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The Grand Reopening

The BBC is reporting that queues formed outside shops across the country and the research firm Springboard says that footfall, up until Noon today, was 42% higher than last week. However, worth remembering that the baseline is very low – non-essential shops weren’t open this time last week. Overall, numbers were far below the same time last year. This, in spite of John Lewis and Zara cutting prices by up to 70% and the fact that Oxfam says charity shops area a great source of great bargains at the moment due to household clear-outs during lockdown.

I travelled across London by tube today and did not get the impression the city was awakening from its long slumber. Boarding a train at East Acton at around 3.40pm, I entered a carriage that was virtually empty. That remained true when I changed from the Central Line to the Northern Line at Bank and, when I got out at Moorgate, the streets were largely deserted. As you’d expect, nearly everyone on the train was wearing a mask, although not everyone on the street. On my return, I got out at Wood Lane and was able to look over into the Westfield shopping centre. That, too, seemed pretty lifeless. I was disappointed to see two masked police officers checking people entering the station to ensure they were wearing face masks. According to the Times, 3,000 police officers have been deployed across England to enforce mandatory mask wearing on public transport.

The atmosphere in shops is far from welcoming, so perhaps the inactivity isn’t all that surprising. Carl Vernon has provided a scathing YouTube commentary on Primark’s new shopping arrangements, with floor decals, mandatory hand sanitiser, decontaminated bags, neon signs everywhere telling you to keep your distance, no fitting rooms…. it’s horrific.

If this is the way Primark intends to carry on, I can’t see it surviving until Christmas.

Simon Dolan’s Advice For People Who Don’t Want to Wear Masks

Simon Dolan has some advice for people who don’t fancy wearing a mask on public transport:

If you don’t feel comfortable wearing a mask on public transport, simply don’t wear it and if challenged say that under Part 1 Section 4 (a) of The Health Protection (CV, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) you are exempt as they cause you severe anxiety.

A Doctor’s View of Mandatory Face Masks

I got an email from a doctor today about face masks. Sounds like he’s no more of a fan than Simon Dolan.

I work at an acute NHS trust in a non-clinical role and from today it is mandatory for all staff to wear Type 2 surgical masks at all times. This includes staff who spend 99% of their day sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen. We have been coming into work every day, including during the peak of the pandemic, and in non-patient facing areas there has been no forced two-metre social distancing let alone mask wearing! People have been using their own judgement i.e. washing hands, staying slightly distanced and not breathing directly in people’s faces. There has not been a significant outbreak within our workforce throughout the pandemic, yet now the virus has practically disappeared (there have only been 3 positive patients in the hospitals since 1st June) we are being forced to wear masks!

We’ve been told this is here to stay for some time (if we’re made to wear them during summer when the virus is practically non-existent, then surely we’re going to have to wear them throughout winter when seasonal flu arrives…) and to think about how we can work differently to make wearing masks more bearable!

A lot of goodwill has been built up within the workforce over the past few months but this is likely to cause widespread frustration from staff who cannot understand why now is the time to wear masks! Personally, I will be maximising the time I can work remotely to avoid this draconian rule which is actually at detriment to getting the hospital back up and running functionally.

In case you missed it, worth reading the case against face masks by David Crowe on Lockdown Sceptics, and a review of the (fairly weak) evidence that they protect anyone from catching the virus by Dr John Lee in the Spectator.

Letter in the Sunday Times About Harmful Effects of School Closures

On Friday I mentioned that Dr Ellen Townsend, Professor of Psychology at Nottingham University, had pulled together a “we, the undersigned” letter about the effects of the continuing school closures on young people’s mental health. An abridged version was published in yesterday’s Sunday Times. Here’s the full version:

Open letter to Gavin Williamson Secretary of State for Education concerning the neglect of children and adolescents in government policy during the UK lockdown.

