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Raising the Alarm on Myocarditis After Covid Vaccination

by Dr Clare Craig and Dr Andrew G. Bostom

There are now 1160 reports of myocarditis and pericarditis after Covid vaccination in the US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). The total could be significantly higher due to latency in reports being processed. Myocarditis is a serious condition associated acutely with fatal arrhythmias, and chronically, because myocytes are irreplaceable, with heart failure and significant associated mortality. The rate of myocarditis/pericarditis reports post-vaccination has historically been low. For the 28 years from 1990 to 2018, during which there were close to three billion vaccinations for influenza alone, there were 708 such events reported in VAERS.1 Using methodology described by Su et al,1 to search the VAERS database,2 the 1160 myocarditis/pericarditis cases occurred in only six months, during which a total of around 150 million people had Covid vaccines, mostly mRNA and excluding lagged reporting.

There are understandable caveats about attributing ‘causality’ to VAERS adverse events associated with vaccination,3 however the numbers of adverse events are likely to be underreported.4 As the aetiology of Covid vaccine-induced myocarditis is new it may be unwise to extrapolate the prognosis from what is known about myocarditis due to other aetiologies. However, it is worth noting that 3-4% of those with acute myocarditis require heart transplantation.5 The overall mortality rate after one year was 20%6 and after five years 44%7 to 56%.6 Of the 1160 reported incidences after Covid vaccination, there have been seven deaths so far with three in under 60 year olds.

Of the myopericarditis cases in under 30 year olds, 496 have an ejection fraction recorded in VAERS. Of these 52 were graded as “decreased” and 36 graded as “normal”. At a minimum, therefore, more than 10% have at least transiently decreased ejection fractions indicating measurable damage to the myocardium. A low ejection fraction has been associated with major adverse cardiac events.8 The transplantation rate is as high as 11% within the first year in those with complications.9 A case report of post-vaccination ‘mild’ myopericarditis in a 16 year-old initially admitted to the intensive care unit, and hospitalised for six days, revealed that he had myocardial fibrosis.10 His troponin levels were high enough to predict a tenfold increased risk of mortality.11

The FDA has expressed concerns around the rate of reported myocarditis within the VAERS reporting system, especially in the young. A presentation by the FDA on June 10th 2021 compared the reported rates of myocarditis with background expected rates, with data up to May 31st 2021.12 However, the expected rates to which observed rates were compared were those expected over a 31-day period. For under-18s, 90% of cases had an onset by day five after vaccination, making comparison with expected rates over 31 days unreasonable. A further meeting on June 23rd 2021 examined the reports in a seven day window with data up to 11 June 2021. A four fold increase above baseline was evident in the seven days after the first dose for under-24 year-olds, rising to over 27-fold for the seven days after the second dose. The rate per million doses given in males 12-17 years old was 17 times higher than in men aged over 50 years seven days after the first dose, rising to 74 times seven days after the second dose. (For females the risk was 50% higher and 13 times higher respectively.)13

For over-65 year-olds, half of the reported incidences were within eight days of vaccination and 79% occurred in a 31-day window after vaccination. The expected rate for the over-65 year-old age group was 36 to 358 per million over 31 days, whereas the reported rate was 26.12 This gives an indication of the under-reporting of events in the VAERS system which is not capturing even the background expected rates. For both young and old it is not a clinically obvious diagnosis and it is likely that milder cases will have gone undiagnosed. Even for these mild cases, the long term outcome is unknown and the risks to these patients with re-exposure to SARS-CoV-2 is also unknown. Currently, more than half of the reports in VAERS are from patients under the age of 30. It is unclear whether the high excess of reported cases in the younger age groups compared with the old is a reporting issue, as myocarditis may be mistaken for other cardiac pathology in older age groups and not reported, or a genuine finding of increased incidence in the young. Others have found that younger patients have a higher incidence of adverse effects following Covid vaccination which may be a function of more efficient translation of RNA into protein resulting in a higher dosage or a more vigorous immune reaction.14

For an individual the risk of vaccination must be balanced against the benefits. Under the age of 20, the risk of mortality for someone who catches Covid is less than four in a million.15 The risk of catching Covid is far from 100%, with many having naturally acquired immunity and high levels of population immunity. The risk to the individual must be measured as the sum of risks of every adverse effect. With estimates of the incidence of myocarditis alone after Covid vaccination in men 16-24 as high as one in 3-6000, the benefit for young people does not justify this risk.16 Immediately, this summer, controlled one-month longitudinal studies (see “A prospective study of the incidence of myocarditis/pericarditis and new onset cardiac symptoms following smallpox and influenza vaccination”,17for example) of the incidence of myopericarditis should be conducted comparing Covid vaccinated and unvaccinated groups under 30 years of age, undergoing serial echocardiography, electrocardiography, and blood cardiac injury markers (notably, troponin). Pending completion of these studies, and rapid analyses of the data, there should be a moratorium on mass Covid vaccination of healthy, extraordinarily low-Covid-risk persons18 under 30 years old. The FDA’s intention to only continue monitoring is a dereliction of duty.

Dr Clare Craig is a Diagnostic Pathologist in London @clarecraigpath and Dr Andrew G. Bostom, MD, is MS Research Physician at Brown University’s Center For Primary Care and Prevention at Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island @andrewbostom

1  Su JR, McNeil MM, Welsh KJ, et al. “Myopericarditis after vaccination, Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)”, 1990-2018. Vaccine 2021;39:839–45.

2 The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) Request (accessed June 21st 2021).

3 Shimabukuro TT, Nguyen M, Martin D, et al. “Safety monitoring in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)”. Vaccine 2015;33:4398–405.

4 Baker MA, Kaelber DC, Bar-Shain DS, et al. “Advanced Clinical Decision Support for Vaccine Adverse Event Detection and Reporting”. Clin. Infect. Dis. 2015;61:864–70.

5 “UNOS Registry Myocarditis Heart Transplantation Outcome” – ATC Meetings Abstracts. 2020 (accessed June 23rd 2021).

6 Mason JW, O’Connell JB, Herskowitz A, et al. “A Clinical Trial of Immunosuppressive Therapy for Myocarditis”. The Myocarditis Treatment Trial Investigators. N. Engl. J. Med. 1995;333:269–75.

7 Grogan M, Redfield MM, Bailey KR, et al. “Long-term outcome of patients with biopsy-proved myocarditis: comparison with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy”. J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 1995;26:80–4.

8 Wong BTW, Christiansen JP. “Clinical Characteristics and Prognostic Factors of Myocarditis in New Zealand Patients”. Heart Lung Circ. 2020;29:1139–45.

9 Ammirati E, Cipriani M, Moro C, et al. “Clinical Presentation and Outcome in a Contemporary Cohort of Patients With Acute Myocarditis”: Multicenter Lombardy Registry. Circulation 2018;138:1088–99.

10 Talman V, Ruskoaho H. “Cardiac fibrosis in myocardial infarction-from repair and remodeling to regeneration”. Cell Tissue Res. 2016;365:563–81.

11 Roos A, Bandstein N, Lundbäck M, et al. “Stable High-Sensitivity Cardiac Troponin T Levels and Outcomes in Patients With Chest Pain”. J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 2017;70:2226–36.

12 FDA. Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee June 10th, 2021 Meeting Presentation.

13 COVID-19 Vaccine safety updates Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) June 23, 2021.

14 Menni C, Klaser K, May A, et al. “Vaccine after Effects and Post-Vaccine Infection in a Real World Setting: Results from the COVID Symptom Study App”. 2021. doi:10.2139/SSRN.3795344

15 Ghisolfi S, Almås I, Sandefur JC, et al. “Predicted COVID-19 fatality rates based on age, sex, comorbidities and health system capacity”. BMJ Glob Health 2020;5. doi:10.1136/bmjgh-2020-003094

16 Israel reports link between rare cases of heart inflammation and COVID-19 vaccination in young men. 2021 (accessed June 21st 2021).

17 Engler RJM, Nelson MR, Collins LC Jr, et al. “A prospective study of the incidence of myocarditis/pericarditis and new onset cardiac symptoms following smallpox and influenza vaccination”. PLoS One 2015;10:e0118283.

18 Ioannidis JPA. “Reconciling estimates of global spread and infection fatality rates of COVID-19: An overview of systematic evaluations”. Eur. J. Clin. Invest. 2021;51:e13554.

A Look Back at the UK’s COVID-19 Containment Strategy: Did We Get it Wrong and at What Cost?

by Sarah Williamson BSc Dip ION (Dist.)

Coronavirus, a year ago, seemed like something peculiar to Wuhan in China – Oh! How we might long for those days. Since then, like most countries across the world, the UK has pursued a strategy that began with “three weeks to flatten the curve” and has stretched out to restrictions for the best part of a year?

The aim of the UK strategy was to postpone COVID-19 deaths until an effective vaccine became available and to reduce the likelihood of the NHS becoming overwhelmed, allowing surgeries and treatments to continue. The mantra has been “Save lives; protect the NHS”. The real question now is did we save lives and protect the NHS? The question we need to answer is not are the hospitals busy, but did our strategy help reduce hospitalisations and deaths?

Our aim should be saving the most lives, not just COVID-19-positive lives and reducing NHS admissions.

What did the WHO guidelines for a pandemic recommend and why did we do something else?

In October 2019, the WHO guidelines for a respiratory pandemic suggested the following – regular hand washing, respiratory etiquette (i.e. don’t cough or sneeze on people), face masks for symptomatic people, regular cleaning of surfaces, open windows and doors and isolate the sick.

Contact tracing, once the disease has taken hold, was not recommended. The quarantine of exposed individuals was not advised. Border closures were not recommended. School closures were advised only under extreme circumstances and only after careful consideration of the consequences for the wider community. Lockdown of healthy individuals was not mentioned.

So where did the idea come from? Did we import the idea from the Chinese, who exported pictures of a ghostlike Wuhan? Was it this, coupled with the fear generated by the press stories of a ‘killer virus’ spreading uncontrolled throughout the world? No longer in far off China, but now here, in Europe. With reports of deaths in all age groups – no-one was safe. The ‘three weeks of restrictions to flatten the curve’ seemed at least reasonable to most, whilst hospitals geared up.

Who did it affect and why did we have such a peak in spring 2020?

SARS-CoV-2 is recognised as a seasonal virus, like many other corona viruses responsible for the common cold. In the UK in the spring the virus spread rapidly killing the vulnerable, particularly those in care homes, causing a highly unusual spike in deaths.

Notably the viral transmission rate, from the moment we started charting it, appears to have already been decelerating (this was highlighted by Nobel prize winner Sir Michael Levitt). This is a mathematical proof, one that is easy to reproduce, for example plotting the difference in the natural logarithm of the weekly fatal infections in London.

Figure 1 – COVID Spread Rate

COVID-19 is likely to have been passing unnoticed through the population earlier in the autumn of 2019. This is backed up by evidence from Spain. COVID-19 was found in Spanish sewage in samples from March 2019. The virus was appears to have been firmly established in Europe a long time before the initial cases were recognised. Too late for test and trace and the closing of borders to be an effective tool.

Why did some countries have higher death tolls than others?

There are three key factors affecting the death tolls in different countries and these, perhaps surprisingly to some, they are not related to severity of restrictions put in place by the Government. The first is the age and health of the population the second is the severity of the previous respiratory virus season and the third is how we record the COVID-19 deaths.

Age and Health of UK population

The UK population is one of the unhealthiest in Europe. In 2019 the five leading causes of lifestyle related diseases (heart disease, strokes, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Alzheimer’s and other dementias) killed a HUGE 263,100 people.

Type 2 diabetes affects an estimated 4.8 million adults in the UK; that is about 1 in 11 adults. Metabolic syndrome (characterised by high fasting blood glucose, high blood pressure, obesity and high trigylcerides) is likely to be present in 1 in 4 adults in the UK. Two thirds of the adults in England are overweight or obese; these factors increase the risk of a more severe dose of COVID-19.

Previous respiratory season low death rates.

The UK has been lucky. We lost far fewer people to flus in the winter season of 2018/19 than expected. This means, however, that the susceptible ill and elderly coming into 2020 were a much higher percentage of the population in comparison with those countries that suffered a tougher previous respiratory season. The UK had a high at-risk population right from the start of the pandemic.

How we recorded deaths.

In autumn of 2020 I lost my friend to a shocking heart attack at the age of 49. He spent 10 days in critical care with the amazing NHS staff doing everything in their power to save him against the odds. He tested negative upon arrival for COVID-19, but had he tested positive during his stay he would have been recorded as a COVID-19 death, despite dying from the injuries caused to his body and brain by the heart attack. The statistics vary but, nosocomial or hospital-acquired COVID-19 infections account for approximately 17-25% of hospital ‘admissions’ for Covid. The really important question here is should all these deaths and admissions be recorded as deaths attributed to COVID-19?

What is significant here is that respiratory excess deaths in the winter over that last five years normally account for around a third of all winter excess deaths. Notably deaths from other key diseases appear to have dropped off significantly. Cerebrovascular disease, chronic lower respiratory illnesses, dementia and Alzheimer’s, influenza and pneumonias and ischaemic heart disease have all seen rates well below the five year average over the summer and now appear to be lowering further, rather than rising as expected in the autumn-winter season. It looks although we are attributing deaths to COVID-19 rather than the true underlying cause.

Did the lockdowns actually stop or slow the infections?

Intuitively it makes sense. Telling people to stay in their homes and restricting the number of people they can see should lower infection rates. But does it?

We need to look at what actually happened, so back to the data. I was lucky to attend an online seminar given by quantitative analyst, Joel Smalley (a University of Toronto Dean’s List MBA), Dr Clare Craig (a diagnostic pathologist), and Dr Jonathan Engler, a qualified doctor and lawyer, on Covid facts. One chart they presented plotted the implementation of restrictions, alongside estimated dates that people picked up fatal infections and mobility data for the UK (from Google). It made it possible to investigate the following: Did the restrictions affect mobility? Did the change in mobility or behaviour reduce infections? The pictorial evidence was obvious. Mobility (to workplaces, public transit, retail and recreational establishments) was significantly altered. The course of fatal infections, however, was not.

The fatal infection curve on the graph shows absolutely no deviation from its natural course. There is no evidence of a correlation between any lockdowns, restrictions, tiers or other behaviour changes and fatal infection rates. In simple terms the restrictions had no impact on the coronavirus fatalities. It hasn’t saved lives, despite the hope, even the expectation, that it should.

This is evident in a very much simplified version looking at London Covid mortality alone using a fixed infection-to-death interval of 3 weeks. Transmission of fatal infections starts to slow in London two weeks before lockdown #1 and there is no change in the rate of deceleration at any point before transmission stops naturally at the end of season, as we saw clearly in figure 1. When transmission restarts in the autumn, the only significant inflection is an increase that occurs on the 20th November 2020, right in the middle of lockdown #2.

Figure 2 – Fatal Covid Infections and Interventions

This is now backed up by over 30 studies that highlight lockdowns don’t lower COVID-19 deaths. Take a look at this for example.

Why have the lockdowns and restrictions not worked?

The idea that introducing lockdown measures should reduce transmission doesn’t pan out in reality. Why could this be? One reason highlighted in the minutes from the SAGE meeting from March 16th 2020 suggested that “The risk of one person within a household passing the infection to others within the household is estimated to increase during household isolation, from 50% to 70%.” This means from early on in the lockdown cycle SAGE knew that isolating at home meant that the transmission within households would increase. Looking at the data, it appears that any infections slowed by lockdown measures have not been effective enough to overcome the increased risks of transmission within the home. If new more transmissible variants arise then the rate of transmission at home will rise further.

Some have suggested that we should tighten restrictions further. The effect would be to damage the food chain, healthcare access, medical supply chain and basic services such as rubbish collection etc. The result is likely to increase unintended deaths attributable to lockdown policies.

What factors do affect the viral spread?

A virus affects the population in two phases. The first phase is the epidemic phase where is spreads throughout the population, in the case of COVID-19 many of those vulnerable people, aged and metabolically damaged sadly died. The second phase of viral infection is when some level of community immunity has been reached, but a new smaller cohort of the population move into the vulnerable population as they age and/or their health declines.

We know the virus is seasonal. The summer brought respite as cases dropped off and life returned to some sort of normality. Why then was there an increase in autumn / early winter deaths above the levels expected for a respiratory virus at this time of year? Here we need to defer to Smalley who has broken down the peaks of viral outbreaks geographically. What he found was that the virus spreads more rapidly in densely populated areas and more slowly in areas with less dense and more remote populations. Quite obvious.

It is the combination of this physical geography and seasonal resurgence that resulted in the North East, the North West and the Midlands experiencing a double-whammy. The autumn allowed the resurgence of the the epidemic viral spread in those areas that missed it in the spring. These areas were more remote, less populated areas so the epidemic hadn’t managed to reach them in the spring. Areas that had already suffered the epidemic in the spring, now experienced normal endemic viral spread expected in any respiratory infection season (see Fig.5).

The arrival of summer paused the spread, but as autumn struck the back end of the epidemic curve continued its pass through these areas. If it was interventions that had slowed the spread of the virus, then is it realistic to assume that areas with low spring deaths suddenly threw caution to the wind and broke the rules in the autumn?

In fact, this movement of the second part of the epidemic wave (in the winter) is apparent at the local authority level (see Fig.3 and 4). The mapping of fatal infections (darker areas are higher fatal infection numbers) shows spread of epidemic infection experienced in the autumn is seen in areas that experienced low spring infections and vice versa.

Figure 3 – COVID Mortality in London

Figure 4 – COVID Mortality in East Midlands

The virus has to pass through the population until community immunity (or a successful vaccine is rolled out) is reached and it then becomes endemic, i.e. it then becomes part of our normal winter respiratory disease pattern similar to influenza. What is important here is that we don’t conflate the epidemic wave of the virus with the later endemic phase ( Fig. 5). Smalley has shown, once the residual epidemic activity is separated out, that endemic COVID-19 death rates follow usual autumn/winter excess death levels that we experience every year.

Figure 5 – Epidemic and Endemic SARS-CoV-2

What have lockdowns cost us?

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimate that during the spring lockdown in England there were between 13,000-15,000 extra deaths that could only be attributed to the lockdown policies themselves. These resulted from the from denial of medical treatments, suicides, people staying at home rather than seeking treatment in hospital for dangerous conditions such as strokes and heart attacks. These deaths as a result of policy have continued to rise. What is unusual about these deaths is that they appear to have risen according to the usual pattern in early Sept but then levelled off and remained constant at around 1,000 deaths a week.

These could be the collateral deaths that have been forecast by the Department of Health, Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Home Office and the Government’s Actuary Department These collateral deaths may eventually arrive at 250,000, due to the extraordinary reduction in the provision of non-Covid healthcare, like cancer diagnostics and treatments.

Figure 6 – COVID and non-COVID Excess Winter Deaths, England 2020/21

Moving forward the ‘collateral’ deaths of the policy response will almost certainly exceed the deaths due to the epidemic. The justification for those deaths is that up to half a million people would have died in the UK without intervention, but would they?

We now know that the model used by Professor Ferguson to predict the 500,000 deaths figure was wrong. Not for the first, second or even third time, Ferguson’s modelling was wrong by an order of magnitude. This hypothetical number of ‘saved lives’ cannot therefore be used to justify the direct collateral deaths, let alone the social and economic destruction these measures have caused.

What could we have done differently? The National Audit Office highlighted that the treasury had spent over £210 billion up until 7th of August 2020. This figure will have continued to grow over the subsequent months. Is it possible that allowing the economy to keep going and instead directing large swathes of cash to the NHS over the pandemic could have saved more lives?

Perhaps by increasing ITU bed, staffing and oxygen provisions over the summer alongside rapid training programs for staff. Speeding up research into off label uses of medications that reduce death or disease severity. Using rapid testing of staff before every shift to ensure they are not needlessly self-isolating for two weeks every time they are pinged by Test and Trace. Separating the care of Covid positive v. non-Covid patients by using the Nightingale hospitals thereby reducing in hospital transmission. The Government has put us on a war footing and saddled the population with a huge debt for little if no prevention of loss of life.

The burden of these Government policies has disproportionately fallen on the young, the poor and the old. Resulting in social isolation, missed education, job losses, a curtailment of future ambitions and small to medium sized businesses going bust. The true scale of the damage is yet to be experienced, but a decimated economy, postponed medical treatments, delayed diagnoses and widespread mental health problems only further threatens our NHS. Conversely, in trying to save it we have inadvertently put it in a more precarious position for many years to come and caused many more lives to be lost.

Sarah Williamson is a nutritional therapist with a degree in economics.

Latest News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Borders Closing Ever Tighter With Arrival of Forced Quarantine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading Kate’s piece in full.

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

Flying is Only For The Rich in Covid World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preliminary Materials For a Theory of Devi Sridhar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

Times Front Page Misrepresents Covid Victim Age Distribution

The front page if yesterday’s Times

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

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

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

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

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

Locked Down in Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

Share Your Story With Julia

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

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

Sceptics Under Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Round-up

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

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

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

Love in the Time of Covid

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

Sharing Stories

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

Social Media Accounts

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

Woke Gobbledegook

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

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

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

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

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

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

Samaritans

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

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the past 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. Doing these daily updates is hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

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

Latest News

Boris Keeps Schools in Limbo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More MPs spoke out about the ongoing and future harms:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily Mail graph showing relative deaths per occupation category

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

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

The Anti-Greta

Does Charging Travellers for Enforced Hotel Stays Violate WHO Rules?

