Living with Covid

Covid Infections Continue to Plummet – as ONS Data Suggest Omicron BA.2 May Be Half as Deadly as BA.1

Covid levels continued to drop in England last week, falling to their lowest levels since the start of December before Omicron took off. MailOnline has more.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates 1.2 million, or one in 45 people, were carrying the virus on any given day in the week to May 7th, down a quarter on the previous week.

It marks the fifth week in a row that the ONS’s weekly infection survey – now the best barometer of the outbreak – has reported a week-on-week fall in cases, despite no Covid restrictions being in place.

The Government is relying on the study, based on swabs of 120,000 random people, to track the virus now that free testing has been axed for the vast majority of Britons.

Today’s estimate for England is the lowest since the week ending December 16th, when 1.2m people were also estimated to have been infected. At that point, the Omicron strain was just starting to take off and in the following weeks there were mounting calls to follow some EU countries in enforcing another lockdown.

Ministers also resisted renewed calls from NHS bosses for tougher restrictions last month when the BA.2 variant, an off-shoot of Omicron, pushed rates to record-highs.

Meanwhile, the ONS estimates one in 35 people were carrying Covid in Wales and Scotland last week and one in 55 in Northern Ireland. 

It’s good to see the Mail drawing attention to the fact that these declines happen without the need for restrictions. Interesting that Scotland is doing worse than England despite keeping masks and vaccine passports in place for longer.

Patient Satisfaction With Doctors Hits Record Low as Face-to-Face Consultations Become the Exception

Public satisfaction with family doctors in Scotland has plummeted to a record low since the first lockdown when they began to refuse to see patients in person, a study has found. The Telegraph has the story.

The Scottish Government-backed survey of 130,000 patients revealed that 67% said they had a positive experience of care provided by their GP practice, a fall of 12 percentage points in two years and 23 points compared with a decade ago.

Meanwhile, a quarter of people said they had not found it easy to contact their practice, a rise of 10 percentage points compared with before the pandemic.

Guidance was issued to GP practices not to see patients unless essential for clinical reasons at the start of lockdown in 2020, in an effort to prevent COVID-19 spreading.

However, while all legal restrictions have now been lifted, many doctors have not returned to normal and the SNP’s health secretary recently admitted that a “hybrid” model of appointments has become permanent.

The latest survey, which began in November 2021 and asked about experiences over the previous year, found that 57% of patients had a telephone consultation, whereas the figure was 11% before coronavirus.

Just 37% had a face-to-face consultation compared with 87% two years previously.

The shift away from in-person appointments has led to concerns that patients may be reluctant to seek help as they fear being interrogated about health conditions by receptionists, that the system is inaccessible to those with poor English and that signs a GP may have picked up on in-person will be missed.

Doctors, like many workers especially in the public sector, seem determined to keep the new, more convenient patterns of working they discovered during lockdown. But in many cases these patterns are just not as good for getting the job done and doing it well. When it comes to medicine, that can be the difference between life and death.

Worth reading in full.

Daily U.K. Covid Stats Axed and Moved to Twice a Week as Reporting Winds Down

The U.K.’s daily Covid statistics were axed on Monday as the country moves forward in the pandemic. MailOnline has more.

The U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) will now only publish Britain-wide updates twice a week, on Monday and Thursday.

It follows pressure from Tory MPs and experts who warned the case numbers became increasingly unreliable after free Covid tests were stopped for the majority of Britons. They called for the daily figures to be ditched as the final part of the ‘living with Covid’ strategy.

The UKHSA will still publish daily England figures but headline U.K. numbers – used throughout the pandemic to remind public of situation – will be affected.

It comes as the UK today logged 26,280 new Covid cases in the last three days, the equivalent of around 8,700 each day on average, and 212 deaths, roughly 70 per day. 

Ministers stopped publishing the figures on weekends following ‘Freedom Day’, meaning the Government dashboard update on Monday now also includes data for Saturday and Sunday.

The Government is relying on the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) weekly infection survey, which uses random swabbing, to get a read on the virus’ true trajectory. It also reported a drop last week.

Meanwhile, latest Covid hospital data shows there were 992 admissions for the virus on May 3rd, down nearly a fifth on the previous week.

Daily hospitalisations have now fallen for four weeks in a row – despite NHS leaders calling for masks and outdoor mixing to return at the start of April.

The move to scale-back the U.K. figures was prompted by Public Health Scotland, where the national Covid dashboard will only be update on Mondays and Thursdays. From June, it will move to weekly updates. 

England should follow suit.

Worth reading in full.

Amazon Axes Paid Covid Leave as it Returns to “Pre-Pandemic Policies”

Amazon has taken another step back to normality as it axes its paid time-off policy for employees with Covid, an announcement that coincides with the company recording a first quarter loss. MailOnline has the story.

