Latest News

The Guardian has splashed with a humdinger of a story today, revealing that Dominic Cummings drove 264 miles from his home in London to stay with his parents in Durham. The police were tipped-off on March 31st after Cummings was spotted in his parents’ front garden with his three year-old child by a member of the public and officers “explained to the family the guidelines around self-isolation and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel”.

The police took no further action, but the Guardian leaves its readers in no doubt what it thinks should happen:

The witness, who did not wish to be named, told the Guardian: “I was really annoyed. I thought it’s OK for you to drive all the way up to Durham and escape from London. I sympathise with him wanting to do that, but other people are not allowed to do that. It’s one rule for Dominic Cummings and one rule for the rest of us.”

Tulip Siddiq MP, the Vice Chair of the Labour party, said of the reports: “If accurate, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser appears to have breached the lockdown rules. The Government’s guidance was very clear: stay at home and no non-essential travel. The British people do not expect there to be one rule for them and another rule for Dominic Cummings. Number 10 needs to provide a very swift explanation for his actions.”

The acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, tweeted: “If Dominic Cummings has broken the lockdown guidelines he will have to resign. It’s as simple as that.”

Ian Blackford, the Scottish National party’s Westminster leader, said: “Dominic Cummings’ position is completely untenable – he must resign or be sacked.”

Breaking lockdown rules has been a resigning issue for senior officials.

Prof Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist whose modelling prompted the lockdown, quit as a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies for flouting physical distancing rules when he was visited by his girlfriend.

After he stood aside, senior Tories insisted he had done the right thing.

Hancock said he was “speechless” and added: “I think he took the right decision to resign.”

So should Dominic Cummings go? I punched the air when Neil Ferguson was caught with his pants down and promptly slunk off with his tail between his legs. So shouldn’t I be screaming for Cummings’s head? Or is it one rule for my Tory mates and another for bearded leftists?

My view is that unlike Professor Pantsdown, Cummings had a “reasonable excuse” to be outside his home. Under the guidelines issued by the College of Policing (and reproduced in Appendix 1 of Lockdown Sceptics), one of the reasonable excuses listed is “providing support to vulnerable people”, accompanied by the following guidance:

Social visits are not generally a good reason to leave home. However, there may be exceptional circumstances for a person to visit another…

So what were the “exceptional circumstances” in this case? Well, both Cummings and his wife were suffering from COVID-19 at the time and as a result felt unable to care for their three year-old child. That was the “vulnerable person” that required “support”, so Cummings drove to his parents’ house in Durham and entrusted his toddler to their care while – as far as we know – observing the correct social distancing rules while in their household.

In other words, this isn’t a case of one rule for them and another for the rest of us, although Cummings was certainly interpreting those rules quite liberally.

And I don’t think I can be accused of sucking up to my Tory mates. If I was willing to turn a blind eye to their faults I wouldn’t have started this website…

Coronaphobia Still Grips Nation

Britons do not want to go back into work because they fear the lockdown is being eased too quickly – and they enjoy being at home, according to a depressing poll in today’s Mail. Here are some of the key findings:

  • 33% said they were “better off” as a result of the lockdown, compared to 29% who said they were “worse off”. In the public sector, this rises to 46% saying “better off” and 23% saying “worse off”.
  • 43% said they have enjoyed being stuck at home, with 25% saying they haven’t.
  • 53% think the lockdown is being eased “too fast” against 11% who think it’s “too slow”.
  • 75% think all travellers arriving in the UK should be quarantined for two weeks while 11% think they shouldn’t.
  • 60% of parents said they won’t be sending their children to school on June 1st and 55% think the teaching unions are right to veto schools reopening compared to 27% who don’t.
  • 58% think pubs with outdoor seating should not reopen, while 35% think they should.

Will London be First Out of Lockdown?

This is rumoured to be the big announcement Boris is planning on May 31st, following the news that there’ve only been 634 cases in the capital over the past fortnight. To lend credence to these reports, Barcelona and Madrid will be easing their lockdowns from Monday, allowing people to meet in groups of up to 10 and travel within their provinces. In addition, bars and restaurants will reopen, provided customers eat and drink outside.

Amusing comment spotted beneath the Times‘s piece on the forthcoming liberation of the capital:

People of Cornwall, Cumbria and Wales: please do not visit London. We are worried that you will reintroduce infection and overwhelm our health services. You will be welcome to taste the pleasures of urban sophistication when the crisis is past, and we will be pleased to relieve you of your money.

Former Director of Israel’s Health Ministry Condemns Covid Hysteria

There’s a good interview with Yoram Lass, former Director-General of Israel’s Health Ministry, by Fraser Miles in Spiked. He thinks the global reaction to the pandemic, including that of governments, has been fuelled by social media-induced hysteria:

It is the first epidemic in history which is accompanied by another epidemic – the virus of the social networks. These new media have brainwashed entire populations. What you get is fear and anxiety, and an inability to look at real data. And therefore you have all the ingredients for monstrous hysteria.

It is what is known in science as positive feedback or a snowball effect. The government is afraid of its constituents. Therefore, it implements draconian measures. The constituents look at the draconian measures and become even more hysterical. They feed each other and the snowball becomes larger and larger until you reach irrational territory. This is nothing more than a flu epidemic if you care to look at the numbers and the data, but people who are in a state of anxiety are blind. If I were making the decisions, I would try to give people the real numbers. And I would never destroy my country.

Lass is sceptical about the number of deaths being attributed to COVID-19 across the world, pointing out that the most reliable data are the excess death figures published at the end of the year.

The only real number is the total number of deaths – all causes of death, not just coronavirus. If you look at those numbers, you will see that every winter we get what is called an excess death rate. That is, during the winter more people die compared to the average, due to regular, seasonal flu epidemics, which nobody cares about. If you look at the coronavirus wave on a graph, you will see that it looks like a spike. Coronavirus comes very fast, but it also goes away very fast. The influenza wave is shallow as it takes three months to pass, but coronavirus takes one month. If you count the number of people who die in terms of excess mortality – which is the area under the curve – you will see that during the coronavirus season, we have had an excess mortality which is about 15 per cent larger than the epidemic of regular flu in 2017.

Compared to that rise, the draconian measures are of biblical proportions. Hundreds of millions of people are suffering. In developing countries many will die from starvation. In developed countries many will die from unemployment. Unemployment is mortality. More people will die from the measures than from the virus. And the people who die from the measures are the breadwinners. They are younger. Among the people who die from coronavirus, the median age is often higher than the life expectancy of the population. What has been done is not proportionate. But people are afraid. People are brainwashed. They do not listen to the data. And that includes governments.

Needless to say, Lass thinks the lockdowns are a pointless act of self-harm:

Any reasonable expert – that is, anyone but Professor Ferguson from Imperial College who would have locked down everybody when we had swine flu – will tell you that lockdown cannot change the final number of infected people. It can only change the rate of infection. And people argue that by changing the rate of infection and ‘flattening the curve’, we prevented the collapse of hospitals. I have shown you the costs of lockdown, but this was the argument in favour of it. But look at Sweden. No lockdown and no collapse of hospitals. The argument for the lockdown collapses.

Worth reading in full.

The Covid Bible

A reader has sent me some verses from the “Covid Bible”. This one could run and run…

  1. And their number was said to be Five Thousand… until the Authorities dispersed them as it was an illegal gathering under the Corona Virus Legisation.
  2. And the Disciples said, there is a boy here with Five loaves and Two fishes… which caused accusations of Panic Buying as the maximum at the time was two per customer.
  3. And I tell you, Lo, where two or three are gathered together in My name there will… the Police be also, to fine thee for breaking the Lockdown Rules.

Professor Ferguson’s Latest Astrological Charts

Professor Ferguson gazing into a crystal ball made of very clear glass

Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College have published a new paper – Report 23 – analysing the likely impact of easing lockdowns in different US states. According to them, the prognosis isn’t good:

We predict that increased mobility following relaxation of social distancing will lead to resurgence of transmission, keeping all else constant. We predict that deaths over the next two-month period could exceed current cumulative deaths by greater than two-fold, if the relationship between mobility and transmission remains unchanged.

You’d have thought Team Ferguson would have learnt its lesson by now. Why make apocalyptic predictions, given the high likelihood that they’ll turn out to be over-estimates? In the case of this one, we only need wait two months before it’s proved wrong. You’d think the bespectacled soothsayers would be a bit more risk averse, given that the general tenor of their advice is to hide under your bed until we have a vaccine.

I asked Alistair Haimes, a data specialist who’s written some great number-crunching articles about the crisis, to take a look at the report for Lockdown Sceptics. This was after I’d seen a tweet of his saying: “Just imagine that the Imperial College report is all in Comic Sans and you’ll have an idea of the esteem they’re held in right now in the UK.”

Imperial’s latest analysis is mesmerisingly bad, finding interesting new ways to be wrong and misleading. Key questions to ask yourself reading it or its conclusions would be:

1. Why is Imperial still only using deaths to work backwards to past infections and then forward again to future infections (an inherently error-prone method) when we have on-the-ground data like hospital admissions and COVID-19 calls to doctors and hospitals to track the disease’s spread? (In the UK, this information is actually the most useful data for ‘community’ R, as it excludes nosocomial infection: UK’s R is currently around 0.6 from this data by the way). Why on earth wouldn’t they use whatever current data they can get their hands on rather than using a single, variable lag-indicator?

2. Why is Imperial not differentiating states based on how they have controlled the outbreaks in care homes, given the high percentage of total deaths this represents? New York has 10x the proportion of care home residents dying of COVID-19 as Florida, since NY made the same mistake as the UK, where 1/3rd of deaths are care home residents (and Sweden, where >50% deaths are in care homes or care-at-home), which was to send infected patients back to care homes without first testing them to ensure they’re negative. (Both Germany and South Korea got this right, btw.) The ‘care home’ R would clearly be hugely different as a result, and everyone is now ‘on”‘this issue, but Imperial’s analysis does not account for it.

3. Why does Imperial assume that infection spread is only affected by state-sponsored interventions rather than declining naturally, given that the downward trajectory of R is indistinguishable for a lockdown versus non-lockdown country (see UK v Sweden)? Michael Levitt – Stanford Professor of Structural Biology – pointed out two months ago that transmission is constantly declining whether the disease is managed or not, but Imperial’s model implicitly assumes that infections will spring up again when interventions are lifted like an un-squashed sombrero. The ‘natural experiment’ or ‘control’ of Free Sweden versus HMP England does not bear this out.

4. Why is Imperial using only antibody levels to sanity-check its results, when it is clearer by the day that large proportions of people are relying on other facets of the immune system (T cell and likely cross-immunity from other coronaviruses) to fight off infection? This would make a massive difference to its calculations of the remaining susceptible population.

5. Why is Imperial still running the model based on Chinese (no comment) parameter inputs for length of illness from over two months ago, when we know so much more about the virus, the disease and its treatment now than we did then?

6. Why is Imperial still using IFR assumptions via shaky historical data from selected countries in Europe, when the CDC has calculated the current actual IFR rate (0.26%) in the US?

I could go on. There is a two-page digression proving (with lovely charts) that mobility is strongly correlated with stay-at-home orders: no shit, Sherlock. The code itself is very short and simple – formatting and presenting the results is more lines of code than the calculation – but it’s the old chestnut: garbage in, garbage out.

P.S. A lockdown sceptic on Twitter decided to plug Sweden’s numbers into Neil Ferguson’s model to see what deaths it would have predicted compared to the reality. We all know how this turns out because I’ve written about two other versions of this exact same exercise. But here’s the graph just for laughs:

Instant Karma for BP’s Looney

A few days ago a reader emailed me with the following gripe:

I am really getting hacked off at the amount of money that is being splashed around as a consequence of this stupid lockdown. Now we learn that the wonderful boys in blue have been getting free petrol, c/o BP’s generosity. Do BP’s shareholders know this is how BP is misuing their funds I wonder?

He included a link to an article in Police Oracle confirming that from the beginning of April British police have been allowed to fill up their tanks at BP petrol stations completely free of charge.

Yesterday, the same reader emailed me again, only this time he was in a better mood:

Today the CEO of BP (aptly name Bernard Looney) announced this: “BP is halving the number of top managers as the coronavirus pandemic accelerates a strategy shift under the new chief executive to transform the UK energy major into a ‘smaller and nimbler’ company. The pool of managers will be cut from 250 people to around 120, with many who held leadership positions under former chief Bob Dudley leaving the company in the next few months, a person familiar with the change said. In an email to staff sent on May 14, Bernard Looney said the company was working towards a new operational and leadership structure as it seeks to achieve its ambition to be a net-zero emissions company by 2050.”

You can read the story in full on EnergyWorld.com, where it’s headlined: ‘BP’s Looney halves top management roles in energy transition plan.’ Someone has a sense of humour…

Did Matt Hancock Inadvertently Reveal London’s IFR is 0.32%

Stay Alert. Control the Virus. Rattle off Stats You Don’t Understand.

At the Downing Street press briefing on Thursday, Matt Hancock announced that “around 17% of people in London… have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies” based on “the results of our antibody surveillance study”. Is this the much-touted Porton Down seroprevalence study? He didn’t say. He also didn’t say how he was defining “London”, but if we assume it’s the London metropolitan area that’s a population of 14,372,596.

Can we calculate the infection fatality rate (IFR) in the capital based on this? I think we can. According to the ONS, 5,654 people died in London hospitals after testing positive for COVID-19 up to the week ending May 8th. The ONS estimates that 75% of Covid deaths in the capital have occurred in hospitals, giving us a total – in and out of hospital – of 7,805.

So let’s calculate the IFR:

  1. 14,372,596 x 0.17 = 2,443,341
  2. 2,443,341 ÷ 7,805 = 313
  3. 100 ÷ 313 = 0.32
  4. IFR = 0.32%

Probably an over-estimate, given that we know some people who’ve been exposed to the virus have it so mildly their bodies don’t produce enough antibodies for them to show up on a PCR test. But still three times smaller than the IFR Neil Ferguson plugged into his shonky model.

Stop Press: I put in a call to the Department of Health and Social Care to try and find out a bit more about this data and have been told it comes from Public Health England’s seroprevalence study, the results of which are due to be published next week. The 17% estimate comes from studying 974 NHS blood transfusion donors in London between May 1st and 3rd. So a small sample and hardly a representative one. After all, anyone who thinks they have the virus, as well as some who think they’ve had it, would be unlikely to give blood. Some of you may recall the bonkers prognosis that Professor Anthony Costello gave to the House of Commons Health Select Committee on April 24th, claiming we wouldn’t achieve herd immunity until after eight to ten waves of infection, with a death toll exceeding 40,000 in the first wave alone. This prediction was based on a Dutch survey of blood donors which showed that only 3% of them had developed antibodies to the virus. As a reader pointed out at the time:

By definition, a blood donor has no known infections, has not had a recent illness, even a cold or flu, and I presume the blood banks are being particularly careful at present. Even if the tests are done from the initial samples rather than the blood collected (i.e. includes rejected donors), someone who is aware that they had a cough recently would either not have volunteered or been rejected at questionnaire stage before giving a sample.

Children More Likely to be Struck by Lightning Than Die of COVID-19

At yesterday’s Downing Street press briefing, Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, was asked what risk COVID-19 poses to children. He said: “They are very low risk, but not zero risk. And there have been some serious cases in children, of course, but very few compared to adults and older age groups.”

Let’s unpack what he means by “very few”. Up to the the week ending May 8th, according to the ONS, there were 37,375 deaths registered in England and Wales involving the coronavirus and of these two were of children aged 14 or under. There were no such deaths in Scotland, and none in Northern Ireland. So that’s two in total aged 14 or under for the whole of the UK. According to Statista, there are 11.91 million children aged 14 and under in the UK. So that means the chances of a child under the age of 15 dying from COVID-19 are one in 5,955,000.

An average of 49 people are injured by lightning in the UK each year and if we assume those strikes are distributed equally across different age cohorts that means about eight children aged 14 or under are struck by lightning each year.

So the chances of a child under the age of 15 being struck by lightning are four times higher than them dying of COVID-19.

Can you say that next time please, Sir Patrick?

Harvesting Deaths

In yesterday’s FT, David Spiegelhalter, the Cambridge statistician, told Alphaville’s Jemima Kelly he has revised downwards his estimates of the proportion of people dying from COVID-19 who would have died in the coming year anyway, suggesting that figure is between 5 and 15%. The colloquial term for this is “harvesting” – a short-term increase in the mortality rate that then causes a subsequent drop in deaths because some of the most vulnerable people will have died during the earlier spike. Five to 15% is a far smaller estimate than Neil Ferguson’s, who previously said that as many as two-thirds of the people who’ve died from COVID-19 might have died later this year anyway.

Sir David, who is the Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, and was formerly president of the Royal Statistical Society, said his reduced estimate was partly based on research carried out by University College London and published in the Lancet, showing that even among the over-85s with at least three comorbidities, we would still only expect 1 in 4 to die in the next year without coronavirus.

But evidence that at least some “harvesting” is taking place was provided by last Tuesday’s ONS data which shows that in Week 19 of this year the total number of deaths in hospitals in England and Wales was below the five-year average for all-mortality deaths in Week 19 – 114 lower, to be precise. It will be interesting to see whether that was a one-off or the beginning of a trend.

The Reality of Lock Down for One 99 Year-Old

Lockdown sceptics like me are often told we are “heartless” for wanting to “sacrifice” the elderly for the economy. Worth pointing out, then, that for many elderly people the miseries of being kept in quarantine, unable to see their families, are so acute they would prefer to take their chances. Here’s the story of one reader’s 99 year-old mother-in-law:

On 21 March my 99-year-old mother-in-law fell at her care home in Lincolnshire and cut herself so badly she had to be rushed into Peterborough Hospital. Since I and my wife had only returned home that morning from Australia after an abruptly curtailed trip, this was fairly distressing for all since we could not visit her. She was to remain there for 15 days largely because thanks to the habit of NHS regions of offering different treatments, Lincolnshire could not deal with the type of dressing used in Peterborough. On 31 March this was finally sorted out, my wife having had to ring almost daily to barrack staff in Peterborough and Lincolnshire.

So, she was discharged. Incredibly, even at this date the proposition was that this elderly lady be sent back to her care home in an ordinary taxi, with all the attendant risks. Staggered at this, we stepped in and collected her ourselves. I need scarcely mention that she was not tested for COVID-19 at the hospital. She lives in a detached garden apartment so does not need to come in contact with any other residents.

As it happens, she’s fine and there were and still are zero cases of the virus at her care home, a place which is incidentally so well organised they have plenty of stocks of PPE. But let’s just look at what the lockdown means for my mother-in-law. Her husband died three years ago. Two of her three children are dead, many years ago. Almost all her friends and relatives are long dead. The only person she has left is my wife, our children and her great-grandchildren, none of whom she is allowed to have visit her. Since some of them live abroad the new quarantine rules will ensure any chance of seeing them again is being pushed back further and further.

Handicapped by macular degeneration she can hardly see anything and her hearing is only just acceptable thanks to a number of electronic devices that enable her to listen to the radio and TV.
She has no dementia and is utterly appalled at watching her country being reduced to economic ruin for the sake of people like herself. She is crippled with acute back ache that confines her to bed most days. The doctor is not allowed to visit her. Nor of course can she go to the dentist or get her hair cut.

This is the reality for one very elderly person who never stops telling us she has had enough and wants to go. The lockdown has denied her not only any remaining joy in her life but even some amelioration of her physical discomfort. She is in despair for the future of her descendants of whom she is immensely proud. The care home staff do their very best but nothing can compensate for what has happened.

I’m not going to pass judgement here myself on the lockdown. But when I hear people like Matt Hancock or Priti Patel say they understand how tough it must be, I know they really don’t have the slightest idea.

Queen Sacks Boris, Takes Back Control

We are not amused by the bed-wetting Prime Minister

Has one particular 94 year-old finally had enough? Excellent post in the comment thread beneath yesterdays update from “Annie”. It begins:

Last night I dreamed a dream.

The Queen was scheduled to make a live broadcast to the nation. She appeared as usual, poised and serene. But suddenly she sat bolt upright, hurled a brick through the autocue, fixed the cameras with a steely glare, and began:

People of Britain, I know you are watching me without respect or full attention, sloppily dressed and probably eating junk food. I will give you just five minutes to take off your nappies, assume decent clothes, smarten yourselves up and return to hear my announcement.

[Five minutes later.]

In view of the lamentable condition of this country, I have decided to resume my proper place as an active head of state. I have dismissed the present Cabinet and am in process of selecting a new set of ministers equipped with brains and backbones. Dr David Starkey is to be the new Prime Minister, and Lord Jonathan Sumption will be Lord Chancellor. We are currently looking for a Chancellor who can add up and knows that there is no such thing as a magic money tree. We will let you know when and if we find one. Leading my new team, I shall restore this country from the shambles it has become.

For a thousand years, the best of the people of these islands have striven – not always successfully, and never unanimously, but unceasingly – to construct a system which is built on justice and individual freedom. But to maintain justice requires courage, and individual freedom requires individual responsibility. People of Britain! In a few short weeks, cowed and subjugated by panicking bullies who use fear and lies as their weapons, you have cast away the labours of a thousand years. You have ceased to care for justice, you have surrendered your freedom, and you have shrugged off your responsibilities. Everything that is worth having in Britain has been destroyed by the so-called lockdown. Without protest, without resistance, you have allowed your country to be turned into a vast concentration camp, where you are at the mercy of self-styled leaders who know neither leadership nor mercy.

There’s a good deal more in the same vein. Read the rest of it here.

Famous Companies That Have Gone Bust (So Far)

After hearing the news that Hertz has filed for bankruptcy I thought I’d start a new section in which I list those famous companies in Britain and the US that have gone bust as a result of lockdown lunacy. Here is a provisional list, but it will grow given that half of Britain’s high street chains are expected to be in administration by August:

In the UK:

  • Debenhams
  • Carphone Warehouse
  • Oasis
  • Warehouse
  • Carluccios
  • Cath Kidson
  • Lombok
  • Brighthouse

In the US:

  • Hertz
  • Dean & Deluca
  • Gold’s Gym
  • JC Penney
  • J Crew
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Pier 1

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Theme Tune Suggestions

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: “I Am the Law” by Spandau Ballet the Human League, “Cancer” by Joe Jackson, “You’re Not Very Well” by the Charlatans, “Patience” by Guns n’ Roses and “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison (for Lord Sumption).

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

Last week, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It still takes me about nine hours a day, what with doing these updates, moderating your comments and commissioning original material. And my journalist helpers have gone! If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

And Finally…

If you want to visit your elderly parents this weekend and are worried about being stopped by the police, just wear this Halloween mask. You should get away with a slap on the wrist.

Latest News

Credit: Fiona Thomas

Today’s Telgraph says a majority of the Cabinet want Boris to accelerate the timetable for ending the lockdown.

Boris Johnson is under pressure to ease the lockdown restrictions causing “massive damage” to the economy, with the majority of the Cabinet understood to support a major “back to work” drive next month.

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, is among ministers who have expressed concerns about the long-term “scarring” to the economy being caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Provided there is no unexpected increase in the rate of virus infections over the next 10 days, they want the Prime Minister to allow as many businesses as possible to reopen in order to get the country moving again.

