Italy, Austria and Germany Could Be Added to “Green List” This Week

Reports suggest that more countries could be added to the Government’s “Green List” later this week, which would allow unvaccinated Brits to holiday abroad without needing to quarantine when back in the U.K. The MailOnline has the story.

Italy, Austria and Germany are among the potential destinations that appear to pose a low enough risk to be downgraded in a review due on Thursday.

The move could make life easier for Brits who are desperate to get away, but have yet to receive both doses. 

People who are double-jabbed are due to be exempted from having to self-isolate on return to “Amber List” countries from “Freedom Day” next Monday.

But they will have to prove they are fully vaccinated, and there fears of huge delays as the rules are eased. …

Meanwhile, Britons will still need to consider the restrictions that are being imposed by other countries – with many trying to stop the Delta – or Indian – variant being imported from the U.K. …

Experts have predicted that a dozen more countries could be added to the Green List – where vaccine status is not an issue for the restrictions in England – in a review on Thursday. 

Former BA strategist Robert Boyle told the Telegraph that Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Canada, Austria, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Taiwan now meet the criteria for the loosest controls.

That would bring the total on the Green List to 39, with any changes expected to take effect from next week. …

Under the new arrangements, travellers will still be required to fill out a passenger locator form with details of their home address.

They will also need to confirm they have booked a day two PCR coronavirus test. Border Force agents must insect [sic] the documents for passengers at passport control. However, airlines will be responsible for checking vaccination status.

Border officers have warned that the huge rise in bookings since the loosening was announced will mean long queues.

Before Covid, three-quarters of people who passed through the U.K.’s border did not require any documentation checks other than verifying that their identity matched their passport.

Lucy Moreton, Professional Officer for the ISU Immigration Union, representing frontline border staff, told the Times: “This decision will open up foreign travel to a large number of new travellers. But we are not set up to cope with that sort of demand. 

“There is no way that the border can maintain that level of checks as the number of travellers increase.

“We’ve got away with it so far because the number of travellers are so low. But even at this point we’re seeing queues of one to two hours. 

“From the number of bookings we’ve seen already, we’ll easily see three, four-hour queues when people start returning from their holidays.”

Worth reading in full.

Countries Are Using Money and Beer to Incentivise Covid Vaccination

In light of the persistent vaccine hesitancy among some people, governments around the world are considering a range of incentives to induce people go get jabbed (beyond, that is, preventing the unvaccinated from living a normal life).

An Australian pub has received backing from Prime Minister Scott Morrison to give vaccinated punters free pints, despite the Therapeutic Goods Administration previously turning these plans down due to rules about offering alcohol as an incentive to receive medicines. “It’s a sensible rule,” said Morrison. “But in these circumstances, the national interest is to get vaccinated.”

Free beer has also been suggested as an incentive for vaccination in America, where President Joe Biden said last month: “That’s right, get a shot, have a beer. Free beer for everyone 21 years or over to celebrate the independence from the virus.”

This, however, is all child’s play compared to the latest scheme being considered in Germany. Some of the country’s economists have urged the Government to give those who are unsure about being vaccinated €300 (£258) cash if they get ‘jabbed’! The Times has the story.

Officials say the effort is beginning to flag in many parts of the country because of falling demand. This has led to concerns that Germany could struggle to reach herd immunity, which is estimated to require vaccinating about 80% of people. That number is disputed and has risen with the dawn of more transmissible strains.

The scale of the problem was highlighted yesterday by a poll published in Die Welt, which found that 12% of Germans had no intention of being immunised and 18% had yet to make an appointment.

Opinions differ on how to win them around. Some politicians have suggested offering cinema, museum or swimming pool tickets, or setting up drop-in vaccination stands in football stadiums and shopping centres. The Health Ministry has held out the prospect of abolishing swathes of pandemic restrictions once enough people have been jabbed.

However, a number of economists have proposed a much more straightforward incentive: hard cash. “With a cash reward, people can immediately see the positive impact on their finances and are free to use the money according to their own preferences,” Jan Schnellenbach, Professor of Economics at the Brandenburg University of Technology, said. …

Nora Szech, an Economist at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, has calculated that a €500 bonus would raise the proportion of the population willing to be vaccinated to 90%.

Schnellenbach believes that €200 or €300 would be enough. “There are pointers in the academic literature, from laboratory and field experiments, that show you can achieve really quite big effects on people’s behaviour with this kind of sum,” he said.

