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Dr Clare Craig: “We Are In A False Positive Pseudo-Epidemic”

This is a lightly edited transcript of a recent interview with Dr Clare Craig on Alex McCarron’s latest Escape from Lockdown podcast.

Alex McCarron: Hello, and welcome to Escape from Lockdown, the show all about how we got into this madness and how we are going to get out of it. Now today I have another of the great pathologists. Very early on I interviewed Dr. John Lee, and his interview set the podcast on fire and set the whole lockdown escape community on fire, really. It had real crossover. And today I think is going to be no different or even better. I’m speaking to a very brilliant person who is doing some incredible work and really putting themselves out there, exposing some really terrifying conclusions that she’s come to, to all of us. It is of course the pathologist Dr. Clare Craig. Clare, how are you doing? Welcome to the show.

Dr Clare Craig: Thank you very much for having me.

Alex McCarron: Can you tell the listeners a little bit about your professional background and how you got to be where you are?

Dr Clare Craig: I’m a consultant pathologist. I’ve worked in the NHS as a consultant pathologist for many years, and I moved to work on the cancer arm of the 100,000 Genomes Project for a couple of years, and then I’ve moved into AI more recently. But, I’ve experience with laboratories, with testing, and understand what false positives mean in medicine.

Alex: So you knew what false positives were before they got big, basically.

Dr Craig: Yes, I would say that my professional career has been around those kinds of problems.

Alex: Can we sort of jump straight into the fact that everybody who’s sort of been looking at the data knows that there’s this thing called the casedemic, but your works shows that actually the problems with the casedemic are actually much more profound than people, even us, quite realize. So can you tell us what’s going on?

Dr Craig: I can try. I mean, a lot of people try to find some data point that they can trust because one by one these data points are being questioned. And so people put a lot of faith in COVID death counts. They think, “Well, they must be true because, you know, how on earth can you misdiagnose someone’s death?” But I’m afraid that even the death count, you have to have a bit of skeptical about because of how we are testing and how we are diagnosing. And there’s a phenomenon that’s worth considering when we’re looking at the situation that we’re living through at the moment, which is called a false positive pseudo epidemic.

There are a few key factors to understand about that, one of which is when you’re living through it, everybody involved believes they’re in an epidemic because the data looks like an epidemic, which is why it’s got that name. But there are a few things that start to show up in the data that you can unpick to figure out that actually this isn’t the case. What starts to happen is that because the data points are related to testing and not to each other, they start to do really funny things.

So one of the things that’s a relatively easy image to understand is looking at ITU admissions compared with deaths, and ICNARC which do ITU audits have just published on this. They show a graph with a familiar spike in the upturn of the ITU patients and then coming back down, followed after a period of time by a spike in deaths coming back down. That was in spring. And you see these two lines followed in parallel all the way through. And then they’ve superimposed what’s happening now on this graph, and you can see a much more shallow line of increased patients in ITU, and below that in parallel the increasing number of deaths.

But in the last couple of weeks that line of deaths has done a sharp upturn, and it looks like it’s going to overtake the line of the number of patients in ITU. And so there are other ways to look at the data that back this up as well, but the point is that we’ve got to a situation where the number of people dying per case diagnosed is on the rise compared with the summer, but the number of people with a severe case (being admitted to hospital, being on ITU) has fallen since summer, which is just slightly baffling, you know.

How can you get to a situation where the severity is reducing but the deaths are increasing? That is quite difficult to get your head around. I don’t think we need to go over it again, but there is this discrepancy that doesn’t make sense, and it especially doesn’t make sense when you realize that 80% of the COVID deaths at the moment are in hospital. So if they’re in hospital, they should be in the hospital admission data, they should be on ITU, and they’re not showing up in that data.

Alex: So basically, if I can put it in a way that is often ridiculed, the former secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld famously gave this speech where he talked about there are known knowns, and there are known unknowns, and there are unknown unknowns, the things that we don’t know that we don’t know. That was often widely mocked at the time, but I believe that’s the cleverest thing any politician has publicly said ever because it was a tacit admission of the way that knowledge works and the way that we find things out.

To me, you seem almost half scientist, half detective, almost like sort of forensically going through the data. And it seems to me we have these known knowns, which we established over the summer which was sort of time between infection and death, the kind of general makeup of the disease. But, are you saying that they’re not the same anymore? The data, you know, these things that we depend on are suddenly going crazy, and there’s no relation between what’s coming in and what we thought we knew?

Dr Craig: The way to look at it is to use percentages. You can see the percentage of deaths for people who were admitted 10 days before to hospital. You then look at all the hospital admissions and see 10 days later how many deaths there were, and those two figures should have a set relationship. But what we see is that in the beginning it was quite high, and that was partly because we were not diagnosing everybody, and it comes down, and it carries on coming down right the way until August. In August, if you were admitted to hospital, you had the best chances compared with earlier. And, you know, we’re being told that that’s because of better treatments and what have you.

But then since August, the percentage has started to rise, which is a worry. You worry that things have got worse. Has it come back? Have we been misdiagnosing in the summer but now it’s come back? That pattern is repeated in other data points. The number of deaths per occupied bed on ITU has started to rise, and the number of deaths per case diagnosed has started to rise. All of those data points, they look like things are getting worse. But the other data points of cases to admissions look like things are getting better.

Alex: So what’s going on here? Is it that, are we just in the middle of a kind of orgy of testing and it’s throwing up all this crazy data?

Dr Craig: The thing about testing is that at the beginning we had to get some tests out really quickly, and I really admire the work that was done to get that to happen. Manufacturers turned new tests around as fast as they could, and, you know, it was all about speed at the time. So the fact that they compromised on some of the checks that would normally have been there is entirely justifiable. And then the labs got set up and were scaling right from the beginning. They were scaling what they could do. And we got to a point in May where the UK labs were doing 50,000 tests a day, which is absolutely phenomenal, and at the time it was world-beating, and it was more than enough to get a grip on the situation that we had.

But we carried on with that strategy of volume and speed, volume and speed, and we ended up now we’re doing 200,000 tests a day and with a couple more labs, but it’s essentially the same labs. They’re just being scaled and scaled and scaled. And when you’ve got a laboratory, there are three things a laboratory can do, and they can only do two of them well. They could put through a huge number of tests per day- they can do volume. They can do speed and get the results out as quickly as they can. Or, they can do quality tests. But you have to pick which two you’re going to focus on. We’ve focused on volume and speed. And again, that’s totally justifiable at the start of an epidemic when you’re trying to stop spread, and a small percentage of mistakes along the way are just really irrelevant to the situation that you’re in.

But from a pathology point of view, epidemiology 101 is when you get to peak deaths, you switch your testing strategy. You start with high volume, fast, and as sensitive as possible because you want to find every possible case. At peak deaths you switch strategy to quality testing and being specific because you want your results to be accurate at that point. We haven’t switched strategy. And the only way to switch or to do that, to get quality results is not to put the labs under even more pressure and shout at them and get cross. The only way to get a quality result from a lab is to compromise either on the volume going through every day or in the speed at which they have to turn them around.

Alex: What sort of evidence do we have that the accuracy has been compromised? What blips are we seeing in that data that tell us that these tests aren’t quite what they say they are?

Dr Craig: There’s a beautiful piece of evidence that’s just been produced by a physicist in Scotland called Christine Padgham, who is a force of nature and has gone carefully through all of the Scottish data. Public Health Scotland have been much more open with the data that they’re publishing, and they include in their publications the daily positive numbers, the daily negative numbers, the total number of tests done, and so you can actually get a percentage of positive tests per day that’s accurate. And when you look at the percentage of positive tests per day in Scotland, the percentage of positives is twice as high at the weekends than it is on a Monday. Now that cannot be anything to do with the disease.

That’s to do with the laboratories being under extraordinary pressures. It’s to do with people. The PCR testing, which is the test that we use for COVID, can be an incredibly specific test with a low false positive rate, but it can also be incredibly difficult to actually do because the first step is to translate your RNA to DNA and then you double the amount of DNA in the sample. You double it, and you double it, and you double it until you’re at a billion or a trillion times the amount you began with. What that means is that even the tiniest, tiniest amount of cross-contamination from other things in the lab can mean that you get the wrong result.

Whenever you run a test, you’re going to definitely put a certain positive in that test so you can make sure that the test worked properly. Every time they run a test, a positive control sample is being used. And if a little bit of RNA from that sample gets onto a glove, and gets onto the fridge door or something else around the lab, then every person that touches that fridge door is going to get contaminated, and the samples that they touch will get contaminated. The difference between a weekend and a Monday in a lab is that at the weekend you’re short-staffed, and people are tired, and the labs had all the problems that built up over the week hanging over. On a Monday, people come in fresh-faced. They’ve had a rest over the weekend, and the lab is thoroughly cleaned, and then you get out new chemicals that are all brand new and clean, and you start again.

Alex: So basically people are just kind of turning up hung over on Saturdays and Sundays.

Dr Craig: Oh no, I think that’s really unfair. I think you have to appreciate that if you’ve increased testing to that degree, people have worked their socks off. They are working so, so hard. I don’t think they’ve had time to have a drink. So they’re exhausted.

