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Boris Weighs Up “Nuclear” Options

There’s a story by Tim Shipman in the Sunday Times today that I’m struggling to understand. He reports that last Wednesday at 4pm the Prime Minister convened a war-gaming exercise in which they considered various responses to different “second wave” scenarios.

For an hour they mapped out options for the next few months. Simon Case, head of the COVID-19 taskforce, led a discussion of three fictional but realistic scenarios that reflected Whitehall’s fears about what could happen next. “There were three whiteboards in different corners of the room,” one of those present said.

In their tabletop war game, Johnson and Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, first discussed an outbreak in northwestern England, then an outbreak in London and finally a general increase in infections nationally.

Under the first scenario, local authorities in the northwest saw a persistent rise in infections and the measures taken by councils failed to stem the tide. Johnson and Sunak agreed that the first lever pulled should be additional restrictions on household interactions. “There must be quick, decisive action,” Johnson said.

That evening, the fictional scenario became reality as the prime minister was presented with Office for National Statistics data showing a 66% rise in infections in a fortnight, with increases in Blackburn, Bradford and Manchester.

Where does that 66% figure come from? The ONS infection survey data released on July 31st showed an increase in the number of people testing positive over the past two weeks of just five. In the period June 29th to July 12th, 31,542 people were given a nose and throat swab, of whom 19 tested positive. In the period July 13th to July 26th, 28,325 people were swabbed, of whom 24 tested positive. So an increase of ~0.06% to ~0.085% in the unweighted sample. In the ONS table below, when weightings have been applied, this shows up as an increase in the percentage of the infected population in England of 0.05% to 0.09%. Is that the figure Tim Shipman’s referring to? If so, it’s based on an increase in the number of people testing positive of precisely five.

What about the claim that infections have increased in Blackburn, Bradford and Manchester? In section three of the ONS infection survey, headed “Regional Analysis”, there is the following caveat:

There is not enough evidence to say there are differences in the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in different regions of England.

Indeed, the daily average for the percentage of the population estimated to be infected in the North West remained constant at 0.05% from June 15th to July 26th. In the same period in London, by contrast, it increased from 0.10% to 0.14%. So why local lockdowns in the North West but not in London?

In Shipman’s article, he goes on to say:

Wednesday’s war game also featured a sobering session on what might happen if such an approach was needed in London, where the number of cases is rising, though not as fast as in the northwest.

Er, no. As we’ve seen, the number of cases isn’t rising at all in the North West and is estimated to be rising a bit in London. (Was one of the five new cases in London?) So what does Boris intend to do if the number of cases in London continues to rise? Here’s where Shipman’s article makes for alarming reading.

In the war game, Johnson and Sunak agreed that in the event of a London outbreak, it might be necessary to scrap the entire “green list” of countries exempt from quarantine, meaning all arrivals would have to self-isolate for 14 days. “We’d need quick guillotine decisions,” one of those present said.

In March, the Prime Minister considered, and rejected, plans to lock down the capital harder than the rest of the country. But in Wednesday’s war game he agreed that if infections rose significantly, overnight stays in London would be banned, Londoners could be subject to stay-at-home orders, and close-contact services such as hairdressers would close. “The challenge in London is how quickly people move around on the trains and Tube,” a source said. “It would potentially spread much quicker than in other areas so you’d have to be quicker on the regional hammer in London.”

Most controversially, the ministers concluded that people would be advised not to travel in and out of the capital, raising the prospect of restrictions on those inside the M25. “That would be the border point,” an insider said.

God help the nine million people who live in London. A mad, hammer-wielding maniac has taken up residence in Downing Street and will “whack” the capital if a handful of more people start testing positive for the virus, regardless of the damage he’ll do to public health and the economy.

In the third scenario, which Whitehall officials called the “frog boiling” scenario, the prevalence of the virus increases gradually but inexorably across the entire country, with local lockdowns failing to snuff out fires. The response here, apparently, would be to extend the “shielding” policy to encompass everyone over 65!

Johnson sanctioned work to go ahead on plans for “enhanced shielding”, which would see the number of people judged clinically vulnerable and urged to stay at home increased from the current total of 2.2 million to “a much wider group”.

Yesterday, more than two million vulnerable people were released from shielding in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

This “segmentation approach” would see many more people receive a tailored letter in September or October, “before it gets cold”, spelling out their risk factors. Health issues and age would be taken into account – an approach that is likely to mean that a large number of people aged between 50 and 70 would be urged to stay out of harm’s way. Personalised advice is possible because scientists have better evidence about which factors most effect whether people survive COVID-19.

“At the moment, shielding is binary, you’re either on this list or off it,” said one of those familiar with the thinking. “But we know there isn’t a simple cut-off at age 70. People would get a personalised risk assessment. The risk rises after 50, quite gently to start with, and then accelerates after age 70.”

