Embarrassing story in the Guardian today. The Government has quietly wiped 1.3 million COVID-19 swabs off the official testing count. This was disclosed on the Department for Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) website on Wednesday. Under a section entitled “Adjustments to the historical ‘tests made available’ data” it said:
An adjustment of -1,308,071 has been made to the historic data for the ‘tests made available’ metric.
The adjustments have been made as a result of more accurate data collection and reporting processes recently being adopted within pillar 2 and a subsequent recalibration of the data we reported between 29 March 2020 and 11 August 2020.
These new data processed identified tests that had previously not been readily identifiable at the labs processing stage, and tests that had been sent out by a testing channel on behalf of another channel.
This resulted in a double-counting of test kits that had been dispatched and which had not been removed from the labs processed data.
In identifying this data pillar 2 established that fewer in-person tests had been conducted than originally reported, and more tests had been sent to NHS trusts and care homes than originally reported.
The Guardian has rung up a few of the Government’s criticisms, including a shadow health spokesman, and assembled a choice collection of quotes. Here’s what Allyson Pollock, a Clinical Professor of Public Health at Newcastle University, said: “The government needs to make clear what they mean by an adjustment and why the change has taken place.”
The MailOnLine has done a follow-up story and asked Carl Heneghan what he thinks caused the error.
He said the issue appears to have come from when the Department of Heath split testing into pillars one and two.
Pillar one refers to tests done in hospitals and medical facilities while pillar two is members of the public who are tested in drive-through, walk-in or home tests.
Professor Heneghan told MailOnline: ‘There is seemingly a problem when you start to introduce pillar one and pillar two tests – they seemed to be double-counting tests.
‘Somebody would have a pillar two test and then gone into hospital and had a pillar one test, and they thought it was two people.’
He said it was unsurprising that data errors were creeping and that some allowances should be made because of a difficult situation, but that it is ‘vital’ that numbers are correct.
Professor Heneghan said: ‘If the number of cases is wrong, the case fatality rate and everything gets skewed.
‘It is vital they’re correct but, to be honest, it doesn’t surprise me there have been areas where you’ve had discrepancies that need to be corrected.’
He added: ‘It does concern me and I think it’s important that data and epidemiology is transparent and it’s clear that [decisions] actually are based on up to date info.
‘What we’re interested in is understanding trends, and information has to be correct for that.’
If Professor Heneghan is right and the double counting has involved counting a person who tests positive in a pillar two test and then tests positive in a pillar one test after they’re admitted to hospital as two people, that means the DHSC has been over-counting the number of positives.
The author of “Dead Souls“, an essay I published a couple of weeks ago comparing the compilers of the Government’s Covid mortality statistics to Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov, the anti-hero of Gogol’s Dead Souls, has written an update called “Fewer Dead Souls” that I’ve published today. It’s a response to PHE removing over 5,000 souls from the total number of Covid deaths in England earlier in the week.
In a previous essay, I speculated that somewhere in the bowels of Public Health England (PHE) there was someone who had worked out, like Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov, a method of making use of dead souls. At the time, I wondered if these dead, reported daily on the Government’s Covid dashboard, were being created literally out of nothing, as there was no trace of them in the detailed death tabulations produced by the ONS. As it turns out, that part of my speculation was incorrect.
The Chichikov in question was a Professor Newton (John, not Isaac) who had decided at an early stage of the epidemic to define death-by-Covid in such a way that he could borrow genuine deaths that were properly registered as being from other causes and claim them, for the indefinite future, provided the deceased had tested positive at some point for COVID-19. He feared, it seems, that without this resource, PHE might have been “underestimating deaths caused by the virus in the early stages”. This is a very strange explanation, as one thing that was absolutely not achieved was to avoid underestimation in the early stages. You may recall a chart (originated by Carl Heneghan and reproduced in my earlier essay) that showed clearly that PHE had underestimated Covid-related deaths during the peak of the epidemic, but had been making up ground to an ever increasing degree, more or less ever since. Under the special definition adopted, PHE was able to continue combing through registered deaths and matching them up retrospectively with the NHS England numbers of people who had, at some some time in the past, tested positive.
Worth reading in full.
A reader has sent me a depressing “Postcard From New Zealand” that I’ve published today. Saint Jacinda becomes ever more powerful and – bafflingly – ever more popular. Her most recent act has been to decree that anyone testing positive for the virus, as well as all members of the same household, will be interned in “self isolation facilities” – prisons in all but name.
