The Longest Three Weeks in History – From ‘Flattening the Curve’ to a Permanent ‘New Abnormal’



We’re coming up to the first anniversary of the UK’s first ever national lockdown, which was only supposed to be a short-term emergency measure. But eleven months on, we’re still in lockdown, with no sign of restrictions ever ending.

Consider the parable of the boiling frog. If you want to boil a frog, how would you do it? If you suddenly put one into boiling water, it will leap out. But if you put it into lukewarm water which is brought to the boil steadily then the poor frog won’t perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

For ‘frog’ read the populations of the UK since March 2020. The greatest restrictions on liberty in our history were announced on 23rd March 2020, with the assurance the unprecedented national lockdown was strictly temporary. ‘I can assure you that we will keep these restrictions under constant review’ Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised. The reason we had to lock down was to ‘protect the NHS’s ability to cope’. But the NHS was never in any real danger of not being able to cope, having discharged patients en masse from hospital beds in March (a move which undoubtedly led to an increase in deaths at home and at care homes). We can talk about how the goalposts for lifting restrictions have constantly moved since Johnson’s announcement, but it’s actually more accurate to say, as former Home Secretary David Blunkett noted in a recent article, that the goalposts have been removed from the pitch altogether.  

Last spring we were told that restrictions would end when the ‘R’ number dropped below one. The ‘R number’ was the ‘key measure’.  ‘Keeping the R down will be vital to our recovery and we can only do it by discipline and by working together’, Johnson explained. But when the ‘R’ number did fall below one, new criteria came along. It was then all about ‘cases’- with a ‘case’ defined as anyone testing positive from a PCR test, irregardless of whether the person was actually ill.

High-cycle PCR testing, with all its problems of false positives was ramped up, to deliver the ‘cases’ needed to maintain restrictions. This was necessary as by the end of July, literally no one was dying from Coronavirus. It was precisely at that time that the government mandated face-masks. Yes, that’s right, people were told to ‘mask up’ when they went into shops in high summer in response to a seasonal upper respiratory tract virus. And guess what? Most people complied! They even wore face-coverings outside in the fresh air too!

Masks – which we were told in March were not needed-were necessary to keep the fear going over the summer months when there was actually nothing to fear. The behavioural psychologists advising the government knew this. Then of course in September all the talk was of ‘the second wave’. We needed a new ‘tier’ system to be introduced, which inevitably morphed into another national lockdown in November, and yet another one in January because of ‘new variants’. Viruses always mutate, but the ‘new variants’ were presented at government ‘pressers’ as if they were of earth-shattering importance.

But now, we had the vaccine! This was our way out the politicians repeatedly told us. In an interview with the Spectator magazine on 4th January Matt Hancock said after the ‘vulnerable’ had received their jabs it would be time to start to lift the restrictions and ‘Cry freedom!’. ‘We’re going to have a great summer’ the Health Secretary declared.

Just one month later, and we’re told that restrictions will need to remain ‘until the whole population’ is vaccinated. There is even a push now to vaccinate children. As for having a ‘great summer’ this week Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said ‘I can’t give you a definitive, will there or will there not be the opportunity to take holidays this next year either at home or abroad’.

There’s also reports that the ‘price’ for government easing lockdown in the spring is that ‘social distancing’ and mandatory masks will remain at least until the end of the year. And that to re-open pubs and restaurants will need to be ‘Covid-secure’.

Does anyone seriously think that unless there’s massive pushback from the public and business, we won’t be in another national lockdown next winter? In Scotland, a senior government official has said there’s not likely to be any large-scale festivals or events in the country for another year and a half at least.

​Back to Normal?

On occasions the politicians have given the game away about their long-term objective, which is to impose the World Economic Forum’s ‘Great Reset’ under the guise of fighting a virus.  Note well how back in May, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon talked about a routemap to ‘a new normal’ and not to ‘normal’.

​Remember too how UK Home Secretary Priti Patel told us ‘social distancing is here to stay’.

This week, an influential member of SAGE, Professor John Edmunds said that some restrictions, like masks would stay ‘probably forever’.  

Just imagine if we had been told all this in March 2020. That our future lives would have to be spent either under lockdown, or under threat of lockdown. That under a hideously depressing ‘New Normal’, we’d have to keep our physical distance from fellow humans (even after being vaccinated) and be expected to wear face-masks ‘forever’. And that in order to travel abroad again, or even do many of the things we took for granted in the past, we ‘d probably have to have a digitalised ‘vaccine passport’.

