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Young People Over-Estimate Covid Risk

A new working paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research contains a shocking table (see above). The results are based on an online survey of over 1,500 Americans from May 6th – 13th.

The respondents in the 18-34 year-old age group thought their risk of contracting COVID-19 was about 8.8% and if they caught it their risk of being hospitalised around 7.5% and their risk of dying 2%. If those figures were true, that would mean that 0.176% of 18-34 year-olds would die from coronavirus. There are 76.2 million Americans aged 18-34, so if the respondents’ estimate of the risk was correct that would mean 134,112 people in that age group will die.

Needless to say, the real risk posed to 18-34 year-olds is far lower. The Stanford Professor John Ioannidis co-authored a paper in May entitled “Population-level COVID-19 mortality risk for non-elderly individuals overall and for non-elderly individuals without underlying diseases in pandemic epicenters”. It includes the following table showing the total number of under-40 year-olds who’d died from the virus in various countries:

*Data shown for the group with age <45 years (not available for age <40 years)
**Data shown for the group with age <35 years (not available for age <40 years)

Admittedly, this was up to date on April 24th and the numbers will have increased a little since then, but not by much. Ioannidis et al concluded that if you’re under 65 the risk of dying in a road traffic accident is higher than dying from COVID-19.

Herd Immunity

A science professor has got in touch to comment on my piece in the Telegraph on Saturday in which I claimed the UK was well on its way to achieving herd immunity. I cannot be any more specific than that because he doesn’t want to be identified. But he says that, if anything, I understated it.

I note your article today saying “we’re on our way to achieving herd immunity”.

The fact is, however, we already have achieved it!

Once herd immunity has been achieved, the fraction of people infected starts to fall. Since R has been <1 for months now, then by definition, we achieved herd immunity at each point in time over those months for the way society was operating at each of those points in time. This does not prove we have enough immunity in the population to keep R <1 (i.e., to maintain herd immunity) if we (ever) fully release lockdown – but we both know the examples out there that suggest we do have enough immunity.

This is not just an academic point I am making. It is relevant when you look at the Leicester situation. Even in Leicester we still do have herd immunity, i.e., the prevalence of viral infection continues to decline. It is just declining slower here than elsewhere. Nationally it has fallen by >100 fold. It has fallen a few fold less in Leicester, and a few fold more elsewhere. Admittedly there probably were a few weeks bridging May and June when it plateaued or crept up a little in Leicester and elsewhere (i.e., R very slightly exceeded 1), but that has been resolved in the last few weeks.

Although it’s possible that the whole Leicester situation is nothing more than an artefact, due to the fact that PHE do not publish the total number of tests done (i.e., they only release the number of positives). So if a slightly larger fraction of the population in the Leicestershire region were being tested (for whatever reason) compared to other places, then this would give the impression that there is an increased prevalence. Interestingly, just two weeks ago, a PHE report sent to Peter Soulsby, the Mayor of Leicester, stated: “It is considered likely that a large contribution to the apparent change may be associated with increasing testing…rather than a true increase in the number of new infections occurring” and “Evidence for the scale of the outbreak is limited and may, in part, be artefactually related to growth in availability of testing.”

A Future Oxford Student Writes

A reader who has accepted the offer of a place at Oxford starting in the autumn contacted me a couple of months ago to ask me whether I thought it was worth going or whether they’d be better off deferring if they could. I said the situation might look less glum in a couple of months. Turns out, I was wrong.

You may already be aware of this, but I thought I’d draw your attention to the latest news on the arrangements for students in the autumn – here is an excerpt from the website:

“From the start of the new academic year, face coverings will be required during face-to-face teaching and in indoor shared spaces, with exceptions for both individuals and settings where they are not appropriate (for example on grounds of disability). Details on how this will operate will be consulted on.

“University libraries will operate social distancing through capacity limits, with spacing of reader seats, one-way systems, and enhanced hygiene measures, as well as a ‘seat-finder’ app so that reading room spaces can be easily identified.

“Our spaces – both research and teaching, as well as social spaces, communal areas and areas open to the public – will be adapted to ensure social distancing and appropriate ventilation are maintained in accordance with government and scientific advice. We will be timetabling activities and staggering timings to ensure social distancing measures are as effective as possible. The adaptations to our spaces, supported by clear signage and markings, will enable all to safely enter, move through, work in and exit buildings and facilities.”

All quoted from: the University website.

Lectures will be online for at least the first term. Social distancing will also be in place, so I’m not holding out for much in the way of musical societies, drama or group sport…

I asked the student if they could defer for a year. Answer: probably not. On the University website it says:

Will Oxford let offer holders defer their place to 2021 if they don’t wish to start in October 2020?

Subject to any public health conditions still being in force, we are expecting to welcome a full cohort of new undergraduates in October 2020, so we will not routinely support requests for deferral. Any offer holders with particular, verifiable reasons to wish to defer their place should contact the college which made their offer or open-offer to discuss this.

