Pyser Testing

Day: 9 June 2021

Deaths in England and Wales Have Been Below the Five-Year Average for 11 of the Past 12 Weeks

On Tuesday the ONS announced that there were 9,628 deaths in England and Wales in the week ending 28th May 2021. This is 232 fewer than the previous week, and 3.1% below the five-year average. Here’s the chart from the ONS:

Deaths in England and Wales have now been below the five-year average for 11 of the past 12 weeks. Over that time, there were 8,212 fewer deaths than you’d expect based on the average of the last five years. And note that, due to population ageing, the five-year average understates the expected number of deaths. So the true level of “negative excess mortality” is even higher.

The number of deaths registered in the week ending May 28th was below the five-year average in seven out of nine English regions. (Only the North East and North West saw positive excess deaths.) Compared to the five-year average, weekly deaths were 7.5% lower in the East of England, and 8.1% lower in the South West.

As I’ve noted before, the most likely explanation for persistent “negative excess mortality” in England and Wales is that deaths were “brought forward” by the pandemic.

Given these figures, and the fact that around 80% of adults now have COVID antibodies, it is difficult to see what possible grounds there could be to delay the full reopening. Indeed, the costs of remaining lockdown measures must be so vastly disproportionate to the benefits that the Government’s dithering – as Daniel Hannan has noted – is surely a function of status-quo bias. 

Social Distancing Guidelines Mean Scottish Learner Drivers Face 16-Week Wait for Theory Tests

Learner drivers in Scotland face a 16-week wait to sit a theory test due to the backlog caused by lockdowns and the continuation of strict social distancing guidelines at test centres (and across the country). English learners also face an average wait time of almost five weeks. BBC News has the story.

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) said its testing capacity was limited in Scotland as centres must ensure people observe 2m physical distancing.

South of the border only 1m physical distancing is required.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she will look at the situation to see how quickly capacity can be increased.

Driving lessons resumed in Scotland on April 26th and practical driving tests restarted on May 6th, following the easing of lockdown restrictions. 

At the time the U.K.-wide backlog was said to be more than 400,000.

The pandemic [lockdown] has also had a knock-on effect on theory tests and the average wait in Scotland is now 16 weeks.

This compares with 4.6 weeks in England and Wales.

One MSPs claims young people are missing out on jobs due to the backlog…

The DVSA said it did not keep records of whether people who live in Scotland are getting around the delays by crossing the border to sit their theory test.

But it added all candidates were reminded to observe local Covid restrictions.

The theory pass certificate is valid for two years, within which time a learner must pass their driving test or, failing that, resit their theory. The DVSA says this two-year period will not be extended, despite the learner backlog caused by lockdowns, because it is important that road safety knowledge remains fresh at the time of practical tests.

Nicola Sturgeon described the issues involved with delays as “complex and rarely straightforward… In certain environments, 2m physical distancing remains an important mitigation. However, the issue is important and we will continue to look at the situation to see how quickly we can increase capacity and get the backlogs down.”

Worth reading in full.

Link Between Positive Covid Tests and Covid Deaths Has Been Broken, Says NHS Leader

The vaccine has broken the link between positive Covid tests and Covid deaths, according to the Chief Executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, who last week criticised the scientific modelling seen by the Government through much of the pandemic as “crude” and unreliable. Chris says that viewed alone, the raw number of positive tests does not tell the full story: “It is a much younger population that is coming in [for hospital treatment now], they are less clinically vulnerable” and much easier to treat. The MailOnline has the story.

Chris Hopson… said today that the surge in cases and hospital admissions in the Greater Manchester town was manageable for its hospitals.

Patients were generally younger and less sick, he suggested, than in the crippling second wave over the winter, and the numbers of people coming in were lower and significantly fewer of them are dying.

Vaccines appear to be doing a lot of the heavy lifting, Mr Hopson said, adding that they have broken the link between infections and “very high” levels of hospital admissions and deaths in earlier waves of the virus…

Bolton has been overtaken by nearby Blackburn as the country’s Covid hotspot after cases surged there driven by the Indian variant, which accounts for almost all infections in the town. Hospital admissions rose shortly after, to a peak of 49 people on wards with Covid and 14 admitted in a day, but these appear to be falling now, too, with 42 reported in patients on June 1st.

