Sir Patrick Vallance

Vallance: Covid Measures Should Remain in Place Forever in Case We Need to “Ramp Things Up Again”

The Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has warned that Covid is “evolving rapidly,” adding that measures should remain in place indefinitely to be able to “ramp things up again” if needed. The Express has more.

Sir Patrick was speaking to the Science and Technology Committee this morning following a steep rise in Covid cases. Quizzed on the Government’s “Living With Covid” plan, Sir Patrick was asked how important advice from SAGE was in the proposals. The expert confirmed that SAGE “clearly” played a big part, before adding his own remarks on the current situation.

He said: “This virus has not gone away. It’s not going to go away. It’s going to be a circulating human virus for as long as we can see forward. And it hasn’t stopped evolving. It’s been quite an unstable period, so the virus is changing very rapidly, and it’s got quite a lot of space to evolve into. It’s not a foregone conclusion that evolution to increase growth and transmission – which is what the virus does, wants to do – necessarily is associated with reduced severity.”

Sir Vallance also noted that three things were essential to adopting a living-with-Covid approach: being able to monitor how it evolves; to protect the vulnerable both physically and through vaccines and antivirals; and having the capacity to be “able operationally to ramp things up again if you need to — [this] is crucially important.”

He added: “That in a sense, is also a lesson from the very beginning of the pandemic where the underfunding of Public Health England for many years had caused a diminution in capacity.”

However, the scientist added: “I think the numbers of infections are beginning to turn so we may be quite close to, or at the peak, and it may start coming down shortly. But I expect to see further hospitalisations because of the lag time and further deaths with this. So, that is the consequence of the high levels of infection rates. We should also be aware that there may well be long term problems with Covid infection – Long Covid is still being studied. It’s not a sort of a completely stable situation and it’s not a risk-free situation to run very high levels of infection.”

Hasn’t SAGE been stepped down? When will they leave us alone?

I wonder if the Government has considered finding a less alarmist Chief Scientist.

Worth reading in full.

Don’t Stop People Going to the Football, Prime Minister

Boris is due to meet with Sir Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty later today to discuss what additional Covid restrictions to impose, if any. We already know that he doesn’t want schools to close again and, according to today’s Times, weddings and funerals will also be exempt from any new rules. But what about large sporting events, like football matches? The new rules in Scotland mean that only 500 people can attend games and in Wales they’ll be played behind closed doors for the foreseeable future. Will the Prime Minister be tempted to follow suit?

I sincerely hope not. As I’ve said many times before, the thing I missed the most during the previous three lockdowns was not being able to go and see my beloved QPR. Since we were allowed back into football stadiums in August of last year I’ve tried to go to every single QPR game, home and away, and to date I’ve only missed four. Indeed, my son Charlie and I started a Substack newsletter about following QPR this season that you can find here. The thought of having to go back to watching games on an iPad again is beyond depressing.

So, Prime Minister, if Sir Patrick and the soon-to-be Sir Chris urge you to ban attendance at large sporting events, here is some evidence that you can point to suggesting that such a measure would be pointless:

  • Last year, Chris Whitty said: “The evidence is very clear that outdoor spaces are safer than indoors.”
  • A systematic review of five studies found that “a low proportion of reported global SARS-CoV-2 infections occurred outdoors (<10%)”.
  • A rapid review of 14 sources of evidence “found very few examples of outdoor transmission of COVID-19 in everyday life among c. 25,000 cases considered, suggesting a very low risk”.
  • An Italian study concluded that “the probability of airborne transmission due to respiratory aerosol is very low in outdoor conditions”.
  • Official figures in Ireland showed that, of the “232,164 cases of COVID-19 recorded in the state up to March 24th this year, 262 were as a result of outdoor transmission, representing 0.1% of the total”.
  • A paper by the PHE Transmission Group noted: “Evidence continues to suggest that the vast majority of transmission happens in indoor spaces; recent reviews considering data from several countries found very little evidence of outdoor transmission for SARS-CoV-2, influenza or other respiratory viruses.”
  • This study from early cases in China found only one outbreak (of two cases) out of a sample of 7,324 infections that could be traced to an outdoor setting.
  • The Cheltenham Festival on March 10th-13th of 2020, which drew crowds of around 250,000 people, has entered folklore as a “superspreader event”, but in fact the evidence that it led to a spike in infections in the locality is threadbare. As the Racing Post pointed out in April 2020, Gloucestershire was one of the parts of the U.K. least affected by Covid: “HSJ statistics for reported COVID-19 positive deaths in England per 100,000 people put Gloucestershire comfortably in the bottom half of a table headed by The Black Country and West Birmingham. … Gloucestershire actually has a lower number of confirmed COVID-19 cases than surrounding counties – the south west itself is very low and within that Gloucestershire is below average.”
  • 25,000 fans were admitted to the NFL Super Bowl in Florida on February 7th, at the height of America’s ‘second wave’, along with 12,000 staff. Even though only a third of fans had been vaccinated at the time, U.S. health officials only found three people who were infected as a result of attending the game.