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

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

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

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

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

WHO International Health Regulations: 

Article 32: Treatment of travellers

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

(a) treating all travellers with courtesy and respect;

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

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

Article 40: Charges for health measures regarding travellers

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

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

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

(c) appropriate isolation or quarantine requirements of travellers;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Norwegian fjord

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

Dear Priti Patel,

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

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

Worth reading in full.

Antibody Levels May Show Swedish Herd Immunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covid Riots in the Netherlands

Police car on fire outside Eindhoven Centraal Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

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

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

HART: Health Advisory and Recovery Team

Some of the members of HART

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

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

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

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

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

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

– The mental health impact of the restrictive measures;

– Mass-testing procedures and associated data analysis; 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Lockdown Scepticism Rational?

What follows is a guest post from a senior scientist.

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

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

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

These uncontentious assumptions are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Patient ‘Disappears Into The System’

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

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

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

Three things to note: 

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

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

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

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

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

Sceptics Under Fire

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

One points out more double standards:

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

The Q&A section on that site says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four argument techniques are primarily used by Anti-Virus:

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

– Rubbish opponent’s reputations rather than their arguments

– Categorise opponents with established ‘negative’ words

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

Effects of Covid-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claim 4: “There are no excess deaths”

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

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

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

Lockdown Scepticism

Claim 6: “Lockdowns cause more deaths than they prevent”

Response: A good example of Straw Man attack. Raises two issues, both of which cannot be answered with any certainty, but should be considered in a balanced discussion. Firstly, would there have been more or less deaths using a different strategy to lockdown? Cannot be answered unless you have a means of running history twice. You end up falling back on modelling and probabilities which a cynic would say are pseudonyms for guesswork.

Secondly, will the excess deaths caused by delays to non-Covid medical treatment exceed those of Covid? Cannot be answered for several years when its only value would be in shaping response to future pandemics. This is perhaps where all the investigation should be concentrated as we are clearly not going to change course this time round.

Claim 7: “Cases were falling anyway – lockdowns don’t work”

Response: Another Straw Man! Cases have been constantly going up and down throughout the last 11 months with innumerable analysts (journalists, academics, Government ministers) claiming correlation for their preferred factor(s). Correlation is not causation so innumerable mechanisms are cited to explain the connections. Factors that do not fit the required relationship are dismissed as irrelevant. Such is the world we live in, but it is wise to take it all with a pinch of salt, particularly when you consider that even trained statisticians must consider their future employment. 

All that can really be said is that no strategy has yet been demonstrated that enables humanity to control/eliminate the endemic virus that Covid has become. The specific examples of smallpox and a few other rare viruses seem unlikely to change that situation in any relevant timescale. What we can do is consider whether our level of self-imposed harm (which is real and measurable) is likely to be worse than the rather speculative guesswork on the nation’s future health. The handling of regular pandemics since WW2 would suggest that our unique experiment is going to be quietly overtaken by time-honoured resolution although it is unlikely that any of the actors will admit to that.

Claim 8: “The Great Barrington Declaration gives a good alternative to lockdown”

Response: Lots of Straw Men here! The Declaration has been expanded in a condemnatory manner to include numerous imagined scenarios which lead to hopeless outcomes. A year ago, proposing what we have done with Lockdown would have been condemned as hopeless. The barriers to implementing the Declaration which Anti-Virus objects to are trivial in comparison.

If anything, the Declaration looks more like the way we have handled pandemics since WW2 so at least has some support from actual evidence. Our present strategy is, at best, a monumental experiment with no prior evidence as to how it will progress or how it will end. Perhaps we imagine that our technological prowess is so great that we have the ability to keep nature under control. A rude awakening awaits any such arrogance!

Keep sending us your responses here, with the subject line “Antivirus”.

Stop Press: We’ve decided to regularly include some of the best pieces endorsing the Government’s lockdown strategy, inspired by J.S. Mill’s famous line: “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”

Today, we’re including this article by Alex Morton in CapX, making the most plausible case for the travel restrictions coming in at the moment:

Nothing would give me greater pleasure right now than a holiday somewhere warm. I suspect that this is true of many. But this option has to remain off the table for some time to come. At present, border controls are being discussed in the same breath as school reopening at half term or Easter, or when pubs could serve again. But this totally misses the point: if a vaccine resistant strain arises in the UK then this will undo every single hope of a return to normality – no schools, restaurants, pubs, family visits, offices or anything. We will be back to square one just with a crippled economy and compliance exhaustion.

The success or failure of this Government hinges on how fast the UK returns to normality, with people allowed to behave as usual and Covid deaths and serious cases remaining low. The UK’s success in rolling out vaccines could massively boost this country. But if lax border controls allow a new strain that is vaccine resistant to enter, or escape, there will be severe implications across a number of fronts:

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press 2: Niall McCrae at Unity News Network has written an entertaining piece entitled “The Progressive Death Cult and the Silencing of Lockdown Sceptics” on the virtue signalling of the “blood on their hands” brigade.

Lockdown sceptics have “blood on our hands”, according to the propagandists of Covid terror. The supposedly liberal intelligentsia, the same people who tried to defy democracy after the EU referendum, are now putting the plebs in their place. They must stay at home, muzzle themselves, and forego their leisure pursuits of football, shopping and the pub. Anyone failing to fully comply is recklessly spreading germs and contributing to the daily death toll. 

Yet the sceptic need not leave the house to be accused of endangering lives. Toby Young, for example, sits indoors at his computer all day long, but his Lockdown Sceptics website makes him a pariah figure. Lockdown zealots such as Observer writer Nick Cohen and Tory MP Neil O’Brien smear him as a Covid denier. 

Under fire last week was Lord Sumption, who got into a futile debate on the BBC television show The Big Questions. The value of life, he said, is not equal, but measured by rational criteria. Health economists use QALY (quality-adjusted life years) to assess the impact of services and treatments. The retired Supreme Court justice wasn’t saying anything radical: in a dilemma between saving a healthy young child and an octogenarian with a debilitating disease, who wouldn’t choose the former?   

But Lord Sumption was challenged by a woman with advanced cancer, who accused him of saying that her life is ‘worthless’. Against such raw emoting, no amount of sophisticated ethical reasoning could prevent him from being characterised as callous – thus a typical lockdown sceptic. 

Another illustration was in the Mayor of London’s question time on Thursday, when David Kurten probed Sadiq Khan on his promotion of Covid vaccines as safe. They have not been tested on pregnant women or children, Kurten said, but according to the mayor he was categorically wrong. Faced with further contrary facts, Khan resorted to virtuous grandstanding of no relevance to the question, suggesting that Kurten go to a NHS hospital to hear from staff about their heroics. Severe adverse events are likely to be either ignored or accepted as a collateral price worth paying. 

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press 3: Julia Hartley-Brewer mounted a spirited defence of lockdown scepticism on her talkRADIO show yesterday morning.

Poetry Corner

We get all kinds of contributions sent in to us every day, often drawing our attention to practical matters like news items and new scientific studies, but also personal stories from people suffering all kinds of distress from lockdown’s collateral damage. In light of everything we’ve been publishing on the matter of children’s mental health recently, this one was a hard read:

My 14-year-old godson, whose name I’m going to leave out of this, told me he was barely hanging on a couple of weeks ago. He told me that he didn’t even miss his friends anymore because he’d come to terms with the fact that he’d never see them again. He told me that he’d come to terms with the fact that his life held no possible future worth. He told me that he’d been working on his ‘suicide note’ when he’d written a seven-line poem.

As you can imagine, I was a broken man by this point. In fact, I can barely see my screen as I write this my eyes are so watered.

He’s okay tonight. I know that for sure, because his mum is sleeping in his room, as she has been for the past couple of weeks now, since I told her what he told me. Which I had to do, even though he felt I betrayed his trust and didn’t talk to me for those couple of weeks. 

Tonight we had a long chat and he seems to be doing better. He’s forgiven me for talking to his mum. And he shared his poem with me.

It broke my heart all over again.

Once I’d read it, he said something that just epitomises exactly why he is such a formidable young man: “If you think that it will make the slightest bit of difference in one person’s life, knowing that that’s where I was, and that now I’m okay, then I want you to share it with whoever you can.”

So, here it is. (And yes, that is the title he gave it)

Meh

I’m really struggling with the point today,
With getting up, or finding a way.
I’m really struggling to lift myself up,
To smile, to laugh, even play with the pup.
I’m really struggling with all of my work,
Just lying here wondering if I can shirk.
I’m really struggling to see what’s the point.

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Just two today: “You’re Driving Me Crazy” by The Temperance Seven and “Hotel Hell” by Eric Burdon and The Animals.

Love in the Time of Covid

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

Sharing Stories

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

Social Media Accounts

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

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

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

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

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

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

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

Samaritans

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

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the past 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. Doing these daily updates is hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

On this week’s episode of ⁦‪London Calling‬⁩, ⁦‪James Delingpole‬ and Toby puzzle over why almost no one is tuning in to the DAVOS talks happening this week, which are all freely available online. Are they shadow-banning themselves so we don’t discover their plans for the Great Reset? Or are they just really really boring? 

You can listen to the podcast here and subscribe to it on iTunes here.

Latest News

Sweden’s Per Capita Deaths in Line with the European Average in 2020

Will Jones has taken another look at the situation in Sweden. He finds that the country does indeed show that lockdowns aren’t needed.

Severe restrictions on civic and economic life are the only thing standing between us and the virus spiralling out of control and killing many times more people than at present. That is the foundational belief of lockdownism. Unfortunately, it is defeated by the example of any country or state that does not impose such restrictions and does not experience such an outcome. A number of states in America fit this description this winter, such as Florida, Texas, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Sweden is the main example in Europe. It is also a good comparison for the UK as it is similarly urbanised (actually slightly more, 87.7% vs 83.4%) and the capital Stockholm has a similar population density to London.

In the spring Sweden imposed only light restrictions, including a limit of 50 on public gatherings, but did not at any point close businesses or most schools or require people to stay at home. This light-touch approach has largely continued, although the country has come under huge pressure to impose more restrictive measures.

In the midst of a winter surge, Sweden finally passed a law that came into effect on January 10th adding some new restrictions on gathering sizes and venue capacity and enabling the Government to close businesses, though it has not yet done so. Reuters reported:

Sweden tightened social distancing rules for shopping centres, gyms and private gatherings on Friday and said it was ready to close businesses if needed, but stopped short of a lockdown to fight the spread of the pandemic.

Earlier in the day, parliament voted the Government wider powers to close businesses and limit the size of public and private gatherings as an addition to what have so-far been mostly voluntary measures to ensure social distancing.

“Today, the Government has not decided on the closure of businesses, but the Government is ready to make that kind of decision as well,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told a news conference. “This is not something that we take lightly, but people’s lives and health are at stake.”

From Sunday [January 10th], gyms, sports centres, shopping malls and public pools will have to set a maximum number of visitors based on their size.

In addition, private gatherings will also be limited to eight people, a rule which until now has only affected public events.

A Lockdown Sceptics reader whose family lives in Sweden sent us an update on the current rules.

  • We can visit family and friends – max eight people inside or out
  • Social distancing – one person per 10 square metres in shops etc.
  • Bars and cafes are open but can not serve alcohol after eight o’clock, max four people to a table
  • Restaurants open – table service only and max four people to a table
  • All shops and businesses open but must be Covid safe
  • Hairdressers and beauty parlours open but must be Covid safe
  • Nurseries and primary schools (under 13) open
  • Lower secondary schools mostly open but decision up to the school board
  • Schools over 16 years mostly closed but may take decision to open from January 25th
  • Universities closed
  • Theme parks closed
  • Gyms mainly open but must be Covid safe
  • Public swimming pools and theatres closed
  • Museums and cinemas – some open, some not. Must adhere to Covid restrictions
  • All other businesses open
  • Advice is to avoid unnecessary shopping/travel and so on
  • No requirement to wear a mask/face covering. However, it is advised on public transport during peak times and should be more substantial than a face covering

Despite these much lighter restrictions than in the UK and many other countries, Sweden has had a death toll broadly in line with other countries that locked down hard. Indeed, a study from researchers at the University of Oslo concluded that between July 2019 and July 2020 Sweden had almost no excess deaths at all.

The winter surge is currently in decline in Sweden, and was in decline prior to the new restrictions coming into effect on January 10th. ICU admissions have been declining sharply across the country since the week beginning January 4th, and in Stockholm, which was hit hard in spring, ICU admissions stopped rising at the beginning of December and have declined since (see below).

Source: Swedish Government

Overall excess deaths in the country have been running quite high since mid-November but are now, like ICU admissions, in decline (see below). A recent, very thorough blog post found that if you add Sweden’s all-cause mortality in 2019 and 2020 together (2019 had below-average mortality), it was about the same as the cumulative total for 2017 and 2018.

Sweden didn’t do nothing. But it did a lot less than many other countries including the UK, and without seeing the huge death tolls predicted by those who tell us lockdowns are the only way to “control” the virus. There are places which did even less than Sweden, and their examples should also be studied for the lessons they teach us. But Sweden continues to expose the central myth of the lockdowners – that without severe restrictions things would be far worse than they are now, and so all the collateral damage must be worth it.

Stop Press: Philippe Lemoine, a PhD student at Cornell, has produced a great Twitter thread about Sweden and the unavoidable conclusion that lockdowns don’t have much impact on reducing Covid mortality.

Ivermectin: Miracle Cure or Snake Oil?

Shutterstock/File Photo

City AM reports that Oxford University is to investigate the potential of the antiparasitic drug ivermectin for treating COVID-19:

A cheap drug credited with dramatically reducing COVID-19 deaths has been moved to trial stage in the UK.

Researchers at Oxford University are carrying out a Principle trial programme aimed at finding a treatment that can counteract the disease at an early stage and could be used at home soon after symptoms appear.

The next batch of medicines it will assess includes ivermectin, which has been hailed as a Covid “wonder drug”, the Times reported.

Ivermectin has traditionally been used on livestock and to treat people with parasitic infestations, but has been credited with reducing Covid deaths in the developing world.

However, scientists have warned that its efficacy is yet to be properly proven.

“It has potential antiviral properties and anti-inflammatory properties and there have been quite a few smaller trials conducted in low and middle-income countries, showing that it speeds recovery, reduces inflammation and reduces hospitalisation,” Chris Butler, Professor of Primary Care at the University of Oxford and a co-chief of the Principle trial, told the newspaper.

“But there’s a gap in the data. There’s not been a really rigorous trial.”

The drug has been shown to block the entry of viral protein into the nuclei of cells, which could prevent the virus from replicated.

Results from initial, small-scale trials have been described as “promising”, though scientists and health officials have warned that further tests are needed.

It seems worth doing a mini round-up of just some of the evidence recently amassed for the beneficial effects of ivermectin:

The Swiss Doctor has an explanation of how ivermectin works:

To date, the mode of action of ivermectin against the SARS-CoV-2 has remained somewhat of a mystery. Early studies indicated that ivermectin may inhibit viral protein transportation. But a new US-Canadian study, published in Nature Communications Biology, found that ivermectin is highly effective (>90%) in inhibiting the main enzyme (3CLpro) involved in the replication of the SARS-CoV-2 (and other RNA viruses). This might explain why ivermectin appears to be highly effective even as a prophylaxis against SARS-CoV-2 infection

Scepticism is required in all things, of course, but this treatment does look promising, as Mike Yeadon confirms:

https://twitter.com/MichaelYeadon3/status/1352518627212353537

REACT Report: Why Wasn’t it Peer Reviewed?

The latest REACT report from Imperial College received a fair amount of media attention for its finding that “Coronavirus infections are not falling” and that they “may have begun to rise”. Today we’re publishing a guest post by Alice Bragg, who points out that the REACT reports are seldom subjected to peer review.

Here we go again! Imperial College publishing reports that tell us we need more lockdowns for longer. The latest REACT report claims the last three weeks of lockdown have made no difference, so our children must suffer more.

The problem is that this report has not been peer-reviewed. As an academic friend once said to me, “If it’s not peer-reviewed, it’s not relevant.”

Which begs the question: why have only two of the 14 REACT reports, stretching back throughout last year, been peer-reviewed?

Here is the December 15th REACT report on the World Health Organisation website with its own clear warning:

“Preprints are preliminary research reports that have not been certified by peer review. They should not be relied on to guide clinical practice or health-related behaviour and should not be reported in news media as established information.”

Worth noting…

We have all been shocked by the footage from inside Intensive Care Units at hospitals in London and the South East. All the doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners and managers working in them are heroes, and we are indebted to them for the rest of our days.

But are lockdowns the way to prevent these scenes?

One would assume that policymakers would only implement a policy as far-reaching and punishing as lockdown if they had a strong degree of certainty that the suspension of our liberties will save lives.

It was in response to a model produced by Imperial College that the Government imposed the first lockdown. However, it is now widely acknowledged that the assumptions underpinning that model were highly dubious.

In addition, the code that powered that model has been found to be of very poor quality when reviewed and analysed by coding experts, computer programmers and epidemiologists. Even Professor Ferguson himself said that it was a model he had created more than 13 years ago to model the likely course of flu pandemics.

Nevertheless, we have watched our freedom of movement be suspended indefinitely, along with our freedom to associate with others of our choosing, the freedom to assemble and gather, and the freedom to protest (the cornerstone of any democracy). Our children are being denied their right to go to school and, in many cases, have been separated from their peers and wider family for almost a year. Businesses have been forcibly closed, many of which will never recover.

At a time when the stakes are so high, why would Imperial College’s REACT reports not be peer-reviewed?

The answer can be found in the peer-review process itself. Over the last 20 years, the number of papers submitted to journals has grown dramatically. This has been compounded by the growth of ‘pay to publish’ sites that make money every time a paper goes up. Experts who are qualified to carry out rigorous peer-reviews would probably prefer not to spend all their time critiquing other peoples’ papers. Demand outstrips the ‘peer’ supply.

That said, when research findings are being used to guide Government policy, there must be a way to cut through the crowd? After all, not many scientific papers are used to justify a population being denied their basic freedoms or children being taken out of school.

According to David Livermore, Professor of Medical Microbiology at the University of East Anglia and Chair of the Public Health England Resistance to Antibiotics Programme:

“REACT is a surveillance programme which then supports various studies and analyses. Such a surveillance programme would normally have an Independent Advisory Committee”

An Independent Advisory Committee of this nature, according to Prof Livermore, would undertake a number of tasks, including making sure that the people who participate in the programme continue to represent the population. They would also, he stresses, play the role of the peer-reviewer, so that when REACT reports hit the media and arrive on ministers’ desks, the information they contain has been rigorously assessed.

This is only possible if ‘independent’ means what it says, and that people who are constructively sceptical – asking awkward questions – are appointed, not just like-minded ‘friends of the project’. As the debate about ‘the science’ becomes increasingly polarised, inviting informed and qualified critics such as Dr Clare Craig, Dr Jonathan Engler, Dr Michael Yeadon, Dr John Lee and Joel Smalley onto an independent REACT advisory board would inspire great confidence.   

Stop Press: Over at the Spectator, Philip Thomas has more on why the REACT study is problematic

What Value Should We Put on a Human Life?

Today we’re publishing a new piece by Dr David Cook, a senior scientist with over 20 years’ experience in drug research and development. Following the row over Lord Sumption’s contribution to the Big Questions last weekend, Dr Cook explains the concept of Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALY), and then applies it to lockdowns.

In 2017 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) rejected the drug nivolumab for use in the NHS to treat patients with advanced head and neck cancers. The reason given was that, despite the drug showing positive benefits, it was judged to be too expensive based on the cost per ‘quality adjusted life year’ (QALY). For patients with this disease (and clinicians treating them) this was a hugely disappointing decision and although subsequently nivolumab has been approved for use, at the point of this judgement it must have felt to these patients that their lives were somehow being deemed to be less valuable than those of other patients.

Let’s wind forward to today and Lord Sumption discussing the impact of lockdown on society and apparently suggesting something similar, namely, that some lives are less valuable than others.

But in both of these cases is this what was actually meant? Are we really assigning a value to a life? Are we really judging that some lives are more valuable than others and so more worthy of saving?

To answer these questions, let’s focus on QALYs because these seem to be highly culpable in the crime of ‘life valuation’.

Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALYs) are not used to assess the quality of a life and they are certainly not used to make a judgement on its value.

The reason for this is because QALYs are used to assess the impact and value of an intervention. The judgement as to the quality of someone’s life is something that only the individual can make, but regardless of how they feel about it as a whole, they would certainly be able to tell if it had improved or got worse after some kind of treatment. If I whack you on the hand with a ruler has this improved your quality of life? What if I now kiss it better?

This is the fundamental point – QALYs are always used comparatively: did this treatment or intervention improve or reduce the quality of life?

In assessing the value of new therapies, QALYs are used to try and produce an objective view of their (hopefully positive) impact. A good example of the challenges of this kind of assessment and why QALYs are so helpful is if we think about how we would assess the value of a new analgesic or pain treatment. Such a treatment may have no effect on life expectancy and so its whole impact is on quality of life. But how do you assess this impact when pain is such a personal experience? The only way is to actually ask the individual patient. As a result, a major part of the assessment of the benefit of such medicines is done through use of questionnaires and asking how the individual feels; did the treatment improve your quality of life? Then, by aggregating all of these individual responses together, we can start to assess whether overall the treatment was beneficial or not. You can see that at no point are we making a judgement of the quality or value of the patient’s life. The assessment we are making is of the value of the treatment.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: John Humphrys covers similar ground in his Saturday Daily Mail column. Noting that, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the value of a QALY is about £30,000, he writes:

No one can possibly know yet how much the lockdowns have cost the country. The bills rocket with every day that passes. What we do know is that if we applied the QALY test to the lives ‘saved’, we would no longer be talking about £30,000 a year. It would be many times that amount.

