Month: January 2021

Latest News

The Official Estimate of the Collateral Damage

Friday saw the publication of the Government’s assessment of direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 on excess mortality and morbidity. The Daily Mail has the details:

More than 100,000 people are likely to die from non-coronavirus causes because of the pandemic, according to an official Government estimate.

By the end of next month the chaos in hospitals and care homes will have led to 46,000 avoidable deaths, Department of Health research has suggested.

Cancellations to routine operations may cause 18,000 excess deaths in the long-term, on top of hundreds more from cancer.

Officials calculated that over the next few years another 40,000 people may die due to the economic impact of lockdown, including rising unemployment and mental health issues.

The Government paper says the overall death toll of the pandemic will be 222,000, with 54% dying from the virus.

Overall, scientists suggest there will be 105,000 additional deaths because of the enormous disruption to non-Covid NHS care, as well as the economic downturn.

The document, dated December 17th and published yesterday by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), was drawn up by civil servants at the Department of Health, the Office for National Statistics and the Home Office.

It laid bare the unintended consequences of lockdown in detail, but stressed that the overall death toll would be far higher without the draconian restrictions.

So far more than 103,000 people in the UK have died after testing positive for COVID-19. 

Without lockdown, another 97,000 would have died from this winter alone, the report said.

The document also suggested the number of virus deaths could reach 122,000 by the end of next month…

The research supports a series of warnings from health charities that non-Covid patients are becoming “collateral damage” of the pandemic.

It said that plummeting non-Covid hospital admissions led to 4,000 excess deaths early in the pandemic, when many people avoided A&E even when they were suffering a heart attack or stroke. 

Continuing disruption to emergency care could lead to a further 10,000 deaths in the second wave, the document said.

The cancellation of operations and outpatient appointments could cause 18,200 deaths.

And the impact on GP services could result in at least 1,400 deaths over five years from missed cancer diagnoses, according to an early estimate which only examined figures up to August.

Excess deaths from non-Covid among adults receiving social care could hit 32,000 by the end of March due to reduced support and a rush to discharge vulnerable patients from hospital.

The report illustrated how even with a successful vaccination programme deaths are likely to remain well above pre-pandemic levels for years.

Of the 222,000 toll, 61,000 deaths were estimated to take place after this March.

The report said that the health impact of the ensuing recession is likely to be much worse than previously feared because “the bounce-back and recovery are likely to be at a slower pace than previously predicted”.

When assessing the Government’s claim that the Covid death toll would be roughly twice as high absent the three lockdowns, it’s worth remembering that Sweden’s deaths per million in 2020 were bang on the EU average in spite of not imposing any lockdowns last year. That suggests the lockdowns imposed in every other EU member state did nothing to reduce Covid mortality.

The report itself goes into more detail.

Under our central scenario there is a loss of approximately 1.3 million QALYs as a consequence of this pandemic induced recession. These health losses are largely accrued in the medium to long-term, with the morbidity affects largely falling in the medium term and the resultant mortality impacts falling in the longer-term. Under the upside scenario, there is an estimated 0.23 million QALY loss in the medium and long-run and under the downside scenario, there is an estimated 2.7 million QALY loss in the medium and long-run from COVID-19

Overall, our analysis suggests that the recession resulting from COVID-19 and restrictions on activities to contain it could have large effects on lives through unemployment, mental health impacts, loss of income and increased financial uncertainty. These impacts are likely to have medium and long-term consequences on population health in terms of increased morbidity and mortality

This analysis also presents an increase in the impact of the recession on medium and long-term health compared to our previous update. This is because more recent economic forecasts suggest the bounce-back and recovery are likely to be at a slower pace than previously predicted, and therefore the health impacts from the economic downturn accumulate over a longer period of time than previously considered.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Psychologist Dr Oliver Robinson is hosting a webinar on Saturday February 13th, 4 – 6pm, examining the the (in)effectiveness of lockdowns in bringing down infection rates and the impact they have on mental health. Tickets are £10 each—£5 if you’re eligible for the concessionary rate – and can be purchased here.

The Catastrophic Impact of School Closures

Bob Moran’s cartoon in the Telegraph on June 25th, 2020

On January 29th, the Education Endowment Foundation published a paper on the effect of school closures and subsequent support strategies on attainment and socio-emotional wellbeing on school pupils in Key Stage 1. The paper focusses on the the impact on the attainment gap in reading and maths and is based on assessments taken by nearly 6,000 Year 2 pupils in 168 different schools in the autumn term. The paper takes a standardised sample of assessments carried out in 2017 as its counterfactual; as its estimate of what progress might have made had pupils been in school as usual.

The findings are concerning, though not surprising:

This study confirms that, following the disruption to schooling in the 2020 spring and summer terms, Year 2 pupils had significantly lower achievement in both reading and maths in autumn 2020 when compared to performance seen in Year 2 in the autumn term of 2017. This represents a COVID-19 gap of around two months’ progress for both reading and maths.

The adverse effect is most pronounced among disadvantaged students. In both reading and in maths, the researchers found that the difference in standardised test scores between pupils on free school meals and pupils not on free school meals represented a gap of seven months of learning. It could not assess how far the gap had grown as a result of lockdown, as the 2017 data did not make this comparison, but by way of context, it says that the 2019 disadvantage gap was approximately six months. It concludes: “It seems that the disadvantage gap is wider than earlier estimates, and will likely be further exacerbated by school closures in early 2021”.

Worth reading in full.

Schools in England and Northern Ireland are set to remain closed until at least March 8th, and in Scotland and Wales until at least the middle of February. It will be difficult, when schools finally do re-open, to repair the damage done. The Prime Minister has penned an open letter to parents, in which he says:

When all this is over we’re going to be putting hundreds of millions of pounds into nationwide catch-up programmes so that nobody gets left behind.

Stop Press: A new piece of research carried out in Norway has found “minimal child-to-child and child-to-adult transmission in primary schools”. In other words, reopening primary schools now would not increase Covid infections.

Stop Press 2: Lockdown TV on Unherd has a special report on the closure of schools, getting perspectives from Katharine Birbalsingh, Headmistress of the Michaela Community School in northwest London, Miriam Cates MP and Alex Gutentag, a public school teacher from Oakland in California.

Stop Press 3: Boris Johnson will have to significantly increase the education budget when the crisis is over, says Isabel Hardman in the Spectator. She interviewed Robert Halfon, the Conservative chair of the Education Select Committee, and the Labour Peer Lord Adonis for the Week in Westminster, and both agree that education needs to be a post-pandemic priority for the Government.

Stop Press 4: Lockdown Sceptics may just have found a point of agreement with Professor Devi Sridhar. Who would have thunk it?

University Clamps Down on Rogue Scrabble Players

An anonymous reader of Lockdown Sceptics writes:

Anyone quaking in their boots with the current round of Covid terror sweeping the nation will be reassured to know that university officialdom is on top of the crisis. My neighbour’s son is at a university in the north of England. The other day he spurned the piffling misdemeanour of attending an all-night rave with several hundred other party people and went for the blatantly lethal and inconsiderate option of playing Scrabble with one other person from his hall and two from the adjacent building. Fortunately, the ever-vigilant university surveillance hit squad operatives who patrol the compound all night pounced on this incipient super-spreader hotspot and broke up the illegal mass-gathering of four Covidiot-insurgents. That they’ve all already had Covid of course counts for nothing as obviously they might have been re-infected. 

The young maniac is now under ‘investigation’ but one of his tutors has advised him to write a letter claiming his mental health is under duress and that he needed to see other people. It’s reassuring to know that young people today are being made fully aware of their responsibilities, and in this case presenting this reckless fool with either being labelled as a vicious, semi-criminal member of the under-class of Covid subversives, or afflicted with mental illness. Either will serve as a warning to others and teach him a lesson he’ll be paying for for the rest of his life, the best way to treat a seditious young person. It’s also useful to know that the universities are finding productive ways to spend their extortionate fees to keep us all safe instead of wasting it on teaching or offering any other services.

Stop Press: For more on the experience of students during the lockdown, listen to the Planet Normal Podcast with the Telegraph’s Allison Pearson and Liam Halligan. In the latest episode they speak to a third-year geophysics student at the University of Durham.

My Mask Battle With the NHS

A reader has written in to share his experiences of getting treatment for his toe over the last few months, an experience dominated by masks.

Last September 29th, I went into a hospital up in the North East to have my big toe joint replaced with a silastic one.

I’ve never worn a mask anywhere and do not possess one. And when I bowled into the ward early in the morning, without a mask, nobody said a word to me. The nurse who was assessing me agreed when I said that mask wearing was a lot of nonsense, but said she would be sacked if she were to say that openly. She burst into tears when I sympathised with her and she said the strain was getting to her. Many of the staff on the (largely empty) ward agreed that masks were pointless, but they dare not dissent. The surgeon turned up wearing a serious-looking surgical mask and his couple of side-kicks were also wearing masks, but cheaper-looking versions. By this time I was in a hospital gown lying on a bed. None of them said a word about my being bare-faced – so to speak. The porter was the only person who handed me a mask and insisted I wear it otherwise he refused to push me down to the operating theatre. I offered to walk but he was having none of it. I held the thing up to my face and he seemed satisfied.

I’ve been back a few times to various hospitals since the operation to see nurses and others and have been shouted at about not wearing a mask and subjected to considerable rudeness and hostility from the staff and other patients who have ganged up on me. On a couple of occasions I’ve covered my mouth with a silk polka dot scarf which seems to satisfy all concerned.

I have tried to obtain a consultation with the surgeon since he did the operation because I am not satisfied that he’s got it right. I was promised a “telephone consultation” with the great man, which turned out to be with his young female registrar who was less than sympathetic and, as she could not see my foot, was of limited help. I told her I wanted the surgeon who did the operation to have a look at it, because the orthotic specialist I’d seen a week earlier (without mask) advised that the surgeon should see the joint because he was concerned the toe did not seem to be “on straight”.

The registrar said the surgeon was not offering “face to face consultations due to the Covid pandemic”. I said I couldn’t understand why not, seeing as he could be masked up and in full anti-virus outfit if he was concerned about catching it. I asked if he was still doing private operations and whether if I paid he would see me. She replied that she knew nothing about his private practice, with the clear implication that she did not want to know either. She made it apparent, by her manner, that she thought I was being a nuisance, but agreed to ask the surgeon if he would arrange a face-to-face consultation.

Yesterday I got a copy of a letter from the registrar to my GP, saying the surgeon “has agreed on this occasion to review [me] in person…”

The letter ended: “On previous visits [he] has declined to wear a face covering but is not medically exempt from doing so. We would kindly ask [him] that he complies with hospital policy and wears a suitable face covering when attending his appointment, otherwise he may not be seen.”

It is not an exaggeration to say that the whole mask-wearing thing causes me “extreme distress”, which in law is enough to exempt me. But the NHS is not concerned about that. They really mean it when they say we have to “protect the NHS”.

YouGov’s Numbers Don’t Add Up

Our next post comes from a Lockdown Sceptics reader who has scrutinised a recent YouGov study about the numbers of people who know someone who died from COVID-19, and found that it doesn’t really make sense.

YouGov have published a study of how many people know someone who has died of COVID-19. They have asked people in 16 different countries.

At first glance the results look coherent – countries with higher death rates are at the top, ones with notoriously low death rates at the bottom. So 19% of Spaniards claim to know someone who has died of COVID-19 while only 2% of Chinese and Singaporeans do.

However, 2% of Chinese is 28,000,000 people. And China claims that only 4,600 people have died of COVID-19. That would mean that every Chinese individual who died of COVID-19 was acquainted with over 6,000 people. Is that a reasonable number? 

Based on those poll numbers, how many acquaintances did COVID-19 victims in other countries have?

Well, here is the answer:

What to make of the results? There seems to be a big disparity between countries.

Are the Chinese the most sociable people on earth? Does a typical Australian or Indonesian have five times more acquaintances that your typical European? Are Mexicans the most personally affected by COVID-19 in the world ?

Or perhaps some countries are hiding deaths? China is always under suspicion of lying about its data. But what about Singapore or Australia? Are those governments hiding deaths too?

The most plausible explanation is something that many Lockdown Sceptics probably already suspect: that YouGov polls, many of which rely on panels of people to fill them out regularly, aren’t very reliable.

You might be tempted to go further.

If you click on the “See Full Results” link you will see some fascinating stats. YouGov will have you believe that 23% of Mexicans claim to have lost a family member. 

But it seems YouGov doesn’t put much faith in the Mexican data so it has left it out altogether from the summary they publish and which is circulating in Twitter.

We can safely conclude that this particular YouGov poll should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Much like other Governments around the world, the Trudeau administration announced last week that travellers coming into Canada will be subject to mandatory quarantines. The National Post has the story.

Travellers coming into Canada will be forced into mandatory hotel quarantines, part of a suite of measures designed to keep Canadians at home as the Government grows increasingly concerned about the risk of new Covid variants that appear to be more transmissible.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the quarantines and several other restrictions on Friday outside Rideau Cottage.

Trudeau said travelers will pay for their hotel stay of up to 72 hours while waiting for a negative Covid test. He estimated the cost at approximately $2,000 as they will have to pay for lodging, food, Covid tests and security ensuring they remain inside.

Anyone testing positive for the virus will have to finish their quarantine in a designated quarantine facility, where the Government will cover the costs.

Travellers testing negative will be able to finish their 14-day quarantine at home, but Trudeau said the Government would step up surveillance of those quarantines. Private security firms have been hired to knock on doors of returning travellers to ensure they’re staying at home, and the Government will be making regular phone calls as well.

Starting Sunday and extending to the end of April, Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and Air Transat will cancel trips to sun destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean. All international passenger flights arriving in Canada must land at only four airports, in Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal, as part of this stepped up screening.

Trudeau thanked the airlines for taking the steps to help limit the spread of the virus.

“We all agree that now is just not the time to be flying,” he said. “By putting in place these tough measures now, we can look forward to a better time when we can all plan those vacations.”

Though the announcement was made on Friday, the impact of the new law was already kicking in on Thursday evening, as an Edmonton pastor found out when his wife touched down in Calgary. The Western Standard has the details.

An Edmonton pastor may have found out the hard way Thursday night about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic…

The new rules weren’t even announced yet Thursday night, but it appears officials at YYC Calgary International were ready.

“(My wife Nikki) arrived in Calgary tonight and when she got there she was greeted by a Police Officer and an AHS official,” wrote Pastor Chris Mathis on his Facebook page.

“They rejected her results and told her she needed to go immediately to an isolation facility. She was told if she resisted she would be arrested. She called me, and I immediately asked to talk with the officer. I talked with both a police officer and the AHS official, they reiterated what she had said to me. I asked for the address of where she would be, they said they could not give me the location address as it was confidential.”

“I asked for their names, again they would not give me any information or their names. I pushed, I questioned, I tried to fight but they said they would arrest her if she resisted. They would not give me any information on where they were taking my wife.”

“She was not allowed to get her vehicle from the airport, she was immediately put in a white van surrounded by police escorts and taken to an unknown facility that is under full surveillance and has security at every entrance and exit. You can imagine I am barely keeping myself together wondering what in the world has happened in our country in what seems to be overnight.”

Unlike other Governments, this administration is facing an immediate legal challenge (not directly related to the incident described above) from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. The letter (pdf) providing notice to the Transport Minister the Honourable Omar Alghabra states:

Your Government has increasingly shown a disturbing and even aggressive opposition to the constitutional rights and freedoms of Canadians.

It has come to our attention that the Federal Government is now arresting Canadians at the border and transporting them to secret federal locations even when they possess a negative PCR test. The citizens you are holding have not been convicted of an offence, have not had access to a lawyer, and have not appeared before a judge. Your officers are even refusing to inform family members of where their loved ones are being held. This policy aligns with practices of repressive regimes and undemocratic regimes, and is completely unacceptable.

Your arrest and detention of Canadians in this regard is unlawful and unconstitutional and we hereby demand their immediate release, such that they may continue with any necessary isolation protocols in their personal residences.

This is not China or Cuba, or Chile under Pinochet, or Spain under Franco, or theocratic Iran. We are not prepared to permit you and your Government to turn Canada into a repressive replica of countries that have no respect for human rights and civil liberties…

The Order further mandates that, regardless of a negative Covid test result, any person entering Canada must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival…

Quarantining all citizens re-entering Canada, in addition to mandating negative test results, impairs liberty in a manner that is arbitrary, disproportionate, and overbroad, and therefore violates the principles of fundamental justice…

The mandatory quarantining of all Canadians, merely because they exercised their Charter right to leave or enter Canada, is not rationally connected to any legitimate public health objective. It is not rational to impose a 14 day quarantine upon asymptomatic individuals who are able to provide negative test results confirming their lack of infection.

Stop Press: On the subject of travel restrictions, it is worth reading Lord Blunkett’s rather libertarian letter to the editor of the Telegraph

The announcement by Priti Patel relating to quarantine rules and subsequent media interviews with Michael Gove raise several issues.

First, it is clear that the detail and practical arrangements had not been thought through. No plans appear to exist to save the aviation industry or to retain the capacity of our airports for freight and passengers in the future.

Secondly, making it “illegal”, in Ms Patel’s words, for British citizens to leave the country without permission is unprecedented. While measures such as withdrawing British passports have been taken in the past for very specific counter-terrorism or policing reasons, we have never in peacetime forbidden our own people to travel.

Strict requirements on their return may well be justified but historically only autocratic and totalitarian regimes have banned their own citizens from leaving the country.

Lord Blunkett (Lab), London SW1

Stop Press 2: Health Passports continue to gather momentum, though it doesn’t seem likely they’ll help much when it comes to escaping Gulag Britain. Travel Weekly reports that British Airways is to trial a new travel health app called VeriFlY on flights between London and the USA from February 4th. With both countries having closed their border to residents of the other, it is hard to imagine that there will be many people available to give the app a try.

Neil O’Brien Refuses to Debate Prof Carl Heneghan

Speaking on talkRADIO on Friday, Carl Heneghan, the Oxford Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine, said he would be happy to debate Neil O’Brien MP.

An opportunity, surely, for Neil O’Brien to convince people of his case? A challenge to be seized. Alas, Neil O’Brien didn’t see it that way:

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Four today: “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” by The Animals, “All Things Must Pass” by George Harrison, “What About the Children” by Yolanda Adams and “Germ Free Adolescents” by X-Ray Spex

Love in the Time of Covid

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. 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 as well as post comments below the line, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email Lockdown Sceptics here.

Sharing Stories

Some of you have asked how to link to particular stories on Lockdown Sceptics so you can share it. To do that, click on the headline of a particular story and a link symbol will appear on the right-hand side of the headline. Click on the link and the URL of your page will switch to the URL of that particular story. You can then copy that URL and either email it to your friends or post it on social media. Please do share the stories.

Social Media Accounts

You can follow Lockdown Sceptics on our social media accounts which are updated throughout the day. To follow us on Facebook, click here; to follow us on Twitter, click here; to follow us on Instagram, click here; to follow us on Parler, click here; and to follow us on MeWe, click here.

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, we draw your attention to Disney’s new animated movie Raya and the Last Dragon which has been criticised for the lack of South Asians among its cast of voice actors. NewsBusters has more.

One would think that looks and race would not matter for voice actors — after all, the viewers never see the actors in animated movies. But just as comedians aren’t allowed to be funny, even voice actors can’t act unless they perfectly resemble their characters.

On Tuesday, January 26th, Disney dropped the second trailer for Raya and the Last Dragon and the movie is once again generating a lot of controversy. While some fans are excited to see a movie portraying South East Asian culture, others criticise Disney’s inattention to which region of Asia its actors are from. 

Based on South East Asian traditions, Disney says the fantastical story is set “in the fantasy world of Kumandra” which is endangered by monsters. Although 500 years ago dragons had protected the humans, only one remains alive and it is up to young Raya to “track down the last dragon in order to finally stop the [monsters] for good”.

Besides the film’s starring Vietnamese actress, Kelly Marie Tran (known for her role as Rose in Star Wars), nearly all of the cast are East Asian (Chinese and Korean). Although Raya and the Last Dragon was written by South East Asian-American screenwriters, Adel Lim (Malaysian) and Qui Nguyen (Vietnamese) and its lead actress is of South East Asian descent, Disney’s Representation effort just wasn’t enough for some people. 

“I am actually very conflicted about the new Raya and the Last Dragon casting. I love all those cast members,” said one Twitter user. “But basically everyone except KMT is East Asian. Imagine how big it would be if they actually casted Southeast Asian actors. SE Asian actors are sorely lacking in Hollywood.”

Another user, Laura Siriku, commented, “Listen, I’m all for Asians playing other Asian ethnicities, but the roles of South East Asians have been little to none,” she said. “With #RayaAndTheLastDragon celebrating South East Asia, I feel like it’d be a huge moment to have SEA being able to play their own heritage.” 

Several others have possibly more legitimately complained that the world of Kumandra and Raya’s story are based on a collection of South East Asian cultures. Unlike nearly every other Disney Princess, Raya is not based on the unique culture of a single country but rather a region with vast cultural diversity…

The movie will premiere on Disney Plus on March 5th. Luckily for Disney, the movie has simultaneously generated plenty of excitement from fans who not only want to appreciate other cultures on the screen, but shockingly just want to enjoy a great movie.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Responding to Kehinde Andrews’ new book, The New Age of Empire, the British-Nigerian writer Ralph Leonard has penned an elegant defence of the West and the Enlightenment.

Stop Press 2: Writing for the Spectator, Jake Wallis Simons, Deputy Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, says that that Black Lives Matter should be looking to Martin Luther King for inspiration, rather than Malcolm X.

Stop Press 3: John McWhorter, a contributing writer at the Atlantic, has reminded schools and colleges that campuses are not, in fact, bastions of social injustice. They must resist he says “destructive anti-racist demands”.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to obtain a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card – because wearing a mask causes them “severe distress”, for instance. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and the Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. And if you feel obliged to wear a mask but want to signal your disapproval of having to do so, you can get a “sexy world” mask with the Swedish flag on it here.

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

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption. Another reader has created an Android app which displays “I am exempt from wearing a face mask” on your phone. Only 99p.

If you’re a shop owner and you want to let your customers know you will not be insisting on face masks or asking them what their reasons for exemption are, you can download a friendly sign to stick in your window here.

And here’s an excellent piece about the ineffectiveness of masks by a Roger W. Koops, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry. See also the Swiss Doctor’s thorough review of the scientific evidence here and Prof Carl Heneghan and Dr Tom Jefferson’s Spectator article about the Danish mask study here.

Stop Press: Everyone must wear a mask now, even the Long Man of Wilmington. Sky News reports that the 72 metre tall chalk figure had a mask added to his face by some local pranksters. Luckily for the historic, South Downs landmark, this was deemed an act of vandalism, and the mask was swiftly removed. As for the rest of us…

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

The Great Barrington Declaration, a petition started by Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya calling for a strategy of “Focused Protection” (protect the elderly and the vulnerable and let everyone else get on with life), was launched in October and the lockdown zealots have been doing their best to discredit it ever since. If you googled it a week after launch, the top hits were three smear pieces from the Guardian, including: “Herd immunity letter signed by fake experts including ‘Dr Johnny Bananas’.” (Freddie Sayers at UnHerd warned us about this the day before it appeared.) On the bright side, Google UK has stopped shadow banning it, so the actual Declaration now tops the search results – and Toby’s Spectator piece about the attempt to suppress it is among the top hits – although discussion of it has been censored by Reddit. The reason the zealots hate it, of course, is that it gives the lie to their claim that “the science” only supports their strategy. These three scientists are every bit as eminent – more eminent – than the pro-lockdown fanatics so expect no let up in the attacks. (Wikipedia has also done a smear job.)

You can find it here. Please sign it. Now over three quarters of a million signatures.

Update: The authors of the GBD have expanded the FAQs to deal with some of the arguments and smears that have been made against their proposal. Worth reading in full.

Update 2: Many of the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration are involved with new UK anti-lockdown campaign Recovery. Find out more and join here.

Update 3: You can watch Sunetra Gupta set out the case for “Focused Protection” here and Jay Bhattacharya make it here.

Update 4: The three GBD authors plus Prof Carl Heneghan of CEBM have launched a new website collateralglobal.org, “a global repository for research into the collateral effects of the COVID-19 lockdown measures”. Follow Collateral Global on Twitter here. Sign up to the newsletter here.

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

There are now so many legal cases being brought against the Government and its ministers we thought we’d include them all in one place down here.

The Simon Dolan case has now reached the end of the road. The current lead case is the Robin Tilbrook case which challenges whether the Lockdown Regulations are constitutional. You can read about that and contribute here.

Then there’s John’s Campaign which is focused specifically on care homes. Find out more about that here.

There’s the GoodLawProject and Runnymede Trust’s Judicial Review of the Government’s award of lucrative PPE contracts to various private companies. You can find out more about that here and contribute to the crowdfunder here.

Scottish Church leaders from a range of Christian denominations have launched legal action, supported by the Christian Legal Centre against the Scottish Government’s attempt to close churches in Scotland  for the first time since the the Stuart kings in the 17th century. The church leaders emphasised it is a disproportionate step, and one which has serious implications for freedom of religion.”  Further information available here.

There’s the class action lawsuit being brought by Dr Reiner Fuellmich and his team in various countries against “the manufacturers and sellers of the defective product, PCR tests”. Dr Fuellmich explains the lawsuit in this video. Dr Fuellmich has also served cease and desist papers on Professor Christian Drosten, co-author of the Corman-Drosten paper which underpins the SARS-CoV-2 PCR test protocol. That paper, which was pivotal to the roll out of mass PCR testing, was submitted to the journal Eurosurveillance on January 21st and accepted following peer review on January 22nd. The paper has been critically reviewed here by Pieter Borger and colleagues, who have also submitted a retraction request.

And last but not least there was the Free Speech Union‘s challenge to Ofcom over its ‘coronavirus guidance’. A High Court judge refused permission for the FSU’s judicial review on December 9th and the FSU has decided not to appeal the decision because Ofcom has conceded most of the points it was making. Check here for details.

Samaritans

If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch. Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.

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 hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

A 16 year-old girl’s impression of the COVID-19 response in Alberta, Canada, sent in by a Lockdown Sceptics‘ Reader

Latest News

Vaccine Wars

AFP via Getty

In a huge escalation of the vaccine row, the European Commission invoked Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Brexit deal yesterday in a bid to prevent the region becoming a backdoor for EU vaccines to be sent to the wider UK. This would effectively have created a hard border between Northern Ireland and its southern neighbour, but after furious criticism from the British, Northern Irish and Irish governments, it quickly backed down. The Mail has more.

The EU sensationally backed down last night over its plans to impose Covid vaccine controls on the Northern Ireland border after the proposals were met with a strong and united backlash from UK and Irish politicians.

EU chiefs had been accused of an “incredible act of hostility” after announcing controls on the export of jabs to the UK, including Northern Ireland.

In a move which would have effectively created a ‘hard border’ on the island of Ireland, EU officials had planned to override part of the Brexit trade agreement and demand checks of vaccines flowing from Europe into Northern Ireland.

Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheal Martin raised objections to EU leaders, while Michel Barnier, who was the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said he was calling for “co-operation” over vaccines between the UK and Brussels.

And in another strongly-worded statement, Boris Johnson last night said he had “grave concerns” over the proposals and demanded the EU “urgently clarify its intentions”.

But in a major climb-down, hours after announcing the proposals, bloc leaders quickly reversed the decision and say they will now no longer go ahead with the controls. 

In a statement released late last night, the European Commission said: “To tackle the current lack of transparency of vaccine exports outside the EU, the Commission is putting in place a measure requiring that such exports are subject to an authorisation by Member States.

“In the process of finalisation of this measure, the Commission will ensure that the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol is unaffected. The Commission is not triggering the safeguard clause.

“Should transits of vaccines and active substances toward third countries be abused to circumvent the effects of the authorisation system, the EU will consider using all the instruments at its disposal.

“In the process of finalising the document, the commission will also be fine-tuning the decision-making process under the implementing regulation.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Read Ambrose Evan Pritchard’s report in Telegraph on the prospect of the EU invoking Article 122 against Astra Zeneca, paving the way for seizure of its intellectual property and data, and arguably taking control of its production as well.

Stop Press 2: Meanwhile, Macron has backed claims that the AstraZeneca vaccine is ineffective for the over-65s. Which begs the question, why is he so desperate to get hold of it?

Technical Issue

As some Lockdown Sceptics readers will be aware, we’ve been having a bit of trouble sending our daily newsletters to some of our email subscribers. This issue relates only to @mac.com, @iCloud.com and @me.com addresses, all of which are run by Apple Inc. We’re trying hard to resolve this, but if anyone affected by this is missing our morning newsletter and would like to keep receiving it in the meantime, please re-subscribe to our newsletter using an alternative email address. Incidentally, if you no longer wish to subscribe please notify Ian Rons that you wish to be removed from the mailing list. Don’t mark the emails as “junk”.

More Fines and More Invasions of Privacy

Yesterday, without much in the way of reporting, new coronavirus regulations came into force. PA media has the details.

Fines of £800 for people caught at house parties and fresh powers to share data with police on those who should be self-isolating have become law in England.

The latest coronavirus regulations came into force at 5pm on Friday as part of tougher measures to crack down on illegal gatherings and those flouting the legal requirement to self-isolate during the pandemic.

The house party penalty will apply to groups of more than 15 people and will double after each offence, up to a maximum of £6,400 for repeat offenders.

This supersedes existing fines of £200.

But the £10,000 penalties for unlawful groups of more than 30 people will still only apply to the organiser.

According to the legislation, called the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers and Self-Isolation) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, the £800 fine is cut to £400 if paid within 14 days…

Police are given extra powers to access Test and Trace data under the new law.

It comes after data published by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) on Thursday showed just 332 fines had been issued by forces in England and three in Wales, to people failing to self-isolate after arriving from a country on the Government quarantine list between September 28th and January 17th.

The latest laws, signed off by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, amend self-isolation regulations “to correct a number of errors” in previous versions of the legislation and “update the information which may be shared for the purposes of carrying out functions under the regulations, or preventing danger to the health of the public from the spread of coronavirus, and to allow certain information to be shared only where necessary for specified law enforcement purposes”.

Contact details, including a phone number and email address where available, can be shared if someone tests positive for coronavirus or if a person has come into close contact with a positive case, the laws state.

Last year, it emerged people in England who had been told to self-isolate through NHS Test and Trace could have their details shared with police on a case-by-case basis after the Government updated its guidance.

But police would not have access to data from the NHS COVID-19 app, which is anonymous so the Government does not know who has been sent instructions to self-isolate.

Worth reading in full.

Adam Wagner, the human rights lawyer who’s an authority on Coronavirus regulations, has a useful thread on this, detailing both the new rules and the important human rights issues that they raise:

Big Brother Watch is also concerned about the new regulations:

Stop Press: openDemocracy is reporting that some 1,500 Met Police officers have, on the quiet, been ordered to switch off the NHS COVID-19 tracing app while at work. This appears to be aimed at reducing the number of officers having to self-isolate.

Did ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ Increase Covid Infections?

Rishi Sunak

Yesterday brought further confirmation that the Treasury is the most sceptical of the Whitehall departments after it issued a stout defence of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. This followed heavy criticism of the scheme in the wake of the winter surge in Covid infections. The Sun was first to the story.

Rishi Sunak has launched a full throated defence of his flagship Eat Out to Help Out scheme after data showed no link to rising Covid cases.

The incredibly popular £849 million scheme launched last August to keep the hospitality industry afloat has come under fire in light of the deadly second wave.

More than 160 million punters were given 50% off meals to try to get people back into struggling pubs and restaurants, with the scheme credited for getting 400,000 workers off furlough.

Now data published by the Treasury shows areas with the high take up of the scheme also still had low virus levels between August and October.

The figures show places such as Westminster and Scarborough and North Devon had very high take-up of Eat Out to Help Out, but very low subsequent Covid cases.

Meanwhile Knowsley, Rochdale and Merthyr Tydfil had far higher Covid rates, but lower levels of use of the scheme.

The Treasury said: “These figures confirm that take-up of Eat Out to Help Out does not correlate with incidence of Covid regionally – and indeed where it does the relationship is negative.”

A spokesman said: “As we have done throughout the pandemic, we have worked with creativity and at pace to support individuals and businesses.

“We designed The Eat Out to Help Out scheme to protect two million jobs in hospitality, an industry whose employees are at high risk of long-term unemployment in the event of redundancy.

“It protected jobs across the UK by bringing back 400,000 people from furlough while safely restoring consumer confidence.”

The Treasury is obviously right about this. Last week Parliament was reminded that hospitality is not a huge risk when it comes to infection. The Caterer reports:

Greg Fell, Director of Public Health at Sheffield County Council, and Richard Harling, Director of Health and Care at Staffordshire County Council, appeared before Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee yesterday [27th January].

When asked about whether hospitality was a vector for infections, the pair said the spread mainly occurred in people’s homes.

Fell said: “Most of the transmission events are within households and household to household.

“Hospitality doesn’t crop up as a terribly big risk on our radar. When we look at the common exposure data set hospitality isn’t a huge risk.

“There will have been transmission events within hospitality, but it’s certainly nowhere near the top of my risk radar.”

Harling added: “Back in the summer and autumn, once you put transmission between household members aside, the next most important one was transmission between different households.

“The hospitality sector did feature, but much lower down the list. At the moment, with the hospitality sector closed, the main [cause of spread] is other businesses and workplaces.”

A Smidgen of Pessimism on Masks

Today we have another contribution from Dr Rachel Mann, written in response to the “A Smidgen of Optimism on Masks” which we published last Sunday.

Having mulled over Steve Sieff’s interesting take on masks in the January 24th Lockdown Sceptics newsletter, I wondered whether to just bury my head in a box of face masks and accept the joyless existence of a world where the divisive impacts of masks are considered completely normal, or respond. As an arch sceptic of mask wearing, I couldn’t help but choose the latter of course.

The central theme of the “Smidgen of Optimism” piece was to think about a dial down of  the mask debate in terms of ‘just the science’ and focus on mask wearing as a choice, based on an individuals’ own concept of their risk. This seems highly logical and completely sensible to me and would that we might have had that option last year. Instead of a mask mandate, allow individuals to assess their own risk and choose to wear a mask or not. Simple! Or is it?

We were never given that choice, to assess our own risk, nor are we likely to be in the distant future. The mask mandate was brought in last year with absolutely no thought or clear messaging as to how this so called ‘public health intervention’ should be managed. Consequently, the psyche of mask wearing has become shaped and warped by a popular opinion war as to what is right or wrong and polarised discourse.

I fear that we have gone past the point of no return in some ways because the concept of, as Steve himself says, “Those who do not wear a mask are letting down others and are stigmatised” has been, and is, occurring on a daily basis and I see no reason for it to change or that “More protective masks such as N95s and N99s could change this narrative”. So, parking the science about the (inconclusive) effectiveness of masks for one moment, I thought I’d briefly muse over a few issues that seem relevant to the divisive nature of masks:

1. Masking ‘Care’: We are already at a point where those admitting to vaccine hesitancy or outright refusal for whatever personal reasons to take the COVID-19 vaccine are being singled out as not worthy of receiving health care treatment for COVID-19 from the NHS. If choosing to mask up became a free choice, and that choice is the best possible protection (N95 or N99 mask) rather than a mandate, the use of a mask still continues to perpetuate the message a particular person choosing to wear the mask is stating to the outside world “I am responsible, I care about my health and the NHS is important to me”. Those who don’t mask up will still be stigmatised whether it is under mandate or a choice; choosing not to wear a mask has become and will remain entrenched in negative opinion as irresponsible, uncaring and selfish behaviour. As with the popular “no vax, no Covid treatment” opinion being embraced, those engaging in perceived negative behaviour of non-mask wearing will potentially be deemed not worthy of receiving health care for COVID-19, or maybe all respiratory viruses, or maybe even all conditions? The refrain of “you didn’t wear a mask to protect yourself from respiratory disease, so your partial knee replacement will be delayed until you mask up and protect your health first” is not really too dissimilar to denying people treatment who smoke or are overweight, is it?

2. Masking Affordability: The mantra of “we are all in it together” and that SARS-CoV-2 and “COVID-19 does not discriminate” is a myth; they are not socially neutral entities.

People living in more socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods and minority ethnic groups have higher rates of almost all of the known underlying clinical risk factors that increase the severity and mortality of COVID-19, including hypertension, diabetes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, liver disease, renal disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity and smoking” 

The COVID-19 Pandemic and Health Inequalities, NIH

Yet, interestingly how do those people considered the most at risk of severe COVID-19, who are the most socio-economically disadvantaged in our population afford to pay for N95 and N99 masks? A very quick scout around Amazon revealed prices range for N95 mask from a single mask priced £6 to a box of 30 priced £56, and a box of five N99 masks for £50. The personal financial burden to hard-put working people would be immense and it’s likely that the most vulnerable would not wear masks due to eye watering unaffordable prices. If it’s food and rent needed, I think people would likely favour those choices over purchasing face masks. Or choose sub optimal masks due to costs and take the risk. What is the answer? State funded face masks, that are means tested and provided by the taxpayer? Another potentially divisive action perhaps as a mask wearer is then defined as someone on a lower income? Or equally someone who can comfortably afford an N95 and N99 mask is perceived as taking mask supplies from those who really need them?

3. Masking the Big “E” – “Environment”: In an age where we purport to be concerned about the environment it is quite astonishing that there is so much support for wearing face masks of the surgical, N95 and N99 variety; an item that is classed as ‘disposable’ but is in fact a non-biodegradable, one-wear item containing micro plastics. We care so much about our environment it seems that we are happy to send 1.6 billion ‘disposable’ face masks to landfill every month. If choice based masking becomes the ‘go to option’ this will inevitably contribute hugely to our future woeful landfill statistics. Or if we care about our drinking water supply and oceans, how about the recent studies that have investigated whether surgical face masks and N95 masks could be a source of microplastic pollutants in the environment? The results strongly suggested that masks act as a potential source of microfibers when they are released into the environment, adding additional burden to current microplastic pollution. Therefore, does a disposable N95 or N99, or whatever affordable masks one can buy, mean that you do not care about the environment and that you are putting your own selfish needs first? Does the need to protect yourself with a non-biodegradable mask rank above the needs of our global environment, our precious ecosystem, and the collective need to nurture and sustain our planet for our future generations? Are those who dispose of ‘disposable’ face masks, whatever their filtration properties to be labelled as “environmental safeguarding deniers”?

In conclusion, I fear that whatever the future of face mask wearing, it will remain a divisive issue for some time to come, as indeed all labelling does, whether it is masks, exemption badges or green and red bands (I note the green band – red band home page shows banders of both colours wearing masks). Which incidentally makes me wonder about how those who would choose to wear a green band and no mask would be perceived by others? We seem intent on overtly identifying individual’s personal choices and beliefs. Perhaps we have entered an age of ‘unmasking’ personal health beliefs where one must wear one’s health beliefs on one’s sleeve, face or neck. Looking back to 20th century history I don’t feel that bodes well…

Does Charging Travellers for Enforced Hotel Stays Violate WHO Rules?

In the January 26th newsletter, we published a comment from a reader who had been looking at the WHO’s International Health Regulations and found that it might be against the rules to charge travellers for their period in mandatory quarantine. Today we have a response from Dr David McGrogan, an Associate Professor of Law at Northumbria Law School and a previous contributor.

Sadly, while the answer to this question may very well be “yes”, it has to be followed by an immediate “but”: this is highly unlikely to matter. The International Health Regulations are a treaty, which means obligations in it are binding on States which are party to it (which is all, or almost all, of them). But individuals would have no standing before any international court or tribunal to bring a claim for a violation. Only another State could do that. Why would one State sue another for charging people for using a quarantine hotel in violation of the International Health Regulations? (Particularly as they are all likely to be doing it soon if they aren’t already.)

The only other remotely realistic alternative would be for the WHO itself to raise the matter with the WHO’s World Health Assembly, but since the World Health Assembly is simply a body comprising representatives of the governments of the states who are members of the WHO, this would be very unlikely to bear fruit for obvious reasons.

There would be no prospect of a claim succeeding before a UK court, either. The UK has what is called a “dualist” system, which basically means that it treats international law as separate to domestic law. The UK government can sign whatever treaties it wants, more or less (although the first Gina Miller ‘Brexit’ case made clear that this power is not untrammelled), but they do not become ‘law’ at a domestic level until there has been an Act of Parliament making it so. And this means that our courts cannot enforce them without such an Act. This is the reason why, for example, the Human Rights Act 1998 was necessary in order to give UK courts the capacity to hear claims regarding violations of European Convention rights. It ‘brought rights home’ by in effect making them part of UK law. Since the International Health Regulations have not had a similar piece of legislation to make them part of our law, they are largely irrelevant as a matter for our courts.

At best, international legal obligations of the kind found in a treaty like the International Health Regulations can be said to have a ‘hortatory’ function – violation will have no legal effect but might shame a government to change its policy. International lawyers often claim that this is important. One can make up one’s own mind about that, of course.