Dear Mr Williamson,

The recent decision of the Government to delay returning children and adolescents to school is a national disaster. As experts working across disciplines we are united as we urge you to reconsider your decision and to release children and young people from lockdown. Allow them to play together and continue their education by returning to preschool, school, college and university, and enjoy extra-curricular activities including sport and music as normally, and as soon, as possible. Undoubtedly, you already know the arguments that support this direction in decision making but we articulate some of them here nonetheless.

The relative shortage of expert and scientific input on SAGE specifically covering young people’s mental health and education is an important and dangerous omission. The lockdown exacerbates key risk factors known to increase the risk of self-harmful thoughts and feelings including defeat, entrapment, loneliness/social isolation, hopelessness and anger. Mental health problems also contribute to self-destructive thoughts and behaviours and sadly, a national survey in 2017 indicated that these were increasing, particularly among teenagers. Since lockdown, we are seeing increases of these issues in young people through surveys at the University of Oxford, the Mental Health Foundation, and rapid reviews (e.g. from the University of Reading) indicate these trends are likely to persist. Suicide is already the leading cause of death in 5-19 year olds in England and the second leading cause of death in young people globally; thankfully, COVID-19 will never claim this many young lives.

A risk-benefit approach must be taken when making decisions about children’s social interaction and play in schools, and public health protection. Children learn through play, which is vital for their wellbeing, and their social and emotional development. The lockdown has created an environment where they cannot play together with their friends. It is crucial that social distancing measures are minimised, or removed as far as possible, to enable in-person play.

The impact of the lockdown on learning is incredibly harmful, creating a huge attainment gap, and the most vulnerable and marginalised in society (including those from a BAME background, with special educational needs or disabilities, and children in the lowest income homes), are likely to be most affected by this. Children remaining out of school will create a generation with increased educational poverty. Other countries in Europe (e.g. Denmark, Norway and Greece) have returned children to school with no evidence of a ‘second wave’ of COVID-19. We advise the Government to prepare teachers and to discuss their anxieties in order to enable children to come together.

The evidence to date is that children are at low risk from COVID-19 and may not play a significant role in transmission. As Alistair Haimes (writing in the Critic) recently put it: “With no serious pre-existing conditions, the young-ish and healthy are far more likely to be hit by lightning than to die of COVID-19.”

We recognize that the pandemic and lockdown have been a national tragedy for everyone. However, children and adolescents have sacrificed so much in this crisis for a disease that they neither suffer from nor spread. We must now prioritise children and adolescents in the release from lockdown as a matter of utmost urgency in order to prevent a national crisis and the decimation of their futures. Specifically, the Government must change social distancing advice in such a way that summer play schemes and education providers of all types are able to open, and that does not infringe human rights, which the current rules appear to do. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (article 3) states: “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

Young people must be included meaningfully in decision making moving forward on policies involving them. They have been neglected in this crisis and their rights and futures must now be given priority. We need to recognize the sacrifice that children have already made for others and we should not ask for that sacrifice to continue. When many of this cohort enter adulthood, we will be deep in recession, so they will need mental resilience and educational preparedness. Instead we are damaging both, with lifelong consequences for them and society.

We are not the only group concerned for the rights and welfare of children in this global crisis. The number of open letters to governments on this issue is growing.

It then links to three other open campaigns to get schools to reopen (here, here and here) and includes the names of more than 100 academics who’ve signed the letter. You can see a list of them here and if you’re an education academic who wants to add your name, you can do that by emailing Ellen. The BBC also ran a news story about the letter.

Well done Ellen.

The letter is particularly timely, given that University College London has just published research showing that two million schoolchildren have done virtually zero schoolwork during lockdown. Around one in five pupils have carried out no schoolwork, or less than an hour a day, since schools closed in March. Meanwhile, only 17% of children put in more than four hours a day. And, in general, the more disadvantaged a child’s background, the less schoolwork they’ve done. Only 11% of children in receipt of free school meals spent more than four hours a day on schoolwork, compared to nearly a fifth (19%) of their peers. Other figures revealed that nearly a third (31%) of private schools provided four or more online lessons daily, compared with just 6% of state schools.

