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Thursday 31 December 2020

Vaccines - Hancock’s Half Hinformed

After the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved for use in the UK, the mood among health professionals began at last to lighten: here was the first sign that Covid-19 could be, if not conquered, at least made far less deadly. Now has come regulatory approval for the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, a far less expensive, more easily transported and stored, and hopefully more widely available, treatment. But here a problem enters.

These vaccines, and others which may include the US Moderna and Russian Sputnik-V jabs, will be rolled out under the supervision of the Government. And after the amount of foul-ups over which they have already presided, not least addressing PPE shortages (or, sometimes, not), sending confusing messages over what is and is not allowed during partial lockdowns, and indeed, locking down too late, public confidence is fragile.

Worse, the chief decision maker will be Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who may mean well, but like so many who serve in the cabinet of alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, has been selected on the basis of loyalty first, and ability somewhat later. And what the Guardian reported yesterday has raised concerns.

Both the Oxford vaccine and the Pfizer/BioNTech jab which is already in use will be given to people as one shot, followed by another up to 12 weeks later, in order to extend some protection to as many people as possible as quickly as possible”. Now, for the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, that should not be a problem. But it is for the Pfizer-BioNTech one.

Although one dose of the Oxford vaccine gives some protection, the Science Media Centre has observedNot surprisingly, only the two standard dose regimen has been approved by the MHRA - with a variable interval (4-12 weeks apart) between the first and second dose”. So the second shot has to come before 12 weeks have passed since the first one.

But now, Chris Smyth of the Times has told “Hancock says that second dose appointments for Pfizer jabs booked for after Monday will be cancelled so more first jabs can be given. Second doses will be postponed for later months”. Wrong. Here’s why: “Pfizer-BioNTech said that their vaccine was not designed to be used in two shots 12 weeks apart”.

There is more. “There are no data to demonstrate that protection after the first dose is sustained after 21 days”. It is possible that protection from Covid-19 is sustained, but then again, it is also possible that it is not. Hancock has no evidence to back up his volte face.

Not surprisingly, an increasing number of concerned observers have picked up on this news, which, combined with knowledge of the Government’s shambolic response to the pandemic, is rapidly eroding trust when and where it is needed most.

Matt Hancock has to order a differential vaccination régime, with three weeks between shots for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but a longer gap for the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, and drop his “one shot for all” solution, which appears to have come from a convocation of ex-politicians and uninformed pundits. He needs to get a grip.

The public needs to be confident that the Government can, and will, deliver vaccination effectively. Right now, they are not. Time for Hancock to not be half hearted.

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Wednesday 30 December 2020

Sarah Vine Demands More Virus Spread

The Coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of obediently packing its bags and moving on: across the UK, a record 53,135 positive test results were recorded yesterday. One doctor just finishing his A&E shift at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham last night posted a photo of ambulances queuing up to unload their patients, many having waited more than three hours. Essex has declared a major incident after the latest rise in infections.

Examples such as these should give a clue as to why secondary schools may not reopen next week, or even at all during January. Maybe not until half-term. After all, the Government has to try and keep the population safe, while hoping the vaccine cavalry will appear and work its way through the most vulnerable. Secondary age children may be their very own superspreader group. So a short term school closure is a no brainer.

Except, it seems, for the inmates of the Northcliffe House bunker: yesterday’s why-oh-why Daily Mail front page has now been backed up by yet another zero research column from the obscenely overpaid Sarah “Vain” Vine, teased at the top of today’s Mail front page, and headed “It’s madness to treat our schools like nail bars or nightclubs”. Eh?

False equivalence, much? She then gets out her king-size onion. “When we think of the negative effects of lockdown, the first image that springs to mind is that of the lonely pensioner … But for me, as the mother of two children, there’s another image, one I find equally disturbing. That of the lone teenager, cut off from friends, locked in their bedroom”.

Who’s locking them in? Anyhow, what are these teenagers’ thoughts? “Wondering what the point of all of this is anyway, since exams will probably be cancelled”. They really will be cancelled if the denial brigade screw things up again. Do go on. “Worrying that even if you do get a degree, there won’t be any jobs, since lockdown has destroyed the economy”. Three years or more down the road? Bullshit. But, sadly, there is more.