It is likely that this would mean people being put in tiered risk levels but would be controversial because it could be depicted as quarantine by age. Most of those affected, if the shielding plans are adopted, are likely to be over 65.

Can’t the over-65s just carry crucifixes and cloves of garlic to ward off the vampiric virus? I’m sure that would result in a far lower loss of life than imprisoning them in their homes.

Postcard From Melbourne

And if you want a glimpse of the future, a reader has written a “Postcard From Melbourne“, where a draconian second lockdown has been imposed by the Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews after a minor uptick in infections. It’s not pretty.

Lockdown 2.0 was quickly imposed, a few postcode areas first then all of metropolitan Melbourne. A concern to anyone who values their liberty had to be the total lockdown of a number of housing commission apartment blocks with zero notice. By the time the Dear Leader had finished his announcement on TV that no one would be allowed to leave these tower blocks there were already hundreds of police surrounding them forcibly stopping anyone from leaving. Considering in ‘normal’ times they can’t rustle up two cops to attend burglaries, night-time home invasions or muggings etc. they were able to find 500 of them to police this hard lockdown with no trouble at all.

Of course the lockdown has had little effect so next was mandatory face nappies for all when you’re outside your house with $200 fines gleefully being handed out by the Vicstapo. Before that has even had any chance to have an effect Prof Sutton and Comrade Andrews are informing us that ‘Stage 4’ Lockdown will have to be implemented or the world will end. Still no concrete details but from leaks in the news sites it will be like NZ, everything barring supermarkets and essential services closed, no travel more than 5km from home, one occupant from a house allowed to go shopping and a huge increase in police patrols using numberplate recognition cameras to catch and fine anyone not complying with this madness.

I’ve given up trying to have an adult discussion with anyone here. I know of only two people who are lockdown sceptics like me. Every single other person you speak to is a complete COVID Lockdown fanatic who will not contemplate any other view. It’s quite unsettling. Aussies love to make out they are this rough, tough, she’ll be right, bunch of rebels when in reality they are a nation of supine, compliant rule followers who love nothing more than ‘dobbing in’ someone else for not following the most petty of rules and regulations. They are such a nation of bedwetters someone has actually started manufacturing home wares with portraits of the Victorian Chief Health Officer, Health Minister and State Premier – bizarre and creepy!!

Worth reading in full.

No “Second Wave” in Western Europe, Says Theoretical Physicist

Today I’m publishing a third update in the “Canaries in the Mine” series produced by Dr Rudolph Kalveks. Dr Kalveks, who has a PhD in theoretical physics, has used a standard tool in epidemiology – the Susceptible-Infected-Recovered/Resolved or (“SIR”) model – to analyse the lifecycle of the virus in different regions. In his first article in the series, he concluded that in Europe and America the pandemic was approaching the end of its life and a “second wave” was unlikely. He looked at the data again in the second article in the series and saw nothing to change his mind, and did the same in the third, concluding that while the fatalities might not have reached a ceiling in some US states they had in Western Europe. That’s also what the data indicate in his fourth analysis, published today.

The curves show that when the penetration of coronavirus in a country reaches a ceiling, typically represented by a fatality rate below 0.1% of its population, its spread slows to a standstill, with few further fatalities arising. This certainly appears to have been the case in mainland Western Europe, where the average daily death rates from the coronavirus have now declined to single figures (in terms of individuals) in every country, notwithstanding the relaxation of many of the lockdown restrictions imposed early during the pandemic. The “Canaries” are telling us empirically that Western Europe has reached or is close to herd immunity. Prof. Gupta at Oxford and other epidemiologists explain this in terms of the immune mechanisms at work in addition to antibodies, such as T-cells.

Worth reading in full. You can see all four analyses on the right-hand side as sub-pages of “How Reliable is Imperial College’s Modelling?”

Thousands of Protestors Join Anti-Lockdown March in Berlin

Great to see so many people turn out for an anti-lockdown protest in Berlin yesterday. A crowd of people, many not wearing masks, marched from the Brandenburg Gate on Saturday ahead of a rally in Tiergarten park. The demonstration was called “The end of the pandemic: freedom day”. Euronews has more.

Protesters held up placards promoting conspiracy theories such as “Corona, false alarm”, and there were chants of “we’re here and we’re loud, because we are being robbed of our freedom”.

Placards also read “we are being forced to wear a muzzle” and “natural defence instead of vaccination”.

According to the BBC, which also reported on the march, over 15,000 people turned out (although some local observers put it at 20,000).

The mood is peaceful but hardly anyone is wearing a face-covering or observing the required social distancing, our correspondent says.

“Our demand is to go back to democracy. Away with these laws that have been imposed on us, away with the masks that make us slaves,” said one woman.