Hard to believe Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary “welcomed” the news that schools wouldn’t reopen last week.

Listen to Me Talking to Joel Kotkin

In the latest Quillette podcast, I talk to the American public intellectual Joel Kotkin about the pandemic and its riotous aftermath in the US. Joel recently wrote a piece for Quillette on this subject called “Pandemics and Pandemonium” which is well worth reading.

Surviving a Hospital Stay

The Kingdom Hospital in the TV mini-series of the same name developed by Stephen King

As regular readers will know, my view is that SARS-CoV-2 is a predominantly nosocomial disease – that is, the majority of infections have occurred in hospitals and care homes. Which makes visiting hospital a risk, particularly if you’re immunocompromised or have any life-threatening co-morbidities.

Today I’m publishing a piece by Nicholas Booth, a health journalist who found himself in exactly that position. He has bowel cancer and Pyoderma Gangrenosum and, for that reason, had been advised not to leave his house for 12 weeks under any circumstances. But circumstances changed and he ended up in Croydon University Hospital, known locally as “Maydie Hospital” because it has been treating so many patients with COVID-19.

On April 3rd the Government had texted me an instruction not to leave the house for twelve weeks, even to go into the garden. As someone who is at high risk of severe illness if I were to catch the virus, I was told it was too dangerous even to leave the window open for more than three hours a day. I was judged to be so vulnerable that I had to practice social distancing in my own home.

But then I managed to injure myself so badly that a hospital admission was unavoidable. First I had pumped my veins with blood thinner, so any injury would bleed excessively. Then I tore my thigh muscle by doing too many squats.

A PICC Line in my arm, a necessary aid for chemotherapy, had to be supported with daily injections of the blood thinner Fragmin in order to stop the blood from clotting around the plastic tubing within my veins. While preventing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) it also encourages internal bleeding. The opiates made me oblivious to the torn-muscle pain, so I only noticed something was wrong when it created a severe swelling in my left leg. The upshot was that, despite my known vulnerability to infection and the high incidence of death among new patients, I had to be admitted to hospital.

Why did I survive? There are a number of possible reasons.

Nick believes that if he can survive this ordeal, people with no underlying health conditions really don’t need to worry about returning to work.

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:

Theme Tune Suggestions From Readers

Just the one suggestion today: “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A few 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 many hours every day, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. Alternatively, you can donate to the Free Speech Union’s litigation fund by clicking here or join the Free Speech Union here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here.

And Finally…

Is wokeness a cult? That’s the view of New Discourses, a group set up by James Lindsay and others to explore the dynamics of what one American journalist has described as “the successor ideology”. Also known as Woke-us Dei.

I find this analysis persuasive.

One of the best things about the New Discourses website is the “Social Justice Encyclopaedia” which translates woke gobbledegook into plain English. First it gives the meaning of the word or phrase as understood by adherents to the Social Justice cult, then it explains what it means in practice. For instance, here is the New Discourses explanation of “Cancel/Cancel Culture”:

“Cancellation” or “Cancel Culture” is largely understood as an aspect and, indeed, an escalation of “Call-Out Culture”, in which a public figure is found to have said or done something problematic and is then called out for it, most commonly on social media. This leads to mass outrage and demands for a boycott of the individual’s work, their firing from their job or work opportunities, or the retraction of invitations to events (or an outright cancellation of their event). One would be immediately forgiven for identifying it with what it is: a modern, social-media-driven instantiation of Maoist-style struggle sessions in which problematic individuals are subjected to mass public shame, forced to apologize, and then shamed further.

In case you aren’t aware of this, that’s exactly what happened to me at the beginning of 2018. I wrote about it in a piece called “The Public Humiliation Diet” in Quillette.

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