Swiss Doctor Updates Site

The Swiss Doctor has updated his site and, as always, it contains a brilliant summary of the latest research showing the widespread prevalence of T cell cross immunity, etc., buttressing the view that we’ve nearly achieved herd immunity across Europe and America. Below is an extract from the section on the lethality of the virus:

Most antibody studies have shown a population-based Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) of 0.1% to 0.3%. The US health authority CDC published in May was a cautious “best estimate” of 0.26%.

At the end of May, however, an immunological study by the University of Zurich was published, which for the first time showed that the usual antibody tests that measure antibodies in the blood (IgG and IgM) can detect at most about one fifth of all coronavirus infections.

The reason for this is that in most people the new coronavirus is already neutralised by antibodies on the mucous membrane (IgA) or by cellular immunity (T cells) and no symptoms or only mild symptoms develop.

This means that the new coronavirus is probably much more widespread than previously assumed and the lethality per infection is around five times lower than previously estimated. The real lethality could therefore be significantly below 0.1% and thus in the range of influenza.

At the same time, the Swiss study may explain why children usually develop no symptoms (due to frequent contact with previous corona cold viruses), and why even hotspots such as New York City found an antibody prevalence (IgG/IgM) of at most 20% – as this already corresponds to herd immunity.

The Swiss study has in the meantime been confirmed by several more studies:

1. A Swedish study showed that people with mild or asymptomatic disease often neutralised the virus with T cells without the need to produce antibodies. Overall, T cell immunity was about twice as common as antibody immunity.

2. A large Spanish antibody study published in Lancet showed that less than 20% of symptomatic people and about 2% of asymptomatic people had IgG antibodies.

3. A German study (preprint) showed that 81% of the people who had not yet had contact with the new coronavirus already had cross-reactive T cells and thus a certain background immunity (due to contact with previous corona cold viruses).

4. A Chinese study in the Nature showed that in 40% of asymptomatic persons and in 12.9% of symptomatic persons no IgG antibodies are detectable after the recovery phase.

5. Another Chinese study with almost 25,000 clinic employees in Wuhan showed that at most one fifth of the presumably infected employees had IgG antibodies (press article).

6. A small French study (preprint) showed that six of eight infected family members of Covid patients developed a temporary T cell immunity without antibodies.

Video interview: Swedish Doctor: T cell immunity and the truth about COVID-19 in Sweden

In this context, a US study in Science Translational Medicine, using various indicators, concluded that the lethality of COVID-19 was much lower than originally assumed, but that its spread in some hotspots was up to 80 times faster than suspected, which would explain the rapid but short-duration increase in cases in some areas.

Driving Test Misery

A reader has got in touch to tell me about the purgatory her son is in, trying to reschedule his driving test. I confess, I wasn’t aware of this misfortune afflicting young people – yet another to add to the huge number.

Don’t know if you know about the impact Covid is having on driving tests. My son was due to take his practical driving test in April (third time lucky he hopes) but it was cancelled due to Covid. He was given a new date in July but this has also been cancelled. The Government has now announced that practical tests will resume on July 22nd and my son is apparently going to get an email on July 15th inviting him to book a test (no bookings are being taking via the website at the moment). The problem is that his theory test expires in September and despite my pleas to the DVSA and my local MP, the Government has not extended the validity of theory test certificates (though it extended MOTs). So if my son does not get a test before September, he will have to go right to the back of the queue.

That queue is going to be a very long one. Our driving instructor tells me there is currently a backlog of 650,000 people waiting to take their driving tests. So the chances of him passing his test this year are practically zero.

Yet more impact of the lockdown on young people. Especially for those without access to public transport like my son.

Total Number of Covid Deaths in English Hospitals Falls to One

Carl Heneghan, the Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford, tweeted that there were no Covid deaths reported in hospitals in England on July 10th, but perhaps the data source he was checking hadn’t been updated because the NHS England statistics site is now showing six. But for July 11th, the total was just one. Won’t be long now before we do have a day on which no Covid deaths occur in England’s hospitals. I predict it will happen some time in the next seven days.


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 Re-Opened

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 re-opened, 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. Now that non-essential shops have re-opened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. As of July 4th, many of them have re-opened too, but not all. 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 – particularly if they’re not insisting on face masks! Don’t worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

Note to the Good Folk Below the Line

I enjoy reading all your comments and I’m glad I’ve created a “safe space” for lockdown sceptics to share their frustrations and keep each other’s spirits up. But please don’t copy and paste whole articles from papers that are behind paywalls in the comments. I work for some of those papers and if they don’t charge for premium content they won’t survive.

I know it becomes difficult to navigate the comment threads after 24 hours. One alternative to continuing to post below my updates is to move to the forum on Lockdown Truth. The creator of that site has extended a warm welcome to everyone here.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 48 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It usually takes me several hours to do these updates, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here. I’ll try and get another update done on Tuesday.

And Finally…

My sources in Downing Street tell me the red crayon belongs to Boris, the green one to Dominic Cummings and the blue one to Matt Hancock.