Month: May 2020

Latest News

I cannot be alone in noticing the huge gulf between the sympathetic coverage given to the Black Lives Matter protests in the mainstream media and the almost universally hostile coverage of the anti-lockdown protests. Celebrities who were encouraging everyone to remain in their homes until last week are now rushing out to join the protests, including Emily Ratajkowski, Jaz Sinclair, Paris Jackson and Billie Eilish. Not only is this virtue-signalling hypocritical – why is Covid likely to be spread at anti-lockdown protests, but not at Black Lives Matter protests? – it’s also irresponsible, given how many of those protests have spiralled out of control into fully-fledged riots in at least 25 cities across America, including Minneapolis, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Louisville, Columbia, Denver, Portland, Milwaukee and Columbus.

Those protests have now crossed the Atlantic, with a march through the streets of Peckham yesterday in which demonstrators held up placards reading “Abolish the Police” and “Riot is the language of the unheard”. That demo did not become violent or lead to rioting, but more protests are planned in London and other British cities over the coming days.

Today, Metro ran an article entitled: “Black Lives Matter: Are protests taking place in the UK and how can you donate?” It included a handy guide to people who want to join those protests, something I don’t recall Metro doing a couple of weeks ago when it wrote about the anti-lockdown protests across the country.

I’m all in favour of the right to protest. I think the suspension of that right is unlawful and it should be reinstated immediately. But the police need to make up their minds. Either it’s now permissible for groups of more than 100 people to stage a protest, or it isn’t.

It can’t be one rule for Black Lives Matter protestors and another for anti-lockdown protestors.

Was the Government Really Following “the Science”?

A few weeks ago I linked to an excellent Newsnight report by Hannah Cohen which asked whether the Government really was following “the science”? Now that the Government has released the minutes of the SAGE meetings in the period leading up to the lockdown announcement on March 23rd – this was on Friday as a direct result of Simon Dolan’s lawsuit – we can get closer to answering this question.

The former barrister Paul Chaplin has gone through the minutes in a lengthy blog post and concluded that placing the entire country under virtual house arrest was a political decision and not “based on the science”. His analysis is compelling.

Chaplin finds plenty of evidence in the minutes that various different containment measures were discussed by SAGE, but at no point before March 23rd did the group recommend the quarantining of the whole population. The measures SAGE considered were home isolation of symptomatic individuals, the isolation of everyone in a symptomatic individual’s household for 14 days and the cocooning of those over 70 and those with underlying health conditions – the three measures introduced by the Government on March 16th. But at no point did SAGE discuss anything resembling a full lockdown. Indeed, SAGE noted at a meeting on March 10th that banning public gatherings would have little effect since most viral transmission occurred in confined spaces, such as within households.

The last SAGE meeting before the lockdown was on March 18th where it was noted that the impact of the social distancing measures introduced thus far would not be known for two or three weeks. The attendees did not at that stage know whether those measures would be sufficient to prevent the NHS’s critical care capacity being overwhelmed and in the absence of more data could not offer any advice on whether additional measures – such as closing bars, restaurants and entertainment centres, and limiting use of indoor workplaces – would be necessary. The only further measure SAGE recommended at that meeting was closing schools.

SAGE advises that the measures already announced should have a significant effect, provided compliance rates are good and in line with the assumptions. Additional measures will be needed if compliance rates are low.

Minutes of the 17th SAGE meeting on COVID-19, March 18th 2020

The attendees discussed locking down London but no conclusion was reached. However, they did say that if additional measures were going to be necessary, it would be better to bring them in sooner rather than later. According to the minutes: “If the interventions are required, it would be better to act early.”

In other words, Boris Johnson and his advisors were not following “the science” when they took the decision to lock down the country on March 23rd – they weren’t acting on any specific recommendations by SAGE. Nor can the Government claim this is one of the options that was discussed at SAGE meetings and it was basing its decision, in part, on SAGE’s analysis of the impact of a full lockdown. That option was not discussed at any of the meetings before March 23rd. In this respect, it was a political decision.

This dovetails with Christopher Snowdon’s analysis of the decision-making in the period leading up to March 23rd published in the Critic last week, although Snowdon only had access to the broad summaries of the SAGE meetings that the Government has released, not the more detailed minutes released on Friday. Snowdon concluded that the Government’s scientific advisors never explicitly recommended a lockdown; on the contrary, at various stages they recommended against it.

Snowdon says that even Neil Ferguson’s March 16th paper, predicting 510,000 Covid deaths if the Government took no measures to stop the spread of the virus and 250,000 if it stuck with its “mitigation” strategy, stopped short of recommending a full lockdown:

Contrary to popular belief, the infamous study did not call for a full lockdown, nor did it model the effects of a full lockdown. It looked at school closures, social distancing and household quarantine for suspected cases and those living with them. It concluded that the greatest benefit would come from a combination of social distancing and household quarantine, with further benefits likely to come from closing schools, although it conceded that school closures would prevent many people from working.

There is no doubt that Ferguson’s model was impactful. It suggested that hundreds of thousands of people would die from COVID-19 if the Government continued to pursue a policy of mitigation. This put containment back on the table and gave legitimacy to more coercive action from Government, but the measures it recommended did not amount to a full lockdown. Its social distancing recommendations were far from trivial and yet they seem modest after nine weeks of genuine lockdown (the authors anticipated most people still going to work, for example). The only time Ferguson and colleagues use the word “lockdown” in the text is when they are making a distinction between their proposals and an actual lockdown. They implicitly dismiss a lockdown as being too extreme for the UK, saying that their favoured policies are “predicted to have the largest impact, short of a complete lockdown which additionally prevents people going to work”.

Snowdon’s conclusion is remarkably similar to Chaplin’s:

The founding myth of the lockdown is almost the opposite of the truth. Science did not triumph over politics on March 23rd. It would be more accurate to say that the strategy which preceded the lockdown, unpopular though it now is, was based on science whereas the decision to go into lockdown was political.

Snowdon’s article – and Chaplin’s analysis – is in some ways helpful to the Prime Minister since it debunks the myth that he was told to lock down the country by SAGE long before March 23rd and failed to act on that advice due to “dither and delay”. That was the story told by the Sunday Times in its May 23rd article entitled: “22 days of dither and delay on coronavirus that cost thousands of British lives.

But if you’re a sceptic, this analysis isn’t helpful to the Prime Minister since it lays the blame for the lockdown squarely at the door of 10 Downing Street.

Stop Press: I emailed Christopher Snowdon to see if he’d had a chance to look at the SAGE minutes and he got back to me to say he had and they did indeed corroborate his analysis:

The minutes fully support what I wrote in the Critic. The social distancing measures discussed by SAGE – and modelled separately by Neil Ferguson et al. and John Edmunds et al. – are not well described in the documents, but it is clear that they are more moderate than the lockdown that was introduced on March 23rd. Even at the late stage of mid-March, SAGE was never seriously entertaining a full lockdown, nor did the attendees expect their more modest measures to be in place for more than 12 weeks. To claim otherwise is to rewrite history.

Norwegian Prime Minister Admits Lockdown Was Mistake, Says Sorry

Last Wednesday night, Norway’s prime minister Erna Solberg went on television to make a confession: she had panicked at the start of the pandemic. Most of the tough measures imposed in Norway’s lockdown were steps too far, she admitted. “Was it necessary to close schools?” she asked. “Perhaps not.”

She isn’t the first Norwegian official to acknowledge that the lockdown wasn’t necessary. On May 5th, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) published a briefing note reporting that when the lockdown was imposed on March 12th Norway’s R number had already fallen to 1.1. It slipped under 1 on March 19th.

“Our assessment now… is that we could possibly have achieved the same effects and avoided some of the unfortunate impacts by not locking down, but by instead keeping open but with infection control measures,” Camilla Stoltenberg, NIPH’s Director General said in a TV interview earlier this month.

An expert committee charged with carrying out a cost-benefit analysis into the lockdown measures in April estimated they had cost Norway 27 billion kroner (£2.3 billion) every month. The committee concluded last Friday that the country should avoid lockdown if there is a second wave of infections.

“We recommend a much lighter approach,” the committee’s head, Steinar Holden, an Oslo University Economics Professor, told the Sunday Telegraph. “We should start with measures at an individual level – which is what we have now – and if there’s a second wave, we should have measures in the local area where this occurs, and avoid measures at a national level if that is possible.”

“If it’s necessary to have very strict restrictions for a long time, then the costs are higher than letting the infection go through the population,” Holden told the Telegraph. “Because that would be immensely costly.”

In particular, Holden’s committee said schools should not be closed again if there is a second wave. It estimated in April that the measure had cost 6.7 billion kroner (£520 million) a month, while having “little impact” on the spread of infection. The NIPH has gone further and said that school closures may have even increased the spread.

Margrethe Greve-Isdahl, the doctor who is NIPH’s expert on infections in schools, tells the Telegraph that if schools hadn’t been closed they could have played a role in informing people in immigrant communities – which were hit disproportionately hard by the epidemic – of hygiene and social distancing rules.

“They can learn these measures in school and teach their parents and grandparents, so at least for some of these hard-to-reach minorities, there might be a positive effect from keeping kids in school,” she said. “There’s now a lot of information available on how it has impacted negatively on the economy and on vulnerable children.”

What refreshing candour from Norway’s Prime Minister and senior public health officials. I look forward to the press conference in which Boris Johnson, Sir Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty admit the lockdown was a mistake and apologise for it.

Was the Government’s Response Predicated on Coronavirus Behaving Like Influenza?

Guy de la Bédoyère has sent in a short piece based on the interview that Peter Openshaw, Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College, gave on the Andrew Marr Show this morning. Guy’s conclusion is that many of the things the Government got wrong, such as closing schools, were dictated by the “UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy” published in 2011.

It’s easy to carp with the benefit of hindsight, but one theme came across painfully clearly from Professor Openshaw’s comments. Some of the scientists who exerted so much influence over the Government were operating like car mechanics who had no workshop manual for the model they’re trying to fix and instead just used the nearest one to hand, regardless of its relevance: in this case, the Influenza Workshop Manual, which looks as if it may have been the chocolate teapot of ways to deal with COVID-19.

As always, Guy’s piece, which I’ve published as a subpage of “How Have We Responded to Previous Pandemics?“, is worth reading in full.

Apocalypse Not

Martyn Sheen goes native in Apocalypse Now

One overlooked success story in the coronavirus crisis is Vietnam. The country of 97 million people has not reported a single coronavirus-related death and on Saturday had just 328 confirmed cases, despite its long border with China and the millions of Chinese visitors it receives each year. That’s particularly remarkable when you factor in it’s a low-middle income country with only eight doctors for every 10,000 people. So what did Vietnam get right?

According to CNN, the key to Vietnam’s success was ignoring the WHO’s advice that there was “no clear evidence of human to human transmission” and introducing temperature screening for passengers arriving from Wuhan at Hanoi international airport in early January. Travelers found with a fever were isolated and closely monitored. By mid-January, the country had introduced medical quarantining at border gates, airports and seaports and on January 24th it cancelled all flights to and from Wuhan. On February 1st, all flights between Vietnam and China were halted, followed by the suspension of visas to Chinese citizens on February 2nd.

Readers of this site will recall my post on May 9th pointing out that the Newly Emerging Respiratory Virus Advisory Group (NERVTAG) considered screening passengers arriving from Wuhan at a meeting on January 13th chaired by Peter Horby, an Oxford professor with links to the World Health Organisation. This is the same Peter Horby who criticised the Government yesterday for easing the lockdown too soon. At this point, seven other countries had introduced temperature screening at airports for visitors from Wuhan. However, the NERVTAG recommendation was that there would be no point in doing this if exit screening at Wuhan airports was already taking place, although they had no evidence it was.

At the next NERVTAG meeting on January 21st, this one attended by Chris Witty and his deputy Jonathan Van-Tam, as well as Professor Neil Ferguson, the boffins were asked to reconsider the question. But again they passed the buck to the Chinese authorities. By now, human-to-human transmission had been confirmed. Nonetheless, NERVTAG’s response was the same.

Neil Ferguson noted that from the modelling perspective, with exit screening in place in China, effectiveness of port-of-entry screening in the UK would be low and potentially only detect those who were not sick before boarding but became sick during the flight. NERVTAG felt there was a lack of clarity on the exit screening process in Wuhan, although it was thought that this process would be robust, and statements had been released by Chinese authorities about stopping febrile passengers from travelling. However, as noted, there were no data on the implementation of this programme.

Minutes of the NERVTAG Wuhan Novel Coronavirus Second Meeting: January 21st 2020

So rather than recommend port-of-entry screening, the assembled brains at NERVTAG decided to trust to the Chinese authorities to screen people leaving the country. That may count as one of the biggest blunders the British Government and its scientific advisers made. Those countries that started screening airline passengers arriving from Wuhan in early January have some of the lowest Covid death tolls of anywhere in the world – Hong Kong (four deaths), Taiwan (7), Singapore (23), Malaysia (115), Thailand (57) and Vietnam (0).

Annie’s Little List

Annie, one of the wittiest commentators on this site, has composed a ditty based on “I’ve Got A Little List” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado which she posted in the comment thread beneath yesterday’s update. Great stuff, Annie.

When the world regains its senses and the reckoning begins,

I’ve got a little list, I’ve got a little list

Of thugs and wimps and bullies who must answer for their sins,

And they’ll none of ’em be missed, they’ll none of ‘em be missed.

There’s the fornicating expert who despises his own rules,

The SAGES who despise us all and take us all for fools;

The servile politicians, solid wood from ear to ear,

The BBC, dispensing the pornography of fear,

And the morons and bed-wetters who on cowardice insist:

They never would be missed, they never would be missed.

There’s the shutter-off of playgrounds, paths and parks and even trees,

The joyless pessimist, I’ve got him on my list;

The neighbour who reports each normal person that she sees,

She never would be missed, she never would be missed.

There’s the vicious teaching unions who, in cowardice and spite,

Inflict appalling tortures on each hapless little mite;

There’s the spineless crawling bishops whom we’d do well to ignore,

The twit who puts a mask on when he creeps out through his door,

And the silly clapping seals who just don’t know when to desist:

They never would be missed, they never would be missed.

My Sweet Lord

Nick Robinson interviewed Lord Sumption a few days ago for Political Thinking, his weekly politics podcast. Among other things, Sumption says it’s a sad reflection on our democracy that he should be the only major public figure opposing the lockdown.

I think that it would be very much more satisfactory if the sorts of points that I have been making had been made by professional politicians. But the amount of group think and collective hysteria, partly, I have to say, officially generated, has meant that nobody outside the press is actually making these points. Somebody has got to stand up for a sense of proportion, somebody has got to stand up for a measure of balance and somebody has got to stand up for the millions of people who are being propelled into misery and in many cases financial ruin by the lockdown. I’m really sorry that it should be me and I think that it’s a sad reflection on the quality of our democracy that it should be me. But if no one else is going to do it, then I am.

Preach brother. As one reader says,

It is a tragedy that there are so few people like Lord Sumption.

I also think that there is something seriously amiss with a culture that would choose to idolize a sulky child like Greta Thunberg rather than listen to a more traditional “wise old man” like Jonathan Sumption.

Boris: Less Like Churchill, More Like Eden?

Anthony Eden, Prime Minister of Great Britain, speaking to the nation from the BBC studio at Lime Grove at the time of the Suez crisis

A reader has sent me a link to an interesting article in the Oxford Journal of Medicine entitled: “The effect of Prime Minister Anthony Eden’s illness on his decision-making during the Suez crisis.” The article argues that Eden’s illness affected his judgment during the Suez crisis, leading to Britain’s biggest foreign policy blunder since the Second World War.

“I’m wondering whether Boris’s errors of judgement are due partly to his recent illness,” says the reader. “If that’s the case then he more closely resembles Eden than Churchill, and Lockdown will prove his Suez!”

Government Says Odds of Catching COVID-19 Fall From 1/40 to 1/1000

Boris issued a press release earlier today saying the odds of becoming infected have declined. “As the Government moves to the next phase of its response to the coronavirus crisis, the latest clinical advice shows a much lower incidence rate in the general population,” he said. “This means the average chance of catching the virus is now down from 1/40 to 1/1000…”

But how is he calculating those odds? After all, the latest ONS data suggests that about 8,000 new people are becoming infected every week. 67 million divided by 8,000 is not 1/1000 but 1/8375. And as number-cruncher Alistair Haimes pointed out on Twitter, if only ~0.25 of those who catch it will die, that means your odds of dying from coronavirus on any given day are about 1 in 3.4 million.

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A couple of weeks ago, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It takes me about nine hours a day which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however paltry the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

And Finally…

The line at the top of the poster says “Dreadful influenza germs!” and the line at the bottom says “Not wearing a mask recklessness!” Taken from The Influenza Pandemic in Japan, 1918-1920: The First World War between Humankind and a Virus, an book written by Hayaka Akira

If you thought our own Government’s Covid propaganda was effective, just wait till you see these Japanese posters produced during the Spanish flu epidemic. You can see some of the others here.

Latest News

Abandon Ridiculous Two-Metre Rule

Bob’s cartoon in the Telegraph on May 30th 2020

I’ve written a piece in today’s Telegraph entitled: “For the sake of our economy, we need to scrap the absurd two-metre rule.” I point out that this and other over-cautious social-distancing rules will mean our economy is permanently stuck in second gear.

For most shops, the only way to keep customers six feet apart will be to introduce cumbersome one-way systems and force them to queue up outside. All very well when the only retail outlets we’re talking about are supermarkets and newsagents, but how will people observe that rule on the pavement when there are queues outside every shop?

For pubs and restaurants, due to reopen on July 4th, the two-metre rule will mean that many of them can’t resume trading and those that can will be forced to operate at less than 50% capacity.

I also point out that there’s no scientific basis for the rule.

What’s so absurd about this measure, which will decimate the hospitality trade, is that there’s no obvious scientific basis for it and many countries are much more relaxed. In South Korea, for instance, the acceptable distance in 1.4 metres, and in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and France, people are only expected to stay one metre apart.

Indeed, the World Health Organisation says a distance of one metre is more than sufficient. In Sweden, which has had fewer deaths per million than the UK in spite of not locking down formally, there is no hard-and-fast rule. People are just expected to use their common sense.

Boris Johnson is reported to be reconsidering the two-metre rule. Worth reading in full, Prime Minister.

SAGE Member Does U-Turn on Lockdown

No, it’s not what you think. Yesterday, a member of SAGE gave a press conference in which he warned that the Government was easting lockdown too fast. This is how it was reported on the BBC News website:

A scientist on the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has suggested he does not agree with easing the lockdown at this stage.

In a briefing to health journalists Prof John Edmunds, from the London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine, said that 8,000 new infections a day in England, as calculated by the Office for National Statistics, was “a very high incidence” level.

“Many of us would prefer to see incidence down to lower levels before we relax measures,” he said.

He said that with an “untested” test and trace system “we are taking some risk here” and “even if we keep it flat, that’s still quite a level”.

“Lifting the lockdown is a political decision. Lifting it now, means we’re keeping incidence at this level,” he added.

The Labour MP Richard Burgon was so over-excited by this news, he linked to the BBC report and tweeted the following: “So the Government is no longer following the science. It’s a political decision and we can’t trust this Government to make the right decisions with public safety.”

But hang on a second. Is this the same Professor John Edmunds who told Channel 4 News on March 13th that “the only way to stop this epidemic is indeed to achieve herd immunity”?

I guess he’s changed his mind.

Nobel Laureate Skewers Member of Imperial College Modelling Team

Michael Levitt applies his Nobel Prize-winning mind to Imperial College’s computer model

A few days ago I linked to a fantastic webinar, organised out of Brazil, in which a group of scientists discussed the reliability of predications generated by epidemiological computer models and whether those predictions should be used as the basis for government responses to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Among the participants were Michael Levitt, Professor of Structural Biology at Stanford and the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, and Samir Bhatt, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial’s School of Public Health.

