First, some good news.

A large-scale trial of a new treatment to stop people suffering from Covid-19 from becoming seriously ill has begun in the UK.

Early findings suggest that the treatment, developed at Southampton University Hospital, slashes the odds of a patient going on to develop severe symptoms by nearly 80%.

Synairgen, the biotech firm developing the treatment, said that Covid-sufferers who received the drug were between two and three times more likely to recover to a point where they could resume everyday activities. Patients breath from a nebuliser and inhale a protein called interferon beta as a fine mist.

The drug would be a relative snip for the NHS; a full course of the treatment costs around £2000, about the same as one night spent in an ICU bed.

The encouraging development comes amid a rising Covid death count, with 1,564 people dying today in the UK within 28 days of a positive Covid test, the highest daily tally since the start of the pandemic.

Boris Johnson has committed to 24/7 vaccination centres and the minister in charge of vaccine rollout, Nadhim Zahawi, has promised that “the lumpiness of deliveries would get smoother.” More than half of those over 80 have now been vaccinated and 2.8 million jabs administered.

Despite the mounting death toll, data suggests that new cases have peaked in the UK and are now falling, with around 15,000 fewer cases reported this week compared to last.

Speaking at PMQs today, the Prime Minister said that lockdown restrictions were “now starting to see some signs” of having an effect. Latest data from the Department of Health, however, shows that cases were already starting to level off in England before the third national lockdown was introduced, as was the case with Lockdown 2.0 in November. The government’s own experts have previously warned that restrictions take weeks to have an impact.

Johnson’s lazy logic is harmful. The debate about the extent to which lockdown actually works is just as important now, as we start to exit the crisis, as it has been throughout. A point will come in the next few months when the majority of the country’s most vulnerable have been vaccinated. Then what? The speed of the return to “normal” will (or should) be informed by data on the efficacy of restrictions. Crediting lockdown with taming the virus when the data doesn’t bear this out will obscure what’s in the national interest later down the line. Lives, livelihoods and the country’s well being depend on getting it right.

Impeach again, like we did last summer

Donald Trump is about to be impeached – again – and this time some Republicans might join in – including Liz Cheney, the third most senior Republican in the House of Representatives. The contrast with 2019, when not a single House Republican voted to impeach Trump, is striking. Even the House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, long a staunch Trump ally, while opposing impeachment, did not lobby against it.

The next step is the impeachment trial that will take place in the Senate. Crucially, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – who resolutely defended Trump last time – reportedly privately believes that the President has committed impeachable offences and is offering Democrats some quiet cooperation (or at least not obstructing).

Still, finding 17 Republican Senators willing to join Democrats in making up the two-thirds majority needed to impeach will be tricky. Last time Mitt Romney was the only Republican to do so. Many would prefer to let Trump leave ignominiously in a week and let things drop rather than risk the wrath of his fans, which has left some fearing for their lives.

28 lockdowns later

The latest in the who-the-hell-funds-this-stuff series of psychological studies has found that fans of horror films have coped better throughout the Covid crisis because they had already “mentally rehearsed” apocalyptic scenarios.

“We found that the more movies about zombies, alien invasions and apocalyptic pandemics people had seen prior to Covid-19, the better they dealt with the actual, current pandemic,” said John Johnson, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, who led the study of over 300 volunteers.

I conducted a DIY inoculation against the Covid terrors last night by watching John Carpenter’s 1982 horror hit, The Thing. The film – which owes a huge debt to the original Alien – sees a crew of oddballs holed up in an Antarctic base who start to be picked off by a shape-shifting alien. With lashings of clunky exposition, an Ennio Morricone score and demonic prosthetics that make David Cronenberg’s creations look like The Muppets, it’s a real treat.

Mattie Brignal,
News Editor