Testing

Doesn’t It All Seem So Very Odd?

There follows a guest post by retired dentist Dr. Mark Shaw on the strangeness of this ongoing ‘pandemic’.

I was booked in for a telephone consultation with a new representative from my pension company recently.  We introduced ourselves and somehow couldn’t avoid the subject of Covid. I didn’t want to get too involved in a potentially awkward discussion but couldn’t hold back from highlighting the illogic in so much of the Government’s response to the disease. I sensed he too wanted to remain neutral so it was both a relief and quite surprising to hear him respond with: “I have to agree – it all does seem so very odd.”

Do I sense a point in time, a turning point, now where more and more people are thinking the same?

In the last 18 months:

Tens of Thousands of Brits Won’t Tell NHS Test and Trace Who They’ve Come Into Contact With

Almost a quarter of Brits contacted by Test and Trace in the week up to July 21st refused to disclose their recent close contacts, as reports suggest that people are beginning to revolt against the ‘pingdemic’. MailOnline has the story.

The controversial contact tracing system made 250,000 calls in the seven-day spell ending July 21st, making it the busiest week since the darkest period of the second wave in January.

But nearly a quarter of infected people who were contacted didn’t cooperate, in a signal that people may now be trying to protect family, friends and colleagues from having to self-isolate.

The rate of Covid-infected people who’ve avoided naming close contacts has risen consistently since the third wave started to gather steam in June, from 14.1% to 23.1%.

Government data yesterday underlined just how bad the ‘pingdemic’ has become, with a record 1.5 million quarantine instructions sent out in the same week. 

Millions of workers have been unable to do their jobs because they’ve been told to isolate, leaving supermarket shelves empty, pubs and restaurants shut, and trains cancelled across the country. …

The £37 billion Test and Trace programme – set-up last May – has been branded a monumental waste of money by politicians for failing in its only goal to stop another lockdown.

Since it was set up 14 months ago, England has faced two more national lockdowns and two Covid waves. …

If NHS Test and Trace contact tracers are unable to reach infected people, their details are passed on to local authorities to follow-up.

Of the 251,190 people asked to provide close contacts in the most recent week, just 193,000 provided the names and numbers of those who they may have passed the virus onto.

More than 58,000 refused to do so.

Worth reading in full.

Unvaccinated French Pupils Will Be Sent Home if Classmate Tests Positive for Covid

As if plans to separate vaccinated and unvaccinated citizens in France didn’t already go far enough, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has announced that children as young as 12 who have not been vaccinated will be booted out of school if a classmate tests positive for Covid while those who have been ‘jabbed’ will be allowed to stay. Connexion has the story.

Vaccinated students will continue to go to school in person if a Covid case is discovered in their class while unvaccinated students will have to study from home for seven days, Blanquer said [on Wednesday].

The minister was discussing new health rules to be put in place in schools from September.

This rule will apply to students aged 12 and over, who are currently eligible for Covid vaccines. 

Primary schools will follow the same rules as in the last school year, meaning if a Covid case is detected in a class all students in the class will then study from home for seven days. 

However, Mr Blanquer added that he was “fairly sure that there would be less disruption in the coming school year”.

In order to boost vaccination rates among secondary school students 6,000-7,000 vaccination centres will be opened from September “in or next to” schools, the Education Minister added.

Four health scenarios (“Green”, “Yellow”, “Orange” and “Red”) have also been planned for the coming academic year, depending on the health situation.

“In the lightest [Green] scenario there will be no masks in primary schools – but I fear that this will not be the case in September,” Mr Blanquer said.

The Education Ministry website says that, at the Green level, masks would still be required indoors for secondary school pupils in colleges and lycées.

At the Yellow level, primary school children would also have to wear masks indoors, and at the Orange and Red levels students of all ages would have to wear masks indoors and outdoors. …

The Health Ministry rejected the idea of using health passes to allow entry into schools for staff and students who are eligible for vaccines.

It also rejected the idea of making vaccination mandatory for teachers [*]for the moment[*].

Worth reading in full.

