24 March 2021

There is no emergency
COVID-19 cases are low and all-cause deaths are now back to normal pre-pandemic rates and falling. All vulnerable groups have been offered a vaccination. There are no longer any justifiable or ethical reasons for prolonging Covid-related statutory ‘emergency powers’.

It is anticipated that all phase 1 priority groups (approximately 32 million people) will have been offered a vaccine by 15 April, a group accounting for 99% of the deaths last spring. This will be an amazing achievement. The virus is now endemic and will circulate at very low levels this summer and is then likely to join the range of respiratory viruses circulating each winter. Talk of continuing social distancing and masks for several years is therefore unnecessary and unhelpful. We urgently need to reduce fear and increase hope as we recover from this crisis.

It is vital that we harness the benefits of the rapid vaccine rollout by acknowledging we are no longer in an emergency. We can and must reopen society. Government and SAGE will need to undo the negative messaging, after a year in restrictions many people will still be fearful to pick up their lives again. News that a £2m Government contract has just been awarded for a COVID Public Information Campaign over the next two years is concerning. The repeal of the coronavirus emergency legislation would give a very positive message of confidence and hope to the British public. Therefore, HART continues to urge all MPs to vote against the renewal of the Coronavirus Act this week in Parliament.

No evidence of SARS-CoV-2 in schools
HART predicted 24,000 false positive results in children in the first week of mass testing based on 4 million children being tested twice. In the week of 4 March, only 2.7 million tests were carried out on secondary school children and 0.05% of them were positive. Our previous prediction was based on the estimated false positive rate for the adult population of 0.3%. Testing of university students prior to Christmas showed a very low false positive rate of at or below 0.06% including NewcastleHullExeter and Birmingham. Testing among school children is demonstrating a similar rate. The good news is that these numbers are so low that no-one can be left in any doubt that they represent only false positive results and that there is no SARS-CoV-2 at present in the secondary school population. The ONS estimated that there would be SARS-CoV-2 in 0.4% (1 in 250) 12-24 year olds, so this is another instance of failed testing with PCR. With no virus in schools, there is now no justification for the mask mandate or mass testing.

Is mask wearing benign?
This week, Dr Mary Ramsay from Public Health England told the BBC that face coverings were a ‘lower level restriction’ that ‘people can live with’ and they should continue to be worn ‘for a few years’. Her words are similar to those used by politicians to justify the introduction of the mask mandate in summer 2020, when it was portrayed as an extra layer of protection, a precautionary measure, a nothing-to-lose restriction.

While there is no evidence that masks significantly reduce transmission when worn routinely in real-world settings, there is recognition that they may constitute an infection hazard, particularly when used incorrectly. Masks potentially cause physical harms, while the social and psychological cost of concealing our faces from other people is considerable. Face coverings impair all forms of communication and human connection, make lip-reading impossible for the deaf and constitute a gross impediment to children’s social development.

A highly visible reminder that danger is supposedly all around, face coverings are fuelling widespread, irrational fear at a time when the current viral threat is very low and the vulnerable have been vaccinated. As we look to re-activate the economy and reopen our society, this mask-induced fear will act as a major obstacle. HART believes the Government should now lift the mandate and allow people to decide for themselves whether to wear one. It is time to trust the public with their own personal risk-based decision making.

The futility of border closures
Summer holidays are in doubt again, with the news that a £5,000 fine will come into force for anyone trying to travel abroad without a ‘reasonable excuse’. Matt Hancock has said the restrictions are to ‘guard against’ new variants that might put the vaccine rollout at risk. Professor Neil Ferguson was also quoted as saying we ‘should be planning on summer holidays in the UK not overseas’. Closing international borders to keep out ‘foreign mutants’ of an already endemic virus is neither useful nor possible. It is worth noting that mutant variants from abroad pose no extra threat compared with any homegrown variants and are likely to have very similar sequences. Mutant variants, emerging overseas or domestically, are an inevitable biological reality once a virus is in the population, as is the case in the UK. The virus will mutate slowly over time, irrespective of borders.

Mandatory vaccination for care home workers
The news that the government is considering making COVID-19 vaccination a legal requirement for all care workers is concerning and against international law. This would create a precedent of eroding informed consent, and is difficult to justify when the vulnerable population have themselves already been offered at least one dose of vaccine, especially in the light of Scottish data that suggests the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine reduces risk of hospitalisation by up to 94%. If this is case, would it be better to prioritise second doses for all vulnerable groups, thus rendering the vaccination of our younger, healthy population unnecessary?

And some good news…
The number of patients admitted per day to intensive care units is now close to normal, pre-pandemic levels for the time of year. It appears we are well beyond the risk of overwhelming the NHS – further highlighting that now is the time to lift restrictions and allow the NHS to begin rapidly addressing the backlog of postponed appointments and operations. There is no sign of a virus resurgence in American states such as Florida and Texas which have lifted restrictions.

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