No wonder health professionals are reporting an alarming rise in cases of depression and anxiety among teenagers. Only yesterday, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health reported a record number of young people being admitted to hospital with eating disorders brought about by the stress of lockdown … Girls are disproportionately affected, in particular high-achieving students derailed by exam cancellations”.

Sarah Vine has a teenage daughter, doesn’t she? So, moving beyond the obligatory “The teaching unions want to close for as long as possible for their own political ends”, which is yet more predictable bullshit mandated by the Mail’s editorial line, maybe we should ask who might be the bad influence precipitating any eating disorder problems.

And we can get a clue from the very next item in Ms Vine’s appallingly tedious column, where she tells “The other night, faced with yet another evening of execrable terrestrial TV, I started watching Bridgerton on Netflix. Several episodes, a pile of Quality Street wrappers and the best part of a bottle of Chablis later, I was still glued to the action”.

I wonder if, as Private Eye magazine might ask, the two are in any way related? I think we should be told.

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Tuesday 29 December 2020

Toby Young’s Guantánamo Goof

While the Coronavirus pandemic grows ever more deadly, fired up by new mutations which are apparently more easily transmitted between people, it is matched at every turn by the equally deadly tsunami of misinformation coming from those who call themselves lockdown sceptics, but as with Eurosceptics and Climate Change sceptics, these people are flat-out denialists. For them, it’s not really happening.

And, as befits the sick nature of today’s Pundit Establishment, much of this contrarian grandstanding is being suitably monetised, ensuring a ready supply of claims that whatever the Government does is wrong, that the UK should be more like Sweden (although that one is now in abeyance, following news that Sweden was not in as good a shape as previously thought), and that lockdowns are A Very Bad Thing.

In the vanguard of the denial, oops, sorry, lockdown sceptic brigade has been the loathsome Toby Young, telling his adoring followers yesterday “Surging Covid cases, ambulances not answering calls, NHS in crisis ... but percentage of ICU beds occupied in England on December 20th was lower than this time last year in every region of NHS England”. Pink News CEO Benjamin Cohen was not impressed.

I know maths is your weak point Toby, but there have been more ICU beds added, so using a percentage of current/ past capacity is a meaningless statistic. Why has [ICU] capacity been increased? Because of a pandemic”. Well, quite. Also, the medical student known simply as Ron M had yet worse news for Tobes.

Had you gone back to the source, rather than crudely copying and pasting a couple of graphs from The Spectator, you might have heeded the attached ‘Note on beds data’”. This read “caution should be exercised in comparing overall occupancy rates between this year and previous years. In general hospitals will experience capacity pressures at lower overall occupancy rates than would previously have been the case”.

This is because “Hospital capacity has had to be organised in new ways as a result of the pandemic to treat COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients separately and safely in meeting the enhanced Infection Prevention Control measures”. Or, to put it directly, Tobes is sounding off without bothering to acquaint himself with inconvenient things like facts.

Moreover, the photo Tobes had used to illustrate his fateful Tweet was clearly not of an Intensive Care Unit. So Ron M began digging. “And I mean ... come on mate, get some up-to-date photos. EXIF suggests it's dated no later than 2012, doesn't even look like the UK and it's certainly not an ICU”. So if it wasn’t from the UK, where was it taken?

You’ll love this. “LOL guess what … It’s Guantanamo … Literally. Guantanamo Bay. This twatwaffle is using pictures of GUANTANAMO BAY to illustrate how ‘empty’ wards are in the UK … You could not make this up”. Except Toby Young just did. And an increasing number of wackos, bots and bad faith actors will be on hand to amplify it.

The issue for Toby Young and his pals is not their freedom of speech. It is their inability to understand that that freedom can have consequences. And that, like Brexit, it is not for them to shift blame on to anyone else. It’s about time Tobes owned his misinformation.

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Covid-19 - What About The Children?

