Day: 11 April 2021

As Vaccine Passports Are Rolled Out Across the World, What Price Freedom?

We’re publishing an original piece by our in-house technology correspondent about the roll out of vaccine passports around the world and the dire consequences for personal freedom. Here is an extract:

When we look at death tallies and population level vaccination rates one has to question the motivation of the rush to implement this kind of technology. Take Brunei with a grand total of three COVID-19 deaths. It already has its app, BruHealth, which is used to restrict access to business premises and shows the “activity trace” of any nearby confirmed cases. They even used it for a while to control access to Friday prayers. Finland, with 868 deaths and 2% of its population fully vaccinated, has joined with Estonia (1,006 deaths, 5% vaccinated) to be one of the first to pilot a WHO scheme involving showing your immunity status to your employer. What could possibly go wrong? Australia, with 909 deaths and only 4% of its population vaccinated, is working with unions to determine domestic restrictions based on its Medicare Express Plus app which can access the national Australian Immunisation Register. The data suggests these countries do not have a problem that merits deploying technology to restrict the lives of 95% of their citizens for an indefinite period.

Worth reading in full.

UK Nears 40 Million First and Second Vaccine Doses

A record number of second doses of Covid vaccines were administered in the UK on Saturday, pushing the country close to a total of 40 million doses. BBC News has the story.

More than 400,000 second doses of Covid vaccines have been given in the UK for the fourth consecutive day, according to the latest Government data.

A record total of 475,230 second doses were administered on Saturday – along with 111,109 first doses.

On Friday, 450,136 second doses and 106,878 first doses were received.

There were 1,730 new infections recorded in the past 24 hours and a further seven deaths within 28 days of a positive test. …

The latest figures show that of the 39,587,893 vaccinations administered in the UK so far, 32,121,353 were first doses and 7,466,540 were second doses.

Given the success of the vaccine rollout, as well as the fact that Covid cases have all but vanished in many areas across England, some MPs are questioning why the Government is unlocking so slowly. Polling suggests, however, that, on the whole, Brits believe our exit from lockdown is happening at about the right pace.

While the vaccine rollouts of a number of countries across Europe have been marred by public mistrust of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the vast majority of Brits believe this jab is safe, despite some concerns over its link to blood clots, a new poll suggests.

BBC News’ report on Britain’s vaccine rollout is worth reading in full.

One in 400,000 Chance of Two Vaccinated People Catching a Symptomatic Infection From Each Other Indoors

Boris Johnson has decreed that vaccinated people must not meet indoors because jabs “are not giving 100% protection“. But, according to a new analysis, the risk of catching a symptomatic Covid infection for two people who have been vaccinated is about one in 400,000. For context, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency says that the risk of developing a blood clot from the AstraZeneca vaccine – which the Prime Minister wants all people to continue receiving – is one in 250,000. Others have placed the risk at around one in 100,000. That’s roughly the same chance of correctly guessing the last five digits of someone’s mobile phone number. So why the hesitancy about indoor meet-ups? The Telegraph has the story.

The risk of two vaccinated people catching Covid from meeting up indoors is “tiny”, scientists have calculated, with just a one in 400,000 chance of picking up an infection.

Last week, Boris Johnson warned that people should not be allowing others into their homes, even if they had both had the vaccine.

“The vaccines are not giving 100% protection, that’s why we need to be cautious,” said the Prime Minister.

But Professor Tim Spector, at King’s College London, has calculated that the risk of catching a symptomatic infection is around one in 400,000 for two people who have been vaccinated – which is far less than the risk of developing a blood clot from the AstraZeneca jab.

Professor Spector, who is lead scientist on the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app and professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s, said there was currently just a one in 1,400 risk of “bumping into someone” with symptomatic Covid, and people should feel more “relaxed” if they had been vaccinated.

Professor Spector set out to give the Prime Minister’s claims about the risk of vaccinated people meeting indoors some context.

“It all depends on how much virus is around in the country and currently with rates of one in 1,400 for someone who has been fully vaccinated, according to our data and the trial data, it suggests they are at a 20th of the normal risk, which means their risk is about one in 28,000. 

“So if they’re meeting someone with equally low risk the chance of those giving to each other are really absolutely tiny.”

Worth reading in full.

Britain Sees Fastest Decline in Covid Cases in the World

The Spectator has added a new table to its data hub, showing where the current level of Covid infection is in different countries around the world relative to the peak. It shows that Britain has seen the sharpest decline in the developed world, with cases now 97% lower than their peak on January 9th, 2021.

Spectator editor Fraser Nelson writes:

Britain has had one of the worst Covid death tolls in the world: today’s success should be seen in that context. The severity of the spread in UK has left higher recovery immunity even in unvaccinated age groups (almost half of under-25s have antibodies, according to the ONS) which limits the size of any third wave. UCL argues that we’ll hit herd immunity tomorrow: we discuss this in the latest edition of The Spectator’s Coffee House Shots podcast. In general, Covid is back down to (or below) summer levels and almost all of those at risk of fatal infection have been protected.

Worth reading in full.

Cheap, Safe Treatment Cuts Serious COVID-19 by 90%, Oxford Study Shows

A study from Oxford University has confirmed the remarkable effectiveness of common asthma treatment Budesonide for treating COVID-19.