One of my concerns as I’ve watched the British Government’s disastrous mishandling of this crisis unfold is that the people behind the Imperial College modelling that informed so much of the Government’s response will never be properly held to account. This webinar, in which Michael Levitt cross-examines Samir Bhatt, may be the closest we ever get.

If you have the time, I urge you to watch the whole thing. But if you don’t, watch it from the two-hour point onwards, in which Levitt begins to lose patience with the dissembling Bhatt. A reader has very kindly made a transcript of this part of the exchange. My favourite part is when Levitt – beginning to get angry – lays the blame for the coming global recession at the door of the Imperial College modelling team, whom he thinks wildly over-estimated the deadliness of the disease. “That is an error that has cost the world many, many trillions of dollars, but it isn’t a joke. I mean an error like that is not a small error,” he says.

Michael Levitt: I’m concerned by, there’s been a massive communications gap here and you know one question that I did raise which Rui didn’t pick up, is I’ve noticed that for example, that epidemiologists and I’m not talking about you guys, don’t think anything wrong about being a factor of 10 too high but are dead scared to be a factor of 10% too low.

I mean the number of deaths caused by lockdown is way higher than anything that will be caused by Covid, unless you assume exponential growth, forever. So, therefore this is a price that the world is paying for this asymmetry. In other words, I don’t know how we handle it, you know.

Sweden is not locked down. You guys are going to have a very hard time when Sweden plateaus at 6,000 deaths, which is 0.06, 0.6 per 100,000, and you can say well they social distance, they’re Scandinavians, they’re cold, there’s high population density. But, you know, the fact remains that the plateau rate of population reached by England, New York City, Lombardy, France is basically around one month of natural death. Ferguson said a year of natural death. That is horrible. That is an error that has cost the world many, many trillions of dollars, but it isn’t a joke. I mean an error like that is not a small error.

Now you could say, oh it’s our intervention, we intervened, Sweden intervened by itself, Italy was a very intervened country. Anyone who believes that Iran intervened is crazy.

Certain countries, there’s no doubt that the one place where there’s beautiful intervention is a part of China I call non-Hubei China…

In Hubei, the Chinese were out of control, but out of Hubei the epidemic is the most beautiful Gompertz function. It was so beautiful that everyone said they must have hacked my computer, except that New Zealand has the same distribution and other countries do as well. So I am trying to understand this.

There’s no doubt that once lockdown has been forced, everyone’s going to believe it was a good thing because otherwise why did we need to do it? But there’s no evidence for it.

Samir Bhatti: It’s not about believing if it’s a good thing. What mechanism do you conjecture for the plateauing of death in the UK that’s not lockdown?

ML: It reached one in a thousand. It’s nothing to do with lockdown. The UK policy led to early saturation. The whole country was infected before lockdown was done. The same thing was true of New York.

SB: No serological data supports this hypothesis.

ML: This is going to saturate at 20% serology. We know that already. You know this assumption that 80% based on R0 is basically nonsense. You guys don’t know what you’re doing to yourselves. You guys are going to end up being responsible for a hundred billion dollar crisis to the world and this is not funny.

And you start to use clean terminology. Don’t estimate herd immunity from an R0 value, which is completely meaningless. If the R0 value is 1.3 then I get saturation at 25%. The Diamond Princess, this wonderful experiment, saturated at 25% and you can say, “Oh, it was such good lockdown. We had shared air conditioning, it was an aged population.”

It doesn’t work. In other words, there needs to be sanity checks. Sanity checks come from looking at the data.

SB: OK so we’re going to talk about the data then. So you’re hypothesis is that infection fatality rate is much lower, everyone has been infected, that’s what caused the curve to bend. A massive serological study occurred just now in Spain, suggesting that with the 28,000 deaths, 5% of the population has been infected based on serology.

ML: And I think we’ve seen that the serological studies have serious shortcomings. We’re now seeing signs there may be T cell receptors.

Daily Mail Guide to Having a Socially Distanced BBQ

This illustration is in today’s Daily Mail, based on advice from Professor Patricia Riddell, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Reading.

Prof Riddell recommended asking guests to bring their own cutlery, plates and condiments to reduce the risk of virus transmission through touching the same surfaces, and having only one person using the tongs.

She also endorsed serving food on plates from a distance rather than everyone approaching the grill, setting out seats in advance for people to sit two metres apart, and sitting alongside each other rather than face to face.

Can’t say it looks like a barrel of laughs. Bagsy not sit next to the guy with the guitar.

Brazilian Scientists Challenge Concept of “the Science”, Defend Hydroxychloroquine

A group of more than 25 Brazilian scientists have written an open letter, questioning the idea that indiscriminately locking down whole populations, as well as other responses to the pandemic, is supported by “the science”. In particular, it challenges the idea that “the science” has concluded hydroxychloroquine shouldn’t be used to treat patients with COVID-19.

The letter has been coordinated by Marcos Nogueira Eberlin. He’s a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and holds a PhD in chemistry from the University of Campinas. Founder of the Thomson Mass Spectrometry Laboratory and winner of the prestigious Thomson Medal (2016), Eberlin is recognized worldwide as one of the most productive mass spectrometrists ever, having published close to 1,000 scientific articles. He discovered the Eberlin Reaction during his work on gas phase ion chemistry, and he and his research group introduced EASI (Easy Ambient Sonic-spray Ionization), an ionization technique used in mass spectrometry. In other words, a highly-respected, mainstream scientist.

It’s not the usual dry, scholarly dirge, but an angry, impassioned screed. (The caps haven’t been added by me.) I’m going to quote the opening few paragraphs in full because they’re so good.

During this pandemic, the term “science” has been used “ad nauseam”, that is, has been repeated to exhaustion: “Science, science, science”, “I’m pro-science”, “For from the science, through the science and to the science I guide my decisions and acts” and “I am, therefore, fully right to do so”. It is clear that the intention here is to lead all of us to the idea of ​​decisions based on something unquestionable and infallible, as scientific as law, as the law of gravity.

Groups of “science experts” or famous YouTube scientists, many of them still “beginners” in science, some of them with a minimal or no experience in fighting pandemics, are selected by the establishment and the media to give “scientific aura” for the lockdown and the condemnation of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) as an ineffective drug; worse, as a deadly poison.

That disastrous apocalyptic simulations from the “Imperial College” – this pompous name that brings us to the idea of ​​a center of excellence of infallible, omnipotent and unquestionable knowledge, an “College of the Empire” – are being used to place everyone at home, and then, to compare data as being the absolute reference of the truth. “We did something and as a result, we reduced those many deaths. Therefore: ‘blessed be the science!’”.

But what kind of “science” is that to which they are appealing? And who, in the name of this “science”, would be allowed to speak? Science (I know that there are controversies, as scientists even debate on its meaning) is “the dispassionate search for the truth about the Universe and life”. But ironically, we seek truths that we don’t even know what those truths would be like, or where they would be found. For this reason, sometimes, ironically, even when scientists find a truth that is indeed true, yet they doubt that they have found it. We literally zigzag in the dark, searching for solutions to our problems. Therefore, we sometimes say that: “eating eggs is bad, it increases cholesterol”; and sometimes: “eggs are good, eat at ease”.

Richard Feynman put it this way: “Science is the culture of doubt”. And I would add, “science is the culture of debate, of divergence of opinions”.

Rarely, there are situations in which we reach consensus in science, even a momentary consensus. Some defend the “Big Bang” and the theory of evolution, others, including myself, are skeptical of them. Some defend with data and papers the central role of men in global warming, others defend, with the same data and papers, that human activity is irrelevant. Scientists are human beings, therefore, skeptics and enquirers who can and should speak for themselves, like all scientists have the right to do, but NEVER A SCIENTIST OR A GROUP OF THEM CAN DECLARE TO BE AUTHORIZED TO SPEAK IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE!

Nobody, absolutely nobody is allowed to speak for science or declare that he is “been guided” by science! In times of pandemic, this impossibility is even greater, as we face an unknown enemy. Data is still being collected and researches are being performed and published by scientists divided by their worldviews, and by their political and party preferences.

Whoever said he acted in the name of science, dishonestly usurped science prestige. For what type of “science” is this, unanimous and consensual, that no one has ever heard of? Could someone give me its address so I can confirm its consent? Its phone, email and WhatsApp?

For defenders of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), the next section is manna from heaven, ripping apart the studies that purport to show it’s ineffective or, worse, dangerous.

The Manaus’ study with chloroquine (CQ) performed here in Brazil and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) [1], is emblematic to this discussion of “science”. Scientists there used, the manuscript reveals, lethal doses in debilitated patients, many in severe conditions and with comorbidities. The profiles of the groups do not seem to have been “randomized”, since a clear “preference” in the HIGH DOSE group for risk factors is noted. Chloroquine, which is more toxic than HCQ, was used, and it seems that they even made “childish mistakes” in simple stoichiometric calculations, doubling the dosage with the error. I’m incapable of judging intentions, but justice will do it. The former Brazilian Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta quoted this study, supported it, and based on it, categorically stated: “I do not approve HCQ because I am based on ‘science, science, science’!”.

Definitely worth reading in full.

Incidentally, the recent HCQ study in the Lancet that led to the worldwide suspension of clinical trials of the drug and hospitals around the world yanking it from their treatment protocols has been criticised in another open letter signed by a group of scientists, this one addressed to Richard Horton, the Editor of the Lancet. It’s not quite as angry as the Brazilian letter, but almost. Also worth reading in full.

Trump Terminates the WHO

Trump: “China has total control over the World Health Organisation.”

Donald Trump has said he’s “terminating” America’s relationship with the World Health Organisation (WHO), having already said the international body will get no more US funding.

The US president cited the body’s ties to Beijing as he made the announcement yesterday, saying: “China has total control over the World Health Organisation.”

Does this mean we’ll now be able to challenge some of the WHO’s wilder claims about the virus on YouTube? Interestingly, the WHO has just done another U-turn – is this number 657? – recommending against the wearing of masks.

As I’ve said before, if you’re the YouTube employee in charge of removing any content that contradicts the WHO’s recommendations about how to stay safe, keeping up with the organisation’s constant flip flops must be a nightmare.

Church Leaders Threaten Government With Judicial Review if Churches Aren’t Allowed to Reopen

A coalition of church leaders has written to the Government, threatening a Judicial Review if the ban on churches opening isn’t lifted. The pre-action letter supported by Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre argues that blanket ‘lockdown’ restrictions imposed on all churches are both unlawful and unnecessary, and asks the Government to prioritise the re-opening of churches as part of its exit-strategy.

The letter, which you can read here, says the blanket ban is disproportionate, given that lots of churches closed voluntarily and those that remained opened introduced social distancing measures. It also makes the argument that the ban contravenes the separation of church and state:

While the short-term practical difference between state regulation and church self-regulation may be limited in present circumstances, the principle of Church autonomy is extremely important in the broader constitutional context, and must be protected for the benefit of present and future generations.

Among the list of 24 claimants requesting an urgent meeting with the Government to discuss lifting the ban are Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, President, Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue (OXTRAD); Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, Senior Pastor, Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC); and Revd. Dr David Hathaway, President of the Eurovision Mission to Europe.

Pastor Ade Omooba MBE, Christian Concern’s co-founder and one of the claimants in the letter, says:

It cannot be right that at present it is lawful to go to a bike shop, B&Q, visit a chiropractor or dry cleaner, and not be allowed to receive Holy Communion or engage in silent prayer in a church.

Similar legal challenges have been successful in other countries. Last week, France’s Supreme Court ruled that the French Government’s absolute ban on religious gatherings as part of its lockdown restrictions is unlawful, and ordered the Government to relax restrictions on religious worship.

The Government should lift the ban immediately or face the consequences.

Government Publishes Chart That Inadvertently Discredits its Own Policy

The Cabinet Office Briefing Room issued a chart yesterday (see above) showing that the Government’s first “test” – “We must be confident that we are able to provide sufficient critical care and specialist treatment right across the UK,” in the words of the Prime Minister – has been met. This was part of the rationale for allowing up to six people from different households to meet up from June 1st.

But look closely at the chart and you’ll see that in the small print on the left-hand side is says occupancy of mechanical ventilator beds in the NHS peaked on April 10th at 41%. In other words, the risk of the NHS’s critical care capacity being overwhelmed – something flagged up in Neil Ferguson’s March 16th paper and one of the key reasons for locking down the country on March 23rd – was exaggerated. We didn’t need to remain in our homes to “Protect the NHS” after all.

Another embarrassing implication of that number – only 41% of the NHS’s ventilators used – is that it makes a mockery of the Government’s wartime-style drive to manufacture more ventilators. Just as well, since the entire effort – dubbed the “ventilator challenge” – was a fiasco from start to finish. Not that it would have mattered if there had been a shortage and the “challenge” was a success, since ventilators are almost completely useless when it comes to treating patients with COVID-19.

Six Reasons the Cure is Worse Than the Disease

In the latest anti-lockdown jeremiad by Professor Ramesh Thakur, the former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations lists six reasons why the official response to the pandemic will end up causing more harm that it has prevented:

  • Lockdowns will have a negative impact on mental health and lead to more suicides.
  • With elective surgeries and routine screenings suspended, many diseases that would be treatable if caught in time will end up killing hundreds of thousands.
  • People have been so terrorised by the propaganda unleashed by governments around the world that people requiring crucial care have refused to go to hospital, whether through fear of catching the virus, or because being good citizens they don’t want to trouble a badly over-burdened health system.
  • The lockdowns reduced the amount of time people spent in the fresh air and sunshine, with some people being cooped up in high-risk environments like congested living complexes.
  • Elderly hospital patients infected with COVID-19 were discharged into care and nursing homes to deadly effect, accounting for more than half of all Covid deaths.
  • The deadliest impact of the lockdowns will be on the world’s poorest billion people over the next decade along multiple sub-pathways.

Worth reading in full.

Rioters in Minneapolis Comply With Mayor’s Order to Wear Face Masks in Shopping Malls

Rioters in Minneapolis wearing face masks

I got an email from a reader in Minneapolis yesterday, the American city that was set ablaze by rioters on Tuesday night following the death in police custody of George Floyd, a 46 year-old African-American, and has been burning ever since.

We’ve been a bit busy here in Minneapolis dealing with the city being burned down around us. It was oddly relaxing to think about Chinese viruses. All of the businesses I service – my customers – are either in ashes, boarded up or looted.

Here is the joke: Why did Minneapolis police stand by and watch the looters and arsonists destroy hundreds of businesses? Because the looters were complying with the Mayor’s order to wear a mask inside retail establishments.

Interestingly, that order took effect Tuesday at 5p.m. When did the rioting start? Tuesday evening….

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Theme Tune Suggestions From Readers

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: “Worry” by Blodwyn Pig, “When Will I See You Again?” by the Three Degrees (can’t believe we haven’t had that yet) and “Locked Up In Jail” by John Lee Hooker.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A couple of weeks ago, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It still takes me about nine hours a day, what with doing these updates, moderating your comments and commissioning original material. If you feel like donating, however paltry the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

And Finally…

A reader made a slight adjustment to this Lord of the Rings meme. Works pretty well…

Latest News

Lockdown Sceptics contributor Guy de la Bédoyère takes one of his vintage motorcycles out for a spin

Did Boris’s announcement yesterday that up to six people from different households will be able to gather outside from Monday sound the death knell for the lockdown? It certainly feels that way for those of us who’ve been out and about on this glorious Summer day. Guy de la Bédoyère, who’s contributed many fine things to this site, has sent me a note about a motorcycle ride he took this afternoon. Sounds like things are returning to normal in Middle England…

It’s another afternoon of piercing sunshine in England on the last Friday of May 2020. The trees are in full leaf, the hedges thick and verdant. It’s a day out of one’s childhood, a summer day filled with memories of past times. I pull out one of my vintage motorcycles and set off for a short run through the countryside and villages as a break from a day of proof-reading my next book. Immediately I notice a change from other days in recent weeks. I have to wait to turn onto the main road. An endless stream of cars and vans keep me waiting. What’s this? For weeks I have been able to turn out almost without bothering to look. As I hurtle on I pass the Joint Services Flying School. The carpark is full. More vans and trucks pass me. I reach a crossroads in one of the larger villages and actually have to wait in a small queue. I turn left and pass a garage. Outside a gaggle of eight or nine children aged between 9 and 14 are on their bicycles all gathered together and enjoying a Friday afternoon like no other. It’s half-term of course but these are the days of Covid aren’t they? How many of their parents won’t be sending them back to school any time soon “because it’s not safe”. You could hardly have got 2 metres between the whole crowd of children let alone any two of them. If what some parents say is true and if one of the children is infected they’ll all be dead along with their families in a couple of weeks.

I accelerate on, watching the glint of sunshine on car roofs ahead as they approach me on the other side of the road, each one whizzing past. I head on into a road that crosses National Trust property. The stately home and its gardens are closed but there’s a public footpath and carpark on one side. It’s packed with vehicles, no doubt belonging to furloughed workers and those “working at home”. I have to dodge several joggers on the road, often running in pairs and side by side, adding to the numerous cyclists I’ve passed too (in one instance four of them in a formation barely two metres across), and also more commercial vans: painters, decorators, TV aerial vans, builders and many more. And so on and back home and once more it’s a wait to get back on the main road near my house as the cars churn past. This is the world of those who have gone back to work and those still eking out their time at home or on leisure outings before the Day of Reckoning. Some are going to look back on this as the best of times, and others the worst of times. Either way, the lockdown is dwindling and there’s one unalterable fact about summers – they always come to an end.

More Dodgy Covid Data From the Financial Times

Yesterday, the Financial Times published the above chart purporting to show that countries which had locked down the quickest had a lower excess death toll. I was immediately suspicious because it’s at odds with the numerous other papers and surveys I’ve linked to on this site showing that there’s no statistical correlation between a country’s Covid death toll and whether or not it locked down, the date at which it locked down, and how severe its restrictions are/were.

Today, my financial journalist friend who’s made many contributions to this site got in touch to tell me I was right to be suspicious. The chart is nonsense.

I’ve had a look at yesterday’s Financial Times story by John Burn-Murdoch and Chris Giles suggesting a link between excess deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic and the speed with which countries entered lockdown. Countries that locked down early had had fewer excess deaths than those which locked down later, according to the story. It confirms the widespread view among the Government’s critics that the UK’s high death rate is linked to Boris Johnson’s tardy decision to enter lockdown. A chart was published alongside the piece showing a near perfect correlation between the estimated number of infections on lockdown day and the total number of excess deaths (see below). To drive this point home, the chart’s title read: “Locking down in the early stages of the spread of the virus is linked to a reduced excess death toll.”

A sceptic might have marvelled at such a good statistical fit, particularly as we’ve never seen it before. A second sceptical thought suggested itself to me: how had the FT estimated its lockdown day infections? The methodology wasn’t explained. Still, if the data were correct, it was game over for the lockdown sceptics. At last, there appeared to be definitive statistical evidence that lockdowns saved lives.

Later in the day, however, the pink paper pulled its original chart and replaced it with a new chart [the one at the top of this article]. The new chart showed the total excess deaths per million of the population against the estimated lockdown infections per million of the population. That seemed like a sensible way of comparing countries with different population sizes. This chart carried the same title as the original and supposedly showed the same thing – the earlier a country locked down, the lower its Covid death toll.

