. Even normally cautious scientists, such as Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London, said that lockdowns and other restrictive measures were unlikely to be needed again.

Of the leading 24 Russell Group universities, 20 said that a proportion of undergraduate teaching will continue to be held online.

Lord Baker of Dorking, the former Conservative Education Secretary, said the universities stance was “outrageous”, and that they must return to normal as a matter of urgency this autumn. “Pubs, cinemas, theatres and football matches have all opened without restrictions,” he said. “What’s different about universities?”

University College London, the London School of Economics, Imperial College, Cardiff and Leeds all said that lectures would continue to be held online.

Warwick, Nottingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh said they would offer “blended learning” – a mix of online and face-to-face teaching for classes, seminars and lectures – but were unable to guarantee how much in-person teaching students would receive. Nottingham said it hoped to restart full face-to-face teaching next year, “subject to the course of the pandemic”.

Demands that free masks and free PCR tests be handed out to students and used are being led by the Universities and Colleges Union, which is also demanding social distancing on campus and that students get double jabbed. …

Cambridge said most teaching would be in person, but that some would be online, with details to be confirmed. Oxford said it planned most learning in person “enhanced by online teaching” and said some exams would continue to be held online next year.

Students at Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool have already launched petitions calling for a full return to “normality in terms of teaching” and demanding fee refunds. At Manchester, where some of the strictest lockdowns took place, nearly 10,000 have signed. Many students are still waiting to hear details of how their degree courses are to be taught when term starts next month. …

The Department for Education said: “Education providers are able to shape their courses without restrictions on face-to-face provision.”

Worth reading in full.