Alex: I’m imposing my own fecklessness on doctors who I’m sure are doing a very good job. I’m sort of damaging my ability to get new work now. So there’s other data you brought up which was really interesting, which was there’s this correlation which you never see anywhere in biology which I think is…it relates to the number of tests performed and the number of infections that we’re getting. What was it?

Dr Craig: It was a period of time where the hospital tests done related to the number of hospital COVID deaths, and it was a really tight correlation. The hospital tests have ramped up much more gently than the community tests, but we’re still doing a lot. And we got to a point where every admission could be tested, which was great. And then we exceeded that point. So there was the ability to test people more than once. And understandably, if somebody comes in with a broken leg, you’ll test them once as protocol. We don’t normally test them again.

But if somebody is coming in coughing, you might use your spare test to test them again. If somebody is coming in in respiratory failure, they’re going to get more than one test. So there comes a point where the increased number of tests are no longer proportional to the increased number of people tested. You get to a critical mass, and then any further increased tests are used on people who are more sick. Then you start to see this relationship between the number of excess tests done in a hospital and the number of COVID related deaths in the hospital.

Alex: Wow. So basically the implication here is that…is nearly everything that we’re seeing a false positive test, even if it’s in hospital?

Dr Craig: I would hold back from saying that, but I would say that cannot be excluded. The reality is that we have a problem with false positives, and the only way to clear that problem up is to start to carry out confirmatory testing and to sort out the labs. We need to put gateways in and say we’re not going to test everybody, we’re not going to test asymptomatic people so that the volumes decrease so that the laboratories can get on top of it. But only once you’ve got on top of it and you’ve done your confirmatory testing you can actually see what’s real out there. Because at the moment, the numbers that aren’t real are overshadowing the real ones, if they’re there.

Alex: And when the false positive story kind of broke a month or two ago, I think Julia Hartley-Brewer famously questioned it on her radio show. The BBC and, I think, maybe the Huff Post as well. I think Tom Chivers wrote something on this. Basically the determination was rather to examine and delve further into potential, you know, corruption of the data was to poo-poo the notion of false positives being effective data at all, which tells us a lot about the journalistic priorities and the cognitive biases that people fall in.

You know, there’s a famous saying. It’s very difficult to make a man understand something if his job depends on not understanding it. And there’s just a real commitment to rubbish any of the questions, to shut down the questions rather than to investigate what they’re saying, I think at least. So one of the things that people often say is, “Oh, your false positive rates, they don’t really count if the people you’re testing are symptomatic,” you know, because that doesn’t [inaudible 00:19:11] with data as much. I would ask you, does it now?

Dr Craig: The trouble is with COVID that the definition of what it is was back to front. The way that you set up a diagnostic test is you define a disease based on symptoms and signs and what it looks like to a doctor, and then you find a test. You work out if the test is any good by seeing if it can pick up this picture. But in COVID it was back to front. We defined the test, and then the symptoms were worked out after we decided who was positive with the test.

So the list of symptoms is as long as your arm, and you’re allowed to be asymptomatic as well. Anyway, leaving that aside, there are a lot of symptoms that count. With that many symptoms you’ll find a lot of people have those symptoms. I mean, we know from the ONS survey data, when they published who was symptomatic and asymptomatic, that 11% of the people were symptomatic with some symptoms at any one time because, you know, they’re common symptoms. So if your rate in the asymptomatic population is lower than in your symptomatic population, that does still make it look like you found something, right?

But the way that the testing works is that you’re looking for the sequence of letters in the RNA that is unique to COVID, and it’s a great test when it’s done well, as I said before. But when it’s done badly, other sequences of letters can cause a positive. DNA binds certain letters very, very accurately. A binds to T, C binds to G, and they’re really tight binding. But there’s a certain amount of binding that can happen to the wrong letters, so if you’ve got a misspelling that’s a few letters out, it can still bind, and you can still get a positive result. That’s especially true if you’re doing all these extra cycles before deciding whether or not it’s positive.

What that means is that there could be other viruses out there that cross-react with COVID testing and produce a positive test in someone with symptoms when actually it’s a different virus causing the symptoms. And, you know, we know that this is a risk, so when you make a new test you check for that. And what we would normally do is check by getting virus samples and running the tests and seeing if any of them go positive.

But what’s mostly being done for COVID is people have checked DNA databases and have looked to see how many letters match or don’t match, and say, “No, we’re okay. We can run with this,” which as I said before is, you know, justifiable. And then the laboratories, before setting up their testing, they did do wet lab testing, so all of the labs individually will have tested against samples of other viruses. But they’re testing against a range of other viruses, and it’ll be one sample of each type of virus. And that’s fine when you’re testing a high provenance population and you’re testing people who are likely have it.

But when you move to doing mass population screening, which is what we’re doing, you have to have a different threshold for your accuracy. And the only way you can be certain that we’re not getting cross-reactions with other viruses is if you test hundreds of samples of each of those viruses because you’re only going to see that, say, five percent of, you know, a cold virus is going give you a positive if you’ve tested hundreds of those samples. We’ve tested tens.

Alex: Really?

Dr. Craig: Well, when I says tens, I mean, like, 10 or 20.

Alex: So effectively we’re just… I mean, we all knew false positives were an issue, but I didn’t realize it was this much of an issue. There was an article that came out, I think it was in “Full Fact” recently that was saying, “No, it doesn’t pick up the common cold. It doesn’t pick up coronavirus.” But it seems to me that they weren’t really asking, they weren’t really addressing the right question. They were saying the test isn’t meant to pick up other common colds or other viruses, but what you’re saying is basically, you know, the test just occasionally, unintentionally, and very rarely does.

Dr Craig: I think it can do. So let me tell you a story about a false positive pseudo epidemic. This is a lovely story. It’s my favourite one.

Alex: I was looking forward to this.

Dr Craig: It’s a hospital in New Hampshire, and one of the doctors had a cough. It was a really bad cough. It’s one of those coughs where you cough a lot, and then you have a sharp intake of breath at the end because you’ve, you know, been coughing for so long. They were at lunch with a doctor colleague who thought, “Oh, hang on a minute. That reminds me of whooping cough.” So whooping cough in children, the whoop is after a really, really long period of coughing where they’ve run out of air, and they gasp for air. That’s why it’s called whooping cough. Right? So they said, “This could be whooping cough. We ought to check.”

So they went off to the lab and did a PCR test to see if this doctor had whooping cough, and it came back positive. This set off this kind of panic, and they just decided they’d better start screening the hospital because they had vulnerable babies and vulnerable old people who might catch this horrible bacteria. Not a virus, but anyway. And they started to test members of the staff and patients who had symptoms, and they found some more positives. And then they tested more, and they found more positives. By the end, they had tested 1000 people. They had got 146 positives back, so a 14.6% positive rate.

But one of the doctors was careful and clever enough to say, “Let’s have a backup and try to culture the bacteria from these samples as well.” So as well as testing for PCR, they tried to grow it in the lab and see if any of them would grow. None of them grew. None of them. All of that 14.6% were false positives, and it looked for all the world like an epidemic. After the news had broken that the testing was wrong, it took a long time before people could get their heads around what had happened because there was this collective delusion that they were all in. And, you know, I’m a bit scared when that happens here, actually, what the results will be.

Alex: Well, I think I can tell you. The results will be they bring in heavier and heavier restrictions. They ramp up testing even more, and it will throw up even more false positives. And when people try and question it, they’ll try and shut them up. It’s just a guess.

It’s worth talking about here, actually. So I just did a quick Google of whooping cough for false epidemic, and you got two articles come up straight away. One is in “The New York Times,” which have a wonderful title here called “Faith in Quick Tests Leads to Epidemic That Wasn’t.”

Dr Craig: Yeah, that’s the one. But there are others. There’s another whooping cough one where the false positive rate was 74%. The thing about this is that in retrospect people say, “Well how did it go so wrong?” And that 74% went so wrong because of very high cycle thresholds. But the 14.6%, I’m not sure exactly how it did go so wrong. People speculated that there was a problem with one of the reagents or there was some kind of cross-contamination issue, but they don’t actually for certain know exactly how it went so wrong. But the point is it can, and the only way to be sure that we’re getting the right test results is confirmatory testing.

Alex: Can they just test one PCR test against another done in a different lab?

Dr Craig: No, because if there’d been any problems up until the point where the swab reaches the lab, then that’s going to still be a false positive.

Alex: So how do you do a confirmatory test then?

Dr Craig: You have to have the confidence to say, “We’re not going to diagnose any patients until they’ve had two positive tests, separate days, separate positives.”

Alex: See, the thing is though, what you said was the way that they cracked this terrible problem of the fake whooping cough epidemic (and that is surprisingly difficult to say) is that the doctor decided to grow a lab culture, which to me sounds like very much like a gold standard test, because either it’s going to grow or it’s not. And it’s just 100% extremely accurate. COVID doesn’t have, as far as I know… Actually, I’m going to phrase this question differently. Does COVID have this alternative test we can test it against? Are we stuck with PCR?

