The Covid Inquisition has had a rather hard time of it lately. As UK test positives, hospitalisations and deaths have plummeted, they have had in recent weeks to rely on scariants and foreign outbreaks in Brazil and India to maintain fear levels, but over the last few days a game changer has emerged: the virus is airborne. WHO have marginally up-rated their assessment of risk from aerosol transmission, triggering a raft of tweets from the Inquisition saying we told you so, but the real bombshell is a pre-print that puts some E notation numbers and extra computer generated colours on the Milk Curdler’s earlier three colour crayon box model #CovidRiskChart. The Inquisition now know that H, or your airborne infection risk parameter, for a brief, silent masked outdoor encounter is 2.33E-05. Prolonged shouting without masks in a poorly ventilated crowded room, on the other hand, pushes your H up to 1.00E+02. If shout turns to shove, your H jumps even higher, to 2.33E+02. Cripes.
What’s in a baseline? We now have all cause mortality data for the first quarter of 2021 for England and Wales, and so it is time to add this data to one of the many charts Dr No has squirreled away in his covid dossiers. This chart shows quarterly standardised mortality ratios (SMRs) from Q1 2000 to Q1 2021, the last two decades. They are calculated using the indirect method, using all 2000 mortality data as the standard. Each point represents that quarter’s SMR compared to all 2000 all cause mortality, adjusted for population size and age distribution, with values above 100 meaning observed mortality was higher than expected using the 2000 baseline, and values below 100 meaning it was less than expected. Quarters 1 to 4 are identified by the colours shown in the key. What do we see?
Early on in the pandemic, Dr No coined the phrase hot stiff bias to describe the habit of doctors of the covid tendency to attribute any death that might, however vaguely, be due to covid, as being definitely due to covid. It is a covid specific form of the more general hot stuff bias, in which doctors tend to attribute illness and deaths to ‘hot’ diseases, the ones that are currently ‘hot’ topics. It is a practical expression of there’s a lot of it about, the old medical standby for when one doesn’t have a clue, but wants to sound as if one does. An easy concept to understand, hot stiff bias is typically hard to quantify, but the latest ONS data does gives us a clue. It seems that as the weather warms up, covid hot stiff bias cools off.
The vexed question of domestic covid immunity passports remains in the balance. The general tone and drift of the government is that they are going to happen. Yesterday’s ID card munching journalist is today’s prime minister, ordering passport trials to go ahead. A recent Roadmap Review published by the government noted that covid immunity passports are ‘likely to become a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes’, and that they ‘could have an important role to play…as a temporary measure’. At the same time, retailers and the hospitality sector have recoiled against the idea, even though the majority of their customers want them. Rather late in the day, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has come out with a mealy mouthed ‘can have a role, but important to strike the right balance’ type statement that merely adds more mud to the already turbid waters. A while back, the Royal Society produced a similar sitting on the fence report. On twitter, covid immunity passport nuts queue up to post ‘TBH, I don’t really want to eat in the same places as anti vaccine loons’ and ‘the only people refusing [vaccines] are idiots, if two-tier society means less idiots around me I’m fine with that’. Truly, we are already a nation divided — and about to be ruled.
Isn’t it curious how describing deaths brought forward by a short interval by covid as dry tinder garners disapproval, while the MHRA’s breezy description of Yellow Card deaths associated with covid vaccination as spontaneous combustion — most likely would have died anyway, dear boy — goes quite un-remarked. Be that as it may, Dr No has taken a look at the MHRA’s Yellow Card Scheme for reporting adverse drug reactions, after some discussion in a recent post about a BMJ Rapid Response which suggested significant underreporting of covid vaccination side-effects. What can the Yellow Card Scheme tell us about adverse reactions to the covid vaccines? Is there any evidence for or against significant under-reporting of adverse reactions?
“Model individuals will be commended in accordance with regulations, and extensive publicity will be conducted through the news media to create a trustworthy and glorious public opinion atmosphere.”State Council of the People’s Republic of China (2014)Heartening as it is to hear some political opposition to covid passports, even if some of the opponents are a mixed bag of chancers and free-loaders, it still seems — assuming the polls are right — the majority of the Britons favour the introduction of covid passports for a wide range of broadly defined social activities. Expressed opposition, on the other hand, is low, never more than one in four of those polled. If the public gets what it wants, which seems likely, given the Tories’ penchant for policy that pushes on open doors, then Franklin’s ‘Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety’ will have finally achieved in full its true modern meaning.
The deadline for submitting evidence to the covid immunity passports review is fast approaching. Responses must be filed by 11:45pm on 29 March 2021. Don’t be put off by the formal language of a ‘call for evidence to inform the review into COVID-status certification’, this is also an ‘open consultation’. The government says it is keen to ‘ensure that the [review] recommendations reflect a broad range of interests and concerns’ and that it will ‘welcome views from all respondents’. So if you have a view on covid passports, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. For good measure, you might also send a copy of the email to your MP. You can find his or her email address here.
Orwell’s boot stamping on a human face — forever — might be apt for the later stages of authoritarianism, but it isn’t for the earlier stages, when Elliot’s not with a bang but a whimper fits better. If we put aside revolution and invasion, nations don’t convulse into authoritarianism, the authorities start with baby steps, which then get bolder as time goes by, until in time they become a march. It is Martin Niemöller’s first they came for the communists, then they came for the incurables. Unpopular groups are marginalised and criminalised. Enabling acts, acts which enable other laws to be made without parliamentary scrutiny, are used to ram through decrees even when, as is often the case, the party in government has a working majority. And then, before long, steps are taken to provide the means to silence those who oppose the government.
Modern life is full of vile words and phrases. Dr No is not taking about the more traditional terms of abuse aimed at race and sex, but of the new elitist terms of abuse aimed at proles, thickos and others who for whatever reason have failed to embrace the Establishment narrative. Take vaccine hesitancy, the catchall phrase for all who decline, as they are perfectly entitled to do, to have a vaccine. A picture is cast of a timid individual, perhaps like a child reluctant to enter a swimming pool, who will nonetheless get there in the end, after a little encouragement from the grown ups. The term is innately paternalistic, condescending and belittling, and made all the more sinister by the fact that the cure is invariably some form of political re-education, indoctrination or behavioural nudging. How curious then that one of the groups most likely to show vaccine hesitancy is the one group we might reasonably expect to be the most grown up about health care, health care workers themselves.
It is now almost a year since the British government decided we couldn’t be trusted to look after ourselves. Instead, we need an avalanche of draconian regulations to protect us from our selves, and such is the zeal with which the government has applied these regulations, that we now have hundreds, or thousands if you count the individual clauses, of these intrusive rules that interfere with our normal behaviour. The nation that only eighteen months ago sang Britons never never shall be slaves at the Last Night of the Proms rapidly and voluntarily enslaved itself to these draconian regulations. Even now, over 75% of people polled want social distancing measures, including masks and the two metre rule, to remain in place until at least Autumn 2021. In another poll, over 50% of those polled said they would miss some aspects of lockdown when it is over. Perhaps most bizarrely of all, almost half of those polled think they look as good as, or better, wearing a mask, than they look when not wearing one. In contrast, in Germany, a land once described as a nation of automatons led by a lunatic who looks like a clown, 60% of people polled think that their lockdown should be eased. Today, it is the Germans, and indeed many other European nations, who refuse to be slaves, while we have become the nation of automatons led by a lunatic who looks like a clown.