Stop Press: The UK Government has placed travel bans on 33 high-risk countries. Travellers who set foot in any of the countries on the list, even in transit, will not be allowed into the UK.

British and Irish Nationals and third country nationals with the right of residence in the UK will be allowed in but will need to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival. Further details of the policy, including whether or not those in quarantine will have to pay for he privilege, will be set out next week.

Stop Press 2: Worth noting that the UK would not be the first to charge for quarantine. Australia, whose borders are closed to nearly everybody, even New Zealand at the moment, has been charging returning nationals and residents $3,000 dollars for a mandatory 14 day quarantine for months now.

The Adults are Having a Quite Different Conversation

Sam Bowman with two students from his A-level economics class at the Adam Smith Academy

Today we’re publishing a new response to Sam Bowman’s anti-lockdown sceptics article in the New Statesman last week. The response is by Timon Wapenaar, a violinist based in Spain. It’s a scorcher. Here’s an extract.

A piece in the New Statesman by Sam Bowman which ostensibly aims to debunk the “eight biggest Covid-sceptic myths” presents us with a pot-pourri of Twitter-troll inspired overripe low hanging fruit. No serious lockdown critic has ever framed the argument in the way Bowman represents it. Has Sunetra Gupta ever said that “we are overreacting to a virus which 99.5% of people will survive”? I doubt it. A Google search for “Sunetra Gupta” and the exact phrase “we are overreacting” yields Bowman’s own article as the first hit, and only five other hits in total, none of which contained the damning quote. 

Likewise, there is not one lockdown sceptic of stature who says that “we aren’t seeing excess deaths”, or that “we’re witnessing a ‘casedemic’ of false positives from doing too many tests”. While there are assertions made about both excess deaths and a ‘casedemic’, their nature is much, much more nuanced than Bowman would have us believe. Indeed, his phrasing of the ‘casedemic’ is absolutely absurd. How on earth could any opponent worth arguing with believe something as patently stupid as “more tests result in more false positives”? He obviously hasn’t read or listened to Heneghan, or Jefferson, or Yeadon, or McKernan. Or Levitt, or Gupta, or Bhattacharya, or Kulldorff, or Sikora. 

It is mala praxis to choose the worst possible version of your opponent’s argument, and yet this is what Bowman does. The refutations he offers might be useful for dunking on your brother-in-law at a family dinner, or vanquishing that Twitter troll with a hundred followers, but fall hopelessly short of being a contribution to any real argument over the efficacy of lockdowns.

If he’d been more courageous, Bowman would have addressed the most important question posed by sceptics: are state-mandated NPIs (non-pharmaceutical interventions) sufficiently effective to justify the significant harms they entail? That they reduce transmission to some degree (which they do, in all likelihood) is not sufficient. The gains must outweigh the price paid by society. Bowman instead chooses to focus only on whether lockdowns reduce transmission. This is disappointing: if the holistic effectiveness of the most restrictive lockdown measures can be proven, all other arguments become somewhat ancillary. 

Worth reading in full.

In Defence of Sir Desmond Swayne

There follows a post by Will Jones.

Lockdown sceptic firebrand Sir Desmond Swayne MP has come under intense criticism following the surfacing of an interview he did with Save Our Rights UK back in November.

According to Sky News, in the interview the former minister said:

It seems to be a manageable risk, particularly as figures have been manipulated… We’re told there is a deathly, deadly pandemic proceeding at the moment. That is difficult to reconcile with ICUs (intensive care units) actually operating at typical occupation levels for the time of year and us bouncing round at the typical level of deaths for the time of year.

He also told the group, which appears to be a broad tent that includes supporters of some of the wilder conspiracy theories, to “persist” in their anti-lockdown campaign, adding: “And I’ll persist too.”

His comments have been roundly condemned and the Labour Party has called for him to have the Conservative whip removed, though there’s no indication that will happen.

Michael Gove said: “I would hope that he issues a full and complete retraction and apology for what he said – it’s unacceptable.”

Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the Prime Minister agreed with Gove, though awkwardly when asked about it during his trip to Scotland, Boris replied: “I’m sorry I haven’t seen that.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Those comments are thoroughly wrong and I very much hope Desmond will reflect and take those comments back.”

The Whips’ Office said: “We completely condemn these comments. It is on all of us to work together to control the virus to protect the NHS and save lives.”

It is reported that Conservative chief whip Mark Spencer spoke to Sir Desmond and asked him to attend a meeting with scientific advisers – which Sir Desmond has happily agreed to do. Oh, to be a fly on the wall…

Angela Rayner, the Deputy Leader of the Labour party, wrote to the chair of the Conservative Party Amanda Milling alleging that Swayne “endorsed conspiracy theories about the veracity of the disease” – seemingly a reference to his claim that “figures have been manipulated”. 

She laid it on thick: “The seriousness of his actions cannot be understated. For a member of parliament to appear on this platform and undermine our fight against the pandemic could have truly devastating consequences.”

The criticisms of Sir Desmond (at least, the ones that aren’t based on guilt-by-association) boil down to arguing that 1) there is no evidence that data has been “manipulated” and 2) that at the time of his comments, deaths were not “typical” for the time of year.

It is notable that no attempt has been made to dispute his claim about ICUs in November operating at “typical occupation levels for the time of year”, since that is demonstrably true, as this graph comparing 2020 with 2017 shows. This was not the impression many in Government and the media were giving at the time, with claims that daily “Covid admissions” were running at around 1,500 a day – which they were, but that wasn’t unusual – being made to whip up fear and used to justify increasing restrictions. This, presumably, is what Swayne means by “manipulation” of figures. That and the infamous prediction of 4,000 deaths a day made by Witless and Unbalanced in October to bounce the Government into the second lockdown. I think it’s fair to describe those figures as having been “manipulated”. After all, it was that prediction which prompted the UK statistics watchdog to issue another warning to the Government on its confusing and opaque use of statistics.

Source: NHS

In terms of deaths, while November did see a greater number of weekly deaths than the average for the last five years, it was not hugely elevated and the trend was largely flat or declining. Describing this as “bouncing round at the typical level of deaths for the time of year” seems a fair description.

Source: ONS

Sir Desmond defended his comments this week, saying they were “legitimate at the time”.

He is right to stand his ground. It must be acceptable for MPs, like journalists and other members of the public, to challenge Government policy, particularly during a crisis when momentous, far-reaching decisions are being made. Hindsight must not be used as a weapon to attack critics of the Government. Everyone has made some poor predictions in this crisis, Government ministers and advisers included. That’s not a reason for punishing dissenters from Covid orthodoxy in order to silence them. Any moves in that direction must be stoutly resisted.

Lockdown Sceptics win Cambridge Union Debate by 362 Votes to 309

On Thursday evening, Toby took part in a Cambridge Union debate. The motion was: “This House believes lockdown was a mistake.” Toby spoke in support of the motion along with Richard Tice and Sir Graham Brady MP. Writer, novelist and journalist Laura Spinney, novelist and physician Phil Whitaker and Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran spoke against. The motion was approved by 362 votes to 309. The Cambridge Independent has more.

Getting the proceedings under way was Sir Graham Brady, who said that the Lancet medical journal reported on December 23rd that, looking at the second lockdown, “it remains unclear how effective tier restrictions were in reducing transmission and what additional reduction in transmission might have been accomplished by the second lockdown”.

“We can see the efficacy of lockdowns is unclear,” suggested Sir Graham, “certainly rates had started to fall before schools were closed earlier this month, or indeed last March.”

He said: “We know that rates of transmission can fall without lockdown and can rise whilst restrictions are in place,” adding: “While some degree of restriction does, I’m sure, impact transmission, it remains, as the Lancet report says, unclear whether lockdown has any particular beneficial impact.”

Sir Graham mentioned, among other things, the 800,000 people who have lost their jobs since March, those who may have no job to return to when furlough comes to an end, and “the growing number” of people who are taking their own lives.

Sir Graham also spoke of the “hideous toll” on children and young people, the “three-fold increase” in the reporting of eating disorders, and the NSPCC reporting a 43% increase in referrals for child abuse.

Worth reading in full and the debate is worth watching in full.

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Three today: “Killed by Death” by Motörhead, Time for Livin” by The Association and “Could It Be Forever” by David Cassidy

Love in the Time of Covid

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. 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 as well as post comments below the line, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Sharing Stories

Some of you have asked how to link to particular stories on Lockdown Sceptics so you can share it. To do that, click on the headline of a particular story and a link symbol will appear on the right-hand side of the headline. Click on the link and the URL of your page will switch to the URL of that particular story. You can then copy that URL and either email it to your friends or post it on social media. Please do share the stories.

Social Media Accounts

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Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, the news that the “thin blue line” has been cancelled by the University of Madison-Wisconsin Police Department. The Kansas City Star has the story:

Created as a pro-cop symbol, “thin blue line” imagery can be found hanging from the walls of police stations, waving from front yard flagpoles, and stuck to car bumpers – but they won’t be found at the University of Madison-Wisconsin Police Department.

Whatever the white, black and blue flag might mean to some, it evokes “fear and mistrust” in Chief Kristen Roman’s community, she said. It’s one reason among several that she’s decided to ban it.

The term “thin blue line” has been around for decades, but the flag itself is much newer, coming to prominence alongside the Blue Lives Matter movement, which was established in response to Black Lives Matter, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. As such, some view the flag as symbolizing a movement that exists in opposition to BLM and its goals of achieving social justice and eliminating racism in policing.

“Effective immediately, visible public displays of thin blue line imagery while operating in an official capacity are disallowed,” Roman wrote in an email to officers on January 15th, but released to the public this week.

The move comes after community backlash against the department for a November social media post in which a “thin blue line” flag can be seen displayed at the police station. Student activists also called on the department to remove the flag, outlets reported.

But the January 6th Capitol riot in Washington, D.C., was Roman’s tipping point, the email says. Watching the chaos and violence unfolding on the news, it wasn’t hard to spot a few familiar flags carried in the fray.

Though they likely didn’t know it at the time, police at the Capitol were facing off against fellow officers from communities around the country who had joined in with the rest of the rioters, McClatchy News previously reported.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: From the you-couldn’t-make-it-up department: Black Lives Matter has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Stop Press 2: Woke politics is screwing up the vaccination programme, says Brendan O’Neill in Spiked-Online

Stop Press 3: Ed West, in Unherd, says that the Government’s new anti-woke campaign in defence of street names and statues is a distraction from the truly dangerous ideas that lurk behind woke orthodoxy.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to obtain a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card – because wearing a mask causes them “severe distress”, for instance. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and the Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. And if you feel obliged to wear a mask but want to signal your disapproval of having to do so, you can get a “sexy world” mask with the Swedish flag on it here.

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

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption. Another reader has created an Android app which displays “I am exempt from wearing a face mask” on your phone. Only 99p.

If you’re a shop owner and you want to let your customers know you will not be insisting on face masks or asking them what their reasons for exemption are, you can download a friendly sign to stick in your window here.

And here’s an excellent piece about the ineffectiveness of masks by a Roger W. Koops, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry. See also the Swiss Doctor’s thorough review of the scientific evidence here and Prof Carl Heneghan and Dr Tom Jefferson’s Spectator article about the Danish mask study here.

Stop Press: MailOnline has a report on the SAGE recommendation that face masks be worn “in a wider range of settings where people could be asymptomatic and may be in close proximity… This may include outdoor spaces where it is difficult to maintain distance and people may be close together for extended periods (medium confidence).”

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

The Great Barrington Declaration, a petition started by Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya calling for a strategy of “Focused Protection” (protect the elderly and the vulnerable and let everyone else get on with life), was launched in October and the lockdown zealots have been doing their best to discredit it ever since. If you googled it a week after launch, the top hits were three smear pieces from the Guardian, including: “Herd immunity letter signed by fake experts including ‘Dr Johnny Bananas’.” (Freddie Sayers at UnHerd warned us about this the day before it appeared.) On the bright side, Google UK has stopped shadow banning it, so the actual Declaration now tops the search results – and Toby’s Spectator piece about the attempt to suppress it is among the top hits – although discussion of it has been censored by Reddit. The reason the zealots hate it, of course, is that it gives the lie to their claim that “the science” only supports their strategy. These three scientists are every bit as eminent – more eminent – than the pro-lockdown fanatics so expect no let up in the attacks. (Wikipedia has also done a smear job.)

You can find it here. Please sign it. Now over three quarters of a million signatures.

Update: The authors of the GBD have expanded the FAQs to deal with some of the arguments and smears that have been made against their proposal. Worth reading in full.

Update 2: Many of the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration are involved with new UK anti-lockdown campaign Recovery. Find out more and join here.

Update 3: You can watch Sunetra Gupta set out the case for “Focused Protection” here and Jay Bhattacharya make it here.

Update 4: The three GBD authors plus Prof Carl Heneghan of CEBM have launched a new website collateralglobal.org, “a global repository for research into the collateral effects of the COVID-19 lockdown measures”. Follow Collateral Global on Twitter here. Sign up to the newsletter here.

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

There are now so many legal cases being brought against the Government and its ministers we thought we’d include them all in one place down here.

The Simon Dolan case has now reached the end of the road. The current lead case is the Robin Tilbrook case which challenges whether the Lockdown Regulations are constitutional. You can read about that and contribute here.

Then there’s John’s Campaign which is focused specifically on care homes. Find out more about that here.

There’s the GoodLawProject and Runnymede Trust’s Judicial Review of the Government’s award of lucrative PPE contracts to various private companies. You can find out more about that here and contribute to the crowdfunder here.

There’s the class action lawsuit being brought by Dr Reiner Fuellmich and his team in various countries against “the manufacturers and sellers of the defective product, PCR tests”. Dr Fuellmich explains the lawsuit in this video. Dr Fuellmich has also served cease and desist papers on Professor Christian Drosten, co-author of the Corman-Drosten paper which underpins the SARS-CoV-2 PCR test protocol. That paper was submitted on January 21st and accepted following peer review on January 22nd. The paper has been critically reviewed here by Pieter Borger and colleagues, who have also submitted a retraction request.

And last but not least there was the Free Speech Union‘s challenge to Ofcom over its ‘coronavirus guidance’. A High Court judge refused permission for the FSU’s judicial review on December 9th and the FSU has decided not to appeal the decision because Ofcom has conceded most of the points it was making. Check here for details.

Stop Press: A group of Scottish Church leaders from various denominations have now launched their claim for judicial review over the decision by the Scottish ministers to close churches during the current lockdown. The group, which is supported by the Christian Legal centre, claims that the closures exclude the vulnerable who don’t have access to the online broadcasts, that they are unconstitutional, and that they are illogical – how can it be that church buildings can safely be used for blood donor sessions and food banks but not public worship?

Samaritans

If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch. Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.

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 hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

Latest News

Government Planning “Phased” Exit Strategy

Bob Moran’s cartoon in the Telegraph on January 15th

The Telegraph reports that ministers are working on a “three-stage” plan to end lockdown in Britain, with officials preferring a phased approach where restrictions are eased at least a month apart so the impact can be monitored.

Schools will not open until March at the earliest, Boris Johnson has said, as the Government works on a “three-stage plan” to release Britain from lockdown.

The Telegraph understands that officials are working on proposals which could see most shops closed until April, and pubs and restaurants shut until May. 

On Wednesday, Mr Johnson announced that schools will not reopen before March 8th, and even that would depend on the success of the vaccine rollout and the rate of COVID-19 deaths and cases. 

Promising to publish a “roadmap” on February 22nd, he said that would allow Britain to “begin steadily to reclaim our lives”.

No rush, eh.

The Mail reports today that the slow pace may be because the Government wants to lift restrictions nationally rather than returning to local tiers to avoid spread from hotspots (and annoying Andy Burnham). This will mean no areas can reopen until the worst hit area in the country is free of infection.

The saddest part is they still think they can “control” the virus.

An NHS Nurse Writes…

Patients wait on hospital trolleys in a corridor in December 2017 due to the wards being completely full

A Lockdown Sceptics reader and registered nurse who has been working in NHS hospitals throughout the crisis has written the following article for us about his experience.

Matt Hancock said that there are 37,475 patients in hospitals in the UK with coronavirus – yet no context was offered. So there are approximately 120,000 NHS beds in England, which would make Hancock’s figure around 30% of NHS England bed capacity (and that’s not taking into account bed capacity of Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland). That also doesn’t take into account extra potential capacity from private hospitals nor the Nightingale hospitals. A headline grabbing statistic like “37,000 Covid admissions” might sound alarming, but without context it is meaningless.

It is also important to stress that this figure of 37,475 are patients admitted for any health reason, with a positive PCR test on admission or within the last 14 days – it is definitely not 37,000 patients who are unwell with Covid respiratory symptoms.

Patients are tested on admission to determine whether to be put in “green” or “red” areas. I have seen first-hand patients admitted to hospital for completely unrelated conditions, nil Covid symptoms, but have a positive PCR test on admission. These go down as “Covid admissions” but they are actually admitted for conditions completely unrelated to the respiratory system, such as heart failure or kidney disease.

I am sure by now we all have known somebody who has had a positive Covid test result but no symptoms. This is true also for hospitalised patients being admitted for other reasons – massively inflating the “Covid admission” numbers.

I have also had first-hand experience of patients who have been admitted into hospital for an unrelated reason, and caught Covid whilst there (nosocomial infection)  – and then they also go down in the NHS statistics as Covid admissions.

Hancock’s figures without context are not only unhelpful, they are misleading the public.

Surprisingly, NHS bed occupancy rates are at relatively low levels for this time of year. So are the staff on the wards lying? No they are not. I know first-hand how busy it feels, but I see four main reasons to explain why it feels so busy:

(1) Staff self-isolating – this is causing huge numbers of staff to be off work. I feel the impact of this first-hand in my ward. On a regular basis we have staff awaiting a test, as they or someone in their household has a symptom, however mild. I am sure most my colleagues are genuinely concerned not to be infected and pass it on to their vulnerable patients, so are acting ultra cautiously. But there is also room to milk the system, as it is fully paid time off work, and not counted as “sick leave”. Nurses are absolutely hard working people – but we are only human too, not saints. As soon as the decision is made to get a test, then we cannot return to work until PCR tested and the result comes back negative. Reduced staffing is causing the NHS significant strain.

(2) Thousands of NHS beds have been removed. This is not due to budget cuts this time (which in fact have reduced NHS beds significantly year on year) but due to social distancing requirements. I have experienced this first-hand: the hospitals I work in have removed beds for social distancing regulations, which has meant the departments fill up much quicker, and can cause backlog in the system.

(3) Regulations such as donning and doffing PPE (which is actually very time consuming when done properly) – and segregating patients in “green zones” or “red zones” – causes logistical problems, making workloads much busier and much more stressful.

(4) A huge amount of bed capacity has been lost due to a lack of NHS funded nursing home beds. Previously, the NHS funded beds in nursing homes to take “medically fit” elderly who were awaiting care packages to begin from social services – these beds were referred to as “hub beds” in my Trust. However, at the moment this option seems to be unavailable (for understandable reasons, as nursing homes were not “Covid safe” environments during the spring). This results in “bed blocking” in the hospital, and causes a backlog further down, ultimately filling A&E.

I’m not saying that hospitals are not busy – they are incredibly busy, particularly ICUs in London and the South East. What I am saying is the amount of patients coming in to the hospitals is not unprecedented. It is the policy decisions that are making this period feel unprecedented, and not the actual crude work load.

This is so important to understand as the severe restrictions on our lives are justified in order to “protect the NHS”. I therefore feel obligated to speak out, as how I am experiencing my work within the NHS is not quite how the media is portraying it.

The image above is from December 2017. It is a photograph of patients on hospital trolleys due to the wards being completely full – the NHS was in crisis. Yet we didn’t realise how good we had it – back then we had no staff self-isolating, more hospital beds, no routine time-consuming PPE requirements, and better discharge flow of patients out of hospitals. It is decisions by NHS policymakers that are making this winter feel so much worse.

A Senior Scientist Writes…

Professor Susan Michie, who sits on both SAGE and Independent SAGE and is a member of the Communist Party

A Lockdown Sceptics reader who is a senior scientist has done a fact check on the claims of two psychologists who sit on SAGE.

In a January 9th BBC report – “Lockdown needs to be stricter, scientists warn” – Professor Robert West (of the SPI-B subgroup of SAGE) said the current rules were “still allowing a lot of activity which is spreading the virus”. Professor Susan Michie (also of SAGE, and also Independent SAGE, and a Community Party member) said the spread of the new more infectious variant meant the restrictions were “too lax”.

Oops…

Daily positive cases in England

This time round we have seen a relaxing of the restrictions compared with March. Many business are open this time that were closed last time, roads are busy, yes schools are closed, but in some areas more than 50% are attending. Yet still the virus has receded.

 What hasn’t changed since March? Those in care homes and hospitals are not being protected.

 Care Homes:

  • Since September 1st there have been 5,496 (35%) care home outbreaks
  • In the three weeks to January 17th there were 1,948 outbreaks
  • Nearly a third of all Covid deaths have been among care home residents

Hospital-Acquired Infections (HAIs) rates:

  • There have been 11,376 HAIs in January (January 1st to 24th), 14.1% of all admissions
  • Mortality in HAIs likely very high – likely approaching 50%

Who has lockdown protected? From the ONS:

There were 7,961 deaths involving COVID-19 in the working-age population (age 20 to 64 years) of England and Wales registered between March 9th and December 28th 2020. When looking at broad groups of occupations, men who worked in elementary occupations (699 deaths) or caring, leisure and other service occupations (258 deaths) had the highest rates of death involving COVID-19, with 66.3 and 64.1 deaths per 100,000 males, respectively.

I’d call this focused protection for the well-off and not for those that require protecting.

Council of Europe Decrees Vaccines Must Not be Mandatory and the Non-Vaccinated Must Not be Discriminated Against

The European Court of Human Rights, part of the Council of Europe

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – the international body of which the European Court of Human Rights is a part (not to be confused with the EU, and of which Britain remains a member) – has passed a resolution that vaccines must not be mandatory and no one should suffer discrimination on account of not having been vaccinated. It reads:

7.3 with respect to ensuring high vaccine uptake:

7.3.1 ensure that citizens are informed that the vaccination is NOT mandatory and that no one is politically, socially, or otherwise pressured to get themselves vaccinated, if they do not wish to do so themselves;

7.3.2 ensure that no one is discriminated against for not having been vaccinated, due to possible health risks or not wanting to be vaccinated;

While most of the resolution is a depressing regurgitation of Covid orthodoxy (“non-pharmaceutical interventions have helped slow down the spread of the virus”, “following the festive season, with its traditional indoor gatherings, infection rates will likely be very high in most member States”, “the vaccines will no doubt not be sufficient to bring down infection rates significantly this winter… A semblance of ‘normal life’ will thus not be able to resume until mid to late 2021 at the earliest” “the Assembly urges member States to take early effective measures to counter misinformation, disinformation and hesitancy regarding COVID-19 vaccines”) this clear statement of the longstanding principle that medical treatment should be voluntary is welcome.

Unfortunately, some people have other ideas. Matthew Lynn in the Telegraph wrote a shocking article, arguing that “no jab, no job policy should be the law“.

There are lots of jobs where you can’t work from home, and plenty of factories and offices that will remain closed if people don’t get vaccinated. Of course, no one should be forced to take the vaccine if they don’t want to. But they have to accept it may limit their employment options. Businesses already face plenty of uncertainty without the additional anxiety of a blizzard of legal claims.

The solution is simple. Parliament should legislate for no jab, no job this week – and that way everyone will know where they stand and can start planning for the future…

Of course, no one should be forced to take the shot if they don’t want to. There is an argument for mandatory vaccination, but it is a huge infringement of civil liberties, and we have probably seen enough of those in the past year to last a lifetime. People should be free to choose. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be any consequences of their decision.

There are plenty of countries where you are only allowed in with a vaccination certificate, and it is up to you whether you want to travel there or not. In the same way, anyone who prefers not to be vaccinated may have to accept it limits their employment opportunities. If they don’t like that, tough…

Parliament should pass a one-line bill this week making it clear that it is legal to discriminate on the grounds of whether a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, and that no claims on the grounds of unfair dismissal will be accepted. That will settle the matter once and for all, and stop the employment lawyers and unions in their tracks.

Meanwhile, Germany’s vaccine committee has said that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine should only be given to under-65s, stating there is “insufficient data to judge how effective the vaccination is above 65 years”. This is a blow for the vaccine which is much cheaper and easier to store than others like Pfizer’s and Moderna’s, and which Britain is relying on heavily for its reopening strategy, meaning we need it to work among the most vulnerable. The European Medicines Agency’s decision is due later today.

Stop Press: The Novavax vaccine has been found to be 89% effective and to work well against the Kent Covid variant in trials. It will now go to be considered for approval by the MHRA. Britain has 60 million doses on order, which will be produced at Stockton on Tees, and if approved it will take Britain’s vaccine doses total to 217 million. The Novavax vaccine is closer to a traditional type of vaccine than the mRNA Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, containing purified pieces of the spike protein that are administered with an adjuvant, a molecule that enhances the immune response.

Stop Press 2: New research in Israel suggests the Pfizer vaccine with both doses administered is “99.96% effective”.

“You Might As Well Use Your Passport for Target Practice”

Professor Sharon Peacock thinks the possibility of new Covid variants means restrictions need to continue indefinitely

There follows a guest post by Lockdown Sceptics regular Guy de la Bédoyère

Since the spirit of the age is “following the science”, it’s good to have an idea where the science is leading us. Radio 4’s World at One January 28th interviewed Professor Sharon Peacock of the University of Cambridge, executive director of the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium.

This is a transcript of the latter part of the interview. Nothing Professor Peacock said about COVID-19 should occasion any surprise since the potential risks to life from this virus and its mutated forms she outlined have always existed with respect to any virus and will always exist, though she made all this sound like a new discovery. Like everyone else I have lived with the risk of viruses since I was born but am lucky enough to live in a time when vaccines were at least one way of reducing that risk and allowing us to lead normal lives.

Not any more apparently. Now the science would have it that vaccines apparently no longer have that power. I shall be there to receive my vaccine when the invitation arrives, but according to Professor Peacock it isn’t going to be quite the game-changer the Prime Minister said it would be.

What appears to have changed is that this version of the science would like us to close the borders on what seems to be a totally open-ended basis and predicated on the notion that a vaccine-resistant, highly transmissible COVID-19 variant that causes far more severe illness might be mutating into existence right this minute. So indeed it might, but whether that means we should spend our lives gibbering with terror and hiding in our houses is another matter altogether.

Professor Peacock apparently cannot see an end in sight for COVID-19 and even if there was to be an end, I was left in no doubt that her fears will simply be transferred to something else.

I don’t know what your holiday plans were this year, next year, or at any time probably for most of the rest of your life, but if the government follows this advice you might as well use your passport for target practice.

Sarah Montague: The vaccine programme is going well in the UK, and it suggests there might be light at the end of the tunnel. But I wonder whether that light is brighter if you shut the borders?

Sharon Peacock: Well, through sequencing what we’ve shown is a very clear signal of importations both in Wave 1 and in Wave 2. And so COG-UK, which is the consortium that I lead, undertook sequencing of viruses from people in the first wave, and then they compared those sequences to see where they may have actually come from. And we know that from that study there were at least 1,300 importations into the country around the half-term during spring. Now, that’s an underestimate because we only sequenced around 10 percent of all the viruses or possible cases and that when we looked at that it was from Spain, Italy, and France predominantly. So we know that importation is really important and during the second wave we saw the importation of another tranche of variants, not of particular concern but new lineages coming into the country in the second wave again largely through holidaymakers and so I think it’s a natural conclusion that border control is absolutely central to control of disease. I think you don’t really need the genomics to prove that but the genomics has been categorical in showing that importation is really vital in terms of COVID-19 spreading in our population

SM: So, you’d like to see borders closed? The logic is that borders should close?

SP: The logic is there but that is not my decision, that of course is a decision for the Government.

SM: What is it that keeps you awake at night, at this stage of the pandemic?

SP: It has to be the emergence of a variant that is fully resistant to circulating vaccines that is also highly transmissible. That would be extremely problematic. I think that if it also had the characteristic that it also caused more severe disease then that would also worry me very much, but we are not there at the moment. That’s certainly what we’re on the look out for every day.

SM: And given your experience with other viruses, how likely is that?

SP: I think it’s really unpredictable. I’m very loath to draw on past experiences because I think there’s been so many surprises in relation to this particular virus. Instead I think I’d much rather look at the practical side of making sure that we have got all the tools in place to watch for emerging variants that could be of concern and bringing to a close the clusters of cases of people who have a virus that could be more resistant than others.

SM: So much is unknown and so much can’t be predicted but what is your assessment of when we are going to be largely out of this?

SP: As a scientist and a geneticist I would say that we have a very long-term job on our hands. I don’t think that I’m going to put a figure on that. All I know is that we have work ahead of us to continue to monitor mutations.

SM: For years ahead?

SP: Years, yes. I think it’s very unlikely that this virus is just going to disappear off the planet.

So, er, just like all the other viruses we have learned to live with in the past without shutting everything down which haven’t disappeared off the planet either? I don’t know how she sleeps at night.

What this interview illustrated very effectively is the monumentally difficult decisions the government is facing. Either it carries on ‘following the science’ in a perpetual hunt for total risk-free safety, ridden with fear of the theoretical Vaccine-Resistant Killer Super-Virus that Professor Peacock, who I am sure is an outstanding scientist in her field, is petrified of night and day; or it weighs up risk against quality of life and returns to normality on the basis the Killer Virus might never happen. Who’s to say what’s the right path to take?

It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides.

Jane Austen, Persuasion, chapter 23

But I suppose the real question is: if we cut ourselves off from a life worth living to protect us from the theoretical Killer Super-Virus which then indeed duly turns up, whether by then anyone left will care one way or the other?

Sceptics Under Fire

A Lockdown Sceptics reader copied us into his letter to the Evening Standard complaining about its unbalanced reporting of the criticism of Sir Desmond Swayne MP. We reproduce it here.

Dear Evening Standard,

I refer to an article about the recent comments made by MP Desmond Swayne on your website. The entire piece is written in a highly biased way, and attempts unfairly to conflate Mr Swayne’s anti-lockdown stance with anti-vax and Covid-denialist views. This is apparent in the headline, in which Swayne’s name is used alongside the term “anti-vaccine”, despite the fact that within the article itself Mr Swayne clearly declares his support for the vaccination programme. The lead paragraph goes on to state that Mr Swayne has been “accused of spreading ‘dangerous misinformation’” and that he “urged anti-vaccination campaigners to continue fighting against restrictions and told them NHS capacity figures were being ‘manipulated’.” Whilst taken as a whole the article does provide both viewpoints, the prominence given to the misrepresentations of Swayne’s views and the tendentious vocabulary used in the headline and early sections of the piece are a clear attempt to damn him by association. I note that a similar negative framing has occurred on other articles on your site (e.g. here).

The first article goes on to mention comments made by Swayne in November 2020, when he stated that Covid figures were “bouncing round at the typical level of deaths for the time of year”. What is the relevance of mentioning something that he said three months ago before the winter spike? The second article also quotes his November remarks at length. The first piece goes on to state that “Sir Desmond has denied that he is opposed to vaccinating people to protect them against the virus. But he has previously labelled lockdowns a ‘complete failure’.” The ‘but’ here is crucial, implying that there is a link between anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdowners. Why are you attempting to draw a link between the two viewpoints, as if they have anything in common?

The article goes on to quote, uncritically, two people who oppose his views (or rather, their misconstrual of his views). I note that no supporters of Mr Swayne are mentioned or quoted. The Labour MP Angela Rayner (CC’d) is quoted as saying that Swayne has “endorsed conspiracy theories” (false) and that he has stated that Covid statistics have been manipulated “for which there is no evidence” (debatable – the fact that anyone dying within 28 days of a positive test counts as a Covid death means that inevitably the death figure ends up being somewhat inflated – whether that counts as “manipulation” is a matter of debate). She goes on to imply that he doesn’t support the vaccination programme – an out and out lie. Imran Ahmed of the CCDH (CC’d) is also quoted, saying that Swayne has “lended [sic] legitimacy to crank Anti-Vaxxers and peddlers of falsehoods” (false) and that “turning science into a political football is a Trumpian act of grotesque irresponsibility” (Swayne did no such thing – he is merely holding the Government to account, something the media should be doing). As an aside, I fail to see the relevance of seeking views from a man who runs an anti-hate speech organisation when we are discussing matters of Covid policy.

A narrative has been created by various governments which aims to conflate those who oppose lockdown measures (for a variety of reasons) with the minority of Covid-denialists, conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers and the like, a narrative which has been eagerly propagandised by a largely compliant media. The overwhelming number of people who oppose lockdowns are not conspiracy theorists, but merely concerned citizens opposed to the wanton destruction of our economies, our children’s’ education, mass unemployment, business failures, the stripping away of our basic rights on an indefinite basis, the deliberate stoking of fear and hysteria, and the McCarthy-esque witch-hunting of those holding dissenting views. Your deliberate misrepresentation of Mr Swayne’s comments is a clear attempt to damn by association anyone who opposes lockdown, and is unfit for a news organ that seeks to report the news in a fair and impartial manner.    

Sincerely,    

D Martin

Stop Press: Disappointingly, Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg has backed Neil O’Brien in his anti-sceptic witch-hunt. The Byline Times reports, in typically even-handed style.

Speaking yesterday on his regular podcast with the blog ConservativeHome, Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg expressed admiration for O’Brien.

“People should be held to account for what they say, and I think Neil has done a fantastic job and has influenced the debate by putting the facts forward,” he said, adding that, “in an era of fake news, it is important that people challenge news and put the alternative points of view, or correct facts.”

Rees-Mogg also said that the Harborough, Oadby and Wigston MP has been making his arguments forcefully on WhatsApp groups populated by Conservative MPs. “Neil has also been putting very helpful pieces of information on Conservative WhatsApp groups, so that Conservative MPs see the arguments as well,” he said.

O’Brien has gained prominence on Twitter in recent weeks, after directing fire at a number of prominent lockdown sceptics, most notably commentator Toby Young and talkRADIO host Julia Hartley-Brewer. He has been particularly assiduous in pointing out the false wisdom of lockdown sceptics early in the Coronavirus pandemic – for example when Young predicted that there would be no second wave of the virus.

Rees-Mogg’s comments seem to imply that he – and by extension the Government  – believe that commentators such as Young and Hartley-Brewer have been disseminating half-truths about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stop Press 2: M.L.R. Smith and Niall McCrae in CIEO argue that the “growing prohibition on criticising the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic reveals a state as intent on controlling our minds as our bodies”.

Stop Press 3: A lockdown debate took place at the Cambridge Union yesterday. The motion was: “This House believes lockdown was a mistake.” Speaking in favour were Sir Graham Brady MP, Richard Tice and Toby Young, while speaking against were Layla Moran MP, Laura Spinner and Phil Whitaker. The ayes won by 362 votes to 309, a convincing victory. We will post a video of the debate here on Saturday when it goes up on YouTube.

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Two today: “Don’t Believe A Word” by Thin Lizzy and “Fiddling the Figures” by DevonMiles.

Love in the Time of Covid

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys in The Americans

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. 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 as well as post comments below the line, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Sharing Stories

Some of you have asked how to link to particular stories on Lockdown Sceptics so you can share it. To do that, click on the headline of a particular story and a link symbol will appear on the right-hand side of the headline. Click on the link and the URL of your page will switch to the URL of that particular story. You can then copy that URL and either email it to your friends or post it on social media. Please do share the stories.

Social Media Accounts

You can follow Lockdown Sceptics on our social media accounts which are updated throughout the day. To follow us on Facebook, click here; to follow us on Twitter, click here; to follow us on Instagram, click here; to follow us on Parler, click here; and to follow us on MeWe, click here.

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, it’s the list of 44 schools that are to be renamed by the San Francisco Unified School District because they are named after supposedly “controversial” public figures, including former Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, current Senator Dianne Feinstein and Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island. What was RLS’s sin? Stereotyping pirates?

Comprehensive HIGH schools
1 Balboa High School
2 Abraham Lincoln High School
3 Mission High School
4 George Washington High School

Alternative HIGH schools
5 Lowell High School

Middle schools
6 James Denman Middle School
7 Everett Middle School
8 Herbert Hoover Middle School
9 James Lick Middle School
10 Presidio Middle School
11 Roosevelt Middle School

K-8 schools
12 Lawton Alternative K-8
13 Claire Lilienthal: Madison Campus (Grades K-2) 3950 Sacramento Street
13 Claire Lilienthal: Winfield Scott Campus (Grades 3-8) 3630 Divisadero Street
14 Paul Revere K-8

K-5 Elementary schools
15 Alamo Elementary
16 Alvarado Elementary
17 Bryant Elementary
18 Clarendon Elementary Second Community
18 JBBP (Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program) at Clarendon
19 El Dorado Elementary
20 Dianne Feinstein Elementary
21 Garfield Elementary
22 Grattan Elementary
23 Jefferson Elementary
24 Francis Scott Key Elementary
25 Frank McCoppin Elementary
26 McKinley Elementary
27 Marshall Elementary
28 Monroe Elementary
29 John Muir Elementary
30 Jose Ortega Elementary
31 Sanchez Elementary
32 Junipero Serra Elementary
33 Sheridan Elementary
34 Sherman Elementary
35 Commodore Sloat Elementary
36 Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary
37 Sutro Elementary
38 Ulloa Elementary
39 Daniel Webster Elementary

EES (Early Education Schools)
40 Jefferson Early Education School
41 Junipero Serra Early Education School
42 Noriega EES
43 Presidio EES
44 Stockton EES

At times like these one often reaches for George Orwell.

Do you realise that the past, starting from yesterday, has been actually abolished? If it survives anywhere, it’s in a few solid objects with no words attached to them, like that lump of glass there. Already we know almost literally nothing about the Revolution and the years before the Revolution. Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right. I know, of course, that the past is falsified, but it would never be possible for me to prove it, even when I did the falsification myself. After the thing is done, no evidence ever remains. The only evidence is inside my own mind, and I don’t know with any certainty that any other human being shares my memories.

George Orwell, “1984”

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to obtain a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card – because wearing a mask causes them “severe distress”, for instance. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and the Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. And if you feel obliged to wear a mask but want to signal your disapproval of having to do so, you can get a “sexy world” mask with the Swedish flag on it here.

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

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption. Another reader has created an Android app which displays “I am exempt from wearing a face mask” on your phone. Only 99p.

If you’re a shop owner and you want to let your customers know you will not be insisting on face masks or asking them what their reasons for exemption are, you can download a friendly sign to stick in your window here.

And here’s an excellent piece about the ineffectiveness of masks by a Roger W. Koops, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry. See also the Swiss Doctor’s thorough review of the scientific evidence here and Prof Carl Heneghan and Dr Tom Jefferson’s Spectator article about the Danish mask study here.

Stop Press: A senior scientist has told Lockdown Sceptics he was involved recently in a discussion about vaccines where the view was expressed that once you’ve been vaccinated it may be better not to wear a mask. The rationale being that circulating vaccine-induced antibody fades over time and that repeated exposure to the virus keeps immunity topped up. (The same, logically, applies to anyone who has had a natural infection.) He added:

Needless to say, adopting this view – which would support the early abandonment of masks as vaccine is rolled out – requires acceptance of the assertion (which many of us doubt) that masks have any protective merit in the first place. It might, however, be a better argument against the wretched things than asserting they are useless – a line that has failed to gain traction.  

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

The Great Barrington Declaration, a petition started by Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya calling for a strategy of “Focused Protection” (protect the elderly and the vulnerable and let everyone else get on with life), was launched in October and the lockdown zealots have been doing their best to discredit it ever since. If you googled it a week after launch, the top hits were three smear pieces from the Guardian, including: “Herd immunity letter signed by fake experts including ‘Dr Johnny Bananas’.” (Freddie Sayers at UnHerd warned us about this the day before it appeared.) On the bright side, Google UK has stopped shadow banning it, so the actual Declaration now tops the search results – and Toby’s Spectator piece about the attempt to suppress it is among the top hits – although discussion of it has been censored by Reddit. The reason the zealots hate it, of course, is that it gives the lie to their claim that “the science” only supports their strategy. These three scientists are every bit as eminent – more eminent – than the pro-lockdown fanatics so expect no let up in the attacks. (Wikipedia has also done a smear job.)

You can find it here. Please sign it. Now over three quarters of a million signatures.

Update: The authors of the GBD have expanded the FAQs to deal with some of the arguments and smears that have been made against their proposal. Worth reading in full.

Update 2: Many of the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration are involved with new UK anti-lockdown campaign Recovery. Find out more and join here.

Update 3: You can watch Sunetra Gupta set out the case for “Focused Protection” here and Jay Bhattacharya make it here.

Update 4: The three GBD authors plus Prof Carl Heneghan of CEBM have launched a new website collateralglobal.org, “a global repository for research into the collateral effects of the COVID-19 lockdown measures”. Follow Collateral Global on Twitter here. Sign up to the newsletter here.

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

There are now so many legal cases being brought against the Government and its ministers we thought we’d include them all in one place down here.

