Day: 7 April 2021

Britain Will Achieve Herd Immunity on Monday

According to a Telegraph exclusive, the number of people with protection either through vaccination or previous infection will hit 73.4% on April 12th – the herd immunity threshold. Sarah Knapton, the Telegraph’s Science Editor, has more.

Britain will pass the threshold for herd immunity on Monday, according to dynamic modelling by University College London (UCL), placing more pressure on the Government to move faster in releasing restrictions.

According to the UCL results, published this week, the number of people who have protection against the virus either through vaccination or previous infection will hit 73.4% on April 12th – enough to tip the country into herd immunity.

The number is in stark contrast to the modelling released by Imperial College this week, which suggested there was just 34% protection by the end of March.

Last week, antibody testing by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggested that, in the week ending March 14th, around 54% of people in England already had antibodies to the virus, and slightly less in the devolved nations.

Since then, a further 7.1 million people have received a first dose of vaccine and nearly 100,000 have tested positive for the virus, with many more acquiring a silent, asymptomatic infection.

It is thought about one in 10 people also have some innate immunity through infections with other coronaviruses – pushing population-level protection up further – while others may be immune through T-cells, which would not be picked up in antibody testing.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: At the end of this story there is a very encouraging note about the Government’s unhappiness with the models SPI-M is relying on for the latest advice it’s feeding the Government via SAGE. Interestingly, almost all the points the Government has raised are points raised by Glen Bishop and others on Lockdown Sceptics.

The Telegraph understands that the Government is unhappy with the pessimistic tone set by models produced by SPI-M, released earlier this week, and has asked other groups to critique the work. The SPI-M summary, presented to SAGE, suggested the roadmap out of lockdown was “highly likely” to lead to increased hospital cases and deaths this summer.

The models were criticised for using out of date and flawed assumptions about levels of population immunity and effectiveness of the vaccine as well as failing to factor in reductions in transmission due to vaccination and seasonality.

Prof Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford University, said: “In my 20-plus years as a doctor, I’ve never come across a summer surge in a respiratory infection in the UK. The modelling now keeps changing dramatically, so it’s hard to see how it helps us. What we really want to do is look at the real-world data and make decisions from there.

“One of the problems is nobody is going back and checking whether the modelling matched up with the reality. We know that modelling in schools has not helped us because it was incorrect. So we need to have a reality check.”

Stop Press 2: Matt Hancock has dismissed claims that herd immunity will be reached next week. The Times has the story.

[The Health Secretary] appeared unmoved by the optimistic claims. “I was told by some scientists that we were going to have herd immunity in May and then in June and then after that,” he told LBC.

“What I prefer to do is watch the data. We’ve set out the roadmap, the roadmap is really clear. It is our route back to normal. We’re on track to meet the roadmap and that is our goal.”

Pressed on why he was not accepting UCL’s claims, Hancock replied: “I think we have taken the right course in plotting our way to freedom and doing it carefully because we want it to be irreversible. We have seen what happens when this virus gets going and we are seeing it getting going right now on the continent and other parts of the world – some of the scenes are really appalling.

“We want to get out of this safely and irreversibly and that’s why we set out the roadmap.”

Also worth reading in full.

HSBC Moves More Than 1,200 UK Staff to Permanent Home Working

HSBC will move more than 1,200 staff in Britain to permanent working from home contracts in an attempt to cut costs post-lockdown(s). The bank has gone one step further than introducing “hybrid working” contracts, where staff work from home some of the time, which some have predicted will become “the norm” when the country (and the world) unlocks. Reuters has the story.

HSBC is moving more than 1,200 staff in Britain to permanent working from home contracts, in one of the strongest indications yet of how banks are locking in changes to employees’ work patterns as a result of the pandemic to cut costs.

Around 70% of the bank’s 1,800 call centre staff based across England, Wales and Scotland had volunteered to never return to the office, Unite, one of Britain’s biggest employment unions, told Reuters.

Scores of companies have quickly cemented hybrid working and cut office space, but HSBC’s move to base some staff permanently at home goes further than most rivals opting for a mixed approach.

Such changes could lead to wellbeing concerns long term if not handled properly, Unite said.