Dr Craig: No, there is another test. You can also culture a virus. So what you do is you put the material in with some cells in a lab, and a virus will go into the cells and replicate, and then it will burst the cell open. So you just measure for the cells bursting open. And that has been done. That’s absolutely being done, but it gets done in, like, really kind of high tech, safe laboratories, and it’s hard to do. So you can’t do that at scale, but you can do that on a sample of positive tests and prove the point.

Alex: And do you know if that’s being done at all?

Dr Craig: I don’t know.

Alex: I mean, it probably isn’t.

Dr Craig: Actually, there’s one thing that is being done, which I think is why that’s not being done. The thing that is being done is that we’re doing whole genome sequencing on some of these samples. What that means is that instead of looking for just part of the RNA of COVID, the sample is amplified up in the same way, the doublings, and then you read the letters of every last bit of DNA in that sample so you can see what’s in there. When you do whole genome sequencing you can compare what’s going on, what mutations have happened over time, and you can fit it into the sort of family tree of COVID. If you’re getting samples through that have got positive whole genome sequencing results, it’s really convincing that it’s real. But, of course, if it’s cross-contamination from the false positive control, it’s still going to get a whole genome sequence.

Alex: Because you’d think, the thing that surprised me with this crisis, I don’t like calling it a pandemic because that suggests that we’re still in it, and I’m not sure that we are. But the thing that surprised me is with the £300 billion that we’ve already spent, surely they could set aside, you know, a measly sort of half a billion to sort through these confirmatory tests or to sort of test what they’re doing. It doesn’t seem to be a priority at all.

Dr Craig: No. I mean, if you look at the testing priorities, the priority continues to be to ramp it up and to aim for the moonshot and to have a million tests a day and have us all be tested every morning. It’s completely, like… they clearly have not had advice from somebody who understands this testing. And the people on SAGE that are giving advice are predominantly physicists, chemists, and mathematicians. And for physicists, chemists, and mathematicians, a false positive rate is the lowest positive you’ve ever had in your testing. The fact is the kind of work they do is on really, really accurate testing equipment, and they have really low false positive rates, and it’s a constant. And that’s not the situation in medicine.

Alex: And basically, and this data, these rates are potentially changing all the time. You said yourself they change from a Monday to a Saturday in Scotland.

Dr Craig: Yes.

Alex: How are we going to get out of this? I’m a little bit worried.

Dr Craig: Well I think, to be honest, I’m optimistic because…

Alex: Oh really?

Dr Craig: Yes. The data will start to do crazy things. It’s already started to do crazy things. So as well as the deaths being out of proportion to the severe cases, one of the other things that’s starting to happen is that the number of predicted cases is starting to be lower than the number of cases diagnosed. It’s not quite there yet, but that’s the trend that we’re headed in. When you really do have COVID, PCR testing is reliable for about 20 days. Obviously we’ve heard stories about it going on and on for months, but in most patients you have a 20 day window of it being picked up. And the number of predicted cases in the East Midlands is the sort of number of new cases per day that you would see over the course of a week.

And if you go and look at that week and say, well, how many cases did we diagnose? Assuming that you can have any be picked up in any one of those 20 days during the course of the illness, then we’re pretty much on par. So more crazy things will happen with the data that will be undeniable nonsense. And then, you know, once you get to that stage, people have to start thinking differently because you can’t make sense of these things. There was a lovely article in “The Daily Mail,” and I’m sure it was from the best of places, but it shows how crazy stuff has got where the news broke that the time to death had got worse. Right? It had been an average of two weeks between diagnosis and death in hospital, and it was one week. And they managed to say that this was because treatments had improved. Am I getting this the wrong way around? Let me have a think.

Alex: I think they probably got it the wrong way around.

Dr Craig: No, they said treatments had improved, right? Because patients who would have died after a while are now surviving because of these brilliant treatments…

Alex: Oh, so only the very ill ones that are dying.

Dr Craig: Yes. You’re like, that’s such convoluted thinking. It’s such convoluted thinking, and we’re going to hear more and more convoluted thinking like that because unless you realize the reason that it’s changed is because you’re diagnosing something else completely, then you have to have convoluted thinking to make sense of that kind of data.

Alex: I just find it everywhere. I find it constant, the convoluted thinking. Even the non-pharmaceutical interventions, i.e. the lockdowns, the circuit breakers, all of that stuff, it just results in convoluted thinking. You know, the Welsh thinking, “Yeah, we’re gonna ban books. That’ll do the trick.” And this phenomenon of long COVID as well, it’s as if they’ve kind of lost the battle on the infection fatality rates, and they’ve had to concede that it is lower than they thought it said. But now they’re saying, “Well, you know, this could cause, you know, long term disability.” You just have to say, well, A) no one has had it for more than six months anyway, so how could you possibly know that? And, B) I mean, you’re the pathologist. Don’t all viruses have this?

Dr Craig: Pneumonias are horrid. If you get a pneumonia, you’re going to be sick for six months no matter how old you are. It’s a really, really horrid thing to happen. It takes a long time to get better from. And I think you have to wait six months before assessing whether there’s anything more. And, yes, you know, this was a horrible illness. And actually I disagree with you about the infection fatality rates. I’m kind of an outlier in the community that have written on this. I think the infection fatality rate was higher than we now think it was.

Alex: Really?

Dr Craig: Because the calculation done more recently have been diluted with false positives.

Alex: Oh, right. Okay.

Dr Craig: When COVID hit in spring, it was a really horrid killer, and we’ve kind of forgotten quite how bad it was. If you go back and try and remember how we were feeling in March and how the news came out and how… So let me take you through the timeline, actually. The 21st of March, news broke that 21 year old Chloe Middleton, who was healthy, had died at home of COVID, which had us all slightly on edge, I think. And then on the 28th of March, Martin Egan, who was a bus driver, died. And the first NHS surgeon who was working had died. The next day was another death of a bus driver, and a 55 year old healthy NHS physician died. And by five days later, we were told five Transport for London bus drivers had died. The next day five NHS staff had died. It was really quick, and it was killing young people who should not have been dying, and it was worth being scared of in March and April.

Alex: Right.

Dr Craig: I think when we actually managed one day to filter out what was real and what was not real, we’ll see that it did have a significant infection fatality rate. It’s just that since then, what we’ve diagnosed is not it.

Alex: But then fundamentally though, the prevalence can’t have been as big, and it can’t ever have been as big because it’s largely passed through the population now. I mean, the big key metric here to look at is excess deaths, right?

Dr Craig: Right. Let’s come back to excess deaths though because the thing about prevalence is that I totally agree it passed through the whole country. Every part of the country had excess deaths in spring. Liverpool has the same 14% excess deaths this year as London. This kind of story we are told that it infected some areas more than others doesn’t really match with that data of excess deaths. But the way you calculate your infection fatality ratio is based on how many people were symptomatic. That’s what we mean by who had it. And, you know, we’re never going to know for sure because we weren’t testing, and so we don’t know for certain. We don’t have great antibody testing to know for certain.

But what it doesn’t measure when you’re calculating this is people who were immune already. And I think we had significant numbers of people who couldn’t catch it. And when it passed through the country, it wasn’t 100% of us that were susceptible. It just wasn’t. There’s prior immunity from other things that we’ve seen. Our immune systems are amazing, and they work for most of us. You can see that also in the data.

There was a nice match analysis published on household transmission. So people who had a positive COVID test, they went and looked in their households (this is around the world) and found out how many of the people they lived with caught it. And the range was huge. It was from 50% of household contacts catching it to 5%, which seems rather low, almost as if maybe you’re not testing correctly. But going back to the 50%, 50% of household contacts catching it, it means that the rest are immune. They must be immune, especially when we know how quickly this disease spread. It was a very contagious disease, there’s no question about that, and how quickly it went through our country. So it’s a contagious disease that not everybody catches.

Alex: Well famously there was the Diamond Princess, which is your kind of perfect petri dish to see how it affects, because I remember stories about this, infections coming out of cruise ships. You get these norovirus infections and stuff, and they would totally tear through the whole ship because if you want an environment where a disease could spread, a boat is pretty much as good as you’re going to get. But what was it, a huge proportion of people, I can’t remember, they just didn’t get it.

Dr Craig: No. They also at that point had the stories breaking about patients testing positive who had no symptoms, and some of those patients went on to get symptoms, which, you know, means that they probably had it, but others never had symptoms. There’s been so much confusion about this asymptomatic thing that, we’ve just gone into some other world which is different for any other disease. Yes, you can have a positive PCR test and be asymptomatic. Yes, you can even have a positive viral culture and be asymptomatic. So that means that there’s live virus that can get into cells, and people can have that in them and be asymptomatic.

But that does not mean that they’re infected. It doesn’t mean that they’re diseased in the way that we normally talk about disease because they have no symptoms. It means that they’re immune. That is what immunity is. Immunity is when a virus invades, it doesn’t bother you. The stories in the scientific literature about transmission, which is what we should worry about, say yes, these asymptomatic people can have the virus. But can they spread it? And that’s the critical question.

There are two schools of thought on that. So if you take all the scientific literature published about transmission you can put them into two piles: one that shows they do not transmit (you can’t spread it unless you’re coughing, which sort of makes biological sense) and the other that says it’s a serious problem. But if you look again at the pile of papers that say it’s a serious problem, they were all published in China, and I think we just have to have a little bit of skepticism about that when all the other literature contradicts it.

