Day: 9 April 2021

Drinkers Told They Must Wear Masks In Some Pub Beer Gardens

In case having to “sign in” every time you go to the pub – and having to show staff your phone to prove it – isn’t enough (as well as the chance that vaccine passports are required at your local in the near future), pubs in parts of England will now also force drinkers to wear face masks while sitting outside. The Telegraph has the story.

Pub drinkers in some parts of England will be forced to wear masks even when outside from Monday, thanks to even stricter rules for reopening drawn up by some overzealous councils.

Landlords have been told they must enforce mask-wearing by their customers when they are walking around beer gardens, despite national guidance that only requires face coverings indoors.

Councils have set up enforcement teams that will patrol pubs looking for rule-breakers, and landlords fear they could face fines if their customers are caught.

The Government’s guidance says drinkers must wear masks if going inside a pub to use the toilets or to pay at the bar.

One notice from Ribble Valley Borough Council told pubs in Lancashire that “face coverings must be worn by customers, except when seated to eat or drink”.

Stosie Madi, owner of the Parkers Arms pub near Clitheroe, contacted the council to ask if the notice was a “misprint” and whether her customers needed masks outdoors.

A council official told her face coverings must be worn in her beer garden unless her customers are eating and drinking. …

Another pub in Rochdale said it had received the same guidance from its local council.

It’s as if the authorities are trying to make the experience of going to the pub as unpleasant as possible to deliver the final nail in the coffin of the pub trade.

Worth reading in full.

European Court of Human Rights Says Kids Have No Right Not to be Vaccinated

Following yesterday’s news reports about the pro-vaccination ruling in the European Court of Human Rights, we asked David McGrogan, Associate Professor of Law at Northumbria Law School, to take a look at the judgment for us. Turns out, everything wasn’t as it seemed. Here’s an extract:

A recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights has made something of a splash, because it appears, as the headline on the BBC website puts it, to suggest that the Court has “backed mandatory pre-school jabs“. This immediately calls up images of small children being forcibly vaccinated irrespective of their parents’ wishes. As is often the case, however, the reality is a lot less dramatic. The Court’s decision is really just a faithful application of what must, perhaps regrettably, be the correct legal position. However, it is an important case for those Lockdown Sceptics readers who are wary about vaccinations to understand, because it is a foretaste of the conclusion that a UK court would almost certainly reach in similar circumstances.

The case in question, Vavricka and Others v Czech Republic (App No. 47621/13) concerned a series of six applications from Czech citizens concerning the position in Czech law that all permanent residents must undergo certain routine vaccinations or face a fine, and that preschool facilities may only accept children who have received the vaccinations in question. The applicants, some of whom were parents who had been fined for not allowing their children to be vaccinated, and some of whom had been denied places at preschool facilities as children, argued amongst other things that the consequences of the application of the law in question violated their rights under Article 8 of the Convention – namely the right to respect for their private lives. The Court held that while there had been an interference with this right, it was justified as having been lawfully enacted and being “necessary in a democratic society… for the protection of health” pursuant to that Article.

It is important first to make clear that the Court absolutely did not “back mandatory pre-school jabs”. The Court’s decision was the proper and circumspect one to adopt in the circumstances – i.e., that it is not the place of an international court to override the decisions of national authorities who are accountable to their electorates, as a general principle, and those national authorities must therefore have a wide “margin of appreciation” in how they choose to balance competing interests (those here being the right to privacy and the requirement to protect health). The position in Czech law was somewhat more prescriptive than most of the other parties to the European Convention, but there were other governments (the French, Polish and Slovak ones) which adopted similar positions, and there was therefore no real basis for concluding that the law in question was not “necessary in a democratic society”.

Worth reading in full.

Chile Is No Reason Not to Lift Lockdown

The latest cautionary tale being held up to locked down Britons as the reason we can’t be released, including by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, is Chile, where an ambitious vaccination programme (albeit with China’s questionable Sinovac vaccine) has not prevented the country experiencing a new surge of coronavirus infections.

But as with other supposed cautionary tales like France and Brazil, are things really as bad as they’re being portrayed by our doom-addicted scientists, politicians and media?

Here’s the actual state of play. The positive rate did indeed start drifting upwards again in mid-Feb and since the end of March has accelerated – though since southern-hemisphere Chile is now in the middle of autumn, this is not wholly surprising.

