Day: 16 May 2021

Boris Holds His Nerve

In spite of a last-minute lobbying campaign by various SAGE panjandrums to postpone step three of the Prime Minister’s roadmap, most parts of the U.K. will be easing restrictions on Monday. In England, masks will no longer be required in schools, indoor drinking and dining will be permitted, fans will be allowed back into football stadiums (in limited numbers), foreign holidays will no longer be illegal and gatherings of up to 30 people will be permitted outside.

But Boris struck a cautious note on Sunday evening. BBC News has more.

People must continue to play their part in stopping Covid, Boris Johnson has said ahead of the easing of lockdown in England, Wales and most of Scotland.

From Monday, millions of people will be able to socialise indoors in limited numbers, hug loved ones and visit pubs and restaurants inside.

The ban on foreign travel will also be lifted and replaced with new rules.

But Mr. Johnson said everyone needed to still be cautious, and also get tested twice a week.

“Together we have reached another milestone in our roadmap out of lockdown, but we must take this next step with a heavy dose of caution,” said the Prime Minister.

He added that “everyone must play their part – by getting tested twice a week, coming forward for your vaccine when called and remembering hands, face, space and fresh air”.

“I urge everyone to be cautious and take responsibility when enjoying new freedoms today in order to keep the virus at bay.”

BBC News published a summary of the new rules two days ago:

Meeting up

  • People can meet in groups of up to 30 outdoors
  • Six people or two households can meet indoors and overnight stays can take place
  • Up to 30 people can attend weddings, receptions and other life events
  • Number of people who can attend a funeral is no longer capped, but determined by the size of venue
  • Up to 30 are allowed to attend a support group or parent-and-child group (not counting under fives)
  • Care home residents can have up to five named visitors, and more freedom for visits out of the home
  • Social distancing guidance is also changing. Contact with close family and friends is described as a matter of personal judgement, but people are asked to remain cautious around close contact, like hugging.

Leisure and entertainment

  • Pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants will be allowed to serve customers indoors
  • Indoor entertainment such as museums, cinemas and children’s play areas can open
  • Theatres, concert halls, conference centres and sports stadiums can all reopen
  • Organised adult sports and exercise classes can restart indoors
  • Steam rooms and saunas may reopen
  • Hotels, hostels and B&Bs can reopen

At least Boris didn’t bottle it, in spite of the outbreak of mass hysteria among the public health “experts” about the Indian variant. (See Glen Bishop’s thorough debunking of SAGE’s 10,000-hospitalisations-a-day-in-mid-July claim in yesterday’s Lockdown Sceptics.) I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies, but, really, with the virus now posing less of a threat than an average bout of seasonal flu we should be reopening in full.

Stop Press: MailOnline has more on Boris’s remarks on Sunday night, but adds the detail that Tory MPs have urged the Prime Minister not to give in to “panicking scientists”.

Sir Graham Brady, a senior Tory MP, urged the Prime Minister not to “panic” over the new variant, which is still rare in the U.K..

And his colleague Iain Duncan Smith said it was “bonkers” to even consider further delays to reopening when evidence suggested existing vaccines worked against the Indian strain.

Worth reading in full.

The Data Suggest We Achieved Herd Immunity Before the Vaccines Were Rolled Out

We’re publishing an original piece of data analysis today by a leading British scientist – a full professor at a major university – who wishes to remain anonymous. He believes the data show that the population of Britain had surpassed the herd immunity threshold in December, before the vaccines were rolled out. He’s not an anti-vaxxer, and thinks it was right to immunise the elderly and the vulnerable, but doesn’t believe we should vaccinate the rest of the population. Here is a summary of his analysis:

  • Population immunity played a major role in ending each wave of SARS-CoV-2 infection
  • Herd immunity thresholds differ by about two-fold across England, and have been reached
  • Different herd immunity thresholds correlate with regional differences in ethnicity and air temperature – possibly both operating by changing the rate of indoor contacts
  • The Infection Fatality Rate has changed dramatically during the pandemic: it first rose during (and possibly because of) lockdowns, and then fell by over eight-fold as older and vulnerable individuals were vaccinated. It is now so low, and herd immunity so well established, that vaccinating younger adults and children with novel genetic technology vaccines cannot be medically or ethically justified.