Alex: Well, regular listeners of my podcast will know that nothing coming out of China should be trusted related to this on anything. And as Michael Sanger, one of my former guests, showed, not everything that comes out of China is obviously coming from China. And that is a real danger. I think I said to you off air I don’t get conspiratorial about this. I do think we are in a storm of cognitive biases and motivated reasoning. And even the great reset stuff and all of that, it’s just the people who sort of spout on about this stuff and have been doing so for years, just seeing this as opportunity. It’s no different.

But if there is one bad actor that is certainly the Chinese Communist Party, and they have the motive and the reasoning to do that. Although, having said that, this podcast is more talking about scientific issues rather than politics, so I should try and keep them separate. So we didn’t actually quite go into a little bit, but what’s the thing that tells us that the epidemic has passed through the population? Is it those excess death figures? Which is quite a nasty little blip. It’s a good, you know, what, 20, 25 years since we’ve had something that bad kind of hit the population?

Dr Craig: Is your question really, how do we know it’s over?

Alex: Yes.

Dr Craig: The one thing to look at is when hospital deaths peaked around the country. You can look at by hospital trusts, you know, each of them have their own little Gompertz curve with a maximum. And you can say, “Well this is when peak deaths happened.” And the first peak was in Brighton on the 28th of March, way too soon for lockdown to have had an effect. And then it spread not in a kind of south to north way. It was all over. I think there were lots of different seeding events.

But the last places to spike have a death peak in their hospitals were Hull, Rotherham on the 24th of April, Bradford on the 26th of April, and West Suffolk on the 28th of April. And the thing about those places is that when you do pandemic modelling, they are the places that get the disease last. And they were getting it so long after Brighton that you can see that it was just spreading throughout lockdown. Lockdown didn’t have any effect at all. You can confirm that it’s come, gone, killed people, and then just disappeared because it hasn’t come back. That’s fundamentally the test of immunity. Is it coming back? It should’ve come back at the VE celebrations, or in the marches, or when the beaches were packed. You can’t keep saying, “Well, it’s going to come back tomorrow.” It didn’t come back because it’s gone.

Alex: It’s gone. But we’re still stuck in this situation.

Dr Craig: And it’s not gone forever, you can’t get rid of a virus forever. It’s not gone gone, but the epidemic part of it is gone. So after an epidemic has come and gone, then the population is no longer susceptible because either people have been killed or become immune. It’s just the reality of it, harsh though that is. And therefore, if the virus does, you know, have a winter prevalence, and in the winter there may very well be cases again through the winter, but it’s a different story. That’s just like flu every year. It’s a seasonal infection. It’ll come, but it’s not coming into a susceptible population anymore. It’s coming into a population that has a bit of immunity.

Alex: I suppose that’s the, how can I put it, the slander that the anti herd immunity advocates say is that herd immunity means the eradication of a disease whereas that’s not actually the case, is it? I think [inaudible 00:47:58] calls it the epidemic equilibrium where it just kind of sinks back into the background.

Dr Craig: Yes. The herd immunity deniers keep talking about measles saying, “Well, you know, we only got control of the measles because of vaccination.” And that’s kind of true. The thing with herd immunity is that the number of people who have to be immune depends on the R value, the R0 value. So how contagious is this disease? Measles is really, really contagious. It’s got an R value of eight, so you need 90% plus to have herd immunity. And the problem with measles is that there are babies arriving all the time, and they’re not immune, so in order to have herd immunity you have to keep that vaccination level up really high. But the R0 value for COVID, you know, it’s debatable. In fact, the range is quite massive for what people think it was, but there seems to be a reasonable guess, and three is how you get to the 60% immunity, herd immunity figure, which also seems reasonable. And so, no, you don’t have to have every single person in the community being immune.

Alex: Right. So we’ve spoken for quite a while. If there’s something that could, I’d like to ask you personally is, so I’ve been sort of kicking around in this lockdown skeptic world for I think probably since April. But you’re a real newcomer. It’s amazing. Your Twitter account has only been around since September, and you’ve already got, you know, quite a large following already, which to me sort of encourages me a lot because the podcast where I interview scientists always get really, really high views or listens, rather.

And, you know, your Twitter account has got a lot of information on it, and it shows there’s a real hunger for that. So it’s really one in the eye for these kind of media commentators who think everything has to be dumbed down, which I actually think is quite hopeful for the future. It shows there is appetite to sort of digest this stuff and to disseminate it. So why did you decide to speak out, and why did you speak out when you did?

Dr Craig: That’s a really reasonable question. I realize I’m the latecomer to the party, and a lot of people have been speaking out since…you know, they spotted it way earlier than I spotted it. Essentially, I have four children, and I was really, really busy. I was trying to homeschool four children. And we went through the summer holidays, and then finally September came, and they went back to school.

The kind of little questions I’d had niggling at the back of my mind about what was going on and were we just getting false positives through the summer when the positive rate was flat, you know, I suddenly had time to explore it. I started digging into the data and testing the data and saying, look, if these were false positives, what does that mean? Can we see in the data changes like when COVID deaths happen they were 60% male? And in the summer, the deaths labeled COVID were 50/50? That sort of is suspicious, and so I kept going at that, testing it, and concluded for myself that they were false positives over the summer. And then I wrote to Carl Heneghan, who I was at medical school with, who I haven’t spoken to for 20 years.

Alex: Really? Don’t just pass that. What was he like as a young man?

Dr Craig: In university?

Alex: Yeah.

Dr Craig: In his way, he was much cooler than me.

Alex: I bet, was he into, like, The Stone Roses and stuff like that?

Dr Craig: I wouldn’t comment on his musical tastes.

Alex: I bet he went to gigs. He must’ve done.

Dr Craig: Sure. He was a good guy.

Alex: Okay.

Dr Craig: Yes. So I wrote to him and I said, “Look. I think I found this. What should I do?” And he said, “Just get on Twitter, get it out there.” And so that’s when I joined Twitter. It was sort of mid-September, trying to spread the messages. And since then I’ve been digging and digging and digging through the data. I feel like actually I need to change tack. We need to. Now, well, there’s enough evidence now. There’s enough.

What matters is communicating it. I don’t think I’ve been terribly good at communicating it, even though you’ve said flattering things, because I communicate with graphs and with numbers. I communicate as a scientist, which isn’t accessible to everybody. And I think I need to just concentrate on making this…getting the message out in a way that everybody can understand because while we’ve… You know, my followers are physicists and mathematicians, and that’s not the only people. We need to get the message out to the powerful people.

Lockdown Summit to Take Place on July 17th – Register Now

Toby and I will be joining HART members Professor Karol Sikora, Professor David Paton, Professor Norman Fenton and Dr Clare Craig among a host of other experts at the sceptical Question Everything summit in London on Saturday July 17th. The event, entitled Lockdowns – Is Now the Time for a Better Solution?, will feature panellists and speakers from science, social science, law and industry, including Luke Johnson, Dr Peter McCullough and Francis Hoar. The global response to COVID-19 will be scrutinised and proposals for the future discussed in a one day summit which will be live-streamed to the public. The aim is to explore how the world can responsibly return to normality without further harmful lockdowns.

The event, the first in a series, will consist of a full programme of nine sessions across the morning and afternoon. Some sessions will see expert speakers give short keynote presentations on the scientific, political, legal, economic and social issues, interspersed with longer moderated panel discussions. The main thrust of the day is to critically assess lockdowns and to explore how the world might be better prepared for future pandemics without resorting to extreme measures of unclear efficacy. The format will encourage discussion and there will be two open Q&As which will make for a fascinating and educational day.

More information can be found on the Question Everything website, where you can also register to receive full details about the event and watch the summit via live stream.

Is the British Covid Variant Really ‘Twice as Deadly’?

There follows a guest post from HART member and Lockdown Sceptics veteran Dr Clare Craig responding to the alarming reports today that, as the Express headline put it, “Kent Covid strain could be twice as deadly”.

Yesterday the BMJ published a new article comparing mortality rates in people with old variant Covid and new variant Covid from October through to the end of January. Their headline conclusion was that the risk of dying was 64% higher in people who had caught the new variant (and perhaps up to 104%, hence the headline that it “could be twice as deadly”).

Before worrying that this may be the case it is worth looking closer at their results. There are a number of odd things about this study:

  1. Each person with old Covid was matched for sex, age, ethnicity, deprivation, location and date of infection. There were over 214,000 pairs found. However, it turned out that there was extensive duplication in the data and many of these “cases” were the same people. After removing duplicates there were only 54,906 pairs left. 
  1. The two groups were not matched for comorbidities, meaning the study did not control for them. This was unfortunate as many comorbidities increase the mortality rate significantly.
  1. Their main finding was that 227 people in the new variant group died compared with 141 in the old variant group. This equates to a 99.59% survival rate compared to a 99.74% survival rate. While the difference may – according to the authors’ methodology – have been statistically significant, this does not equate to it being of any practical relevance in terms of the threat of this virus to society.

Latest News

Hotel Quarantine to Open on February 15th

The UK is set to follow Australia and New Zealand within the next two weeks in requiring all UK residents to put themselves up in guarded quarantine hotels when returning from abroad. The BBC has the details.