The price of even the most expensive new drug is a drop in the ocean compared to the vast cost of closing down half the nation’s economy – and the bill is rising with every word I type.

So does that mean the life of someone who faces the risk of dying from Covid must be valued more than those who have other life-threatening conditions?

Many people have died because they’ve been unable to get the treatment they needed. Hard-headed calculations were presented to policy-makers who knew what the consequences of lockdowns would be but they took them anyway.

Look Him in The Eyes… A Reader Responds

A reader has written to us to express his disappointment about the NHS’s latest advertising campaign.

I am writing about the shocking new HMG/NHS coronavirus public health campaign. These are the adverts with “Look them in the eyes…” which show a poorly person wearing an oxygen mask.   

In public health the aim of an information campaign should be to give accurate, truthful and honest information so that the public can understand the issues and take any necessary steps or measures for their own health.

Does the Governments and NHS “Look them in they eyes…” poster campaign fit any of the above? A resounding NO! Their campaign is one of blame and division. They have chosen to set one group against another. There is the victim group, this is the sick virus sufferer. They are portrayed as the innocent victim whom someone else has done a terrible thing to.

If there is a victim then this other person must be a perpetrator, a bad person or person who has committed a crime. We would generally consider a perpetrator to have carried out their actions against the victim on purpose and in a planned way. It follows that whoever becomes sick with Covid, or any virus for that matter, has had a bad thing done to them and a bad person is to blame.

The Government and NHS in this poster campaign is blaming one set of people for doing a bad thing to another set of people and no good can come from this. No one is given accurate, measured or honest information upon which they can take actions. Instead, in setting up a victim and a perpetrator, our Government and NHS are setting one lot of people against another. It is extraordinary that a Government and Public Health Service should commission a campaign that blames and divides its population. The campaign fails on all accounts – it provides nothing, people will be angered by it and take no notice of it because it is not truthful, while other people will seek out the bad people to punish them.

A poster campaign like this fails all groups. There are real families who have passed covid on to each other. One person I know of who works for the NHS likely picked up the infection during their hospital shifts. From this person, the elder parents picked up an infection and sadly one died. Does our Government and NHS understand what it is suggesting to this worker and their family? The suggestion is the NHS worker has killed their own parent. 

It is widely acknowledged that many patients acquire their coronavirus infections during their hospital stay. Some of these people have died. Has the Government and the NHS looked itself in the eyes?

This is a terrible public information campaign. I believe it has come from a Government which has taken on the belief it can control a respiratory virus and is desperate to deflect blame as it becomes obvious it cannot.   

When a Government blames its population and attempts to turn one group against another what will become of us? Is the Government aiming for civil war?

A Smidgen of Optimism on Masks

Lockdown Sceptics reader Steve Sieff finds cause for optimism in the change in emphasis to medical and surgical masks in the various mandates, rules and guidance. Steve runs the Green band: Red band website which makes the case for a coloured wrist band system that could promote individual choice when it comes to social distancing and managing Covid risk.

I have an optimistic view to offer on the advance of N95 masks.

I know that the position of most lockdown sceptics is that masks should go. I also know that many of the LS arguments are based on the lack of evidence that they are effective to reduce transmission – even in some cases that they increase the risk of harm. I do not know, but I suspect, that for many LS readers, the question of transmission is largely irrelevant because they consider that the negatives of a masked society outweigh the gains that might be made if some reduction to transmission were shown. The logic behind this goes back to the fundamental belief that COVID-19 should not be ascribed the special status that it has been given on the basis that it affects a small percentage of people. Beyond that, the groups most likely to suffer can be easily identified and therefore can easily protect themselves or be protected.

I believe that underpinning the views above is a strong desire amongst the vast majority of LS readers to see a restoral of the individual’s right to make choices for themselves. We would all like to see a more balanced presentation of risks and of facts from our Government (and others). In the event that the balanced presentation of available data convinced some people to take extraordinary protective measures, we might disagree with the reaction, but most of us would acknowledge and respect others’ right to be cautious provided their decisions did not overly impact on the decisions we make when not in contact with them. This is the basis of Green Band: Red Band of course.

In the context of individual freedom, I wonder if a shift towards more protective masks might be a positive thing. I know that this might sound like anathema to most LS readers so I will explain. The mask narrative to date has been that “my mask protects you, your mask protects me”. This logic moves us away from personal responsibility towards collective responsibility. Those who do not wear a mask are letting down others and are stigmatised. More protective masks such as N95s and N99s could change this narrative. These masks are designed to protect users. If they were widely available then the message could shift to wearing a mask to protect yourself. There would still be some protection for others, but the emphasis would be on protecting oneself. That is extremely important because it could pave the way for masks to become a choice. Those at lower risk (whether through age or vaccination) could decide that they do not require the protection that a mask provides while those who were more concerned could opt to protect themselves.

Of course, this shift in approach will not come easily. There will be many who argue that mandatory self-protection has an important place (see seat-belts, motorcycle helmets, etc.) because the dramatic reduction in risk is worth enforcing for the relatively minor loss of liberty. And there will be those who will continue to believe that the individual has a duty to protect the NHS by making every effort not to get sick/injured, etc. While hospital numbers remain high, those arguments will no doubt be persuasive for the majority. However, as hospital numbers fall, the general assessment of risk will change. It is harder to maintain a climate of fear without supportive death rates and as increasing numbers of people are vaccinated. At that stage the availability of protective masks could give the Government the opportunity to end mask mandates in favour of advising people to wear N95/N99s if they are concerned.

Stop Press: The Connexion reports that the WHO is maintaining its recommendation for fabric masks.

A Close Encounter With the Police

A Lockdown Sceptics reader has written to us describing a nightmarish afternoon dog walk.

I just need to offload.

I went two miles to a huge area of open space. Arrived at 3pm. Walked the dog and got back to the car at 4.30pm, darkness now creeping in and a howling gale. My 21 year-old was with me (student final year law degree… yep so much stress and upset). We were about to drive off when a police car drove up and a rather hot (okay unnecessary detail) bobby stopped us.

Now at this point I looked around at the car park. Four cars and maybe a few bedraggled dog walkers. Hmm… No way he’s here for Covid surveillance, I thought. Maybe it’s a drug selling hotspot? To cut a long story short, yes he was there to nab (engage and educate) Covid rule-breaking criminals. After a 15-minute chat I drove off uncomfortably, having given him no details about how far we had come or why. The local police had actually sent a patrol car out in the rain to a hill at dusk to ask people why they were there!

Admittedly, my husband is critically vulnerable according to the NHS. Was I taking unnecessary risks and endangering his life? We walk locally and rarely go in shops. I’m  antisocial. I don’t need shops but I do need open spaces!

I relayed this story to a close friend. Her reply was aggressive, judgemental and swift. I shouldn’t have driven and my actions put others at risk. She claimed I could have had an accident and caused yet more issues for the ambulance service. I was very much in the wrong. She is a partner at a large law firm. She’s now so far lost in the crazy mists of fear that her reasoning is, in my opinion, misguided and extreme. A lawyer! We’ve had many such conversations and I’ve patiently listened and respected her views. This was a line too far over-stepped.

I’m terrified for the evolution I see in society. It’s gnawing holes of fear and anger into my very being . I’m watching the shifting mood, peoples lives used like props in a high-budget Derren Brown special.

And so, don’t stop fighting. I’m a harassed and war torn ‘at home mum of three’ with no influence. I need you… and all the other questioning sceptics. I want educated reasoning rather than fear-focused propaganda.

Next Week’s Davos Guest List

Like so much else these days, next week’s DAVOS summit will take place on Zoom. Deutsche Welle has the story:

It’s that time of the year again when a sleepy Alpine town in Switzerland usually comes alive as the global elite descends on its snow-clad slopes to debate global challenges. This year, however, Davos has been left undisturbed with its eponymous annual jamboree moving online amid a still raging COVID-19 pandemic…

The more than 50-year-old annual event attended by global political and business leaders, celebrities and prominent social activists is taking place amid the worst economic crisis in living memory that has rendered millions jobless and deepened global inequalities.

An annual risks survey published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Tuesday warned that economic and social fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to “social unrest, political fragmentation and geopolitical tensions”.

We need an economic recovery that is “more resilient, more inclusive and more sustainable”, WEF founder Klaus Schwab told reporters…

The pandemic and the uneven responses to the crisis unleashed by it have stoked geopolitical tensions. Governments have chosen to put national interests ahead of others, unilaterally shutting down borders and hoarding food and medical supplies.

We need to restore trust in our world, Schwab said. “We have to substantially reinforce global cooperation again and engage all stakeholders into the solution of the problems we face, and here we have to engage particularly business.”       

Nowhere has this me-first approach been more apparent than on the vaccine front where rich nations have secured billions of doses – many times the size of their populations – while poor nations struggle for supplies. The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is also one of the speakers, cautioned that the world was on the brink of “catastrophic moral failure”.

The global scramble for vaccines, or vaccine nationalism, risks prolonging the pandemic and delaying the easing of global travel restrictions.

“COVID-19 anywhere is COVID-19 everywhere,” WEF President Borge Brende told reporters. “We all are in the same boat and we would have to collaborate to really make progress.”

It is interesting to note that the WEF has a date in mind for when it may be able to meet in person:

A virtual summit doesn’t mean that Davos regulars, many of them without official badges, would be robbed of their opportunity to hobnob and strike deals at glamorous receptions that take place on the side lines of the main event.

The WEF has said it would hold its marquee event in person in Singapore from May 13th-16th later this year.

Worth reading in full.

Sceptics Under Fire

It won’t have escaped readers’ attention that lockdown sceptics are coming under increasing fire from defenders of lockdown orthodoxy. Now, it seems, the most fanatical of these defenders – a group that includes Neil O’Brien MP – have created a website called “Antivirus: The COVID-19 FAQ“. As you’ll see if you click on the link, it attempts to rebut most of the sceptics’ arguments and singles out a group of sceptics for criticism, most of them contributors to this website.

We thought about producing a lengthy response, making all the obvious points: the fact that some sceptics’ predictions have turned out to be inaccurate doesn’t mean their main argument – that the costs of lockdowns outweigh the benefits – should be dismissed; the proponents of lockdowns have made equally inaccurate predictions (remember the “Graph of Doom”?); some of the stories we’ve flagged up that were initially dismissed as “conspiracy theories” have turned out to be quite plausible (e.g. that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology); there’s a world of difference between being a ‘lockdown sceptic’ and a ‘Covid denier’; the WHO has confirmed that our reservations about the accuracy of the PCR test are well-founded; etc., etc.

However, we thought it might be more fun to invite readers to defend lockdown scepticism from the arguments set out on Neil O’Brien’s ‘myth-busting’ website instead. So please take a look at the website and let us know what you think. Put the word “Antivirus” in the subject line and we’ll publish some of the best responses over the next few days.

Stop Press: We’ve received a terrific response to Christopher Snowdon’s Jan 16th piece in Quillette that we’ll publish tomorrow.

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Seven today: “Hard Times Of Old England” by Steeleye Span, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” by Aretha Franklin, “Running Out Of Fools” by Aretha Franklin, “Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive” by John Lee Hooker and Van Morrison, “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” by The Allman Brothers Band, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who and “Hard Times (Nobody Knows Better Than I” by Ray Charles

Love in the Time of Covid

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

Stop Press: In another disturbing development for our times, it would appear that the best hope of a right swipe on a dating app is getting vaccinated. TMZ reports that Tinder, Bumble and OkCupid have all seen a major uptick in profiles mentioning the words “vaccine” or “vaccinated’ in their bios, and indicating vaccination readiness as a screener for matches. The jury is still out on whether the vaccine reduces transmission.

Sharing Stories

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

Social Media Accounts

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

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, we bring you the author Jen Hatmaker, who has publicly apologised for the offensive opening line of the prayer she delivered at the inaugural interfaith prayer service held for President Joe Biden. The Christian Post has the story:

Christian author Jen Hatmaker, who on Thursday joined a progressive group of interfaith leaders for the National Prayer Service in honour of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, has apologized for the first line of a prayer she delivered at the event.

“Almighty God, You have given us this good land as our heritage,” Hatmaker began in the prayer that she said was written by organisers of the event in her apology posted on Facebook shortly after the event.

“I was proud to offer the final liturgical prayer which was written by the organizers to serve as an anchor. I have one regret and thus apology. The very first sentence thanked God for giving us this land as our heritage. He didn’t. He didn’t give us this land,” she said.

“We took this land by force and trauma. It wasn’t an innocent divine transaction in which God bestowed an empty continent to colonizers. This is a shiny version of our actual history. If God gave this land to anyone, it was to the Native community who always lived here,” Hatmaker continued.

She explained that as soon as she read the line from the prayer she began to regret it.

“I panicked and froze and then just kept going. I am so sorry, community. Primarily sorry to my Native friends. It matters to me that we reckon with our history of white supremacy and the lies we surrounded it with, and I am filled with regret that I offered yet another hazy, exceptional rendition of the origin story of colonization. Ugh,” she lamented. “I can’t go on without apologizing. My stomach hurt all day.”

Hatmaker, who is also a mother of five, said if she could change anything about the prayer she would have included a call for America to repent of things like the unjust systems the nation has built.

Hatmaker, who is also a mother of five, said if she could change anything about the prayer she would have included a call for America to repent of things like the unjust systems the nation has built.

“God, may we continue to be a people who reckon with our violent history, repent from the unjust systems we built, denounce white supremacy in all its forms past and present, and continue to work together to form a more perfect union,” she said

Stop Press: In a comment piece for the Times, Janice Turner says that the US is heading towards eradicating “the language of biological sex in order to appease an influential trans lobby”.

Stop Press 2: The Post Millennial has an exclusive interview with they/them, the editor of the Spectator USA’s new Wokeyleaks column who is seeking to expose the “CEOs and board members of the social justice movement”.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

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

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

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

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

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

Stop Press: We have been reminded that today, 24th January, is the deadline by which the Secretary of State for Health was bound to review the requirements of the mask rules. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) Regulations 2020 were passed on 24th July 2020. Regulation 9 stipulates that: “The Secretary of State must review the need for the requirements imposed by these Regulations before the end of the period of six months beginning with the day on which they come into force.’” It is unclear what the review will have entailed, but if any reader can enlighten us, please do so. According to Regulation 10, the mask regulations expire “at the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which they come into force.” Six months to go.

Stop Press 2: The Telegraph has an entertaining postcard from South Dakota, where the Republicans are shunning masks to the consternation of the Democrats.

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

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

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

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

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

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

Samaritans

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

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the past 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. Doing these daily updates is hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

Latest News

Don’t Panic, Mr Mainwaring

Leon Neal/Getty Images

Yesterday saw another Downing Street press conference, with more depressing news. The Telegraph has the story.

The new Covid variant may be deadlier than the original strain, Boris Johnson warned on Friday night, with scientific analysis for the Government suggesting the strain could kill 30% more infected people. 

Mr Johnson was told on Friday morning that the first major study of the mutation – which emerged in Kent last month – had found evidence that it is more lethal as well as being up to 70% more infectious.   

The Prime Minister faced questions about whether the lockdown could now last longer and said he could not consider lifting the restrictions while infections remained “forbiddingly high”…

Although Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific adviser, and Prof Whitty stressed that there was a lot of uncertainty about the emerging research, initial analysis by three universities suggested the new Covid variant could kill between 30 and 91% more infected people than the original strain.

The Department of Health’s committee on New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats (NERVTAG) analysed the data and reported that the Kent variant is likely to kill 1.3% of those who get it, compared with one per cent for the original strain.  

The news of increased mortality was based on the conclusions of a NERVTAG meeting, and as ever, it made its way to journalists ahead of the afternoon’s conference. Robert Peston had a briefing from Neil Ferguson which earned him a sharp rebuke from Deborah Cohen:

https://twitter.com/deb_cohen/status/1352650426022318080

Naturally, any concern that the new strain is more deadly deserves to be taken seriously, but it soon emerged, with the release of the NERVTAG paper, that the evidence is rather thin. MailOnline reports:

A SAGE warning revealing that scientists are only 50% sure the Kent strain of coronavirus could be more deadly was handed to ministers just hours before last night’s ‘scare-mongering’ press conference, it has been revealed.

Ministers were only informed about the development yesterday morning after scientists on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), a subcommittee of Sage, discussed the issue on Thursday.

The group concluded there was a “realistic possibility” that the variant resulted in an increased risk of death when compared with the original strain.

Evidence for increased mortality remains thin – NERVTAG papers reveal that the term “realistic possibility” is used when scientists are only 40 to 50% confident something is true.

But the decision to reveal the new information just hours after learning of the development is a yardstick of how alarmed ministers are.

It came after some critics accused ministers of “scaremongering” by announcing their fears the Kent strain is more deadly at short notice and while admitting in a press conference yesterday that the evidence that it is more deadly is still “weak”…

The report continues:

The SAGE paper released last night after being handed to ministers cited three studies of the risk of death associated with the new strain:

A London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine study that said the hazard of death within 28 days of test for the mutant strain compared with non-mutant strains was 1.35 times higher. This was based on a study of 2,583 deaths among 1.2 million tested individuals;

An Imperial College London study of the Case Fatality Rate of the new mutant strain that found the risk of death was 1.36 times higher. This study looked at all cases of new variant but the total number was not revealed in the papers;

A University of Exeter study that suggested the risk of death could be 1.91 times higher. The papers provided no additional background on the number of deaths looked at during the study.

But the SAGE scientists admit that there are problems with the data of each study meaning they are only 50% sure that the new mutant strain carries a higher risk of death. These include the fact that:

Analysis is based on just 8% of the total deaths occurring during the study period;

Age-matched analysis might be comparing frail elderly people in nursing home outbreaks of the Kent variant, which is more transmissible, with healthier elderly people infected with other strains in the community;

An increase in the severity of infection with the variant would likely lead to an increased risk of hospitalisation, which there is currently no evidence of in individuals suffering from the strain;

Analysis has not identified an increased risk of death in hospitalised cases of the variant.

However, the long time lag from infection to hospitalisation means there isn’t a huge amount of data available on the variant, with NERVTAG saying analyses will become more definitive over the coming weeks. 

Worth reading in full.

The NERVTAG paper is available here. This is what the Twitter account Covid Fact Check had to say about it:

Stop Press: The senior financial journalist who occasionally contributes to Lockdown Sceptics has passed on a sharp observation.

For all the hullabaloo about new Kent variant being 30% more deadly, I saw Professor Lockdown quoted in the Telegraph.

“Prof Neil Ferguson, who sits on the Government’s NERVTAG advisory committee, said the latest evidence from university researchers suggests around 30% more people die of the new variant of Covid – but the data is patchy.

‘It is a realistic possibility that the new UK variant increases the risk of death, but there is considerable remaining uncertainty. Four groups – Imperial, LSHTM, PHE and Exeter – have looked at the relationship between people testing positive for the variant vs old strains and the risk of death,’ he told ITV. ‘That suggests a 1.3-fold increased risk of death. So for 60 year-olds, 13 in 1000 might die compared with 10 in 1000 for old strains.'”

This seemed a bit low compared to what Ferguson was saying last March. So I looked up the notorious paper which cites an IFR of 2.2% for 60-69, 5.1% for 70-79, and 9.3% for 80+. A simple average of the estimates comes to 5.5% (a weighted average I imagine would be 3-4%). 

Anyway I suspect that after scaring the country into lockdown Ferguson has been quietly adjusting his model. After all, we always knew he had form for making extravagant forecasts.

Stop Press 2: In an interview with Spiegel, epidemiologist Christian Drosten details his concerns about the “British variant”, and says that he is worried about the Summer.

Advertising Standards Authority Forces Cabinet Office to Withdraw Fear Porn

A man jogs in Camden, north London, during the ongoing coronavirus lockdown. He probably does not have Covid. CREDIT: AP/Matt Dunham 

The Telegraph reports that a controversial COVID-19 ad stating that joggers are highly likely to have COVID-19 is to be discontinued following an intervention by the Advertising Standards Authority:

A Government advert that says joggers and dog-walkers are “highly likely” to have Covid is to be discontinued after the regulator said there was no evidence to support the claim. 

The Telegraph can reveal that the Cabinet Office has also agreed not to repeat the claim made in the 30-second radio ad – which also warns that “people will die” if individuals “bend the rules” – after being contacted by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The taxpayer-funded advert was condemned by MPs and public health experts for spreading “false information” and risking “scaring” people into physical inactivity during the third national lockdown.

The ASA said it had received complaints and would “assess those carefully to establish whether there are any grounds for further action”.

A spokesman said: “We have contacted the Cabinet Office with the concerns that have been raised about its claim, in a radio ad, that it is “highly likely” that individuals such as joggers and dog-walkers have COVID-19.

“Our rules require that advertisers hold robust documentary evidence to prove claims that are capable of substantiation. We have received an assurance from the Cabinet Office that the ad will be discontinued by early next week and the claim about individuals being highly likely to have COVID-19 will not be repeated.

“On that basis, as the Cabinet Office has worked with us to swiftly address and resolve this matter without the need for formal investigation, we consider the matter closed.”

The ASA said it was also assessing complaints about a similar ad about supermarket trolleys, as well as a poster about takeaway coffee headlined “Don’t Let a Coffee Cost Lives”, but had yet to contact the Government about those.

According to the most recent official data, one in 50 people in England was estimated to have Covid between December 27th and January 2nd, rising to one in 30 in London, which would mean individuals are unlikely – rather than highly likely – to have the virus.

Under ASA rules, adverts must be “legal, decent, honest and truthful”.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: If you’ve spotted any Government adverts about the virus you think are a bit dodgy, the Advertising Standards Authority has an online form through which it receives complaints about misleading, harmful or irresponsible claims about the current COVID-19 situation.