Legally, there is little we can do to challenge this. New Zealand does not have a constitution. Our rights as citizens are described in our Bill of Rights Act, but this is not supreme law and does not override other laws. There is nothing preventing a law that breaches the Bill of Rights Act being passed, even by a simple majority in parliament. The courts are no help, as they usually choose to interpret breaches of the Bill of Rights in other laws according to their perception of Parliament’s intention. That is, an unintentional breach of the Bill of Rights Act may be successfully challenged in the courts, but an intentional one, as shown by the proceedings of parliament, cannot be successfully challenged because Parliament is sovereign and has the power to enact almost any law. In addition, there is only a single chamber of Parliament, so new laws have a relatively low hurdle to get over.
An example of government overreach can be seen in the recently passed COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020. This law provides a ridiculous amount of power to the Government. Under this Act, the Government can order any group of people to do almost anything including compelling people to stay at any location (apart from an actual prison) and undergo “medical testing” of “any kind”. (Isn’t that a breach of medical ethics?) The police have far-reaching powers of enforcement, including the power to enter people’s homes without warrants if they suspect an illegal gathering is taking place.
Worth reading in full.
I have written an op ed for today’s Telegraph criticising the Government’s decision to add France to the quarantine list.
On July 25, the French Government changed the rules on testing. Hitherto, the only way to avoid paying for a standard PCR test, in which your nose and throat are swabbed, was to get a prescription from your doctor.
But after the rule change, anyone could get a test free of charge. Not surprisingly, the number of people getting tested jumped – more than 600,000 people in the past week – and case numbers duly increased.
We’ve seen exactly the same pattern in parts of the UK: community testing increases and there’s a corresponding rise in recorded infections.
A half-way competent government would look at the testing data and contextualise it. You don’t need a degree in maths to compare the rise in the number of cases with the rise in the number of tests. Is the percentage in both cases the same? If so, you probably don’t have much to worry about.
Unfortunately, the geniuses at the head of our Government seem unable to do this. Instead, they apparently look at the raw case data and fly into a blind panic.
According to ministerial statements, at least, that appears to be what’s behind the last-minute decision to remove France from the “Green List” of countries you’re allowed to visit without having to quarantine on return.
There’s precious little evidence that France is currently in the midst of a “second wave”. On the contrary, if you look at Covid-19 hospitalisations, the number has remained largely stable for the past month.
In the comments beneath the piece, which are generally favourable, some have questioned whether the Government really is failing to contextualise the data. Isn’t it looking at the number of infected people per 100,000 in different countries and basing its decision on that? The answer is yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s contextualising the data.
Take the data for France from Our World in Data. It has a population: 66.9 million. In the week ending August 7th, there were 539,102 tests of which 9.060 were positive. This gives a positivity rate of 1.7% (539,102 divided by 9,060) and a cases per 100,000 of 13.5 (calculated by dividing 66.9 million by 9,060).
For the week ending August 14th, the number of tests is so far unknown but 13,732 were positive. So the positivity rate is unknown and the cases per 100,000 is 20.5. That’s the number the Government is basing the decision to remove France from the “Green List” on, not the positivity rate. Indeed, if the number of tests last week increased by a greater percentage than the number of positives, the positivity rate will be the same; if the percentage increase in testing was higher, the positivity rate will have declined, indicating a decline in the prevalence of the virus rather than a rise. To assume the number of cases per 100,000 has increased based on positive test results and nothing else is to fail to contextualise the data.
Worth reading in full, obviously, if you can get past the paywall.
A reader has flagged up the latest bit of lunacy from the Government.
Last night at 23:16, the UK Government advised that effective from today, i.e. 44 minutes warning, anyone arriving from Switzerland’s Basel EuroAirport will have to self-isolate, because “you will transit France and therefore will be required to self-isolate on your return to the UK”.
Clearly, some idiot has just looked at Google Maps and concluded that the airport is physically located in France, which is correct. However, access to the airport terminal from Basel, which in exclusively in Switzerland, is via a fenced-off road corridor, providing Swiss access to the airport without having to enter France.
So when my partner lands here and comes to stay with me, she and I will have to lock ourselves away for two weeks, regardless that I was exposed to the virus in March and still had borderline but significant antibodies in early and late June.
This is good example of what I call the “collapsing skyscraper” syndrome. You’re falling through a collapsing skyscraper and every time you think you’ve finally reached solid ground, the floor gives way again and you start falling again. The Government’s incompetence is bottomless.
A reader tells me about an unsatisfactory day trip to Sutton Hoo. Sounds like one to avoid.
I had wanted to go for ages, and did so last weekend with the family while on a pilgrimage to the Adnams brewery. Turned up at the Hoo three minutes after it opened at 10am. Not a soul in sight except for a pair at the gate to the car park in high vizzers. It turned out that it was necessary to prebook to go in, but high-viz-man was helpful and suggested we return at three-ish, ‘because most people book to go in early because they want a full day at it’. I was peeved, but my son is interested in archaeology. So we had a walk and went to the excellent White Lion at Lower Ufford to kill some time before returning.