This is despite the vaccination programme, which rivals the UK’s in speed of rollout, getting going at the start of February. Chris Whitty has backed the vaccinated-people-letting-their-guard-down theory, but in fact Google mobility data shows no sign of that, with a steep decline in mobility beginning in early March. Dr Clare Craig has written an excellent piece in the BMJ on other possible explanations beyond blaming people for letting their hair down (an explanation that hardly works for care homes).

But whatever the explanation, positive cases and deaths in the UK are now very low, suggesting Chile can hope for a similar outcome before long (though it will be interesting to see how its winter affects this).

Importantly, though, Chile is still significantly behind the UK in terms of total Covid deaths, so as a cautionary tale it is a strange one to pick.

Number of Infectious People Asymptomatic: Not 1 in 3, but 1 in 19

Lockdown Sceptics’ contributors Norman Fenton, Martin Neil and Scott Mclachlan, all at the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science at Queen Mary, have produced a thorough analysis of how many people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic. Their conclusion: not one in three, as the Government would have us believe, but one in 19. Here is the abstract:

Over the period Dec 2020 – Feb 2021, the UK Government, and its scientific advisers, made the persistent and widely publicised claim that “1 in 3 people with the SARS-Cov-2 virus have no symptoms”. In this paper we use a contemporaneous study of asymptomatics at Cambridge University to show that the claim is contradicted by the government’s own case numbers over that same period. A Bayesian analysis shows that, firstly, if the “1 in 3” claim is correct then, over this period, the actual infection rate must be at least 11 times higher than the infection rate reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 0.71% ; and, secondly, if the reported infection rate of 0.71% is correct then the actual number of people with the virus, who have no symptoms, is at most 2.9% (1 in 34) and not 1 in 3. We argue that this contradiction can only be explained by the false positives being generated by RT-PCR testing. Hence, the published infection rate is estimating the number of people who test positive rather than the number of people with SARS-Cov-2 virus. When the false positive rate is correctly accounted for, the most likely explanation for the observed data, over the period in question, is an infection rate of approximately 0.375% rather than the ONS publicised claim of 0.71%. Likewise, we conclude that the actual number of people with the SARS-Cov-2 virus who have no symptoms is approximately 1 in 19 and not 1 in 3. We show that these results are robust under a sensitivity analysis that allows for a wide range of assumptions about testing accuracy and proportion of people with symptoms. Hence, the UK government and ONS claims cannot both be simultaneously true and the actual infection rates are significantly less than publicised.

The paper is worth reading in full.

To read a summary, click here and to see a six-minute YouTube video summarising the paper, click here.

Under-40s Could Be Asked to Take an Alternative Covid Vaccine to AstraZeneca

Less than a week after the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said people below the age of 30 should be offered alternatives to the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine because of its possible link to blood clots, members of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have said that the same rule could apply for those aged 30-39. The Telegraph has the story.

Thirtysomethings could be asked to take an alternative jab to AstraZeneca, members of the JCVI have said. 

The Government’s independent scientific advisers said a fresh risk/benefit assessment of the vaccine in different age brackets would be made before the rollout reaches those under the age of 40.

Professor Anthony Harnden, the Deputy Chairman of the JCVI, said safety data will be examined “in scrupulous detail” and that “everybody should remain confident” in the vaccine programme, which he said was going “full steam ahead”.

He said any link with blood clots was a “very, very rare, extremely rare safety signal”, adding that the latest change in the medical advice – that those under 30 should be offered Pfizer or Moderna in preference to AstraZeneca – is unlikely to change.

But Professor Harnden said scientists would be looking closely at the safety data for those in other groups, and should have “much more clear” data by the time the programme moves to thirtysomethings.

He made his comments as Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, stressed that the benefits “spectacularly outweigh the risks” for those in their 40s. …

[Another JCVI member] Professor [Jeremy] Brown told the Telegraph: “We’re going to start vaccinating phase two healthy adults, starting with the 40 to 50-year-olds, and then we’ll go to the 30 to 40-year-olds.

“When we are approaching that point we’ll need to think about this a little bit more to be absolutely sure at what point in that age cut-off – given the situation we are facing at that time, and any more data that comes through on this rare complication, because more data will come through – then that might alter the age range.”

He said the risk-benefit analysis would be likely to tilt in favour of continuing to give the AstraZeneca Jab to thirtysomethings if infection rates are high, as the chance of severe disease in this age group are about five times higher than among people in their 20s. If the virus rates were under control, the balance could tip in favour of an alternative, he suggested. 

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Telegraph has produced this table on the potential benefits of taking the AstraZeneca vaccine compared with the potential risks for different age groups.