Stop Press 2: A new Covid advert is being launched. Designed to appeal to a sense of personal responsibility, and featuring numerous close-ups of Covid sufferers and frontline health workers, the advert ends with the line: “Look them in the eyes and tell them you’re doing all you can to stop the spread of COVID-19. Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives.” This campaign might be more effective if the NHS had been more successful at preventing in-hospital infections.

Declining Case Numbers

HSJ reports good news in its update for January 22nd:

The number of Covid positive patients in English hospitals has fallen by 1,101 over the last three days, strongly suggesting that the third wave which has been overwhelming parts of the NHS has peaked.

The national figure for Covid hospital patients has now fallen for three consecutive days since the third wave started numbers climbing on December 4th.

As many as 33,325 Covid inpatients were reported yesterday, a decline of three per cent on the January 18th figure. The fall was driven by a 565-patient reduction in London and one of 460 in the south east, as well as the lack of any substantive growth elsewhere to offset that figure.

London is now 7% down on its peak figure, recorded on Jan 18th, while the south east now has 10% fewer covid inpatients than its peak on Jan 13th. The east region, whose decline has been bumpier, has 5% fewer patients than its peak, also on Jan 13th.

The running seven-day total of admissions of Covid patients in these three areas has now fallen for at least seven consecutive days to January 19th (the latest data available). The south east is at 81% of its peak, London 84 and the east 87.

Elsewhere in the country, Covid patient hospital numbers are marked by a slowing in growth.

The North West, North East and Yorkshire and Midlands all saw their figures grow 10% in the last week, while the south west jumped nine per cent. On January 14th, the corresponding growth rates were 26, 18, 28 and 37%. This change is reflected in small rises or gains in the rolling admissions data.

Meanwhile, responding to the REACT report which suggested increasing infection rates, Tim Spector said that his ZOE app data showed a more positive picture, and suggested infections peaked on January 1st:

Yesterday’s update from the ONS infection survey appears to support a similar conclusion: infections peaked on January 1st. This is not the first time a national lockdown was imposed after the peak in cases:

Why are BAME People More Reluctant than Whites to Have the Vaccine?

Today we publish a guest post by Lockdown Sceptics reader Kit Stocke-Finucane

I’m reluctant to use the term ‘BAME’ not least because there are massive differences within the groups identified by the term, but for the purpose of this note to you I’ll use it. 

You may recall a piece Lockdown Sceptics ran in November. In discussing the role of vitamin D in preventing COVID-19, Dr Grimes (et al.) devotes a paragraph to the link between higher levels of melanin in the skin and vitamin D deficiency. But his Twitter feed goes much further and his presentation here on the Amish Inquisition podcast a few days ago goes further still.   

In his presentation, Dr Grimes explains that early on in the pandemic he and his colleagues identified at-risk doctors and got vitamin D distributed to them.  He highlights the sharp drop in numbers of BAME doctors dying from COVID-19 after their initiative.  

News-wise, there was quite a bit of coverage back in the spring given to the fact that more, relatively speaking, BAME doctors die (and at a younger age) than their white counterparts. Then there was nothing, until summer when we have failures in Government to push for the protection of BAME pharmacists. 

In June, in an excellent letter, a reader of Lockdown Sceptics expressed scepticism at historic racism being behind higher numbers. He ruled out socio-economic factors.  He may well be correct, but the Government and healthcare bodies, it seems, recognise sections of the population in the manner it sees fit and when it suits. Because after recognising the problem for BAME people, then letting the whole thing drop very soon after, it is now the case that BAME people are singled out for their non-compliance with vaccine orthodoxy: only 55% of the Asian community would take up the vaccine, they say. It appears BAME people are not only undeserving of vitamin D, research into genetic predisposition and blood groups, or risk-assessments. In addition, we’re now told they lack mental capacity because it is all down to fake news and WhatsApp, apparently, and not because they’ve been condescended to throughout the pandemic, or because of a healthy, informed reserve about a rushed-out vaccine posited as the only way out. 

There’s a budget in news stations for this reporting on BAME, there’s a budget in Government to push out the vaccine over other measures for BAME, but no budget for vitamin D or further research to actually protect the lives that are supposed to ‘matter’ so much as to have an expensive fist in fireworks representing them on New Year’s Eve. You can understand why some people coming under the banner BAME get royally hacked off, can’t you?

How Persuasive is the Latest Pro-Masking Study?

Lockdown Sceptics reader Dr Rachel Mann, has drawn our attention to a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society that modelled differing aerosols emitted while talking and coughing, and found “time-of-flight to reach two metres is only a few seconds resulting in a viral dose above the minimum required for infection, implying that physical distancing in the absence of ventilation is not sufficient to provide safety for long exposure times“. The study was also reported in the Guardian.

She writes:

Masks were not evaluated in the study, yet the first study recommendation in the conclusions section was “standing two metres opposite an infected speaker is not safe without the use of a protective mask or respirator”.

Needless to say, this drew my incredulity at such a leap of apparent ‘science’. I emailed the lead and corresponding author and received a response, and quite naturally I have responded again.

In the face of inconclusive evidence of the protective effects of face masks in general population community settings, it’s frustrating that the study authors still seem to feel completely justified in recommending face masks.

Dr Mann emailed the study’s lead author, Dr P.M. de Oliveira as follows:

Dear Sir,

I was most interested to read the paper published today January 20th 2021, by you and your colleagues in The Royal Society regarding the evolution of spray and aerosol from respiratory releases and also reported in the Guardian newspaper this same day. I was delighted to find that your work supports the same conclusion as Fenelly (2020) regarding transmission via aerosol of viruses such as SARS-Cov-2 and other common influenza and coronaviruses rather than the respiratory droplet, which is incredibly important in advancing the body of knowledge with regard to virus transmission, particularly in the current climate of masks, lockdowns and social distancing. However, I wish to draw your attention to the issue of masks, which you mention in your recommendations in the conclusion section in relation to the recent study by Xi et al published in Physics in Fluid in December 2020.

With regard to your recommendation statement in your paper regarding masks and respirators and the statement in the Guardian newspaper that masks should be worn (“We need masks…..”), I wish to draw your attention to the following in the hope that you will clarify your position on the use of surgical masks (if these were indeed to what you were referring to in both the paper and the Guardian news article) as a protection against aerosol transmission.

As you state in your abstract, the size of the majority of aerosol particles are ≈5 to 10 micrometres, the study by Xi et al found a typical 3-layer surgical mask or a zero filtration mask (e.g cloth mask) does not prevent inhalation of aerosol virus particles ≤3 micrometres in size, which is equivalent to ≤3000 nanometres in size. As the size of SARS-Cov-2 virus particles are approximately only 100 nanometres, use of surgical face masks cannot protect an individual from inhaling SARS-Cov-2 virus and therefore, it is unlikely that masks protect the wearer against aerosol infection from SARS-Cov-2. Worryingly, zero filtration (cloth) masks were found to increase deposits of SARS-Cov-2 virus on the face and upper airway. Indeed, the study by Xi et al also reported that when wearing a surgical mask, air enters the mouth and nose through the entire surface of the mask at lower speeds, which favours the inhalation of ambient aerosols into the nose as well as their subsequent deposition in the upper airway.

Given that the Xi et al study was conducted as a tightly controlled experiment and the mask “etiquette” of the general population is sub-optimal at best, it is almost impossible to conclude that surgical masks, particularly ‘trendy’, patterned zero filtration cloth masks, are likely to have a significant benefit in preventing transmission in general population community settings e.g supermarkets and other indoor spaces. Given the size of the SARs-Cov-2 virus, I do feel that it is important in this climate, especially where we have unadulterated social media shaming and blaming of those that cannot wear a surgical mask for disability/health reasons to clarify what you mean by masks. Given that most individuals will likely attribute your use of the term “mask” to mean the common-or-garden ubiquitous blue surgical masks or cloth masks currently seen on every street in the UK (the type as tested by Xi et al), I fear that you should have clarified that at levels of less than three micrometres that surgical masks are likely to be ineffective. In hindsight, it would have been more useful to explain what you mean in your recommendations by using “masks and respirators” (to which masks and respirators are you referring?) and in which context they might be most beneficial. I hope that you will consider clarification, especially in the mainstream press.

I look forward to your response.

Dr P.M. de Oliveira responded:

Dear Dr Mann,

Many thanks for reaching out on such an important issue and for your interest in our paper.

I am dealing with a large volume of emails and, therefore, apologise that my answer for now will be brief. 

As widely accepted in the community, scientists expect that virus exhaled is in a wide range of droplet sizes, from hundreds of nanometres to the millimetre size. We know that large droplets quickly fall on the floor due to gravity. From the point of view of transport of the small droplets in air currents, for example, various studies highlight that droplets of up to 100 micrometres could be carried. The debate around the definition of aerosol is, therefore, very important at the moment. It is currently defined as 5-10 micrometres by health agencies, but as I said, most scientists seem to agree this definition needs to be revised. We discuss this in the introduction of the paper.

Now, it has been shown by a number of experiments both in preprint and published papers that even multi-layered cotton masks *may* have some effect in blocking both the emission and inhalation of aerosol. If you refer to the results section of my paper, you will find that because large droplets of the aerosol “carry most of the respiratory liquid exhaled”, they will also, most likely, carry most of the virus exhaled. Hence, even though masks that cannot filter particles at the size of the virus (not as good as FPP2/FPP3, for example), they might still be able to block the dry saliva particles, or aerosols, of sizes in the range of 5-100 nm. I refer you to the work of Professor Catherine Noakes and Professor Linsey Marr, among various other academics, who have and are currently investigating filtration efficiency of masks

I hope to be able to reply to your question in the coming days with more detail.

With best wishes,

To which our reader, Dr Rachel Mann replied:

Dear Pedro,

I note in your conclusions section of your paper that you categorically and unequivocally state “Standing 2 metres opposite an infected speaker is not safe without the use of a protective mask or respirator”

However, in your email response, you state “masks *may* have some effect in blocking both the emission and inhalation of aerosol” and “they *might* still be able to block the dry saliva particles, or aerosols”.

I refer you again to the study by Xi et al.

Whilst I appreciate your response, the use of “may” and “might” does not warrant your study conclusion with regard to mask use.

As a source of protection for primary exposure and secondary transmission the evidence of mask use in general population community settings is inconclusive, with RCT results showing a slight to modest non statistically significant protective effect; study designs at risk of significant bias, imprecision and inconsistency tend toward more beneficial protective effects but are generally not statistically significant.

https://www.eurosurveillance.org/content/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2020.25.49.2000725?crawler=true

https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/12/e012330

https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/m20-6817

As per above, I do not believe that current inconclusive evidence of mask use in community settings warrants your conclusion.

Regards
Rachel

Stop Press: Mask rules appear to be tightening across Europe, following outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s announcement on Tuesday of a new measure mandating that people wear surgical masks or higher-specification N95 or FFP-2 devices rather than simply donning cloth face coverings. The French Government is now recommending that people wear surgical masks in public and scientists in the UK are giving similar advice. The Lufthansa Group has also just announced that it is banning the use of cloth masks on flights from February 1st, with passengers now required to wear “either a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask or mask with the KN95/N95 standard”

Stop Press 2: The Evening Standard reports that London Mayor Sadiq Kahn has called for tougher rules on wearing face coverings outside. They are needed, he said, “where people are ‘cheek by jowl’ in outdoor locations”. He has also revealed concerns at the number of Londoners in public places because the lockdown rules were not tight enough and has apparently stopped walking his dog in the park because it is so busy.

Weimar Court: Germany’s Lockdown Restrictions Are Unconstitutional

The Weimar District Court

A ruling just published by the Weimar District Court has found that the Government’s social distancing rules are incompatible with the country’s constitution. Moreover, through forensic analysis of official data, the ruling asserts that the epidemic situation used to justify the law no longer exists. The case concerned a birthday party with too many guests. 2020news has the story – and we must thank Northumbrian Nomad for the prompt and accurate translation he or she let in the comments yesterday.

A district judge in Weimar has acquitted a man ordered to pay a fine for breaching the Covid contact ban by celebrating his birthday with at least seven other participants from a total of eight households – six guests too many, according to the Thuringia Covid regulation. The judge’s verdict is damning: the Covid regulation is in breach of the constitution and can be appealed against in material law. 

This is the first time a judge has engaged intensively with the medical facts, economic consequences and effects of specific policies. 

Part of the Rechtstaat Principle, the principle of the state acting in accordance with the rule of law, is the imperative of precision in legislation. Laws cannot simply impose across-the-board regulations, thereby affording authorities licence to act according to whim, which would amount to arbitrary rule. According to the Federal Infection Protection Act (IPA), the “relevant authorities” are to impose “the requisite safety measures”. In normal times, this means that spreaders or persons suspected of spreading an infection may be isolated or contaminated areas closed off.

The IPA does not envisage a general ban on contact also extending to healthy people. However – and this is the interpretation made by many administrative courts so far – it may be permissible to go beyond the purview of the IPA in the case of an “unprecedented event” that was so new that the legislator would have been unable to pass the necessary regulations in advance.

The judge rejects this pretext. As early as 2013, the Bundestag had access to a risk analysis conducted with the participation of the Robert Koch Institute, concerning a pandemic caused by a “SARS-type virus”, which described a scenario of 7.5 million dead in Germany over a period of three years, and discussed anti-epidemic measures during such a pandemic (Bundestag publication 17/12051). The legislator was therefore able, in regard to such an event that was considered at least “conditionally probable” (occurrence probability class C), to study the provisions of the IPA and if necessary adjust them. This political failure, as a result of which Germany went into the pandemic virtually unprepared – without legal instruments governing control of the virus, without stocks of masks, PPE and medical equipment – cannot now lead to politicians’ simply closing a gap in legislation as they see fit.

Particularly given that an epidemic situation, i.e., the basis for the expansion of the routine infection protection provisions, simply does not exist (or no longer exists). The numbers of those infected and showing symptoms were already falling in the spring. The lockdown thus came late and was generally ineffective.

At no time, therefore, has there been a concrete danger of the health service’s being overwhelmed by a ‘wave’ of COVID-19 patients. As can be seen from the DIVI ICU register newly established on March 17th, 2020, an average of at least 40% ICU beds in Germany were free at all times. In Thuringia, 378 beds were registered occupied on April 3rd, 36 of these with COVID-19 patients. Meanwhile there were 417 beds vacant. On April 16th, two days before the issuance of the regulation, 501 beds were registered occupied, 56 with COVID-19 patients, and 528 beds were vacant… Thuringia registered its highest number of notified COVID-19 patients in spring at 63 (on April 28th). Thus, at no time did the number of COVID-19 patients reach a level that could have justified fears of the healthcare system’s being overwhelmed. 

This estimate of the actual dangers from COVID-19 in the spring of 2020 is confirmed by an evaluation of settlement data from 421 clinics belonging to Initiative Qualitätsmedizin, which found that the number of SARI cases (severe acute respiratory infection) treated as in-patients in Germany in the first half of 2020 was 187,174 – lower than the figure for the first half of 2019 (221,841 cases), even though this figure included those SARI cases caused by COVID. The same analysis showed the numbers of ICU and respirator cases lower in the first half of 2020 than in 2019…

The judgement is powerful:

The judge concluded that there were no “unacceptable gaps in protection” that could have justified recourse to across-the-board regulations. These measures therefore “violate human dignity guaranteed inviolable” in Article 1, Paragraph 1 of the Federal Constitution. This is a devastating accusation against the Federal Government. It is striking how coldly the Weimar judge concluded this months-long discussion:

“A general ban on contacts is a severe intervention in civic rights. It is among the fundamental liberties of the individual in a free society to determine for himself or herself with whom (on presumption of consent) and under what circumstances he or she will make contact. Free encounter among people for all imaginable purposes is also a fundamental basis for society. The obligation of the state here is categorically to refrain from all intervention that purposefully regulates and limits this. Questions of how many people a citizen may invite to his home or how many people a citizen may meet in a public place to go for a walk, play sports, shop or sit on a park bench are categorically of no legitimate interest to the state.”

In imposing a general ban on contact, the state – albeit with good intentions – attacks the foundations of society by imposing physical distance between citizens (‘social distancing’). No one, even in January 2020, could have imagined, in Germany, being prevented by the state on pain of a fine from inviting their parents to their own home without banishing other family members from the house for the time they were there. No one could have imagined being forbidden to sit with three friends on a park bench. Never before in Germany has the state come up with the idea of imposing such measures to counter an epidemic. Even the risk analysis ‘Pandemic caused by SARS-type virus’ (Bundestag publication 17/12051), which described a scenario of 7.5 million dead, does not consider a general ban on contacts (or bans on leaving the home or the general suspension of public life). Apart from the quarantining and segregation of infected individuals, the only anti-epidemic measures it discusses are school closures, the cancellation of mass events and the issue of hygiene recommendations (BT 17/12051, p. 61f).”

Much of the public has now almost come to terms with the new normal. However, as the judge points out, the life that was previously considered ‘normal’ has now been reinterpreted as a crime.

“Although it appears that a shift in values has taken place over the months of the Covid crisis, with the consequence that many people find procedures that were formerly considered absolutely exceptional  more or less ‘normal’ – which of course also alters perspectives on the constitution – there should be no doubt that by imposing a general ban on contacts, the democratic Rechtsstaat has broken what was previously seen as a self-evident taboo. 

“It must also be noted – as an aspect worthy of special consideration – that the state, in imposing its general ban on contacts with the aim of protection against infection, treats every citizen as a potential threat to the health of third parties. If every citizen is seen as a threat from which others must be protected, that citizen is also robbed of the possibility of deciding what risks to take – which is a fundamental freedom. A citizen’s choice of visiting a cafe or a bar in the evening and running the risk of a respiratory infection for the sake of social interaction and pleasure in life, or of exercising caution because she has a weakened immune system and therefore prefers to stay at home, is removed under the provisions of a general ban on contacts.”

The report goes on to detail the judge’s consideration of the collateral damage of lockdown:

The judge also considers the collateral damage of the lockdown rulings, which is now becoming ever more massively apparent.

1. Profit setbacks, losses incurred by businesses, traders and freelance professionals as direct consequences of the restrictions imposed on their liberties; 
2. Profit setbacks, losses incurred by businesses, traders and freelance professionals as indirect consequences of lockdown measures (e.g. losses to suppliers of directly-affected businesses; losses resulting from the breakdown of supply chains leading, for example, to production stops; losses resulting from travel restrictions);
3. Wage and salary losses from curtailed hours or unemployment
4. Bankruptcies and destruction of livelihood
5. Consequential costs of bankruptcies and destruction of livelihood

Northumbrian Nomad’s translation of the report from 2020news report is worth reading in full.

The text of the original verdict is available here.

Lockdown Scepticism: The Case for the Defence

Getty

In a new piece for Spiked-Online writer and freelance journalist Harrison Putt has issued a rallying for lockdown scepticism. Criticism of the Government’s authoritarian policies is as important as ever he says:

Last Sunday’s papers launched what almost seemed like a coordinated attack against people who dare to question the conventional wisdom and, increasingly, the religious tenets of the pro-lockdown mainstream. The Observer invited Conservative MP Neil O’Brien to brand vocal opponents of mandatory house arrest as dangerous loons. Meanwhile, in the Sunday Times Dominic Lawson attacked healthy scepticism of the Government’s efforts to fight the virus, implying such objections were motivated by capricious disregard for the elderly and blind trust of “pet experts”.

Lockdown sceptics like myself, now routinely slandered as ‘Covid-sceptics’, have taken a serious kicking in recent weeks. But we should avoid self-pity, not least because one can already picture how the likes of O’Brien and Lawson would respond: “The sceptical cranks think they’ve had it tough? Someone should give these Covidiots a tour of London’s overwhelmed hospitals, not to mention its morgues.”

They would not be wrong to point to such realities. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of deaths in England up to 25th December 2020 was 70,000 more than the five-year average, a rise of 12.3%. While hospitals avoided being overwhelmed during the first wave, they have since come under considerable pressure, especially in London. Still, none of that justifies slandering critics of lockdown as a homogeneous crowd of deluded cranks who reject ‘the science’. Supporters of the Government’s destructive measures would do better to address, with intelligence and good faith, the strongest arguments made by those of us who oppose them.

But the remarkable levels of conformity in parliament and the media mean that O’Brien and Lawson feel no obligation to do so. Instead, bar the occasional good point, they prefer to set fire to a battalion of straw men.

O’Brien has fun combing through predictions made by lockdown sceptics that did not materialise. Toby Young, editor of the Lockdown Sceptics blog, is singled out for saying: “There will be no ‘second spike’ – not now, and not in the autumn either.” Young has since graciously admitted that this summer prediction was mistaken. The same cannot be said for Neil Ferguson’s insistence, a full week after Sweden’s daily deaths actually peaked, that fatalities there would continue to “increase day by day” – not to mention Chris Whitty’s presentation of a graph projecting 49,000 daily UK cases by mid-October (there were actually around 15,000).

Worth reading in full.

Postcard From Paraguay

Today we publish a postcard from a reader in Paraguay. The country won renown for locking down hard and fast after registering its first cases of COVID-19, but it is not likely that they will do so again:

The mental atmosphere in Paraguay at the moment is close to what I had hoped in vain it would be in Britain by now. That is, while there are still some restrictions, life is more or less back as it was the last time I visited in the carefree days of January 2020. People don’t talk much about Covid, they don’t obsess over numbers of cases or deaths, and nobody swerves off the pavement to walk past you. Masks are mandatory both indoors and (since December) outdoors, but compliance outdoors is reassuringly low: under the nose, under the chin and dangling off one ear are all common sights, and away from the city centre and main streets, entirely naked faces are tolerated without comment…

Why didn’t Paraguay re-enter lockdown when cases and deaths started to climb in July? Basically, it couldn’t afford to. Paraguay is still a fairly poor country with only a rudimentary welfare state, a small tax base, many small family-owned businesses (it’s a remarkably un-globalised place) and a large informal economy. After a couple of months of copying the full lockdown policies of vastly wealthier countries, for many Paraguayans it was a choice of returning to productive activity, or collapsing into poverty. Their president and health minister surely wanted to continue with the restrictions, but public pressure to reopen was strong enough to force their concession.