God willing, Boris will stick to his guns and not impose any further restrictions, as the Daily Mail recommends in a strong leader this morning. But if you’re tempted to do something, Prime Minister, please leave football alone. Like all the other non-pharmaceutical interventions recommended by SAGE scientists, banning attendance at football games will make zero difference to Covid transmission.

D-Day

The Prime Minister is due to meet with Sir Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty on Monday to decide whether to impose any more restrictions. If the Chief Scientific Officer and Chief Medical Officer manage to persuade Boris that that’s necessary, he will need to convene a Cabinet meeting and get the decision approved. No small task since, according to the Guardian, the main leadership contenders will oppose any tighter measures. The Sun says Boris’s decision will hinge on whether Covid hospital admissions are increasing.

If the numbers have continued to rise it will mean increased pressure on the NHS, with experts urging the Government to take action.

His meeting comes as a string of hugely positive studies show Omicron is milder than other strains, with the first official UK report revealing the risk of hospitalisation is 50 to 70% lower than with Delta.

Covid booster jabs protect against Omicron and offer the best chance to get through the pandemic, health officials have repeatedly said. …

Questions continue to swirl over possible restrictions in England as the Prime Minister is set to evaluate the rules tomorrow.

Among the proposals being considered is a two-week circuit-breaker, which would include a ban on meeting friends and family indoors.

If the data continues to worsen then he could plunge the UK into further restrictions – with pubs and non-essential shops fearing they could be forced to close.

This could include plans that will prevent Brits meeting others indoors except for work purposes.

Any new restrictions will need to be passed by parliament, meaning that the Prime Minister will have to hold a cabinet meeting to approve his plans.

He would then need to recall parliament and get the support of MP’s to legalise the new restrictions.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Guardian reckons Boris is “leaning away from stricter curbs“. Let’s hope that’s right, but MailOnline has the same story, which suggests it’s a line being briefed out by Downing Street. That, in turn, makes me suspicious. Is Boris hoping to get away with trying to impose new restrictions by claiming he was planning not to but had no choice, given the hospitalisation data?

Stop Press 2: MPs and hospitality bosses have told Boris Johnson that if he brings in new restrictions before New Year’s Eve he will risk “devastating” businesses. MailOnline has more.

Government Hides Details of Key Conversation between Leading Scientists on Covid’s Origins

Attempts to see details of a key email conversation between leading scientists – including Sir Patrick Vallance and Anthony Fauci – on the origins of Covid have been quashed by the British Government which has redacted page after page with thick black lines, begging the question: “What are they hiding?” The Mail on Sunday has the story.

[The MoS] used Freedom of Information rules to obtain a cache of 32 emails about a secretive teleconference between British and American health officials held early in the pandemic.

But officials blacked out almost every word before releasing the crucial documents.

Before this discussion, several of the world’s most influential experts believed the new virus most likely came from a laboratory – but days later, the scientists began dismissing such scenarios as “implausible” and branding them conspiracy theories.

The critical call is at the centre of concerns that the scientific establishment tried to stifle debate on the pandemic’s origins, as damning new evidence emerges of U.S. ties to high-risk research on bat viruses in Wuhan, where the first cases emerged in late 2019.

The MoS requested emails, minutes and notes on the call between Sir Patrick Vallance – Britain’s Chief Scientific Adviser – and its organisers Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust medical charity, and Anthony Fauci, the U.S. infectious diseases expert and presidential adviser.

Yet when the documents were released they had page after page redacted with thick lines of black ink by Whitehall officials. Even the names of experts copied in on discussions were blocked – and exchanges as trivial as one Edinburgh biologist’s “thank you” for being invited – leaving only a few basic details about the call visible.

The lines left intact include a demand for the discussions, involving 13 participants around the world, to be conducted in “total confidence”, and an intriguing email line suggesting “we need to talk about the backbone too, not just the insert”.

That was possibly sent by Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans, a member of the World Health Organisation team that produced a widely criticised report into Covid’s origins.

Such absurd state secrecy is highly contemptuous towards taxpayers and to a world that wants to know what caused this devastating pandemic to guard against similar catastrophes in the future.

The response was condemned by Tory MP and freedom of information campaigner David Davis.

“This is a matter of massive public and global importance,” he said. “It is hard to see why there should be such secrecy that it outweighs the immense public interest and requires them to redact this sort of important data.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Ian Birrell, who wrote the piece in the Mail on Sunday, has produced a Twitter thread showing some of the redacted documents which you can see here.

Lockdown Could Be Extended by “Between Two Weeks and a Month” Following “Grim” Briefing to Ministers by Whitty and Vallance

On Monday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said (and not for the first time): “[It] still remains that there is nothing in the data currently to suggest step four [of the lockdown roadmap] can’t go ahead at the earliest date.” Unfortunately, reports today are far more pessimistic about a June 21st unlock. This is largely due to a “fairly grim” briefing given to ministers by the Government’s two most senior scientific advisers on Monday. The Times has the story.

Britain’s roadmap for easing lockdown could be delayed by a fortnight with cabinet ministers increasingly pessimistic after a “downbeat” briefing from Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance.