The Simon Dolan case has now reached the end of the road. The current lead case is the Robin Tilbrook case which challenges whether the Lockdown Regulations are constitutional. You can read about that and contribute here.

Then there’s John’s Campaign which is focused specifically on care homes. Find out more about that here.

There’s the GoodLawProject and Runnymede Trust’s Judicial Review of the Government’s award of lucrative PPE contracts to various private companies. You can find out more about that here and contribute to the crowdfunder here. Latest news is the Government is trying to make the action unaffordable by claiming there is no public interest and spending a million pounds on the thing, which those bringing the review are at risk of having to pay.

There’s the class action lawsuit being brought by Dr Reiner Fuellmich and his team in various countries against “the manufacturers and sellers of the defective product, PCR tests”. Dr Fuellmich explains the lawsuit in this video. Dr Fuellmich has also served cease and desist papers on Professor Christian Drosten, co-author of the Corman-Drosten paper which underpins the SARS-CoV-2 PCR test protocol. That paper was submitted on January 21st and accepted following peer review on January 22nd. The paper has been critically reviewed here by Pieter Borger and colleagues, who have also submitted a retraction request.

And last but not least there was the Free Speech Union‘s challenge to Ofcom over its ‘coronavirus guidance’. A High Court judge refused permission for the FSU’s judicial review on December 9th and the FSU has decided not to appeal the decision because Ofcom has conceded most of the points it was making. Check here for details.

Samaritans

If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch. Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.

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 hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

Latest News

Boris Says Schools to Be Shut Till At Least March 8th

The Prime Minister confirmed yesterday that the lockdown will continue until March at the earliest, dashing hopes of an earlier reopening. Katy Balls in the Spectator has the details.

England’s national lockdown is set to run on until at least March. Speaking in the Commons chamber this afternoon, Boris Johnson confirmed that the return of pupils to the classroom would be the first thing to be eased – and this would not happen in February as he had previously hoped. Addressing the House, Johnson said “it will not be possible” to reopen schools in England after the half-term break next month. However, he remained hopeful that so long as the UK’s vaccination programme remained on track, the return of pupils to the classroom would be able to begin from Monday March 8th.

Given that No. 10 have no plans to relax any restrictions prior to schools reopening, this means the lockdown is here for the foreseeable. However, Johnson attempted to give both his MPs and the public some hope by saying that work on a roadmap out of lockdown was now underway. He said his government would reveal its “phased” route out of lockdown in the week beginning February 22nd. Guiding this work will be the research underway in government on whether vaccines block transmission of the virus.

In fact, Boris was only prepared to say that March 8th “could see the start of a phased return of pupils to the classroom”.

The Government has made this decision despite its own health advisory body, Public Health England, saying primary schools were safe to open after half term, as the Times reported on Tuesday.

Public Health England (PHE) said that there was now a “strong case” for the return to class, adding more pressure on Boris Johnson to set out a timetable for primary schools to reopen.

Pupils in that age group are “resistant” to wider coronavirus trends and play a small role in spreading infection, a series of comprehensive studies has concluded.

Outbreaks were recorded in 3% of primary schools during the autumn term, with most cases among teachers rather than pupils, PHE found. “Everything we have learnt from the summer half-term and the recent autumn term indicates that they are safe to remain open,” Shamez Ladhani, its chief schools investigator, said. Secondary schools were five times as likely to record outbreaks and much more closely reflect wider infection patterns, suggesting that a later, more phased opening might be necessary.

The harms to children from these lengthy school closures are incalculable and often irreversible. 

Deborah Cohen presented a carefully balanced report for BBC Newsnight about the risks and benefits of reopening schools on Tuesday evening that is worth a watch.

Stop Press: Portugal has banned private schools from using online tuition during a two-week closure to prevent state schools falling behind. Talk about levelling down. No surprise to learn the PM is a socialist. The Mail has more.

Portugal’s socialist Prime Minister has banned private schools from teaching pupils remotely during a two-week classroom closure. The minority Socialist-led government of Antonio Costa said that allowing private institutions to teach remotely would put state school pupils at a disadvantage. The Portuguese government ordered all schools closed for two weeks last Thursday to slow contagion rates as hospitals faced record numbers of COVID-19 patients.

The performance of state schools was patchy during Portugal’s first lockdown, with many schools coming under fire for poor provision of online schooling.

Portugal’s ban on private schools teaching remotely also includes international schools, meaning British children living in the country doing GCSEs, A Levels or the International Baccalaureate cannot by law be taught for the next two weeks. Learning time lost during the imposed holiday, and any additional time lost from the school closure, would be compensated at a later data in the school year, the Government said.

“Banning digital classes in private education is a totalitarian and Marxist-style measure,” Rui Rio, the leader of the centre-right opposition party said. “[The measure] has nothing to do with the public interest or with the defence of public health. It is the left at its worst.”

Stop Press 2: The Mail reports that teaching unions are calling for even longer closures. The paper has also run a piece with comments from exasperated parents.

Borders Closing Ever Tighter With Arrival of Forced Quarantine

Home Secretary Priti Patel set out the details of the Government’s new forced quarantine policy for arrivals into the UK yesterday. Kate Andrews in the Spectator has the details.

Arrivals from 22 “high-risk” areas will soon be forced to quarantine in a hotel when they arrive in Britain. There will be no exceptions to the rule, and travellers must stay put for 10 days, even if they test negative for COVID-19. The “red list” of countries include Portugal, South Africa, Brazil and Cape Verde.

This crackdown was a long time coming. When Denmark found a mutant strain of Covid last autumn amongst its mink farms, the UK became the only country in the world to close its borders to anyone from there. Did the fast response acknowledge regret among ministers about not being stricter on the border last spring? Quite possibly. This time, the Government has been much clearer about the reasoning behind this decision. Priti Patel told the Commons:

The Government’s focus is on protecting the UK’s world-leading vaccination programme – a programme that we should be proud of. And reducing the risk of a new strain of the virus being transmitted from someone coming into the UK.

The details of this quarantine scheme are still up in the air and it is not yet clear when it will come into effect. But despite these tougher measures, it seems that some in the Cabinet wanted the Government to go further. Had Patel had it her way, the measures would have extended to everyone arriving in Britain. Boris Johnson stopped short of this for now. But once the infrastructure is in place, it is easy to see how arrivals from any country, with no advanced warning, could be affected.

Is this an attempt to emulate Australia and New Zealand? Except their strategy was to wait in splendid isolation for a vaccine. But we’re closing borders after the vaccine has arrived because we’re worried about new vaccine-resistant variants. The problem with this is that the logic seems permanent – after all, there will always be a risk of some new mutant variant emerging. As Kate says: “Britain will be one of the first countries to close its borders to countries based on a hypothetical scenario – the possibility of a mutant Covid strain that can evade vaccines – rather than an immediate threat.” Such excessive caution bodes ill for the future and a return to normal.

Worth reading Kate’s piece in full.

Stop Press: Professor Devi Sridhar, the Scottish Government Covid adviser, has said the quarantine plans will be ineffective and need to go further because they don’t apply to all countries. Won’t be long…

Flying is Only For The Rich in Covid World

A Lockdown Sceptics reader has written to tell us about the extraordinary cost and inconvenience his partner had to go to just to fly to Prague to visit her frail mother.

My partner is from Prague and needed to travel home last week in time to see her mother who is very frail, has had multiple strokes and is now going for quite a complex operation. She wanted to make sure she saw her before the potential issue got out of hand (or there were complications in the hospital). So last Monday I managed to book a flight to Prague. 

It transpires there are no direct flights although at short notice I managed to book something with KLM via Amsterdam. Having taken my payment, an hour later they sent a message saying that they required not only a PCR test within 72 hours of flight, but also a rapid test at the airport within three hours of flight or so.

Having investigated, it looked like Boots was the best place to get a PCR test, although you have to use two separate portals to book one. It cost £120 and the test results only turned up by email about 12 hours before my partner was due to take off. It was an email showing a “certificate” which could be printed off.

To get the rapid test, we had to use a company called Collinson at City airport, where she was flying from. It seemed to have only been recently set up and may be part of another group involved in test and trace but I cannot be sure. This test cost £80.

Passengers were not allowed to enter the airport (even though it was completely empty) unless they could prove that they already had a test booked with Collinson. Chairs were all removed meaning everybody had to stand outside until they were called for their test. Once the test has been completed, they email you the results but they refuse to print anything off, meaning in some cases this can cause a problem with some airlines if you are unable to show something “physical” at the gate. And to come back into the UK she has to do it all again at similar cost. 

Overall this makes a flight that would normally cost £150 approximately £600 just for a quick jump to a European city. This may change, but I don’t think the idea that they want rapid tests at the airport is going to go away anytime soon, making it completely price prohibitive for anybody on a normal wage to travel, especially with children over 12 who are required to have a test as well.

On top of it all, even though everybody on the same flight must have been negative for COVID-19, they all still had to wear a mask. What sort of lunacy is that? Either they are safe to fly since they had the two tests or they are not.

As a side note, since it was a nice day I decided to take a drive along the river from City airport and randomly arrived (I promise) at the Excel Centre being used as a Nightingale Hospital. It looked completely deserted so I decided to drive around the perimeter.

Apart from one security guard who told me that it was “very quiet today” I saw nobody else. I’m not sure if it is officially “in use” currently, but apart from a few signs directing people to “have your vaccination here” I didn’t see anything and it looked completely dead.

Lastly, having just written this it transpires that KLM have cancelled all their flights from Amsterdam to London so I had to scramble to get my partner on a flight with Air France via Paris. Once again there seems no logic to it at all.

Preliminary Materials For a Theory of Devi Sridhar

We’re publishing a new essay today by regular contributor Sinéad Murphy, a Philosophy Lecturer at Newcastle University. She takes Scottish Government adviser Professor Devi Sridhar to task for her “Young-Girlism”. I’ll let her explain.

Following her appearance on Newsnight on Friday January 22nd, Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, tweeted this:

During the past year, those of us opposed to Government lockdowns have repeatedly asked this question: What has disarmed the populations of apparently democratic societies that they have so quietly accepted the suspension of their freedoms?

Devi Sridhar’s tweet – banal as it is – contains all the ingredients for an answer to this question.

2020 did seem, as it unfolded, to impose a sudden reversal of established freedoms. But the surreptitious erosion of those freedoms had, in fact, long been observed.

In 1999, for example, the French magazine, Tiqqun, published a short text entitled “Preliminary Materials For A Theory Of The Young-Girl“, which sketched an outline of the emergent citizen of Western democratic societies, who willingly participates in and perpetuates their own oppression at the hands of global corporate governance, actively consenting to “the molecular diffusion of constraint into everyday life” and to the “immuno-disarmament of bodies”.

The Tiqqun text summarized this acquiescent citizen as the “Young-Girl”. The descriptor has met with objections for its alleged misogyny. But it applies to men as well as to women, and to the old as well as to the young, only seeking to capture the defining characteristics that make the populations of twenty-first century democracies so ripe for control.

These characteristics are: infantilisation, emotionalisation, and relativisation. The Young-Girl, as model citizen of modern democracies, is childlike, sentimental, and eminently prepared to relinquish heretofore absolute values.

Devi Sridhar’s tweet is a perfect example of Young-Girlism. It is worth taking the time to pick it over.

Worth reading in full.

Times Front Page Misrepresents Covid Victim Age Distribution

The front page if yesterday’s Times

To mark the unhappy milestone of 100,000 Covid deaths yesterday (which are “with” not necessarily “of” Covid, of course), the Times displayed the names and faces of 20 people who died with Covid on its front page. They’re striking because many of them are relatively young. A Lockdown Sceptics reader has written in to point out that they are in no way representative of the typical age of people who die with Covid, making the image highly misleading.

Whilst recognising that the 20 victims represent personal tragedies, it is also important to note that their selection conveys a very false sense of the age distribution of Covid deaths.

I’ve plotted below the age distribution of all UK Covid deaths (taken from the same edition of the Times) and also the age distribution of the victims in the Times photos. The 45-64 age bracket is nearly nine times over-represented. The 15-44 bracket is five times over-represented.

Right at the end, the article does say: “The vast majority of victims have been older people, with 90% of those who died aged 65 or more and 75% aged at least 75.” Many readers won’t get this far and if they do they will tend to remember the much more salient pictures rather than the stats.

I think this sort of thing matters because it fuels the well documented public risk-blindness when it comes to Covid. And this is going to hinder a rapid escape from the lockdown.

Locked Down in Mexico

Jo Nash has written a fascinating account on Left Lockdown Sceptics about her experience getting stuck in Mexico last spring, and her journey during the restrictions from lockdowner to sceptic.

As lockdown started to bite after a few weeks, my local taxi driver friend who regularly helped me with my shopping told me how the people in the small town where I was living were suffering. The vast majority of Mexicans work in the informal economy on a day to day basis. After a week of no income many were unable to pay bills and buy food. Alcohol abuse was rising alongside violence in the home. Children witnessing these growing tensions had nowhere to go, and often got caught up in family violence. Children in more stable situations were expressing hopelessness and lethargy as their education had been abandoned and they could no longer play outside with their friends.

Then, the organised gang raids started. The Walmart where I shopped once a week was raided by a motorbike gang of 30, all wearing black, all masked and armed, who walked into the store and took as many electrical items as possible – smashing up glass display units with hammers and grabbing their swag in a precise military style operation. Later these items were sold on the black market and it was rumoured the money was used to buy food for the poor which was distributed free by gang members. These were happening country wide and a media blackout ensued to prevent copycat raids.

The left-wing President Amlo appealed for calm as a return to pre-Amlo anarchy was looming on the horizon due to the harms of lockdown. These experiences, and my increasingly obsessive probing of the background to C-19, shifted me from pro- to anti-lockdown as the consequences of the restrictions for the poor became clear. I signed the Great Barrington Declaration within hours of its publication in support of focused protection rather than lockdown and began to follow the scientific and political developments closely.

During this time I worked online editing research, but the isolation began affecting my concentration, morale, and energy levels. I had been hanging on to see when lockdown would lift so I could see my Mexican friends again, and we could resume with our previous plans, but it didn’t end. So, in the middle of May as my visa was about to expire, despite the ‘shelter in place’ order, I booked a flight to Scotland to stay with old friends where lockdown appeared to be lifting and then go on to India from there after summer. I booked a flight to Edinburgh with Tui and two days later the new UK quarantine order was imposed, so it was cancelled. With the refund I booked another flight, with Turkish airlines via Istanbul for June. This was cancelled for the same reason, rebooked, and cancelled again with no refund “until flights returned to normal” the airline said. Other airlines that were still flying were cashing in by charging 300% of normal flight prices.

Not only was I now in the country illegally as my visa had expired but I was five hundred pounds out of pocket and faced paying another £1,500 to get to Edinburgh.

Worth reading in full.

Share Your Story With Julia

Julia Hartley-Brewer is appealing for more “Lockdown Stories” from people willing to share their experiences of lockdown on her talkRADIO breakfast show. 

Please email breakfast@talkradio.co.uk if you are willing to speak on the radio about how lockdown has affected you or your family – whether it’s your physical or mental health, missed NHS treatments, losing your job or fighting to keep your business afloat, financial worries, unable to see family members in care homes, children missing vital schooling or university or any other experiences you want to share. Please include your phone number.

Sceptics Under Fire

George Monbiot in the Guardian has proposed a Ministry of Truth to deal with sceptic troublemakers.

I would like to see an expert committee, similar to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), identifying claims that present a genuine danger to life and proposing their temporary prohibition to parliament.

While this measure would apply only to the most extreme cases, we should be far more alert to the dangers of misinformation in general. Even though it states that the pundits it names are not deliberately spreading false information, the new Anti-Virus site www.covidfaq.co might help to tip the balance against people such as Allison Pearson, Peter Hitchens and Sunetra Gupta, who have made such public headway with their misleading claims about the pandemic.

But how did these claims become so prominent? They achieved traction only because they were given a massive platform in the media, particularly in the Telegraph, the Mail and – above all – the house journal of unscientific gibberish, the Spectator. Their most influential outlet is the BBC [Eh?]. The BBC has an unerring instinct for misjudging where debate about a matter of science lies. It thrills to the sound of noisy, ill-informed contrarians.

Self-professed “lockdown hardliner” Peter Franklin in UnHerd is alarmed by Monbiot’s proposal.

I… thought that the claim that the ‘lockdown mentality’ was a permanent threat to our way of life was wildly overblown. But suddenly I’m not so sure. The fact is that some of my fellow hardliners are going off the deep end.

This morning The Guardian published a column by George Monbiot, which calls for Government restrictions on free speech:

“We have a right to speak freely. We also have a right to life. When malicious disinformation – claims that are known to be both false and dangerous – can spread without restraint, these two values collide head-on. One of them must give way…”

The one he want [sic] us to give way on is free speech: “When governments fail to ban outright lies that endanger people’s lives, I believe they make the wrong choice.”

What does he mean by “outright lies”? The examples given include “vaccines are used to inject us with microchips” and other conspiracy theories. But why suppress obvious nonsense that isn’t going to inform government policy? Monbiot’s answer is that ordinary people might believe it and refuse to get vaccinated – thereby putting themselves and others at risk.

On this basis, he proposes a time-limited ban on the most blatantly false claims – “running for perhaps six months”. But why stop there? Why not set up a Ministry of Truth to provide an ongoing means of suppressing dangerous information? If lives are at stake, then isn’t that all that matters?

Worth reading in full.

Tim Worstall in CapX isn’t too impressed either. He suggests George will need to censor himself given his own inglorious history of “dangerous falsehoods”.

Stop Press: Sky News have done a hit job on sceptic Sir Desmond Swayne MP for urging Save Our Rights UK, whom Sky label “anti-vaxxers”, to “persist” with their anti-lockdown campaign.

Swayne’s interview was from November and many of his comments, such as those about ICU occupancy being normal for the time of year, relate to the situation then rather than the unusually busy period in January.

Angela Rayner, deputy Labour leader, has written to Conservative Party chairwoman Amanda Milling calling on the party to take action.

The Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) seems to be playing a big role in this smear campaign. Which is surely a case of mission creep, as being sceptical about lockdowns can hardly be described as “hate”.

Sir Desmond posted on Twitter yesterday: “Sky is wrong. Aside from my question to the PM this afternoon, an examination of my blogs will reveal that I am a most enthusiastic vaccinator.”

Stop Press 2: In response to Toby’s Twitter thread we published yesterday, Sam Bowman corrected himself and apologised for the mistake. Rather oddly, he then blocked Toby, meaning he won’t be able to see any of his tweets again. Sam will have to rely on others in future to correct his mistakes.

Round-up

https://twitter.com/jengleruk/status/1354129343975481344?s=20

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Three today: “6ft Further” by Media Bear, “What’s Another Year?” by Johnny Logan and “Break The Rules” by Status Quo.

Love in the Time of Covid

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. 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 as well as post comments below the line, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Sharing Stories

Some of you have asked how to link to particular stories on Lockdown Sceptics so you can share it. To do that, click on the headline of a particular story and a link symbol will appear on the right-hand side of the headline. Click on the link and the URL of your page will switch to the URL of that particular story. You can then copy that URL and either email it to your friends or post it on social media. Please do share the stories.

Social Media Accounts

You can follow Lockdown Sceptics on our social media accounts which are updated throughout the day. To follow us on Facebook, click here; to follow us on Twitter, click here; to follow us on Instagram, click here; to follow us on Parler, click here; and to follow us on MeWe, click here.

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, we’re hearing from Roger Tarrant, who was cancelled by the Federation of Small Businesses late last year for questioning the ideology of BLM. He wrote about what happened to him in the Critic.

I was cancelled as the Federation of Small Businesses’s South West National Councillor towards the end of 2020. My crime was “wrong speak” on the region’s internal WhatsApp group. Or as the Chair, Mike Cherry, and the Board put it, for “conduct likely to bring the FSB into disrepute”.

What was my crime? In response to the Black Lives Matter protests happening in England in June, I sent a message to an internal WhatsApp group pointing out that only 163 people had died in police custody in the UK in the last 10 years and that 140 were white, 10 black and 13 other ethnicities. I also made the point that disadvantaged white boys in England were less likely to go into further education than disadvantaged black boys.

“Does only BLM or should all lives matter?” I asked. “Are only white people racist? Sorry to burst the moral outrage bubble, but FSB should be careful how it handles its response.”

Immediately, the Exeter Area Lead in Devon, a white middle-aged man, accused me of being a racist. He asked me in the group: ­“was I saying that… all that stuff about BLM deaths due to coronavirus was probably all made up and there is nothing wrong with a bit of slavery?” It was hard to make head or tail of his accusation – BLM deaths? – but I had obviously said nothing of the kind. He then immediately left the WhatsApp group and made a formal complaint to the Regional Chair and Board. I assumed it would be dismissed, but within days there followed a letter from the director attached to the region asking me to resign. I declined.

Worth reading in full.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to obtain a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card – because wearing a mask causes them “severe distress”, for instance. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and the Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. And if you feel obliged to wear a mask but want to signal your disapproval of having to do so, you can get a “sexy world” mask with the Swedish flag on it here.

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

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption. Another reader has created an Android app which displays “I am exempt from wearing a face mask” on your phone. Only 99p.

If you’re a shop owner and you want to let your customers know you will not be insisting on face masks or asking them what their reasons for exemption are, you can download a friendly sign to stick in your window here.

And here’s an excellent piece about the ineffectiveness of masks by a Roger W. Koops, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry. See also the Swiss Doctor’s thorough review of the scientific evidence here and Prof Carl Heneghan and Dr Tom Jefferson’s Spectator article about the Danish mask study here.

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

The Great Barrington Declaration, a petition started by Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya calling for a strategy of “Focused Protection” (protect the elderly and the vulnerable and let everyone else get on with life), was launched in October and the lockdown zealots have been doing their best to discredit it ever since. If you googled it a week after launch, the top hits were three smear pieces from the Guardian, including: “Herd immunity letter signed by fake experts including ‘Dr Johnny Bananas’.” (Freddie Sayers at UnHerd warned us about this the day before it appeared.) On the bright side, Google UK has stopped shadow banning it, so the actual Declaration now tops the search results – and Toby’s Spectator piece about the attempt to suppress it is among the top hits – although discussion of it has been censored by Reddit. The reason the zealots hate it, of course, is that it gives the lie to their claim that “the science” only supports their strategy. These three scientists are every bit as eminent – more eminent – than the pro-lockdown fanatics so expect no let up in the attacks. (Wikipedia has also done a smear job.)

You can find it here. Please sign it. Now over three quarters of a million signatures.

Update: The authors of the GBD have expanded the FAQs to deal with some of the arguments and smears that have been made against their proposal. Worth reading in full.

Update 2: Many of the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration are involved with new UK anti-lockdown campaign Recovery. Find out more and join here.

Update 3: You can watch Sunetra Gupta set out the case for “Focused Protection” here and Jay Bhattacharya make it here.

Update 4: The three GBD authors plus Prof Carl Heneghan of CEBM have launched a new website collateralglobal.org, “a global repository for research into the collateral effects of the COVID-19 lockdown measures”. Follow Collateral Global on Twitter here. Sign up to the newsletter here.

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

There are now so many legal cases being brought against the Government and its ministers we thought we’d include them all in one place down here.

The Simon Dolan case has now reached the end of the road. The current lead case is the Robin Tilbrook case which challenges whether the Lockdown Regulations are constitutional. You can read about that and contribute here.

Then there’s John’s Campaign which is focused specifically on care homes. Find out more about that here.

There’s the GoodLawProject and Runnymede Trust’s Judicial Review of the Government’s award of lucrative PPE contracts to various private companies. You can find out more about that here and contribute to the crowdfunder here.

And last but not least there was the Free Speech Union‘s challenge to Ofcom over its ‘coronavirus guidance’. A High Court judge refused permission for the FSU’s judicial review on December 9th and the FSU has decided not to appeal the decision because Ofcom has conceded most of the points it was making. Check here for details.

Samaritans

If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch. Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.

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 hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

Flaming Lips give a socially-distanced “Space Bubble” concert, using individual inflatable bubbles to avoid the spread of coronavirus, at the Criterion in Oklahoma City, January 22, 2021. Flaming Lips/Warner Music/Handout via REUTERS

Latest News

UK Hits 100,000 Covid Deaths

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chief Medical Adviser Chris Whitty held a press conference yesterday in which they marked the grim milestone of 100,000 UK dead with COVID-19. Isabel Hardman in the Spectator has the details.

The Prime Minister offered his “deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one”, and promised that “when we have come through this crisis, we will come together as a nation to remember everyone we lost, and to honour the selfless heroism of all those on the front line who gave their lives to save others”. He also pledged that “we will make sure that we learn the lessons and reflect and prepare”.

This was the closest the Prime Minister came to talking about taking responsibility for the high death toll. He also insisted that “we did everything that we could to minimise suffering and minimise loss of life in this country”. Later, both he and Whitty reflected on the sort of lessons they’d already learned. For Johnson, it was more about what the UK had now developed, such as effective PPE supply chains, and testing. These are not really lessons learned, and Johnson will know that.

Whitty was rather more constructive, saying scientists didn’t initially appreciate the importance of asymptomatic transmission, that they hadn’t supported widespread mask-wearing initially, and that doctors had learned clinical lessons about treating the virus.

What Johnson has said this evening, about the need to learn lessons and the Government doing everything it could, might work as a holding line. But when the public inquiry is held, it will presumably examine the speed with which he took decisions, whether he treated the pandemic with the seriousness it merited from the outset, and whether the claims that ministers have repeatedly made about “putting a protective ring” around the care sector, for instance, are at all accurate. When those details are picked over and there is no immediate crisis to deal with instead, the line “we did everything we could” may look more like an aspiration than reality.

It’s depressing that the main criticisms being made of the Government are that restrictions were not imposed early enough and hard enough, and the main lessons are the supposed value of masks and the putative role of asymptomatic infection in driving transmission – none of which have much in the way of evidence to back them up. No sign of reflection on whether lockdowns are really effective or worth it, or whether test and trace measures for an endemic virus are actually a sound idea.

Allison Pearson has written an excellent piece in the Telegraph marking the milestone.

Everyone has their breaking point, a moment when you say: “Enough, I can’t take any more.” Mine came during one of Clive Myrie’s special reports for BBC News from the Royal London Hospital. I say reports, but this was more like an expressionist horror film. Over deeply distressing scenes, Myrie intoned a doom-laden prose poem complete with deadly refrain: “We’re all scared.”

“We’re all scared,” he said as the camera panned over some poor patient (“Asif lies limp”). “We’re all scared,” he said as we got a chilling, bird’s-eye view of a freshly dug grave complete with gravedigger, one of many in a muddy cemetery of recent burial mounds. “We’re all scared,” he said as – I can still hardly believe this – the crew followed a body on a trolley into the morgue.

“Dying and dying and dying,” chanted Clive, just in case any viewers were still clinging by their fingertips to the fact that the vast majority of people who get Covid make a full recovery, even those who are admitted with the virus to hospital. If you weren’t scared before Myrie’s reports then they made damn sure you were whimpering behind the sofa afterwards.

Allison isn’t scared, she says. She’s angry.

So let’s conveniently shelve the fact that official figures yesterday showed another 800,000 people out of work (2.6 million and climbing). And that urgent breast cancer referrals were down a horrifying 32.6% last year, compared with January to November 2019. When it’s the turn of those women, many of an age to have young families, to go to the cemetery, I trust Myrie and the team will be there to record the epitaphs on their gravestones: “Loving wife and mother, died too young from lockdown.”

As the UK passes the undeniably grim milestone of 100,000 Covid deaths, the equally dismaying consequences of shutting down society become more apparent by the day. The response of both TV news and Government is to double down on the doom. Even as a group of 47 leading psychologists writes to the British Psychological Society claiming this amounts to a strategic decision “to inflate the fear levels of the British public”, which it states is “ethically murky, morally questionable” and “has left people too afraid to leave their homes for medical appointments”.

Recent public information included a radio advert which said: “Someone jogging, walking their dog or working out in the park is highly likely to have COVID-19.” Eh? After being contacted by the Advertising Standards Authority, the Cabinet Office said the disputed claim (aka baseless rubbish) will not be repeated. I should hope not.

Almost the worst thing is that it is all so counter-productive. When the Prime Minister warned at a Downing Street Press briefing on Friday that the new variant “may increase” the Covid death rate by 30% (a “may” that was unravelling into a “maybe not” within 24 hours), all he did was give more ammunition to his enemy, the teaching unions. They must have been rubbing their hands; even more reason to claim that their members are not “safe” and schools shouldn’t reopen until September. That’ll be September 2023, knowing them.

She reports on the launch of HART, the new SAGE-like group that has its feet firmly grounded in the real-world evidence.

It is cheering to report, therefore, that after months of dubious science and dodgier predictions, a new group of eminent doctors, scientists, economists and psychologists have come together to form HART, the Health Advisory and Recovery Team and an alternative to SAGE, which aims to provide context, perspective and balance on the Covid crisis. Will the BBC give any airtime to this thoughtful bunch who want to chart a positive path out of a nightmare which is doing so much damage to young and old? Or will its reporters be too busy down the morgue?

Worth reading in full.

Unemployment Rises Sharply to 5%

Brad Pitt explains the link between unemployment and mortality in The Big Short

Unemployment in the three months to November hit 5%, meaning an estimated 1.7 million people are out of work, a 0.6% rise on the previous quarter. Kate Andrews in the Spectator takes a closer look.

The gradual climb suggests that the furlough scheme continues to hold off mass redundancies and provides further evidence that England’s second national lockdown didn’t hit as hard as the first. But the unemployment rate is set to worsen before it improves, with more optimistic forecasts estimating a peak of around 6% later this year, while others (including the Bank of England) estimate around 8%. Compared with the euro area’s 8.3%, the UK’s unemployment figures are low but still serve as yet another reminder that the effects of lockdowns will linger, even once vaccines brings an end to restrictions. It is inevitable that some jobs will no longer exist once furlough ends after the best part of a year. 

Some apparently encouraging signs are not all they seem.

Earnings growth, for example, is back to pre-pandemic levels. But it’s a selective recovery: according to the ONS, the figures have been pushed up “by a fall in the number and proportion of lower-paid jobs compared with before the coronavirus pandemic”. In other words, the figures for earnings growth have shot up so quickly in large part due to people in low-paid work having lost their jobs.

All the while, the numbers claiming unemployment-related benefits continue to hover at record highs, hitting 2.6 million in December (an increase of 113.2%, or 1.4 million, since last March). The longer the economically damaging measures that defined last year continue, the harder the path to recovery becomes.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Geoff Colvin in Fortune writes that the Covid recession may kill more Americans than COVID-19 does:

The economic effects of COVID-19 could prove deadlier than the disease itself. 

So says just-released research, which concludes that the total lives lost to the virus in the U.S. may “far exceed those immediately related to the acute COVID-19 critical illness… The recession caused by the pandemic can jeopardise population health for the next two decades.”

The new working paper, by authors at Duke University, Harvard Medical School, and the Johns Hopkins University Business School, focuses on the almost instantaneous unemployment of millions of workers in March and April. The unemployment rate jumped from nearly the lowest in 50 years to the highest since the current measurement system began in 1948. While it has come down, it’s still at its highest rate since the recovery from the 2008–09 financial crisis. 

Where Are We Going?

We’re publishing a new essay today by regular Lockdown Sceptics contributor Guy de la Bédoyère taking a look at the year ahead and what’s likely to happen. His initial thoughts were confirmed, he says, when he heard an interview with two senior scientists yesterday on Radio 4.

BBC Radio 4’s World at One on January 26th interviewed Professor Sir Mark Walport, former Chief Scientific Adviser, and Professor Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Everything they said assured me that what I have laid out here is broadly in line with the way the Government is both being guided, and is viewing, the next six months to a year. That includes the continuing high levels of hospitalisation, despite reductions in deaths, and therefore the belief that measures must stay in place.

(13m 19s in) Kucharski: “I think the hope is that obviously vaccines can massively reduce the risk of death, but then you’ve got the issue of a large number of people at risk of hospitalisation and ICU, so even if deaths in, say, the oldest group start to come down from vaccination there’s still potentially a really substantial disease burden that could happen in the near future if cases were to climb again.

Walport, when asked why the UK has had so much death, didn’t pull his punches: “The answer is that we’re in a club that no country wants to belong to of a group of countries, typically liberal democracies, European countries, Spain, Italy, Belgium, France, Germany’s having troubles at the moment. And the reality is that with a highly transmissible virus unless you restrict people’s liberty very, very strongly indeed, it’s countries such as the UK are fertile ground for the virus to spread.”’

Sarah Montagu: “That doesn’t quite explain it, does it? The numbers here compared with Germany are so much higher.”

Walport: “That’s true. I mean, I think one’s got to look back to the beginnings of this and of course what happened in the UK, and the UK is globally highly connected country, and if you look at the sort of cities in the world that have done worst, they are the globally connected cities, Brussels, New York, London. So, we were sort of sitting ducks in a way and of course what happened in February half-term was that the infection was brought in, distributed very widely across the UK by people returning from their half-term holidays in Italy, France and Spain where it was picked up so we were unlucky in the sense that it was seeded geographically very widely across the UK. But the truth is that historians are going to be looking at this for years to come and in a way I think there’s, sort of, looking back there’s going to be plenty of public enquiries. The real challenge at the moment is to actually make sure that we don’t continue losing enormous numbers of people to this dreadful infection.

There you have it: we’d have been alright if Britain wasn’t an internationally connected nation (now more important than ever), didn’t allow its citizens to go on holiday, and wasn’t a liberal democracy. Why didn’t anyone think of those before? Another member of the scientists’ club in favour of totalitarian government?

When asked to predict the future, Kucharski was upbeat that deaths would come down “quite soon” but warned that we can’t relax measures too soon in case of overloading hospitals. Ominously, he warned that later in the year countries are going to have to decide what to do in terms of the “level of additional measures” they want to keep on in addition to the vaccines.

Let’s hope other voices win out over the closet totalitarians.

Guy’s new essay is worth reading in full.

“All Businesses, Schools, do Need to Get Back to Normal Life at Some Point” – ICU Doctor on the BBC

Is that the sound of the tide beginning to turn, or is it just wishful thinking? A reader has sent us a transcript of a segment he heard last night on BBC World News where an emergency doctor in Los Angeles, Dr Mizuho Morrison, told the interviewers, Katty Kay and Christian Fraser, that the time had come to “get back to normal life”.

They start off discussing the new California variant and the fact that California is lifting the stay at home order.

Dr Mizuho Morrison: I think the one thing I want to point out is that it’s easy for us to get distracted and lost with all the hype and pandemonium, and honestly what we’re seeing much more in the emergency department and the acute health care settings is so much anxiety and depression-based reactions. And I think it’s this constant threat and so framing it I think is very important and making sure that, you know, does it really change our outcome, and if the answer’s no…

Christian Fraser: …it’s fatigue isn’t it really? We’re just so tired of it all

MM: We’re so tired of it, everyone is just so…

KK: You know this, the UK is still in lockdown and yesterday Governor Newsom announced that California is coming out of its stay at home order. Do you think he’s right to be lifting the restrictions with this new more transmissible strain in the state?

MM: I think it’s okay… it’s important that we are cautious, right? At this point we are seeing a trend, a very big difference in our Covid tent patients, typically I like to call the ‘walking well patients’, versus our ICUs. So our cases are certainly coming down. That’s great and let’s be honest, all businesses, schools, do need to get back to normal life at some point. Our ICU beds will eventually trickle down. There’s usually a bit of a lag. But I do think it’s time to lift. At some point we have to say enough is enough. We do have to go back to real life. Really it comes down again to the risk versus benefit. I do think that the efforts of driving the vaccination efforts are critical at this point. We can’t go as slow as we’re currently going.

CF: If there’s going to be a new variant every three or four months, people say to me how long are we going to do this because, you know, we can’t lock down forever. At some point we have to get on with it. If there’s a variant that’s going to be resistant to the vaccine – maybe we just have to live with that?

MM: That’s a very good point. And exactly to your point – does it change anything? Meaning, let’s say you’re vaccinated and you’re going to have some type of immune response, right? You’re going to have something. Having some type of immunity, antibodies, is better than not being vaccinated at all. And really the question is, does this new strain mean I could die? Do I have a greater chance of death? And if the answer is no, to your point, we need to get back to real life… if we perseverate time and time again over every little strain, life will never go back to regular living… Most of the patients that we’re seeing now… the critical care that we’re doing is from patients who have been neglected all year, who haven’t seen their physicians, oncologist, they’re coming in to the emergency department because they can’t wait any more… cancer, they have kidney failure to the extreme, heart failure, to the extreme. We really have to ask ourselves, public health-wise, have we done the best efforts here?

Postcard From Bangkok

Lockdown Sceptics reader Rick Bradford has written to us from Thailand, where despite a super-low death toll the country is in the grip of Covid hysteria.

At first glance, there are many similarities between the progress of the Covid pandemic in Thailand and in the UK. Grim-faced ministers, surrounded by medical experts dressed in white lab coats to indicate authority and competence, appear on TV and announce a raft of restrictions on travel, restaurants, alcohol sales, beaches, markets and entertainment venues, the severity of which rely almost entirely on the number of new positive Covid tests recorded the previous day. The strategy is inconsistent and incoherent, and subject to reversal at whim.

There is a familiar sense of hapless Government apparatchiks, bewildered by having to work with numbers, and relying on a motley selection of self-styled experts who also don’t know what is going on. The mantra of “We must do something, this is something, therefore we must do it” is heard as loud in Bangkok as it is in London. The Thai population, like the British, has been scared into regarding COVID-19 as something akin to the Black Death.

But there is one glaring difference between the situation in Thailand and that in the UK. Thailand, with a steady influx of Chinese tourists, was one of the first countries to see infections caused by COVID-19, in January last year.

In the year since then, Thailand has recorded an overall death toll from Covid of 72. Not 72,000, but 72, from a population slightly larger than the UK’s. To put that in perspective, more Thais die on the roads each day than have succumbed to Covid in all of the past 12 months. In fact, all-cause mortality in Thailand in 2020 was expected to be greatly reduced as travel restrictions dented the normal carnage on Thai roads, which claims over 25,000 lives a year.

Covid, for some reason, has not caught on in Thailand. This is not to suggest that the Thai government is somehow more than 1,000 times more efficient than the UK Government. 

There are many factors at play. Thais are drenched every day in vitamin D from a relentless sun, the temperature rarely drops below 20 Celsius and is usually in the mid-30s, plus the population is younger than the UK’s, especially regarding the highly vulnerable geriatric category. There is also a much lower prevalence of obesity and Type-2 diabetes. This apparent high level of metabolic health occurs while Thailand spends £180 per person per year on its health system, almost 20 times less than the UK (£3,200). Thais may also benefit from a higher degree of prior immunity owing to earlier similar outbreaks, such as the SARS outbreak of 2003 which was quite localised to Asia.

So the impact of Covid on Thailand has been almost entirely economic. The tourist industry, which in 2019 comprised over 10% of Thailand’s economy, has been shredded.  Several million Thai workers have lost their jobs, and familiar tourist haunts such as Pattaya and Koh Samui are ghost towns, unlikely to fully recover.

But the Government seems undeterred by the loss of perhaps £36 billion in annual tourism revenue and is pushing ahead with grandiose redevelopment plans, such as the expansion of the main international airport (which has lain empty for one year), a high-speed rail network which nobody can afford to take, and most ambitious of all, a space programme with an aim to travel to the moon within the next seven years.

Given the chronic problems besetting Thailand’s economy, it is not surprising that many commentators have expressed a preference that Thailand’s first visitor to the moon should be General Prayut Chan-ocha, Prime Minister, and holder of the Knight Grand Cordon (Special Class) of The Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant.

It seems fair to conclude that there is little point in comparing the death toll between different countries and drawing conclusions from the data. Both the UK and Thailand have incompetent governments which have trashed their respective economies for no apparent good reason.

Whether their interventions and restrictions have had any impact on the trajectory of the Covid pandemic in their countries is something that will no doubt be debated for many years.

“Much of America is Already Open”

Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, a state which has kept restrictions to a minimum throughout

A lawyer and Lockdown Sceptics reader in America has got in touch to say it’s good news that America appears to be opening up again (as Jeffrey A. Tucker explains here). But in truth, much of the country has been open for months.

I sometimes feel bad about this and therefore don’t comment, but there are vast swaths of the U.S. that are essentially already open. I have not worn a mask (except at the doctor’s office) at all, ever. My court (i.e. judge) has bought into the Covid hysteria hook, line and sinker. I’ve had arguments about it (we’re all Zoom right now) several times and have been shut down every time. We are home-schooling our kids, rather than sending them to school (their private school is open) with masks on, and we’ll send them back as soon as this garbage ends. But, to be perfectly honest, we have been living our lives pretty much as normal. Our kids played baseball (against the Governor’s orders) last summer, and they’re still playing. The kids still get together with friends, and they’re doing a “home-school” art class with several other families. We’ve eaten out at restaurants that refuse to close. We have spent a lot of time in Idaho, where we have family, and though it is not as open as South Dakota, it is pretty open (again, no mask mandate). Not only did we spend Thanksgiving and Christmas mingling with several households, we’ve never stopped visiting friends and doing pretty much everything we would otherwise do. So much so that I am sometimes taken by surprise when I am reminded of these stupid regulations (I was banned from Costco and have been confronted by obnoxious workers a very small handful of times in various places over the past year). What I read about your country is absolutely horrifying.