All the Times Boris Johnson Has Shifted the Goalposts

We recently marked the first anniversary of “three weeks to flatten the curve”. It has been difficult at times to keep up with the latest requirements set by the Government to unlock Britain. Our vaccine rollout has been successful – almost half of our total population has received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine and more than six million people have received both. This was supposed to set us on “a one-way road to freedom” but the rhetoric seems, not for the first time, to have changed. Matt Hancock has suggested that freedom can now only be reclaimed through weekly mass testing.

MailOnline has compiled a list of all the times the Government has moved the goalposts when it comes to relaxing restrictions.

Ministers introduced the first lockdown last March in order to “flatten the curve” of Covid infections, preventing a crisis that would overwhelm hospitals. 

People were ordered to stay in their homes to prevent the pandemic ripping through society and causing the NHS to come under strain it could not cope with.

Experts agreed infections would inevitably occur but that spreading them [sic] the cases over a longer period of time… would make it easier for hospitals to cope. 

In an attempt to justify hitting the nuclear button on lockdown, the Prime Minister presented graphs at Downing Street press conferences to illustrate why the plan would bring the outbreak to manageable levels. 

Striking a sombre tone on March 12th, Mr Johnson warned of severe disruption lasting for “many months”.

But the PM – who later publicly backed calls that Britain needed to learn to live with the virus, saying restrictions did not provide an “enduring solution” because the price was “too heavy” – refused to budge on easing lockdown until late in the summer, even though cases had dropped to negligible levels. 

Restrictions weren’t drastically lifted until “Super Saturday” on July 4th, by which time just 45 Britons were dying of Covid each day, on average. For comparison, the current figure stands at 30.

Critics accused Number 10 of silently changing its Covid-fighting strategy, morphing from containing the virus to seemingly trying to eliminate it – which experts insist is impossible. 

Why Is Boris Dragging His Feet Over Reopening Britain?

There follows the text of an article by Joseph C. Sternberg that appeared in the Wall Street Journal yesterday on why Boris is dragging his feet over reopening Britain in spite of the success of our vaccine rollout. We think it’s so good we are reproducing it in full.

The UK has delivered at least one dose of Covid vaccine to more than 47% of its total population. This means that well over half of all adults, and the vast majority of the most vulnerable elderly, have received a sufficient level of inoculation to reduce serious illness, death, and probably transmission dramatically for the several months it will take to deliver second doses. Rates of hospitalisation and fatality tumble by the day.

So why on earth is Boris Johnson slow-rolling the country’s emergence from lockdown?

The exit plan from the current-third-lockdown began March 8th, when schools reopened, and won’t be complete until late June. Sorry, make that “until late June at the earliest”, appending Mr Johnson’s favourite three words. Nonessential retail, beer gardens and gyms won’t reopen until next week, restaurants not until May, and no one can say when draconian restrictions on international travel will be eased.

Precisely because the medical news in Britain is so cheerful, its difficulties escaping lockdown serve as a cautionary tale for everyone else. The task, it would appear, no longer is to suppress the virus or meter hospital demand or save lives or anything health-related. The task is to manage the dangerous interactions between a fearful political class and an overweening medical class.

That’s the vice in which Britain now finds itself. As fearful politicians go, few are more so than Mr Johnson. Yes, that Mr Johnson. Americans who remember his buccaneering spirit surrounding Brexit might be surprised at how his encounter with Covid – as a political leader and as a patient this time last year – has changed him.

The personal angle is best left to the readers’ own guesses, but the political transformation is easy enough to understand. Mr Johnson was elected in December 2019 with an enormous mandate to get Brexit done, and for not much of anything else. The pandemic daily exposes the extent to which a coalition among libertarian, Christian-democratic and working-class Conservatives is in danger of fracturing whenever anything other than Brexit is on the table. At the moment the civil libertarians are the dissenters, but the easing of lockdown will merely raise new policy questions over which other bits of his party can rebel.

Mr Johnson has found the only thing that can keep these cats in a vaguely herded state is success. Well, yes. In politics, nothing succeeds like success. But adopting that as a governing strategy leaves little scope for occasional fumbles along the way.

Before the vaccination programme succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, Mr Johnson’s Government was under near-mortal threat from its perceived failure to contain the pandemic’s winter wave with more-aggressive lockdowns in the autumn. Mr Johnson can’t afford to be bold in reopening for fear that some unforeseen error, or an unpredictable spike in infections, or some other disaster will lead to a political; collapse of some sort.

Which brings us to the other jaw of the vice: an overweening public-health class.

Which Countries Could Feature On the Holiday “Green List” This Summer?