Worth reading in full.

German R Number Has “No Direct Connection” With Lockdown, Say Researchers

Since the start of the pandemic, Germany has seen the lowest level of excess mortality of any major European country – just 4% according to the World Mortality Dataset. Is this because the country effectively suppressed the virus using lockdowns? A new research note suggests not.

Annika Hoyer, Lara Rad and Ralph Brinks – three researchers at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich – sought to compare the epidemic’s trajectory to the timing of lockdown measures. (Their paper is written in German, but you can translate it using Google.)

Hoyer and colleagues begin by noting that, due to changes in testing, case numbers are unsatisfactory for tracing the epidemic over time. They note, “Varying test behaviour should be understood here as the fact that in the course of the epidemic… the execution of tests has changed and changed very strongly, both temporally and regionally.”

They argue that the R number (the average number of people an infected individual transmits the virus to) provides a better guide to the epidemic’s trajectory. According to the authors, “The estimation of the R-value also involves some statistical difficulties, such as the necessary nowcasting, but the main disadvantage of the dependency on test behavior, which can imply large fluctuations, does not apply.”

Hence they plotted the R number over time, and looked for major changes or “breaks” in the series – as shown in the chart below:

The R number decreased dramatically in March of 2020. It rose slowly over the following six months (the apparent spike in the summer may be a random fluctuation due to the small number of cases at the time). It then rose more quickly in September, only to fall again in October. It fluctuated around 1 during the winter months, and has fallen since the start of April.

Given that Germany’s first lockdowns (which varied from state to state) were imposed around March 22nd, it’s clear that the initial decline in infections preceded them. (The statistician Simon Wood has argued that the same thing happened in Britain – i.e., infections were already declining when lockdowns came into force.)

Hoyer and colleagues point out that changes in the R number don’t seem to be correlated with the timing of winter lockdowns either. They note, “there has been no direct connection with the measures taken since September – neither with the lockdown light on November 2nd and the tightening on December 16, 2020, still with the ‘Federal Emergency Brake’, which was decided at the end of April 2021”.

Their research note provides further evidence that lockdowns have little impact on the epidemic’s trajectory beyond the effects of voluntary social distancing and restrictions on large gatherings.

“Freedoms” Being Restored in Germany – but Only for Those Who Have Been Vaccinated Against Covid

Germans will soon be able to reclaim some of their freedoms – but only if they agree to be vaccinated against Covid. Under plans similar to those that have been rolled out in Hong Kong, people who are fully vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid will be permitted to engage in certain activities – such as visiting zoos and using the services of hairdressers – without prior testing. Rules on mask-wearing and “social” distancing will, however, remain in place for all. The Local, a German newspaper, has the story.

Several German states have already started easing restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus, as well as for people who have recovered from Covid.

But now the German Government is planning to push through new regulations to allow for freedoms for these groups of people – that would apply uniformly across the country…

Under the plans, the fully vaccinated, and people who’ve recovered from Covid, would be able to “enter shops, visit zoos and botanical gardens or use the services of hairdressers and podiatrists without prior testing”. 

They also wouldn’t have to stick to curfew rules. Mask and distance requirements would continue to apply to everyone. 

It comes after Health Minister Jens Spahn said last week the Government aimed to bring in the uniform regulations by the end of May. Several states pushed back, bringing in vaccination rights immediately. This move has clearly put pressure on the Government to act faster. 

Saarland’s State Premier Tobias Hans said he was pleased to see that “federal plans are now on the table” and wanted to see the nationwide law pushed through his week.

“The extensive restrictions on fundamental rights must not become permanent,” the CDU politician told the newspapers in the Funke media group on Monday.

Over a quarter of the German population has received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine and 7.7% is now fully vaccinated against the virus. Some of those who have been critical of the Government’s anti-Covid measures are being monitored by the country’s domestic spy agency for suspected sedition.

The Local’s report is worth reading in full.

Germany’s Domestic Spy Agency Monitoring Anti-Lockdown Activists for Suspected Sedition

German authorities are not taking criticism of the Government’s handling of Covid lightly. On Tuesday, we covered the raiding of the house, office and car of a Weimar judge who earlier this month ruled against the wearing of face masks in schools. Now, reports have emerged that the country’s domestic spy agency is monitoring anti-lockdown activists for suspected sedition. Reuters has the story.

