Latest News

Saint Jacinda Postpones General Election

The Toothy Tyrant has postponed the General Election

Remember the outrage on the liberal left last month after Trump raised the possibility of postponing the November election? This was treated as the last word in undemocratic, populist demagoguery. How dare he?!? Well, Jacinda Arden has done precisely that – postponed the New Zealand General Election from September 19th to October 17th. The BBC has more.

Ms Ardern said on Monday that the new date would allow parties “to plan around the range of circumstances we will be campaigning under”.

Earlier this week, the country’s largest city went back into lockdown.

“This decision gives all parties time over the next nine weeks to campaign and the Electoral Commission enough time to ensure an election can go ahead,” Ms Ardern said, adding that she had “absolutely no intention” of allowing any further delays to the vote.

The opposition National Party has argued the election should be delayed as restrictions on campaigning mean Ms Ardern had an unfair advantage.

Restrictions were imposed on Auckland on Wednesday after a number of new infections were identified in the city.

Nine new coronavirus cases were confirmed on Monday, bringing the number of active cases linked to the Auckland cluster to 58.

The outbreak was initially traced back to members of one family, although Ms Ardern later said that subsequent contact-tracing had found an earlier case involving a shop worker who became sick on July 31st.

A health official who knew the family told the New Zealand Herald that the family were “shell-shocked” and “a little embarrassed that it had happened to them”.

The announcement that new cases had been discovered shocked the country, which had recorded no locally transmitted cases for more than three months.

In normal times, this would be greeted with outrage. The Toothy Tyrant is imprisoning New Zealand citizens in secure facilities if they test positive for the virus, along with every member of their household – and in addition to this grotesque violation of civil liberties, she has now postponed the General Election and is planning to remain in office after her three-year term has expired.

But as was pointed out in the recent “Postcard From New Zealand“, she’ll almost certainly win in October in a landslide.

France to Make Face Masks Compulsory at Work

Bad news from across the Channel. According to today’s Telegraph, France is considering whether to make face-masks compulsory in shared workplaces such as open-plan offices, factories and conference rooms.

Elisabeth Borne, the employment minister, is to discuss the proposal with employers and union leaders on Tuesday.

She said scientists unanimously recommended wearing masks “when several people are in a confined space.” They will only be compulsory in individual offices when more than one person is present.

The government is also considering strengthening other workplace precautions such as plastic dividers for open-plan offices. “Taking into account what we have observed in workplace clusters, additional precautions are sometimes worth taking,” Ms Borne said.

She said employers who place seasonal workers such as hotel staff or fruit pickers in shared accommodation may be asked to do more to ensure that social distancing is maintained and masks are worn.

Face-masks are already compulsory in indoor public spaces, but doctors and the government’s scientific advisors have lobbied for the rule to be extended to private companies. Many French cities have made them mandatory in crowded areas.

So what public health “emergency” is this draconian policy based on? You guessed it: a rise in cases with no corresponding rise in hospitalisations or deaths. France reported 3,310 new cases on Saturday, but only 29 new hospital admissions and just nine ICU patients. You read that right: nine. As the Telegraph reports, many of the new cases are younger people under 45 who tend not to have symptoms.

A Lockdown Sceptics Saint?

A reader has sent me the above quote from St Anthony the Great. Sounds like he’s the Lockdown Sceptics saint we’ve been looking for.

Covid No More Deadly Than Seasonal Flu in Ireland

Yesterday, I wrote about a Twitter thread by financial analyst Graham Neary showing that Neil Ferguson’s estimate of Covid’s IFR was based on an analysis of just six flights out of Wuhan from January 30th to February 1st.

Gordon Hughes, a Professor of Economics at Edinburgh University, has been in touch to point out that Neary produced another thread on August 11th in which he analysed the excess death data for Ireland and concludes that the excess deaths in April 2020, assumed to be partly caused by COVID-19, were no greater than they were in January 2017 and January 2018 (assumed to be partly caused by seasonal flu) and excess deaths in May 2020 were no higher than in a typical April or May. You can see the Twitter thread here and read the unrolled version here.

Here is Professor Hughes’s summary.

In effect he argues, using methods that are pretty robust, that the effect of COVID-19 in Ireland has been no worse than – and probably less bad than – an average flu season. After adjustments for the timing of death registrations, population, etc the cumulative sum of deaths in Ireland from Jan to May 2020 was less than in 3 out of the preceding 5 years. The winter of 2019-20 was a relatively mild flu season so that what COVID-19 has done is to offset the lower number of deaths from flu. On a monthly basis April 2020 was almost the exactly the same as January in two bad flu seasons (2016-17 and 2017-18).

