Should We Be Worried About “Kent Covid”?

Vincent Racaniello, who is Professor of Virology at Columbia University and co-author of the textbook Principles of Virology, explains in a new video why he is not worried about the new virus variant.

The Government’s evidence, he says, is all “circumstantial”, being based in poor epidemiological data rather than biological data, and beset with problems of relying on PCR testing, which “does not detect infectious virus”. The argument of NERVTAG is “completely flawed”, he thinks, and he sees no reason to think this mutation is any more concerning than any of the others that have been identified. “If anything this variant is going to cause less severe disease,” he says.

Well worth a watch.

Ross Clark in the Spectator has crunched the numbers and found there seems no reason to think the new variant is any more virulent (deadly).

If there were a dramatic difference between the death rate between the old and new strains, however, it would presumably start to show up in the regional data given that the variant strain is much more prevalent in London and the South East. Around 60% of new cases in London are now the new variant. So does London have a higher or lower death rate than other parts of the country? One way to get a rough idea is to compare the number of deaths in each region with the ONS data on the prevalence of COVID-19 two weeks earlier – two weeks being the typical delay between a positive test and death, where that occurs.

The results?

For every 1,000 cases in London in the week to November 25th, there were approximately 3.5 deaths in the week to December 11th. The corresponding figure for the South East was 5.3. In the North West, where the new variant was a lot less common, the figure was 3.9. It was 3.5 for the North East, 4.3 for Yorkshire and the Humber, 3.5 for the North East, 6.2 for the West Midlands and 5.1 for the East Midlands.

In other words, no sign of a swelling infection fatality rate. Just swelling panic and hype.

Stop Press: Listen to Professor Angus Dalgleish talking to Ian Collins on talkRADIO about the nonsense of worrying about a “new” variant that has been found all over the world. Prof Dalgleish says he agrees with Matt Ridley in the Telegraph that lockdowns may actually prevent a natural weakening of the disease.

Stop Press 2: David Bonsal of Oxford Viromics wrote a Twitter thread yesterday that essentially cast doubt on NERVTAG’s conclusion that the new variant is more infectious. His conclusion: “Further work is needed to investigate any potential causal link between infection with this new variant and higher viral loads, and whether this results in higher transmissibility, severity of infection, or affects relative rates of symptomatic and asymptomatic infection.”

The bottom line is that the alleged higher transmissibility of the new variant is an inference from Neil Fergusson’s epidemiological modelling and not based on any biological data. It’s just one theory among many as to why cases are increasing in London’s outer boroughs and Kent and far from the most plausible.

Professor Lockdown strikes again!

40,000 Retailers On Brink Even Before Latest Lockdown

Almost 40,000 retail companies in the UK were in “significant financial distress” even before the latest measures in London and the South East forced non-essential shops to shut once more. The Guardian reports.

Research by the insolvency specialist Begbies Traynor found that 39,232 retailers – both online and bricks and mortar operations – were experiencing severe financial problems in the three months to December 9th. This was up 11% on the previous three months and 24% higher than the same period a year earlier.

Julie Palmer, a partner at Begbies Traynor, said the retail sector had been shaken to its foundations and she expected more chains to follow Arcadia Group and Debenhams into administration. “Without doubt this has been one of the toughest years ever experienced in the retail sector,” she said.

The research found that while the worst of the problems have focused on the high street, almost 11,500 online-only retailers were also facing financial difficulties.

Palmer said: “While many industries have been hit hard, retail, which was already suffering a crisis of confidence, has been shaken to its foundations. High-profile administrations such as Arcadia Group and Debenhams not only threaten thousands of jobs, they also raise questions over the future of the high street as we know it, and I expect there to be more as we enter the new year.”

Pubs, restaurants and other hospitality businesses are also struggling to keep going through the rolling coronavirus lockdowns. The research found that more than 7,500 such businesses were in significant distress, a rise of 34% on this time last year and up 20% on the previous quarter of 2020.

Industry leaders sounded the alarm and called on the Government to provide more support as the pound slid and the stock market tumbled over fears over a double dip recession. The Times has more.

The economic support being offered by the government to businesses is “simply not enough” to save thousands from collapse this Christmas in the face of tough new COVID-19 restrictions and disruption at ports, industry leaders have warned.

Sterling endured its steepest daily fall in more than three months yesterday and the FTSE 100 fell 1.73% as dozens of nations shut their borders to Britain after it revealed a mutated strain of COVID-19. Economists warned that the country faces a double-dip recession because of new lockdowns and deadlocked Brexit talks.

In a letter to the prime minister last night, Baroness McGregor-Smith, the president of the British Chambers of Commerce, cautioned that many businesses were “on their knees” and criticised the “constantly shifting goalposts” they are having to navigate as the government changes COVID-19 rules.

She called on Downing Street to offer greater cash grants to businesses hit by restrictions, expand business rates relief across the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, extend VAT referrals and fill a “huge hole” in support which has left owner-directors, freelancers and others without financial support.