According to Gordon Raynor, the Telegraph‘s political editor, the three most hawkish members of the Cabinet – remember, in the current vernacular hawkish means cautious, not bold – are Matt Hancock, Michael Gove and the Prime Minister. But the doves seem to be gaining ground. Conservative peers Baroness Noakes and Lord Dobbs have both chastised the Government for being over cautious, with Dobbs saying “lockdown means poverty”.

The former Tory work and pensions minister Baroness Buscombe urged the Government to be “proportionate” in a House of Lords debate yesterday and reduce the social distancing rule to one metre, calling for schools to reopen “to free up the workforce and to stem the tide of this, frankly, with respect, cultural and economic suicide”.

Meanwhile, the Times reports that the Treasury borrowed more last month than in the whole of last year (£62.1 billion). According to the Office for National Statistics, the Government hasn’t borrowed that much in a single month since records began.

Public Inquiry-Induced Paralysis

Cartoon by Bob in today’s Telegraph

According to Fraser Nelson’s column in today’s Telegraph, a new joke is going round Whitehall:

When an awkward question about Covid comes up, someone will say: “Well, tell that to the inquiry.”

But as Fraser points out, this isn’t funny. On the contrary, the paranoia gripping members of the Government and the Civil Service about how they’re likely to judged in the forthcoming inquiry is preventing them from taking decisive action in case it has adverse consequences and they end carrying the can. “I know one Cabinet member who is keeping meticulous, exculpatory notes of his actions with a dateline starting in January,” writes Fraser.

Normally, we’d expect the Prime Minister to be the one mobilising the English language to stirring national effect but instead he’s starting to look like the most cautious leader in Europe. Perhaps he is stung by the failure of the lockdown to limit deaths and thinks he cannot afford another political risk, especially if he plans a high-stakes Brexit gambit. Perhaps he worries an early move to reopen the economy would be too divisive – contravening his pledge to reconcile a country torn by the referendum.

The Prime Minister tells colleagues that they’ll be forgiven for mistakes going into this crisis, but not for mistakes coming out. He’s right. But if he’s late out of lockdown, he will be walking straight into that second mistake.

YouTube’s Red Pen

Yesterday, when linking to Freddie Sayers’s interview with Sunetra Gupta on UnHerd, I said, “Watch it before YouTube takes it down.” That was intended as a joke – surely, YouTube wouldn’t take down an interview with the Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at Oxford, however much she dissented from Covid orthodoxy?

But then I discovered that YouTube had removed Freddie’s interview with Professor Karol Sikora, Dean of Buckingham University Medical School. According to Freddie, the video “violated” YouTube’s “guidelines” and his appeal for it to be reinstated was rejected. Freddie tweeted about this last night, several people weighed in to criticise YouTube’s decision (including me), and the video has now been reinstated.

Will the interview with Professor Gupta be removed? You’ll recall that she made news back in March when her team at Oxford – long-standing rivals to Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College – published a preprint arguing that many more people could have been infected than we previously thought and herd immunity might be achievable without paying the price that Ferguson’s team claimed, i.e. 250,000+ Covid fatalities. At the time, this was summarised as “coronavirus may have infected half of UK population” – and widely scoffed at – but that isn’t what the paper said. Rather, it hypothesised a range of estimates, of which that was one.

In the interview, Gupta doesn’t defend the 50% figure, but stands by the idea that herd immunity can be achieved without hundreds of thousands of deaths:

In almost every context we’ve seen the epidemic grow, turn around and die away — almost like clockwork. Different countries have had different lockdown policies, and yet what we’ve observed is almost a uniform pattern of behaviour which is highly consistent with [our] model. To me that suggests that much of the driving force here was due to the build-up of immunity. I think that’s a more parsimonious explanation than one which requires in every country for lockdown (or various degrees of lockdown, including no lockdown) to have had the same effect.

She is careful not to directly criticise Ferguson and his team. Rather, the Government was at fault for acting as it did based on the team’s prediction:

The Government’s defence is that this [the Imperial College model] was a plausible worst case scenario. I agree it was a plausible — or at least a possible — worst case scenario. The question is, should we act on a possible worst case scenario, given the costs of lockdown? It seems to me that given that the costs of lockdown are mounting, that case is becoming more and more fragile.

In the most controversial section of the interview, Professor Gupta says she thinks the long-term harm caused by social distancing will outweigh the benefits. Why? Because protecting ourselves from exposure to pathogens in our day-to-day life makes us more vulnerable to killer viruses, not less.

Remaining in a state of lockdown is extremely dangerous from the point of view of the vulnerability of the entire population to new pathogens. Effectively we used to live in a state approximating lockdown 100 years ago, and that was what created the conditions for the Spanish Flu to come in and kill 50 million people.

Does that mean she’s in favour of dispensing with social distancing altogether and just returning to normal? She doesn’t quite say so, but that appears to be what she thinks.

I think it is very dangerous to talk about lockdown without recognising the enormous costs that it has on other vulnerable sectors in the population.

Great stuff, obviously, and history will almost certainly look more kindly on Professor Gupta than Professor Ferguson. But I’m not going to make her ‘Sceptic of the Week’ because, it turns out, she’s wary of being lumped in with libertarian types like me.

So I know there is a sort of libertarian argument for the release of lockdown, and I think it is unfortunate that those of us who feel we should think differently about lockdown have had our voices added to that libertarian harangue. But the truth is that lockdown is a luxury, and it’s a luxury that the middle classes are enjoying and higher income countries are enjoying at the expense of the poor, the vulnerable and less developed countries. It’s a very serious crisis.

Infection Fatality Rate is 0.26% – CDC

Regular readers will know that I’ve been tracking the infection fatality rate (IFR) throughout the crisis, convinced that it’s far lower than the 0.9% estimated by Neil Ferguson and way, way lower than the 3.4% estimated by the WHO. My prediction has long been that it will turn out to be slightly higher than the IFR of seasonal flu, which is 0.1% in an average year and 0.2% in a bad year. Although I’ve never been quite as bullish as Sunetra Gupta, who told Freddie she thinks it is somewhere between 0.1% and 0.01%.

On May 15th, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the US published its official estimate – 0.26%, although it doesn’t come right out and say it. Rather, it estimates the case fatality rate (CFR) for different age groups:

  • 0-49 year-olds: 0.05%
  • 50-64 year-olds: 0.2%
  • 65+ years-old: 1.3%
  • Mean CFR: 0.4%

The CDC estimates that 35% of people who’ve been infected are asymptomatic, so to get the IFR from the CFR you have to multiply it by 0.65 – 0.4 x 0.65 = 0.26%.

Hats off to the Ethical Skeptic, the anonymous Twitter account which estimated the IFR at 0.26% more than two weeks ago. Using data from seroprevalence studies, he calculated that 32,768,000 Americans had been infected up to May 8th and divided that by the number of US fatalities, which was 86,469 at that point. That gave an IFR of 0.26%.

On May 15th, I discussed a New York Times article that criticised lockdown sceptics for circulating the Santa Clara serological study and highlighting its IFR estimate of 0.17%. According to the Times, the signal boost the study received from anti-lockdown wing-nuts on Twitter led to “a surge of misinformation”. Trouble is, that “misinformation” has turned out to be more accurate than the IFR estimates of the WHO and Professor Ferguson.

Incidentally, John Ioannidis, Professor of Medicine at Harvard and the lead author of the Santa Clara study, has a new preprint out in which he estimates the IFR by looking at 12 seroprevalence studies in which the population sample size >500. His conclusion is that it’s “in the same ballpark as seasonal flu”, i.e. between 0.1% and 0.2%. Daniel Horowitz, a senior editor at the Conservative Review, says the mean IFR estimate based on these seroprevalence studies is 0.2%. “That is 17 times less deadly than what the WHO originally predicted and 4.5 times less deadly than the Imperial College study,” he writes.

So it’s official, folks: We’ve imprisoned over a billion people in their homes, laying waste to the global economy and causing untold misery and death in the process, to mitigate the impact of a virus that’s no deadlier than a bad bout of seasonal flu.

Did the New York Times Smear the German Anti-Lockdown Movement?

While we’re on the subject of “misinformation” pumped out by the New York Times, I asked my German-speaking correspondent to look into the Times‘s front-page story claiming the anti-lockdown movement in Germany is being manipulated by the AfD. This was his verdict:

The German media also treats the protest movement against lockdown restrictions in Germany as being driven by various fringe groups that are increasingly influenced by “the right” and AfD usually gets a mention. In a commentary on May 19th, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung describes the protests against lockdown restrictions literally as a “festival of delusional slogans”. The demos are described as colourful gatherings that attract all sorts of esoteric types, anti-vaxxers, left-wing extremists and anti-capitalists – and “increasing numbers of right-wingers”. The reporter Thomas Holl is bemused by the seeming contradictions at play – while international virologists and epidemiologists praise Merkel’s successful handling of the crisis and Germany’s relatively low death toll, there seems to be a stronger anti-lockdown protest movement in the country than elsewhere. Like the New York Times, Holl points the finger at AfD – the right-wing party’s showing in the polls dipped in April and the assertion is that they are looking to exploit the protests to recover lost ground.

I couldn’t see anything about AfD’s influence in Bild, but it carries an emotional story together with a video from the German network TV station ARD that pits a younger protestor against an older gentleman, Alfons Blum, who attended a protest in Gera. The pensioner is there because of how he has been personally affected – he has been unable to visit his wife who lives in a home for the past eight weeks and he breaks down in tears in the interview. A younger participant gets mixed up in how his emotional story is being exploited to distract from the bigger picture and starts shouting at Blum, citing earlier flu epidemics that claimed far more lives and that he should not allow the mainstream media to “make fun” of him on television. “If you listen to the network channels you will have practically lost control over your life!” he tells Blum. The commentary concludes by contrasting the two: “[C]itizens like pensioner Alfons Blum are suffering because of the measures – others believe that the media and the Government are being oppressive.”

Incidentally, there’s now a 7,000-word English summary of the leaked document written by the senior civil servant in the Ministry of the Interior. The translation is by Paul Gregory, a German-to-English translator.

More Praise for Governor DeSantis

USA Today ran a piece yesterday by opinion columnist Glenn Harlan Reynolds criticising New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and praising Florida Governor Ron DeSantis:

It’s interesting to compare Cuomo’s approach, in which infected (and infectious) patients were deliberately sent to nursing homes, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s policy of protecting nursing homes first.

As the Palm Beach Post notes, DeSantis forbade the discharge of infected patients to nursing homes and long-term care facilities. As a result, only 3.5 per 100,000 nursing home residents in Florida contracted the disease, compared to 27 out of 100,000 in New York.

Thanks to Cuomo’s mishandling of the crisis “more than 5,300 nursing home patients in New York have died from COVID-19, and as an Albany Times Union account notes, critics blame this policy,” says Reynolds.

These mistakes led to a giant “Cuomo Killed My Mom” sign being erected off an overpass in upstate New York. Possibly unfair but certainly indicative of how some New Yorkers feel.

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Theme Tune Suggestions

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: “Trying to Survive” by Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds, “The Whole Damn World is Going Crazy” by John Gary Williams and “Madness They Call It Madness” by Madness.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

Last week, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have reopened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

The list of shops and services that can reopen may be longer than people imagine. On May 13th, the Government issued revised guidance and it’s now permissible for the following retail businesses to reopen (this is in addition to those we already know about, such as garden centres and rubbish dumps):

  • Dental services, opticians, audiology services, chiropody, chiropractors, osteopaths and other medical or health services (including physiotherapy and podiatry services), and services relating to mental health
  • Bicycle shops
  • Homeware, building supplies and hardware stores
  • Veterinary surgeries and pet shops
  • Agricultural supplies shops
  • Off-licences and licensed shops selling alcohol, including those within breweries. Come on, Majestic. What are you waiting for?
  • Laundrettes and dry cleaners
  • Car repair and MOT services

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. If you feel like donating please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here. The site’s total page views have now passed one million and it’s averaging 54,000 visitors a day. We’re making an impact!

And Finally…

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Credit: Getty Images

It’s another shameless plug I’m afraid, this time for my latest column in Spectator USA. In this one, I blame China for unleashing this pandemic/panic on the world, although WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is a close second. My argument is that if the Chinese Communist authorities hadn’t silenced the Wuhan doctors who raised the alarm at the end of December, the virus might never have made it out of Wuhan:

Would the emergence of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan at the end of December have led to a global pandemic if the Chinese authorities had acted more quickly? Almost certainly not. A group of researchers at the University of Southampton looked at what difference it would have made if the travel ban and other non-pharmaceutical interventions had been put in place three weeks earlier, as soon as the doctors raised the alarm. They concluded that cases would have been reduced by 95 percent. In all likelihood, the virus would never have made it out of Hubei.

No doubt China will be judged to have mismanaged this crisis in a number of ways when the official inquiries get under way. There are already a flurry of lawsuits seeking compensation from the Chinese government, including one launched by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who claims the state has suffered tens of billions of dollars in economic losses as a result of China’s negligence.

But perhaps China’s biggest sin was to stop those Wuhan doctors exercising their right to free speech. Had they been allowed to raise their concerns in the public arena, instead of being silenced and publicly shamed, it’s likely that hundreds of thousands of people across the world would now still be alive. At the time of writing, there have been 4.1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 283,000 deaths from the disease.

Latest News

Good story on the Mail‘s front page today. But is it true? According to the paper, Boris has set a 10-day deadline to operationalise the Government’s ‘track-and-trace’, programme. Once it’s in place, he’s promised to dial down the lockdown. On the plus side, the number of people tested yesterday hit a record of 177,216 and the Government has reportedly hired a 25,000-strong army of trackers. But if the NHS’s contact-tracing app is part of the plan, we may be in for a longer wait. According to the front page of the Independent, it won’t be ready by June 1st.

Simon Dolan Serves Papers on the Government

Lawyers acting for Simon Dolan, the aviation entrepreneur mounting a legal challenge against the lockdown, filed over 1,000 pages of legal documents with the High Court this morning. The proceedings are against Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care – whose name is on the lockdown laws – and Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, who has presided over the closure of schools and universities. The aim of the court action is to lift the lockdown, restore our civil liberties, and allow schools, healthcare services and the economy to restart.

Due to its huge potential significance, the Court is being asked to deal with the matter urgently on a speeded-up timetable. Simon says he hopes to have the case heard in the first week of June. In a press release issued earlier, Simon says:

The number of people furloughed or unemployed stands at 10 million, and billions are being wiped off the economy with every passing day.

Those lucky enough to have jobs left at the end of this crisis could see income tax increase by up to 10p in the pound. The Government has spent £13,000 per household on the bailout so far.

A judicial review is the only effective means of challenging what the Government is doing and holding them properly to account. Boris Johnson and his crew have sleepwalked into this mess and are taking the nation over the cliff edge with them.

Our fight begins proper today!

You can read the press release in full here and contribute to Simon’s crowdfunder here. He has already exceeded his fundraising target of £125,000 and increased it to £175,000. Thanks to all those readers who’ve contributed.

Economic News Just Keeps Getting Worse

Under the headline ‘Sunak’s £124bn virus bill‘, the Mail reports findings from the National Audit Office (NAO) showing that Government ministers made more than 500 announcements between January 31st and May 4th in response to the outbreak, amounting to £124.3 billion of spending. It includes £6.6 billion for health and social care measures, £82.2 billion for businesses, £19.5 billion to support individuals – such as via benefits – and £15.8 billion on other public services. It does not include £13.4 billion of NHS debt which has been written off, nor money which the NAO suggests may be lost to “fraud and error”.

So that’ll be another £10 billion.

An updated online version of the same story warns further that “[t]he grim consequences for UK plc of the coronavirus crisis are becoming clearer with every passing day – as GDP goes into free-fall, public debt soars past £2 trillion and millions become unemployed. Apocalyptic predictions from the Bank of England and others show the UK is on track for the worst recession in 300 years, when the Great Frost swept Europe.”

The Guardian reports the Chancellor’s plans to spend yet more borrowed money on extending the mortgage relief scheme beyond the end of June, and adds that the Bank of England may move to negative interest rates, a first in its 325-year history. Is the global economy in such a parlous state that the Bank of England thinks investors will pay the British Government to take their money?

On the heels of yesterday’s news that 9,000 jobs are being lost at Rolls-Royce, the Times reports that current plans for relaxing the lockdown will not be enough to save many businesses.

Two-Metre Social Distancing Rule Unnecessary, According to NERVTAG Member

Downing Street said yesterday that it has no plans to change the “sensible and safe” two-metre social distancing rule, after Robert Dingwall, a member of the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), said the evidence that it is necessary is “fragile”. This is despite the fact that many other countries, and even the the World Health Organisation, recommend just one metre. Britain and Spain are now the only European countries to apply the two-metre rule, says the Mail.

Professor Dingwall said on BBC Radio 4: “The World Health Organization recommends a one-metre distance, Denmark has adopted it since the beginning of last week.

“If you probe around the recommendations of distance in Europe you will find that a lot of countries have also gone for this really on the basis of a better understanding of the scientific evidence around the possible transmission of infection.”

Iain Duncan Smith has also called for the two-metre rule to be scrapped, according to the Sun.

The Times reports that many businesses will go bankrupt if the rule isn’t relaxed. Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, told the paper that “at two metres you’re probably looking at only 20 per cent of pubs being able to operate” but reducing it to one metre “would put the majority of pubs back in play”. Other sectors have also raised concerns:

Richard Walker, boss of Iceland, the supermarket, said: “The reality is that many businesses will not survive if we are too zealous with the two-metre rule. If scientists and experts are comfortable with a way that we can relax it then we absolutely should, because it is critical to so many sectors.”

Edwin Morgan, of the Institute of Directors, said that “maintaining two metres’ distancing will be difficult for many firms, and impossible for some”. He urged the Government to help industry find “innovative ways to adapt”.

Some businesses, facing bankruptcy if they remain closed, “have taken it upon themselves to open up despite lockdown restrictions“, says the Mail. Can we include them here, please?

Salons, butchers, florists and coffee shops are tentatively opening their doors to customers, by coming up with their own interpretations of the Government’s social-distancing rules. In Alresford, Hampshire, eight high street businesses are now open, including a salon – despite the Government insisting hairdressers should not yet be open. And in Thame, Oxfordshire, the chocolatier, hardware store, florist and butcher have thrown open their doors for the first time since the lockdown started in March. Meanwhile in the capital, Broadway Market in Hackney was packed with Londoners lapping up the sunshine and grabbing disposal pints of beer from pubs which have opened up for takeaway refreshments.

The Easy Way to Get Through Lockdown

The Telegraph reports that Liberal Democrat peer Chris Fox is “milking” the taxpayer by furloughing himself from his business but continuing to claim his daily £162 House of Lords allowance for Zoom meetings.

A frontbench peer has furloughed himself despite having a £100,000 cash pot in his company and claiming the daily House of Lords allowance during lockdown, the Telegraph can reveal.

Lord Fox, who owns two homes worth more than £2 million, is the first Parliamentarian known to use the Government’s wage subsidy scheme to pay himself. The 62-year-old Liberal Democrat frontbench spokesman for business is the owner and sole employee of Vulpes Advisory, a ‘strategic communications’ company. His decision to double dip into the taxpayers’ pocket was criticised as “milking the taxpayer” by MPs, who said on Wednesday that he should pay the money back. Asked on Wednesday night whether having his private income paid by the state as well as taking the Lords stipend was “greedy”, Lord Fox said: “I don’t think conflating the two is even logical.”

Accounts filed with Companies House show Lord Fox has access to more than £100,000 cash in his Vulpes bank account. Instead of using the money to tide the business over, he furloughed himself and has already received his first month’s wage subsidy, of about £1,000, from the Government. Asked why he did not first use the £100,000, he said: “I’m hoping to tide the business over, I’m hoping to relaunch it properly when the scheme… when the virus lifts.”

Lord Fox has a five-bedroom house in Windsor, which he reportedly bought in 1995 for £280,000 and which is now estimated to be worth up to £1.89 million, as well as a second home in east London. He sits on the Lords economic affairs committee, before which Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, appeared as a witness this week. It has held four hearings over the past month, for which Lord Fox will receive £648. He also claims the daily allowance for his work as the Liberal Democrat spokesman for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Conservative MP Robert Halfon said: “It’s incredible that, when my residents in Harlow are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, this peer seems to want to milk the taxpayer at both ends, for every penny – both through the Lords allowance and the furlough scheme. The Chancellor needs to nip this in the bud and make sure this is not allowed. The least he could do is pay the furlough money back.”

The Sun splashes with the story that Labour Party supporter Steve Coogan – creator of Alan Partridge – has furloughed his gardener and housekeeper.

The wealthy comic, 54, has left the taxpayer to stump up 80% of the pair’s wages. His two staff work full-time at his £4 million home in southern England, which boasts a swimming pool and tennis court.

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said last night: “The furlough scheme is to protect businesses that are suspended and can’t operate during the coronavirus pandemic. It’d be difficult to see how Steve Coogan’s earning potential has been diminished.”

TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive John O’Connell said: “Support should only be sought if it’s really needed.”

Day Trippers Defy Lockdown Orders

Southend beach yesterday. Credit: ITV News

All the papers had pictures of people ignoring social distancing rules to enjoy Britain’s hottest day of the year, with temperatures climbing to 82F – although the snappers know their pictures are more likely to be used if they make it look as if people are bunched more closely together than they are. According to the Mail, tens of thousands of sun seekers packed on to beaches up and down the country and traffic wardens ran out of tickets.

Needless to say, some local panjandrums have been harrumphing about the influx of visitors. According to the Telegraph:

When Boris Johnson announced on May 19th that from May 13th English residents would be allowed to drive to enjoy the outdoors for any length of time (as long as they do not stay overnight), local authorities in places like the Lake District were in uproar, telling travellers firmly to stay away.

In recent days the row has rumbled on, with placards and barricades appearing in parts of the Lakes. Messages scribbled onto boards include “no entry”, “please stay away”, and – in one specific case – “Keswick is still closed. Please come back when we are open”. This “informal” lock-out has even included “impromptu” road blocks – with plastic barriers blocking routes to popular sites. 

It’s a welcome change then to hear Councillor Seán Woodward, Executive Member for Recreation and Heritage at Hampshire County Council, insisting the all responsible daytrippers are more than welcome.

He told Telegraph Travel: “Our country park car parks operated well over this last weekend and all within the 60% capacity limit imposed following a risk assessment. The vast majority of people behaved both sensibly and in a good humoured fashion, they were pleased to be able to visit, and appreciated the precautions being taken by our staff and the measures in place, which included clear signs and advance communications.” 

Case Numbers Keep Falling

Meanwhile, the number of cases keep falling. The Times quotes Stephen Powis, NHS England’s Medical Director, saying there were 9,953 people in hospital with coronavirus on Tuesday, the first time this has been below 10,000 since March 29th:

No cases of coronavirus have been confirmed for Monday across London and eastern England, an area covering 15 million people, and just 79 have been recorded across England. While the number will rise as laboratories report more data, the figures underline the extent to which transmission has been brought under control.

The Telegraph says that new “surveillance data” suggests “those aged 17 to 29 are the most likely group to carry the infection – although they are far less likely than older people to fall seriously ill”.

