Too Early to Tell If Hospitality Can Reopen On May 17th, Says Minister

It is still “too early to say” whether the reopening of indoor hospitality can take place on May 17th, according to the Environment Minister. George Eustice told Andrew Marr on the BBC that while Britain’s vaccine rollout is “on track” (with 10 million second doses expected to have been administered by the end of the weekend), the risk of Covid variants could delay the next step in the Government’s “roadmap” out of lockdown. He is quoted on the Guardian website:

Well, it is too early to say. But I think we are on track in the sense that we are on track with the rollout of the vaccination programme. We have now vaccinated everybody over the age of 50 and this week they are offering vaccinations as well to those under the age of 50, starting with the 45-to-59 year-olds – so that bit is on track.

But we are being a bit cautious here. So although we have now got 60% of the adult population vaccinated we do just have to keep a close eye on these variants of concern.

Also, see what the impacts are of the easements we have just made, the loosenings we have just made, before moving to the next stage.

He delivered a similar message to Sophy Ridge on Sky News:

The biggest threat to everything we’re doing at the moment is that at some point there will be a variant that manages to evade the vaccine or largely evade it, so it is high on our concerns which is why while the vaccine rollout has been incredibly successful with over 60% of the adult population now vaccinated, we continue to proceed with some caution as we come out of lockdown.

The impact of the partial easing of lockdown earlier this month has been tempered by the weather (of course!) and by the fact that a “large proportion” of hospitality businesses do not have access to sufficient outdoor space. Kate Nicholls, the Chief Executive of UK Hospitality, said that even those venues which were able to reopen outdoors “still aren’t going to break even… the best they are going to achieve outdoors is 20%”, highlighting the need to allow businesses to open fully – that is, indoors.

Imperial College’s Danny Altmann said on Friday that “we should be terribly concerned” about the emergence of the Indian Covid variant in Britain, which could “scupper” the “roadmap” out of lockdown – a statement which a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) says is “pessimistic“. The Evening Standard reported:

Imported coronavirus variants are unlikely to set lockdown easing back to “square one” because immunity from vaccines “won’t just disappear”, according to a key figure on the UK’s immunisation committee.

Professor Adam Finn, a member of the JCVI, said he expected a “gradual erosion” of vaccine protection as the virus evolves but not enough to “scupper” the Prime Minister’s roadmap, as one leading scientist had predicted.

Meanwhile, Covid cases have fallen to a seven-month low in England.

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.

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.

“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.

Imperial: “It Will Be Vital to Emphasise the Importance of Normalising and Ensuring Adherence to All Measures Even After ‘Full Lifting’ is Achieved”

There follows a guest post by Lockdown Sceptics regular and second-year maths student Glen Bishop.

I thought I would just write with a few points from the Imperial College paper for SAGE released today that might be useful. I haven’t been through the Warwick or LSHTM ones yet, but I am sure they are similar. It is the same bad modelling with dodgy and out-of-date assumptions.

They are using the same vaccine efficacy assumptions they used in their paper released on February 22nd for the original lockdown release plan. They were out of date and underestimates then and haven’t been updated. AstraZeneca efficacy against severe disease (and therefore death) is assumed to be 80% in the model. The EAVE study in Scotland put it at 94% and the latest AstraZeneca study in the U.S. put it at 100%. The difference on projections is obviously massive. Even if the real figure is only 90% and all vulnerable groups have had the vaccine, then projections will be over-predicting deaths in the vaccinated population two-fold and if it’s 95% then they will be over-predicting deaths four-fold. The difference between 80%, 90% and 95% seems small, but the implications for end results are enormous and this is just one of a dozen assumptions, with uncertainties that compound together to make the projections absolutely useless.

Even with their dodgy modelling and assumptions, the Imperial team predicts a worst-case scenario of 40,000 deaths between June 2021 and June 2022 with a central estimate of 15,700 deaths. Winter flu season in 2017-18 had 22,000 flu deaths, so this is well within normal tolerance for death from respiratory disease which everybody accepts with zero interventions except voluntary vaccination. Also, worth noting that a significant number of those Covid deaths would be people who chose not to have a vaccine.

More alarming is this part in their summary: “Whilst the impact of Test Trace Isolate (TTI), mask wearing, hand hygiene, and Covid security on R is difficult to quantify, it will be vital to emphasise the importance of normalising and ensuring adherence to all measures even after ‘full lifting’ is achieved.” In other words, they have no idea if masks, TTI and the Orwellian-named “COVID security” (which I assume is social distancing and all the niggly little rules that busybody managerial types love) actually have any effect, but they are going to insist they become part of everyday life anyway.

The models assume – and the Imperial group advocates – that masks, TTI and “COVID security” remain indefinitely after June. They mention no end date. They seem to want to make this a new normal that lasts forever. This is typical out-of-touch, irrational and neurotic behaviour from SAGE. As we know, if everything returns to real normal, SAGE members lose their celebrity status as advisers and all that comes with it. An advisor will always advise that you need more advice and keeping masks, TTI and “Covid security” allow them to do just that.

Boris and the ‘Conservatives’ are going to have to cut SAGE off at some point or they might as well go back to their country homes and hand SAGE the keys to No. 10.