But the data told a completely different story. The link between lockdown day infections and deaths had broken down. The US, for instance, had a much greater infection rate on lockdown day (30 infections per million) than the Netherlands (7.5 per million), but suffered far fewer excess deaths. Although the new FT chart had a regression line drawn through the data points, it was clear that there was no statistical correlation between estimated lockdown infections and a country’s excess deaths. You can see from looking at the FT’s scatter plot that the regression coefficient (R-squared) for its new, revised chart is very low and not statistically meaningful. Most of the dots are quite far away from the regression line, whereas in the first chart the dots all cluster around the line.

In fact, the new chart appears to support the recent claim from the Norwegian Health Ministry that there is no evidence that Norway’s own lockdown saved lives. Yet the FT’s original text was not revised to reflect this profound change. Instead, a note was added to the bottom of the article, stating: “This article has been modified to replace a chart linking excess deaths to lockdown dates with one linking excess deaths per million.” A puzzling comment and hardly a proper retraction. Later on the same day, the headline was changed again to account for new data which showed that Spain, rather than the UK, had the highest excess death rate in Europe.

I ran the FT’s data on excess deaths against the Blavatnik index of lockdown severity (from the end of April). In the chart I came up with, the Regression score (R-squared) is 0.16 which is STATISTICALLY MEANINGLESS. Thus, from the FT’s own data it appears that lockdown stringency has had no meaningful impact on excess deaths in either Europe or the US.

Recalculating the UK’s IFR Based On the ONS’s Antibody Survey

Bob’s cartoon in the Telegraph on May 29th 2020

Yesterday, I did a back-of-envelope calculation to work out the infection fatality rate (IFR) in the UK based on the just-released results of the ONS’s seroprevalence survey which estimates that 6.78% of the population has antibodies. The survey didn’t include people in hospitals or care homes, just those “in the community”. Consequently, I stripped out the deaths that have occurred in care homes from the latest UK totals, but not hospitals, assuming that the people who’ve died in hospitals were originally “in the community”. I ended up with an IFR of 0.82% and because this is so at odds with the latest CDC estimate I concluded that either the numerator or the denominator must be wrong.

However, the number-crunching genius Alistair Haimes has been in touch to say I miscalculated.

Just gone through your calculation of the UK IFR from yesterday – I’d actually used those results and got to an IFR of 0.25% which is strikingly close to the CDC’s estimate of 0.26%.

You need to make the following changes to your calculation:

1. You assumed that only 21% of deaths are care home residents based on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control data, but actually ONS figures show it’s 37.4% (as at May 1st: 12,526 care home residents out of the 33,480 Covid deaths til then = 37.4%). Very sneakily, the ONS only generally shows “care home deaths” as those where the death is actually inside the care home, but in a release on May 15th they also include care home residents in England and Wales who die in hospital.

2. You also need to remove infections acquired in hospitals, where the percentage of infected people is far higher than “in the community”. That is “somewhere between 10% and 20%” according to the NHS figures from recent Guardian article. Say mid-way, 15%.

3. If we deduct those care home deaths (37.4% of 47,343 is 17,706) and those who caught the virus in hospital (15% of 47,343 is ~7,000), the total number of deaths “in the community” comes to 22,637.

4. Having sorted out the numerator, you now need to look at the denominator. That means accounting for the percentage of people who fight off the virus (so should be included in the number who’ve been infected) using antibodies from other coronaviruses. According to the implications of this article in Cell, you might well have to double the percentage of the population testing positive for antibodies in a seroprevalence survey to get the true figure. That means doubling the 6.78% to 13.56%. 13.5% x 67 million = 9,085,200.

5. So what’s the IFR? 9,085,200 ÷ 22,637 = 401.34 and 100 ÷ 401.34 = 0.249, so an IFR of ~0.25%.

Canadian Columnist Fired For Covid Dissent

Journalists pay a heavy price for dissenting from Covid orthodoxy in the People’s Republic of Canada

Brian Jones, a columnist for a Canadian newspaper called the St John’s Telegram, has lost his weekly gig after writing a piece in which he pointed out that public sector workers in Canada are having an easier time of it during lockdown than private sector employes. The former have been furloughed on full pay, while the latter are expected to subsist on $2,000 a month. Here’s an extract:

It is more proof, as if any were needed, that Government workers enjoy a special status paid for by everyone else, even by people who lose jobs and then receive a measly $2,000 per month.

A laughable explanation is that Government employees are working from home, when possible. Please. Civil servants move at half speed even when they’re in the workplace.

Although, to give them their due, there were credible reports of Transportation and Works employees taking shovels home so they could lean on them in their living rooms.

Needless to say, this provoked a storm on Canadian Twitter, with hundreds of outraged readers demanding that Jones be fired for wrongthink. So what did the Telegram‘s editors do? Tell the hashtag activists to take a running jump? Alas not. They fired the heretical columnist. Here’s how they announced the decision – on Twitter, naturally:

Dear Readers, as a daily news publication we aim to offer you an informative mix of features, news, fun diversions and diverse opinions. With opinions, in particular, sometimes we push the edges and explore unpopular opinions. When we go too far, you tell us.

We’re always grateful for that. This week, you stepped up once again with scores of readers responding to Brian Jones’s May 20th column. Your feedback was an important gauge for us and for him, and, in response, he has decided that that this week’s column will be his last.

As excuses go, that’s right up there with being told your opinions “violate our Community Guidelines”. Solidarity, brother.

Dodgy Death Statistics

A reader provides yet another anecdote of a doctor ascribing a death to COVID-19 when it clearly wasn’t. I get a lot of these.

I met up with a friend of mine the other day and he mentioned he had spoken to a mutual friend of ours the other week. He said that our friend’s gran sadly passed away in a care home the other week. However, on the death certificate – you guessed it – cause of death COVID-19.

She tested positive six weeks ago, recovered form the virus (two Covid tests to confirm she was negative) the following week. Then sadly she died last week as she was very unwell before hand.

I don’t understand how the cause of death can be COVID-19 after testing negative to show she had fought the virus off, she can pass away a month later and then have her death go down as a Covid death?

Donor-Conceived Babies Cannot Find Out Who Their Biological Parents Are

Following last week’s news that it’s nigh-on impossible to register a new birth at the moment – because of the lockdown, natch – a reader has contacted me to point out that donor-conceived people cannot obtain any information about who their biological parents are while the crisis continues.

A notice on the website of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority informs people that: “Due to COVID-19, we cannot currently process any applications for information.” It blames it on the fact that fertility clinics, which it depends on to help it access this information, are not “fully operational”. It then adds: “We estimate it will be several months before sufficient support is available across the sector to enable the… services to restart.”

President of Tanzania is Sceptic of the Week

Among the heroes to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, Dr John Pombe Magufuli, the President of Tanzania, is one of the least likely. Yet hero he is, having sacked his chief health advisor after a goat and a papaya tested positive for COVID-19 in the Government lab, and refused to lockdown the country. According to Worldometers, the death toll in Tanzania currently stands at 21. That’s since the beginning of the year, not in the last 24 hours.

In his latest audacious move, President Magufuli has banned face masks, as well as ordered schools and businesses to reopen. He also recently told the American envoy to Tanzania not to “cause panic” after the American embassy in the capital, Dar es Salaam, wrongly claimed that the chances of contracting the virus were “extremely high”.

Top man.

An American in London Writes…

Nice blog post from the writer Michael Hurley about what it’s like being an American ex-pat living in London during lockdown. It’s entitled “Land of Fear and Loathing“. He’s one of us, but more pessimistic than me. Here are a couple of paragraphs:

Unlike some, I do not kindle hope that the many able commentators who keep pointing out the continuing tragedy of the lockdown policy and the absurdity of the “new normal” of social distancing will eventually win the argument with their fellow Britons. There is no argument to be won. As the American cartoon character Pogo would say, “I have met the enemy, and he is us.”

We are the new normal. We are not the people our grandparents were. We are the ones eagerly participating in this extravagant charade that we are all about to die from shaking hands with our neighbours or walking outside without a mask. We have the power to choose the kind of society we live in by refusing to give aid and comfort to the scaremongers through our silence. Too many of us simply refuse to speak.

Worth reading the whole thing.

Sign Petition to Get Club Cricket Back Up and Running

A reader sent me this Change.org petition calling on the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to stop being such big girls blouses and allow county cricket to restart. The ECB recently announced a further delay to the start of the professional domestic cricket season, with no domestic cricket to be played until August. As the author of the petition writes:

I’m urging people to sign this petition and plead with the ECB/UK Government to work hard at making all forms of recreational cricket matches possible from early July 2020.

No cricket season in 2020 will have a major effect on many clubs across the country financially.

No cricket at club level this year could see participation levels and interest in the sport drop which is not what anyone wishes to see especially within the younger generation.

Please sign the petition.

In Wales, the First Minister is Granting People “Permission” to Leave Their Homes!

I got an email from a disgruntled reader in Wales following yesterday’s announcement by the First Minister about the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Had to comment on the latest measures here in Wales which tells us that we’re allowed to leave our homes, but have to stay local and within five miles. I do understand that the FM has said there’s room for interpretation as we do not have a bus within five miles of here, never mind a shop or a relation. But will the police give us this same latitude?

One thing that really annoyed me though was his use of the phrase “we are offering people permission…” Sorry? I thought this was a free country? I understand we have emergency powers in place, but shouldn’t the politicians be talking about “we are returning some of the civil liberties we have withdrawn” instead?

I think if I were to write down the emotion I feel whenever I hear such words as “permission” being used, it would be GRRRRR.

“It’s all bullshit,” says Russia’s Head of Coronavirus Information

Alexander Myasnikov was appointed in April to his new role of informing Russians about coronavirus treatment and prevention methods and to battle “fake news” about COVID-19

In Russia, the doctor and television presenter Alexander Myasnikov has been given the task of informing the Russian people about coronavirus treatment and prevention methods and to battle “fake news” about COVID-19. He recently called the country’s reported low death rate a “Russian miracle”. But in a moment of candour, when he thought he was off air, he blurted out the truth, according to the Moscow Times.

In an interview that aired Wednesday, Myasnikov gestured for the cameras to stop running and said candidly: “It’s all bullsh*t.”

“It’s all exaggerated. It’s an acute respiratory disease with minimal mortality,” he told television personality Ksenia Sobchak in the interview for her YouTube project.

“Why has the whole world been destroyed? That I don’t know,” Myasnikov said.

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A couple of weeks ago, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It still takes me about nine hours a day, what with doing these updates, moderating your comments and commissioning original material. If you feel like donating, however paltry the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

And Finally…

For a second, Matt Hancock’s mask slipped

This picture is for fans of the John Carpenter movie They Live, a cult classic about how aliens are living among us and use subliminal messages to ensure compliance with their diabolical plans. To most people in the film, they appear normal. But occasionally they get to see what the aliens really look like…

For more on the psychological techniques being used by the Government to control the population, see this YouTube video by Dr Vernon Coleman. Watch it before it’s taken down…

Latest News

Financial Times Elides Excess Deaths In UK with Deaths From Coronavirus, Triggers Call For Coup From Ex-SAGE Member

Professor Anthony Costello, the former WHO Director and now a member of the “alternative” SAGE, got very over-excited on Twitter earlier today in response to an FT article showing the UK had the highest rate of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic among a group of 19 countries that produce comparable data. According to the article, the UK has registered 59,537 more deaths than usual this year since the week ending March 20th. In Costello’s brain, this became: “The FT report the UK has the highest rate of excess COVID19 deaths in the world. 59,537 more deaths than usual with a rate of 891 deaths per million.”

Costello’s tweet set off a chain of responses, each more hysterical than the last, with Robert West, a Professor of Health Psychology at UCL and a former member of the SP1-B subgroup of SAGE, seemingly calling for a coup on the back of it. “We cannot wait until this is ‘all over’ to find out what is going wrong,” he said, referring to Costello’s tweet. “But to learn from its mistakes the Government has to admit it is making them. This is something they appear completely unwilling to do. Time for NHS and public health to take over?”

Let’s gloss over the fact that in Costello’s fevered imagination the highest excess death toll in 19 countries became the highest in the world and focus on the other bit of hyperbole in his tweet. How did 59,537 excess deaths, which the FT says may have been “directly or indirectly” caused by the virus, become “COVID19 deaths”? After all, according to the latest ONS data, 47,343 deaths in the UK have mentioned “novel coronavirus” on the death certificate, more than 10,000 fewer than the excess death total. The six million dollar question is whether all excess deaths since the week ending March 20th have been from COVID-19 or whether some have been due to the lockdown itself? As I pointed out yesterday, the number of deaths from COVID-19 in care homes in England and Wales in Week 20, according to the ONS, is less than half the total number of excess deaths in care homes in Week 20. In the graph below, the green shaded area represents the excess deaths not linked to COVID-19.

Could it be that it’s not undiagnosed COVID-19 that is responsible for those excess deaths, but the hysterical over-reaction to the pandemic by the authorities, preventing people with other diseases seeking medical help?

To be fair to Costello, the FT makes the same elision as him in the headline: “UK suffers highest death rate from coronavirus.” From that, it sounds like the FT is assuming all the excess deaths are due to COVID-19 as well. It doesn’t try to justify this directly, or point out the discrepancy between the number of excess deaths and the number of deaths in which “novel coronavirus” is mentioned on the death certificate. But it does say: “Excess deaths is internationally recognised as the best way to compare countries’ performance in handling infectious diseases. Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical officer, called excess deaths ‘the key metric’.”

Well, yes, they might be a good way of measuring how countries have handled infectious diseases – maybe even the “key” way. But it doesn’t follow that, as the headline suggests, excess deaths are a reliable way of measuring how many people have died from coronavirus.

Costello is a long-standing member of the Labour Party and Robert West is a leftie who retweets all the usual suspects – George Monbiot, Carole Cadwalladr, Paul Mason, James O’Brien, Owen Jones, etc. They have a vested interest in eliding “excess deaths” with deaths from COVID-19 since it supports their contention that the Government’s delay in locking down led to a higher number of Covid fatalities. But I expected better from the FT.

Are We Counting Covid Deaths Correctly?

Dr John Lee’s latest piece in the Spectator points out that the way Covid deaths are being counted is incredibly unreliable. He writes:

Normally, two doctors are needed to certify a death, one of whom has been treating the patient or who knows them and has seen them recently. That has changed. For COVID-19 only, the certification can be made by a single doctor, and there is no requirement for them to have examined, or even met, the patient. A video-link consultation in the four weeks prior to death is now felt to be sufficient for death to be attributed to COVID-19. For deaths in care homes the situation is even more extraordinary. Care home providers, most of whom are not medically trained, may make a statement to the effect that a patient has died of COVID-19. In the words of the Office for National Statistics, this “may or may not correspond to a medical diagnosis or test result, or be reflected in the death certification”. From March 29th the numbers of ‘Covid deaths’ have included all cases where COVID-19 was simply mentioned on the death certificate – irrespective of positive testing and whether or not it may have been incidental to, or directly responsible for, death. From April 29th the numbers include the care home cases simply considered likely to be COVID-19.

So at a time when accurate death statistics are more important than ever, the rules have been changed in ways that make them less reliable than ever. In what proportion of COVID-19 ‘mentions’ was the disease actually present? And in how many cases, if actually present, was COVID-19 responsible for death? Despite what you may have understood from the daily briefings, the shocking truth is that we just don’t know. How many of the excess deaths during the epidemic are due to COVID-19, and how many are due to our societal responses of healthcare reorganisation, lockdown and social distancing? Again, we don’t know. Despite claims that they’re all due to COVID-19, there’s strong evidence that many, perhaps even a majority, are the result of our responses rather than the disease itself.

Dr Lee’s conclusion is withering:

One of the unappreciated tragedies of this epidemic so far is the huge lost opportunity to understand COVID-19 better. We like to beat ourselves up for having the worst Covid death toll in Europe — but we will never know, because we decided not to count properly. In a country that has always prided itself on the quality of its facts and figures, the missing COVID-19 data is a national scandal.

ONS Seroprevalence Survey

The ONS released some data today about a seroprevalence survey it has carried out involving a sample size of 885. Of this group, who were given an antibody test between April 26th and May 24th, 6.78% tested positive, which works out at 4,542,600 people nationwide if we scale it up to encompass the whole population.

Can we calculate an IFR based on this? It’s not as simple as dividing 4,542,600 by the total number of Covid-related deaths in the UK – 47,343 at last count – since the people the ONS gave the antibody tests to were “in the community”. None of them were in hospitals or care homes. So how many of those 47,343 deaths were of people “in the community”? If we assume that people “in the community” would simply transfer to hospital when they fell ill with COVID-19, but people in care homes are a separate, self-contained population, the way to calculate the IFR is to strip out all those Covid-related deaths that have occurred in care homes, which we can estimate at about 21% of the total (the ONS estimated that 21% of all Covid-related deaths in England in the week ending May 8th were in care homes). So scaling that up to the entire population gives us ~9,942 Covid-related care home deaths, leaving ~37,401 deaths in the community.

If we divide that 4,542,600 by 37,410 that gives us an IFR of 0.82%. That’s roughly three times higher than the CDC’s IFR of 0.26% – pretty robust, in my view – which suggests that either the numerator or the denominator is wrong. It’s likely to be both, obviously, but which one is more wrong? If we assume the seroprevalence data is broadly accurate – and a sample size of 885 is quite high by antibody survey standards – that suggests the number of deaths in which doctors are ascribing the cause of death to COVID-19 is being exaggerated three-fold.

“Didn’t you see the arrows?”

Good lockdown joke sent to me by a reader:

I was in Tesco today, and midway through my shop I realised I’d forgotten something. I walked back to get it, much to the horror of the shoppers behind me.

“There is a one way system!” screamed one terrified lady. “Didn’t you see the arrows?”

“Arrows?” I said. “I didn’t even see the Indians!”

The High Court judge has ordered the Government to respond to businessman Simon Dolan’s legal challenge to lockdown by June 12th. The date, set by Mr Justice Swift, came after Government lawyers again asked for more time to prepare and respond following the formal launch of proceedings.

“Such is the magnitude of our fight, we pushed hard for an earlier date,” says Simon Dolan. “But true to form, the Government wants delay after delay.”

The crowdfunder is now up to £147,135, well on its way to hitting its target of £175,000. Thanks to all those readers who’ve donated.

You can read the evidence in support of the legal challenge here. I was pleased to see Lockdown Sceptics get a mention in the evidence. See pp.43-44.

Michael Moorcock’s Prophecy

Good quote a reader has sent me, this one by the science fiction writer Michael Moorcock:

If we continue to make any sort of social progress, I suspect that the political battle lines of the twenty first century will not be between socialism and capitalism but democracy and paternalism.

People Are Drowning Because of Irrational Fear of Covid

There’s a depressing story in the Mail today about three people drowning over the Bank Holiday weekend, in part because the RNLI suspended coastline patrols when the lockdown was imposed and haven’t fully reinstated them. “More casualties are now feared on unsupervised beaches after two deaths near Padstow in Cornwall on Monday, and a third at Teignmouth in Devon on Tuesday,” the Mail reports.

The RNLI had a total net income of £186.6million in 2018, so it’s not lack of resources that’s preventing the RNLI getting back out there.

RNLI chief Mark Dowie blames the Government for not banning people from going to beaches and for not giving the RNLI more notice of the easing of lockdown restrictions. Apparently, this has meant it hasn’t had adequate time to work out how to operate during the pandemic.

We have to work out how to do in-water rescues and give first aid – normally conducted at close quarters and often with people coughing up water. We have to find PPE that will work on a beach and in the water – visors and aprons are no good on a rescue board. And we have to train our lifeguards in procedures to reduce the risk of infection. All this takes time and we learnt of the lifting of restrictions at the same time as everyone else.