A HSBC UK spokesman said: “We are in discussions with contact centre colleagues who serve HSBC UK retail customers about ways that we can offer flexibility on work location while ensuring the way we work meets our customers’ needs. These discussions are continuing.”

Unite said HSBC has offered staff a £300 per year working from home top-up payment to cover additional expenses such as higher heating and electricity bills.

A surprisingly high percentage of staff opted to work permanently from home, with only 5% saying they would prefer to fully return to the office.

Dominic Hook, the union’s national officer, said the contract changes for the 70% opting in were being finalised with teams, with those taking it up expected only to come in to HSBC offices for training.

A quarter of staff declined the offer as they wanted to work in the office at least some of the time, while 5% preferred to go back to the office permanently.

When Manhattan businesses began to reopen in March, only 10% of office workers returned to the workplace. Even in the long term, employers in the city expect 56% of their office staff will continue working remotely at least part of the time – an indication that work habits after Covid will be very different.

Reuters’ report on HSBC is worth reading in full.

Under-30s to Be Offered Alternative to AstraZeneca Vaccine Following MHRA Investigation

Britain’s vaccine rollout is to undergo a “course correction” that will see people below the age of 30 being offered alternatives to the AstraZeneca vaccine, following advice from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The MHRA said there is a possible link between this vaccine and “extremely rare and unlikely to occur” blood clots. Government advisors have stopped short of restricting the use of the AZ jab in younger people altogether, despite considering doing so.

Up to March 31st, 79 people in the UK developed blood clots following their first AstraZeneca jab. Nineteen of these people have died. The Chief Executive of the MHRA said: “The risk [of getting blood clots after receiving the AZ vaccine] is four people in a million.” Sky News has the story.

Britons aged 18-29 will be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine following 79 people developing blood clots after the jab, Government advisors have decided.

The MHRA concluded there is a possible link between the AZ vaccine and “extremely rare and unlikely to occur” blood clots with lowered platelets.

Younger people are much less likely to die from Covid so the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has decided it is safer to advise that age group are offered a different jab, where possible. …

The advice is being given after a total of 79 people in the UK have had blood clots following their first AstraZeneca jab up to March 31st, Dr June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA said. More than 20 million people have been given the AZ vaccine.

Of those 70 people, 19 have died – three under the age of 30.

A total of 51 women and 28 men aged 18 to 79 were affected but Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, Chair of the Commission on Human Medicines, said there is no evidence women have a predilection to develop blood clots after having the AZ jab.

“The risk is four people in a million,” Dr Raine added.

The UK is currently also rolling out the Pfizer Covid vaccine and, most recently, the Moderna vaccine, but people below the age of 30 will only be given these alternatives where possible.

JCVI chairman Professor Wei Shen Lim said: “We are advising a preference of one vaccine over another vaccine for a particular age group out of utmost caution rather than any serious safety concerns.”

He added that people who are just over 29 years-old should make their decision, but getting the vaccine is much safer than not getting it.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A review by the European Medicines Agency has also concluded that “unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects” of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Stop Press 2: In an article for the Spectator, Ross Clark asks whether the writing is on the wall for the AZ jab.

The Government has invested a huge amount of money and faith in the AstraZeneca vaccine, and has rightly been praised for its rapid rollout, which was based on the best evidence at the time. The AstraZeneca vaccine has been wrongfully attacked by President Macron among others, who declared it to be “quasi-ineffective” in the over-65s – without any evidence. It will take political courage to admit that the AstraZeneca vaccine is second-best, and should perhaps be phased out as other vaccines become available in substantial quantities. But it is beginning to look as if that might be the most likely outcome.

Very much worth reading in full.

How Did the Pro-Lockdown Consensus Emerge?

Today we’re publishing an original piece by a Russell Group university-trained epidemiologist looking at why a consensus emerged across the West so quickly last spring that the only way to manage the burgeoning coronavirus outbreak was to lock everyone in their homes. Why did governments around the world abandon their pandemic preparedness strategies, which had been honed over decades, in favour of a completely untried policy that has had disastrous consequences? The epidemiologist’s explanation is the inexorable rise of woke-ism.

