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New Restrictions For Oldham, Pendle and Blackburn

Yesterday, the Government announced Oldham and parts of Blackburn and Pendle are facing extra restrictions to deal with local viral outbreaks. Residents in those areas are not allowed to socialise with anyone from outside their household, as of midnight tonight. Trouble is, the case numbers in all three areas are falling as you can see from the above table.

Carl Heneghan and Jason Oke wrote a post for the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine blog on Thursday urging the Government not to introduce any more restrictions in Oldham. They argue that decisions about whether to introduce local lockdowns should be based on hospitalisation and death data, not case data.

We consider that lockdown measures should be predicated on the impact of the disease. NHS England’s COVID-19 data provides information on the number of people admitted and in a Pennine Acute or Pennine Care Hospital with COVID (these hospitals cover Oldham, Rochdale and North Manchester).

The data shows that 1,252 beds are occupied across the Pennine Hospitals of which nine are occupied by COVID patients as the 9th of August. At the peak on the 12th of April, 290 beds were occupied by COVID patients.

The data also shows that admission remains low at a 7-day moving average of 3 to 4 patients per day, which is down from the preceding week.

In addition to the entirely unnecessary restrictions in Oldham, Pendle and Blackburn, Birmingham has been added to a watchlist as an “area of enhanced support”. The BBC has more.

The Labour leader said the council would announce “as soon as possible” what this meant for people in the city.

“If our previous warnings to keep doing the basics haven’t been enough, this has to be the wake-up call for everyone,” he said. “Wash your hands, wear face coverings wherever possible, keep two metres apart from others and get tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms.”

The Labour leader said the council would announce “as soon as possible” what this meant for people in the city.

“If our previous warnings to keep doing the basics haven’t been enough, this has to be the wake-up call for everyone,” he said.

“Wash your hands, wear face coverings wherever possible, keep two metres apart from others and get tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms.”

But why? Birmingham has 31 cases per 100,000 according to the latest figures, which is lower than it is London (50/100,000), according to the latest ONS Infection Survey data. If Birmingham has been added to the watchlist, why not London?

Incidentally, the latest Infection Survey – which shows no increase in cases on the previous week – also says: “There is no evidence from this survey to say that there is a difference in COVID-19 infection rates between different regions.”

Is the R Number Increasing?

SAGE has announced the R number has climbed above one for the first time since March and, as a result, the entire country may have to go into a second lockdown. According to the Telegraph:

A second national lockdown could be imposed, senior Government advisers have warned, as the upper limit of the R rate pushed over one for the first time since restrictions were lifted.

It continues:

Public Health England surveillance showed case detections in England increased from 5,763 to 6,418 in the week to August 16th, up 11%.

Daily cases are nearly double the number at the beginning of June when lockdown measures were eased. Oliver Johnson, a University of Bristol Professor of Information Theory, said: “The major concern is that R values of this magnitude do not leave a significant margin before the epidemic starts to grow in size again, and raise the possibility that some re-openings may need to be reversed to allow schools to open safely.”

What fresh hell is this? Not only is Public Health England’s data for the week ending August 16th at odds with the ONS Infection Survey data for the week ending August 13th, but an analysis by scientists at the universities of Leeds and Oxford indicates the recent increase in cases hasn’t translated into corresponding increases in hospital admissions and fatalities, even when allowing for the time lag between infections and death. Their analysis shows there should have been 35 fatalities a day by now, but just two deaths were recorded in English hospitals on Friday and none on Thursday, according to NHS England. Admissions are also continuing to fall and consultants say hospitals are “relatively empty” even in hotspots.

It’s time to prise these lockdown fanatics away from Boris Johnson’s ear.

Boris Returns to Cancer Care Crisis

“My advice to the good people of Britain is… don’t get cancer in 2020.”

According to today’s Times, scores of MPs, including several former ministers, have written to the Prime Minister urging him to do something about a backlog in cancer care that could lead to 30,000 unnecessary deaths in the next decade.

More than 100 MPs have written to Boris Johnson after the coronavirus lockdown caused severe disruption to cancer diagnoses and treatments. They have called on him to deliver an emergency boost to treatment capacity.

One senior oncologist has claimed that in a worst-case scenario the effects of the pandemic could result in 30,000 excess cancer deaths over the next decade.