Bad news, Mr Dowie. No PPE is going to protect people pulling drowning people out of the sea and giving them first aid. But the good news is the chances of one of your people dying from COVID-19 are quite small. Let’s work them out.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) estimates that around 2,000 new people are being infected every day. People remain infectious for no more than 10 days and each infected person is currently infecting less than one other person. So that means that no more than 20,000 UK citizens are infectious at any one time – and that number is falling. So the chances of the person you’re pulling from the sea being infectious with COVID-19 are 20,000/67,000,000, or 1/3,350.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the infection fatality rate for Covid is 0.26% so the chances of an RNLI employee dying if they catch the virus from the person they save from drowning is 1/385.

Combine those two figures, and the chances of an RNLI lifeboat person dying from rescuing someone at sea are roughly 1/1,250,000. By contrast, the chances of a drowning person pulled from the sea dying if they’re not given first aid are 1/1.

You do the maths, Mr Dowie.

Stop Press: In a bulletin earlier today, the ONS estimated that ~54,000 new people were being infected each week between May 11th and May 24th, which works out at 7,714/day, or 77,140 infectious people in the UK at any one time. According to my calculations, that would increase the above risk to 1/334,392. Still quite low.

Donald Trump Responds to YouTube Censorship

President Trump is due to sign an executive order later today that will supposedly regulate or “close down” social media companies he perceives as censoring conservative voices. I’d love to say this was in response to YouTube censoring me yesterday, but in fact the final straw was Twitter flagging up two of Trumps tweets on Tuesday as requiring a fact check. The tweets weren’t about coronavirus, but potential voter fraud in California. The Mail has the story.

Test-And-Trace Fiasco

Technology being used to track-and-trace not as modern as first hoped

The ongoing saga that is Matt Hancock’s attempt to roll a test-and-trace programme across the UK hit a new peak of comic hilarity today when the Mail disclosed that the website crashed when it went “live” this morning.

Staff employed to warn Britons they may have been infected have also struggled to log-on to the system, with one calling it a “complete shambles” after revealing they had not even received their password to access the website and start their shift while another questioned why the COVID-19 system wasn’t perfect before it went live…

Shocking pictures today also showed deserted drive-through testing centres in Twickenham, Heathrow, Edinburgh and Chessington in Surrey, while flat-pack furniture giant Ikea reclaimed a key swabbing location in west London because it plans to reopen to the public in the coming weeks.

Needless to say, the much-touted NHS track-and-trace app was nowhere to be seen, having encountered a number of “teething problems” during its trial run in the Isle of Wight. I asked the IT expert who’s been following this saga for Lockdown Sceptics to comment on today’s launch.

Today the Government launched its track-and-trace programme. Personally, I am not celebrating 25,000 new Government employees paid to trawl over my private life on the assumption that I am a bio-hazard. So forgive me if it seems churlish to ask, but what happened to your app, Mr Hancock?

Now relegated to a “supporting” role, readers of this site will recall the May 4th Independent front page headline heralding the app as part of the government’s “roadmap to end lockdown”. What went wrong? As this site pointed out on May 4th, the choice of a home grown, Government-developed, centralised database was a bad idea from the start. The famously IT-savvy Matt Hancock begged to differ and commissioned the National Centre for Cyber Security to agree with him.

The resulting 13-page report used a lot of impressive-sounding crypto jargon, but the issue of a centralised verses distributed database wasn’t addressed until the very last page. “This paper does not make a case for either a centralised or decentralised […] model,” it said, but then followed up with three justifications Mr Hancock could use for not opting for the decentralised Apple/Google approach. That didn’t convince 173 security academics who signed a letter saying so, nor did it persuade Harriett Harmon’s Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, which pointed out that it wasn’t just bad software, it was very likely illegal. The much-lauded NHS app was dead in the water.

But Mr Hancock wouldn’t let go of his conviction that high-tech wizardry was the solution and he found £3.8m to commission Swiss software company Zulke to build another app, this one utilising Apple and Google’s technology. That answered the academics and human rights committee, but had the disadvantage of not providing a single byte of intelligence data for track-and-trace purposes.

The upshot is that today’s big track-and-trace programme launched with no surveillance app and a fledgling testing service. This article in the Conversation gives some idea of the problems ahead, revealing that “the average number of tests required per case was 52 in South Korea, and 64 in Australia”. What that means is that for each person the South Korean team discovered was infectious, they then had to track down 52 additional people as having been exposed to the infectious individual – and in Australia that number was 64. The article adds: “In South Korea the testing was conducted on a base of well-funded and efficient public services and an effective infrastructure, including widespread digital surveillance.”

In other words, the South Korean track-and-tracers had access to extensive surveillance data – far more extensive than that currently available in the UK.

How will Hancock’s army of 25,000 amateur detectives cope, particularly as as they’re being paid minimum wage and have received, at most, a few weeks “training”? And what’s the likelihood of them making mistakes when trying to identify the 50+ people each infected person has made contact with using an ordinance survey map and a telephone directory?

Rather ominously, Hancock announced yesterday that it was every citizen’s “civic duty” to place themselves in quarantine for 14 days if identified as at risk by his 25,000 crack sleuths – and if they neglect to do this voluntarily, swingeing fines will be just round the corner. I think we can pretty much guarantee that every person ordered to self-isolate by some muppet on the end of the phone claiming to work for “the Government” will be one less vote for the Conservative Party at the next General Election.

But will the Government really be able to fine people if they refuse to self-isolate in these circumstances? No, according to the employment lawyers Jackson Bourne. See this blog post.

And just to add to the comedy of errors, the Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace is one Dido Harding, whose record when it comes to data protection is less than golden. This was a good spot by Simon Dutton in the comments beneath yesterday’s update. He quoted the following passage from Harding’s Wikipedia entry:

In October 2015, TalkTalk experienced a “significant and sustained cyber-attack”, during which personal and banking details of up to four million customers is thought to have been accessed. City AM described her responses as “naive”, noting that early on when asked if the affected customer data was encrypted or not, she replied: “The awful truth is that I don’t know”. Her “inflexible line” on termination fees was also criticised. Marketing ran a headline, “TalkTalk boss Dido Harding’s utter ignorance is a lesson to us all”. The Evening Standard noted that “It has been a tough week for TalkTalk boss Dido Harding, facing complaints from customers and calls for her head.” The company admitted the hack had cost it £60 million and lost it 95,000 customers.

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Theme Tune Suggestions From Readers;

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: “Panic” by the Smiths, “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher (from Groundhog Day, obviously) and “Self-Inflicted Wounds” by Joe Bonamassa.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A couple of weeks ago, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It still takes me about nine hours a day, what with doing these updates, moderating your comments and commissioning original material. If you feel like donating, however paltry the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

And Finally…

Stinky Malinky, the latest addition to the Young household

In my Spectator column today I write about the puppy-mania that has accompanied lockdown, the risk of newly-acquired pets being abandoned when the crisis is over and the fact that, in the case of my household’s latest addition, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. We have a five month-old cavapoochon called Malinky, or Mali for short, and her cute appearance can be deceptive. Very deceptive. Here’s an extract:

Mali has a disgusting habit of actually eating other dogs’ faeces. Whenever I take her for a walk on Wormwood Scrubs, she will sniff it out like a forager looking for edible mushrooms and, as soon as she finds any, happily start munching away. Sealed in a little plastic bag? No matter. She’ll gobble that up too. And when she’s finished this little treat, she’ll flip over on to her back and roll around in the residue so as not to leave the tiniest bit behind. What a delight it is to stick her back in the car after that! And to cap it all, the little horror suffers from travel sickness, so all the poo she’s consumed on her walk will often come back up on the way home. Suffice to say, my one-year-old VW Touran no longer has that nice new car smell. When I fling open the door on arrival back home, gasping for breath, sparrows fall out of the sky and roses wilt on their stems.

You can read the entire piece here.

Update: An earlier version of today’s update included a letter purporting to be written by F Scott Fitzgerald about quarantining in the South of France in 2020. It was in fact a parody so I’ve removed it.

Latest News

YouTube Censors Me

Verboten!

A few weeks ago I took part in a discussion about the coronavirus crisis organised by the Institute of Arts and Ideas. The other participants were David Alexander, Professor of Risk and Disaster Reduction at University College London; Anne Johnson, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at University College London; and Michael Levitt, Professor of Structural Biology at Stanford and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Among other things, we discussed the pros and cons of lockdowns and I set out the case against, which is what I’d been invited to do.

Afterwards, I extracted a four-minute clip featuring me and Michael Levitt – although he was nodding along enthusiastically to what I was saying rather than speaking – and put it on my YouTube channel, calling it “The Case Against Lockdowns”. I also created a two-minute clip and posted that on Twitter which you can see here.

This morning at 12.20am I received an email from YouTube which said the following:

Hi Toby Young,

As you may know, our Community Guidelines describe which content we allow – and don’t allow – on YouTube. Your video The Case Against Lockdowns was flagged to us for review. Upon review, we’ve determined that it violates our guidelines and we’ve removed it from YouTube.

As regular readers will know, when I post links to controversial YouTube videos I often joke that they should watch them before they’re taken down by the censorious video platform. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki told CNN’s Reliable Sources back in April that the company would be “removing information that is problematic”. Wojcicki told host Brian Stelter that this included “anything that is medically unsubstantiated”. She continued:

So people saying “take vitamin C; take turmeric, we’ll cure you”, those are the examples of things that would be a violation of our policy.

Anything that would go against World Health Organisation recommendations would be a violation of our policy.

In the four-minute clip of the Nobel Laureate and me, I don’t recommend any miracle cures for COVID-19, or indeed say anything “medically unsubstantiated”. So what did I say that violated YouTube’s “Community Standards”? Presumably, just challenging the idea that lockdowns are effective, or disputing the notion that states are entitled to suspend the civil rights of their citizens without any compelling evidence that doing so is necessary to reduce fatalities, is what set off alarm bells at YouTube since indiscriminately quarantining whole populations was one of the WHO’s recommendations. Readers will recall that the WHO initially praised China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, which involved more or less imprisoning up to 60 million people in Wuhan and surrounding cities, before it changed tack and praised Sweden’s response.

I’ve now reposted my video on Bitchute and you can watch it here. Is this so dangerous that it needs to be removed by YouTube? Judge for yourself.

Stop Press: The FT’s Izabella Kaminska has written about this latest example of big tech silencing a dissident in a piece headlined “Censortech strikes again“.

France Passes New Censortech Law. Will Britain be Next?

In France, YouTube would have no choice about whether to take down my video. Two weeks ago, the French parliament passed a new law forcing social networks to remove problematic content within 24 hours or face fines of up to €1.25 million. Signed into law on May 13th, the “Lutte contre la haine sur internet” requires digital platforms to remove discriminatory and sexually abusive comments within 24 hours of being flagged by users.

It’s based on a similar law passed in Germany in 2018 – the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) – and before it became law in France it was vigorously opposed by pro-free speech advocates. As with the German law, one of the flaws of the new French law is that there are no penalties if social media networks wrongly remove content that is later found not to be in violation of any laws or community guidelines. This will inevitably mean legitimate freedom of expression will be curtailed. For instance, anyone challenging the view that “transwomen are women”, however respectable their argument or impressive their credentials, will no longer be able to express that view on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube or Twitter because the social media companies will remove it rather than risk being fined for permitting “hate speech”.

The law doesn’t explicitly mention the coronavirus pandemic, but according to Simon Chandler writing in Forbes, “the French Government and the Assemblée Nationale has exploited fear over online coronavirus misinformation to pass it”.

Will the British Government take advantage of coronaphobia to fast-track its own censortech law?

Under the ‘Online Harms‘ proposal, published in the form of a White Paper last year and on course to become an Act of Parliament, the British Government would appoint Ofcom, currently the broadcasting watchdog, to regulate social media companies, empowering it to levy fines of up to four per cent of annual worldwide turnover – and jail company directors – if they don’t comply with Ofcom’s new guidance on harmful content. According to the White Paper, the regulator would ban online material “that may directly or indirectly cause harm” [my emphasis], although it neglects to define “harm” and says that content may be deemed harmful even if it’s “not necessarily illegal”.

As an example of what it has in mind, the White Paper singles out “offensive material”, as if giving offence is itself a form of harm. In effect, Ofcom would have the power to prohibit speech which isn’t unlawful but which it believes may indirectly cause harm because it’s offensive. That gives it almost limitless scope to prohibit the expression of opinions which some people find disagreeable.

There’s much talk in the White Paper of a “right of appeal”, but this turns out to apply to the tech companies only — individual social media users cannot appeal the regulator’s decisions — and would necessitate the companies applying for a judicial review. Not only is that a lengthy and cumbersome procedure, but it’s unclear how Facebook, YouTube or Twitter could demonstrate that a particular viewpoint won’t under any circumstances cause harm, particularly when “harm” isn’t defined. Merely showing that the content in question hasn’t caused the complainant any tangible harm won’t be sufficient, since all the regulator will need to show is that it may cause them indirect harm. More or less anything falls into that category, including any content challenging the Government’s guidance relating to the virus.

The part of the White Paper concerned with “fake news” would give the new regulator almost limitless discretion when it comes to removing content that dissents from Covid orthodoxy. In a section entitled “Disinformation”, the document says tech companies will “need to take proportionate and proactive measures… to minimise the spread of misleading and harmful disinformation and to increase the accessibility of trustworthy and varied news content”. But who’s to say what content is “misleading” and what’s “trustworthy”? Presumably, the BBC is “trustworthy” and sites like Lockdown Sceptics are “misleading”.

The White Paper suggests social media platforms should promote “authoritative news sources” and make use of “reputable fact-checking services”, by which it means organisation like the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which is currently urging social media companies to remove anything suggesting SARS-CoV-2 originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology rather than the Huanan seafood market, as Douglas Murray wrote about for UnHerd a few weeks ago. (Incidentally, Chinese scientists have now uncovered even more reasons to doubt the virus originated in the seafood market.)

If you want to read more about the ‘Online Harms’ White Paper and why it should be resisted at all costs, read this piece I wrote about it in the Spectator last year. At that point, the Government hadn’t decided whether it was going to create a new, stand-alone regulator or enlarge Ofcom’s jurisdiction. It has decided to do the latter – and that in itself is worrying, given that Ofcom recently reprimanded Eamonn Holmes merely for suggesting on ITV’s This Morning that David Icke’s theory linking 5G masts to COVID-19 symptoms should be discussed in the public square. This was in spite of the fact that he described the theory as “not true and incredibly stupid”. The Free Speech Union has written to Ofcom to complain about this.

How Have We Responded to Previous Pandemics?

I’ve put up a new page on the right-hand menu entitled “How Have We Responded to Previous Pandemics?” Apart from this being historically interesting, the idea is to draw attention to the fact that the indiscriminate quarantining of whole populations has never been attempted before as a way of mitigating the impact of a pandemic, save for in Mexico in 2009 in response to the swine flu outbreak. That particular experiment was abandoned after 18 days due to the rising social and economic costs.

I will be adding to the page in due course, but also publishing sub-pages about specific pandemics – and today I’m publishing the first one.

In “The 1957-58 Asian Flu Pandemic: Why Did the UK Respond So Differently?“, the brilliant young academic who’s written for Lockdown Sceptics before under the pseudonym “Wilfred Thomas” contrasts the stoicism of the British response to the flu pandemic of 1957-58 with the hysterical over-reaction of today.

Globally, Asian Flu (H2N2) killed between two and four million people – the equivalent of three to six million people in today’s money. It was just as infectious as SARS-CoV-2 – an isolated outbreak in Hong Kong managed to spread across the world – and young people were more susceptible than older people, so in that respect it was more dangerous.

In total, it’s estimated that anywhere from 9 – 12 million people contracted H2N2 in the UK. That’s the equivalent of 15.4 million reported cases in the UK of 2020. To put that into context, the UK currently has 267,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. There were around 33,000 deaths directly attributable to H2N2 and if you scale that up to the UK’s current population it’s the equivalent of 42,000. As I don’t need to tell you, that’s higher than the current death toll from coronavirus.

Yet the Asian Flu caused very little fuss. Mr “Thomas” has trawled through the British Newspaper Archive for 1957 and can only find 427 articles about the epidemic between January 1st to December 31st. As he points out, it’s probable that the BBC alone produces that many stories about COVID-19 across its various news platforms in an average day. He continues:

It’s fascinating to sit here, in the lockdown society of 2020, and read about a pandemic response from history that involved society doing its best to keep going. Back then you got ill, you went to bed, you got better, you re-joined society, and society continued to function. That was it. In the UK, something of this stoic philosophy was at the heart of the pandemic response rolled-out by a then recently instilled Conservative Government under the leadership of Harold Macmillan. Rather than dragging power and authority towards Whitehall, Macmillian seemed happy enough to devolve most of the operational, day-to-day responsibility for responding to the pandemic down to local and regional medical authorities. To be sure, the Government advised those with symptoms to stay at home, but otherwise took little national action as the flu spread right across the country during the autumn. Senior figures within the medical establishment of the time also seemed happy to adopt this hands-off approach. “In the end, and in spite of the scare stuff in the lay press,” wrote Ian Watson, Director of the College of General Practitioners’ Epidemic Observation Unit to a local GP on June 24th, 1957, “we will have our epidemic of influenza, of a type not very different from what we know already, with complications in the usual age groups.”

The result was a pandemic response that by today’s standards looks astonishingly laissez-faire. Some mines and factories shut, but that was due to a shortage of fit employees rather than Government diktat. Public gatherings were not stopped. In some areas, schools were closed (up to 100,000 children were off in London at the height of the outbreak), but few sporting events or other mass gatherings were cancelled. By early June, as the first cases were beginning to appear, Macmillan’s health secretary Dennis Vosper had yet to make a public statement setting out the threat posed by H2N2. The virus was at its peak when Aneurin Bevan was heckled at the Labour Party Conference on October 3rd 1957 for arguing that unilateral disarmament wasn’t possible. It was still going about its infective business when CND held its first meeting at Westminster Central Hall on February 17th 1958. During the winter of 1957, Macmillan was kept busy not by the Asian Flu pandemic but by the events that followed the world’s first nuclear reactor accident, when Windscale Pile No. 1 caught fire. President Eisenhower meanwhile was preoccupied by the Russians’ launching of Sputnik 1 on October 4th. In October, during the peak of the outbreak in Britain, the Conservative party conference went ahead as usual. In his speech to conference Macmillan speech didn’t even mention the pandemic.

Partly as a result of this much more stoical approach, the total cost to the British economy of the Asian Flu epidemic was around £2.6 billion in today’s money. In the four quarters of 1957, only one saw negative economic growth – Q3 saw GDP shrink by -0.6% – and only one did in 1958 (Q2). Overall, 1957 saw growth of +1.5%, as did 1958. Quite a contrast with the financial and economic cost of Britain’s management of the coronavirus epidemic, with the Bank of England forecasting a -35% contraction in Q2 alone. If we generously assume that the cost of the measures the current Chancellor has put in place will be £108.35 billion, that’s 4,358% more expensive than the cost of managing the 1957-58 epidemic.

Mr “Thomas” concludes by analysing the difference in our response to these two remarkably similar episodes, detecting a profound cultural shift:

In 1957, the UK responded to a global pandemic with cool, calm stoicism. The pandemic was “just” a pandemic, not a social catastrophe. Citizens could cope. Death was the exception not the rule. Society (and the economy that paid for it) would struggle on. People would continue to go about their everyday lives. Fast forward to the UK of 2020, and we encounter a society that’s responding to a similarly infectious, similarly dangerous pandemic with what amounts to shrill, hyperventilating hysteria. The pandemic will destroy everything we know and hold dear about life. Individuals can’t cope. Death lurks around every corner. Society (and the economy that pays for it) must be suspended. People must be protected from the myriad risks posed by everyday life. Whereas the stoic proclaims, “I’ll manage, let me be!” the hysteric wails, “I can’t cope, help me!”

