No, Locking Down a Week Earlier Would Not Have Saved Tens of Thousands of Lives

Toby has already gone through in detail the new report from the Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee of the House of Commons on the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and taken it apart.

One point worth underlining further is that one of its central conclusions – that “if the national lockdown had been instituted even a week earlier ‘we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half'” (the report quoting Professor Neil Ferguson here) – is demonstrably false on all the data available. That’s because it assumes that the epidemic was continuing to grow exponentially in the week before lockdown was brought into effect on March 24th, a growth which supposedly only the lockdown brought to an end.

That this is not the case is evident from all the data we have, as has been shown on numerous occasions.

For example, already in April 2020 Oxford’s Professor Carl Heneghan had noted that by projecting back from the peak of deaths on April 8th it could be inferred that the peak of infections occurred around a week before the lockdown was imposed. This early deduction was subsequently backed up by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty himself, who told MPs in July 2020 that the R rate went “below one well before, or to some extent before, March 23rd”, indicating a declining epidemic.

Further support arrived in March 2021, when Imperial College London’s REACT study published a graph showing SARS-CoV-2 incidence in England as inferred from antibody testing and interviews with those who tested positive to ascertain date of symptom onset. It clearly showed new infections peaking in the week before March 24th (see below), as well as a similar peaking of infections ahead of the subsequent two national lockdowns.

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.

Infections in the Vaccinated Overtake Those in the Unvaccinated For the First Time – But the Graph is Removed From the ZOE App Report

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, despite being vaccinated – and he is far from alone. The latest ZOE data shows that, as of July 12th, infections in the vaccinated (with at least one dose) in the U.K. now outnumber those in the unvaccinated for the first time, as the former continue to surge while the latter plummet (see above). (Note that 68% of the population has had at least one vaccine dose, so there are still at this stage disproportionately more new infections in the unvaccinated, though on current trends that may soon change.)

At what point will the Government accept that these vaccines have limited efficacy in preventing infection and transmission, and thus the whole rationale of being vaccinated to protect others – vaccine passports, compulsory vaccination, and so on – is suspect?

The above graph was in yesterday’s report, so I downloaded today’s report (you can get it by signing up to the app and reporting your symptoms) to get the new update. I was dismayed to find the graph was gone. At the bottom, a note explains:

Removed incidence graph by vaccination status from the report as there are very few unvaccinated users in the infection survey, the Confidence Intervals are very wide and the trend for unvaccinated people is no longer representative.

Which I would say is very convenient, just as infections in the vaccinated became the majority. Perhaps ZOE should try to recruit some more unvaccinated people for its survey, so it can continue to report on this as well as have a control group for its vaccine data? That would seem the scientific thing to do, rather than just stop reporting it because it is suddenly “no longer representative”.

It’s doubly odd because Tim Spector, lead scientist on the ZOE app, made the decline among the unvaccinated a feature of his video this week. So the realisation that the trend is “no longer representative” appears to have been rather sudden, even invalidating the contents of a ZOE ‘data release‘ two days earlier.

It seems we will never know how the story ends, which is a shame and a missed opportunity for ZOE.

As Evidence Grows That Vaccines Do Not Protect Against Infection, the Case For Granting Privileges to the Vaccinated Collapses

Creating a two-tier society where freedoms and opportunities are contingent on whether or not you have received a novel (and not fully tested or licensed) vaccine, and having to reveal that fact to strangers, was never a sound approach from a civil liberties point of view. But as the evidence grows that the vaccines do not prevent infection or transmission, the medical case against this new medical apartheid falls apart as well.

The Covid vaccines were originally intended to protect the vulnerable from serious disease and death, following which life could then return to normal. At some point, though, a new idea emerged: that everyone (including children) should be vaccinated, not in order to protect themselves (their risk was low) but to provide further protection to the vulnerable. Similarly, the idea appeared that the fully vaccinated should have freedoms that the unvaccinated did not, because they were no longer able to transmit the virus.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that this idea is incorrect, and the vaccines do not meaningfully prevent infection or transmission, particularly from new variants. Yesterday, Lockdown Sceptics reported on the new data from Israel showing that the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine against infection had dropped to 64% during the current Covid surge, down from 94% the previous month. (Effectiveness against serious disease as a result of becoming infected held up much better at 93%.) Public Health England has already reported that the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine has dropped to 60% against the Delta variant. Even these new lower figures may be overestimates, since Israel reports that 55% of new cases are in fully vaccinated people, and since 60% of the country is fully vaccinated this suggests the vaccines are doing very little to prevent infection (a vaccine efficacy estimate on those raw figures would give just 18.5%).

