Social distancing

Keeping Social Distancing Beyond June Would Be “Morally Wrong”, Says Steve Baker

Conservative backbencher Steve Baker has written in the Sun that it would be morally wrong for anti-Covid measures such as social distancing to stay in place past June 21st. Mr Baker also says that Britain should give start giving vaccines to poorer countries since most vulnerable people in Britain are already fully vaccinated.

As all Conservatives know, we won’t be able to level up, contain our debts, grow our way to recovery or support our public services if we continue to ask people and businesses to operate under restrictions.

In early April 2020, Her Majesty invited us to look forward to “better days” when “we will meet again”. So it’s great news the Government is set to declare that we can and should once again hug our nearest and dearest from next week. Now we must look ahead to June 21st as the date by which freedom truly means freedom.

Mr Baker should ask here why the Government has been able to tell us not to cuddle our “nearest and dearest” at any point over the past year anyway.

The data is so good, and the doomsayers so wrong, that it cannot possibly be rational or morally right for us to have to socially distance from each other in any context or setting in the U.K. beyond June 21st. Being social is key to being well so by June 21st at the latest, Britain must meet again, must be reunited in every sense, and we must start healing the broken bonds of the last year with social contact and normal human interaction. 

The Queen, in her enduring wisdom, also said that we must “join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal”. There can be no doubt that once we have vaccinated those vulnerable to Covid in the U.K., the right thing is for Britain proudly to lead the world in delivering surplus vaccines to developing countries.  

Brexit gives us the freedom to determine our own future, but it also gives us a chance to lead in the world as we always have done, to ensure that admirable British values are exported across the globe.

Just as we should not lock ourselves down needlessly at home once we have vaccinated the vulnerable, nor should we be hoarding vaccines when they can be doing so much more good overseas in fighting a virus that is most harmful to older people and those with underlying health conditions. There can be no greater service to the world’s citizens in 2021 than protecting those vulnerable to Covid, wherever they may be.  

As we start this new chapter in our history – outside the EU and having vaccinated the vulnerable against Covid – it’s time to unleash this country’s true potential by making the most of the benefits of the brilliant NHS vaccination rollout, to lift these appalling restrictions safely and proportionately in line with the harm Covid is capable of causing, and by finally – as the Prime Minister said in February – reclaiming our lives once and for all.

Worth reading in full.

Stay-at-Home Lockdowns Made No Difference to Covid Deaths in U.S. States – Study

A new study from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago has analysed the impact of stay-at-home orders on infections and deaths in U.S. states and found they made no difference.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the scientific journal PNAS, found stay-at-home orders (also known as shelter-in-place orders or SIPs) were not associated with lower infections or deaths; furthermore, they were actually associated with a slight increase in infections and deaths, although this was not statistically significant. The results are summarised in the charts below, where dots above the dashed line indicate an increase and dots below a decrease. Red dots are statistically significant results.

The authors suggest that stay-at-home orders have no impact on infections or deaths because they have little to no impact on mobility. Isolating the impact of stay-at-home orders from existing mobility trends, they estimate that the orders themselves contributed a reduction in mobility of just 0.7% compared to pre-pandemic levels. This is largely, they say, because people were already reducing their mobility as much as they were able or willing to.

The mobility data (from mobile phone movement) for U.S. states, with the date of the stay-at-home order shown as a dashed line ands its removal as a dotted line, are shown below.

Life Will “Feel a Lot More Normal By the Summer”, Says Neil Ferguson

Professor Neil Ferguson says that the success of the U.K.’s vaccine rollout means life will feel more normal by the summer, though we will still “not [be] completely back to normal“. His predictions echo recent reports that while many restrictions will come to an end on June 21st, mask-wearing and caps on numbers attending large events could stay in place past the “end” of lockdown. But with Covid cases and deaths continuing to fall, more MPs – and even papers – are asking why restrictions can’t come to an end now. MailOnline has more.

The SAGE Adviser and Imperial College London Epidemiologist, whose sobering death toll predictions led Britain into its first lockdown last year, said today that he expects the vaccine rollout to help keep the U.K. out of lockdown for good. 