The reality of the situation, though, is that we currently have tons of data if anyone was actually interested. There are so many places in the US that are wide open (or ignoring regulations), and plenty that seem to be as locked down as the UK (Seattle, which is two hours away from my home, comes to mind). If anyone was willing to perform actual science, there are enough natural experiments to fill a dozen journals. But we all know what the data shows. If Democrats can spin this in a way that allows them to declare victory on behalf of Biden, they will absolutely do so.

I do worry about masks and restrictions, though. Essentially, the Government has discovered that it can get away with a complete shredding of our constitution, with barely a peep from conservatives. They are unlikely ever to give that back unless we force them to. 

But, as we do open up more officially, maybe we’ll start to hear people who are willing to speak out.  

How Urban is Sweden?

A reader has pointed out that lockdown witch-hunter Neil O’Brien MP made a factual error of his own in his December New Statesman piece on Sweden. He writes: “First, [Sweden is] a far less urban nation than the UK, for example, and the virus spreads much more rapidly in dense, built-up areas.”

In fact, by the country’s own reckoning 87.7% of people in Sweden lived in urban areas in 2019. In contrast, that figure for the UK is 83.7% as of 2019.

I reported these figures in my story on Sweden on Sunday. However, another reader got in touch since then to say the problem with these figures is there’s no standard definition of urban. The Swedish definition is anyone who lives in a town of at least 200 people, whereas the UK threshold for “urban” is 50 times higher at 10,000. This means the figures aren’t really comparable, despite them being presented as such by the UN.

Through a bit of our own research we found that in 2018 63.5% of Swedes lived in towns or cities of 10,000 or more, so are urban by the UK definition. This is admittedly somewhat less than the UK’s 83.4% figure for 2018, so may affect the virus spread dynamics to a degree. But Sweden is still a highly urbanised society with nearly two thirds of its inhabitants living in towns of 10,000 or more people.

Italy uses the same definition as the UK and it was 70.4% urban in 2018. This is not much higher than Sweden and considerably less than the UK, but that difference did not prevent Italy from being among the worst affected countries in the world for Covid last year.

You Can See Your Friends

A Lockdown Sceptics reader, Adam Collyer, has written in with a suggestion for young people who want to see their friends.

I read the heart-breaking piece in yesterday’s Lockdown Sceptics headed “Poetry Corner”, about the 14 year-old boy who was worried he would never see his friends again. I have seen many similar remarks on Twitter about teenagers worried about this.

I believe the Government’s continuous “stay at home” messaging has obscured the fact that people are allowed out to take exercise, and they are allowed to do so with one person not from their household. It is therefore perfectly legal for a 14 year-old boy to walk with one of his friends in the park, or kick a football around for example. I am concerned that many young people may be sitting alone at home all day, when it is perfectly legal for them to meet with their friends (one at a time) in this way.

To quote from the Government guidelines (for England) (emphasis added):

You can exercise in a public outdoor place:

by yourself
with the people you live with
with your support bubble (if you are legally permitted to form one)
in a childcare bubble where providing childcare
or, when on your own, with one person from another household

This includes but is not limited to running, cycling, walking, and swimming.

Incidentally, the two metre distancing is a guideline and not the law, so this shouldn’t cramp their style either!

I think by highlighting this, you might help prevent a young person going over the edge.

Another Patient “Lost in the System”

A reader has got in touch with another disturbing story about a relative in hospital, in this case suffering it appears from neglect.

Following on from the series about elderly relatives getting lost in the system I thought I should share my story about my 86 year-old (independent living) mother-in-law. She fell ill in early December and we managed, at the fourth attempt, to get her into hospital where Covid was confirmed. She was not taken to ICU but placed in an elderly Covid ward. We were not able to visit but with persistent phone calling we tried to keep tabs on how she was. We were assured things were fine until around New Year we received the call no one wants, that her oxygen levels had dropped dramatically and she was not going to make it so would be placed on ‘end of life’ treatment. This was obviously a huge shock, especially given the assurances provided to that point.

Anyway, despite her condition they would still not let us visit (it is worth knowing that it is hospital policy that governs access, not Government diktat). Fortunately, we know a senior hospital doctor elsewhere in the country heavily involved in Covid care. We contacted her and she made a phone call and suddenly we were allowed in. What we found was truly shocking. It was apparent my mother-in-law was dying from neglect, not Covid. She had been provided with an inappropriate oxygen mask that she was unable to tolerate wearing for more than a few minutes at a time in her confused state, there was no water within her reach, nutrition had been withdrawn (or at least any nutrition that she could eat in her condition), drugs that should have been prescribed were not, she had a very bad undiagnosed infection of the mouth (we had to fight to get treated), she was badly dehydrated, etc., etc.

During the course of the next five days we argued vociferously for basic care to be restored – namely oxygen, water, nutrition, and appropriate drugs for her condition and infections. They finally barred us from visiting after that time and so communication became almost impossible again. The improvement during those five days was almost immediate and continuous such that in less than five days of our first visit a hospital consultant called her recovery a “miracle”. It was not a miracle, it was family support and basic essential care. We are now expecting her home within a few days and are hopeful she will make a full recovery.

I would like to think this is an isolated case but I fear that highly unlikely. Not least because the response to our letters to PALS and the CEO’s office at the hospital demonstrated an almost complete lack of concern for the care of my mother-in-law and what was going on in the hospital. It was, in effect, all put down to Covid. This is in my view completely untrue. She went into hospital well before any major rise in infections in the area and it was basic nursing care they failed to provide in those early weeks in December.

I should add that, for obvious reasons, I have not named the hospital nor any of the parties involved. I would also not wish my name to be disclosed if you were to decide to include my letter in your newsletter. The NHS is such an emotive subject for many people and in my experience any critic of the organisation tends to be treated as a pariah. It is rather ironic that at the very moment that the entire country has been brought almost to a standstill to protect (largely) the elderly from harm, my experience is that an elderly person’s treatment in hospital falls woefully short of the basic level of care needed to sustain life and give them a chance of recovery.

The Myths of the Lockdowners

Sam Bowman, a “libertarian” who believes drugs should be legalised, but leaving your home without a “reasonable excuse” should remain verbotten

There follows a guest post by the senior financial journalist, who’s often contributed to Lockdown Sceptics, reviewing “The Eight Biggest Myths of Covid-Sceptics – and why they are wrong” by Sam Bowman.

As part of a coordinated attack on lockdown sceptics, the economist Sam Bowman has published a piece in the New Statesman listing what he calls their biggest myths. Bowman refers to critics of lockdown as “Covid-sceptics,” conflating them for effect with climate-change sceptics and other undesirables. Yet he surely knows that none of the published critics of lockdown deny Covid. Rather, they have been sceptical of the draconian policy responses to the pandemic. According to the OED, a myth is a “a purely fictitious narrative usually involving supernatural persons, actions or events”. Bowman fails to identify anything of this sort. Instead, he provides a list of claims about COVID-19 which he strongly disagrees with.

Myth 1. Sceptics say we are overreacting to a disease that 99.5% of people will survive. The question of overreaction is not a myth but a matter of judgement. As Bowman acknowledges, the lethality of the disease varies greatly with age. Those under the age of 45 face a risk of death from infection of around 1 in 3,300. The question lockdown sceptics ask is whether it is morally justifiable to destroy the lives of those who face little or no risk from Covid.

Myth 2. Covid is only as deadly as a bad flu. Again this is a question of degree. No one is arguing that Covid is as mild as normal flu season nor as lethal as Spanish flu. Its lethality lies somewhere in between these points.

Myth 3. We’re witnessing a “Casedemic of false positives.” Bowman ignores the ongoing debate among scientists as to which is the most reliable test for COVID-19. The PCR test is well known to pick up “cases” from people who may previously have had Covid but are no longer infectious and there’s the ongoing problem of cross-contamination in poorly-run labs and testing facilities. The number of such false positives is important for framing the public policy response – to do otherwise is to engage in the ‘base-rate fallacy’, a well-known error in probability judgements.

Myth 4: We aren’t seeing excess deaths. The question of how we measure excess deaths is also a matter of judgment. Proponents of lockdowns are likely to say we haven’t seen anything like this in a 100 years. Bowman points to excess deaths in England and Wales in 2020 as 14% above the five-year average. Lockdown sceptics counter the epidemic of fear by pointing out, for instance, that the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries found that cumulative mortalities for the UK last year was 7.1% above its 10-year average, its highest level since 2008.

Myth 5: Lockdowns don’t reduce cases, as cases are falling before they are imposed. Bowman chooses to reject the findings of the ZOE App, which provides the data for the sceptics’ claim. It’s impossible to say precisely how effective lockdowns have been, at this stage. What we do know is that during epidemics the number of infectious cases increases exponentially, reaches a turning point and then falls sharply. This was the case in Sweden last year which had no lockdown. And even if lockdowns do suppress infections, it is clear that their benign effect is only temporary (as Professor Ferguson and the SAGE committee believed before a sudden change of mind last year.)

Myth 6. Lockdown leads to a rise in suicides. It’s widely agreed that last year witnessed a “mental health crisis.” Whether this was due to the prolonged social isolation, job losses, cancelled weddings, unattended deaths and funerals, shuttered schools and cancelled hospital visits induced by the lockdown policy or was caused simply by the appearance of a novel coronavirus on our shores, as Bowman suggests, is a matter of opinion.

Myth 7: We could just isolate the most-at-risk. Bowman claims that the “focused protection” proposed by the scientists behind the Great Barrington Declaration is impractical and would be unfair on the vulnerable who would be forced to shelter for months. Lockdown sceptics argue that lockdown itself is impractical and is deeply unfair on the young, especially schoolchildren, and the less-advantaged members of society.

Myth 8: Misinformation from prominent figures. Bowman says Sunetra Gupta claimed last March that half the UK’s population had already been infected by coronavirus, when, in fact, that was one of three hypotheses she considered in an early paper. He neglects to mention that errors have been made on both sides of the lockdown debate. Nowhere in the world have Covid fatalities reached the level predicted in Imperial’s model from last March, the model that threw the UK into lockdown.

Bowman is an economist by profession. Curiously, in his comments on “Covid sceptics” he never once addresses their chief complaint. Namely, that the lockdown policy has never been subjected to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. He proudly identifies himself as a Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute, a think tank that promotes the ideas of the father of classical economics. One wonders where Smith would have stood in this debate. I like to think he would have been on the side of the sceptics.

After all, Smith’s closest friend was the arch-sceptic philosopher David Hume. Smith fought against orthodox beliefs and took a particularly dim view of tenured academics. He would have been befuddled by the models of Professor Ferguson (on which Bowman heavily relies). Although epidemics are a special case, Smith in general preferred less government and believed in individualism.

As a champion of the small traders, Smith would have been horrified by the devastation of small businesses caused by lockdowns. As a critic of big monopolies protected by patents, he would have been sceptical of the tight relations between the Government and large pharmaceutical companies. Smith was horrified by the size of the National Debt in his day and would doubtless have thrown up his hands at the extraordinary cost to the public purse of the lockdown policy.

One of Smith’s most distinguished French acolytes was the nineteenth-century economist and politician, Frédéric Bastiat. In a famous essay, “What is Seen and What is Not Seen”, Bastiat claimed that

In the sphere of economics, a habit, an institution, or a law engenders not just one effect but a series of effects. Of these effects only the first is immediate; it is revealed simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The others merely occur successively; they are not seen; we are lucky if we foresee them.

A good economist, said Bastiat, should look beyond the immediate effects of any action. Over the past year it has been the lot of lockdown sceptics to consider the unseen effects of the Government’s Covid policies. Until this nightmare ends, they will continue to do so.

Sceptics Under Fire

Sam Bowman had yet another pop at lockdown sceptics in a Euronews puff piece for his new “myth-busting” website, and once more propagated some myths of his own. Toby put him straight on Twitter. Click on the link if you’re on Twitter, but if not we’ve reproduced the thread below.

https://twitter.com/toadmeister/status/1354228367957102592

1/ I was disappointed to read the following statement by Sam Bowman (@s8mb) in @euronews today: “Right now, in hospitals in the UK, most of the wards are filled with younger people, people in their 40s and 50s and 60s, who have decades left to live.” 

2/ Sam said this in an article about his new “grassroots anti-myth” website that “aims to bust Covid misinformation”. That’s a laudable aim, but if he’s sincere about that he shouldn’t be spreading myths about the virus himself.

3/ The claim that the winter resurgence of Covid poses a greater risk to younger people than the first wave, or that there are more younger Covid patients in hospital wards now than older people, is a myth.

4/ A senior doctor investigated the first of these claims – that the age profile of Covid patients hospitalised this winter is younger than it was last spring – for Lockdown Sceptics on 17th Jan.

5/ He concluded: “I was unable to find any significant increase in younger patients, either from the latest NHS Hospital data, the ONS death data or the ICNARC ICU audit data to support his assertion.”

6/ What about Sam’s claim that “most of the wards are filled with younger people, people in their 40s and 50s and 60s, who have decades left to live”? I asked the same senior medic to have a look at the latest data and he came to a similar conclusion.

7/ The recently published NHS stats spreadsheet showing age stratified COVID hospital admissions from 12th Oct – 15th Jan show that 77% of admissions in that period were aged 55 and over and 63% were 65 and over.

8/ As of today, there are 32,337 covid inpatients in English hospitals. Assuming the same age stratification as 12th Oct – 15th Jan, 11,965 of these are under 65 and the remainder – 20,372 – are aged 65 and over.

9/ Don’t get me wrong. 11,965 under-65 year-olds is a lot of younger people. But it’s misleading to say they are filling “most of the wards”. It’s just over one third of the total.

10/ In the same “myth-busting” article, Sam went on to say about these “younger” Covid inpatients: “Unfortunately, lots of those people are going to die…” The word “lots” has no specific value, but I think it’s reasonable to interpret that as meaning at least 10% will die.

11/ According to this study of Covid inpatients in French hospitals, the CFR by age breaks down as follows:

0-9    – 0.01%
10-19 – 0.02%
20-29 – 0.11%
30-39 – 0.44%
40-49 – 1.24%
50-59 – 4.56%
60-69 – 11.81%
70-79 – 22.73%
80-89 – 37.8%
90+     – 21.28%

12/ While it’s true that just over 10% of 60-69 year-old Covid inpatients are likely to die (based on the above data), the median CFR for Covid inpatients in their 40s, 50s and 60s is considerably less that 10%.

13/ More generally, it’s a myth that Covid-19 poses the same risk to younger people as it does to older people. According to the @ONS’s latest coronavirus roundup, 75% of deaths involving COVID-19 in England + Wales have been of people aged 75 and over. 

14/ A BBC report on 19th Nov (based on @ONS data) included this summary: “The average age of people who have died with Covid is above 80 with more than nine in 10 of the deaths among the over 65s…” 

15/ So while it’s true that there are some younger people in hospital with COVID-19 – and some younger people have died of COVID-19 – you shouldn’t try and frighten people by exaggerating the risk to younger people, however good your intentions.

16/ The problem with @s8mb’s “myth-busting” website is that it only tries to correct misleading claims made by lockdown sceptics (whom it smears as “Covid sceptics”). 

17/ If @s8mb was just concerned with scientific accuracy and debunking misinformation, rather than promoting the case for lockdowns, he wouldn’t spread myths of his own calculated to frighten the public into supporting the Government.

18/ One last point. It’s wrong to describe @s8mb’s new site as a “grassroots” initiative. He set it up with @NeilDotObrien, a member of the Govt. If you set up an apparently independent site with a Tory MP to support the policies of a Tory Govt the correct term is “astroturfing”.

Stop Press: Continuing our policy of publishing some of the best arguments from across the aisle, we’re flagging this piece today in today’s Wall Street Journal. According to the subhead: “Mask-wearing, good air flow and frequent rapid tests are more important than surface cleaning, temperature checks and plexiglass. Scientists say America needs to double down on protection protocols as potentially more-contagious coronavirus variants take hold and vaccines are slow to roll out.”

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Just two today: “Stop This Madness” by Coreign and “A Couple More Years” by Willie Nelson.

Love in the Time of Covid

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty as Bonnie and Clyde

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. 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 as well as post comments below the line, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Sharing Stories

Some of you have asked how to link to particular stories on Lockdown Sceptics so you can share it. To do that, click on the headline of a particular story and a link symbol will appear on the right-hand side of the headline. Click on the link and the URL of your page will switch to the URL of that particular story. You can then copy that URL and either email it to your friends or post it on social media. Please do share the stories.

Social Media Accounts

You can follow Lockdown Sceptics on our social media accounts which are updated throughout the day. To follow us on Facebook, click here; to follow us on Twitter, click here; to follow us on Instagram, click here; to follow us on Parler, click here; and to follow us on MeWe, click here.

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, it’s the turn of film director Spike Lee who recently compared Donald Trump to Hitler. Brendan O’Neill takes up the story in Spectator USA.

I wish people would stop comparing Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. Not because I’m worried about Trump’s feelings – he’s big enough to look after himself – but because of the extraordinary damage these comparisons are doing to historical memory. All the loose, opportunistic, cheap-thrill talk about Trump being the new Hitler is trivializing the Nazi regime and the grotesque crimes of the 1930s.

The latest celeb to jump on the Trump-Hitler bandwagon is film director Spike Lee. During an acceptance speech for a special prize from the New York Film Critics Circle, Lee said Trump would ‘go down in history with the likes of Hitler’. Trump and all ‘his boys’ will go down ‘on the wrong side of history’, Lee said, no doubt to enthusiastic head-nodding from the Hollywood set.

Lee isn’t alone, of course, in comparing Trump to the most evil man who has ever lived. From the moment Trump entered the White House four years ago, his critics were plundering the horrors of the 1930s for metaphors that they might wield against the nasty new president. I remember at an anti-Trump march in London in 2017 seeing placards featuring Trump with a Hitler mustache. ‘We’re history teachers – we know how this ends’, said one banner.

Recently Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke about the storming of the Capitol on January 6th in the same breath as Kristallnacht, the Nazis’ anti-Semitic pogrom of 1938. This was “the Day of Broken Glass right here in the United States”, he said.

Everyone I know agrees that the mob assault on the Capitol was reckless, dangerous and deeply undemocratic. But Kristallnacht? That state-authorized racist pogrom that led to widespread destruction of Jewish businesses and synagogues, to 90 Jewish deaths and to the internment of 30,000 Jews in concentration camps?

There is no comparison. None whatsoever. Kristallnacht was the starting point of the gravest crime in human history; the storming of the Capitol was the pathetic if violent last hurrah of the more extremist element of the pro-Trump lobby.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A B-list Canadian comedy troupe has cancelled itself for being insufficiently woke. Maybe the funniest thing the group’s ever done.

https://twitter.com/jonkay/status/1353934724717273089?s=20

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to obtain a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card – because wearing a mask causes them “severe distress”, for instance. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and the Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. And if you feel obliged to wear a mask but want to signal your disapproval of having to do so, you can get a “sexy world” mask with the Swedish flag on it here.

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

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption. Another reader has created an Android app which displays “I am exempt from wearing a face mask” on your phone. Only 99p.

If you’re a shop owner and you want to let your customers know you will not be insisting on face masks or asking them what their reasons for exemption are, you can download a friendly sign to stick in your window here.

And here’s an excellent piece about the ineffectiveness of masks by a Roger W. Koops, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry. See also the Swiss Doctor’s thorough review of the scientific evidence here and Prof Carl Heneghan and Dr Tom Jefferson’s Spectator article about the Danish mask study here.

Stop Press: The Daily Wire reports that Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and now President Biden’s Chief Medical Adviser on COVID-19, has yet again changed his advice on masks. It’s time to double up: “If you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on it; just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective,” he told NBC News on Monday. He admits there is a drawback: “We run the risk of making it too hard to breathe.”

Stop Press 2: Hot on the heels of “double masking” comes “triple masking“. No, we’re not making that up.

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

The Great Barrington Declaration, a petition started by Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya calling for a strategy of “Focused Protection” (protect the elderly and the vulnerable and let everyone else get on with life), was launched in October and the lockdown zealots have been doing their best to discredit it ever since. If you googled it a week after launch, the top hits were three smear pieces from the Guardian, including: “Herd immunity letter signed by fake experts including ‘Dr Johnny Bananas’.” (Freddie Sayers at UnHerd warned us about this the day before it appeared.) On the bright side, Google UK has stopped shadow banning it, so the actual Declaration now tops the search results – and Toby’s Spectator piece about the attempt to suppress it is among the top hits – although discussion of it has been censored by Reddit. The reason the zealots hate it, of course, is that it gives the lie to their claim that “the science” only supports their strategy. These three scientists are every bit as eminent – more eminent – than the pro-lockdown fanatics so expect no let up in the attacks. (Wikipedia has also done a smear job.)

You can find it here. Please sign it. Now over three quarters of a million signatures.

Update: The authors of the GBD have expanded the FAQs to deal with some of the arguments and smears that have been made against their proposal. Worth reading in full.

Update 2: Many of the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration are involved with new UK anti-lockdown campaign Recovery. Find out more and join here.

Update 3: You can watch Sunetra Gupta set out the case for “Focused Protection” here and Jay Bhattacharya make it here.

Update 4: The three GBD authors plus Prof Carl Heneghan of CEBM have launched a new website collateralglobal.org, “a global repository for research into the collateral effects of the COVID-19 lockdown measures”. Follow Collateral Global on Twitter here. Sign up to the newsletter here.

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

There are now so many legal cases being brought against the Government and its ministers we thought we’d include them all in one place down here.

The Simon Dolan case has now reached the end of the road. The current lead case is the Robin Tilbrook case which challenges whether the Lockdown Regulations are constitutional. You can read about that and contribute here.

Then there’s John’s Campaign which is focused specifically on care homes. Find out more about that here.

There’s the GoodLawProject and Runnymede Trust’s Judicial Review of the Government’s award of lucrative PPE contracts to various private companies. You can find out more about that here and contribute to the crowdfunder here.

And last but not least there was the Free Speech Union‘s challenge to Ofcom over its ‘coronavirus guidance’. A High Court judge refused permission for the FSU’s judicial review on December 9th and the FSU has decided not to appeal the decision because Ofcom has conceded most of the points it was making. Check here for details.

Samaritans

If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch. Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.

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 hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

Sharing a beer with a neighbour without breaking the lockdown rules

Latest News

Boris Keeps Schools in Limbo

Pressure has been increasing on the Prime Minister to tell children and their families when schools can reopen after officials at Public Health England (PHE) decided it would be safe to open primaries after February half term. The Times has more.

Primary schools can safely reopen after half-term if cases keep falling, government health advisers have concluded.

Public Health England (PHE) said that there was now a “strong case” for the return to class, adding more pressure on Boris Johnson to set out a timetable for primary schools to reopen.

Pupils in that age group are “resistant” to wider coronavirus trends and play a small role in spreading infection, a series of comprehensive studies has concluded.

Outbreaks were recorded in 3% of primary schools during the autumn term, with most cases among teachers rather than pupils, PHE found. “Everything we have learnt from the summer half-term and the recent autumn term indicates that they are safe to remain open,” Shamez Ladhani, its Chief Schools Investigator, said. Secondary schools were five times as likely to record outbreaks and much more closely reflect wider infection patterns, suggesting that a later, more phased opening might be necessary.

Mr Johnson promised yesterday to give a further indication on reopening schools “as soon as we can”. Several Tory MPs demanded clear plans for a return before Easter and Labour called for a guarantee that schools would be the first priority for lockdown easing.

Leading paediatricians warn in a letter to the Times today of the “calamitous” impact of closures and say that “anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts are at frightening levels”.

Pressure from backbench MPs, some of whom have endorsed the UsForThem campaign, is mounting, the Sun reports.

Boris Johnson must begin getting children back into classrooms next month, his own MPs and parents demanded last night.

The PM was warned that a swift return was vital to avoid risking “a lost generation” of kids from the country’s poorest families.

The calls came after Health Secretary Matt Hancock hinted teachers will be vaccinated as a priority – but not before Easter.

Tory MPs and parents warned Boris Johnson last night that children risk becoming the “forgotten victims” of the Covid pandemic.

Former Cabinet Minister Esther McVey said “We genuinely seem to have forgotten about schoolchildren. 

“They are the pandemic’s forgotten victims. We’ve got to start thinking about their prospects and futures.”

She added: “It’s time to get schools open, to safeguard children’s futures and to make sure we don’t let down an entire generation.”

More MPs spoke out about the ongoing and future harms:

The Essex MP [Robert Halfon] told the Sun: “Long after the coronavirus has gone, our younger children could be mired in a ditch of educational poverty, mental health crises and safeguarding hazards because of the damage of school closures.”

Mansfield MP Ben Bradley said: “Schools must reopen. Each day they’re out of the classroom, the most disadvantaged children are falling behind in their education, and their life chances are poorer as a result.”

Mark Harper, head of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said: “As the PM himself said last August, ‘Keeping our schools closed a moment longer than absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, ­economically unsustainable and morally indefensible.’”

The Telegraph also urged the Government to set out a timetable for schools reopening.

It is evident that the Government has no more idea when all children might return than anyone else. It is unclear what the official metric is for ending the lockdown and allowing schools to resume normal teaching. Is it the infection rate among teachers who, as Office for National Statistics figures showed yesterday, are no more at risk from Covid than many other walks of life? Is it the propensity of children to pass the virus on to older family members? If that is the case, that risk will persist because children are not to be vaccinated, certainly not for months, if at all. Moreover, if children are passing on the virus within their own families then vaccinating teachers will make little difference to the spread of Covid though it might help create the conditions to reopen schools.

Or is the date for reducing restrictions the point at which the most vulnerable have been vaccinated? This is expected to be mid-February, by which time 13 million vaccines should have been administered to the elderly and sick. Yet doubt is now being cast over this because it is not certain that the vaccine will give sufficient protection. Another metric is pressure on the NHS. Even if infection rates remain high, will controls be eased once it is evident that the vaccine has helped reduce hospitalisations?

We know none of the answers to these questions and Boris Johnson was unable to shed any light when asked yesterday to give an idea when the lockdown might be eased.

Stop Press: Ross Clark reports in the Spectator that the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has not found a conclusive link between schools and the winter resurgence.

Schools were the last institutions to close and can be expected to be the first to reopen. But just how big a part do schools play in the spread of COVID-19? The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has published a review of the evidence from 17 countries and concluded that the reopening of schools cannot be blamed for a resurgence in the virus.

Most countries closed their schools during the first wave of the epidemic in spring 2020. From April 15th, Denmark reopened schools – with social distancing – for two to 12 year olds. There was no increase in cases following this reopening, according to the ECDC. Similarly, South Korea’s phased reopening of schools between April and June was not found to be associated with any sudden rise in paediatric cases.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press 2: The Daily Mail has reported on a survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing that, amid much hand-wringing about the safety of teachers, they are far from the highest risk occupation.

Binmen, male lorry drivers and carers are among the groups most at risk of contracting coronavirus, official figures from the Office for National Statistics have revealed.

The report published today found that men in ‘elementary occupations’, including binmen, postmen, cleaners and security staff, had the highest number of deaths from the virus last year, with 699 deaths in this category – a rate of 66.3 deaths per 100,000 people.

They were followed by lorry and bus drivers and others working in transport, where 608 fatalities were recorded. 

The report found 139 teachers in primary schools, secondary schools and universities in England and Wales died last year after catching the virus.  

Protecting teachers earlier than other vulnerable Brits has been a subject of hot debate in recent weeks with ministers desperate to reopen schools, but the data showed their death risk was no higher than average.

Daily Mail graph showing relative deaths per occupation category

Lorry drivers and binmen faring worse than doctors, nurses, and care workers points towards more complex risk factors than just the sheer amount of human contact (lorry drivers in particular, experience practically none in their day-to-day work).

Stop Press 3: A schoolgirl in Keswick, Cumbria has been spotted in the town square staging a reverse Greta Thunberg-style protest:

The Anti-Greta

Does Charging Travellers for Enforced Hotel Stays Violate WHO Rules?

As the country awaits news later today of the final decision on Australia-style quarantine hotels in the UK, the policy seems likely to go ahead in some form, with the majority of the cabinet in favour of it. However, a reader has been perusing the WHO’s International Health Regulations and thinks that the policy might technically be against the rules if travellers are made to pay for their incarceration.

There have been numerous news reports that the UK may announce mandatory hotel-based isolation for international arrivals and that travellers will have to pay the cost. This would violate the UK’s international obligations, which the WHO describes as a legally binding.

The UK is party to international obligations by virture of its membership in the World Health Organisation and I have heard members of Government say that travellers would be required to pay for the cost of their isolation. This would breach these obligations.

Article 32 of the Regulations requires the state to provide or arrange for adequate food, water and accommodation for travellers who are quarantined or isolated for public health purposes. Article 40 prohibits the state charging for such provision.  

There is a limited exclusion from prohibition on charging for persons arriving in the UK to take up temporary or permanent residence. This exclusion would not apply to visitors to the UK nor to UK residents returning to the UK.  

WHO International Health Regulations: 

Article 32: Treatment of travellers

In implementing health measures under these Regulations, States Parties shall treat travellers with respect for their dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms and minimize any discomfort or distress associated with such measures, including by:

(a) treating all travellers with courtesy and respect;

(b) taking into consideration the gender, sociocultural, ethnic or religious concerns of travellers; and

(c) providing or arranging for adequate food and water, appropriate accommodation and clothing, protection for baggage and other possessions, appropriate medical treatment, means of necessary communication if possible in a language that they can understand and other appropriate assistance for travellers who are quarantined, isolated or subject to medical examinations or other procedures for public health purposes.

Article 40: Charges for health measures regarding travellers

1. Except for travellers seeking temporary or permanent residence, and subject to paragraph 2 of this Article,** no charge shall be made by a State Party pursuant to these Regulations for the following measures for the protection of public health:

(a) any medical examination provided for in these Regulations, or any supplementary examination which may be required by that State Party to ascertain the health status of the traveller examined;

(b) any vaccination or other prophylaxis provided to a traveller on arrival that is not a published requirement or is a requirement published less than 10 days prior to provision of the vaccination or other prophylaxis;

(c) appropriate isolation or quarantine requirements of travellers;

(d) any certificate issued to the traveller specifying the measures applied and the date of application; or

(e) any health measures applied to baggage accompanying the traveller. 

** Para 2 allows charging for medical services that are primarily for the benefit of the individual and not for public health reasons. It would not allow charging for isolation.

On the face of it, our contributor seems to have raised a problem the Government appears to be unaware of. But if there are any readers with the relevant legal expertise who think this is too good to be true, please let us know.

Stop Press: The Times reports that even if the policy is given the green light tomorrow, it could take three weeks for the many currently dormant hotels to become fully operational again, particularly with the extra staff and procedures they’ll need to put in place.

Boris Johnson is tomorrow expected to sign off plans to quarantine all travellers at a meeting of the Government’s coronavirus operations committee in an effort to stop the import of variants from abroad.

The Prime Minister said he wanted “maximum possible protection against reinfection from abroad” to prevent new variants from jeopardising the mass vaccination programme.

However, a hotel industry source told the Times that as many as a quarter of the 30-plus hotels around Heathrow were shut at present because of the collapse in passenger demand at Britain’s biggest airport. Some of the remaining hotels have undergone partial closures.

The number of travellers passing through Heathrow was down by 83% last month compared with a year ago.

The source said that it could take two or three weeks to reopen closed hotels – if they were needed – while vital safety procedures were carried out. This includes checks on the water supply to make sure it is free of potentially deadly bacteria and training staff in the latest COVID-19 compliance procedures.

The Price Some Families Will Pay if Britain Imprisons Travellers in ‘Quarantine Hotels’

A Norwegian fjord

We are publishing an original article today by Kathrine Jebsen Moore, a freelance writer in Edinburgh. She regularly contributes to Quillette, where she covered the culture wars in the knitting community, and has also written for the Spectator, spiked and New Discourses. It takes the form of a letter written to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, lamenting the move towards pulling up the drawbridge, and the consequences for her international family:

Dear Priti Patel,

I sympathise with your idea of looking to Australia and New Zealand for inspiration. They have managed to practically eliminate the virus by shutting themselves off from the rest of the world, only allowing natives to return, and when they do, imprisoning them in ‘quarantine hotels’. Britain looks set to achieve, finally, a pandemic success, rolling out the vaccine faster than any other European country. This is of course good news. For most Britons, pulling up the drawbridge is surely a logical next step as life gradually returns to normal. After all, holidays are all but illegal at the moment, so why shouldn’t those who do wish to return from abroad, or indeed venture here, be faced with an extra barrier? The number of visitors is currently around 10,000 a day and it’s hoped that the threat of an enforced quarantine in cheap hotels will get the numbers down. All arrivals are currently expected to quarantine, but with no real way of ensuring that everyone does. That means the risk of new strains of coronavirus arriving with them is still real.

But have a thought for those of us with families divided between different countries. This news feels like yet another blow to our plans to being able to see our family overseas this year. To explain: I arrived in the UK more than 20 years ago as a student. I’m from Norway, which is only a short flight across the North Sea. I’ve settled with my English husband in Scotland, and travelling to Oslo from here is just 20 minutes longer on a plane than flying to London. Pre-pandemic, all our holidays were spent in Norway. We own a house there, in a little town on the Oslo Fjord coast, where our four children have friends, see family, and immerse themselves in Norwegian life. This means skiing in the winter, and swimming and enjoying the warm weather in the summer. My parents have been very grateful that, despite us living abroad, they have seen their grandchildren almost as much as other grandparents whose children reside in the same country.

Worth reading in full.

Antibody Levels May Show Swedish Herd Immunity

Following on from our headline article by Will Jones a couple of days ago about Sweden’s deaths being in line with the European average, the Swedish doctor Sebastian Rushworth MD has published a piece on his site drawing attention to a graph showing the proportion of Swedes with antibodies. He concludes that it shows further evidence that Sweden’s much less draconian strategy was a success.

Here’s a graph that doesn’t get shown in the mass media, and that I’m sure all those who want you to stay fearful of Covid don’t want you to see. It shows the share of the tested population with antibodies to Covid in Sweden week by week, beginning in the 28th week of 2020 (the first week for which the Swedish Public Health Authority provides data on the share of tests coming back positive).

There is so much that is interesting about this graph. Like I said, it begins in Week 28, in other words in early July, which is around the time the first Swedish Covid wave was bottoming out. At the time, I personally thought this was due to enough of the population having developed immunity to covid, but we now know that was wrong. Rather, it was due to seasonality – in other words, summer caused covid to disappear.

The proportion testing positive for antibodies was 15% in early July. It remained stable for a few weeks, and then started to drop, as we would expect, given that the rate of new infections was very low at the time. Your body generally doesn’t keep producing antibodies forever after an infection, rather they wane. Of course, this doesn’t mean immunity is waning, as I discussed on this blog a while back. Although the actively antibody producing cells disappear, memory cells remain, ready to be activated at short notice if you get re-exposed to the pathogen.

After an initial reduction, the proportion with antibodies stabilized at around 10% in August, and stayed that way until October, when it started to rise, in line with the beginning of the second wave. And it’s literally kept rising by a percentage point or two, every week, all autumn and winter so far. In the second week of January 2021, 40% of those tested in Sweden had antibodies to Covid.

Funnily enough, mainstream media has so far shown relatively little interest in publicizing this astounding fact. I’ve been getting most of my statistics from SVT, the Swedish public broadcaster. They had been providing data on the share with antibodies in Stockholm up to a month or two back, when that information discretely disappeared from their website. I wonder why.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A reader has drawn our attention to a Swedish report on care home deaths in Stockholm, which Dr Rushworth also links to later on in his article. The original Swedish report is here, and our reader has kindly translated and summarised the findings:

A report from care homes in Stockholm with Covid deaths: only 17% died of Covid (dominating cause of death); for 75%, Covid could have been a contributory factor; and for 8% , there was another cause of death entirely. This is the same percentages found in a study of care homes in another part of Sweden published in 2020.

The interesting thing is the description of these three categories describing the types of frail patients in the group. It is highly likely that only the first group were Covid deaths.

The first group (17%), where Covid was the dominating cause of death, had the following features: before getting Covid they were in a stable condition and had few underlying diseases. The actual Covid disease was more often in two phases and the second phase was characterised by high fever and poor oxygen saturation.

In the second group (75%), where Covid was a contributory factor, the individuals where already sickly and frail. The time between the onset of symptoms and death was short, but without dramatic signs.

In the third group (8%), where there was another cause of death, the individuals had already caught Covid and recovered and then got another disease. They had a longer time between the recording of Covid infection and time of death.

Stop Press 2: Ross Clark’s short summary in the Spectator of a new study of how long immunity lasts after infection is also worth a read.

Covid Riots in the Netherlands

Police car on fire outside Eindhoven Centraal Station

The Netherlands adopted a relatively light-touch approach to restrictions last year, and enjoyed a relatively normal summer, but ramped up restrictions last October. In recent days, violent riots have broken out, with protestors objecting to a new curfew law. The Times has more.

Police have warned that the Netherlands could face weeks of rioting after a coronavirus curfew ended in the worst riots for 40 years as delays to vaccinations raised tensions across Europe.

There were over 240 arrests last night as police used tear gas and water cannon to break up demonstrations in Amsterdam and Eindhoven leading to rioting across the country.

Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, blamed the “criminal violence”, which “has nothing to do with fighting for freedom”, on a “one per cent” minority opposed to lockdown restrictions.

“We are fighting against the virus to regain freedom,” he said. “We are not taking these measures for fun. It is the virus that is depriving us of our freedom.”

The caretaker Prime Minister singled out attacks on a virus testing centre and a hospital for particular criticism after a weekend of violence following the curfew’s introduction on Saturday night.

“It is intolerable. Any normal person can only become aware of this with horror. What has got into these people?” he said to the NOS public broadcaster. “This has nothing to do with protest, this is criminal violence and we will treat it as such.”

Frustration at the curfew, from 9pm to 4.30am and the first such restriction since Nazi occupation, has flared because Dutch infections are down and the country’s vaccination rate is low.

Dutch vaccinations are at some 0.8% compared to an EU average of twice that, while the UK has passed 10%, holding the prospect of a prolonged lockdown.

John Jorritsma, the mayor of Eindhoven, warned the Netherlands could be “on the road to civil war” after what he described as enormous damage in his city.

“This was not a demonstration. This was excessive violence, boredom, idleness. Hooligans came from all over the country, meeting on social media,” he said. “You see that the riots in Eindhoven were imitated in other municipalities. If you set the country on fire in such a way, it looks like we are heading for civil war.”

Police are worried that the violence will continue for “days or weeks” after violence in Eindhoven and Amsterdam spread to other cities including the Hague, Tilburg, Venlo, Helmond, Breda, Arnhem and Apeldoorn.

“It was terrible,” said Hubert Bruls, the Chairman of the National Security Council of Cities and Regions. “This is not a demonstration, I would call this corona hooliganism.”

Rioting broke out on the curfew’s first night, with almost 3,000 fines of €95 and violence in the fishing town of Urk on Saturday where a street testing centre for coronavirus was set on fire.

Koen Simmers, the head of the Dutch police union, said it was the worst rioting since since the squatter protests of 1980 and predicted that the violence was here to stay. “I hope it was a one-off, but I’m afraid it is the harbinger for the coming days and weeks,” he said. “We haven’t seen so much violence in 40 years.”

Worth reading in full.

Any readers in the Netherlands witnessing what is happening on the ground are invited to email us and give us their accounts.

Stop Press: Watch footage of the Dutch riot police abusing protestors.

HART: Health Advisory and Recovery Team

Some of the members of HART

A new group of experts has been set up with the intention of raising the level of debate about lockdowns. They aren’t all lockdown sceptics, but they aim to put the existing measures in proportion and challenge some of the more extreme justifications for the current lockdown. Among their number are a few familiar faces such as Dr John Lee, Prof David Livermore, Joel Smalley, Dr Jonathan Engler, Dr Malcolm Kendrick, Prof David Patton and Prof Gordon Hughes. Their mission statement reads as follows:

HART is a group of highly qualified UK doctors, scientists, economists, psychologists and other academic experts. 

Our core aim is to find the common ground between the Government and groups that are concerned about COVID-19 restrictions. The ambition is to bring all sides together and to widen the debate in order to formulate an exit strategy that benefits everyone in society.

Our research has identified a need for public policy to reflect a broader and more balanced approach across a number of key areas, in particular:

– Impact of restrictions across the whole of the healthcare system and on wider society; 

– Cost vs benefit of school, college and university closures; 

– The mental health impact of the restrictive measures;

– Mass-testing procedures and associated data analysis; 

 – A full assessment of the psychological impact, on individuals and wider society, of COVID-19 communication policies;

– Safe and effective treatment and prevention/prophylaxis options, in addition to vaccination, to increase survival rates. 