There have also been major outbreaks in highly vaccinated countries like Bahrain, Seychelles, Maldives and Chile.

Underlining the point, the Swiss Doctor has highlighted a case where “a vaccinated Israeli caught the Indian variant in London, infected another vaccinated person in Israel, who infected another vaccinated person, who infected about 80 students at a high school party”.

To some, the idea that the vaccines do not prevent infection or transmission comes as no surprise. As Peter Doshi wrote in the BMJ in October, the trials were not designed to establish this. Furthermore, the vaccines do not produce mucosal IgA antibodies, which have been shown to play a crucial role in fighting infection in the early stages.

Time for governments to abandon the idea that vaccination provides meaningful protection against infection or transmission, and thus any idea of vaccinating people to protect others, or conferring privileges on the vaccinated, including for international travel, as though they will no longer spread the virus.

Governments should make clear that vaccination is purely for personal protection, and therefore also a personal choice in regard to personal risk. There is no social obligation to get vaccinated to protect others, no benefit to vaccinating children, and no warrant for restricting the freedoms and opportunities of the unvaccinated or imposing on them extra costs such as quarantine.

Why Lockdown Doesn’t Work: The Surprising Fact that Halving Your Frequency of Exposure Barely Cuts Your Infection Risk

A common criticism of lockdown sceptics who draw attention to the copious data that restrictions and social distancing make little or no difference to infection rates is that we are denying “germ theory”. By which is meant that we are denying the fact that viruses are transmitted from sick people to those they come into contact with and hence that reducing those contacts will significantly reduce the infection rate.

However, this criticism fails to recognise that risk of infection is not proportional to frequency of exposure. It doesn’t take into account the counterintuitive fact that halving your exposure, say, doesn’t halve your risk of infection, not even close.

Consider the case of John, who is one of the unfortunate few who is highly susceptible to infection, so that whenever he is exposed for a non-trivial length of time he has a 0.8 (i.e., 80%) chance of being infected. Suppose that under normal circumstances he attends four places in a week where he might be exposed outside his home, maybe the supermarket, his workplace, the pub and the barber or doctor.

What is his probability of being infected during the week? It’s one minus the probability of him not being infected. The probability of him not being infected at the supermarket is 1-0.8=0.2 (to keep things simple we assume that in all four contexts he visits he is exposed to the virus). Then the probability of him also not being infected at the pub is 0.2×0.2=0.04. Then add in two more contexts where he has to avoid infection, so multiply by 0.2 twice more, and you get the answer: 1-(0.2 x 0.2 x 0.2 x 0.2)=0.998, or 99.8% risk of infection. In other words, John’s chances of getting through the week when attending four places of exposure without being infected is almost nil.

Now suppose that due to restrictions, John halves the number of places he goes where he is exposed, dropping the pub and workplace maybe but still going to the supermarket and the doctor or barber. So he halves his risk of infection, right? Wrong. That’s not how risk works when the event is a binary one (getting infected or not) that you are trying to avoid. That’s because you only have to get infected once to ‘lose’, but you have to avoid it every time to ‘win’. John’s probability of being infected during the week now is 1-(0.2 x 0.2)=0.96. So halving his amount of exposure during the week reduced his risk of infection from 99.8% to 96%, i.e., it just made it slightly less certain.

Average Age of Newly Infected Brits Drops to 29

The average age of Brits testing positive for Covid has fallen from 41 at the beginning of the year to just 29 – the lowest average age recorded yet. This decrease is being attributed to the success of the vaccine rollout (though increased testing of younger people could also have something to do with it) which has seen almost 25 million people receive two doses of a vaccine. The MailOnline has the story.

The median age stood at 29 for the week ending May 19th – down from 35 at the start of April and 41 at the beginning of the year.  

Compounding the apparent efficacy of the vaccine rollout, analysis now shows that two thirds of people admitted to hospital with the coronavirus are under 65, the Times reports.  