His comments will be seized upon by the Tory MPs calling for the roadmap to normality to be sped up…

Sir Robert Syms, Tory MP for Poole in Dorset, yesterday said: “We need to push the Government to get on with it. A lot of normal life could be returned.” He said the country would “lose another summer” if rules aren’t eased soon. 

The PM has so far refused to budge in the face of calls for more freedom. Trade Secretary Liz Truss this morning dodged questions about whether she thought it should be sped up and told talkRADIO: “We do need to make sure any opening up is irreversible.”

… Professor Ferguson said that jabs appear to work so well that they may hold the virus at bay even in the autumn and winter, when experts fear it will make a comeback like flu. 

He added that the ratio of cases to hospital admissions would be much lower next time around and it was unlikely there will be any danger of the NHS getting overwhelmed.

He admitted “we do expect transmission” when society fully reopens in June but suggested vaccination should replace the need for lockdowns and the U.K. is “in a very good position” to stick to plans for June 21st.

Professor Ferguson’s main fear now is the threat of Covid variants, against which he believes “booster [vaccine] doses” should be administered.

Other advisers to SAGE last week published a study showing that Pfizer’s jab protects well against the South African variant after people have had both doses.

Professor Ferguson said: “The risk from variants, where vaccines are less effective is the major concern. That’s the one thing that could still lead to a very major third wave in the autumn.

“So I think it’s essential that we roll out booster doses which can protect against that as soon as we finish vaccinating the adult population which should finish by the summer…

“It’s much better to be vaccinating people than shutting down the whole of society. 

“So I think, with that one caveat, I am feeling fairly optimistic that we will be – not completely back to normal – but something that feels a lot more normal by the summer.”

Worth reading in full.

“Social” Distancing Could Be Scrapped from June 21st, but Masks Will Remain and Numbers at Large Events Will Be Capped

Last week, Boris Johnson said there was a “very good chance” all Covid restrictions would come to an end on June 21st, yet the latest reports suggest that mask-wearing and caps on numbers attending large events could stay in place past the “end” of lockdown. The Government is said to have already told football’s UEFA that crowd sizes at upcoming events will be limited to 45,000. So when will restrictions actually come to an end? The Times has more.

The “one metre-plus” social distancing rule will be scrapped from June 21st under plans to ensure that all restaurants, pubs, theatres and cinemas can reopen fully, the Times understands.

Masks will have to be worn in some cases to mitigate the risks but it will mean venues can reopen at full capacity for the first time in 15 months.

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, confirmed yesterday that some coronavirus restrictions would remain beyond June 21st, causing concern in hospitality…

The Times understands this means theatre and cinema audiences must wear face coverings during performances and there will be strict guidance on ventilation and staggered entry.

Pubs and restaurants may keep one-way systems, screens and a requirement to wear masks while moving around but, crucially, there will be no restrictions on customer numbers.

The Prime Minister is expected to be presented with the recommendations as part of an interim report looking at the success of recent trials, including events held without social distancing. Removing the one metre-plus rule would be a lifeline for thousands of businesses that warned they faced bankruptcy if the Government kept social-distancing rules this summer.

However, the biggest events will still have a cap on numbers beyond June 21st, meaning Wembley Stadium will be half empty for the European Championship final on July 11st. The Government is said to have told UEFA, European football’s governing body, that crowd sizes will be limited to 45,000.

Government sources added that fears of “pinch points” on public transport and at bars around the stadium would prevent a full crowd of 90,000 fans. A source said: “If you’ve got 90,000 people in a stadium, it’s going to be very difficult. It was always quite ambitious to go to 50% but we’ve told UEFA we’re working on a 50% basis.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: MailOnline columnist Dan Wooton says enough is enough. We must make sure June 21st is the day we get our old lives back and if we aren’t we should just take them back.

Stop Press 2: Just one Covid death was reported in the whole of Britain today, leading to further calls for the “roadmap” out of lockdown to be sped up – and for all restrictions to come to an end thereafter.

Dominic Raab Rejects Calls to Speed up the Exit From Lockdown

No amount of good news on the Covid front will persuade the Government to speed up the exit from lockdown. We are “very close now to really turning the corner” in our efforts against Covid, but not close enough that our unlock can be brought forward, according to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. What’s more, he said that rules on mask-wearing and social distancing could continue beyond June 21st. MailOnline has the story.