This piece is very much worth reading in full.

Government NERVTAG Adviser Appears on the BBC Questioning the Models, Masks, Lockdowns and More

Professor Robert Dingwall, perhaps the most sceptical member of Government advisory group NERVTAG (which feeds into SAGE), appeared on BBC Radio 5 on Friday morning to talk to presenter Rachel Burden about the Indian variant, vaccines, models, masks and social distancing. This is about as sceptical as you will get on the BBC, and Rachel finishes by saying “I know there’ll be scientists who disagree with you, but we try and reflect the broad range of views here”, which will come as a surprise to many. Let’s hope she keeps her job after letting such heresy air on the BBC. You can listen here (2:43-2:50) and Lockdown Sceptics readers Teresa Wood and Stuart Robertson have kindly sent us a transcript.

Rachel Burden (0:04): What’s your assessment of how dangerous this variant is at the moment?

Robert Dingwall (0:09): Well I think it is very important not to confuse two things. The first is to say that something is more transmissible does not mean that it’s going to create more severe infection. In a sense you can see this is a trial run for what it means to live with COVID as an endemic infection as we will do in the future, the Indian variant, by saying it’s more transmissible, it’s perhaps easier to catch it, but all the evidence so far is that the vaccines continue to offer very effective protection, and where the infection is clustering in younger people, this is in age groups who are very unlikely to get seriously ill as a result. So we shouldn’t expect to be seeing the sort of waves of hospitalizations, Intensive Care Unit admissions and deaths that we’ve, we’ve seen previously.

Rachel Burden (1:04): Well that’s really encouraging because I was reading some stats this morning that had been produced by SAGE, I think, which was suggesting that if it was X percentage more transmissible that we can be seeing 6,000 hospitalisations in the summer by August and so on and all of that looks really quite alarming, particularly as we’re just beginning to open up, but as we know there is no perfect modelling when it comes to this virus is there?

Robert Dingwall (1:27): Well indeed. One of the problems with the models all along has been the lags between obtaining new data, and understanding for example the linkage between mild infections and hospitalisations, which has changed quite drastically since the beginning of the vaccination programme. So the models are a helpful thing to think with, but we shouldn’t take them as crystal balls. And in this case it really is very hard to see, as the vaccination programme continues to roll on, where all those extra admissions and deaths would come from.

Rachel (2:08): You’re speciality is not specifically for virology, but, but, sociology, but I just wonder with that in mind how do you manage public expectations at a time like this because we’re trying to always find that balance here, myself and Nikki on the show between, you know, reflecting the confidence and positivity people are beginning to feel, that which I think is really important, but with that sort of background anxiety and I suppose some realism that this virus isn’t just going to disappear overnight, and we need to be aware of that still. How do you advise the government to manage public expectations around that.

A Tenth of Britain’s Restaurants Lost During Lockdown

Restaurants will be able to reopen for indoor service from Monday, but only if lockdown hasn’t already forced them to close for good. There are now 9.7% fewer restaurants – and 19.% fewer “casual dining venues” – across Britain than in March 2020, according to new research. BBC News has the story.

The data in the latest Market Recovery Monitor from CGA and AlixPartners suggests that while many pubs and bars have also struggled to survive the pandemic, it is restaurants that have fared worst…

CGA and AlixPartners measured the impact of the last 13 months on pubs and restaurants that hold a licence to serve alcohol. 

Looking at the net number of venues, once all closures and new openings were taken into account, they found pubs across Britain fared slightly better than the restaurant sector.

The number of pubs serving food has fallen by 4.2%. Bars and pubs that only serve drinks fell by 5.2%. 

But on top of the near-20% fall in casual dining outlets, bar-restaurants, which make up a smaller part of the overall dining market, fell by 9.6%. 

General restaurants, which are the largest dining out category, are down 10.2%.