Staff in the U.S. will now get five days of excused, unpaid leave if they can provide proof of a positive test result. They will also cease informing staff if someone at their warehouse has tested positive.

The changes have prompted outrage with some online who have accused the world’s second richest man Jeff Bezos of placing profits over people. 

The company benefited hugely from the pandemic online shopping boom before shares dived on Friday following a devastating quarter in which the company recorded its first net loss since 2015, a $3.8billion hit due in part to its investment in Rivian Automotive. …

After a long-running surge in sales during the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, Amazon’s outlook has dimmed as life returns to normal. 

The policy change follows the availability of vaccines and revised guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“We can continue to safely adjust to our pre-Covid policies,” the company said, citing the sustained easing of the pandemic, the availability of vaccines and treatments, and updated public health guidance. …

On Saturday, Amazon said it is halting site-wide notifications of positive cases in facilities, unless required by law, as well as efforts to encourage vaccination.

In January, Amazon trimmed paid leave for workers with the virus to one week, or up to 40 hours. Before that, they got two weeks of paid time off for Covid.

Somehow I suspect the public sector will not be so quick as the private sector to roll back its Covid-era benefits.

Worth reading in full.

“Pandemic phase” of COVID-19 Over, Says Dr. Anthony Fauci

Dr. Anthony Fauci has declared the U.S. is no longer in the “pandemic phase” of COVID-19 – more than two years after the WHO declared a pandemic. The New York Post has more.

PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff pressed the White House Chief Medical Adviser Tuesday on the state of the virus in the U.S., particularly as many Americans prepare to receive their second booster shots and mask requirements are lifted across the country.

“Here we are. It’s the end of April. It’s the spring of 2022. How close are we to the end of the pandemic?” Woodruff asked.

“We are certainly, right now, in this country out of the pandemic phase,” Fauci replied. “Namely, we don’t have 900,000 new infections a day and tens and tens and tens of thousands of hospitalisations and thousands of deaths. We are at a low level right now.”

“So, if you’re saying, are we out of the pandemic phase in this country, we are,” he added. …

Earlier this month, Fauci indicated his support for individual Americans making their own medical risk assessments when it comes to COVID-19.

“This is not going to be eradicated, and it’s not going to be eliminated,” he told ABC’s This Week. “And what’s going to happen is that we’re going to see that each individual is going to have to make their calculation of the amount of risk that they want to take.”

Fauci’s hopeful rhetoric is in stark contrast to the dire warnings he issued at the start of the pandemic, urging Americans to follow social distancing and masking guidelines.

Good to see that even America’s Mr Lockdown is finally throwing in the towel.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Vice-President Kamala Harris has tested positive for Covid in spite of being quadruple jabbed.

Futility of Lockdowns Exposed as Covid Infections in Shanghai Continue to Rise

In further proof of the futility of restrictions in suppressing an infectious respiratory virus, reported Covid infections in Shanghai continue to rise amidst one of the world’s strictest lockdowns. Jared T. Nelson reports on Twitter from the city.

Day 35 of our Shanghai Covid lockdown. Unbelievably, the newly identified Covid cases in Shanghai increased yesterday.

Adding to that trend, friends in several areas reported new cases in apartment buildings and communities that have been under strict lockdown for weeks.

Wear Face Masks on the Beach, Councils Tell Holidaymakers

Holidaymakers are being urged to wear face masks on the beach by local councils in the latest sign the pandemic has become a neverendemic in some people’s eyes. The Telegraph has more.

Local councils are advising people to take extra care when visiting popular coastal resorts, as Covid “has not disappeared”.

Good Friday saw the hottest day of the year after temperatures in London hit 22°C, while temperatures are set to reach 19°C on Sunday.

As thousands are expected to flock to beaches to bask in the good weather, Cornwall Council has asked people to wear a face covering and exercise social distancing while visiting the southern seaside resort.

Citing “high” Covid cases, the council said on Facebook on Friday that visitors should “wash their hands, wear a face covering where you can and keep your distance in crowded places this Easter”.

It also urged anyone who was feeling unwell or had coronavirus symptoms to stay at home.

Worth reading in full.

Boris Johnson, Carrie Johnson and Rishi Sunak Fined Over Partygate. Will They Go?

Boris Johnson, Carrie Johnson and Rishi Sunak are to receive fixed penalty notices for attending lockdown parties, having been found by police to have broken the law. Isabel Hardman at the Spectator has more.

The police fines for breaking Covid laws, which [Johnson and Sunak] created, throw everything around the Prime Minister and the Chancellor into the air. Previously, many Tory MPs had said this would be a resigning matter for a serving PM to be found to have broken the law.