Yesterday brought a new high in the number of those testing positive for Covid-19 across the UK, at 41,385. And with the R-rate running at an estimated 1.1 to 1.3 - in other words, the situation is getting worse - the NHS is in danger of becoming overwhelmed by new admissions. It is against this backdrop that SAGE has made its latest recommendation.

Despite Michael “Oiky” Gove touring the studios earlier this week and reassuring anyone who put the question that schools would - or maybe that was should - reopen on Monday next week, the worsening rates of positive tests and hospital admissions suggest that, in the case of secondary schools at least, it might not happen. Not until February.

As the HuffPost has reported, “Michael Gove has said the government hopes the staggered reopening of schools in England will go ahead as planned, despite reports that scientists have recommended they should all be closed to prevent coronavirus infections surging … The Cabinet Office minister said he was confident primary school pupils and Year 11 and Year 13 pupils in England would be able to return in the first week of January, with the rest going back later in the month”. He hopes. Which means it may not happen.

There was more. “The commitment comes as it was reported the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has recommended all secondary schools remain closed in January. According to Politico, the body advised that the R rate might be kept below 1 if schools stay closed in January and that closing secondary schools would have a bigger impact than shutting primary schools”. The Government is now considering what to do.

This has now been picked up on by the national part of our free and fearless press. Under the headline “Covid surge triggers split over school restart plan”, the Guardian notes that some in Government are taking the same side as teaching unions, that Education Secretary Gavin “Stupid Boy” Williamson is “fighting a rearguard action” to reopen schools, and that the number being treated for Covid-19 in hospital has passed last April’s peak.

The Murdoch Times has also made the story its lead item, telling “PM under pressure to delay school reopenings … Daily Covid cases exceed 40,000 for the first time”. So who would care to shower its readership with spite and dishonesty? Yes, it’s the Daily Mail, thundering “DON’T BETRAY OUR CHILDREN … Fury as schools poised to shut until February”. The inmates of the Northcliffe House bunker say the Army is coming!

Next term is already being postponed by a week for most secondary pupils to allow for coronavirus testing. But teaching unions and scientific advisers are seeking at least an extra fortnight's delay [Boo unions! Boo experts!] in the face of a surge in infections. But the MoD will now draft in the personnel to form local response teams [Yay Army!]”.

While the tendency to prevarication of alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is not helpful - and, indeed, potentially deadly in itself - the constant attacks from the press, selectively quoting anyone they can find to stand up headlines already written, is at best unhelpful and at worst pouring yet more fuel on the denialist bonfire.

Secondary schools may have to remain closed next month. And the idea that SAGE, or anyone else, isn’t thinking of the children, is just another malicious pack of lies. We are living through difficult and indeed deadly times. Maybe stop making things worse, eh?

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Monday 28 December 2020

Brexit - Gove Admits Red Tape Lies

So, Brexit boosters, how many of you swallowed the claim that leaving the EU would mean cutting red tape for businesses? Every one answering in the affirmative has been taken for a mug. Because that claim was yet another among the litany of lying in which the Leave campaigns indulged. And now that it’s too late to do anything about it, that Primus Inter Pares of political liars, Michael “Oiky” Gove, has admitted it. While lying a little more.

Someone just smelled burning

And even the BBC has reported this late admission, though not the previous claims. “There will be ‘bumpy moments’ for UK businesses and travellers as they get to grips with new EU rules, says government minister Michael Gove. He said there would be ‘practical and procedural changes’ when the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December”.

Yebbut new passports. Which aren't actually blue

There is more. “Mr Gove also urged people going to the EU to make extra checks, including looking at mobile phone roaming charges and passport expiry dates”. The return of mobile phone roaming charges when out of the UK, which was previously derided as no more than a manifestation of “Project Fear”. Now he admits it wasn’t.

Gove “warned businesses that time was ‘very short’ to make the final preparations before the transition period ends … Businesses have been urged to make sure they understand the new rules on importing and exporting goods, including the different rules that apply to trade with Northern Ireland, and to consider how they will make customs declarations on EU trade”. Customs declarations - so more red tape for businesses.

