Day: 25 March 2021

The 76 MPs Who Deserve Our Praise

These are the 76 MPs who voted against the renewal of the Coronavirus Act for a further six months this afternoon, plus two tellers.

Conservative

Adam Afriyie (Windsor)

Steve Baker (Wycombe)

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire)

Bob Blackman (Harrow East)

Peter Bone (Wellingborough)

Sir Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West)

Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds)

Philip Davies (Shipley)

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon)

Richard Drax (South Dorset)

Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford)

Marcus Fysh (Yeovil)

Mark Harper (Forest of Dean)

Philip Hollobone (Kettering)

David Jones (Clwyd West)

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire)

Jonathan Lord (Woking)

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet)

Karl McCartney (Lincoln)

Stephen McPartland (Stevenage)

Esther McVey (Tatton)

Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot)

John Redwood (Wokingham)

Andrew Rosindell (Romford)

Henry Smith (Crawley)

Julian Sturdy (York Outer)

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West)

Sir Robert Syms (Poole)

Craig Tracey (North Warwickshire)

Sir Charles Walker (Broxbourne)

David Warburton (Somerton and Frome)

William Wragg (Hazel Grove)

Labour

Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington)

Apsana Begum (Poplar and Limehouse)

Ben Bradshaw (Exeter)

Richard Burgon (Leeds East)

Dawn Butler (Brent Central)

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish)

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck)

Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields)

Clive Lewis (Norwich South)

Rebecca Long-Bailey (Salford and Eccles)

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

Ian Mearns (Gateshead)

Kate Osamor (Edmonton)

Kate Osborne (Jarrow)

Bell Ribeiro-Addy (Streatham)

John Spellar (Warley)

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton)

Zarah Sultana (Coventry South)

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth)

Derek Twigg (Halton)

Beth Winter (Cynon Valley)

Liberal Democrat

Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife)

Daisy Cooper (St Albans)

Ed Davey (Kingston and Surbiton)

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

Wera Hobhouse (Bath)

Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West)

Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon)

Sarah Olney (Richmond Park)

Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

Munira Wilson (Twickenham)

Democratic Unionist Party

Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry)

Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley)

Paul Girvan (South Antrim)

Carla Lockhart (Upper Bann)

Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East)

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim)

Green Party

Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion)

Alliance

Stephen Farry (North Down)

Independent

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North)

Tellers

Chris Green (Conservative, Bolton West)

Alistair Carmichael (Liberal Democrat, Orkney and Shetland)

The final toll was 484 votes to 76, giving the Government a majority of 408. The MailOnline has more.

Stop Press: Toby says: “Good to see Layla Moran in the ‘no’ lobby. When I debated her at the Cambridge Union in January she was pro-lockdown. Let’s hope the superior arguments on our side of the debate helped to change her mind.”

Is it Safe to Use the NHS Yet? Deciphering the Government’s Mixed Messages

In a guest post, Dr Ann Bradshaw, a retired senior lecturer in adult nursing at Oxford Brookes, says the Government is still giving off mixed messages about how open and safe the NHS is. Could this be putting people off using it? Is this why there were still 800 excess deaths at home in the week ending March 12th, 30% above the five-year average, even though deaths overall were 4.4% below the five-year average?

First, in March after my Covid vaccination the NHS offered me a mammogram. I readily accepted the invitation. Then my GP surgery offered me a pneumococcal vaccination from a “limited supply”. I had never heard of it so looked it up on the NHS website. Oh, I saw it is offered to everyone age 65. I was never offered it before. Never mind, I thought. In these pandemic days I will take anything offered.

But, wait a minute. 40% of Covid is caught in hospitals I had read, and what about GP surgeries? I asked a doctor friend what to do. He advised to wait until my booster. But will I miss my chance if the supply is “limited”? Decisions, decisions.

I phoned the GP hoping for reassuring advice. The surgery is bound, I thought, to tell me all the social distancing measures in place to keep me safe. Perhaps I will be told to wait in a socially distanced queue outside and the nurse would meet me in the car park with the syringe for the jab? But no such advice. Instead, the receptionist said: “Oh don’t worry, we are not as full as we were before the pandemic.” But what of all the hacking coughers in the waiting room, I wondered? And anyway, hasn’t the Government told us for weeks: “Beware of the silent symptomless spreaders”. The Government’s constant warnings ring in my ears “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives”. “Don’t you know there is a lockdown on?” The lockdown is still on in March, so the Government must still be worried, and therefore so am I. “But if I postpone until after my booster”, I asked the surgery receptionist and surgery manager, “will I still get it?” “That depends on our limited supplies,” they replied. Decisions, decisions.