Mr “Thomas” has put a huge amount of work into this. Please do read it in full.

Excess Deaths Much Higher That Reported Covid Death Count

Financial Times graphs showing the number of excess deaths in different cities since the beginning of 2020

In its latest weekly update, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) notes that the total number of deaths in care homes England and Wales in Week 20 (May 8th – 15th) was 2,350 higher than the five-year average for Week 20 and COVID-19 only accounted for 1,078 of them. As the Times points out, 12,335 more people have died at home this year than usual. “There have been almost as many unexplained deaths at home as there have been as a result of COVID-19, according to analysis of official figures,” it reveals, in a story based on the latest ONS data.

But this isn’t a phenomenon that’s unique to England and Wales. On the contrary, excess deaths have exceeded the total number of deaths attributable to COVID-19 all over the world, as the above FT graph makes clear.

Some statisticians believe the reason excess deaths cannot be accounted for by deaths from coronavirus alone is because the latter are being under-counted. But another explanation – more plausible, in my view – is that the lockdowns themselves are causing excess deaths. Note that the number of of excess deaths relative to the average for recent years, expressed as a percentage, is lower in Stockholm (88%) than in London (142%) or New York (398%).

BBC Death Porn

Yesterday, the BBC’s News at Six (and the News at Ten) led with an eight-minute report about “the growing fears among doctors of a second peak of coronavirus infections as the lockdown restrictions are eased in England”. Huw Edwards, introducing the report, said: “Medical staff say a rise in cases is now inevitable as more people have contact with each other.” Bit odd to report the fears of “medical staff” so uncritically when the easing of lockdown restrictions hasn’t seen a rise in infections anywhere. Not in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland… not in any US states… not in China… The “second spike” that’s been so confidently predicted by epidemiologists touting their infallible computer models simply hasn’t materialised. Why then would the BBC give such credence to this clearly unfounded “fear”?

One reader was so incensed he sent me the following screed:

I have just sat and watched the BBC1 News at Six tonight. It led with the most extraordinary virus death porn story to date. This one was by Clive Myrie, the latest “embedded” BBC hack to be parked in a hospital (in this case the Royal London Hospital in East London). It almost amounted to a nostalgia piece for the glory days of COVID-19. We were treated to the tear-sodden exhausted medics waxing lyrical about how it been only a few days ago with people dying left, right and centre, and how shattered they are. They are terrified of a second wave that’s supposedly going to be caused by people interacting with one another. Lots of shots of patients on ventilators and some speeded up footage to show how frantic it had all once been and how it might be again if anyone speaks to anyone outside their households. I was completely incredulous.

If you knew nothing else about the virus and watched this piece you’d have visions of the streets piled with corpses, hospitals completely out of control and total armageddon imminent. Incredibly, the piece built to its climax by actually tracking a 55-year-old male patient in his final minutes, the ultimate Covid death porn scene as medics piled in to try and save him. The drama building, Myrie sidestepped to interview medics who told us how close the hospital came to be broken, briefly showing another patient having a ventilator removed (successfully). But the piece finished with Myrie ponderously announcing the 55-year-old patient had died. The whole piece had turned into a real-time death scene. “Another soul lost,” Myrie intoned solemnly, in case you hadn’t realised what death amounts to.

Myrie doesn’t seem to have been keeping up with current events. He seemed mainly worried, naturally using his best doom-laden ponderous tone, that with declining cases he might not have been able to make these reports in time for his moment in the Covid media sun. In the general poverty of BBC journalism during this crisis, this slavish lockdown propaganda was a new low. Totally unbalanced, it foundered first and foremost on the belief that by interviewing people in a foxhole you are likely to get an accurate take on what’s going on. It was a perverse celebration of the height of the virus being some sort of Battle-of-the-Somme moment that he and his NHS subjects seemed unable to move on from. “Now you understand what the peak of the pandemic was like,” Myrie intoned in his best gloom-laden, ponderous tone.

What’s next? This wasn’t just Covid death porn, it was competitive death porn.

The entire agenda of Myrie’s commentary and interviews seemed to be that we should be locked down forever. Naturally, there was a trailer for the next instalment, coming tonight, flagging up “prayers for the dying”, over-flowing morgues and showing a body being pushed into one of the racks. It was like a Monty Python “bring out your dead” homage.

Around the World in Eighty Lockdowns

Still from the 1956 film adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days, starring (from left) Robert Newton as Inspector Fix, David Niven as Phileas Fogg, and Shirley MacLaine as Aouda

I’ve started a new section today called “Around the Work in 80 Lockdowns“. My aim is to build up a picture of what it’s like to be locked down in different countries by publishing first-hand accounts from readers in those countries. So far we’ve published three “Postcards” – one from Spain, one from Sri Lanka and one from Belarus. If you fancy writing one from a country we haven’t included yet, please email me here.

Here’s an extract from the “Postcard from Belarus“, published today:

I took an eventful 12-hour coach journey from Warsaw to Belarus. Arriving in Minsk was like stepping into a different realm. The mood of the city was not one of fear – things felt pretty normal. Roughly one in ten people chose to wear a mask, and while there were fewer people out and about than usual, by and large they went about their everyday business as if life was normal. Had nobody told them to be terrified of one another? That by simply stepping outside they are risking not just their own life, but the lives of everyone around them? What on earth would Neil Ferguson and his infamous Imperial College model say?

Belarus decided against the nuclear option: they have not pressed the panic button and destroyed the country’s economy, like most of the world. That’s not to say they haven’t introduced some measures. In Minsk, universities have switched to remote lectures; museums and theatres are closed; business trips have been cancelled, with meetings moved to video conferencing; care homes are closed to visitors, and arrivals into the country must self-isolate for fourteen days. But schools remain open, as do cafés, restaurants, bars, shopping malls and most outdoor events. Indeed, many thousands of people lined the streets for the annual Victory Day parade on May 9th. Belarus has struck a refreshing balance: one which has not led to a population in fear of one another.

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Theme Tune Suggestions From Readers

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: “I Aint Been Nowhere” by Chuck Mead, “I’m Bored” by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and “Set Me Free” by the Kinks.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A couple of weeks ago, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It still takes me about nine hours a day, what with doing these updates, moderating your comments and commissioning original material. If you feel like donating, however paltry the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

And Finally…

This video is worth watching. An MSNBC reporter chastises locals in Wisconsin for not wearing facemasks – while wearing one himself, of course – and is then ambushed by a passer-by who casually points out that his cameraman isn’t wearing one either. Busted!

Latest News

Did Dominic Cummings’s press conference in the Downing Street rose garden yesterday succeed in taking the heat out of whether or not he should resign following his trip to his parents’ farm in Durham? For a while it seemed to, but this is a dumpster fire that refuses to go out. Today, Douglas Ross, a junior minister in the Scottish Office, has resigned over the matter.

“While the intentions may have been well meaning, the reaction to this news shows that Mr Cummings’s interpretation of the Government advice was not shared by the vast majority of people who have done as the Government asked,” Mr Ross said.

This comes after more than 30 Conservative MPs have called for Cummings to go. In another attempt to quell the flames, Matt Hancock announced at today’s press briefing that the Government would be reviewing those fines issued to people for breaching lockdown rules to seek childcare.

But the Prime Minister is unlikely to do a U-turn, even though his approval ratings have dropped 20 points in the wake of the controversy, according to the Telegraph.

Dead Cat Announcement

In what was widely seen as a “dead cat” move – a political term referring to a politician’s attempt to deflect attention from an embarrassing story by throwing a dead cat on the table – Boris announced at yesterday’s press briefing that high street shops, department stores and shopping centres are set to reopen on June 15th in the biggest easing of the lockdown since it was imposed on March 23rd. The Prime Minister added that outdoor markets and car showrooms would be the first to open on June 1st provided they had social distancing measures in place.

Boris also said the Government would be updating its “plan to rebuild” the British economy, and the update was published on the Government’s website this morning. You can read a summary of what’s new in the Telegraph.

According to the Times, At Cabinet yesterday Mr Johnson told ministers about his plans to allow people to hold barbecues and garden parties at the end of next month with a limited numbers of guests. The move is part of a broader plan to allow people to mix with a “bubble” of friends and family. The Prime Minister also said that the British Grand Prix would go ahead in July.

But don’t get out the bunting quite yet. In most non-essential shops, it will be a case of “look, don’t touch“, says the Times:

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, said that shopping would be different when the restrictions are lifted. “We need to ensure that some of the shopping habits people may have grown used to in the pre-Covid days are habits that we exercise a degree of restraint on,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“So when it comes to touching and testing goods, when it comes to trying on clothing, when it comes to trying make-up and so on, that all of us exercise restraint in not doing that and recognise that as these stores reopen, it is a new normal.”

COVID-19 as a Workplace Hazard – Part 2

On May 15th I published an excellent article by an occupational health doctor about the economic risks of treating COVID-19 as a workplace health hazard, similar to asbestos. He pointed out the difficulties this created, particularly for small businesses that might not be able to afford the additional costs associated with making their work environments compliant with the new health and safety regulations:

Every single employee, returning to almost any workplace in the country, now needs to be risk assessed to characterise the risk to their safety. For many, this will be a quick process. But for many others with common, chronic health conditions (who will number several millions nationally), it will require significant resource to undertake assessments. As there is little guidance available and given the fear of a backlash from the media, unions, lawyers or the authorities, many employers will feel forced into excluding workers, even where there is little evidence that this is necessary. Employees may feel forced back in fear of their lives, whilst others will not be allowed back despite being desperate for a return to normality.

Since then, the Government has issued some guidance about how to make workplaces “safe” but it is incomplete and ambiguous and I don’t hold out much hope of it being adequately fleshed out when it’s updated. In particular, it over-estimates the expert guidance that anxious company directors will have access to. The same occupational health doctor has written a follow-up, reviewing the latest guidance, and concluded that if the Government doesn’t raise its game the economic recovery will be far slower than it needs to be:

The end of lockdown will only signal the beginning of the next phase of this crisis. The potential for COVID-19 workplace measures to continue to exert drag on the economic recovery is clear and a failure of Government to adequately address the support that employers need can only prolong the damage to businesses and livelihoods. Without this leadership, businesses and organisations of all types will continue to wallow in confusion, while all the while being vilified by the press. There will always need to be some degree of local interpretation of guidance or legislation, but fundamental misunderstandings need leadership otherwise the resulting confusion and chaos will only serve to prolong the damage to the economy and to livelihoods.

Worth reading in full.

Irish Taoiseach Flouts Lockdown Rules

Irish premier Leo Varadkar (second left), his partner Matt Barrett (left) and two friends (right, one standing and one crouching) in Dublin’s Phoenix Park yesterday

Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, was photographed topless in Dublin’s Phoenix Park yesterday, despite official warnings against having picnics. Tsk, tsk. Will he read out a long statement in the Irish equivalent of the rose garden – the shamrock garden? – and then take questions from a baying mob of journalists?

Will Blue States Fare Worse Than Red States, Post-Lockdown?

Some interesting data in today’s Wall St Journal. Nearly two-thirds of leisure and hos­pi­tal­ity jobs in New York and New Jer­sey and about half in Cal­i­for­nia and Illi­nois dis­ap­peared be­tween Feb­ruary and April com­pared to 43% in Flor­ida, which was among the last states to lock down and first to re­open. Flor­ida Gov. Ron De­San­tis also pro­vided ex­emp­tions for lower-risk businesses includ­ing con­trac­tors, man­u­fac­tur­ers and some re­tail­ers. Four per­cent of con­struc­tion work­ers in Flor­ida lost their jobs com­pared to 41% in New York, 27% in New Jer­sey, 17% in Cal­i­for­nia and 11% in Illi­nois.

Worth remembering that as recently as last week the Washington Post’s Ben Terris and Josh Dawsey dismissed Gov. DeSantis as a typical “Florida Man”, with his “devil-may-care” attitude and “oafish” demeanour. That’s liberal, Ivy League code for “conservative”. Turns out, DeSantis made the right call.

HMRC Officers So Worried About Catching Covid They Won’t Calculate Inheritance Tax

Every cloud, as they say.

I got an interesting email from a self-employed man today who’s business has been disrupted by over-anxious employees at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (that’s the UK’s IRS to my American readers):

I am a self-employed will writer who also assists clients with probate and estates and am lucky that I’ve been able to continue my business, albeit at a reduced level, during lockdown. Sadly, the same cannot be said of our glorious public sector.

One of my clients has been advised by HMRC, in relation to his late mother’s estate, that “due to current measures to control the spread of coronavirus we are not able to send you copies of your Inheritance Tax calculations”. Presumably, some idiot has advised them that there is a risk of the virus spreading to the wider community on the paper calculations, but, apart from the fact that I believe it is unlawful for them not to show my client how the tax has been calculated, they advised him of this by (yes, you guessed it) sending him a letter in the post! I wonder if some muppet licked the stamp?

The world, or at least the one inhabited by the public sector, really has gone mad.

Good Briefing Document on Why Schools Should Reopen

The Reopen Maryland group, which is petitioning the Governor of Maryland to end the shutdown, has produced an excellent briefing document, laying out the case for reopening schools. Some of the highlights:

  • Schools that have reopened haven’t caused a rise in infections anywhere and those countries that never closed schools, such as Taiwan, haven’t seen a higher death rate than those that have.
  • The ​World Health Organisation’s chief scientist says ​children seem “less capable” of spreading coronavirus and are at “very low risk” of illness.
  • Children accounted for fewer than 2% of total COVID-19 cases​ in a large CDC study​, and of those children who did contract the virus, ​a maximum of 2%​ required hospitalization. Almost no children have died of COVID-19 anywhere.
  • Remote learning can be ​less effective than face-to-face learning.
  • Remote learning disadvantages children with special education needs​, as well as students from poor backgrounds and those for whom English is a second language.
  • Spring 2020 closures are estimated to place students 30-50% behind where they would otherwise have been, with more significant​ loss in maths. Some students will lose ​almost a full year ​of growth from the spring term closure alone.
  • There is widespread agreement that school closure is ​harmful to children’s mental health​, with parents reporting increased depression, stress, anxiety and suicidal ideation.
  • The economic impact of school closure and interruptions to learning are substantial and harmful.

New German Anti-Lockdown Medical/Scientific Group

A new initiative in Germany has been launched called Medical Professionals and Scientist for Health, Freedom and Democracy. “Our credo is to act on evidence-based science with common sense and empathy, for the sake of health and freedom in a democratic society,” it says in this English-language YouTube video. One of the people involved is Dr Bobo Schiffmann, co-founder of Widerstand 2020, the German anti-lockdown party. But the driving force appears to be Professor Sucharit Bhakdi, Director of the Institute for Medical Microbiology. He is a long-standing lockdown sceptic and penned an open letter to Angela Merkel last month which was translated on Peter Hitchens’s blog.

The Big Debate

“Take that, Labash, you lockdown zealot.”

I’ve just concluded a debate on the lockdown policy with Matt Labash in the pages of the Spectator USA. It started off as a light-hearted, humorous exchange of the kind you might witness in a gentleman’s club, but quickly degenerated into a schoolyard knife fight. I think we covered most of the issues, although I didn’t linger on the economic argument and herd immunity gets nary a mention. Hard to know whether either of us will have changed anyone’s mind. Probably not.

Here’s Matt trying to goad me with some death data:

Skeptics love to quibble about the true mortality rate of Covid. Which, fine. I get that. Any reliable analysis has to concede that God-knows-how-many people are walking around asymptomatically, never even thinking to get tested, let alone, dying. However, there’s another supremely inconvenient statistical reality that the skeptics dodge, almost as often as they dodge giving the death toll, when discussing Covid-19’s lethality.

And that is: how many people are dying who actually do get logged as identified cases? That’s not a model, that’s perfectly knowable right now. In the US, we have 1,674,054 total cases, as of this writing. (Again, these numbers are obsolete almost as soon as I set them down, since they’re always ticking up.) And we’ve had 98,315 deaths. Aside from that meaning that one out of every 198 Americans is identifiably infected with the coronavirus, it also means of those cases, 5.9 percent die. And that number hasn’t budged in weeks, no matter how much more we’ve tested, no matter how many more cases are added to the pile.

It’s even worse in other hotspots. Way worse. Spain and Italy both test at a higher per capita rate than we do. Yet Spain’s death toll among diagnosed cases is 10.1 percent. Italy’s is 14.2 percent. And while I respect your skepticial (or sceptical) propensity to ask some tough questions, I wouldn’t rest easy if I were you, either. The UK’s current death rate among identified cases is a whopping 14.1 percent.

And this is my irritable response:

I’m afraid your back-of-the-envelope calculation of the infection fatality rates in different countries are worthless. The number of cases doesn’t reflect the number who’ve been infected – not even close. To get that figure you need to carry out seroprevalence surveys, as John Ioannidis and his team at Stanford have done. In Ioannidis’s latest preprint, he calculated the infection fatality rate by looking at 12 seroprevalence studies in which the population sample size was higher than 500. His conclusion is that it’s ‘in the same ballpark as seasonal flu’, i.e. between 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent. Yes, your chances of dying from COVID-19 are higher than being struck by lightning, but not much.

But we’re getting distracted here. The argument against the lockdowns isn’t that the virus isn’t as deadly as people initially thought. It’s that there’s no evidence they suppress fatalities. I don’t know how many different ways to say this so that it sinks in. Some non-pharmaceutical interventions work – Taiwan’s decision to quarantine people entering the country in early January was smart and South Korea’s track-and-trace programme has been effective. But stay-at-home orders don’t work. That’s the reason I have every sympathy with those protestors in states like Michigan and Colorado. The civil rights of hundreds of millions of Americans, which are supposedly guaranteed by your constitution, have been suspended needlessly. They should be restored immediately.

Worth reading in full.

Trump Regrets Ordering the Shutdown – Or Does He?

In typical style, President Trump has given an interview in which he admits he wouldn’t have ordered the shutdown on March 13th if he’d known then what he knows now – and then immediately contradicted himself and said it was an “incredible” decision, a “great” decision, one that saved “hundreds of thousands of lives”.

Here’s a transcript of the relevant bit of the interview with Sharyl Attkisson of the syndicated American TV show Full Measure:

President Trump: So I was hearing millions of people, and it would have been millions of people if we didn’t shut down. Now, would I shut it down again? No, because we understand it now much better. We didn’t know anything about it, it was new, it was fresh.

Sharyl: You mean you would not have, in retrospect, shut down the –

President Trump: I would have done exactly. We’ve done the exact moves that I would have done. And I did it early. Tony Fauci, Dr. Birx, they all said what I did was incredible. In retrospect, Tony, as you know, never thought he was going to be as severe as it was. And we’re talking about months later, a long time after I did the ban. I did a ban and nobody thought I should do it. I mean, literally I don’t think anybody thought I should do it. I made that decision by myself and it turned out to be a great decision. Hundreds of thousands of lives are saved.

Latest Episode of London Calling

Lucky for Dom, the two best reporters in the UK weren’t present in the Downing Street rose garden yesterday

James Delingpole and I debate Cummings-gate in the latest episode of our weekly podcast. We both agree: he shouldn’t resign because he drove to Durham with his wife and son, but his decision to support the lockdown is unforgivable. Listen to the whole riveting discussion here.

If you enjoy London Calling please do subscribe.

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Theme Tune Suggestions

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: “Cut Your Hair” by Walk Disco, “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” by Dominic Cummings Lynn Anderson and “Can I Have My Money Back” by Gerry Rafferty.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A couple of weeks ago, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

We may not have to keep this service going for much longer, following yesterday’s announcement that car showrooms and outdoor markets would be allowed to reopen on June 1st and all other non-essential retail outlets from June 15th, including shops selling clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, books, and electronics, together with tailors, auction houses, photography studios. and indoor markets.