Consultations from HART will be founded on scientific, evidence-based principles in the interests of public health. We want to encourage clear, calm and compassionate discussions.  

Our experts take a collaborative approach and invite contributions from all sectors and interested groups or communities, at all levels.

HART is a not-for-profit, unincorporated membership association and its consulting members collaborate on an entirely voluntary basis.

The group could be considered an alternative to Independent Sage – a sensible, non-partisan version.

We wish them the best of luck. You can find their site here.

Is Lockdown Scepticism Rational?

What follows is a guest post from a senior scientist.

I was reading Lockdown Sceptics today and how the rhetoric about us sceptics is being ramped up, it really got me questioning whether I am rational. What if they’re right? So I thought I’d write down my own personal reasons as to why I am a lockdown sceptic. I thought I’d share these with you just to check I’m not mad!

There are many reasons and rationales to be sceptical of lockdown as an approach. My own ones grew out of the fact that my working career as a scientist has been mainly spent in drug R&D and, so, I naturally view non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), such as lockdown, from this point of view. As a result, after the first lockdown, I found myself asking a very simple question: ‘is lockdown good medicine?’

 My own answer to this question is ‘no’, but this answer is not a fantastical one based on denying the existence of COVID-19 or any other such nonsense. It is a logical and entirely rational position which I will explain below. It is based on evidence and a bunch of assumptions, most of which are I believe are to a large extent uncontentious. 

These uncontentious assumptions are:

1. COVID-19 is a serious new human disease, caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, that can kill people. The disease ‘jumped species’ in Wuhan Province, China and spread globally from there. 

2. Doing nothing in the face of this new disease and the resulting pandemic was not an option because, despite some pre-existing immunity to the disease, in the UK a large proportion of the population was naïve to the infection and as a result even a modest infection fatality rate could have resulted in a significant number of deaths.

3. COVID-19 hits older and more vulnerable individuals harder than younger, fitter individuals. As a result, the majority of deaths and serious illness are in the older, sicker population. This doesn’t mean that some younger or otherwise apparently healthy people can’t die or have significant illness, it is just a lot less common in this group.

4. Our responses to COVID-19 breaks into three areas – a) treatments, b) vaccines c) non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs).

5. NPIs, including severe blanket societal restrictions such as lockdowns, aim to limit the spread of coronavirus by breaking chains of infection within the population. NPIs were deployed to help tackle the pandemic with the aim of reducing the burden of disease to healthcare systems and buying time to develop 4a and 4b. As such, as we develop new treatments and vaccines the need for NPIs should reduce.

6. NPIs require behavioural changes within the population and therefore always have consequences.

7.  NPIs vary in the severity of these consequences to individuals and society as a whole: at one end of the spectrum are things such as hand washing, in the middle things like banning large gatherings of people and at the other end, forcing individuals to stay home and closing schools and businesses (lockdowns).

8. National deployment of NPIs affects almost everyone in society regardless of age. Some NPIs affect younger people more than older people e.g. closing schools and universities.

9. More severe NPIs can cause damage to both mental and physical health and wellbeing (including deaths). They also produce proportionally greater economic damage. These harms can be, and will be, significant and long-lasting.

There is only one other additional assumption, and this is where my scepticism about lockdowns comes from:

10. There is only weak evidence to support the notion that more severe restrictions result in proportionally more effective disease control. This contention is based on the fact that there are many published papers suggesting little or no relationship between more stringent forms of NPIs (such as lockdowns) and better outcomes. A summary of some published papers can be found here.

I believe that this is probably a classic case of the law of diminishing returns, where more severe restrictions produce little additional benefit over less severe ones and so come with a disproportionally high cost, both to the economy and to the individual and society.

So, if you take onboard 8 and 9 and accept that 10 is to some extent true, then you have to be sceptical of lockdown as an effective intervention because you have to doubt that any gains from imposing more severe NPIs outweigh the harms and negative consequences they cause.

Note: this doesn’t mean that there are no benefits, just that they are marginal gains over less severe restrictions and come with huge costs and risks. In addition, from assumptions 3 and 8 we can further argue that by ignoring the demographics of the disease we don’t focus NPIs on those most likely to benefit from them and, in fact, we impose them on individuals who are very unlikely to benefit. Logically, if you accept assumption 10 to any degree, you are led to the conclusion that the harms and costs of lockdowns outstrip their benefits and that lockdowns are not a viable NPI with which to effectively manage COVID-19 (or any other similar infection). They are bad “medicine”.

Dr Gary Sidley, a former NHS Consultant Clinical Psychologist (and a member of HART), has drawn our attention to a piece he has published on his blog, posing a series of questions about the vaccine that should be considered before making an informed decision on the matter. Here is an excerpt:

In December 2020, accompanied by expressions of unbridled elation from politicians and the mainstream media, the UK began the roll out of a COVID-19 vaccine. This milestone closely followed the announcements of the initial results from three of the front-running drug companies in the vaccine race, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZenica, all reporting high levels of efficacy for their new vaccine. The Government’s intention is to offer the jab to the large majority of the UK population, starting with the most vulnerable groups – the elderly and those with underlying health problems.

But is it in everyone’s interest to take the vaccine when the opportunity arises?

Within a civilised society each of us retains the fundamental right to decide whether or not to accept a medical intervention, including the offer of a drug or vaccine. In order for an individual to make an educated and rational judgement, all relevant information – about both the likely benefits and disadvantages of the medicinal chemical – should be made available to the potential recipient. Only by careful consideration of this range of information can a person give ‘informed consent’ to accept the treatment. So with regards to the COVID-19 vaccines, what are the need-to-know facts?

It makes sense for each of us to assess the risks and benefits of accepting the vaccine, taking into account age and current health status. To aid this process, here are five questions to ask when deciding whether to say yay or nay, followed by my attempt to offer the relevant information.

1. If I become infected with SARS-COV-2 virus, what is the actual risk of becoming ill, or dying?

If you contract the SARS-COV-2 virus, there is about a 1-in-5 chance that you will suffer significant COVID-19 symptoms, the large majority of those testing positive showing either no or very mild signs of illness. Considering all age groups together, around 1-in-100 infected people will require hospital treatment and 1-in-750 will require intensive care. For older people (>70 years), the average risk of hospitalisation may be as high as 1-in-20.

Overall, the Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) of SARS-COV-2 is in the range 0.15 to 0.2%; in other words, for every 1,000 people who contract this virus no more than two people will die. The mortality risk is largely determined by age, the threat growing steadily with advancing years. The average age of those dying is 82 (slightly above normal life expectancy). The IFR for people below the age of 70 is between 0.03 and 0.04%; for every 10,000 people infected, 3 to 4 will die. About 95% of fatalities will have had serious underlying conditions.

For healthy people under the age of 35 the additional fatality risk of contracting SARS-COV-2 is almost zero. Meanwhile, children are as good as bullet proof, with seasonal influenza presenting a much greater risk of mortality to under-15-year-olds.

A useful rule of thumb for understanding age-related risk levels is to remember that contracting SARS-COV-2 virus is like packing a full year’s worth of death risk into a four-week period. Thus, on a child’s 10th birthday the chances of that child not reaching their 11th birthday is vanishingly small; this tiny probability is roughly equivalent to the risk of this 10-year-old dying from a SARS-COV-2 infection. In contrast, an 85-year-old person will typically have a 10% chance of not surviving until their next birthday, and around a 10% risk of dying within four weeks should they contract the virus.

In summary: For healthy people under 50, the risk of serious harm from SARS-COV-2 is vanishingly small, with other threats (for example, cancer and accidents) presenting a greater risk. The risk of the virus for old people is many-fold greater, but even a reasonably-healthy-90-year-old will have over 90% chance of survival.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Unexpected news out of Germany as Der Spiegel reports that Government sources are finding that the AstraZeneca vaccine is only proving 8% effective in the very elderly group which it’s supposed to benefit the most. (Translated from German):

The corona vaccine from the manufacturer AstraZeneca apparently has little effectiveness in older people. As the Handelsblatt reports, citing Government circles, the vaccine is only expected to be effective at 8% in those over 65 years of age. AstraZeneca rejected the reports as “completely inaccurate”, according to Reuters news agency.

The Bild newspaper, however, also citing Government circles, reports that the vaccine should only receive approval from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for people under 65 years of age. 

According to the Handelsblatt report, the Federal Ministry of Health is already checking whether the sequence of vaccinations, which is staggered according to age, needs to be adjusted. A statement by the ministry on the possible consequences of the low effectiveness on the Government’s vaccination plan is not available, according to Handelsblatt.

A final result on the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine is not yet possible, according to the newspaper. In the clinical studies of the pharmaceutical company, older people were apparently relatively poorly represented. The British approval authority MHRA had already noted that meaningful results on the effectiveness of the vaccine could not be determined in these studies.

AstraZeneca is already under pressure because it apparently cannot meet the contractually agreed delivery quantities of the vaccine to the EU. The British-Swedish group announced on Friday that after the approval of its vaccine – which is due to take place this week – it will only deliver 31 million doses instead of 80 million by the end of March.

UPDATE: It’s being reported that the German health ministry has said the 8% figure instead refers to the proportion of 56 to 69-year-olds in the vaccine trials. In a statement, the ministry said: “At first glance it seems that the reports have mixed up two things: about 8% of those tested in the AstraZeneca efficacy study were between 56 and 69… But one cannot deduce an efficacy of only 8% with older people from that.”

Another Patient ‘Disappears Into The System’

After reading the story of a stressful breakdown in communications between a reader and the hospital where his seriously ill mother was being treated that we published yesterday, another reader has got in touch with a similar account.

I have had the same experience as your reader. At the end of December, my 90 year-old sister was taken into hospital with a chest infection. It was extremely difficult to find out how she was or where she was. I too found calls not answered, calls forwarded to wards cut off, or again not answered at all, and numbers for direct lines to wards that were posted on the hospital website no longer in use. But the situation became worse when she recovered and was due to be discharged. As a routine, she was tested for Covid and was found to be positive – a hospital-acquired infection. 

The family expected to be kept informed and did not wish to distract busy ward staff, but when after three days we had heard nothing I rang the hospital. It took me two hours to find out where she was, but I was pleased, if surprised, to find they were trying to discharge her, possibly that day. That was a Thursday. We were promised an update. Having heard nothing, the following Monday I rang again and was told by the ward clerk that she was alert and chatty and taking her medicine. When I asked whether she had developed Covid symptoms the ward clerk couldn’t tell me. On Thursday I was again told she was to be discharged when they had heard that her care home was happy to take her back. A hospital social worker later rang me to say that all was well and she would be going back to her care home on Saturday, in two days’ time. On Monday I rang the ward again, to be told, again, that they wanted to discharge her but were waiting to hear from the care home. I rang the care home. Staff there said they were waiting to hear from the hospital. The care home then rang the hospital and I discovered the next day that they, the care home, had managed to get her back.

Three things to note: 

– I can confirm that patients do indeed disappear into the system. This was distressing, but my sister is a frail 90-year-old and we have come to terms with the fact that she might not be with us much longer. Imagine, though, if that was your husband or wife, son or daughter, that the ambulance had whisked away.

– Covid was acquired in hospital. Or was it? It was never clear to us whether she actually had Covid or not. What does this mean for official infection statistics?

– The discharge procedure was completely chaotic. This meant my sister was in hospital for five days, possibly even 12 days, longer than necessary. I do not need to point out the extra pressures and increased danger of infection caused by this incompetence.

This too was in Norfolk – the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, where my sister was herself a nurse for many years. Almost, but not quite, without exception, the many staff I spoke to were doing their very best to be as helpful as possible, and it’s true that hospitals have been under enormous pressure in the last month. However, when my sister was previously hospitalised, in August last year, it was almost as difficult to get information. For instance, every phone call to the switchboard was answered with an interminable message about visiting arrangements. 

It does seem to be the usual story of a cumbersome and inadequate bureaucracy and extremely poor communication systems working together to make the jobs of the frontline staff and the lives of concerned families as difficult and stressful as possible.

Sceptics Under Fire

We’ve continued to receive responses regarding the “Antivirus: The COVID-19 FAQ” website from readers.

One points out more double standards:

One of your readers very helpfully listed some of the errors made by the WHO, making the point that the Anti-Virus site applies an extraordinary double-standard when attacking the credibility of lockdown sceptics. It is not only the WHO that has escaped the notice of O’Brien et al.

The Q&A section on that site says:

Q. Why are you singling out specific individuals? Do you have some kind of grudge against them?

A. A few people, for whatever reason, have consistently made false claims and bad predictions throughout the Covid pandemic, and have refused to admit when they’ve got it wrong. Some of these people have been very prominent and influential during the pandemic. We try to use their own words to show that many of them are not reliable people to listen to.

But of course they haven’t named and shamed the most consistently false prophets in the debate. Were that the case, Neil Ferguson, Patrick Vallance, Chris Whitty, Anthony Fauci and many more would be included. Had the same standard (or even a lesser standard) been applied to advocates for authoritarian measures, those held up as “The Science” would be more deserving of the attentions of the fact-checkers on the site than the sceptics.

Far from being denounced for their authors’ inaccurate predictions, we see modelling studies by Imperial College presented as evidence against the lockdown sceptics, and described as one of a handful of “high-quality studies” showing that lockdowns “do save lives”.  Incidentally, the studies referred to also include an analysis in Nature, but Anti-Virus makes no mention of the fact that that analysis found that “less disruptive and costly NPIs can be as effective as more intrusive, drastic, ones (for example, a national lockdown)”.

We also received a more lengthy critique, taking each of the site’s claims in turn:

It has become noticeable in recent times (since the invention of social media?) that resolving contentious issues has become more about ‘winning’ the argument than about finding the best solution to a real-world problem. The Anti-Virus website is certainly in the former genre, being more about rubbishing the views of a perceived opponent than seriously engaging in discussion of the issues. 

Four argument techniques are primarily used by Anti-Virus:

– Straw Man (present opponent’s arguments escalated to absurdity)

– Rubbish opponent’s reputations rather than their arguments

– Categorise opponents with established ‘negative’ words

– Avoid considered debate of the issues when space/time is limited and just go for ‘knockabout’ denigration

Effects of Covid-19

Claim 1: “99.5% survive Covid – we’re overreacting”

Response: A statistical argument which depends on what data you select, its level of supposed accuracy and how you manipulate it. The whole Covid episode shows that opposing points of view (often honestly held) are often based on different ‘facts’. Pointless pursuing as there is no resolution in the discussion time frame as to which (if any) data is ‘true’.

Claim 2: “It’s only as deadly as the flu”

Response: More statistical manipulation! Regardless, the only issue for lockdown sceptics (note, NOT ‘covid sceptics’) is selecting a response to whatever threat level presents itself. This is entirely a matter of human judgement which can never be proved right or wrong as you can never re-run history to explore the alternatives.

Claim 3: “91% of Covid ‘cases’ are false positives”

Response: You can argue for ever on the actual figures. In the military, the key to a successful operation is correctly identifying your objective. The issue (which space here does not allow for development) is whether reducing ‘case’ numbers is a sensible objective. Clearly limiting hospitalisations and ‘excess’ deaths is a sensible objective, but the link to ‘cases’ in general is highly contentious.

Claim 4: “There are no excess deaths”

Response: More statistics! A reasonable participant in the argument would accept that even your opponents would prefer to see no excess deaths. If they are inevitable, calculating any changes are dependent on factors such as the definition of an ‘excess’ death, over what period should you measure it and what would have been the life expectancy for different categories of excess death. In the real world, all these factors are so ambiguous, and the excess death variance between the two positions so relatively small, that it is not an issue to spend too much time on.

Claim 5: “People are dying ‘with’ Covid but not ‘of’ Covid”

Response: Again, this is aimed at a non-existent opponent. Lockdown sceptics are certain there are many deaths ‘by, with or from’ Covid but where they fall in the death league table and how accurately they are classified is not going to have much effect on shaping pandemic policy.

Lockdown Scepticism

Claim 6: “Lockdowns cause more deaths than they prevent”

Response: A good example of Straw Man attack. Raises two issues, both of which cannot be answered with any certainty, but should be considered in a balanced discussion. Firstly, would there have been more or less deaths using a different strategy to lockdown? Cannot be answered unless you have a means of running history twice. You end up falling back on modelling and probabilities which a cynic would say are pseudonyms for guesswork.

Secondly, will the excess deaths caused by delays to non-Covid medical treatment exceed those of Covid? Cannot be answered for several years when its only value would be in shaping response to future pandemics. This is perhaps where all the investigation should be concentrated as we are clearly not going to change course this time round.

Claim 7: “Cases were falling anyway – lockdowns don’t work”

Response: Another Straw Man! Cases have been constantly going up and down throughout the last 11 months with innumerable analysts (journalists, academics, Government ministers) claiming correlation for their preferred factor(s). Correlation is not causation so innumerable mechanisms are cited to explain the connections. Factors that do not fit the required relationship are dismissed as irrelevant. Such is the world we live in, but it is wise to take it all with a pinch of salt, particularly when you consider that even trained statisticians must consider their future employment. 

All that can really be said is that no strategy has yet been demonstrated that enables humanity to control/eliminate the endemic virus that Covid has become. The specific examples of smallpox and a few other rare viruses seem unlikely to change that situation in any relevant timescale. What we can do is consider whether our level of self-imposed harm (which is real and measurable) is likely to be worse than the rather speculative guesswork on the nation’s future health. The handling of regular pandemics since WW2 would suggest that our unique experiment is going to be quietly overtaken by time-honoured resolution although it is unlikely that any of the actors will admit to that.

Claim 8: “The Great Barrington Declaration gives a good alternative to lockdown”

Response: Lots of Straw Men here! The Declaration has been expanded in a condemnatory manner to include numerous imagined scenarios which lead to hopeless outcomes. A year ago, proposing what we have done with Lockdown would have been condemned as hopeless. The barriers to implementing the Declaration which Anti-Virus objects to are trivial in comparison.

If anything, the Declaration looks more like the way we have handled pandemics since WW2 so at least has some support from actual evidence. Our present strategy is, at best, a monumental experiment with no prior evidence as to how it will progress or how it will end. Perhaps we imagine that our technological prowess is so great that we have the ability to keep nature under control. A rude awakening awaits any such arrogance!

Keep sending us your responses here, with the subject line “Antivirus”.

Stop Press: We’ve decided to regularly include some of the best pieces endorsing the Government’s lockdown strategy, inspired by J.S. Mill’s famous line: “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”

Today, we’re including this article by Alex Morton in CapX, making the most plausible case for the travel restrictions coming in at the moment:

Nothing would give me greater pleasure right now than a holiday somewhere warm. I suspect that this is true of many. But this option has to remain off the table for some time to come. At present, border controls are being discussed in the same breath as school reopening at half term or Easter, or when pubs could serve again. But this totally misses the point: if a vaccine resistant strain arises in the UK then this will undo every single hope of a return to normality – no schools, restaurants, pubs, family visits, offices or anything. We will be back to square one just with a crippled economy and compliance exhaustion.

The success or failure of this Government hinges on how fast the UK returns to normality, with people allowed to behave as usual and Covid deaths and serious cases remaining low. The UK’s success in rolling out vaccines could massively boost this country. But if lax border controls allow a new strain that is vaccine resistant to enter, or escape, there will be severe implications across a number of fronts:

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press 2: Niall McCrae at Unity News Network has written an entertaining piece entitled “The Progressive Death Cult and the Silencing of Lockdown Sceptics” on the virtue signalling of the “blood on their hands” brigade.

Lockdown sceptics have “blood on our hands”, according to the propagandists of Covid terror. The supposedly liberal intelligentsia, the same people who tried to defy democracy after the EU referendum, are now putting the plebs in their place. They must stay at home, muzzle themselves, and forego their leisure pursuits of football, shopping and the pub. Anyone failing to fully comply is recklessly spreading germs and contributing to the daily death toll. 

Yet the sceptic need not leave the house to be accused of endangering lives. Toby Young, for example, sits indoors at his computer all day long, but his Lockdown Sceptics website makes him a pariah figure. Lockdown zealots such as Observer writer Nick Cohen and Tory MP Neil O’Brien smear him as a Covid denier. 

Under fire last week was Lord Sumption, who got into a futile debate on the BBC television show The Big Questions. The value of life, he said, is not equal, but measured by rational criteria. Health economists use QALY (quality-adjusted life years) to assess the impact of services and treatments. The retired Supreme Court justice wasn’t saying anything radical: in a dilemma between saving a healthy young child and an octogenarian with a debilitating disease, who wouldn’t choose the former?   

But Lord Sumption was challenged by a woman with advanced cancer, who accused him of saying that her life is ‘worthless’. Against such raw emoting, no amount of sophisticated ethical reasoning could prevent him from being characterised as callous – thus a typical lockdown sceptic. 

Another illustration was in the Mayor of London’s question time on Thursday, when David Kurten probed Sadiq Khan on his promotion of Covid vaccines as safe. They have not been tested on pregnant women or children, Kurten said, but according to the mayor he was categorically wrong. Faced with further contrary facts, Khan resorted to virtuous grandstanding of no relevance to the question, suggesting that Kurten go to a NHS hospital to hear from staff about their heroics. Severe adverse events are likely to be either ignored or accepted as a collateral price worth paying. 

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press 3: Julia Hartley-Brewer mounted a spirited defence of lockdown scepticism on her talkRADIO show yesterday morning.

Poetry Corner

We get all kinds of contributions sent in to us every day, often drawing our attention to practical matters like news items and new scientific studies, but also personal stories from people suffering all kinds of distress from lockdown’s collateral damage. In light of everything we’ve been publishing on the matter of children’s mental health recently, this one was a hard read:

My 14-year-old godson, whose name I’m going to leave out of this, told me he was barely hanging on a couple of weeks ago. He told me that he didn’t even miss his friends anymore because he’d come to terms with the fact that he’d never see them again. He told me that he’d come to terms with the fact that his life held no possible future worth. He told me that he’d been working on his ‘suicide note’ when he’d written a seven-line poem.

As you can imagine, I was a broken man by this point. In fact, I can barely see my screen as I write this my eyes are so watered.

He’s okay tonight. I know that for sure, because his mum is sleeping in his room, as she has been for the past couple of weeks now, since I told her what he told me. Which I had to do, even though he felt I betrayed his trust and didn’t talk to me for those couple of weeks. 

Tonight we had a long chat and he seems to be doing better. He’s forgiven me for talking to his mum. And he shared his poem with me.

It broke my heart all over again.

Once I’d read it, he said something that just epitomises exactly why he is such a formidable young man: “If you think that it will make the slightest bit of difference in one person’s life, knowing that that’s where I was, and that now I’m okay, then I want you to share it with whoever you can.”

So, here it is. (And yes, that is the title he gave it)

Meh

I’m really struggling with the point today,
With getting up, or finding a way.
I’m really struggling to lift myself up,
To smile, to laugh, even play with the pup.
I’m really struggling with all of my work,
Just lying here wondering if I can shirk.
I’m really struggling to see what’s the point.

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Just two today: “You’re Driving Me Crazy” by The Temperance Seven and “Hotel Hell” by Eric Burdon and The Animals.

Love in the Time of Covid

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. 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 as well as post comments below the line, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Sharing Stories

Some of you have asked how to link to particular stories on Lockdown Sceptics so you can share it. To do that, click on the headline of a particular story and a link symbol will appear on the right-hand side of the headline. Click on the link and the URL of your page will switch to the URL of that particular story. You can then copy that URL and either email it to your friends or post it on social media. Please do share the stories.

Social Media Accounts

You can follow Lockdown Sceptics on our social media accounts which are updated throughout the day. To follow us on Facebook, click here; to follow us on Twitter, click here; to follow us on Instagram, click here; to follow us on Parler, click here; and to follow us on MeWe, click here.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to obtain a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card – because wearing a mask causes them “severe distress”, for instance. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and the Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. And if you feel obliged to wear a mask but want to signal your disapproval of having to do so, you can get a “sexy world” mask with the Swedish flag on it here.

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

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption. Another reader has created an Android app which displays “I am exempt from wearing a face mask” on your phone. Only 99p.

If you’re a shop owner and you want to let your customers know you will not be insisting on face masks or asking them what their reasons for exemption are, you can download a friendly sign to stick in your window here.

And here’s an excellent piece about the ineffectiveness of masks by a Roger W. Koops, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry. See also the Swiss Doctor’s thorough review of the scientific evidence here and Prof Carl Heneghan and Dr Tom Jefferson’s Spectator article about the Danish mask study here.

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

The Great Barrington Declaration, a petition started by Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya calling for a strategy of “Focused Protection” (protect the elderly and the vulnerable and let everyone else get on with life), was launched in October and the lockdown zealots have been doing their best to discredit it ever since. If you googled it a week after launch, the top hits were three smear pieces from the Guardian, including: “Herd immunity letter signed by fake experts including ‘Dr Johnny Bananas’.” (Freddie Sayers at UnHerd warned us about this the day before it appeared.) On the bright side, Google UK has stopped shadow banning it, so the actual Declaration now tops the search results – and Toby’s Spectator piece about the attempt to suppress it is among the top hits – although discussion of it has been censored by Reddit. The reason the zealots hate it, of course, is that it gives the lie to their claim that “the science” only supports their strategy. These three scientists are every bit as eminent – more eminent – than the pro-lockdown fanatics so expect no let up in the attacks. (Wikipedia has also done a smear job.)

You can find it here. Please sign it. Now over three quarters of a million signatures.

Update: The authors of the GBD have expanded the FAQs to deal with some of the arguments and smears that have been made against their proposal. Worth reading in full.

Update 2: Many of the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration are involved with new UK anti-lockdown campaign Recovery. Find out more and join here.

Update 3: You can watch Sunetra Gupta set out the case for “Focused Protection” here and Jay Bhattacharya make it here.

Update 4: The three GBD authors plus Prof Carl Heneghan of CEBM have launched a new website collateralglobal.org, “a global repository for research into the collateral effects of the COVID-19 lockdown measures”. Follow Collateral Global on Twitter here. Sign up to the newsletter here.

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

There are now so many legal cases being brought against the Government and its ministers we thought we’d include them all in one place down here.

The Simon Dolan case has now reached the end of the road. The current lead case is the Robin Tilbrook case which challenges whether the Lockdown Regulations are constitutional. You can read about that and contribute here.

Then there’s John’s Campaign which is focused specifically on care homes. Find out more about that here.

There’s the GoodLawProject and Runnymede Trust’s Judicial Review of the Government’s award of lucrative PPE contracts to various private companies. You can find out more about that here and contribute to the crowdfunder here.

And last but not least there was the Free Speech Union‘s challenge to Ofcom over its ‘coronavirus guidance’. A High Court judge refused permission for the FSU’s judicial review on December 9th and the FSU has decided not to appeal the decision because Ofcom has conceded most of the points it was making. Check here for details.

Samaritans

If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch. Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.

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 hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

On this week’s episode of ⁦‪London Calling‬⁩, ⁦‪James Delingpole‬ and Toby puzzle over why almost no one is tuning in to the DAVOS talks happening this week, which are all freely available online. Are they shadow-banning themselves so we don’t discover their plans for the Great Reset? Or are they just really really boring? 

You can listen to the podcast here and subscribe to it on iTunes here.

Latest News

Government Extends Coronavirus Laws Without Telling Anyone

Christopher Hope reports in the Telegraph on the latest sneaky move by the Government.

The Government has quietly extended lockdown laws to give councils the power to close pubs, restaurants, shops and public spaces until July 17th this year.

The news will be a major setback for those hoping that life might have returned to normal by early summer once more people are vaccinated against coronavirus.

It comes after Boris Johnson admitted late last week that “it’s too early to say when we’ll be able to lift some of the restrictions”.

The Government had pledged to review the lockdown measures in the middle of next month.

The changes to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No.3) Regulations 2020 were made as part of a review of the third lockdown by Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, earlier this month.

This law (originally introduced on July 18th last year) allows a local authority to close or limit access to premises or outdoor spaces in its area to prevent the spread of coronavirus, including stopping events.

The regulation, which applies to England only, was due to expire last week but has now been extended until July 17th, around the date when school summer holidays begin, as part of a slew of other measures.

Mark Harper, the chairman of the Coronavirus Recovery Group of Tory MPs which is campaigning against unnecessary restrictions, said: “The extension of councils’ Covid powers until July will be of great concern to those worried about their jobs and businesses.

“Given the limited time allowed for debate this change in the law was little noticed.” 

It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in an interview on Sky News that we are a “long, long, long way off lifting lockdown restrictions”. Three “long”s in a row will not give much reassurance to beleaguered businesses and an increasingly depressed public and will be confusing to those who heard him point out in his recent Downing Street briefing that the high-priority groups the Government is hoping to have vaccinated by mid-February account for 88% of all Covid deaths to date. This latest interview also contradicts what the Health Secretary said in an interview in the Spectator two weeks ago:

The goal is not to ensure that we vaccinate the whole population before that point, it is to vaccinate those who are vulnerable. Then that’s the moment at which we can carefully start to lift the restrictions.

The Express has reported on some of the fighting talk of those in Parliament opposed to the restrictions:

The Prime Minister will be asking MPs to agree to the six month renewal of the Government’s so-called Henry VIII emergency powers to be able to impose restrictions at will to tackle the pandemic. But already senior MPs in his own party have warned that significant numbers could vote against unless there are moves to end lockdown and revitalise the economy. Former cabinet minister Esther McVey, the founder of the powerful Blue Collar Conservatism Movement, said: “It is absolutely essential that once the most vulnerable groups have been vaccinated the Government start easing the lockdowns. 

“These restrictions are doing huge damage to people’s livelihoods and mental health in particular, and the Government must start to stand up to those siren voices who want lockdowns and restriction to become a near permanent feature of our lives. 

“If the Government don’t start making rapid headway in doing that it will be the duty of Parliament to remove these swingeing powers from them.”

She also raised concerns over the way seemingly exaggerated estimates are being used to push public policy.

Previously there have been question marks over Professor Neil Ferguson’s claims that 500,000 would die of COVID-19 which initiated the first lockdown and then the claims by Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance in the late autumn of 5,000 infections a day which preceded the second lockdown. 

Ms McVey argued that the concerns are highlighted in a written answer on prisoner deaths.

At the start of the pandemic the Government was pushed to have a mass early release of prisoners because thousands would be killed by coronavirus.

Ministers eventually resisted the calls and a written answer has revealed that just 47 died of the disease.

Ms McVey said: “There is no better example of the scaremongering to drive Government policy they wanted to see from the so-called experts than the predictions on prisoner deaths. 

“I appreciate that these estimates aren’t an exact science but the difference between a prediction of 2700 to the reality of 47 is embarrassing to say the least, and shows why the Government must not hand over total policy control to the scientists who are clearly not infallible with their predictions.”

Sir Desmond Swayne MP also weighed in:

He said: “It seems to me that Boris has been completely taken over. He’s completely given over to these people and as a consequence there’s a complete lack of any sense of urgency on the need to lift restrictions.”

Sir Desmond is gravely concerned by speculation the hospitality industry could still be shuttered in June.

He said: “The notion there will be any industry left in June is barking. What we’ve seen is the most extraordinary mission creep.

“Remember, the issue was to protect the NHS, stop the NHS being overwhelmed by hospital admissions. Clearly, as we vaccinate that proportion of the population most likely to be hospitalised were they to be infected, that risk of the NHS being overwhelmed diminishes.

“They should be planning now at what stage they will lift the restrictions. At what proportion of the most vulnerable being vaccinated will the risk be acceptable?

“That’s the sort of thing they ought to be taking us into their confidence [about] and debating in public now. But what we’re getting is this mission creep.”

Stop Press: The Spectator has commissioned a poll that has returned alarming results:

A new poll for Coffee House by Redfield and Wilton – with a sample size of 2,000 – saw the public quizzed on the current lockdown, restrictions and vaccines. For now, there appears to be majority support for the current Government restrictions with 62% saying the restrictions are more helpful than harmful to society, compared to 24% who think they are more harmful than helpful.

Although Boris Johnson insisted again this week that lockdown measures will be looked at in mid-February to see whether they can be eased, few expect them to be. Only 25% think the current level of restrictions will be relaxed within a month from now. Overall, 70% think the current level of restrictions will be relaxed within three months from now. As for how many people need to be vaccinated before there can be a substantial easing, both the Prime Minister and Matt Hancock have suggested that decision is a matter for debate – one the country should have before making any firm decisions. The poll suggests there is as of yet no clear consensus. When surveyed on when the lockdown should end, 21% say it should end as soon as those over the age of 70 have been vaccinated, 32% think it should end when those over the age of 50 have been vaccinated, while 38% said the current lockdown should only end when the vast majority of the entire population has been vaccinated. On the question of when all non-travel related restrictions should go, a majority – 61% – agreed they should end only once enough vaccinations have been given to the general population. However, 39% think they should end sooner – once enough vaccinations have been given to the vulnerable population.

Pretty depressing, although it’s good to know 24% of those polled agreed with the main contention of lockdown sceptics, namely, that the restrictions cause more harm than good.

Stop Press 2: The Daily Mail reports, Boris Johnson will soon be announcing a draconian new Australia-style quarantine system for all arrivals to the country.

British holidaymakers returning home won’t escape an order to quarantine in airport hotels – signalling the death knell for summer getaways.

Ministers are finalising plans to force travellers to isolate for 10 days as soon as they enter Britain, with details to be decided tomorrow.

Boris Johnson had wanted to exempt British residents and only target those arriving from places where new strains of the virus have been detected.

But Cabinet sources last night said they expect the Prime Minister to sign off on a comprehensive proposal – modelled on Australia – that will see all arrivals sent to airport hotels, regardless of their nationality and where they have come from.

It means people who live in Britain will face having to pay extra, on top of the cost of their trip, to spend their quarantine period in a hotel patrolled by security guards. 

Any new restrictions would be a further blow to the beleaguered travel industry – and could spark chaos at airports already battling through new arrivals checks. 

Children’s Mental Health Continues to Deteriorate

There are recent reports from both sides of the pond that young people are starting to suffer badly from the suspension of their normal lives. In the UK, Camilla Turner, Education Editor at the Telegraph, reports:

The number of children admitted to hospital for mental health reasons now outstrips those with medical conditions, a leading paediatrician has said.

Professor Russell Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said this is a phenomenon that paediatricians have seen across the UK since the start of the pandemic. 

He was addressing MPs at the Education Select Committee which was hearing evidence on the science behind school closures.   

It comes after a survey by the Prince’s Trust found that one in four young people feels unable to cope with life and that crisis has taken a “devastating toll” on teenagers and young adults.

Prof Viner was asked by Dr Caroline Johnson, a Tory MP and practising consultant paediatrician, whether more children were now being admitted to hospital for mental health reasons than physical ailments.

She said: “On a recent shift that I did at hospital, there were more acutely unwell children admitted for mental health presentations than there were acutely medically unwell children. Is that an unusual pattern or is that a pattern that you are seeing in other parts of the country too?”

Prof Viner, who is a Professor of Adolescent Health at University College London’s Institute of Child Health, replied: “Yes, that is absolutely a pattern that our paediatricians around the country have told us about  since the beginning of the pandemic.”

Worth reading in full.

Meanwhile in the USA, Erica L. Green reports in the New York Times that growing fears for the wellbeing of youngsters in Las Vegas is forcing a change of tack on school closures.

The reminders of pandemic-driven suffering among students in Clark County, NV, have come in droves.

Since schools shut their doors in March, an early-warning system that monitors students’ mental health episodes has sent more than 3,100 alerts to district officials, raising alarms about suicidal thoughts, possible self-harm or cries for care. By December, 18 students had taken their own lives.

The spate of student suicides in and around Las Vegas has pushed the Clark County district, the nation’s fifth largest, toward bringing students back as quickly as possible. This month, the school board gave the green light to phase in the return of some elementary school grades and groups of struggling students even as greater Las Vegas continues to post huge numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths.

Superintendents across the nation are weighing the benefit of in-person education against the cost of public health, watching teachers and staff become sick and, in some cases, die, but also seeing the psychological and academic toll that school closings are having on children nearly a year in. The risk of student suicides has quietly stirred many district leaders, leading some, like the State Superintendent in Arizona, to cite that fear in public pleas to help mitigate the virus’ spread.

In Clark County, it forced the Superintendent’s hand.

“When we started to see the uptick in children taking their lives, we knew it wasn’t just the Covid numbers we need to look at anymore,” said Jesus Jara, the Clark County Superintendent. “We have to find a way to put our hands on our kids, to see them, to look at them. They’ve got to start seeing some movement, some hope.”

Adolescent suicide during the pandemic cannot conclusively be linked to school closures; national data on suicides in 2020 have yet to be compiled. One study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the percentage of youth emergency room visits that were for mental health reasons had risen during the pandemic. The actual number of those visits fell, though researchers noted that many people were avoiding hospitals that were dealing with the crush of coronavirus patients. And a compilation of emergency calls in more than 40 states among all age groups showed increased numbers related to mental health.

Even in normal circumstances, suicides are impulsive, unpredictable and difficult to ascribe to specific causes. The pandemic has created conditions unlike anything mental health professionals have seen before, making causation that much more difficult to determine.

But Greta Massetti, who studies the effects of violence and trauma on children at the CDC, said there was “definitely reason to be concerned because it makes conceptual sense”. Millions of children had relied on schools for mental health services that have now been restricted, she noted.

In Clark County, 18 suicides over nine months of closure is double the nine the district had the entire previous year, Dr. Jara said. Six students died by suicide between March 16th and June 30th; 12 students died by suicide between July 1st and December 31st, the district said.

One student left a note saying he had nothing to look forward to. The youngest student Dr. Jara has lost to suicide was nine.

“I feel responsible,” Dr. Jara said. “They’re all my kids.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Guardian reports that the Government won’t even commit to opening schools after the Easter holidays – maddening news for families with children of school age.

The Government has refused to commit to schools being open even after the Easter holidays, raising the prospect that parents will have many more weeks of homeschooling before even a phased return of most pupils to the classroom in England.

A senior Government source cautioned that although the data was starting to show signs of a slowing of infections, rates were not falling nearly as sharply as had been expected. The source said the picture had become “more pessimistic” over the past week about the Government’s ability to ease any measures in the short term.

Discussions are under way in the Department for Education to decide which pupils could be prioritised, with early years and those facing exams in the summer among those who could be brought back first. Attendance rotas could also be introduced to keep numbers down in schools, but allow for more face-to-face teaching.

The chair of the education select committee expressed dismay at the delay, urging ministers to put “the whole engine of the state” behind paving the way for schools to reopen.

Stop Press 2: The UK Government has ‘sponsored’ this piece in the Daily Mail attempting to reassure parents that “thanks to tireless teachers, the youngsters will be fine”. Oh really? Worth remembering that Ofsted found the closure of schools during the first lockdown had a negative effect on many children’s learning.

Stop Press 3: Historian Neil Oliver spoke in his regular interview slot with Mike Graham on talkRADIO about the worrying things he is beginning to hear from his children’s peer group.

A Response to Christopher Snowdon

As promised in yesterday’s Lockdown Sceptics, we are today publishing an excellent article by Nigel Alphonso, a business consultant, entitled “To Move The Lockdown Debate Forward We Need More Honesty“. The article is a response to Christopher Snowdon’s “Rise of the Coronavirus Cranks” piece in Quillette. Here is an extract:

On January 16th, an article appeared in the online magazine Quillette by Christopher Snowdon from the IEA, a right of centre think tank. The article purported to demolish the claims of a particular variant of ‘lockdown sceptics’ and as a result has garnered widespread praise including from Toby Young who tweeted that it was a thoughtful piece which sceptics needed to address. I respectfully disagree. The article was disingenuous – not in respect of what it said but in respect of its omissions and its failure to frame the argument within a judicious lockdown/anti-lockdown framework. This is not intended as an attack on Mr Snowdon per se but the criticism I make touches on the wider failure of the libertarian, left of centre and conservative movements to counter the lockdown arguments and the failure of the lockdown sceptics’ movement to achieve any penetration with the wider public. This essay is not primarily about the merits of lockdown or the technicalities of the data but about the intellectual honesty of some of the main protagonists on both sides of the argument.

First to the article itself entitled “Rise of the Coronavirus Cranks.” Mr Snowdon is at liberty to write whichever article he chooses. However, his article might more appropriately have been entitled “My problem with Ivor Cummins and Mike Yeadon” or “My problem with social media Covid deniers” as it seems the bulk of his article focused on a detailed rebuttal of claims made by these two individuals and by extension those he categorises as “Covid deniers”. While he states from the outset that he wishes to focus on “the most extreme variant of lockdown scepticism”, he proceeds to argue on the basis that this “extreme variant” as he puts it is paradoxically the dominant form of scepticism as exemplified by the twitter/social media world he inhabits. If that was not Mr Snowdon’s intention then I accept any inadvertent omission on his part. Unfortunately his article will have been seized upon by all lockdown advocates as being evidence of the general ‘crankiness’ and eccentricity of the lockdown sceptics’ cause. Nor sadly am I convinced that the subtle and nuanced conflating of multiple variants of lockdown-scepticism was entirely innocent – not just on the part of Mr Snowdon, but by multiple other commentators who have sought to attack lockdown sceptics.