Germany’s domestic spy agency is monitoring individuals who have joined anti-lockdown protests to decide if their rejection of Government curbs amounts to subversion and incitement to violence.

The surveillance includes some members of the “Querdenker” or “Lateral Thinkers” movement, which has been organising increasingly violent protests against coronavirus lockdowns and includes conspiracy theorists and suspected far-right extremists, a spokeswoman for the BfV spy agency said.

The movement started with small demonstrations in the southern city of Stuttgart last year but has grown in scope and reach, drawing to its protests Germans from all walks of life frustrated with lockdowns in place since November.

Authorities fear that far-right extremists and conspiracy theorists who either deny the existence of Covid or downplay its threat to public health are exploiting lockdown frustrations to stir anger against politicians and state institutions five months before a general election…

Domestic spies fear far-right extremists could seek to boost anger against state institutions such as the police after parliament gave temporary powers this month to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Government to enforce lockdowns in areas with high infection rates.

The new powers have drawn fierce criticism from opposition parties, including the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, whose leaders have joined anti-lockdown protests.

The BKA federal police agency has told parliament that the names of lawmakers who voted for the amendments figured in an online document titled, “Death list of German politicians”, while adding that they were in no imminent danger.

A spokeswoman for the BfV said: “Organisers of demonstrations which are mainly led by protagonists of the Querdenker movement have an agenda that goes beyond protesting against the state’s measures against the coronavirus.” The Interior Minister of the eastern state of Thuringia added that attacks made against the police demonstrate the extent of the radicalisation among anti-lockdown protesters.

Worth reading in full.

House of German Judge Who Ruled Against Masks in Schools Raided By Investigators

Earlier this month, we covered the ruling of a court in Weimar, Germany, that two schools should be prevented – with immediate effect – from forcing their pupils to wear masks, along with imposing social distancing measures and insisting on SARS-CoV-2 rapid tests. The judge said: “The state legislature regulating this area has gotten far removed from the facts, which has taken on seemingly historic proportions.” It has since been reported that the house, office and car of this judge have been searched by investigators because his ruling is thought to have violated the law. 2020News has the story.

The judge at the Weimar District Court, Christian Dettmar, had his house searched [on Monday]. His office, private premises and car were searched. The judge’s cell phone was confiscated by the police. The judge had made a sensational decision on April 8th, 2021, which was very inconvenient for the Government’s anti-Covid measures…

The decision… had caused quite a stir. It had been downloaded about two million times from the 2020News website alone.

The house search… took place obviously for political reasons.

According to a t-online report (translated from German by Google Translate), the Weimar judge’s ruling has been accused of being “manifestly unlawful”.

At the beginning of April, the judge ordered that the mask and test requirement for children at two Weimar schools were [to be] suspended because of an alleged risk to the welfare of the children. He had claimed responsibility for the decision. The administrative court, however, declared the mask requirement to be legal last week. The judges there indicated that they considered the family judge’s decision to be “manifestly unlawful”. Family courts are not empowered to issue orders to authorities.

The Weimar decision has also been heavily criticised… by other courts… The public prosecutor’s office is now investigating the initial suspicion that the judge could have “consciously and seriously distanced himself from the law” and made a decision that is not supported by the statutory provisions.

A demonstration against the treatment of the Weimar judge has been announced.

The 2020News report is worth reading in full.

Weimar Court Prohibits Mask-Wearing, Distancing Measures and Rapid Testing At Schools

A court in Weimar, Germany, has ruled that two schools should be prevented – with immediate effect – from forcing their pupils to wear masks, along with imposing social distancing measures and insisting on SARS-CoV-2 rapid tests, saying that “the state legislature regulating this area has gotten far removed from the facts, which has taken on seemingly historic proportions”. On mask-wearing, the court ruled that “the risk of infection is not only not reduced by wearing the mask, but is increased by [the widespread] incorrect handling of the mask”. The court also said “there is no evidence that compliance with distance regulations can reduce the risk of infection” and that “the regular compulsion to take a test puts the children under psychological pressure, because their ability to go to school is constantly put to the test”. The case was brought to court by a mother on child protection grounds.

There follows the text of an article published by 2020 News on this ruling – translated from German to English by Google. We think it’s so good we are reproducing it in full.