And what of the mammogram? Will I be socially distanced in the waiting room? Will the radiographer have clean hands? Will the equipment carry Covid specks? The Government warnings ring again, loudly in my ears. Hospitals are breeding grounds. How many secret Covid spreaders will I encounter? To put my mind at rest I Googled “mammogram” and “Covid”. Oh no – apparently, mammograms after Covid vaccinations can give false positives. So that’s out. Easy decision this time. Or is it? What if I have a hidden lump?

And don’t even mention the dentist. Other people’s mouths and the hygienist’s breath are bound to give me Covid. 

Ah, you might say. But you have been vaccinated against Covid. Surely you are safe? And my answer is: have you not read the NHS website? You are not safe. The NHS message is that GPs and dentists and routine scans “are open”. The message is not that they are “safe” and my GP’s website confirms this. Even a jab does not make me safe. “You cannot go back to life as normal”, it says. 

Making decisions means getting inside the mind of Government. On the one hand Government obviously believes I can’t be safe from Covid because all the restrictions remain – and there are no excuses for the vaccinated, whether jabbed once or jabbed twice. Restrictions are for everyone to keep us all safe, to protect the NHS and save our lives. Aren’t they? On the other hand, the Government says the NHS is open for routine business. But is this, I wonder in a moment of cynicism, just to save face – to avoid the criticism that people are not being treated for non-Covid illnesses? I am very confused. Am I safe for normal life and routine NHS treatment or not safe for normal life and routine NHS treatment?

Johnson Suggests All Adults Must Be Offered Jab Before Passport Scheme

Asked about the vaccination programme during a visit to a nursery in West London, Boris Johnson suggested that everyone must have been offered a jab before any immunity status certification system could come into force. The BBC reports:

He said no decisions had been made but there would be an update on the idea in April. A review will report in June.

There were “difficult issues… moral complexities, ethical problems that need to be addressed”, the PM added.

Any passport could also reflect a negative test result as well as whether someone was vaccinated or has immunity.

Good to know that Johnson is engaged in such hand-wringing over the ‘moral complexities’ of the matter.

He continued:

“There are some people who for medical reasons can’t get a vaccination, pregnant women can’t get a vaccination at the moment, you’ve got to be careful about how you do this.

“You might only be able to implement a thorough-going vaccination passport scheme even if you wanted such a thing in the context of when absolutely everybody had been offered a vaccine.”

In the Commons, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who is leading the review, told MPs: “A system that relied purely on vaccination would not be appropriate.

“What would be right was a system that ensured we could open up our economy to the maximum extent that takes into account both vaccine status but also of recent test status and indeed potentially also antibody status as well,” he added.

Quarter of Over-80s in England Likely to Have Received Both Vaccine Doses

A quarter of England’s over-80s are likely to have received both their doses of the Covid vaccine, according to NHS England figures. The Express and Star has the story.

A quarter of people in England aged 80 and over are now fully vaccinated against Covid, new figures suggest.

An estimated 25.5% of people in this age group had received both doses of the vaccine as of March 21st.

In some regions the proportion is even higher, with an estimate of 26.1% for south-west England and 30.6% for north-east England and Yorkshire.

They also suggest 3.5% of people aged 75 to 79 have had both doses, along with 1.5% of the 70 to 74 and 65 to 69 age groups.

A small number of younger adults in England are now fully vaccinated, including 2.8% of 50-54 year-olds and 1.7% of those aged 16 to 49.

Meanwhile, an estimated 87.0% of people aged 50 and over in England have now received their first dose of vaccine, including 80.0% of 55 to 59 year-olds and 65.0% of 50 to 54 year-olds.

The speed of the vaccine rollout has not, however, quickened our exit from lockdown. MPs have just voted to renew the Coronavirus Act for a further six months, and Matt Hancock has said he “cannot answer” whether the Act will be retired then or rolled on again.

The report on England’s Covid vaccine progress is worth reading in full.

76 MPs Rebel Against Renewal of Coronavirus Act

76 MPs rebelled against the renewal of the Coronavirus Act for a further six months in the House of Commons this afternoon, the largest rebellion so far against one of the Government’s Covid measures. The final toll was 484 votes to 76, giving the Government a majority of 408. The victory came in spite of the fact that Matt Hancock refused to rule out renewing the regulations again in the Autumn. MailOnline has more.