First published as a pre-print in February and now as a peer-reviewed paper in the Lancet, the STOIC phase 2 randomised study found that inhaled Budesonide given to patients with COVID-19 within seven days of symptom onset reduced the relative risk of requiring urgent care or hospitalisation by 90%. It also resulted in a quicker recovery time for those who experienced fever and other symptoms and fewer persistent symptoms after 28 days, suggesting it could help to reduce the incidence of ‘long Covid’ in those given it as an early treatment.

Budesonide is a corticosteroid used in the long-term management of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The study, which is supported by the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and AstraZeneca, involved 146 people, half of whom took 800 micrograms of the medication twice a day while half were on usual care. It was confirmed to be safe (unsurprising for an established medicine), with only five (7%) participants reporting self-limiting adverse events.

Professor Mona Bafadhel of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine, who led the trial, said: “I am heartened that a relatively safe, widely available and well studied medicine such as an inhaled steroid could have an impact on the pressures we are experiencing during the pandemic.”

The trial came into being because clinicians noted early on in the pandemic that patients with chronic respiratory disease, who are often prescribed inhaled steroids, were significantly under-represented among those admitted to hospital with COVID-19, despite the condition being a likely risk factor.

Budesonide is unusual because, unlike Vitamin D, Hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin, it has not (yet) been (unfairly) rubbished in the mainstream press and medical literature. For those other potential treatments you can see the studies for yourself here and read a fair overview here.

If a highly effective early outpatient treatment for COVID-19 becomes available then that may change everything in terms of vaccine programmes and exit strategies. The COVID-19 vaccines are currently authorised not under ordinary marketing licences but under temporary emergency approval. This approval is conditional on there being a current medical emergency. In the EU emergency approval can only be for an “unmet medical need”, and the approval is reviewed annually. In the US there must be no “adequate, approved, and available alternatives”. In the UK a disease must be a “serious risk or potentially serious risk to human health”, though there is no requirement to review the temporary approval.

An efficacy in reducing serious disease by 90% would rival the reported efficacy of the vaccines. The trial did not include many in high risk groups such as the elderly or those with underlying conditions, but vaccine effectiveness is also reduced in these groups.

As proven effective treatments like Budesonide come online, will the Government’s case for draconian interventions and coerced vaccinations, even on its own twisted terms, fall away?

Up to 80% of Sicilians Refuse AstraZeneca Vaccine

Despite attempts by the Sicilian President to soothe fears over the relationship between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots, as many as four in five people in the Southern Italian region are refusing the AZ jab. According to the Telegraph, President Nello Musumeci said: “In Sicily, there is an 80% refusal rate of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Every 100 people, 80 say no.” His spokeswoman clarified that the refusal rate is “up to” 80%, rather than 80% dead-on, citing the town of Syracuse as an example, where the rate is 30%. Musumeci urged people to look beyond their personal concerns and to take the vaccine when given the opportunity:

“It is natural [for people to be particularly concerned], but we have a duty to believe scientists when they say it is more dangerous not to get vaccinated than to get vaccinated.”

Italy was among the first nations to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in early March due to concerns about its link to blood clots. In an interview with La Stampa, Franco Locatelli, the Italian Government’s top scientific advisor on Covid, said that fears over the AZ vaccine are “understandable, but unjustified”.

“I say that we are offering a vaccine that is safe and effective, which people must accept. That said, if we find ourselves facing a disarming number of defections, we will reconsider the issue.”

Sicily’s refusal rate is indicative of the damage done to the reputation of the AstraZeneca vaccine by reports on its side effects. Similarly, in Denmark, a recent survey found that far more Danes would decline to get an AstraZeneca Covid vaccine than would refuse to get a Covid jab altogether. Reuters reported:

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.

Polling suggests that Brits are more trustworthy of the AstraZeneca vaccine regardless of its links to blood clots. In a new YouGov survey, at least 75% of British respondents said that they trust the AZ jab.

Lack of Outdoor Space Will Prevent Large Number of Hospitality Venues Opening As Lockdown Partially Eased

While the partial easing of lockdown restrictions is being welcomed by the hospitality industry, the requirement that customers must remain outdoors means a great many businesses across the country will have no choice but to remain closed until restrictions are eased further. BBC News has the story.

A “large proportion” of hospitality businesses “won’t be able to open” on Monday, despite an easing of lockdown restrictions in England, because they do not have access to sufficient outdoor space. 

In England… restaurants and pubs [will be] allowed to serve food and alcohol to customers sitting outdoors.

But Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, told BBC Breakfast only two in every five venues would reopen. 

“The majority of the industry still has to cling on for five weeks,” said Ms Nicholls.

Nonetheless she said it was a “welcome restart” for those businesses that are able to comply with current coronavirus measures.

Ms Nicholls said that even those venues which can reopen will achieve nothing like their normal revenues: “They still aren’t going to break even… the best they are going to achieve outdoors is 20%.”

“Until we get to June 21st, hospitality won’t be able to be viable.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Rachael Robathan, the the leader of Tory-run Westminster council, has urged the Government to bring forward indoor opening of pubs from May. She is quoted in the Telegraph.

The hospitality sector continues to face real peril, with difficult choices presented as a result of what the roadmap does and does not allow. 

The costs and challenges associated with a reopening limited to outdoor space, if there is indeed any available to them, means that many businesses have informed us that they must delay their reopening until May, slowing down the recovery.

This is a particular challenge for central London venues where there is less likelihood of businesses having access to outdoor space in the first place, compared to rural areas and market towns. 

For many premises, it is simply not viable to open, although we will continue our sector-leading al fresco programme to extend this opportunity to as many businesses as we can.

Worth reading in full.

News Round Up