The delay would enable all over-50s to be fully vaccinated and leave sufficient time for jabs to take effect before restrictions are lifted.

Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, and Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, yesterday gave a briefing to ministers on the latest data that was described as “fairly grim”.

They emphasised concerns about the rate of transmission of new strains of coronavirus, such as the Indian variant, and that vaccinations did not provide 100% protection. Millions of Britons remain unvaccinated.

One cabinet source said they expected a delay of “between two weeks and a month” but suggested that the political fallout was likely to be limited as long as the full reopening took place before the start of the school summer holidays late next month. Another said that a delay made more sense than a partial lifting of lockdown restrictions to avoid any “confusion” in messaging…

Johnson is expected to make a formal announcement on Monday, when the Government’s social distancing review will be published…

Another cabinet source described the mood in Whitehall as “downbeat”. “We always said it was June 21st at the earliest. We may need another few weeks to let the effects of vaccination take hold. Doing a partial reopening would create confusion. People have planned on the basis of a full reopening. It’s important that the messaging is consistent.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: James Melville is unimpressed by the suggestion of an extension to lockdown. “Hospitalisations are still low. One death [on Monday]. We have a vaccine. After June 21st, we can’t do this anymore. We are done.”

Stop Press 2: Matt Hancock has told four million people in Greater Manchester and Lancashire to “minimise travel”, get tested and only meet outdoors in a further sign that the unlocking will be delayed. MailOnline has more.

Stop Press 3: Rishi Sunak is willing to accept a delay of up to four weeks to the final stage of England’s reopening roadmap, according to the Guardian.

Sunak, the Chancellor, has in the past been regarded as more keen to lift lockdown constraints than some cabinet colleagues. But a Whitehall source said he was not fixated on the June 21st date and was more concerned that when restrictions are lifted, the move can be permanent. “The Treasury’s main thing is that freedoms are irreversible and businesses have clarity,” the source said.

Worth reading in full.

Why Ministers are Telling the Truth When they Say ‘Herd Immunity’ Was Never Government Policy

Home Secretary Priti Patel appeared on Andrew Marr on Sunday and repeated the Government line that “herd immunity” was never the Government’s strategy. “Our strategy was always about protecting public health, saving lives, and protecting the NHS,” she said.

Outside Government it seems to be accepted, including by its defenders, that this is untrue and herd immunity was originally part of the Government’s plan. Referring to allegations by Boris Johnson’s former Chief Adviser Dominic Cummings that the Government was following a herd immunity strategy until March, UnHerd editor Freddie Sayers writes:

Cummings’s big accusation that the initial pandemic response plan, based on flu, included the goal of herd immunity is long-established, as is the fact that the Government initially considered it, then deviated from it rapidly when its implications became clear.

If this is so, why does the Government continue to deny it?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Minister for Business, appeared on Good Morning Britain today to try to explain:

It was never the policy of this Government. Boris Johnson was very clear that the only thing that mattered was that we make sure that we saved lives and we keep our NHS safe and able to function, not only to protect those who might get Covid but also everybody else. … I’m very comfortable that the Prime Minister never had as his policy herd immunity.

Trevelyan was asked about remarks by Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance on March 13th 2020, when he said: “Our aim is to try and reduce the peak, broaden the peak, not suppress it completely. Also, because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease.”

The Times explains the distinction Trevelyan and the Government are seeking to draw.

UK Faces Decades of Misery Due to Lockdown

The Guardian published a story this morning about the huge collateral damage caused by the cack-handed response of the UK Government to the coronavirus crisis, although, typically, it attributes this damage to to the pandemic rather than the lockdowns. If you can overcome your irritation about this basic journalistic failure – why not look at how much less damage the “pandemic” has caused in Sweden, for Christ’s sake? – the story is helpful to the sceptics’ cause. It’s based on a new report by the Royal Academy.

Britain faces a “Covid decade” of social and cultural upheaval marked by growing inequality and deepening economic deprivation, a landmark review has concluded.

Major changes to the way society is run in the wake of the pandemic are needed to mitigate the impact of the “long shadow” cast by the virus, including declining public trust and an explosion in mental illness, the British Academy report found.

Published on the anniversary of the UK’s first lockdown, the report brings together more than 200 academic social science and humanities experts and hundreds of research projects. It was set up last year at the behest of the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

Ironic that Sir Patrick initiated an inquiry into the colossal harms that, in part at least, have been caused by his own mishandling of this crisis. If only he’d stuck to his guns and continued to follow the sensible course set out in the UK’s Pandemic Preparedness Strategy.

Given that the focus of the Royal Academy’s report – which you can read here – is the increase in inequality over the past year caused by the pandemic lockdowns, it will be interesting to see whether there’s a link between the rise in the Gini coefficient in different regions and the stringency of NPIs. Overwhelmingly likely I’d say, given that we already know there’s a link between the stringency of NPIs and economic damage – and the burden of that damage has already fallen on the least well off and will continue to do so over the next decade.

Worth reading in full.