Mr Hancock told the restive chamber he “cannot answer” whether the Coronavirus Act will be retired in six months or rolled on, as he opened the debate this afternoon.

“There are parts of this Act that have allowed us to do good things that everybody would like to see like that, and so when we do come to retire this Act, which we must within one year and preferably within six months, we will need to make sure that we can continue to do that sort of thing and make sure that nurses can be enrolled as easily as possible into the NHS,” he said.

“But I cannot answer whether we will be retiring it in six months. My preference would be yes, but given the last year, I think a prediction would be hasty.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Watch Mark Harper MP, Chair of the Covid Recovery Group, speak against the Act here.

Vaccine Passports a Terrible Idea. Variants Over-Hyped. Masks Pointless. An Interview With Professor Jay Bhattacharya

Today we’re publishing an original interview with Jay Bhattacharya, Professor of Medicine at Stanford University. The interview was done by a staff reporter at a national newspaper group writing under a pseudonym to protect his job. Prof Bhattacharya has been a staunch lockdown sceptic from almost the very beginning and is one of the three co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration.

Here he is on vaccine passports:

Vaccine passports are a terrible idea that will diminish trust in public health and do nothing to improve the health of the population. Vaccine certificates are not needed as a public health measure. The Government had it right previously. The country should open up now that the older, vulnerable population has been vaccinated. The rest of the population is at much greater health risk from the lockdown than they are from the virus.

And here he is on mask mandates:

The evidence that mask mandates work to slow the spread of the disease is very weak. The only randomised evaluation of mask efficacy in preventing Covid infection found very small, statistically insignificant effects [Danish mask study]. And masks are deleterious to the social and educational development of children, especially young children. They are not needed to address the epidemic. In Sweden, for instance, children have been in school maskless almost the whole of the epidemic, with no child Covid deaths and teachers contracting Covid at rates that are lower than the average of other workers.

This is a great interview with one of the intellectual pillars of the sceptical movement.

Worth reading in full.

NHS England to Cut Covid Alert Level From Four to Three

NHS England is set to reduce its national Covid alert level from four to three in light of falling Covid hospitalisation rates. This reduction should enable hospitals to begin tackling record-long waiting lists for other illnesses. The Independent has the story.

NHS England has said it will reduce the national coronavirus emergency incident level today as the number of patients in hospital continues to fall.

The decision will hand back some control to local NHS hospitals and comes as NHS England revealed its plan for starting to tackle record backlogs in waits after thousands of operations were cancelled.

NHS England said that more than 380,000 coronavirus patients have been treated in hospital since the start of the pandemic, with one patient admitted to critical care every 30 minutes.

Chief Executive Simon Stevens said: “We had over 34,000 severely ill Coronavirus patients in our hospitals in mid-January. That number is now 4,000 and although that is still about 400 more Covid patients than we had this same day a year ago, nevertheless that very sharp decrease in the number of patients with Covid in hospital is a consequence of both declining infection rates across the community and the impact that’s now being felt from the vaccination programme.

“As a result of those much reduced acute pressures on the health service, today I’m recommending that we reduce the national alert level across the health service from level four to level three, and that would take effect today.”

Earlier this month, the number of people waiting to receive hospital treatment in England reached a record high of 4.6 million. Yesterday, the Telegraph reported that the “stay at home” message has been behind a major fall in urgent referrals, such as for lung cancer.

Urgent lung cancer referrals have fallen by a third, as a consultant blames the “stay at home” message.

Some 20,300 fewer people were referred for treatment in England between March 2020 and January 2021 compared with the previous year, according to an analysis by Cancer Research UK. This is a 34% fall in patients.

The charity has now warned that multiple lockdowns have resulted in damaging delays in life-saving treatment, as people are either ignoring symptoms altogether or putting off seeking help in order to comply with Covid rules.

As well as reducing the national alert level, NHS England has promised more money to help hospitals work on their waiting lists. The Independent reports:

[Simon Stevens said]: “We’ve got funding certainty for our Covid costs for the first half of the year, which I personally felt was very important that we had that planning certainty. We’ve got extra funding that we’ll be deploying to tackle long waiting lists, we are doubling down on the investment guarantees that we have made for mental health services and GP and community services.”

NHS England said it was putting in place an £8.1 billion plan to help recover all patient services with NHS trusts rewarded with money from a £1 billion pot in exchange for doing more operations and seeing increased numbers of patients in the coming months.

