Day: 11 March 2021

Church Closures “Unfair to Christians”, Scottish Court Hears

A Scottish court heard today that Nicola Sturgeon acted outside of her constitutional powers by closing churches, and that her Government should not have involved itself in questioning “the legitimacy of beliefs or the manner in which they are expressed”. The Times has the story.

The pandemic has highlighted Christians’ “irreconcilable conflict” between obeying the state and God, a QC has said as she argued that Nicola Sturgeon acted outwith her constitutional powers by closing churches.

Lord Braid heard today that this tension had caused 27 church ministers to instruct Advocate Janys Scott, QC to raise a judicial review at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

The ministers believe that the Scottish Government’s decision to close churches earlier this year was unlawful and breached their right to religious freedom under human rights legislation.

They also believe that the Scottish Government has breached the obligations placed on it by the British constitution.

The ministers are seeking an order declaring the decision to be unlawful and a declarator which would allow people to attend church should the tier system be reintroduced . The order being sought would allow a person living in a “Tier 4” – the most restrictive tier – to go to church.

The message of the ministers was clear:

“The petitioners would say that faith is a matter of hope in life and in death and it’s more than mere obedience and that it is essential particularly at a time of national crisis.”

Last month, a Glaswegian priest also took legal action against the closing of churches during lockdown. He said that churches need to be open “to be able to support [parish members] best in their hour of need”. Hearings are ongoing in both cases.

Worth reading in full.

What Happened in South Dakota?

We’re publishing a piece today by Dr Noah Carl, an independent scholar, on South Dakota. As Noah points out, South Dakota had some of the lightest restrictions in the Western world and its death toll is high compared to other US states – the eighth highest, in fact. But it has also seen cases decline rapidly since November in spite of the Governor’s laissez-faire approach, which is puzzling given that the herd immunity threshold doesn’t appear to have been reached. In the following Extract, Noah speculates about why this could be.

So, why did case numbers fall in South Dakota? I’m afraid I don’t have the answer. But here are a few possibilities. First, the herd immunity threshold is lower than 66%. This could be because the threshold has been overestimated in general, or because it is lower specifically in South Dakota, perhaps due to the state’s geography.

Second, the Google mobility index is a poor measure of the behaviours that drive transmission (as Philippe Lemoine has suggested). Perhaps South Dakotans were extra careful to practice social distancing during the month of November, even though they didn’t stop going out for retail and recreation. Weighing against this interpretation is the fact that there were dramatic changes at the start of the pandemic. Notice the precipitous decline in the retail index, and concomitant rise in the residential index, on the left-hand side of the chart.

Third, the level of immunity at which cases start declining (even if true herd immunity has not yet been reached) is much lower than 66%. This could be the case if there is substantial heterogeneity in the behaviours that drive transmission. Suppose that 80% of infections are caused by 20% of people. (Perhaps these ‘super-spreaders’ are particularly sociable, careless, or likely to interact with others by nature of their work.) Once a large enough share of the 20% has been infected, case numbers may begin falling rapidly. (This point has been made by David Dowdy.)

Worth reading in full.

Noah’s piece originally appeared in his Substack newsletter, which is worth subscribing to. He writes regularly about the pandemic.

Boris Warned that Lockdown Rules Will Look “Silly” if Covid Cases Keep Falling

The Prime Minister has taken a political beating from Sir Graham Brady, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, who says that lockdown rules will look “silly” if Covid cases continue to fall. The Evening Standard has the story.

Boris Johnson was warned today by the leader of Tory backbench MPs that lockdown rules will look “silly” if Covid cases continue to tumble.

Sir Graham Brady… also criticised the five-week gaps between each stage of the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown.

He spoke out just days after England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned that speeding up the easing of the restrictions would significantly increase the risk of a large surge in coronavirus and more deaths.

Ministers are insisting that the Government is sticking to its timetable for lifting lockdown, with the restrictions due to be largely gone by June 21st.

But a growing number of Tory MPs are publicly challenging it as Covid cases fall, as do hospitalisations and coronavirus deaths.

Sir Graham told talkRadio: “The danger is that the rules start to look silly.

“People can see what is happening with the figures… [for] most people it’s a very long time since they knew anybody in their own circle who had been ill with Covid.

“These things start to become more and more apparent.”

Will the pressure to lift lockdown early become too much for the Prime Minister to resist?

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: It turns out that the Government is not even intending to end social distancing rules on June 21st, and that there is currently no end date envisaged for social distancing. John Stevens, the leader of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, has met with Government officials to discuss lockdown rules for churches. He has written the following:

At present, the 2m social distancing guidance and requirement to wear masks in church will remain in place after June 21st. Whether these restrictions can be removed will depend upon the progress of infection rates and whether new variants of the virus emerge that require the measures to remain in place.

Record 4.6 Million People on Waiting List to Begin Hospital Treatment

The number of people waiting to receive hospital treatment in England has reached a record high as a result of Covid and lockdowns. Sky News has the story.

Some 4.59 million people were waiting to begin treatment at the end of January, according to NHS England.

It is the highest since records began in August 2007.

The number waiting more than a year was 304,044 in January – the highest for any month since January 2008.

In comparison, the number in January 2020 was just 1,643.