The sampling by Public Health England, which occurred as the epidemic approached its peak, showed that in early April, around 11% of those aged between 17 and 29 were infected with the virus. Those in their 30s were the age group with the second highest number of infections, at around 10%, with rates closer to 7% among those in their 60s.

Fewer People have Died in 2019-20 than in 2017-18

Interesting post on the COVID-19 In Proportion blog pointing out that the total number of deaths in England and Wales between November 29th and May 8th (275,044) was lower than the total number in the same period in 2017-18 (281,566), when there was an above-average number of deaths from seasonal flu. He also notes that the lockdown on March 23rd doesn’t appear to have made any dent in the number of people dying from non-Covid flu and respiratory diseases in 2019-20: “If lockdown is effective at stopping the spread of infection wouldn’t there be a drop in the rate of non-Covid flu and respiratory deaths?”

Worth reposting this from the same blog last month, comparing the coverage of deaths from COVID-19 with deaths from influenza in 2018 on BBC News. Needless to say, the 2017-18 influenza epidemic which killed more people than Covid got nary a mention.

Stop Press: COVID-19 In Proportion blog has now updated this post. If you add the second week of May, the total number of deaths in 2019-20 does now exceed those in 2017-18.

MPs “Must Go Back”

House of Commons Leader Jacob Rees Mogg says MPs “must physically return to Westminster if they want to participate in debates and vote on new laws”, according to the Mail:

The House of Commons is currently using a ‘hybrid’ system which allows a maximum of 50 MPs to be present in the chamber while up to 150 can take part using Zoom video software. But Mr Rees-Mogg, the Commons Leader, said the current set-up dramatically curtailed the amount of time which could be spent debating legislation as he said all MPs should come back to London on June 2nd after the Whitsun recess which starts tomorrow. However, the decision sparked a furious backlash from some opposition MPs who said the ‘hybrid’ model is working and moving away from it would force them to make ‘non-essential’ journeys. 

The Problem With Epidemiological Models

We’ve published a great piece on Lockdown Sceptics today by Hector Drummond entitled ‘The Real Fault with Epidemiological Models‘. Drummond, a former academic with a must-read blog called Hector Drummond Magazine, argues that critics of the computer modelling used by Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial to show that half a million people would die from COVID-19 in the “do nothing” scenario shouldn’t focus on the poor quality of the code because “any number of epidemiological modellers could have come up with similar analyses using impeccable code”. Rather, the fault lies with epidemiological models in general:

Epidemiology seems to be one of those areas, like climate change, where model reliability matters far less than it should. This can happen to areas that become politicised and where the journals are controlled by strong-armed cliques. It can also be a consequence of modern academia, where the emphasis has shifted almost totally to funding success. Funding success in areas like epidemiology can depend on exaggeration to impress people with agendas and money to burn, like Bill Gates. In an objective field you would expect, after all, underestimates to be as prevalent as overestimates. Yet in this field, overestimates are rife. And the reason for this is the same as the reason why alarmism thrives in climate “science”: it’s because all the research money goes to those who sound the alarm bells.

This is a top notch piece from someone who understands how academia works. Well worth a read.

How Good is the University of Minnesota’s Epidemiological Model?

A reader sent me a long email expressing his doubts abut the epidemiological model that was cobbled together by three grad students overnight at the University of Minnesota in March and then invoked to justify Minnesota’s lockdown. This is the model that was unveiled with great fanfare by state officials last month and was relied upon by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz when deciding how to respond to the pandemic. According to an article on the University’s website, the model was developed by three graduates students who were called by a professor at the University’s School of Public Health on the evening of Friday March 20th and told the model needed to be ready to present to the Governor on Monday morning. “I don’t think a lot of researchers get to work on something over the weekend and have public figures talk about it and make decisions based on it three days later,” said Marina Kirkeide, who was on a gap year when she got the call.

The model predicted that 57,000 Minnesotans would die absent a lockdown and Governor Walz duly issued a stay-at-home order on March 25th, two days after the results of the simulation were presented to him.

So how shonky was the grad students’ model? I asked “Sue Denim”, the ex-Google engineer who reviewed Professor Ferguson’s model for Lockdown Sceptics, to take a look.

I did a quick scan of the code, insufficient to thoroughly check for bugs, but enough to get a feel for the likelihood of their presence. Despite being the work of rushed grad students it’s of a significantly higher quality than the Covid-Sim program from Imperial College – for example, the functions all have extensive comments explaining what they do, variables mostly have meaningful names, there are internal safety checks, and so on. It’s written in R, instead of C. R is a language designed for mathematical and scientific use, so the code is a much closer match for what the developer really means and is thus much easier to read. R manages memory automatically and thus the sort of basic memory errors found in the ICL code aren’t possible in this kind of program.

Model-wise, it explicitly takes into account hospital capacity, whereas Ferguson’s model ignored beds and assumed constant capacity throughout the entire epidemic. It has 36 parameters vs the over 400 parameters found in the ICL code. This is still large, but more reasonable.

Professor Ferguson’s team should sit through some lectures given by these students.

So that’s the good news. Unfortunately, it’s outweighed by the bad news. I agree with your reader’s comments about the dodgy assumptions. It’s obvious these models have severe theoretical flaws as different codebases keep generating predictions that are wrong, and always wrong in the same direction and magnitude. Beyond parametric difficulties and although this team doesn’t seem to have made the same kinds of staggering coding errors found in the ICL codebase, this is still academic code so the critical structural and process problems identified in my first and second analysis of the ICL code are still present.

1. Like before, the history of this program is missing. Taxpayers being able to check the work that was actually used to change policy is seen as unimportant.

2. Although there are no Covid-specific assumptions in the code, it was written fresh for this problem instead of re-using a battle-tested infrastructure. This is something ICL theoretically did better: they re-used a previous codebase from years ago, so it had plenty of time to be thoroughly written and validated. Ferguson’s team didn’t in fact use the time to do this, but could have if they’d cared, whereas in this case the code was written from scratch in a rush. Even with the best intentions and practices it could never have been subjected to proper validation.

3. There are still no unit or regression tests of any kind. Although they were rapidly changing this program under pressure (exactly the situation where mistakes are most likely to occur) ,nobody bothered writing any code to verify sub-functions or that results of e.g. a single time step matched expectations. That’s not surprising – in recent days scientists responding to comments by software engineers have explained that in academic science “if it looks right then it is right”.

Given this attitude, is it any wonder that epidemiological models keep producing estimates that are wrong when compared to real world outcomes, yet this doesn’t seem to bother anyone in the field ? And models appear no more accurate today than they were during the UK foot-and-mouth epidemic in 2001? Given the lack of any really Covid-specific assumptions that we’re seeing here, it would make sense to use generic models that are extensively unit tested against prior-observed outcomes, but we don’t see that.

Imagine if a piece of safety-critical software controlling a car were thrown together in a few days by some interns, sold into the market and then went wrong in some way that caused people to die. People would be incredibly angry. It would end up in court. In fact, we don’t have to imagine, because the case of the Toyota engine control system gives an example of what happens when standard practices aren’t followed. The code for the Toyota ECS looked very much like the code for Covid-Sim: written in C, many global variables, no working peer review process and other problematic practices. Although I think it was never proven that this led to unintended accelerations that killed people, there was also no way to convince a jury it didn’t. Unlike in academia, where so far we’ve seen widespread denial that any problems exist at all, Toyota ended up recalling nearly 10 million cars and dealing with multiple lawsuits. In one of those the court heard testimony about code quality: Toyota settled after they realised the testimony was devastating and they couldn’t win.

Bad code can be found anywhere. Markets and regulations can’t stop bad code being written, but they do ensure that when the systems are working low quality has consequences and gets pushed to the bottom of the barrel. Those consequences can range from losing customers to losing court cases. If there’s any academic equivalent of these outcomes it’s unclear what they are. Students determining the fate of millions of people will continue to occur for as long as policymakers incorrectly believe that academic output is of trustworthy quality.

Note on Yesterday’s Chart Showing UK Infections Peaked Before Lockdown

The chart I published yesterday provoked an interesting discussion in the comments, with several people asking where the author got his figure of a 23-day lag time between infection and death. After all, if the median lag time is significantly less than that, then the graph doesn’t show that infections peaked before the lockdown was imposed. I asked the reader who sent me the graph to respond:

The source is one of the first studies in Wuhan which was widely reported.

I’ve read some of the comments it attracted on your site. It’s a fair challenge that the time to death might be less than 23 days in the UK – for example, if the population is more elderly they might die quicker. But I don’t think that answers why the time gap is different between the UK and London. The lockdown was imposed across the country on the same date, so if that was the cause of infections declining surely it would have happened at the same time in London and the rest of the country?

I’ve dropped an email to Kit Yates, a statistician who features on a BBC Sounds Podcast talking about this specific point (which one of your other readers pointed to), to see if he has an explanation for this – and also why the time gap from lockdown to peak deaths varies so much from country to country. That’s the same point – if lockdowns work, you’d expect a consistent gap between the lockdown being imposed and deaths declining in each country where they’ve been imposed. But you don’t.

Another Chart Showing Lockdowns Don’t Work

This chart formed part of a presentation by JP Morgan to investors yesterday. It shows infections haven’t increased in those US states that have ended their lockdowns. The JP Morgan analyst told investors: “This means that the pandemic and COVID-19 likely have its own dynamics unrelated to often inconsistent lockdown measures that were being implemented.” NBC’s Carl Quintanilla did a Twitter thread on the presentation yesterday.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s Anti-Media Rant

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=80&v=LXjQn4eGpi8&feature=emb_logo

This is worth a watch: Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, unleashes on the media for predicting he was conducting an experiment in “human sacrifice” by refusing to order a lockdown sooner than he did, and that Florida would be “the next Italy”. He also faced criticism when he became one of the first Governors to start easing restrictions at the end of April. In fact, Florida has had one of the lowest number of deaths per 100,000 of any state in the union. This probably has nothing to do with the four-week lockdown and more to do with DeSantis making sure elderly people infected with the virus were removed from care homes. You can watch his rant here.

Continuing School Closures are #NotOk

A group of concerned parents called Us For Them have launched a campaign to try and persuade schools to reopen – and without the ludicrously excessive and potentially harmful social distancing measures that nearly all schools are planning. The campaign’s hashtag is #NotOk. You can find out more about the #NotOk campaign, and sign a petition to show your support, here.

One of the people behind the campaign is Christine Brett, the market access consultant who wrote ‘How at Risk Are Your Children From Coronavirus?‘ for Lockdown Sceptics last week. Worth a read if you missed it the first time.

Cambridge Clarification

The University of Cambridge has issued a clarification following yesterday’s news that all lectures are moving online until the end of the next academic year. Turns out, face-to-face contact between students and academic staff will still take place, albeit from behind masks:

The University and the Colleges will welcome as many students as possible to Cambridge for the start of the next academic year, guided always by advice from Public Health England. We are committed to continuing to deliver high quality education to all our students and to delivering a rich student experience, while ensuring that we respond effectively to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Small group teaching – supervisions, seminars or individual tuition – is at the heart of our educational provision and will continue in person as much as possible. Given the likely need for continued social distancing, we have decided to suspend mass lectures in person for the next academic year. Lectures will be available online; this system is already in place in some University Departments. Lectures are only one part of the rich education that Cambridge offers and freeing up space in lecture halls will allow us to concentrate on delivering small group teaching, language classes, lab work and practicals.

Colleges are planning to offer a wide range of activities, and will work hard to build up community life, even in the midst of social distancing.

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

Last week, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have reopened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet. We’re up to 500+ now – keep ’em coming.

Theme Tune Suggestions

Only one suggestion today, but it’s a goodie: ‘Deal Wiv It’ by Slowthia and Mura Masa.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. I’ve now got two journalists helping out and I’d like to pay them something, so if you feel like donating please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here. The site’s total page views have now passed one million and it’s averaging 54,000 visitors a day. We’re making a difference!

And Finally…

Have a read of my latest column in the Spectator. Trigger warning: this probably won’t appeal to left-wing readers of this site (and I hope you’ve noticed that I’ve tried to keep the partisan sniping to a minimum). Here are the opening two paragraphs:

It has become a commonplace among social psychologists that one of the characteristics that unites conservatives is our sensitivity to disgust. A succession of experiments carried out over the past ten years seems to show that a person’s political views are linked to how disgusting they find the idea of, say, touching a toilet seat in a public lavatory. The more repulsed you are, the more likely you are to hold conservative positions on issues like gay marriage, immigration and abortion. These findings have been lapped up by liberal social scientists since they confirm their view of conservatives as uptight control freaks whose love of hierarchy and tradition is rooted in an irrational fear of contagion.

But like many findings in psychology, these experiments haven’t always been easy to replicate and a meta – analysis of 24 studies in 2013 found that the relationship between conservative opinions and sensitivity to disgust was fairly modest. Today, I wouldn’t be surprised if people on the left are more easily repulsed than those on the right. It is liberals who seem to be gripped by a horror of contamination, not conservatives. How else to explain the enthusiasm with which they’ve welcomed the quarantining of whole populations as a way of managing the outbreak of coronavirus?

Latest News

The Telegraph‘s Business section leads on Rishi Sunack’s warning to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee yesterday that the country is facing “a severe recession, the likes of which we haven’t seen”. That red line shooting beyond Sunack’s nose is the number of unemployment claims triggered by different financial shocks dating back to 1970 – and the 857,000 new claimants in shown on the graph for 2020 is just for the month of April. The Telegraph points out this is the biggest surge in benefit claims since 1947.

The same point was made more bluntly on Channel 4 News last night by former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith. “The longer we stay on lockdown, the more companies will go bankrupt,” he said.

The Express has the same story, as does the FT, which quotes the Chancellor warning the Committee that the economy may not “immediately bounce back”.

No shit, Sunack.

Excess Cancer Deaths Likely to Increase as Result of Lockdown

The Edinburgh Evening News looks at just one of many human tragedies caused by the response to the virus – the story of Dalkeith mother-of-one Karen Hilton, whose life expectancy has been cut from 12 months to six after cancer trials were halted as doctors prioritised patients with COVID-19.

Karen, 48, who has already had to cancel her wedding due to the lockdown, spoke out as UK charity Breast Cancer Now launched a campaign to help thousands of secondary breast cancer patients who fear their lives could be shortened due to changes to treatment, scans and trials:

At the moment I’m on chemotherapy, but because of the nature of my disease, which is triple negative and very aggressive, there are only so many options that I can get. After you’ve exhausted all of the chemotherapies… my only options left are trials. Trials haven’t been happening, they’re not going to be focusing on research, and there’s already 450 cancer patients dying every day – but you don’t see those figures published along with the stats for Covid. It’s heart-breaking and sanity must prevail, in that you can’t just cut off the lifelines of all these hundreds of thousands of patients. Obviously they’re diverting attention away from breast cancer trials on to Covid and our issue is that it’s just another disease. Covid is going to be around for a long time but cancer patients won’t if we don’t get access to these trials. It just feels like they’re cutting off the stage 4 cancer patient’s lifelines – so it’s literally life or death.

The Guardian deals more fully with the impact of the lockdown on cancer patients, saying “thousands of people… could die early because so many hospitals have suspended surgery for the disease while the NHS battles the coronavirus”.

Schools’ Out For Summer

In its online edition, the Telegraph reports that “[t]he country is heading for a divide on the reopening of schools, with Government minister Robert Buckland this morning conceding a ‘uniform’ start from June 1st is unlikely.”

The Justice Secretary told Sky the “picture is a mixed one”, with at least 11 councils now refusing to open schools on the date set by the Prime Minister. He insisted conversations were ongoing but admitted there was “not a long time to go” to persuade teachers, unions and councils it was safe.

This is in spite of the paper’s splash, in which the British Medical Association now says schools can reopen on June 1st, or earlier, as long as it is “safe to do so”, and – in what is described as “an apparent softening of its stance regarding pupils returning to the classroom” – admitting that there is “growing evidence that the risk to individual children from COVID-19 is extremely small”. Today’s Telegraph also includes a comment piece by Dr Peter English, Chair of the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee, pointing out that even though sending children back to school is not “risk free”, keeping them at home isn’t either.

The Guardian reports that “up to 1,500 primary schools in England are expected to remain closed on June 1st after a rebellion by at least 18 councils forced the Government to say it had no plans to sanction them”. And the Telegraph reveals that Scottish pupils may only return part-time when schools there reopen in August.

The Mail exposes what it calls the “cynical tactics” of a teacher’s union trying to stop schools reopening. It reports on Zoom video footage available on the National Education Union’s (NEU) YouTube account which shows leaders discussing how to “threaten” headmasters who try to get their staff back to work:

In a further sign of their hardline approach, they described their opposition to the date as a “negotiating position”. Mary Bousted, the NEU’s joint General Secretary, was even shown accusing children of being “mucky”, spreading germs and “wiping their snot on your trousers or on your dress”.

The paper says parents and teachers are at war over the issue:

At least 13 mainly Labour councils are actively opposing Boris Johnson’s plans to open schools in England on June 1st as parents who want their children back in class claim they have been branded “teacher bashers”.

Extraordinary rows have broken out on WhatsApp groups and online forums as it was revealed that up to 1,500 English primary schools are now expected to remain closed in 12 days’ time despite millions of children being at home for more than eight weeks.

On Mumsnet today a thread suggested that “parents aren’t allowed to criticise teachers anymore” and sparked outrage among those in the teaching profession. One parent wrote: “I’ve seen a lot of parents genuinely concerned about the teaching who were immediately accused of ‘teacher bashing’ and being ‘too lazy to teach their own children’. It’s ridiculous’”

Cambridge: No Face-to-Face Contact With Students For a Year

Cambridge University has announced all lectures will be online for the duration of the next academic year. Cambridge didn’t close during World War Two – and didn’t close during any of the recent influenza pandemics with a higher death toll than SARS-CoV-2, such as 1968-70. But the University’s administrators have decided that the risk posed by the current virus is simply too great.

“Given that it is likely that social distancing will continue to be required, the University has decided there will be no face-to-face lectures during the next academic year,” a press release announced.

This follows the disclosure from Manchester University that all its lectures will be online next term. Neither university has offered to reduce tuition fees as a consequence, which may be an oversight if they want to persuade students who’ve accepted places this year not to defer.

In truth, that will probably be less of a problem for Cambridge and Manchester than for low tariff institutions. If you’ve got a place at De Montfort University, for instance, why would you pay £9,250 a year to take an online course when there are cheaper, better-designed online courses out there? Even private schools have reduced their fees while pupils are taught from home (although not by much).

In a story in today’s paper, the Guardian lays bare the scale of the problem facing British universities, saying they face a £760 million hole in their finances from deferrals alone:

A survey of students applying for undergraduate places found that more than 20% said they were willing to delay starting their courses if universities were not operating as normal due to the coronavirus pandemic, which would mean there would be 120,000 fewer students when the academic year begins in autumn. The results, released by the University and College Union, come as universities are wrestling with how to reopen campuses for students while protecting them from COVID-19.

British universities are facing a perfect storm going into the next academic year: lots of students who were supposed to be starting this autumn will defer; applications for the following year will decline; EU students will have to pay full fees for the first time, meaning fewer will apply; and foreign students in general will stay away due to travel restrictions and fear of contagion. The sector is clearly hoping the Government will bail it out, but that may be naive. As the Guardian reported on May 3rd: “University leaders had asked the Government for a bailout running into billions of pounds to make up for lost international student and research revenue. But the plea on behalf of the sector was said to have ‘landed badly’ with the Treasury.”

If Britain’s universities don’t radically rethink their plans for the next year and the Treasury continues to play hardball, at least one third of them will end up going under. Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, predicted last year that up to 50 percent of America’s colleges and universities will go bankrupt in the next 10 to 15 years. I think the same is true of the UK, except that Covid has speeded up the process.

Gerard Degroot, a former member of the St Andrew’s History Department, sums up the situation in UnHerd:

Many universities were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. A lingering dispute over pensions had corroded morale. The over-emphasis on research, imposed largely by the Government, had warped priorities, leading to a decline in teaching quality everywhere. Mounting student debt led many young people to question whether the ‘ivory tower experience’ is worth the investment.

The virus is ruthless: it exposes and punishes those weaknesses. Over the long term, some institutions might be forced to close, while others will have to radically transform the product they offer.

Is COVID-19 a Nosocomial Disease?

There’s an interesting graph on Guido today showing the percentage of all Covid deaths that have occurred in care homes in different European countries. The data is from a new report from the EU’s Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDPC) on the prevalence of COVID-19 in long term care facilities, including care homes. I’ve looked at the report and the data in Guido‘s graph is correct.

Guido highlighted this to show that the UK has fared better at protecting its care home residents than other European countries, but it points to something else, too, which is the degree to which COVID-19 is primarily a nosocomial disease. This is a theme taken up in a Medium post by the banker Jonathan Tepper called ‘Ground Zero: When the Cure is Worse than the Disease‘. The post includes lots of interesting facts and quotes pointing to hospitals and care homes as the main vectors of transmission:

  • Data from five European countries suggest that care homes accounted between 42% and 57% of all deaths related to COVID-19.
  • A group of doctors from the Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital in Bergamo warned of nosocomial infections in the New England Journal of Medicine: “We are learning that hospitals might be the main COVID-19 carriers. They are rapidly populated by infected patients, facilitating transmission to uninfected patients.”
  • Nearly 14% of Spain’s reported COVID-19 cases are medical professionals.
  • The ECDPC has warned hospitals: “It is likely that nosocomial outbreaks are important amplifiers of the local outbreaks, and they disproportionately affect the elderly and vulnerable populations.”
  • Today, almost all new cases in Spain are in hospitals and retirement homes.

Tepper asks whether many of these deaths could have been avoided if politicians and their scientific advisors had realised sooner that COVID-19 was primarily a nosocomial disease, as does a leader in today’s Telegraph. He also discusses the fact that people under 60 in good health are at minimal risk of dying from COVID-19 and draws the obvious conclusion:

If hospitals and retirement homes are one of the main transmission vectors and the disease and the virus overwhelmingly affects the very old and sick who have multiple existing conditions, shutting the entire economy will not solve the problem.

Government Stocks Up on Hydroxychloroquine

While the chattering classes on both sides of the Atlantic continue to mock Trump for disclosing he takes a daily dose of hydroxychloroquine – and social media companies are busy removing any content that promotes it as a possible treatment for COVID-19 – the British Government is planning to buy the anti-malarial drug in bulk. According to the Guardian, ministers are seeking 16 million tablets in packets of up to 100 as part of a £35m contract put out to tender last Friday:

A Whitehall source said the purchase of hydroxychloroquine was related to current clinical trials to evaluate it as a treatment for people with COVID-19, adding that it should only be taken on prescription or as part of a controlled clinical trial.

It’s worth pointing out that the Government’s purchasing of a drug is no guarantee that it’s effective. Britain spent £424 million stockpiling Tamiflu, hoping it could be used to treat both bird flu and swine flue. This was partly on the advice of Liam Donaldson, then the Chief Medical Officer for the UK, who had seen the modelling from Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College predicting that bird flue could kill up to 200 million people worldwide and swine flu could kill 65,000 in the UK alone. AT the time, Roche, the manufacturer of Tamiflu, was refusing to release all the data from its clinical trials and only agreed to do this in 2013, long after the money had been spent. This followed sustained pressure from the lockdown sceptic Carl Heneghan, among others. When Heneghan and his team were able to review the Tamiflu data, they concluded the drug is marginally useful in shortening a bout of flu by half a day, but does not prevent complications, keep people out of hospital or reduce the spread of infection and does have side-effects, some of which are alarming. The Guardian has more.