Clearly the situation in the UK has been worse, almost certainly because of a more dense population and larger cities – and possibly because of more people in care homes. If you strip out the care home element I would expect that the figures for most of the UK outside London has been similar to that for Ireland.

To go back to the IFR, nobody really knows what the IFR is for flu because estimates of the number of flu cases is about as unreliable as for the number of COVID-19 cases. It is possible that the IFR for COVID-19 is somewhat higher than than for flu because fewer people in Ireland contracted it but no-one can be confident of that while there is so much uncertainty about the true incidence of either flu or COVID-19 in the population. Even so it is certainly not an order of magnitude higher.

The true lesson of this whole sorry episode is the enormous cost of failing to monitor the incidence of pandemic or other diseases properly in the population. The ONS sample should be far bigger – perhaps 100,000 per week – and should be systematically carried out on a long term basis to monitor other respiratory diseases at short notice, since most widespread pandemics will be respiratory diseases now that we have reasonable control of water-borne diseases.

Professor Hughes made a further point, which I thought was very good.

There is a more general and separate point that I have been thinking about. At the outset COVID-19 was treated as an area for specialists (epidemiologists) but it has become clear that there is a whole group of competent data analysts who have provided new information and better analysis that goes way beyond the stuff produced by insiders. Not only Neary but Nic Lewis and many others from outside epidemiology. In part this is due to the heavy weight of academic convention, so that insiders want to satisfy their peers, whereas outsiders are more likely to be looking for illumination and answers. In part it reflects the fact that epidemiology doesn’t use methods or data that go significantly beyond what economists, statisticians, etc., are used to. There is, for example, nothing in the pandemic models of Ferguson et al that is really different from economic models that I and others have used in the past, while their statistical skills appear to be limited (to put it politely).

The corollary is that a setup by which governments only consult insiders has proved woefully inefficient because it is trapped by the prior assumptions and restricted data and analyses within a small group. This might be forgiven when the crisis first arose but it is inexcusable to persist in that behaviour once the implications and costs of the pandemic became clear. It is easy to recognise the bureaucratic reasons for resisting some kind of open source approach. However, since it has become clear to everyone that the Westminster political/administrative/media elite has failed badly – though there are wide differences on why or how – I would hope that the lesson is learned that things must be handled differently in future. This is nothing to do with conventional politics, since the devolved administrations have performed no better.

He’s not wrong. Many independent researchers, particularly financial analysts, have produced better risk assessments of COVID-19 than the Government’s scientific advisors. Indeed, if SAGE was replaced with a group of independent researchers the Government would probably have been better advised.

Don’t Go to Dubai

A reader who wrote to me before about the difficulty of obtaining a birth certificate and passport for her newborn has written again, this time about the ludicrous expense of complying with Dubai’s Covid travel guidance.

My brother and his fiancée live in Dubai. My parents regularly visit them and we have had plans for months (pre-Covid) to go and visit them in October half term this year. We had naively assumed that by October things should be getting back to normal travel wise. However, I spoke with my mum and brother yesterday and they had been doing some research into travelling there – my parents are due to go out in mid September.

So… as it currently stands you have to have a COVID-19 test 96 hours before you fly. This must come with a certificate and so an NHS test is not accepted – you need to pay £200 for a private one. For us as a family of five (assuming children need the test also) that’s £1,000 on top of the cost of the holiday. Then, 96 hours before you leave Dubai you need another test to enable you to be allowed to fly home. These tests are £300 per person plus £300 for a doctors fee to give you the test – so £3,000 for us in total. You also need to wait in a room until you have your test results – so on a six-day holiday we would potentially be spending a day sitting in a doctor’s waiting room.

Then, if you test positive you are moved to government accommodation and I guess not allowed to fly home although that’s not clear from what I’ve read. If you are negative and can fly home you then must self-isolate/quarantine for 14 days once back in England – not sure why if you have the proof to say you don’t have Covid from the test, but then nothing makes any logical sense anymore does it?

So at an additional cost of £4K it is safe to say we will now cancel our visit to see my brother. I am not bothered about another cancelled holiday – that is now then norm in these times. It is just so worrying and frustrating how incompetent the people are in these positions of authority making the rules (up as they go along).

