A few weeks ago I took part in a discussion about the coronavirus crisis organised by the Institute of Arts and Ideas. The other participants were David Alexander, Professor of Risk and Disaster Reduction at University College London; Anne Johnson, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at University College London; and Michael Levitt, Professor of Structural Biology at Stanford and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Among other things, we discussed the pros and cons of lockdowns and I set out the case against, which is what I’d been invited to do.
Afterwards, I extracted a four-minute clip featuring me and Michael Levitt – although he was nodding along enthusiastically to what I was saying rather than speaking – and put it on my YouTube channel, calling it “The Case Against Lockdowns”. I also created a two-minute clip and posted that on Twitter which you can see here.
This morning at 12.20am I received an email from YouTube which said the following:
Hi Toby Young,
As you may know, our Community Guidelines describe which content we allow – and don’t allow – on YouTube. Your video The Case Against Lockdowns was flagged to us for review. Upon review, we’ve determined that it violates our guidelines and we’ve removed it from YouTube.
As regular readers will know, when I post links to controversial YouTube videos I often joke that they should watch them before they’re taken down by the censorious video platform. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki told CNN’s Reliable Sources back in April that the company would be “removing information that is problematic”. Wojcicki told host Brian Stelter that this included “anything that is medically unsubstantiated”. She continued:
So people saying “take vitamin C; take turmeric, we’ll cure you”, those are the examples of things that would be a violation of our policy.
Anything that would go against World Health Organisation recommendations would be a violation of our policy.
In the four-minute clip of the Nobel Laureate and me, I don’t recommend any miracle cures for COVID-19, or indeed say anything “medically unsubstantiated”. So what did I say that violated YouTube’s “Community Standards”? Presumably, just challenging the idea that lockdowns are effective, or disputing the notion that states are entitled to suspend the civil rights of their citizens without any compelling evidence that doing so is necessary to reduce fatalities, is what set off alarm bells at YouTube since indiscriminately quarantining whole populations was one of the WHO’s recommendations. Readers will recall that the WHO initially praised China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, which involved more or less imprisoning up to 60 million people in Wuhan and surrounding cities, before it changed tack and praised Sweden’s response.
I’ve now reposted my video on Bitchute and you can watch it here. Is this so dangerous that it needs to be removed by YouTube? Judge for yourself.
Stop Press: The FT’s Izabella Kaminska has written about this latest example of big tech silencing a dissident in a piece headlined “Censortech strikes again“.
In France, YouTube would have no choice about whether to take down my video. Two weeks ago, the French parliament passed a new law forcing social networks to remove problematic content within 24 hours or face fines of up to €1.25 million. Signed into law on May 13th, the “Lutte contre la haine sur internet” requires digital platforms to remove discriminatory and sexually abusive comments within 24 hours of being flagged by users.
It’s based on a similar law passed in Germany in 2018 – the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) – and before it became law in France it was vigorously opposed by pro-free speech advocates. As with the German law, one of the flaws of the new French law is that there are no penalties if social media networks wrongly remove content that is later found not to be in violation of any laws or community guidelines. This will inevitably mean legitimate freedom of expression will be curtailed. For instance, anyone challenging the view that “transwomen are women”, however respectable their argument or impressive their credentials, will no longer be able to express that view on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube or Twitter because the social media companies will remove it rather than risk being fined for permitting “hate speech”.
The law doesn’t explicitly mention the coronavirus pandemic, but according to Simon Chandler writing in Forbes, “the French Government and the Assemblée Nationale has exploited fear over online coronavirus misinformation to pass it”.
Will the British Government take advantage of coronaphobia to fast-track its own censortech law?
Under the ‘Online Harms‘ proposal, published in the form of a White Paper last year and on course to become an Act of Parliament, the British Government would appoint Ofcom, currently the broadcasting watchdog, to regulate social media companies, empowering it to levy fines of up to four per cent of annual worldwide turnover – and jail company directors – if they don’t comply with Ofcom’s new guidance on harmful content. According to the White Paper, the regulator would ban online material “that may directly or indirectly cause harm” [my emphasis], although it neglects to define “harm” and says that content may be deemed harmful even if it’s “not necessarily illegal”.
As an example of what it has in mind, the White Paper singles out “offensive material”, as if giving offence is itself a form of harm. In effect, Ofcom would have the power to prohibit speech which isn’t unlawful but which it believes may indirectly cause harm because it’s offensive. That gives it almost limitless scope to prohibit the expression of opinions which some people find disagreeable.
There’s much talk in the White Paper of a “right of appeal”, but this turns out to apply to the tech companies only — individual social media users cannot appeal the regulator’s decisions — and would necessitate the companies applying for a judicial review. Not only is that a lengthy and cumbersome procedure, but it’s unclear how Facebook, YouTube or Twitter could demonstrate that a particular viewpoint won’t under any circumstances cause harm, particularly when “harm” isn’t defined. Merely showing that the content in question hasn’t caused the complainant any tangible harm won’t be sufficient, since all the regulator will need to show is that it may cause them indirect harm. More or less anything falls into that category, including any content challenging the Government’s guidance relating to the virus.