UK residents returning from coronavirus hotspots abroad will have to quarantine in hotels from February 15th, Government sources have told the BBC.

Owners will be asked to provide accommodation for more than 1,000 new people every day, documents suggest. Passengers will have to stay in their rooms for 10 nights, with security guards accompanying them outside.

Labour called the measures “too little, too late” to deal properly with new overseas strains of Covid. “It is beyond comprehension that these measures won’t even start until February 15th,” said Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds.

Speaking on BBC’s Question Time, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the Government was “aiming to see” February 15th as the date new hotel quarantine plans for arrivals into the UK will be introduced.

Asked why it had taken so long to implement he said: “We want to make sure that we get this right so that when people go to those hotels, the hotels are in place, the transport is in place.”

The airports thought to be under consideration as locations for quarantine hotels are Heathrow, Gatwick, London City, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

The rules are expected to apply to UK nationals and residents returning to the country from 30 “red list” COVID-19 hotspots, including several South American and African countries where new Covid variants have been detected in large numbers of people.

Travellers will have to foot the bill themselves, and they will be forcibly prevented from leaving by security personnel, who will accompany them on any periods outside of the room.

According to documents seen by the BBC, the Government wants quarantine hotels to be made “available on an exclusive basis”.

Guests will have three meals a day – hot or cold – in their rooms, with tea, coffee, fruit and water being available. Security will “accompany any of the arrived individuals to access outside space should they need to smoke or get fresh air”, one document says.

One hospitality industry source said the Government estimated the cost at about £80 per night per person. “If they are taking rooms for 1,425 passengers per night until March 31st, that is a bill of £55m,” they added.

Government sources confirmed to the BBC that travellers coming home will be expected to pay for the costs of their accommodation in quarantine hotels. Ministers are also likely to increase the fines for people who break the rules around quarantine.

No indication of an end point to these extraordinary measures, or what criteria will be used to decide when to lift them, has been given. If the Government has thought this through, they’re not letting on.

The Case Against Lockdown: A Reply to Christopher Snowdon

Bob Moran’s cartoon in the Telegraph on September 10th 2020

Toby has replied to Christopher Snowdon’s attack on lockdown sceptics. Like Snowdon’s piece, Toby’s article appears in Quillette, where Toby is employed as an Associate Editor. He doesn’t bother rebutting Snowdon’s detailed criticisms of Ivor Cummins and Dr Mike Yeadon because he doesn’t think the case against the lockdown policy stands or falls on whether their analysis is correct. I’ll let him explain.

We can quibble about the reliability of industrial-scale PCR testing, whether the “second wave” in Europe and America has been ameliorated by naturally acquired immunity and whether deaths due to other diseases have being wrongly classified as deaths due to novel coronavirus. But that is largely beside the point. Sceptics could concede all of Snowdon’s points—acknowledge that the threat posed by SARS-CoV-2 is every bit as grave as the most hard-line lockdowners say it is—without endangering the central limb of our argument. Our contention is that the whole panoply of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) that governments around the world have used to try and control the pandemic—closing schools and gyms, shutting non-essential shops, banning household mixing, restricting travel, telling people they can’t leave their homes without a reasonable excuse, etc.—have been largely ineffective.

Sure, there are some peer-reviewed studies published in reputable journals seeming to show that these measures reduce COVID-19 infections, hospital admissions, and deaths. (See here, for instance.) But most of these rely on epidemiological models that make unfalsifiable claims about how many people would have died if governments had just sat on their hands—and some of these models have been widely criticised. The evidence that lockdowns don’t work, by contrast, is not based on conjecture but on observing the effects of lockdowns in different countries. (You can review 30 of these studies here.) What these data seem to show is that the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic in each country rises and falls—and then rises and falls again, although less steeply as the virus moves towards endemic equilibrium—according to a similar pattern regardless of what NPIs governments impose.

The factors that affect a population’s vulnerability to the disease are things like distance from the equator, previous exposure to other coronaviruses, and genetics, not how nimble or smart their political leaders are. (Although the timely introduction of port-of-entry controls for visitors from China may have contributed to the low COVID mortality in some Asian and Oceanic countries.) If lockdowns work, you’d expect to see an inverse correlation between the severity of the NPIs a country puts in place and the number of COVID deaths per capita, but you don’t. On the contrary, deaths per million were actually lower in those US states that didn’t shut down than in those that did—at least in the first seven-and-a-half months of last year. Trying to explain away these inconvenient facts by factoring in any number of variables—average age, hours of sunlight, population density—doesn’t seem to help. There’s no signal in that noise.

Incidentally, Snowdon’s claim that the first British lockdown reduced COVID infections is easy to debunk. You just look at when deaths peaked in England and Wales—April 8th—go back three weeks, which is the estimated time from infection to death among the roughly one in 400 infected people who succumb to the disease, and you get to March 19th, indicating infections peaked five days before the lockdown was imposed. Even Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, acknowledged that the reproduction rate was falling before the first hammer came down.

By contrast, the evidence that the policy responses to the pandemic have caused—and will cause—catastrophic harm is pretty strong. Shutting schools causes significant harm to all children, but particularly to the least well-off. Telling people they’re not allowed to socialise—no restaurants, bars, or café, no festivals or sporting events—has contributed to a mental health crisis that has seen “deaths of despair” spike up. Closing non-essential businesses and ordering everyone to stay at home has caused jaw-dropping economic contractions—the UK economy shrunk by 20.8 percent in Q2 of 2020—that have sent unemployment soaring and triggered a global economic recession that the World Bank estimates pushed between 88–115 million people into extreme poverty last year, with the total expected to rise as high as 150 million in 2021. Governments across the world have mothballed huge swathes of their economies in a largely futile attempt to mitigate the impact of the virus, burdening future generations with unmanageable national debts.

Worth reading in full.

Inside the Zero Covid Cult

Piers Morgan, Devi Sridhar and Nicola Sturgeon

UnHerd‘s Freddie Sayers reports on the worrying growth in popularity and gathering strength of the Zero Covid cause.

As I discovered last week, the first rule of ZeroCovid Club is: do not talk about ZeroCovid Club. “ZeroCovid” is, after all, a term that elicits confusion and, sometimes, outright hostility. Perhaps that’s why, when leading members of the global ZeroCovid movement met for a three-day international conference last Wednesday, it had a far more innocuous title: the “Covid Community Action Summit”.

But even though this increasingly popular school of thought – which holds that we must not return to normal until the virus is completely eliminated within a country – wasn’t explicitly on the billing, its presence was made clear from the outset. In her introductory remarks, the moderator confirmed to the more than 600 registrants and speakers from across the world that “we are here to end Covid through ZeroCovid and CovidZero policies”. More often at the event, held over Zoom and organised by American scientist Yaneer Bar-Yam, speakers preferred to refer to ZeroCovid as an “elimination strategy”.

Yet the purpose of the event was clear: to share evidence and political advice to help campaigners lobby Western governments to abandon any notion of living alongside the virus, and instead to follow the lead of Asia-Pacific nations in aiming to eliminate the disease entirely within their borders. This group is crucially distinct from people who support ongoing lockdown measures to suppress the virus to a level where it is safe to reopen – for ZeroCovid believers, we cannot rest until that level is zero.

Extreme it may be, but it is no fringe movement.

Their advocates are among the most regular faces in broadcast media; Professor Devi Sridhar, one of its most outspoken advocates, has appeared on Channel 4 News 21 times during the pandemic – more than any other expert.

There’s a UK ZeroCovid chapter, which last month hosted its own well-attended online conference; the Scottish Government is committed to their campaign, alongside Independent SAGE, British trade unions and Labour MPs such as Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott. Meanwhile, influential Tory MPs like Jeremy Hunt advocate a strategy of “zero infections and elimination of the disease” and routinely refer to the Asian model. Google search results in the UK and US for “ZeroCovid” are at an all-time high. The campaign has momentum.

Sayers spies the fatal flaw for any country that values its freedom.

ZeroCovid is a totalitarian aim, best delivered by a totalitarian state. Even in Australia, last weekend there was panic buying in Perth as the city re-entered lockdown in response to a single positive test result. So far at least, British voters have not chosen to reject liberal democracy, no matter what the epidemiological allure of a ZeroCovid regime.

For now, the British Government has resisted the campaign’s logic, and the Prime Minister continues to make encouraging signals about easing restrictions and even summer holidays. But as the impact of the vaccine is felt and the number of cases continues to fall, the politically difficult question of what constitutes an acceptable level of infection will have to be addressed.

Whatever that level is, expect well-spoken ZeroCovid campaigners to say it is too high. At each hesitant step towards opening up society, expect it to be called irresponsible and short-termist. No doubt ZeroCoviders sincerely believe their campaign for a Covid-free world is a noble one. But how successful they are at influencing policy will affect the shape of our society for years to come.

Worth reading in full.

Does a Single Dose of the Oxford Vaccine Really Cut Transmission by Two-Thirds?