Conveniently Snowdon (like Alistair Haimes – another manqué sceptic) positions himself as a “centrist” and spends the opening paragraph reinforcing his credentials in direct contradistinction to the lockdown “junkies” such as (in his estimation) Piers Morgan or the members of Independent Sage. Therein lies the issue with both the lockdown converts such as Snowdon as well as some lockdowns sceptics. Up until the early autumn, one could have been forgiven for thinking that Snowdon was an arch lockdown-sceptic. His myriad articles, podcasts, twitter pronouncements and attacks on the likes of Morgan, Sam Bowman et al, often in the most mocking and vitriolic terms, established him firmly in that camp. If he has changed his mind – so be it. I would fully respect that position as I do those who are clear and unambiguous supporters of lockdown. However, it is mistaken to think that a form of exalted centrism exists in this debate. On one side are those who believe that lockdowns save lives and that the moral imperative is to curtail liberty in the most draconian way in order to achieve that objective. On the other is the belief that lockdown itself is a grotesque invasion of individual liberty which does far greater harm than good and does not meet any public health test of efficacy.

Snowdon, despite his sceptical foundations, is it seems clearly in the former camp. He states explicitly that lockdown “will prevent tens of thousands of people dying this winter”. Leaving aside the veracity of this claim, Snowdon in that one sentence accepts the central argument of the lockdown advocates. The roll-out of the vaccine does not alter that argument although it acts as a useful pretext for those who have moved to the lockdown side. No amount of “centrist” plea bargaining can void the fact that Snowdon has switched sides. In that sense (and to the extent that he has supported two out of the three lockdowns) he is far closer to Piers Morgan than he is to any lockdown sceptic. Moreover, if one is in the lockdown camp, Snowdon’s frequent acerbic critiques against the mainstream media for constantly demanding more lockdowns, deeper lockdowns and sooner lockdowns seem misplaced and ill-judged. If one believes that lockdowns save lives then the logical critique of the UK Government must be that we failed to lockdown expeditiously, that when we locked down the rules were not stringent enough, that the messaging was unclear and that we emerged from it too quickly. Despite the increasing evidence (see the recent study by John Ioannidis et al of Stanford) of the futility of lockdowns in respect of pandemic control, one cannot doubt that if one believes in the central argument about saving lives and protecting the health service, then the mainstream media and academic critique of the Government has an ineluctable logic.

Worth reading in full.

Nothing So Permanent…

Economist Milton Friedman: “Nothing so permanent as a temporary government programme.”

We are publishing another original piece today by Angus McIntosh entitled “Temporary Government Programmes” which raises the alarm about the eagerness with which the authorities have leapt on the pandemic as an reason to curtail our liberty. He is concerned that some of the rights that have been “temporarily” suspended may never be restored to us. Here is an excerpt:

Let us take a moment to look beyond the current turmoil of the pandemic and the ensuing policy chaos and to consider its possible legacy.

At this point we are struggling to cope with the tide of misery which Covid and the lockdowns have created. But eventually, through a combination of spring weather, natural immunity and the vaccine, the virus will subside to the point where we could start to live with it as a normal part of the disease landscape.

It may then take a decade or more to recover from its terrible toll of death, depression and poverty and this is tragedy enough. But potentially even more damaging for our long-term future are the lasting shifts in attitudes which the virus may leave behind.

These will be many and complex, but there are three which are particularly likely:

1. Permanently lowered public tolerance for life’s normal risks and challenges.

2. Increased popular willingness to sacrifice freedoms in pursuit of safety.

3. Greater tendency for authorities of all kinds to exploit the above.

The first two of these malign legacies represent acceleration of existing trends, rather than completely new phenomena. But the third is undergoing more of a revolution.

Anyone who doubts that we have taught certain policymakers an unexpected but welcome lesson need only look at Professor Neil Ferguson’s now-infamous Times interview in which he said, referring to China: “It’s a communist one-party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought…and then Italy did it. And we realised we could.

This insight has allowed Ferguson and other advisors to promote control of the virus above every other consideration and to keep it there.

When governments take control of a new aspect of our lives, they assume permanent accountability for it in the public and media mind. They know that they are far more likely to be called to account for any negative consequences of later relaxation than they are to be praised for its benefits. That’s why new interventions are very rarely eased, even by those who opposed them in the first place.

Worth reading in full.

Sobering Briefing From a Senior Doctor

A reader has drawn our attention to this video of a briefing by Dr Alasdair Emslie, a senior doctor at at a private healthcare provider. It’s long and detailed, and although Emslie comes across as no lockdown sceptic, it contains plenty of interesting information. Our contributor comments:

It’s fantastically sober, blunt, clear, and makes some key points. I believe Lockdown Sceptics’ future has to be the balanced voice of reason and to push party apparatchiks like Neil O’Brien to the side rather than bother with attacking back directly. This video has no bullshit politics or bullshit data or SAGE panic-stricken scientists, or idiotic BBC journalists. I found it fascinating and for the first time I understand where we are. Key moments in the video:

– Starts out by not pulling any punches about how badly Britain has done mortality-wise.

– 2m 08s – Points out that when he started as a doctor there were 300,000 beds in the NHS. Now there are 130,000. 

– 13m 00s – The elderly are not being admitted to ICU because they are being judged as not likely to survive

– 34m 25s – Key slide where he shows that the reason for current high deaths is that 85+ victims are being triaged not to go into ICU; they are just being given palliative care and left to die (one up for Lord Sumption and ‘nul points‘ for those who think everyone gets the same deal on admission). That’s why despite so relatively few confirmed cases in that group, they are dominating deaths. Hence ICU is full of 45-64s and until that group is vaccinated the hospital crises will remain and therefore all the lockdown and other precautions are going to have to stay in place essentially until the autumn. The trade-off the Government has made has been to vaccinate those aged 65 and over first, in the hope of reducing overall Covid mortality, but at the cost of not doing as much as they could to relieve the pressure on the NHS. This really clarifies how deaths and ICUs are not in fact directly related. Elsewhere he talks about the necessity of vaccinating workers who have been hugely disproportionately affected – no use in crying over spilt milk, but that’s where we are.

– 40m 00s – He really lays it on thick about the mental health fallout: “this is going to be a major problem” for several years “particularly affecting the young”.

– 44m 5s – Summarises his key points which starts with the totally unsentimental assertion that Covid is here forever, we will never get rid of it. That tells me, as we all already knew, that anyone foolish enough to be promoting the idea that we can have zero Covid is genuinely irresponsible or stupid.

Worth watching in full.

Labour’s Loony ‘Zero Covid Now’ Group Addressed by Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn addresses the event from his car

Following neatly on from the comments above, a campaign entitled Zero Covid Now, which describes itself as “jointly convened by Diane Abbot MP and the Morning Star” has held a video meeting which was hosted by Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP and included addresses by Richard Burgon MP, Professor Robert West from Independent Sage, Richard Horton of the Lancet, various other figures from trade unions and Jeremy Corbyn MP.

Unsurprisingly, there were a number of highly debatable remarks made, of which the first was only seconds in, when Rebeiro-Addy declared that the UK was headed for the “worst death toll in the world” (deaths in the US currently stand at 417,000) and that the virus could be “stopped in its tracks” while simultaneously protecting lives and livelihoods.

Noticeably absent from the line-up of people apparently seriously suggesting that a seasonal respiratory virus which is now endemic can be completely eradicated was anyone who did not have a safe public sector job.

Ben Chacko, editor of the hard-left Morning Star, was the only contributor to say anything sensible: “Our Government has shown no inclination to learn from other countries that have dealt more successfully with Covid than we have and unfortunately most of the media give them a free pass.”

Hear hear, Ben!

The meeting can be viewed in full here, if you can bear it.

“After My Mum Was Taken Away in an Ambulance, She Disappeared into the System.”

A reader has sent in this distressing account of an ongoing situation involving communication problems with the hospital where his seriously ill mother is being treated:

Over a week ago my mother, in her mid 60s, was taken to hospital in Norfolk with a mystery affliction. Something similar to stroke or another neurological disorder. The situation looked extremely serious with her unable to eat or speak. As I do not live anywhere near her I have been relying on updates from my much younger sister and brother, who live up there with their dad. My grandad, who is 89, is obviously very worried and as he is down south with me he is reliant on updates from my sister, or me.

Initially things seemed to be being dealt with well. As usual the paramedics were excellent and they did not hesitate to take her in. This is where the problems started. The hospital (which I will not name) has a total ban on any visitors, which on the surface sounds reasonable and inevitable. They offered updates by telephone, and numbers for the main switchboard and her ward were given so that we could call in for updates.

However, last week the wheels seemed to come off. For an entire three day period the hospital would not answer the phone. When we called the main switchboard they would transfer the call, only for it to be cut off, and the ward number wasn’t answered at all. Bearing in mind this was near the beginning of the investigation, with tests being apparently carried out on on a regular basis, you can imagine the intolerable worry this total blackout caused to my family, particularly her other children and my grandad. Eventually they did respond, and the diagnosis was still inconclusive, but pretty much no reason was given for not answering the phone to worried family. Things returned to some sense of normality for a few days, but two days ago we were told she had been moved to a different ward as she had contracted Covid (in hospital – sigh) but no further details were given. That was the last we have heard for two days now despite repeated calls. We don’t even know what ward she is actually on. I gather that she has no Covid symptoms (she could have been pre-symptomatic) but her status remains very serious with respect to her other condition.

Without getting into the whys and wherefores of whether any of the current Government measures are proportionate to the virus, the total ban on visitors even for the most seriously ill patients, or the fact that she caught Covid in hospital, I am absolutely furious and shocked that a hospital would not think it crucially important to keep the family informed, especially in a case this serious. Can your readers imagine the absolute horror of relatives who have seen someone into an ambulance, only for them to effectively disappear into the system and have no way to find out if they are okay? I’m certain this cannot be an isolated incident. I understand the NHS is busy, and even if they are much busier than usual for this time of year, there has not been a natural disaster or a war causing mass casualties, and so I do not think it unreasonable for us to expect updates to be given. This pandemic has done nothing to improve my view of the state of the NHS as a whole and this particular incident has shown a lack of basic humanity that has really shocked me.

Magna Carta-Quoting Hairdresser to Reopen Salon

Sinead Quinn invoked Magna Carta when refusing to close down the first time

The Daily Mail reports that Sinead Quinn, the owner of Quinn Blakey, a West Yorkshire hair salon which clocked up eye-watering fines for defying orders to close last year, as we reported at the time, is planning to flout the regulations again:

A salon owner who racked up £17,000 in fines by staying open during last year’s second national lockdown has indicated she plans to reopen next week.

Sinead Quinn, owner of Quinn Blakey Hairdressing, Oakenshaw, near Bradford, has suggested the salon will reopen for on January 30th on a day dubbed ‘The Great Reopening’.

Ms Quinn hit headlines in November after she repeatedly cited the Magna Carta when police officers insisted she close her business during the second national lockdown. 

The salon wracked up £17,000 worth of fixed penalty fines and magistrates ordered its closure for the final two days of the lockdown “to prevent nuisance to members of the public and to safeguard public health”.

Earlier this month, Kirklees Council confirmed none of the fixed penalties had been paid and it had started a prosecution process.

One Instagram comment from the salon said: “We’re all opening regardless of lockdown. They can’t control us all when we stand up to them.”

In a separate post shared two days ago, the comment stated: “When is lockdown meant to end? Feb?

“In February you can bet your life savings that COVID-21 will be here and so will your lockdown.

“I’d like you to sit back and watch it all play out but we’re running out of time.”

Quinn’s GoFundMe page is still active and she has indicated that in the event of winning her case, the funds will be donated to support her brother who is battling cancer.

New Petition to End Restrictions

A petition with an ambitious goal has been started on the Government’s online portal by David Tyler.

The Department of Health and Social Care has already issued a response to the petition, since it has passed 20,000 signatures, but it makes for predictable reading, regurgitating the Government’s standard line on the matter.

View and sign the petition here.

Look These People in the Eyes

Yesterday we included a reader’s disappointed response to the Government’s latest fear-mongering PR campaign, featuring a series of emotive images bearing the words “look them in the eyes”. Predictably, these have inspired a slew of new versions which have been doing the rounds on social media, taking the opposing view. We thought we’d include a few:

Alternative versions of the Government’s images

Stop Press: The Express has reported that a group of psychologist have written to the their professional body objecting to the Government’s use of fear tactics. We flagged up this letter in Lockdown Sceptics on December 15th, asking for psychologists to contact the organiser if they wanted to sign. Looks like many did.

The Government has been accused of using covert strategies to keep people in a perpetual state of heightened fear to make them obey COVID-19 restrictions.

A group of 47 psychologists has claimed this amounts to a strategic decision “to inflate the fear levels of the British public”, which it states is “ethically murky” and has left people too afraid to leave their homes for medical appointments. Led by former NHS consultant psychologist Dr Gary Sidley, the experts have written to the British Psychological Society (BPS) claiming the strategy is “morally questionable”.

In response the Government has vehemently denied using covert techniques, saying its public information campaigns have been “transparent” and necessary to set out “clear instructions” on how the spread of the virus can be delayed.

It has admitted to communicating public information campaigns 17 per week on average during the peak of the pandemic in order to reach an estimated 95% of adults.

The criticism follows evidence from minutes of the Government advisory group SAGE of March 22nd 2020 which stated: “The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent” by “using hard hitting emotional messaging”.

Dr Sidley said: “It is clear from the methods that are now being used that the Government has taken on this advice. Just because the Government is explicit in its messaging, however, it does not mean this is not having an impact covertly. It is the way this is communicated that we are concerned about. Psychologists know that while the content of messaging might be factual, the way in which it is delivered will determine its impact and we believe the biggest impact is at a subconscious level which we do not think is ethical or healthy for people. We believe inflating fear levels to achieve compliance may be doing more harm than good.”

Stop Press 2: A reader has spotted a particularly misleading Government ad.

I doubt I’m the first to send you this ad, which makes the ludicrous assertion that a THIRD of people are spreading COVID-19 asymptomatically. Attached is a photo of the ad that appeared on page 16 of the i newspaper on January 20th and on the back cover of the following day’s edition.

Obviously the wording should read “Around 1 in 3 people who have the virus have no COVID-19 symptoms….etc.” Missing out those words can hardly be a silly mistake, given the presumed oversight of 40-plus professors on the SPI-B nudge group.

Thanks for the link to the Advertising Standards Agency coronavirus reporting form on Lockdown Sceptics. I’ve submitted this one.

Perhaps significantly, Google turns up only a single example of this version of the ad if one does an online search – a nearly illegible 250x300px image of it on the site of the Orkney Islands weekly paper. Drive-by scaremongering that leaves no trace behind…

Sceptics Under Fire

Arrowing in on the sceptics

Following on from our report yesterday about the new website “Antivirus: The COVID-19 FAQ” set up by Neil O’Brien MP amongst others, which attempts to refute sceptics’ arguments as well as compiling a list of those they consider the most egregious purveyors of wrongthink, we have received a good number of responses from readers.

One argued that since prominent lockdown sceptics are being taken to task over relatively minor errors, perhaps the same standard could be applied to the WHO:

Just a reminder of when this mess started: WHO Director General’s briefing on March 3rd 2020.

Four things they got catastrophically wrong:

1. “First, COVID-19 does not transmit as efficiently as influenza, from the data we have so far.”

2. “While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, COVID-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity. That means more people are susceptible to infection, and some will suffer severe disease. Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected.”

3. “Third, we have vaccines and therapeutics for seasonal flu, but at the moment there is no vaccine and no specific treatment for COVID-19. However, clinical trials of therapeutics are now being done, and more than 20 vaccines are in development.”

4. “And fourth, we don’t even talk about containment for seasonal flu – it’s just not possible. But it is possible for COVID-19. We don’t do contact tracing for seasonal flu – but countries should do it for COVID-19, because it will prevent infections and save lives. Containment is possible. To summarize, COVID-19 spreads less efficiently than flu, transmission does not appear to be driven by people who are not sick, it causes more severe illness than flu, there are not yet any vaccines or therapeutics, and it can be contained – which is why we must do everything we can to contain it. That’s why WHO recommends a comprehensive approach.”

I’m sure we’ve all got things wrong, but each of these points are amongst the biggest errors of the century so far.

Another points out the strange misapprehension by the authors of the website of the amount of influence sceptics have had:

I’ve been perusing the site and a couple of things are striking. Firstly, the currently popular charge that dissent is “dangerous” gets an outing as early as the fourth paragraph. Apparently, such ideas could lead to individuals “or entire countries” deciding to take fewer precautions. As several nations actually have taken less rigid measures (with not noticeably worse outcomes) this raises the hitherto unexplored possibility that Alexander Lukashenko wakes up every morning listening to Julia Hartley-Brewer or that Anders Tegnell developed his ideas on epidemiology at the American Institute For Economic Research. 

The idea that the people the site seeks to “expose” have been “very prominent and influential during the pandemic” is exactly the kind of misinformation the authors claims it exists to counter. Tragically, lockdown scepticism has barely encroached on our Government’s thinking since the Prime Minister first read Neil Ferguson’s prophecies of doom in March. It may make a tiny amount of sense to say broadcasters in Malmö or Minsk have created a relaxed attitude to the pandemic, but to survey Britain’s landscape of closed pubs, darkened restaurants and broken people and conclude that Whitehall mandarins listen to too much talkRADIO borders on madness. 

In reality, the site is little more than an elongated tweet. A primal scream from the entitled “expert” who spends most of their time in quiet fury at the fact that somebody, somewhere does not agree with them. It’s not so much information for the readers as therapy for the writers. One wonders why it even needs to exist given the grip lockdown fanaticism seems to hold on both Government and the alleged opposition. It may be interesting to see how the site’s authors assign blame if figures deteriorate in the coming weeks. You can guarantee they won’t be finding anything wrong with the policy itself. 

Finally, one thing did amuse me. The FAQ kindly explains that they have received no funding for the website and it was paid for “out of our own pockets”. Given how cheap it looks, it had never occurred to me that anyone with a PR budget might be behind this. But now that they brought it up, I can’t stop wondering who is really paying the bills! They’d probably say I’m a “funding sceptic”. Or is it “altruism denier”?

Another reader points out accusing the sceptics of getting the Infection Fatality Rate wrong is a little hypocritical:

My comment relates to the IFR of COVID-19 and the difficulty of putting an exact figure on it. Imperial College produced this report back in October to which Obersturmbannführer Ferguson was a contributor, which demonstrates the dilemma.

It seems pretty pointless to make an issue about something so vague and mercurial when not even the great man himself can find a definite number. Whichever way you cut the cards, it has an extremely low fatality rate which gets lower all the time as treatments improve.

I’m sure Neil O’Brien et al are avid members of the Ferguson cult so you’d think they’d know this.

This reader points to double standards with peer-reviewed studies:

Looking at the website of Neil O’Brien and co, my first thought was “where to start?” There is so much choice. 

I thought I’d begin by having a look at the dying “with Covid” not “of Covid” section:

I looked at point 3: “Covid isn’t just killing people who were otherwise close to death.” I clicked on this link to the University of Glasgow study which O’Brien and his cohorts present as suggesting that people who died of Covid typically had over a decade to live.

The Glasgow study was funded by grants from the Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council. The study is old, having been published ​on April 23rd 2020 and it has not been revised since then. The study involves modelling based on standard World Health Organisation life tables. The report was made available for open peer review and has received three reviews. One peer reviewer, based in the US, approved it. The other two reviewers, based in the UK, did not approve it. 

One of the UK peer reviewers nails one of the study’s key problems with this comment:

“The YLL (years of life lost) figure just doesn’t seem to sit with observed reality. I realise this is a modelling study, but it would be nice to compare your findings to what we have actually observed. For example, what is the average age of death expected from your model compared to observed COVID age of death?”

And lastly for today (although keep emailing us your criticisms, putting “Antivirus” in the subject line):

The Anti-Virus website is a treasure trove of selective quotations and misdirection, but one quote neatly illustrated the fact that with lockdown believers it is “heads I win, tails you lose”. On the page for Cases Were Falling Anyway they include the following final point:

A published paper seeks to argue that restrictions have not worked, but contains a glaring flaw. A paper that appeared in January 2021, co-authored by John Ioannidis, looked at the correlation between restrictive measures introduced by government and the number of cases. Ioannidis and his colleagues found that some lockdown restrictions were even correlated with higher growth in coronavirus cases. This should have been a warning of an obvious flaw – which is that case growth and restrictions are endogenous – in other words, governments have brought in tighter restrictions when cases are higher. The argument of the paper is like arguing that “people in hospital are more likely to have heart disease; therefore hospitals cause heart disease”.

A translation into English? “Our contention is that when lockdowns are imposed and cases fall then the fall is entirely down to lockdowns and no other factors. However, in documented cases where lockdowns are imposed and cases rise then.. mumble, mumble… not strict enough… mumble”.

They are saying in effect that if there was a perfect positive correlation between infection rates and lockdown severity it would be proof of an ideal government response, rather than a policy that had no effect.

I have to concede however that the same page included the knockout argument (point 5) that scientists from Imperial College have posted a report on their website that lockdowns work exactly as intended. They neglected to mention who the lead author was…

Stop Press: Toby had a letter published in the Sunday Times yesterday responding to Dominic Lawson’s attack the previous week.

Stop Press 2: We’ve decided to regularly include some of the best pieces endorsing the Government’s lockdown strategy, inspired by J.S. Mill’s famous line: “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”

Today, we’re kicking off with Sam Bowman’s piece in the New Statesman: “The eight biggest Covid-sceptic myths – and why they’re wrong.

If readers encounter any particularly good arguments from the other side, please do send them to us and we’ll flag them up.

Round-up

https://twitter.com/toadmeister/status/1353334651406979078

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Six today: “Strange Days” by The Doors, “I Shall Be Released” by the Flying Burrito Brothers, “The Last Time” by the Rolling Stones, “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” by Skip James, “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, and “If You’re Looking for a Way Out” by Odyssey.

Love in the Time of Covid

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. 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 as well as post comments below the line, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Sharing Stories

Some of you have asked how to link to particular stories on Lockdown Sceptics so you can share it. To do that, click on the headline of a particular story and a link symbol will appear on the right-hand side of the headline. Click on the link and the URL of your page will switch to the URL of that particular story. You can then copy that URL and either email it to your friends or post it on social media. Please do share the stories.

Social Media Accounts

You can follow Lockdown Sceptics on our social media accounts which are updated throughout the day. To follow us on Facebook, click here; to follow us on Twitter, click here; to follow us on Instagram, click here; to follow us on Parler, click here; and to follow us on MeWe, click here.

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, the shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy MP has become embroiled in a row over her endorsement of a pamphlet that called for the Army to be replaced with a “gender balanced and ethnically diverse” peace force. Sort of like Star Fleet. The Sun has more:

The shadow Foreign Secretary denied she backed a left-wing policy pamphlet – that the Sun can reveal also called for Britain’s nuclear subs to be “reconsidered”.

She told the BBC it was “complete and utter rubbish” that she had “applauded” the loony left wish list.

But she was left red-faced when a recording of a Zoom call emerged where she said: “One of the things that I found really inspirational about this pamphlet is that I think it’s based on the belief that I also share that while we learn from the past we are never bound to it and we have to build a foreign policy fit for this century.”

The introduction to Open Labour’s policy document “A Progressive Foreign Policy for New Times” said it was time to “reconsider” Trident.

It also says Britain should: “Consider a real shift in the nature of our services from classic armed forces to what one might call human security services which would include the military but would also include police, engineers, aid workers, or health workers and would be gender balanced and ethnically diverse.”

“Their central task would be to protect human security and in cases of war to dampen down violence rather than intervene on one side or the other.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Lawrence Fox was unimpressed by Lisa Nandy’s plans for a new peace force.

https://twitter.com/LozzaFox/status/1353376009463222273

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to obtain a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card – because wearing a mask causes them “severe distress”, for instance. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and the Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. And if you feel obliged to wear a mask but want to signal your disapproval of having to do so, you can get a “sexy world” mask with the Swedish flag on it here.

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

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption. Another reader has created an Android app which displays “I am exempt from wearing a face mask” on your phone. Only 99p.

If you’re a shop owner and you want to let your customers know you will not be insisting on face masks or asking them what their reasons for exemption are, you can download a friendly sign to stick in your window here.

And here’s an excellent piece about the ineffectiveness of masks by a Roger W. Koops, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry. See also the Swiss Doctor’s thorough review of the scientific evidence here and Prof Carl Heneghan and Dr Tom Jefferson’s Spectator article about the Danish mask study here.

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

The Great Barrington Declaration, a petition started by Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya calling for a strategy of “Focused Protection” (protect the elderly and the vulnerable and let everyone else get on with life), was launched in October and the lockdown zealots have been doing their best to discredit it ever since. If you googled it a week after launch, the top hits were three smear pieces from the Guardian, including: “Herd immunity letter signed by fake experts including ‘Dr Johnny Bananas’.” (Freddie Sayers at UnHerd warned us about this the day before it appeared.) On the bright side, Google UK has stopped shadow banning it, so the actual Declaration now tops the search results – and Toby’s Spectator piece about the attempt to suppress it is among the top hits – although discussion of it has been censored by Reddit. The reason the zealots hate it, of course, is that it gives the lie to their claim that “the science” only supports their strategy. These three scientists are every bit as eminent – more eminent – than the pro-lockdown fanatics so expect no let up in the attacks. (Wikipedia has also done a smear job.)

You can find it here. Please sign it. Now over three quarters of a million signatures.

Update: The authors of the GBD have expanded the FAQs to deal with some of the arguments and smears that have been made against their proposal. Worth reading in full.

Update 2: Many of the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration are involved with new UK anti-lockdown campaign Recovery. Find out more and join here.

Update 3: You can watch Sunetra Gupta set out the case for “Focused Protection” here and Jay Bhattacharya make it here.

Update 4: The three GBD authors plus Prof Carl Heneghan of CEBM have launched a new website collateralglobal.org, “a global repository for research into the collateral effects of the COVID-19 lockdown measures”. Follow Collateral Global on Twitter here. Sign up to the newsletter here.

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

There are now so many legal cases being brought against the Government and its ministers we thought we’d include them all in one place down here.

The Simon Dolan case has now reached the end of the road. The current lead case is the Robin Tilbrook case which challenges whether the Lockdown Regulations are constitutional. You can read about that and contribute here.

Then there’s John’s Campaign which is focused specifically on care homes. Find out more about that here.

There’s the GoodLawProject and Runnymede Trust’s Judicial Review of the Government’s award of lucrative PPE contracts to various private companies. You can find out more about that here and contribute to the crowdfunder here.

And last but not least there was the Free Speech Union‘s challenge to Ofcom over its ‘coronavirus guidance’. A High Court judge refused permission for the FSU’s judicial review on December 9th and the FSU has decided not to appeal the decision because Ofcom has conceded most of the points it was making. Check here for details.

Samaritans

If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch. Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.

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 hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

A reader has drown out attention to this 2016 YouTube video by psychologist Kati Morton explaining what “Stockholm Syndrome” is. As he points out, it’s as though the entire country is suffering from this peculiar affliction.

Latest News

Sweden’s Per Capita Deaths in Line with the European Average in 2020

Will Jones has taken another look at the situation in Sweden. He finds that the country does indeed show that lockdowns aren’t needed.

Severe restrictions on civic and economic life are the only thing standing between us and the virus spiralling out of control and killing many times more people than at present. That is the foundational belief of lockdownism. Unfortunately, it is defeated by the example of any country or state that does not impose such restrictions and does not experience such an outcome. A number of states in America fit this description this winter, such as Florida, Texas, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Sweden is the main example in Europe. It is also a good comparison for the UK as it is similarly urbanised (actually slightly more, 87.7% vs 83.4%) and the capital Stockholm has a similar population density to London.

In the spring Sweden imposed only light restrictions, including a limit of 50 on public gatherings, but did not at any point close businesses or most schools or require people to stay at home. This light-touch approach has largely continued, although the country has come under huge pressure to impose more restrictive measures.

In the midst of a winter surge, Sweden finally passed a law that came into effect on January 10th adding some new restrictions on gathering sizes and venue capacity and enabling the Government to close businesses, though it has not yet done so. Reuters reported:

Sweden tightened social distancing rules for shopping centres, gyms and private gatherings on Friday and said it was ready to close businesses if needed, but stopped short of a lockdown to fight the spread of the pandemic.

Earlier in the day, parliament voted the Government wider powers to close businesses and limit the size of public and private gatherings as an addition to what have so-far been mostly voluntary measures to ensure social distancing.

“Today, the Government has not decided on the closure of businesses, but the Government is ready to make that kind of decision as well,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told a news conference. “This is not something that we take lightly, but people’s lives and health are at stake.”

From Sunday [January 10th], gyms, sports centres, shopping malls and public pools will have to set a maximum number of visitors based on their size.

In addition, private gatherings will also be limited to eight people, a rule which until now has only affected public events.

A Lockdown Sceptics reader whose family lives in Sweden sent us an update on the current rules.

  • We can visit family and friends – max eight people inside or out
  • Social distancing – one person per 10 square metres in shops etc.
  • Bars and cafes are open but can not serve alcohol after eight o’clock, max four people to a table
  • Restaurants open – table service only and max four people to a table
  • All shops and businesses open but must be Covid safe
  • Hairdressers and beauty parlours open but must be Covid safe
  • Nurseries and primary schools (under 13) open
  • Lower secondary schools mostly open but decision up to the school board
  • Schools over 16 years mostly closed but may take decision to open from January 25th
  • Universities closed
  • Theme parks closed
  • Gyms mainly open but must be Covid safe
  • Public swimming pools and theatres closed
  • Museums and cinemas – some open, some not. Must adhere to Covid restrictions
  • All other businesses open
  • Advice is to avoid unnecessary shopping/travel and so on
  • No requirement to wear a mask/face covering. However, it is advised on public transport during peak times and should be more substantial than a face covering

Despite these much lighter restrictions than in the UK and many other countries, Sweden has had a death toll broadly in line with other countries that locked down hard. Indeed, a study from researchers at the University of Oslo concluded that between July 2019 and July 2020 Sweden had almost no excess deaths at all.

The winter surge is currently in decline in Sweden, and was in decline prior to the new restrictions coming into effect on January 10th. ICU admissions have been declining sharply across the country since the week beginning January 4th, and in Stockholm, which was hit hard in spring, ICU admissions stopped rising at the beginning of December and have declined since (see below).

Source: Swedish Government

Overall excess deaths in the country have been running quite high since mid-November but are now, like ICU admissions, in decline (see below). A recent, very thorough blog post found that if you add Sweden’s all-cause mortality in 2019 and 2020 together (2019 had below-average mortality), it was about the same as the cumulative total for 2017 and 2018.

Sweden didn’t do nothing. But it did a lot less than many other countries including the UK, and without seeing the huge death tolls predicted by those who tell us lockdowns are the only way to “control” the virus. There are places which did even less than Sweden, and their examples should also be studied for the lessons they teach us. But Sweden continues to expose the central myth of the lockdowners – that without severe restrictions things would be far worse than they are now, and so all the collateral damage must be worth it.

Stop Press: Philippe Lemoine, a PhD student at Cornell, has produced a great Twitter thread about Sweden and the unavoidable conclusion that lockdowns don’t have much impact on reducing Covid mortality.

Ivermectin: Miracle Cure or Snake Oil?

Shutterstock/File Photo

City AM reports that Oxford University is to investigate the potential of the antiparasitic drug ivermectin for treating COVID-19:

A cheap drug credited with dramatically reducing COVID-19 deaths has been moved to trial stage in the UK.

Researchers at Oxford University are carrying out a Principle trial programme aimed at finding a treatment that can counteract the disease at an early stage and could be used at home soon after symptoms appear.

The next batch of medicines it will assess includes ivermectin, which has been hailed as a Covid “wonder drug”, the Times reported.

Ivermectin has traditionally been used on livestock and to treat people with parasitic infestations, but has been credited with reducing Covid deaths in the developing world.

However, scientists have warned that its efficacy is yet to be properly proven.

“It has potential antiviral properties and anti-inflammatory properties and there have been quite a few smaller trials conducted in low and middle-income countries, showing that it speeds recovery, reduces inflammation and reduces hospitalisation,” Chris Butler, Professor of Primary Care at the University of Oxford and a co-chief of the Principle trial, told the newspaper.

“But there’s a gap in the data. There’s not been a really rigorous trial.”

The drug has been shown to block the entry of viral protein into the nuclei of cells, which could prevent the virus from replicated.

Results from initial, small-scale trials have been described as “promising”, though scientists and health officials have warned that further tests are needed.

It seems worth doing a mini round-up of just some of the evidence recently amassed for the beneficial effects of ivermectin:

The Swiss Doctor has an explanation of how ivermectin works:

To date, the mode of action of ivermectin against the SARS-CoV-2 has remained somewhat of a mystery. Early studies indicated that ivermectin may inhibit viral protein transportation. But a new US-Canadian study, published in Nature Communications Biology, found that ivermectin is highly effective (>90%) in inhibiting the main enzyme (3CLpro) involved in the replication of the SARS-CoV-2 (and other RNA viruses). This might explain why ivermectin appears to be highly effective even as a prophylaxis against SARS-CoV-2 infection

Scepticism is required in all things, of course, but this treatment does look promising, as Mike Yeadon confirms:

https://twitter.com/MichaelYeadon3/status/1352518627212353537

REACT Report: Why Wasn’t it Peer Reviewed?

The latest REACT report from Imperial College received a fair amount of media attention for its finding that “Coronavirus infections are not falling” and that they “may have begun to rise”. Today we’re publishing a guest post by Alice Bragg, who points out that the REACT reports are seldom subjected to peer review.

Here we go again! Imperial College publishing reports that tell us we need more lockdowns for longer. The latest REACT report claims the last three weeks of lockdown have made no difference, so our children must suffer more.

The problem is that this report has not been peer-reviewed. As an academic friend once said to me, “If it’s not peer-reviewed, it’s not relevant.”

Which begs the question: why have only two of the 14 REACT reports, stretching back throughout last year, been peer-reviewed?

Here is the December 15th REACT report on the World Health Organisation website with its own clear warning:

“Preprints are preliminary research reports that have not been certified by peer review. They should not be relied on to guide clinical practice or health-related behaviour and should not be reported in news media as established information.”

Worth noting…

We have all been shocked by the footage from inside Intensive Care Units at hospitals in London and the South East. All the doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners and managers working in them are heroes, and we are indebted to them for the rest of our days.

But are lockdowns the way to prevent these scenes?

One would assume that policymakers would only implement a policy as far-reaching and punishing as lockdown if they had a strong degree of certainty that the suspension of our liberties will save lives.

It was in response to a model produced by Imperial College that the Government imposed the first lockdown. However, it is now widely acknowledged that the assumptions underpinning that model were highly dubious.

In addition, the code that powered that model has been found to be of very poor quality when reviewed and analysed by coding experts, computer programmers and epidemiologists. Even Professor Ferguson himself said that it was a model he had created more than 13 years ago to model the likely course of flu pandemics.

Nevertheless, we have watched our freedom of movement be suspended indefinitely, along with our freedom to associate with others of our choosing, the freedom to assemble and gather, and the freedom to protest (the cornerstone of any democracy). Our children are being denied their right to go to school and, in many cases, have been separated from their peers and wider family for almost a year. Businesses have been forcibly closed, many of which will never recover.

At a time when the stakes are so high, why would Imperial College’s REACT reports not be peer-reviewed?

The answer can be found in the peer-review process itself. Over the last 20 years, the number of papers submitted to journals has grown dramatically. This has been compounded by the growth of ‘pay to publish’ sites that make money every time a paper goes up. Experts who are qualified to carry out rigorous peer-reviews would probably prefer not to spend all their time critiquing other peoples’ papers. Demand outstrips the ‘peer’ supply.

That said, when research findings are being used to guide Government policy, there must be a way to cut through the crowd? After all, not many scientific papers are used to justify a population being denied their basic freedoms or children being taken out of school.

According to David Livermore, Professor of Medical Microbiology at the University of East Anglia and Chair of the Public Health England Resistance to Antibiotics Programme:

“REACT is a surveillance programme which then supports various studies and analyses. Such a surveillance programme would normally have an Independent Advisory Committee”

An Independent Advisory Committee of this nature, according to Prof Livermore, would undertake a number of tasks, including making sure that the people who participate in the programme continue to represent the population. They would also, he stresses, play the role of the peer-reviewer, so that when REACT reports hit the media and arrive on ministers’ desks, the information they contain has been rigorously assessed.

This is only possible if ‘independent’ means what it says, and that people who are constructively sceptical – asking awkward questions – are appointed, not just like-minded ‘friends of the project’. As the debate about ‘the science’ becomes increasingly polarised, inviting informed and qualified critics such as Dr Clare Craig, Dr Jonathan Engler, Dr Michael Yeadon, Dr John Lee and Joel Smalley onto an independent REACT advisory board would inspire great confidence.   

Stop Press: Over at the Spectator, Philip Thomas has more on why the REACT study is problematic

What Value Should We Put on a Human Life?

Today we’re publishing a new piece by Dr David Cook, a senior scientist with over 20 years’ experience in drug research and development. Following the row over Lord Sumption’s contribution to the Big Questions last weekend, Dr Cook explains the concept of Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALY), and then applies it to lockdowns.

In 2017 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) rejected the drug nivolumab for use in the NHS to treat patients with advanced head and neck cancers. The reason given was that, despite the drug showing positive benefits, it was judged to be too expensive based on the cost per ‘quality adjusted life year’ (QALY). For patients with this disease (and clinicians treating them) this was a hugely disappointing decision and although subsequently nivolumab has been approved for use, at the point of this judgement it must have felt to these patients that their lives were somehow being deemed to be less valuable than those of other patients.

Let’s wind forward to today and Lord Sumption discussing the impact of lockdown on society and apparently suggesting something similar, namely, that some lives are less valuable than others.

But in both of these cases is this what was actually meant? Are we really assigning a value to a life? Are we really judging that some lives are more valuable than others and so more worthy of saving?

To answer these questions, let’s focus on QALYs because these seem to be highly culpable in the crime of ‘life valuation’.

Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALYs) are not used to assess the quality of a life and they are certainly not used to make a judgement on its value.

The reason for this is because QALYs are used to assess the impact and value of an intervention. The judgement as to the quality of someone’s life is something that only the individual can make, but regardless of how they feel about it as a whole, they would certainly be able to tell if it had improved or got worse after some kind of treatment. If I whack you on the hand with a ruler has this improved your quality of life? What if I now kiss it better?

This is the fundamental point – QALYs are always used comparatively: did this treatment or intervention improve or reduce the quality of life?

In assessing the value of new therapies, QALYs are used to try and produce an objective view of their (hopefully positive) impact. A good example of the challenges of this kind of assessment and why QALYs are so helpful is if we think about how we would assess the value of a new analgesic or pain treatment. Such a treatment may have no effect on life expectancy and so its whole impact is on quality of life. But how do you assess this impact when pain is such a personal experience? The only way is to actually ask the individual patient. As a result, a major part of the assessment of the benefit of such medicines is done through use of questionnaires and asking how the individual feels; did the treatment improve your quality of life? Then, by aggregating all of these individual responses together, we can start to assess whether overall the treatment was beneficial or not. You can see that at no point are we making a judgement of the quality or value of the patient’s life. The assessment we are making is of the value of the treatment.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: John Humphrys covers similar ground in his Saturday Daily Mail column. Noting that, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the value of a QALY is about £30,000, he writes:

No one can possibly know yet how much the lockdowns have cost the country. The bills rocket with every day that passes. What we do know is that if we applied the QALY test to the lives ‘saved’, we would no longer be talking about £30,000 a year. It would be many times that amount.

The price of even the most expensive new drug is a drop in the ocean compared to the vast cost of closing down half the nation’s economy – and the bill is rising with every word I type.

So does that mean the life of someone who faces the risk of dying from Covid must be valued more than those who have other life-threatening conditions?

Many people have died because they’ve been unable to get the treatment they needed. Hard-headed calculations were presented to policy-makers who knew what the consequences of lockdowns would be but they took them anyway.

Look Him in The Eyes… A Reader Responds

A reader has written to us to express his disappointment about the NHS’s latest advertising campaign.

I am writing about the shocking new HMG/NHS coronavirus public health campaign. These are the adverts with “Look them in the eyes…” which show a poorly person wearing an oxygen mask.   

In public health the aim of an information campaign should be to give accurate, truthful and honest information so that the public can understand the issues and take any necessary steps or measures for their own health.

Does the Governments and NHS “Look them in they eyes…” poster campaign fit any of the above? A resounding NO! Their campaign is one of blame and division. They have chosen to set one group against another. There is the victim group, this is the sick virus sufferer. They are portrayed as the innocent victim whom someone else has done a terrible thing to.