Mr Hopson said: “If – and it is a big if – if Bolton has gone through its complete cycle and if other areas follow Bolton, the view from the hospital there was that they were able to cope with the level of infections.”

His comments come as pressure is building towards Boris Johnson’s speech next Monday when he is expected reveal whether June 21st’s “Freedom Day” end of social distancing will go ahead. Current trends look as though he will prolong lockdown laws for a few more weeks or until the summer holidays to buy more time for vaccinations.

Mr Hopson told Times Radio: “It’s important not to just focus on the raw numbers here… you also do need to look at who’s being admitted into hospital and how clinically vulnerable and what level of acuity [illness] they’ve got.

“What chief executives are consistently telling us is that it is a much younger population that is coming in, they are less clinically vulnerable, they are less in need of critical care and therefore they’re seeing what they believe is a significantly lower mortality rate which is, you know, borne out by the figures.

“So it’s not just the numbers of people who are coming in, it’s actually the level of harm and clinical risk.”

Worth reading in full.

22,000 People Gather in Florida for First Live Music Festival Since Covid

No vaccine passports (they’re banned), no tests, no masks, no distancing – 22,000 people packed together for an outdoor live music event in Florida. Freedom-loving Governor Ron DeSantis showed up and was treated to a hero’s welcome. The Capitolist has the story – though there was notably little coverage of this milestone in pandemic recovery elsewhere.

Video from this weekend’s Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam shows the governor emerging out of the smoke on the concert venue’s runway as “Crazy Train” blares and roughly 22,000 country music fans erupt into thunderous applause. He throws his arms in the air, encouraging the crowd even more, clearly enjoying the experience.

“Amazing,” a man backstage is heard on a video saying as DeSantis takes the stage, “that guy’s a rock star.”

DeSantis made a surprise appearance to the concert last night to welcome country music fans to Panama City Beach and thank them for attending what is believed to be the first major live music festival event since Covid.

The Panama City Beach 2021 Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam three-day event did not require masks and featured headliners Lynyrd Skynyrd, Brad Paisley and Luke Bryan. It was originally slated to occur last Labor Day weekend but was postponed because of the pandemic.

The festival is just the latest example of Florida’s determination to get life back to normal.

During DeSantis’ brief remarks he encouraged other states and countries to follow Florida’s lead and open back up and “let people live their lives.” The crowd roared when he said the reason Florida was hosting the event was because “Florida chose Freedom over Faucism.”

While the U.K. dithers about whether to take a step closer to normal later this month, Florida ended all restrictions eight months ago in September 2020 and went through the winter without lockdowns or mask mandates. But no public health disaster unfolded, and the state did better than strict lockdown states like California.

Government Infected by Its Own “Scaremongering Propaganda” Over Unlocking on June 21st, Says Professor David Paton

If the Government was truly following the science, it would not delay the lifting of lockdown restrictions beyond June 21st, according to David Paton. Instead, as the Professor of Industrial Economics at the University of Nottingham writes in today’s Mail, the mood at Number 10 is extremely pessimistic because our leaders have become infected by their own “scaremongering propaganda”.

Ministers told us that the vaccines were the route to freedom because they would protect the public and break the link between infections and hospitalisations. That has proved to be the reality.

Indeed, the contrast between the grim peak of the second wave and the vastly improved situation today is stark, despite the advent of new variants.

It is true that the number of cases is currently increasing – up from a low point at the end of April of about 19 positive tests per 100,000 people to 44 per 100,000 now – but the impact of the rise has been nothing like as devastating as previously.

NHS data shows that hospital admissions have risen somewhat from a low of 74 per day to the current average of 103 per day, yet at the peak in January we saw over 4,000 admissions on a single day.

There is even better news when it comes to the number of patients admitted to hospital in the last seven days. The latest figure of 869 is 0.6% down on the previous seven-day period, and nothing like the savage January peak of 34,336.

It is the same story with death rates, which are currently averaging 5.7 per day, up from a low of 4.3 per day, but that compares to a January peak of no fewer than 1,245 deaths on a single day…

Ignoring such hard data, some of the advocates of delay like to bolster their argument by citing the modelling done by the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE), which sets out some pessimistic scenarios in the event of lockdown’s demise.