What’s more, everyone I speak to on the topic says the same thing: that Paraguayans won’t accept another lockdown. This may sound like hot air, to be wafted away if and when a fresh spike of infections triggers panic again. But aside from the anti-lockdown force of economic necessity, for the older generations (including my husband), enforced restrictions and curfews are disturbing echoes of the country’s long, brutal military dictatorship under Alfredo Stroessner, which only ended in 1989. The echoes were particularly sharp when members of the armed, balaclava-clad, paramilitary police motorcycle unit Lince (‘Lynx’) published videos of themselves humiliating groups of young men who they had caught breaking lockdown, forcing them to do press-ups, or march and repeat boot-camp chants with their hands on their heads. Public opinion was predictably divided, with the usual contingent pleased that “covidiotas” got what they deserved; but the majority was rightly appalled by the sneering cruelty of the Lince officers.

Furthermore, Paraguayans are quite used to defending their liberty since the country’s return to democracy, with multiple attempted coups and seizures of power coming up against strong, and sometimes bloody, popular protest. Most recently, in 2017, a large group set fire to the building that houses the country’s Congress, in protest against an attempt by the president of the day to pull off a familiar trick in Latin America: circumventing his one-term limit by changing the constitution. He failed.

Worth reading in full.

Dr Clare Craig Rebuts Neil O’Brien’s Smears

Dr Clare Craig, a regular contributor to Lockdown Sceptics has written a stout rebuttal to Neil O’Brien MP following his tirade against her on Twitter. It’s a defence both of lockdown scepticism and free inquiry, and it’s worth clicking on this tweet and reading the full thread.

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Six Today: “Only a Fool Would Say That” by Steely Dan, “No Way Out” by Jefferson Starship, “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits, “Isolation” by Alter Bridge, “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” by Sandy Denny and “Bubbles in My Beer” by Bob Wills.

Love in the Time of Covid

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as Bonnie and Clyde

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

Sharing Stories

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

Social Media Accounts

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

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, the news that the three wise monkeys, a Japanese pictorial maxim, have been cancelled by a group of academics at the University of York. The Daily Mail has the details.

They’re a cultural trope that have been used to symbolise the proverbial ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’.

But it appears the three wise monkeys have been cancelled after academics at the University of York decided they are an oppressive racial stereotype.

Organisers of a forthcoming art history conference for the university have apologised for using a picture of the monkeys in promotional material and have pulled the image from their website to avoid offence.

“Upon reflection, we strongly believe that our first poster is not appropriate as its iconology promulgates a long-standing legacy of oppression and exploits racist stereotypes,” academics wrote in a statement seen by the Times.

It continued: “We bring this to your attention so that we may be held accountable for our actions and in our privileges do and be better.”

The three monkeys are depicted as having one with its eyes covered, another with its ears covered and another with its mouth covered.

The image became popular in Japan in the 17th century before spreading to the West.

It is associated with the Tendai school of Buddhism where they are perceived as helpers for divine figures.

But a spokeswoman for the University of York said academics were concerned the image could be insulting to ethnic minorities.

“The Japanese symbol of the three wise monkeys was used to represent a postgraduate conference about the sensory experiences of the body, and it also appeared on a document that asked for submission of research papers to the conference on a range of areas, one of which included papers that represented black, indigenous and people of colour,” she said.

“It was considered… that a monkey, which has been used in a derogatory way in the past, could cause offence in this context, despite this not being the intention of the organisers, so the image was removed.”

The image was used on a call for submissions page for the online conference Sensorial Fixations: Orality, Aurality, Opticality and Hapticity.

Experts in Japanese culture last night hit out at any suggestion that the monkeys could be insulting.

Lucia Dolce, who has been studying Japanese Buddhism at the School of Oriental and African studies at the University of London for 20 years, told the Times: “The monkey is a sacred being. They are vehicles of delight.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Mail‘s Guy Adams has written an amusing piece about Leicester entitled “The University of Woke“.

Stop Press 2: In his latest piece for Breitbart, James Delingpole takes issue with Boris Johnson’s recent assertion that there is nothing wrong with being woke.

Stop Press 3: A Lockdown Sceptics reader has sent in a new example of the woke language in action.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

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

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

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

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

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

Samaritans

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

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the past 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. Doing these daily updates is hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

The genius that is Remy of Reason TV, has an entertaining take on the legislators who socially distance themselves from their Covid rules. A must watch.

Latest News

Steve Baker Demands Boris Publish a Freedom Plan

Steve Baker said the PM's leadership was under threat

Steve Baker, the Deputy Chair of the anti-lockdown Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Conservative MPs, has issued a rallying cry to the group’s members. The Sun has the story.

In an explosive rallying call to fellow members of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, the ex-minister blasted: “People are telling me they are losing faith in our Conservative Party leadership.”

The group represents dozens of Tory backbenchers who are worried about the side effects of long lockdowns.

Mr Baker urged those colleagues to make their concerns directly to Mr Johnson’s Commons enforcer, Chief Whip Mark Spencer.

In a bombshell note to MPs seen by the Sun, Mr Baker writes: “I am sorry to have to say this again and as bluntly as this: it is imperative you equip the Chief Whip today with your opinion that debate will become about the PM’s leadership if the Government does not set out a clear plan for when our full freedoms will be restored.”

He told them to demand “a guarantee that this strategy will not be used again next winter”.

The major intervention reads: “Government has adopted a strategy devoid of any commitment to liberty without any clarification about when our most basic freedoms will be restored and with no guarantee that they will never be taken away again.”

The action appears to have been triggered by key Government advisers going public with their view that lockdowns must continue well into 2021.

Mr Baker broke cover after Government scientist Jonathan Van Tam told this newspaper yesterday that lockdown measures could be in force until late spring.

And today controversial scientist Neil Ferguson said we could still be facing restrictions in the autumn.

Mr Baker raged: “Certain Government scientists have said that the current lockdown could last until late spring. There is no reason to think there will be any real resistance in Cabinet to the argument for greater and longer and more draconian restrictions on the public.

“This could be a disaster. Nothing seems more certain to break the public than giving hope before taking it away, and doing it repeatedly.”

And he signs off with a barely concealed warning shot: “I am sorry to be blunt but if we do not act now, events will become inevitable. For the good of the country please contact the Chief Whip.”

Katy Balls in the Spectator notes that Baker has diluted the implied threat to Johnson since the story broke. She thinks the intervention is more of a warning shot at this point than a full-blown threat.

Since the comments came to light, he has also tried to water down his comments – insisting Johnson still remains the only man for the job.

So, is Johnson’s leadership under threat? No. That seems premature. The third lockdown was overwhelmingly passed by MPs – with a comparatively small Tory rebellion compared to previous votes. The number of MPs willing to oppose the government on its lockdown strategy has in the short-term decreased. With the death toll on Wednesday alone at over 1,500, many lockdown sceptics plan to keep their powder dry for the time being. Rather than oppose immediate lockdown measures, they are turning their attention to the debate on how many need to be vaccinated before restrictions can be lifted.

Here Baker’s concerns are a sign of things to come. While the bulk of Tory MPs support the government’s approach for now – and are relieved there is finally a good news story to tell in the vaccination programme – the bulk are keen for restrictions to be lifted as soon as possible. Boris Johnson insists this is his wish too. 

However, MPs worry that Johnson will be pushed by his scientific advisers and some cabinet ministers to keep restrictions in place for much longer than they believe is reasonable. In the parliamentary party, many see the point by which the vulnerable have been vaccinated as when restrictions go. They see spring as the point when many restrictions ought to be lifted and the summer the point by which there ought to be no restrictions in place. So far, Johnson has been reluctant to give a specific timeline. That position is going to become much harder to maintain as the weeks go on and discontent grows. 

Stop Press: Sherelle Jacobs has a thoughtful piece in the Telegraph, arguing that there’s going to be a lot of moral and emotional pressure to go for Zero Covid over the coming months and lockdown sceptics need to be ready for the battle.

But what the lockdown-sceptics haven’t quite articulated is that, once again, the public has been persuaded into a lockdown based on a delusion. The myth of the first lockdown was that it would only have to last three weeks. The myth of this lockdown is that life can resume in spring. But restrictions are unlikely to be lifted until the summer at the earliest for a simple reason: it is not deaths but media headlines about overwhelmed ICUs that strike fear into the hearts of ministers. A cynic might argue we have just sacrificed half a year of freedom on the NHS altar to save the skin of the Tories. 

Even with the vaccine rollout at full throttle, the risk of an overwhelmed NHS will not abate until the over-50s are vaccinated, ideally by May. Although the over-75s present the greatest mortality risk, Covid patients in intensive care have a median age of just 62, and under a third are aged over 70. So vaccinating those who might die from Covid will not end pressure on the health service. Paradoxically, a big bang reopening of society when the virus is still circulating may increase it. 

But there is a prospect even worse than another six months of lockdown: another year of lockdown in an attempt to eliminate the virus entirely. 

It is not difficult to see how a terrified population that has been fed guff about “defeating” the virus might be swayed by the Zero Covid argument. Particularly once they realise that “learning to live” with the disease once priority groups have been vaccinated still means accepting heightened vulnerability to mutations and Long Covid, with the endemic virus returning each year. It is also not hard to see how the Tories might see Zero Covid as the path of least resistance. Hyperparanoia about being booted out of office for letting the NHS fall over will increase the temptation to stamp out an unpredictable disease. 

Worth reading in full.

A Senior Doctor Writes…

There follows a guest post by the senior doctor who contributes weekly updates on the state of the NHS to Lockdown Sceptics.

Yesterday the NHS Hospital Statistics Website released a large data packet summarising Covid related activity for the preceding month. Once again, Lockdown Sceptics has kindly asked me for an opinion about what we can deduce from the information provided. There is a lot of useful information in this packet – I apologise to readers if some of the following is a bit dense, technical and difficult to follow, but the devil is often buried in the detail – sometimes he is hidden there deliberately.

Before looking at the monthly summary, I will comment on the daily updates. These are less detailed but more up to date than the monthly figures.

Graph 1 shows the daily admission figures from the community for English regions expressed as a three-day moving average to smooth out the curves. It is clear that for the last week, admissions from the community in London, East England and the South East have been falling – very encouraging.

However, there have been recent uptrends in the Midlands and the North West. The falling rate in London and the South East is consistent with the ZOE app data which showed a downtrend in symptomatic people from about December 31st. Readers should note that the current lockdown began on January 6th. By that point admissions had peaked and were already on the downward slope. The effect (if any) of lockdown on hospital admissions will not be observable until at least January 16th. Nevertheless, the reduction in hospital admissions is being reported in the mainstream media as being a consequence of lockdown – I don’t think that view is supported by the evidence.

Next, the overall inpatient situation on Graph 2. Despite falling admissions from the community, the overall number of Covid patients in London remains flat. How can this be? I will explain later with data from the monthly summary packet.

Finally, on the daily figures, the ICU bed occupancy data in Graph 3. This is the graphic of most concern in my opinion. ICU occupancy tends to lag inpatient admission by two to three days – this is the length of time for a patient to become ill enough to require intensive care according to the ICNARC ICU audit. Hence falling admissions do not immediately translate into falling ICU numbers. The angle of slope in London in particular is still on an upward trend. Some of this may be because London Hospitals are soaking up ICU admissions from the South East region, where local hospital capacity has been exceeded. ICU patients tend to stay a long time, so these numbers take a while to subside when the peak is reached. As far as ICU numbers are concerned the peak does not look like it has arrived yet in any English region. In particular the ICU numbers are still on an upward trend.

The monthly data packet contains a lot of information which I will comment on in the next few days. It has been illuminating in shedding light on several questions which were troubling me. I propose to address just two this evening.

Firstly, the issue of discharging Covid patients from Hospital. Discharging elderly patients in winter is an annual problem. Patients who cannot be discharged are unkindly referred to as “bed blockers”. The usual reasons are that they are too frail to be sent home alone if there is no-one to look after them, or not well enough to be accepted back by a care home. This problem is worsened by care homes being reluctant to accept Covid patients in view of what happened in the spring, when large numbers of patients with Covid were discharged into care homes causing several outbreaks of infection. An article in the Financial Times recently highlighted that insurers of care homes were reluctant to cover them for outbreaks of COVID-19 and that this was delaying hospital discharges.

Graph 4 shows the effect that delayed discharge has on total bed occupancy. This is a complicated compound graph with two separate Y axes, so I will explain what it means. First, consider the first part of the X axis Dec 1st to Dec 9th. During this time, the combined daily admissions and hospital Covid diagnoses depicted in the vertical bars was roughly equal to the daily discharges on the blue line (left hand Y axis). Hence the total number of Covid inpatients on the yellow line was roughly stable.

From December 10th onwards, daily admissions started to exceed discharges and this trend has worsened as the graph proceeds through December into January. As a consequence, the total number of inpatients on the yellow line (right hand Y axis) continues to rise. Readers should note that the monthly figures are only presented up to January 6th, so as of this data packet the admissions downturn on January 7th is not yet visible.

This is clearly a major problem. Although admissions may be falling, the total number of inpatients is still rising because of failure to discharge. In London, the Nightingale hospital has reopened for ‘step down’ patients (not ICU patients as in the spring). It remains to be seen how successful that will be, bearing in mind that shortage of staff (not bed capacity) was the rate-limiting problem in the spring. Elsewhere, some imaginative and intelligent steps have been taken such as utilising spare hotel capacity to place convalescent patients – an affordable and practical solution, often used in the United States.

Now here is one devil. We know hospital discharge is always a problem in the winter. It was entirely predictable that this would be an issue in a ‘second surge’ of COVID-19. A predictable risk, with no plan to deal with it. I wonder why there was no plan? And who is taking the responsibility for the lack of one?

Next, I turn to the issue of age stratification of Covid patients. A few days ago, I saw an article on the BBC news by the reporter Hugh Pym. He visited Croydon University Hospital and reported that there were “many more younger patients” affected by Covid in the winter than in the spring. The monthly data packet does contain age stratified figures for hospital admissions. I thought I should examine these.

First, I looked at the data for England as a whole. It is recorded that 37% of the Covid patients admitted from March 20th to April 30th were aged between 18 and 64. Between November 27th and Jan 6th, 39% of patients were in this younger age bracket – a very modest increase and certainly not “many more” younger patients.

The age bracket 18-64 is quite wide and it could be possible that the distribution is skewed to the younger part of that group. Therefore, I looked at the reported death statistics across the spring and the winter up to Jan 1st 2021, which are much more clearly age stratified. Between March and May 2020 there were 45,511 reported deaths from Covid, of which 3,020 were aged between 0 and 59 years (6.64%). In the period November to January 1st, there were 20,370 deaths of which 1,073 were registered as COVID deaths – 5.26%. So, in fact there were proportionally fewer Covid deaths in the younger age group in the winter than in the spring reported up to January 1st.

Bearing in mind that death registration can lag date of death by up to two weeks, I looked at the ICNARC ICU audit data comparing cohorts of patients admitted up to August 31st and after September 1st till January 6th. Age at admission to ICU was actually older in winter than spring: Mean average 60.2 years in the winter, median 62 years, compared to a mean of 57.8 and a median 59 of years in the spring.

How can we explain this discrepancy? There do not appear to be “many more” younger patients suffering from Covid in hospital this winter. In fact, the official figures suggest that there are proportionally fewer very sick younger patients and fewer deaths in this age group than in the spring. If that is correct, why did Hugh Pym report precisely the opposite on the national news?

Perhaps someone from the BBC could contact Lockdown Sceptics to explain what I’m missing in this data? Surely, the lavishly taxpayer funded BBC, with hordes of researchers, fact checkers and expensive journalists, must be more accurate in its interpretation of the data than one private individual with a laptop and an internet connection. Maybe they have access to more up to date information than I can see. I would be most grateful to be shown the errors in my calculations and will be happy to be corrected if I have misinterpreted the figures.

Finally, having looked at the recent past (monthly data summary) and the present (or as close to it as we are permitted to see by the daily figures), I will turn to the future.

The drop off in community symptoms reported on the ZOE app and reflected in the drop in hospital admissions in London, the South East and East of England is certainly welcome. However, it begs the question of why further lockdown restrictions were necessary on January 6th when the community transmission appeared already to have peaked.

On the other hand, the rise in admissions in the Midlands and the North West is of concern. In particular, the rising trend in ICU admissions is worrying. These are likely to continue to rise for several days at least. An issue that may not be obvious to the non-medical reader is that there are substantial differences between the hospital geography of London and the rest of the UK. A densely populated metropolis like London has several large hospitals in close proximity to each other, all with substantial surge capacity to deal with peaks of excessive demand. Mutual support between hospitals is relatively easy to arrange and co-ordinate, so patients can be transferred between hospitals to manage areas of high stress.

Other regions of England are not so fortunate. Even the larger urban areas of the Midlands and Greater Manchester have fewer large hospitals than London. Transfer of patients between hospitals is more problematic. ICU capacity in particular is not rapidly expandable as it is in the capital and surge resilience, particularly in more rural areas, is lower. This could be a serious problem in the coming days. I hope NHS England has a workable plan in place, but I smell sulphur.

What’s Behind the Pressure on Hospitals?

The guys at AdapNation have put together a handy infographic using the information they’ve gathered from NHS insiders and other sources. They explain:

This explains the discordance between the lower-than-normal bed use and ambulance stats vs the NHS alarm bells.

 I had the insightful opportunity to interview an NHS employee involved in the logistics of a busy England hospital today.

 The message was clear – they are insanely busy. It’s a pressure cooker environment beyond the high pressure they experience every winter.

However, the reason is not a single headline. It doesn’t marry with the raw hospital data. And it certainly is not due to an abnormal excess of acute respiratory infections.

Check out the image [above] that summarises the issues NHS Hospitals are currently facing.

This matches the experience and insights we have received directly from Dr. Malcolm KendrickDr, Clare Craig, various anonymous NHS Hospital workers and a couple of GP staff too.

Worth checking out.

Stop Press: Lockdown Sceptics contributor Jonathan Engler has summarised much of the same data in a Twitter thread.

Government Quietly Admits PCR False Positive Problem

There has been understandable concern about the plans, leaked to the Telegraph, to discharge care home residents from hospitals again without a negative PCR test. But is this in fact a belated admission from the Government that PCR tests keep on giving positive results long after the patient ceases to be unwell or contagious? From the Telegraph:

Coronavirus hospital patients can be discharged into care homes without being tested under draft Government guidelines leaked to the the Telegraph.

Care providers have said they are “deeply worried” about the latest proposed rules, which advise clinicians to release patients without requiring them to have a test 48 hours before discharge if they have no new virus symptoms and have isolated in hospital.

For the first time, the Government appears to acknowledge that people could test positive for Covid but not be infectious, suggesting “it will be appropriate for them to move directly to a care home from hospital… because we now know they do not pose an infection risk to other residents in a care home”.

It describes this sub-group as “immunocompetent and with no new symptoms” even if they are within 90 days of their initial symptoms or positive test result.

The top-rated comment under the Telegraph article, from Stephen Jackson, spotted the significance:

The story is misleading.

The real reason for this policy is that PCR tests will continue returning a positive result for several weeks after a person has recovered from Covid and is no longer infectious. This is because PCR analysis will trigger a positive result even if tiny fragments of dead virus are still present/shedding in the nose or throat. If you have a policy of not discharging patients until they’ve tested negative it traps perfectly well and non-infectious people in hospital for weeks on end. This was well documented in South Korea in April-May.

The NHS has to free up beds without risking a care home debacle but I suspect nobody in the health profession wants to admit that PCR tests give so many false positives. That would obviously undermine public confidence in Covid test results and compliance with self-isolation orders. So they’ve had to come up with an alternative policy involving a two-week isolation period before being discharged and perhaps with a deliberate but hushed-up decision not to re-test the patient at that point (knowing it might give a false positive, trapping the patient in hospital again). 

PHE Study Confirms Infection Gives Immunity

A new study from Public Health England has confirmed that infection with SARS-CoV-2 confers strong immunity to the virus. The Times has the details.

The PHE findings are the result of the most comprehensive study into reinfection rates so far. Previous illness provided about 85% protection against both asymptomatic and symptomatic reinfection, researchers said after following thousands of people who caught the virus in the spring.

Although they found that a small number among the group did get infected twice, typically they suffered a milder form of the disease.

With an estimated one in five having been infected, the findings, based on a study of 21,000 UK healthcare workers, suggested that herd immunity could already be slowing the course of the pandemic. However, scientists warned that they still did not know how long immunity lasted.

“What that’s saying to us is that prior infection looks as good as the vaccine, at least at this time interval, which is very good news for the population,” said Susan Hopkins, Deputy Director of the National Infections Service at PHE. “It will help alongside the vaccine to give a level of immunity and protection that will start to reduce transmission.”

The research by PHE followed 6,600 clinical staff infected in the first wave, along with 14,000 who had remained healthy, regularly testing them to see whether they were subsequently positive.

By late November there were 318 infections among the 14,000 and at most 44 reinfections among the 6,600. Most of those cases were mild and showed no symptoms.