If there is a victim then this other person must be a perpetrator, a bad person or person who has committed a crime. We would generally consider a perpetrator to have carried out their actions against the victim on purpose and in a planned way. It follows that whoever becomes sick with Covid, or any virus for that matter, has had a bad thing done to them and a bad person is to blame.

The Government and NHS in this poster campaign is blaming one set of people for doing a bad thing to another set of people and no good can come from this. No one is given accurate, measured or honest information upon which they can take actions. Instead, in setting up a victim and a perpetrator, our Government and NHS are setting one lot of people against another. It is extraordinary that a Government and Public Health Service should commission a campaign that blames and divides its population. The campaign fails on all accounts – it provides nothing, people will be angered by it and take no notice of it because it is not truthful, while other people will seek out the bad people to punish them.

A poster campaign like this fails all groups. There are real families who have passed covid on to each other. One person I know of who works for the NHS likely picked up the infection during their hospital shifts. From this person, the elder parents picked up an infection and sadly one died. Does our Government and NHS understand what it is suggesting to this worker and their family? The suggestion is the NHS worker has killed their own parent. 

It is widely acknowledged that many patients acquire their coronavirus infections during their hospital stay. Some of these people have died. Has the Government and the NHS looked itself in the eyes?

This is a terrible public information campaign. I believe it has come from a Government which has taken on the belief it can control a respiratory virus and is desperate to deflect blame as it becomes obvious it cannot.   

When a Government blames its population and attempts to turn one group against another what will become of us? Is the Government aiming for civil war?

A Smidgen of Optimism on Masks

Lockdown Sceptics reader Steve Sieff finds cause for optimism in the change in emphasis to medical and surgical masks in the various mandates, rules and guidance. Steve runs the Green band: Red band website which makes the case for a coloured wrist band system that could promote individual choice when it comes to social distancing and managing Covid risk.

I have an optimistic view to offer on the advance of N95 masks.

I know that the position of most lockdown sceptics is that masks should go. I also know that many of the LS arguments are based on the lack of evidence that they are effective to reduce transmission – even in some cases that they increase the risk of harm. I do not know, but I suspect, that for many LS readers, the question of transmission is largely irrelevant because they consider that the negatives of a masked society outweigh the gains that might be made if some reduction to transmission were shown. The logic behind this goes back to the fundamental belief that COVID-19 should not be ascribed the special status that it has been given on the basis that it affects a small percentage of people. Beyond that, the groups most likely to suffer can be easily identified and therefore can easily protect themselves or be protected.

I believe that underpinning the views above is a strong desire amongst the vast majority of LS readers to see a restoral of the individual’s right to make choices for themselves. We would all like to see a more balanced presentation of risks and of facts from our Government (and others). In the event that the balanced presentation of available data convinced some people to take extraordinary protective measures, we might disagree with the reaction, but most of us would acknowledge and respect others’ right to be cautious provided their decisions did not overly impact on the decisions we make when not in contact with them. This is the basis of Green Band: Red Band of course.

In the context of individual freedom, I wonder if a shift towards more protective masks might be a positive thing. I know that this might sound like anathema to most LS readers so I will explain. The mask narrative to date has been that “my mask protects you, your mask protects me”. This logic moves us away from personal responsibility towards collective responsibility. Those who do not wear a mask are letting down others and are stigmatised. More protective masks such as N95s and N99s could change this narrative. These masks are designed to protect users. If they were widely available then the message could shift to wearing a mask to protect yourself. There would still be some protection for others, but the emphasis would be on protecting oneself. That is extremely important because it could pave the way for masks to become a choice. Those at lower risk (whether through age or vaccination) could decide that they do not require the protection that a mask provides while those who were more concerned could opt to protect themselves.

Of course, this shift in approach will not come easily. There will be many who argue that mandatory self-protection has an important place (see seat-belts, motorcycle helmets, etc.) because the dramatic reduction in risk is worth enforcing for the relatively minor loss of liberty. And there will be those who will continue to believe that the individual has a duty to protect the NHS by making every effort not to get sick/injured, etc. While hospital numbers remain high, those arguments will no doubt be persuasive for the majority. However, as hospital numbers fall, the general assessment of risk will change. It is harder to maintain a climate of fear without supportive death rates and as increasing numbers of people are vaccinated. At that stage the availability of protective masks could give the Government the opportunity to end mask mandates in favour of advising people to wear N95/N99s if they are concerned.

Stop Press: The Connexion reports that the WHO is maintaining its recommendation for fabric masks.

A Close Encounter With the Police

A Lockdown Sceptics reader has written to us describing a nightmarish afternoon dog walk.

I just need to offload.

I went two miles to a huge area of open space. Arrived at 3pm. Walked the dog and got back to the car at 4.30pm, darkness now creeping in and a howling gale. My 21 year-old was with me (student final year law degree… yep so much stress and upset). We were about to drive off when a police car drove up and a rather hot (okay unnecessary detail) bobby stopped us.

Now at this point I looked around at the car park. Four cars and maybe a few bedraggled dog walkers. Hmm… No way he’s here for Covid surveillance, I thought. Maybe it’s a drug selling hotspot? To cut a long story short, yes he was there to nab (engage and educate) Covid rule-breaking criminals. After a 15-minute chat I drove off uncomfortably, having given him no details about how far we had come or why. The local police had actually sent a patrol car out in the rain to a hill at dusk to ask people why they were there!

Admittedly, my husband is critically vulnerable according to the NHS. Was I taking unnecessary risks and endangering his life? We walk locally and rarely go in shops. I’m  antisocial. I don’t need shops but I do need open spaces!

I relayed this story to a close friend. Her reply was aggressive, judgemental and swift. I shouldn’t have driven and my actions put others at risk. She claimed I could have had an accident and caused yet more issues for the ambulance service. I was very much in the wrong. She is a partner at a large law firm. She’s now so far lost in the crazy mists of fear that her reasoning is, in my opinion, misguided and extreme. A lawyer! We’ve had many such conversations and I’ve patiently listened and respected her views. This was a line too far over-stepped.

I’m terrified for the evolution I see in society. It’s gnawing holes of fear and anger into my very being . I’m watching the shifting mood, peoples lives used like props in a high-budget Derren Brown special.

And so, don’t stop fighting. I’m a harassed and war torn ‘at home mum of three’ with no influence. I need you… and all the other questioning sceptics. I want educated reasoning rather than fear-focused propaganda.

Next Week’s Davos Guest List

Like so much else these days, next week’s DAVOS summit will take place on Zoom. Deutsche Welle has the story:

It’s that time of the year again when a sleepy Alpine town in Switzerland usually comes alive as the global elite descends on its snow-clad slopes to debate global challenges. This year, however, Davos has been left undisturbed with its eponymous annual jamboree moving online amid a still raging COVID-19 pandemic…

The more than 50-year-old annual event attended by global political and business leaders, celebrities and prominent social activists is taking place amid the worst economic crisis in living memory that has rendered millions jobless and deepened global inequalities.

An annual risks survey published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Tuesday warned that economic and social fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to “social unrest, political fragmentation and geopolitical tensions”.

We need an economic recovery that is “more resilient, more inclusive and more sustainable”, WEF founder Klaus Schwab told reporters…

The pandemic and the uneven responses to the crisis unleashed by it have stoked geopolitical tensions. Governments have chosen to put national interests ahead of others, unilaterally shutting down borders and hoarding food and medical supplies.

We need to restore trust in our world, Schwab said. “We have to substantially reinforce global cooperation again and engage all stakeholders into the solution of the problems we face, and here we have to engage particularly business.”       

Nowhere has this me-first approach been more apparent than on the vaccine front where rich nations have secured billions of doses – many times the size of their populations – while poor nations struggle for supplies. The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is also one of the speakers, cautioned that the world was on the brink of “catastrophic moral failure”.

The global scramble for vaccines, or vaccine nationalism, risks prolonging the pandemic and delaying the easing of global travel restrictions.

“COVID-19 anywhere is COVID-19 everywhere,” WEF President Borge Brende told reporters. “We all are in the same boat and we would have to collaborate to really make progress.”

It is interesting to note that the WEF has a date in mind for when it may be able to meet in person:

A virtual summit doesn’t mean that Davos regulars, many of them without official badges, would be robbed of their opportunity to hobnob and strike deals at glamorous receptions that take place on the side lines of the main event.

The WEF has said it would hold its marquee event in person in Singapore from May 13th-16th later this year.

Worth reading in full.

Sceptics Under Fire

It won’t have escaped readers’ attention that lockdown sceptics are coming under increasing fire from defenders of lockdown orthodoxy. Now, it seems, the most fanatical of these defenders – a group that includes Neil O’Brien MP – have created a website called “Antivirus: The COVID-19 FAQ“. As you’ll see if you click on the link, it attempts to rebut most of the sceptics’ arguments and singles out a group of sceptics for criticism, most of them contributors to this website.

We thought about producing a lengthy response, making all the obvious points: the fact that some sceptics’ predictions have turned out to be inaccurate doesn’t mean their main argument – that the costs of lockdowns outweigh the benefits – should be dismissed; the proponents of lockdowns have made equally inaccurate predictions (remember the “Graph of Doom”?); some of the stories we’ve flagged up that were initially dismissed as “conspiracy theories” have turned out to be quite plausible (e.g. that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology); there’s a world of difference between being a ‘lockdown sceptic’ and a ‘Covid denier’; the WHO has confirmed that our reservations about the accuracy of the PCR test are well-founded; etc., etc.

However, we thought it might be more fun to invite readers to defend lockdown scepticism from the arguments set out on Neil O’Brien’s ‘myth-busting’ website instead. So please take a look at the website and let us know what you think. Put the word “Antivirus” in the subject line and we’ll publish some of the best responses over the next few days.

Stop Press: We’ve received a terrific response to Christopher Snowdon’s Jan 16th piece in Quillette that we’ll publish tomorrow.

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Seven today: “Hard Times Of Old England” by Steeleye Span, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” by Aretha Franklin, “Running Out Of Fools” by Aretha Franklin, “Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive” by John Lee Hooker and Van Morrison, “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” by The Allman Brothers Band, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who and “Hard Times (Nobody Knows Better Than I” by Ray Charles

Love in the Time of Covid

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. 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 as well as post comments below the line, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Stop Press: In another disturbing development for our times, it would appear that the best hope of a right swipe on a dating app is getting vaccinated. TMZ reports that Tinder, Bumble and OkCupid have all seen a major uptick in profiles mentioning the words “vaccine” or “vaccinated’ in their bios, and indicating vaccination readiness as a screener for matches. The jury is still out on whether the vaccine reduces transmission.

Sharing Stories

Some of you have asked how to link to particular stories on Lockdown Sceptics so you can share it. To do that, click on the headline of a particular story and a link symbol will appear on the right-hand side of the headline. Click on the link and the URL of your page will switch to the URL of that particular story. You can then copy that URL and either email it to your friends or post it on social media. Please do share the stories.

Social Media Accounts

You can follow Lockdown Sceptics on our social media accounts which are updated throughout the day. To follow us on Facebook, click here; to follow us on Twitter, click here; to follow us on Instagram, click here; to follow us on Parler, click here; and to follow us on MeWe, click here.

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, we bring you the author Jen Hatmaker, who has publicly apologised for the offensive opening line of the prayer she delivered at the inaugural interfaith prayer service held for President Joe Biden. The Christian Post has the story:

Christian author Jen Hatmaker, who on Thursday joined a progressive group of interfaith leaders for the National Prayer Service in honour of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, has apologized for the first line of a prayer she delivered at the event.

“Almighty God, You have given us this good land as our heritage,” Hatmaker began in the prayer that she said was written by organisers of the event in her apology posted on Facebook shortly after the event.

“I was proud to offer the final liturgical prayer which was written by the organizers to serve as an anchor. I have one regret and thus apology. The very first sentence thanked God for giving us this land as our heritage. He didn’t. He didn’t give us this land,” she said.

“We took this land by force and trauma. It wasn’t an innocent divine transaction in which God bestowed an empty continent to colonizers. This is a shiny version of our actual history. If God gave this land to anyone, it was to the Native community who always lived here,” Hatmaker continued.

She explained that as soon as she read the line from the prayer she began to regret it.

“I panicked and froze and then just kept going. I am so sorry, community. Primarily sorry to my Native friends. It matters to me that we reckon with our history of white supremacy and the lies we surrounded it with, and I am filled with regret that I offered yet another hazy, exceptional rendition of the origin story of colonization. Ugh,” she lamented. “I can’t go on without apologizing. My stomach hurt all day.”

Hatmaker, who is also a mother of five, said if she could change anything about the prayer she would have included a call for America to repent of things like the unjust systems the nation has built.

Hatmaker, who is also a mother of five, said if she could change anything about the prayer she would have included a call for America to repent of things like the unjust systems the nation has built.

“God, may we continue to be a people who reckon with our violent history, repent from the unjust systems we built, denounce white supremacy in all its forms past and present, and continue to work together to form a more perfect union,” she said

Stop Press: In a comment piece for the Times, Janice Turner says that the US is heading towards eradicating “the language of biological sex in order to appease an influential trans lobby”.

Stop Press 2: The Post Millennial has an exclusive interview with they/them, the editor of the Spectator USA’s new Wokeyleaks column who is seeking to expose the “CEOs and board members of the social justice movement”.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to obtain a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card – because wearing a mask causes them “severe distress”, for instance. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and the Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. And if you feel obliged to wear a mask but want to signal your disapproval of having to do so, you can get a “sexy world” mask with the Swedish flag on it here.

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

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption. Another reader has created an Android app which displays “I am exempt from wearing a face mask” on your phone. Only 99p.

If you’re a shop owner and you want to let your customers know you will not be insisting on face masks or asking them what their reasons for exemption are, you can download a friendly sign to stick in your window here.

And here’s an excellent piece about the ineffectiveness of masks by a Roger W. Koops, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry. See also the Swiss Doctor’s thorough review of the scientific evidence here and Prof Carl Heneghan and Dr Tom Jefferson’s Spectator article about the Danish mask study here.

Stop Press: We have been reminded that today, 24th January, is the deadline by which the Secretary of State for Health was bound to review the requirements of the mask rules. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) Regulations 2020 were passed on 24th July 2020. Regulation 9 stipulates that: “The Secretary of State must review the need for the requirements imposed by these Regulations before the end of the period of six months beginning with the day on which they come into force.’” It is unclear what the review will have entailed, but if any reader can enlighten us, please do so. According to Regulation 10, the mask regulations expire “at the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which they come into force.” Six months to go.

Stop Press 2: The Telegraph has an entertaining postcard from South Dakota, where the Republicans are shunning masks to the consternation of the Democrats.

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

The Great Barrington Declaration, a petition started by Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya calling for a strategy of “Focused Protection” (protect the elderly and the vulnerable and let everyone else get on with life), was launched in October and the lockdown zealots have been doing their best to discredit it ever since. If you googled it a week after launch, the top hits were three smear pieces from the Guardian, including: “Herd immunity letter signed by fake experts including ‘Dr Johnny Bananas’.” (Freddie Sayers at UnHerd warned us about this the day before it appeared.) On the bright side, Google UK has stopped shadow banning it, so the actual Declaration now tops the search results – and Toby’s Spectator piece about the attempt to suppress it is among the top hits – although discussion of it has been censored by Reddit. The reason the zealots hate it, of course, is that it gives the lie to their claim that “the science” only supports their strategy. These three scientists are every bit as eminent – more eminent – than the pro-lockdown fanatics so expect no let up in the attacks. (Wikipedia has also done a smear job.)

You can find it here. Please sign it. Now over three quarters of a million signatures.

Update: The authors of the GBD have expanded the FAQs to deal with some of the arguments and smears that have been made against their proposal. Worth reading in full.

Update 2: Many of the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration are involved with new UK anti-lockdown campaign Recovery. Find out more and join here.

Update 3: You can watch Sunetra Gupta set out the case for “Focused Protection” here and Jay Bhattacharya make it here.

Update 4: The three GBD authors plus Prof Carl Heneghan of CEBM have launched a new website collateralglobal.org, “a global repository for research into the collateral effects of the COVID-19 lockdown measures”. Follow Collateral Global on Twitter here. Sign up to the newsletter here.

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

There are now so many legal cases being brought against the Government and its ministers we thought we’d include them all in one place down here.

The Simon Dolan case has now reached the end of the road. The current lead case is the Robin Tilbrook case which challenges whether the Lockdown Regulations are constitutional. You can read about that and contribute here.

Then there’s John’s Campaign which is focused specifically on care homes. Find out more about that here.

There’s the GoodLawProject and Runnymede Trust’s Judicial Review of the Government’s award of lucrative PPE contracts to various private companies. You can find out more about that here and contribute to the crowdfunder here.

And last but not least there was the Free Speech Union‘s challenge to Ofcom over its ‘coronavirus guidance’. A High Court judge refused permission for the FSU’s judicial review on December 9th and the FSU has decided not to appeal the decision because Ofcom has conceded most of the points it was making. Check here for details.

Samaritans

If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch. Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.

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 hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

Latest News

Don’t Panic, Mr Mainwaring

Leon Neal/Getty Images

Yesterday saw another Downing Street press conference, with more depressing news. The Telegraph has the story.

The new Covid variant may be deadlier than the original strain, Boris Johnson warned on Friday night, with scientific analysis for the Government suggesting the strain could kill 30% more infected people. 

Mr Johnson was told on Friday morning that the first major study of the mutation – which emerged in Kent last month – had found evidence that it is more lethal as well as being up to 70% more infectious.   

The Prime Minister faced questions about whether the lockdown could now last longer and said he could not consider lifting the restrictions while infections remained “forbiddingly high”…

Although Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific adviser, and Prof Whitty stressed that there was a lot of uncertainty about the emerging research, initial analysis by three universities suggested the new Covid variant could kill between 30 and 91% more infected people than the original strain.

The Department of Health’s committee on New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats (NERVTAG) analysed the data and reported that the Kent variant is likely to kill 1.3% of those who get it, compared with one per cent for the original strain.  

The news of increased mortality was based on the conclusions of a NERVTAG meeting, and as ever, it made its way to journalists ahead of the afternoon’s conference. Robert Peston had a briefing from Neil Ferguson which earned him a sharp rebuke from Deborah Cohen:

https://twitter.com/deb_cohen/status/1352650426022318080

Naturally, any concern that the new strain is more deadly deserves to be taken seriously, but it soon emerged, with the release of the NERVTAG paper, that the evidence is rather thin. MailOnline reports:

A SAGE warning revealing that scientists are only 50% sure the Kent strain of coronavirus could be more deadly was handed to ministers just hours before last night’s ‘scare-mongering’ press conference, it has been revealed.

Ministers were only informed about the development yesterday morning after scientists on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), a subcommittee of Sage, discussed the issue on Thursday.

The group concluded there was a “realistic possibility” that the variant resulted in an increased risk of death when compared with the original strain.

Evidence for increased mortality remains thin – NERVTAG papers reveal that the term “realistic possibility” is used when scientists are only 40 to 50% confident something is true.

But the decision to reveal the new information just hours after learning of the development is a yardstick of how alarmed ministers are.

It came after some critics accused ministers of “scaremongering” by announcing their fears the Kent strain is more deadly at short notice and while admitting in a press conference yesterday that the evidence that it is more deadly is still “weak”…

The report continues:

The SAGE paper released last night after being handed to ministers cited three studies of the risk of death associated with the new strain:

A London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine study that said the hazard of death within 28 days of test for the mutant strain compared with non-mutant strains was 1.35 times higher. This was based on a study of 2,583 deaths among 1.2 million tested individuals;

An Imperial College London study of the Case Fatality Rate of the new mutant strain that found the risk of death was 1.36 times higher. This study looked at all cases of new variant but the total number was not revealed in the papers;

A University of Exeter study that suggested the risk of death could be 1.91 times higher. The papers provided no additional background on the number of deaths looked at during the study.

But the SAGE scientists admit that there are problems with the data of each study meaning they are only 50% sure that the new mutant strain carries a higher risk of death. These include the fact that:

Analysis is based on just 8% of the total deaths occurring during the study period;

Age-matched analysis might be comparing frail elderly people in nursing home outbreaks of the Kent variant, which is more transmissible, with healthier elderly people infected with other strains in the community;

An increase in the severity of infection with the variant would likely lead to an increased risk of hospitalisation, which there is currently no evidence of in individuals suffering from the strain;

Analysis has not identified an increased risk of death in hospitalised cases of the variant.

However, the long time lag from infection to hospitalisation means there isn’t a huge amount of data available on the variant, with NERVTAG saying analyses will become more definitive over the coming weeks. 

Worth reading in full.

The NERVTAG paper is available here. This is what the Twitter account Covid Fact Check had to say about it:

Stop Press: The senior financial journalist who occasionally contributes to Lockdown Sceptics has passed on a sharp observation.

For all the hullabaloo about new Kent variant being 30% more deadly, I saw Professor Lockdown quoted in the Telegraph.

“Prof Neil Ferguson, who sits on the Government’s NERVTAG advisory committee, said the latest evidence from university researchers suggests around 30% more people die of the new variant of Covid – but the data is patchy.

‘It is a realistic possibility that the new UK variant increases the risk of death, but there is considerable remaining uncertainty. Four groups – Imperial, LSHTM, PHE and Exeter – have looked at the relationship between people testing positive for the variant vs old strains and the risk of death,’ he told ITV. ‘That suggests a 1.3-fold increased risk of death. So for 60 year-olds, 13 in 1000 might die compared with 10 in 1000 for old strains.'”

This seemed a bit low compared to what Ferguson was saying last March. So I looked up the notorious paper which cites an IFR of 2.2% for 60-69, 5.1% for 70-79, and 9.3% for 80+. A simple average of the estimates comes to 5.5% (a weighted average I imagine would be 3-4%). 

Anyway I suspect that after scaring the country into lockdown Ferguson has been quietly adjusting his model. After all, we always knew he had form for making extravagant forecasts.

Stop Press 2: In an interview with Spiegel, epidemiologist Christian Drosten details his concerns about the “British variant”, and says that he is worried about the Summer.

Advertising Standards Authority Forces Cabinet Office to Withdraw Fear Porn

A man jogs in Camden, north London, during the ongoing coronavirus lockdown. He probably does not have Covid. CREDIT: AP/Matt Dunham 

The Telegraph reports that a controversial COVID-19 ad stating that joggers are highly likely to have COVID-19 is to be discontinued following an intervention by the Advertising Standards Authority:

A Government advert that says joggers and dog-walkers are “highly likely” to have Covid is to be discontinued after the regulator said there was no evidence to support the claim. 

The Telegraph can reveal that the Cabinet Office has also agreed not to repeat the claim made in the 30-second radio ad – which also warns that “people will die” if individuals “bend the rules” – after being contacted by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The taxpayer-funded advert was condemned by MPs and public health experts for spreading “false information” and risking “scaring” people into physical inactivity during the third national lockdown.

The ASA said it had received complaints and would “assess those carefully to establish whether there are any grounds for further action”.

A spokesman said: “We have contacted the Cabinet Office with the concerns that have been raised about its claim, in a radio ad, that it is “highly likely” that individuals such as joggers and dog-walkers have COVID-19.

“Our rules require that advertisers hold robust documentary evidence to prove claims that are capable of substantiation. We have received an assurance from the Cabinet Office that the ad will be discontinued by early next week and the claim about individuals being highly likely to have COVID-19 will not be repeated.

“On that basis, as the Cabinet Office has worked with us to swiftly address and resolve this matter without the need for formal investigation, we consider the matter closed.”

The ASA said it was also assessing complaints about a similar ad about supermarket trolleys, as well as a poster about takeaway coffee headlined “Don’t Let a Coffee Cost Lives”, but had yet to contact the Government about those.

According to the most recent official data, one in 50 people in England was estimated to have Covid between December 27th and January 2nd, rising to one in 30 in London, which would mean individuals are unlikely – rather than highly likely – to have the virus.

Under ASA rules, adverts must be “legal, decent, honest and truthful”.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: If you’ve spotted any Government adverts about the virus you think are a bit dodgy, the Advertising Standards Authority has an online form through which it receives complaints about misleading, harmful or irresponsible claims about the current COVID-19 situation.

Stop Press 2: A new Covid advert is being launched. Designed to appeal to a sense of personal responsibility, and featuring numerous close-ups of Covid sufferers and frontline health workers, the advert ends with the line: “Look them in the eyes and tell them you’re doing all you can to stop the spread of COVID-19. Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives.” This campaign might be more effective if the NHS had been more successful at preventing in-hospital infections.

Declining Case Numbers

HSJ reports good news in its update for January 22nd:

The number of Covid positive patients in English hospitals has fallen by 1,101 over the last three days, strongly suggesting that the third wave which has been overwhelming parts of the NHS has peaked.

The national figure for Covid hospital patients has now fallen for three consecutive days since the third wave started numbers climbing on December 4th.

As many as 33,325 Covid inpatients were reported yesterday, a decline of three per cent on the January 18th figure. The fall was driven by a 565-patient reduction in London and one of 460 in the south east, as well as the lack of any substantive growth elsewhere to offset that figure.

London is now 7% down on its peak figure, recorded on Jan 18th, while the south east now has 10% fewer covid inpatients than its peak on Jan 13th. The east region, whose decline has been bumpier, has 5% fewer patients than its peak, also on Jan 13th.

The running seven-day total of admissions of Covid patients in these three areas has now fallen for at least seven consecutive days to January 19th (the latest data available). The south east is at 81% of its peak, London 84 and the east 87.

Elsewhere in the country, Covid patient hospital numbers are marked by a slowing in growth.

The North West, North East and Yorkshire and Midlands all saw their figures grow 10% in the last week, while the south west jumped nine per cent. On January 14th, the corresponding growth rates were 26, 18, 28 and 37%. This change is reflected in small rises or gains in the rolling admissions data.

Meanwhile, responding to the REACT report which suggested increasing infection rates, Tim Spector said that his ZOE app data showed a more positive picture, and suggested infections peaked on January 1st:

Yesterday’s update from the ONS infection survey appears to support a similar conclusion: infections peaked on January 1st. This is not the first time a national lockdown was imposed after the peak in cases:

Why are BAME People More Reluctant than Whites to Have the Vaccine?

Today we publish a guest post by Lockdown Sceptics reader Kit Stocke-Finucane

I’m reluctant to use the term ‘BAME’ not least because there are massive differences within the groups identified by the term, but for the purpose of this note to you I’ll use it. 

You may recall a piece Lockdown Sceptics ran in November. In discussing the role of vitamin D in preventing COVID-19, Dr Grimes (et al.) devotes a paragraph to the link between higher levels of melanin in the skin and vitamin D deficiency. But his Twitter feed goes much further and his presentation here on the Amish Inquisition podcast a few days ago goes further still.   

In his presentation, Dr Grimes explains that early on in the pandemic he and his colleagues identified at-risk doctors and got vitamin D distributed to them.  He highlights the sharp drop in numbers of BAME doctors dying from COVID-19 after their initiative.  

News-wise, there was quite a bit of coverage back in the spring given to the fact that more, relatively speaking, BAME doctors die (and at a younger age) than their white counterparts. Then there was nothing, until summer when we have failures in Government to push for the protection of BAME pharmacists. 

In June, in an excellent letter, a reader of Lockdown Sceptics expressed scepticism at historic racism being behind higher numbers. He ruled out socio-economic factors.  He may well be correct, but the Government and healthcare bodies, it seems, recognise sections of the population in the manner it sees fit and when it suits. Because after recognising the problem for BAME people, then letting the whole thing drop very soon after, it is now the case that BAME people are singled out for their non-compliance with vaccine orthodoxy: only 55% of the Asian community would take up the vaccine, they say. It appears BAME people are not only undeserving of vitamin D, research into genetic predisposition and blood groups, or risk-assessments. In addition, we’re now told they lack mental capacity because it is all down to fake news and WhatsApp, apparently, and not because they’ve been condescended to throughout the pandemic, or because of a healthy, informed reserve about a rushed-out vaccine posited as the only way out. 

There’s a budget in news stations for this reporting on BAME, there’s a budget in Government to push out the vaccine over other measures for BAME, but no budget for vitamin D or further research to actually protect the lives that are supposed to ‘matter’ so much as to have an expensive fist in fireworks representing them on New Year’s Eve. You can understand why some people coming under the banner BAME get royally hacked off, can’t you?

How Persuasive is the Latest Pro-Masking Study?

Lockdown Sceptics reader Dr Rachel Mann, has drawn our attention to a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society that modelled differing aerosols emitted while talking and coughing, and found “time-of-flight to reach two metres is only a few seconds resulting in a viral dose above the minimum required for infection, implying that physical distancing in the absence of ventilation is not sufficient to provide safety for long exposure times“. The study was also reported in the Guardian.

She writes:

Masks were not evaluated in the study, yet the first study recommendation in the conclusions section was “standing two metres opposite an infected speaker is not safe without the use of a protective mask or respirator”.

Needless to say, this drew my incredulity at such a leap of apparent ‘science’. I emailed the lead and corresponding author and received a response, and quite naturally I have responded again.

In the face of inconclusive evidence of the protective effects of face masks in general population community settings, it’s frustrating that the study authors still seem to feel completely justified in recommending face masks.

Dr Mann emailed the study’s lead author, Dr P.M. de Oliveira as follows:

Dear Sir,

I was most interested to read the paper published today January 20th 2021, by you and your colleagues in The Royal Society regarding the evolution of spray and aerosol from respiratory releases and also reported in the Guardian newspaper this same day. I was delighted to find that your work supports the same conclusion as Fenelly (2020) regarding transmission via aerosol of viruses such as SARS-Cov-2 and other common influenza and coronaviruses rather than the respiratory droplet, which is incredibly important in advancing the body of knowledge with regard to virus transmission, particularly in the current climate of masks, lockdowns and social distancing. However, I wish to draw your attention to the issue of masks, which you mention in your recommendations in the conclusion section in relation to the recent study by Xi et al published in Physics in Fluid in December 2020.

With regard to your recommendation statement in your paper regarding masks and respirators and the statement in the Guardian newspaper that masks should be worn (“We need masks…..”), I wish to draw your attention to the following in the hope that you will clarify your position on the use of surgical masks (if these were indeed to what you were referring to in both the paper and the Guardian news article) as a protection against aerosol transmission.

As you state in your abstract, the size of the majority of aerosol particles are ≈5 to 10 micrometres, the study by Xi et al found a typical 3-layer surgical mask or a zero filtration mask (e.g cloth mask) does not prevent inhalation of aerosol virus particles ≤3 micrometres in size, which is equivalent to ≤3000 nanometres in size. As the size of SARS-Cov-2 virus particles are approximately only 100 nanometres, use of surgical face masks cannot protect an individual from inhaling SARS-Cov-2 virus and therefore, it is unlikely that masks protect the wearer against aerosol infection from SARS-Cov-2. Worryingly, zero filtration (cloth) masks were found to increase deposits of SARS-Cov-2 virus on the face and upper airway. Indeed, the study by Xi et al also reported that when wearing a surgical mask, air enters the mouth and nose through the entire surface of the mask at lower speeds, which favours the inhalation of ambient aerosols into the nose as well as their subsequent deposition in the upper airway.

Given that the Xi et al study was conducted as a tightly controlled experiment and the mask “etiquette” of the general population is sub-optimal at best, it is almost impossible to conclude that surgical masks, particularly ‘trendy’, patterned zero filtration cloth masks, are likely to have a significant benefit in preventing transmission in general population community settings e.g supermarkets and other indoor spaces. Given the size of the SARs-Cov-2 virus, I do feel that it is important in this climate, especially where we have unadulterated social media shaming and blaming of those that cannot wear a surgical mask for disability/health reasons to clarify what you mean by masks. Given that most individuals will likely attribute your use of the term “mask” to mean the common-or-garden ubiquitous blue surgical masks or cloth masks currently seen on every street in the UK (the type as tested by Xi et al), I fear that you should have clarified that at levels of less than three micrometres that surgical masks are likely to be ineffective. In hindsight, it would have been more useful to explain what you mean in your recommendations by using “masks and respirators” (to which masks and respirators are you referring?) and in which context they might be most beneficial. I hope that you will consider clarification, especially in the mainstream press.

I look forward to your response.

Dr P.M. de Oliveira responded:

Dear Dr Mann,

Many thanks for reaching out on such an important issue and for your interest in our paper.

I am dealing with a large volume of emails and, therefore, apologise that my answer for now will be brief. 

As widely accepted in the community, scientists expect that virus exhaled is in a wide range of droplet sizes, from hundreds of nanometres to the millimetre size. We know that large droplets quickly fall on the floor due to gravity. From the point of view of transport of the small droplets in air currents, for example, various studies highlight that droplets of up to 100 micrometres could be carried. The debate around the definition of aerosol is, therefore, very important at the moment. It is currently defined as 5-10 micrometres by health agencies, but as I said, most scientists seem to agree this definition needs to be revised. We discuss this in the introduction of the paper.

Now, it has been shown by a number of experiments both in preprint and published papers that even multi-layered cotton masks *may* have some effect in blocking both the emission and inhalation of aerosol. If you refer to the results section of my paper, you will find that because large droplets of the aerosol “carry most of the respiratory liquid exhaled”, they will also, most likely, carry most of the virus exhaled. Hence, even though masks that cannot filter particles at the size of the virus (not as good as FPP2/FPP3, for example), they might still be able to block the dry saliva particles, or aerosols, of sizes in the range of 5-100 nm. I refer you to the work of Professor Catherine Noakes and Professor Linsey Marr, among various other academics, who have and are currently investigating filtration efficiency of masks

I hope to be able to reply to your question in the coming days with more detail.

With best wishes,

To which our reader, Dr Rachel Mann replied:

Dear Pedro,

I note in your conclusions section of your paper that you categorically and unequivocally state “Standing 2 metres opposite an infected speaker is not safe without the use of a protective mask or respirator”

However, in your email response, you state “masks *may* have some effect in blocking both the emission and inhalation of aerosol” and “they *might* still be able to block the dry saliva particles, or aerosols”.

I refer you again to the study by Xi et al.

Whilst I appreciate your response, the use of “may” and “might” does not warrant your study conclusion with regard to mask use.

As a source of protection for primary exposure and secondary transmission the evidence of mask use in general population community settings is inconclusive, with RCT results showing a slight to modest non statistically significant protective effect; study designs at risk of significant bias, imprecision and inconsistency tend toward more beneficial protective effects but are generally not statistically significant.

https://www.eurosurveillance.org/content/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2020.25.49.2000725?crawler=true

https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/12/e012330

https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/m20-6817

As per above, I do not believe that current inconclusive evidence of mask use in community settings warrants your conclusion.

Regards
Rachel

Stop Press: Mask rules appear to be tightening across Europe, following outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s announcement on Tuesday of a new measure mandating that people wear surgical masks or higher-specification N95 or FFP-2 devices rather than simply donning cloth face coverings. The French Government is now recommending that people wear surgical masks in public and scientists in the UK are giving similar advice. The Lufthansa Group has also just announced that it is banning the use of cloth masks on flights from February 1st, with passengers now required to wear “either a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask or mask with the KN95/N95 standard”

Stop Press 2: The Evening Standard reports that London Mayor Sadiq Kahn has called for tougher rules on wearing face coverings outside. They are needed, he said, “where people are ‘cheek by jowl’ in outdoor locations”. He has also revealed concerns at the number of Londoners in public places because the lockdown rules were not tight enough and has apparently stopped walking his dog in the park because it is so busy.

Weimar Court: Germany’s Lockdown Restrictions Are Unconstitutional

The Weimar District Court

A ruling just published by the Weimar District Court has found that the Government’s social distancing rules are incompatible with the country’s constitution. Moreover, through forensic analysis of official data, the ruling asserts that the epidemic situation used to justify the law no longer exists. The case concerned a birthday party with too many guests. 2020news has the story – and we must thank Northumbrian Nomad for the prompt and accurate translation he or she let in the comments yesterday.

A district judge in Weimar has acquitted a man ordered to pay a fine for breaching the Covid contact ban by celebrating his birthday with at least seven other participants from a total of eight households – six guests too many, according to the Thuringia Covid regulation. The judge’s verdict is damning: the Covid regulation is in breach of the constitution and can be appealed against in material law. 

This is the first time a judge has engaged intensively with the medical facts, economic consequences and effects of specific policies. 

Part of the Rechtstaat Principle, the principle of the state acting in accordance with the rule of law, is the imperative of precision in legislation. Laws cannot simply impose across-the-board regulations, thereby affording authorities licence to act according to whim, which would amount to arbitrary rule. According to the Federal Infection Protection Act (IPA), the “relevant authorities” are to impose “the requisite safety measures”. In normal times, this means that spreaders or persons suspected of spreading an infection may be isolated or contaminated areas closed off.

The IPA does not envisage a general ban on contact also extending to healthy people. However – and this is the interpretation made by many administrative courts so far – it may be permissible to go beyond the purview of the IPA in the case of an “unprecedented event” that was so new that the legislator would have been unable to pass the necessary regulations in advance.

The judge rejects this pretext. As early as 2013, the Bundestag had access to a risk analysis conducted with the participation of the Robert Koch Institute, concerning a pandemic caused by a “SARS-type virus”, which described a scenario of 7.5 million dead in Germany over a period of three years, and discussed anti-epidemic measures during such a pandemic (Bundestag publication 17/12051). The legislator was therefore able, in regard to such an event that was considered at least “conditionally probable” (occurrence probability class C), to study the provisions of the IPA and if necessary adjust them. This political failure, as a result of which Germany went into the pandemic virtually unprepared – without legal instruments governing control of the virus, without stocks of masks, PPE and medical equipment – cannot now lead to politicians’ simply closing a gap in legislation as they see fit.

Particularly given that an epidemic situation, i.e., the basis for the expansion of the routine infection protection provisions, simply does not exist (or no longer exists). The numbers of those infected and showing symptoms were already falling in the spring. The lockdown thus came late and was generally ineffective.

At no time, therefore, has there been a concrete danger of the health service’s being overwhelmed by a ‘wave’ of COVID-19 patients. As can be seen from the DIVI ICU register newly established on March 17th, 2020, an average of at least 40% ICU beds in Germany were free at all times. In Thuringia, 378 beds were registered occupied on April 3rd, 36 of these with COVID-19 patients. Meanwhile there were 417 beds vacant. On April 16th, two days before the issuance of the regulation, 501 beds were registered occupied, 56 with COVID-19 patients, and 528 beds were vacant… Thuringia registered its highest number of notified COVID-19 patients in spring at 63 (on April 28th). Thus, at no time did the number of COVID-19 patients reach a level that could have justified fears of the healthcare system’s being overwhelmed. 

This estimate of the actual dangers from COVID-19 in the spring of 2020 is confirmed by an evaluation of settlement data from 421 clinics belonging to Initiative Qualitätsmedizin, which found that the number of SARI cases (severe acute respiratory infection) treated as in-patients in Germany in the first half of 2020 was 187,174 – lower than the figure for the first half of 2019 (221,841 cases), even though this figure included those SARI cases caused by COVID. The same analysis showed the numbers of ICU and respirator cases lower in the first half of 2020 than in 2019…

The judgement is powerful:

The judge concluded that there were no “unacceptable gaps in protection” that could have justified recourse to across-the-board regulations. These measures therefore “violate human dignity guaranteed inviolable” in Article 1, Paragraph 1 of the Federal Constitution. This is a devastating accusation against the Federal Government. It is striking how coldly the Weimar judge concluded this months-long discussion:

“A general ban on contacts is a severe intervention in civic rights. It is among the fundamental liberties of the individual in a free society to determine for himself or herself with whom (on presumption of consent) and under what circumstances he or she will make contact. Free encounter among people for all imaginable purposes is also a fundamental basis for society. The obligation of the state here is categorically to refrain from all intervention that purposefully regulates and limits this. Questions of how many people a citizen may invite to his home or how many people a citizen may meet in a public place to go for a walk, play sports, shop or sit on a park bench are categorically of no legitimate interest to the state.”

In imposing a general ban on contact, the state – albeit with good intentions – attacks the foundations of society by imposing physical distance between citizens (‘social distancing’). No one, even in January 2020, could have imagined, in Germany, being prevented by the state on pain of a fine from inviting their parents to their own home without banishing other family members from the house for the time they were there. No one could have imagined being forbidden to sit with three friends on a park bench. Never before in Germany has the state come up with the idea of imposing such measures to counter an epidemic. Even the risk analysis ‘Pandemic caused by SARS-type virus’ (Bundestag publication 17/12051), which described a scenario of 7.5 million dead, does not consider a general ban on contacts (or bans on leaving the home or the general suspension of public life). Apart from the quarantining and segregation of infected individuals, the only anti-epidemic measures it discusses are school closures, the cancellation of mass events and the issue of hygiene recommendations (BT 17/12051, p. 61f).”

Much of the public has now almost come to terms with the new normal. However, as the judge points out, the life that was previously considered ‘normal’ has now been reinterpreted as a crime.

“Although it appears that a shift in values has taken place over the months of the Covid crisis, with the consequence that many people find procedures that were formerly considered absolutely exceptional  more or less ‘normal’ – which of course also alters perspectives on the constitution – there should be no doubt that by imposing a general ban on contacts, the democratic Rechtsstaat has broken what was previously seen as a self-evident taboo. 