In the letter, seen by the Times, the MPs write: “We urge you to work with your ministers to ensure that the NHS reacts more quickly to restore cancer services that have been badly disrupted due to the response to Covid.

“We are particularly concerned that the NHS’s plan appears to be limited to getting cancer services back to normal by the end of the year [but] this timescale is far too long. Many cancers can become untreatable in a matter of weeks.”

The signatories include Dan Poulter, a former health minister, Sir Ed Davey, a former energy secretary, and Sir Oliver Heald, a former Solicitor-General.

Research by Cancer Research UK charity indicates that in the 18 weeks since March 23rd about three million people missed out on vital screenings for bowel, breast and cervical cancer. In the same period about 315,000 fewer people than normal received an urgent suspected cancer referral and overall there were 38,000 fewer treatments.

Karol Sikora, a senior oncologist and co-founder of Rutherford Health, a private cancer treatment company, suggested that there could be up to 30,000 excess cancer deaths in the next ten years. He cited a study published last month in the journal Lancet Oncology, looking at the decline during lockdown in urgent cancer referrals by GPs. It calculated a worst-case scenario where an average six-month delay in these referrals would lead to nearly 9,300 excess deaths in the next decade.

Karol Sikora, a senior oncologist and co-founder of Rutherford Health, a private cancer treatment company, suggested that there could be up to 30,000 excess cancer deaths in the next ten years. He cited a study published last month in the journal Lancet Oncology, looking at the decline during lockdown in urgent cancer referrals by GPs. It calculated a worst-case scenario where an average six-month delay in these referrals would lead to nearly 9,300 excess deaths in the next decade.

If any readers have stories of their own cancer care being delayed or cancelled – or that of family members – please get in touch and I’ll publish them (always protecting your anonymity). You can email me here.

Postcard From Birmingham

A reader had a depressing experience in Birmingham city centre recently.

A month or so ago I had an appointment south of Birmingham and decided to travel via New Street station in the city centre.

The initial impression was of a sad, purposeless city, with almost everybody – myself included – shuffling along in a subdued state, going through the motions of life without zip or joy.

New Street Station presents a challenge at the best of times. Expect now an experience out of Kafka laced with 1980s spoof disaster movie Airplane!

Shortly having entered the cavernous underground bunker there was a confrontation with a large masked security official in a high viz jacket.

“You can’t get out this way!” he barked.

When I told him I was actually trying to get in, he aimed an arm in an opposing direction, towards another set of gates which looked promising at first glance, but were also keenly guarded by officials indicating another detour was required.

Oh, well.

At least there was an announcement on the PA stating some passengers will be exempt from mask-wearing. (Take-up 95%+ at a rough glance; you might want to include one to protect from the noxious fumes belching from trains waiting at covered platforms.)

Having completed the return journey a few hours later there was a requirement “to leave via the Yellow Zone”.

I tried to comply, thinking of Leslie Nielsen, emerged in an unfamiliar area, and ended up missing a connection at nearby Moor Street.

And now the bedwetting local council is anticipating lockdown with cases running rampant at, er, c30 per 100,000 of a demoralised local population…

All Party Parliamentary Group Recommends a ‘Zero Covid’ Strategy

A bedwetting group of MPs, led by the Liberal Democratic leadership hopeful Layla Moran, has urged the Government to commit to a ‘zero Covid’ strategy. The Standard has more.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on coronavirus called on the Government to maintain compulsory social distancing measures across the country until zero-Covid is achieved.

The MPs said working from home should be actively encouraged and COVID-19 screening should be introduced at transport hubs, shopping centres and supermarkets, in order to meet the goal.

So we should maintain current social distancing measures – and introduce mandatory temperature screening – until the virus has been completely eliminated?

Not only is permanently wiping out the virus completely unrealistic, it’s worth reminding ourselves of a few facts to put the risk it poses in context.

