Sweden Rejects Covid Vaccines For 5-11 Year-Olds: “We Don’t See Any Clear Benefit”

Sweden has decided against authorising Covid vaccines for children aged 5-11, the Health Agency said today, arguing the benefits do not outweigh the risks. Reuters has the story.

Sweden has decided against recommending COVID vaccines for kids aged 5-11, the Health Agency said on Thursday, arguing that the benefits did not outweigh the risks.

“With the knowledge we have today, with a low risk for serious disease for kids, we don’t see any clear benefit with vaccinating them,” Health Agency official Britta Bjorkholm told a news conference.

She added that the decision could be revisited if the research changed or if a new variant changed the pandemic. Kids in high-risk groups can already get the vaccine.

It raises the question: Do the benefits really outweigh the risks for teenagers as well?

Sweden, like many countries, is currently reporting record infections, though this is not translating into pressure on hospitals or high numbers of deaths. Unlike neighbouring Denmark, which is to lift its winter measures, the Swedish Government yesterday extended restrictions, including a restaurant curfew and attendance limits for indoor venues, for two weeks but said it hoped to remove them on February 9th.

Worth reading in full.

Denmark Ends All Pandemic Restrictions in EU First

Denmark is to lift all remaining pandemic restrictions in the next few days, despite rising reported infections, as Omicron hospital admissions and deaths remain stable and with high rates of vaccination – the first EU country to do so. Politico has more.

“Tonight we can … find the smile again. We have incredibly good news, we can now remove the last coronavirus restrictions in Denmark,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at a press conference, following recommendations from the Epidemic Commission and with all the main political parties’ support. The last restrictions will be dropped on February 1st.

The announcement comes as a new subvariant of Omicron, BA.2, is gaining a foothold in Denmark and driving infections up, with 46,000 new COVID-19 cases recorded on Wednesday.

“Recent weeks have seen very high infection rates, in fact the highest in the entire pandemic,” Frederiksen said. “Therefore, it may seem strange and paradoxical that we are now ready to let go of the restrictions.” 

Health Minister Magnus Heunicke pointed to the decoupling of infections and serious disease, which he attributed to the high rates of vaccination – though this also happened in South Africa, where vaccination rates are much lower, so is presumably also due to the reduced virulence of the strain.

Ross Clark in the Spectator notes that as of February 1st COVID-19 will no longer be classified by the country as a ‘socially critical disease’ and the legal framework for the restrictions is also being lifted, removing the Government’s power to impose further measures without new legislation.

They beat you to it, Boris – time to get a wriggle on.

Worth reading in full.

NHS Providers Chief Tells U.K. to Brace for “Tighter Restrictions”

Chris Hopson, the Chief Executive of NHS Providers, has said that the country should prepare for “tighter restrictions”, arguing that additional Covid measures may be needed to curb the spread of the Omicron variant in order to save the NHS from being overburdened by Covid patients. The Guardian has the story.

Boris Johnson must be ready to restrict social mixing to stop hospitals being overwhelmed by an Omicron-driven surge in Covid cases, a senior NHS leader has said.

The rapid spread of the new variant means the Prime Minister may have to introduce “tighter restrictions, at real speed” to reduce the number of people falling ill with Covid.

But any new curbs would take two weeks to cut the number of people needing hospital treatment, added Chris Hopson, the Chief Executive of NHS Providers.

His comments came as a leading scientist predicted that the sharp increase in Covid infections seen in recent days means that the NHS will be overwhelmed “quite quickly”.

Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), warned exposure to only “a whiff of infected breath” could lead to catching the Omicron variant.

He also said that mingling during New Year celebrations may well lead to a further increase in those testing positive.

Hopson said that hospital chiefs understood that the Government had set “a high threshold” for how much pressure the NHS would need to be under from Covid before it would tighten the rules.

“Trust leaders can see why the Government is arguing that, in the absence of a surge of a large number of seriously ill older people coming into hospital, that threshold has not yet been crossed,” Hopson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“But we still don’t know if that surge will come. Indeed, the NHS is preparing for it right now,” he added. Eight hospitals in England have begun creating their own “mini-Nightingale” on site to help care for patients at “super-surge” capacity.

Hopson added: “We are therefore in the same place we have been in for the last fortnight. The Government needs to be ready to introduce tighter restrictions, at real speed, should they be needed.”

Worth reading in full.

Mark Drakeford Criticised by Health Expert For Spreading Misinformation To Justify Restrictions

On Wednesday, Mark Drakeford declared that the Omicron variant is just as deadly as any previous Covid strain if the person infected had not contracted the virus before. In response to this statement, Jamie Jenkins, the former Head of Health Analysis at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), said that the Welsh First Minister was attempting to justify further Covid restrictions by deploying an “untrue statement with the intent to deceive” the public, and that the Welsh Government itself does not possess the evidence that upholds Drakeford’s conclusion. The Telegraph has the story.

Mark Drakeford has been accused of lying to the public by a former health statistics boss after he said Omicron was “probably” just as severe as delta, despite three studies concluding the opposite.

Jamie Jenkins, the former head of health analysis at the ONS, said that the Welsh First Minister had made an “untrue statement with the intent to deceive” as he scrambled to justify his Covid restrictions in the face of evidence that the latest Covid variant is milder.