I’ve discussed the evidence surrounding hydroxychloroquine, both as a prophylactic against and as a treatment for COVID-19, in the page entitled ‘What Are the Most Effective Treatments‘ on the right-hand side. For what it’s worth, I started taking chloroquine when I thought I had COVID-19, but stopped after three days when I started getting heart palpitations. It may or may not have contributed to my own speedy recovery.

Lawyers Turn on Lord Gumption

Cartoon in the Spectator

There was an article in the Law Society Gazette yesterday by Jonathan Compton chastising Lord Sumption for straying into the political arena. In particular, he takes issue with Sumption’s civil liberties argument that it should be up to individuals to assess whether they want to take the risk of leaving their homes, not the Government:

The risk of exposure to the COVID-19 is indeed an individual risk. But it does not follow – as Lord Sumption suggests – that it must be solely in the hands of the individual to decide to take that risk or not. The “individual risk” argument risks underplaying, indeed ignoring, what we may call the “societal risk” argument.

The “societal risk” argument may be put thus: if we leave it in the hands of individuals to decide whether they choose to run the exposure risk, then we run the risk that infection levels will increase to the point where basic supply chains start to break down, less/no food in shops, less people/no one on the tills, fewer/no petrol deliveries, no imports of medicines, food stuffs, critical levels of agricultural workers, bus, rail and tube drivers. By this time, of course, the NHS would have been over-run some time ago. This is a risk to the fabric of society itself. A risk to society poses grave risks to the individuals in it, surely?

I’ll save Lord Sumption the trouble of having to respond to the “societal risk” argument and do so myself. If we end the lockdown tomorrow, there is zero risk of basic supply chains breaking down, shops running out of food, check-out clerks leaving tills unattended, petrol deliveries stopping, or any of the other calamities the lily-livered Compton envisages. None of those things have happened in those countries that have ended their lockdowns, nor have they happened in those countries and US states that never locked down in the first place. As Sumption has repeatedly said, the burden falls on those who want to suspend our liberties to show that not doing so would be catastrophic – for instance, that not doing so will cause a net loss of life. To date, the British Government has come nowhere near meeting that threshold.

Luckily, not all lawyers hold their manhoods as cheap as Jonathan Compton. There’s a robust comment below his article which has got more thumbs-up than any other:

I support Lord Sumption. He doesn’t mince his words, and he has no time for high-emotion, low-intellect, entitled muppets who demand protection from everything. I am confident that those cowering behind their sofas, demanding that they be wrapped in cotton wool at the expense of others, are quite happy to accept NHS treatment and to shop at supermarkets – workers there aren’t cowering at home: you’re not better than them.

Graph Porn

A reader has compiled this graph showing that infections peaked in both London and the country at large on March 14th and 18th respectively – nine days before the lockdown in one case and five days in the other. He also sent me the source for all his data, which look robust to me. In other words, placing more than 66 million people under virtual house arrest wasn’t necessary to “Save Lives” or “Protect the NHS”.

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

Last week, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have reopened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet. We’re up to 500+ now – keep ’em coming.

Theme Tune Suggestions

More suggestions from readers about theme tunes for this site: “The Distance” by Cake, “Every Day Should Be A Holiday” by the Dandy Warhols and, of course, “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. I’ve now got two journalists helping out and I’d like to pay them something, so if you feel like donating please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here. The site’s total page views have now passed one million and it’s averaging 54,000 visitors a day. We’re changing hearts and minds…

And Finally…

A reader has dug up a picture from an Italian magazine that published a story in 1962 about what the the world might look in 2022. The illustration is uncanny…

Latest News

The row over school openings rumbles on. The Mail cites ‘‘evidence from 22 countries on the continent” at an EU briefing which suggests that reopening schools has not been harmful to children and teachers. Millions of pupils in Germany, France, Denmark and Norway are now back at their desks; even hard-hit Belgium has told primary and secondary schools to restart smaller final-year classes:

The decision to reopen schools in 22 EU states, including France where 1.4 million pupils went back to their classrooms, has not caused an increase in coronavirus cases across Europe.

The revelation piles pressure on unions resisting plans to send younger children back from June 1st.

The National Education Union yesterday even claimed it was not safe for teachers to mark workbooks.

The Mail quotes Alan Smithers, Professor of Education at the University of Buckingham: ‘The unions have been asking for evidence, and this is it. So they should start cooperating fully with the Government so that our schools can open again as soon as possible.”

Back in the UK Labour-run Bury Council yesterday became the latest local authority to reject the Government’s timetable for sending children back to class, joining Hartlepool, Liverpool and Stockport. You can watch Julia Hartley-Brewer arguing with a Bury Councillor on her Talk Radio show this morning here.

The Mail‘s online edition adds remarks from Tony Blair on last night’s Newsnight in which he backed calls for pupils to go back to school, saying some children were receiving no education at all.

The Times also has a story about the European education ministers being briefed by the EU at a meeting chaired by Blazenka Divjak, the Croatian Education Minister, who said that social distancing and hygiene measures appeared to be working. The paper points out that many of the UK councils considering delaying reopening are in deprived areas where children are suffering more from school closures.

In the Times‘s Letters pages, Kenneth Baker – Education Secretary for three years under Margaret Thatcher – is one of a number of readers concerned about the effect of ongoing school closures on children’s education.

SIR – The Sutton Trust has shown that 64% of primary school teachers have been giving just three hours of teaching a day during the lockdown. Teachers should go back to working a full day on June 1st.

Already two months of education have been lost; disadvantaged children will find it very challenging to catch up in a year. Hence, the sooner children return to school the better. Other countries are managing to do so safely and so should we.

Former Labour MP Frank Field, writing to the Guardian as chairman of the Frank Field Education Trust, agrees: “To allow this gap to develop unnecessarily, with the closure of schools, will be bordering on the politically criminal.”

Cartoon in the Telegraph on May 17th

Lockdown Isn’t Working

The newspapers are finally starting to take seriously the economic impact of the lockdown.

Today’s Telegraph notes that two million claims for grants, amounting to £6 billion, have been made in the past week under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

The number of workers on the separate employee furlough scheme has gone up to eight million, an increase of 500,000 since last week. That brings to around ten million the total number of people now having their wages funded by Government borrowing, with a third of private sector workers wages currently paid by the state.

At the same time, with shops and businesses forcibly closed, claims for unemployment benefits soared by nearly 70% in April, according to the Guardian. The number of unemployed people claiming benefits has increased by the most since records began to reach almost 2.1 million in April. The Office for National Statistics says about 856,500 people signed up for Universal Credit and Jobseeker’s Allowance benefits in April, driving up the overall claimant count by 69% in a single month. It’s the biggest monthly increase since records began, while the overall number of people claiming benefits due to unemployment has risen above two million for the first time since 1996. They may shortly be joined by the 6,000 employees of the high street restaurant chain Bella Italia, which has called in the administrators.

Meanwhile, the number of employees on company payrolls plunged by 450,000 at the start of April. The number of vacancies posted by companies looking for new staff has also halved.

By way of contrast, the pre-lockdown headline measurement of unemployment had fallen to 3.9% in the three months to March, with the percentage of people in work at a joint-record high.

The Times reports that “the amount of work done in Britain crashed by a quarter in the final week of March as lockdown came into effect… The figures provide an early glimpse of the wreckage being caused to people’s lives”.

The Mail quotes Martina Kane, from the Health Foundation charity, on the worrying long-term effects of lockdown, especially on the young:

It is concerning that the current crisis is disproportionately affecting employment opportunities for young people. This could have worrying ramifications for young people’s longer term health outcomes. There is strong evidence that unemployment and poor quality work can have a negative impact on young people’s mental health. Financial insecurity can result in poor health both now and later in life.

We’re Not Going On a Summer Holiday

The summer holiday picture remains confusing. The Sun reports Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’s comments in the Commons yesterday that ministers are looking at “travel bridges” so people can fly to countries with low numbers of Covid infections. But it wasn’t all good news: he also warned that the Government is planning to fine travellers £10,000 if they break whatever quarantine restrictions are put in place.

But if you’re thinking about staying in the UK for your holiday, better not leave your home just yet. The Spectator’s Kate McCann told an alarming story on Twitter yesterday: “Ros Pritchard, Director General of the British Holiday and Home Park Association, says they have had ‘vigilantes’ reporting people staying on holiday home sites. The ‘tourists’ were in fact NHS staff who were being given accommodation to help them do their jobs.”

Trump’s Miracle Cure

The Mail and others report the news that Donald Trump has been taking hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus prophylactic. The paper publishes a letter written by White House physician Dr Sean Conley in which he says, “After numerous discussions, he and I regarding the evidence for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine, we concluded the potential benefit from the treatment outweighed the relative risk.”

Common Cold May Provide Immunity

The Times reports on research published in the academic journal Cell which suggests that merely having suffered from the common cold in the past may confer some immunity against the virus:

Scientists have found cells that can fight the new coronavirus in the bloodstream of people who have only been infected with other coronaviruses that cause colds. The finding raises hope that some may have a degree of protection already and could explain the apparent randomness in how severely the virus strikes.

The research looked at ‘T-cells’ which spot other cells that have been infected.

Dan Davis, professor of immunology at the University of Manchester, said: “When a cell is infected with a coronavirus, the virus’s protein molecules are chopped up into very small pieces. And those small pieces are put up at the surface of the cell. When T-cells see these molecules that have never been in the body before they multiply, then they go and respond to those infected cells.”

Nightingale Dead On Arrival

“This nightingale is no more! He has ceased to be!”

Why is a new Nightingale hospital being built, given that almost none of the ones that have been built so far are being used? According to the Midweek Herald in Devon, work began on transforming a HomeBase in Exeter into a Nightingale on May 6th.

“NHS leaders in Devon say that they hope that Nightingale Exeter will not be needed but if or when it is, it will be ready,” reports the paper.

Lord Gumption Speaks

Watch this YouTube video of Jonathan Sumption setting out the case against lockdown on the BBC. “The current rationale for the lockdown is incoherent,” he says, matter-of-factly.

This appearance, like Sumption’s comment piece in the Sunday Times, led to ignominy being poured on his head. (Welcome to the club, m’Lud.) Read his robust reply to his critics in today’s Spectator.

Tory MP Likens Government Response to Morecambe and Wise Sketch

The Telegraph‘s Camilla Tominey reports on some rumblings of discontent from Conservative MPs at Boris’s first meeting with backbenchers since the lockdown was put in place which took place yesterday. One disgruntled MP came up with a good analogy to describe the Prime Minister’s response to the pandemic:

Summing up the mood on the back benches, one former minister on Monday likened his own party’s handling of the crisis to the famous Morecambe and Wise comedy sketch featuring legendary pianist and composer Andre Previn.

The respected MP told the Telegraph: “It’s like when Previn turns to Eric and says: ‘You’re not playing the right notes’ and Eric grabs him by the lapels and replies: ‘I am playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.’ Everything has been the wrong way round.”

Citing the newly-introduced 14-day quarantine period, the MP added: “That should have happened at the beginning of the crisis, not at the end.”

Is the Nation Suffering From OCD?

Jack Nicholson playing an obsessive-compulsive character in As Good As It Gets

Interesting email from a psychiatric nurse who liked my suggestion yesterday that there’s something cult-like about the behaviour of those who’ve enthusiastically embraced their incarceration:

The citizens of this country are going to have huge problems in the phases of loosening lockdown with OCD and risk assessment.

Some background. I am a retired psychiatric and general nurse, with a sociology degree gained when sociology wasn’t a load of lefty nonsense (1970s). I had an unusual career. I left my job as an NHS Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) in 1996 to become self-employed as the first independent CPN in the country, working as a contractor to the NHS alongside a small private clinical practice. Having previously been a training officer in the NHS, I gradually developed the training side of the business, which became my sole focus for the last few years until my retirement two years ago.

About nine weeks ago, our Government said: “500,000 of us are going to die.” We all experienced terror. If we are told something powerfully and often enough, we will believe it. If we link what we are told to an emotional state, we will believe it more. If we link it to a negative emotion, such as fear, we will believe it so much that we don’t feel the need to question it.

Which brings me to OCD.

People with OCD believe that if they think something it must be true and, as a corollary, what they think is what will happen. On several occasions, I saw new mums with OCD who believed they were going to smother their babies because, crucially, they were thinking how awful it would be to do such a thing (the “obsession”). They thought, “If I’m thinking it, I will do it.” So they tried not to think about it. How? By developing behaviours designed to block such thoughts, or to keep themselves away from their baby (the “compulsion”). In therapy (if they will come, which they usually won’t), we ask them to do what seems crazy: think about smothering their baby more, not less. If they’re brave enough to do this, they find all the reasons why they don’t want to, and won’t, smother their baby. Think it through properly, don’t avoid thinking about it.

In my early career, I made the mistake of arguing with OCD sufferers, trying to convince them that terrible things were not going to happen. This is pointless, as they will always reply: “But it might happen!” I learnt to say, “Yes, it might,” which, of course, freaked people out: “Don’t say that! What kind of a therapist are you? You’re supposed to make me feel better!” I followed up, though, with: “How likely is it? What could stop the terrible thing from happening? What’s the evidence? Rather than others calming you down with pointless reassurances that nothing terrible will happen, how can you calm yourself down?” (People with OCD are far too reliant on others to provide them with reassurance.) And, crucially, “As you can’t be 100% sure that the terrible thing won’t happen, how can you get along with life while living with the remote possibility that it could, like you do with so many other potential dangers?”

We are abysmal at risk assessment. I used to run courses on positive risk management with care and health organisations (why it’s OK to take risks, because they have benefits). The Covid crisis is the ultimate and logical conclusion to our risk-averse culture. How often do we hear the words: “You can’t do that! It’s against health and safety!” And yet, the Health and Safety Executive is about the only Government body I know which has a sense of humour. It used to send out a regular “Health and Safety Myths” email, analysing all the things workers had been told by their bosses they couldn’t do because of “health and safety”, but pointing out that the danger was minor, and, importantly, not doing whatever it was created more danger. Example: teachers at a school were told no longer to use step ladders to access books on a high shelf, in case they fell off the ladder. Results: (a) they stood on chairs instead and fell off; and (b) the children’s education was damaged, because they couldn’t read the interesting books on the high shelf.

On risk management courses I used to talk about fear of flying. Someone in the group would always say they were terrified of planes, but still went abroad for holidays. I would ask how they got to the airport. “Eh? We drove!” I would point out that far more people are killed driving to airports than they are on planes, but this cut no mustard, because, of course, we only read in the news about plane crashes (precisely because they are so rare), not about car crashes (because they are so common). Also, newspapers don’t report safe plane landings. So, as in so many other aspects of life, we end up with completely erroneous notions of how dangerous things are.

As a nation, we are going to need to be taught effective risk assessment and risk management skills if we are to succeed in coming out of lockdown. We keep looking for a “no risk” route out, when in reality reducing one risk almost always creates another. We tend to believe that a hazard in the present is always worse than a hazard in the future; that a physical hazard is worse than a mental or emotional hazard. We rarely ask the key risk assessment questions:

How likely is it?
How soon will it happen?
How serious is it?

I used to call these the “PIG Issues”: Probability, Imminence, Gravity.

Pulling this together, it’s as if we’ve suddenly become a nation of OCD sufferers: fuelled by our Government and our awful media, we’ve been taught to be mindful all the time of the terrible things which could happen. We’re presented constantly with images of mass graves, accounts of what happens in Intensive Care Units, etc. and so ruminate on these dangers. The more we think of these things, the more we believe them to be important and true – probable, rather than improbable. And our anxiety reinforces them: “I feel frightened. What is there to be frightened off? Yes: that!” Our anxiety “proves” our belief that we are in danger. Our danger-reduction strategies – like mask-wearing – prove, by temporarily reducing our anxiety, that we are right to feel danger. Then we seek certainty that the feared things won’t happen: “Unless the Government can give me absolute 100% certainty that my child will not get COVID-19 at school, I’m not taking the risk” Boris asked us to do our own risk assessments – “Stay Alert” – but we have become, over the past few years, a nation dependent on others to manage risks for us.

Unless we can undo years of mollycoddling, over-management and disempowerment, we will never go back to work or to take off our masks.

Staying Sane

For those of you beginning to go insane in virtue of being lockdown sceptics, rather than enthusiasts, this website seems to be quite therapeutic. I get several emails like the one below every day. This one is from a wine merchant in New Zealand:

Each morning when I awake (from a night of restless, worried sleep, clutching my pillow tight) the first thing I do is load your website and spend an hour or so, reading your latest daily missive and as many of the links as I have time for. It feeds my soul. It helps my mental state immeasurably to get through the coming day with the correct amount of grim humour at the sheer absurdity of where we find ourselves, and to know that there is also shared common outrage among the global rational and well balanced. Simply put, it is the one of the few thing keeping me sane at the moment – along with my family. My wife and I are libertarians and have been struggling to understand how so many of our fellow citizens can hold their liberty so lightly, and with such great irrationality throw away what looks like it could end up being a generation of progress and burden our children with indulgent profligacy, over something that, while terrible, in the big scheme of things is so innocuous that it is not, or rather it should not be, a threat to our systems of freedom and economy – our way of life.

Chin up, mate. If the worst comes to the worst, you can always drink your stock.

Shopping Aint What It Used To Be

A sad email from a reader who’d just visited his local garden centre:

I’ve just read your piece on the future of our High Streets. Today I visited our local garden centre, which isn’t exactly momentous news. But it got me thinking about what the short term future holds for retail in general. My visit was not pleasant, which I’ll come on to, and that concerns me. Once the lockdown is further lifted we will need to get our economy moving. But the salient point is that, thinking back to happier times, most of the retail places I visited was in part or wholly, for pleasure. For example – coffee. I can make this at home but I go to our local café for the atmosphere, to meet and be with people. And it’s a similar story for restaurants, nik nak shops, you name it.

Coming back to today, my wife and I were faced by a young chap in the car park wearing a surgical mask, even though I understand the risk of infection in the open air is negligible. Inside the garden centre we were greeted by the usual tape on the floor to keep us the required distance apart but again, everyone sported the sinister masks. And this is the truly bizarre part – several also wore plastic visors of the type a groundsman might wear for strimming duties. The reason for this flummoxed me. When it was time to pay there was a single till with a chequerboard area marked out in front. We were instructed, admittedly very politely, to deposit our trolley in this area and move away. The lady on the till then emerged from behind her plastic screen, reached for the trolley at arm’s length and, after drawing it back to safety, totted up our purchases.

The reason I think this rather odd experience is important is that for most of us shopping should be a pleasure. If it isn’t, who will go? Supermarkets and similar will survive as we all need provisions. But what of the others? Will we really be piling in and kick-starting the economy if the experience is anything like mine today?. I suspect many will either do without or shop online. That’s a terrible thought and I hope I’m wrong.

Alternative Daily Briefing

Interesting suggestion from a reader about how sceptics might get their message across more effectively:

As an alternative to the daily Government press briefing have you considered doing a Lockdown Sceptics press conference? Three people to present the case against the lockdown in a similar format to the Government’s daily briefing, but with the opposite message.

It could be led by Jonathan Sumption, Simon Dolan, you, Dan Hannan, Luke Johnson. Lead presenter puts forward an 8-10 min powerpoint setting out the case. We have a scientific expert just like the Government (Dr. Giesecke? Knut Wittkowski?) Then we could have questions… started by Peter Hitchens? Brendan O’Nielll? James Delingpole? then open it up and deal with flak from the MSM.

A dissenting press conference with us acting as the real opposition would bring publicity, offer a direct counterpoint to the Government propaganda, and allow us to present the full case in its entirety rather than piecemeal fragments on Twitter.

Quite a good idea, but doing these daily updates and maintaining this site, not to mention my three other jobs, leaves me with no time for anything else. If someone else wants to organise it, I’d be happy to do one of the presentations.

Has the NHS Stopped Buying Drugs?

A reader writes:

Just on a call with a colleague who mentioned a call she’d been on with senior [major drug company] UK staff who are forecasting an income squeeze till year-end because, quote, “The NHS has stopped buying drugs.” This team is in oncology, so the assumption must be that cancer treatments have taken a huge dent, because elective treatments are being put off, and because new diagnoses are not coming into scope. If the treatment downturn is significant enough that it is already feeding through into pharma sales and orders, it must be huge.

Lends credibility to Professor Karol Sikora’s claim that if the lockdown lasts six months there will be at least 50,000 extra deaths from cancer.

Latest NHS App Woes

Latest NHS track-and-trace device may need a rethink

In news that will surprise NO ONE, the rollout of the NHS’s tracing app has been delayed. Apparently, the version being tested on the Isle of Wight will not be the version rolled out nationally. They need to wait for the second version to be completed. Didn’t Matt Hancock say it would be launched nationally in mid-May? Looks like that’s one target he’s not going to meet.

A survey by the British Computer Society finds that 75% of IT experts predict the NHSX coronavirus app won’t work.

In any event, it looks like the app is on its way to being sidelined, with Matt Hancock’s announcement in the Commons yesterday that track-and-trace will now rely on people reporting when they’re ill and who they’ve had contact with by… making a telephone call:

Today I can confirm that we have recruited over 21,000 contact tracers in England. This includes 7,500 health care professionals who will provide our call handlers with expert clinical advice. They will help manually trace the contacts of anyone who has had a positive test and advise them on whether they need to isolate.

The work of these 21,000 people will be supported by the NHS-COVID 19 app which we are piloting in the Isle of Wight…

How will the app “support” those workers exactly, given that what is being piloted in Isle of Wight isn’t what will be rolled out nationally?

Meanwhile, the Health Service Journal has a story about an email sent by NHSX’s Chief Executive, Matthew Gould, which suggests he knows who’s going to get the blame for this fiasco. In an email leaked to the Journal with the subject “Launching websites and apps”, Gould writes: “We are losing goodwill and credibility because we keep doing non-compliant builds and launches. We have to do better.”

Time to dust off that CV, Mr Gould.

Did a 14 Year-Old Schoolgirl Invent the Lockdown Policy?

Yesterday, I pointed out that no country locked down its citizens in response to the flu pandemics of 1957-58 or 1968-70 and, as I’ve said before, quarantining whole populations in response to a pandemic has only been tried once before – in Mexico in 2009 in response to the H1N1 scare. And the policy was abandoned after 18 days due to rising social and economic costs. Moreover, numerous public health bodies advised against indiscriminate quarantining to mitigate the impact of a pandemic before 2020, including the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2019. The WHO specifically recommended against whole-population quarantining as a strategy for managing the outbreak of a flu-like virus in a report it published in 2019. The WHO report, which you can read here, even stopped short of recommending the quarantining of exposed individuals.

So why the last-minute change of plan?