Over the past several decades society has become predominantly secular. Simultaneously left-wing progressivism (‘woke-ism’) has become entrenched in academia and the mainstream media, ramping up to full volume the past few years. Progressivism has permeated public consciousness through activism by the mainstream media, social media and popular culture, filling the void once occupied by orthodox religion. As a consequence, victimhood, safety-ism and lockdown (and other Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions [NPIs]) adherence are prevailing narratives, with much of the public looking to big-government to ‘save them’ from any risk of SARS-CoV-2 through lockdown. This is particularly evident in the USA where support for NPIs tends to split down party lines. A signature of progressivism is the abuse and (attempted) ‘cancellation’ of anyone who objects to its ‘truth’. This now includes anyone who dares mention the scientific orthodoxy set out in the pandemic preparedness guidelines, other perfectly rational and feasible alternative strategies to the management of SARS-CoV-2, such as the Great Barrington Declaration, or actual facts that counter the lockdown dogma. This has been exacerbated by government failure to set up advisory committees comprising diverse academic opinion on all aspects of lockdown, including its detrimental effects. Consequently, lockdown ideology persists with few voices willing or able to contest it. The vitriol dished out to anyone who questions the wisdom of lockdown has been extraordinary, particularly on social media but also by mainstream journalists who insinuate that any opposing view is not valid. Lockdown ideology has also been corroborated by big tech which positions itself as progressive, with the removal or shadow banning of material contradicting the lockdown and NPI mantra from its platforms. Even the WHO has kowtowed to appease the lockdown ideologues by temporarily changing the established definition of herd immunity, and defining a confirmed ‘case’ as “a person with a positive Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT [PCR])” including in the absence of symptoms. Big-government lockdown, propagated as the only virtuous and effective response to SARS-CoV-2 by a vociferous media and biased government advisers, has been bought hook, line and sinker by a risk-averse public (and politicians).

Worth reading in full.

British Rollout of the Moderna Covid Vaccine Begins as AstraZeneca Supply Dries Up

Britain’s rollout of the Moderna vaccine began today amid disruptions in its supply of the AstraZeneca jab which faces continuing scrutiny regarding its connection to rare blood clots. Reuters has the story.

Britain began using Moderna’s Covid vaccine on Wednesday in Wales just as its rollout of other shots fell to their lowest level this year due to a supply crunch caused by manufacturing problems at AstraZeneca.

Britain has surged ahead of the rest of Europe in the race to vaccinate its population, with almost half of its citizens receiving a first dose. But supply issues from its main AstraZeneca shot have slowed progress in recent days.

Britain distributed almost 96,000 shots on Sunday and just over 105,000 on Monday, the lowest figures since the Government started publishing daily numbers in January.

It had warned that the rollout would slow in April due to AstraZeneca’s manufacturing issues, including at a site in India.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he would not go into details about supply and delivery timelines but said the country remained on track to provide a first dose to all adults by the end of July.

That rollout will now be bolstered by the addition of the Moderna shot. Already used in the United States and other parts of Europe, it becomes the third vaccine to be used in Britain after AstraZeneca and one from Pfizer.

The Prime Minister has welcomed the arrival of the Moderna vaccine, saying that 17 million doses of the jab have been ordered.

The disruption to the supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine comes as the jab is under scrutiny regarding its link to rare blood clots. Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) are due to give an update on this issue shortly.

The Reuters report is worth reading in full.

“Pessimistic” SAGE Wrong That Britain Can’t Unlock Early, Says Government Scientist

The Government’s “roadmap” out of lockdown could be sped up because of the success of Britain’s vaccine rollout, according to a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling (SPI-M) group. The Mail has the story.

Britain’s roadmap out of lockdown could be sped up because the coronavirus vaccines are working so well, according to one of the Government scientists – despite doomsday modelling by SAGE suggesting lifting restrictions could trigger a surge in deaths.

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick team that correctly predicted the UK’s second wave, said he was “really pleasantly surprised” that reopening schools did not cause a spike in infections.

The infectious disease modeller, who is also a member of the SPI-M group whose calculations feed into SAGE, told LBC Radio: “If these numbers keep going down over the next few weeks there certainly is an argument to say ‘well actually, we’re doing really well with the road map, it could be sped up’.” 