Still no news about when pubs, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, gyms and outdoor sporting arenas can reopen, though.

There will also be plenty of over-anxious Covidiocy to report on. According to today’s Times, shoes tried on in newly-opened shoe shops will be quarantined for 24 hours.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It still takes me about nine hours a day, what with doing these updates, moderating your comments and commissioning original material. And all my journalist helpers have gone! If you feel like donating, however paltry the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

And Finally…

Violent Amnesia by Oscar Murillo, aged three-and-a-half 32

Some good news amid the gloom. The Turner Prize has been cancelled. The picture above is by last year’s joint winner Oscar Murillo.

Latest News

One story dominates the news and it isn’t “English Tourism Week“, which started today. The Prime Minister’s efforts to draw a line under the Dominic Cummings’ affair yesterday by declaring he had done nothing wrong and he was standing by him were not successful. If anything, they just emboldened his chief advisor’s critics. If they could now force Boris to do a U-turn they would succeed in weakening him as well as burying Dom. The airwaves this morning were dominated by the same coalition of politicians and commentators that supported the Remain side in the EU Referendum, sniffing an opportunity to take revenge on their two greatest foes.

This afternoon at 4.30pm Cummings took the unusual step of holding a press conference in the Downing Street rose garden, beginning with him reading a lengthy statement explaining why his behaviour was “reasonable” in the circumstances. Turns out, he didn’t make a second visit to his parents’ farm in Durham; rather, he remained there for two weeks while he, his wife and his four year-old son battled with illness. He wasn’t staying in the same household as his parents, or his sister, but a separate cottage on the family farm, and he didn’t come within two metres of any members of the public. His reason for driving to Barnard Castle was to see if he was fit enough to make the longer drive to London; it wasn’t for sightseeing purposes. As far as he was concerned, his behaviour was “reasonable” because he was doing whatever was necessary to protect his child.

Will this be enough to save him?

According to some lockdown zealots, Boris’s refusal to throw Cummings under a bus will “cost lives”. That was what Stephen Reicher, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of St Andrews and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), a sub-group of the Strategic Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), told Sky News. “More people are going to die” because Cummings is still in post, he said.

One Cabinet source told the Telegraph: “The discussion among Cabinet ministers at the moment is that this will cost lives. People will look at this and decide that if Dom can ignore the rules so can they, and the consequence of that will be that people get infected who would have otherwise stayed at home. This has massively undermined the lockdown message.”

For lockdown sceptics, of course, that’s all the more reason to applaud the Prime Minister for standing by Cummings.

“Boris has put his credibility and the Government’s credibility on the line by sticking up for Dom,” a senior Tory source told the Telegraph. “How can we tell people they must abide by the lockdown now? The lockdown is effectively over because this makes it unenforceable.”

We can but hope.

My view is that Cummings’s behaviour complied with the letter, if not the spirit, of the rules. I don’t think he should be punished for this, not least because that will confirm people’s mistaken view that travelling across the country to visit their relatives will “cost lives”. It will embolden the finger-waggers and tell-tales, encouraging them to inform on other miscreants and probably prolong the lockdown – and that is what will cost lives, as we sceptics know only too well. I’m thinking of the recent interview on ABC News with some doctors in Northern California saying the rise in suicides since the state was shutdown on March 19th has killed more people than the virus. The same is true of Tennessee and no doubt other US states too. A report compiled by Just Facts at the beginning of the month estimated that anxiety alone will result in at least seven times the loss of life than can possibly be prevented by the shutdowns. Seven times was the low end. The high end was 90 times.

But in the grander scheme of things, it’s difficult to have much sympathy for Cummings. As more than one reader has pointed out, he was Boris’s chief adviser when the Prime Minister embraced what may well turn out to be the most damaging and costly policy in British history. That was confirmed by Cummings in the Downing Street rose garden this afternoon. “The truth is, I’d argued for lockdowns,” he said. “I did not oppose the policy.”

Perhaps the Government’s initial decision to place the country under lockdown is understandable, given the apocalyptic predictions it was being presented with by Professor Neil Ferguson and others, talking about “the science”. But given the weight of later evidence, strongly implying that that Ferguson’s doomsday predictions were exaggerated, not to have immediately eased the lockdown is unforgivable. Cummings has to accept some of the responsibility for that.

The mastermind of Brexit once talked, very persuasively, of “taking back control” from a centre-left, technocratic elite whose policies (such as the creation of the single currency) have wreaked great damage in Europe. In the UK, the same people have presided over a massive transfer of power from the British Parliament to unelected officials in Brussels and elsewhere, all in the name of “progress”. Cummings gave many people hope, including me, that this trend would be reversed, and the success of the Conservatives at the last General Election seemed to confirm that faith. Yet the lockdown policy has handed these same ham-fisted “experts” and bureaucrats unparalleled power and allowed them to do more harm on a grander scale than ever before. Our civil rights have been suspended, Parliament has effectively been mothballed and freeborn Englishmen have been treated with the same arrogant contempt as always. In short, Cummings has not “taken back control” from the metropolitan, liberal elite. Over the last two months, he has handed back control to them.

Lockdown Blowback in Bangladesh

I got an email this morning from a donor, explaining the catastrophic impact of the lockdown on his business and the knock-on effect for his migrant workers and their families:

I am by no means the first to call attention to the millions who will die in poorer countries because of our lockdown and our obsession with a relatively small death count here at home. I have first-hand knowledge of this knock-on effect. I employ a number of Bangladeshi workers in a fish-trading business in the Maldives. Their salaries sustain large families back home. Dim-witted policies like inbound quarantine have now extended the block on tourist travel to the Maldives, so there is no one to eat our fish.

I am trying to keep the Bangladeshi boys on even with no business coming in, but our cash flow forecast says we will run out of cash at the end of July. The situation is made worse by their relatives back home who work in garment factories having been laid off because big buyers like Top Shop and Next have stopped placing orders. These families will come very close to starvation and disease will start to cull the least strong. The relatively minor risk of getting an illness which most people recover from quite quickly pales into insignificance beside the massive knock-on effects the lockdown policy creates. And I speak as an 80 year-old who is firmly in the so-called high-risk category.

A Thunderer from Brendan O’Neill in Spiked

There’s a humdinger of a column by Brendan O’Neill in Spiked today. He detects a growing disconnect between the fealty people pay to lockdown orthodoxy when asked about it by pollsters or journalists doing vox pops and their actual behaviour, in which they regularly flout the rules.

The disconnect between public backing for the lockdown and (anonymous) public breaking of the lockdown is fascinating. It suggests there is a significant minority of what we might call shy libertines out there – people who have been exercising their freedom in defiance of the strict rules but who are shy about saying so. They live part of their life outside the lockdown, but they tell pollsters the lockdown is great and must continue.

He argues that we need to empower these shy libertines so they feel more confident about challenging Covid orthodoxy:

Covid conformism must be confronted. In their echo chambers, where they’re all trying to outdo each other in their levels of commitment to smashing Covid, the political and media elites have become increasingly blinkered, dogmatic and intolerant on everything related to COVID-19. The lack of relaxed, freely stated opposition to their lockdown mania means they become madder and madder in their commitment to it. The corrosion of freedom of thought in relation to COVID-19 has deadly consequences, because it means the lockdown endures – nine weeks now – when many people know in their heart of hearts that it is wrong and deeply damaging to the future of this country.

Worth reading in full.

A Contrary Point of View

I get surprisingly few emails from defenders of the lockdown. But I do get the occasional one, such as this one from a former epidemiologist who posts as djaustin in the comment threads:

Whether people choose to accept it or not, cases were doubling at the time of lockdown every three days and deaths every two (my comment under Djaustin has the numbers for you). Whilst models might have predicted the four horsemen were soon to arrive, even simple extrapolations showed that we were in a bad place and that healthcare would be swamped within a couple of weeks. Forget the 500k deaths, micro Simulation models etc… Robust decisions are insensitive to assumptions. This point has been lost in the noise. Early in an epidemic all one can know is the rate of doubling.

As for “Does the lockdown work?”, well there is ample evidence on the way DOWN that the harder the lockdown, the shorter the time to halve cases and deaths. Spain is declining faster than Italy and UK, which are in turn declining faster than Sweden. These are the facts. The debate is really what level of infection can reasonably be sustained? How low should cases fall before we adopt the (probably fortuitous) Sweden experience of static population burn (albeit at a much slower rate than they expected). Should eradication of this new pathogen be a goal?

I’m a mathematician, scientist, former epidemiologist, and now work on COVID-19 new treatments. I generally disagree with your political stance and the incumbent Government. However, with regards to the scientific method and scepticism, I agree that one should be sceptical. I believe that when the data is analysed carefully (which I have done since mid-March), there is evidence that lockdown has had some impact, both on peak and rate of decline. The questions regarding cost, ethics, liberties and so on are valid, but the science is clear.

We currently have approximately 60k excess deaths, more than any bad influenza year from 2010-19. These excess deaths are nicely correlated with COVID-19 deaths In timing and magnitude, and will soon be back to weekly baseline. The bigger questions, which I think your site should ask, are why we were not encouraged to act more responsibly and earlier (as in Germany). Clearly this has given Germany more options on the way down.

A Good Reason For Not Sending Your Child Back to School?

I got an email from a grandpa, worried that his granddaughter, who’s in Reception, won’t be returning to school on June 1st:

Had an interesting conversation with my daughter on Zoom last night. She’s not sending her daughter back to school. It’s nothing to do with the risk of catching Covid which she fully accepts is negligible.

No, she doesn’t want her daughter to be taught in an atmosphere of “silly” social distancing which she thinks will stop her daughter playing with her mates properly.

She also doesn’t want her being taught by teachers wearing masks and rubber gloves which she believes will scare the children.

Finally, she doesn’t want her to suffer the indignity of being sent home because she has had an unexpected “accident”.

She says she’s going to wait until September when she hope things have calmed down and got a bit more sensible.

What sort of world are we living in?

It’s Worse in Scotland

I get quite a few emails from readers telling me that as bad as things are in England, they’re worse in Scotland under Kim Sturge-on. This one, from a donor, is typical:

In Scotland, the situation for anyone who is pro-free enterprise is even worse than in England as our First Minister makes unchallenged assertions to UK network journalists who are not well-briefed enough to respond. Meanwhile, our domestic institutions are starting to resemble a one-party state. You will no doubt have seen the story in the Times today about STV publishing videos of children praising our glorious Nicola. Scotland is so poisoned that even a pandemic has constitutional overtones. But the point about the lockdown is the same as for the rest of the UK. It is an irrational and catastrophic reaction that has destroyed lives in ways more insidious than the virus itself.

Some Hope For Parents of Newborns

A reader has got in touch who is friends with a registrar in her county with news of a possible loophole to get your newborn registered (I flagged up this problem yesterday):

It is indeed true that birth registrations have been on hold. But apparently parents can demand registration by a special dispensation. Most people don’t know about this and councils haven’t publicised it.

Usually births, marriages and deaths have to be registered in person. Procedures have been in place to register deaths, but there is now a backlog of births. My friend estimates about 2000 in our county alone.

Postcard From Sri Lanka

A few weeks ago we published a “Poscard From Spain” by a reader and today I’m publishing a “Postcard from Sri Lanka” by another. This one is from Omar Kahn, a global consultant who’s been locked down in the country the the past nine weeks. Here’s a taste of the Sri Lankian authorities’ response:

At the time of the curfew, Lanka had 66 cases of Covid-19, with seven fatalities. One month on, post curfew, there have been 271 cases and… wait for it… seven fatalities! But rather than throwing a success party, the authorities decided to double down, even though it was now clear that the healthcare system wasn’t being overwhelmed and that the fatality needle hadn’t budged. No one is quite sure why the most draconian option was chosen and then manically sustained, except that we all mistakenly thought that this was an “equal opportunity” virus, and it’s not. The fatality numbers testify to that, and some regions are relatively far less scathed than others, which clearly hasn’t always been down to the brilliance of their response. But as per all the model-spinners and prognosticators, it was only a matter of time before things exploded here. As of today, the fatalities up to nine, and we have been curfewed longer than Wuhan was economically shut down.

Worth reading in full.

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Theme Tune Suggestions

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: “Libera Nos (Deliver Us)” by The Sixteen, “Keep Your Distance” by Richard Thompson, and, for Dom, “Where do you go to my Lovely?” by Peter Sarstedt and “Six Days on the Road” by Dave Dudley.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

Last week, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

And try to avoid getting too irritated by the over-the-top social distancing procedures some retailers are putting in place. One reader has complained about the absurdly elaborate rules her local garden centre has imposed, including:

  • Please have a shopping list ready before entry, we cannot allow for prolonged visits and wandering.
  • If we suspect any illness, we have the right to refuse entry.
  • Do not touch any products that you are not purchasing.
  • When at the tills, wait to be called forward by a cashier. Once called, push your trolley into the taped area in front of the till. Then stand in the taped waiting box whilst the cashier stands your items. You will then be called forward to pay once the cashier is safely behind their screen.
  • CARD PAYMENTS ONLY!
  • Vacate the exit area immediately.

On the plus side, the same reader says other shops in her neighbourhood are being more reasonable:

A local grocer has a simple sign outside his shop saying: ‘Only five people at a time’. (It’s not a big shop – I can’t remember ever seeing more than five people in there at any one time.)

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It still takes me about nine hours a day, what with doing these updates, moderating your comments and commissioning original material. And my journalist helpers have gone! If you feel like donating, however small, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

And Finally…

This meme has been doing the rounds for a while, but I thought it particularly appropriate today after watching the press pack hound Dominic Cummings and whip up public anger against him. I know what it’s like to be pursued by an outrage mob and it aint pretty. Whatever you think of the rights and wrongs of the matter, no one deserves this.

Latest News

The Observer drops the second shoe in the Cummings scandal on its front page – the news that he visited his parents in Durham again in the middle of April after staying with them at the end of March. How do they know this? Thanks to an eagle-eyed member of the public:

Robin Lees, 70, a retired chemistry teacher from [Barnard Castle], says he saw Cummings and his family walking by the Tees before getting into a car around lunchtime on 12 April.

Lees said: “I was a bit gobsmacked to see him, because I know what he looks like. And the rest of the family seemed to match – a wife and child. I was pretty convinced it was him and it didn’t seem right because I assumed he would be in London.”

He added: “I went home and told my wife, we thought he must be in London. I searched up the number plate later that day and my computer search history shows that.”

I find it incredible that this man is so unashamed about being a tell-tale he actually flaunts the fact that he plugged Cummings’s number plate into Google on his computer. If Mr Lees had been born in East Germany rather than England, I have little doubt about which state agency he would have worked for.

Keir Starmer has now stuck the boot in, but I don’t think Boris will budge on this one.

Stay Alert, Stay Safe

Great spot by Andrew Mahon, the brilliant journalist who came up with the Crimson Tide metaphor about our handling of the crisis. (He thinks governments around the world behaved like the panicky nuclear submarine commander played by Gene Hackman in the 25 year-old Cold War thriller, rather than his level-headed second-in-command played by Denzil Washington.) A campaign aimed at children in Canada dating back to the early 90s with the slogan “Stay Alert/Stay Safe.”

Andrew has another great piece in Hector Drummond Magazine, this one about “our” NHS.

You Can Register a Death, But Not a Birth

Got an interesting email from a reader:

Our daughter was born at St Thomas’s hospital in London on February 18th and we cannot get a birth certificate for her as councils have stopped all registrations other than deaths.

I understand we have bigger issues with what is going on but my husband and I are feeling increasingly stressed and irritated by this. Without a birth certificate we cannot get our daughter a passport. It does leave us feeling quite trapped! We have plans to attend a wedding in Chicago in August – which is of course unlikely to happen – however if flights do go ahead and we are left unable to go due to a lack of passport for one of our children we are likely to incur the cost of the trip. However, the money isn’t the main issue but the continued lack of freedom that has become our way of life. It feels extremely claustrophobic to think we couldn’t travel once restrictions are lifted – potentially for many months whilst waiting for the certificate.

Has anyone else has raised this with you? Surely thousands of babies will have been born in lockdown and others must be impacted by this. Lambeth council have told me they are unlikely to start to register births until September – that is over seven months of babies with no birth certificates – followed by what I expect to be a long wait with the passport office. I understand the same is true of weddings – however as individuals they could still travel with ease and flexibility.

I wonder if Boris and Carrie are also waiting for a birth certificate for Wilfred? Or is it one rule for them and… etc., etc.

Facebook Censors Sci-Fi Drawing

Last week, I posted a picture a reader had sent me of a drawing that had appeared in an Italian magazine in 1962 depicting life in 2022 because it seemed eerily prescient. The reader had discovered it in a Facebook group dedicated to sci-fi memorabilia, but don’t try and repost it on Facebook because the moderators won’t let you. A reader in Germany tells me he got the above message when he tried to do that, informing him it was “Partially wrong information. Tested by independent fact checker.” It included a link to an article on a Turkish website by Ali Osman Arabaci, presumably the “independent fact checker” being referred to. Arabaci writes:

It is not possible to say that the image depicts the quarantine in 2022. The visuals are made with city traffic and ideas to reduce it… In the box titled, it is stated that the traffic problem can be solved with vehicles similar to small transportation vehicles that are considered as scooters today…

In other words, it is also possible to qualify the claim as a disconnection from the wrong types of information.

Not sure Google Translate has got that last bit quite right, but you get the general idea. That’s something the artist failed to anticipate – in the future people won’t be allowed to see his depictions of the future because it might lead to wrongthink.

Lockdown Land

Guy de la Bédoyère has written another superb essay for this site about the psychological state the lockdown has left people in. It’s called “Lockdown Land” and I urge you to read it. Here are the concluding two sentences:

Not long before the virus crisis took hold my three-year-old granddaughter was supposed to be going out for a walk. “I’m not ready,” she said. It soon transpired that this was not a statement about not having her coat or shoes on but a more metaphysical observation of her state of mind. “I’m not ready” meant she was not disposed to going out at all. Ever. She would therefore never be ready.

I am reminded by that every time I hear someone saying “I’m not going back to work until I feel safe”, or “I’m not sending my child back to school until it is safe to do so”. Such sentiments are conveniently couched in rational terms but in reality cloak an emotional reluctance ever to return. Right now they represent this country’s biggest obstacle to recovery. The world has changed and we can never go back to where we were, but whatever we do we have to face up to the realities Lockdown Land has closed so many people’s eyes to and not hide beneath the bedclothes where we might suffocate instead.

Another Hatchet Job

Philip Ball, a science journalist, has written a piece in Prospect attacking lockdown sceptics that, even by his standards, is quite breathtakingly pompous. He has form here – he wrote a piece in the New Statesman a couple of years ago that got a bunch of stuff about me wrong (although he also got some things right, to be fair). Prior to this, he got some things about Dominic Cummings wrong, too, and Dom responded in his usual bracing style. I wrote about both those incidents, and corrected Ball’s errors, in a blog post for the Spectator.

In this piece, Ball argues that sceptics like me – and Hitchens and Delingpole – are part of an “infodemic”. That word was coined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) back in February to describe the spread of fake news about SARS-CoV-2 on social media. Indeed, the WHO urged the tech giants to remove any suspect content about Covid and, as we know, both Facebook and YouTube have done precisely that (see above). Ball is wholly supportive of this censorship

Andrew Pattison, the WHO’s Digital Business Solutions Manager, met with representatives from Google, Apple, Airbnb, Lyft, Uber and Salesforce, among others, at Facebook’s headquarters in Silicon Valley and urged them to remove any “misinformation”, by which he meant any content the WHO disapproves of. And he expressed the hope that all material that isn’t “responsible”, not just content about Covid, would be removed from social media in future. “I think what would be very exciting is to see this emergency changed into a long-term sustainable model, where we can have responsible content on these platforms,” he said.