Postcard From Dartmouth

A reader has sent an account of her recent holiday in Dartmouth. Sounds pretty good.

We were a little nervous for what was our first major stay away since March 20th. This was partly because we had stayed before, fallen in love with the place and did not want to be disappointed. We stayed at the Dart Marina Hotel, right next to the Higher Ferry, a source of endless entertainment for us, as we can see it from our terrace. The hotel is wonderful. The staff there always give top-notch service, and the attention to detail is marvellous. It was a relief to see that most of their excellent staff have weathered the lockdown.

The town was busy, this being the hottest weekend of the year. We walked up to town with the intention of partaking in some retail therapy, and we realised that we had left our exemption lanyards in the boot of the car. We both thought, “stuff it, let’s blag it”, which we did. We visited a lingerie store (no mask, no problem), a men’s outfitters (no mask, no problem), a newsagent (challenged, but no problem when the magic word “exempt” was said) and a liquor store (same as the newsagent). At the latter, the lady customer right behind us, perhaps having heard us, claimed exemption as well.

On Saturday, we dined at Mitch Tonks’ Seahorse Al Mare. Mitch has had to move his operation from his fixed premises, not because of the virus, but because he was flooded out, courtesy of a burst water-main. Very creatively, he got permission for a covered venue right on the waterfront, and it was wonderful. No muzzles, no hassle, just good food and happy people.

We spent an amusing weekend observing the behaviour of other visitors. I imagine that many of them would have gone to Magaluf or Benidorm in more normal times, but the virus has driven them here. We saw numerous people wearing masks on the street (not required) but reassuringly, as the weekend wore on, we saw fewer instances of this.


Small Businesses That Have Re-Opened

A few 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.

A reader has put forward a good suggestion.

I was wondering if your map of businesses who have opened could be expanded to businesses who display “No mask? We won’t ask” sign? That would allow us mask-refusers to know where we are safe to visit without risking a drama with a Covid loon, and also reward those plucky businesses with our custom. It’s been interesting to see how the Covid terror only seems to last as long as financial necessity allows (note previously hysterical pub landlords get much less worried when they are allowed to re-open) so I’d be interested to see if a line of mask free customers outside one shop tempted its neighbours to risk the plague.

Love in the Time of Covid

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 attention (including this piece on Fox News). 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.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

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 Oct 1st to Oct 10th). 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 29,000). 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).

A reader reports on a trip to Alton Towers to celebrate his wife’s birthday. Obtaining a “Mask Exempt” card so face covering didn’t have to be worn on the rides was surprisingly easy.

We arrived at the Towers carpark just about 9.45am. The first thing I noticed was the semi-socially distanced snake of theme park guests walking the mile from the carpark to the park entrance. Previous visitors will know that a series of monorail trains convey guests between these to locations in better times. I assumed that the need to deep-clean and fumigate each 6-person compartment on the monorail after a live human had used it, meant it impractical to run the service. No worry; the wife wants to loose weight so an extra 3,000 steps wouldn’t do any harm. We parked up and joined the throng. What was most disappointing at this point was the number of people already fully muzzled; around 40 to 50% I’d say.

Entry to the park involved having an IR thermometer pointed at your forehead to take your temperature. Saturday morning was blessedly quite cool and my family all passed that test. Given UK obesity levels, I wonder how many guests were rejected for elevated temperatures because they’d just been made to walk a mile for the first time in how long? Particularly earlier in the week when the ambient temperatures were much higher.

Once in, I made my way swiftly to guest services. I joined the shortest queue of the day and soon found myself served. I had the page from that explains the reasons for possible muzzle exemption loaded on my phonee and had it centred on ‘severe distress’. I presented my phone…

“Hi, can I have a face mask exemption card please? I have severe distress.”

“Yeah, sure.”

The happy staff member grabbed one from the pile, wrote my name in the space on the back and and handed it to me. Simplest transaction of the day.

The first few rides we went on I was asked to muzzle up but each time, I just flashed my card and it worked a treat. No further questions, hassles, comments, etc. By the second half of the day, I wasn’t even being asked.

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. Doing these daily updates is a lot of work (although I have help from several people, including one indefatigable techie who doesn’t want to be named). If you feel like donating, 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…

Encouraging graphic in yesterday’s Sunday Times. Still a long way to go, but the British public is becoming less sheep-like.