The Foreign Secretary warned “there will still need to be some safeguards in place” after [June 21st] in comments likely to anger Tory MPs who want all coronavirus rules to be lifted. 

[Talking to Sophy Ridge on Sky News,] Mr Raab rejected calls to speed up the roadmap as he insisted “we are very close now to really turning the corner” in the battle against the disease. 

The success of the U.K.’s vaccination programme and falling infection numbers have prompted demands for the Government to bring forward its reopening dates. 

But the Foreign Secretary this morning urged people to be patient as he insisted June 21st is not far away and “we are nearly there’”.

He argued that “taking steady steps out of the lockdown is the smart way to go” to avoid undoing the progress made during the national shutdown. 

He also… promised that on June 21st “almost all social restrictions will be lifted”.

To justify the “roadmap” continuing at its current slow pace, Raab said: “[The] fourth step out of lockdown is not far away now so I think [we should] just hang on.” But for the sake of the hospitality venues that have yet to reopen (and even those that have reopened outdoors), and for the sake of the nation’s mental and physical health, any amount of time still spent in lockdown is too long.

MailOnline‘s report is worth reading in full.

“New Normal”: Sports Fans Could Be Banned From Drinking and Encouraged to Stamp, Not Cheer

A member of SAGE has suggested that the Government should learn from the Black Lives Matter movement in how to make mask-wearing and social distancing “an inherent part” of attending sports events, as plans are being drawn up to ban drinking and encourage stamping and clapping rather than cheering at large events. The Times has the story.

Sports fans could be banned from drinking and encouraged to stamp and clap instead of cheering under plans to make mass events safe for the summer.

As British cities prepare to host football’s European Championships, tests are under way to discover whether it is better for social distancing to ban alcohol or to serve fans pints in their seats to prevent crowding at bars.

Ministers have accepted that testing before entry is likely to be required to make concerts, festivals and sporting fixtures safe even after all restrictions are lifted on June 21st. They are debating which elements of social distancing and Covid-secure rules will need to remain in place beyond that date…

Boris Johnson is keen to take a cautious approach to reopening and pilots are taking place to see which mitigation measures will need to be retained at concerts, nightclubs and stadiums.

The use of masks, physical distancing, hugs and handshakes, singing and the sharing of food and drink are all being monitored using CCTV and wearable devices. Different levels of social distancing rules and ventilation are also being trialled, with participants being tested five days later…

Professor Dame Theresa Marteau of the University of Cambridge, a behavioural scientist and member of SAGE, is chairing the scientific group overseeing the test events. In a scientific paper published just before they began, she argued it would be essential to create “new norms” for sports and music fans. “While it is a basic norm of many sports crowds that people express passionate support for their team, and without that the whole activity has little meaning… it may be possible to develop new and distinctive ways of expressing that passion (stamping, clapping, etc) that are of lower risk than shouting or singing,” she wrote.

She suggested learning from the Black Lives Matter movement in how to weave Covid-secure messages into the fabric of sporting events – making social distancing and mask-wearing “an inherent part” of what it means to be a fan of a team. However, she emphasised this would need to be developed in partnership with fans rather than imposed by the Government.

Players and pop stars should be encouraged to “scrupulously observe restrictions such as not hugging each other after a success” to reinforce the message, she suggested.

Worth reading in full.

No Benefit of Social Distancing and Capacity Limits, Study Shows

A new study published this week adds to the evidence that social distancing rules like the two-metre, one-metre-plus and six-foot rules offer no additional protection against COVID-19.

Professors Martin Bazant and John Bush from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology use mathematical modelling to show that the risk of catching the virus is unaffected by keeping your distance from infected people when in the same room because of the way the virus spreads via aerosols in the air.

Prof Bazant told CNBC that the six-foot rule “really has no physical basis because the air a person is breathing while wearing a mask tends to rise and comes down elsewhere in the room so you’re more exposed to the average background than you are to a person at a distance”.