You would think that as a journalist Ball would disapprove of rich and powerful men deciding what the public can and can’t read, but no. He thoroughly approves of the WHO’s “responsible” approach, overlooking the fact that the WHO itself has disseminated more “fake news” and “misinformation” about the virus than David Icke. Remember that famous tweet saying there was “no human to human transmission”? That’s the tip of the iceberg.

Ball thinks anyone who dissents from official Covid orthodoxy – or, rather, whatever the WHO decides is the “responsible” thing to say, even though it changes its mind about that from one day to the next –  is guilty of trafficking in “fake news” that will undermine public confidence in science and medicine, such as the hypothesis that “the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory”. He neglects to mention that that particular “conspiracy theory” – he calls it that – is believed by Dr Luc Montagnier, joint winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Medicine, and is currently under investigation by multiple intelligence agencies. Ball says such “falsehoods” can be “literally lethal” – that is, people reading an article on Lockdown Sceptics raising doubts about the scientific basis of the two-metre rule might end up neglecting social distancing rules, catch Covid and die. I suppose that’s possible – although, as John Ioannidis pointed out, if you’re under-65 you’re more likely to die in a road traffic accident than from COVID-19 and, as I pointed out yesterday, if you’re under-15 you’re more likely to be struck by lightning – four times more likely, in fact.

But the real problem with this argument isn’t that it exaggerates the risk of dying from Covid, but that it underplays the risks of following the advice pumped out by public health authorities and other organs of the state. For instance, the “Guidance for social or community care and residential settings” published by Public Health England on February 25th that assured people it was “very unlikely that anyone receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected”. As we now know, about a third of all deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in care homes. Indeed, if I had to sum up the Government’s approach to managing this pandemic in a one-sentence slogan, I’d say: “Protecting the healthy, endangering the vulnerable.” If more people had been sceptical about this and other official advice – if journalists hadn’t felt inhibited by finger-wagging colleagues like Philip Ball – there’d be fewer Covid deaths, not more.

As the Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandies put it: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

Ball’s article is called ‘The Epidemiology of Misinformation’. If only Facebook would ban the use of laboured coronavirus metaphors, that might actually be a useful service. 

New Poster From NHS Puts People in Wrong Place

Shouldn’t those people be under the bed?

Theme Tune Suggestions

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: “Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest, “I fought the law” by the Clash, “Caught by the Fuzz‘ by Supergrass, “Jailbreak” by Thin Lizzy and “Gallows Pole” by Led Zeppelin

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

Last week, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Shameless Begging Bit

Apologies that Lockdown Sceptics is a bit shorter than usual today. Drank a little too much wine last night and am now going to try to walk off my hangover. Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It still takes me about nine hours a day, what with doing these updates, moderating your comments and commissioning original material. If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

Latest News

The Guardian has splashed with a humdinger of a story today, revealing that Dominic Cummings drove 264 miles from his home in London to stay with his parents in Durham. The police were tipped-off on March 31st after Cummings was spotted in his parents’ front garden with his three year-old child by a member of the public and officers “explained to the family the guidelines around self-isolation and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel”.

The police took no further action, but the Guardian leaves its readers in no doubt what it thinks should happen:

The witness, who did not wish to be named, told the Guardian: “I was really annoyed. I thought it’s OK for you to drive all the way up to Durham and escape from London. I sympathise with him wanting to do that, but other people are not allowed to do that. It’s one rule for Dominic Cummings and one rule for the rest of us.”

Tulip Siddiq MP, the Vice Chair of the Labour party, said of the reports: “If accurate, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser appears to have breached the lockdown rules. The Government’s guidance was very clear: stay at home and no non-essential travel. The British people do not expect there to be one rule for them and another rule for Dominic Cummings. Number 10 needs to provide a very swift explanation for his actions.”

The acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, tweeted: “If Dominic Cummings has broken the lockdown guidelines he will have to resign. It’s as simple as that.”

Ian Blackford, the Scottish National party’s Westminster leader, said: “Dominic Cummings’ position is completely untenable – he must resign or be sacked.”

Breaking lockdown rules has been a resigning issue for senior officials.

Prof Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist whose modelling prompted the lockdown, quit as a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies for flouting physical distancing rules when he was visited by his girlfriend.

After he stood aside, senior Tories insisted he had done the right thing.

Hancock said he was “speechless” and added: “I think he took the right decision to resign.”

So should Dominic Cummings go? I punched the air when Neil Ferguson was caught with his pants down and promptly slunk off with his tail between his legs. So shouldn’t I be screaming for Cummings’s head? Or is it one rule for my Tory mates and another for bearded leftists?

My view is that unlike Professor Pantsdown, Cummings had a “reasonable excuse” to be outside his home. Under the guidelines issued by the College of Policing (and reproduced in Appendix 1 of Lockdown Sceptics), one of the reasonable excuses listed is “providing support to vulnerable people”, accompanied by the following guidance:

Social visits are not generally a good reason to leave home. However, there may be exceptional circumstances for a person to visit another…

So what were the “exceptional circumstances” in this case? Well, both Cummings and his wife were suffering from COVID-19 at the time and as a result felt unable to care for their three year-old child. That was the “vulnerable person” that required “support”, so Cummings drove to his parents’ house in Durham and entrusted his toddler to their care while – as far as we know – observing the correct social distancing rules while in their household.

In other words, this isn’t a case of one rule for them and another for the rest of us, although Cummings was certainly interpreting those rules quite liberally.

And I don’t think I can be accused of sucking up to my Tory mates. If I was willing to turn a blind eye to their faults I wouldn’t have started this website…

Coronaphobia Still Grips Nation

Britons do not want to go back into work because they fear the lockdown is being eased too quickly – and they enjoy being at home, according to a depressing poll in today’s Mail. Here are some of the key findings:

  • 33% said they were “better off” as a result of the lockdown, compared to 29% who said they were “worse off”. In the public sector, this rises to 46% saying “better off” and 23% saying “worse off”.
  • 43% said they have enjoyed being stuck at home, with 25% saying they haven’t.
  • 53% think the lockdown is being eased “too fast” against 11% who think it’s “too slow”.
  • 75% think all travellers arriving in the UK should be quarantined for two weeks while 11% think they shouldn’t.
  • 60% of parents said they won’t be sending their children to school on June 1st and 55% think the teaching unions are right to veto schools reopening compared to 27% who don’t.
  • 58% think pubs with outdoor seating should not reopen, while 35% think they should.

Will London be First Out of Lockdown?

This is rumoured to be the big announcement Boris is planning on May 31st, following the news that there’ve only been 634 cases in the capital over the past fortnight. To lend credence to these reports, Barcelona and Madrid will be easing their lockdowns from Monday, allowing people to meet in groups of up to 10 and travel within their provinces. In addition, bars and restaurants will reopen, provided customers eat and drink outside.

Amusing comment spotted beneath the Times‘s piece on the forthcoming liberation of the capital:

People of Cornwall, Cumbria and Wales: please do not visit London. We are worried that you will reintroduce infection and overwhelm our health services. You will be welcome to taste the pleasures of urban sophistication when the crisis is past, and we will be pleased to relieve you of your money.

Former Director of Israel’s Health Ministry Condemns Covid Hysteria

There’s a good interview with Yoram Lass, former Director-General of Israel’s Health Ministry, by Fraser Miles in Spiked. He thinks the global reaction to the pandemic, including that of governments, has been fuelled by social media-induced hysteria:

It is the first epidemic in history which is accompanied by another epidemic – the virus of the social networks. These new media have brainwashed entire populations. What you get is fear and anxiety, and an inability to look at real data. And therefore you have all the ingredients for monstrous hysteria.

It is what is known in science as positive feedback or a snowball effect. The government is afraid of its constituents. Therefore, it implements draconian measures. The constituents look at the draconian measures and become even more hysterical. They feed each other and the snowball becomes larger and larger until you reach irrational territory. This is nothing more than a flu epidemic if you care to look at the numbers and the data, but people who are in a state of anxiety are blind. If I were making the decisions, I would try to give people the real numbers. And I would never destroy my country.

Lass is sceptical about the number of deaths being attributed to COVID-19 across the world, pointing out that the most reliable data are the excess death figures published at the end of the year.

The only real number is the total number of deaths – all causes of death, not just coronavirus. If you look at those numbers, you will see that every winter we get what is called an excess death rate. That is, during the winter more people die compared to the average, due to regular, seasonal flu epidemics, which nobody cares about. If you look at the coronavirus wave on a graph, you will see that it looks like a spike. Coronavirus comes very fast, but it also goes away very fast. The influenza wave is shallow as it takes three months to pass, but coronavirus takes one month. If you count the number of people who die in terms of excess mortality – which is the area under the curve – you will see that during the coronavirus season, we have had an excess mortality which is about 15 per cent larger than the epidemic of regular flu in 2017.

Compared to that rise, the draconian measures are of biblical proportions. Hundreds of millions of people are suffering. In developing countries many will die from starvation. In developed countries many will die from unemployment. Unemployment is mortality. More people will die from the measures than from the virus. And the people who die from the measures are the breadwinners. They are younger. Among the people who die from coronavirus, the median age is often higher than the life expectancy of the population. What has been done is not proportionate. But people are afraid. People are brainwashed. They do not listen to the data. And that includes governments.

Needless to say, Lass thinks the lockdowns are a pointless act of self-harm:

Any reasonable expert – that is, anyone but Professor Ferguson from Imperial College who would have locked down everybody when we had swine flu – will tell you that lockdown cannot change the final number of infected people. It can only change the rate of infection. And people argue that by changing the rate of infection and ‘flattening the curve’, we prevented the collapse of hospitals. I have shown you the costs of lockdown, but this was the argument in favour of it. But look at Sweden. No lockdown and no collapse of hospitals. The argument for the lockdown collapses.

Worth reading in full.

The Covid Bible

A reader has sent me some verses from the “Covid Bible”. This one could run and run…

  1. And their number was said to be Five Thousand… until the Authorities dispersed them as it was an illegal gathering under the Corona Virus Legisation.
  2. And the Disciples said, there is a boy here with Five loaves and Two fishes… which caused accusations of Panic Buying as the maximum at the time was two per customer.
  3. And I tell you, Lo, where two or three are gathered together in My name there will… the Police be also, to fine thee for breaking the Lockdown Rules.

Professor Ferguson’s Latest Astrological Charts

Professor Ferguson gazing into a crystal ball made of very clear glass

Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College have published a new paper – Report 23 – analysing the likely impact of easing lockdowns in different US states. According to them, the prognosis isn’t good:

We predict that increased mobility following relaxation of social distancing will lead to resurgence of transmission, keeping all else constant. We predict that deaths over the next two-month period could exceed current cumulative deaths by greater than two-fold, if the relationship between mobility and transmission remains unchanged.

You’d have thought Team Ferguson would have learnt its lesson by now. Why make apocalyptic predictions, given the high likelihood that they’ll turn out to be over-estimates? In the case of this one, we only need wait two months before it’s proved wrong. You’d think the bespectacled soothsayers would be a bit more risk averse, given that the general tenor of their advice is to hide under your bed until we have a vaccine.

I asked Alistair Haimes, a data specialist who’s written some great number-crunching articles about the crisis, to take a look at the report for Lockdown Sceptics. This was after I’d seen a tweet of his saying: “Just imagine that the Imperial College report is all in Comic Sans and you’ll have an idea of the esteem they’re held in right now in the UK.”

Imperial’s latest analysis is mesmerisingly bad, finding interesting new ways to be wrong and misleading. Key questions to ask yourself reading it or its conclusions would be:

1. Why is Imperial still only using deaths to work backwards to past infections and then forward again to future infections (an inherently error-prone method) when we have on-the-ground data like hospital admissions and COVID-19 calls to doctors and hospitals to track the disease’s spread? (In the UK, this information is actually the most useful data for ‘community’ R, as it excludes nosocomial infection: UK’s R is currently around 0.6 from this data by the way). Why on earth wouldn’t they use whatever current data they can get their hands on rather than using a single, variable lag-indicator?

2. Why is Imperial not differentiating states based on how they have controlled the outbreaks in care homes, given the high percentage of total deaths this represents? New York has 10x the proportion of care home residents dying of COVID-19 as Florida, since NY made the same mistake as the UK, where 1/3rd of deaths are care home residents (and Sweden, where >50% deaths are in care homes or care-at-home), which was to send infected patients back to care homes without first testing them to ensure they’re negative. (Both Germany and South Korea got this right, btw.) The ‘care home’ R would clearly be hugely different as a result, and everyone is now ‘on”‘this issue, but Imperial’s analysis does not account for it.

3. Why does Imperial assume that infection spread is only affected by state-sponsored interventions rather than declining naturally, given that the downward trajectory of R is indistinguishable for a lockdown versus non-lockdown country (see UK v Sweden)? Michael Levitt – Stanford Professor of Structural Biology – pointed out two months ago that transmission is constantly declining whether the disease is managed or not, but Imperial’s model implicitly assumes that infections will spring up again when interventions are lifted like an un-squashed sombrero. The ‘natural experiment’ or ‘control’ of Free Sweden versus HMP England does not bear this out.

4. Why is Imperial using only antibody levels to sanity-check its results, when it is clearer by the day that large proportions of people are relying on other facets of the immune system (T cell and likely cross-immunity from other coronaviruses) to fight off infection? This would make a massive difference to its calculations of the remaining susceptible population.

5. Why is Imperial still running the model based on Chinese (no comment) parameter inputs for length of illness from over two months ago, when we know so much more about the virus, the disease and its treatment now than we did then?

6. Why is Imperial still using IFR assumptions via shaky historical data from selected countries in Europe, when the CDC has calculated the current actual IFR rate (0.26%) in the US?

I could go on. There is a two-page digression proving (with lovely charts) that mobility is strongly correlated with stay-at-home orders: no shit, Sherlock. The code itself is very short and simple – formatting and presenting the results is more lines of code than the calculation – but it’s the old chestnut: garbage in, garbage out.

P.S. A lockdown sceptic on Twitter decided to plug Sweden’s numbers into Neil Ferguson’s model to see what deaths it would have predicted compared to the reality. We all know how this turns out because I’ve written about two other versions of this exact same exercise. But here’s the graph just for laughs:

Instant Karma for BP’s Looney

A few days ago a reader emailed me with the following gripe:

I am really getting hacked off at the amount of money that is being splashed around as a consequence of this stupid lockdown. Now we learn that the wonderful boys in blue have been getting free petrol, c/o BP’s generosity. Do BP’s shareholders know this is how BP is misuing their funds I wonder?

He included a link to an article in Police Oracle confirming that from the beginning of April British police have been allowed to fill up their tanks at BP petrol stations completely free of charge.

Yesterday, the same reader emailed me again, only this time he was in a better mood:

Today the CEO of BP (aptly name Bernard Looney) announced this: “BP is halving the number of top managers as the coronavirus pandemic accelerates a strategy shift under the new chief executive to transform the UK energy major into a ‘smaller and nimbler’ company. The pool of managers will be cut from 250 people to around 120, with many who held leadership positions under former chief Bob Dudley leaving the company in the next few months, a person familiar with the change said. In an email to staff sent on May 14, Bernard Looney said the company was working towards a new operational and leadership structure as it seeks to achieve its ambition to be a net-zero emissions company by 2050.”

You can read the story in full on EnergyWorld.com, where it’s headlined: ‘BP’s Looney halves top management roles in energy transition plan.’ Someone has a sense of humour…

Did Matt Hancock Inadvertently Reveal London’s IFR is 0.32%

Stay Alert. Control the Virus. Rattle off Stats You Don’t Understand.

At the Downing Street press briefing on Thursday, Matt Hancock announced that “around 17% of people in London… have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies” based on “the results of our antibody surveillance study”. Is this the much-touted Porton Down seroprevalence study? He didn’t say. He also didn’t say how he was defining “London”, but if we assume it’s the London metropolitan area that’s a population of 14,372,596.

Can we calculate the infection fatality rate (IFR) in the capital based on this? I think we can. According to the ONS, 5,654 people died in London hospitals after testing positive for COVID-19 up to the week ending May 8th. The ONS estimates that 75% of Covid deaths in the capital have occurred in hospitals, giving us a total – in and out of hospital – of 7,805.

So let’s calculate the IFR:

  1. 14,372,596 x 0.17 = 2,443,341
  2. 2,443,341 ÷ 7,805 = 313
  3. 100 ÷ 313 = 0.32
  4. IFR = 0.32%

Probably an over-estimate, given that we know some people who’ve been exposed to the virus have it so mildly their bodies don’t produce enough antibodies for them to show up on a PCR test. But still three times smaller than the IFR Neil Ferguson plugged into his shonky model.

Stop Press: I put in a call to the Department of Health and Social Care to try and find out a bit more about this data and have been told it comes from Public Health England’s seroprevalence study, the results of which are due to be published next week. The 17% estimate comes from studying 974 NHS blood transfusion donors in London between May 1st and 3rd. So a small sample and hardly a representative one. After all, anyone who thinks they have the virus, as well as some who think they’ve had it, would be unlikely to give blood. Some of you may recall the bonkers prognosis that Professor Anthony Costello gave to the House of Commons Health Select Committee on April 24th, claiming we wouldn’t achieve herd immunity until after eight to ten waves of infection, with a death toll exceeding 40,000 in the first wave alone. This prediction was based on a Dutch survey of blood donors which showed that only 3% of them had developed antibodies to the virus. As a reader pointed out at the time:

By definition, a blood donor has no known infections, has not had a recent illness, even a cold or flu, and I presume the blood banks are being particularly careful at present. Even if the tests are done from the initial samples rather than the blood collected (i.e. includes rejected donors), someone who is aware that they had a cough recently would either not have volunteered or been rejected at questionnaire stage before giving a sample.

Children More Likely to be Struck by Lightning Than Die of COVID-19

At yesterday’s Downing Street press briefing, Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, was asked what risk COVID-19 poses to children. He said: “They are very low risk, but not zero risk. And there have been some serious cases in children, of course, but very few compared to adults and older age groups.”

Let’s unpack what he means by “very few”. Up to the the week ending May 8th, according to the ONS, there were 37,375 deaths registered in England and Wales involving the coronavirus and of these two were of children aged 14 or under. There were no such deaths in Scotland, and none in Northern Ireland. So that’s two in total aged 14 or under for the whole of the UK. According to Statista, there are 11.91 million children aged 14 and under in the UK. So that means the chances of a child under the age of 15 dying from COVID-19 are one in 5,955,000.

An average of 49 people are injured by lightning in the UK each year and if we assume those strikes are distributed equally across different age cohorts that means about eight children aged 14 or under are struck by lightning each year.

So the chances of a child under the age of 15 being struck by lightning are four times higher than them dying of COVID-19.

Can you say that next time please, Sir Patrick?

Harvesting Deaths

In yesterday’s FT, David Spiegelhalter, the Cambridge statistician, told Alphaville’s Jemima Kelly he has revised downwards his estimates of the proportion of people dying from COVID-19 who would have died in the coming year anyway, suggesting that figure is between 5 and 15%. The colloquial term for this is “harvesting” – a short-term increase in the mortality rate that then causes a subsequent drop in deaths because some of the most vulnerable people will have died during the earlier spike. Five to 15% is a far smaller estimate than Neil Ferguson’s, who previously said that as many as two-thirds of the people who’ve died from COVID-19 might have died later this year anyway.

Sir David, who is the Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, and was formerly president of the Royal Statistical Society, said his reduced estimate was partly based on research carried out by University College London and published in the Lancet, showing that even among the over-85s with at least three comorbidities, we would still only expect 1 in 4 to die in the next year without coronavirus.

