Viral Tweet Opposing ‘Herd Immunity’ Gets Pretty Much Everything Wrong

In a recent viral tweet, the anti-Brexit campaigner Jolyon Maugham criticised the Government’s initial Covid strategy (which, as we know, was later ditched in favour of lockdowns).

I’m no defender of the Government’s response to the pandemic, but it’s hard to imagine a more wrong-headed criticism than this. Indeed, it’s impressive how many fallacies Maugham managed to pack into 280 characters.

First: “Herd immunity”. As the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration have tirelessly pointed out, describing any response to the pandemic as a ‘herd immunity strategy’ is like describing a pilot’s plan to land a plane as a ‘gravity strategy’. Given that Covid cannot be eliminated, herd immunity will eventually be reached, regardless of what we do.

The goal of any plan to address Covid, write Kulldorff and Bhattacharya, “should be to minimise disease mortality and the collateral harms from the plan itself, while managing the build-up of immunity in the population.”

Second, the implication of Maugham’s tweet is that the Government’s initial strategy was motivated by Conservative ideology, and that the alternative – lockdown – is what’s backed by science.  

Yet, as I and others have pointed out, it’s actually lockdown that deviates substantially from the pre-Covid consensus. Indeed, the UK’s pandemic preparedness plan does not even mention the term. And in 2019, the WHO classified “quarantine of exposed individuals” as “not recommended under any circumstances”.  

Given that the first lockdown was implemented by a communist one-party state, and that subsequent lockdowns were imposed with almost no prior discussion, it would make more sense to say lockdown was motivated by ideology.

Third, the virus does not “target” working class and poorer people, while leaving Etonians and bankers unscathed. It is not some pathogenic agent of class warfare.

If “target” is taken to mean “infect”, then the virus targets people who aren’t immune to it. And if “target” is taken to mean “kill”, then it would be most accurate to say the virus targets the old and the immunocompromised. After all, these groups account for the overwhelming majority of deaths.

Now, it’s true that death rates have been higher in working class occupations, as I noted in a previous post. But this is far more plausibly due to lockdown than to the Government’s initial strategy, which was in any case abandoned in March of 2020.

As the art critic J. J. Charlesworth quipped, “There was never any lockdown. There was just middle-class people hiding while working-class people brought them things.” Middle-class people like Jolyon Maugham, I might add.

Government Considering Cutting Covid Vaccine Booster Wait to Five Months

The length of time people must wait after receiving their second Covid vaccine dose before getting their ‘booster’ could be cut from six months to five, under new plans being drawn up by the Government and its scientific advisers.

This is strange given that more people (almost three-quarters of a million more people) are already becoming eligible each week for a third dose than are actually being ‘jabbed’. Perhaps ministers have some more ‘nudges‘ in mind for those who are unwilling to come forward. The Telegraph has the story.

Proposals to cut the waiting time for a third Covid jab from six months to five are under discussion in Whitehall, with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) understood to be showing interest in the idea.

It would mean the vast majority of over-65s could be vaccinated by early November rather than early December, and all over-70s jabbed now rather than by mid-November.

Boris Johnson indicated support for the change on Thursday, saying it was an “extremely important point” and the programme should move “as fast as possible”.

Analysis by the Telegraph suggests nine million more people could get a booster jab if the change happened now, doubling the number of those eligible.

Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary, floated the change on Thursday as a way to boost the number of people who have maximum Covid protection before Christmas. …

The roll-out of Covid booster jabs, which offer people aged over 50 a top-up to their immunity, has been criticised after only half of those eligible have taken up the offer.

There has been discussion inside the Government about changing the definition of ‘fully jabbed’ from two Covid jabs to three for those who are eligible in order to encourage uptake, although no change is expected soon. Mr. Javid said earlier this week that demand and not supply was the problem, adding: “We’ve got the jabs – we just need the arms to put them in.” …

It is understood that Downing Street is open to dropping the six-month delay but will wait for any change in advice from the JCVI. [Not that the body’s advice mattered much when it came to the vaccination of healthy children.]