While distancing offers some protection against larger droplets, it offers none against aerosols, which are a very common mode of transmission.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, uses a model to calculate indoor exposure risk based on time spent inside, air filtration and circulation, immunisations, respiratory activity, variants and mask use. Their conclusion is that it’s not social distancing that reduces risk but primarily the amount of time people spend in an enclosed space. The authors advise in the paper:

To minimise risk of infection, one should avoid spending extended periods in highly populated areas. One is safer in rooms with large volume and high ventilation rates. One is at greater risk in rooms where people are exerting themselves in such a way as to increase their respiration rate and pathogen output, for example, by exercising, singing, or shouting. 

Prof Bazant explains in his CNBC interview that this means many venues that have been closed can reopen at full capacity without increasing exposure risk.

What our analysis continues to show is that many spaces that have been shut down in fact don’t need to be. Often times the space is large enough, the ventilation is good enough, the amount of time people spend together is such that those spaces can be safely operated even at full capacity and the scientific support for reduced capacity in those spaces is really not very good. I think if you run the numbers, even right now for many types of spaces you’d find that there is not a need for occupancy restrictions.

The authors suggest that instead of an exposed person being defined as someone who has been within six feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes (as per the current CDC definition), whole rooms should be considered to be exposed depending on whether or not they exceed their cumulative exposure time (CET) with the infected person.

This does seem to be a more scientifically credible definition of exposure, but it also invites the possibility of yet more public health tyranny. And indeed, the authors propose regular mass testing at a frequency regulated by the CET for the space in question – and they’ve helpfully provided an app to enable us to calculate that. They explain:

For a group sharing an indoor space intermittently, for example, office coworkers or classmates, regular testing should be done with a frequency that ensures that the CET between tests is less than the limit set by the guideline. 

The need for this mass testing arises because they assume in their model that asymptomatic infections are no less infectious than symptomatic infections, so that simply asking people to isolate when ill is not enough to prevent exposure. Yet it is well-established now that asymptomatic infection is considerably less infectious than symptomatic infection and contributes very little to spread.

It’s worth stressing, then, that this is very much a model, not a study of real world transmission data and patterns, so is highly dependent on the assumptions and parameters that go into it. Some of those assumptions are more sound than others.

The assumptions relating to masks, for instance, are highly dubious.

The model tells you that if a restaurant with 50 people in it includes one infected person then people should spend less than 40 minutes there to avoid being infected. But if they are all wearing masks then this would be 28 hours! How does it arrive at that incredible difference?

Leading Scientists Call For End to Lockdown Restrictions

Twenty-two leading scientists and health experts, including Lockdown Sceptics contributors David Livermore, David Paton and Anthony Brookes, have put their names to a letter calling on the Government to end all restrictions on June 21st, including mask wearing and social distancing, and to stop mass testing of healthy people and abandon its vaccine passport proposals. The Mail on Sunday has more.

Leading scientists are calling on the Government to remove all coronavirus restrictions and allow people to ‘take back control of their own lives’ when the ‘roadmap’ to freedom ends in June.

With real-world data showing vaccines reduce the risk of death by 98 per cent and hospitalisations by more than 80 per cent, the experts say Covid-19 is being turned into a ‘mild’ disease in Britain, akin to the flu.

In an open letter to The Mail on Sunday, they criticise ‘confused and contradictory’ messages from Ministers and scientific advisers about the virus, which they say are exaggerating the real threat.

The 22 signatories include Professors Carl Heneghan and Sunetra Gupta from Oxford University, Emeritus Professor Hugh Pennington from the University of Aberdeen and Professor Robert Dingwall from Nottingham Trent University.

“We are being told, simultaneously, that we have successful vaccines and that major restrictions on everyday life must continue indefinitely. Both propositions cannot be true,” the scientists write. “We need to give more weight to the data on the actual success of the vaccines.”

You can read the letter in full here.

