Tony Blair’s Covid grift

Have we yet seen the end of Covid restrictions? It is tempting to think so. For many people, Covid and the lockdowns have receded into history, replaced by Ukraine and the energy crisis. It would be easy, but foolish, to dismiss Tony Blair’s proposals as the ramblings of a bored ex-PM But perhaps we have parked the whole business in our memories a little too soon. Some are already pushing for restrictions to be re-enacted this winter. The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has just published a paper, Three Months to Save the NHS, demanding that the government consider re-imposing mask mandates on public transport and other enclosed settings.

Are ethnic minorities still more likely to get Covid?

Is there a genetic element to the risk of being infected with Covid — and are some disadvantaged ethnic groups more vulnerable to the virus? This was once one of the most controversial questions about Covid — asked often during the first and second waves of the pandemic when it became apparent that infection and death rates were higher among some ethnic groups than others (a government report was published at the time). Among the factors discussed were the tendency of black and Asian Britons to work in exposed, public-facing roles such as in transport, their greater presence in crowded, inner-city districts and the greater prevalence of multi-generational households among

Macron’s vaccine culture war

When French prime minister Jean Castex and health minister Olivier Véran held a press conference last week, they outlined the timetable for a gradual easing of the country’s many Covid-19 restrictions. Véran talked of an ‘encouraging evolution’ in the fight against the virus, despite the fact that France had in the previous week recorded an average of over 300,000 daily cases.  As of 2 February, the wearing of masks outdoors will no longer be mandatory; a fortnight later, the French will be able to experience once more the pleasure of standing at a bar with a glass of whatever takes their fancy. Since the start of this month, this practice has

Watch: Sajid Javid confronted by unjabbed NHS doctor

Since becoming Health Secretary there has been one big question Sajid Javid cannot answer: how can he justify firing a worker who has recovered from Covid, has antibodies and doesn’t want the vaccine? Javid first did this with unjabbed care home workers and now plans to fire unjabbed NHS doctors. Today he met one of them — and it didn’t go well. Javid’s answer? He didn’t have one During a visit to King’s College Hospital in south London, Javid was on camera talking to NHS staff asking them what they thought about his plans for compulsory vaccination. He presumably expected them to agree. But then along comes Steve James, an intensive care doctor who

The problem with ‘vaccine equity’

‘A stain on our soul’. That was how Gordon Brown, in his latest missive on the subject, described the failure of the west to ensure that the whole world is vaccinated. In a previous attack on western policy — at the end of November, just as Omicron was emerging — he wrote of “hoarding” and ‘vaccine nationalism’. Take Africa: it is certainly true that vaccination rates in many countries are very low. While the UK has managed to deliver 195 doses per 100 people, Nigeria has only managed seven, Ethiopia and Somalia nine, and Chad and South Sudan two. Can all this be blamed on the failure of western nations to donate

Will Trump’s pro-vaccine stance prove his undoing?

Donald Trump famously boasted that he could ‘stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody’ and still not lose voters. That was back in 2016 and the following years proved his point. We are now in the winter of 2021, however, and the 45th president may at last have stumbled across a way to alienate his fan base — by endorsing vaccines. Covid is today the most hostile frontline in America’s all-consuming culture war. Resistance to the national vaccination drive has become the stickiest point. You are either pro-freedom or in bed with the Great Globo Pharma Conspiracy. Trump has adopted a more middle-ground position: encouraging people to take the vaccines while

Is the EU heading for a booster crisis?

The Omicron variant spreads far more quickly. It infects far more people. And it is already rampant around the world, and probably unstoppable no matter how quickly borders are closed, or restrictions on socialising are put in place. Still, despite that, the one thing we already know for sure is that booster jabs are very good at controlling serious disease, and governments are scrambling to get as many shots into arms as quickly as possible. There is just one problem. If you happen to live in Germany, there are not enough of them to go round. And, even more worryingly, that may be the first sign the European Union is

What was the Covid press conference for?

What was the point of tonight’s Covid press conference? Boris Johnson didn’t have anything big to announce, other than a very dubious-looking new lectern telling people to ‘Get Boosted N0w’, with the 0 in the ‘now’ looking a lot like a Hula Hoop. His purported focus was on the doubling rate of Omicron, and to announce today’s record high number of positive tests (78,000). A cynic might argue that calling a press conference on the vaccination programme is distracting from the self-inflicted political mess Boris is currently wallowing through. Given people are already queuing round the block for their booster jabs, it doesn’t seem as though the message about Getting Boosted Now really

Should we be scared of the Omicron variant?

Why is the government so scared of the Omicron variant? So far, most of the evidence we have for transmissibility and virulence of Omicron is based on very limited data from South Africa, but the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has now published its own preliminary study of the variant — the results of which will presumably have been available to ministers and scientific advisers prior to Wednesday’s decision to enact ‘Plan B’. They appear to show a variant which is more transmissible, more likely to evade vaccines and more likely to reinfect people who have previously had Covid. But there is a very big caveat: they are based on

Punishing the unvaccinated threatens everyone’s liberty

How should we treat the unvaccinated? Should we stop them from participating in normal life? Castigate them in the media? Mandate they get vaccinated or block them from accessing NHS services? It’s a creeping question across developed countries — asked on Good Morning Britain’s Twitter page yesterday, and then subsequently deleted. Germany has barred the unvaccinated from most aspects of public life, including shops and restaurants. Greece is charging the over-60s Є100 for every month they remain unvaccinated, with money going to top up the health services. In Singapore, the unvaccinated will no longer have their Covid care paid for by the state. A letter in the Times this week suggested

What’s the evidence for England’s vaccine passports?