A No. 10 spokesperson confirmed the fines, saying: “The Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer have today received notification that the Metropolitan police intend to issue them with fixed penalty notices.”

The Prime Minister’s wife Carrie Johnson has also been fined. A spokesperson for Mrs Johnson said: “In the interests of transparency, Mrs Johnson can confirm she has been notified that she will receive a Fixed Penalty Notice. She has not yet received any further details about the nature of the FPN.”

The Prime Minister has now not only been found by police to have broken the law, but he also misled Parliament about the matter, saying he had been assured that there was no party. Now we know the police have concluded that on at least one occasion there was a party and that Johnson attended it.

What will Tory MPs do now? Parliament is in recess at the moment, which makes it harder for them to organise an immediate response. But what it does mean is that MPs will face the reaction of their constituents. Remember that it was the fury within constituency parties and among local voters that tipped many Conservatives into calling for Johnson to resign when the row reached its height. 

Keir Starmer has of course called on Johnson and Sunak to resign: “Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have broken the law and repeatedly lied to the British public. They must both resign.”

NHS Panjandrums Demand the Return of Masks and Re-Imposition of Covid Restrictions

Health chiefs want Britons to follow a string of new Covid measures to fight record infection rates in the U.K. and ease pressure on the NHS. MailOnline has more.

The NHS Confederation accused No.10 of “abandoning any interest in Covid whatsoever”, warning that hospitals are set to deal with a “brutal Easter as bad as any winter”.

The group, which acts as a representative for hospitals and ambulance trusts, called for “mitigating actions” to stop the spread of the virus, such as not meeting people indoors and wearing masks in crowded spaces.

It comes just weeks after Covid restrictions, including the legal requirement to self-isolate, were scrapped under Boris Johnson’s ‘living with Covid’ plan. And England’s £2 billion-a-month mass-testing scheme was scrapped at the start of April.

The easing of rules has coincided with infection rates spiralling to the highest levels seen throughout the pandemic, with one in 13 people estimated to be infected at the start of the month.

Health bosses say the situation – fuelled by rising Covid rates and staff sickness – is impacting its ability to tackle the record backlog of patients needing care.

Millions of patients have already been told to stay away from busy A&E units unless they are genuinely dying, while ambulance services have urged some to make their own way to hospital.

The number of virus-infected patients in hospital last week breached 20,000 – the highest since February 2021. Although, figures also show thousands aren’t primarily ill with the virus.

“The brutal reality for staff and patients is that this Easter in the NHS is as bad as any winter,” said Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation.

“But instead of the understanding and support NHS staff received during 2020 and 2021, we have a Government that seems to want to wash its hands of responsibility for what is occurring in plain sight in local services up and down the country. No.10 has seemingly abandoned any interest in Covid whatsoever. NHS leaders and their teams feel abandoned by the Government and they deserve better.”

“Mitigating actions” – including not meeting people indoors and wearing masks in crowded spaces – were needed to prevent the spread of the virus, the group said.

Worth reading in full, including the sidebar suggesting infections have peaked, based on the latest ONS infection survey.

For a less hysterical take on the ‘perfect storm’ currently afflicting the NHS, see this piece by the Daily Sceptic’s in-house doctor from yesterday.

Stay Off Work If You Get Covid Symptoms – But Go to Work if You Get Covid Symptoms, Government Tells Public

Britons should go to work if they have a headache or feel tired – even though both are now officially recognised as Covid symptoms and the public is advised to stay at home if they have Covid symptoms – Health Secretary Sajid Javid said today. MailOnline has more.

Asked whether he would still go to work if he had a headache, Sajid Javid claimed he would “first reach for the Nurofen”. He said it would also depend “how tired I felt”. 

Health chiefs last week quietly expanded the list of tell-tale signs of the virus to warn of nine other symptoms. As well warning of headaches and feeling tired, officials also now say that a blocked or runny nose, a loss of appetite and feeling or being sick can signal that someone is infected.

The decision marked a huge change in the Government’s stance on symptoms, after acknowledging only three for the entirety of the pandemic (a fever, cough and loss or change to taste or smell), despite other countries and health bodies including up to 14.

The move coincided with the vast majority of employees in England no longer being able to get any free swabs as part of Boris Johnson’s “Living With Covid” strategy. Experts warned the axing of free tests for all but the most vulnerable – coupled with the expansion of the NHS symptom list – will trigger a “free for all” on staff absences, leaving workers to decide “whether or not they stay at home and for how long”. …

The NHS notes on its website that the now 12 Covid symptoms – which also include an aching body, a sore throat and diarrhoea – are “very similar to symptoms of other illnesses, such as colds and flu”. People experiencing these symptoms, who also have a temperature or don’t feel well enough to work, should “try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people”. They should also take “extra care” to avoid contact with anyone at higher risk from the virus.