Worth reading in full.

Denmark Remains “Uncertain” About Saftey of AstraZeneca Covid Vaccine

Denmark has extended its suspension of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine for three weeks, while officials continue to investigate reports that it causes blood clots. The country initially halted its use of the vaccine on March 11th, along with a host of other countries which have since decided to resume their AZ jab rollouts following the European Medicines Agency’s announcement that it is “safe and effective”. Sky News has the story.

On March 11th, Denmark joined Norway, Austria, Italy and Iceland to suspend the use of the vaccine after reports of blood blots.

Originally the rollout of the coronavirus jab was paused for 14 days as a precautionary measure but Danish officials said on March 25th that this has been extended by three weeks as they conducted their own investigations. …

“Right now, we believe that our basis for making a final decision on the further use of the Covid vaccine by AstraZeneca is too uncertain,” Soeren Brostroem, head of the Danish Health Agency, said.

He said: “Many studies have been launched, but we do not yet have any conclusions. That is why we have decided to extend the break.”

Hesitancy remains due to suspicion that the AZ jab may be linked to “very rare blood clot cases”.

The Danish Health and Medicines Authority took the decision to stop using the jab after reports that a 60 year-old woman died with blood clots in several parts of her body a week after she received the vaccine.

A second person died in Demark after getting the jab, but health authorities said that they have no evidence the vaccine was responsible for either death.

The decision “was made on the basis of presumed side effects”, Tanja Erichsen of the Danish Medicines Agency said.

“I would like to emphasise that I am not talking about ordinary blood clots,” Ms Erichsen said.

“It is not about blood clots in the arms, legs and lungs.

“It can’t be ruled out that there is a connection between the vaccine and the very rare blood clot cases.”

A recent survey of 1,053 Danes suggests that, regardless of the result of these further tests, concerns about the vaccine are now widespread in Denmark. Far more Danes would decline to get an AstraZeneca Covid vaccine than would refuse to get a Covid jab altogether, showing that hesitancy is not simply the product of general vaccine scepticism. Reuters reports:

One in three Danes would decline to get a Covid shot using AstraZeneca’s vaccine, local media outlets TV 2 and Politiken reported late on Wednesday, citing a recent survey. …

The survey, conducted by Megafon among 1,053 persons, showed 33% of Danes would decline to get a shot with AstraZeneca’s vaccine. However, only 7% would decline regardless of which Covid vaccine they were offered.

The Sky News report is worth reading in full.

AstraZeneca Downgrades Its Efficacy Claims Following Criticism From US Health Agency

AstraZeneca has downgraded its estimates of the efficacy of its Covid vaccine by 3% following recent criticism from a US health agency that results from a trial used “outdated information”. The pharmaceutical company hopes that this small revision will enable its vaccine to receive US approval in the coming weeks. The Mail has the story.

AstraZeneca today claimed its Covid vaccine blocked 76% of symptomatic infections in a major US trial, after downgrading its estimate slightly in the face of unprecedented public criticism.

The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant was accused of cherry-picking data by US watchdogs, who were “concerned” that the firm provided an “incomplete view” of the jab’s efficacy by releasing early results of the study.

But the recalculated figure was only marginally lower than the original 79% it bragged about on Monday. The data was based on the final results of the exact same 32,000-person trial.  

AstraZeneca’s Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice President of Biopharmaceutical Research and Development, said the results were “consistent” with the interim results that sparked controversy.

He added the data “confirms our Covid vaccine is highly effective in adults, including those aged 65 years and over”.

The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) expressed concerns over the use of “outdated information” in trial results in a statement earlier this week. The Mail reported:

The Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB), an independent committee overseeing the trial, has “expressed concern that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data”, the US NIAID said in a statement.

“We urge the company to work with the DSMB to review the efficacy data and ensure the most accurate, up-to-date efficacy data be made public as quickly as possible,” it said, adding that the DSMB had informed AstraZeneca of its concerns.

AZ scientists have commented that this statement was highly “unusual” given that such discussions are usually held behind closed doors, but have also expressed hope about the vaccine receiving US approval in due course.

The small revision to the efficacy rate will go a long way to putting the vaccine back on track for US approval, with the firm hoping it will be given the green light in the coming weeks. Britain’s regulators gave it the sign off in December.

The Mail’s report on this downgrading is worth reading in full.

News Round Up