On April 8th, 2021, the Weimar Family Court decided in an urgent procedure (Az .: 9 F 148/21 – available in English here) that two schools in Weimar are prohibited with immediate effect from prescribing pupils to have mouth and nose coverings of all kinds (in particular wearing qualified masks such as FFP2 masks), complying with AHA minimum distances and/or taking part in SARS-CoV-2 rapid tests. At the same time, the court ruled that face-to-face teaching must be maintained.

For the first time, evidence has now been taken before a German court regarding the scientific meaningfulness and necessity of the prescribed anti-Covid measures. Hygiene doctor Professor Dr med Ines Kappstein, the psychologist Professor Dr Christof Kuhbandner and the biologist Professor Dr of Human Biology Ulrike Kämmerer have been heard.

The court proceedings are so-called child protection proceedings in accordance with Section 1666 Paragraphs 1 and 4 of the German Civil Code (BGB), which a mother had initiated for her two sons at the age of 14 and eight at the local court – the family court. She had argued that her children would be harmed physically, psychologically and educationally without any benefit to the children or third parties. This would also violate numerous rights of children and their parents under the law, the constitution and international conventions.

The proceedings according to § 1666 BGB can be initiated ex officio, either at the suggestion of any person or without such a person, if the court considers intervention to be necessary for reasons of the child’s best interests, § 1697a BGB.

After examining the factual and legal situation and evaluating the reports, the Weimar Family Court came to the conclusion that the now prohibited measures represent a current risk to the mental, physical or emotional well-being of the child to such an extent that further development without intervention is reasonably likely to foresee significant harm.

The judge stated:

…children are not only endangered in their mental, physical and spiritual well-being but are also currently damaged by the obligation to wear face masks during school time and to keep their distance from one another and from other people. This violates numerous rights of children and their parents under the law, the constitution and international conventions. This applies in particular to the right to free development of personality and to physical integrity from Article 2 of the Basic Law as well as to the right from Article 6 of the Basic Law to education and care by parents (also with regard to health care measures and ‘objects’ to be carried by children)…

With his judgment, the judge confirms the mother’s assessment:

The children are damaged physically, psychologically and educationally and their rights are violated, without any benefit for the children themselves or for third parties.

According to the conviction of the court, school administrators, teachers and others could not invoke the state legal provisions on which the measures are based, because they are unconstitutional and therefore null and void. Reason: You violate the principle of proportionality rooted in the rule of law (Articles 20, 28 of the Basic Law).

[The judge stated]:

According to this principle, which is also known as the prohibition of excess, the measures envisaged to achieve a legitimate purpose must be suitable, necessary and proportionate in the narrower sense – that is, when weighing the advantages and disadvantages achieved with them. The measures that are not evidence-based, contrary to Section 1 (2) IfSG, are already unsuitable for achieving the fundamentally legitimate purpose they pursue, namely to avoid overloading the health system or to reduce the rate of infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In any case, however, they are disproportionate in the narrower sense, because the considerable disadvantages/collateral damage they cause are not offset by any discernible benefit for the children themselves or for third parties.

He clarifies:

Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that it is not the participants who have to justify the unconstitutionality of the interference with their rights, but rather the Free State of Thuringia, which encroaches on the rights of those involved with its state regulations, has to prove with the necessary scientific evidence that the measures prescribed… are suitable to achieve the intended purposes, and that they, if necessary, are proportionate. So far, that has not yet happened.

Germany Limits Use of AstraZeneca Covid Vaccine for Under-60s

Germany has followed Canada in limiting its rollout of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine for those under the age of 60. Earlier today, Canada suspended its use of the jab for people under 55. Germany has now suspended its rollout of the vaccine for those under the age of 60 due to concerns that it might be linked to rare blood clots. BBC News has the story.

Germany is suspending routine use of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine for people aged below 60 because of a risk of rare blood clots.

The German medicines regulator found 31 cases of a type of rare blood clot among the nearly 2.7 million people who had received the vaccine in Germany.

Canada earlier suspended use of the AstraZeneca jab in people under 55.

AstraZeneca said international regulators had found the benefits of its jab outweighed risks significantly. 

It said it was continuing to analyse its database to understand “whether these very rare cases of blood clots associated with thrombocytopenia occur any more commonly than would be expected naturally in a population of millions of people”.

“We will continue to work with German authorities to address any questions they may have,” it added.