While restaurants that belong to larger chains were sometimes able to fall back on the group financially, or negotiate agreements with landlords across the business, independent operators have found it harder to survive.

The restaurant sector was already shrinking before the pandemic, but the net losses between 2017 and 2019 were between 0.9% and 2.2% a year, according to CGA AlixPartners data.

Many of those earlier losses were in crowded sectors such as burger bars. But losses over the past year have included businesses with otherwise promising futures.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The “BBC [is] doing its usual conflation trick” in reporting that restaurants were lost because of the pandemic rather than because of lockdowns, says Luke Johnson.

More Than 20 Million People Fully Vaccinated against Covid in the U.K.

The U.K. has reached the milestone of fully vaccinating more than 20 million people, yet concern over the Indian variant continues to dominate the Government’s – and the media’s – Covid narrative. Sky News has the story.

Some 391,246 had their second jab on Saturday, meaning a total of 20,103,658 have now received both shots.

Also on Saturday, 237,331 had their first jab, bringing the total number of people who have been given at least one dose to 36,573,354.

In Wales, it has been announced that more than two million people have now had a vaccine.

Almost three million doses in total have been administered in the nation in six months. This means 80% of all adults in Wales have received their first jab and one in three adults have had their second dose.

Just four Covid deaths were reported across the whole of the U.K. today, but fear persists about the Indian variant. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News today that there is a “high degree of confidence” vaccines work against the variant but that it can “spread like wildfire” among those who are unvaccinated, hinting that the “roadmap” could be extended if “enough” people don’t take the vaccine.

The Sky News report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The vaccine rollout will extend to those over the age of 35 this week, the Government has announced.

Scientists Criticise WHO over Its Failure to Properly Investigate Covid Lab Leak Theory

Scientists from around the world have criticised the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) investigation into the origins of Covid, saying that the agency has not properly looked into the lab leak theory. The group wrote in a letter to the academic journal Science: “Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover [from animals to humans] both remain viable.” Ian Birrell has more in the Mail on Sunday.

In a highly significant move, 18 scientists from the world’s top universities, including Cambridge, Harvard and Yale, have demanded further investigations into the origins of the pandemic…

[They wrote:] “More investigation is needed to determine the origin of the pandemic. Knowing how Covid emerged is critical for informing global strategies to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks.”

The signatories include Ravindra Gupta, the Cambridge Geneticist who has played a key role in Britain’s response to variants. 

Another is Ralph Baric, a U.S. epidemiologist who carried out controversial experiments on coronaviruses which included collaborating with Shi Zhengli – the Wuhan scientist nicknamed “Batwoman”.

Their research manipulated bat viruses to make them more infectious to human beings.

Although the work by Baric and Zhengli was funded through the EcoHealth Alliance charity, leaked emails revealed that Baric declined to join the charity’s British Director Peter Daszak in efforts to dismiss suggestions of a possible lab leak.

When the pandemic erupted, Daszak secretly organised a statement with some fellow scientists to the Lancet which “strongly condemned” conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid did not have a natural origin. 

U.S. funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology was halted after it was reported by the Mail on Sunday

Yet Daszak was asked to join a WHO joint study team into the pandemic origins, despite his clear conflicts of interest.

The new letter to Science criticises the WHO inquiry for claiming a laboratory leak was “extremely unlikely” when there is no strong evidence to support either theory. 

“We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data,” it said.

“A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimise the impact of conflicts of interest.”

The criticism demonstrates how the ground is shifting fast on the issue as scientists and politicians challenge the conventional wisdom that Covid emerged naturally in Wuhan, the site of several key Chinese laboratories.

These labs include the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which specialises in the study of bat-borne viruses and where there are known safety concerns…

Only a few scientists and journalists dared challenge the narrative that dismissed the idea of a possible lab leak for the first year of the pandemic…

The argument began to shift when Stanford Microbiologist David Relman, another of the Science signatories, published a landmark paper demanding a serious investigation of both theories.

Worth reading in full.