No one would have consented to it.  Which is why of course it was done in stages, beginning with a digestible ‘three weeks to flatten the curve’ segment. Every lockdown has been billed as ‘the last one’. November’s shutdown was sold to us as a chance to ‘save Christmas’. But, surprise, surprise, Christmas wasn’t saved, as the rules were changed again just before. The elderly were told to hurry up and get vaccinated as then they’d be able to hug their grandchildren again. But now they are told: it’s still far too soon.  New variants, you see. And so it goes on. The cruelty is off the scale.  

When will the nightmare end? Only when enough people realise it’s not meant to end. If we carry on accepting these never-ending restrictions then our old lives – when we could meet who we liked when we liked, chat to people in crowded pubs, and attend sports events, concerts and travel wherever we wanted to – are not coming back. Our freedoms, like those of the  boiling frog, will be gone forever.

It is no exaggeration to say that we are now at a turning point in our history. Because, as the temperature in the pot continues to rise, we are very, very close to the point of no return.

Follow Neil Clark @NeilClark66 & @MightyMagyar

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The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.



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Half of people aged 45 and older have abnormal lung function, says large study


Almost 50% of people aged 45 years and above have abnormal lung function, results of the Longitudinal Ageing Study in India (LASI) released on Wednesday say.

LASI, Wave 1, carried out in 2017-18, covered a baseline sample of 72,250 individuals of age 45 or older and their spouses from all states and Union Territories other than Sikkim.

Of these, 55,186 people underwent spirometry tests to check the health of their lungs. Only 51% reported normal lung function values, while 40% showed evidence of a restrictive lung disease pattern, indicating small lungs. This was slightly more prevalent in urban areas than in rural areas.

Nine per cent reported the presence of obstructive airways diseases such as asthma/COPD; this was somewhat more prevalent in rural areas than in urban areas.

The report was released by Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan on a virtual platform. The study was funded by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and was carried out by the International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS) in collaboration with Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, University of Southern California, National AIDS Research Institute, and Chest Research Foundation, Pune, among others.

The goal of the study is to provide reliable and continuous scientific data on the health, and social, mental and economic well-being of India’s older adult (aged 45 and above) population. The aim is to continue for the next 25 years, with respondents surveyed every two years, principal investigator Dr T V Sekher told The Indian Express.

LASI in India is the world’s largest longitudinal ageing study in terms of sample size and reach, Dr Sekher said. Similar studies have been carried out in 41 countries; in Asia, China, Korea, Japan, and Indonesia have taken up the exercise.

The high burden of abnormal lung function (49%) reported in the study is worrying, said Dr Sundeep Salvi, former director of Chest Research Foundation, and head of Pulmocare Research and Education (PURE) Foundation.

“This needs to be taken seriously to find the causes and associated risk factors,” he said. Dr Salvi and his team trained field workers across India to perform spirometry, carried out quality assurance of all the reports, and helped in data analysis and report-writing.

The burden of obstructive airways disease is more prevalent in the northern states. This seems to correlate with high levels of ambient air pollution in these states, Dr Salvi said, adding, however, that more analysis of this aspect was needed.



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NIMH » NIH-funded Study Sheds Light on Abnormal Neural Function in Rare Genetic Disorder


Findings show deficits in the electrical activity of cortical cells; possible targets for treatment for 22q11.2 deletion syndrome

A genetic study has identified neuronal abnormalities in the electrical activity of cortical cells derived from people with a rare genetic disorder called 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. The overexpression of a specific gene and exposure to several antipsychotic drugs helped restore normal cellular functioning. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in Nature Medicine, sheds light on factors that may contribute to the development of mental illnesses in 22q11.2 deletion syndrome and may help identify possible targets for treatment development.

22q11.2 deletion syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the deletion of a piece of genetic material at location q11.2 on chromosome 22. People with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome can experience heart abnormalities, poor immune functioning, abnormal palate development, skeletal differences, and developmental delays. In addition, this deletion confers a 20-30% risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and an up to 30-fold increase in risk for psychosis. 22q11.2 deletion syndrome is the most common genetic copy number variant found in those with ASD, and up to a quarter of people with this genetic syndrome develop a schizophrenia spectrum disorder.

“This is the largest study of its type in terms of the number of patients who donated cells, and it is significant for its focus on a key genetic risk factor for mental illnesses,” said David Panchision, Ph.D., chief of the Developmental Neurobiology Program at the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health. “Importantly, this study shows consistent, specific patient-control differences in neuronal function and a potential mechanistic target for developing new therapies for treating this disorder.”