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: This piece about the vaccine roll-out and its diminishing returns by an anonymous substacker called eugyppius is very good. Worth bearing in mind that if the Government has its way anonymous accounts like this would probably be unlawful.

News Round-Up

  • Covid attitudes have shifted” – New polling published in the Sunday Times suggetsts the number of people who want the Government to limit the spread of the virus at all costs has fallen while the public desire to protect the economy (even if it means ‘more virus’) has become more prominent.

A Surgeon Writes…

An NHS surgeon who’s contributed to the Daily Sceptic before has sent us an email offering us his perspective on the current NHS ‘crisis’. It’s a reminder that even though the current pressure on the NHS cannot realistically be attributed to Covid hospital admissions – which remain at around 5% of the total – that doesn’t mean that the NHS isn’t under strain.

There are various debates about whether or not the NHS is under pressure with pundits rightly pointing out that the NHS is not under pressure due to Covid-related disease. I think at this stage this is an unhelpful diversion. The fact is there is a big problem and trying to disprove it by just looking at Covid is missing the bigger picture.

The NHS is under a lot of pressure due to processes unrelated to Covid workload. While hospitals are not yet full to the brim, the overall activity levels are higher than usual for certain regions (whether this is due to the catch-up effect, neglect, the iatrogenic effect of recent non-pharmaceutical or other interventions/measures, etc.). The main crisis is related to staffing. This labour shortage has been noted in many sectors of the economy, but the staffing crisis (mainly non-doctoral) in the NHS has been chronic and worsening for years. This year tipped the balance (psychological exhaustion, physical exhaustion, sickness absence, track and trace, etc.). In our region hospitals are routinely cancelling (relatively non-essential) surgery due to lack of staff required to either run operating theatres or wards/ancillary services. Hospitals are routinely running extra activity on Saturdays to try and catch up on cancer work. This is a weekly occurrence not limited to the place I work. Factor in the very long (self-created) waiting lists and the winter (which has not even started), and the crisis could become unmanageable.

I am pessimistic. Regardless of the Covid workload, the Government may use a real crisis in the NHS to justify more pointless non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccine passports (complete nonsense from a medical, ethical and social perspective) out of desperation, misconception, or both.

Government Officials Continue to Tell Half the Story on Covid Statistics

The U.K. Statistics Authority says it is concerned by the misrepresentation of Covid data by the Government and its head, Sir David Norgrove, points out that “we’ve intervened more during the pandemic and made more comments than in the years before”. It is, of course, expected that mistakes are to be made on occasion, but it’s concerning that time and again these mistakes are being repeated, and with damaging consequences. The Telegraph has published a good piece on this.

“With statistics, it’s usually cock-up rather than conspiracy,” [Sir David] added. “They are under pressure and they get themselves into a hole and we have to help dig them out.”

Yet despite this, nothing seems to be changing.

At a press conference from Downing Street on Wednesday evening, Dr. Jenny Harries, the Chief Executive of the U.K. Health Security Agency, took the public through slides showing that there were currently 7,891 people in hospital with Covid in the U.K.

What she failed to mention is that this figure does not only include people admitted with Covid, but also those who test positive for coronavirus while in hospital for another condition.

Hospitals were instructed to distinguish between the two groups earlier this year, but so far it has not filtered down into the official figures.

In fact it is only possible to find the data by scrolling to the very bottom of the “Hospital Activity” page of the NHS website. Even then, the figures are woefully out of date.

At the most recent count for England on October 12th, 26% of the overall cases were not primarily Covid.

If that was extrapolated to Dr. Harries’ British data, it would mean that more than 2,000 people included in the Government’s press conference figure are actually in hospital for other causes.

A similar problem can be seen in the daily reported death figures published on the Government’s coronavirus dashboard. On Tuesday, many experts seized on 223 reported deaths to argue that Britain should enact ‘Plan B’ restrictions.

But the reported death data does tend to jump around depending on the day of the week and reflects deaths over several days. Look at the figures by “date of death”, and it is clear to see the situation is largely plateauing.