Meanwhile in Texas…

While go-slow BoJo talks about keeping masks and social distancing in place for another year (at least) and bringing in vaccine passports for large events (just for starters), this was the scene in Texas today, tweeted by Sam Gannon, a sports reporter for KDFW Fox 4. A packed stadium for a baseball game, no vaccine passport required, not a mask in sight.

Texas ended all restrictions and mask requirements at the beginning of March and since then has seen positive cases drop to their lowest level since last summer.

Doubtless Covid is still around and they will see it return at some point to a greater or lesser extent. But Texans no longer live in fear of it or allow their lives to be governed by often fruitless efforts to avoid it. Texas, like a number of other states, has decided that the risk as a society is manageable, and as individuals they have decided it is a risk worth taking to be free and live their lives. The land of the free and the home of the brave indeed.

How long will countries like the UK be able to keep up the draconian emergency measures when their people see Americans back to living normal lives and no medical catastrophe unfolding? When will we have a report from SAGE on the experience of states in America like Texas, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi that have lifted restrictions? When will the Government’s modellers show us how accurately their models predicted the outcomes in those states?

How long until our Government ministers and MPs start questioning the self-serving advice they’re getting from scientific advisers up to their necks in lockdownism and start standing up for freedom?

SAGE: Social Distancing and Masks Must Remain For Another YEAR to Avoid Deaths Reaching January Levels This Summer, Despite Vaccines

The Government’s top scientific advisers have released papers today claiming social distancing and masks must remain in place for another year to avoid another wave of hospitalisations and deaths this summer at levels seen in January, despite the high vaccine take-up. The Mail has the details.

Social distancing will remain in place until next year even if Boris Johnson‘s roadmap out of lockdown goes to plan, the Government’s top scientific advisers warned today.

Senior SAGE sources said 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”.  

All legal limits on social contact were to be abolished by June 21st as part of the final stage of the Prime Minister’s four-step route out of the crisis. It was hoped that festivals, sports events and nightclubs would reopen and that families and friends could reunite in large numbers after that date for the first time since winter 2020.

However, No 10’s experts claimed today that “baseline measures”, including some form of social distancing and masks, would need to remain in place until this time next year. They said they are “reasonably confident” that Covid will be manageable by then. 

The AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines reduce Covid deaths by about 90%, but there are fears high infection rates could see the virus spill into the small number of vulnerable people who haven’t been jabbed or for whom the vaccines don’t work.  

Despite the pessimistic comments, Mr Johnson is set to announce the country is on track for the second stage of his lockdown easing plans on April 12th, which will see shops, gyms, hairdressers and beer gardens reopen again. 

Cases and deaths are at their lowest levels in six months and more than half of the adult population has been vaccinated with at least one dose of the jabs. 

Papers released by SAGE today show the expert group is confident next week’s lockdown-easing measures will not pile pressure on the NHS, even if there is a slight uptick in infections, because of the success of the jab rollout.

But the advisory panel is less optimistic about future stages of the roadmap, adding that it is “highly likely that there will be a further resurgence in hospitalisations and deaths”.

They said the reopening of pubs, cinemas and indoor hospitality – due to happen on May 17th – could be delayed if vaccine uptake in the under-50s dips below 85%.

Modelling by Warwick University, Imperial College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine (LSHTM) warned of a late summer surge after “freedom day” in June which could rival levels seen this January when hospitals were nearly overwhelmed.  

It comes despite the models being relied on having been consistently wrong in hugely over-predicting deaths due to faulty assumptions about the deadliness of the virus, the susceptibility of the population, the effectiveness of interventions and the seasonality of the virus.

Brits Can Now Go to the Beach

Brits are now allowed to travel out of their local areas to go to the seaside, the Government has announced. (It still feels strange that such actions must receive approval from the state!) When half a million people flocked to the Dorset coastline last June, a “major incident” was declared. Brits won’t quite be able to enjoy the 33.3C temperatures that were recorded that week, but will still surely make the most of the “mini-heatwave”. The Mail has the story.

Britons are expected to flock to beaches over the next few days to enjoy this week’s mini-heatwave after the Government confirmed families from London and elsewhere can now travel to the seaside.

People in England will be taking advantage of the relaxation of lockdown measures as outdoor gatherings and sport events resume, with highs of 24C expected in the South East today.

There is now no legal limit on how far people can travel to enjoy day trips at the countryside or coastline, although overnight stays are still banned at hotels, self-catering accommodation and other people’s homes. 

But there will be concerns among ministers that the unseasonably warm weather will make social distancing very tricky on beaches after the likes of Brighton and Bournemouth were swamped with visitors last summer.  

The Government’s “stay at home” order ended this morning, with messaging moving to “stay local”, but people are still being asked to continue to work from home where possible and overseas travel remains banned. 

Government officials today confirmed to the Evening Standard that it is now legal to travel from London to the seaside for a day on the beach, and there is no limit on the distance you can travel to see friends or family.

The newspaper also put two examples to the Government, which it confirmed were acceptable. These were driving to the New Forest in Hampshire to ride a trial [trail], or taking a windsurfer or kayak to the coast for the day.