While some effects of this genetic syndrome, such as cardiovascular and immune concerns, can be successfully managed, the associated psychiatric effects have been more challenging to address. This is partly because the underlying cellular deficits in the central nervous system that contribute to mental illnesses in this syndrome are not well understood. While recent studies of 22q11.2 deletion syndrome in rodent models have provided some important insights into possible brain circuit-level abnormalities associated with the syndrome, more needs to be understood about the neuronal pathways in humans.

To investigate the neural pathways associated with mental illnesses in those with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, Sergiu Pasca, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, Stanford, California, along with a team of researchers from several other universities and institutes, created induced pluripotent stems cells — cells derived from adult skin cells reprogramed into an immature stem-cell-like state — from 15 people with 22q11.2 deletion and 15 people without the syndrome. The researchers used these cells to create, in a dish, three-dimensional brain organoids that recapitulate key features of the developing human cerebral cortex.

“What is exciting is that these 3D cellular models of the brain self-organize and, if guided to resemble the cerebral cortex, for instance, contain functional glutamatergic neurons of deep and superficial layers and non-reactive astrocytes and can be maintained for years in culture. So, there is a lot of excitement about the potential of these patient-derived models to study neuropsychiatric disease,” said Dr. Pasca.

The researchers analyzed gene expression in the organoids across 100 days of development. They found changes in the expression of genes linked to neuronal excitability in the organoids that were created using cells from individuals with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. These changes prompted the researchers to take a closer look at the properties associated with electrical signaling and communication in these neurons. One way neurons communicate is electrically, through controlled changes in the positive or negative charge of the cell membrane. This electrical charge is created when ions, such as calcium, move into or out of the cell through small channels in the cell’s membrane. The researchers imaged thousands of cells and recorded the electrical activity of hundreds of neurons derived from individuals with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome and found abnormalities in the way calcium was moved into and out of the cells that were related to a defect in the resting electrical potential of the cell membrane.

A gene called DGCR8 is part of the genetic material deleted in 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, and it has been previously associated with neuronal abnormalities in rodent models of this syndrome. The researchers found that heterozygous loss of this gene was sufficient to induce the changes in excitability they had observed in 22q11.2-derived neurons and that overexpression of DGCR8 led to partial restoration of normal cellular functioning. In addition, treating 22q11.2 deletion syndrome neurons with one of three antipsychotic drugs (raclopride, sulpiride, or olanzapine) restored the observed deficits in resting membrane potential of the neurons within minutes.  

“We were surprised to see that loss in control neurons and restoration in patient neurons of the DGCR8 gene can induce and, respectively, restore the excitability, membrane potential, and calcium defects,” said Pasca. “Moving forward, this gene or the downstream microRNA(s) or the ion channel/transporter they regulate may represent novel therapeutic avenues in 22q11.2 deletion syndrome.”

Reference

Khan, T. A., Revah, O., Gordon, A., Yoon, S., Krawisz, A. K., Goold, C., Sun, Y., Kim, C., Tian, Y., Li, M., Schaepe, J. M., Ikeda, K., Amin, N. D., Sakai, N., Yazawa, M., Kushan, L., Nishino, S., Porteus, M. H., Rapoport, J. L. … Paşca, S. (2020). Neuronal defects in a human cellular model of 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. Nature Medicine. doi: 10.1038/s41591-020-1043-9

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About the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit the NIMH website.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit the NIH website.

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Finnish nuclear reactor to be re-connected to grid this week after abnormal disturbance


THE SECOND REACTOR at Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant in Eurajoki, Finland, will be re-connected to the national grid at the end of the week, according to Teollisuuden Voima (TVO).

The reactor was shut down in response to elevated radiation levels inside the over 40-year-old nuclear power plant on Thursday, 10 December. A TVO spokesperson estimated earlier that the reactor could be re-started and re-connected to the grid in the small hours between Sunday and Monday.

The serious event was caused by a fault in the purification system for the water used to cool the reactor. Contaminated filter material subsequently entered the cooling circuit and caused a momentary increase in radiation levels in the circuit, triggering the automatic safety systems.

The disturbance caused no damage to the fuel and, as a result, posed no risk of harmful radioactive release, according to the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland (STUK).

Inspectors at STUK will carefully inspect, carry out any necessary servicing and maintenance tasks, and ensure the functioning of systems at the unit before granting its re-start the requisite approval, reported YLE. STUK on Sunday declined to comment on the reason for the apparent delay in the re-start.