High Viz man was there again and said we could go in. But I had to switch the car engine off so that he could deliver five minutes on the Covid protocols. Eventually we parked up and got in. NONE OF THE INDOOR EXHIBITIONS ARE OPEN! So you are expected to prebook your entirely outdoor walk around some hummocks, with no glimpse of the artefacts. There were high vizzers every few hundred yards. Each gate had hand sanitiser attached to it. My son asked: “Why are we looking at dirt?” We lasted about 20 minutes.
I cancelled the National Trust membership – I should have done so ages ago.
Another reader had a disappointing travel experience, this time in St David’s in Pembrokeshire.
On the way there we popped into a petrol station, just over the Welsh border, and it was a relief to see no-one wearing face masks, none required.
In St David’s itself the one supermarket was mask-free and the deli had moved its produce onto tables outdoor so no need to go inside. It was starting to feel like a holiday!
The weather was looking good so I went to book us a boat trip on one of the RIBs that takes visitors around the rocks and offshore islands. Had to wait an age as only one person allowed into the booking office at once, but I finally got in and decided on an evening trip out to Bishop Rock where you get to see shearwaters and puffins skimming the water as they fly home. We’ve done the trip before and I remembered the pod of porpoises we’d seen that time and was feeling pretty excited at going again. I gave my card details and was told to check in the morning of the trip to make sure the weather was ok and it was still going ahead. Bring warm things and waterproofs, they said, it’s always windy on a RIB and there will probably be sea spray. I thanked them and was heading for the door when they called out, Oh, and bring face masks! What? Yes, you have to wear one on the boat. What, on an open inflatable travelling at speed out at sea? Yes. What, for the whole duration of the trip? Yes, you see the boat is classed as public transport. Ah, yes, of course it is. In that case please cancel my booking. It was disappointing. No, actually it was infuriating! Popping up in this most magical of places was the illogical, irrational covid madness I thought we’d escaped from. Still, we went sea-kayaking instead and had a brilliant time paddling under the cliffs and around the rocky coves. Paddle your own boat. It’s the only way through this!
If you’re feeling faint, try not to keel over in front of a member of St John Ambulance, particularly if they’re carrying a towel.
- ‘We’re paying for an epidemic of stupidity‘ – Excellent piece in the Australian about how the innumeracy of journalists has contributed to this mess
- ‘This lapdog cabinet is the weakest in a century‘ – Max Hastings with a hard-hitting piece in the Times
- ‘Why was £108m of public money paid to Crisp Websites Limited?‘ – CrowdFunder launched by the Good Law Project
- ‘Why local spikes are unlikely to lead to more coronavirus deaths‘ – Another good piece by Sarah Knapton, Science Editor of the Telegraph
- ‘Coronavirus cases stable across most of England‘ – Even the BBC has been forced to admit the epidemic is over
- ‘This A-level fiasco is just the start of lockdown’s betrayal of the young‘ – Fraser Nelson’s column in the Telegraph is a must-read
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 (and some of them are at risk of having to close again). 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.
We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums that are now open, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of publicity. We have a team of moderators in place to remove spam and deal with the trolls, but sometimes it takes a little while so please bear with us. You have to register to use the Forums, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.
I’ve created a 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 (now showing it will arrive between Sept 3rd to Sept 12th). 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 “exempt” card or just £2.79 from Etsy here.
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 (now over 28,750). The Government responded to this petition today. Usual balls. You can read the response here.
A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption.
And here’s a round-up of the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of mask (threadbare at best).
Stop Press: Vancouver has made masks mandatory on public transport, although getting hold of a “mask exempt” lanyard turns out to be quite easy. A Canadian reader has the story.
Vancouver is finally making masks mandatory on transit starting on August 24th, though no reason was stated why it’s now happening other than making people feel safer on transit. My guess would be that September typically sees a surge in transit with schools and universities returning and people coming back from vacation so they are worrying about that
The transit authority also said they will be issuing exemption cards, though only at two offices in the entire lower mainland (Metro Vancouver area).
As I happen to work near one of those offices and my commute is 45mins on a bus I decided to go and see what was involved in getting an exemption…
Walked into the office and asked the receptionist: “Is this the place for exemption cards?” to which she answered “yes” and then just handed me one from a pile on the desk and that was it. I now have my exemption card – no forms, no proof, not even a record of issuing me one.
Might also note she wasn’t wearing a mask (but did have a screen on the desk) and wasn’t wearing gloves when she handed me the card, maybe I should complain about their covid standards…
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