Restrictions in Germany include the wearing of face-coverings in shops and on public transport, social distancing rules and hygiene requirements apply throughout the country. Mandatory testing has been introduced for holidaymakers returning from high-risk areas.

Germany has had more than 210,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 9,000 related deaths since the pandemic began.

What the BBC neglects to mention is that 9,000 deaths is less than half of the German death toll for seasonal flu in 2017-18.

The mainstream German papers have reacted to the demo in a typically hostile way. The German-speaking reader of Lockdown Sceptics who has scanned the German papers for us before has had a look.

German papers are highly critical of the demonstrators. The Frankfurter Allgemeine describes the people attending as “corona deniers” who, with their refusal to wear masks and adhere to social distancing rules (hardly surprising given they were protesting against lockdown regulations) are described – at best – as misfits endangering the health of others. At worst they are linked to neo-Nazi groups whose support for the demo is mentioned in several reports and helps to underscore the sense that people demonstrating to retain basic freedoms are extremists. Tarring lockdown scepticism with right-wing extremism has always been a common and obviously emotive thread in German reporting.

Bild is similarly relentlessly critical, painting the protesters as “corona deniers”, “conspiracy theorists” and “right-wing extremists”. Reading these reports you’d conclude that no moderate sceptics bothered turning up. The report is immediately followed by a headline shrieking that there are 15 new cases in Hamburg. Hamburg has a population of 1.9 million.

The Sueddeutsche reports on subsequent arrests of protesters, and features a quote from the Justice minister, Christine Lambrecht. “The freedom to demonstrate is an important right, underpinning democracy,” she begins hopefully. But she then shows scant regard for this right: “However, demonstrators should adhere to regulations that exist to protect public health, and I have no sympathy for anyone who so self-importantly ignores them.”

Cornwall Residents “Terrified” of Tourists

There was a depressing story in the Independent yesterday about how local residents in Cornwall are reacting with horror to the influx of “staycation” tourists.

Residents in Cornwall have expressed dismay at overcrowding due to an influx of domestic tourists on so-called staycation in the UK.

One local in Wadebridge said on Facebook that some tourists were not socially distancing because they “feel safe down here”.

“My shielding is paused from today but I’m too scared to go out,” she said. “Tried walking into town a couple of times but no social distancing at all. I was constantly doubling back, leaping out of the way and panicking just to keep my distance from the hoards. It’s horrifying.”

Another, in St Ives, said she was “too scared” to go food shopping because of the crowds and had told her children not to visit the main shopping street or the harbour seafront.

This was “the general consensus among friends,” holiday lettings manager Claire Harris told the BBC.

I was thinking of holidaying in Cornwall this year, having been many times before and loved it. But if the locals really are leaping out of the way at the sight of any tourists, I’m glad I didn’t.

The Mail has the same story. Apparently, some locals have taken to calling Cornwall “Benidorm on steroids”, while local “Marshalls” are patrolling the streets, making sure social distancing is being observed.

A Catholic Writes

A reader who recently converted to Catholicism has got in touch to tell me about his experience of attending Mass again for the first time in months. It wasn’t pleasant.

I am writing to you to share my experience of returning to Mass recently. As I had only become a Catholic last November you can imagine how much I was looking forward to returning to Mass a few weeks ago. However, my joy quickly turned to sadness. At the door of the church I was greeted by a “steward” who told me I had to put on a mask and then escorted me to my seat. Talking to other people was not allowed before or after the mass. Worst of all, the stewards were all donning masks, visors, surgical gowns and gloves. It made the experience more like an appointment at the dentist than worship! Oh, and I nearly forgot to say that no singing was allowed and when the priest came to distribute the host he silently dropped it into my hands. The service was shortened to 30 minutes. Evidently a full hour Mass might be deadly even though I could go and sit with a friend in the pub for hours safely! I left the service deflated and pondering whether to go again until these ridiculous restrictions are lifted. Perhaps I should start a catholic resistance movement called Massked Resistance.


Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Just one today: “You Don’t Need a Mask” by Rick Estrin and the Nightcats

Small Businesses That Have Re-Opened

A couple of months 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.

Forums Back Up and Running

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.

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums that are now open. Initially, they became a spam magnet so we temporarily closed them. However, we’ve found a team of people wiling to serve as moderators so the Forums are back up and running. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

I thought I’d create a new permanent slot down here for people who want to buy (or make) a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and it has the advantage of not explicitly claiming you have a disability. But if you have no qualms about that (or you are disabled), you can buy a lanyard from Amazon saying you do have a disability/medical exemption here (although it’s showing a delivery date of Sept 7th to 16th). The Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. You can get a “Hidden Disability” tag from eBay here and an NHS exemption notice for just £2.99 from Etsy here (see above).

And don’t forget to sign the petition on the UK Government’s petitions website calling for an end to mandatory face nappies in shops here.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the past 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. If you feel like donating, however small the sum, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here.

And Finally…