Earlier this week there were excited reports that a single dose of the Oxford vaccine had been shown in trials to prevent “two-thirds of Covid transmissions”. In itself, this result would not be surprising, once you remember that asymptomatic infection is not a major driver of transmission, and the vaccine has been shown to reduce symptomatic infection. However, the study drew this conclusion, not because it accepted that premise, but because it maintained the opposite, namely, that asymptomatic infection is a major driver of transmission, and thus it claims to have shown that the vaccine reduces the incidence of asymptomatic infections.

We asked pathologist and regular contributor Dr Clare Craig to take a closer look at this study and have published her findings on the right-hand side. She was not impressed.

On February 1st the Oxford Vaccine Group published their latest findings on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. While the findings are encouraging, the way they have been interpreted is questionable. The study is underpowered for the conclusions that are being drawn from it and there has been extensive data mining undertaken retrospectively in an attempt to draw more powerful conclusions.

They concluded that in the vaccinated group two thirds fewer people were infected. Despite admitting that they did not study transmission, they still commented on it. The conclusions reached were the overall percentage testing positive was 54% lower “indicating the potential for a reduction of transmission”. The 54% figure was deduced from positivity including asymptomatic positives. This is not a reasonable conclusion to draw on two counts. They have assumed that asymptomatic positives are a major source of transmission and there is minimal evidence to support that assertion; and they failed to account for false positive test results.

Asymptomatic positives were looked for only in the UK participants. They have not stated how often these people were tested, but it can be inferred that they were tested 10 times each on a weekly basis for follow up from day 22 to day 90. That is 82,070 tests. A remarkably low false positive rate of 0.16% would be enough to account for the asymptomatic positives that they found. Repeat testing will only exclude false positives if a negative result is used to overrule a previous positive result. The criteria for calling a positive were not disclosed in the paper and it is assumed that a single PCR positive test was considered significant.

Instead of realising this there has been over-interpretation of the results.

The problem is that the results are all over the place, leaving no confidence in the research group’s conclusions.

Note that the difference between the two control groups in the symptomatic positives is significant – 2.7% infected vs 3.6% infected. If there is potential for that much difference between the control arms, then the impact of the difference between the control and vaccine arm has to be called into question. There does appear to be an effect of vaccination in the symptomatic group, but the effect is not as dramatic when considering that one control arm had a 25% reduction in symptomatic positives by chance alone.

For the asymptomatic positives, again, the difference between the two control arms – 2.2% vs 1.5% – is of the same order of magnitude as the difference it is claimed was due to the vaccine in the low dose arm – 1.2% vs 2.2%. Furthermore, when two standard doses were given, no difference was observed at all – 1.5% were asymptomatic positives in both control and vaccine arms.

How can the vaccine be having an impact if it is possible to find the same impact by randomly assigning people to two different control groups?

Worth reading in full.

Is the UK Complying With WHO Guidance on PCR Testing?

A Lockdown Sceptics reader wrote to his MP to ask whether the UK was complying with new WHO guidance, published in January, about how to use PCR tests correctly for COVID-19.

The MP put his questions to the House of Commons Library. The answer that came back was basically no, or rather, we leave it up to the labs to decide what to do. Here it is in full.

An article in the journal Science explains the cycle threshold in the following way:

“Standard tests identify SARS-CoV-2 infections by isolating and amplifying viral RNA using a procedure known as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which relies on multiple cycles of amplification to produce a detectable amount of RNA. The CT value is the number of cycles necessary to spot the virus; PCR machines stop running at that point. If a positive signal isn’t seen after 37 to 40 cycles, the test is negative (see “One number could help reveal how infectious a COVID-19 patient is. Should test results include it?“, Science, September 29th 2020)

The cycle threshold (Ct) value can broadly tell you the concentration of “viral genetic material” in a patient sample following testing by RT-PCR. The Public Health England (PHE) publication on Understanding cycle threshold (Ct)  in SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR (October 2020) explains that:

low Ct indicates a high concentration of viral genetic material, which is typically associated with high risk of infectivity.

high Ct indicates a low concentration of viral genetic material which is typically associated with a lower risk of infectivity. In the context of an upper respiratory tract sample a high Ct may also represent scenarios where a higher risk of infection remains – for example, early infection, inadequately collected or degraded sample.

A single Ct value in the absence of clinical context cannot be relied upon for decision making about a person’s infectivity.

The Library is not in a position to know if the laboratories across the UK that are processing COVID-19 tests are providing information on Ct values to a central point (such as Departments of Health across the devolved administrations, Test and Trace in England); I cannot see that there is information publicly available detailing how each laboratory runs its PCR machines.

There is, however, more general information about Cycle Thresholds published by PHE. Its publication on Understanding cycle threshold (Ct) in SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR explains that there are “many different SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR assays/platforms in use across the UK” and that “each assay will have a slightly different limit of detection (LoD) – the lowest concentration of virus that can be reliably and consistently detected by the assay”.

The document goes on to caution against directly comparing cycle threshold values:

“Ct [cycle threshold] values cannot be directly compared between assays of different types due to variation in the sensitivity (limit of detection), chemistry of reagents, gene targets, cycle parameters, analytical interpretive methods, sample preparation and extraction techniques (p7). The same document states that ‘a typical RT-PCR assay will have a maximum of 40 thermal cycles’ (see p6). Further background on cycle threshold values can be found on pages 3 & 6 of the PHE document.

Separate guidance published by PHE states that “All laboratories should determine the threshold for a positive result at the limit of detection based on the in-use assay” (PHE, “Research and analysis: Assurance of SARS-CoV-2 RNA positive results during periods of low prevalence“, Updated October 16th 2020).


Regarding the situation in Wales, the Welsh Parliament Research Service has produced a briefing on PCR testing in response to a petition considered by the Petitions Committee on “Abandon the rt-PCR test for covid-19 testing as its unfit for purpose” (see Welsh Parliament Research Service “Testing for COVID-19 using the rt-PCR test“, December 15th 2020). This notes that:

The TAC report on the RT-PCR test confirmed (p.10) that multiple platforms (representing equipment from different manufacturers) were being used by Public Health Wales (PHW) to support the testing regime. In terms of the number of amplification cycles involved in RT-PCR, PHW responses to Freedom of Information requests (FOI 451 and FOI 461) indicate that: The real-time PCR assays in use in Wales for COVID-19 diagnostics all run for 45 cycles however, the cycle number where the sample is defined as RNA NOT DETECTED varies by platform and target gene detected by the system. This is defined by the manufacturer.

Asymptomatic testing

The constituent also asked if those who are asymptomatic and receive a positive COVID-19 result are retested. I cannot see anything suggesting that those who are asymptomatic, and are tested using the RT-PCR test, would be retested on receipt of a positive result. There is guidance, however, that those who are asymptomatic and receive a positive result after using a lateral flow test would be required/offered to have a PCR test to confirm the result (see, for example, Birmingham City Council, “Covid-19 lateral flow device (LFD) testing information“, not dated).

Tribute to a Father

Lockdown Sceptics reader Andy Smith has written to tell us the sad story of his dad’s death on Wednesday.

I gave these low grade politicians the benefit of the doubt with their initial three week lock down, in the face of “a new virus”, to “flatten the sombrero and save the NHS from being overrun”. In my mind, a stated incubation period of up to 14 days should have seen seen the methodology of a three week lockdown vindicated. As soon as Johnson and his henchmen continued the lockdown, without evidence to substantiate it, it became obvious to me that we were being governed by the equivalent of a bunch of double glazing salesmen, dating back to the 1970s (apologies to those guys) who refused to leave your home without a pressurised sale.

My dad: Herbert Bruce Smith –“Bruce” to everyone – was taken by ambulance from his home just outside Norwich to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital on January 11th with a suspected water infection (diagnosed by the ambulance crew). Upon being admitted to hospital we (my mum Janet, my sister Wendy and I) were horrified that he had been put in a Covid ward being suspected of having the virus. Two days later his test came back negative and he was moved out of the Covid ward into his own room.

He was expected to return home on January 21st but was refused as he had now tested positive for Covid – obviously caught in hospital. I would stress here that I do not blame the hospital. I blame Johnson and Hancock for the way they are governing the NHS and I hope I live long enough to see their day of reckoning when the world regains its common sense.

Bruce was subsequently transferred to Dereham hospital. I am in Costa Rica, Wendy is currently self-isolating in Norwich having tested positive for the virus and my mum was allowed access to my dad’s bedside. We had a family video conference call on the morning of February 2nd. It was harrowing because it is a memory of my dad that is not consistent with his life and it is one that my mum, Wendy and I will replace in our minds with much better ones over time.

Today, February 3rd, Bruce (husband of my mum for 68 years and our dad) died. What world are we living in where travel and quarantine restrictions do not allow me to return home and be together with my my mum and my sister to say goodbye to a wonderful man?

My initial observation is that my dad will have contributed to Hancock’s statistics twice, firstly testing positive in hospital and secondly his death certificate will, I am sure, record the virus as the cause of death.

Like many families, I do not want my father to become another Government statistic, so I hope you publish this as a tribute not only to “Bruce” but to all the other expendable casualties.

Spot the Pandemic Year

Source: FOI request supplied by a Lockdown Sceptics reader

Can the Government Force You to Be Tested?

There follows a guest post by Dr John Fanning, Senior Lecturer in Tort law at the University of Liverpool, addressing the worrying prospect of forced testing for COVID-19.