A Government spokesman said: “Whilst the ‘stay at home’ rule has ended, many restrictions remain in place. We ask everyone to act responsibly and cautiously and minimise travel where possible as these restrictions ease.”

The date at which these restrictions on internal travel differs across the UK.

In Wales, the “stay local” order ended on Saturday and people were allowed to stay in self-contained holiday accommodation. The stay home order in Scotland is to end on Friday.

In Northern Ireland up to six people, or two households, will be able to meet outdoors from Thursday.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Bournbrook’s cartoonist ‘Crid‘ has released a cartoon on Brits going to – and working from – the beach.

The Land of the Free Shows it’s Time to Lose the Lockdowns

No surge as schools open in the UK, no surge as Texas throws off restrictions, free states like Florida and Georgia doing no worse than lockdown states – is anyone in Government watching the real world or are they too busy gawping at the curves of Neil Ferguson’s latest model?

Jeffrey A. Tucker at AIER has gathered together some of the alarmist predictions made about Texas that have, so far, not come to pass:

  • California Governor Gavin Newsom said that opening Texas was “absolutely reckless.”
  • Vanity Fair went over the top with this headline: “Republican Governors Celebrate COVID Anniversary With Bold Plan to Kill Another 500,000 Americans.”
  • There was the inevitable Dr. Fauci: “It just is inexplicable why you would want to pull back now.”
  • Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke of Texas revealed himself to be a full-blown lockdowner: It’s a “big mistake,” he said. “It’s hard to escape the conclusion that it’s also a cult of death.” He accused the Governor of “sacrificing the lives of our fellow Texans… for political gain.”
  • James Hamblin, a doctor and writer for the Atlanticsaid in a Tweet liked by 20K people: “Ending precautions now is like entering the last miles of a marathon and taking off your shoes and eating several hot dogs.”
  • Bestselling author Kurt Eichenwald flipped out: “Goddamn. Texas already has FIVE variants that have turned up: Britain, South Africa, Brazil, New York & CA. The NY and CA variants could weaken vaccine effectiveness. And now idiot @GregAbbott_TX throws open the state.” He further called the Government “murderous.” 
  • Epidemiologist Whitney Robinson wrote: “I feel genuinely sad. There are people who are going to get sick and die bc of avoidable infections they get in the next few weeks. It’s demoralising.”
  • Virus guru Michael Osterholm told CNN: “We’re walking into the mouth of the monster. We simply are.”
  • Joe Biden famously said that the Texas decision to open reflected “Neanderthal thinking”.
  • The chairman of the state’s Democratic Party said: “What Abbott is doing is extraordinarily dangerous. This will kill Texans. Our country’s infectious-disease specialists have warned that we should not put our guard down, even as we make progress towards vaccinations. Abbott doesn’t care.”
  • The CDC’s Rochelle Walensky didn’t mince words: “Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained. I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19.”

Are any of these experts and commentators now reconsidering their fundamental assumptions and examining the data? What do you think?

The coronavirus has certainly surprised many of us in the past year, defying expectations by being more deadly in Europe and North and South America than it was in South East Asia, while in Africa and India it surprised by its mildness.

The lazy mainstream assumption that the differences between countries are explained primarily by their restrictions or interventions has not been borne out by any of the studies that have examined the real world data rather than relying on models that bake-in assumptions of lockdown efficacy.

One of those studies, by eminent Stanford scientists Jay Bhattacharya (co-author of the Great Barrington Declaration), John Ioannidis and colleagues, published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation, has come under criticism since it was published at the start of January. The authors have now responded to that criticism, defending their paper in the journal.

It includes some great quotations from these two pillars of the sceptic movement.

Covid Numbers Continue to Fall in Texas More Than Two Weeks After State Returned to Normality

There is some great news from Texas today: Covid cases and hospitalisations continue to fall more than two weeks after the state lifted its mask mandate and allowed businesses to reopen to full capacity. President Joe Biden dismissed this return to normality as “Neanderthal thinking”, but it appears as though it has not been the “big mistake” he claimed it would be. Let’s hope that it stays this way. The Mail has the story.

On Saturday, Texas’ seven-day Covid positivity rate reached an all-time low of 5.27%, while hospitalisations fell to their lowest level since October, according to the latest state data.

The state recorded 2,292 new coronavirus cases, about 500 fewer on average from last week, and 107 new deaths.  

The number of people hospitalised with coronavirus, meanwhile, dipped to 3,308. 

The latest figure marks a significant decline in hospitalisations in the state which had seen levels soar past 14,000 for a couple of days in January. 

The drop comes 17 days after Republican Governor Greg Abbott ended the statewide mask mandate and other Covid safety measures.  

Abbott took to Twitter on Saturday to celebrate the state’s progress, saying: “Today Texas hit an all-time recorded low for the seven-day Covid positivity rate: 5.27%. It’s been below 6% for 5 days & below 10% for an entire month.

“Covid hospitalisations declined again – now at the lowest level since October 3rd. Vaccinations continue to increase rapidly.”

Our leaders could certainly learn some lessons from what is happening on the other side of the pond.

Worth reading in full.