There was some uncertainty about the reinfection number, which may have been even lower. The scientists said they could not exclude the possibility that in some cases they were picking up evidence of the first infection.

Although the Pfizer vaccine has a headline efficacy rate of 95%, that figure is based on symptomatic infections alone, so the mildest cases were ignored.

Professor Hopkins said the best way to think of it was that immunity from infection was as good as, or better than, a vaccine.

“The immunity gives you similar effects to the Pfizer vaccine, and much better effects than the AstraZeneca vaccine, and that is reassuring for people,” she said. Two doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine offer 62% protection.

However, she said it was not a licence to ignore social distancing. “It does seem that new infections can come. You can definitely get reinfected after primary infection,” she said Even in some of those with asymptomatic infections, they found they were shedding a lot of live virus — implying they were infectious without knowing it. But, she, added: “The risk of severe disease is extremely low… even if you are infectious, it is likely to be for a very short period of time.”

“Overall I think this is good news, it allows people to feel that their prior infection will protect them from future infections, but at the same time it is not complete protection and therefore they still need to be careful when they’re out and about,” she added. “I am strongly encouraged that people have immunity that is lasting much more than the few months that was speculated before the summer.”

Frustratingly, PHE has not yet published the study so we cannot look at the details of how infection was diagnosed and what symptoms they had, though the indications in the reports that reinfections were mild or even false positives (picking up fragments from the previous infection) is in line with other evidence to date.

Stop Press: A Lockdown Sceptics reader emailed PHE to ask some questions and find out where the study was published. They quickly got back to him to say: “The paper will be uploaded to a preprint server and made public in the next day or so. You will be able to find a detailed explanation of the methodology there. Apologies for the delay.”

Toby Replies to Neil O’Brien MP

Everyone’s favourite Lockdown Sceptics pin cushion

There follows a guest post by Toby.

Yesterday, I was attacked on Twitter again by the Conservative MP Neil O’Brien – it’s becoming a daily occurrence. This one involved an obsessive degree of offence archaeology. He even listened to last week’s London Calling podcast, carefully noting down any deviations from Covid orthodoxy. Julia Hartley-Brewer had the temerity to ask him why he was trolling people on Twitter instead of looking after his constituents, at which point he immediately started attacking her. All, it seems, to demonstrate his unwavering loyalty to Tory High Command and their forever lockdown policy. As one regular contributor to Lockdown Sceptics observed:

Whatever the era, whatever the epoch, it seems that the Neil O’Brien’s of this world are forever destined to be the first sent into battle. Stolid, inert, expendable; the mediocre soldier, sacrificed in order that the strength of the enemy’s defences might be tested. If he’d have been at Ypres in 1914 you’d have put money on him being the private who’d have been ordered to stick his head up above the trench line just so the commanding officer could get a sense of where the enemy fire was going to come from. He’d have done it eagerly, too, with real patriotic fervour (“How high, Sir! How high!!”).

I decided to respond with a long Twitter thread of my own. For those of you not on Twitter – and who can blame you? – I’ve reproduced it below.

Attacks on Lockdown sceptics – and me in particular – have ratcheted up recently, with one of the most aggressive critics being the Conservative MP @NeilDotObrien. I thought it was time to compose a reply.

On Monday he wrote a piece for @ConHome entitled “Trumpism in Britain. It’s time to call out those in the media who cynically feed the cranks, rioters and conspiracists” in which he compared lockdown sceptics to QAnon conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers.

He compared lockdown sceptics to QAnon conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers and urged media companies “to practice some basic hygiene about whose views they are promoting”, i.e. no-platform the sceptics.

But arguing that lockdowns cause more harm than they prevent is not comparable to arguing that the US government is run by a cabal of Satan-worshipping paedophiles or that vaccines contain microchips inserted by Bill Gates to control our minds.

In fact, there is a growing body of research showing that quarantining whole populations, the healthy as well as the sick, is a sub-optimal policy response to this pandemic. @AIER published a round up of some of the best here

Yesterday, @the_brumby linked to “30 published papers finding that lockdowns had little or no efficacy (despite unconscionable harms)”

The problem with arguing that lockdown sceptics have “blood on their hands” – an increasingly popular trope – is that it takes it for granted that lockdowns are effective at reducing overall mortality and that is precisely the issue being debated.

This is an important public debate to have, both because it helps us assess the present government’s management of the pandemic and because it will help us prepare better for the next one.

A Conservative MP should not be urging media companies to suppress one side in that debate, particularly as the 2019 Conservative manifesto reaffirmed the party’s commitment to free speech.

In his latest Twitter thread, @NeilDotObrien accuses me of having deleted all my tweets from last year because I’m embarrassed about having got so many things wrong about the virus.

In fact, I installed an app last week that deletes all tweets more than a week old. This was in response to Twitter’s increasing intolerance of people who challenge liberal orthodoxies, including Covid orthodoxy. I would advice other dissenters to do the same.

The app won’t protect you from Twitter’s internal offence archaeologists, but it will make it harder for censorious, left-wing activists to bombard the company with vexatious complaints in the hope of getting you banned. The app is here.

@NeilDotObrien also selectively quoted from various posts I’ve done for the @Telegraph. For instance, he quoted me saying this: “we were told… the number of infected people was on the rise again… the rise was due to a combination of increased testing and false positives.”

Here are the two paragraphs he got that quote from. See what he did there?

Of course, I’ve got some things wrong about the virus, such as predicting there wouldn’t be a resurgence of infections this winter. I put my hands up to that on @Newsnight when @maitlis asked me about it.

But I don’t think lockdown sceptics have been consistently more wrong about the virus than lockdown advocates. For instance, the @WHO initially estimated the IFR of COVID-19 was 3.4%. We now believe it’s ~.25%.

A study by researchers at UCLA and IHME compared the accuracy of various models predicting COVID-19 mortality and the models produced by Imperial were judged to have far higher rates of error than the others — always erring on the side of being too high.

After the government unveiled its “graph of doom” showing deaths could climb to 4,000 a day absent more restrictions, it was reprimanded by the @UKStatsAuth.

And how much trust can you place in the advice of public health authorities to wear masks when the initial advice was that they were ineffective outside healthcare settings?

Yes, lockdown sceptics have got some things wrong, too, but I think we’ve provided an important counterweight to the largely one-sided reporting of the broadcast media, particularly the BBC.

The daily sceptical blog I put together with a team of other, like-minded journalists has published some important stories, such as this one by a Lighthouse Lab whistleblower.

And this one by a disillusioned worker at a pop-up testing facility in Salisbury.

And this review of the code powering Neil Ferguson’s epidemiological model by Mike Hearn, formerly a senior software engineer at @Google.

It’s also published some terrific pieces of writing, such as this piece on conspiracy theories by Sinéad Murphy, a philosophy lecturer at Newcastle.

And this “Postcard From Argentina” by a social science professor.

And this tribute to all those who’ve been laid low by the collateral damage caused by the lockdowns by Freddie Attenborough, a sociology lecturer.

Lockdown Sceptics will continue to publish these dissenting voices and continue to challenge the official narrative being pumped out by the government and the BBC. I don’t think that’s “dangerous”; I think politicians trying to smear and silence dissenting voices is dangerous.

Blaming the high daily death tolls on lockdown sceptics is a variant of blaming the public. If only ordinary people had been more compliant, we wouldn’t be in this pickle. But thanks to lockdown sceptics like @toadmeister, @allisonpearson, @ClarkeMicah, @JuliaHB1 and @LozzaFox…

Nothing to do with the lack of PPE, failure to create dedicated hospitals for Covid patients, spunking tens of billions of pounds on a not-fit-for-purpose Test and Trace programme, building the Nightingales but not recruiting or training enough healthcare workers to staff them…

…decommissioning the Nightingales, failing to eliminate in-hospital infections and the ongoing scandal of secondary transmission in care homes… no. It’s all the fault of the general public and the “conspiracy theorists” who’ve led them astray.

Time to take the mote out of your eye @NeilDotObrien and take a look at the politicians you’re so eager to curry favour with. Lockdown sceptics won’t be your scapegoats. //Ends

Stop Press: Julia H-B did a bit of offence archaeology of her own and discovered that Neil O’Brien wasn’t that keen on lockdown restrictions himself back in July. Fancy that!

https://twitter.com/BellTrend/status/1349820996258291717?s=20

Norway Says Very Frail People Should Not Receive Covid Vaccine: “Side Effects May Have Led to Deaths”

Norwegian Medicines Agency Chief Physician Sigurd Hortemo

Norway has determined that vaccinations may be contributing to deaths in the very frail elderly and changed its advice. Trondheim24 has the story (via Google translate, H/T Alex Berenson).

More than 25,000 Norwegians have been vaccinated with the first dose of the coronary vaccine from Pfizer and Biontech since Christmas. On Friday, the first dose of the new Moderna vaccine will be given.

So far, the Norwegian Medicines Agency has assessed 29 adverse reaction reports after the COVID-19 vaccination. 13 of these had a fatal outcome, shows a new report from the Norwegian Medicines Agency.

A total of 23 deaths have been reported in connection with vaccination, but so far only 13 of these have been assessed. The other deaths are under treatment. Common side effects may have contributed to a serious course in frail elderly people, the Norwegian Medicines Agency reports.

All the deaths have occurred in frail, old patients in nursing homes. All are over 80 years old and some of them over 90, according to NRK.

The reports may indicate that common side effects from mRNA vaccines, such as fever and nausea, may have led to deaths in some frail patients, says chief physician Sigurd Hortemo in the Norwegian Medicines Agency.

As a result, both the National Institute of Public Health and the Norwegian Medicines Agency have changed the corona vaccination guide with new advice for this group.

If you are very frail, you should probably not be vaccinated, said subject director Steinar Madsen in the Norwegian Medicines Agency at a webinar on coronary vaccine for journalists on Thursday.

He emphasises that these cases are rare, and that many thousands of frail people have been vaccinated without a fatal outcome.

This side-effect of possible hastening of death among the very frail is not welcome news when the Government is relying on vaccination to reduce the death toll from the virus, which is concentrated amongst the frail elderly. It will be interesting to see whether any other health agencies come to similar conclusions and their governments follow suit.

Stop Press: Initial data from vaccination frontrunner Israel suggests that the Pfizer vaccine reduces infections by around 50% 14 days after the first shot. The Times of Israel has more.

Initial data from Israel’s vaccination campaign shows that Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine curbs infections by some 50% 14 days after the first of two shots is administered, a top Health Ministry official said Tuesday, as the country’s serious COVID-19 cases, daily infections and total active cases all reach all-time peaks.

Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of the Health Ministry’s Public Health Department, told Channel 12 News that the data was preliminary, and based on the results of coronavirus tests among both those who’ve received the vaccine and those who haven’t.

Other, somewhat contrary data was released by Israeli health maintenance organizations Tuesday evening. Channel 13 News said that according to figures released by Clalit, Israel’s largest health provider, the chance of a person being infected with the coronavirus dropped by 33% 14 days after they were vaccinated. Separate figures recorded by the Maccabi health provider and aired by Channel 12 showed the vaccine caused a 60% drop in the chances for infection 14 days after taking the first shot.

Each of the HMOs compiled the data from some 400,000 patients they treated (800,000 in total).

The cause for the discrepancy between the studies was not immediately clear.

With Pfizer’s phase 3 trials only checking some 40,000 people, and given Israel’s world-leading vaccination campaign, the data could be some of the best on-the-ground indication yet of the vaccine’s efficacy.

Stop Press 2: The Guardian reports that Pimlico Plumbers, a large London plumbing firm, plans to rewrite all of its workers’ contracts to require them to be vaccinated against coronavirus. There may be legal issues, some lawyers have said.

Can Rogue Covid Police Officers be Sued?

Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore, who were accosted by police and fined £200 for walking five miles from home, have had their penalties cancelled

Our legal eagle, Dr John Fanning, Senior Lecturer in Tort Law at the University of Liverpool, answers a Covid legal question posed by a reader.

The myriad incidents of what might charitably be described as ‘police overreach’ are among the most unedifying spectacles of the COVID-19 crisis. The chief constable who threatened to deploy police officers to search people’s shopping trolleys to check that they were purchasing only ‘essential’ items. The man with a legitimate exemption from the requirement to wear a face mask escorted under threat of arrest out of a supermarket in Oldbury. And most recently, Derbyshire Police’s heavy-handed treatment of Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore as they enjoyed a socially-distanced stroll and a cup of tea. A year ago, these incidents would have been the workings of dystopian fantasy or the conceit of black comedy. No longer, it seems. As Lord Sumption pointed out in a recent lecture, the police have, at various points in this crisis, “substantially exceeded even the vast powers that they have received”.

All this raises questions about police liability when they get things wrong. The problem is that successful claims for negligence depend on there being proof of damage, such as personal injury. In a recent Supreme Court decision, police officers who injured a passer-by while effecting the arrest of a suspect were liable for her injuries. In all of the examples given above, however, the police apologised for overstepping the mark and, where relevant, cancelled any fines issued under the Regulations. So, no harm done – or at least not enough to raise a question of negligence.

The most likely source of civil dispute against the police at present probably lies in the tort of false imprisonment. This entails a complete restriction of a person’s freedom of movement without any legal authorisation. To use the reported details of Ms Allen and Ms Moore’s case as an example (although I do so with caution because I am not privy to all the facts), it is arguable that the seven police officers who surrounded the two friends imposed a constraint on their freedom of movement at least for a short period of time. The question is whether they had legal authorisation to do so. According to paragraph 2 of Part 1 of Schedule 3A to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020/1374, a person is permitted to take exercise outside in a public outdoor place with one other person who is not a member of his/her household. By the letter of the law, it seems that Ms Allen and Ms Moore did nothing wrong and the police should have allowed them to continue their walk. 

The reason they did not, it seems, is because the two friends were five miles away from their respective homes (and therefore not “local”) and were each carrying a cup of peppermint tea (and were therefore having a “picnic”). Yet the requirement to “stay local” is mere guidance, not law – it is a product of “legislation-by-press-conference” which has become an enduring theme of this crisis. And the idea that ‘two teas make a picnic’ is worthy of a stage farce. It is true that going for a picnic in the conventional sense does not constitute a “reasonable excuse” to be outside the place where one lives. But there is nothing in the rules which prohibits the consumption of food or drink during the course of legitimate exercise. Presumably, as long as one is doing star jumps at the material time, one can lawfully eat sandwiches, crisps and pork pies in the park while someone who is not a member of the same household swigs lemonade between sit-ups. The problem is that there has been a troubling conflation of legal rules and generalised advice or recommendations in recent weeks which risks undermining the rule of law. Small wonder that police officers, who are not lawyers and must navigate tempestuous legal seas, are struggling at times to delineate the limits of their powers.

A reader of this blog has asked whether a police officer would be personally liable for any harm he/she causes a person to suffer (e.g. through negligence, false imprisonment, and so on) and therefore required to pay damages out of his/her own pocket. In practice, the answer is no: the chief constable of the relevant police force would normally be vicariously liable for the officer’s tortious conduct as his/her “employer”. Vicarious liability is a rule of responsibility by which employers answer and pay for the injury, loss or damage occasioned to third parties by their employees. It is true that the employer can later seek an indemnity from its employee but this rarely happens. The rationale for this is that employers have “deep(er) pockets” – that is, more resources – from which to pay compensation to injured parties. This is not to say that there are no ‘internal’ consequences for individual police officers (such as disciplinary action), nor does it rule out the possibility of prosecution for criminal offences.

Another Lockdown Tragedy

A reader has got in touch to tell us of how lockdown has affected someone they know:

I heard today that my cousin’s 50-something wife – whose chemo for breast cancer was halted during the first lockdown – was reassessed today with a view to starting up the treatment again. They told her that it’s now spread too far and she won’t have long, so there’s no point in restarting the chemo. Still, at least lots of 80-somethings will get a few more years…

What’s more, she felt that she couldn’t tell her mum in person because she didn’t want to get in trouble, so she phoned and I can’t imagine how that call went.

Why is this sort of thing happening? What is the end goal, do you think? Is it about control or to become a communist state? To hit CO2 targets? I just don’t understand how these rules have come to pass that are so ruinous to peoples lives. Why doesn’t anyone listen to what the evidence shows?

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Three today: “Freedom come, freedom go” by The Fortunes, “Behind the Mask” by Michael Jackson and “I’m So Tired Of It All” by Merle Haggard.

Love in the Time of Covid

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as Bonnie and Clyde

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

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Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, Janice Turner in the Times contemplates what will become of Sex and the City by the time the activists have finished with it.

Last week, listlessly seeking distraction from doom, I found myself watching the first four episodes of Sex and the City back-to-back in a happy trance. Friends meeting for brunch! Cocktail hour, fancy shops, city streets full of purposeful people, frivolous frocks, dinner reservations, the casual exchange of bodily fluids.

SATC was never a feminist road map. It was a consumerist, hedonist fantasy reflecting the prelapsarian Nineties and its creator Darren Star, a gay man. And unlike women, gay men are enviably unapologetic about how they get their kicks.

Moreover, while straight male escapism like Entourage is seldom parsed for racial or heteronormative wrong-think, anything women love, from Lena Dunham’s Girls to Fifty Shades of Grey, must be dissected and diminished: if it does not somehow encompass every female experience it cannot speak for any women at all.

Now the remaining SATC “girls” are worse than rich, white and horny: they are middle-aged. I hope the new show And Just Like That conveys the filthy laughter in older women’s lives. But I fear, given US cultural mores, it would be better named The Three Karens: jokes will be only at their expense and they will be compelled to “check their privilege” as once they checked their coats.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Macaulay Culkin has thrown his support behind calls to have Donald Trump’s cameo edited out of “Home Alone 2”. Inevitably.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

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

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

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

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

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

Stop Press: A Lockdown Sceptics reader found that although Tesco does still allow exemptions in line with Government guidance, someone needs to tell the staff:

On Tuesday I went into our local Tesco Store without a mask as usual and, having completed my shopping and checked out at the self-service till, I was, for the first time ever, challenged by an employee about not wearing a mask. I told him I was exempt, and he then informed me that from that day (January 12th) Tesco would refuse entry to anyone not wearing a mask or a lanyard. In a polite exchange, I informed him that I had a lanyard but there was no legal requirement under the law for me to wear it or for him to ask me why I was exempt. He nevertheless insisted that I would be refused entry in future if I didn’t comply as that was the policy handed down from Head Office.

I emailed Tesco Head Office to clarify the position and received the following response which is contrary to the employee’s understanding:

“Thank you for your email.

“In line with Government guidelines, customers will need to wear a face covering in our stores. However, if a customer advises they are exempt from wearing a face covering, my store colleagues should not challenge you and not ask or imply you should be wearing a lanyard as this is not the guidance that our Head Office has given them.

“Thank you for your time.”

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

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

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

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

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

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

Samaritans

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

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the past 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. Doing these daily updates is hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

Toby has a great piece in Die Weltwoche about the Big Tech free speech disaster that has unfolded over the last week or so.

Free speech isn’t having a good year. In the UK, we naively thought we’d won a significant victory on January 5th when Google reinstated the YouTube channel of a right-of-centre, anti-lockdown radio station it had banned 12 hours earlier. This was after a chorus of protest by free speech supporters. But any hope that Big Tech would rein itself in was short-lived. 

The riot in Washington, D.C. 24 hours later, when Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capital, was the excuse that Facebook and Twitter had been waiting for. Within days, the President of the United States had been suspended from both platforms – permanently in the case of Twitter – as had many of his most passionate supporters.

The rationale for this act of censorship was a familiar one. According to Twitter, Trump had posted two messages that could be “mobilized by different audiences… to incite violence”. 

So what had the President said? Had he called on his supporters to storm the Capital building again? Encouraged people to assassinate Joe Biden? No, the tweets which had incited violence were as follows:

“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”

“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

Not much incitement going on there. No, this was an act of censorship, following a demand issued by hundreds of Twitter employees. A private corporation had decided to silence a man to whom 74 million Americans had given their vote. 

But if you thought liberal-left civil rights defenders in the United States would be up in arms about this, you’d be mistaken. On the contrary, this reversal of the usual banana republic pattern, in which a populist President was “disappeared” by a cabal of left-wing agitators, was largely welcomed by the liberal elite and mainstream media. 

Worth reading in full.

Latest News

Harder, Stronger, Tighter

Bob Moran’s cartoon in the Telegraph on November 1st 2020. Still relevant.

Boris Johnson held a cabinet meeting yesterday, and the report in MailOnline makes for alarming reading:

Boris Johnson held a top-secret cabinet meeting to discuss an even-tougher lockdown with limits on exercise, compulsory mask-wearing outdoors and no more social bubbles all being floated by ministers, sources claim.

The Cabinet Office refused to deny that draconian new laws were incoming – and instead pointed to Matt Hancock’s vague statement earlier today. 

The Health Secretary refused to speculate when directly asked if harsher measures – including curfews and nursery closures – might be brought in, and instead said Britons should ‘follow the rules that we’ve got’.

One Whitehall source told MailOnline that the changes discussed today even included introducing a ban on people leaving their homes more than once a week.

Under current rules, Britons can exercise with one other person or with their household or support bubble.

But a Government source said the rule is “being used as an excuse for people to go for a coffee in the park with their friends” and could be tightened, the Daily Telegraph reports.  

The UK announced a further 573 coronavirus deaths yesterday in the highest Sunday rise since April, and the third-deadliest Sunday of the entire pandemic. 

Infections also continue to be high, with 54,940 announced on Sunday, the thirteenth day in a row they have been above the 50,000 mark.

They said the “rule is there for exercise, for people’s mental health, particularly for older people who are not going to be going for a run to see someone” but many are using their “imaginations” to make it what they want.