Ian Dunt was less than totally impressed. “Incredible argument from Gove that Brexit makes sure exporters are ‘match fit’ for global trade - basically that the government is making it so hard to trade with our closest partner that now they'll be trained to trade all over the place”. And the red tape will impose itself on more than one level.

That was picked up by Ian Birrell: “It was claimed endlessly that Brexit would slash bureaucracy & red tape. Now look at the complex new bureaucratic infrastructure that has been agreed by Johnson with a Partnership Council, 19 specialised committees & 4 working groups”. And there will still be a role for the European Court of Justice.

On costs, Peter Stefanovic was also unimpressed. “‘It’s a good deal’ Michael Gove tells #BBCBreakfast who fail to point out it's cost the country £200bn, robbed British citizens of free movement & made everyone but his millionaire chums poorer for years to come”, adding “BBC viewers obviously don’t need to know this”. Ho ho ho.

Meanwhile, Denis MacShane spotted another whopper. “First Brexit fib of the day from Michael Gove to [Nick Robinson] that Brexit allows UK to create free ports. There are free ports all over Europe. UK had them but last one closed in 2012 as they don’t work very well”. Gove’s claim on being able to tackle inequality was another lie.

Michael Gove fails to explain how being inside the EU prevented Conservative governments from tackling inequality, when questioned on Today. Not a single example. Because the main levers - public services and tax - have always been at national level” noted Jennifer Rankin. Yet “Oiky” was not called out on air for any of his fibs.

When will Brexiteers realise they’ve been had? It’s all getting just a little bit obvious.

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Sunday 27 December 2020

Julia Hartley Dooda Goes Full Wacko

With Covid-19 infection numbers - and deaths - running at a worrying rate, and the possibility of another lockdown looming, the last thing the UK needs is more misinformation on the subject, more stoking of wacko conspiracy theories by the overmonied and inconsiderate. But, sadly, that is exactly what self-promoting TalkRADIO host Julia Hartley Brewer is now doing, during her latest exclusive and expensive holiday.

Ms Hartley Dooda wants us all to know that, while many in the UK live in poverty, she is lording it over us on the Caribbean island of Antigua. This is paid for by her line of work, which entails turning up at the studio of a weekday morning and shooting her mouth off without bothering to engage is such tiresome disciplines as research.

Just 377 healthy people under 60 have died of Covid. That's not a typo. There are no zeros missing. 377. Yes, that's sad but we have locked down an entire country for a virus that mostly kills the very old & the very sick. The rest of us should be free to decide our own risks” she proclaimed, seemingly unaware that 60 is an odd age to draw the line.

After all, retirement age in the UK is now 66. But do go on. “And for the hard of understanding virtual [sic] signallers, that doesn't mean ‘to hell with the old and sick’. It means the Great Barrington Declaration was and is correct: help the millions of old & sick to shield while allowing the young & healthy (& our economy) to carry on living”. Ri-i-i-ight.

Those who disagree are stupid, unlike Herself Personally Now. Or maybe they aren’t, as the Great Barrington Declaration has been exposed as a denialist sham. Anyhow, she’s not finished. “These people are either totally disingenuous or wilfully stupid. It's hard to decide which sometimes. This one may be both”. Only she is qualified to judge.

As Sir Sean nearly said, I think we got the point. But, as Jon Stewart might have said, two things here. One, the number of Covid-19 related deaths for under-65s is around 7,500. And Two, as Dominic Pimenta, who you can tell as he’s a doctor, has pointed out, those “pre-existing conditions” includes any mental health condition, asthma, diabetes, any rheumatoid problem, gout, hernia and more - none of which are deadly on their own.

Moreover, as Sam Freedman has pointed out, “Does everyone quote tweeting this realise that there are almost 16m people over 60 in the UK? We're talking about close to a quarter of the population, not a few old dears waiting for God in their retirement home … That's not even including all the people with pre-existing conditions (many more millions). And ignoring the fact that younger people still need to use hospitals and can't if they're full of dying people”. So who is it that is being “wilfully disingenuous or wilfully stupid”?