“It must also be noted – as an aspect worthy of special consideration – that the state, in imposing its general ban on contacts with the aim of protection against infection, treats every citizen as a potential threat to the health of third parties. If every citizen is seen as a threat from which others must be protected, that citizen is also robbed of the possibility of deciding what risks to take – which is a fundamental freedom. A citizen’s choice of visiting a cafe or a bar in the evening and running the risk of a respiratory infection for the sake of social interaction and pleasure in life, or of exercising caution because she has a weakened immune system and therefore prefers to stay at home, is removed under the provisions of a general ban on contacts.”

The report goes on to detail the judge’s consideration of the collateral damage of lockdown:

The judge also considers the collateral damage of the lockdown rulings, which is now becoming ever more massively apparent.

1. Profit setbacks, losses incurred by businesses, traders and freelance professionals as direct consequences of the restrictions imposed on their liberties; 
2. Profit setbacks, losses incurred by businesses, traders and freelance professionals as indirect consequences of lockdown measures (e.g. losses to suppliers of directly-affected businesses; losses resulting from the breakdown of supply chains leading, for example, to production stops; losses resulting from travel restrictions);
3. Wage and salary losses from curtailed hours or unemployment
4. Bankruptcies and destruction of livelihood
5. Consequential costs of bankruptcies and destruction of livelihood

Northumbrian Nomad’s translation of the report from 2020news report is worth reading in full.

The text of the original verdict is available here.

Lockdown Scepticism: The Case for the Defence

Getty

In a new piece for Spiked-Online writer and freelance journalist Harrison Putt has issued a rallying for lockdown scepticism. Criticism of the Government’s authoritarian policies is as important as ever he says:

Last Sunday’s papers launched what almost seemed like a coordinated attack against people who dare to question the conventional wisdom and, increasingly, the religious tenets of the pro-lockdown mainstream. The Observer invited Conservative MP Neil O’Brien to brand vocal opponents of mandatory house arrest as dangerous loons. Meanwhile, in the Sunday Times Dominic Lawson attacked healthy scepticism of the Government’s efforts to fight the virus, implying such objections were motivated by capricious disregard for the elderly and blind trust of “pet experts”.

Lockdown sceptics like myself, now routinely slandered as ‘Covid-sceptics’, have taken a serious kicking in recent weeks. But we should avoid self-pity, not least because one can already picture how the likes of O’Brien and Lawson would respond: “The sceptical cranks think they’ve had it tough? Someone should give these Covidiots a tour of London’s overwhelmed hospitals, not to mention its morgues.”

They would not be wrong to point to such realities. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of deaths in England up to 25th December 2020 was 70,000 more than the five-year average, a rise of 12.3%. While hospitals avoided being overwhelmed during the first wave, they have since come under considerable pressure, especially in London. Still, none of that justifies slandering critics of lockdown as a homogeneous crowd of deluded cranks who reject ‘the science’. Supporters of the Government’s destructive measures would do better to address, with intelligence and good faith, the strongest arguments made by those of us who oppose them.

But the remarkable levels of conformity in parliament and the media mean that O’Brien and Lawson feel no obligation to do so. Instead, bar the occasional good point, they prefer to set fire to a battalion of straw men.

O’Brien has fun combing through predictions made by lockdown sceptics that did not materialise. Toby Young, editor of the Lockdown Sceptics blog, is singled out for saying: “There will be no ‘second spike’ – not now, and not in the autumn either.” Young has since graciously admitted that this summer prediction was mistaken. The same cannot be said for Neil Ferguson’s insistence, a full week after Sweden’s daily deaths actually peaked, that fatalities there would continue to “increase day by day” – not to mention Chris Whitty’s presentation of a graph projecting 49,000 daily UK cases by mid-October (there were actually around 15,000).

Worth reading in full.

Postcard From Paraguay

Today we publish a postcard from a reader in Paraguay. The country won renown for locking down hard and fast after registering its first cases of COVID-19, but it is not likely that they will do so again:

The mental atmosphere in Paraguay at the moment is close to what I had hoped in vain it would be in Britain by now. That is, while there are still some restrictions, life is more or less back as it was the last time I visited in the carefree days of January 2020. People don’t talk much about Covid, they don’t obsess over numbers of cases or deaths, and nobody swerves off the pavement to walk past you. Masks are mandatory both indoors and (since December) outdoors, but compliance outdoors is reassuringly low: under the nose, under the chin and dangling off one ear are all common sights, and away from the city centre and main streets, entirely naked faces are tolerated without comment…

Why didn’t Paraguay re-enter lockdown when cases and deaths started to climb in July? Basically, it couldn’t afford to. Paraguay is still a fairly poor country with only a rudimentary welfare state, a small tax base, many small family-owned businesses (it’s a remarkably un-globalised place) and a large informal economy. After a couple of months of copying the full lockdown policies of vastly wealthier countries, for many Paraguayans it was a choice of returning to productive activity, or collapsing into poverty. Their president and health minister surely wanted to continue with the restrictions, but public pressure to reopen was strong enough to force their concession.

What’s more, everyone I speak to on the topic says the same thing: that Paraguayans won’t accept another lockdown. This may sound like hot air, to be wafted away if and when a fresh spike of infections triggers panic again. But aside from the anti-lockdown force of economic necessity, for the older generations (including my husband), enforced restrictions and curfews are disturbing echoes of the country’s long, brutal military dictatorship under Alfredo Stroessner, which only ended in 1989. The echoes were particularly sharp when members of the armed, balaclava-clad, paramilitary police motorcycle unit Lince (‘Lynx’) published videos of themselves humiliating groups of young men who they had caught breaking lockdown, forcing them to do press-ups, or march and repeat boot-camp chants with their hands on their heads. Public opinion was predictably divided, with the usual contingent pleased that “covidiotas” got what they deserved; but the majority was rightly appalled by the sneering cruelty of the Lince officers.

Furthermore, Paraguayans are quite used to defending their liberty since the country’s return to democracy, with multiple attempted coups and seizures of power coming up against strong, and sometimes bloody, popular protest. Most recently, in 2017, a large group set fire to the building that houses the country’s Congress, in protest against an attempt by the president of the day to pull off a familiar trick in Latin America: circumventing his one-term limit by changing the constitution. He failed.

Worth reading in full.

Dr Clare Craig Rebuts Neil O’Brien’s Smears

Dr Clare Craig, a regular contributor to Lockdown Sceptics has written a stout rebuttal to Neil O’Brien MP following his tirade against her on Twitter. It’s a defence both of lockdown scepticism and free inquiry, and it’s worth clicking on this tweet and reading the full thread.

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Six Today: “Only a Fool Would Say That” by Steely Dan, “No Way Out” by Jefferson Starship, “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits, “Isolation” by Alter Bridge, “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” by Sandy Denny and “Bubbles in My Beer” by Bob Wills.

Love in the Time of Covid

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as Bonnie and Clyde

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. 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 as well as post comments below the line, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Sharing Stories

Some of you have asked how to link to particular stories on Lockdown Sceptics so you can share it. To do that, click on the headline of a particular story and a link symbol will appear on the right-hand side of the headline. Click on the link and the URL of your page will switch to the URL of that particular story. You can then copy that URL and either email it to your friends or post it on social media. Please do share the stories.

Social Media Accounts

You can follow Lockdown Sceptics on our social media accounts which are updated throughout the day. To follow us on Facebook, click here; to follow us on Twitter, click here; to follow us on Instagram, click here; to follow us on Parler, click here; and to follow us on MeWe, click here.

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, the news that the three wise monkeys, a Japanese pictorial maxim, have been cancelled by a group of academics at the University of York. The Daily Mail has the details.

They’re a cultural trope that have been used to symbolise the proverbial ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’.

But it appears the three wise monkeys have been cancelled after academics at the University of York decided they are an oppressive racial stereotype.

Organisers of a forthcoming art history conference for the university have apologised for using a picture of the monkeys in promotional material and have pulled the image from their website to avoid offence.

“Upon reflection, we strongly believe that our first poster is not appropriate as its iconology promulgates a long-standing legacy of oppression and exploits racist stereotypes,” academics wrote in a statement seen by the Times.

It continued: “We bring this to your attention so that we may be held accountable for our actions and in our privileges do and be better.”

The three monkeys are depicted as having one with its eyes covered, another with its ears covered and another with its mouth covered.

The image became popular in Japan in the 17th century before spreading to the West.

It is associated with the Tendai school of Buddhism where they are perceived as helpers for divine figures.

But a spokeswoman for the University of York said academics were concerned the image could be insulting to ethnic minorities.

“The Japanese symbol of the three wise monkeys was used to represent a postgraduate conference about the sensory experiences of the body, and it also appeared on a document that asked for submission of research papers to the conference on a range of areas, one of which included papers that represented black, indigenous and people of colour,” she said.

“It was considered… that a monkey, which has been used in a derogatory way in the past, could cause offence in this context, despite this not being the intention of the organisers, so the image was removed.”

The image was used on a call for submissions page for the online conference Sensorial Fixations: Orality, Aurality, Opticality and Hapticity.

Experts in Japanese culture last night hit out at any suggestion that the monkeys could be insulting.

Lucia Dolce, who has been studying Japanese Buddhism at the School of Oriental and African studies at the University of London for 20 years, told the Times: “The monkey is a sacred being. They are vehicles of delight.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Mail‘s Guy Adams has written an amusing piece about Leicester entitled “The University of Woke“.

Stop Press 2: In his latest piece for Breitbart, James Delingpole takes issue with Boris Johnson’s recent assertion that there is nothing wrong with being woke.

Stop Press 3: A Lockdown Sceptics reader has sent in a new example of the woke language in action.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to obtain a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card – because wearing a mask causes them “severe distress”, for instance. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and the Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. And if you feel obliged to wear a mask but want to signal your disapproval of having to do so, you can get a “sexy world” mask with the Swedish flag on it here.

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

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption. Another reader has created an Android app which displays “I am exempt from wearing a face mask” on your phone. Only 99p.

If you’re a shop owner and you want to let your customers know you will not be insisting on face masks or asking them what their reasons for exemption are, you can download a friendly sign to stick in your window here.

And here’s an excellent piece about the ineffectiveness of masks by a Roger W. Koops, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry. See also the Swiss Doctor’s thorough review of the scientific evidence here and Prof Carl Heneghan and Dr Tom Jefferson’s Spectator article about the Danish mask study here.

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

The Great Barrington Declaration, a petition started by Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya calling for a strategy of “Focused Protection” (protect the elderly and the vulnerable and let everyone else get on with life), was launched in October and the lockdown zealots have been doing their best to discredit it ever since. If you googled it a week after launch, the top hits were three smear pieces from the Guardian, including: “Herd immunity letter signed by fake experts including ‘Dr Johnny Bananas’.” (Freddie Sayers at UnHerd warned us about this the day before it appeared.) On the bright side, Google UK has stopped shadow banning it, so the actual Declaration now tops the search results – and Toby’s Spectator piece about the attempt to suppress it is among the top hits – although discussion of it has been censored by Reddit. The reason the zealots hate it, of course, is that it gives the lie to their claim that “the science” only supports their strategy. These three scientists are every bit as eminent – more eminent – than the pro-lockdown fanatics so expect no let up in the attacks. (Wikipedia has also done a smear job.)

You can find it here. Please sign it. Now over three quarters of a million signatures.

Update: The authors of the GBD have expanded the FAQs to deal with some of the arguments and smears that have been made against their proposal. Worth reading in full.

Update 2: Many of the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration are involved with new UK anti-lockdown campaign Recovery. Find out more and join here.

Update 3: You can watch Sunetra Gupta set out the case for “Focused Protection” here and Jay Bhattacharya make it here.

Update 4: The three GBD authors plus Prof Carl Heneghan of CEBM have launched a new website collateralglobal.org, “a global repository for research into the collateral effects of the COVID-19 lockdown measures”. Follow Collateral Global on Twitter here. Sign up to the newsletter here.

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

There are now so many legal cases being brought against the Government and its ministers we thought we’d include them all in one place down here.

The Simon Dolan case has now reached the end of the road. The current lead case is the Robin Tilbrook case which challenges whether the Lockdown Regulations are constitutional. You can read about that and contribute here.

Then there’s John’s Campaign which is focused specifically on care homes. Find out more about that here.

There’s the GoodLawProject and Runnymede Trust’s Judicial Review of the Government’s award of lucrative PPE contracts to various private companies. You can find out more about that here and contribute to the crowdfunder here.

And last but not least there was the Free Speech Union‘s challenge to Ofcom over its ‘coronavirus guidance’. A High Court judge refused permission for the FSU’s judicial review on December 9th and the FSU has decided not to appeal the decision because Ofcom has conceded most of the points it was making. Check here for details.

Samaritans

If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch. Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.

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 hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

The genius that is Remy of Reason TV, has an entertaining take on the legislators who socially distance themselves from their Covid rules. A must watch.

Latest News

Indefinite Travel Restrictions Loom Over New Variant Fears

With the ever-present prospect of the emergence of new virus variants that can escape or weaken vaccine protection, it appears to be dawning on Government figures that a vaccine-dependent recovery will have to be one with closely guarded borders. This means that even when restrictions are lifted domestically, strict border controls are likely to remain, and it is not clear when it will be deemed safe to remove them. James Forsyth in the Spectator has his ear to the ground in Westminster.

The view is that testing and tighter procedures at the border will be needed to protect the UK from the danger of any vaccine-resistant strain. Priti Patel’s admission this week that the Government should have shut the borders last March is revealing of the current conversations inside Government on what to do, and the way in which they are going.

One thoughtful figure in Government tells me that “the advantage the vaccine has given us is so huge that we have to protect that”. The Government is particularly interested in how Australia has used tough border measures to keep Covid out; the country has had under a thousand deaths from the virus during the pandemic. There is a feeling that Australia is a “parallel democracy” and so the restrictions used there could be replicable here.

This Australian-style system – whereby entry is refused except to residents and those with an exemption, and quarantine must take place in a state-approved facility – would be devastating for business travel and tourism. But there is a growing sense in Westminster that this might be a price worth paying to protect the domestic economy from potential new strains of Covid until other countries have caught up with their vaccination programmes. Though even advocates of the strictest measures accept that hauliers would have to be exempt from quarantine and allowed in (if they had a negative test) to keep trade flowing. Others are sceptical, suggesting the Australian approach is possible only because of its geographical isolation.

Fraser Nelson takes a look at this issue in his Telegraph column this week, and urges a rethink.

Before the pandemic, Brits flew abroad more than any other people in the world, Americans included. Travel is about community, not just investment and trade. I have a divorced friend who now lives in Malmo, but travels back every other week to be with her son in London. What becomes of such families?

You can see the arguments for a Fortress Britain strategy. That, if we’re one of the first countries in the world to reopen, we should exploit that advantage – and not risk it all by letting a new variant fly in via Heathrow. But there are plenty of arguments against. Surely, if we’re vaccinated, we have less reason to fear the virus, so we can open up? Also, there have been some 20,000 mutations of Covid – none of which, so far, threaten to dodge the vaccine. Might we be overstating the risk?

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Prime Minister of New Zealand, standard-bearer of the Zero Covid crowd, has signalled her intention to live with Covid through rolling vaccine programmes “as we do seasonally, with the flu”. Stuff has more.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has used her first public remarks for the year to declare 2021 “the year of the vaccine” and stated the Government’s goal is getting Covid to the point where it will be managed like the common seasonal flu…

“Our goal has to be though, to get the management of COVID-19 to a similar place as we do seasonally, with the flu. It won’t be a disease that we will see simply disappear after one round of vaccine across our population,” Ardern said.

Are Infections Really Rising?

The number of people calculated to have Covid symptoms on each day according to the ZOE Covid Symptom Study App. New infections began falling several days earlier

Many news outlets yesterday reported claims from the latest React study at Imperial College London that COVID-19 infections may be rising, despite the Government dashboard and ZOE Covid Symptom Study App showing new infections falling since the start of the year.

Ross Clark in the Spectator tries to get to the bottom of this discrepancy.

The React study… is based on testing a randomised sample of the population. Between January 6th and January 15th, it tested 142,909 people across the country, of which 1,962 were positive. That figure was then used to estimate that 1.58% of the population had the virus between those dates.

But React has a major weakness in that it is not a continuous survey; rather it is carried out in rounds, the last of which was between November 25th and December 3rd. It can tell us that prevalence grew between that period (when 0.91% of the population was estimated to be infected) but there is no data for the intervening period. 

How, then, does it come to the conclusion that cases may have risen since the beginning of the third lockdown, which began on January 6th? Interestingly, the Office for National Statistics’ summary of the React study does not make this claim. It merely states there is “no strong evidence for either growth or decay in prevalence across the period January 6th and January 15th”. It is only when you go to the paper itself, published by Imperial, that it makes the assertion that infection levels “may have started to rise” at the end of the period – a claim it says it makes on the strength of analyses using “P-splines” – an analytical technique which seeks to smooth out lines generated from limited amounts of data.

A flimsy basis for such an alarming claim then. But it does make for an eye-catching headline…

Long Lockdown Starts Looking Even Longer

Lockdown could last till summer, the Government has said

It was reported yesterday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not rule out continuing restrictions into the summer. MailOnline has the details, in a report snappily titled: “PM refuses to rule out lockdown lasting to SUMMER amid claims he is willing to keep curbs longer to make sure it’s the last national squeeze despite UK cases slumping for 12th day in a row and rise in deaths easing.”

Boris Johnson today refused to rule out the brutal lockdown lasting until the summer amid claims he is willing to keep curbs longer to ensure it is the last national squeeze.

The PM insisted it is “too early to say” whether the restrictions will stay in place for months longer – despite cases falling by more than a fifth on last week and hopes rising that the most vulnerable groups will be vaccinated by mid-February, with a record 366,919 jabs administered in 24 hours.

Mr Johnson also delivered a stark message that the new coronavirus strain is “much more contagious”, repeating his plea for people to stay at home and obey the rules. 

The intervention came as scientists delivered a grim warning that even mass vaccinations will not be enough to stop the disease spreading, suggesting that measures will need to remain longer.

There are claims from the PM’s circle that he is ready to risk the wrath of Tory MPs who are clamouring for confirmation of an easing starting March 8th – by persisting with the curbs.

The UK recorded another 37,892 infections today, but that was down more than a fifth on last Thursday. 

There were another 1,290 deaths but that was up just 3.4 per cent on the same day last week, suggesting that the rate might be slowing. 

Boris cited the questionable React study data in justifying his caution.

On a visit to see flooding in Greater Manchester today, Mr Johnson was asked whether lockdown could stay until the summer.

“I think it’s too early to say when we’ll be able to lift some of the restrictions,” he said.

“We’ll look then (February 15th) at how we’re doing but I think what we’re seeing in the ONS data, in the React survey, we’re seeing the contagiousness of the new variant that we saw arrive just before Christmas – there’s no doubt it does spread very fast indeed. It’s not more deadly but it is much more contagious and the numbers are very great.”

He said it is “absolutely crucial” to obey the current restrictions “in what is unquestionably going to be a tough few weeks ahead”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We will continue to keep all of the scientific evidence and data under review. It remains our position that we want to ease restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so, but in order for us to do that we need to see the transmission rates of the virus come down and we need to see the pressure on the NHS reduce. It is our intention and our hope that this will be the last national lockdown.”

Worth reading in full.

What Happened to Plan A?

In these days when being known as a sceptic can lead to notoriety it can be hard to remember that the approach favoured by the sceptics is nothing other than the pandemic plan the Government had prepared on the basis of WHO advice. A Lockdown Sceptics reader has revisited this plan, which is still available here and was reaffirmed as recently as February 27th last year, and copied out some excerpts to show how far current policy differs from it.

The envisaged death toll from the hypothetical pandemic (assumed to be flu but allowing for the possibility that it might be something similar to SARS) is given as 210,000-315,000. This was assumed to occur in as little as 15 weeks with perhaps half the deaths, up to 158,000, in just three weeks. These death tolls are significantly higher than the current UK Covid death toll (95,000 according to the Government dashboard), even allowing for the inflated PCR-based metric and the fact that we are now adding on the usual excess winter deaths as well.

Our reader observes:

Seen from my rather soggy molehill in God’s own county (Essex) we tore up the plans and threw them out the window with very little new knowledge, and absolutely no publicly made justification, in March, on the back of one single model produced by a nutter with form from previous incidences.

Yet even Neil Ferguson’s model of doom was only projecting 510,000 deaths, not a far cry from the 315,000 envisaged in the plan, making the Government’s mid-March volte face even harder to fathom. The reality is, the incoming pandemic was textbook, but the textbook was discarded.

From the plan (emphasis added):

2.12  This means that it almost certainly will not be possible to contain or eradicate a new virus in its country of origin or on arrival in the UK. The expectation must be that the virus will inevitably spread and that any local measures taken to disrupt or reduce the spread are likely to have very limited or partial success at a national level and cannot be relied on as a way to ‘buy time’.

2.20  For deaths, the analysis of previous influenza pandemics suggests that we should plan for a situation in which up to 2.5% of those with symptoms would die as a result of influenza, assuming no effective treatment was available.

A pandemic is most likely to be caused by a new subtype of the Influenza A virus but the plans could be adapted and deployed for scenarios such as an outbreak of another infectious disease, e.g. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in health care settings, with an altogether different pattern of infectivity.

It will not be possible to stop the spread of, or to eradicate, the pandemic influenza virus, either in the country of origin or in the UK, as it will spread too rapidly and too widely.

Taking account of this, and the practicality of different levels of response, when planning for excess deaths, local planners should prepare to extend capacity on a precautionary but reasonably practicable basis, and aim to cope with a population mortality rate of up to 210,000 – 315,000 additional deaths, possibly over as little as a 15 week period and perhaps half of these over three weeks at the height of the outbreak.

4.11  To protect others and reduce the spread of infection, anyone ill with pandemic influenza should:

– Stay at home.
– Minimise close contacts.
– Adopt thorough respiratory and hand hygiene practices, i.e. covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing and sneezing, disposing immediately of that tissue after use, and washing hands frequently with soap and warm water, or alcohol gel if water is not readily available. 

4.15  Although there is a perception that the wearing of facemasks by the public in the community and household setting may be beneficial, there is in fact very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use in this setting. Facemasks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly, disposed of safely and used in combination with good respiratory, hand, and home hygiene behaviour in order for them to achieve the intended benefit. Research also shows that compliance with these recommended behaviours when wearing facemasks for prolonged periods reduces over time. 

4.18 The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will issue advice regarding travel to affected countries. There are no plans to attempt to close borders in the event of an influenza pandemic. The UK generally has a high level of international connectivity, and so is likely to be one of the earlier countries to receive infectious individuals. Modelling suggests that imposing a 90% restriction on all air travel to the UK at the point a pandemic emerges would only delay the peak of a pandemic wave by one to two weeks 10,11. Even a 99.9% travel restriction might delay a pandemic wave by only two months. During 2009 it became clear that the pandemic virus had already spread widely before international authorities were alerted, suggesting that in any case the point of pandemic emergence had been missed by several weeks. The economic, political and social consequences of border closures would also be very substantial, including risks to the secure supply of food, pharmaceuticals and other supplies.

Restrictions on public gatherings and public transport

4.21 There is very limited evidence that restrictions on mass gatherings will have any significant effect on influenza virus transmission. Large public gatherings or crowded events where people may be in close proximity are an important indicator of ‘normality’ and may help maintain public morale during a pandemic. The social and economic  consequences of advising cancellation or postponement of large gatherings are likely to be considerable for event organisers, contributors and participants. There is also a lack of scientific evidence on the impact of internal travel restrictions on transmission and attempts to impose such restrictions would have wide-reaching implications for business and welfare.

4.22 For these reasons, the working presumption will be that Government will not impose any such restrictions. The emphasis will instead be on encouraging all those who have symptoms to follow the advice to stay at home and avoid spreading their illness. However, local organisers may decide to cancel or postpone events in a pandemic fearing economic loss through poor attendances, and the public themselves may decide not to mix in crowds, or use public transport if other options are available.

School closures

4.23 There is modelling data highlighting the potential benefit of school closures in certain circumstances, both in terms of protecting individual children from infection and in reducing overall transmission of the virus in the population. However, to be effective prolonged closures are required. This would involve schools over a wide area, but carries a risk that social mixing of children outside school would defeat the object of the closures.

Business as usual

7.4 During a pandemic, the Government will encourage those who are well to carry on with their normal daily lives for as long and as far as that is possible, whilst taking basic precautions to protect themselves from infection and lessen the risk of spreading influenza to others (see Chapter 4). The UK Government does not plan to close borders, stop mass gatherings or impose controls on public transport during any pandemic. 

Was the November Lockdown Effective?

Figure 1: The vertical lines indicate when the impact on deaths of imposing and lifting the November lockdown should appear

There follows a guest post by David Paton, Professor of Industrial Economics at Nottingham University Business School, who tweets as @CricketWyvern.

Recent data have confirmed beyond doubt that infections in most if not all regions of England were falling before the national lockdown was even announced on January 4th. Whether the falls can be attributed to the earlier imposition of strict Tier 4 restrictions is another matter though it is noteworthy that decreases in Yorkshire, which never went into Tier 4, started at a similar time to the South East which had been in Tier 4 from before Christmas.

Queries over whether the latest lockdown was necessary to reduce infections have resurrected debates about the effectiveness of the last national lockdown imposed on England on November 5th. For example, Christopher Snowdon of the IEA has argued recently that this is a clear example of effective lockdown. But does his claim stand up to scrutiny of the data?

Our best reference point is the ONS series of COVID-19 related deaths by date of occurrence. Based on information from death registrations, it gives us the best indicator of trends in infections.

Although there is some uncertainty over the average lag between infections and death, we should expect any effect of lockdown to be visible in the deaths series after about three weeks.

So if the November 5th lockdown had been effective, we might expect an effect on the deaths trend from around November 26th. Similarly, if the relaxation of lockdown measures on December 2nd led to an increase in infections, we might expect an effect on the deaths trend from about December 23rd.

Figure 1 shows the trend in deaths by date of occurrence in England over the relevant period using the centred seven-day average to smooth the series. The series ends on January 1st as delays in death registration may mean it is not complete after that point. The grey line indicates the likely point at which the lockdown will have an effect, the black line indicates when we might see an effect of its lifting.

Deaths increase during November but peak on the 21st, just 16 days after the lockdown, almost certainly too early for that to be causing the decrease. Just as striking is that, although deaths do decrease thereafter, they only do so until December 4th after which they increase again. Given the infection-death lag, not only is it hard to attribute the decrease in deaths to the lockdown, it is clear infections start to increase again right in the middle of the national lockdown.

What about the impact of releasing the lockdown on December 2nd? Even if deaths are already increasing (perhaps due to spread of the new variant), we might expect to see the rate of increase go up from about December 23rd. But no, relaxing the lockdown has little observable effect on the trend.

One problem is that the national data aggregates various different regional trends. Looking at the regional data also helps to isolate some testable lockdown predictions. Much of the North and Midlands were already under quite tight restrictions by November 5th. Those areas also largely returned to even tighter restrictions when the lockdown was lifted. As such, we should expect any impact of both the imposition and the lifting of the national lockdown to be stronger in London, the East, the South East and the South West. Note London and most of the South East went into Tier 3 and then Tier 4 later in December, too late to effect deaths up to January 1st.

Figure 2
Figure 3

Figures 2 and 3 show the deaths trend for the regions least and most affected by the lockdown respectively. Deaths in the North West, North East and Yorkshire were decreasing well before the national lockdown was likely to have exerted any effect whilst deaths in the Midlands were stable before and after the likely impact. Similarly, it is hard to identify any significant effect on the deaths trend from lifting the national lockdown in December.

More striking is the lack of any obvious impact in those regions where we would expect the national lockdown to have had most effect. Possibly the slow increase we had been seeing in South East and London stabilised a little after lockdown, but only for a very short period of time. The South East, East and London all increase again about 10 days after the lockdown should have been having an effect and there is no obvious effect on the trends from the December lifting of the lockdown. The South West seems remarkably unaffected either by the lockdown or its lifting.

Figure 4

The deaths trends are consistent with hospital admissions (figure 4) which should be affected some 10-12 days after lockdown or relaxation. In fact admissions decreased from 12 Nov, too early for lockdown to be the cause and had started increasing again by November 30th before the lockdown had even been lifted.

Looking at the national and the regional pictures, it is hard to identify any beneficial impact of the November lockdown. Given the different factors going on: regional restrictions, development of the new variant and so on, it is impossible to rule out some marginal beneficial effects on the rate or timing of increase. But it is hard to see much in the data to suggest England’s November lockdown was effective in preventing any deaths or hospitalisations at all.

Given the huge costs involved with lockdown restrictions, the lack of any obvious benefit from both the November and (from the early data) the January lockdowns, raises important questions about our current strategy.

SAGE Should Not Even Exist

Today we’re publishing a new piece by Lockdown Sceptics contributor Sean Walsh. Bringing his distinctive philosophical edge to the analysis, Sean asks whether SAGE, as an organ of state power, is even capable of giving Government sound, objective advice.

It is always the mavericks who add the most to objective knowledge. In 1905 Einstein published four papers, each of which was a Nobel contender, and he wrote them in his spare time. With all due respect, Chris Whitty is no Einstein.

Things are, though, even worse than that. The Establishment ‘scientists’ have corrupted the worldview of the politicians they are supposed merely to advise. And the political class has passed that corruption of thought onto the people whose interests they are supposed to serve, not to define. In his excellent piece for Lockdown Sceptics, Ben Hawkins discusses Wittgenstein’s thoughts about the nature of certainty, and how it seems that some beliefs are foundational, that they serve as enabling conditions of thought in general. As Ben points out, for the High Priests of SAGE and their Government disciples the belief in lockdown has become cognitively indispensable. It’s not so much that they have rejected any alternatives to the current strategy. It’s that without a belief in the rightness of their approach, they are unable to think about the C19 problem at all.

Worth reading in full.

The Moral Panic Against Lockdown Sceptics

There follows a guest post by Rob Tyson.

Remember when that paediatrician was driven from her home by a gang of vigilantes who also daubed “paedo” on her door, in the mistaken belief they were dealing with a paedophile?

Maybe you remember the late 80s panic over Pitbull terriers and their feckless owners?

Readers of a certain age may remember the reported conflicts between “mods and rockers” of the 1960s.

All were classic “moral panics” and as I write we appear to be in another one, but this time, the “folk devils” are you, lockdown sceptics.

Observing the hysterically shrill response to anything outside of a narrow orthodoxy on our eminently questionable COVID-19 response by “moral entrepeneurs” such as Neil O’Brien MP, I suddenly remembered Stanley Cohen’s 1972 book Folk Devils & Moral Panics.

I don’t have the book anymore but Wikipedia does a good precis. The hysteria directed at lockdown scepticism since the turn of 2021 feels like a textbook example of a moral panic:

A moral panic occurs when “…[a] condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests”.

Those who start the panic when they fear a threat to prevailing social or cultural values are known by researchers as ‘moral entrepreneurs’, while people who supposedly threaten social order have been described as “folk devils”.

According to Cohen, there are five key stages in the construction of a moral panic:

1. Someone, something or a group are defined as a threat to social norms or community interests

2. The threat is then depicted in a simple and recognizable symbol/form by the media

Yes, that’s you “covidiots”, “conspiracy theorists”, and “anti-vaxxers”. Not only that, but in recent days a “new variant” of derogatory labels has emerged: “denialists”.

An intriguing term, isn’t it? Being so flexible it is very useful to moral entrepreneurs, as Douglas Murray was quick to notice:

Cohen’s stages continue:

3. The portrayal of this symbol rouses public concern

4. There is a response from authorities and policy makers

5. The moral panic over the issue results in social changes within the community

Moral panics have several distinct features, say a couple of other researchers, Goode and Ben-Yehuda:

Concern – There must be the belief that the behaviour of the group or activity deemed deviant is likely to have a negative effect on society.

Hostility – Hostility toward the group in question increases, and they become “folk devils”. A clear division forms between “them” and “us”.

Consensus – Though concern does not have to be nationwide, there must be widespread acceptance that the group in question poses a very real threat to society. It is important at this stage that the “moral entrepreneurs” are vocal and the “folk devils” appear weak and disorganised.

Disproportionality – The action taken is disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the accused group.

Volatility – Moral panics are highly volatile and tend to disappear as quickly as they appeared because public interest wanes or news reports change to another narrative.

Concern – check.

Hostility – check.

Consensus – I would say we are seeing this hardening this week; certainly the moral entrepreneurs have been extremely vocal.

Then only today I saw this call for jail, not just for “Covid rule breakers” themselves, but for a “list” of “celebrities using their platform to encourage rule breaking”:

I’d consider that Disproportionality.

Let’s hope Volatility keeps up its side of the bargain too, and this moral panic doesn’t last too long.

A Dentist Writes…

Lockdown Sceptics reader and retired dentist Dr Mark Shaw has come up with a good analogy of the poor approach to risk in this pandemic.

I am very concerned about the way the risks associated with COVID-19 are being presented to the public.

Professional healthcare workers are generally held in high regard and the public trust them to look after their needs. It’s a privilege that the healthcare worker must never take for granted – and that trust must never be abused. If a professional health worker advises a patient to have a radiograph taken for diagnostic purposes, it is quite reasonable
for the patient to know whether it is absolutely necessary to have it and what the risks of having that exposure to radiation are (no matter how small). I would have to explain the pros and cons and put the risk in context.

If the patient was having a total radiation exposure equivalent to a single chest x-ray, a good practitioner would explain some basics of natural background radiation exposure. Then the clinician could put things into context and describe this as being equivalent to roughly three days of additional background radiation.

If the practitioner was taking the patient’s trust for granted and intended to abuse that trust and try to alter the patient’s reasonable decision to opt for the x-ray, he or she could scare the patient by taking things out of context. Every time the patient came in to the clinic the clinician could say that diagnostic radiology causes 700 cancer cases a year – which might not be a lie.

Of course, if it is found that the health care professional is doing this and systems are in place that deal with patient safety and allow for whistle-blowing, then this practitioner can be reported and disciplined. If it persists the practitioner could rightly be struck off.

How can the Government, the medical establishment and media organisations that publicise the Covid death figures and Covid risks be allowed to do so in the way that they are doing? It is an absolute scandal.

The public are being misled by taking overall risks out of context. The classification of a Covid death as being a death within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, the  publication of these deaths on a daily basis, and the citing of positive tests as “cases” are only a few examples.

In a fair society all risks need to be kept in perspective and when that doesn’t happen those responsible need to be held accountable. In the medical and dental profession disciplinary action is taken in these situations to protect the public and so that lessons can be learned. It may be a little too late to halt the damaging (possibly catastrophic) effects of the publication of information that seems designed to scare the public into conforming to a particular agenda. I do not think it is too late for those responsible – the Government, some of the media and some healthcare professionals and their representatives to be held accountable and learn lessons. 

How Well Has the BBC Covered this Crisis? Readers’ Views Requested

The Beeb is asking for the views of its audience, so do be sure to let them know.

We are really interested in understanding your views on the BBC and some of the other services you use. Here is a short survey that should take no longer than five minutes to complete and your answers will be completely confidential.

We will be looking at the results of the survey, alongside looking at how you and others use the BBC’s services when you are signed in to your account. For example, we might look at whether people who use the BBC a lot have a different view to those who don’t use it very often. This is to help us better understand how people feel about the BBC. The survey results and how you use the BBC will remain totally anonymous.

Find the survey here.

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Ten today: “Anxious” by The Housemartins, “Living in a box” by Living in a box, “Please release me” by Engelbert Humperdinck, “19th Nervous breakdown” by Rolling Stones, “Going nowhere” by Neil Sedaka, “Confusion” by The Electric Light Orchestra, “Perilous Times” by Mystic Eyes, “Fool If You Think It’s Over” by Elkie Brooks, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House and “When Will I See You Again” by The Three Degrees.

Love in the Time of Covid

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. 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 as well as post comments below the line, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Sharing Stories

Some of you have asked how to link to particular stories on Lockdown Sceptics so you can share it. To do that, click on the headline of a particular story and a link symbol will appear on the right-hand side of the headline. Click on the link and the URL of your page will switch to the URL of that particular story. You can then copy that URL and either email it to your friends or post it on social media. Please do share the stories.

Social Media Accounts

You can follow Lockdown Sceptics on our social media accounts which are updated throughout the day. To follow us on Facebook, click here; to follow us on Twitter, click here; to follow us on Instagram, click here; to follow us on Parler, click here; and to follow us on MeWe, click here.

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, it’s the worrying news that Boris Johnson has declared “there’s nothing wrong with being woke”. The Spectator has the details.

Labour’s shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy, opened a Pandora’s box yesterday in an interview with the Guardian, in which she praised the new US President Joe Biden for being a “woke guy” and, according to the paper, appeared to suggest that those defending the Parliament Square statue of Churchill were comparable to white supremacists marching in America. Mr S imagines that isn’t quite the strategy the party had in mind to win back Red Wall towns lost in 2019.

Nonetheless, it appeared to be Boris Johnson who was struggling most with the idea of a ‘woke’ US President yesterday. In an interview with Sky News, the PM was asked if he thought Joe Biden was woke as well. At first, a visibly flustered Boris Johnson, clearly worried about poisoning US relations, sought to evade the question. But the PM then added the surprising admission that ‘there’s nothing wrong with being “woke”’.

It must clearly have been a different Prime Minister who was reportedly considering starting a “war on woke” last year…

Katy Balls added further analysis here.

Stop Press: Will Knowland, who was sacked from Eton for posting online a lecture questioning feminist orthodoxy, has told Freddie Sayers from UnHerd that he stands by his “patriarchy lecture”.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to obtain a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card – because wearing a mask causes them “severe distress”, for instance. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and the Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. And if you feel obliged to wear a mask but want to signal your disapproval of having to do so, you can get a “sexy world” mask with the Swedish flag on it here.

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

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption. Another reader has created an Android app which displays “I am exempt from wearing a face mask” on your phone. Only 99p.

If you’re a shop owner and you want to let your customers know you will not be insisting on face masks or asking them what their reasons for exemption are, you can download a friendly sign to stick in your window here.

And here’s an excellent piece about the ineffectiveness of masks by a Roger W. Koops, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry. See also the Swiss Doctor’s thorough review of the scientific evidence here and Prof Carl Heneghan and Dr Tom Jefferson’s Spectator article about the Danish mask study here.

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

The Great Barrington Declaration, a petition started by Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya calling for a strategy of “Focused Protection” (protect the elderly and the vulnerable and let everyone else get on with life), was launched in October and the lockdown zealots have been doing their best to discredit it ever since. If you googled it a week after launch, the top hits were three smear pieces from the Guardian, including: “Herd immunity letter signed by fake experts including ‘Dr Johnny Bananas’.” (Freddie Sayers at UnHerd warned us about this the day before it appeared.) On the bright side, Google UK has stopped shadow banning it, so the actual Declaration now tops the search results – and Toby’s Spectator piece about the attempt to suppress it is among the top hits – although discussion of it has been censored by Reddit. The reason the zealots hate it, of course, is that it gives the lie to their claim that “the science” only supports their strategy. These three scientists are every bit as eminent – more eminent – than the pro-lockdown fanatics so expect no let up in the attacks. (Wikipedia has also done a smear job.)

You can find it here. Please sign it. Now over three quarters of a million signatures.

Update: The authors of the GBD have expanded the FAQs to deal with some of the arguments and smears that have been made against their proposal. Worth reading in full.

Update 2: Many of the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration are involved with new UK anti-lockdown campaign Recovery. Find out more and join here.

Update 3: You can watch Sunetra Gupta set out the case for “Focused Protection” here and Jay Bhattacharya make it here.

Update 4: The three GBD authors plus Prof Carl Heneghan of CEBM have launched a new website collateralglobal.org, “a global repository for research into the collateral effects of the COVID-19 lockdown measures”. Follow Collateral Global on Twitter here. Sign up to the newsletter here.

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

There are now so many legal cases being brought against the Government and its ministers we thought we’d include them all in one place down here.

The Simon Dolan case has now reached the end of the road. The current lead case is the Robin Tilbrook case which challenges whether the Lockdown Regulations are constitutional. You can read about that and contribute here.

Then there’s John’s Campaign which is focused specifically on care homes. Find out more about that here.

There’s the GoodLawProject and Runnymede Trust’s Judicial Review of the Government’s award of lucrative PPE contracts to various private companies. You can find out more about that here and contribute to the crowdfunder here.

And last but not least there was the Free Speech Union‘s challenge to Ofcom over its ‘coronavirus guidance’. A High Court judge refused permission for the FSU’s judicial review on December 9th and the FSU has decided not to appeal the decision because Ofcom has conceded most of the points it was making. Check here for details.

Samaritans

If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch. Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.

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 hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

Watch Toby being interviewed by Rowan Dean, co-presenter of Outsiders on Sky Australia, about the Government’s mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis.