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James Delingpole’s Report on Saturday’s Anti-Lockdown March

There follows a guest post by James Delingpole, the Executive Editor of Breitbart London.

I don’t know how many people went on the Freedom March through London at the weekend, but it was definitely a lot more than the “hundreds” initially reported by the BBC and Sky [did they get Neil Ferguson to do their arithmetic?], and probably ran into the tens of thousands.

We gathered beforehand in small ‘bubble’-like groups in Hyde Park and tried to avoid the attentions of the large numbers of police who were trying to find an excuse to disperse us or arrest us. Someone said it felt like being in Occupied Europe during the war. Everyone was slightly tense, keyed up, knowing that the police have shown themselves to be much more brutal and unforgiving towards anti-lockdown protestors than they are with, say, Black Lives Matter or Extinction Rebellion mobs.

At a pre-arranged smoke signal – everything was organised on Telegram and announced at the last minute so as to keep the police guessing – we began to coalesce and marched out of the Marble Arch entrance, up Park Lane then right down Oxford Street.

It was, as always at these events, a good natured crowd. Only a minority, I’m guessing, had been ruined by a university education. These were people that we’d call ‘salt of the earth’ and Hillary Clinton would call ‘Deplorables’. There was a great deal more racial diversity than you’d find at a BLM or an XR rally.

As we weaved through the traffic on Park Lane which had been brought to a standstill I expected hostility from the trapped drivers. What we got, though, was solidarity – especially from the bus drivers. They beeped their horns and accepted fist bumps and flowers through the windows.

I joined London Mayoral candidate Laurence Fox, leader of the Reclaim Party, who got a lot of love from the crowd for his pro-freedom, anti-lockdown, open-up-London-immediately campaign ticket. We snaked with the long conga line the length of Oxford Street heading for Holborn, acutely conscious that any moment the Territorial Support Group vans circling us like hungry wolves could close off the side-streets and kettle us in for hours in order to inflict torture by boredom, claustrophobia and bursting bladder.

On this occasion, however, the police were mostly restrained. Some said it was because the crowd was simply too large to confront; others that the police were taking a softly-softly approach after criticisms that they had been too harsh at the previous weekend’s vigil for Sarah Everard. My own suspicion is that they would have welcomed some aggro in order to discredit the anti-lockdown cause (as the state is very keen to do) but that in the event they opted for the next best thing: denying it the oxygen of publicity.

The compliant media certainly helped here. How often do tens of thousands of people march through London’s main thoroughfares on a Saturday with barely a mention in the Sunday papers? I remember, for example, last year most of the Sundays devoting double-page spreads to the Black Lives Matter march – with huge photographs and swooning copy. But this march – in support of a far less politically tainted cause: quite simply an affirmation of people’s right to work and play free of government oppression – was ignored. Sad.

Stop Press: Read Laura Dodsworth’s account of being on the demo for Spiked.

You Are a Third Less Likely to Catch Covid this Christmas Than Last Christmas and 80% Less Likely to Die From It. So Why the Panic?

We’re republishing the latest analysis by James Ferguson, a financial analyst, which argues – quite convincingly – that not only is Omicron considerably milder than Delta but also less transmissible.

Almost a year ago to the day, I noted that the reasons given for closing down Christmas celebrations in the U.K. last year had owed more to a basic mathematical error than the supposed increased transmissibility and virulence of the new alpha (Medway) variant.

This year, a similar threat from omicron appears to be scaring the politicos, but this again seems more a figment of the scare-mongers’ hysteria than scientifically-grounded evidence.

The willful damage that certain so-called scientists have serially inflicted on the economy needs to be queried. However, the propaganda machine likens any healthy skepticism to flat-earth advocacy.

Consequently, this note takes a leaf out of Steven Koonin’s excellent book on the climate debate Unsettled, and only interprets the Government’s own official data.

However, as you will see below, this interpretation comes out quite differently to the Government propaganda/BBC party line. Covid, as is the way with new viruses, is mutating into both a significantly less transmissible and substantially less virulent variant.

You are only about one third as likely to catch Covid this Christmas as last and, even if you do, you are now 80% less likely to die from it. So, why isn’t this the new narrative?

Same Government data, different headlines.

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A Defence of Lockdown Sceptics

Into the valley of death rode the 600

What follows is a guest post by Toby.

I was disappointed to read the Spectator article by Lockdown Sceptics contributor Alistair Haimes about his departure from our ranks. The brilliant data analyst has been a valuable ally and I hope he will return to the fold in due course. 

His argument boils down to this: “When the facts change, I change my mind.” But what facts have changed? He cites three. First, the health service is under severe stress and unless we can reduce virus transmission over the next few weeks it’s at serious risk of being overwhelmed. That wasn’t true when the second national lockdown was imposed in November, he says, but it is today. Second, we now have two approved Covid vaccines, with more to follow, so any new restrictions will be short-lived. Third, there is a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 which is around 50% more transmissible than the pre-existing variants.

I’ll take each of these in turn – although I may digress a bit.

First, I’m sceptical of the claim that we have X number of days to save the NHS – a familiar trope that I thought the Labour Party had flogged to death. Let’s not forget that a winter bed crisis in the NHS is an annual event, as you can see from this collection of Guardian headlines. According to PHE, there was no statistically significant excess all-cause mortality in England in the final week of 2020 and while excess winter deaths this season are above the five-year average, they are currently below the peaks reached in 2016/17 and 2017/18. We published a piece on Wednesday in Lockdown Sceptics by Dr Clare Craig on Emergency Department Syndromic Indicators that looked at various indexes of ill-health, such as hospital admissions for Acute Respiratory Infection, Influenza-like illness and Pneumonia, and those are all below the baseline for an English winter – or were until a week ago. These data suggest that some of the people currently in English hospitals with COVID-19 have either been misdiagnosed or would have been hospitalised with something else if they hadn’t been laid low with Covid. In some NHS regions, Critical care bed occupancy numbers are currently above what they were in December 2019 – an unusually mild flu season – but there was still some headroom on December 27th, as you can see from this bar chart.

PHE Graph showing excess mortality in the winter of 2020 is above baseline, but the peak was lower than in 16/17 and 17/18

But let’s allow that things have got worse by an order of magnitude in the past week or so and some NHS trusts really are on the cusp of being overwhelmed, which they may well be. (See today’s report from the senior doctor.) Will the lockdown Boris announced on Monday do anything to avert this catastrophe, as Alistair seems to think? The only difference between the new national lockdown and the Tier 4 restrictions that were already in place in 80% of England on January 1st is that restaurants and pubs can no longer serve alcohol to take away and schools will be closed. But schools had already closed when London went into Tier 4 on December 20th and there isn’t much evidence that those restrictions reduced the R number in the capital. As SAGE member Professor Andrew Hayward pointed out on Tuesday, nearly 10 million key workers are still travelling to and from work. In addition, people are still going to supermarkets, chemists and corner shops. The statistician William M. Briggs, co-author of The Price of Panic, argues that it’s misleading to think of lockdowns as quarantines. Rather, they just create a number of ‘concentration points’, herding people into a limited number of spaces, and in that way increase the rate of transmission. If masks worked this mobility might not matter, but the recent mask study in Denmark suggests they don’t.

Some lockdown enthusiasts pick out a handful of examples where lockdowns have coincided with a fall in Covid deaths but that’s not a scientific approach. Numerous research studies, published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals, have concluded that there’s no association between Covid mortality and the standard suite of non-pharmacuetical interventions, such as mandating masks in indoor settings, closing schools and universities, shutting non-essential shops, imposing curfews and banning domestic travel. You can adjust the lockdown variables all you like – timing, severity, etc. – but there’s no signal in the noise. The American Institute for Economic Research has collected some of the best of these studies here and we’ve created a compendium of the evidence that non-pharmaceutical interventions don’t work at Lockdown Sceptics. The epidemiological models that SAGE uses to persuade the Government to ratchet up the restrictions rely on counterfactuals – if you don’t do y, x number of people will die – that cannot be falsified because the Government always end up doing SAGE’s bidding, as Alistair Haimes has pointed out.

Professor Lockdown, as imagined by Miriam Elia, author of We Do Lockdown

On the other hand, it is incontestable that lockdowns cause harm. Lockdown sceptics are sometimes accused of putting profit before people, but I’m not just talking about economic harm – increased borrowing, businesses going bankrupt, growing unemployment. The negative impact of school closures on children has been flagged up by numerous educational organisations, including Ofsted, with the most disadvantaged paying the highest price. The Centre for Mental Health estimated in October that that up to 10 million people will need either new or additional mental health support, thanks to the trauma of enforced isolation, and reports of domestic abuse to the Metropolitan Police increased by 11% during the first lockdown compared to the same period last year. Drug overdoses in San Francisco killed more than three times the number of people last year than COVID-19. 

It’s also nonsense to imagine the economic damage caused by the lockdowns won’t have ruinous public health consequences – anything that hurts profits, hurts people. Professor Sunetra Gupta estimates that the global economic recession caused by the lockdowns will result in 130 million people starving to death and the United Nations predicts it will plunge as many as 420 million residents of the developing world into extreme poverty, with low-income countries seeing average incomes falling for the first time in 60 years. 

Even in the absence of the detailed cost-benefit analysis the Covid Recovery Group of MPs has repeatedly asked for, it seems overwhelmingly likely that the harms caused by lockdowns in the UK alone are greater than the harms they prevent. According to one study out of Bristol University, the ongoing restrictions will cause 560,000 deaths, 310,000 more than Professor Neil Ferguson and his team predicted would die absent a lockdown but with voluntary ‘mitigation’ measures in place. As the now disgraced President of the United States said, the cure is worse than the disease. That essential point hasn’t changed, so I see no reason why sceptics should change their minds about lockdowns now. Yes, the NHS may be in genuine peril, but that doesn’t mean we should set aside our well-founded doubts about the effectiveness of heavy-handed interventions. On the contrary, trying to quarantine people for a third time, given that the policy clearly hasn’t worked, seems like Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

What about the vaccines? True, some sceptics did argue that shutting people in their homes until a vaccine became available was impractical because it might take years to develop one. But that was never the central plank of our case (see above). On the contrary, our preferred alternative to locking down is ‘focused protection’, as set out in the Great Barrington Declaration, and vaccines make that strategy more attractive, not less.

Our starting point is that the number of people who died from COVID-19 in English hospitals in 2020 who were under 60 with no underlying health conditions was 388 and the virus is less deadly than seasonal flu for healthy people under 70. Note, we’re not claiming that SARS-CoV-2 is less deadly than the average bout of seasonal flu for the entire population – although that’s true of some flu seasons – only that it’s likely to kill fewer healthy people under-70, including children. Whenever we cite that 388 statistic, critics accuse us of being callous, as though we’re saying older people and those with chronic conditions don’t matter. Far from it. We think the Government should pull out all the stops to protect those who are vulnerable to this disease, including care home residents, who made up about 40% of those who died from COVID-19 in the first wave (and 50% of those who died in Scotland). Shielding for people in these groups should not be compulsory – we believe in trusting people to make their own risk assessments and adjust their behaviour accordingly. But it should be a viable option, with all the necessary support. Meanwhile, the rest of us should be permitted to go about our lives, taking the same precautions we would in a normal flu season.

The arguments for and against ‘focused protection’ have been well-rehearsed, but the vaccines deal with one of the best objections – that it would be inhumane to expect the vulnerable to shut themselves away until the rest of the population develops natural herd immunity. That would create a two-tier society. But now that we have a vaccine, those groups only need shield until they’ve been immunised, at which point they can re-enter society (something they can’t do at present, even after they’ve had the jab, because there’s no ‘society’ to re-enter). The Government is planning to vaccinate 13.9 million people by mid-February – although that number includes everyone who works in health and social care settings – and there are about 16 million who fall into the above vulnerable categories.

So, yes, the vaccines do make a difference – they strengthen the sceptics’ case by making ‘focused protection’ more palatable.

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya, authors of the Great Barrington Declaration

What about the new variant? I’m reserving judgment on whether it’s more transmissible. As Mike Hearn pointed out yesterday, ONS infection survey data released on December 23rd show that the percentage of the UK population testing positive for the new variant began to fall in November before taking off again, and in some areas it has already started to dip, as was clear from the plot presented by Chris Whitty on Tuesday. If it’s 50% more transmissible than pre-existing variants, why isn’t the percentage just constantly rising in all parts of England? 

But suppose the new variant is more infectious. What evidence is there that the new lockdown measures will interrupt transmission? If the first two lockdowns didn’t stop the original virus in its tracks, why will a third stop a turbo-charged version? 

I sympathise with Alistair Haimes. He believes the NHS is at risk of falling over and wants us to do something – anything – to protect it. Lockdown sceptics also don’t want to see the NHS fall over, but where I part company with Alistair is in believing that a third national lockdown is the right mitigation strategy. Wouldn’t it be better to offer robust protection to the vulnerable and make vaccinating them an absolute priority? Not only would that be more likely to ‘save the NHS’, it would save the rest of us from the harms caused by yet another lockdown. ‘Focused protection’ is sometimes dismissed as not scientifically credible, but the 700,000+ signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration include over 13,000 medical and public health scientists and nearly 40,000 medical practitioners.

Alistair thinks this lockdown is more palatable than the others because there’s light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to the vaccine. Within 100 days, he estimates, it can be dismantled, hopefully never to be seen again. I wish I shared his optimism. At Tuesday’s Downing Street briefing, Chris Whitty said restrictions might well be back next winter and some people have called for masks to remain mandatory indefinitely. 

The problem with allowing the state to suspend your civil liberties is that you may never get them back. I treat the Government’s claims that it will relinquish the powers it has arrogated to itself when the crisis is over with extreme scepticism, just as I do every official announcement about the virus. 

One final point. Over the past week or so, some of the most prominent lockdown sceptics have been vilified in the media, accused of encouraging members of the public to ignore social distancing guidelines and thereby causing people to die. These attacks may ratchet up over the next few days as the NHS comes under more and more pressure, although it’s hard to imagine them becoming even more hysterical. Paul Mason wrote a column in the New Statesman on Wednesday saying that Allison Pearson, Laurence Fox, Julia Hartley-Brewer, Peter Hitchens and me should be consigned to the seventh circle of hell. But the assumption underlying these criticisms is that lockdowns work, which is precisely the point under dispute. Is it reasonable to expect us to just take that on faith and keep any doubts we have to ourselves? After all, we don’t ask the Paul Masons of this world to take it on faith that lockdowns cause more harm than good and accuse them of killing people by advocating for tougher restrictions. We think history will prove us right, but we’re not so full of righteous certitude that we want to silence our opponents. 

One of the most unpleasant aspects of this crisis is that it has brought out an ugly, authoritarian streak in so many people, particularly those in positions of authority. Before March of last year, I believed that totalitarianism could never take root in British soil because we are such a Rabelaisian, freedom-loving people, fiercely proud of our independence. Now, I’m not so sure.

Stop Press: Claire Fox defended lockdown sceptics in a House of Lords debate yesterday.

London Hospitals Really Are in Crisis

What follows is the regular weekly update by our in-house senior doctor, based on the just-released NHS data. It makes for grim reading this week.

Toby has kindly asked me to have a look at the weekly data packet from the NHS hospital statistics website and draw some observations from what we can see in this information and from other data sources. Clearly it has been a busy week on the Covid front, with the closing of schools and a parliamentary vote on a further National lockdown. The media coverage of the issue becomes ever more shrill and disappointingly antagonistic. The usual caveats apply to the data – we can only see what the Government release and we take what is presented at face value.

The first thing I wish to look at is Covid inpatients in the English regions (Graph 1).

The steep rise of cases within London (the orange line) over the last two weeks is obvious, with increases in the South East, East of England and the Midlands. At the risk of sounding metro-centric, I am going to focus on the figures from the capital because I think London is going to be at a very critical point in the coming days. Since December 15th, cases have been rising remorselessly in London hospitals. Prior to mid-December, the numbers of patients did not look out of the normal range for the time of year, but they are well in excess of normal now. I commented last week that London hospitals were in for an extremely uncomfortable time over the next two to three weeks – that now looks like an understatement.

It is not entirely clear what has triggered the rise in cases, but applying Occam’s razor it is probable that the new more transmissible strain is responsible for the rapid increase. There is certainly something radically different between the beginning of December and the end of the month. In one major London hospital, the new variant accounted for 15% of cases admitted at the beginning of December. This week it accounted for 90% of cases. Graph 2 shows the Covid inpatients in London hospitals (orange bars) compared to the spring (blue bars). London hospitals now have substantially more Covid patients than at the spring peak and the trend is still upwards. (I’ve updated the figures below to Jan 5th, but wasn’t able to change the legend.)

Graph 3 shows the number of Covid patients in ICU in the English regions complete to January 7th. Again, the rise in cases in London is much faster than in the other regions and, with 961 cases as of January 7th, this is fast approaching the ICU spring peak with no sign of levelling off. This is an important graph because these are the sickest patients and use up a large number of resources. Further, ICU patients require the attention of the resource that is in critically short supply – intensive care trained nurses. I will return to this point later. Interestingly, the ICNARC data (intensive care audit) to December 31st shows that patients admitted since September 1st still have a survival advantage compared to the cohort to August 31st, but that this advantage has narrowed compared to earlier in 2020. There are multiple possible reasons for this – one of which is that as the volume of patients increases, the level of care may drop, particularly if nursing:patient ratios rise. The normal nursing ratio in ICU is one nurse per patient. This is now stretched to one to two in most hospitals and to as many as one to four in some places, which is really hard to sustain for long periods.

Graph 4 shows the comparison in London between the ICU occupancy in spring (blue) and in winter (orange) showing numbers in ICU approaching the spring peak and again the trend is still rising. (I’ve updated the figures below to Jan 5th, but wasn’t able to change the legend.)

Graph 5 shows the number of Covid positive patients admitted from the community every day. There is just a suggestion that the London admissions may be starting to level off, but there is still a significant upward trend which is higher than all the other regions.

So far the numbers look worrying. Is there any good news this week?

Possibly, from the ZOE app. For those that don’t know, this is a symptom tracker app run by Professor Tim Spector from King’s College Hospital. The data is uploaded by members of the public who have either tested positive for Covid or who have symptoms. Some people think it is a more reliable measure of the level of community infections than the officially released PCR test numbers – it has certainly proved useful so far in the pandemic. Graph 6 shows the data for London to December 31st. A rapid rise from mid-December followed by a slight tailing off, but the numbers remain much higher than in the earlier part of December, suggesting that there are substantial numbers of patients in the community who will present to London hospitals with symptoms in the coming days.

Analysing numbers can only get one so far. Talking to people on the ground is also necessary to get a better idea of what is going on. I have referred to the differences between the winter and the spring in previous posts – the critical problem now is staff absence due to illness or positive contacts. This can make interpretation of bed occupancy levels in comparison to previous years a bit misleading. For example, there has been a massive expansion of ICU beds in all hospitals and especially in London since the spring, but if there are not enough nurses to service those beds, they are of limited use. So even if bed occupancy on at 85%, a hospital may be at capacity because it can only staff 85% of the available beds. A few weeks ago, when we had sufficient nurses to staff the beds, bed occupancy rates were comparable with previous years. Now the nursing resource is so stretched, I’m not sure how much comfort we can take from those comparisons.

In previous posts I have noted the reduction in ward beds due to increased spacing requirements and the organisational friction caused by patient cohorting and constant use of fatiguing PPE. What is less measurable but more important is staff morale. Morale is difficult to quantify. It’s a bit like an elephant – hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. Low morale leads to increased absence with illness and stress. At a time of crisis, medical and nursing staff are often required to go the extra mile and encouraging a demoralised and tired workforce to do that is phenomenally difficult and subject to the law of diminishing returns. You get a harder ‘squeeze for juice’ ratio, until eventually there is no juice left. In that sense, the situation is worse than the spring when morale was very high. The responsibility for this rests squarely with senior NHS management for failing to prepare, train and rest critical workers for an anticipated winter surge which was a predictable and indeed predicted risk.

Further signs of stress in the system have become evident this week. Most London hospitals have now ceased all routine activity and several have ceased urgent work as well, particularly in the SE and NE sectors which are the most stressed. Graph 7 shows paired data for selected London trusts. This graphic can be a bit tricky to read, but one can see that Barts and Guys and St Thomas’s have had rapid rises in ICU patients to spring levels in the last week because they are increasing their bed numbers to offload peripheral hospitals. Their feeder hospitals of Lewisham and Barking are at capacity, the same as in the spring. There is still some spare capacity in the West of London at Imperial and St George’s, but numbers are rising there too.

Problems have arisen with oxygen supply at some hospitals – this is not due to lack of oxygen per se, but an engineering problem with the pipe pressure. Non-invasive ventilation with CPAP which most patients require needs a lot of oxygen and the requirement is more than the pipework can supply in some places. Some hospitals are unable to operate on surgical patients because all the operating theatres have been converted into temporary ICUs. Paediatric ICUs now have adult patients in them. Some outpatient facilities are being converted into temporary acute wards. Staff are being re-allocated from normal duties to support critical care and acute Covid wards. All these observations are as useful an indication of the stress in the system as the raw numbers.

So, what does all this mean?

Earlier this week, NHS England issued an Alert Level 5 – the definition of which is that there is a material risk of the NHS being overwhelmed and unable to cope with demand in several areas in the following 21 days.

Since September, NHSE has regularly been issuing exaggerated and hyperbolic statements about the risk of the service being overwhelmed that were not supported by the published data or the ‘ground truth’ – this has diminished trust and confidence with the public.

Unfortunately, they are not exaggerating now. The situation in London is the most serious I have seen in over 30 years as a doctor and it will probably get worse before it gets better. The deterioration in the last week has been incredibly fast and has taken people by surprise. The service is incredibly resilient but it is a finite resource and can be exceeded by demand in extreme circumstances.

The final question of course is will lockdown make any difference? I’m not convinced of the efficacy of lockdowns from experiences in 2020. It’s likely that community cases were already falling before the spring lockdown started. The multiple harms of lockdown have been well documented and many of these such as delayed treatment for cancer or heart disease will not become apparent for many months or years. On the other hand, faced with the current situation, there is literally no other intervention available. The current lockdown on this occasion fits the WHO definition of an intervention of last resort, which was not the case in the autumn. If the Prime Minister did not act, he would be subject to serious criticism should the London NHS be unable to cope in the coming weeks. Of course, that might happen anyway, but the Government have to be seen to act – so I don’t think there was any choice politically. Whether lockdown makes any practical difference to the number of cases presenting to hospital will not be known for several weeks and probably be the subject of intense debate.

The observation that the new variant was spreading rapidly even during the severe restrictions in December is worrying and suggests that there may be an ‘illusion of control’. One must hope that the ZOE app proves to be correct again and that cases have actually been falling in the community since the end of December. But even if that is true, hospital admissions will continue to rise at least for the next few days.

Eventually, we will get to the other side of this problem, but it will be a bumpy ride for the next few weeks with many difficult decisions to be taken.

Hancock: Freedom Will Be Restored Once Vulnerable Are Vaccinated

Health Secretary Matt Hancock

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has ruled out a “zero Covid” strategy and said restrictions will be lifted as soon as the vaccination of the vulnerable makes Covid a “manageable risk” – a target pencilled in for mid-February. Fraser Nelson and James Forsyth interviewed him for the Spectator.

It’s not yet clear what counts as a win in the game of Vaccine Monopoly. Hancock rules out eradication. “It is impossible for any country to deliver a zero-Covid strategy. No country in the world has delivered that, including the ones that have aimed at it,” he says. “Covid is going to be here, but it is going to be a manageable risk.” His focus is on fatalities and, he says, abolishing restrictions as soon as it is feasible.

When Covid hospital cases fall and pressure on the NHS is lifted, he says, “That is the point at which we can look to lift the restrictions.” So what about herd immunity, vaccinating so many people that the virus dies out? “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.” But at that point the majority would remain unprotected. Would he as Health Secretary – still say it’s time to abolish the restrictions? “Cry freedom,” he replies. “Covid is going to be here, but it is going to be a manageable risk.”

Freedom, we say, is not a word that many would associate with him. People associate him with lockdown. “No,” he replies, “they associate me with the vaccine.” Do they really? “Yes.” Even when the rules go, Hancock thinks that some changes to behaviour will remain. “The social norm may well become wearing a mask on public transport, for instance, in the same way that after SARS the social norm in many Asian countries became to wear masks in public. Essentially out of politeness.” But he stresses that these decisions will be a matter of “personal responsibility”, not government diktat. Nor does he see immunisation certificates being brought in. “It’s not an area that we’re looking at.”

It’s clear he’s a true believer in the Ferguson-Imperial modelling complete with its dubious assumptions of no pre-existing immunity, high death rate, and lockdowns saving lives.

The moment he most looks forward to? “When I have the duty to declare that the Coronavirus Act is no longer required, upon medical advice. That will be a great moment: when we repeal these draconian laws.” He says he’s mindful of the side effects: people dying who would otherwise have been treated by the NHS. The economic devastation and business closures. But without lockdown, he says, both the Covid deaths and the side effects would be far greater. “I think that’s one of the things we’ve learned all the way through this. The public have totally got that: I mean, they are more strongly supportive of lockdown now than they were at the start.”

Politically, he feels events have justified the decisions he made. “I hope that one of the consequences of this crisis is that it emboldens politicians to do the right thing even if it isn’t the immediately popular thing. Because that is what earns you respect.”

That’s what we’re worried about, Matt: politicians emboldened to impose lockdowns every winter regardless of the cries of protest.

Worth reading in full.

Vaccination Priority List Ignored As NHS Administrators Use Up Expiring Stock

An NHS administrator at work

A reader has emailed with an anecdote about how the vaccine priority list is getting skewed by who happens to be available at the time.

My wife logged on to her village club meeting this week, now on Zoom of course. One of the regulars, who lives across the road from us, announced to general incredulity that she has had two Pfizer jabs already. What? She’s about 60 and works as a part-time NHS administrator in a department in a Midlands hospital – and she’s been working from home throughout! How can this be? It transpires that since the Pfizer jabs have to be used up in double-quick time, the hospital staff are bombarded with emails to come and make the most of the day’s slack because the oldsters can’t be wheeled in fast enough. Needless to say, the frontline staff are too busy in an “I-haven’t-got-time-to-check-my-emails-or-be-vaccinated” sort of way, so they are frequently being missed out. How much more of this has been going on? Since their biggest beef is the risks they are taking, why aren’t they being frog-marched down to be vaccinated with the leftovers? Still, I suppose at least it means the NHS can make sure its pen-pushers keep the outfit going.

Another reader tells us that at a hospital where a friend works, “all staff were contacted yesterday to come and get vaccinated as their stock of the Pfizer vaccine was about to expire”.

This is a known problem. Yesterday the Telegraph reported on the concerns of the BMA.

The BMA criticised the way hospitals are distributing jabs – especially doses left over at the end of the day – amid concern that frontline staff have been losing out to administrative workers. It follows fears that some hospitals are inviting any staff, including non-clinicians, to use up doses after vaccine clinics close rather than prioritising those in patient-facing roles.

Under rules set by the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation, frontline healthcare workers come in the second category of priority, behind care home residents and staff, but a number of trusts have allowed staff from all groups to come forward when stocks are at risk of going unused.

Dr Simon Walsh, the Deputy Chairman of the BMA Consultants Committee, said hospitals should ensure that the highest-risk staff come first.

“The BMA is very concerned about why, when there was quite a long run-up, the Government has not ensured that the NHS delivers the vaccine in a way that prioritises healthcare staff most at risk from Covid,” he said. “It would seem obvious that you should use systems the trusts already have to see which staff are at the highest risk – by virtue of their role, or age, for example – and prioritise them.

“We are astonished that this is not in place. The problem with calling anyone for a jab is that those most in need are those least likely to be able drop everything to come and get one.”

One unmentioned problem might be a reticence among healthcare professionals to get the experimental vaccine.

What Does Endemic Covid Look Like?

We’re publishing a new piece today by Dr Clare Craig, Jonathan Engler and Joel Smalley that explains what is going on this winter and how it relates to the pandemic in the spring.

Viruses do not disappear. When a novel virus is introduced to a naive population there will be an epidemic. Spread will be exponential, some susceptible people will die but eventually we will reach a point where there is sufficient population immunity that spread is slowed and the virus stops spreading in an epidemic fashion. Thereafter, localised outbreaks can still occur and susceptible people can still die but there is no longer a risk of epidemic spread because every outbreak is contained by population immunity.

Coronaviruses are seasonal, so it is only now that we have had some winter weather that we can assess what endemic Covid will be like.

Figure 1 shows the sharp spike in excess deaths seen with epidemic Covid in spring. These deaths were in excess of the usual winter hump. Compared with previous years, this year’s winter excess deaths started earlier but the shape of the curve is consistent with previous years. However, we have now reached the bizarre situation where so many deaths are being labelled as caused by Covid that, for the first time ever, this winter there are fewer non-Covid deaths in winter weeks than there were in summer.

They look at what might be causing the current pressures on the NHS.

Normally, hospitals work very close to or at capacity in winter. The only way this can be sustained is by a carefully choreographed flow of patients from admission to the wards and then back out. This flow has broken:

1. Bed managers, who organise the flow, used to only be concerned with whether a patient was male or female or needed a side room to avoid spread of other infectious diseases. They now have to try and keep patients with a Covid diagnosis separate from those with a suspicion of Covid and those without. This is no small feat in a full hospital.

2. In some hospitals patients are not being discharged until their Covid test returns as negative. Clearly returning patients to care homes during the window of infectivity would be a bad idea. Beyond that this policy is not justifiable. Some patients continue to test PCR positive for 90 days after infection.

3. PCR testing has led to a staffing crisis as even asymptomatic staff are made to self-isolate for two weeks, with 12% of staff absent when it would normally be 4%.

4. Staff are having to work in PPE and change it between patients, adding a significant additional burden to an already heavy workload.

If patients are no longer moving smoothly from the Emergency Department to the wards, then the former will quickly fill up giving the impression that the hospital has been overwhelmed. It is easy to see how this could cause a backlog of ambulances unable to drop off their patients.

Worth reading in full.

How Sweden Confounds the World

Stockholm’s ICU Covid admissions in 2020. Source: Government of Sweden

Kathy Gyngell in Conservative Woman has written a handy summary of Ivor Cummins’ latest “Crucial Viral Update” where Cummins shows how despite not locking down Sweden’s death toll from the virus is neither catastrophic nor unexpected.

Taking a look back over the last 10 decades, he shows that Sweden’s COVID-19 outbreak is of a very similar order to many of the flu epidemics that the country has experienced, and is hundreds of times lower than the Spanish flu of 1918 which, unlike Covid, had a median mortality age possibly as low as 40 (certainly less than 60) and included many infants in its grim toll. Which is not the case with Covid, with an average mortality rate of over 80.

Nor, he shows, is Sweden’s mortality rate materially different from ours, a ‘result’ if you want to call it that which has been achieved without crashing the economy or closing schools or putting the population under house arrest. The slight resurgence this autumn that many zealots have gleefully latched on to to say the Swedish model doesn’t work has a different explanation, he explains. Seasons must be compared with like seasons. Winters with winters, summers with summers. A low mortality winter season one year is likely to be followed by higher mortality one the next year. Deaths invariably catch up, for the elderly especially. Sweden had just experienced two “soft” autumn/winter seasons. This late 2020 spike and outcome was inevitable.

Cummins reminds us, too, that at the start of the pandemic the World Health Organisation did not recommend quarantine and that since then 25 published papers have continued to support their initial advice. These studies show that lockdown has no efficacy; and for those zealots who think the reason is because we are not obeying them diligently enough and we should crack down harder, he has this message: comparison of the stringency of lockdown across 50 countries shows that more stringency has no more impact than less draconian lockdowns. That is it makes no more difference than lockdown itself.

Cummins, Kathy writes, suggests the Japanese success story can be put down to the “far higher rate of metabolic health of the Japanese elderly (Vitamin D levels in particular, which by contrast are strikingly low in Italy)” and “prior SARS immunity and the quick accretion of COVID-19 antibodies in the population”. The US, by contrast, is suffering because “good metabolic health is low overall”.

Florida also confounds the lockdowners since early on it followed “the advice of Professor Michael Levitt of Stanford University, a scientist who’s argued that restrictions would have no impacts”. Thus, “the State Governor dropped them all and has proved Professor Levitt quite right. It has had no negative impact on Florida’s mortality at all.”

Cummins draws attention to the latest pre-print study from Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, which shows “how futile the interventions of countries have been. Each country’s mortality rate could have been predicted before the Covid pandemic and no lockdown could ever have done anything about it.”

Worth reading (and watching) in full.

Stop Press: Photo-Journalist Sean Spencer and Claudia Adela Nye have released the fourth and final trailer for their lockdown film. It’s called “Schools Closures in the UK Again, while Sweden keeps their primary schools open…” and is worth a watch.

The Glitch that Stole Christmas

We’re publishing today a piece by James Ferguson, founding partner of research company MacroStrategy, which looks in-depth at the evidence around the new “super-contagious” Covid variant that was used as the justification for cancelling Christmas.

On December 20th the UK Government put 44% of the English population into Tier 4 lockdown, cancelling Christmas get-togethers for 24m people, following a recommendation from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG).

NERVTAG had identified a new variant of the novel coronavirus in the South East of the country, which was 70% more transmissible than its predecessor, carried a viral load up to 10,000x higher and which the primer on the widely used Thermo Fisher TaqPath PCR machines failed to pick up.

However, these conclusions are highly dependent on the interpretation of the data and logically (Occam’s Razor) none of the claims made at that time about the new variant’s increased transmissibility, higher viral load or ability to escape detection appear justified.

This is a thorough examination of the scientific data and evidence and is worth a read.

A Frontline GP Writes…

A GP consultation

A GP has written a fantastic post on one of our forums entitled: “Why Lockdown Cannot be the Preferred Response to Coronavirus – The View of a Frontline GP.” He wonders how it is that lockdowns have suddenly become standard policy in response to a virus very similar to the ones that circulate each year.

It is true, that COVID-19 seems to be more transmissible than seasonal flu and, initially, there was no effective vaccine, meaning that peaks of infection and, therefore, peaks in admissions and deaths had the potential to be higher, though it is still not clear why ‘lockdown’ was considered to be the most appropriate response to these factors. Bearing in mind that the main risk factors for a poor outcome from COVID-19 infection can be reasonably easily identified (advancing age, chronic lung conditions, diabetes, obesity to name a few), surely it would make more sense for these people to stay at home with appropriate physical and financial support, whilst the rest of the fit and healthy population live their lives, go about their business and keep the economy afloat. Bearing in mind that a very large proportion of the at-risk group are already beyond retirement age, the removal of the remainder from the standing workforce could be anticipated to have a minimal effect on the overall economy.

Looking at a specific area of society, schools, raises even more questions about the appropriateness of ‘lockdown’. It is widely accepted that children and young adults are extremely unlikely to suffer significant morbidity or mortality from COVID-19 without significant underlying medical conditions, in fact, recent statements by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) suggest that children are not affected by the new variant of Covid at all – schools are full of children and, on the whole young adult teachers, the parents of these pupils will generally also be young adults – so how can we justify closing all the schools and cancelling all exams? This makes no sense whatsoever.

Whilst we consider the subject of ‘saving lives’, the current ‘lockdown’ response to the COVID-19 threat is entirely at odds with the government’s usual response to circumstances and conditions which are known to cause significant morbidity and mortality amongst the UK population. Data published by the NHS tells us that in 2019, 78,000 deaths and 490,000 hospital admissions were related to smoking, the ONS have published data which identifies alcohol consumption as the cause of 7,500 deaths in 2018 and the Diabetes UK website informs us that diabetes (the major cause of type 2 diabetes in the UK being obesity) treatment uses 10% of the annual NHS budget and is responsible for 24,000 early deaths every year. This being the case, why are the government not banning smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and over-eating? I imagine that to do so would be considered an infringement of human rights and an attack on personal freedom (which it would). This being the case, how can we now justify effective house-arrest for the entire population of the UK with no right of appeal, fines for those who disobey, no right to protest and no clear end-point in sight?

Far from saving lives, it is reasonable to believe that the significant curtailments to ‘normal life’ in the UK is storing up a great deal of trouble for the future. We already know that patients with signs and symptoms of cancer are not presenting to their GP surgeries at anything like the predicted rates, often due to fear of exposure to COVID-19 or the belief that normal GP services are not available – these patients still have cancer and will, eventually, present to the NHS but probably too late to be effectively treated resulting in early and potentially preventable deaths. Poverty is on the increase due to growing unemployment – poverty leads to poorer health and poor health outcomes – in brief, a poorer society is more unhealthy than a rich society, with more chronically unwell citizens and more early deaths – a greater burden on the NHS. Every week I meet patients with known mental health problems who are declining due to lack of contact with their usual social supports, lack of access to mental health services and anxiety caused by scare-mongering reports in the media – eventually these patients will present to mental health services and threaten to overwhelm them due to the sheer number of cases. Every week I meet elderly people who were previously active and independent, now too scared to leave their homes, many of whom will never join mainstream society ever again – these people will need care at home, a further unnecessary burden on their families and the social care budget.

What of the NHS which we are trying to protect? It seems to me that we would not need to be going to the extraordinary lengths discussed above to ‘protect’ our health service, if the health service had been properly managed and properly funded prior to COVID-19 arriving in the UK. Every year whilst I have worked for the NHS, I have received emails in October warning me of upcoming ‘winter-pressures’ and how we must all take care with referrals to hospitals and how services may be negatively impacted in the coming six months. These so-called ‘winter-pressures’ are entirely predictable well in advance, so why do they occur at all? The obvious answer is that the NHS does not, and in recent history has never had, enough clinical capacity to deal with predictable peaks in infection rates. If we recognise this fact, it was obvious that the NHS was always going to struggle with a new virus which blind-sided us as COVID-19 appears to have done. Surely, when designing a health service, we should plan for the peaks and not the troughs, we should build in flexibility, we should stock more of every medicine and piece of equipment than we will need in the next few days. If we had had an NHS which was already equipped to deal with ‘winter-pressures’, we would have been very well placed, strategically, to take COVID-19 in our stride. This may sound like wishful thinking but actually there are a few simple steps which I have been keen to see implemented in the NHS for many years which, I believe, would transform our ability to respond to threats such as that posed by COVID-19.

He offers some ways the NHS could improve its preparedness for pandemics, before going on to consider the use of state scaremongering and the importance of personal freedom.

Worth reading in full.

Call For Evidence on Lockdowns

The deadline for the call for evidence on the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights is fast approaching on January 11th. The committee explains:

In order to seek to control the impact of COVID-19, the Government has introduced successive restrictive measures, with varying degrees of severity, both nationally and locally. The impact of these measures has been widely felt, and some groups have been more affected than others.

As part of the ongoing work into the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Joint Committee on Human Rights is examining the impact of lockdown restrictions on human rights and whether those measures only interfere with human rights to the extent that is necessary and proportionate.

More details here.

A reader asks:

If basic care is to be curtailed to promote vaccination programmes, can I sue the GP practice if my elderly mum doesn’t get the care she needs and then goes on to be hospitalised unnecessarily?

Answers to the Lockdown Sceptics email address.

Suggestion For the Researchers

Could research into teams like this answer key questions about COVID-19?

A Lockdown Sceptics reader had a brainwave about how some hard data on the impact of Covid could be gleaned.

Having worked in business intelligence and data analysis for some years, I wanted to draw Lockdown Sceptics’ attention to a potential aspect of Covid analysis which – to my knowledge – I have not seen suggested or discussed elsewhere.

The idea crystallised after having seen Brendan O’Neill, Editor of Spiked, interviewed recently on the New Culture Forum’s YouTube channel (other video sharing platforms are available…) During Mr O’Neill’s very perceptive commentary around the Coronavirus pandemic he made the point that, irrespective of any epidemiological arguments, this has only ever really been “half a lockdown”, cleft largely along legacy social class lines. Although knowledge workers and laptop users, mostly middle-class, have been dutifully locked down at home, substantial sections of the workforce, predominantly working-class, have had to continue to work in the “meat-world” very much as usual: supermarket workers, delivery drivers, water and sewage workers, electricity grid workers, refuse collectors, care and support service providers, transport staff and so on.

In these workers, we have, therefore, a massive statistical sample (n=potential +/- ten million). Since many will be working for large organisations with concomitantly large and efficient HR departments / modern electronic data record systems, it would be entirely possible to collate and examine their data in order to see who developed coronavirus, for what length of time they became ill, and what any medical and health outcomes of all this were. 

Supermarket workers in particular have been in close proximity to the general public day-in day-out throughout the entire duration of the crisis. The chains for which they work are both extensive geographically, and are visited by tens if not hundreds of thousands of people every day. All of these large supermarket chains, for example Tescos, will have staff data showing [1] who their staff are [2] where they are [3] their demographic information and [4] their sickness information. What better way might there be to assess the actual dangers of proximity, transmissibility and severity than to study this data?

Given how flexible and adaptable these organisations have proved themselves to be over the past 10 months – and given the gravity of our current situation – it would surely not be impossible for these data sets to be anonymised and made available for analysis. Rather than relying exclusively on the highly questionable, if not downright inaccurate, ‘predictive models’ used by Imperial College and their ilk, we could perform additional analysis on this real-world operational data. What percentage of staff were falling ill due to the coronavirus? How long did their illnesses last? Were they fatal? How many employees suffered from “long Covid” symptoms?

Few organisations or businesses would rely on predictive analytics alone to draw-up or support their business plans, they would almost always analyse past data in order to show baseline figures and patterns around performance, sales, failure demand, customer numbers, complaints and so on.

It seems that in this case, however, when parts of our very society are hanging by a thread, we are relying solely on predictive analytics, and neglecting almost 10 months of actual, real-world data which might potentially yield some hugely important insights.

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Three today: “Misery and Gin” by Merle Haggard, “No Face, No Name, No Number” by Traffic and “Virus is Over (If You Want It)” by Unknown Rebel.

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, Will Knowland in the Spectator describes the Eton kangaroo court that sealed his summary dismissal for transgressing the sacred precepts of wokery.

It was the boys themselves who suggested and named the YouTube channel Knowland Knows, which has since got me summarily dismissed. The axe fell swiftly after I asked why a video entitled “The Patriarchy Paradox” (originally intended as half of a debate on the new gender orthodoxies at the College, which never saw the light of day) should be deleted from this public platform. The reason given was the presence of an Eton disclaimer on the channel, originally added at the College’s own request.

I’ve since been called everything from a free-speech martyr to a misogynist. While the video has received views equivalent to more than 100 times the size of the Eton student body, it was the boys themselves who first came to my defence, with a compelling open letter saying they felt “morally bound not to be bystanders in what appears to be an instance of institutional bullying”. They boldly claimed that “young men and their views are formed in the meeting and conflict of ideas”, and correctly pinpointed free speech as the principle at stake – otherwise why was it so essential the video should come down? My disciplinary process was only the latest in a series of lustrations turning Eton into a monoculture

They had already sensed the need to resist a drastic narrowing of debate in the schoolroom, which has reportedly led them to set up private debating groups to test viewpoints forbidden in class. Their wit seems to have inoculated them against being wholly ventriloquised by the new regime blighting the school. “But sir” deadpan again “I thought the College was meant to be diverse?”

The charges kept changing, but in the end it was the college’s “approach to equality and diversity” that was deemed to have been transgressed.

At my hearing, two of the three “senior teachers” specified as disciplinary panellists by the College’s constitution were the headmaster’s new appointments to his inner circle, and the third was his own deputy. The College had lawyers present (at one point attempting to replace a Fellow with an external QC) while I did not. A colleague’s character witness statement was significantly altered, being restored to its original only after she protested in writing. Only in response to pressure did the school provide an external note-taker.

“A lie,” as James Callaghan said, “can be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.” And so it was that the Provost once described as “apt to mislead” in the pages of the Scott Inquiry tried to quell the public outpouring of disquiet around my case by suggesting the video had breached the Equality Act. But neither the College’s initial legal advice nor my dismissal letter claimed anything of the sort.

It was not new legislation I’d transgressed, just a new religion with an old-time zeal to suppress dissent and punish heresy. The College’s “approach to equality and diversity” which it finally claimed I had breached has never been explained to staff, making it impossible to follow. 

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Ofcom is trying to “no platform” trans-sceptics, writes Neil Davenport in Spiked.

Speaking before Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sports committee in December, Melanie Dawes, chief executive of broadcast regulator Ofcom, said it was “extremely inappropriate” for broadcasters to seek to “balance” the views of transgender people by also giving airtime to the views of “anti-trans pressure groups”. Ofcom has now followed through on Dawes’ comments by expanding its definition of hate speech to include intolerance of transgender issues and “political or any other opinion”. As a result we can now expect many critics of trans ideas, from feminists to gay-rights campaigners, to be denied airtime.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to buy (or make) a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and it has the advantage of not explicitly claiming you have a disability. But if you have no qualms about that (or you are disabled), you can buy a lanyard from Amazon saying you do have a disability/medical exemption here (takes a while to arrive). The Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. You can get a “Hidden Disability” tag from ebay here and an “exempt” card with lanyard for just £1.99 from Etsy here. And, finally, 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, and he’s even said he’ll donate half the money to Lockdown Sceptics, so everyone wins.

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.

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. But the cause has been taken up by PCR Claims. Check out their website here.

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 Dr Clare Craig talk to Julia Hartley-Brewer about the significance of the data from her recent Lockdown Sceptics piece on the strange alternative reality that appears when PCR tests aren’t involved.

The Glitch That Stole Christmas

Fear of Covid now 70% more transmissible

by James Ferguson

Blind faith in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.

 Albert Einstein

On December 20th the UK Government put 44% of the English population into Tier 4 lockdown, cancelling Christmas get-togethers for 24m people, following a recommendation from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag).

Nervtag had identified a new variant of the novel coronavirus in the South East of the country, which was 70% more transmissible than its predecessor, carried a viral load up to 10,000x higher and which the primer on the widely used Thermo Fisher TaqPath PCR machines failed to pick up.

However, these conclusions are highly dependent on the interpretation of the data and logically (Occam’s Razor) none of the claims made at that time about the new variant’s increased transmissibility, higher viral load or ability to escape detection appear justified.

The PCR test

The primers used to detect short gene sequences in reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) machines under the COVID-19 protocol, search for three gene types: ORF1ab (or just ORF), N and the ‘spike gene’, S. Positive test results require at least two of the three genes to be found but since amplification is run to a very high cycle threshold (Ct) of 40-45, known as ‘the limit of detection’ (LoD), usually all three genes are found, albeit at slightly differing Ct values. However, in October researchers started to notice that an increasing number of PCR results, though positive for ORF and N, were failing to pick up the S gene at all, suggesting a mutation to the S gene that meant it could no longer be detected by the PCR primer. Furthermore, this ‘S-dropout’ variant of concern (VoC) was concentrated in the South East, having originated in the Medway area of Kent (right-hand side of Chart 1 below).

Chart 1: England local authority daily positive tests (Apr-Dec)

The initial Italian variant had burned itself out by end-June and hospitalisations were down by -97% from their April peak (Wave 1). Since September though, a new variant D614, was picked up by Spanish holidaymakers before being spread by students returning to university in early October. This variant too appears to have been in decline from end-October, aided by the November 5th to December 2nd lockdown. The new S-dropout VoC, which incidentally only occurs with the primer supplied with the widely used Thermo Fisher TaqPath PCR machine (other makers’ primers are still identifying the S gene), has now been traced back to late September but has become ever more predominant throughout the South East. However, the virus is constantly mutating and there have been over 4,000 different variants worldwide to date, so what is it that makes this new variant so special?

New variant (relative) growth rate

On December 14th, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told parliament that the new variant of coronavirus was “increasing rapidly. Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants…predominantly in the South of England.” The UK Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), which reports to Chris Whitty the Chief Medical Officer, announced on December 18th that the “growth rate of (the variant under investigation) VUI-202012/01 is 71% (95%CI: 67%-75%) higher than other variants.”

Higher viral load

Almost immediately, on December 20th, a Tier 4 lockdown was imposed on the 24m residents of London and the South East, effectively ‘cancelling Christmas’ for 44% of the English population. Over 50 countries responded by banning flights to or from the UK. The same day, Susan Hopkins the PHE liaison with NHS Test and Trace, told the BBC that we “won’t know for definite” if the new variant is more deadly but it does have a “higher viral load” though this is merely inferred because it is positive at a lower Ct. Susan Hopkins is the one who quashed the false positive story last summer, despite the disease incidence having fallen as low as 0.01% (zero?) by end-June according to the ONS survey, whilst Pillar 2 tests had positivity consistently > 1.4% (the probable false positive rate?). The ONS has subsequently admitted that it doesn’t actually “know the true sensitivity (FNR) and specificity (FPR) of our nose and throat swab test.”

70% more transmissible?

The Nervtag ‘70% increased transmissibility’ estimate came from a Public Health England (PHE) technical briefing, not published until December 21st, that compared PCR tests that were positive for the two genes ORF-1 and N but negative for the S-gene as a proxy for the variant of concern (VOC). The authors then “applied the models to estimate the association of VOC frequency and reproduction number (R). This analysis shows an increase of Rt of 0.52,” which raises the distinct possibility that we might have a causality-correlation problem here. Is increased transmissibility leading to an increase in the observed Rt, or is it an increase in the model’s Rt assumption that is feeding back into an implied increase in transmissibility?

Never knowingly under-estimated

What is also of note is that three of the authors of the PHE paper (Meera Chand, Wendy Barclay and Neil Ferguson) also sit on the Nervtag committee. So, they were effectively reporting on their own, non-peer-reviewed and, at that stage, not even published, work. Neil Ferguson, you may recall, is the creator of the infamous model, rumoured to be more than a decade old but whose parameters are yet to be released for peer review, that predicted half a million UK deaths (2m in the US) in the absence of lockdown, with a ‘best-case scenario’ of 1.1m US deaths, even with lockdown; which he originally argued doesn’t save lives but merely ‘flattens the curve.’ Furthermore, this Dr Strangelove of epidemiology has, as they say, ‘form.’ Back in 2001, Neil Ferguson’s foot-and-mouth modelling recommended culling over vaccination (thankfully he has moderated this strategy for COVID-19), which was responsible for the slaughter of 6m animals. The following year, his BSE model estimated a worst-case scenario of 150,000 UK deaths from vCJD (actual deaths 177) which led to another mass livestock cull. In 2005 he told the Guardian that the worst-case scenario for global H5N1 bird flu deaths was feasibly 200m (actual deaths 282); and in 2009 he initially forecast a worst-case scenario of 65,000 UK deaths from H1N1 swine flu (actual deaths 457). So, let’s just say Prof. Ferguson’s models tend to have an extremely high upper bound bias. The man’s inherent honesty is also in question. He was forced to resign from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) after being caught entertaining his married lover within the 14-day self-isolation window following a positive test and the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Yet to this day, his infamous Covid model parameters remain secret and non-peer-reviewed, whilst he remains an unapologetically influential figure within both PHE and Nervtag, which makes a bit of a mockery of his high-profile ‘resignation’ from SAGE. Now, most surprising of all, in spite of his history of extreme worst-case scenarios, eliciting extreme policy response by fearful politicians, his research for PHE now seems to be going, via Nervtag, straight into policy without being either published or peer reviewed.

Tier 5

Nevertheless, the PHE study reported that “it is highly likely that (spike variant) N501Y is enhancing the transmissibility of the virus” leading Nervtag to conclude, three days earlier, that it had “moderate confidence that VUI-202012/01 demonstrates a substantial increase in transmissibility compared to other variants” (my bold). On Christmas Eve, the Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine confirmed that according to their model, the new variant was 56% more transmissible, though thankfully no more lethal, than the strain it was replacing. This in turn led Prof. Andrew Hayward, another member of Nervtag, to tell the BBC on December 28th that “a 50 per cent increase in transmissibility means that the previous levels of restrictions won’t work now. We are going to need decisive, early, national action to prevent a catastrophe” (assuming, of course, that an extended Tier 5 lockdown isn’t in itself a ‘catastrophe’).

The logic test

The Neil Ferguson/PHE study noted that during November (Weeks 44-48) tests that were positive for ORF and N but that were ‘S gene negative’ were both growing on average 70% faster than the more common variant (see blue line in Chart 2 below) and proliferating. Given the scatter plot, this doesn’t look like the most robust statistical conclusion to draw. However, of more concern is the fact that the growth rate of the S-dropout is being measured against the growth rate of the older variants, which itself appeared to be in decline (see Chart 1). The inappropriateness of this comparison is exacerbated by the differing geographical distribution, with the old variant predominantly found in the North of England and the new S-dropout variant in the South. If the Northern infection is naturally in decline and there is a new infection blooming in the South, we would logically expect the growth rate of the old variant to be slowing (R < 1) and of the S-dropout to be accelerating (R > 1). If so, then comparing the two would naturally yield a faster growth rate for the S-dropout because both variants would be at different stages of their epidemic cycle (Gompertz curve). Crucially though, this would not necessarily imply that the S-dropout was any more, or less, transmissible than its predecessor.

Chart 2: Relative growth rate of ‘S-dropout’ over variant D614G

Source: PHE

How therefore, if increased transmissibility is not the culprit, to explain the surge in new positive tests, which reached 57,725 on January 2nd? The most salient point to make is that the number of tests carried out has leapt by +50% since early November. With a largely asymptomatic disease like COVID-19, the more absolute tests carried out, the more absolute positives are returned, especially when the authorities target testing capacity at the newest outbreak areas. There were 445,000 daily tests in the week to December 21st (the most recent data available at time of writing) and 36,410 a day came back positive (a positivity rate of 8.2%). If, for example, we compare that to November 4th, the day before lockdown, the 7-day average number of daily tests was 298k and the average number of positives found each day that week was 23,763 (8.0% positivity). So, there has been no real change in positivity, despite the leap in “new cases”, not least because there has been no real change in disease incidence either, which is still ~1.2%, the same as its pre-November lockdown peak, having bounced back after restrictions were lifted on December 2nd (see Chart 3 below). What there isn’t is any sign of though in this data, is any increased transmissibility.

Chart 3: Estimated COVID-19 incidence in UK population (%)

Source: ONS

Therefore, whilst it is quite possible that the new S-dropout variant turns out to be more (or perhaps even less) transmissible than those variants it is replacing, there is nothing logical sustaining that assumption at this stage. Which brings us to the claim that the new variant comes with a higher viral load, which supports the idea that it is more infectious because surely more virus means more opportunity to pass onto and infect new victims. However, the case for an increased viral load is even weaker than the assumptions backing the increased transmissibility claim.

Lateral flow devices

The University of Birmingham, which has just started up a new coronavirus PCR facility as part of the nation’s Lighthouse Lab network, studied the comparable efficacy of the Innova lateral flow device (LFD), a test whose advantage is that it gives immediate results, by testing 7,185 asymptomatic students, of which just two tested positive. The study then randomly tested 710 LFD negatives on their state-of-the-art PCR machines and found 6 further positives which the LFDs had missed and implying that out of the whole group about 60 positives might have been missed by using the LFD. What is really interesting about this however, is that all these 6 ‘false negatives’ required a cycle threshold (Ct) > 29, whilst the two LFD positives were at Ct 20 and Ct 25. As Chart 4 below shows, studies reveal that PCR positives at the limit of detection (LoD) cannot reliably yield live virus in vitro (in the lab) much above Ct 29 and zero live virus above Ct 33. Therefore, the LFD test is not necessarily as woefully insensitive as the Birmingham study concludes but is probably picking up (almost) all the positive cases. But what therefore is a PCR test that only turns positive at Ct > 33 telling us if there is no live virus present? The answer is that PCR tests set to the LoD not only pick up live infections at low Ct but also old, dead viral strands from infections that people have recovered from but which are only picked up by the PCR machine at the higher Ct. This feature, it turns out, is crucial for understanding the possible confusion about the S-dropout variant and its transmissibility.

Chart 4: Positive PCR result Ct & ability to culture live virus

The importance of calibration curves.

Birmingham Uni generated a calibration curve to compare Ct and viral loads for the PCR protocol. PCR machines output data by measuring the number of amplification cycles before a positive signal is seen (Ct). High numbers of cycles get more sensitive, detecting smaller and smaller amounts of DNA, but there exists a point when the output of the PCR machine no longer reflects the number of initial copies of the target gene, this is known as the limit of detection (LoD).

How much initial virus a Ct number represents is determined by calibrating the process using a series of increasingly dilute samples with a known number of viral copies. Chart 5 below shows that in the case of norovirus, for example, if amplification needs to be taken as high as 2 billion to get a positive, only about 20 initial copies of the virus RNA are being detected, crossing the threshold at 31 cycles (Ct 31). However, with fewer than 20 initial copies, the PCR becomes unreliable, no matter how many cycles are performed. Therefore, the LoD for the Norovirus PCR test is 20 viral copies per sample at Ct 31. Like the coronavirus, norovirus is a positive-strand RNA virus, so the PCR process is very similar. The chart plots 10:1 dilutions against the Ct at which the sample tests positive and falls, as is to be expected, along a straight line (logically, you shouldn’t be able to dilute something by a factor of 10 and get a stronger Ct signal). This sort of calibration curve is useful because the Ct for any unknown sample can be traced on the line and the corresponding amount of norovirus can be read off on the x axis.

Chart 5: Norovirus PCR positive Ct & number of viral copies

Faulty data

The data from the Birmingham University study has been used to create exactly the same type of chart for coronavirus detected using the Thermo Fisher TaqPath PCR test, as used in most of the Pillar 2 Lighthouse labs including Birmingham University (see Chart 6 below). Unlike the Norovirus calibration curve however, these observations, which are derived from serial dilutions carried out by the Birmingham laboratory, should all lie on a straight line too but clearly don’t. With increased viral copies, the positive Ct should always be lower because less amplification should be required. Yet several points on the Birmingham calibration curve are a significant way away from the line. Log10, 3.7 to 4 (i.e. between 5,000 and 10,000 viral copies) the Ct rises by 3.3 when it should, by definition, fall. A Ct 3.3 cycle error is roughly equivalent to a 10-fold difference in viral load. Yet this calibration curve is the only scientific link between Ct in the TaqPath protocol and viral load in any sample; and therefore absolutely central to the inference that the S-dropout has a higher viral load.

Chart 6: ORF gene PCR positive Ct & number of viral copies

Source: Birmingham University, MacroStrategy LLP

Although the line of best fit would imply that the ORF target gene can be detected with as few as 50-100 viral copies per ml, the table below shows that nothing above Ct 25.8 can be reliably replicated (non-grey boxes), which is the true LoD of the TaqPath protocol for ORF. Even with the 2-out-of-3 rule, the protocol starts to fall over at Ct 30, just like with Norovirus. Yet, the pillar 2 PCR labs, including Birmingham, still register a positive test (‘diagnoses’ as the government now prefers to call to them), at Ct 38, i.e. samples at least 2ˆ8 (250x) more dilute than the PCR true LoD. We should treat all positives at Ct > 29 as merely shadows of old, prior ‘cold cases.’

Table 1: Ct values for 3 gene targets & viral copies per ml

Source: Birmingham Lighthouse Turnkey Lab

New for old

The median TaqPath PCR is positive at Ct 22-23 (~10,000 viral copies), whilst the median S-dropout turns positive at the lower Ct of ~18 (~100,000 copies), which implies a 10-fold ‘higher viral load’. However, unlike the calibration curve for norovirus, the points along the TaqPath curve are not straight, which looks very much like a calibration error. Therefore, whilst the ORF gene, at Ct 19.5, indicates an initial concentration of just 5,000 viral copies, 20x less viral load than the S-dropout gene, this is cherry picking the data, because at Ct 18.3 the ORF gene also indicates 100,000 viral copies per ml, exactly the same as the S-dropout median. Instead of the S-dropout viral load being “10-10,000-fold” higher as the study concludes, it is more like zero to 10-fold higher. When you consider that there are 3 x 10ˆ22 molecules in one ml of saline buffer, a factor of zero-10 is far, far less than a rounding error. For a detailed critique of the shortcomings of the PCR protocols for COVID-19, see here. Positives detected at Ct > 29 are mere shadows of past infections and live infections start to fall away above Ct 20. The arrow on Chart 7 below illustrates this, what the Birmingham researchers refer to as “a nadir in Ct frequency between 22-24…a possible multiphasic distribution of sample results” but they do not pursue this angle.

Chart 7: Frequency of Ct values for ORF gene positive samples

Source: Birmingham University

More precisely, what we have here is a biphasic distribution, the result of two fairly normal distributions overlaying each other (illustrated by the red curves on Chart 8 below). The one on the left, with its peak around Ct 17-18, is the distribution of new ‘live’ infections, whilst the distribution on the right, with a peak around Ct 27-28, reflects past cases that can only be identified following high Ct amplification. The observed trough between the two, from Ct 22-24 and marked by the arrow, indicates where the two viral distributions, new and old, overlap each other.

Chart 8: Frequency of Ct values for ORF gene positive samples

Source: Birmingham University, MacroStrategy LLP

The Birmingham lab processes samples from all over England and the team illustrate these distributions in a pair of vertical scatter plots (see Chart 9 below) showing ORF gene positives on the left-hand side and all the N gene positives on the right. The two ORF and N gene positive distributions are further split into those where the S gene was also positive on the right (presumably old infections and from the North) and those that were negative for the S gene (mainly new infections from the South) on the left. The report makes the point that positive tests which were negative for the S gene tended to have a lower median Ct (i.e. higher viral load) than those which tested positive for the S gene as well (see horizontal black bars) and conclude that the S-dropout variant must therefore have a higher viral load (lower Ct). However, this conclusion is logically faulty on at least two levels.

First, if the S positive subset is multi-, or more accurately bi-phasic, then the median (horizontal black bar) is an average of not one but two distributions drawn by me in red (see Chart 9 below), one of which (old cases) has a higher median and the other (new cases) has a lower median line (horizontal red bars). Samples were processed between October 25th and November 5th, only 4 weeks after the first S-dropout was first processed; and because the S-dropout (S-neg) variant is so new, it has relatively few old cases that can only be picked up by high Ct > 30. It is only logical therefore, that the median Ct of new cases will be lower than that of new and old cases combined. Sure enough, it appears, that the median Ct of the S-dropout distribution is about equal to the median of new cases alone. It definitely isn’t safe to infer that the S-dropout viral load is any higher than that of its, now waning, predecessor variant, especially when the latter was at the same point in its infection cycle.

Chart 9: Comparative Ct values for viral targets

Source: Birmingham University, MacroStrategy LLP

Second, a lower Ct does not even mean you necessarily have a higher viral load. The protocols used have to show that Ct is proportional to the number of viral copies at that point in the curve, or there is something wrong with the protocol. Yet the chart shows that the ORF1ab gene target calibration was not proportional to the number of copies per ml. at several points on the curve where the TaqPath PCR protocol goes awry and the non-grey areas on the table show that results cannot be reliably replicated above a Ct of 26 for the ORF gene, Ct 30 for the S gene and Ct 31 for N. I.e. the true LoD is somewhere between Ct 26 (500 viral particles per ml) and Ct 31 (100 copies). All TaqPath PCR tests that don’t turn positive until Ct > 30-31, are therefore manifestly unreliable anyway.

The transmissibility feedback loop

Of the 641 positive samples analysed, 178 (28%) had an undetectable S gene profile, which they artificially assigned a Ct of 45 (see yellow diamond, top right-hand corner of Chart 10 below). This compares to only 13 positive samples (2.1%) with an undetectable ORF (red circles) and another 13 with an undetectable N gene (green squares). The researchers jump to the conclusion that these missing S gene positives and their lower median Ct (which they forgot could have been caused by the multiphasic nature of the distribution) lead to “a conservative estimate of a significantly larger population of infectious subjects that have an increased viral load up to 10,000-fold higher” with commensurately increased transmission. The rest, as they say, is history.

Chart 10: Frequency of positive Ct values for 3 gene targets

Source: Birmingham University, MacroStrategy LLP

Whilst the researchers are clearly implying that if the primer is failing to capture one of its gene targets, that not only is there a large population of infectious subjects roaming around undetected, these people also carry a viral load that could be 10,000x higher than those infected with the earlier variant. As for the latter claim, we have already established that the lower median Ct could only imply a 10-fold higher viral load at most; the 10,000 figure being alarmist hyperbole. Yet even this isn’t even relevant because of the multiphasic distribution. So, we can junk the whole ‘higher viral load’ argument; but what about these infectious S-dropouts roaming undetected among us like latter-day Typhoid Marys?

Chart 10 clearly shows that even when the S gene was still being detected by TaqPath, it was so at a higher Ct than the other two genes, i.e. the yellow diamonds are shifted to the right (within the red ellipse). However, since only two of the three genes are required to give a positive result and the primer does a better job picking up both of the ORF and N genes anyway, the number of cases that will have gone undetected will be the 26/641 (4%) where either the ORF or the N gene primers failed. Is 4% truly what any responsible researcher would call “a significantly larger population of infectious subjects” (my bold)?

What we know

  1. An increasing number of positive ORF and N gene samples tested using the Thermo Fisher TaqPath PCR machine primers are no longer picking up the S gene, indicating a new S-dropout variant originated in the Medway area of Kent.
  1. The median Ct of samples positive for ORF and N but not the S gene is lower than the median Ct of samples also positive for S.
  1. The relative growth rate of the S-dropout is about 170% of the growth rate of those positive ORF and N samples that are also positive for the S gene.

Illogical academic data interpretation

  1. A significant proportion of S-dropout samples are associated with lower Ct values of ORF and N in the same sample; from which it (sic) possible to infer a relatively higher viral load in these specimens(my bold).

Yet, for the reasons explained above, it is not possible to infer higher viral load at all. A far more likely explanation is that the S-dropout variant is a newer variant, from which we can infer that there will be far fewer old cases to pick up with a very high Ct > 30.

  1. Clearly, the higher viral loads inferred from S-dropout samples could determine the infectiousness of subjects, and thus the ability of the virus to transmit onwards (my bold).

Or nothing of the sort. A naïve interpretation of median Ct, that fails to take account of the bi-phasic nature of the distribution, renders this conclusion utterly meaningless.

  1. The significant difference in population median Ct value, between S-dropout and S-detected samples, represents between 10 and 100-fold increase in target concentration for S-dropout. The cluster of S-dropout samples having ORF and N Ct of between 9 and 15 (63/178 (35.4%); 46/450 (10.2%), respectively) is a corresponding further increase in relative viral load of between 10 and 1,000-fold (my bold).

The difference in median Ct, which can be explained by the new variant being, uh, new, is < 4 Ct (actually about 3.6) between the S-negative and S-positive samples. Mathematically, 2ˆ3.6 equates to a factor of almost exactly 10. Not 100, not 1,000 and definitely not 10,000 (see 4. below).

  1. A Ct value of approximately 15-16 corresponds to a viral load of 1 x 106 copies per millilitre (mL). Therefore, our observed cluster of S-dropout samples at Ct less than 15 corresponds to a conservative estimate of a significantly larger population of infectious subjects that have an increased viral load up to 10,000-fold higher. Such capability of increased transmission has been ascribed to an S ‘variant of concern’ apparently spreading throughout the South-east of the UK” (my bold).

Ignoring the fact that the whole low Ct/high viral load idea only stems from ignoring the bi-phasic nature of the positive distribution and cherry-picking the data from the TaqPath calibration curve, you still only get a zero (more likely) to a maximum 10-fold higher implied concentration. “10,000-fold” is scientifically inexcusable, and deliberately alarmist, hyperbole. Then this wholly fallacious idea is fed back into the concept of increased transmissibility… except that this argument is all a house of cards. Besides, these numbers only seem large in the macro world. At the micro scale, where there are 3 x 10ˆ22 molecules in 1ml of water, the difference between 10,000 and 100,000 viral copies per ml? Hmm, not so much.

Conclusion

There is a new COVID-19 variant in the UK, which we only identified because it isn’t being picked up by the S gene primer, even when the ORF and N gene primers flash positive, on the Thermo Fisher machines. Being a new variant (i.e. R > 1) it is naturally growing faster (by 70%) but only relative to its predecessor, which is now past its peak and on the wane (i.e. R < 1). You cannot logically infer from this relative growth rate anything about transmissibility. It is even possible that this new S-dropout variant could be less transmissible than its predecessor was when it was in its ascendancy back in Sep-Oct. Whilst positive tests are growing fast, this can be wholly explained by the increase in testing (+36% from November 4th to December 21st). Positivity is even down slightly compared to a month ago. The lower Ct of S gene negative positive samples, from which has been inferred a higher viral load, from which has been inferred a positive feedback increase in transmissibility, is actually much more easily and logically explained by the variant being relatively new, which means there are relatively few old cases that can only be picked up by the highest Ct.

Footnote

The UK government has explicitly tied the transmissibility of the new S-dropout variant (despite its existence being traced back to early October) to the very recent surge in new cases, which hit a record high of 80k positives on December 29th. Thus, 11 days after the disease prevalence was estimated to be < 1.3% of the population, and 9 days after a quarter of the population was put under Tier 4 lockdown, 23.2% of all people tested by pillar 2 came back positive (see grey line and green ellipse on Chart 11 below). Note that as with December 29th all the spikes in the data are Mondays, because testing capacity is redirected to new hotspot areas each week; but even the national 7-day average positivity had risen from sub-8% at Christmas, to 13% by NYE. This has all been driven by London, where 7-day positivity was 14.9% on December 20th, the day of Tier 4 lockdown, but nevertheless had risen to 17.8% on Christmas Day and is now 26.8% (20x higher than prevalence). How and why is too early to tell.

Chart 11: UK COVID-19 prevalence & pillar 2 test positivity

James Ferguson is the Founding Partner of MacroStrategy

Latest News

Boris Panicked and U-Turned Over Lockdown After Seeing Neil Ferguson’s Projections

“I see death in your future – a lot of death.”

The Mail on Sunday is serialising an explosive new biography of Boris by Tom Bower that claims Boris was panicked into imposing a full national lockdown after Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance were presented with Neil Ferguson’s apocalyptic predictions at a meeting of SAGE.

Bower tells how a critical meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) on February 25th was presented with the ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’ from Professor Ferguson under which 80% of Britons would be infected and the death-toll would be 510,000 people.

The author writes: “This was an improvement on Ferguson’s earlier assessment that between 2% and 3% would die – up to 1.5 million deaths. Even with mitigation measures, he said, the death toll could be 250,000 and the existing intensive care units would be overwhelmed eight times over.

“Neither Vallance nor Whitty outrightly challenged Ferguson’s model or predictions. By contrast, in a series of messages from Michael Levitt, a Stanford University professor who would correctly predict the pandemic’s initial trajectory, Ferguson was warned that he had overestimated the potential death toll by ‘ten to 12 times’….

The book reveals how shortly before the national lockdown, on March 16th, Ferguson forecast that one third of the over-80s who were infected would be hospitalised, of which 71% would need intensive care using ventilators.

This exaggerated prediction – that hospitals would be overwhelmed by at least eight times the usual admittance rate – made the lockdown all but inevitable.

Worth reminding people again that Professor Ferguson’s estimates of the impact of previous viral outbreaks have been almost comically inaccurate. In 2001, he predicted that foot and mouth disease could kill up to 50,000 people. It ended up killing less than 200. In 2005, he told the Guardian that up to 200 million people could die from bird flu. The final death toll from avian flu strain A/H5N1 was 440. And in 2009, a Government estimate based on one of Ferguson’s models estimated the likely death toll from swine flu at 65,000. In fact, it was 457.

Why did Boris take the predictions of this serial doom-monger so seriously?

BBC Not Telling Us Full Story About Covid – Matthew Parris

Lockdown sceptic Matthew Parris has written an excellent column in the Times today in which he berates the BBC for not doing its job properly in covering the coronavirus crisis.

“Coronavirus: GP letter was like a ‘death warrant from grim reaper’ ” (BBC News); “One death every 80 seconds: Brazil reaches a grim milestone as it becomes the third worst-hit country…” (BBC News); “Grim milestone as virus cases top 25m globally” (BBC News).

Grim, grim, grim. There has been a lip-smacking quality, not only in headlines but in the reports that follow from the world’s news media. All of us should be more rigorous in resisting the appeal of a ghoulish turn of phrase. But the BBC has been a serial offender.

In what follows I’m aware that, when it comes to panic-spreading, our state broadcasting corporation is only one of many miscreants among print and broadcast media. But that’s because I look to the BBC to help set standards. The corporation has a particular duty to stand a little back from the noise and introduce a note of quiet balance into the national conversation.

When our politicians try to use science as propaganda, broadcasters should be rock-solid in resisting the hype. Instead, they’ve swallowed the government’s line that “the science” is clear and unquestioned, and that the prospects, should we fail to “follow” the science, are apocalyptic.

Both are highly disputable. Science is divided. The most apocalyptic, however, are getting the loudest shout. Neither on how, nor where, nor when the virus spreads most virulently is there consensus among epidemiologists; and even if that consensus existed, broadcasters and journalists would still have a duty to remind politicians and the public that combating an illness should not elbow from national attention the equally honourable goal of saving livelihoods as well as lives.

Worth reading in full.

Unfortunately, Parris neglects to mention Ofcom’s “coronavirus guidance” – published on March 23rd, the same day the full lockdown was imposed – cautioning the BBC and its other licensees to treat with extreme caution anyone criticising the advice of the “public health authorities”, i.e. the NHS, the DHSC, PHE, Witless and Unbalanced and the Government more generally. I don’t think this is the major cause of the BBC’s dereliction of duty, but it was one factor among the others – laziness, innumeracy, group think and a deeply misguided belief that it was their public duty to amplify Downing Street’s scaremongering in order to frighten people into observing the rules because that would save lives.

I don’t need to remind readers of Lockdown Sceptics that the Free Speech Union is seeking the permission of the High Court to Judicially Review Ofcom’s “coronavirus guidance” in the hope of having it declared an unlawful interference in free speech. You can donate to the FSU’s “fighting fund” here.

Stop Press: Charles Moore has ruled himself out of running for the role of BBC Chairman for personal reasons. Shame.

Lord Gumption Says Boris is Behaving Like an Authoritarian Dictator

An original work created by artist and Lockdown Sceptics reader Galina Gardiner

Jonathan Sumption wrote a blistering attack on Boris and his ‘strongman’ Government in the Telegraph yesterday.

Behind the spat about Parliamentary control over the Government’s Covid measures, there is an older and more fundamental divide. It is the divide between an authoritarian model of government and a more deliberative and democratic model.

The authoritarians believe in the “strongman”: the boss who gets things done with the aid of a team of technicians, who surmounts crises by intervening swiftly and decisively, without wasting time in argument or debate. The alternative, according to this view of the world, is a bunch of squabbling politicians picking over the entrails while the sand runs through the hourglass.

There has always been a strand of political masochism in Britain which likes this idea: the sort of people who admire dictators because they make the trains run on time. From time to time there is a more widespread move towards authoritarian government. We are experiencing one of those times now.

Worth reading in full.

Grant Shapps Gets His Sums Wrong

A sharp-eyed reader has spotted a mathematical error in Grant Shapps’s attempt to defend sticking Poland on the quarantine list.

I don’t know whether you picked up on Grant Shapps claiming that Poland had to be put back on the quarantine list because their “test positivity has nearly doubled, increasing from 3.9% to 5.8%”. That is, of course, an increase of only 50%, not 100%.

I believe that Mr Shapps, who was formerly the Chairman of the APPG for General Aviation, still holds a Pilot’s Licence. Let’s hope his navigational skills are as good as his maths and the next time he goes for a flight he gets lost and we never have to see him again. If he could take Mad Boris and Nanny Hancock with him, so much the better!

BBC Reality Check Loses Touch With Reality

There’s a snarky piece about Julia Hartley-Brewer under the BBC’s “Reality Check” banner claiming she got her facts wrong about the False Positive Rate. In fact, the BBC journalists who’ve written the hatchet job – Simon Maybin and Josephine Casserly – are the ones who’ve got their facts wrong.

Julia’s sin was to claim that nine out of 10 “cases” could be false positives. The journalists say that is categorically untrue.

Could it be true that 90% of positive results from tests in the community – that means tests not carried out in hospitals – are false? The answer is “no” – there is no way that so-called false positives have had such an impact on the figures.

Actually, there is a way “so-called false positives” could have had that impact. Suppose the true community case rate is eight in 10,000. If the false positive rate is 0.8% – as estimated by this paper submitted to SAGE – then if you test 10,000 people, you’ll get 88 positive results, of which 80 are false positives and eight are true positives. Perhaps the true community case rate is now slightly higher than eight in 10,000 – the latest ONS infection study puts it at 21 in 10,000 – but even so there is certainly a plausible scenario in which 90% of the positive results from tests in the community are false.

The extraordinary thing is that these reality-checking sleuths then go on to admit this.

If you tested 1,000 people at random for COVID-19 in early September, for example, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection study suggests you should have expected one of them to actually have the virus.

With a false positive rate of 0.8% – a figure used by Ms Hartley-Brewer and within the broad range of what we think might be the actual rate for community testing – you would get eight false positives. So in that context, it’s true that roughly 90% of positives would be false.

But having admitted that there is a scenario in which 90% of positives could be false, they then go on to say that it’s no longer plausible because the people volunteering for community testing, as opposed to the people being sampled at random by the ONS, are much more likely to have the virus – the same point made by Tom Chivers in UnHerd and which James Ferguson comprehensively rebutted on Lockdown Sceptics.

Here’s what the reality checkers think is their killer point:

Figures for late September from Public Health England show that 7% of community tests were positive. That means if 1,000 people were tested with a false positive rate of 0.8%, eight would be false positives, but 70 would be true positives – the vast majority.

But hang on. They’re assuming that PHE’s 7% positive rate doesn’t include any false positives – hence their claim that if you test 1,000 people 70 would be true positives. But given that they’ve accepted there’s a false positive rate of 0.8%, it’s more likely that PHE is counting the false positives alongside the true positives when estimating the current rate of infection. That means that of the 70 people who test positive, eight are false positives, leaving 62 true positives.

Come on, reality checkers. If you’re going to chastise another journalist for not getting her facts right – even though she did – you need to get the facts straight yourself.

Stop Press: There’s an excellent letter in the Lancet by three doctors raising the alarm about false positives. I look forward to the BBC’s reality checkers doing a number on them.

Teeth Deteriorate as Dentists Struggle to Reopen

The lockdown has caused a backlog of 15 million dental appointments, leaving many patients suffering badly. The Sunday Times has more.

Patients may have to wait until next year for dental treatment because 15 million appointments have been delayed by the coronavirus.

With restrictions still in place, some dentists can see only emergency cases and are not doing routine checkups. Many are carrying out only serious procedures on patients whose teeth have deteriorated from problems “stored up” for months during the lockdown.

“I’ve taken more teeth out from the average patient in the past three months than at any point in my career,” said Mark Green, 49, a dentist in Whitby, North Yorkshire, who has been treating patients for 22 years.

“It’s like going back in time. I saw someone the other day in his twenties who needs 12 teeth out. I’ve removed those that are [causing] the most pain and then we’re going to try and get him in again [for another appointment].”

Though surgeries were able to reopen in June, strict infection-control measures imposed by Public Health England (PHE) mean many dentists can see only a few patients a day. Before the pandemic they would see about 30 a day.

Worth reading in full.

Are Some Muslim Deaths Being Falsely Attributed to Coronavirus?

A reader has an interesting theory about why a higher percentage of Muslims have supposedly died of Covid than non-Muslims.

I was speaking with a work colleague who is a Muslim this week and he was telling me about his 85-year-old neighbour who died. His neighbour had congestive heart disease and wasn’t a well man. He caught a cold and thus had to have a COVID-19 test which came back negative. A few weeks later the man died, but the Doctor wanted to perform an autopsy which would take weeks. As per the Muslim faith, his family weren’t happy with this as the burial needs to occur within 24 hours, so the Doctor put COVID-19 on the death certificate so that the man could be buried without his having to do an autopsy even though he had not tested positive.

Now I remember looking back at the COVID-19 deaths by Religious group from the ONS and the COVID-19 deaths for Muslims was significantly higher than any other based on population percentage.

So, could this need for quick burial as required by the Muslim faith, and thus COVID-19 being put down as a cause of death, be an influencing factor into why BAME COVID-19 deaths are considered to be so high?

Sixty-Six GPs Urge Hancock to Do No (More) Harm

We’ve seen a number of anti-lockdown letters signed by doctors and medical professionals, such as this one in the US and this one in Belgium. But as far as I’m aware we haven’t seen one in the UK – until now, that is. Sixty-six GPs have written to Matt Hancock urging him to consider the collateral damage being done by the ongoing restrictions, listing the tens of thousands of non-Covid excess deaths in private homes since March, the spike in cardiovascular deaths, the rise in child suicides and the problems besetting the elderly – depression, anxiety and loneliness. It’s not as forthrightly sceptical as I’d like – the docs say they supported the first lockdown –  but the reasonableness of its tone may end making it more effective. And the message is clear: the harm the restrictions are doing to the public’s health outweighs the harm they are supposedly preventing. full text of the letter below.

And Now For the Less Admirable GPs…

A reader was prompted by a recent GP horror story on Lockdown Sceptics to provide an anecdote of her own.

My GP surgery is based in a North Wales coastal town. A pharmacy is adjacent to it. I called in to collect a prescription but noticed a queue of six rather dispirited – young and old – people waiting outside the surgery. It was raining, cold and windy. The surgery insists that you don’t turn up for your appointment nowadays until exactly the appointed time. Well, shame on these people for being too punctual. The surgery has two large waiting areas where they could wait seated probably 12 feet apart with no problems whatsoever.

Whilst I was in the pharmacy a member of surgery staff came in, I asked why these poor people were waiting outside in these conditions. She said: “That’s the way it has to be at the moment.” I asked what was going to happen in the winter. Her reply: “They’ll have to get better clothing.” Then she returned to the surgery, and presumably remained snug and dry in her little office.

Disgraceful.

Tory Constituencies Are Being Spared Second Lockdowns

I wonder what genius thought up this wheeze?

The Sunday Times says that leaked emails between health officials reveal that Tory areas, such as the newly-won Red Wall seats, are less likely to have second lockdowns inflicted on them than Labour areas.

Wealthy areas, including the chancellor Rishi Sunak’s parliamentary seat, are avoiding lockdown despite having higher COVID-19 rates than poorer areas that are subject to restrictions, according to leaked emails between health officials.

The Government is under growing pressure to explain why it has placed large parts of the north and Midlands under local lockdowns while overlooking areas with similar infection rates. Asked why the northwest is “treated differently” from areas such as his own seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip in west London, Boris Johnson said on Friday: “I appreciate… people want to see an iron consistency applied across the whole country.”

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, decides which areas to place in lockdown during weekly “gold” meetings with advisers. Yesterday, 50 councils were subject to measures such as bans on household mixing. However, there is no official COVID-19 infection rate that triggers a local lockdown.

The Sunday Times has put together a list that illustrates the scandal:

  • NO LOCKDOWN
  • West Lancashire 137 cases per 100,000
  • Barrow-in-Furness 112
  • Darlington 110
  • Craven 109
  • Newark and Sherwood 84
  • IN LOCKDOWN
  • Chorley 73 cases per 100,000
  • Wyre 71
  • Lancaster 66
  • Oadby and Wigston 63
  • Wolverhampton 56

Worth reading in full.

Round-Up

Love in the Time of Covid

Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell in The Americans. Credit: Jeffrey Neira/FX

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, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Update: Some of you have asked how to link to particular stories on Lockdown Sceptics. The answer used to be to first click on “Latest News”, then click on the links that came up beside the headline of each story. But we’ve changed that so the links now come up beside the headlines whether you’ve clicked on “Latest News” or you’re just on the Lockdown Sceptics home page. Please do share the stories with your friends and on social media.

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, I want to draw your attention to an excellent piece in UnHerd by Helen Pluckrose entitled “Is Critical Race Theory Racist?” Helen is the co-author of Cynical Theories with James Lyndsay, an excellent primer on the woke cult. The whole piece is worth reading, but here’s an extract in which she discusses the ideas of Robin DiAngelo, author of the bestselling White Fragility.

Robin DiAngelo takes a thoroughly postmodern approach. Her belief is that white people are unavoidably racist because of the ways in which they have been socialised in white supremacist countries. DiAngelo identifies America as just such a country but also much of Europe, including the UK.

For DiAngelo, “whiteness” is a system that whites perpetuate with everything they do. In White Fragility, she describes whiteness as a “constellation of processes and practices” consisting of “basic rights, values, beliefs, perspectives and experiences purported to be commonly shared by all but which are actually only consistently afforded to white people”. For DiAngelo these processes are “dynamic, relational, and operating at all times and on myriad levels”.

Elsewhere, she sets out a tenet of anti-racism, stating that “The question is not ‘Did racism occur?’ but ‘How did racism manifest in that situation?’” There is no possibility of not being racist and DiAngelo’s training aims to get white people to accept that they are racist — as the Trump memo claims.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to buy (or make) a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and it has the advantage of not explicitly claiming you have a disability. But if you have no qualms about that (or you are disabled), you can buy a lanyard from Amazon saying you do have a disability/medical exemption here (takes a while to arrive). The Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. You can get a “Hidden Disability” tag from ebay here and an “exempt” card with lanyard for just £1.99 from Etsy here. And, finally, 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 nappies in shops here.

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption.

And here’s a round-up of the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of mask (threadbare at best).

Stop Press: A reader with a Down Syndrome child had a bad experience when visiting the audiologists.

On Thursday my 15 year-old daughter had her long-awaited audiology appointment. She has Down Syndrome and the fact that all the faces are covered is deeply distressing to her – so she was quite stressed by the time we got to the waiting area. Passing through the main entrance we were greeted by a young man who detected our un-masked status (I was wearing my lanyard with the mask-exempt card). He helpfully dipped his hand into a box and extended his hand with two masks, saying, “Can I give you these?” I’m polite, I took them, and thanked him, as my daughter looked from my lanyard to my face with a puzzled expression. I put the masks in my bag. As we walked to the right department, I began to wonder whether the lunacy has extended to the audiologists – they who know that facial expressions as well as lip-reading are vital cues for those of us who are hard of hearing. It had. At least the loudspeaker which was used for one part of the test wasn’t muzzled!

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.

And Finally…

Danielle Matthews, aka the Bin Singer, has written a song about being stuck in Melbourne that’s worth a watch. Some of her complaints will resonate with people still locked down in other parts of the world.

Latest News

Take Back Control

Brendan O’Neill has written a blistering piece for Spiked in which he urges the British people to take back control – not from Brussels, but from Boris and Dom!

We can’t go on like this. We cannot continue to allow the Government to control every aspect of our lives. We cannot idly accept that the state has the right to introduce rules and regulations that dictate everything from how long we can stay in the pub to who we can invite to our weddings. We cannot sit back and watch as government scientists use jumped-up, fact-lite graphs of fear to try to terrify and pacify the populace and prep us for yet another onslaught on our liberties. We cannot just watch and nod as officials shut down more areas of the economy, with a stroke of their pen, plunging Britain further into the worst recession on record. This is not sustainable. Something has to give, something has to break. The only important question right now is this: how can we make sure that happens?

I know exactly how he feels.

Worth reading in full.

A Reply to Tom Chivers

Tom Chivers and James Ferguson disagree about the significance of the false positive rate of the PCR test

Tom Chivers took a pop at Lockdown Sceptics in UnHerd yesterday, arguing that writers on this site were exaggerating the importance of the false positive rate of the PCR test and, contrary to our claims, there really is a second wave hurtling towards us. The subhead was: “Sceptics who talk up ‘false positives’ are engaging in wishful thinking.”

Tom’s piece is worth reading for anyone interested in this debate – he makes some good points, although not all of them land with the same force.

I asked James Ferguson, the financial analyst who wrote about the false positive problem for Lockdown Sceptics on September 12th, to reply to Tom’s piece.

Tom Chivers delivers what he believes to be a series of deathblows to the idea (of which I am an adherent) that most positives are false positives and therefore that the September surge in cases is not necessarily the start of a second wave but potentially a false alarm. It should be noted from the outset that part of the problem here is that the Government has an unfortunate tendency to call positive tests, ‘cases’, when they are not. The PCR machines that the tests are run on come with a big sticker on the side warning that they are not to be used for diagnostics, only for screening. The manufacturers specifically warn against confusing a positive PCR test result with a medical case, the latter requiring both symptoms and a doctor’s diagnosis. This is typical of the slapdash approach that the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and the Department of Health have taken to jeopardising our entire economy.

To return to Chivers’ case, he agrees that if the incidence of COVID-19 is 0.1%, then a false positive rate of 1% will mean that out of every 10,000 people tested, the test will correctly identify all 10 of those with COVID but will also wrongly positively identify 100 of those who don’t have it. In this instance, Chivers writes, it would mean that if you tested positive, you would only have “about a 9% chance of actually having the disease” (10/110). However, he argues, those that then insist that this means “there’s no real reason to believe that there is a second wave, because positive test results hugely overstate the real number of cases, (are) quite crucially wrong.”

Why? First, because the people being tested in Pillar 2 (community) tests are not selected randomly. He presumes that they have some reason to be tested, either symptoms (which they are supposed to have to apply) or at least exposure to another positive test. So, even if most people are breaking the rules and are having tests whilst asymptomatic, we can assume that 10% do have flu-like symptoms. This changes the maths quite a lot. For the 10,000 being tested, their likelihood of having the disease is higher than the 0.1% prevalence in the population as a whole. If the prevalence among test subjects is 1%, equal to the FPR, then the chances of being positive if you get a positive test result shoot up from 9% to 50%.

All well and good. However, Chivers has made his first error. It is true that the crucial relationship is between the incidence and the FPR. So, if Pillar 2 test subjects are not representative of the population, then the incidence within their subset rises and the proportion of false positives declines. At the same time, though, if Pillar 2 subjects have a higher incidence than the general population, they won’t be representative of the general population any longer and so any increase in positives is only relevant to that subset and not of the population as a whole. So, a surge in ‘cases’ would be of limited relevance to the country as a whole and, unless corroborated, certainly no reason to impose restrictions.

Chivers airily suggests that while the incidence in the general population is 0.1%, according to the ONS, “even if the true number (for those being tested) is only 1%, that makes a huge difference.” Maybe so, but this is sleight of hand. There were only 30-40 COVID-19 diagnoses a day throughout August in all of NHS England. Let’s say Brits are a very hypochondriacal bunch and only 1% of all those reporting COVID-type symptoms actually have the disease. That would make about 110,000 subjects (5%), out of the 2.25m tests carried out, symptomatic. This implies 95% of the test subjects had the same incidence as the population as a whole (0.1%) and just 5% were symptomatic with an incidence of 1%. That averages to a subset incidence of 0.145%, not “1%”, which would mean that 145 true positives out of 100,000 tests would combine with 1,000 false positives for a false positive rate, not of 50% as Chivers implies, but 87.3%. We shouldn’t be forgetting that the more hypochondriacal test subjects are, the less truly symptomatic and the more representative of the wider population, so even 87% is probably an overestimate.

Yet perhaps realising this flaw, Chivers goes on to assert that “it doesn’t really matter” because, as long as the testing hasn’t got any worse, any increase in the number of positives must logically reflect an increase in incidence. This is true enough. If the false positives stay roughly the same – for example, 1,000 out of every 100,000 – and the incidence rises from 100 (0.1%) to 1000 (1%) say, then the FPR drops to 50% and all the new positives might be assumed to be new cases. However, it is equally true that if the positives start to surge almost back to old highs, like they have in September, and yet the number of hospitalisations is no higher than the end of June, then some might think this is prima facie evidence that the tests might well have changed and that possibility should be investigated with as much vigour and speed as possible (think contaminated test kits).

Ah, I hear you say, but we don’t need to do that because the ONS tells us that the incidence is now 0.11% (as at 10th September) which is 3x higher than the 25th August trough. However, what the ONS doesn’t tell you is that they derive incidence in a very basic way from… you guessed it, positives per 10,000. So if there are 11/10,000 that means 73,700 in the whole country. But if instead we take hospitalisations (204 in England on 19th September, so assume about 225 for the UK), multiply by a factor of 10 for asymptomatics and multiply by 21 days for infectious period, we get a far more up-to-date estimate of 47k infectious cases, or an incidence of 0.07%, about 4x higher than the August lows admittedly but still down 93% from the peak rates of incidence we saw back in early April.

Patients can ask their doctors for a second opinion. I think it is only fair that lockdown Britain should be allowed the same courtesy.

James Ferguson’s Parliamentary Briefing

The top graph shows the number of cases rising, whereas the middle one shows hospitalisations and the bottom one deaths.

In addition to the above, James Ferguson has written another piece on the false positive rate, this time at the request of a Parliamentarian (whom he hasn’t named). So not an original piece for Lockdown Sceptics, but he has given us permission to publish it nonetheless.

Some of it will already be familiar to people who’ve been following the coverage of the false positives rate on this site, but some of it won’t. For instance, I wasn’t aware of this tidbit about Dr Susan Hopkins, one of Dido Harding’s scientific advisors.

PHE consultant Dr Susan Hopkins provided Baroness Dido Harding with a “rapid off my head [sic] response that could be used” clearly intended to dismiss the warnings about false positives out of hand, rather than invite further informative discussion. Hopkins confirmed a “population prevalence < 0.02%” whilst insisting that all serological tests (Pillars 1, 2 and 4) had FPRs that are “definitely less than 1 in 100 and… more likely 1 in 1000.” Yet she did not seem to understand the mathematical implications. With 0.02% incidence, a FPR of “1 in 1000” means 83% of positives are false, whilst “1 in 100” means 98% would be. Does H3 (Hancock, Harding and Hopkins) seriously not know this?

Worth reading in full.

Sir Graham Brady Tells Freddie Sayers Mood Among Tory MPs is Changing

Sir Graham Brady, the Conservative MP and Chairman of the 1922 Committee, has given an interview to Freddie Sayers for UnHerd in which he says he thinks the Government will not force a vote on his amendment – calling for a Parliamentary vote on all future coronavirus measures – but will concede the point. He also says backbench Conservative MPs are becoming increasingly sceptical.

I think like most people in the country my colleagues were pretty apprehensive then. We were facing a new virus, nobody knew how it would behave. There was plausible speculation that it could rapidly overwhelm intensive care capacity in the NHS, and of course the House of Commons was about to go off for an Easter recess. So it did seem reasonable at that point to grant emergency powers to ministers to be able to do what needed to be done if there were terrible pressures with which the NHS couldn’t cope.

We did that, perhaps some of us with a heavier heart than others, but were prepared to accept it as a set of temporary measures.

I think the mood has changed over time. Many of us have been making the case for sensible, cautious opening, since April. Certainly it was pretty obvious back then that you could allow open air markets to operate, and garden centres, all things that could have reduced the economic damage and also helped to give people who have been locked away in their houses for too long a little bit of interest and some fresh air. So all of that could have been done much more quickly than it was.

But increasingly, some sectors like aviation and the events sector have been completely put out of business by the restrictions. As that has become apparent, and sections of the economy have been shut down for a very long period of time, more and more of my colleagues are spending time in their constituencies talking to constituents who are losing their jobs, losing their livelihoods, people who have built up businesses over many years and are seeing them failing, and that is changing the mood. People are recognising that there is a balance to be struck here. We all want to encourage the safest approach in terms of hand hygiene and social distancing (most people have shown they’re quite willing to do their bit) but it’s got to be balanced with the recognition that there are other downsides if you overdo the restrictions.

Worth watching in full.

Ofcom Judicial Review Update

The Free Speech Union has just updated the GoFundMe it launched to cover its legal costs in the Judicial Review it is bringing against Ofcom with respect to the “coronavirus guidance” the regulator published on March 23rd, the same day the full lockdown was imposed. As I’ve written about before, this “guidance” has contributed to the suppression of dissenting views about Covid in the mainstream media, particularly the BBC.

When, on April 20th, Ofcom slapped down Eamonn Holmes, an ITV presenter, for arguing in favour of always maintaining an open mind with respect to different theories about the coronavirus crisis and the Government’s response to it, the FSU believed this was an action of considerable consequence for free speech in the media.

The FSU decided it ought to take action. If a small public interest group dedicated to free speech stood for anything, it should stand for upholding the rights of broadcasters and journalists to discuss matters of considerable public interest without fear of censure by a state regulator. Given that it is likely that Ofcom will become the regulator of the internet in due course, we considered it vitally important that Ofcom should pay proper attention to Article 10 of the Human Rights Act that states that we all have the right to free expression. Ofcom should encourage – rather than discourage – open-mindedness, open debate and tolerance for dissenting views. Ofcom was establishing a worryingly bad precedent.

We made a complaint to Ofcom in the hope that it would realise the error of its ways if we brought the conflict between what it had done and its duties under the Human Rights Act to its attention. However, when Ofcom refused to budge on the issue, the FSU decided to initiate litigation to make the case for open-mindedness and free inquiry.

A judge will shortly be deciding whether to allow us to proceed with a Judicial Review of Ofcom’s censorious behaviour. We think we have a strong case but litigation is never certain so we have asked the judge for a “Protective Costs Order” which would place a limit on the liability faced by the FSU should we lose the case. Given that Ofcom claim already to have spent over £16,000 just responding to our application for a court hearing, the amount at risk could be considerable. The bigger the size of this fund the more likely that the action will go ahead and we will have the opportunity to strike a major blow in favour of free speech and the right to challenge the Government’s narrative.

If things go our way and we defeat Ofcom in court, the money in this fund will be held over and used to support other litigation to protect free speech.

Thanks again for all your support, which has already helped us a great deal. If we can ask just one more thing, it’s that you share this GoFundMe on social media. The more the word gets out, the better our chances of being able to fight these and similar battles in future.

Please donate to the Free Speech Union’s “Fighting Fund” GoFundMe here so we can take Ofcom to the High Court and, if you can, share the link with others. This is a vitally important case.

Global Panic and Mass Hysteria

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t.” – Hamlet

We’re publishing another original piece today, this one by Manfred Horst, a a senior consultant to pharma and biotech companies. It’s a rueful reflection on how the world responded with mass hysteria to what is, essentially, just another virus, no worse than a bad flu.

None of the governments which imposed societal lockdowns and deprived their populations of most of their fundamental liberties seems to have done so on the basis of any kind of benefit/risk analysis. They all followed the advice of some very peculiar “experts” – mostly virologists and epidemiological model builders. They all seem to fear that they could be held to account for an exponential number of deaths resulting from this “new” disease. They all seem to however completely disregard the enormous damage which their measures are inflicting on their citizens, their societies and the world at large. None of them listened to – let alone stimulated – contrarian opinions from other experts, who often had to accept an appearance in alternative media outlets in order to make their views known. Hopefully, the cautionary tale of the current hysteria will serve as a lesson for the future. Science is not monolithic dogma, but continuous hypothesis testing and falsification. Supposedly scientific models predicting the future can be as awfully wrong as any oracle or prophecy.

Worth reading in full.

A Solicitor Writes…

A solicitor who is very well-informed about the impact of the coronavirus guidance on businesses – particularly small businesses – heard something quite ominous in Boris’s 8pm statement last night that less eagle-eared viewers will have missed.

You have probably spotted the worrying sentence in the PM’s address today “in retail, leisure, tourism and other sectors, our Covid-secure guidelines will become legal obligations”. As ever, we await the actual law, but it sounds very much as if the Government is planning to give the guidance legal force. This will presumably take precedent over the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 so that risk assessment for COVID-19 would become incidental. We have already seen steps towards that approach in 5G(b)(ii) of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020 but it sounds like the plan is now to force businesses to take measures to protect against transmission which would not be warranted by a risk assessment.

In other words, businesses will be forced to jump through even more hoops before staff can return to work, having to comply with volumes of pointless red tape instead of using their common sense. Is Jeff Bezos a donor to the Conservative Party?

Government “Pauses” Plans to Allow Fans Back in to Stadiums

For me, this was the worst piece of news yesterday: the Government has changed its mind about letting fans back into sports stadiums from October 1st. As a QPR season ticket holder, I miss going to see my team play more than anything else and was so confident that things would soon return to normal – after all, outdoor transmission of the virus is almost unheard of – that I renewed my season tickets for me and my son a few weeks ago. I didn’t factor in the idiocy of this Government.

Even the bedwetting Guardian thinks this measure is completely unnecessary.

The government has dealt a devastating blow to sport by pausing its plans for the partial return of fans to stadiums on 1 October because of the rapid spike in Covid-19 cases. It will add to growing fears that clubs could go out of business due to lack of gate receipts for potentially months more to come.

The decision, which was first reported by the Guardian on Monday, was confirmed by Michael Gove, who told BBC Breakfast: “We do want to, in due course, allow people to return to watch football and other sporting events but it is the case that we just need to be cautious at the moment and I think a mass reopening at this stage wouldn’t be appropriate,” the Cabinet Office minister said.

I’m sorry to report that Michael Gove is himself a Ranger.

Letter to an MP

A reader has sent us the letter she wrote yesterday to her MP, Stuart Anderson. This one’s a doozy.

Dear Stuart,

I’d appreciate your response to the questions below:

As the number of PCR tests being done has increased massively over the course of the summer, why are the case numbers consistently presented to the public without a clear framework of percentages of the tests done?

Why is a positive test now automatically called a ‘case’?

Why is the fatally flawed PCR test still being used to measure cases when the only statistics of any real importance are deaths and hospitalisations?

Does Matt Hancock understand that ‘less than 1%’ false positives when a virus is circulating at such low levels means that most positive cases are in fact false positives? Does he even care?

Why does he insist that the case numbers are doubling every seven days when they’re clearly not? Is he just really thick? Is he blatantly dishonest? Is he both?

If it’s down to dishonesty, why is he lying to the public?

Why was yesterday’s television briefing by Whitty and Vallance concentrating on a potential 49,000 ‘cases’? Is this because they really like big, scary numbers?

Why are they being encouraged to extrapolate the currently non-existent doubling as part of a worst case scenario?

Have they been told to do this by Hancock? By Johnson? Is this why they cover their backs with the repeated use of words such as ‘if’ and ‘could’?

Why is everyone so keen to use the word ‘exponential’ when any increase (I include France and Spain in this) has been nothing of the sort?

Why is everyone so keen to use France and Spain as examples, but not Germany, Sweden, etc.?

Why are scientific advisors being wheeled out to smooth the path for further restrictions with their doom-laden scaremongering?

If the ‘worst case scenario’ of 200 deaths a day from Covid by Hallowe’en is true, is that really enough reason to lock down the country again?

If 200 people died a day of flu, would it be front page news? Would it lead to a tv address by the PM outlining yet more restrictions on civil liberties?

If masks and social distancing work, then why no discernible impact on flu and pneumonia deaths?

As the pool of people vulnerable to becoming seriously ill from Covid is limited and shares many of the criteria of the pool of those vulnerable to serious illness from other respiratory ailments, what is the likelihood of them dying of both, twice?

Why did we not lock down the country in the winter of 1999-2000, when (off the top of my head) 50,000 died? See also (again off the top of my head) the bad flu seasons of 2014-2015/2017-2018?

Is the ongoing issue of casually assigning Covid deaths to those who died with, rather than of Covid being properly addressed?

Are you surprised to discover that keeping work colleagues, schoolchildren and families apart for months and then allowing them to meet again has resulted in an uptick in infections of all kinds?

If the government hadn’t locked the country down over the summer, do you think more people might have developed immunity to the virus by now?

Why does Patrick Vallance keep insisting that immunity in the population is at such low levels? Has he not heard of T cell immunity?

If the majority of new cases are in care homes, followed by workplaces and schools, how will closing pubs early or preventing people meeting socially in groups of seven have any effect on these?

Why do the latest restrictions treat outdoor spaces as though they were indoor spaces?

Why is the government paying any attention whatsoever to what Neil Ferguson has to say?

Why does the government think it’s in any way appropriate to rush through a vaccine, and then start by injecting the most vulnerable people in the population with it?

Seeing as bad flu seasons are often the result of ineffective vaccines, why would even a safe Covid vaccine be any more successful, particularly as there is no coronavirus vaccine in existence as yet?

If the NHS is in imminent danger of being overwhelmed, why have the Nightingale hospitals been mothballed?

If the NHS isn’t in imminent danger of being overwhelmed, why do we need another lockdown?

As the NHS wasn’t overwhelmed in the Spring, why does the government assume it will be now – or is that no longer the primary reason for imposing further restrictions on the public?

If ‘protecting the NHS’ is no longer the primary reason for imposing further restrictions on the public, then what is the reason?

And finally…

When is this Government going to take responsibility for its poor decisions and stop blaming, threatening, and punishing the British public for a catastrophe of its own making? And when are you going to stop defending its actions?

Postcard From Istanbul

We’ve received a “Postcard” from a reader who’s just back from Istanbul. Doesn’t sound too bad, once you realise the rules aren’t being enforced.

Unfortunately, the “city of mosques” has become “the city of maskes” as Istanbul pretends to play its part in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. But before fellow sceptics stop reading or cross Istanbul off their Covid bucket list, there is good news. Despite fairly rigid enforcement of “maske, maske!” in shops, public transport and museums, we walked the streets naked – except for our clothes – without challenge or even a second look from the Istanbulis. The face mask here is not considered a virtue signal, rather it is considered a talisman. It does not matter where it is worn, so long as it is worn. Under the nose, under the chin, on the elbow (yes!) and I even saw one person with a mask on the back of his neck. These all seemed acceptable and, in fact, there were plenty of people who, like us, had simply abandoned them. The police were not enforcing mask wearing and were among the worst offenders for not doing so. Our hotel was next to the Karakoy Police station where Istanbul’s finest sat sunning themselves daily, ready to fall asleep at a minute’s notice. They watched us walk past several times a day without comment.

Worth reading in full.

Round-Up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Four today: “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” by the Pet Shop Boys, “How Long” by Charlie Puth, “Closing Time” by Leonard Cohen and “Banned From the Pubs” by Peter and the Test Tube Babies.

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, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot here for woke gobbledegook.

Monday saw the publication of a report by the National Trust on the links between various National Trust properties and slavery and colonialism. This is from the introduction to the report:

The National Trust has made a commitment to research, interpret and share the histories of slavery and the legacies of colonialism at the places we care for. Those histories are deeply interwoven into the material fabric of the British Isles; a significant number of the collections, houses, gardens and parklands in our care were created or remodelled as expressions of the taste and wealth, as well as power and privilege, that derived from colonial connections and in some cases from the trade in enslaved people. We believe that only by honestly and openly acknowledging and sharing those stories can we do justice to the true complexity of past, present and future, and the sometimes-uncomfortable role that Britain, and Britons, have played in global history since the sixteenth century or even earlier.

Slavery is “deeply interwoven into the material fabric of the British Isles”?

Come off it.

The Telegraph has more.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to buy (or make) a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and it has the advantage of not explicitly claiming you have a disability. But if you have no qualms about that (or you are disabled), you can buy a lanyard from Amazon saying you do have a disability/medical exemption here (takes a while to arrive). The Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. You can get a “Hidden Disability” tag from ebay here and an “exempt” card with lanyard for just £1.99 from Etsy here. And, finally, 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 (see above).

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

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption.

And here’s a round-up of the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of mask (threadbare at best).

Stop Press: A German children’s charity got laboratory tests done on one of the masks typically sold in shops after it had been worn by a child in school for eight hours. Eight hours! Result: 82 bacterial colonies and four mould (fungoid) colonies. More here.

The Care Home Scandal – A Call For Evidence

Lockdown Sceptics has asked an award-winning investigative journalist, David Rose, to investigate the high death toll in Britain’s care homes. Did 20,000+ elderly people really die of COVID-19 between March and July or were many of them just collateral lockdown damage? With lots of care homes short-staffed because employees were self-isolating at home, and with relatives and partners unable to visit to check up on their loved ones because of restrictions, how many elderly residents died of neglect, not Covid? How many succumbed to other conditions, untreated because they weren’t able to access hospitals or their local GP? After doctors were told by care home managers that the cause of death of a deceased resident was “novel coronavirus”, how many bothered to check before signing the death certificate? The risk of doctors misdiagnosing the cause of death is particularly high, given that various safeguards to minimise the risk of that happening were suspended in March.

David Rose would like Lockdown Sceptics readers to share any information they have that could help in this investigation. Here is his request:

We are receiving reports that some residents of care homes who died from causes other than Covid may have had their deaths ascribed to it – even though they never had the disease at all, and never tested positive. Readers will already be familiar with the pioneering work by Carl Heneghan and his colleagues at the Oxford Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, which forced the Government to change its death toll counting method. Previously, it will be recalled, people who died of, say, a road accident, were being counted as Covid deaths if they had tested positive at any time, perhaps months earlier. But here we are talking of something different – Covid “deaths” among people who never had the virus at all.

In one case, where a family is deciding whether to grant permission for Lockdown Sceptics to publicise it, an elderly lady in reasonable health was locked in her room for many hours each day in a care home on the south coast, refused all visitors, deprived of contact with other residents, and eventually went on hunger strike, refusing even to drink water. She died in the most wretched circumstances which were only indirectly a product of the virus – and yet, her death certificate reportedly claims she had Covid.

I’m looking for further examples of 1) elderly people who died as a result of the lockdown and associated measures, but whose deaths were wrongly attributed to “novel coronavirus”, and 2) those elderly people who clearly died from other causes but whose deaths were still formally ascribed to Covid because they once tested positive for it, even after the counting method change.

If you have relevant information, please email Lockdown Sceptics or David directly on david@davidroseuk.com.

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.

And Finally…

In the latest episode of ⁦our London Calling podcast, James Delingpole⁩ and I commiserate with each other over our mutual heartbreak regarding the PM. Send in the army to make sure people drink up by 10pm?!? It’s as if he’s reading from a script written by his enemies. Has a Marxist terrorist cell kidnapped his baby? “Wreck the economy or the kid gets it.”

Listen to our ramblings here and subscribe on iTunes here.

COVID-19: Parliamentary Brief

By James Ferguson

James Gilray imagines what would have happened to MPs if Napoleon had successfully invaded Britain: “We come to recover your lost liberties.”

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety

Benjamin Franklin

Whilst my note on the false positive rate (FPR) made its way into the corridors of power, the Health Department’s response was at once dismissive but innumerate. Fortunately, not all parliamentarians are so easily fobbed off and one has asked me to prepare a brief, which is why the following is not in the usual format.

It appears that the number of amplification cycles used in PCR tests, whether there is any quality control, the false positive rate (for both Pillar 1 and Pillar 2) and the incidence of the disease are all state secrets. However, what is clear is that none of those wielding the controls understand the maths.

Both Secretary of State, Matt Hancock (who says the FPR is “under 1%”) and Baroness Harding’s chief medical advisor, Dr Susan Hopkins (definitely less than 1-in-100 and more likely 1-in-1000) believe the FPR is so low as to result in what Hancock calls a “very small proportion of false positives”.

In fact, even a FPR as fancifully low as 0.1% (and there is a mass of evidence to suggest it is 10-20x higher than that) would mean that 4 out of 5 positives were false.

1% false positive rate does NOT mean 1% of positives are false

Transcript, Matt Hancock TalkRadio interview with Julia Hartley-Brewer, 8.42am Fri 18th Sept

JHB: “What is the FPR on the testing we’re doing in the community?

MH: Under 1%.

JHB: It’s under 1%. Even around under 1%… do you know the exact rate?

MH: It’s um.. well, under 1% means that for all the positive cases the likelihood of one being a false positive is very small. 

JHB: I understand what under 1% means. But do you have the exact figure for what it is?

MH: We do. We do. I don’t have it in my head. I know that the specificity is what it’s called of the PCR test is over 99%… But Julia, I can see the thrust of the questions and what I can tell you is that we take into account, of course we do, the issue of the very small proportion of false positives (my bold).

If incidence is < the FPR, most positives are false

The Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, seems to think that a false positive rate (FPR) of 1% means that 1% of positives are false but what it actually means is that 1% of all negatives will test positive. If the incidence is lower than the FPR, more than half of all positives are false. Hancock is dangerously and complacently unaware that when incidence is low, up to 99% of all ‘cases’ might be false positives. This relationship is illustrated by the matrix below (FPR down the left-hand side and incidence along the top).

Matrix: % of ‘cases’ that are false positive

Results from a pilot survey of 35,000 people by ONS ‘academic partners’ found household incidence peaked on 26 April at 0.32% (right-hand column above) before ‘stabilising’ at 0.08% (centre column) by the end of the study period on 28th June. However, after that, NHS daily ‘estimated admissions’ fell another 80% from 246 on 28th June, to < 50 by late August, which implies that incidence declined to 0.016%, a level that renders 98-99% the 1,200+ daily ‘cases’ reported at that time ‘false’ (see matrix above).

Positives are not ‘cases’

By 1st September, UK ‘cases’ had risen 2.5x from the 8th July low, yet hospitalisations (incidence) were down by three quarters. Which is the signal and which the noise? In April we were getting 5,000 cases a day from less than 20,000 tests (25%). Today we are getting 4,400 ‘cases’ from 235,000 tests (1.9%) 70% of which are being analysed by people who weren’t even doing this job in April.

The signal and the noise

The very low level of NHS diagnoses (only about 37 a day by early September) compared to the large number of Pillar 2 tests suggests that > 90% of Pillar 2 tests are taken by people who are asymptomatic (demand is now 4x capacity). So, since 28th June, only 6.5% (3,638) out of 56,047 ‘cases’ during July and August were confirmed by NHS England diagnoses. If most Pillar 2 subjects are asymptomatic, then their selection is close to random and the consistent 2% Pillar 2 positivity is indicative of the underlying FPR (making the Pillar 2 FPR up to 200x higher than the 0.1% that ONS assumes for NHS-lab Pillar 1) and explains the huge discrepancy between positives (top), which are almost back to April highs and the hard data on hospitalisations (middle) and deaths (bottom), which are barely off the floor. The plan to increase tests to 10m per day will guarantee that all tests are effectively random (i.e. asymptomatic), so we will keep finding ever more ‘cases’, no matter the incidence.

Amplification: why the analytical FPR is ~1%, not 0.1%

PHE consultant Dr Susan Hopkins provided Baroness Dido Harding with a “rapid off my head (sic) response that could be used” clearly intended to dismiss the warnings about false positives out of hand, rather than invite further informative discussion. Hopkins confirmed a “population prevalence < 0.02%” whilst insisting that all serological tests (Pillars 1, 2 and 4) had FPRs that are “definitely less than 1 in 100 and… more likely 1 in 1000.” Yet she did not seem to understand the mathematical implications. With 0.02% incidence, a FPR of “1 in 1000” means 83% of positives are false, whilst “1 in 100” means 98% would be. Does H3 (Hancock, Harding and Hopkins) seriously not know this?

Amplifying the inaccuracy

However, there is very little chance that the FPR is as low as 1-in-1000 for two important reasons. The first is that the cycle threshold (Ct) used to establish the original ONS 0.1% FPR must have been far lower than the Ct in use today. Fear that the false negative rate (FNR) is higher than the FPR has led to the increased amplification of swab samples far beyond the accurate limit of 24 Ct or even the conventional PCR max of 30 Ct (i.e. 2 to the power of 30 = 1 billion DNA copies). Amplification increases sensitivity (fewer false negatives) but also the specificity (more false positives) until, ultimately, all (negative) samples would test positive.

The relationship between Ct (amplification) and accuracy (measured here by the successful isolation of live virus in cell culture) is shown in the chart below. The accuracy of the test falls away sharply above 24 Ct (17 million copies) and > 33 Ct (8.5bn copies) zero live cultures can be obtained in vitro (i.e. in the absence of any functional immune system) suggesting no viable virus and zero chance of a human with a functioning immune system being either infected or infectious. Yet pillar 2 PCR assays are amplified all the way up to 42-45 Ct (35 trillion copies), 2 million times more than the Ct 24 accurate (> 90%) live virus detection cut-off point and 30,000x the maximum ‘safe’ limit used by experienced lab researchers. The pillar 2 use of very high Ct amplification is also why previously infected but recovered cases are also (wrongly) testing ‘positive’, sometimes weeks later.

Operational FPR is always much higher than analytical FPR

The second reason why the FPR will be substantially above the ONS best-case, 1-in-1000 is because even if we went back to reduced amplification to bring the analytical FPR back down to 0.1%, there is nothing that can be done to control the pillar 2 ‘operational’ FPR.

Analytical vs operational FPR

RT-PCR equipment is sensitive, requires delicate handling and inaccurate enough to be marked ‘not for diagnostic use’. Unlike the experienced NHS labs which carry out < 30% of tests (pillar 1), 70%+ of tests are carried out in the private sector by the Lighthouse Labs network (pillar 2) which was assembled from scratch in May and is run by Deloitte. Most machines were co-opted from universities (on the promise of replacement upgrades later) by labs unfamiliar with the hardware, often without the supporting software instructions, to be run by inexperienced teams, using emergency approved testing kits (now numbering more than 500), synthetically validated and provided by new suppliers of unproven, not to say dubious, quality.

Operational (real world) FPR is always going to be far higher than the analytical (ideal world) FPR; but especially when handled by inexperienced operators, using unfamiliar equipment, under stressful conditions (pillar 2 tests have risen from zero to 173,000/day in less than 5 months) due to:

  1. contamination of ‘clean room’ test kits during manufacture & distribution
  2. contamination of equipment or reagents during sampling
  3. ‘aerosolization’ can cause sample cross-contamination during swab extraction
  4. cross-reaction with other genetic material during DNA amplification
  5. contamination of the DNA target

The ‘expected’ FPR

Consequently, to believe in an operational FPR as low as 0.1% flies in the face of all previous experience. A review of 35 previous EQAs of RT-PCR RNA assays with negative samples, for 13 separate pre-Covid-19 viruses, found that the median FPR was 2.5% (25x higher than the ONS’ wishful-thinking) with an interquartile range of 1.2-4.0% (12x-40x higher).

Five ways to find the FPR

Ironically, it would be quite easy to establish what the pillar 2 FPR was, using any one of five different approaches, though government seems unwilling to provide the data.

  1. Simplest would be to re-test all positives, preferably twice and in different labs to the ones producing the initial result. The proportion of positives corroborated will give you a rough estimate of the FPR.
  2. You could seed definite negatives (eg. saline) in the test kits at the manufacturing stage and see how many came back positive.
  3. You could test positives for viral protein.
  4. The Sanger Institute could report what proportion of ‘positives’ they are able to gene sequence (according to Hopkins this will be published shortly but if it doesn’t include the number of invalid and/or unviable, then these results will be useless.
  5. Culture the samples to detect what Hopkins calls “live or viable virus.” Once again, unless this is published data and includes the relevant Ct amplification necessary, compared to that used in pillar 2 positive tests, such results will be uninformative (see Ct chart above).

The ‘second wave’

The idea behind lockdown was to ease the ‘burden’ on the NHS but as at 17th September 2020 there were 1,081 diagnosed COVID-19 patients in hospital, significantly less than one patient for each of the UK’s 1,257 hospitals. The woeful state of statistical understanding underpinning the Government’s dependence on positive pillar 2 tests notwithstanding, what are we to make of the September surge in positive tests? Unless corroborated by hard data, like NHS diagnoses, hospital admissions and, with a 2-week lag, deaths then we should consider the possibility that the surge in positives may be due to contamination (a ‘lab crash’ in the parlance). The shortage of available test kits will have put pressure on distributors to release kits that had been held back as sub-standard. Rumours of contaminated supplies, especially vials, are now widespread.

Perspective

The number of healthy people below the age of 60 that have died is only in the 300s, whilst all those that have died within 28 days of symptom-onset is closer to 37,000. The number that die in a bad flu year (eg. 2017-18) is about 25,000 more than in a good year (e.g. the last two winters). Thus the ‘dry tinder’ theory, as explained by Dr Ivor Cummins and viewed > 1.1m times, means that total UK Covid-19 deaths (i.e. not from old age) could realistically be as low as 12,000 (sub-0.02% of the population).

Appendix: Theory of models

Latest News

10pm Curfew? Time For Bed, Prime Minister

Stay at home… Go back to work… Stay at home… er…

Our hopeless, busted flush of a Prime Minister is going to announce today that pubs and restaurants will have to close by 10pm from Thursday, with table-only service for the foreseeable future. Exceptions to the “rule of six” for weddings and funerals will be eliminated, too. Needless to say, this is to fend off a wholly imaginary “second wave”. The Mail does its best to relay Downing Street’s spin on this nonsense, although its heart isn’t in it.

In July, Mr Johnson urged staff to “go back to work if you can” in a bid to prevent city centres becoming ghost towns.

But a source told the Mail that employees will be advised to “work from home if you can” during the coming weeks.

The restrictions have divided the Cabinet, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Business Secretary Alok Sharma both warning about the potential impact on the economy. But a senior Government source insisted all ministers accepted the move was needed to bring the R-rate, which measures how fast the disease is spreading, back under control.

“The aim is to cause maximum damage to the R and minimal damage to the economy,” the source said. “Unless we act now, there will be greater economic damage later on.”

Businesses and schools will be allowed to stay open, with Government sources insisting the measures do not amount to a second lockdown.

The Two Ronnies of Doom

Blower’s latest in the Telegraph

Richard Littlejohn has a cracking piece in the Mail about Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance’s apocalyptic press conference.

Sitting 6ft apart behind a newsreader-style desk, The Two Ronnies of Doom delivered an alarmist prognosis of a rising death toll, backed up by speculative graphs based on ‘the science’ — what most of us would call ‘guesswork’.

They could have looked at another graph, from Monday’s Daily Mail, which showed that cancer kills around 450 people a day, compared to just 21 from – or should that be with? – coronavirus.

Five people die daily in traffic accidents. In fact, for those under 50, you’re more likely to be hit by a bus than contract a fatal dose of Covid.

But using the Government’s better-safe-than-sorry approach to the corona pandemic, that would be enough to justify closing every road in Britain.

Hang on. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what they are doing.

During Monday’s dismal YOU’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! diatribe, Vallance and Whitty even managed to invert the language, talking about Britain ‘turning the corner’ – and not in a good way. When normal folk speak of turning the corner, it usually means things are getting better.

Worth reading in full.

Many people have ridiculed Whitty and Valance’s prognosis – 49,000 new cases a day by October 13th if cases continue to double every seven days, not least because the killer graph the Two Ronnies used to illustrate this risk showed cases declining in the last seven days.

If cases haven’t doubled between September 9th and 15th, given that the “rule of six” was only introduced on the 14th, why should we believe they’ll start doubling from now on? And, of course, the lion’s share of the new blue cases – the actual cases – are based on Pillar 2 community testing carried out by PHE, so ~91% of them will be false positives.

Sir Patrick Vallance said that if cases do climb to 49,000 on October 13th we could expect to see 200 people a day dying from Covid in November. Sounds grim, right? But hang on a minute. That’s a case fatality rate of 0.4%. Given that the CFR is usually 10 times higher than the infection fatality rate, that’s an IFR of 0.04% – or less than half that of seasonal flu.

Remind me why we need a second lockdown for at least six months, Chief Science Officer?

Sir Patrick pointed to rising cases in Spain to illustrate the danger, claiming we were lagging Spain by a couple of weeks. But cases in Spain aren’t actually rising, according to Carl Heneghan, Jason Oke and Tom Jefferson, who produced a quick response to the press conference.

In a press briefing today Professors Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance showed epidemic curves for Spain and France – demonstrating how cases numbers have been growing rapidly, possibly exponentially, since August. As is often done when using case numbers by publishing date, the raw numbers are smoothed with a seven-day moving average. Drawn this way, the data shows a continued upward trend.

But drawing the epidemic curve for Spain using cases by symptom onset produces a different result. We have put these two methods together on a single graph so that they can be compared:

The epidemic curve based on the symptom onset date does not show the same continued growth – it appears to show cases stalling in late August.

Everyone I know is completely baffled by the smoke-and-mirrors press conference conducted by Whitty and Valance – and, of course, they refused to take any questions so no journalist was permitted to interrogate their data. Do they believe the nonsense they’re peddling or have they been put up to it by the Triumvirate? 49,000 cases a day would put the UK right at the top of the list of world’s countries affected by COVID-19. David Paton, Professor of Industrial Economics at Nottingham University Businesses School, told the Telegraph he would “take a dim view” if his students presented similar data.

So what’s going on? Why have they embarrassed themselves in the way?

If they’re just stooges for Caesar, Pompey and Crassus (Boris, Dom and Gove), what’s their agenda? Why does a Tory Government want to completely destroy the British economy – predicted to lose £250 million a day while the 10pm curfew remains in place? Won’t that just propel Mr Woodentop into Downing Street?

Even senior politicians are perplexed. An ex-Minister WhatsApped me yesterday evening:

What am I missing here? I seem to be in a parallel universe. Deaths are in single digits. So what if young people are getting it? That’s good. They then become immune. All we have to make sure is they keep away from old people. We can’t shut down the f***ing country again on a false analysis of the problem. In March and April cases were high and deaths were high. In September cases are high but deaths are low. I don’t understand the hysteria in Govt at the moment. They aren’t stupid. They can see the same as me. I really don’t get it.

My best guess is that the Triumvirate know, in their heart of hearts, that they made a colossal cock-up in March and are desperately clinging to Neil Ferguson’s doom-laden prognosis as the rationale for all the terrible damage they’ve done. Rather than admit they got it wrong, they have to remain faithful to their original hypothesis which, if you follow Ferguson’s logic, means we’ve only succeeded in postponing the apocalypse, not averting it. So if we don’t lock down again and “protect the NHS” – i.e. turn it into a Covid-only service again – the Government will be buried under half a million corpses. No, the restrictions must continue until we have a vaccine.

“They are running around like headless chickens, seemingly fearful of being blamed for killing people,” said one veteran Tory MP, quoted in the Telegraph.

Brutus, it’s time to start sharpening your knife.

What’s Really Happening to Cases?

A numerate reader has done some number crunching based on PHE’s weekly data and discovered that in most parts of England cases have fallen in the past week.

Meanwhile, in Sweden…

Thank God for the control group!

Sebastian Rushworth, who’s been working as an emergency physician in Sweden, has written an interesting blog post about what it’s like working on the front line in Stockholm. Answer: it’s an absolute breeze. This is a follow-up to a piece he wrote in August, in which he speculated about whether Sweden had achieved herd immunity.

In my earlier article in August, I mentioned that after an initial peak that lasted for a month or so, from March to April, visits to the Emergency Room due to covid had been declining continuously, and deaths in Sweden had dropped from over 100 a day at the peak in April, to around five per day in August.

At the point in August when I wrote that article, I hadn’t seen a single covid patient in over a month. I speculated that Sweden had developed herd immunity, since the huge and continuous drop was happening in spite of the fact that Sweden wasn’t really taking any serious measures to prevent spread of the infection.

So, how have things developed in the six weeks since that first article?

Well, as things stand now, I haven’t seen a single covid patient in the Emergency Room in over two and a half months. People have continued to become ever more relaxed in their behaviour, which is noticeable in increasing volumes in the Emergency Room. At the peak of the pandemic in April, I was seeing about half as many patients per shift as usual, probably because lots of people were afraid to go the ER for fear of catching covid. Now volumes are back to normal.

When I sit in the tube on the way to and from work, it is packed with people. Maybe one in a hundred people is choosing to wear a face mask in public. In Stockholm, life is largely back to normal. If you look at the front pages of the tabloids, on many days there isn’t a single mention of covid anywhere. As I write this (19th September 2020) the front pages of the two main tabloids have big spreads about arthritis and pensions. Apparently arthritis and pensions are currently more exciting than COVID-19 in Sweden.

In spite of this relaxed attitude, the death rate has continued to drop. When I wrote the first article, I wrote that covid had killed under 6,000 people. How many people have died now, six weeks later? Actually, we’re still at under 6,000 deaths. On average, one to two people per day are dying of covid in Sweden at present, and that number continues to drop.

In the hospital where I work, there isn’t a single person currently being treated for covid. In fact, in the whole of Stockholm, a county with 2,4 million inhabitants, there are currently only 28 people being treated for covid in all the hospitals combined. At the peak, in April, that number was over 1,000. If 28 people are currently in hospital, out of 2,4 million who live in Stockholm, that means the odds of having a case of covid so severe that it requires in-hospital treatment are at the moment about one in 86,000.

Oh Boris! If only you’d had the courage to follow your instincts!

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Swiss Doctor has compiled some data about Covid in Belarus. In spite of the fact that it was the least locked down country in Europe – even less locked down than Sweden – it has had a grand total of 785 deaths to date. Can this official death toll be trusted? Probably not, but all-cause mortality figures show that deaths are about three times higher than the official data – no worse than a bad bout of seasonal flu.

Sensible Scientists Write to Boris Urging Rethink

A group of sensible medical experts led by Prof Sunetra Gupta, Prof Carl Heneghan and Prof Karol Sikora have written an open letter to Boris urging him to rethink his Covid strategy. (Does he have one? Who knew!)

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing with the intention of providing constructive input into the choices with respect to the COVID-19 policy response. We also have several concerns regarding aspects of the existing policy choices that we wish to draw attention to.

In summary, our view is that the existing policy path is inconsistent with the known risk-profile of COVID-19 and should be reconsidered. The unstated objective currently appears to be one of suppression of the virus, until such a time that a vaccine can be deployed. This objective is increasingly unfeasible (notwithstanding our more specific concerns regarding existing policies) and is leading to significant harm across all age groups, which likely offsets any benefits.

Instead, more targeted measures that protect the most vulnerable from Covid, whilst not adversely impacting those not at risk, are more supportable. Given the high proportion of Covid deaths in care homes, these should be a priority. Such targeted measures should be explored as a matter of urgency, as the logical cornerstone of our future strategy.

In addition to this overarching point, we append a set of concerns regarding the existing policy choices, which we hope will be received in the spirit in which they are intended. We are mindful that the current circumstances are challenging, and that all policy decisions are difficult ones. Moreover, many people have sadly lost loved ones to COVID-19 throughout the UK. Nonetheless, the current debate appears unhelpfully polarised around views that Covid is extremely deadly to all (and that large-scale policy interventions are effective); and on the other hand, those who believe Covid poses no risk at all. In light of this, and in order to make choices that increase our prospects of achieving better outcomes in future, we think now is the right time to ‘step back’ and fundamentally reconsider the path forward.

The list of signatories is impressive. You can read the letter and see the full list in the Spectator.

Round-Up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Three today: “Long Slow Suicide” by the Divine Comedy, “Masked Hysteria” by BeastTheButcher and “Why?” by Bronski Beat.

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, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. But today we thought we’d tell you about an antidote to woke virtue-signalling – QPR’s decision not to take a knee at last Friday’s 12.45pm fixture against Coventry. Or rather, we thought we’d let Les Ferdinand, QPR’s Director of Football, tell you.

The taking of the knee has reached a point of ‘good PR’ but little more than that. The message has been lost. It is now not dissimilar to a fancy hashtag or a nice pin badge.

What are our plans with this? Will people be happy for players to take the knee for the next 10 years but see no actual progress made? Taking the knee will not bring about change in the game – actions will.

You tell ’em Les. Is it too much too hope that this rare injection of common sense into the national debate on how best to tackle racism will put an end to the absurd displays of BLM fealty in the Premier League?

The Guardian has more.

Stop Press: Free Speech Union Advisory Council member Doug Stokes, Professor of International Relations at the University of Exeter, has a terrific piece in Conservative Home on why the Conservative Government needs to stop standing on the sidelines in the culture war.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to buy (or make) a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and it has the advantage of not explicitly claiming you have a disability. But if you have no qualms about that (or you are disabled), you can buy a lanyard from Amazon saying you do have a disability/medical exemption here (takes a while to arrive). The Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. You can get a “Hidden Disability” tag from ebay here and an “exempt” card with lanyard for just £1.99 from Etsy here. And, finally, 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 nappies in shops here. (And while you’re about it, sign this one, too, calling for the repeal of the Coronavirus Act.)

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption.

And here’s a round-up of the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of mask (threadbare at best).

Stop Press: London Mayor Sadiq Khan is pushing for face masks to be work in all public spaces in London, not just shops, according to the Mail. Remind me who elected this clown? That’s right, nobody did. His term of office expired on April 20th this year.

The Care Home Scandal – A Call For Evidence

Lockdown Sceptics has asked an award-winning investigative journalist, David Rose, to investigate the high death toll in Britain’s care homes. Did 20,000+ elderly people really die of COVID-19 between March and July or were many of them just collateral lockdown damage? With lots of care homes short-staffed because employees were self-isolating at home, and with relatives and partners unable to visit to check up on their loved ones because of restrictions, how many elderly residents died of neglect, not Covid? How many succumbed to other conditions, untreated because they weren’t able to access hospitals or their local GP? After doctors were told by care home managers that the cause of death of a deceased resident was “novel coronavirus”, how many bothered to check before signing the death certificate? The risk of doctors misdiagnosing the cause of death is particularly high, given that various safeguards to minimise the risk of that happening were suspended in March.

David Rose would like Lockdown Sceptics readers to share any information they have that could help in this investigation. Here is his request:

We are receiving reports that some residents of care homes who died from causes other than Covid may have had their deaths ascribed to it – even though they never had the disease at all, and never tested positive. Readers will already be familiar with the pioneering work by Carl Heneghan and his colleagues at the Oxford Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, which forced the Government to change its death toll counting method. Previously, it will be recalled, people who died of, say, a road accident, were being counted as Covid deaths if they had tested positive at any time, perhaps months earlier. But here we are talking of something different – Covid “deaths” among people who never had the virus at all.

In one case, where a family is deciding whether to grant permission for Lockdown Sceptics to publicise it, an elderly lady in reasonable health was locked in her room for many hours each day in a care home on the south coast, refused all visitors, deprived of contact with other residents, and eventually went on hunger strike, refusing even to drink water. She died in the most wretched circumstances which were only indirectly a product of the virus – and yet, her death certificate reportedly claims she had Covid.

I’m looking for further examples of 1) elderly people who died as a result of the lockdown and associated measures, but whose deaths were wrongly attributed to “novel coronavirus”, and 2) those elderly people who clearly died from other causes but whose deaths were still formally ascribed to Covid because they once tested positive for it, even after the counting method change.

If you have relevant information, please email Lockdown Sceptics or David directly on david@davidroseuk.com.

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.

And Finally…

Latest News

ONS: Flu and Pneumonia Have Killed More People Than Covid Since June

Blower’s latest cartoon in the Telegraph. He must be a lockdown sceptic.

That’s the headline finding in the ONS’s latest release, as far as the Telegraph is concerned. But there’s another pretty striking finding in the second paragraph too.

Influenza and pneumonia has contributed to more weekly deaths than COVID-19 since the middle of June, new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.

Just 78 people died of coronavirus in the week ending September 4th – the latest for which death registrations are available – the first time the figure has fallen below 100 since lockdown began in March.

Just one per cent of deaths now mention coronavirus on the death certificate compared to 12.8% which mention influenza and pneumonia, making those conditions nearly 13 times more deadly.

The numbers of overall deaths has also plummeted well below the five-year average for England and Wales, with 1,443 fewer deaths in the most recent weekly figures.

This is a bit awkward for the Government. The day after its new draconian “Rule of Six” regulations are introduced, the ONS reveals there were fewer deaths in the week ending September 4th.

Worth reading in full.

Noel Gallagher: Sceptic of the Week

Noel Gallagher performs on stage during day 1 of Madcool Festival on July 11th, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Mariano Regidor/Redferns)

The NME has written a furious piece about Noel Gallagher, the rock star, who has said he refuses to wear a mask in shops.

Noel Gallagher has said he refuses to wear a face mask while shopping, in defiance of laws which were introduced earlier this year.

Appearing on The Matt Morgan podcast, the former Oasis singer described the use of face coverings as “bollocks”, after they were introduced in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus.

“The whole thing’s bollocks. You’re supposed to wear them in Selfridges, yet you can f***ing go down the pub and be surrounded by every f***ing c**t. Do you know what I mean? It’s like, ‘Oh actually, we don’t have the virus in pubs but we have it in Selfridges?’,” Gallagher said.

Wearing a face covering over your nose and mouth is mandatory by law in all shops and supermarkets in the UK, although exemptions are in place for children under 11 and people with health issues.

They are also compulsory on public transport, with Gallagher recalling how he refused to wear a covering on a recent train journey to Manchester.

The podcast is well worth a listen. The bit when Gallagher explains why he refused to wear a mask on the train is gold. He makes exactly the same point James Delingpole did on Sunday in his piece about why the mask-wearing rules on planes are such nonsense.

Like I was going up to Manchester the other week and some guy’s going, “Can you put your mask on?” On the train. And he said, “Because the Transport Police will get on and fine you £1,000, but you don’t have to put it on if you’re eating.” So I was saying, “Oh right. So this killer virus that’s sweeping through the train is going to come and attack me but is going to see me having a sandwich and go, “Leave him. He’s having his lunch.”

The podcaster he’s talking to tries to justify the policy, but Gallagher just says “bollocks”. “The science says they’re pointless,” he says. When the presenter disagrees and says he “read something earlier” saying masks are effective, Gallagher cuts him off: “F*** off. You only read things that reinforce your own opinions.”

A worthy winner of Sceptic of the Week.

Stop Press: The podcast is no longer available on YouTube – but of course.

A Nation of Bedwetters

Unfortunately, Noel Gallagher is an outlier. YouGov has just published some depressing polling: a whopping 69% of Brits – and a majority of all age groups – say they would support a 9pm curfew on pubs and bars to help reduce COVID-19 cases.

As Julia Hartley Brewer asked on Twitter, what the hell has happened to this country? We used to be in favour of… you know… fun.

You can see the polling here.

An MP Writes…

Sir Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South West Devon

A reader wrote a letter to his MP, Sir Gary Streeter, questioning the scientific basis for the Rule of Six and saying he wasn’t minded to follow it, or to wear a mask. This was the reply he got. Bedwetting MP of the week?

Dear Mr Martin,

Thank you for your email which I am afraid wins the prize for being the most irresponsible communication I have had this year.

We have suffered over 42,000 excessive deaths in this country due to this virus and no doubt it is partly being spread by irresponsible people such as yourself. I urge you to reconsider as the second spike threatens another wave of serious illness and death as we approach winter. You will be aware that the police have increased powers to ensure that social distancing is enforced.

Kind regards,

Gary Streeter

Stop Press: Another contender for Bedwetter of the Week has hoved into view: David Nabarro, one of the WHO’s special envoys on Covid, who testified before the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Commons yesterday. The summary on AOL is quite something:

The world is still at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, and it will take some time to work out how to deal with it, an expert has told MPs.

David Nabarro, who is one of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) special envoys on COVID-19, told the Foreign Affairs Committee the present situation is horrible and grotesque.

He said the outbreak is worse than any science fiction movie, and appears to be getting nastier as cases reemerge in Europe.

Worse than any science fiction movie? So worse than Contagion, in which a rogue virus wipes out the human race? Sorry for the spoiler, but come on!

SAGE Knows All About the False Positive Rate

Handy Cock: Does he know the false positive rate?

We got an excellent email yesterday from one of the regular commentators – DocRC. He was an NHS GP for 25 years and now works in sports medicine. He’s done some sleuthing and discovered that SAGE knows all about false positives, although it isn’t clear whether the information has been shared with Matt Hancock.

I read the letter in today’s update written by the Trafford GP to her MP Graham Brady. In it she said she had been trying in vain to get information about PCR false positive rates and cycle thresholds out of the local health bureaucrats. I too have corresponded in vain with a local (Cambridge) Pathologist who couldn’t or wouldn’t answer the same questions. Then this morning a friend who used to be the Medical Director of a biotech company reported drawing a blank from a contact in Oxford’s Immunology Department. The twin questions of false positive rates (especially at low prevalence levels) and cycle thresholds (the number of cycles they run the PCR tests before deciding whether it is positive or negative) are absolutely key to understanding the published figures of “cases”. Actually, I could add a third one which is the percentage of those tested who are symptomatic.

My friend, the ex-Medical Director has just come up trumps. He has found a paper by two people who work for NHS England which says:

“The UK operational false positive rate is unknown. There are no published studies on the operational false positive rate of any national COVID-19 testing programme. An attempt has been made to estimate the likely false-positive rate of national COVID-19 testing programmes by examining data from published external quality assessments (EQAs) for RT-PCR assays for other RNA viruses carried out between 2004-2019 [7]. Results of 43 EQAs were examined, giving a median false positive rate of 2.3% (interquartile range 0.8-4.0%).”

The paper is here.

So we know that The Government, or at least its scientific advisors, know that the false positive rate for the Covid test is in the range of 0.8-4% with a median of 2.3%.

This of course confirms what James Ferguson was saying in his analysis a couple of days ago, that the vast majority of so-called “cases” are the result of false positive tests, i.e. on people who don’t have the virus.

Let us look at the Government statistics, the latest of which I could find is to August 26th:

So to take the week ending August 26th, the total tests were 452,679 out of which 6,732 were positive. The positives were 1.487% which is well within the estimated false positive range of 0.8-4% so they could all be false positives!

Then I found another paper by said Carl Mayers of NHS England which was apparently submitted to SAGE meeting 41 (June 11th)

There is a table on page 6 of the document (see below) which shows that at low prevalence of Covid the majority of positive tests are expected to be false positives. So at a prevalence of 0.1% they expect 209 positives of which 200 will be false positives and 1% prevalence 288 positives of which 198 are false positives.

This blows the whole test and trace program out of the water and of course makes operation moonshot even more ridiculous than it ever was – if you test the whole UK population of 67 million you will get 1.5 million false positives! Go figure, Hancock!

I wonder if we could get Carl Heneghan to comment on this?

Unmasked

My friend Roger Bowles, with whom I made a 15-minute film about Brexit in 2016, is making a documentary about Covid called Unmasked: The Virus and the Disease. He’s looking to include stories from ordinary people – like you and me, dear reader – about how they’ve been affected by the pandemic. Message from Roger below.

Unmasked: The Virus and the Disease will be a feature-length documentary that will follow the progress of Corona from its sensational debut in January as the only player on the world stage, through those salad days of early Lockdown and clapping the NHS, and into the autumn as we try to navigate our way through contradictory rules and ranks of “Covid Marshals” towards our doubtful economic future. The narrative will be told through contributions from experts, footage from the mainstream and alternative media, and – crucially – through the stories and experiences of ordinary people.

We are seeking contributors who are willing to speak on camera about their experiences, particularly the impact that Lockdown and other measures have had on them or their loved ones. All submissions will be dealt with in strict confidence and if it is necessary to protect identities we will do so.

We are also looking for material – video, photos, letters, emails, recordings – that evoke the strangely heightened experiences of this socially distanced year.

The film’s tone will be reflective and, where possible, lighthearted, seeking to balance the seriousness of the main theme, so we are looking for uplifting stories too.

As we move around the country filming over the next few weeks we will be putting out calls for certain kinds of stories or material, or announcing that we are visiting particular places. It would be hugely helpful if you could follow us, like our posts and tweets, comment, and share them if you can.

Website: https://unmasked-doco.net/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UnmaskedDoco/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/UnmaskedDoco

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9zh2-e15WDRC9mTXXeJiSQ

Finally, like many others, our industry is decimated and we are time rich but cash poor. If you are able to make a donation to support the project we would be very grateful.

GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/unmasked-the-virus-and-the-disease

Government Responds to Vaccine Petition

Will this be the price of being allowed to leave our homes?

The Government has responded to a petition asking it not to impose any restrictions on people who refuse to have a Covid vaccine. It has over 125,000 signatures. You can read the full response here, but one reader has drawn my attention to the following paragraph which she thinks is very sinister:

We believe it is everyone’s responsibility to do the right thing for their own health, and for the benefit of the wider community. There are currently no plans to introduce a COVID-19 vaccine in a way that penalises those who do not take up the vaccine. However, the Government will carefully consider all options to improve vaccination rates, should that be necessary.

Should we be worried about this? I’m not an anti-vaxxer, but I certainly don’t think people should be penalised by the Government for refusing to be vaccinated, particularly if said vaccines are being rushed out during an episode of mass hysteria and the manufacturers have been absolved of legal liability. From the wording of that paragraph, it sounds like the Government hasn’t ruled that out.

Covid Death and Taxes

I was forwarded another penetrating analysis of the Covid crisis by a financial researcher today – this one by Louis-Vincent Gave, who runs a firm called Gavekal Research with Anatole Kaletsky, the much-revered financial journalist. I thought it was so good I immediately emailed Louis-Vincent (his address was at the foot of the document) and asked if him I could publish it on Lockdown Sceptics. Turns out, he’s a fan of the Spectator so he said yes. Not only is he a brilliant analyst, but he’s also the Chairman of the Biarritz Olympique Pays Basque Rugby Club and is engaged in an ongoing negotiation with his local prefet (unelected regional official) to allow the fans back into the stadium. So an all-round good egg.

Here’s the section in which he speculates about why Governments across the West are continuing to vacillate over lifting restrictions when political leaders must know that the virus only poses a mortal threat to people in their 80s and 90s with co-morbidities.

So, given that death rates are now at long-term lows, and that the disease only seems disproportionately to kill folks coming to the natural end of their lives, why are policymakers still bickering about the reopening of schools (the UK), whether restaurants should be allowed to welcome patrons (New York), whether kids should be forbidden to go trick-or-treating this Halloween (Los Angeles), whether organised sports should even take place (France), and over the resumption of a dozen other everyday activities?

The first possible explanation is that policymakers are consciously making the choice to protect the old, even at the economic expense of the young. And they are doing this out of political calculation, because old people are more likely to vote than the young. However, this explanation runs counter to Hanlon’s razor, which states: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

The second possible explanation is that policymakers, having stumbled into this crisis, have now seized on the Rahm Emmanuel dictum “never let a good crisis go to waste”. For the last decade, lacklustre growth across the Western world has led to events as unfortunate (for policymakers) as the Brexit vote, Donald Trump’s election, the rise of the French yellow jacket movement, and the rise of the AfD in Germany and of Matteo Salvini in Italy. In other words, the sort of “pre-revolutionary” grumblings Gavekal warned of almost a decade ago are becoming ever-louder.

Disconcerted by this increasing roar, a number of policymakers have concluded that western economies are suffering from a lack of government intervention, combined with a shortage of fiscal spending, and insufficient money-printing. But cometh the crisis, cometh the moment to embark on the sort of Keynesian orgy my business partner Anatole Kaletsky has lately been applauding (see Why I Was Wrong To Turn Bearish). If to a hammer every problem looks like a nail, then to a large section of western policymakers, the answer to every problem increasingly seems to be more money-printing and more money-spending.

Of course, the real problem may not be Covid, but something else entirely. But then policymakers will use the pandemic as the pretext to embark on policies to fix the “something else”. This means they need to keep Covid humming in the background. How else could they justify the gradual introduction of some form of universal basic income funded by Modern Monetary Theory or MMT (the magic money tree)? Combine this with a healthy dose of Parkinson’s Law at work, and governments have little incentive to walk back on any of their panic-mongering. After all, now that government commissions have been formed and funded to deal with the pandemic, are these commissions going to be in any rush to declare the pandemic over? Or are they more likely to insist that Covid remains a major threat, and that they need more funding to counter it?

Finally, the third and most likely explanation is that western governments were panicked into taking dramatic decisions. This panic was likely driven partly by the increased weight of social media in decision-making. Not that the absence of social media in the early years of the 21st century helped the US government take the right decisions in the aftermath of 9/11; the invasion of Iraq was one of the greatest policy failures in a generation. Now it is likely the Covid lockdowns will rank alongside Iraq in the policy failure “hall of shame”. And from there, the important question is at what point do repeated policy failures start to take their toll? We know from Adam Smith’s remark that “there is a great deal of ruin in a nation.” But still…

I wasn’t familiar with Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” This, I realise, is virtually the motto of Lockdown Sceptics and one of the reasons I’m sceptical about conspiracy theories.

Louis-Vincent’s analysis is great – worldly, cynical and wise. Worth reading in full.

Gary Lineker Takes a Pay Cut and Agrees to Tweet More Carefully – Then Fires Off Rude Tweet

I decided to have a poke at Gary Lineker, the Match of the Day presenter, when the newspapers reported he’d volunteered to take a 25% pay cut and agreed to be more careful in his use of Twitter. I sent the following tweet.

https://twitter.com/toadmeister/status/1305834509917728768

To which Gary replied:

To which I replied:

https://twitter.com/toadmeister/status/1305859452147568641

Couldn’t help noticing Gary’s reply to me got over 20,000 likes, while my reply to him got 120. But bitter? Moi? No. Of course not.

Stop Press: According to the Times, 250,000 fewer people bought TV licenses last year compared to the year before.

New NHS Tracing App – Now Even Worse

Our dedicated NHS tracing app correspondent – a well-informed techie – has sent us his latest update. One day, this app will be studied in the Kennedy School of Government as one of the biggest administrative cock-ups of all time

Christmas might be cancelled but as compensation Matt Hancock has the latest incarnation of the gift that keeps on giving – the NHS COVID-19 app. Like all the other failed contact-tracing apps around the world, this one tries to work out how close you are to other app users by the strength of a bluetooth signal. If the app reckons you have been within two metres of another app user for 15 minutes or more, regardless of circumstances, then it makes a note of an identifier broadcast by the other phone. This is the Apple/Google system which is entirely anonymous, so as the user you have the responsibility for telling the app if you are positive, in which case it uploads its anonymous identifier to Apple or Google’s cloud where other apps can see it and check against their own list of phones they were near and alert their users. Apple and Google handle all this and the NHS is not involved. But they would very much like to be so if you do receive an alert the app butts in and asks if you wouldn’t mind awfully contacting Public Health England to “complete a form about who you know you’ve been in contact with recently”. A form, not in the app.

As an aside for those involved in the mask debate, the app instructions say that tracking can be paused if the user is “wearing medical grade PPE, i.e. a surgical mask, in a health and care setting”. So not just a face covering at the shops then.

Exposure alerting is not all this app fails to do. Indeed, its big selling point is the QR code business check-in function. Alerting might be useless but this function is worse as it can lead to you breaking the law. It appears to be in support of the Government’s announcement on Sept 10th that businesses and venues are required by law to record contact details of all staff and visitors and store them for 21 days to be shared with NHS Test and Trace if requested. There are fixed penalties for organisations that don’t comply. The Government has provided a handy service which can create posters for your business or venue displaying a big QR code that can only be read by their app. The problem is as a venue owner if you only use the government’s app and posters you will be breaking the law because the app only knows which business you checked-in to and when, which is not enough to comply with the law. Even that data is not shared from the app to the venue owners who are required to collect your name, phone number and make a note of which staff were working there at the same time. So if you just put up the posters and ask everyone to use them, when NHS Test and Trace come calling you won’t have anything to give them and that is illegal from September 18th. Another winner from Matt Hancock and team.

Carl Heneghan Strikes Again

In a development that was reported almost nowhere, the Scottish Government announced yesterday that it was changing the way it counts Covid hospitalisations. Previously, it counted all patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 in its hospitalisations data, even if they’d made a complete recovery from Covid, left the hospital, resumed their normal life and were then readmitted for a completely different reason. Now, only patients who first test positive in their current hospital admission (or in the two weeks before admission) will be included in the figures.

There’s an explainer here from the Office of the Chief Statistician. He says the reason for the change is because the Office of the Chief Statistician carried out an audit of the 384 hospital patients who were designated as having Covid in the official data on August 26th and found that 87% of them were in hospital “for a condition unrelated to COVID-19”.

But is that the real reason? I suspect it had more to do with this September 2nd blog post by Carl Heneghan, Daniel Howdon and Jason Oke entitled, “Is Scotland overcounting the number of patients in hospital beds?” They pointed out that In England 7.7 per million of the population are supposedly in hospital with Covid, but in Scotland 46.8 per million are in a hospital bed with Covid – a rate that is nearly six times higher. They more or less nail the reason, as you’d expect.

This is similar to the problem with the PHE issue with deaths in England, which meant previously that everyone who has ever had COVID at any time must die with COVID too…

The problem matches the pattern of poor quality data whereby COVID analyses have overestimated the true extent of the problems. It is, therefore, essential that we have data that we can trust, data that is verifiable and reported in the same way across the devolved nations to permit comparisons.

Poor quality data! That must have stung the Chief Statistician (Roger Halliday). I expect someone in Wee Krankie’s office called him up and gave him a rocket. Can’t have the Scottish Government producing poor quality data, particularly when the hated English tidied up their own Covid data a few weeks ago – again, thanks to a Carl Heneghan blog post.

Keep it up Carl.

Round-Up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Just one today: “Ain’t No Turning Back” by Prime Minister.

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’ve also introduced a section where people can arrange to meet up for non-romantic purposes. We have a team of moderators in place to remove spam and deal with the trolls, but sometimes it takes a little while so please bear with us. You have to register to use the Forums, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. This latest one – from the University of Chicago, no less – is a doozy.

Statement from the Univerity of Chicago’s English Faculty (July 2020)

The English department at the University of Chicago believes that Black Lives Matter, and that the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks matter, as do thousands of others named and unnamed who have been subject to police violence. As literary scholars, we attend to the histories, atmospheres, and scenes of anti-Black racism and racial violence in the United States and across the world. We are committed to the struggle of Black and Indigenous people, and all racialized and dispossessed people, against inequality and brutality.

For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies. We understand Black Studies to be a capacious intellectual project that spans a variety of methodological approaches, fields, geographical areas, languages, and time periods. For more information on faculty and current graduate students in this area, please visit our Black Studies page.

English as a discipline has a long history of providing aesthetic rationalizations for colonization, exploitation, extraction, and anti-Blackness. Our discipline is responsible for developing hierarchies of cultural production that have contributed directly to social and systemic determinations of whose lives matter and why. And while inroads have been made in terms of acknowledging the centrality of both individual literary works and collective histories of racialized and colonized people, there is still much to do as a discipline and as a department to build a more inclusive and equitable field for describing, studying, and teaching the relationship between aesthetics, representation, inequality, and power.

So does this mean every faculty member in the Chicago English department who is a white male will immediately resign his position to make room for a person of colour who can then teach Black Studies?

Didn’t think so.

One of the curious things about statements like this, in which middle-aged white men genuflect before the woke mob and engage in a sort of ritualised self-flagellation, is how similar they all are. At the height of the BLM madness, when university vice-chancellors were pumping out this gobbledegook by the bucket-load, I hawked an idea around to various media outlets which I thought was quite funny. I would create a website called “Plagiarism Watch” that purported to be maintained by a group of Wokesters that pointed out the similarity between the BLM solidarity statements issued by heads of universities and accuse them of plagiarism. I would run the statements through the plagiarism-detection software that’s used by universities to ferret out cheaters and, presumably, each would be flagged as blatant plagiarism. My hope was that after, say, the President of Princeton’s statement was identified as plagiarised by “Plagiarism Watch” – “Racism and the damage it does to people of color nevertheless persist at Princeton as in our society, sometimes by conscious intention but more often through unexamined assumptions and stereotypes, ignorance or insensitivity, and the systemic legacy of past decisions and policies… etc., etc.” – he would immediately issue a grovelling apology and then publish another 1,000 words of gobbledegook (no doubt written by the same beleaguered drudge in Princeton’s Office of Communications). The point, of course, isn’t that these statements are literally plagiarised – although some may be, I suppose. No, the reason they’re all the same is because they’re the product of group think. And because anyone saying anything remotely thoughtful or original about racism will immediately be targeted by a woke mob for being insufficiently pious. (“Just one knee? Why not two? Why not hurl yourself to the ground and rend your garments? How dare you, you racist bastard.”)

Needless to say, no one was prepared to commission this piece of mischief.

Please send Lockdown Sceptics any examples of woke gobbledegook you come across.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

A Louis Vuitton Covid face shield. Yours for the very reasonable price of $960.

We’ve created a permanent slot down here for people who want to buy (or make) a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and it has the advantage of not explicitly claiming you have a disability. But if you have no qualms about that (or you are disabled), you can buy a lanyard from Amazon saying you do have a disability/medical exemption here (now showing it will arrive between Oct 17th to Oct 27th). The Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. You can get a “Hidden Disability” tag from ebay here and an “exempt” card with lanyard for just £1.99 from Etsy here.

Don’t forget to sign the petition on the UK Government’s petitions website calling for an end to mandatory face nappies in shops here (now over 32,000).

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption.

And here’s a round-up of the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of mask (threadbare at best).

Stop Press: We got a nice email from a non-masker yesterday.

I don’t wear masks and the natural contrarian within me makes me less likely to do so when it’s been mandated. So, throughout this whole debacle I’ve been quite staunch in upholding my right not to wear a mask. I’ve not made a big song and dance about it – I just simply go about my normal business, breathing the lovely fresh air Suffolk has to offer.

I’ve always been a bit worried about how I might react if challenged by a shopkeeper or fellow citizen. But wouldn’t you know it – I’ve never been challenged. I’ve been going about my normal life, doing the things I would normally do, being greeted the whole time with warmth and a sense of normality.

But actually, normality isn’t quite an accurate description. I’ve actually received more warm-heartedness from shop keepers, folks on the checkout, the chap at the builders merchants and the lady that runs the post office, than I had before this whole nonsense started. And I’m not wearing a mask the whole time.

The result is that I reciprocate this warmth, spark up conversation, and all at once it feels like a throwback to merry old England when the shopkeeper would greet you on first-name terms. Perhaps these folks on the coalface feel a rare sense of ease when seeing an un-muzzled face? Maybe it’s just my own experience, but going out maskless has been great for morale, and seemingly for the people I’ve come into contact with. I urge others to give it a go – spread a little joy.

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.

And Finally…

In this week’s London Calling podcast, James Delingpole and I indulge in the usual rants about the lockdown, the Wokesters and our flailing political leaders. At one point, James and I discuss what it’s like to have been effectively killed by an online outrage mob (as I was) and then to have resurfaced with renewed vigour (as I have) – like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. I said to James, “We should come up with a name for these people” and he immeidately suggested “Obi-Wankers”. Hence the title of this week’s episode. Please do have a listen and don’t forget to subscribe.

Latest News

Second Wave of Hysteria Arrives

Here we go – brace positions. The UK’s “Rule of Six” ban on social gatherings over six people comes into force today, and the Government confirmed yesterday that it includes children in England (unlike in Wales and Scotland).

Denmark – the country once lauded for its coronavirus response – has been placed on England’s quarantine watch list due to rising cases (even though on most days since June it’s had no Covid deaths at all). Countries around Europe tighten restrictions. Israel locks down again.

SAGE scientist Professor Sir Mark Walport warns that the UK is “on the edge of losing control” while Professor Peter Openshaw (of, you’ve guessed it, Imperial College) intones that the public must “act fast” and fall into line or face a second lockdown. Panic is back.

“You’ve only got to look across the Channel to see what is happening in France and what’s happening in Spain,” says Professor Walport. “The only way to stop the spread of this infection is to reduce the number of people we all come into contact with.”

And what is happening in France and Spain? Let’s see.

A huge rise in cases positive tests, and little else. Hospitals in some areas such as Madrid have seen a gentle rise in COVID-19 admissions, but nothing they can’t handle or to indicate runaway growth like in March. Sweden, meanwhile, is seeing an ongoing decline in deaths and cases and a strong economic recovery – the most likely explanation for which is the emergence of population immunity at lower than anticipated antibody levels, as Professor Sunetra Gupta has long argued.

Time to get a grip before we find ourselves plunged into a dismal and economically devastating winter. The facts are these. No country has yet seen more than 0.1% of its population die with COVID-19 – Peru is currently the worst hit with 925 deaths per million (even though it has the world’s most severe lockdown), while most others are well below that. Sweden’s death toll stands at 578 deaths per million, around 0.06% of its population, 75% of whom were residents of nursing homes or receiving at-home care. The average age of death in most countries is over 80 and in general countries are worse affected when their recent flu seasons have been mild, suggesting this epidemic is little different in form or scale to the annual seasonal round of flu.

Crucially, no country has yet seen anything that could be called a “second wave”. Florida and the southern United States experienced a delayed first wave in the summer along with South America but that now seems to be on its way out. Spain, France, Denmark and others are seeing an Autumn ripple, presumably as a result of having full herd immunity deferred by lockdown, and which we can assume will be larger or smaller depending on how far the country still has to go.

The fear is that these ripples will become new waves as winter sets in. But that is pure conjecture, and Sweden’s experience suggests it is baseless. We can’t keep wrecking economies, undermining livelihoods and stunting lives out of an abundance of caution when all the evidence suggests the fear is unwarranted.

Time for our political leaders to learn from Sweden and lead us out of this mess, not deeper in.

Casedemic Grows

A rise in “cases” (positive tests) is not always down to a rise in infections. It could be a result of doing more tests or it could come through testing more people from higher risk groups. A nurse has got in touch to flag up a potential new source of such second wave “cases”.

I work as an acute medical nurse delivering care to patients in the community. Thought you might like to know that the trust I work for is now asking that we swab all care and nursing home patients on admission to our service. If this is being replicated across the country then I expect we’ll soon see a ‘second wave’ caused by false positive results. The moronic inferno continues.

Since the Government still appears to be basing policy on raw case numbers regardless of the number of tests and other key indicators, expect the idiocy to continue.

Delingpole Battles Mask Hysteria

James Delingpole has written a great piece for Lockdown Sceptics about his recent trip to Greece and the absurdity of having to wear masks on planes – but only when you’re not eating or drinking.

I do feel half-sorry for the airlines, caught between a rock and hard place. They have to give the appearance of strictness in order stop Covid bedwetters like the woman in the above story bleating to the press. At the same time, though, they cannot be too strict because flying would simply become unbearable: how could you eat or drink if you had to wear your mask for the entire journey? So what you end up with is a ridiculous fudge. Or, if you prefer, a canny compromise. The bedwetters get to satisfy their Stasi urges by seeing the head steward tell people like me off for wearing their mask incorrectly as they board the plane. And people like me get their revenge by making one packet of crisps and one bottle of water last an entire three and a half hour flight, aware that if you’re visibly drinking or eating– or on the verge of doing so – no steward or stewardess is going to tell you to pull your mask up.

Tell me, any epidemiologists or virologists reading this: is it true that coronavirus never infects people who are removing their masks for the purposes of eating or drinking, only those who have removed their masks just to be obstreperous, disobedient sods? I’m no scientist, but my gut feeling is that viruses make no such distinction and that therefore the whole exercise in enforcing masks on aeroplanes is utterly fraudulent. Even more absurd was the announcement after the plane landed ordering us to make sure that as we disembarked we should be sure to maintain two metres social distancing in the aisles. R-i-g-h-t. So the cunning virus lies dormant when you’re sitting for three and a half hours six inches away from the passengers either side of you – biding its time ready to strike as you leave, the moment you are foolish enough to close the two metre gap between you and the person leaving ahead of you? Truly we are living in Clownworld. But the really scary thing is, most people don’t seem to know we’re living in Clownworld. They’ve accepted the insanity as normal and think that people like you and me are the weird ones.

We’ve given it pride of place on the right-hand side under “Masks: How Effective Are They?”.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Listen to James Delingpole interviewing Douglas Murray for the Delingpod.

Kim-Jong Dan Sends In The Storm Troopers

High drama in the nut aisle. Picture: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images
Ve have vays of making you vear a mask

Lockdown protests in Melbourne, capital city of the People’s Democratic Republic of Victoria, ended in 74 arrests and nearly 200 fines yesterday. News.com.au has the story and footage.

Riot police were seen holding shields, attempting to separate the “hostile crowd” chanting “freedom”. Several people were arrested and issued with fines, with police escorting more protesters away as they contained the demonstration. Peel St where the protesters marched was completely blocked off. In its statement, police said they were disappointed that many protesters were aggressive and threatened violence towards officers. However, there were no injuries to police identified so far.

Police say they expect to issue further fines once they confirm the identity of other individuals. “Anyone thinking of attending a protest can expect the same swift and firm response from police as has consistently occurred in relation to such behaviour,” the police statement said. “We again urge people not to leave home to protest.”

Hundreds of protesters showed up but they struggled to gather and were overwhelmed by the police. The organisers say they hope to have larger numbers in the coming days and put the police on the “back foot”.

Shocking to see such hard-line and disproportionate treatment of people merely for exercising their democratic rights in the face of the most extreme curbs on liberty the Western world has ever seen (including during wartime). Depressing how quickly democratic Governments can turn monstrous.

A Professor of Economics Writes…

Edinburgh University has renamed this building. It was the David Hume Tower, named after the great Scottish empiricist. It’s now 40 George Square, named after King George III, who opposed the abolition of slavery and during whose reign 1.6 million Africans were transported as slaves to British colonies

Gordon Hughes, a former Professor of Economics at Edinburgh, has emailed to say how good he thought yesterday’s analysis by James Ferguson of the false positive rate of the PCR test was.

I am glad that you have published the piece by James Ferguson as it covers almost exactly what I had thought of writing up when the Boris plan of testing everyone daily was first mooted – not so much moonshot as moonshine!

Since anyone with some undergraduate training in probability or statistics should be able to spot the consequences of mass testing when prevalence rates are lower than test error rates, it is astonishing – and sad – that the whole of the UK’s official establishment gets stuck on an approach that is simple statistical nonsense. In part this reflects the absence of serious consequences for failure. The NBA in the US realised that false positives might jeopardise their TV revenues from the current play-offs and rapidly introduced a two-test procedure (using different labs) before excluding participants who tested positive.

There are two points that might interest you – the first ironic, the second important.

A. Matt Hancock has an M.Sc in Economics from Cambridge which includes compulsory course in statistics, etc. He was at Christ’s College, where I taught maths and statistics for economics for 15 years, though I moved on before his time. It is often argued that more mathematical or scientific education would ensure that policymakers have a better grasp of scientific and technical issues. What this example shows is that both politicians and senior civil servants are the archetypal victims of group-think, displaying a complete incapacity to apply independent judgement even when they are in a deep hole.

B. It seems possible – even likely – that local or regional clusters of new covid “cases” are no more than artefacts of differences in testing procedures across different labs leading to differences in false positive rates. Any competent and responsible body managing a decentralised program of mass testing should carry out and publish cross-validation tests – this is elementary quality control. Differences in Ct values is one example but there are other potential sources of spurious differences. In current circumstances any public health body should publish aggregate statistics for each lab on a daily basis – differentiated by date of swab and date of test.

In any area where a positive test – e.g. drug testing – may imply large personal or social costs it is a fundamental principle that a single positive test may be suspicious but consequences only follow if it is confirmed by a separate test carried out at a different lab. The concern to minimise transmission means that it may be reasonable to ask people to self-isolate on getting an initial positive result but it should be the obligation of testers to organise a second test within 48 hours (easily manageable for a few thousand daily positives). No-one should be asked to put up with a 14-day quarantine period unless an initial positive test has been confirmed by a second positive test at a different lab.

It will please Professor Hughes to learn that James Ferguson has a degree in Economics from Edinburgh.

LinkedIn Again – But Gagged

Following our story on Saturday about the LinkedIn user whose account was summarily shut down merely for posting a link to a mainstream lockdown sceptic, the reader has been in touch to say his account is back – but with a heavy price.

Holy s***. LinkedIn just responded and said they would restore my account only if I agree not to post content which may “interfere in or improperly influence an election” or “directly contradicts guidance from leading global health organisations and public health authorities”.

In these hysterical and censorious times social media censorship is one of the big challenges Western civilisation faces. When free speech dies, so does truth. Tolerance of dissent is at a low ebb right now and the public health “emergency” has only supercharged the efforts of the thought police.

Freshers’ Week Without the Fun

Image
Virtual Freshers Welcome Week at the University of Sunderland. Because human contact is overrated

Sunderland University have invited its new intake to get their avatar ready for “Virtual Freshers Welcome Week“. I’m sure they can’t wait.

Write To Your MP

It is always encouraging when readers send us copies of the letters they’ve sent to their MPs explaining why the Government’s Covid suppression strategy in all its lamentable manifestations is so misguided. Writing to MPs is great way of doing something to make sure our political representatives are aware of the facts and counter-arguments and that not all their constituents have been brainwashed by Project Fear on Steroids.

We can’t publish them all, though they are all a delight to read. Here’s one we received today, which is worth quoting at length.

My feelings towards the policy the Government has taken over COVID-19 are the same as they were in March. I am totally against Lockdown and the effect it has on the population, and especially the younger generations.

I am a fit retiree of 65 years, and Lockdown has not affected my life particularly, as indeed it hasn’t with many other retirees I know.  However, I would like to illustrate some close personal cases:

– My cousin of 68 years, who lives on her own, was due a double hip replacement in May.  It was delayed because the hospitals in her area (Midlands) were closed to all elective surgery in preparation for Covid.  She is in pain, and can barely walk despite using crutches. She still has no date for her much needed surgery.

– My daughter, aged 34, a lawyer with a charity in London, has recently been made redundant because of redundancies within the organisation. She and her husband, who also has job insecurities as he is a Theatre Manager in London, have been working from their small home in London since March. Their plans to move, with mortgage now impossible, have put their lives on hold.

– My father in law’s funeral is taking place tomorrow in north Norfolk. Many of us, in the 20 strong group, are travelling 100s of miles for the ceremony, and yet because of the ridiculous and arbitrary rule of six are not able to have a reception afterwards.

– An elderly friend of mine, in her 80s, living on her own, is suffering with isolation. She does not have family living nearby and relies on the game of bridge for her connection with others. This is not possible now because so many of her friends are terrified of socialising over cards etc. The successful online bridge is not easy for many elderly folk, and they are suffering.

– Yesterday I met with a young single friend in her 40s who is in despair as she says it feels like her life is imploding. She works in the finance sector in London, and her job is insecure and now she is unable to proceed with the mortgage for the purchase of her first home, which she had set her heart on.

– Last week, my husband and I were up in London. We caught a rush hour train from Surrey, which was all but empty,  and it was utterly dispiriting, in walking from Leicester Square to Piccadilly, to see the empty restaurants and tourist shops open, but with the staff pleading with us to come in.  London life is totally unsustainable in its current state.

And yet the Government persists in this collision course. What don’t you get? Why don’t you listen to the increasing evidence that says that Lockdowns don’t work?

As far as I can see, this Government’s only success has been in scaring much of the British population witless. I am appalled at the way the Government and the BBC revel in figures of pending doom.

I quote Professor Carl Heneghan from the Spectator, in today’s online version: “Admissions for Covid, critical care bed occupancies and deaths are now at an all-time low. There are currently 600 patients in hospital with Covid compared to over 17,000 at the height of the epidemic. An average of ten patients a day die with Covid registered on their death certificate, compared to over 1,000 at the peak.”

At the start of Lockdown in March, I registered as an NHS volunteer responder. Like many in our area, I logged on every day for 2 months, and was never called.  I also joined a local Scrubs sewing group to “help”, and it was farcical (pattern drafting, fabric selection etc… and was akin to “Dad’s army”) and this has since closed, as the demand for scrubs and gowns is not required.

 I quickly became a very disillusioned but caring and concerned citizen of Elmbridge.

When I received a recent email from NHS volunteer  “ we urgently need your help Louise “ I despair. Who is funding this campaign and how much is it costing the taxpayer?

Given the personal cases I have noted and the misery this Government’s policy is causing you should be ashamed of yourselves.

I joined the Conservative Party under Theresa May, and whilst not a Brexiteer wanted to help and supported you.  I met you briefly at a local function a few years ago and liked what you said. Like many,  I wanted things to work for you and for the country.

However, I can never support this Government who appear intent on complete destruction of the fabric of our society. I suspect I am not alone.

Indeed you are not.

Government Consultation on Vaccine Roll Out

If you haven’t responded to this Government consultation on the roll out of a Covid vaccine, you probably should, particularly if you’re a scientist. It begins: “COVID-19 is the biggest threat this country has faced in peacetime history…” and it’s all downhill from there.

To give you a taste of what it is the Government is “consulting” about doing, read the section on liability.

The current legal framework already recognises that if manufacturers or healthcare professionals are asked to supply an unlicensed medicine in response to a public health threat, it is unfair also to ask them to take responsibility for the consequences of the use of that medicine in the way that they normally would.

The deadline for responding is September 18th.

Round-Up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

One today: “You Failed” by We Are Scientists.

When sending in a theme tune don’t forget to include a link to the video so we don’t have to go searching for it. Thanks!

Love in the Time of Covid

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums that are now open, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. We’ve also just introduced a section where people can arrange to meet up for non-romantic purposes. We have a team of moderators in place to remove spam and deal with the trolls, but sometimes it takes a little while so please bear with us. You have to register to use the Forums, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Stop Press: Nice piece in the Telegraph by Anna Moore about the difficulties of dating in the current climate. Love in a Covid Climate gets a mention.

Small Businesses That Have Re-Opened

A few months ago, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have re-opened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you.

Now that non-essential shops have re-opened – or most of them, anyway – we’re focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. As of July 4th, many of them have re-opened too, but not all and some will have had to close again thanks to the Rule of Six. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet – particularly if they’re not insisting on face masks! If they’ve made that clear to customers with a sign in the window or similar, so much the better. Don’t worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a permanent slot down here for people who want to buy (or make) a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and it has the advantage of not explicitly claiming you have a disability. But if you have no qualms about that (or you are disabled), you can buy a lanyard from Amazon saying you do have a disability/medical exemption here (now showing it will arrive between Oct 14th to Oct 23rd). The Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. You can get a “Hidden Disability” tag from ebay here and an “exempt” card with lanyard for just £1.99 from Etsy here.

Don’t forget to sign the petition on the UK Government’s petitions website calling for an end to mandatory face nappies in shops here (now over 32,000).

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption.

And here’s a round-up of the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of mask (threadbare at best).

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the past 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. Doing these daily updates is a lot of work (although 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.

And Finally…

Applying Math To Guesses - Dilbert by Scott Adams
Dilbert starts work at Imperial College London