Dr. Jason Oke, a senior statistician at the University of Oxford, pointed this out earlier this week, saying: “As we have said right from the beginning, we need to focus on deaths by date of occurrence, not deaths by date reported. 

“Reporting Tuesday’s numbers – always the highest – in isolation, tends to exaggerate things, and gives no indication of current trends, which has if anything been slowly falling through September and October, [and] no guarantee of future trends of course.”

Regular readers of the Daily Sceptic won’t be surprised by this report on the misrepresentation of data, especially given our in-house doctor’s repeated highlighting of “a remarkable consistency in [officials] grossly overestimating the numbers of Covid hospital admissions“, and more – but the Telegraph story is still worth reading in full.

Psychology Student Looking For Non-Mask Wearers to Interview For Dissertation

A student at the University of the Highlands and Islands has got in contact to ask if I can put her in touch with people who have not complied with any mask mandates since March 2020. This is for her dissertation on threats to identity. If you’re interested in participating, you can find out more about the research and complete the survey here.

The Threat of Lockdown “Hangs Like a Sword of Damocles”, Writes Laura Dodsworth

There’s a good piece in the Telegraph today by Laura Dodsworth who argues that the fact the Government is holding off on imposing ‘Plan B’ restrictions “at this point” paints only one side of the picture. While new measures haven’t yet been introduced (or, rather, old, failed measures haven’t yet been reintroduced), “the threat of lockdown hangs like a Sword of Damocles”, ‘nudging’ us into courses of action we wouldn’t otherwise take. To put it simply: “Eat your vegetables, kids, or you’ll lose your right to dessert.”

There’s a chill in the air. Not from the changing seasons – it’s still fairly balmy – but from the latest attempts to orchestrate a subtle psychological manipulation of us all.

About 18 months ago, in the lockdown summer of 2020, I started to argue that the Government’s response to Covid is driven not so much by medical science or epidemiology, but instead by the psychological insights of behavioural scientists. In my book, A State of Fear: How the UK Government Weaponised Fear During the Covid Pandemic, I argue that controversial ‘nudge theory’ lies at the heart of Westminster’s response. It refers to sneaky attempts to prime, prepare and prod us into their desired mindset and course of action, without us ever realising we are being coerced.

Some responses to my book seemed naive. Many believed that Downing Street’s approach was genuinely grounded in public health epidemiology. Now, I think the dial is starting to move; the Government’s strategy becomes ever-more clear. Once nudge is seen, it can’t be unseen. Behavioural scientists were dazzling the public with card tricks. This week, the Government may have overplayed its hand.

On Tuesday, Professor Neil Ferguson, the Imperial College Epidemiologist whose modelling was used as the basis for the U.K.’s lockdown policy, made an illuminating comment on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “Nobody likes having their freedoms curtailed by measures but it’s prudent to be cautious, in everyday interactions certainly,” he told presenter Sarah Smith, “and wearing masks certainly helps that: it reminds people we’re not completely out of the woods yet.”

It was a startling admission, if we needed one, that masks are as much about psychology as they are about preventing infection. They act as a social cue, to use the language of behavioural scientists, nudging us into vigilance.

Then, on Wednesday, after NHS leaders urged the Government to implement its Covid ‘Plan B’ immediately (including the reimplementation of mandatory masks in crowded indoor spaces, and advice to work from home), Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng took to television to herald the “hard-won gains” Britain has eked out of lockdown, adding: “I don’t want to reverse back to a situation where we have lockdowns, I don’t think it’s necessary”. It was a deployment of the sunk-cost fallacy: we’ve come so far, we mustn’t allow our good work to be undone. Until hearing Kwarteng’s words, you mightn’t have known there was even a risk of another lockdown. But now the idea has been seeded in your mind, ever so subtly.

Yesterday, the Health Secretary Sajid Javid gave the first Downing Street briefing in a month – surely a portentous sign in itself… – in which he announced that Covid infections had risen 15% in a week, and warned that cases could hit 100,000 a day this winter.

But, he continued: “If we all play our part, then we can give ourselves the best possible chance in this race… [We can] get through this winter and enjoy Christmas with our loved ones.”