The Government has yet to announce which countries will be categorised as “green”, “amber” or “red” on its “traffic light system” when holidays resume this year.

The rules around travel for different countries on the “traffic light system”.

A country’s classification will depend on the proportion of its population that has been vaccinated, as well as on its infection rate and the prevalence of Covid variants. Based on these metrics, the Telegraph has identified seven countries that are likely to feature on the holiday “green list”.

Israel

The country is currently leading the charge when it comes to vaccinations. 58.6% of the adult population has received a first dose, and 54.2% are fully vaccinated. This is likely to be the main metric used by the Government, when building its “green list”. …

Gibraltar

… Bars and restaurants are open again in Gibraltar and face masks are only required on public transport. What’s more, British Airways has just launched flights from London City to Gibraltar, starting from June 25th – indicating the airline is optimistic The Rock will feature on the “green list”. It was also the last “quarantine free” option in 2020. …

Madeira

The island of Madeira is already welcoming travellers who can provide evidence of vaccination. What’s more, case numbers are low in Portugal – 32.55 over a seven day average. The UK, by comparison, is at a similar rate of 29.5 per 100,000. However, the vaccination drive in Portugal lags behind (only 13.6% have received a first dose), making it unlikely that mainland Portugal appear on the “green list” when it is unveiled in May. …

The Caribbean

Since the pandemic began, the Caribbean has been the most reliable corner of the world when it comes to holiday options for Britons. Prior to the UK Government scrapping all travel corridors in January 2021, there were eight Caribbean islands welcoming British travellers, including the likes of Barbados, Cuba, St Lucia and Antigua. All require testing prior to departure or on arrival, or both, as a means to dodge quarantine. Given their willingness to introduce new protocols and their collective heavy reliance on tourism, it is quite possible the islands will start accepting some kind of vaccination certificate as an alternative to a negative test. …

Iceland

As of March 18th, all Britons who have been fully vaccinated against Covid are allowed to travel to Iceland without being subject to PCR testing and quarantine. The exemption also applies to UK travellers who can provide valid proof of prior infection. …

Malta

Malta has said it will reopen to vaccinated British arrivals from June 1st. This, accompanied by the country’s strong vaccination drive (a third of the population has received a first dose) puts Malta high on our green watch list. …

USA

… With London – New York City flight route one of the busiest in the world for business travel, we can expect to see the UK Government prioritising a USA travel corridor in the coming weeks.

Extent of England’s Mental Health Crisis Is “Terrifying”, Psychiatrists Warn

England is “in the grip of a mental health crisis” because of lockdowns, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and under-18s are “bearing the brunt”. The number of children being treated for eating disorders has reached record levels, as well as the number of people reporting being lonely. Here are the key findings:

~ 80,226 more children and young people were referred to CYP mental health services between April and December last year, up by 28% on 2019, to 372,438.  

~ 600,628 more treatment sessions were given to children and young people, up by a fifth on 2019 to 3.58 million. 

~ 18,269 children and young people needed urgent or emergency crisis care – including assessments to see if someone needs to be sectioned because they or others are at harm – an increase of 18% on 2019, to 18,269. 

The data on adults is equally bleak.

Over one million more treatment sessions were given to adults between April and December last year (1,078,539), an increase of 8% on 2019. There were also 159,347 urgent crisis referrals made for adults, an all-time high, and an increase of 2% on 2019. 

In November, the Government announced a £500 million support package for mental health services to aid the nation’s recovery from lockdown. The RCPsych has called for this funding – which includes £79 million for children – to reach the frontline as soon as possible. Dr Adrian James, the College’s President, says that services are at a “very real risk of being overrun” because of the scale of the mental health crisis.

“The extent of the mental health crisis is terrifying, but it will likely get a lot worse before it gets better.

“Services are at a very real risk of being overrun by the sheer volume of people needing help with their mental illness.

“While the recent funding announcement is welcome, we need this money to reach mental health services as soon as possible to tackle this crisis.”

The Chair of the college’s Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry added that services were already struggling before Covid struck and now face even greater queues for treatments due to the impact of school closures and the denial of social contact.

“Our children and young people are bearing the brunt of the mental health crisis caused by the pandemic and are at risk of lifelong mental illness.

“As a frontline psychiatrist I’ve seen the devastating effect that school closures, disrupted friendships and the uncertainty caused by the pandemic have had on the mental health of our children and young people.

“Services were already struggling to cope with the number of children needing help before the pandemic hit, and they risk being overrun unless Government ensures the promised money reaches the frontline quickly.”

Worth reading in full.

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