With lockdown in force and many hospitals dealing with record numbers of Covid patients, January also saw a 54% drop in people admitted for routine treatment.

Some 139,378 patients were admitted, compared with 304,888 the same time last year.

More people were receiving pre-planned and emergency care in January 2021 than in April 2020, but the figures still leave much to be desired.

Despite battling the January peak – when more than 100,000 people needed Covid hospital treatment – NHS England said staff still managed to care for 1.3 million people without the virus.

That’s a significant rise on the 847,000 treated during the peak of the first wave in April 2020.

Around 400,000 more people also got pre-planned care and 70,000 emergency care in January compared with April.

Hospitals are now in a much better position to start working through the backlog as the Covid strain has eased significantly since January.

Perhaps more attention should be paid to Professor Karol Sikora’s suggestion that “just one of these endless press conferences [by the Government should] be dedicated to non-Covid related illnesses“.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The NHS performed 40% fewer heart operations as Britain entered lockdown this January.

Denmark Suspends Use of AstraZeneca Vaccine Over Blood Clot Fears

Denmark has halted the rollout of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine following reports of negative side effects relating to blood clots. The Telegraph has the story.

Denmark has temporarily suspended AstraZeneca Covid vaccine shots after reports of cases of blood clots forming, including one in Denmark, Danish authorities said on Thursday.

They did not say how many reports of blood clots there had been, but Austria has stopped using a batch of AstraZeneca shots while investigating a death from coagulation disorders and an illness from a pulmonary embolism.

They said six other European countries had halted the use of a vaccine batch from AstraZeneca.

“Both we and the Danish Medicines Agency have to respond to reports of possible serious side-effects, both from Denmark and other European countries,” the director of the Danish Health Authority, Soren Brostrom, said in a statement.

The vaccine would be suspended for 14 days, the health agency said. It did not give details of the Danish blood clot patient.

AstraZeneca has defended its shot, highlighting that there have been “no confirmed serious adverse events associated with the vaccine”, but is fully supportive of Denmark’s investigation.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: There have been no registered cases of blood clots related to AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine in Spain, according to the country’s Health Secretary, which will continue to use the shots.

Stop Press 2: Norway and Iceland have also stopped giving the AstraZeneca jab and a number of other countries, including Italy, have temporarily stopped using two different batches of the AstraZeneca vaccine, after reports in Italy of a “serious adverse event” linked to one batch and the death in Austria related to another batch. The Telegraph has more.

Stop Press 3: Romanian authorities have temporarily stopped vaccinating people with one batch of AstraZeneca’s vaccine as an “extreme precaution” while deaths in Italy are investigated, but are continuing to use other doses from the company. Channel News Asia has more.

News Round-Up

Has South Africa Reached Herd Immunity?

Last month a pre-print was published that showed COVID-19 antibodies in South Africa had reached remarkably high levels. It was ignored by most of the media, but given the concern over the South Africa variant being “more transmissible” and “evading vaccine immunity” it shouldn’t have been as it gives an indication of what we might expect from the variant.

Extrapolating from antibody testing on blood donors, the researchers found antibody levels of 63% in Eastern Cape province (EC), 46% in Free State (FS), 52% in KwaZulu Natal (ZN) and 32% in Northern Cape (NC). These figures were between 15 and 22 times higher than the percentage of the population that had tested positive for the virus to date.

Young Suffering “Vicious Cycles of Increasing Distress” In Lockdown, Experts Warn

Psychiatrists at the University of Cambridge have drawn attention to the impact of lockdown on young people. Writing in the British Medical Journal, they said that action is needed “to ensure that this generation is not disproportionately disadvantaged by Covid”.

Studies carried out during the pandemic suggest that although some families are coping well, others are facing financial adversity, struggling to home school, and risk experiencing vicious cycles of increasing distress. Probable mental health conditions increased from 10.8% in 2017 to 16% in July 2020 across all age, sex, and ethnic groups according to England’s Mental Health of Children and Young People Survey (MHCYP).

A probability based sample of 2,673 parents recruited through social media reported deteriorating mental health and increased behavioural problems among children aged four to 11 years between March and May 2020 (during lockdown) but reduced emotional symptoms among 11-16 year olds. The more socioeconomically deprived respondents had consistently worse mental health in both surveys – a stark warning given that economic recession is expected to increase the numbers of families under financial strain.

The authors report that, while numbers are too small to be definite about the relationship between the first English lockdown and increased suicides among young people, they are more clear regarding a link to eating disorders.

The national referral statistics for eating disorders in England show a doubling in the number of urgent referrals during 2020 and a smaller increase in non-urgent referrals. Known triggers for self-harm and poor mental health are aggravated by pandemic restrictions, including separation from friends, arguments with parents, unresolvable arguments on social media, strained finances, academic stress, and feelings of isolation. School closures are particularly difficult for families facing other adversities.

The evolving consequences of the pandemic are set against longstanding concerns about deteriorating mental health among children and young people, and the inadequacy of service provision. Although children are at lowest risk of death from COVID-19, concerning signals remain about the pandemic’s effects on their mental health, which are unevenly experienced across different age groups and socioeconomic circumstances.

The reopening of schools may help to alleviate the current sufferings of the nation’s young, provided false positives don’t keep perfectly healthy children stuck in their rooms.

Worth reading in full.