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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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:
- ‘How scared should we be?‘ – Decent piece by the Nick Triggle, the BBC’s Health Correspondent, on the need to balance risk as we emerge from lockdown
- ‘Coronavirus data prove Australia is in Asia‘ – Professor Ramesh Thakur becomes a “graphodisiac” to prove lockdowns don’t work
- ‘A short guide to justifying re-lockdown‘ – Heather Mac Donald in the Spectator USA on how those who forecast doom after Georgia eased its lockdown last month have been proved wrong
- ‘Universities are pressing the self-destruct button‘ – Joanna Williams in Spiked on the perfect storm facing Britain’s universities and their failure to do anything about it
- ‘Rand Paul Confronts Dr. Fauci to His Face, Exposes Truth About Modeling‘ – Clash between the libertarian and the public health panjandrum. Still on YouTube, remarkably
- ‘An Orgy of Plague Death, Deferred‘ – Noah Rothman in Commentary on the fact that the governors of Georgia and Florida got it right – deaths haven’t increased since they eased their lockdowns last month
- ‘Native American casinos roll the dice on reopening‘ – Article in the Times about Native American casinos reopening
- ‘Combat and team sports receive the go-ahead for full-contact training‘ – The Telegraph reveals the Premier League has been given the green light to resume full-contact training. Does this mean we can all abandon the two-metre rule?
- ‘WA Premier Mark McGowan announces school attendance will become compulsory from Monday‘ – The Premier of Western Australia has declared that school attendance is now compulsory. Can Education Secretary Gavin Williamson take a leaf out of his book?
- ‘Covid-19 could hasten rise of the robots as companies seek to cut expensive labour costs‘ – No surprise there
- ‘Lockdown restrictions to be eased, allowing more social contact and shops to reopen‘ – Telegraph reports Boris Johnson is planning to reveal we’re doing well enough to move to “phase two” of the lockdown easing, but those plans may have been derailed by Cummings-gate
- ‘Abe Declares End to Japan Emergency And Seeks to Boost Economy‘ – The Prime Minister of Japan is ending the lockdown, according to Bloomberg
- ‘Dreaming of a Visit to Japan? The Government Might Pay for Half of Your Trip to Jumpstart Tourism‘ – And thanks to the above news, there’s all the more reason to take advantage of this offer
- ‘My plan for reopening Wetherspoon pubs‘ – The redoubtable Tim Martin is champing at the bit to reopen his pubs. More power to his elbow
- ‘Eleven reasons why COVID-19 won’t usher in a socialist Britain‘ – Tim Walsh delivers the
goodbad news in the Telegraph. Will come as a disappointment to my left-wing readers
- ‘Closures looming over Pizza Express‘ – Another beloved high street chain about to go to the wall, says the Times
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.
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.)
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.
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.