The Department of Health announced this week that it will deploy door-to-door “surge testing” in parts of England to “monitor and suppress” the spread of the South African variant of COVID-19. This “testing blitz” will apply in Bristol and Liverpool and in specified postcode areas in the East of England (EN10), London (W7, N17, CR4), the North West (PR9), the South East (ME15 and GU21) and the West Midlands (WS2). Residents over the age of 16 in these target areas will be asked to take a COVID test, regardless of whether they have symptoms. Liverpool’s return to the naughty step is particularly irksome: it is the second time in three months that the city has hosted a mass asymptomatic testing programme. Last time, the results cast doubt on claims that the city had a serious problem: of the 108,304 asymptomatic people tested in Liverpool between November 6th and 26th 2020, 703 tested positive for COVID-19 – or 0.6%. This time, health officials in Liverpool and in other “surge” areas will ask residents to take a test, perhaps even on their doorstep, to “come down hard” on the new variant.

All this raises an interesting question: if a health official knocks on your door, do you have to be tested? As things stand, it doesn’t appear so. In general, anyone who “inflicts” unlawful force on another person commits the tort of battery (Collins v Wilcock [1984] 1 WLR 1172), sometimes also known as a “trespass”. Any form of bodily contact exceeding the jostling of (normal) everyday life will qualify as a trespass; e.g. a punch in the face, an unwanted kiss, a swab forced up the nose, and so on. What makes the “infliction” of force lawful is the presence of the other person’s consent. This is why a doctor must be sure that she/he has a patient’s consent before beginning a medical examination or administering treatment – without it, she/he will be acting unlawfully. In spite of the Health Secretary’s gung-ho rhetoric and the impression cultivated by the media, the mass testing programme seems ultimately to rely on the consent of its participants: the Department of Health “strongly encourages” people in the target areas to participate and talks of tests being “offered” to those who must leave their homes for essential reasons. The Government evidently prefers the ‘carrot’ approach, perhaps fearing the optics of a scheme buttressed by compulsion. Mercifully, the prospect of being wrestled to the ground as a local authority functionary forces a swab down your throat remains – at least for now – the stuff of libertarian nightmares.

The problem is that the Government does have a “big stick” at its disposal in the form of the Coronavirus Act 2020. Schedule 21 to that Act contains powers that the state can deploy against “potentially infectious persons”; i.e., those who are, or may be, infected or contaminated with coronavirus and who might therefore infect or contaminate others – which, during a global pandemic, could be just about anyone. Where a public health officer or a police constable considers it “necessary and proportionate” in the interests of the person, for the protection of others, or for the maintenance of public health, she/he can deploy the powers under Schedule 21. These include the power to remove a potentially infectious person to a place for “suitable screening and assessment” (para.6), to hold that person at that place for up to 48 hours (if held by a public health officer) (para.9) or for renewable 24-hour periods (if held by a police constable) (para.13), to require that person to provide a biological sample (para.10), and, in the event of a positive test result, to detain that person for up to 14 days (paras. 14 and 15). A failure to comply without reasonable excuse with these requirements will constitute a criminal offence (para. 23).

As far as I can tell, none of these Schedule 21 powers has been invoked in England – they are, if you like, “plugged in” but the Health Secretary is yet to switch them on. If they were engaged, however, a person who refused to submit to a doorstep test could potentially be arrested, taken to a suitable facility, and required by law to undergo COVID-19 testing. The imagery this evokes is utterly chilling; the Coronavirus Act is like a dystopian fantasy in statutory form. There are few laws on the books that can rival it. I suspect only the Mental Health Act 1983 – which allows doctors to detain persons with mental disorders and forcibly treat them in hospital – could be said, pound for pound, to be more coercive. This raises an interesting question about why the Government believed that such a high degree of coercion was necessary in the first place. The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, enacted with outbreaks of “notifiable” diseases like anthrax, plague and smallpox in mind, makes its powers to remove, isolate and detain infectious people contingent upon a magistrate’s warrant. What is it about COVID-19 that justified a more robust legislative response than that afforded to smallpox? Why are the liberties of a person suffering from a disease with a 30% mortality rate afforded greater protection by the law than those of a person with an illness that kills only around 1% of the people it infects? Schedule 21 reveals much about the government’s bizarre calculus as it butted the Coronavirus Bill through Parliament in those mad March days.

Sceptics Under Fire

Spectator Editor Fraser Nelson – himself a lockdown supporter – has come to the defence of sceptics in their struggle against Witch-Finder General Neil O’Brien MP in his Telegraph column this week.

Covid is distinguished by how little we still know about it, how even the greatest experts can be confounded. This time last year, experts on the SAGE committee were unanimous in advising against a Wuhan-style lockdown. China had been foolish, said its memo: it was “a near certainty” that a second peak would strike once it unlocked. This did not happen. Jonathan Van-Tam and others rubbished the need for face masks, which are now mandatory. This is not to question any of their credentials: it was a new and fast-moving situation that wrong-footed everyone. Myself very much included.

But rather than emphasise the need to be open-minded, and consider all new angles, we somehow reached a situation where faith in lockdown is complete – and those who question its efficacy are disparaged. This shift is embodied by the behaviour of Neil O’Brien, a think tank chief turned Tory MP, who over the summer started using social media to highlight claims made by critics of lockdown. He applied his forensic mind to the pursuit of errors, and started to acquire quite a following.

But this all mutated into a targeting of academics who had been effectively – and accurately – criticising aspects of lockdown. With some like-minded others, O’Brien created a website listing the offenders and their wrongthink. A new label was applied to the bloggers, journalists and professors: “Covid sceptics”.

One is Carl Heneghan, Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University, who balances his academic work with weekend work as an urgent care NHS doctor. When Heneghan spotted flaws in calculating Covid deaths, it led to a change in Government policy. Yet this world-class academic, who in his spare time sees elderly patients suffering from Covid, has found himself denounced.

A few months ago, Heneghan was being consulted by the Prime Minister – who wanted him to test the arguments of the (many) lockdown advocates in Government. Also invited was Sunetra Gupta, a Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at Oxford and an energetic critic of lockdown. She now joins Prof Heneghan on the official list of heretics, pilloried on a website whose various sponsors include a well-regarded Tory MP tipped for promotion. It’s all very odd.

Ministers don’t appear to mind the heretic-hunting one bit. When O’Brien’s efforts were hailed as “fantastic” by Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the Commons, it started to look like a semi-authorised campaign against Government critics. It can even claim to be an effective campaign, insofar as the academics in its sights do seem to have taken a lower profile.

The professors might be talking the most appalling rot – or they might come to be completely vindicated. But what matters, and what we’re losing, is the upholding of rigorous debate. The point of Parliament is to talk, hence the name. But when parliamentarians seek to close down discussion (O’Brien has said he won’t debate Heneghan so as not to give him “the publicity”), then it marks a deeply worrying turn.

Worth reading in full.


Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Three today: “Boy in a bubble” by Paul Simon, “Let Us Out” by Marble Statues and “What the world is waiting for” by the Stone Roses.

Love in the Time of Covid

Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell in The Americans

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. We have a team of moderators in place to remove spam and deal with the trolls, but sometimes it takes a little while so please bear with us. You have to register to use the Forums as well as post comments below the line, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email Lockdown Sceptics here.

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Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, we bring you the story of Jess Krug, the white professor who posed as black for years, until she came clean last autumn. The Washingtonian has the story.

“I am a coward.” Jessica Krug’s confession started ricocheting across screens one brutally muggy afternoon in late-summer Washington. “For the better part of my adult life,” it began, “every move I’ve made, every relationship I’ve formed, has been rooted in the napalm toxic soil of lies.” Krug, a faculty member at George Washington University, had taken to Medium, the online forum, to reveal a stunning fabrication. Throughout her entire career in academia, the professor of African history – a white woman – had been posing as Black and Latina.

“I have thought about ending these lies many times over many years, but my cowardice was always more powerful than my ethics. I know right from wrong. I know history. I know power. I am a coward,” she wrote. “You should absolutely cancel me, and I absolutely cancel myself.”

The statement, posted September 3rd, 2020, went viral immediately, unleashing a tidal wave of Oh, my Gods across the text chains of Krug’s GW colleagues and other academics. “We were all blindsided,” says GW history-department chair Daniel Schwartz. Distraught emails from Krug’s students – less than a week into a virtual semester already upended by the coronavirus pandemic – began piling up in faculty in-boxes. Meanwhile, an online mob went to work churning up old photos of Krug and tanking the Amazon ratings of her book. By the end of the day, a now-infamous video of Krug calling herself “Jess La Bombalera” and speaking in a D-list imitation Bronx accent was all over the internet.

The next morning, Schwartz convened an emergency staff meeting on Zoom. The initial shock of their colleague’s revelation had quickly given way to anger, and now the GW professors who logged on were unanimous: The department should demand Krug’s resignation right away. If she refused, they’d call for the university to rescind her tenure and fire her. That afternoon, they issued their ultimatum in a public statement. Five days later, Krug quit.