On Wednesday, Drakeford said he did not think it is “as simple as saying Omicron is less serious than Delta”.

“If you have been infected previously, it may be that it is a less severe attack,” he told a press conference.

“If you have never had Covid and you get Omicron, the evidence is it is probably just as severe as any other form would be.”

His comments came despite new studies from the University of Edinburgh, the U.K. Health Security Agency and a group of South African scientists, which all suggested that Omicron produced less severe symptoms than delta, and was between 50% and 80% less likely to hospitalise patients.

Jenkins told the Telegraph that Drakeford was “deceiving the Welsh public” to justify Wales’s latest Covid restrictions, which include £60 fines for employees who travel to the office when they could work from home, a limit of six people in groups at pubs or restaurants and the return of two-metre social distancing.

He said that the Welsh Government appeared not to have firm evidence to support Drakeford’s assertion that Omicron was likely to be as severe as delta.

“I think the word ‘probably’ is a bit strange from the First Minister, because if you’re going to make statements to bring restrictions on businesses, you want more than ‘probably’,” he said.

“For him to say that the evidence is that it is ‘probably’ just as severe is just bizarre, because to say that, you have got to have some evidence, haven’t you?”

Worth reading in full.

Wales to Tighten Covid Restrictions Immediately After Christmas

On December 27th, the Welsh Government will introduce a series of new Covid restrictions which include shutting nightclubs, mandating that shops abide by social distancing protocols for both staff and customers, as well as bringing back work from home requirements. First Minister Mark Drakeford has declared that the spread of the Omicron variant necessitates this course of action, calling it “the most serious development in the pandemic to date”. MailOnline has more.

Until December 27th, the Welsh Government is encouraging people to follow five steps: getting vaccinated, making sure to have a negative lateral flow test result before going shopping or meeting people, meeting in well-ventilated areas (preferably outdoors), spacing out socialising to allow test days in between, and adhering to social distancing, wearing a face covering and washing hands.

It is also urging people to reduce contact with others over the coming days, especially if Christmas plans include seeing older or more vulnerable people.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Delta will continue to be the main cause of Covid infections in Wales up to Christmas. But we are seeing cases of Omicron increasing rapidly every day in Wales, and across the U.K.

“We need a plan to keep us safe this Christmas and we need stronger measures to protect us afterwards, as we prepare for a large wave of Omicron infections.

“Omicron poses a new threat to our health and safety. It is the most serious development in the pandemic to date.

“It is one we must take seriously. We will continue to put in place proportionate measures to protect people’s lives and livelihoods.

“This is a virus which thrives on human contact. Every contact we have is an opportunity for us to spread or catch the virus.”

The changes for businesses comes with the announcement that up to £60 million will be available to support those affected by the new measures.

He added: “This year a smaller Christmas is a safer Christmas. The fewer people we see, the less chance we have of catching or passing on the virus.

“Please enjoy Christmas with your nearest and dearest, and think about meeting up with wider circles of friends when the threat posed by the Omicron variant has passed over.

“I also want to thank the many thousands of people who will be working this Christmas to keep us safe, especially all those who have cancelled their plans to work in the vaccination centres across Wales to increase our protection against this awful virus.”

The restrictions come after Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted today that the Government does not want to “lock stuff down” in England. 

Instead, he urged Britons to “prioritise” social events, get a booster and do a lateral flow test before meeting people. 

Worth reading in full.

The Scottish Government Will Inevitably Introduce More Covid Restrictions, Says Humza Yousaf

Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Health Secretary, has declared that the Scottish Government will soon introduce more Covid restrictions to combat the spread of the Omicron variant, with the new measures expected to be announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tomorrow. Yousaf also stressed that securing financial aid from Westminster is crucial to Scotland’s Covid response. BBC News has more.

New Covid restrictions in Scotland are “inevitable”, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has warned.

He said the “sheer weight” of cases of the new Omicron variant could overwhelm the NHS and precautions would have to be taken.

It came as one teaching union called for the early closure of schools to protect pupils and staff.

Yousaf said the government would do everything it could to keep schools open.

Meanwhile last week’s advice to cancel Christmas parties is already having an effect, with hospitality businesses reporting a 25-30% drop in trade.

Details of the new restrictions would be given by the first minister in Holyrood on Tuesday, Yousaf added.

Yousaf told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland: “I think it’s inevitable we will announce additional protective measures.

“I would be reluctant to get into detail on that because we’re working through that detail and the first minister rightly will update parliament tomorrow.”

He added that securing financial support from the U.K. Government would be very important.

It came after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed an ambition to offer boosters to all adults by the end of the year “if possible”.

People aged 30-39 years-old are now able to book a booster jab online, and appointments will be open to 18-29 year-olds later in the week.

Early analysis of U.K. Omicron and Delta cases shows two doses of Covid vaccine are not enough to stop people catching the new variant.

But a booster prevents about 75% of people getting any Covid symptoms.

On Monday the U.K. recorded its first death of a patient with Omicron variant

Scientists say Omicron’s higher rate of transmissibility meant cases were doubling every two or three days.

Professor Andrew Watterson, a public health expert from Stirling University, cautioned against an “over-reliance” on vaccines and stressed the booster campaign was “only one important strand”.

Worth reading in full.