The all too predictable fact of the matter is that Julia Hartley Dooda would rather not be inconvenienced by the current Covid-19 restrictions. So she embraces every crank and wacko out there who will tell her the pandemic is over, the Government has got it wrong, or that there is some miracle cure that doesn’t involve her not being able to please herself.

Once again, the crashing ineptitude and breathtaking arrogance of the Waitrose Katie Hopkins demonstrates that, for some who claim to be journalists, there is precious little journalism allowed to get in the way of their pampered, obscenely overpaid and out-of-touch lives. “Hard of understanding virtue signallers”? That would be herself.

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Brexit Deal - Truth Versus Delusion

Our free and fearless press is today trying to move on to other news, to gloss over the shortcomings already apparent, but for those still inhabiting the real world, it is becoming increasingly clear that the much-vaunted Brexit deal hailed as a triumph for alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is nothing of the sort.

Yesterday, in the UK at least, the sycophancy was off the scale. The Daily Mail led the orgy of crawling, proclaiming “GET READY FOR BLAST OFF, BRITAIN! UK gears up for business boom with Brexit deal done … PM urges all MPs to back him as it’s right thing to do … THE Economy will bounce back in 2021 helped by the post-Brexit trade deal, experts said last night”. This was claimed to be “unrivalled news” coverage.

Which, not for the first time with the inmates of the Northcliffe House bunker, it was not. Nor was the equally sycophantic outpouring from the Murdoch Times, which told readers of “A new special relationship … Gove claims Brexit deal is fresh start for Britain after years of ‘ugly politics’”. Ugly politics, much of which has seen Michael “Oiky” Gove intimately involved. And no-one should take one word he utters on trust.

Not to be outdone in this crawling contest, the Daily Brexit, still called the Express, told its dwindling audience “Victory in Brexit trade deal will help UK emerge as leading economic powerhouse … BORIS HERALDS OUR NEW ‘GOLDEN AGE’”. But then came a bursting of the balloon, as the European Commission revealed just what the UK really won.

And the scorecard made for grim reading: the return of border checks, the return of roaming charges, no more frictionless trade, no full participation in the “Open Skies” policy, and worst of all, no automatic recognition of professional qualifications by the EU, topped with an end to financial services passporting. Which will screw over the City of London.

As to the claims that the UK had averted the possibility of retaliatory tariff applications by the EU, Richard Murphy had bad news. “I am most amused to read some of the detail of the Brexit agreement. In particular in the level playing field section I do note that the UK won out against ‘retaliatory arrangements’ on divergence. There are ‘rebalancing measures’ instead, which read very much like tariffs to me”. And there is more.

While UK-based media has spun for its supper, that outside the country is under no such obligation, and especially not the New York Times, which noted the loss of financial services passporting, commenting “That loss is especially painful for Britain, which ran a surplus of £18 billion, or $24 billion, on trade in financial and other services with the European Union in 2019, but a deficit of £97 billion, or $129 billion, on trade in goods”.

Do go on. “‘The result of the deal is that the European Union retains all of its current advantages in trading, particularly with goods, and the UK loses all of its current advantages in the trade for services,’ says Tom Kibasi, the former director of the Institute for Public Policy research, a research institute. ‘The outcome of this trade negotiation is precisely what happens with most trade deals: the larger party gets what it wants and the smaller party rolls over’”. The smaller party being the UK.

Already, fishermen’s leaders are talking of betrayal, of Bozo caving in to the EU. There will be more in the same vein. The mixture of spin and downright lying peddled by the press - typified by the Mail claiming that Michel Barnier had been “Sidelined” and Bozo had negotiated directly with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen - is about to be exposed as a sham, as is the alleged skill of the UK ’s negotiators.

David Frost, presented as a brilliant negotiator by the Mail, was mismatched and outclassed. The “EU climbdown” was no such thing. The UK has been rolled over and the rest of the world is laughing at our delusion and ignorance.

The press is happy. But its bosses won’t be losing their jobs. I’ll just leave that one there.

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