Ireland Will Finally Distinguish Between Hospital Patients Actually Ill From Covid and Those Who Simply Test Positive

The Irish Government has announced that it will change the way it collects data on Covid hospitalisations by distinguishing between those who are admitted to hospital because of the virus and those who test positive after being admitted for other reasons. It’s only taken them 17 months! RTÉ has the story.

At present, the Health Service Executive [HSE] Covid hub website states that there are 141 people in hospital who have tested positive for Covid, of whom 22 are in ICU.

A Government spokesperson said it is “seeking better data on hospitalisations in order to better inform decision making.

“This includes details on the total number of positive cases in hospital, the number who contracted Covid while in hospital, and those being treated for Covid specifically.”

RTÉ has also requested this information from the HSE but no data has been forthcoming.

The Government spokesperson added: “Details are also being sought on how many travel-related cases had been fully vaccinated.

“The matter will be discussed further with the National Public Health Emergency Team.”

Last week, HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry said the “great majority of [Covid patients are in hospital] because they are sick with Covid.

“In some cases there are outbreaks, and in those outbreaks people have been picked up who either who didn’t have symptoms, or very mild symptoms.”

However, Tony Canavan, CEO of the Saolta Hospital Group, told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland last week that “nearly all the [coronavirus] cases” in the group’s hospitals “are being admitted for other reasons” than Covid.

Of those that do test positive for the disease, “the majority are exhibiting mild or moderate symptoms”.

Worth reading in full.

Iceland Forced to Hire Thousands More Staff Because of “Pingdemic” Shortage

Supermarket chain Iceland is having to recruit 2,000 backup staff to stave off disruption caused by the “pingdemic” after the Government told businesses they “should not be encouraging [staff] to break isolation”. Iceland has been forced to reduce opening hours and to shut some stores due to staff being told to stay at home by the NHS Covid app. The Guardian has the story.

Richard Walker, the Head of Iceland, said that a handful of outlets had been forced to close after more than 1,000 workers – just more than three per cent of the group’s total – had been asked to self-isolate after being ‘pinged’ by the app.

However, he said the company had decided to take on more staff as the problems were patchy – with some stores experiencing much higher vacancy rates than others – while the number of people having to isolate was “growing about 50% week on week, and that was really alarming”.

Grocery chain Iceland is aiming to recruit 2,000 spare staff to help cover absences caused by the self-isolation “pingdemic”, as retailers warned it was becoming difficult to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked.

Walker called on the Government to adjust the app or self-isolation rules urgently, ahead of planned changes on August 16th. “Supermarkets need to focus on feeding the nation not writing to Government departments,” he said. He said that about 96% of those alerted by the NHS app who worked for Iceland did not test positive for Covid.

Andrew Opie, Director of Food at the British Retail Consortium trade body, said staff shortages could have an impact on opening hours and shelf stacking. 

“The ongoing ‘pingdemic’ is putting increasing pressure on retailers’ ability to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked. Government needs to act fast,” said Opie. “Retail workers and suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be allowed to work provided they are double vaccinated or can show a negative Covid test, to ensure there is no disruption to the public’s ability to get food and other goods.”

The warning came as the British Meat Processors’ Association (BMPA) said some plants had already been hit by staff shortages of up to 16% even without the impact of the pingdemic. 

“On top of the underlying worker shortage, we’re also hearing from some members that between 5% and 10% of their workforce have been ‘pinged’ by the [health service] app and asked to self-isolate,” said the Chief Executive of BMPA, Nick Allen.

The shortage of workers affected the meat products that require more labour to produce, he said, meaning those lines would be the first to be cut.

Worth reading in full.

Border Officials Told to Stop Checking Test Status of People Arriving in England From Green and Amber Countries

While restrictions are set to hot up for unvaccinated Brits hoping to engage in domestic social life, reports suggest that Border Officials have been told to stop checking if people arriving into England from countries on the Green and Amber lists have tested negative for Covid, as well as to stop conducting other basic tests, in an attempt to reduce queuing at the border. The Guardian has the story.

Leaked instructions [to border officials] have prompted claims that the Government is turning a blind eye to the risk of importing Covid cases.

A change that came into effect on Monday means Border Force officers no longer have to verify whether new arrivals have received a negative Covid test, have booked a test within coming days, or have a passenger locator form showing an address where they will isolate if necessary.