Earlier this month, the European Medicines Agency said the AZ Covid vaccine is “safe and effective” to use, but highlighted that it “cannot rule out definitively” a link to a rare clotting disorder.

Worth reading in full.

How Closely Does the Trajectory of the Epidemic in Each Country Resemble a Flu Season?

We’re publishing an original piece today which is the third part in a series called ‘The Flu Hypothesis’. (You can read Part I here and Part II here.) The author, an academic economist, believes that the pattern of the Covid epidemic in each country – or region – resembles the trajectory of a seasonal flu epidemic, in some cases quite aggressive, in others quite mild. In Part III, he considers the possibility that the UK and Germany are experiencing different, flu-like epidemics and wonders whether that explains their different rates of infection.

By the end of February, I had concluded that Britain’s COVID-19 season in 2020-21 had followed an aggressive path. It had accelerated quickly and burned out early. But given that the probabilities were what they were, if the flu hypothesis had anything to it, we should have expected some other countries to have gradual rather than aggressive seasons.

This, I believe, is precisely what we are now seeing in Europe. This week Angela Merkel announced that Germany was having a “new pandemic“. Her language was nothing short of hysterical. She said that a vicious new variant had arrived that was more contagious and more deadly. Looking at the data I cannot see it. It seems more likely that Merkel is trying to deflect blame. Europe’s rollout of the vaccine has made their politicians look incompetent relative to British politicians who were until recently portrayed as bungling due to their embrace of Brexit.

Worth reading in full.

France and Germany Suspend Rollouts of Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine Amid Blood Clot Concerns

Germany and France are the latest countries to put their rollouts of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine on hold because of fears over blood clotting. Boris Johnson, Britain’s medicines regulator and AstraZeneca itself have all defended the vaccine as safe to use. Sky News has the story on Germany’s suspension.

Germany is suspending use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine in order to investigate reports of blood clots.

The country’s Health Ministry said the measure was a “precaution”. …

In a statement, the German health ministry said the reported blood clots involved cerebral veins, but did not specify where or when the incidents happened.

It said its decision to suspend the vaccine was taken on the advice of national regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute.

The ministry said the EMA would decide “whether and how the new information will affect the authorisation of the vaccine”.

The Telegraph has the following on France:

Emmanuel Macron said that French authorities have decided to suspend shots at least until Tuesday afternoon, when the European Medicines Agency will issue its recommendation over the vaccine.

Yesterday, Ireland and the Netherlands followed the example of other EU countries – including Norway and Denmark – in halting their AstraZeneca vaccine rollouts amid reports of “bleeding, blood clots and a low count of blood platelets” in health workers who had recently received the vaccine. One particular batch of AstraZeneca vaccines (which is implicated in reports of a death) was sent to 17 countries.

The greater the concern over the vaccine, the greater the defence from others. On March 14th, AstraZeneca addressed safety concerns in a statement.

A careful review of all available safety data of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union and UK with Covid Vaccine AstraZeneca has shown no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis or thrombocytopenia, in any defined age group, gender, batch or in any particular country.

So far across the EU and UK, there have been 15 events of DVT and 22 events of pulmonary embolism reported among those given the vaccine, based on the number of cases the Company has received as of 8 March. This is much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar across other licensed COVID-19 vaccines. …

Furthermore, in clinical trials, even though the number of thrombotic events was small, these were lower in the vaccinated group. There has also been no evidence of increased bleeding in over 60,000 participants enrolled.

Responding to Germany’s suspension of the jab’s rollout, Boris Johnson said the vaccine is “both safe and effective”:

“[The UK has] one of the toughest and most experienced regulators in the world.

“They see no reason at all to discontinue the vaccination programme… they believe that they are effective, highly effective in driving down not just hospitalisations but also serious disease and mortality. We continue to be very confident about the programme.”

Representatives of Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency added that the evidence “does not suggest” the jab causes clots.

We are closely reviewing reports but given the large number of doses administered, and the frequency at which blood clots can occur naturally, the evidence available does not suggest the vaccine is the cause.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Professor Anthony Harden, the Deputy Chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has hit back at claims that the vaccine increases risk of blood clotting, saying: “We’ve given 11 million doses here and there’s no evidence of increased risk of blood clots.” The JCVI can now be added to the list of organisations that have dismissed concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine which includes the World Health Organisation (WHO), the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).