But evidence that at least some “harvesting” is taking place was provided by last Tuesday’s ONS data which shows that in Week 19 of this year the total number of deaths in hospitals in England and Wales was below the five-year average for all-mortality deaths in Week 19 – 114 lower, to be precise. It will be interesting to see whether that was a one-off or the beginning of a trend.

The Reality of Lock Down for One 99 Year-Old

Lockdown sceptics like me are often told we are “heartless” for wanting to “sacrifice” the elderly for the economy. Worth pointing out, then, that for many elderly people the miseries of being kept in quarantine, unable to see their families, are so acute they would prefer to take their chances. Here’s the story of one reader’s 99 year-old mother-in-law:

On 21 March my 99-year-old mother-in-law fell at her care home in Lincolnshire and cut herself so badly she had to be rushed into Peterborough Hospital. Since I and my wife had only returned home that morning from Australia after an abruptly curtailed trip, this was fairly distressing for all since we could not visit her. She was to remain there for 15 days largely because thanks to the habit of NHS regions of offering different treatments, Lincolnshire could not deal with the type of dressing used in Peterborough. On 31 March this was finally sorted out, my wife having had to ring almost daily to barrack staff in Peterborough and Lincolnshire.

So, she was discharged. Incredibly, even at this date the proposition was that this elderly lady be sent back to her care home in an ordinary taxi, with all the attendant risks. Staggered at this, we stepped in and collected her ourselves. I need scarcely mention that she was not tested for COVID-19 at the hospital. She lives in a detached garden apartment so does not need to come in contact with any other residents.

As it happens, she’s fine and there were and still are zero cases of the virus at her care home, a place which is incidentally so well organised they have plenty of stocks of PPE. But let’s just look at what the lockdown means for my mother-in-law. Her husband died three years ago. Two of her three children are dead, many years ago. Almost all her friends and relatives are long dead. The only person she has left is my wife, our children and her great-grandchildren, none of whom she is allowed to have visit her. Since some of them live abroad the new quarantine rules will ensure any chance of seeing them again is being pushed back further and further.

Handicapped by macular degeneration she can hardly see anything and her hearing is only just acceptable thanks to a number of electronic devices that enable her to listen to the radio and TV.
She has no dementia and is utterly appalled at watching her country being reduced to economic ruin for the sake of people like herself. She is crippled with acute back ache that confines her to bed most days. The doctor is not allowed to visit her. Nor of course can she go to the dentist or get her hair cut.

This is the reality for one very elderly person who never stops telling us she has had enough and wants to go. The lockdown has denied her not only any remaining joy in her life but even some amelioration of her physical discomfort. She is in despair for the future of her descendants of whom she is immensely proud. The care home staff do their very best but nothing can compensate for what has happened.

I’m not going to pass judgement here myself on the lockdown. But when I hear people like Matt Hancock or Priti Patel say they understand how tough it must be, I know they really don’t have the slightest idea.

Queen Sacks Boris, Takes Back Control

We are not amused by the bed-wetting Prime Minister

Has one particular 94 year-old finally had enough? Excellent post in the comment thread beneath yesterdays update from “Annie”. It begins:

Last night I dreamed a dream.

The Queen was scheduled to make a live broadcast to the nation. She appeared as usual, poised and serene. But suddenly she sat bolt upright, hurled a brick through the autocue, fixed the cameras with a steely glare, and began:

People of Britain, I know you are watching me without respect or full attention, sloppily dressed and probably eating junk food. I will give you just five minutes to take off your nappies, assume decent clothes, smarten yourselves up and return to hear my announcement.

[Five minutes later.]

In view of the lamentable condition of this country, I have decided to resume my proper place as an active head of state. I have dismissed the present Cabinet and am in process of selecting a new set of ministers equipped with brains and backbones. Dr David Starkey is to be the new Prime Minister, and Lord Jonathan Sumption will be Lord Chancellor. We are currently looking for a Chancellor who can add up and knows that there is no such thing as a magic money tree. We will let you know when and if we find one. Leading my new team, I shall restore this country from the shambles it has become.

For a thousand years, the best of the people of these islands have striven – not always successfully, and never unanimously, but unceasingly – to construct a system which is built on justice and individual freedom. But to maintain justice requires courage, and individual freedom requires individual responsibility. People of Britain! In a few short weeks, cowed and subjugated by panicking bullies who use fear and lies as their weapons, you have cast away the labours of a thousand years. You have ceased to care for justice, you have surrendered your freedom, and you have shrugged off your responsibilities. Everything that is worth having in Britain has been destroyed by the so-called lockdown. Without protest, without resistance, you have allowed your country to be turned into a vast concentration camp, where you are at the mercy of self-styled leaders who know neither leadership nor mercy.

There’s a good deal more in the same vein. Read the rest of it here.

Famous Companies That Have Gone Bust (So Far)

After hearing the news that Hertz has filed for bankruptcy I thought I’d start a new section in which I list those famous companies in Britain and the US that have gone bust as a result of lockdown lunacy. Here is a provisional list, but it will grow given that half of Britain’s high street chains are expected to be in administration by August:

In the UK:

  • Debenhams
  • Carphone Warehouse
  • Oasis
  • Warehouse
  • Carluccios
  • Cath Kidson
  • Lombok
  • Brighthouse

In the US:

  • Hertz
  • Dean & Deluca
  • Gold’s Gym
  • JC Penney
  • J Crew
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Pier 1

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Theme Tune Suggestions

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: “I Am the Law” by Spandau Ballet the Human League, “Cancer” by Joe Jackson, “You’re Not Very Well” by the Charlatans, “Patience” by Guns n’ Roses and “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison (for Lord Sumption).

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

Last week, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It still takes me about nine hours a day, what with doing these updates, moderating your comments and commissioning original material. And my journalist helpers have gone! If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

And Finally…

If you want to visit your elderly parents this weekend and are worried about being stopped by the police, just wear this Halloween mask. You should get away with a slap on the wrist.

Latest News

Credit: Fiona Thomas

Today’s Telgraph says a majority of the Cabinet want Boris to accelerate the timetable for ending the lockdown.

Boris Johnson is under pressure to ease the lockdown restrictions causing “massive damage” to the economy, with the majority of the Cabinet understood to support a major “back to work” drive next month.

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, is among ministers who have expressed concerns about the long-term “scarring” to the economy being caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Provided there is no unexpected increase in the rate of virus infections over the next 10 days, they want the Prime Minister to allow as many businesses as possible to reopen in order to get the country moving again.

According to Gordon Raynor, the Telegraph‘s political editor, the three most hawkish members of the Cabinet – remember, in the current vernacular hawkish means cautious, not bold – are Matt Hancock, Michael Gove and the Prime Minister. But the doves seem to be gaining ground. Conservative peers Baroness Noakes and Lord Dobbs have both chastised the Government for being over cautious, with Dobbs saying “lockdown means poverty”.

The former Tory work and pensions minister Baroness Buscombe urged the Government to be “proportionate” in a House of Lords debate yesterday and reduce the social distancing rule to one metre, calling for schools to reopen “to free up the workforce and to stem the tide of this, frankly, with respect, cultural and economic suicide”.

Meanwhile, the Times reports that the Treasury borrowed more last month than in the whole of last year (£62.1 billion). According to the Office for National Statistics, the Government hasn’t borrowed that much in a single month since records began.

Public Inquiry-Induced Paralysis

Cartoon by Bob in today’s Telegraph

According to Fraser Nelson’s column in today’s Telegraph, a new joke is going round Whitehall:

When an awkward question about Covid comes up, someone will say: “Well, tell that to the inquiry.”

But as Fraser points out, this isn’t funny. On the contrary, the paranoia gripping members of the Government and the Civil Service about how they’re likely to judged in the forthcoming inquiry is preventing them from taking decisive action in case it has adverse consequences and they end carrying the can. “I know one Cabinet member who is keeping meticulous, exculpatory notes of his actions with a dateline starting in January,” writes Fraser.

Normally, we’d expect the Prime Minister to be the one mobilising the English language to stirring national effect but instead he’s starting to look like the most cautious leader in Europe. Perhaps he is stung by the failure of the lockdown to limit deaths and thinks he cannot afford another political risk, especially if he plans a high-stakes Brexit gambit. Perhaps he worries an early move to reopen the economy would be too divisive – contravening his pledge to reconcile a country torn by the referendum.

The Prime Minister tells colleagues that they’ll be forgiven for mistakes going into this crisis, but not for mistakes coming out. He’s right. But if he’s late out of lockdown, he will be walking straight into that second mistake.

YouTube’s Red Pen

Yesterday, when linking to Freddie Sayers’s interview with Sunetra Gupta on UnHerd, I said, “Watch it before YouTube takes it down.” That was intended as a joke – surely, YouTube wouldn’t take down an interview with the Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at Oxford, however much she dissented from Covid orthodoxy?

But then I discovered that YouTube had removed Freddie’s interview with Professor Karol Sikora, Dean of Buckingham University Medical School. According to Freddie, the video “violated” YouTube’s “guidelines” and his appeal for it to be reinstated was rejected. Freddie tweeted about this last night, several people weighed in to criticise YouTube’s decision (including me), and the video has now been reinstated.

Will the interview with Professor Gupta be removed? You’ll recall that she made news back in March when her team at Oxford – long-standing rivals to Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College – published a preprint arguing that many more people could have been infected than we previously thought and herd immunity might be achievable without paying the price that Ferguson’s team claimed, i.e. 250,000+ Covid fatalities. At the time, this was summarised as “coronavirus may have infected half of UK population” – and widely scoffed at – but that isn’t what the paper said. Rather, it hypothesised a range of estimates, of which that was one.

In the interview, Gupta doesn’t defend the 50% figure, but stands by the idea that herd immunity can be achieved without hundreds of thousands of deaths:

In almost every context we’ve seen the epidemic grow, turn around and die away — almost like clockwork. Different countries have had different lockdown policies, and yet what we’ve observed is almost a uniform pattern of behaviour which is highly consistent with [our] model. To me that suggests that much of the driving force here was due to the build-up of immunity. I think that’s a more parsimonious explanation than one which requires in every country for lockdown (or various degrees of lockdown, including no lockdown) to have had the same effect.

She is careful not to directly criticise Ferguson and his team. Rather, the Government was at fault for acting as it did based on the team’s prediction:

The Government’s defence is that this [the Imperial College model] was a plausible worst case scenario. I agree it was a plausible — or at least a possible — worst case scenario. The question is, should we act on a possible worst case scenario, given the costs of lockdown? It seems to me that given that the costs of lockdown are mounting, that case is becoming more and more fragile.

In the most controversial section of the interview, Professor Gupta says she thinks the long-term harm caused by social distancing will outweigh the benefits. Why? Because protecting ourselves from exposure to pathogens in our day-to-day life makes us more vulnerable to killer viruses, not less.

Remaining in a state of lockdown is extremely dangerous from the point of view of the vulnerability of the entire population to new pathogens. Effectively we used to live in a state approximating lockdown 100 years ago, and that was what created the conditions for the Spanish Flu to come in and kill 50 million people.

Does that mean she’s in favour of dispensing with social distancing altogether and just returning to normal? She doesn’t quite say so, but that appears to be what she thinks.

I think it is very dangerous to talk about lockdown without recognising the enormous costs that it has on other vulnerable sectors in the population.

Great stuff, obviously, and history will almost certainly look more kindly on Professor Gupta than Professor Ferguson. But I’m not going to make her ‘Sceptic of the Week’ because, it turns out, she’s wary of being lumped in with libertarian types like me.

So I know there is a sort of libertarian argument for the release of lockdown, and I think it is unfortunate that those of us who feel we should think differently about lockdown have had our voices added to that libertarian harangue. But the truth is that lockdown is a luxury, and it’s a luxury that the middle classes are enjoying and higher income countries are enjoying at the expense of the poor, the vulnerable and less developed countries. It’s a very serious crisis.

Infection Fatality Rate is 0.26% – CDC

Regular readers will know that I’ve been tracking the infection fatality rate (IFR) throughout the crisis, convinced that it’s far lower than the 0.9% estimated by Neil Ferguson and way, way lower than the 3.4% estimated by the WHO. My prediction has long been that it will turn out to be slightly higher than the IFR of seasonal flu, which is 0.1% in an average year and 0.2% in a bad year. Although I’ve never been quite as bullish as Sunetra Gupta, who told Freddie she thinks it is somewhere between 0.1% and 0.01%.

On May 15th, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the US published its official estimate – 0.26%, although it doesn’t come right out and say it. Rather, it estimates the case fatality rate (CFR) for different age groups:

  • 0-49 year-olds: 0.05%
  • 50-64 year-olds: 0.2%
  • 65+ years-old: 1.3%
  • Mean CFR: 0.4%

The CDC estimates that 35% of people who’ve been infected are asymptomatic, so to get the IFR from the CFR you have to multiply it by 0.65 – 0.4 x 0.65 = 0.26%.

Hats off to the Ethical Skeptic, the anonymous Twitter account which estimated the IFR at 0.26% more than two weeks ago. Using data from seroprevalence studies, he calculated that 32,768,000 Americans had been infected up to May 8th and divided that by the number of US fatalities, which was 86,469 at that point. That gave an IFR of 0.26%.

On May 15th, I discussed a New York Times article that criticised lockdown sceptics for circulating the Santa Clara serological study and highlighting its IFR estimate of 0.17%. According to the Times, the signal boost the study received from anti-lockdown wing-nuts on Twitter led to “a surge of misinformation”. Trouble is, that “misinformation” has turned out to be more accurate than the IFR estimates of the WHO and Professor Ferguson.

Incidentally, John Ioannidis, Professor of Medicine at Harvard and the lead author of the Santa Clara study, has a new preprint out in which he estimates the IFR by looking at 12 seroprevalence studies in which the population sample size >500. His conclusion is that it’s “in the same ballpark as seasonal flu”, i.e. between 0.1% and 0.2%. Daniel Horowitz, a senior editor at the Conservative Review, says the mean IFR estimate based on these seroprevalence studies is 0.2%. “That is 17 times less deadly than what the WHO originally predicted and 4.5 times less deadly than the Imperial College study,” he writes.

So it’s official, folks: We’ve imprisoned over a billion people in their homes, laying waste to the global economy and causing untold misery and death in the process, to mitigate the impact of a virus that’s no deadlier than a bad bout of seasonal flu.

Did the New York Times Smear the German Anti-Lockdown Movement?

While we’re on the subject of “misinformation” pumped out by the New York Times, I asked my German-speaking correspondent to look into the Times‘s front-page story claiming the anti-lockdown movement in Germany is being manipulated by the AfD. This was his verdict:

The German media also treats the protest movement against lockdown restrictions in Germany as being driven by various fringe groups that are increasingly influenced by “the right” and AfD usually gets a mention. In a commentary on May 19th, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung describes the protests against lockdown restrictions literally as a “festival of delusional slogans”. The demos are described as colourful gatherings that attract all sorts of esoteric types, anti-vaxxers, left-wing extremists and anti-capitalists – and “increasing numbers of right-wingers”. The reporter Thomas Holl is bemused by the seeming contradictions at play – while international virologists and epidemiologists praise Merkel’s successful handling of the crisis and Germany’s relatively low death toll, there seems to be a stronger anti-lockdown protest movement in the country than elsewhere. Like the New York Times, Holl points the finger at AfD – the right-wing party’s showing in the polls dipped in April and the assertion is that they are looking to exploit the protests to recover lost ground.

I couldn’t see anything about AfD’s influence in Bild, but it carries an emotional story together with a video from the German network TV station ARD that pits a younger protestor against an older gentleman, Alfons Blum, who attended a protest in Gera. The pensioner is there because of how he has been personally affected – he has been unable to visit his wife who lives in a home for the past eight weeks and he breaks down in tears in the interview. A younger participant gets mixed up in how his emotional story is being exploited to distract from the bigger picture and starts shouting at Blum, citing earlier flu epidemics that claimed far more lives and that he should not allow the mainstream media to “make fun” of him on television. “If you listen to the network channels you will have practically lost control over your life!” he tells Blum. The commentary concludes by contrasting the two: “[C]itizens like pensioner Alfons Blum are suffering because of the measures – others believe that the media and the Government are being oppressive.”

Incidentally, there’s now a 7,000-word English summary of the leaked document written by the senior civil servant in the Ministry of the Interior. The translation is by Paul Gregory, a German-to-English translator.

More Praise for Governor DeSantis

USA Today ran a piece yesterday by opinion columnist Glenn Harlan Reynolds criticising New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and praising Florida Governor Ron DeSantis:

It’s interesting to compare Cuomo’s approach, in which infected (and infectious) patients were deliberately sent to nursing homes, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s policy of protecting nursing homes first.

As the Palm Beach Post notes, DeSantis forbade the discharge of infected patients to nursing homes and long-term care facilities. As a result, only 3.5 per 100,000 nursing home residents in Florida contracted the disease, compared to 27 out of 100,000 in New York.

Thanks to Cuomo’s mishandling of the crisis “more than 5,300 nursing home patients in New York have died from COVID-19, and as an Albany Times Union account notes, critics blame this policy,” says Reynolds.

These mistakes led to a giant “Cuomo Killed My Mom” sign being erected off an overpass in upstate New York. Possibly unfair but certainly indicative of how some New Yorkers feel.

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Theme Tune Suggestions

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: “Trying to Survive” by Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds, “The Whole Damn World is Going Crazy” by John Gary Williams and “Madness They Call It Madness” by Madness.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

Last week, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have reopened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

The list of shops and services that can reopen may be longer than people imagine. On May 13th, the Government issued revised guidance and it’s now permissible for the following retail businesses to reopen (this is in addition to those we already know about, such as garden centres and rubbish dumps):

  • Dental services, opticians, audiology services, chiropody, chiropractors, osteopaths and other medical or health services (including physiotherapy and podiatry services), and services relating to mental health
  • Bicycle shops
  • Homeware, building supplies and hardware stores
  • Veterinary surgeries and pet shops
  • Agricultural supplies shops
  • Off-licences and licensed shops selling alcohol, including those within breweries. Come on, Majestic. What are you waiting for?
  • Laundrettes and dry cleaners
  • Car repair and MOT services

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. If you feel like donating please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here. The site’s total page views have now passed one million and it’s averaging 54,000 visitors a day. We’re making an impact!

And Finally…

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Credit: Getty Images

It’s another shameless plug I’m afraid, this time for my latest column in Spectator USA. In this one, I blame China for unleashing this pandemic/panic on the world, although WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is a close second. My argument is that if the Chinese Communist authorities hadn’t silenced the Wuhan doctors who raised the alarm at the end of December, the virus might never have made it out of Wuhan:

Would the emergence of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan at the end of December have led to a global pandemic if the Chinese authorities had acted more quickly? Almost certainly not. A group of researchers at the University of Southampton looked at what difference it would have made if the travel ban and other non-pharmaceutical interventions had been put in place three weeks earlier, as soon as the doctors raised the alarm. They concluded that cases would have been reduced by 95 percent. In all likelihood, the virus would never have made it out of Hubei.

No doubt China will be judged to have mismanaged this crisis in a number of ways when the official inquiries get under way. There are already a flurry of lawsuits seeking compensation from the Chinese government, including one launched by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who claims the state has suffered tens of billions of dollars in economic losses as a result of China’s negligence.

But perhaps China’s biggest sin was to stop those Wuhan doctors exercising their right to free speech. Had they been allowed to raise their concerns in the public arena, instead of being silenced and publicly shamed, it’s likely that hundreds of thousands of people across the world would now still be alive. At the time of writing, there have been 4.1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 283,000 deaths from the disease.