One in Ten Britons Wants Lockdown Restrictions to Last Forever

There’s a horrifying story in the Sunday Times that lays bare the terrible psychological damage wrought by the mind-benders of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviour (SPI-B), who, as we know, deliberately set out to ramp up “the perceived level of personal threat” using covert psychological techniques. The story is about the “Covid worriers” – those poor folks who’ve been terrified out of their wits by the endless fear-mongering propaganda pumped out by the Government and the mainstream media, particularly the BBC. Among the revelations are:

  • A study by Ipsos Mori involving 4,896 adults found that 34% of Britons believe lockdown restrictions are still necessary
  • A study of almost 200,000 users of Kooth, an online mental health forum, found last week that 41% of users “feel nervous every day”
  • A study by the polling firm Opinium found that one in ten Britons want lockdown restrictions to remain indefinitely

The Sunday Times has some heart-rending case studies:

Long before the emergence in India of a dangerous new Covid variant, Hayley Martin was worried about the easing of lockdown restrictions in Britain and the prospect of “going out and interacting with people again”.

The government’s warnings last week of the new threat to the nation’s health have redoubled her fears of leaving her home in Congleton, Cheshire. “We’ve tried to go out, but it’s been really anxiety-provoking and stressful,” she said. “My imagination runs wild.”…

For James Bailey, a 36-year-old care worker who lives with his 69-year-old mother on the Isle of Man, lockdown was compounded by the island’s isolation from the mainland. Bailey used to travel periodically to London, but his worries about going somewhere and bringing back a dangerous variant were now “sky-high”, he said.

The Isle of Man’s last confirmed Covid case was on May 2 and “people don’t want Covid back on the island”, Bailey said. “The thought of going away makes me anxious. I haven’t left the island for over a year.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: BBC News has published a piece in which it has asked various scientific “experts” how they’re intending to behave after some restrictions are relaxed on Monday. Sounds like nearly all of them belong to the 10% of the population who want lockdown to last forever.

Stop Press 2: Laura Dodsworth, who’s book A State of Fear: how the UK government weaponised fear during the COVID-19 pandemic is published on Monday, wrote a piece for the Mail on Sunday about why it is so many people are gripped by an irrational fear of the virus.

There Is a “High Degree of Confidence” That Vaccines Work Against Indian Variant, Says Matt Hancock

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says there is a “high degree of confidence” that vaccines work against the Indian Covid variant, but that it can “spread like wildfire” among those who are unvaccinated. The Mail on Sunday has the story.

The Health Secretary said that a new Oxford University investigation showed that the innoculations available were effective against the variant which is now dominant in some Northern towns. 

Four people are known to have died from the Indian variant but appearing on TV this morning Mr Hancock said those who had been hospitalised were “largely people who are eligible for the vaccine but have not taken it”.

It came as Boris Johnson today pledged to increase the speed of Britain’s vaccine rollout to a million jabs a day in an attempt to beat the increasing prevalence of the variant amid fears it could derail the country’s exit from lockdown. 

Appearing on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday he said: “There’s new very early data out from Oxford University, and I would stress that this is from the labs, it’s not clinical data, and it’s very early.

“But it does give us a degree of confidence that the vaccines work against this Indian variant, but it is clearly more transmissible and has been spreading fast in the groups where there’s a cluster.

“That means that we can stay on course with our strategy of using the vaccine to deal with the pandemic and opening up carefully and cautiously but we do need to be really very vigilant to the spread of the disease.

“We have a high degree of confidence that the vaccine will overcome.”

But Mr Hancock did strike a note of more caution over the final release from lockdown on June 21st, saying the final decision would not be taken until June 14th.

When talking about the final step of the “roadmap” out of lockdown, Hancock said that the Government is being “cautious” because it wants the reopening to be “irreversible”. He seemed to suggest that the June 21st date for this reopening may not be stuck to if enough people don’t get vaccinated against Covid, despite the fact that 36 million people have already had a first vaccine dose and more than 19 million (that is, those who are most vulnerable to the virus) have had a second.