The full list of signatories is as follows:

  • Professor Ryan Anderson, Translational Science, Medicines Discovery Catapult
  • Dr Colin Axon, Mechanical Engineering, Brunel University
  • Professor Anthony Brookes, Genomics and Bioinformatics, University of Leicester
  • Professor Jackie Cassell, FFPH, Deputy Dean, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
  • Professor Angus Dalgleish, FRCP, FRCPath, FMedSci, Oncology, St George’s, University of London
  • Professor Robert Dingwall, FAcSS, HonMFPH, Sociology, Nottingham Trent University
  • Professor Sunetra Gupta, Theoretical Epidemiology, University of Oxford
  • Professor Carl Heneghan, MRCGP, Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, University of Oxford
  • Professor Mike Hulme, Human Geography, University of Cambridge.
  • Dr John Lee – formerly Pathology, Hull York Medical School
  • Professor David Livermore, Medical Microbiology, University of East Anglia.
  • Professor Paul McKeigue Genetic Epidemiology and Statistical Genetics, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor David Paton, Industrial Economics, University of Nottingham
  • Emeritus Professor Hugh Pennington, CBE, FRCPath, FRCP (Edin), FMedSci, FRSE, Bacteriology, University of Aberdeen
  • Dr Gerry Quinn, Biomedical Sciences, University of Ulster
  • Dr Roland Salmon, MRCGP, FFPH, former Director of the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre (Wales).
  • Emeritus Professor John Scott, CBE, FRSA, FBA, FAcSS, Sociology, University of Essex
  • Professor Karol Sikora, FRCR, FRCP, FFPM, Medicine, University of Buckingham
  • Professor Ellen Townsend, Psychology, University of Nottingham
  • Dr Chao Wang, Health & Social Care Statistics, Kingston University and St George’s, University of London,
  • Professor John Watkins, Epidemiology, Cardiff University
  • Professor Lisa White, Modelling and Epidemiology, University of Oxford.

Stop Press: Lucy Johnston, the Health Editor of the Sunday Express, has more on the letter. In addition to asking the Government to drop all restrictions on June 21st, the signatories have demanded that schoolchildren stop being told to wear masks on May 17th.

Stop Press 2: The Sunday Telegraph has splashed the letter on its front page.

Closing Playgrounds during Covid Has Fuelled “Pandemic of Mental Health Problems” among Children, according to Parliamentary Committee

Of all the negative impacts of lockdowns, one of the most profound has surely been the stunting of children’s educational and social development, and the suffering among the young of “vicious cycles of increasing distress“. One of the causes of “a pandemic of mental health problems” among children was the closure of playgrounds in the first lockdown, according to a parliamentary committee. The Telegraph has the story.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood is calling for practical measures to help children recover from repeated lockdowns, which have left too many confined for long periods at home. 

Their report calls for the halting and reversal of closures of children’s playgrounds – saying it is now more important than ever to encourage more outdoor play.

Its authors said the decision to close off playgrounds during the first lockdown followed longer-term trends which have seen too many play areas sold off in recent years. 

MPs said children growing up in the shadow of Covid needed far more help to recover from the pandemic, warning that one in six children are likely to be suffering from mental health problems – up from one in nine three years ago…

The report warns that spending on play facilities has fallen by 44% since 2017/18, with 347 playgrounds closed since 2014. It also calls for “outdoor play” to be put on the National Curriculum, warning that the lack of free play, and the amount of time spent glued to screens, is fuelling a rise in children’s mental health disorders.  

Experts said the closures of children’s playgrounds and play facilities across the country during the first lockdown had exacerbated such problems, adding to frustration and anxiety. 

And they said that many children had also suffered fallout from their parents’ stresses during the pandemic, with many exposed to heavier drinking at home.

Responding to these findings, the children and parents’ campaign group UsForThem said policies should be optimised to support the health and well-being of children. The closing of playgrounds, it said, is “unnecessary, unscientific and damaging to children”.

Lea Milligan, the Chief Executive of MQ Mental Health Research, is quoted in the Telegraph report saying that the problem of poor mental health among children has become an “emergency”.

The most vulnerable in our society are the ones who will be carrying the heaviest burden post-pandemic. The increase in mental illness in the UK was already an alarming trend before Covid struck. Now it is an emergency.

Without action, many of our children could face a lifetime of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses.

Worth reading in full.