I’m clearly going to have to devote a chapter in my book to this mystery – and I suspect the main culprit will be the WHO for praising the Chinese authorities’ better-late-than-never over-reaction, which involved mandatory testing of millions of people, imprisoning those who tested positive in purpose-built “hospitals”, and boarding up those who tested negative in their homes for weeks on end. Because the WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is in thrall to Xi Jinping, he encouraged governments around the world to mimic China’s response. In this way, a totalitarian dictatorship called the tune that the rest of the world danced to. Incidentally, the Chinese authorities have agreed to an “independent” investigation into the origins of coronavirus on the condition that it’s led by the WHO. Isn’t that a bit like getting the monkey to investigate the organ-grinder?

But a post on the blog of the American Institute for Economic Research has drawn attention to another suspect in the investigation into this mystery: a 14 year-old high school girl. Her name is Laura Glass and in 2006 her dad, Robert Glass, was working as a scientist at the Sandia National Laboratories. He and his daughter, then 14, co-authored a 2006 paper entitled ‘Targeted Social Distancing Designs for Pandemic Influenza‘ and this paper, apparently, was referenced in a proposal about how America should respond to a pandemic drafted by by two doctors working for the US federal government in 2006, along with a team at the Defense Department. The New York Times has more.

So how did a 14 year-old come to co-author an influential academic paper? According to the Albuquerque Journal, she conducted a high school science experiment that leant weight to the idea that quarantining populations, including shutting schools, would suppress the spread of a flu-like virus:

Laura, with some guidance from her dad, devised a computer simulation that showed how people – family members, co-workers, students in schools, people in social situations – interact. What she discovered was that school kids come in contact with about 140 people a day, more than any other group. Based on that finding, her program showed that in a hypothetical town of 10,000 people, 5,000 would be infected during a pandemic if no measures were taken, but only 500 would be infected if the schools were closed.

The fact that the lockdown policy was based, in part, on a high school science experiment is symptomatic of how how little real scientific expertise was involved in devising it. The two doctors who took up this cause were a Department of Veterans Affairs physician and an oncologist turned White House adviser, and the Defense Department officials were just garden-variety bureaucrats.

I must try and interview Laura Glass for my book.

YouTube Censors Epidemiologist Knut Wittkowski

YouTube has appointed itself the world’s censor-in-chief during this crisis, but even our own Lord Chamberlain would have hesitated before muzzling Knut Wittkowski, former Head of Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research Design at Rockefeller University. (You’ll recall that I linked to his excellent interview in Spiked a couple of days ago.) The New York Post reports that YouTube removed a video of him talking about the virus that had racked up more than 1.3 million views.

The video was produced by the British film company Journeyman Pictures and YouTube hasn’t informed them or Wittkowski why it’s been removed. ”They don’t tell you,” he says. “They just say it violates our community standards. There’s no explanation for what those standards are or what standards it violated.”

Fortunately, the American Institute for Economic Research has put the video back up. You can watch it here.

#IDAHOBIT

Sunday was International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia, or IDAHOBIT. As Douglas Murray relates in his latest Telegraph column, the Metropolitan Police spent part of Sunday broadcasting their support for these causes. “We truly value and respect the unique qualities of everyone in the Met and are proud to celebrate this day”, the Met tweeted, following up with the hashtag #IDAHOBIT.

BBC News marked the occasion with a piece by Ben Hunte, the corporation’s LGBT correspondent, entitled: ‘I’m scared of being buried as the wrong gender.’ Here’s an extract:

Lucy, 21, from the north-east of England, is transgender and has severe heart issues. After years spent living as a woman, she says she has “no doubt” her parents would bury her as a man if she was to die from coronavirus.

“They’ll shave my long hair, put me in a suit, use my birth name and call me ‘he’ all the way through the funeral. The thought of my family doing it makes me feel so sick, but I know they will.”

Someone should tell Lucy to stop worrying – her chances of dying from coronavirus are less than one in a million.

A Military Fast Jet Pilot Writes…

Not Boris Johnson

Bullish email from a former military fast-jet pilot. He thinks he could have made a better decision about how to respond to the pandemic than the British Prime Minister:

I have spent most of my life in aviation as a military fast jet pilot and then as a captain for Thomas Cook until I was forced into redundancy last year. As aviators we have many skills including decision making in difficult situations. We have many tricks of the trade and most processes involve some sort of pneumonic. The latest one in Thomas Cook was FORDEC. It all starts with FACTS – you must must must start with as many facts from as many different sources as possible. Next comes OPTIONS – scope out how you can play the scenario out whilst considering the RISKS and BENEFITS of each option. Finally DECIDE, EXECUTE and then CHECK constantly to see if stuff has changed – the FACTS, for instance.

I’m guessing you know where my story fits into the current situation? This is not rocket science (ha). If required, a fast jet pilot can run through this in about five seconds!

I was also a CRMI crew resource management instructor and we had a whole history over 110 years of past accidents and incidents to learn from.

My common thread is that we have simply lost sight of the big picture. There is no voice of reason breaking through in the MSM. Where is Nigel Farage when you need him?

At the end of the day, as my father used to say, “Life Is A Near Death Experience”. Enjoy it as much as you can and let’s get on with the show.

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

Last week, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have reopened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet. We’re up to 500 now – keep ’em coming. And if you want a laugh about what to look forward to when the lockdown us over, check out this video.

Theme Tune Suggestions

Just one today, but what a corker: ‘Throw the R Away‘ by the Proclaimers.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. I’ve now got two journalists helping out and I’d like to pay them something, so if you feel like donating please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here. The site’s total page views have passed one million and it’s averaging 54,000 visitors a day. We’re having an impact…

And Finally…

Listen to James Delingpole telling me about being threatened with arrest at Sunday’s Hyde Park rally in our latest London Calling podcast. And watch this spoof of the daily Downing Street press briefing by comedy due Larry and Paul. Wait for the Peston question…

Latest News

The Guardian leads this morning with the latest woes over the NHS’s contact-tracing app. The message about there being a second version of the app may have got lost in the post on its way to the Ethics Advisory Board (see yesterday’s daily update), but it made it to the Kent-based recruiters tasked with hiring 18,000 trackers and tracers. According to the Guardian, applicants have started to receive the following response:

Thank you for your online application for this role. Unfortunately earlier today the roles were put on hold. This is due to a delay in the launch of the “Track and Trace’”app itself while the Government considers an alternative app.

Assuming the alternative app is the one commissioned for £3.8m from Zulke based on the Apple-Google decentralised approach, this consequence was foreseeable. A centralised approach relies on an army of operators; a decentralised one doesn’t. Does this mean the track-and-tracers hired in England so far will have to be furloughed? Scotland’s Sunday Mail attacked the Scottish Government yesterday for not having hired a single tracer, but that may turn out to be prudent in retrospect. (A stopped clock, etc.) The latest news is that the roll out of the app is going to be delayed until June. The one straw Matt Hancock can clutch at is that the UK Government is not alone in making a complete hash of this. According to Politico, plenty of other European government are struggling with contact-tracing technology. Why didn’t they all just adopt the Apple-Google approach in the first place?

Can the High Street Recover?

The Daily Mail leads with a classic vox pop by Harry Wallop in Southwold, a Suffolk coastal town which is a cipher for small towns across the country. Harry has spoken to various shopkeepers in its once-thriving, now-deserted High Street, to find out how they’re faring. The answers, while unsurprising, are distressing: many shops shut, with turnover down in those still open by up to 90%, and all of them facing huge bills for everything from rent to Perspex screens.

In Southwold, for all its independents, there are 12 empty stores, with many clothes shops and gift shops closing over the past year.

Those surviving still have to pay rent to landlords, even during the lockdown.

Many fear that when they are allowed to reopen, social-distancing restrictions will be so severe it will be impossible to make enough money to pay their bills.

And shopping centres are unlikely to fare much better. See this depressing footage from a shopping centre in Sydney posted on YouTube this morning. Is this what Westfield’s going to look like?

No Regional Variation

The Mail also reports business minister Alok Sharma’s comments from last night’s Downing Street briefing to the effect that the Government will not adapt the coronavirus lockdown regionally, despite the ‘R’ rate varying widely in different parts of the UK. This appears to confirm what many think, that the Government believes the public is too stupid to cope with more nuanced guidance.

No More Holidays in the Sun

The Times says that overseas holidays are likely to be banned this year, with Brits returning from foreign climes being forced into a 14-day self-quarantine which will make leaving the country impractical (and destroy much of what’s left of the country’s travel industry).

There had been a glimmer of hope for Francophiles after Boris suggested that those arriving via the Channel Tunnel or on cross-Channel ferries might be exempt, following a phone call with Macron. But the Times reports that ministers will meet today “to agree what one called ‘a very tight set of exemptions'”, while a Whitehall source says that number of possible exemptions has “been considerably scaled back” on “the advice of the Government’s scientific advisers”.

Lorry drivers are expected to be exempt from the rules, which does at least allow for the possibility of families from Milton Keynes being smuggled back into the country alongside those from Mogadishu and Mosul. In addition, the paper says “scientists researching coronavirus may also be exempt”. Does that include social scientists “researching” the impact of the virus on Italian and Spanish coastal towns? I studied economics at university…

Online, the Times reports the comments of Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary on the Today programme this morning that the 14-day quarantine policy is “idiotic” and “un-implementable”. O’Leary predicts that any such plan will be “dropped within weeks” because people will refuse to abide by it. The Telegraph and the Express also cover O’Leary’s remarks.

Meanwhile, Wales Online says package holidays will cost at least twice as much post-pandemic. Time to invest in a holiday let in Cornwall…

Six Million Fear Losing Their Jobs

In other news, the Guardian reports that six million people fear losing their jobs:

A survey finds 60% of workers are at most three months away from rent or mortgage default.

As many as 6 million people in Britain fear losing their job within six months as the coronavirus outbreak causes the biggest economic shock in living memory, a study has warned.

With much of business and social life at a standstill despite gradual steps to reopen the economy, the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) said workers feared the coronavirus recession would be worse than the 2008 financial crash.

As many as one in five people in a survey of 2,000 workers by Survation for the left-wing thinktank said they were worried about losing their jobs, despite Government efforts to cushion the blow using its wage subsidy scheme.

Academy Bosses Back Schools Reopening

There’s a letter in the Times this morning from the chiefs of 22 academy chains backing the Government’s plans to reopen schools. Together, these chains teach about a third of a million children. In the letter, they say the impact of schools remaining closed will be calamitous and irreparable, particularly for poorer pupils.

Michael Gove, the former Education Secretary, has told teachers to end their opposition to schools in England reopening more widely in a fortnight. He told them to “look to your responsibilities” and said that if teachers really cared about children they would want them to be in schools, because “teaching is a mission and a vocation”.

The Guardian reports on a new survey showing that keeping poor children off school damages their education.

Keeping schools closed to tackle the coronavirus pandemic is almost certain to increase educational inequalities between children from the richest and poorest families, according to a study, as debate intensifies over the Government’s push to reopen schools in England.

Survey data from more than 4,000 families in England analysed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that by the end of this month, children in better-off families will have received a week and half more home learning than children in the poorest households during the closures.

Pity that until now the paper has done its best to give the impression that asking teachers to do what nurses, checkout staff and posties have done all along – i.e. go to work – is tantamount to genocide.

The Telegraph has a summary of a new report by Australia’s National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance which concludes that the risk of coronavirus spreading in schools is “extremely low”:

Speaking to the Telegraph yesterday, a senior member of the SAGE sub-committee on schools… described it as a “very useful and interesting piece of research”.

[It] was conducted by Australia’s National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance. It was cited by the country’s officials when they announced that children should return to the classroom and found schools had a “very limited” role in transmission of the virus.

The scientists found that across 15 schools in New South Wales, 10 secondary and five primary, 18 people – nine teachers and nine students – had confirmed coronavirus.

Of the 735 students and 128 staff who were in close contact with the virus carriers, only one secondary school pupil caught it from another student and one primary school pupil caught it from a teacher.

The authors said their findings “do suggest that spread of COVID-19 within NSW schools has been very limited” and transmission “appears considerably less than seen for other respiratory viruses, such as influenza”.

They concluded that the data “suggest that children are not the primary drivers of COVID-19 spread in schools or in the community. This is consistent with data from international studies showing low rates of disease in children and suggesting limited spread among children and from children to adults.”

The Sun has a strong leader saying its time for children to return to the classroom:

Militant unions telling teachers they should refuse to go back to work must also urgently rethink their stance.

Reopening schools is obviously essential if we are to prevent the poorest and most vulnerable children falling behind — new research reveals that better-off children are spending a whopping 30 per cent more time each day on education than those from poorer homes.

But as parents can only go back to work once their kids are in class, it’s also the only way to kickstart the economy.

The Telegraph has a report on what it says are the “first images” to emerge of what life will be like for British children in primary schools. Turns out, this is exactly – and I mean exactly – the same story that I ran on Lockdown Sceptics last week about the now-deleted Facebook post complaining about the new rules in place at Holywell Village First School in Northumberland. I always credit other journalists on this site. Be nice if they reciprocated occasionally.

“Fake News” More Accurate Than “Real” News?

Peter Ebdon snookers Government propaganda

People who dare to tell the truth about the Government’s massive over-reaction to the pandemic, and challenge the propaganda being pumped out daily to justify it, are so often accused of spreading “fake news” and “misinformation” that I’m tempted to create a page on the right-hand side called “Fake News”, but with the word “Fake” crossed out and replaced with the word “Real”. In this regard, it’s worth reading Omar Kahn’s Medium post about the hysterical coverage of the crisis in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The latest truth-teller to be accused of hawking “conspiracy theories” is the Snooker champion Peter Ebdon. In an interview with BBC Five Live on Saturday, he dared to suggest that self-isolating might be damaging to people’s psychological health: “Is social distancing harmful? Yes, it probably is. People need touch, need to shake hands.”. He also said he thought people might be better off in the long run if they focused on building up herd immunity. “They need to build up their immunity,” he said. Finally, he said the British authorities have been using tried-and-tested psychological techniques to try and get us to observe official guidance. “There’s an awful lot of brainwashing going on at the moment,” he said. “We’re facing the greatest psychological operation in history.”

All sounds pretty reasonable to me, but not to the Independent. The headline in today’s paper reads: ‘Former snooker champion promotes coronavirus conspiracy theory during BBC interview.’ The story begins: “Peter Ebdon has used a BBC interview to a promote a conspiracy theory around the coronavirus pandemic. The former world snooker champion believes that the Government’s social distancing guidelines are harmful.”

I wonder who else the Independent is going to accuse of promoting “coronavirus conspiracy theories”? The Royal College of Psychiatrists? On Saturday, it warned that psychiatrists are in danger of being overwhelmed by “a tsunami of mental illness”. By way of confirmation, the BBC reports that over half a million people have accessed online training courses that aim to prevent suicide in the last three weeks alone.

Actually, we don’t need to speculate about who else the Independent is going to accuse of this thought crime because it lists Ebdon’s co-defendants further down in the piece: “Ebdon is not the first sportsman to come out publicly with conspiracy theories relating to the pandemic. Former Arsenal and England defender Sol Campbell earlier this month claimed that the virus was man-made…”

Note to Ben Burrorws, the journalist who’s written this article: another person guilty of promoting the “conspiracy theory” that SARS-CoV-2 originated in a lab and couldn’t have evolved naturally is Dr Luc Montagnier, joint winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Why Do Lockdown Zealots Behave Like Members of a Cult?

Interesting link in the comments beneath yesterday’s Latest News. It was to a blog post by Hugh Willbourn, longtime collaborator of Paul McKenna. He poses an interesting question, which is why vast swathes of the population, not just here but across the world, continue to believe the worst about coronavirus in spite of the now overwhelming evidence that it will end up killing about the same amount of people as a bad bout of seasonal flu? As he puts it:

In spite of the evidence that COVID-19, whilst tragically fatal for too many, is not the decimating plague that was predicted, governments and populations around the world continue to behave as though it is a plague on a par with the Black Death.

His theory is that those who’ve got hold of this idea, and adjusted their behaviour accordingly, have essentially joined a cult – the Covid cult – and the mounting evidence that their beliefs are mistaken has prompted them to double-down on those beliefs rather than abandon them.

That may sound like an odd reaction, but in fact it’s typical of doomsday cult members throughout history. Willbourn cites the work of Leon Festinger, a mid-century social psychologist, who joined a UFO cult in 1954 in an attempt to understand what drove its members. These cultists believed a wave of catastrophic earthquakes and floods were about to engulf the US, but they would be saved by the “Guardians” who would whisk them to safety in flying saucers. To Festinger’s amazement, when the appointed hour came and went and no earthquakes or floods occurred, his fellow cultists become more convinced that they were right, not less.

Festinger wrote a book called When Prophecy Fails in which he hypothesises that the reason doomsday cultists always double down on their beliefs after they’ve been shown to be nonsense is to avoid the pain of admitting they were wrong and all their sacrifices were for nothing. He sets out five conditions that have to be present for this extreme form of cognitive dissonance to occur:

  1. There must be conviction
  2. There must be commitment to this conviction
  3. The conviction must be amenable to unequivocal disconfirmation
  4. Such unequivocal disconfirmation must occur
  5. Social support must be available subsequent to the disconfirmation

Is this starting to sound familiar? As Willbourn points out, the sequence that Festinger wrote about more than 50 years ago is eerily reminiscent of what’s happening today: an apocalyptic prophecy was delivered from on high (“the science”), those who believed it radically altered their behaviour, the prophecy turned out not to be true, but instead of abandoning their doom-mongering the believers have become even more fervent, attacking anyone who points out the gap between fantasy and reality as dangerous heretics (“fake news”, “misinformation”, “conspiracy theories”, etc).

The difference, of course, is that Festinger’s UFO cult had a few dozen members, whereas the Covid cult seems to have infected half the world. If Festinger’s right, the bad news is we won’t be able to persuade people to stop social distancing if we prove that the danger posed by COVID-19 has been dramatically overstated. On the contrary, people’s opposition to returning to normal will intensify rather than diminish as the evidence mounts they were wrong.

You can already see this in the reaction of parents reluctant to send their kids back to school when you point out that the chances of a child aged 14 and under dying from COVID-19 are 5.3 million-to-one. Far from being reassured, they just become hostile and suspicious. It’s like the opposite of red-pilling someone: they’re even less likely to send their child to school once you’ve given them the facts. The solution may well be to give the entire population of the UK a magic potion that persuades them they’re now protected from this killer virus. Which is exactly what Alok Sharma announced yesterday at the Downing Street press briefing: plans are in place to roll out a COVID-19 vaccine to 30 million people by September if trials are successful.

When Prophecy Fails is available on Kindle for just 99p. Worth checking out for people trying to figure out how we ended up in this predicament.

And while we’re on the subject of mass hysteria, Guy de la Bédoyère, long-standing contributor to this site, has written an excellent essay called ‘Climbing Out of the Lobster Pot‘ about the psychological trap our Government has led us into. Well worth a read.

A Critical Care Nurse Writes…

A reader passed on a gripe from a critical care nurse at a large NHS hospital in the East of England. She’s none too happy about the staff who’ve been redeployed to work in critical care at their own request:

This week’s work has been very hard. Wearing full PPE makes me overheat, the visors are cloudy and mine is constantly steamed up. Then staff are arguing. Some nurses, Health Care Assistants and Operating Department Practitioners redeployed to critical care at their own request are complaining the work is too hard; they don’t like being told what to do by a critical care sister. They go on about us being heroes. Makes me so cross, let’s just get on with our jobs, I am doing mainly what I have been doing for years. We often risk catching some horrible illness, we just get on with it, taking the best precautions we can. These new prima donnas need to get a grip.

A Banker Writes…

A banker has been in touch, having waded through the minutes of the Strategic Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) meetings. According to him, they prove that COVID-19 is a nosocomial disease, which has long been a suspicion of his:

I am sure you are all over this but it is an absolute treasure trove if you can be bothered to go through it.

But my particular hobby horse is nailed in minutes of meeting 18, items 6 and 7. Basically, it admits that they knew, by March 20th, that the majority of new ICU cases were coming from within the hospitals themselves, from in-patients being infected by medical staff and other patients. They were not coming from outside.

This is almost entirely a nosocomial disease. Nearly all the deaths have arisen from infections passed around in hospitals and care homes; almost none in the general community. All they had to do was protect hospital in-patients and care home inmates and we wouldn’t have had an epidemic. Probably why there are virtually no deaths in Africa and definitely the reason for so few deaths in Japan – they protect their elderly.

Bluntly, this is an almighty fuck-up by PHE and NHS: they allowed the virus to get into hospitals early doors and then panicked and made the situation even worse by sending a whole load of infected patients into care homes. 80-90% of deaths are going to turn out to be people who were already in a hospital or care home, but it is being covered up because NHS/PHE don’t want to admit that they actually caused the problem. They have killed a lot of people.

This is the answer; it explains everything. It explains the different death tolls between countries; it explains why countries with high death tolls have so many who had pre-existing conditions; it explains why there is so little correlation between lock-downs and death tolls; it explains differing fatality rates; it explains Sweden and Germany; it explains why the outbreaks die out relatively quickly regardless. In the general community, like MRSA, it is pretty harmless, but if you get it into hospitals and medical facilities it runs riot and kills people. Did we learn nothing from Florence Nightingale?

What do you do with a disease that only kills really old and ill people? Keep it out of hospitals and care homes…

We have all been imprisoned for no reason at all.

You will also like all the stuff about intentionally frightening us all to ensure compliance. Sick-making.

I’ve had a brief look myself and the minutes he’s referring to aren’t quite the smoking gun he imagines. Items six and seven in the minutes of meeting 18 read as follows:

  1. The current doubling time may higher than expected in the longer term, if there is appreciable nosocomial transmission resulting in high prevalence in health care workers and a greater risk of transmission to vulnerable patients.
  2. If the current ICU demand is being driven largely by nosocomial transmission and increased transmission to vulnerable patients and this process is separate from transmission in the general population then it will not be influenced in the short-term by current measures.

It sounds like the boffins on SAGE were discussing the possibility that COVID-19 is “driven largely be nosocomial transmission” rather than stating it as a bald fact. Nonetheless, if that does become the settled consensus about how the virus is passed on – and everything we’re discovering about transmission is trending in that direction – my banker friend is right about the authorities’ response being “an almighty fuck up”. And questions will need to be asked about why this possibility was considered, and apparently rejected, by SAGE.

Incidentally, I wonder if my friend has seen this piece in the Guardian? It says that more than 20% of those patients diagnosed with COVID-19 in hospitals contracted the disease while in hospital being treated for another illness.

Why Have There Been So Many Deaths in Care Homes?

In light of the fact that COVID-19 is almost certainly a predominantly nosocomial disease, I’ve created a new page on the right-hand menu called ‘Why Have There Been So Many Deaths in Care Homes?‘ I’ve had help with this from “Wilfred Thomas”, the pseudonymous academic who wrote ‘COVID-19 and the Infantilisation of Dissent‘ and ‘The Hyper-Rationality of Crowds: COVID-19 and the Cult of Anxiety‘. Please add your comments underneath and suggest links we should flag up at the foot of the page.

How Did We Respond to Previous Pandemics?

A reader has sent me such an interesting bit of historical research he’s done on earlier pandemics I’m going to start a new page on the right-hand side entitled ‘How Did We Respond to Previous Pandemics?’

I’ve already written about the fact that the influenza pandemic of 1968-70 was more deadly than the current pandemic, but didn’t cause any country to start quarantining entire populations and this reader has dug up some interesting facts about it.

For instance, 80,000 people in the UK died from what was known as “Honk Kong Flu”. As a percentage of the UK population back then (55 million), that’s the equivalent of 97,000 in today’s money. And it was a big story at the time – see this Pathé News report. But we didn’t lock people up in the homes or mothball our economy and, as a result, there was no hit to GDP. Whole year growth for 1969 was 1.9%; for 1970 it was 2.7%. More info on this and other pandemics coming soon.

There’s a good article on the blog of the American Institute for Economic Research about how the policy of locking down entire populations in response to a pandemic was first floated in 2006 as a possible response to bird flu. It was rejected then, but resurfaced four years later in a “second wave” of terrible policy responses.

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

Last Monday, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have reopened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet. We’re up to 455 now. Keep ’em coming.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. I’ve now got two journalists helping out and I’d like to pay them something, so if you feel like donating please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

And Finally…

Citizen Young rallies rallies his troops outside the now closed Tooting Broadway tube station

I love getting emails from lefties who say they share my lockdown scepticism and can’t believe what a bunch of bed-wetters their fellow travellers are. But this is my favourite so far:

Just to say I’ve been a lifelong member of the Marxist revolutionary left and would definitely be on the other side of the barricades from Toby Young (except on Brexit). However, I will be making a donation to Lockdown Sceptics because it is a beacon of sanity in a sea of hysteria. I’ve just finished writing a piece against lockdown, which is even worse where I am (Scotland), and it will hopefully be published next week in a small scale online magazine.

Keep me posted, Comrade. I will link to your article on this site.

Latest News

As week eight of the lockdown comes to a close, there are some rumblings of dissent – although it’s coming from people unhappy from the Prime Minister’s easing of the lockdown rather than the fact that we’ve been confined to our homes for two months. Opinium polling for the Observer over the past week has seen a significant drop in public confidence in – and approval of – the Government. Approval ratings have been dropping steadily since a highpoint in late March – and those who disapprove now form the majority for the first time since the lockdown began:

Anti-Lockdown Protests

A Protestor in Hyde Park yesterday holding up a sign

What little genuine dissent there is was confined to a handful of anti-lockdown protestors yesterday. One such demonstration was in Hyde Park where, according to the Mail, 19 people were arrested, including Jeremy Corbyn’s brother. My friend James Delingpole attended and was threatened with a £30 fine merely for trying to report on the demo for Breitbart. You can read his piece about that here (includes video footage of him being confronted by a police officer).

I’ve received several reports from readers who attended the Hyde Park rally, including this one:

I went to Speakers’ Corner today. Britain’s traditional fee speech locale in London. I counted 255 people, but there were more than that, perhaps as many as 300. No “far right” evident. People from all sides of the political divide, including pro- and anti-Brexit. What the people I spoke to had in common was getting their news and info and trying to make decisions based on information from ‘alternative’ sources. All were dubious about the number of deaths from COVID-19 being recored by doctors in the absence of testing evidence, although most were also dubious about the accuracy of the standard PCR tests. Huge mistrust of official “science” and officialdom in general.

It was therapeutic being with these people. Heart-warming after these weeks of terror and house arrest. Odd looks from passers-by, as if we were all mad. Like being a Brexit-voter while working at a university. Some humorous looks, but others aggressive and combative. One cyclist deliberately accelerated towards some protesters who managed to avoid a collision by the skin of their teeth.

I was asked to move on by a police officer after being told I was “breaking the law”, even though I was just sitting on the grass in the sunshine with a few others. When I asked the officer which law I was breaking he got a bit twitchy. Said assembling with others not from my household was against the rules enshrined in the 1984 Public Health Act. When I challenged the lawfulness of these rules and mentioned Simon Dolan’s lawsuit, he said “don’t start being clever” and threatened to arrest all of us.

Spoke with many afterwards. Was told that weekly protests are planned from now on. All the people I met have gone from respectable to deplorable in a matter of weeks.

If you want to see some footage from the Hyde Park demonstration, including the arrest of Piers Corbyn, click here. This was shot exclusively for Lockdown Sceptics by a professional filmmaker who attended the event.

I’ve also been contacted by someone from For Freedom’s Sake, the Manchester-based anti-lockdown group, who attended the demo in Platt Fields Park. Smaller turnout than in Hyde Park and no arrests:

There was a turnout of around 60 people, mixed gender and ages and a largely ordinary working people crowd. Police presence was pretty heavy, including officers mounted on bikes and horseback, but thankfully there were no arrests or fines doled out (as far as we witnessed.)

You can see some footage on Twitter of the Manchester protest here.

Lord Gumption

One person who would defend our right to protest, even in the midst of a pandemic, is Lord Sumption, the former UK Supreme Court judge. He has consistently been the most high-profile public figure to criticise the lockdown – a great advocate for the sceptics’ cause. His lead opinion piece in today’s Sunday Times is worth reading in full (and sharing on social media), but his point about “Protect the NHS” being the main reason for shutting us all in our homes is particularly good:

It was never much of a rationale. The NHS is there to protect us, not the other way round. How could its unpreparedness possibly justify depriving the entire UK population of its liberty, pushing us into the worst recession since the early 18th century, destroying millions of jobs and hundreds of thousands of businesses, piling up public and private debt on a crippling scale and undermining the education of our children?

Since the Prime Minister’s broadcast last Sunday, the lockdown has found a new rationale. The Government has dropped “Protect the NHS” from its slogan. The reason is plain from the paper it published the following day. The NHS is not at risk.

Sumption’s conclusion is withering:

The Prime Minister’s broadcast was supposed to be his Churchillian moment. Instead, we beheld a man imprisoned by his own rhetoric and the logic of his past mistakes.

The lockdown is now all about protecting politicians’ backs. They are not wicked men, just timid ones, terrified of being blamed for deaths on their watch. But it is a wicked thing that they are doing.

Failings of Irish High Court

John Waters addresses supporters outside the Court

It’s a pity the High Court judge in the John Waters and Gemma O’Doherty case – they’re the two applicants trying to get a judicial review of the lockdown in Ireland – isn’t more like Lord Sumption. I’ve published a piece today by an Irish social scientist (whom I’ve given the pseudonym “John William O’Sullivan”) explaining what the judge in that case got wrong when he refused their application last week. Here’s the key paragraph:

Justice Meenan’s argument against Waters’ and O’Doherty’s case is rather simple: he claims they must prove that the Irish Government’s actions have been “disproportionate” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He claims, citing previous cases, that constitutional rights are not absolute and that if a government acts against them to deal with a threat “proportionately” then the government is allowed to trample on those constitutional rights.

The problem with this argument is that it implicitly sides with Government action as against the constitution. The Government is assumed to be in the right and the onus is on the citizen to prove not that the Government’s actions are unconstitutional, but that they are “disproportionate” given the threat of the pandemic relative to the constitutionally-protected rights they override.

Not So Rich List

Elsewhere in the Sunday Times is the news that the pandemic has wiped £54 billion from the wealth of Britain’s super rich in the past two months. “More than half of the country’s billionaires are nursing losses as high as £6 billion, with the combined wealth of the 1,000 wealthiest individuals and families plunging for the first time since 2009, in the wake of the financial crisis,” it says.

UK Government Petition Finally Approved

At last, the UK Government Petitions site has approved an anti-lockdown petition. Not as militant as some of us would like, but better than nothing. You can sign it here. If it gets 10,000 signatures the Government will have to respond; if it gets 100,000, it will be considered for debate in Parliament. Last time I checked it had just over 500.

Epidemiologist Condemns Lockdowns

Knut Wittkowski

There’s a great Q&A in Spiked with Knut Wittkowski, former head of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design at the Rockefeller University’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science. A more sceptical epidemiologist you’re unlikely to find, and that’s going some given how many we’ve already featured on this site. Here’s one of the highlights:

Spiked: Have our interventions made much of an impact?

Wittkowski: When the whole thing started, there was one reason given for the lockdown and that was to prevent hospitals from becoming overloaded. There is no indication that hospitals could ever have become overloaded, irrespective of what we did. So we could open up again, and forget the whole thing.

I hope the intervention did not have too much of an impact because it most likely made the situation worse. The intervention was to ‘flatten the curve’. That means that there would be the same number of cases but spread out over a longer period of time, because otherwise the hospitals would not have enough capacity.

Now, as we know, children and young adults do not end up in hospitals. It is only those who are both elderly and have comorbidities that do. Therefore you have to protect the elderly and the nursing homes. The ideal approach would be to simply shut the door of the nursing homes and keep the personnel and the elderly locked in for a certain amount of time, and pay the staff overtime to stay there for 24 hours per day.

How long can you do that for? For three weeks, that is possible. For 18 months, it is not. The flattening of the curve, the prolongation of the epidemic, makes it more difficult to protect the elderly, who are at risk. More of the elderly people become infected, and we have more deaths.

Spiked: What are the dangers of lockdown?

Wittkowski: Firstly, we have the direct consequences: suicides, domestic violence and other social consequences leading to death. And then we have people who are too scared to go to the hospitals for other problems like strokes or heart attacks. So people stay away from hospitals because of the Covid fear. And then they die.

COVID-19 and the Cult of Anxiety

I published a piece last week called “COVID-19 and the Infantilisation of Dissent” by a maverick academic whom I called “Wilfred Thomas”. That went down well, so today I’m publishing a follow-up: “The Hyper-Rationality of Crowds: COVID-19 and the Cult of Anxiety“. This academic, a social scientist, is trying to understand why governments around the world seemed to panic simultaneously in response to the viral outbreak, gripped by the same irrational fear. But this isn’t a dry, academic paper. On the contrary, it’s like a rant delivered at 100mph by your best mate in the pub after he’s taken a superdrug that temporarily boosts his IQ to 200. Here’s a particularly good paragraph:

So how did we get here, to a world in which children can be herded into their little playpark Guantanamo cells not as a punishment but – remarkably – as an indicator of a society’s love and care for those same children? One word that springs immediately to mind is “madness.” “We must be mad – literally mad – to be permitting all of this,” you may very well say to yourself (if, that is, you have a fondness for paraphrasing Enoch Powell). Madness. It’s a good word, isn’t it? Rolls off the tongue. Helps to burn off steam. After all, who doesn’t like to channel their inner cab driver every now and then? “The world’s gone mad, mate. Take that wot’s-’is-name. Bonking Boris. That’s ’im. I had ’im in the back of me cab once. Screw loose, if you ask me. It’s all that sex wot’s done it. And that Ferguson? Shag other people’s wives all you like mate, but take your mathematical modelling back to the funny farm wiv ya when you’re done!” And yet, sadly, individual madness can’t really explain our current predicament. It’s a bit like blaming the invasion of Iraq in 2003 solely on President Bush and his family’s supposed mania for oil. Nice and comforting and all that, but hardly convincing when considered in light of the messy complexities of 21st century geo-politics. The problem with any individualised idea of madness is that we have a large group of people in the West right now who have allowed – have willingly and happily enabled – our lockdown societies to emerge. You and I may not be directly culpable. We may not agree with what’s happening. We may turn the cold eye of reproof upon our fellow citizens. If society were a golf club, we might even go so far as to write a strongly-worded letter of complaint to the club secretary. But whether we like it or not, right now we’re individual members of a society that, precisely as a society, has decided that battery-farming kids, playing football without tackling and hiding under the bed in order to avoid social interaction are all genuinely, 100% bona fide great ideas.

Please do read the whole thing.

Welsh Government Angling For First Prize As Most Incompetent Regional Executive in UK

A reader in Wales has got in touch to vent his despair about the idiocy of the Welsh Government, which seems determined to ruin the economy. “The tourism industry, and especially the holiday accommodation and sporting sector (which I am involved with), is being decimated,” he says. He points to this story as evidence of how brain-dead the official response to the pandemic has been – it relates to how police stopped people fishing at Cledlyn Lake Fishery in Ceredigion on Friday, even though the initial advice from Angling Cymru is that fishing is a permitted form of exercise and people are allowed to drive short distances to do it. The revised guidelines now state only disabled people can drive to go fishing. (They may have changed again since going to press.)

US Government Was Advised Against Closing Schools During 1951-52 Polio Pandemic

A reader has drawn my attention to a paper published in the Journal of School Health in 1951 on the US polio epidemic entitled “Should Polio Close Schools?“. Then, as now, one of the biggest questions was about the efficacy of closing schools to prevent the disease being spread. Here’s an extract from the abstract:

Anderson and Arnstein in “Communicable Disease Control”, 1948, in discussing poliomyelitis, say: “School closure, as well as closure of moving picture theatres, Sunday schools, and other similar groups, is frequently attempted in response to popular demand that ‘something be done’. Although tried repeatedly, it is of no proved value, never altering the usual curve of the epidemic: nor has the disease been more prevalent or persistent in those communities with the courage to resist such demands.”

The author of this paper comes to the same conclusion about the 1951–52 epidemic. For context, the number of Americans diagnosed with polio in the epidemic of 1948–49 was 42,173, with 2,720 fatalities. The 1951–52 epidemic was the worst in America’s history. Of the 57,628 cases reported that year, 3,145 died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis. By contrast, the number of people aged 19 and under who have died in English hospitals after testing positive for COVID-19 in the UK is currently 12. For those aged 15 and under, it’s two, according to Channel 4 Fact Check. Professor David Spiegelhalter at the University of Cambridge estimates that the risk to children of catching and then dying from coronavirus is one in 5.3 million. In the light of this, might Anneliese Dodds, Labour’s shadow chancellor, reconsider her decision not to send her six year-old back to school?

Scottish Mum Starts a Petition Urging the Government to Reopen Schools… and is Cancelled

Last week, Kathrine Jebsen Moore, a journalist based in Scotland (and a friend of mine), started a Change.org petition urging the Government to re-open schools across the UK. In the hope of getting some signatures, she posted a message about it on a Facebook group she’s a member of called Edinburgh Gossip Girls. Perhaps naively, she was expecting this group of about 16,000 women in the Scottish capital – many of them mothers – to be sympathetic. I’ll let Kathrine take up the story:

Within a few minutes my post had 62 angry emojis, six stunned ones, three sad ones, and only 26 likes – and one heart. The comments reinforced the mood. As well as the simple “that’ll be a no” and “wouldn’t dream of signing this”, it quickly progressed to mud-slinging, strawmen and high tempers. Some comments were, worryingly, from teachers, who failed to show the professional pride that has been apparent among NHS workers and others who’ve continued to do their jobs during the pandemic. Although a few were supportive, I’ll include a selection which conveys the general spirit:

“Eh, not a chance. Most kids are fine without school.”

“Education matters but so does not dying.”

“Can everybody please report to admin and get this goady post taken down?”

Another accused me of having had “too many daytime G&Ts”.

“Boo hoo, my kids miss their friends… they’ll miss them a lot more if they’re dead.”

That was the last comment before the admin switched off comments, with the words: “I’m not sure you’re going to get much support here, and this is a post that clearly stirs up a lot of angst and emotion which I’m trying to avoid. This is one for your personal FB, thanks.”

I’ve published the whole story on Lockdown Sceptics under “Is Shutting Schools Really Necessary?” on the right-hand side. You can read it here.

A Doctor Writes…

I received an email from a doctor today which notes that, among other things, the two-metre social distancing rule isn’t observed by doctors and nurses at her hospital. Nor do they wear masks when off the wards.

I’m a critical care consultant in a non-London District General Hospital and have been working throughout the pandemic.

There has been adequate PPE, which has been used in compliance with Government guidance, throughout this time by staff having patient contact. There has been a noticeable difference in how different areas apply this though, with some areas or specialties being extremely cautious, e.g. full PPE for procedures involving patients who’ve tested negative, making procedures slower, more difficult and more prone to complications.

As part of the escalation plan, more staff have been moved into critical care to assist with patient management. As our facilities have not increased, we have therefore had crowded coffee rooms and offices, with everybody sitting at a normal distance next to each other, without masks – it’s difficult to eat with a mask on) – sharing kitchen facilities and changing rooms. We then have the farce of going to the hospital dining room or coffee shop, and sitting spaced out two to a table, as we are visible to the non-clinical world. Several junior doctors at my hospital tested positive, and had a week off, returning once symptoms had resolved, although as they are not re-tested, and are allowed to return to work with a persistent cough, who knows whether they were still shedding the virus. My personal belief is that a significant proportion of the nursing and medical staff have had the virus, with either no or minor symptoms, and have some degree of immunity.

In my opinion, the hospital I work at did an admirable job of preparing and escalating, and managed well with a significant number of very ill patients. The de-escalation, now that we have far fewer patients, seems to be less logical, although this is probably due to the national guidance.

On a separate note, the news from NHS England earlier this week that showed that patients with diabetes have a higher chance of dying with covid was really unhelpful. Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are completely different diseases, with Type 2 being associated with obesity, which we already know is one of the strongest risk factors for a poor outcome from covid. I’m not aware of any evidence showing an increased risk from having Type 1 diabetes. I haven’t seen any seriously unwell people with Type 1 diabetes, compared to Type 2. While it seemed logical before we had first hand experience to assume that people with Type 1 would be at increased risk, this hasn’t appeared the case, but statements like this from NHS England will continue to terrify those people with Type 1 who are otherwise fit and at low risk.

By the end of last week, we had no Covid patients left in critical care. As the pandemic dies down, paradoxically, the public’s paranoia and pointless mask-wearing is increasing. I have no wish to wear a face covering in public that will become saturated with the vapour I breathe out, including the many normal bacteria that colonise my nose. Face coverings are wrong for so many reasons – being a harbour for viruses and bacteria being one, but also for reducing facial recognition, contact and empathy with those we are interacting with, which I worry will cause increased friction between members of the community.

I was delighted to find your Lockdown Sceptics website, and know I’m not alone.

Latest on Slow-Mo Car Crash that is the NHS’s Contact-Tracing App

My correspondent who’s been covering the roll-out of the NHS contact-tracing app draws my attention to a leak over the weekend:

Can’t usually bring myself to read the Guardian but I may have to develop a tolerance as it seems to be the go-to paper for leaks from the Ethics Advisory Board overseeing the NHSx ‘public panic’ app. Not surprising, given that the majority of the board are legal and philosophy academics. Not a technologist amongst them as far as I can tell from the publicly available data.

The news is… the Board was not told about the development of a second version of the app (the Zulke developed one). According to the Guardian, which has spoken to some Board members on condition of anonymity: “Some members are particularly concerned that they were not informed about the development of a second, parallel NHS app that was being built in secret until its existence was disclosed by the Financial Times last week.”

If the Ethics Advisory Board cannot speak out publicly and is dependent on Matt Hancock reading the Guardian to get its message across then no wonder Parliament’s Human Rights Committee felt the Board was inadequate (as previously reported on Lockdown Sceptics).

The apparent lack of a tech member of the Board is astonishing. It means dropped balls – such as asking for all app code to be open sourced, but not asking for server-side, backend code to be included. Given the centralised data model, that’s a big deal.

As things stand, the Ethics Advisory Board appears to be a political fig leaf, whining about how powerless it is to the Guardian while Hancock charges ahead with his Big Brother apps.

Sue Denim Responds to Imperial College’s Statement to the Sunday Telegraph

The ex-Google engineer who reviewed Neil Ferguson’s code for this site under the name “Sue Denim” has sent me a response to today’s news story in the Sunday Telegraph – “Coding that led to lockdown was ‘totally unreliable’ and a ‘buggy mess’, say experts“. That story is based on a comment piece in the same paper by two senior software engineers. In response to their scathing assessment of Ferguson’s computer model, Imperial College has dug in. It gave the following statement to the Sunday Telegraph:

The UK Government has never relied on a single disease model to inform decision-making. As has been repeatedly stated, decision-making around lockdown was based on a consensus view of the scientific evidence, including several modelling studies by different academic groups.

Multiple groups using different models concluded that the pandemic would overwhelm the NHS and cause unacceptably high mortality in the absence of extreme social distancing measures. Within the Imperial research team we use several models of differing levels of complexity, all of which produce consistent results. We are working with a number of legitimate academic groups and technology companies to develop, test and further document the simulation code referred to. However, we reject the partisan reviews of a few clearly ideologically motivated commentators.

Epidemiology is not a branch of computer science and the conclusions around lockdown rely not on any mathematical model but on the scientific consensus that COVID-19 is a highly transmissible virus with an infection fatality ratio exceeding 0.5pc in the UK”

Sue Denim has responded as follows:

ICL is asserting here that once a few academics with the right kind of politics agree on something, that’s science. Replicability, accuracy versus observed outcomes and not being buggy are things that apparently only partisans care about. The claim about ideology is probably a reference to my comment about the insurance industry, but they then immediately prove the point by claiming “epidemiology is not a branch of computer science”. That’s exactly the sort of explanation for failure that companies can’t give to their customers, because nobody cares. Refusal to work cross-discipline is a mindset problem unique to academia, one that companies cannot and do not tolerate.

Finally, their claim about the Government never relying on a single disease model to make decisions doesn’t seem to match the official SAGE publication from March 9th, “Potential impact of behavioural and social interventions on an epidemic of Covid-19 in the UK“, which cites the ICL Report 9 paper and its assumptions as the only source of predictions for what would happen. The claim about consensus is equally dodgy: nearly as soon as the UK changed course in response to ICL’s model, a team at Oxford (Gupta et al) publicly contradicted them.

In my second post I asked if Imperial College’s administrators knew how out of control this department had become. Now we know the answer: yes, and they don’t care.

Worth noting that Imperial has just sealed a deal with with the Chinese company Huawei worth £5 million. The Mail on Sunday has the story.

A Banker Writes…

A banker has got in touch to express his astonishment that last weekend’s leak from Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT), revealing how much the Government’s expenditure is likely to increase by this year, didn’t result in more comment:

I was a banker for 30 years and have worked with governments in the NL, France, Germany and the UK as well as major European corporates on privatisations and major capital raisings. Never have I seen a finance ministry send up what I can only describe as a distress flare to advertise the trouble its economy is in. Most finance ministries would avoid doing this like the plague (pardon the phrase). They all borrow internationally and the rule of the game is do nothing that damages your credit rating. If you damage it, not only does your cost of borrowing go up, but your very ability to borrow may be impacted. This matters when you’re going to have to rely massively on the kindness of strangers to finance your spending by massively increased debt issuance.

He can think of three possible explanations for the leak:

  • There is serious alarm in HMT about the Government’s reaction to Covid and the economic cost of the lockdown, including Rishi Sunak’s expensive and over-generous bailouts. Maybe a worried official hoped the international capital markets could be used to put the frighteners on the PM.
  • There’s tension between No 10 and No 11 and Sunak was trying to appeal to the international capital markets to put a brake on his boss’s recklessness by pointing out the financial and potentially political cost of an extended lockdown.
  • HMT officials are scared shitless about the cost of Sunak’s crowd-pleasing and trying to put a shot across his bows.

He continues:

I’m astonished how little serious reflection this leak has occasioned. The FT barely noticed it. More tellingly, it didn’t spark a week-long comment war on Bloomberg, Twitter or the Wall St Journal. All it did was spark a straw fire about “no tax increases” with some sensible reactions from former Chancellors.

But it still puzzles me as to why it ever happened. And why it didn’t cause utter pandemonium. Because the economic cost of this madness will only be felt once we get out of lockdown’s phoney war and the “Blitz” proper gets underway later this year, by which I mean when all those who are unemployed and don’t know it yet have a bruising encounter with economic reality. I wonder what the Blitz spirit will feel like then? How many royals will have to be axed from the civil list so that Buck House can once again look the East End in the eye?

Or maybe the leak was just mistimed, premature. We’re still all too busy clapping Captain Tom and the nurses (God bless them) to cope with any likely reality 3-6 months down the road. Hence the damp squib?

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

On Monday, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have reopened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. A journalist called David Oldroyd-Bolt lent a hand today and I’d like to pay him something, so if you feel like donating please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here. Incidentally, hope you like the new format with sub-headings and more pictures.

And Finally…

I seem to have taken a leaf out of the News at Ten and begun to round off each daily bulletin with a funny bit beginning “And finally…” Today’s “and finally” is brought to you courtesy of our friends at Comedy Unleashed and features Meggie Foster, a performer who specialises in lip-synch comedy. Her Boris is particularly good. Until tomorrow…

Latest News

The Express leads with the fact that 15 million day-trippers are expected to hit the road this weekend, taking advantage of the easing of restrictions. Unfortunately, they may not be greeted with open arms when they reach their destinations. Council executives, tourism boards and national park bodies have warned off members of the public who might want to take advantage of the good weather and fresh air. Despite overwhelming evidence that the risk of transmission in the open air is practically zero and that sunlight is vital in helping the body resist infection, quangocrats and town hall Sir Humphries are pulling up the drawbridge.

The leader of Cornwall Council issued a proclamation: “People shouldn’t be coming to Cornwall on holiday and that it’s totally inappropriate. The minor changes in policy that happened this week don’t change that and we’re not open for tourism.” The Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire has taken a similar line. He told the Times: “People also need to understand that not all services would be open as usual, including public conveniences, pubs, restaurants and accommodation so it won’t be the usual visitor experience. If you’re travelling more than 10-15 miles is it really necessary? We’d say, ‘Dream about it, explore later.'” Hard to believe his job is to persuade people to visit Yorkshire.

You might have better luck in the South Downs National Park. Its representative says visitors are welcome provided they follow social-distancing guidance – which shouldn’t be too hard, given that it covers almost 630 square miles of Sussex and Hampshire.

A reader tells me he took his family to the beach yesterday in Hunstanton, Norfolk, having been reassured by his council that beaches have reopened. But when they arrived, they were confronted with this sight:

Presumably, the boys in blue were there to make sure no one comes within two metres of each other. Baywatch, Covid-style.

The Times, Guardian and BBC this morning all led with the news that academies and independent schools will definitely reopen on June 1st – though only for the “priority” year groups of Reception, Years 1 and Year 6. Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, says the plan is “sensible” and pointed out the “overwhelming” evidence that prolonged periods out of education are damaging, particularly for vulnerable and disadvantaged children.

Teaching unions, however, have instructed their members not to “engage”– and, as Juliet Samuel says in the Telegraph, they should be ashamed of thsemselves. They were given some succour by Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chairman of the BMA Council, who told the Telegraph: “Until we have got case numbers much lower, we should not consider reopening schools.” Why, given that children are not themselves vulnerable to COVID-19 and there’s little evidence that they can infect others? Liverpool City Council says its schools won’t reopen until June 15th, and then only for Year 6.

The Chief Executives of some of the country’s largest academy chains – Reach 2, Oasis, GEP and Harris – say they will reopen their schools on time. Roughly 25% of English primary school pupils attend academies, over which local authorities have no control. Christopher King, head of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, which comprises 670 schools, says he expects all of them to reopen for priority groups on June 1st, in line with the Government’s plan.

I’ve come across lots of anecdotal evidence that mental health has taken a battering since the lockdown began, most often due to job losses, isolation, bereavement and substance abuse. Now, the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) has reinforced this with evidence from its latest survey of 1,369 practitioners, carried out between May 1st and 6th. Its conclusion is that those with no previous history of mental illnesses are becoming unwell in alarming numbers.

According to the Guardian, four out of 10 psychiatrists say they have seen an increase in the number of people urgently requiring emergency care for mental health. Particularly prevalent are 18-25 year-old men with no previous history of mental illness. Participants in the survey reported “patients having severe psychotic symptoms which incorporate Covid-related themes” and that “many of our patients have deteriorated or developed mental disorders as a direct result of the coronavirus disruption, for example social isolation, increased stress [or that they have] run out of meds”.

Dr Kate Lovett, the RCP’s Dean, told the Guardian: “Of the people I am seeing, many are extremely unwell with symptoms of severe mental illness: serious changes in their moods, belief system and hallucinations. Life events associated with COVID-19 have triggered this or led to a relapse for almost all of them. Relationships are now all feeling lockdown pressures. Routines have disappeared.”

A member of Simon Dolan’s legal team has sent me this chart, showing how the the death toll from coronavirus stacks up against other viruses. Helps to put things in perspective. And worth nothing that during none of these previous pandemics did governments react by locking down entire populations:

I linked to a 2007 story in the New Scientist yesterday about how the foot and mouth epidemic was caused by a leak from a rusty pipe at one of the Government’s scientific research labs in Pirbright, Surrey and said it made the theory that SARS-CoV-2 had escaped form the Wuhan Institute of Virology more plausible. Today, an architect has got in touch to say he thinks that’s a plausible hypothesis, too:

A few years back, as an architect, I became involved with the then Health Protection Agency (HPA) and Centre For Emergency Preparedness and Response (CEPR) operations on their Porton Down site, adjacent to the MOD’s DsTL operation.

The reason I became involved was a mooted £600 million refurbishment of their rotting accommodation. They had just spent £17 million on rebuilding their drainage to avoid a repeat of the MASSIVELY embarrassing Pirbright event.

There is some interesting footage on YouTube regarding the genesis of the Wuhan lab, where the Chinese typically stole a French Cat IV containment lab design and built it out themselves. I would not be at all surprised if the drainage design at Wuhan is not fit for purpose, as the drainage designs would not have been sufficiently developed at that point in the procurement process for the Chinese to steal them. Equally, the functioning of the physical lab is very dependent on good practice of its scientists, which is also reported as being lamentable at Wuhan.

In short, I strongly suspect the pandemic is due to very embarrassing cock up at the Wuhan lab. Dictators a la Chairman Xi do not like to be embarrassed, so don’t expect this to ever be disclosed. My suspicion is intelligence agencies had wind of COVID-19’s origin in a Wuhan lab, and were consequently more fearful of it than they might have been of a coronavirus without a relationship to a biowarfare research establishment, and this fear may have influenced the massive overreaction of global responses.

Yesterday, I mentioned that a financial journalist had done a bit of analysis based on the “response tracker” that Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government has created. This is a tool that enables you to compare and contrast different countries according to how severe their lockdowns are. Using this information, he created a spreadsheet that included the data for deaths per million in each country from Our World in Data and the IMF’s estimate of what the deficit in each country is likely to be and the fall in GDP per capita. He concluded, not surprisingly, that there was no statistical correlation between the severity of the lockdown and the number of infections and deaths – no signal in the noise – but quite a strong correlation between the severity of the lockdown and the economic trouble each country is in.

Today, a reader gets in touch to say that he’s also done a similar piece of work using the Blavatnik tool, looking at infections and deaths. Peter Forsythe, a Hong Kong resident, has blogged about his findings and linked to his spreadsheet. As he says, if lockdowns are effective you would expect to see a correlation between the stringency of the lockdown and the number of cases or deaths per million. But there isn’t one. His conclusion:

So, there is – at least accusing to the figures we have so far – no correlation between the strength of the lockdown and the number of cases and deaths. This could change, and I’ll keep an eye on it.

Incidentally, my financial journalist friend has been back in touch today to flag a piece of virtue-signalling nonsense in Bloomberg‘s ‘Evening Briefing’ yesterday. “The financial cost of coronavirus crisis could reach $8.8 trillion, but the higher cost – the one in lives – already stands at 306,000,” it says. As my friend points out, if you divide $8.8 trillion by 306,000 (the total number of Covid deaths so far) you get $24.4 million. So the author of Bloomberg’s ‘Evening Briefing’ believes each of those lives is worth $24.4 million? Quite generous, when you factor in that the median age of those who’ve died of the virus in most countries is about 80, with the vast majority having underlying health conditions. There’s another consideration too, which is the lives that are likely to be lost as a result of the global economic recession that’s heading towards us like a tsunami. As my friend points out:

The loss of $8.8 trillion in global output – of which a large amount must be due to the self-inflicted lockdowns – will inevitably lead to the loss of a great many lives in future, especially in poor countries like India and South Africa.

Do lives lost in the future not matter to Bloomberg’s virtue-signallers?

A reader has some scuttlebutt on why hospitals are half empty:

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine yesterday who is a nurse at a hospital in Suffolk. She said the Covid ward (once a surgical ward) is now empty. However, because of the rules on social distancing, only three bays out of six are allowed to be occupied on all other wards, effectively reducing the capacity of the hospital by half. I asked why do they not test all incoming patients. She said the results take five days to come back so they can only test patients who have a planned admission but cannot test those who are admitted as an emergency admissions. Just hope I don’t get ill or have an accident…

We’ve seen very few examples of bold political leadership in this crisis. But here’s one you may not be aware of: President John Magufuli of Tanzania. He’s a lockdown sceptic and when a government advisor instructed him to over-react to the crisis – because of “the science” – he did what Boris should have done to Professor Niel Ferguson and sacked him. Africa News has the story, but here are the highlights:

There has been a top and controversial sacking in Tanzania. Head of the country’s national health laboratory in charge of coronavirus testing was suspended, a day after President John Magufuli questioned the accuracy of the tests.

On Sunday President Magufuli, who has consistently downplayed the effect of the virus, shocked the world when he said animals, fruits and vehicle oil had been secretly tested at the laboratory. Now, take a look at some of the specific things he said had been tested. A papaya, a quail and a goat. All of them he says had been found to be positive for COVID-19.

Magufuli cast doubt on the credibility of laboratory equipment and technicians and questioned official data on the pandemic. He called for an investigation into what he suspected to be a “dirty game” in the laboratory. Where the kits had been imported from though, he would not say. So, the lab director here Nyambura Moremi has been fired. And a 10-person committee has been formed to investigate the laboratory’s operations, including its process of collecting and testing samples. Presently, that is, as of May 5th, Tanzania has about 480 Covid-19 cases including 16 deaths.

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

On Monday, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have reopened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. A journalist called David Oldroyd-Bolt helped me with today’s update and will be lending a hand in future. I’d like to pay him something, so if you feel like donating you can do so by clicking here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

Bit shorter than usual today – my wife Caroline is getting a bit cross that I’m spending so much time doing this so we’re off to Richmond this afternoon for a walk by the river. The Covid hit parade will be back tomorrow.

I’ll leave you with this picture of an innovative social distancing measure instroduced by the owner of a German cafe: hats with pool noodles on them.

Latest News


The Mirror leads with the preprint I flagged up yesterday estimating that by the end of April 29% of the UK population may have already had the virus (29% of 66 million is ~19 million). If we assume that roughly 50,000 people in the UK will have died from COVID-19 by May 21st – allowing for the three-week lag time between infection and death – that gives an infection fatality rate (IFR) of ~0.076%, less than half the IFR of seasonal flu.

Is a seroprevalence of 29% high enough for herd immunity? Yes, according to a summary of the evidence by Nicholas Lewis about the threshold that needs to be reached that I flagged up a few days ago. According to Lewis, the variation in COVID-19 susceptibility and infectivity between individuals, arising mainly from differences in their social connectivity, lowers the herd immunity threshold to 7% – 24% of the population, much lower than the 50% – 60% previously thought. His analysis draws on a recent preprint by Gomes et al entitled ‘Individual variation in susceptibility or exposure to SARS-CoV-2 lowers the herd immunity threshold‘.

New data from London suggests the city has already obtained herd immunity. According to the latest estimates by Public Health England (PHE) and Cambridge University, as reported in the Telegraph, only 24 people a day are being infected in the capital and the R has fallen to 0.4. That means the number of new infections is halving every 3.5 days and London will have virtually eliminated the virus by the end of the month. It is Yorkshire and the North East that have the highest infection rate, according to the PHE/Cambridge analysis – double that of the capital. It’s ironic, then, that the local authorities in those areas are so paranoid about day-trippers from London infecting their populations that they’ve banned parking at local beauty spots. Turns out, it’s Londoners who should be worried about visitors from Yorkshire and the North East, not the other way round.

Picture taken on the tube in London this morning. The commuters seem more worried about dying from putting on their trousers than from COVID-19 – and the risk may actually be greater, given that London is almost virus-free and eight people died while trying to put on their trousers last year.

But it’s not all good news. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the second wave of the pandemic will be deadlier than the first. The Telegraph has interviewed Dr Hans Kluge, Director for the WHO European region, who delivered a stark warning to countries beginning to ease their lockdowns, saying that now is the “time for preparation, not celebration”. File this under the same heading as the WHO’s January 14th announcement that there’s “no clear evidence of human to human transmission”.

My Lockdown Sceptic of the week is Luke Johnson, former chairman of Pizza Express and Channel 4, who was on Question Time last night. He dared to suggest the lockdown will cause a greater loss of life that it will prevent and duly reaped the whirlwind. One of the points he made is that if you’re under 60 with no underlying health conditions you’re more likely to drown than die of COVID-19. You can watch Johnson firing off truth bullets here.

I was sent a terrific piece this morning by an occupational health doctor about the catastrophic consequences for the British economy of treating COVID-19 as a workplace health hazard, similar to asbestos. He rightly points out that there’s no scientific evidence that workplaces are more hazardous environments than any other environments when it comes to susceptibility to the virus. But over time, the risk of catching the virus has morphed from a hazard that exists in the general community to a hazard that’s specific to the workplace. This is a consequence, in part, of the Government telling people to stay in their homes to avoid infection. But it may also be related to the widespread belief that “key workers” are at greater risk of infection than others because they’re still at work – actual “fake news” and “misinformation” that’s pumped out by the mainstream media daily. And, of course, the Government’s unscientific gobbledegook about the need to maintain a distance of two metres apart in offices has undoubtedly played a part. The author points out that this will create a mountain of obstacles that businesses wanting to reopen will have to overcome if they’re to persuade people to return to work.

“You must put in place universal distancing and cleaning measures throughout every part of your operation,” he says. “You must issue PPE, with all of the regulations surrounding the provision of PPE. You must screen every employee with an underlying medical condition to determine if they are safe to even enter the workplace.”

That last task, in particularly, will saddle businesses with enormous extra costs:

Every single employee, returning to almost any workplace in the country, now needs to be risk assessed to characterise the risk to their safety. For many, this will be a quick process. But for many others with common, chronic health conditions (who will number several millions nationally), it will require significant resource to undertake assessments. As there is little guidance available and given the fear of a backlash from the media, unions, lawyers or the authorities, many employers will feel forced into excluding workers, even where there is little evidence that this is necessary. Employees may feel forced back in fear of their lives, whilst others will not be allowed back despite being desperate for a return to normality.

I have to confess, I hadn’t thought through to the consequences of branding the workplace a hazardous environment. But this occupational health doctor has and it’s clearly going to be a massive problem. Do read the whole piece.

The Government wrote to Simon Dolan’s layers yesterday, responding to his Letter Before Action. This is the update on his Crowdfunding page:

Just a few hours ago we received a detailed response form the Govt to our letter before action. Our legal team are currently considering the various points raised. The letter runs to some 13 pages and as you can imagine contains some highly technical points. We can confirm for now that they are however refusing to release the minutes of the SAGE meetings.

Will update further just as soon as the legal team have formulated their plan of action. rest assured, the fight very much continues. Expect another update in the next couple of days.

If you want to find out more about Dolan and what’s motivating him, I recommend this interview by my friend James Delingpole for the Delingpod. And I’ve published a piece today by John Waters, one of the two anti-lockdown litigants trying to take take the Irish Government to court. You can read that here.

More depressing polling news: A recent five-country survey by Kekst CNC found that British voters top the table in wanting their government’s top priority to be limiting the spread of the virus (73%) rather than avoiding recession (14%) That net 59-point “lead” for tackling the virus compares with net figures of 44 points (Japan), 30 points (US), 16 points (Germany) and 15 points (Sweden). Prospect has more.

A reader tells me about the difficulties he’s had trying to see a dentist:

Like many of a certain generation I have had the pleasure of getting to visit my dentist regularly and we are on first name terms. Once I experience toothache I usually phone up for an appointment and hope to get away with a filling but have on occasion had to suffer the expense and pain of a deep root canal filling. Since the middle of March the doors of every dental surgery have been firmly closed in the UK and the only treatment available is from emergency dental hubs. These dental hubs can offer you a choice of either antibiotics and pain killers and if that doesn’t work an extraction of the painful tooth.

I did write to my dentist at the beginning of April, initially by email, which wasn’t replied to, then by a hand-written letter explaining I had a lot of pain from a tooth. I had already taken a weeks worth of antibiotics and paracetamol My dentisit kindly did phone me, had a look at some x-rays from last year and said he could refer me to a hub for it to be removed, as that was the only option.

When the dentists open possibly in July they think that they will only be doing teeth extractions anyway. All the dental work involving ” aerosols”, i.e. drilling and filling, is not allowed and will not be available for months because of the need for PPE for all staff and a total refit of dental surgeries.

We have returned to the world of dentistry in the 18th Century.

This is quite shocking. Dr Jeannette Young, the Chief Health Officer of Queensland in Australia, has told the Brisbane Times that she urged the state’s premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, to shut down schools in order to send a “message”, not because she thought it was scientifically advisable. Here are the key paragraphs:

Dr Young told Ms Palaszczuk to shut down schools on March 26th.

She says while evidence showed schools were not a high-risk environment for the spread of the virus, closing them down would help people understand the gravity of the situation.

“If you go out to the community and say, ‘this is so bad, we can’t even have schools, all schools have got to be closed’, you are really getting to people,” Dr Young says.

“So sometimes it’s more than just the science and the health, it’s about the messaging.”

I’ve long suspected that senior civil servants think they know better than democratically-elected politicians and have no qualms about misrepresenting scientific or legal advice in order to manipulate them. But they don’t often brag about it in national newspapers, particularly not when still in post. One telling detail from the profile: Dr Young has a “no-smoking” sign displayed on her “trophy” wall, given to her by Health Minister Steven Miles after she helped to get cigarettes banned in national parks in 2017.

On the subject of schools, a reader has passed on a Facebook post complaining about the arrangements that have been made at Holywell Village First School in Whitley Bay to facilitate its reopening on June 1st. These apply to children in Reception and Year 1, i.e. aged four to six:

  • Children to be isolated in bubbles of small groups
  • To remain with one teacher in one classroom all day
  • All toys, books and soft furnishings removed
  • Children to work at desks 1m apart, all to face the same direction, and not mix, INCLUDING NURSERY!
  • Desks etc to be continually cleaned throughout the day
  • To be seated at desks all day. No sitting on the floor
  • Children only to attend in clean clothes and a clean coat every day
  • No hot lunch for Reception and Year 1, packed lunches to be provided by the school
  • No outdoor equipment to be touched
  • They will have to spend much of the day working independently (the teacher cannot help them)
  • Set toilet times
  • Toileting accidents – children to clean themselves up; if they can’t then the parent has to come and collect the child to clean them at home

As my correspondent says, “The psychological scars this will leave beggar belief.” The headteacher of Holywell Village First School would do well to read this piece by Rachel de Souza, chief executive of Inspiration Trust, or indeed this article that I’ve been sent by Christine Brett, a health economist, and which I’ve published today. Christine has crunched the numbers and concluded that the chances of your child dying from the virus, or infecting others, are extremely slight. To date, one child has died from coronavirus per 1.1 million children in the UK (12 in total). But even though the risk is negligible, Christine is far from cavalier about it. As she says in her piece, her own son Michael died at the age of 19 months:

In the interests of full disclosure, I fully understand the anxiety parents feel about their children. My first son was born with a congenital heart condition and spent the first ten days of his life on the cardiac intensive care unit at Great Ormond Street Hospital. He underwent eight hours of open-heart surgery at three days old. He had his oxygen levels, and weight monitored weekly. He was rushed back into the hospital after having his first set of vaccines. Ultimately, my husband and I decided that since he had survived, we wanted him to live. Yes, I was nervous being around people with a cold, but I wheeled him down the street choked with traffic fumes to take him to baby groups – yoga, massage, singing. We travelled on trains, buses and even planes to visit friends and family.

He died at 19 weeks – the post-mortem showed evidence of cytomegalovirus (CMV) is his lungs. CMV is a common virus that is usually harmless. Most people don’t know they have CMV because it rarely causes problems in healthy people. However, for people with weakened immune systems, it is a cause for concern. For Matthew’s delicately balanced circulation, it was fatal. I always knew he didn’t have a long life ahead with his condition, but he lived a short, fun-filled life

Christine’s article, which is very sober and sensible, is well worth a read.

Someone has sent me an interesting piece published in the New Scientist in 2007 saying the cause of the foot and mouth epidemic was a virus escaping from leaky pipe at a Government research lab in Pirbright, Surrey. Perhaps the theory that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology isn’t that far-fetched after all.

The New York Times has an article attempting to smear all lockdown sceptics as far-right loons and conspiracy theorists, focusing on the dissemination of the Stanford Santa Clara serological study by right-wing commentators on Twitter. That study, led by John Ioannidis, Professor of Medicine at Stanford, seemed to show that public health organisations, such as the WHO, had under-estimated the seroprevalence of the virus and, as a consequence, over-estimated the infection fatality rate (IFR). According to the Times, the signal boost the study received from wing-nuts on Twitter led to “a surge of misinformation”. “By the end of the weekend, right-wing social media had passed around the study, often with hashtags like #ReopenAmerica, #FactsNotFear, #endthelockdown and #BackToWork slapped on,” writes the Times.

Trouble is, the estimate of the IFR in that preprint – 0.17% – has turned out to be more accurate than official estimates. If you look at this Excel spreadsheet collating the data from some of the major PCR and serological studies that have been done so far, the median IFR is 0.36. Admittedly, more than double 0.17, but bear in mind that was an estimate of the IFR in Santa Clara county. And an IFR of 0.36 is just over a third of the estimate used in the Imperial College computer model, which was 0.9%.

So which figure should be classed as “misinformation”? The one produced by Professor Ioannidis and his team at Stanford or the one produced by Professor Ferguson and his team at Imperial? I’m willing to bet my house that when the IFR of SARS-CoV-2 is a settled figure, it will be closer to 0.17% than 0.9%.

The Times concludes it’s analysis by saying that there are two internets, one interested in scientific evidence and governed by reason, the other a Wild West dominated by right-wing conspiracy theorists:

What this cascade of sharing behaviour reveals, based on our analysis of nearly 900 COVID-19 preprints, is a tale of two internets: one largely ideological, in which science is leveraged as propaganda, and one that consists of the kind of discussion and debate vital for academia — and democracy.

That’s kind of true, but the authors of the article – Aleszu Bajak and Jeff Howe – have got it backwards: it’s mainstream media organisations like the New York Times and the BBC that are disseminating propaganda, with the truth about coronavirus more likely to be found in little tributaries of the internet like this one. At the foot of the piece Bajak and Howe are described as teachers of journalism at Northeastern University. Make of that what you will.

A regular contributor to this site – anonymous, but one of the best financial journalist in the country – has done a bit of analysis based on the “response tracker” that Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government has created. This is a tool that enables you to compare and contrast different countries according to what non-pharmaceutical interventions they’ve put in place in an attempt to mitigate the impact of the virus:

The Blavatnik School of Government provides an estimate of Lockdown “stringency” (100 being complete lockdown). I put the numbers for a few countries into a spreadsheet. What you find is that there is no statistical relationship between the stringency of lockdown (at the end of March) and a country’s rate of COVID-19 infections and deaths (per million of population – numbers from Our World in Data). There is, as you would expect, a stronger statistical relationship between the degree of stringency and projected fiscal deficits (estimated by the IMF, and already massively understating the problem).

Never have some many sacrificed so much for so little…

In Austria, a new organisation called “Initiative for evidence-based information on the coronavirus” (ICI) has been created by a controversial doctor called Dr. Christian Fiala. (He has written papers in the past disputing that AIDS is a killer virus.) It’s an anti-lockdown organisation that describes itself as an “independent initiative” but, unlike Widerstand 2020 Deutschland, ICI has no ambition to become a political party. It says on the site that it isn’t affiliated to any existing party and rejects any form of political extremism. It helps to organise anti-lockdown demonstrations and offers pro-bono legal support to people who’ve been prosecuted for participating in protests or fined for breaking the quarantine. The website publishes an endless stream of academic papers contradicting what the site refers to as “prevailing corona-alarmist orthodoxies” – a bit like this one! The site claims ICI has three objectives:

  • Facts instead of panic
  • Back to basic rights
  • Back to pluralistic discussion

One of ICI’s campaigns urges Austrians to wear face masks with the words “mund-tot” on them, which translates as “mouth-dead” or “silenced”:

ICI organised a protest in Vienna outside the Austrian Chancellory yesterday. It was forbidden by the police, but people gathered anyway. If you click here, you’ll see pictures from it. The text at the top of that page translates as: “We’re not left-wing, we’re not right-wing – we’re angry.”

I asked my always-helpful German-speaking reader to see what had been written about the group in the Austrian press and this is his summary:

The group doesn’t seem to getting much pick up in main Austrian papers. Couldn’t find anything in the Kurier or the Kronenzeitung. The one article I found in a major paper, Der Standard, is extremely hostile. It makes no attempt to understand the ICI’s purpose or arguments, but smears it by linking it to the right-wing nationalist organisation, the Identitarian Movement Austria led by Martin Sellner. Sellner has endorsed the ICI, clearly seeking to exploit it for his own purposes. ICI organisers were none too pleased that Sellner’s followers showed up at the demo – and said as much – but felt they couldn’t do much about it. Despite this, the article portrays ICI moderates as naive, ill-informed misfits and anti-vaxxers who won’t wear masks and feel no sense of responsibility towards the old and vulnerable. It points to the apparent irony of the group’s name, given that the ICI attracts people who clearly have no understanding of or respect for evidence-based health policy.

One thing I’ve noticed about ICI and Widerstand 2020 Deutschland is that both organisations are militantly pro-free speech. I am too, of course, and helped set up an organisation called the Free Speech Union earlier this year. I imagine a belief in the importance of free speech is something nearly all lockdown sceptics have in common.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the scandal caused by the leak of an 80-page impact assessment of the lockdown by an auditor in the Ministry of the Interior continues to rumble on. I’ve found this summary by German-to-English translator Paul Charles Gregory on an anti-deep state website. I’ve asked him to translate the whole thing for me so I can publish it on this site, but haven’t heard back yet. It’s quite an undertaking.

Slovenia declared an official end to its coronavirus epidemic yesterday, becoming the first country in Europe to do so. It was among the first to ease its lockdown – on April 20th – and saw no increase in infections. Public transport resumed earlier this week while next week some pupils will return to schools. All bars and restaurants, as well as small hotels with up to 30 rooms, will also be allowed to open next week. European visitors to the country will no longer be quarantined on arrival, although visitors from other parts of the world will be. To date it has had 1,464 cases and 103 deaths.

I get a lot of emails from readers like this one:

My neighbour’s father died three weeks ago. Elderly, unwell. Tested three times for Covid, all tests came back negative.
Death Certificate, Dr. put as cause of death “Covid”.

One thing that makes me slightly sceptical about these anecdotal reports is that I don’t get what the motive is. Why would a GP misdiagnose the cause of death? In the US, hospitals doctors have a financial incentive to put “COVID0-19” on death certificates because they get tens of thousands of dollars from the federal Government for each patient who dies of COVID-19. But there’s no equivalent incentive in the UK as far as I’m aware.

I also get a lot of emails like this:

I’m a huge fan of Lockdown Sceptics. Thank you for helping to save my sanity. At times this has felt like I’ve been standing in front of a lorry which is going to run me over. I want to move out of the way, but I can’t unless unless everyone else moves out of the way. They can’t see the lorry or hear me. It’s felt nightmarish and more isolating than lockdown itself.

I’m sure many of you know exactly how this woman feels.

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

On Monday, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area – all the more urgent in light of the latest forecast of the Federation of Small Businesses, which says that up to a third of small businesses in Britain may close as a result of the lockdown. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those small businesses that have reopened near you. Should be fairly self-explanatory – and the owners of small businesses are welcome to enter their own details. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers, with a heavy metal theme today: “What’s Another Year?” by Johnny Logan, “Wake Me Up When September Ends” by Green Day and “Don’t Box Me In” by Stan Ridgway and Stewart Copeland.

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It’s a daunting task, as I say in my latest Spectator column. If you feel like donating, you can do so by clicking here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

If you want a laugh, this Kevin James video is very funny. Stay with it – you’ll get the point.

And finally, I participated in quite a high-level discussion on Tuesday courtesy of How the Light Gets In, a philosophy festival that takes place in Hay-on-Wye each spring, but which has gone virtual for this year. One of the other panelists was fellow sceptic Michael Levitt, Professor of Structural Biology at Stanford and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. These things are often quite adversarial but this one wasn’t. Worth a watch.

Watch more videos on iai.tv

Latest News

Today’s Guardian leads on the care home scandal, which Keir Starmer succeeded in moving to the top of the news agenda by grilling Boris about it in yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions. It didn’t help that Boris fluffed his response. Starmer picked up on the fact that Public Health England (PHE) had advised in March that care home residents were “very unlikely” to become infected by COVID-19. Boris denied PHE had ever said this, only for him to be confronted with irrefutable evidence, at which point he accused Starmer of taking the quote out of context. He is clearly rattled by this attack line because yesterday the Government announced a £600 million cash injection for care homes to help control infection.

How many have died in care homes to date? The latest assessment of fatalities in care settings in England and Wales by academics at the London School of Economics finds that more than half of all “excess deaths” up to 1st May – those above the five-year average for the period from 28th December to 1st May – have happened in care homes. The researchers say that from 13th March to 1st May, care homes accounted for 19,938 excess deaths – a figure corroborated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). According to the ONS’s data, there have been just under 20,000 excess deaths registered in England and Wales up to 1st May in care homes since the pandemic started. “Of those, 8,312 have had COVID-19 mentioned on the death certificate,” a spokesman for the ONS told the Guardian.

At a briefing hosted by the Science Media Centre two days ago, several eminent professors cast doubt on the claim that all the excess care home deaths are due to COVID-19. Sir David Spiegelhalter, chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, said: “When we look back… this rise in non-Covid extra deaths outside hospitals is something I hope will be given really severe attention.”

So what caused those deaths? In some cases it will be undiagnosed COVID-19, but in others it will be because care home residents with other diseases were either not admitted to hospital or discharged prematurely. David Leon, Professor of Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who was also at the Science Media Centre briefing, said: “Some of these deaths may not have occurred if people had got to hospital. How many is unclear. This issue needs urgent attention, and steps taken to ensure that those who would benefit from hospital treatment and care for other conditions can get it.”

Sounds like David Spiegelhalter and David Leon think the lockdown is causing a greater loss of life than it’s preventing. The BMJ has more.

“Oi! You lot, disperse”

It looks like we can add UNICEF to the growing ranks of lockdown sceptics. Dr Stefan Peterson, Chief of Health at UNICEF, has given an interview to the Telegraph in which he says that indiscriminate lockdowns in low- and middle-income countries are an ineffective way to suppress infections and the harm they’re likely to do “far outweighs any threat presented by the coronavirus”. And that claim has been corroborated by a team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. According to a preprint in the Lancet, more than one million children under five and 60,000 more mothers could die in the next six months alone as a result of disruptions to health services caused by the pandemic in low- and middle-income countries. Among those things “caused” by the pandemic they include “intentional choices made in responding to the pandemic”, e.g. imprisoning entire populations in their homes. As Dr Peterson puts it: “If you’re asking families to stay at home in one room in a slum, without food or water, that won’t limit virus transmission… We need to lift our eyes and look at the total picture of public health.”

In other news, the Daily Mail reveals the police have no power to enforce the two-metre social distancing rule – just as well, considering how arbitrary it is. In case you need reminding of that, here’s a chart from the excellent presentation by Numis Healthcare that I flagged up yesterday showing the different “safe” distances recommended in different countries:

Another reader has got in touch with more detail on the leaked document from the German Ministry of the Interior that I’ve referred to in the last two updates. The author – “K” – concludes his 80-page analysis by listing the negative consequences of the lockdown:

  • In March and April 2.5 million necessary operations were not carried out.
  • Between 5000 and 125,000 patients have died or will die as a result. Cancer, stroke and heart patients will have suffered. 
  • 3,500 additional deaths of care home residents.
  • Increase in suicides.
  • Psychological effects of the lockdown, especially on elderly persons. Psychoses, Neuroses.
  • Increase in domestic violence.
  • Ill-effects arising from the wearing of masks.
  • Lower life expectancy

There’s good reason to believe all of those things are happening in the UK too. Last night, Channel 4 News broadcast a disturbing report by Jackie Long, the Social Affairs Editor, from inside a women’s refuge about how it’s coping with the surge in demand. According to the news programme: “The first three weeks of lockdown saw the largest number of killings of women over any 21-day period in the last decade.” You can watch the report and read a write-up by Jackie Long here.

My friend Kathrine Jebsen Moore has started a petition on Change.org to reopen all British Schools. You can sign that here. There is also a Twitter account worth following called @Teach4Teaching. It’s been set up by a couple of teachers “who want to get back to teaching and prevent disadvantaged kids from falling further behind”. They’ve started a petition that’s specifically for teachers.

I asked Guy de la Bédoyère, the historian with a working knowledge of statistics who crunched the numbers on health workers for me, to look at whether school staff are dying from COVID-19 in disproportionately large numbers. This is his verdict:

I’ve spent the last couple of hours wading through the data. I’d say that health and education are not that different. It’s hugely muddied by both areas having a large proportion of women which makes comparing them with, say, security guards (the most vulnerable workers) rather difficult. But there are a number of professions where the death rates per 100,000 are far higher than either education or health.

At any rate, it’s striking that the two professions (education and health) that the media have focused on and whipped up fear among, not only belong to a large group of professions which have a similarly low level of risk but also have a huge preponderance of women, a fact we now know dramatically reduces their susceptibility to the disease.

Woes continue to mount for the NHSx contact-tracing app. Wired has got hold of a cache of NHS documents left unsecured on Google Drive. I asked the reader who’s been keeping an eye on this story for us to take a look and this is his verdict:

  • Leaving internal docs on publicly accessible Google Drives shows that although NHSx talks the talk on security, it doesn’t walk the walk.
  • The author of the documents expresses the concern that I raised about self-diagnosis. This is why I would like to hear from testers to see how this is working in practice. The roadmap shows a “lightweight new process for verifying clinical results” but then we are into storage of special-category personal data, i.e. your very private medical information, and that raises the security stakes.
  • They also recognise the risk of mass notifications. Their worst-case example is of an NHS employee seeing hundreds of people, then self-reporting causing messages to go to hundreds of people telling them to self isolate. They think it could lead to public panic. I think it could shut down a hospital. How’s that for unintended consequences? Or would the NHS ignore the advice of its own app?
  • The roadmap shows future versions collecting post code, demographic info (usually meaning age, sex, income, employment status, etc.). This is what we mean by mission creep. It is a problem because the design assumptions in the NCSC security paper are based on not holding this kind of data. For example NCSC dismissed the honeypot problem (reindentification as they call it) because “There is insufficient data here to attract any reidentification risk”. But future versions look very likely to hold such data. So perhaps this roadmap is contingent on the Zulke version replacing what is currently being tested in IoW? If so, what will be rolled out is not what has been tested. This is what happened with “smart” motorways where the scheme worked with densely packed refuges but they rolled out with more distantly spaced refuges and that has led to unexpectedly high death rates.
  • The same goes for the cryptic statement “enable NHS and strategic leaders to add contact events”. This is even worse. It seems to propose mixing in data not provided by the user. Where is it coming from? Has the user given their permission for it to be used in this way? What conclusions are going to be drawn from it? It’s getting very Big Brother.

He concludes that the NHS’s app has all the signs of being driven by a politician who believes technology is the solution and doesn’t want to hear about the niggling issues of privacy or security. And in case you haven’t had enough scepticism about the contact-tracing app, read this withering assessment by Marc de Gentile-Williams.

President Trump invited World War Two veterans to Washington to commemorate the Allied victory in Europe last week – and the enforcers of Covid orthodoxy in the media went bananas. “Ninety-three-year old veterans will be traveling to visit the White House – they should not be traveling!” harrumphed MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace. The New York Times couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a swipe at the President, printing a photo of him without a mask on and then scolding him for his recklessness in the caption: “President Trump did not wear a mask Friday during a wreath-laying ceremony that was attended by World War Two veterans, who are in their 90s and highly vulnerable.” Needless to say, the veterans didn’t bother with masks either. Long-standing sceptic Heather Mac Donald has written a funny piece about America’s “mask scolds” for Spectator USA.

While we’re on Trump, I know he gives lockdown sceptics a bad name – and many liberals on both sides of the Atlantic only seem to be in favour of lockdowns because Trump has come out against them. But it’s hard not to like the latest initiative of his Reopen America Task Force – DoctorsForOpeningAmerica.com. Launching the website at the White House, the President said: “So many doctors, nurses, and EMTs have personally told me they’re thrilled to support working Americans in reopening our great country. They know getting our country open and getting it open soon is important. And they badly want America to know they’re ready to weather the toll.”

It’s true that the sceptics v zealots divide skews along right-left lines – and Francis Menton tries to figure out why that is in Manhattan Contrarian. But there are exceptions to the rule on both sides. I’m always heartened to get emails from readers beginning, “I don’t usually agree with anything you write, but…” and today I got sent a wonderful essay by a young firebrand in Ireland explaining why it’s the duty of every upstanding member of the left to oppose the lockdown with every fibre of their being. It begins:

I consider myself to be left-wing on virtually every political topic: I am a socially-liberal social democrat who believes in a strong social safety net, high-quality public healthcare for all, robust environmental protections (including shifting to renewable energy sources immediately and protecting half of the globe for nature), restorative justice, legal abortion and reducing inequality and corporate influence over politics. I despise Donald Trump and believe Brexit was a huge mistake. I am firstly presenting my political biases in order to dispel the caricature that has emerged of lockdown sceptics as being all right-wing, Trumpian Brexiteers. I think this labelling has been very unfortunate and misguided, as I too believe that the lockdown policy in response to Covid-19 has been an utter and complete disaster, and that most of the left have gotten this issue completely wrong. I will argue that the position of the lockdown sceptic really should be a more naturally left-wing cause to adopt, and those on the left should not be distracted by the reflexive partisan politics and virtue signalling that has taken over so much of the debate around lockdowns.

The essay is so good that I’ve created a new page on the right-hand menu called ‘The Left-Wing Case Against Lockdowns’. I urge you to read the whole thing by clicking here.

A reader in Bradford has been in touch to flag up an article in his local paper, the Telegraph and Argus. It’s based on an interview with Professor John Baruch, former head of cybernetics at the University of Bradford, who has set up the Bradford Science Collective in response to the coronavirus pandemic. He is adamant that the Government’s easing of the lockdown this week will send infections “through the roof”. Professor Baruch tells the paper: “Our message to the people of Bradford is what Nicola Sturgeon is saying – stay at home. There’s no science to justify what Boris Johnson is saying, it’s wishful thinking.”

Well, actually, Professor Baruch, there’s plenty of scientific evidence to justify easing the lockdown. Try this: a new antibody survey just published in Spain has found that “key workers” who were allowed to leave their homes during Spain’s recent lockdown were less likely to become infected than those who remained in confinement. (Hat tip to Didier Raoult, the dissident French doctor and hydroxychloroquine champion, who flagged this up on Twitter.) If you think that study’s an outlier, here’s one from China which could only find one outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 infection due to outside transmission.

Perhaps the reason Professor Baruch isn’t aware of the tsunami of scientific evidence that contradicts the dominant narrative is because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to share it with people on social media. I flagged this up yesterday, linking to an excellent article in the FT by Izabella Kaminska who has coined the phrase “censortech” to describe the draconian content-moderation policies of companies like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Although there’s no need for Facebook’s AIs to read every post about coronavirus, searching for wrongthink, because group administrators will often do that job themselves. The pandemic has unleashed an army of these petty martinets, scouring everything we write in public forums, ready to leap into action with their red pencils.

A reader got in touch to tell me about an “appalling act of censorship” from the administrator of her local town group page on Facebook. It’s all too typical I’m afraid:

After I had dared to share Dr John Lee’s article in the Spectator about reasons why we should end lockdown, with a brief introduction saying who he was, adding the link to his article and saying that even if you believed in the lockdown process it was worth a read to gain a more balanced perspective and consider the consequences, the administrator publicly posted a comment below it accusing me of spreading “misinformation”. When I explained that it was not misinformation but an opinion of a qualified medical professional, he responded that I did not understand the seriousness of the situation, knew nothing about the disease, did not understand how it spread or how dangerous it was, was guilty of posting “fake news”, and, worse, was inciting the public to break the law and supporting the practice of genocide in the face of this deadly disease! Gasp. I calmly pointed out that I had a degree and also an environmental health qualification and was a former practitioner so out of personal interest had been doing a lot of studying via Science Direct, Elsevier Science and other reputable sources of data, explaining that I disagreed the information was “fake”, or “misinformation”, and adding a list of my sources. I said I simply agreed with many professional experts in their fields, such as Professor Michael Levitt and Johan Giesecke. His response was to publicly inform me (i.e. via the comments) that I was not to post to the group again and repeated his assertion about misinformation and fake news!

In the fullness of time, when it’s the settled consensus that the lockdowns led to a greater loss of life than they prevented, will there be any kind of reckoning for people like this administrator? Given that it’s them, and not us, who are guilty of disseminating misinformation and fake news, we could ask them to ban themselves from social media platforms lest their craven parroting of state propaganda causes any more unnecessary deaths in future.

The moderator of my neighbourhood Facebook group spotted in an unmarked van outside my house yesterday

Good rant in a Reddit thread by a “key worker”. Doesn’t sound like there’s much scope for social distancing if you’re a shelf-stacker at Tesco’s:

I am what you would call an “essential worker”. I am a student who currently works at a supermarket around 4 or five days a week. My brother who I currently live with is also in this category and he works at a different supermarket in the same town. Aside from the odd obedient middle class mum, social distancing is virtually non-existant. I constantly have people coming up close to me asking where to find flour and the isles are too narrow to conceivably practice it anyway. There is no limit on how many people can enter the shop. None of the staff wear masks as wearing one for a prolonged period of time (i.e 6 hours) is extremely uncomfortable and having to readjust them by touching your face completely destroys the purpose of wearing one. The staff room and the toilets are pretty filthy, so much so that I will use hand sanitiser after touching every single appliance. The staff themselves don’t practice any form of social distancing as it makes their job literally impossible, not to mention everyone is working twice as hard to stock the shelves because people still continue to stock pile. My only defence against covids is constant hand sanitising and refraining from ever touching my face, which ironically is probably the best scientific defence againt contracting the virus.

You can read the rest of it here.

There are several protests/mass gatherings taking place this Saturday in different parts of the country to protest against the lockdown, according to the Mail. It says at least eight of them are being organised by the UK Freedom Movement, which it describes as an “anti-vaxxer group”. I’m not an anti-vaxxer myself, but would defend the right of anyone who wants to protest about a Government policy in the public square and regard the current legal prohibition on protests – one of the many civil rights that have been suspended during the lockdown – as an attack on our liberty that may well be unlawful. If anyone is planning to attend these events I would advise them to exercise their common sense when it comes to social distancing, not engage in needlessly provocative behaviour and remain peaceful. The more respectable and sensible you are, the more politically effective the protests will be. Don’t make it easy for the mainstream media to depict you as a bunch of paranoid weirdos with a far-right, anti-scientific agenda.

And if you think I’m engaging in wishful thinking by saying the lockdown restrictions may be unlawful, read this account in the Mail of what happened in Wisconsin when a group of sceptics challenged the Governor’s stay-at-home order in the state Supreme Court. They won, prompting a stampede to local bars from grateful residents. Here’s a picture of Marvin Radtke toasting the opening of the Friends and Neighbors bar in Appleton:

More good news from across the pond: Alameda County health officials have backed down in their conflict with Elon Musk, reversing their shutdown order and granting provisional approval for Tesla’s Fremont, California plant to reopen. Why have they thrown in the towel? The Babylon Bee may know the answer. The satirical online magazine ran a piece entitled: ‘California Police Attempt To Arrest Elon Musk’s Holographic Decoy As Real Musk Escapes On Rocket To Mars.’

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

On Monday, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area – all the more urgent in light of the latest forecast of the Federation of Small Businesses, which says that up to a third of small businesses in Britain may close as a result of the lockdown. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those small businesses that have reopened near you. Should be fairly self-explanatory – and the owners of small businesses are welcome to enter their own details. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Fancy a pint of Flowers?

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers, with a heavy metal theme today: ‘Hysteria‘ by Def Leppard, ‘Run to the Hills‘ by Iron Maiden, ‘Creeping Death‘ by Metallica and ‘Paranoid‘ by Black Sabbath.

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It’s a daunting task, let me tell you, although not quite as daunting as I say in my latest Spectator column. In a self-pitying whinge, I say that looking after this blog may be death of me but that will be okay because my death will be one more piece of evidence that the lockdown is killing more people than it’s saving. If you still feel like donating after reading this nonsense, you can do so by clicking here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

And finally, a reader has come up with a wizard wheeze if you’re missing having your closest friend round for a drink. Even though socialising inside your home is verboten, you’re now allowed to list your home for sale with an estate agent and the agent is allowed to bring prospective buyers round. So contact your local Foxtons, tell them you want to sell your home and then put them in touch with your best friend, making sure to describe them as a “buyer”. When the Foxtons’ agent turns up at your doorstep with friend in tow, tell them you’re happy to show them round yourself, close the door and uncork a bottle of wine.