  • Half a million people die in the UK every year; to date, Covid has killed less than 10% of that number
  • 170,000 Britons die of heart disease and stroke every year, more than three times the number that have died of novel coronavirus
  • In the winter of 2017-18, there were 50,000 excess deaths in the UK due to flu and pneumonia; to date, ~46,000 have died of Covid-19
  • Only two British children aged between five and 14 have died of Covid, meaning children that age have a 1:3,500,000 chance of succumbing to the virus, lower than being struck by lightning
  • In Germany, 25,100 people died of seasonal influenza in 2017-18; to date, 9,328 Germans have died of Covid
  • Globally, around 57 million people die each year; to date, coronavirus has killed less than a million
  • Globally, in a typical year 1.6 million people die of diarrhoea; that’s twice the number that have died of Covid
  • John Ioannidis, Professor of Medicine at Stanford, has estimated that if you’re under 65 you’re more likely to die in a road traffic accident than succumb to the virus. However, he may be over-stating the risk. In a typical year, there are 1.1 million road traffic fatalities; in 2020, ~800,000 people have died of Covid

Incidentally, if you look at the APPG’s website, the ‘zero-Covid’ recommendation is not minuted or documented, there is no report containing the recommendation and the group’s inquiry hasn’t actually finished. There are hearings scheduled through into September and it’s still possible to submit evidence.

Could it be that Layla Moran is just grandstanding in the hope of shoring up her leadership credentials?

Beware: Plastic Shark

A reader spotted the above muzzled shark above a fish and chip shop in Oxford. She writes:

I snapped this in Oxford as mask-wearing customers queued into the street. Presumably the owner’s concerned that since cricket balls, flip-flops and cats are deemed deadly, it’ll only be a matter of time before his six feet model shark is listed as a killer vector too.

Care Home Cruelty

I received this heart-breaking email from a reader today. When will this needless cruelty end?

I am desperate and besides myself having received some information from my father’s care home today. It is only allowing one member of his family to visit him for 30 minutes once a fortnight. Full PPE, outdoors and at two metre distance.

What is most upsetting is that it is a reduction in what we have been managing to do to try to support him since March. We have been allowed by the care home to see him through double glazed patio doors for 30 minutes, twice a week. So down from four visits a fortnight to one.

I cannot see an end to these restrictions in care homes and I am now, more than ever, certain I will never see my father in person again before his natural death. There must be more to the end of a person’s life than this loneliness and being deprived of family support and love.

Please do print any aspects of this on the website as you feel fit.

A very very sad day for my family today.

Meanwhile, another reader has got in touch saying he’s been told by his friend’s care home that he’s not even able to send flowers. The guidance issued by the home includes the following gem: “We are unable, unfortunately, to accept any flowers, due to the inability to sanitize them.”

Round-Up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Two today: “Ignorance is Bliss” by The Divine Comedy and “What a Fool Believes” by the Doobie Brothers.

Love in the Time of Covid

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums that are now open, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. We’ve also just introduced a section where people can arrange to meet up for non-romantic purposes. We have a team of moderators in place to remove spam and deal with the trolls, but sometimes it takes a little while so please bear with us. You have to register to use the Forums, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Small Businesses That Have Re-Opened

A few months ago, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have re-opened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you.

Now that non-essential shops have re-opened – or most of them, anyway – we’re focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. As of July 4th, many of them have re-opened too, but not all (and some of them are at risk of having to close again). Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet – particularly if they’re not insisting on face masks. If they’ve made that clear to customers with a sign in the window or similar, so much the better. Don’t worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

I’ve created a permanent slot down here for people who want to buy (or make) a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and it has the advantage of not explicitly claiming you have a disability. But if you have no qualms about that (or you are disabled), you can buy a lanyard from Amazon saying you do have a disability/medical exemption here (now showing it will arrive between Oct 5th to Oct 15th). The Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. You can get a “Hidden Disability” tag from ebay here and an “exempt” card with lanyard for just £3.99 from Etsy here.

Don’t forget to sign the petition on the UK Government’s petitions website calling for an end to mandatory face nappies in shops here (now over 29,500).

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption.

And here’s a round-up of the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of mask (threadbare at best).

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the past 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. Doing these daily updates is a lot of work, although I have help from several people. If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here. If you want me to link to something, don’t forget to include the HTML code, i.e. a link.

And Finally…

I was on Any Questions last night. You can listen again at 1.10 pm today and on the BBC’s website here. Tried my best to put across the sceptical point of view although, needless to say, the other three panellists were not of the same mind.

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