But despite Boris Johnson’s desire to announce an end to social distancing this week, this has been pushed back amid the ongoing threat of the Indian Covid variant.

The Prime Minister has said that he has not seen “anything currently in the data to suggest that we have to deviate from the road map”, but hinted that the Government would wait until the June 14th deadline before announcing a relaxation. 

The fast-spreading strain now makes up between half and three quarters of all cases in the U.K., Matt Hancock said yesterday. 

The Health Secretary told a Downing Street press conference it is now dominant in Britain, taking over from the Kent variant that had been the most common one since Christmas.

But official data has now revealed that just three per cent of Britons infected with the Indian variant had received two jabs. 

More than 38.6 million adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 24 million have had two. 

While many people in hospital with the virus have not been fully vaccinated, reported Covid deaths continue to be very low (often in the single figures). Despite this, SAGE members insist that the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown could be “derailed” because of the Indian variant.

Worth reading in full.

Just Three Out of Britain’s 15 Indian Variant Hotspots Are Seeing a Rise in Covid Infection Rates

Fears about how quickly the Indian Covid variant spreads seem to have been overplayed as new data shows that 12 out of 15 variant “hotspots” in Britain are not seeing a rise in Covid infection rates. Boris is clearly right about the “gloom” having been overdone, so why the continued calls for tougher restrictions? The Times has more.

Cases in over 60s are not rising in any of the [“hotspot”] areas currently subject to surge testing outside Bolton, in what is being seen as an encouraging sign that the vaccines are protecting the most vulnerable.

Updated figures yesterday showed 3,424 known cases of the B.1.617.2 variant, up 15% on yesterday. But Boris Johnson has become more confident that the end of restrictions can remain on track as emerging data suggests that the strain is unlikely to be 50% more transmissible than the Kent variant…

Officials stress that efforts to assess the spread of the Indian variant are still preliminary, with firmer numbers not expected until next week. One member of SAGE said yesterday he was “very concerned” that the country was at the start of a third wave of Covid…

However, ministers have been cautiously encouraged that while cases have taken off in Bolton, other hotspot areas are not rising as fast. Ten per cent of all U.K. cases reported yesterday were in Bolton, where rates are seven times higher than a month ago at over 300 per 100,000. The increase in Blackburn is half of that, while Bedford is the only other area subject to surge testing where rates are clearly rising. All three areas have rates over 100 per 100,000.

Infections in Hillingdon, Hackney, Kensington, Kirklees, Leicester, Nuneaton, Redbridge and Redditch are flat or possibly falling, while in Burnley, Sefton, Hounslow and North Tyneside there are signs that cases might be starting to rise, but trends are not yet clear, with all having rates below 100 per 100,000.

Worth reading in full.

Cases Halve in a Month; R Rate Falls; Fewer Than 1,000 Covid Patients

More good news today – if only Boris was paying attention to data, not dates. MailOnline has the rundown.

England’s coronavirus cases have halved in a month, the R rate is still below one, and the number of people in hospital has dropped below 1,000 for the first time since September, promising data revealed today.

Just 46,000 people had coronavirus in England on any given day last week, or one in 1,180 people, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The figure was around 112,000 towards the start of April – and is down 15% last Friday’s estimate.

No 10’s top scientists said the reproduction rate – which tracks the spread of the virus – was between 0.8 and 1.0, meaning the outbreak is still shrinking. This was down from 0.8 to 1.1 in the previous seven-day period.

Meanwhile, NHS figures show the number of infected patients in hospitals across England has dropped into three figures for the first time since the second wave spiralled out of control nine months ago. Daily admissions are now below 100.

The data follows on from promising statistics from Public Health England and a symptom-tracking app yesterday, which showed the easing of restrictions on April 12th has not triggered any spike in the disease.

Boris Johnson is under mounting pressure to speed up his roadmap out of lockdown, with businesses and MPs warning that they risk suffering another lost summer if there are further delays. But the Prime Minister has refused to budge from plans to re-allow holidays and indoor hospitality from May 17th, despite promising he would be led by “data not dates”.

Come on BoJo. What are you waiting for? Reward the electorate for delivering yet another hammer blow to the Labour Party and set them free.

Worth reading in full.