This week, some of the modelling in documents released by SAGE suggested that lifting curbs fully in June could lead to more than a thousand deaths a day this summer and push the NHS to the brink again.

Dr Tildesley conceded “there may well be” a surge of cases across the country but probably not as high as some of the gloomy forecasts have predicted. The Government was this week accused of using “Project Fear” tactics to prolong coronavirus restrictions by stealth after releasing the tranche of SAGE papers.

The expert group included modelling from three different universities – Imperial College London, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Dr Tildesley’s team at Warwick University.

After reviewing all three papers, SAGE said social distancing, mask-wearing and Covid vaccine passports will need to remain in place for at least another year to keep the virus in check even when the most brutal curbs are lifted. 

It added that while the vaccines prevent the vast majority of people from falling ill and dying from coronavirus, they “are not good enough” to see all curbs lifted “without a big epidemic”. 

In March, the Government decided not to ease lockdown restrictions before Easter because of a warning from SAGE that this could lead to 55,000 more deaths. Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London, has criticised the Government’s scientific advisors for basing their forecasts on the most pessimistic assumptions.

They seem to be picking the most pessimistic of the assumptions each time in order to come up with the worst case scenario, perhaps to avoid complacency. 

They might want to warn people that if we just relax our guard this is what could happen, that’s why a lot of language is written like that. 

I’m certainly not arguing we should totally relax right now but I think the vaccine is doing better than they are saying… and they are just painting a much bleaker scenario than the reality.

Worth reading in full.

News Round Up

The Government’s Pretence That it Can Do nothing to Stop Employers Insisting on Vaccine Passports is Utter Hogwash

There follows a guest post by Dr David McGrogan, an Associate Professor of Law at Northumbria Law School. He is unconvinced by the Government’s claims that it can do nothing to stop employers introducing ‘No Jab, No Job’ policies.

It is still as clear as mud what form vaccine passports might take and where they will be required. Will employers be able to require employees to be vaccinated in order to come back to the office? Will pub owners be required to ask customers to ‘scan in’ at the entrance? Nobody quite knows.

What is for sure is that the Government’s position, as ever, is one of naked dissembling. Since March 23rd last year Government ministers have used their purported powers under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 to force businesses to close, to require the wearing of face masks in shops or public transport, to prevent people ‘mingling’, and much more besides. The scale of the interventions have been hitherto unimaginable. Yet when it comes to vaccine passports, all of a sudden the Government has discovered that we are best left to our own devices after all. It “believes that introducing a ban on [vaccine passports] would in most cases be an unjustified intrusion on how businesses choose to make their premises safe”, we’re told by a spokesman. Another source says the Government is “resigned” to the fact that employers will bar people who have not been vaccinated, and that it would not “legally be able to stop employees demanding [vaccination] as a condition of employment”. That’s right: it would be wrong – an unjustified intrusion, indeed! – to ban employers from requiring their employees to be vaccinated, or pub or restaurant owners from demanding it of customers. Moreover, it wouldn’t “legally” be possible at all. One imagines the members of the Cabinet sitting sadly and shrugging their shoulders “resignedly” at the prospect – they’d like to make vaccine passports unlawful, they really would, but what is an authoritarian Government with almost unlimited power to do?

Leaving aside the truly Orwellian warping of language here (it is apparently banning vaccine passports which would be the unjustifiable intrusion, rather than requiring their use!), this is utter hogwash. It is perfectly within the Government’s power to introduce legislation to the Commons banning employers from requiring employees to be vaccinated any time it chooses. Nothing would prevent it from doing so as a matter of legal principle (under our constitutional arrangements Parliament can create whatever legislation it wishes), and with its huge majority it would have no problem whatsoever having such a statute passed. And the Equality Act 2010 already makes it unlawful for shops, pubs, restaurants, etc. to discriminate on a number of grounds. The Act could be amended to include “vaccination status” as one of its protected characteristics, alongside disability, race, age, and so on, and that would be that.

If the Government intends to have vaccine passports becoming part of our ordinary daily lives it should have the guts to admit it, rather than spew this mealy-mouthed nonsense about not wanting to “intrude” in how businesses are run.