New variants are one of the biggest risks to this opening because of the speed of transmission of [the Indian variant] – it can really spread like wildfire among the unvaccinated groups. Hence we need to get as many people vaccinated as possible, particularly those who are most vulnerable to ending up in hospital.

The Mail on Sunday report is worth reading in full.

News Round Up

When Will the Evidence From Florida and Texas Break Through the SAGE Groupthink?

The latest model of doom from Government advisory group SAGE appeared yesterday, predicting a ludicrous 10,000 hospital admissions a day in mid-July in a vaccinated population (nearly three times the January peak) because of the Indian variant – and that’s the central scenario. Furthermore, the researchers don’t even think the Indian variant is more deadly or particularly good at evading vaccines. So how do they conclude it will precipitate such a calamity?

Professor Adam Kucharski, a SAGE modeller from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), explains their reasoning:

The issue is that many people have a mental image that we’ve [already] had the biggest possible epidemic waves, whereas we’ve actually had ones that are relatively small compared to what could have happened without control measures in place. Because of these controls, only a fraction of the people who could have got infected in the past year or so have been infected, so they’re still out there. Of course, for many of these people vaccines have now decreased their risk substantially. But a very large number of infections that come with a very small individual level of risk can produce a similar outcome to a smaller epidemic that carries a larger individual level of risk.

Maths whizz Glen Bishop, writing for Lockdown Sceptics, has shown why SAGE’s assumptions are so unrealistic as to produce these highly implausible scenarios. In their central scenario, for example, their assumptions imply that up to half of the UK will be simultaneously infected in one week in mid-July. This is despite the January peak only having around 2% of the population infected at one time, according to the ONS.

Another of the models’ big assumptions, prominent in what Prof Kucharski says above, is that lockdowns and social distancing have successfully suppressed the virus and that it is only because they continue in some form that the flood of infections, hospitalisations and deaths is held back. The latest modelling starkly shows how, even with a high vaccination coverage as in the UK, such an assumption can produce predictions so dire they send twitchy Governments reaching for the lockdown order.

As the SAGE briefing says:

At this point in the vaccine rollout, there are still too few adults vaccinated to prevent a significant resurgence that ultimately could put unsustainable pressure on the NHS, without non-pharmaceutical interventions. … It is a realistic possibility that this new variant of concern could be 50% more transmissible. If [the Indian variant] does have such a large transmission advantage, it is a realistic possibility that progressing with all roadmap steps would lead to a substantial resurgence of hospitalisations.

In fact, there is no evidence (outside models, which are not evidence) that lockdown measures or social distancing have any significant impact on reducing Covid infections or deaths. This is why the states in America which removed their restrictions in March (Texas) or last autumn (Florida) or never imposed them (South Dakota) are doing no worse, and often better, than many states which maintained strict restrictions throughout the winter (see the graph above). Sweden demonstrates a similar point in Europe.

The depressing truth, though, is that sceptics have largely failed to get this basic point across to those in charge and their scientific advisers. It’s not as though the evidence is not there. There are numerous peer-reviewed articles in leading journals that set out the evidence on this, and more keep appearing. Leading scientists have raised their heads to make the evidence-based case.

Graphs like the above, which should by themselves undermine the entire lockdown edifice, are easy to produce. Leading journalists such as Fraser Nelson, writing in one of the leading Tory newspapers, the Telegraph, has pointed repeatedly to the evidence on this. The data is plain for all to see and the voices highlighting it are not marginal or lacking in credibility.

Yet here we are again, with another model built on dubious assumptions and a presumption of lockdown efficacy once more imperilling our liberty. Freedom has never felt so fragile as in these past 14 months, when access to basic liberties has rested on the evidence-free assumptions made by a small group of mathematical modellers whose word seems to be taken as holy writ by those in charge.

Adam Kucharski is on Twitter. So why not ask him (politely!) why, if so many people remain so susceptible to this virus and its variants as to produce such dire predictions, Florida, Texas and South Dakota have fared no worse than places which have imposed or maintained restrictions? I’ve put the graph as the featured image to make it easy to share – just put a link to this article in the tweet and the graph should appear. If you get any answers from him, why not email them to us here.