Border Force sources contacted the Guardian on condition of anonymity to raise serious concerns with the shift in approach, meant to reduce queues as foreign travel restarts.

The Government said it would not comment on leaked documents and stressed that airlines were legally required to conduct all the necessary checks.

Ministers’ approach to the border has been one of the most heavily criticised aspects of the Government’s Covid strategy. Critics claim the Government was slow to act in shutting the borders to arrivals from India this year, ultimately allowing the more infectious Delta variant to take hold. …

An instruction sent to Border Force staff, seen by the Guardian, explains that for arrivals from countries on the Amber and Green lists:

~ Officers are not required to routinely check for a passenger locator form or pre-departure testing or tests to be taken on day two and eight after arrival.

~ Where the IT system indicates a passenger locator form has not been found, officers are not required to check for the form, or question the passenger unless the passenger displays other “warning or behavioural indicators to suggest non-compliance”.

~ Electronic gates (eGates) will no longer refer passengers to in-person checks by Border Force officers if a passenger locator form is not found. …

Border Force officers told the Guardian the changes were brought in because the IT systems used at the border were struggling to cope with the number of checks and the new policy allowing fully vaccinated passengers to avoid self-isolation on return from amber list countries. There were fears of a surge in arrivals and significantly increased queue times, they said.

One officer said: “The only rationale for this change is to speed up queue times when travel is expected to increase. At a time when the country is unlocking, this is the time when we should be using every tool available to mitigate the risks, not turn a literal blind eye.”

A Government spokesperson has denied the claims: “All passenger locator forms are still being checked by carriers, as they are legally required to do, and to suggest otherwise is wrong. This legal requirement on carriers is underpinned by a robust compliance regime, which is overseen by regulators.”

Worth reading in full.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid Tests Positive for Covid

Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who has had two doses of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine, is self-isolating with his family after he tested positive for the virus. Javid says his symptoms are “very mild” and has urged unvaccinated Brits to get ‘jabbed’ “as soon as you can”.

BBC News has the story.

Mr Javid, who became Health Secretary in June, said he had taken a lateral flow test after feeling a “bit groggy” on Friday night and it was positive. 

He said he was now self-isolating until he got the results of a PCR test. …

In a video posted on his Twitter feed, Mr Javid said: “I was feeling a bit groggy last night, so I took a lateral flow test this morning and it’s come out positive, so I’m now self-isolating at home with my family until I get the results of a PCR test.” 

“I’m grateful that I’ve had two jabs of the vaccine and so far my symptoms are very mild.” 

He urged people who had not been vaccinated yet to “get out there and get them as soon as you can”.

Mr Javid also said people who feel groggy or come into contact with someone who is positive should take a lateral flow test.

“If everyone plays their part, you’re not only protecting yourself and your loved ones but you’re also safeguarding the NHS and helping to preserve our way of life,” the Health Secretary added.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Half the Cabinet could be pinged within a few days, according to MailOnline, including Boris.

What’s Behind the Covid Surge in the Netherlands?

The Netherlands has been in the news this week after Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologised for reopening nightclubs at the end of June following a surge in infections that came in the following two weeks. Rutte has now closed them again for a month amid allegations that he made a “criminal choice” and “put people in danger”.

The rise in positive tests certainly looks alarming – though note the past four days has seen a slowdown.

However, the rise needs to take into account that when night clubs and other venues reopened there was a requirement that guests presented a negative COVID-19 test (or proof of vaccination, but few in the relevant age group are vaccinated) within 40 hours prior to entry. This means lots of asymptomatic or mild infections in young adults are now being picked up that were previously going under the radar.

Children As Young as Five Face Mandatory PCR Tests When Travel Rules Change

We have learnt over the past year that no easing of lockdown rules comes without at least a few catches. The relaxing of travel quarantine rules for those who are fully vaccinated is no exception. Families that travel to “Amber List” countries may not have to self-isolate upon their return to the U.K. from July 19th, but they will have to force their children – aged between five and 18 – to undergo PCR testing, much to the anger of many parents. The Telegraph has the story.

Parents and academics claimed it was unnecessary and potentially harmful to test such young children, while tourism chiefs warned the extra costs for holidays could price many families out of foreign travel.