The Prime Minister has just announced Plan B. Working from home has been all but mandated and large venues — as well as nightclubs — will be required to check for vaccine passports. But where is the evidence for this, and what does the data say? Johnson’s vaccine passport idea copies Nicola Sturgeon’s policy in Scotland which was found, in a 70-page evidence paper, not to have had any measurable effect. As evidence Chris Whitty presented South African hospitalisations — a country with less than a third vaccinated. When Omicron was discovered the government said we should wait for data to be gathered before reacting. Sensible, given the huge economic

How concerned should we be about Omicron?

Ministers accused of overreacting to the Omicron variant will feel vindicated by the comments of Moderna chief executive Stéphane Bancel. In an interview with the FT, Bancel said he expects his company’s vaccine to suffer a ‘material drop’ in efficacy against Omicron – on the grounds that the new variant has 32 mutations to its spike protein. The protein, which the virus uses to attach itself to human cells, is targeted by the Moderna vaccine. The vaccine seemed to cope with previous variants – but they had fewer mutations. Bancel said the company’s scientists had told him: ‘This is not going to be good.’ Yes, it will be possible to

The fifth wave could break Macron

The fifth Covid wave has started in Europe. Some governments are already imposing lockdowns and wage cuts for the unvaccinated as hospitals are filling up. Mass protests against restrictions are popping up, some peaceful like in Austria, others turning violent like in the Netherlands and Belgium. A nationwide lockdown in Germany is unlikely, but local lockdowns may happen if hospitalisation rates continue to shoot up. Some patients in Bavaria have already been sent to Italian hospitals due to under-capacity, a reversal of what happened in the first wave. France is still counting on getting through the fifth wave with no restrictions. With only five months to go before the presidential

Sturgeon’s 70-page dossier finds no evidence for vaccine passports

Nicola Sturgeon wants to extend vaccine passports in Scotland, and today her government released a 70-page document purporting to show evidence. The snag? There’s not a shred of evidence to show that her vaccine passports are having any effect. The document, entitled Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine certificationww: evidence paper update makes a very bold claim: that Scotland’s choice is more vaccine passports or restrictions. To suppress the virus further we are now faced with a choice. This is to limit social contacts and the risk of infection by limiting social contacts by closing venues, limiting group sizes and advising people not to meet each other. Alternatively we can enable people to meet

Ross Clark

Austria will regret mandatory vaccinations

So, Austria’s experiment to persuade more people to get vaccinated by placing the unvaccinated in lockdown didn’t last long. A week, to be precise. From Monday, the entire country will be placed under stay at home orders and other restrictions — this, after it seemed that the era of lockdowns was over. But perhaps more significantly is Austria’s announcement this morning that from 1 February next year Covid vaccination will be compulsory, with large fines for those who refuse to be jabbed. Remarkably, in doing so, Alexander Schallenberg’s government is taking a step that even the Chinese Communist party considered going a bit too far — back in April, when some

The vaccine cheer is gone

I am 45, which means I’ve now had my third Covid vaccine. The experience of getting that injection crystallises a thought: Britain is starting to take the miracle of vaccination for granted, and that spells trouble for Boris Johnson. I don’t use that word ‘miracle’ lightly. The development and distribution of working vaccines with such speed and scale is surely a historical event, and one that should give both big-state left-wingers and the free-market right pause for thought, since it relied on the partnership between public and private. The politics of the vaccine have always been slightly under-appreciated in the Westminster village. The Hartlepool by-election, for instance, was undoubtedly another moment

What’s the evidence for Scotland’s vaccine passports?

Nicola Sturgeon is considering extending vaccine passports to Scotland’s cinemas, theatres and pubs. ‘We are also considering whether an expansion of the scheme to cover more settings would be justified and prudent given the current state of the pandemic,’ the First Minister said yesterday: she’ll decide next Tuesday. As she mulls, what data will she have to go on? Her deputy, John Swinney, conceded earlier this month that the government doesn’t have much in the way of evidence: the data is ‘impossible to segment,’ he says. Yet he told The Spectator at an event this morning that he still believed vaccine passports had a ‘role to play’ — pointing to

Should Covid booster jabs be rolled out to the over-40s?

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended that Covid booster jabs be offered to people in their forties, after they became available to the over-fifties earlier this year. But, as recently as August, the World Health Organisation opposed booster jabs. It said in a statement:  ‘In the context of ongoing global vaccine supply constraints, administration of booster doses will exacerbate inequities by driving up demand and consuming scarce supply.’  What we can’t really judge on existing evidence is how vital booster jabs are, or could become, in keeping Covid under control And in September Dr Mike Ryan, the WHO’s executive director in charge of the Covid response likened booster

The trouble with Austria’s vaccine passport plan

Are vaccine passports being used in other countries in an attempt to cut Covid infections – or to try and boost vaccine take up by curtailing the social lives of those who refuse? The latest change in policy in Austria would appear to confirm that for them, it’s the latter. From today, access to restaurants, bars and any event with more than 25 guests will be limited to people who can prove they have been fully vaccinated, that they have previously recovered from Covid or that they have had one jab and a negative PCR test. In four weeks’ time, only the double-jabbed and those who can show they have

Liberty is the American virus

If I wanted to persuade my fellow Americans to eat more cheese, I would begin by launching a campaign to ban cheese. This might start with the argument cheese clogs arteries or lowers IQ. I’d find some doctors willing to testify that cheese inhibits testosterone, and some other doctors to insist it fouls up estrogen.  Then I would move on to the damage cheese does to the climate: too many cows, goats, sheep — methane, don’t you know. Greenhouse gases. Deforestation brought to you by cheddar. ‘Cheese kills!’ might serve as a motto. Next, I would sort out the cheese-producing states that would have to be melted into submission, perhaps