It was a dizzyingly fast fall for a woman who’d been among the most promising young scholars in her field. The 38-year-old had a PhD from one of the nation’s most prestigious African-history programs. She’d been a fellow at New York’s famed Schomburg Center, done research on three continents, and garnered wide praise for her book. She’d achieved all of it, as far as her GW colleagues knew, despite an upbringing that was nothing short of tragic. As Krug told it, she’d been raised in the Bronx, in “the hood.” Her Puerto Rican mother was a drug addict and abusive.

The tale was just the latest version of one Krug had been evolving for more than 15 years, swapping varied, gruesome particulars into the made-up backstory (a rape, a paternal abandonment) for different audiences. It was a heart-tugger – and, it turns out, incredibly flimsy. Minimal online sleuthing would have unravelled any of the lies in minutes—something Krug, who was still an undergrad when Facebook debuted, surely knew. But she’d also learned that the harrowing history she’d crafted was a useful line of defence against the kind of probing that could have easily exposed her. After all, who wanted to pry into such a delicate situation?

“To everyone who trusted me, who fought for me, who vouched for me, who loved me, who is feeling shock and betrayal and rage and bone marrow deep hurt and confusion, violation in this world and beyond: I beg you, please, do not question your own judgment or doubt yourself,” Krug wrote in her confession. “You were not naive. I was audaciously deceptive.”

Worth reading in full.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

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

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

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

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

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email 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

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And Finally…

In his Spectator column this week, Toby suspects he might not be first in line for a peerage from Boris, despite a promising start.

Watching Lord Hannan of Kingsclere being introduced in the House of Lords on Monday was a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, I’m delighted for Dan. He is one of the heroes of Brexit, and his impromptu speech about Margaret Thatcher in the pub following her memorial service brought a tear to my eye (you can find his speech on YouTube). But on the other, I can’t help thinking: where’s my bloody peerage? I’ve edited this and that, co-founded four free schools, served on the boards of numerous charities and set up the Free Speech Union. I was the chief exec of a high-profile charity, for Christ’s sake, and my immediate predecessor got a CBE. I haven’t even got a lousy MBE. All the more surprising given that I must be one of the few potential recipients who wouldn’t denounce the British Empire as soon as he pocketed the gong.

I thought my elevation to the Lords might happen when Boris became Prime Minister. Up until that point, I’d given him more tobacco enemas than any other journalist in Fleet Street. (Blown smoke up his arse.) I even wrote a 5,000-word hagiography for an Australian magazine entitled “Cometh the hour, cometh the man“. Indeed, I laid on the oil so thick in that piece I’m now worried that when I’m standing in front of St Peter at the Pearly Gates he’s going to bring it up: “You did plenty of good works, you’ve been a decent husband and father and you always gave money to beggars. But on the other hand, you did write that 5,000-word piece about Boris in which you compared him to Nietzsche’s Übermensch. Sorry mate, it’s down you go.”

It was Boris who got my hopes up. In September of 2011, when he was Mayor of London, he opened the first free school I helped set up. He made quite a good joke as he cut the ribbon. ‘The Secretary of State for Education has given a new word to the English language,’ he said, referring to our mutual friend. “We give, they gave, he Gove – he Gove us this school.”

Afterwards, as he was getting into his chauffeur-driven car, he asked me if I’d like to be in the House of Lords. “We need more people like you,” he said.

“Don’t I have to give a million quid to the Tory party first?”

“Leave it with me,” he said, touching his nose.

Problem is, then came Covid.

Given how critical I’ve been of Boris since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, I’ve now abandoned all hope. Bloody typical of me. I’ve been a massive Boris backer since I campaigned for him to become president of the Oxford Union in 1985; then, 35 years later, when he’s finally in a position to reward his loyal supporters, I start attacking him in the press.

It was the same story with David Cameron. We were at Brasenose together and when he was still prime minister I told him about the shock I’d received when I returned for a college reunion and Dave Ramsden – a contemporary of ours and now deputy governor of the Bank of England – let slip he’d been given a knighthood. “Come on, Prime Minister,” I said. “You’ve got to stick me in the Lords so I can one-up him at the next Brase-nose gaudy.” He laughed, but I told him I was in deadly earnest. I thought there might be a sliver of a chance until we ended up on different sides during the EU referendum. Another bridge burnt.

Worth reading in full.

Are Vaccines Driving the Omicron Wave?

Among the more reliable guides to the real prevalence of COVID-19 are the data collected on antibodies acquired following infection (measured as N-antibody levels, in contrast to S-antibody levels, which are acquired from both infection and vaccination).

Below is the latest graph from the UKHSA showing how antibody levels in blood donors in England have changed since autumn 2020.

From this and earlier UKHSA/PHE reports we can infer that the first wave infected around 5.7% of the population (though data from this period is mixed, with some showing up to 8.3%), the Alpha wave infected around 9.9% (perhaps a bit less if you use a higher first wave estimate – either way the first two waves together infected around 16%), the Delta wave infected around 8% and the Omicron wave has infected around 21.4% (so far). On these data, around 45% of the country have now been infected at least once at some point during the four Covid waves. Note this doesn’t allow for any waning of infection-acquired antibodies, which would mean these are lower-bound estimates.

Doctors Bring Legal Challenge Against Government for “Grossly Irresponsible” Children’s Covid Vaccine Rollout

A group of doctors is launching a legal challenge against the U.K. Government’s offer of a Covid vaccine to healthy five to 11 year-olds, on behalf of a British mother and her children, branding it “reckless” and “grossly irresponsible”.

The case is being brought by members of the Children’s Covid Vaccine Advisory Council – an independent group of senior health professionals and scientists aiming to challenge unethical Government policies on Covid vaccines for children – and employs the same legal team challenging the Government on the 12-15 year-old rollout (the two cases having to be brought separately).

In the absence of an independent critical media or political opposition on this issue, the group says this is the only opportunity there will be to force the Government to account for its decision. The worry is officials will get off unchallenged and a dangerous precedent will be set for healthcare policy in the U.K. Funding support is being spearheaded by Beverley Turner, radio and TV personality and a campaigner for child protection.

Heart Deaths in Children and Young People Increase After Each Vaccine Dose, ONS Data Show

There follows a guest post by Dr. Clare Craig, a Diagnostic Pathologist and Co-Chair of HART.

After offering the Judicial Review every excuse to not release the data on deaths in 15-19 males, the ONS has produced a report and a paper detailing deaths of the young after vaccination. The conclusion of both is simply that: “There is no evidence of an association between COVID-19 vaccination and an increased risk of death in young people.” Taking a closer look, it is very hard to agree with that conclusion.

An increase in deaths cannot be shown without having a number to compare it to, namely the number of deaths that would be expected to occur in the same time period normally. Comparing deaths in the vaccinated to the unvaccinated population introduces bias and the ONS avoided this. Hypothetically, comparing the period before and after vaccination would be ideal. However, no one is vaccinated after dying and you would need to know which people who died would have been vaccinated if they had survived, which is impossible to know. The ONS opted to compare the six week period after vaccination with the period seven to 12 weeks after vaccination for 12-29 year-olds. The idea being that after a period of time has passed the number of deaths will settle back to baseline levels. They did not justify this choice of time frame. It appears to have been entirely arbitrary.

In the supplementary material they published how many deaths occurred each week from the week of vaccination (see figure 1 below). The vertical dotted line shows 12 weeks after vaccination. It is striking that weekly reported deaths halve between week 12 and week 13 after vaccination. The ONS ignored the period after 12 weeks.

Lancet Study Which Claims Pandemic Death Toll is Three Times Higher Than Official Figures Uses SIX Models and Churns Out Nonsensical Results

A new paper in the Lancet has attracted some interest, both because it claims to find that the pandemic death toll is over three times higher than official Covid death figures suggest and because it seems to confirm that restrictions made no difference to outcomes. The authors say that while “reported COVID-19 deaths between January 1st 2020 and December 31st 2021 totalled 5·94 million worldwide”, they estimate that “18·2 million people died worldwide because of the COVID-19 pandemic (as measured by excess mortality) over that period”.

However, the paper is heavily dependent on modelling, so despite the welcome implication for the ineffectiveness of lockdowns, caution is needed.

The paper aims to “estimate excess mortality from the COVID-19 pandemic in 191 countries and territories, and 252 subnational units for selected countries, from January 1st 2020 to December 31st 2021”.

The relevant data were not always available, however, so the authors “built a statistical model that predicted the excess mortality rate for locations and periods where all-cause mortality data were not available”.

Not all excess deaths are Covid deaths, of course. The authors say that although they “suspect most of the excess mortality during the pandemic is from COVID-19”, excess deaths also include deaths from lockdown, including “deaths from chronic and acute conditions affected by deferred care-seeking”. However, there are currently insufficient data to distinguish Covid deaths from other excess deaths, they say, and while audits in Belgium and Sweden have suggested that excess deaths and Covid deaths are of a similar magnitude, audits in Russia and Mexico have suggested otherwise, as a “substantial proportion of excess deaths could not be attributed to SARS-CoV-2 infection in these locations”.

The authors used an ensemble of six models to estimate expected and thus excess deaths: “Excess mortality over time was calculated as observed mortality, after excluding data from periods affected by late registration and anomalies such as heat waves, minus expected mortality. Six models were used to estimate expected mortality; final estimates of expected mortality were based on an ensemble of these models.”

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