But there are two serious problems with this approach. First, SAGE’s record on modelling throughout the pandemic has been poor and overly negative. Second, it was the SAGE models themselves which formed the basis of the Government’s roadmap.

Even against the backdrop of the bleakest SAGE scenario, ministers initially maintained that the reopening on June 21st should proceed.

In fact, fully aware of the gloomiest SAGE projections, Boris Johnson explicitly stated on April 13th that “at the moment I cannot see any reason to change the roadmap”.

Given that the picture has turned out to be much healthier than anything SAGE projected, there would be no logic at all behind any delay. In their two scenarios closest to the Government’s roadmap, SAGE’s models indicated that there could be between 6,100 and 10,200 hospital patients by early June with more increases to come.

In fact, the present total of just 879 is only 14% of SAGE’s lower projection. So we are currently in a much better position than the Government envisaged…

At times it seems as if the Government has developed a bunker mentality, infected by its own scaremongering propaganda and SAGE’s shroud-waving.

But it is time to stop hiding behind the flawed models and fearful messages, embrace openness and get the country moving again without a delay. The real catastrophe would be a timid surrender to the voices of hesitancy and anxiety.

Worth reading in full.

My Theatres Will Reopen Fully on June 21st “Come Hell or High Water”, Says Andrew Lloyd Webber

Andrew Lloyd Webber will take a stand against the Government if it does not remove all lockdown restrictions relating to his theatres later this month. With the premiere of his latest production, Cinderella, around the corner, the composer says he is willing to face arrest by opening his venues without social distancing if the lockdown roadmap is extended, insisting that “we are going to open, come hell or high water”. The Telegraph has the story.

Lloyd Webber, the world’s most successful composer of musicals, is putting the finishing touches to his first new West End show in five years. He should be preparing to celebrate – the first preview is just over two weeks away, with opening night set to follow on July 14th – instead, he’s spoiling for a fight.

The world premiere of his £6 million Cinderella depends on social distancing being lifted, in accordance with the Government’s “roadmap”, on June 21st, a promised milestone that looks increasingly in doubt. Yet, Lloyd Webber tells me, his voice bristling with defiance, “we are going to open, come hell or high water”. What if the Government demands a postponement? “We will say: come to the theatre and arrest us.”…

What should be the happy conclusion to a creative journey that began in earnest in 2018, before being diverted by the pandemic [lockdowns] (Cinderella was originally due to open last August) is once again in question. No show of this scale, with a bank-busting ensemble of 34, is commercially viable while attendances remain capped at 50% of capacity.

Despite the success of the vaccine roll-out, the mood music has suddenly changed, and official caution is once again in the ascendant. Lloyd Webber questions the justification for this. “I’ve seen the science from the tests, don’t ask me how,” he says. “They all prove that theatres are completely safe, the virus is not carried there. If the Government ignore their own science, we have the mother of all legal cases against them. If Cinderella couldn’t open, we’d go, ‘Look, either we go to law about it or you’ll have to compensate us’.”

The stakes could hardly be higher. It costs Lloyd Webber £1 million a month just to keep his six theatres dark. He has remortgaged his London home… and has reportedly borrowed more than £50 million, although he refuses to confirm that figure today. According to the Sunday Times Rich List his personal net worth has tumbled by £275 million in a year, to £525 million.

More challenges lie ahead. He has two other shows waiting in the wings: a new production of The Phantom of the Opera… is set to take over the refurbished Her Majesty’s Theatre from July 27th; while a revival of Joseph is also due at the Palladium that month. Then, as owner of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London’s oldest playhouse, he’s also poised to unveil a £60 million renovation in time for the U.K. stage premiere of Disney’s Frozen in August. All of which leaves Lloyd Webber in a position he describes as “acute financial stress. I don’t think [the Government] understand it. We’ve never taken any profit out of the theatres. I’ve always tried to put back in, which is why we’re in a muddle now because we never had a big reserve.”

Lloyd Webber expressed his annoyance at the difficulty of getting the Government to understand the importance of unlocking live entertainment. “Unfortunately… the Government regards theatre as a nice thing to have rather than a necessity.”

Worth reading in full.

The only question is, will Lloyd Webber’s theatre productions be open to all? Last month, the composer compared “selfish” people who refuse to get vaccinated against Covid to drink drivers.

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