Why is Christmas even in doubt, an alarmed listener might think?

These psychological cues are carefully calibrated, more so than many realise.

Worth reading in full.

You can also read a non-paywalled piece by Laura on the topic of Government ‘nudges’ published in her Substack account here.

If Another Lockdown is Imposed, or Vaccine Passports are Introduced, the Government Will Use the Almost Unlimited Powers Granted to it by the Public Health Act

We’re publishing a guest post today by Daily Sceptic regular Dr. David McGrogan, as Associate Professor in Northumbria Law School, about the Government’s reliance on the Public Health Act 1984 to railroad through all the Covid restrictions of the past 18 months and which will almost certainly be invoked to justify vaccine passports if and when they’re introduced. He applauds the Covid Recovery Group’s efforts to reform the PHA, but thinks they’re unlikely to succeed because our supine MPs quite like the current arrangement for self-interested reasons.

In a recent piece, Toby accurately laid out the basic legal position with regard to almost all of the various Covid-related restrictions brought in since March 2020. That is, although there is such a thing as the Coronavirus Act 2020, and although some of its original contents permitted the Government to do things that were quite draconian, it has not been the source of any of the restrictions that have been imposed. These have more or less all come through secondary or delegated legislation under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, making the Coronavirus Act 2020 a bit of a red herring. I thought it would be useful for readers of the Daily Sceptic to understand what this is all about, why it is, frankly, an outrage, and why the Covid Recovery Group of MPs are focused on repeal of the 1984 Act rather than the 2020 one.

It is important to provide a bit of background on this for readers without a background in law or politics. In U.K. constitutional arrangements, only Parliament can create law, which it does through primary legislation: an Act of Parliament. Only Parliament can create law, because only it comprises (in the form of the House of Commons) the elected representatives of the people, who are sovereign. In practical terms, of course, most Acts originate as bills put forward by the government, but governments cannot simply make laws by decree – they must pass through the legislature.

However, it has long been thought that getting Parliament to pass Acts for every piddling thing a government might wish to do would be time-consuming and get in the way of efficiency and expediency, and hence there has evolved a system of delegated legislation. Delegated legislation is, basically, law that is created by a government minister or other public body through powers granted them by an Act of Parliament. Parliament passes an Act (primary legislation) which specifically grants the power to a minister to make certain orders or regulations, and the minister thereby creates legislation lawfully because Parliament has said he can. Usually this is done for fairly trivial and/or technical matters that it is not worth spending parliamentary time on.

Rishi Sunak Expected to Extend Covid Recovery Loan Scheme

In his budget speech next week, the Chancellor is expected to announce an extension of the Government’s Covid recovery loan scheme – the amount of money that has been spent under which has not yet been published – which was due to end on December 31st. The Times has the story.

The scheme was launched in April as a bridge between the more generous coronavirus loan schemes and more normal credit conditions.

It provides credit worth up to £10 million and comes with an 80% Government guarantee for lenders. Its terms are less generous than previous pandemic loan schemes. Lenders are allowed to ask for personal guarantees from directors on loans over £250,000. Fees must be paid from the start and businesses must show that they would be viable were it not for the pandemic and had been affected adversely by the Covid crisis.

Data has not yet been published on how much money has been lent under the scheme. However, banking sources have said that the volume of loans has been lower than expected. Under three earlier Government-backed lending programmes, including the business interruption loan and bounce back loan schemes, almost £80 billion of loans were issued to help companies through the pandemic.

An industry source said: “The take-up [of the recovery loan scheme] was never really expected to be as big as the other schemes, but it also hasn’t been as big as they had expected.” The source said it would “make sense” to continue to provide an alternative to bank lending for businesses into the new year.

The economy grew by 0.4% in August, which was weaker than economists expected. It contracted for the first time in six months in July. …

A Treasury spokesman said: “We have provided over £79 billion to 1.6 million businesses through our government-backed Covid loans, including the recovery loan scheme, to ensure firms had finance they needed throughout the pandemic.”

Worth reading in full.

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