Their concerns came as hordes of people were seen flocking to beaches and town centres over the weekend, despite Boris Johnson’s pleas for families to stay at home and help control the mutant Covid variant spreading rapidly through the country. 

Officials are also set to encourage shops and workplaces to improve on their Covid social distancing measures.

Supermarkets will be a key focus of the Government’s latest push, with many worried that lax enforcement of the rules means shoppers are at risk.

Worth reading in full.

When Governments fail, they blame the governed. Clearly, their “imaginative” interpretation of lockdown restrictions is to blame for the high Covid death toll. Nothing to do with the lack of PPE, the failure to create dedicated hospitals for Covid patients, spunking tens of billions of pounds on a not-fit-for-purpose Test and Trace programme, building the Nightingales but not recruiting or training enough healthcare workers to staff them, decommissioning the Nightingales, failing to eliminate in-hospital infection and the ongoing scandal of secondary transmission in care homes… no. It’s all the fault of the disobedient general public.

The irony is that the public agrees with the Government. According to Opinium, 72% of Britons think the authorities have not acted fast enough and 64% say they want a Government that “quickly puts lockdown measures in place, even if that means that sometimes measures are put in place that didn’t need to be”, compared to 25% who want a Government that “tries the hardest they can to not put lockdown measures in place, even if that means sometimes decisions are made later than they would otherwise have been”.

In a recent article for the BMJ, Steve Reicher and John Drury point out that, actually, the British public has been remarkably compliant throughout.

The notion of behavioural fatigue associated with adherence to COVID-19 restrictions (so-called “pandemic fatigue”) has been a recurrent theme throughout the crisis.

Linked to the notion that people in general will find it hard to adhere due to shared human psychological frailties is the idea that when particular individuals break the rules, it is due to their particular psychological failings. They are either too weak, too stupid, or too immoral to do the right thing. Hence, terms like “covidiots” have become almost as familiar as “pandemic fatigue”. This feeds into a widespread narrative of blame whereby the spread of infections is explained in terms of individuals and groups who choose to break the rules, rather than failures of public health response.

The narrative of blame is exemplified in the language used by politicians… It is also exemplified in a media focus on particularly egregious examples of violations such as raves and large house parties. All in all, this narrative explains the worsening pandemic in terms of widespread non-adherence to rules which is a function of poor psychological motivations, which in turn are particularly prevalent in some people and some communities…

Adherence to stringent behavioural regulations has remained extremely high (over 90%), even though many people are suffering considerably, both financially and psychologically. Equally, despite anecdotal observations about growing violations and polling which shows that people report low levels of adherence in other people, both self-reported data and systematic observations of behaviour in public places suggest that adherence stayed high during the second lockdown. Some 90% of people or more adhere to hygiene measures, to spatial distancing, and to mask wearing most of the time. Moreover, people generally support regulations and, if anything, believe that they should be more stringent and introduced earlier. This pattern has been repeated in the last few days, with 85% of the public endorsing the January ‘lockdown’ and 77% thinking it should have happened sooner…

The problem, then, is that in psychologising and individualising the issue of adherence, one disregards the structural factors which underlie the spread of infection and the differential rates in different groups….

Additionally, one overlooks the fact that some of the rules and the messaging around them, may be the problem. It is particularly misleading and unfair to ask people to do things and then blame them for doing so.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Appearing on the Andrew Marr show, yesterday Keir Starmer demanded that Boris do more and suggested… closing nurseries. He is probably kicking himself now and wishing he had been more ambitious so he can then take the credit when a new set of draconian restrictions are announced today.

Don’t Panic, Chief Constable Mainwaring

Davey’s cartoon in today’s Telegraph

Like the rest of us, Cabinet Ministers are struggling to tell the difference between law and guidance. The Telegraph has the story.

Police were right to fine two women £200 each for driving five miles from their home for a walk, Matt Hancock has said, as he warned the public to follow the rules because “every flex can be fatal”.

The Health Secretary said he would “absolutely back the police” after Derbyshire Constabulary was criticised for overzealous enforcement of the coronavirus regulations on Friday.

Asked whether police were right to hand Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore a £200 fixed penalty notice for meeting up for a walk, Mr Hancock said: “I’m absolutely going to back the police because the challenge here is that every flex can be fatal.

“You might look at the rules and think, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter too much if I just do this or do that’.

“But these rules are not there as boundaries to be pushed, they are the limit to what people should be doing.”

MailOnline reports that the Home Secretary supports them too:

Priti Patel today defended police as they began strict application of Covid rules that includes £200 fines and less tolerance for rule-breakers. 

The Home Secretary warned that officers “will not hesitate” to take action because the increasing number of new COVID-19 cases proved there was a need for “strong enforcement” in cases where people were clearly breaking the rules.      

Police tactics have come in for scrutiny after Derbyshire Police handed out £200 fines to two women who drove separately to go for a walk at a remote beauty spot situated around five miles from their homes. 

The police, however, as the Telegraph says, admit the possibility that they might have got it wrong:

Derbyshire Police has since announced it will review its fines policy in light of new national guidance, following an outcry and accusations of overzealous policing of the lockdown rules.

The two women issued with a fixed penalty notice said police had told them their hot drinks “counted as a picnic”, after they were surrounded by police, read their rights and fined.

Perhaps they should listen to Peter Hitchens:

The Chinese Communist Party’s Global Lockdown Fraud

Bob’s cartoon in the Telegraph on February 8th 2020

The FBI, and other security services around the world, will by now be in receipt of an open letter requesting an expedited investigation be opened into the role of the Chinese Community Party in promoting catastrophic public health policies across the West, i.e. lockdowns. The letter was written by a number of people, some of whom will be familiar to readers of Lockdown Sceptics:

Michael P. Senger, Attorney
Stacey A. Rudin, Attorney
Dr. Clare Craig, FRCPath
Retired Brig. Gen. Robert Spalding
Randy Hillier, MPP Lanark, Frontenac & Kingston
Francis Hoar, Barrister at Law
Sanjeev Sabhlok, PhD
Brian O’Shea
Maajid Nawaz
Simon Dolan

It begins:

We are writing this letter to request that a federal investigation be commenced and/or expedited regarding the scientific debate on major policy decisions during the COVID-19 crisis. In the course of our work, we have identified issues of a potentially criminal nature and believe this investigation necessary to ensure the interests of the public have been properly represented by those promoting certain pandemic policies.

During times of crisis, citizens naturally turn to the advice of those they perceive as experts. In early 2020, the public turned to the advice of scientific authorities when confronted with an apparent viral outbreak. Soon after, most nations followed the advice of prominent scientists and implemented restrictions commonly referred to as “lockdowns.” While the policies varied by jurisdiction, in general they involved restrictions on gatherings and movements and the closure of schools, businesses, and public places, inspired by those imposed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Hubei Province. The intervention of federal authorities with police power may be required to ensure that those who have promoted these lockdown policies have done so in good faith.

They set out an impressive array of evidence in support of their central contention, which is that the lockdown policy was aggressively promoted to Western governments by the CCP with the help of various “useful idiots”, e.g. public health scientists.

Lockdowns originated on the order Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and were propagated into global policy by the World Health Organisation with little analysis or logic

When the lockdown of Hubei province began, the World Health Organization (WHO)’s representative in China noted that “trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science… The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history…” Human rights observers also expressed concerns. But those concerns didn’t stop the WHO from effusively praising the CCP’s “unprecedented” response just days after the lockdown began, and long before it had produced any results… The WHO held a press conference during which Assistant Director-General Bruce Aylward – who later disconnected a live interview when asked to acknowledge Taiwan – told the press: “What China has demonstrated is, you have to do this. If you do it, you can save lives and prevent thousands of cases of what is a very difficult disease.” Two days later, in an interview for China Central Television (CCTV), Aylward put it bluntly: “Copy China’s response to COVID-19.”

The most influential institution for COVID-19 models, self-described as “China’s best academic partner in the West” has been by far the most alarmist and inaccurate COVID-19 modeler

In February 2020, a team from Imperial College London led by physicist Neil Ferguson ran a computer model that played an outsized role in justifying lockdowns in most countries. Imperial College forecast a number of potential outcomes, including that, by October 2020, more than 500,000 people in Great Britain and 2.2 million people in the U.S. would die as a result of COVID-19, and recommended months of strict social distancing measures to prevent this outcome. The model also predicted the United States could incur up to one million deaths even with “enhanced social distancing” guidelines, including “shielding the elderly”. In reality, by the end of October, according to the CDC and the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS), approximately 230,000 deaths in the United States and 37,000 deaths in the United Kingdom had been attributed to COVID-19…

A study by researchers at UCLA and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) compared the accuracy of various institutions’ models predicting COVID-19 mortality. Across all time periods, the models produced by Imperial College were measured to have far higher rates of error than the others, always erring on the side of being too high.

In March 2020, Imperial College produced a report titled “Evidence of initial success for China exiting COVID-19 social distancing policy after achieving containment,” concluding: For the first time since the outbreak began there have been no new confirmed cases caused by local transmission in China reported for five consecutive days up to March 23rd 2020. This is an indication that the social distancing measures enacted in China have led to control of COVID-19 in China… after very intense social distancing which resulted in containment, China has successfully exited their stringent social distancing policy to some degree.

Imperial College had no way of knowing if this was, in fact, true; failing to discover cases does not mean they do not exist, particularly with a virus that is fatal to hardly anyone except the most vulnerable, and a regime with a long history of fraud. Its conclusion directly contradicted that of the U.S. intelligence community around the same time that China had intentionally misrepresented its coronavirus numbers.

Deadly recommendations for early mechanical ventilation came from China

In early March 2020, the WHO released COVID-19 provider guidance documents to healthcare workers. The guidance recommended escalating quickly to mechanical ventilation as an early intervention for treating COVID-19 patients, a departure from past experience during respiratory-virus epidemics. In doing so, they cited the guidance being presented by Chinese journal articles, which published papers in January and February claiming that “Chinese expert consensus” called for “invasive mechanical ventilation” as the “first choice” for people with moderate to severe respiratory distress…

By May 2020, it was common knowledge in the medical community that early ventilator use was hurting, not helping, COVID-19 patients, and that less invasive measures were in fact very effective in assisting recoveries. A New York City study found a 97.2% mortality rate among those over age 65 who received mechanical ventilation. The “early action” ventilator guidance that the WHO distributed to the world killed thousands of innocent patients; the WHO obtained that guidance from China.

Predominant, excessive PCR testing protocols came from China

Based on guidance issued by the WHO citing three studies from China, laboratories and manufacturers across the United States and many other countries are using a PCR cycle threshold of 37 to 40 for COVID-19 PCR tests that were created using in silico genome sequences supplied by a laboratory in China, pursuant to which positive COVID-19 case counts have been inflated as much as ten- to thirty-fold.

Studies showing significant asymptomatic transmission, the only scientific basis for lockdowns of healthy individuals, came from China

Underpinning the policy of lockdown is the scientific concept of “asymptomatic spread”. According to the WHO, “Early data from China suggested that people without symptoms could infect others.”  This idea of asymptomatic spread was reflected in the WHO’s February report. According to this concept, healthy individuals, or “silent spreaders” might be responsible for a significant number of SARS-CoV-2 transmissions. The idea of setting out to stop asymptomatic spread was a significant departure from prevailing public health guidance and experience during prior respiratory-virus pandemics.

The concept of significant asymptomatic spread was believed to be a novel and unique feature of SARS-CoV-2 based on several studies performed in China. Multiple studies from other countries could not find any transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from asymptomatic individuals.

The CCP engaged in an early, broad, systematic, and global propaganda campaign

After concluding the CCP’s lockdowns had “reversed the escalating cases” in China, the WHO was not alone in imploring the world to “Copy China’s response to COVID-19.” Beginning the same day the CCP locked down Hubei province, leaked videos from Wuhan began flooding international social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, all of which are blocked in China, purporting to show the horrors of Wuhan’s epidemic and the seriousness of its lockdown, in scenes likened to Zombieland and The Walking Dead. Official Chinese accounts widely shared an image of a hospital wing supposedly constructed in one day, but which actually showed an apartment 600 miles away.

Then, beginning in March 2020, the entire world was bombarded with propaganda extolling the virtues of China’s heavy-handed approach. Chinese state media bought numerous Facebook ads advertising China’s pandemic response (all of which ran without Facebook’s required political disclaimer), and began erroneously describing “herd immunity”, the inevitable endpoint of every epidemic either by naturally-acquired immunity or vaccination as a “strategy” violating “human rights.”

The letter goes on to make numerous other points before finally concluding:

Throughout 2020, lockdown measures have been quite popular, but that popularity is deceptive. For the general public, the idea that anyone might accept some outside incentive to support such devastating policies while knowing them to be ineffective, needlessly bankrupting millions of families and depriving millions of children of education and food, is, quite simply, too dark. Thus, the public supports lockdowns because the alternative, that they might have been implemented without good cause, is a possibility too evil for most to contemplate. But those who know history know that others with superficially excellent credentials have done even worse for even less.

Furthermore, most of the public believes that if there were anything untoward about the science behind lockdowns, intelligence agencies would stop them. For obvious reasons, those who work at intelligence agencies do not have the luxury of such complacency. Given the gravity of the decisions being made, we cannot ignore the possibility that the entire science of COVID-19 lockdowns has been a fraud of unprecedented proportion, deliberately promulgated by the Chinese Communist Party and its collaborators to impoverish the nations who implemented it.

If you are in the FBI, this is very much worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A recent article in the New York Times sung the praises of China’s response to the pandemic and claimed that the freedom provided by the efficiently run Communist technocracy was more meaningful that the freedoms the West prides itself on upholding.

The pandemic has upended many perceptions, including ideas about freedom. Citizens of China don’t have freedom of speech, freedom of worship or freedom from fear — three of the four freedoms articulated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt — but they have the freedom to move around and lead a normal day-to-day life. In a pandemic year, many of the world’s people would envy this most basic form of freedom.

Stop Press 2: The above letter has come in for a lot of criticism on Twitter, with several people alleging its central hypothesis is a conspiracy theory. To date, no one has engaged with the arguments or the evidence as far as we can see. Rather, the debunking has consisted of pointing to some dubious things some of the authors have tweeted – Brian O’Shea tweeted this, for instance – and the links between some of them and conspiracy theorists. We’ve included one of the most comprehensive Twitter threads criticising the letter below – click on it to read the full charge sheet. It’s by Sunder Katwala, Director of a think tank called British Future. He thinks some of the letter’s content may be libellous in the UK courts and cautions against sharing it. If anyone would like to rebut the letter’s central hypothesis by challenging the evidence we’d be interested in publishing an article along those lines, hopefully kicking off a debate. Contact us here.

Going All In On Vaccines

Davey’s cartoon in the Telegraph on January 1st 2021

The Observer reported yesterday the warnings of some “senior scientists” that a lack of long-term planning is leaving the country vulnerable to major outbreaks of the disease for at least another year. Vaccines, they say, are part of the solution, but not all of it. No, we need to keep restrictions in place for at least a year.

The rollout of vaccines currently under way would cut hospital admissions and deaths among the old and vulnerable, they said, but it would still leave many other people at risk of being infected and suffering from the long-term effects of the disease.

Even though millions of doses of vaccine are being administered, serious outbreaks of COVID-19 are likely to continue throughout the year and into next year. These issues should be the focus of careful planning now, the scientists warned.

“Having 20 million people vaccinated is likely to reduce numbers of cases but we must not forget that this is a highly transmissible virus and if we do not continue with social measures, it will soon whip round communities again and cause havoc,” said Liam Smeeth, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

“I can understand the short-term panic that is going on at present as hospital cases rise so quickly but I am amazed at the sheer lack of long-term strategy there has been for dealing with Covid,” he told the Observer. “I can see no signs of any thinking about it.”

This view was backed by Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Edinburgh University. “This epidemic would have unfolded very differently and in a much happier way if we had accepted, back in February, that we were in this for the long term,” he said. “However, the view that it was a short-term problem prevailed.

“It was thought we could completely suppress the virus, and that is why we are in the mess that we are in now.”

The idea that the virus could be eradicated was a costly mistake, said Martin Hibberd of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “We have to understand COVID-19 is going to become endemic. The virus will not disappear. We are not going to eradicate it. Even if every human on Earth was vaccinated, we would still be at risk of it coming back.”

Several other issues still have to be resolved, added Hibberd. These include concerns about how long vaccines provide protection and how new variants might evade vaccine protection. “We might be lucky and find the virus does not change very much and vaccine cover is not affected, causing the virus level to drop to low prevalence,” Hibberd said.

“However, the virus might turn out to be as good as influenza at changing its coat. In that case, we will end up having to make new vaccines and distribute them every year. We should be thinking about that problem now.”

Worth reading in full.

Meanwhile, an article by Helen Branswell in the Boston-based STAT News sets out how the UK’s vaccine rollout is exciting the interest of friends overseas.

In an extraordinary time, British health authorities are taking extraordinary measures to beat back COVID-19. But some experts say that, in doing so, they are also taking a serious gamble.

In recent days, the British have said they will stretch out the interval between the administration of the two doses required for COVID-19 vaccines already in use, potentially to as long as three months, instead of the recommended three or four weeks. And they have said they will permit the first dose and second dose for any one person to be from different vaccine manufacturers, if the matching vaccine is not available.

The moves are borne of a desire to begin vaccinating as many people as quickly as possible, particularly with Britain facing high levels of transmission of an apparently more infectious form of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

But they are also effectively turning that country into a living laboratory. The moves are based on small slices of evidence mined from “subsets of subsets” of participants in clinical trials, as one expert described it for STAT, and on general principles of vaccinology rather than on actual research into the specific vaccines being used. If the efforts succeed, the world will have learned a great deal. If they fail, the world will also have gained important information, though some fear it could come at a high cost…

While data from both suggest the vaccines start to protect about 10 or 12 days after the first dose, it’s not known how long that initial protection lasts. In clinical trials, levels of neutralizing antibodies, which are thought to play a critical role in protecting against infection, were not substantial after the first dose of vaccine for the Pfizer vaccine.

“While we think that single shot could give protection for more than four weeks, we just don’t know that. We don’t know when it’s going to drop off,” said John Mascola, director of NIAID’s Vaccine Research Centre. Mascola said Operation Warp Speed, the federal Government’s project to fast-track Covid vaccines, ruled out the possibility of altering vaccination schedules before Britain decided to do so.

Paul Bieniasz of Rockefeller University is one of those who is watching the evolving situation in Britain with dread. A retro-virologist who turned from HIV research to work on SARS-2, Bieniasz is studying how the virus acquires mutations that allow it to evade the protective antibodies people develop when they have contracted COVID-19, or when they have been vaccinated against it…

Bieniasz believes Britain is replicating in people the experiments he’s been doing in his lab, and could be fostering vaccine-resistant forms of the virus…

Not everyone agrees there is a disaster in the making. Some believe it makes sense, given Britain’s surge in cases and the rapid spread there of the B.1.1.7 variant, which studies suggest may be 50% more transmissible than the viruses it is quickly replacing.

“At the core of my being, I really wish that we could adhere to the original schedule of vaccines, because that’s the safest thing to do,” said Akiko Iwasaki, a virologist and immunologist at Yale University who tweeted about her support for the British approach. “But seeing what’s happening in the world and just sort of looking at the situation of poor rollout and distribution, I’m feeling frustrated that we need to come up with some other options.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Sebastian Rushworth MD has also produced a useful analysis of the three vaccines’ safety and efficacy.

Stop Press 2: A reader has spotted a Job Ad for the position of Covid Administrator working at a college in Greater Manchester. It appears to imply that vaccination will be be compulsory for students returning to this particular college.

Covid Administrator

Role: Administrator – COVID-19
Location: Greater Manchester
Type: Full time Temporary
Rate: £10 an hour

Eden Brown are currently looking for a strong administrator to work within an FE college in Greater Manchester.

This is a short term temporary position to start as soon as possible.

You will be expected to carry out all aspects of administration, in particular relating to the COVID-19 vaccination that all students will be required to have before returning to college.

To apply for the role you will have a business administration level 2 minimum and sufficient admin experience.

Stop Press 3: Jonathan Engler has written a helpful Twitter thread explaining the data on the efficacy of the the Pfizer vaccine.

And the Moderna vaccine (which looks impressive).

Another Reader Writes

We’ve been sent the following comment from a reader:

The vaccine can’t come fast enough for some vulnerable people in this country, but not necessarily because it might save them from Covid. Instead, it looks like it’s the only way they’re going to be saved from the Government’s fixation that the only risk any one of us faces is Covid. I’ve just received this from a very old friend to tell me about the experience of her chum: 

“She’s now in her late 40s. A few years ago she had breast cancer and after lots of invasive surgery and chemo she beat it. However, a few months ago, the cancer came back and this time it’s in spread into various other organs. In short, she’s now got terminal cancer but she has yet to have any treatment at all and the vast majority of her appointments have been over FaceTime. So the lives of very elderly people with Covid are being prioritised over the life of a relatively young woman with a teenage child who, with timely treatment, could possibly have her life expectancy extended by at least enough to see her child into adulthood? Instead she is being cast aside and left in a seemingly endless cycle of waiting for something – anything – to happen. Can you imagine how horribly frustrating this must be for her? It really makes me so angry.”

Call me a cynic, but are we slowly discovering that the real truth now is that it doesn’t matter what you die of, or when, just so long as it isn’t Covid? It also makes me wonder how many of the vulnerable people are actually going to die sooner than they might have done thanks to all the treatment they haven’t had for what made them vulnerable in the first place.