The Transport Secretary announced that all children aged five to 18 will have to undergo PCR tests when they return from Amber Countries with their parents or individually. Only those aged four or under will not have to be tested.

The tests are required as part of the Government’s new travel regime for double-jabbed adults and all children to be able to travel to Amber countries from July 19th without having to quarantine on their return to the U.K.

Children aged over 11 and all vaccinated adults will have to take pre-departure tests and a PCR test on or before day two after their arrival back in the U.K.

Those aged five to 11 have to take just the PCR test on arrival. For a family of four, it could add £400 to the cost of a holiday.

Most other countries in Europe exempt children aged under 12 but Mr Shapps said the PCR tests were necessary to enable the Government to track and prevent variants being imported through genome sequencing the samples.

Molly Kingsley, Co-Founder of UsforThem, a parents’ campaign group, said Britain had never tested healthy adults “let alone five year-olds for asymptomatic illnesses”.

“It is very unclear why we would be doing this now at a time when we know the vaccines have broken the link between infections and hospitalisations,” she said. 

“Many parents would feel uneasy about normalising testing for children as young as this. It sends a very negative message to our children that they are disease vectors.

“Any holiday with a family is expensive enough as it is. I would not put a five or eight year-old through this to go away.”

Professor Allyson Pollock, Director of the Newcastle University Centre for Excellence in Regulatory Science, said that with the link between infection, hospitalisation and deaths “hugely weakened”, testing children was illogical.

“We really should be asking: what is the prevalence of infection and how good is the natural immunity in the country they are returning to? What evidence is there that these tests will reduce transmission?” she said.

“I don’t understand the logic of it or what has informed it. Where are the evaluations and science to support this. They are making it up as they go along. This is the mess you get into when you introduce vaccine passports and Covid tests.

“You either make a decision that you don’t want people to travel to countries with high prevalence or coming back into them, or you simply say we have got pretty good immunity established in the country.”

The aviation industry welcomed the opening of Amber countries to vaccinated Britons as a “step in the right direction,” but urged the Government to ditch PCR tests for the fully jabbed.

Worth reading in full.

Increase in Positive Covid Test Results Once Again Not Matched by Increase in Covid Deaths

An increase in the number of recorded positive Covid tests in the past seven days has not been matched by a corresponding increase in the number of recorded Covid deaths – so why aren’t we unlocking on Monday? The MailOnline has the story.

A further 24,885 people tested positive for coronavirus [on Saturday], up from 18,270 last Saturday and the sixth day in a row the daily figure has surged above 20,000.

But the 18 deaths recorded in the last 24 hours marks a drop of 21.7% on the 23 recorded on this day last week.

It is a positive sign that jabs are keeping the number of serious cases small.

The latest data shows there were 358 people admitted to hospital with the virus on June 29th – up 54% on the last week [but starting from a low figure]. 

Despite the rise, current levels are a fraction of the number of people in hospital the last time infections were this high at the end of the second wave. 

Meanwhile, fully-vaccinated Britons are expected to be free to live as normal after coming into contact with a coronavirus sufferer within weeks. …

Dr Bharat Pankhania, a Senior Clinical Lecturer in Communicable Diseases at the University of Exeter’s medical school, said he thought it was “perfectly OK” for people who had received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine to be exempt from quarantine measures.

Dr Pankhania told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The gold standard would be to be cautious even if you have been immunised twice – in other words, fully immunised.

“However, as a measured action going forward I think it is okay and my reasons are as follows: an immunised person is less infectious and furthermore the testing of people who are in quarantine isolating is pretty inaccurate, so balancing both, I think it is perfectly okay.”

Asked whether he thought vaccines had broken the link between infections, hospital admissions and death, Dr Pankhania said: “You are absolutely right in that we are now noticing that while the case numbers have gone up, a proportionate similar rise in the number of hospitalisations and deaths has not occurred and therefore we feel that the vaccines are working and they are working really well at preventing people from entering ICU, ventilators and death.

“Therefore, having uncoupled that, we can start thinking about other uncoupling measures as well, such as no need to quarantine after being fully immunised.”

Worth reading in full.