Weimar Court Prohibits Mask-Wearing, Distancing Measures and Rapid Testing At Schools

A court in Weimar, Germany, has ruled that two schools should be prevented – with immediate effect – from forcing their pupils to wear masks, along with imposing social distancing measures and insisting on SARS-CoV-2 rapid tests, saying that “the state legislature regulating this area has gotten far removed from the facts, which has taken on seemingly historic proportions”. On mask-wearing, the court ruled that “the risk of infection is not only not reduced by wearing the mask, but is increased by [the widespread] incorrect handling of the mask”. The court also said “there is no evidence that compliance with distance regulations can reduce the risk of infection” and that “the regular compulsion to take a test puts the children under psychological pressure, because their ability to go to school is constantly put to the test”. The case was brought to court by a mother on child protection grounds.

There follows the text of an article published by 2020 News on this ruling – translated from German to English by Google. We think it’s so good we are reproducing it in full.

On April 8th, 2021, the Weimar Family Court decided in an urgent procedure (Az .: 9 F 148/21 – available in English here) that two schools in Weimar are prohibited with immediate effect from prescribing pupils to have mouth and nose coverings of all kinds (in particular wearing qualified masks such as FFP2 masks), complying with AHA minimum distances and/or taking part in SARS-CoV-2 rapid tests. At the same time, the court ruled that face-to-face teaching must be maintained.

For the first time, evidence has now been taken before a German court regarding the scientific meaningfulness and necessity of the prescribed anti-Covid measures. Hygiene doctor Professor Dr med Ines Kappstein, the psychologist Professor Dr Christof Kuhbandner and the biologist Professor Dr of Human Biology Ulrike Kämmerer have been heard.

The court proceedings are so-called child protection proceedings in accordance with Section 1666 Paragraphs 1 and 4 of the German Civil Code (BGB), which a mother had initiated for her two sons at the age of 14 and eight at the local court – the family court. She had argued that her children would be harmed physically, psychologically and educationally without any benefit to the children or third parties. This would also violate numerous rights of children and their parents under the law, the constitution and international conventions.

The proceedings according to § 1666 BGB can be initiated ex officio, either at the suggestion of any person or without such a person, if the court considers intervention to be necessary for reasons of the child’s best interests, § 1697a BGB.

After examining the factual and legal situation and evaluating the reports, the Weimar Family Court came to the conclusion that the now prohibited measures represent a current risk to the mental, physical or emotional well-being of the child to such an extent that further development without intervention is reasonably likely to foresee significant harm.

The judge stated:

…children are not only endangered in their mental, physical and spiritual well-being but are also currently damaged by the obligation to wear face masks during school time and to keep their distance from one another and from other people. This violates numerous rights of children and their parents under the law, the constitution and international conventions. This applies in particular to the right to free development of personality and to physical integrity from Article 2 of the Basic Law as well as to the right from Article 6 of the Basic Law to education and care by parents (also with regard to health care measures and ‘objects’ to be carried by children)…

With his judgment, the judge confirms the mother’s assessment:

The children are damaged physically, psychologically and educationally and their rights are violated, without any benefit for the children themselves or for third parties.

According to the conviction of the court, school administrators, teachers and others could not invoke the state legal provisions on which the measures are based, because they are unconstitutional and therefore null and void. Reason: You violate the principle of proportionality rooted in the rule of law (Articles 20, 28 of the Basic Law).

[The judge stated]:

According to this principle, which is also known as the prohibition of excess, the measures envisaged to achieve a legitimate purpose must be suitable, necessary and proportionate in the narrower sense – that is, when weighing the advantages and disadvantages achieved with them. The measures that are not evidence-based, contrary to Section 1 (2) IfSG, are already unsuitable for achieving the fundamentally legitimate purpose they pursue, namely to avoid overloading the health system or to reduce the rate of infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In any case, however, they are disproportionate in the narrower sense, because the considerable disadvantages/collateral damage they cause are not offset by any discernible benefit for the children themselves or for third parties.

He clarifies:

Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that it is not the participants who have to justify the unconstitutionality of the interference with their rights, but rather the Free State of Thuringia, which encroaches on the rights of those involved with its state regulations, has to prove with the necessary scientific evidence that the measures prescribed… are suitable to achieve the intended purposes, and that they, if necessary, are proportionate. So far, that has not yet happened.