Stop Press: The Telegraph is reporting on the collapse of cancer treatment, with 10,000 fewer patients being treated for non-Covid issues today than in the middle of last month.

Has Covid Revealed the NHS’s New Clothes?

A critical care surgeon, who we are calling Dr Jonathan Snow (not his real name), tells us that COVID-19 has exposed the shortcomings of the NHS. It is frequently, he says, unable to deliver.

Many times during this pandemic we have been told that we must sacrifice our civil liberties, jobs, mental health and children’s education. Why? Because excess infections will lead to surge demand on the NHS that cannot flex capacity, leading to patients being denied the care they need.

Back in March the public and society was rightly sympathetic – there was very little time to plan for such a situation. But come Christmas, we are told that the NHS is still unable to cope with similar levels of demand, despite having had some nine months to make plans for a fairly predictable eventuality. Please don’t misunderstand me here – this is not in any way a critique of the fantastic clinicians and hospital workers who work tirelessly caring for patients at the coalface. Blame for the current situation has rightly been directed at the Government, but also, and rather unfortunately, at the public for not following the rules. But surely NHS and hospital leaders have some responsibility for not planning for this current wave – why are difficult questions not being directed at them? Of course, it isn’t possible to train more ICU nurses in nine months – ICU nursing is a highly specialised form of nursing that takes years to complete. But it is very possible to train other hospital nurses, whose departments will be largely underutilised in a pandemic situation, to ably support ICU nurses so that they can safely manage three or four times more patients than they usually would. Nine months is also a long time to secure additional intensive care hardware such as dialysis machines and ventilators. If this had happened, acute care and ICU capacity could have been flexed considerably this winter.

But perhaps a more fundamental question needs to be asked. The British people will pay a heavy price for lockdown in terms of non-Covid lives lost, mental health, relationships, livelihoods, children’s education and Government borrowing that will be paid by us and our children for generations. When lockdowns have been imposed in part due to the NHS’s inability to cope – why are we being asked to sacrifice so much to prop up a failing institution? The question therefore follows – is the NHS in its current form fit for purpose? As someone who has been in UK healthcare and the NHS for 20 years I have seen at first hand that NHS is frequently unable to deliver basic 21st century healthcare in normal times. Cancer care performs poorly in this country and services cannot cope with modern chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and obesity where excellent available therapies are frequently not offered or provided. Every winter routine surgery is cancelled as hospitals do not have enough beds due to accommodation of the very predictable respiratory illnesses that come through A+E. And we are all accustomed and worryingly apathetic towards the plethora of NHS services with long waiting lists that would be unthinkable in other countries – this is rationing of medical services although often not stated as such.

Worth reading in full.

Rethinking the Lockdown Groupthink

Corporate Finance Institute

The Toronto Sun has published a compelling interview with Dr Ari Joffe, a specialist in paediatric infectious diseases at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton and a Clinical Professor in the Department of Paediatrics at University of Alberta. He was initially a lockdown enthusiast, but he’s come round to our point of view. There is more rejoicing in heaven… etc., etc.

You were a strong proponent of lockdowns initially but have since changed your mind. Why is that?

There are a few reasons why I supported lockdowns at first.

First, initial data falsely suggested that the infection fatality rate was up to 2-3%, that over 80% of the population would be infected, and modelling suggested repeated lockdowns would be necessary. But emerging data showed that the median infection fatality rate is 0.23%, that the median infection fatality rate in people under 70 years old is 0.05%, and that the high-risk group is older people, especially those with severe co-morbidities. In addition, it is likely that in most situations only 20-40% of the population would need to be infected before ongoing transmission is limited 

Second, I am an infectious diseases and critical care physician, and am not trained to make public policy decisions. I was only considering the direct effects of COVID-19 and my knowledge of how to prevent these direct effects. I was not considering the immense effects of the response to COVID-19 (that is, lockdowns) on public health and wellbeing…

Third, a formal cost-benefit analysis of different responses to the pandemic was not done by Government or public health experts. Initially, I simply assumed that lockdowns to suppress the pandemic were the best approach. But policy decisions on public health should require a cost-benefit analysis. Since lockdowns are a public health intervention, aiming to improve the population wellbeing, we must consider both benefits of lockdowns, and costs of lockdowns on the population wellbeing. Once I became more informed, I realized that lockdowns cause far more harm than they prevent.

There has never been a full cost-benefit analysis of lockdowns done in Canada. What did you find when you did yours?

First, some background into the cost-benefit analysis. I discovered information I was not aware of before. First, framing decisions as between saving lives versus saving the economy is a false dichotomy. There is a strong long-run relationship between economic recession and public health. This makes sense, as Government spending on things like healthcare, education, roads, sanitation, housing, nutrition, vaccines, safety, social security nets, clean energy, and other services determines the population well-being and life-expectancy. If the Government is forced to spend less on these social determinants of health, there will be statistical lives lost, that is, people will die in the years to come. Second, I had underestimated the effects of loneliness and unemployment on public health. It turns out that loneliness and unemployment are known to be among the strongest risk factors for early mortality, reduced lifespan, and chronic diseases. Third, in making policy decisions there are trade-offs to consider, costs and benefits, and we have to choose between options that each have tragic outcomes in order to advocate for the least people to die as possible.

In the cost-benefit analysis I consider the benefits of lockdowns in preventing deaths from COVID-19, and the costs of lockdowns in terms of the effects of the recession, loneliness, and unemployment on population wellbeing and mortality. I did not consider all of the other so-called ‘collateral damage’ of lockdowns mentioned above. It turned out that the costs of lockdowns are at least 10 times higher than the benefits. That is, lockdowns cause far more harm to population wellbeing than COVID-19 can. It is important to note that I support a focused protection approach, where we aim to protect those truly at high-risk of COVID-19 mortality, including older people, especially those with severe co-morbidities and those in nursing homes and hospitals.

Worth reading in full.

Dr Ari Joffe has written a paper titled “COVID-19: Rethinking the Lockdown Groupthink” in which he describes how initial modelling predictions induced groupthink and how reality only started to impose itself as data began to emerge of the significant collateral damage done by lockdowns.

Why Haven’t Our Points Landed and What Lies Behind the Hysteria

Today we are publishing a new contribution to the ongoing debate on why Lockdown Sceptics have failed to convince, this one by A.R. Norman.

Why haven’t our points landed and who or what is behind the hysteria that grips us? Is it the Government, the media, scientists or SAGE or some other malign agency?

In his very persuasive essay, Dr David McGrogan claims that both the reason lockdown sceptics have failed to break through the hysteria surrounding COVID-19 and the source of the hysteria itself is the successful establishment of a ‘moral truth’ by the advocates of lockdown. In response, Guy de la Bedoyere argues that, against such truths, reason will never prevail – that emotion always has, does and will win the day.

There are, however, some other factors worth considering. The first is context. In 2016, something happened that was not meant to happen. Having being given a referendum, the British people defied their political masters and voted for Brexit. This, from the perspective of the Establishment – the political and professional classes, together with the media that represent them and the businesses that fund them – was an absolute catastrophe, a catastrophe compounded when Donald Trump came to power in America. This was a disaster for the same political and professional classes whose identity politics and global-capitalist economic project was threatened by his overt nationalism and the protectionist policies he promised.

Brexit and Trump were thus two enormous wins for populism, the revolt by broadly patriotic, socially conservative, anti-globalist parties which now form governments in much of Eastern Europe (and, let’s not forget, in Russia too) and which continue to gain support throughout the rest of Europe via the likes of National Rally in France, AfD in Germany, Lega Nord in Italy and Vox in Spain. From these gains – and the eruption of violence in America today reinforces the view – it became clear to those who people the entire western Establishment that unless they can do something drastic, they are in serious danger of losing control.

The Covid scare gives it – the Establishment – the perfect opportunity for a massive reassertion of its authority. When people are afraid, they cry out to their leaders for protection. As it turns out, these leaders have precisely nothing to offer so they do the only thing that is in their gift: they deprive the people of their liberty and make them pay for the privilege through the expenditure of blood (think here of all those missed hospital tests and treatments, think of all the suicides and of all those acts of violence in the home) and treasure (the, as yet uncounted, trillions of dollars worldwide). So it is that, under cover of fulfilling the people’s wishes for protection (and let us not forget how enthusiastically most have embraced lockdown), the Establishment has just pulled off a blinder. It has massively arrogated power to itself. By terrorising an already frightened populace, by bankrupting future generations and, crucially, by depriving a generation of young people of a significant proportion of their education, it looks like it has succeeded brilliantly in shoring up its position far into the future.

Worth reading in full.

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Five today: “Your Fault” by Stephen Sondheim, “Are the Good Times Really Over For Good” by Hank Williams Jr, “Putting Out Fire” by David Bowie, “Freedom Isn’t Free” by Team America, and “Stand Up! Speak Out!” by Peggo & Paul.

Love in the Time of Covid

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

Sharing Stories

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

Social Media Accounts

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

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, we turn to the National Trust who have experienced a fresh backlash from their Colonial Countryside Project, a child-led history and writing initiative which it runs in conjunction with the Leicester University. The Express has the story:

National Trust bosses have come under fire after it emerged they drafted in schoolchildren to lecture staff and volunteers on the colonial and slave-trade links of some of the charity’s country houses.

So-called child advisory boards were brought in to deliver “reverse-mentoring” sessions at a number of historic properties as part of a scheme to ensure the impact of their background could be fully explained to visitors. Staff were lectured on imperial history by schoolchildren who have been taking part in the Trust’s Colonial Countryside project in conjunction with Leicester University academics. None of the Trust’s team was forced to take part.

The university said the four-year project looked at “a range of colonial links, including slave-produced sugar wealth, East India Company connections, black servants, Indian loot, Francis Drake and African circumnavigators, colonial business interests, holders of colonial office, Chinese wallpaper, Victorian plant hunters and imperial interior design”.

But the scheme has been criticised by anti-woke campaigners who claim important aspects of British history are being erased to satisfy a politically-correct agenda.

Tory MP Sir John Hayes said: “It is a source of sadness that the National Trust are out of touch with the reality of militancy that they are explicitly endorsing, out of tune with their increasingly disillusioned members and running out of time to put these wrongs right.”

A spokesman for the National Trust said: “Colonial Countryside is a project started in 2018 at 11 National Trust houses.

“The participation of the children, which has now concluded, has tested new ways of working with staff enabling us to hear and reflect the children’s responses.

“It was not a compulsory exercise for staff and volunteers.”

He said Trust chiefs hope the process would ensure “British imperial history is fully represented in the organisation’s country houses”.

Around 100 primary school children have visited 10 National Trust houses to craft fiction and short essays which are then presented to audiences.

A Leicester University spokesman said: “Children will participate in conferences and give public talks.

“Child advisory boards will reverse-mentor National Trust staff to ensure that British imperial history is fully represented in the organisation’s country houses.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Read why Nottingham Forest striker Lyle Taylor refuses to take the knee in SportBible.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

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

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

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

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

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

Stop Press: A number of readers have got in touch to back up our reader who debunked the idea that mask-wearing is endemic in Asia. Our thanks to them all.

I’m Asian and have family in Hong Kong, a place I’ve visited many times over the years. I’ve also been to many other South East Asian countries – Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea – and I can say your writer is correct. Only a very small number of people wear masks, mainly due to pollution.

It’s just not true to say mask wearing was common place in Asia prior to Covid. It is very hot and humid in these countries and the last thing anyone wants to do is put a piece of cloth over their face. Imagine how sweaty and dirty it’d be!

Hope this smashes the myth of mask wearing in Asia!

Another said:

I lived in Japan for many years and during that time saw only one person I knew wearing a mask. This was a nursery teacher in my son’s nursery school who had come down with a cold. Though you saw masked traffic policemen in Tokyo, that was to protect them from pollution. People did not in general wear masks. A polite greeting on parting was “Make sure you don’t catch cold”, but “Make sure you wear a mask” was never part of the advice. I haven’t been back to Japan since 2003 and things might have changed. However, I read the Japanese online news every day and can state hand on heart that until Covid started there were never any pictures of people in masks. 

And in Vietnam:

I have spent a fair bit of time in Vietnam travelling by motorbike, up to about 7000km cumulatively now. Fabric masks are commonplace there by day among motorcyclists (of which there are of course many!) to protect them from the relentless sun and the terrible dust and pollution on the roads. I’ve no experience of anyone in that particular Asian country wearing them when ill.

Masks are more common in South Korea in one reader’s more recent experience, but again, only to protect the wearer from pollution:

Definitely more of a cultural phenomenon in South Korea when I visited in 2019 (as well as in areas with high South Korean demographic in Sydney as I have lived there on and off for upwards of 20 years). From what a friend whose brother is married to a Japanese woman tells me, masks are very common in Japan as well but primarily to protect against fine dust/air pollution or as a polite measure when the wearer is sick. Also somewhat of a fashion trend in South Korea but definitely not in the sense that one is glared at if not wearing a mask. It was common, in my experience, but entirely discretionary.

Another offered his perspective, and asked a good question:

I lived in Japan from 1999 to 2001 and saw a few people in masks each day (maybe 1 in 100 people). I thought it was odd so plucked up the guts to ask someone once and he said he had a cold and didn’t want to pass it on. It was considered good manners then. I have not been there in the last year but acquaintances tell me that literally everyone wears one now, although I have not heard of anyone bring “shamed” for not wearing one. They are mandatory in most schools, though not by law.

This begs the question: Is it worse to have mandatory irrational mask rules, or the voluntary irrationality of mass mask-wearing without the rules? I’d like to think that if the mask rule is lifted in the UK we will all stop wearing them but perhaps we will do as the Japanese do and wear them anyway “just in case”.

And finally, a reader has an interesting suggestion:

Your reader’s experience of mask wearing tallies with mine. I travelled extensively throughout China in 2018 and don’t recall seeing masks being worn beyond the odd person even on pea souper days.

For fun, why not try entering “Beijing crowds 2018” into Google Images and play ‘Where’s Masked Wally?’ with any random result. Unless you luck out and pick a photo of a political rally or protest, it’s tougher than the original game. For advanced players, replace Beijing with any large East Asian city.

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

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

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

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

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

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

Samaritans

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

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the past 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. Doing these daily updates is hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

Ben Jennings’s cartoon in today’s Guardian

Latest News

A Defence of Lockdown Sceptics

Into the valley of death rode the 600

What follows is a guest post by Toby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London Hospitals Really Are in Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what does all this mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hancock: Freedom Will Be Restored Once Vulnerable Are Vaccinated

Health Secretary Matt Hancock

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

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

When Covid hospital cases fall and pressure on the NHS is lifted, he says, “That is the point at which we can look to lift the restrictions.” So what about herd immunity, vaccinating so many people that the virus dies out? “The goal is not to ensure that we vaccinate the whole population before that point, it is to vaccinate those who are vulnerable. Then that’s the moment at which we can carefully start to lift the restrictions.” But at that point the majority would remain unprotected. Would he as Health Secretary – still say it’s time to abolish the restrictions? “Cry freedom,” he replies. “Covid is going to be here, but it is going to be a manageable risk.”

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

Vaccination Priority List Ignored As NHS Administrators Use Up Expiring Stock

An NHS administrator at work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Does Endemic Covid Look Like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

How Sweden Confounds the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading (and watching) in full.

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

The Glitch that Stole Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

A Frontline GP Writes…

A GP consultation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

Call For Evidence on Lockdowns

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

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

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

More details here.

A reader asks:

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

Answers to the Lockdown Sceptics email address.

Suggestion For the Researchers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

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

Love in the Time of Covid

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

Sharing Stories

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

Social Media Accounts

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

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, Will Knowland in the Spectator describes the Eton kangaroo court that sealed his summary dismissal for transgressing the sacred precepts of wokery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

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

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

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

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

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

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption. Another reader has created an Android app which displays “I am exempt from wearing a face mask” on your phone. Only 99p, and he’s even said he’ll donate half the money to Lockdown Sceptics, so everyone wins.

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

And here’s an excellent piece about the ineffectiveness of masks by a Roger W. Koops, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry. See also the Swiss Doctor’s thorough review of the scientific evidence here.

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

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

The Simon Dolan case has now reached the end of the road. But the cause has been taken up by PCR Claims. Check out their website here.

The current lead case is the Robin Tilbrook case which challenges whether the Lockdown Regulations are constitutional. You can read about that and contribute here.

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

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

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

Samaritans

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

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the past 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. Doing these daily updates is hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

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

What Does Endemic Covid Look Like?

by Dr Clare Craig FRCPath, Jonathan Engler MBChB LLB and Joel Smalley MBA

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

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

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

Figure 1 Total deaths by date of occurrence shown in green line. Summer minimum (dotted black line) used to calculate winter excess deaths shown beneath in blue. Covid labelled deaths are coloured red.

Doctors have noticed that unlike in previous years, their patients have low white blood cell and platelet counts, sudden hypoxias and bilateral atypical pneumonias. These features can be seen in other pneumonias but are characteristic of Covid and are being seen in large numbers currently.

However, the numbers of patients presenting through Accident and Emergency with an acute respiratory infection (which includes those categorised as Covid-like) is well below normal levels. Also, the total number of patients in hospital remains the same or even lower than in previous years despite a third of patients being diagnosed with Covid in some areas.

Figure 2: Attendances at Accident and Emergency for an acute respiratory infection (which includes those categorised as Covid-like). Attendance levels at the end of December 2020 are lower than for 2019 (left of graph) for every age group.

How can all of the above be true?

1. Changing biology

The nasopharynx can be home to a number of viruses and bacteria which are either innocent bystanders or the source of illness. However, in the same way as an ecosystem can only sustain a certain number of predators, there is competition between these microorganisms.

Much has been made of the lack of influenza diagnoses this year and the reasons for that remain a puzzle. One possibility is that SARS-CoV-2 has out-competed influenza.

What is little understood is how often respiratory infections can be identified in hospitalised patients. This study, from Spain, showed that testing of the recently deceased elderly identified a respiratory virus in 47% of them and 7% of them had a positive coronavirus test. However, only 7% of these patients had been diagnosed as having a respiratory infection before death.

There are three ways that this could be interpreted:

  1. Respiratory viruses precipitated other problems e.g. myocardial infarctions that then led to death (and has previously been a massively underdiagnosed contributor to death that we have managed to live with)
  2. Patients who are very ill and dying are highly susceptible to respiratory infection
  3. Respiratory viruses are innocent bystanders present at death i.e. not contributing to the underlying cause of death

Because we have never routinely tested for respiratory viral infections in such volumes previously, we do not know what we would have found previously had we done so.

The significance of finding a respiratory virus in the dying is therefore uncertain and given the lack of excess deaths we should conclude that one or more of the three scenarios above must also apply to Covid.

If Covid has become the dominant respiratory virus this year, then identifying it in a significant number of deaths from other causes should not be a surprise to us. If it has no impact on excess mortality, with people dying this year who would otherwise have died, then placing the finger of blame on Covid is of little importance in terms of NHS and broader societal impact.

2. Misdiagnosis

There are two ways in which Covid cases and deaths have come to dominate this winter. As described above, a number of cases and deaths, which previously may have been associated with other viruses that were undiagnosed, are now being correctly diagnosed as associated with Covid. The second way is that our diagnosis of Covid has become dependent on faulty testing, and misdiagnosis is taking place. Evidence for the latter is clearest in the deaths data.

Figure 3 Spring excess Covid deaths were accompanied by excess non-Covid deaths as we restricted access to healthcare. However, every increase in autumn excess Covid deaths has been mirrored by a fall in non-Covid deaths.

The fact that the rise in Covid labelled deaths has been mirrored by a fall in non-Covid labelled deaths (figure 3) means that Covid appears to be behaving in a similar way to the viruses in the Spanish study, and if we were not testing for it, then deaths would have been attributed in the usual way.

3. Bed Management Crisis

Hospitals are in crisis at the moment. That is undeniable. However, the cause may not be what it seems. Total hospital occupancy is normal or even low for the time of year. However, the NHS undoubtedly faces crises every winter and the reduction in beds available for a growing and ageing population is the core underlying problem (figure 4) from 240,000 in 2000 to under 165,000 in 2019. The figure fell by a further 10,000 beds this year after a reduction in beds to allow for social distancing between patients in hospital.

Figure 4 Hospital beds total per 1,000 inhabitants 1999-2019. Data from OECD.

The capacity has not been exceeded even in regions where 30% of patients have a Covid label. Where have all the non-Covid patients gone? There has either been misdiagnosis or mass hospital-acquired infection.

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

  1. Bed managers, who organise the flow, used to only be concerned with whether a patient was male or female or needed a side room to avoid spread of other infectious diseases. They now have to try and keep patients with a Covid diagnosis separate from those with a suspicion of Covid and those without. This is no small feat in a full hospital.
  2. In some hospitals patients are not being discharged until their Covid test returns as negative. Clearly returning patients to care homes during the window of infectivity would be a bad idea. Beyond that this policy is not justifiable. Some patients continue to test PCR positive for 90 days after infection.
  3. PCR testing has led to a staffing crisis as even asymptomatic staff are made to self-isolate for two weeks, with 12% of staff absent when it would normally be 4%
  4. Staff are having to work in PPE and change it between patients, adding a significant additional burden to an already heavy workload.

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

Conclusion

The NHS is facing a winter crisis which has more to do with bed management and broader policy decisions than Covid itself, although the latter will be contributing as well, because it is winter and we must now regard Covid as an endemic disease (like flu), hopefully to be mitigated to an extent by vaccination.

We may find that the mix of the predominant winter respiratory viruses has changed to have a different character and whether this is permanent remains to be seen. However, the overall impact on healthcare and on the number of lives lost is not, and will not be, that different.

Why then are we reacting in the way we are?