“We do not comment on preliminary schedule proposals. Nothing unexpected, however, has been found in the inspections,” Kirsi Alm-Lytz, the head of nuclear plant monitoring at STUK, told YLE.

Never before has the sprinkler system been activated at a plant operated by TVO.

“When we visited the protective structure to see what it looked like, it became pretty clear that we’ll have to conduct thorough inspections. That’s where the total time comes from,” Sami Jakonen, the head of engineering and expert services at TVO, stated to YLE.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT



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Abnormal blood pressure levels while sleeping increase risk of heart disease, stroke


Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain

People who experience high blood pressure while sleeping are more likely to experience future cardiovascular disease especially heart failure, even when their daytime blood pressure is within normal ranges, according to new research published today in the American Heart Association’s flagship journal Circulation.

Health care professionals typically use in-office and daytime measurements to determine a patient’s hypertension medication needs and dosages. However, many patients may have undetected nocturnal hypertension— while sleeping.

“Nighttime blood pressure is increasingly being recognized as a predictor of cardiovascular risk,” said Kazuomi Kario, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study and a professor of cardiovascular medicine at Jichi Medical University in Tochigi, Japan. “This study provides much more in-depth information about the cardiovascular risk associated with high nighttime blood pressure and different nighttime blood pressure phenotypes than have been reported previously.”

The Japan Ambulatory Blood Pressure Monitoring Prospective (JAMP) study enrolled 6,359 patients from across Japan between 2009 and 2017 and measured daytime and nighttime levels using an at-home, wearable, ambulatory monitor. Blood pressure was measured during daily activities and sleep for at least 24-hours at a time, and device data were periodically downloaded at a health care clinic. Almost half of the study participants were male, and more than half were over the age of 65 years. The patients all had at least one cardiovascular risk factor, and three-quarters of them were taking blood pressure medications, and none had symptomatic cardiovascular disease when the study began.

The study participants were instructed to rest or sleep during nighttime hours and maintain their usual daytime activities. Their daily activities and sleep and wake times were self-reported in a diary. Almost every participant recorded 20 daytime and seven nighttime automated blood pressure measurements. To determine nighttime measurements, patients self-reported the time they fell asleep and woke up. All other readings were defined as daytime.

Follow-up occurred annually via phone or clinic visit, with total follow up ranging from two to seven years. Researchers analyzed the rates of cardiovascular disease events, including attacks, strokes, and death, among the participants. The occurrence and timing of heart events in relation to blood pressure variations was analyzed to determine whether there were any associations. Study participants experienced a total of 306 cardiovascular events, including 119 strokes, 99 diagnoses of coronary artery disease and 88 diagnoses of heart failure.

The analysis indicates:

Increased levels during sleep—a systolic blood pressure measuring 20 mm Hg above a person’s daytime systolic reading—was significantly associated with the risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and heart failure.

The participants who had an abnormal circadian pattern, which is when sleep blood pressure exceeds daytime readings, were at particular risk of developing heart failure and had a greater risk of experiencing any cardiovascular disease events.

Excessive reduction of blood pressure during sleep may also be detrimental. Patients with well-controlled hypertension showed a significantly increased risk of stroke when nighttime systolic pressure took extreme dips.

“Results indicate that nighttime was a significant, independent risk factor for cardiovascular events,” said Kario. “The study highlights the importance of including nighttime blood pressure monitoring in patient management strategies and will hopefully encourage physicians to ensure that antihypertensive therapy is effectively lowering blood pressure throughout the 24-hour dosing period.”

The authors noted that the study was not without limitations. Ambulatory data were obtained once at the start of the study, however, no information was available regarding the contributions of subsequent changes in ambulatory levels up until the time of diagnosis of a cardiac event. The study focused on systolic, rather than diastolic, measurements due to the older age of the participants. Additionally, study evaluations did not include echocardiograms, thus preventing some degree of differentiation for types of heart failure.


Blood pressure outside of clinic may better predict outcomes in black patients


More information:
Kazuomi Kario et al, Nighttime Blood Pressure Phenotype and Cardiovascular Prognosis: Practitioner-Based Nationwide JAMP Study, Circulation (2020). DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.049730

Citation:
Abnormal blood pressure levels while sleeping increase risk of heart disease, stroke (2020, November 2)
retrieved 2 November 2020
from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-11-abnormal-blood-pressure-heart-disease.html

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