The part of the White Paper concerned with “fake news” would give the new regulator almost limitless discretion when it comes to removing content that dissents from Covid orthodoxy. In a section entitled “Disinformation”, the document says tech companies will “need to take proportionate and proactive measures… to minimise the spread of misleading and harmful disinformation and to increase the accessibility of trustworthy and varied news content”. But who’s to say what content is “misleading” and what’s “trustworthy”? Presumably, the BBC is “trustworthy” and sites like Lockdown Sceptics are “misleading”.
The White Paper suggests social media platforms should promote “authoritative news sources” and make use of “reputable fact-checking services”, by which it means organisation like the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which is currently urging social media companies to remove anything suggesting SARS-CoV-2 originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology rather than the Huanan seafood market, as Douglas Murray wrote about for UnHerd a few weeks ago. (Incidentally, Chinese scientists have now uncovered even more reasons to doubt the virus originated in the seafood market.)
If you want to read more about the ‘Online Harms’ White Paper and why it should be resisted at all costs, read this piece I wrote about it in the Spectator last year. At that point, the Government hadn’t decided whether it was going to create a new, stand-alone regulator or enlarge Ofcom’s jurisdiction. It has decided to do the latter – and that in itself is worrying, given that Ofcom recently reprimanded Eamonn Holmes merely for suggesting on ITV’s This Morning that David Icke’s theory linking 5G masts to COVID-19 symptoms should be discussed in the public square. This was in spite of the fact that he described the theory as “not true and incredibly stupid”. The Free Speech Union has written to Ofcom to complain about this.
I’ve put up a new page on the right-hand menu entitled “How Have We Responded to Previous Pandemics?” Apart from this being historically interesting, the idea is to draw attention to the fact that the indiscriminate quarantining of whole populations has never been attempted before as a way of mitigating the impact of a pandemic, save for in Mexico in 2009 in response to the swine flu outbreak. That particular experiment was abandoned after 18 days due to the rising social and economic costs.
I will be adding to the page in due course, but also publishing sub-pages about specific pandemics – and today I’m publishing the first one.
In “The 1957-58 Asian Flu Pandemic: Why Did the UK Respond So Differently?“, the brilliant young academic who’s written for Lockdown Sceptics before under the pseudonym “Wilfred Thomas” contrasts the stoicism of the British response to the flu pandemic of 1957-58 with the hysterical over-reaction of today.
Globally, Asian Flu (H2N2) killed between two and four million people – the equivalent of three to six million people in today’s money. It was just as infectious as SARS-CoV-2 – an isolated outbreak in Hong Kong managed to spread across the world – and young people were more susceptible than older people, so in that respect it was more dangerous.
In total, it’s estimated that anywhere from 9 – 12 million people contracted H2N2 in the UK. That’s the equivalent of 15.4 million reported cases in the UK of 2020. To put that into context, the UK currently has 267,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. There were around 33,000 deaths directly attributable to H2N2 and if you scale that up to the UK’s current population it’s the equivalent of 42,000. As I don’t need to tell you, that’s higher than the current death toll from coronavirus.
Yet the Asian Flu caused very little fuss. Mr “Thomas” has trawled through the British Newspaper Archive for 1957 and can only find 427 articles about the epidemic between January 1st to December 31st. As he points out, it’s probable that the BBC alone produces that many stories about COVID-19 across its various news platforms in an average day. He continues:
It’s fascinating to sit here, in the lockdown society of 2020, and read about a pandemic response from history that involved society doing its best to keep going. Back then you got ill, you went to bed, you got better, you re-joined society, and society continued to function. That was it. In the UK, something of this stoic philosophy was at the heart of the pandemic response rolled-out by a then recently instilled Conservative Government under the leadership of Harold Macmillan. Rather than dragging power and authority towards Whitehall, Macmillian seemed happy enough to devolve most of the operational, day-to-day responsibility for responding to the pandemic down to local and regional medical authorities. To be sure, the Government advised those with symptoms to stay at home, but otherwise took little national action as the flu spread right across the country during the autumn. Senior figures within the medical establishment of the time also seemed happy to adopt this hands-off approach. “In the end, and in spite of the scare stuff in the lay press,” wrote Ian Watson, Director of the College of General Practitioners’ Epidemic Observation Unit to a local GP on June 24th, 1957, “we will have our epidemic of influenza, of a type not very different from what we know already, with complications in the usual age groups.”
The result was a pandemic response that by today’s standards looks astonishingly laissez-faire. Some mines and factories shut, but that was due to a shortage of fit employees rather than Government diktat. Public gatherings were not stopped. In some areas, schools were closed (up to 100,000 children were off in London at the height of the outbreak), but few sporting events or other mass gatherings were cancelled. By early June, as the first cases were beginning to appear, Macmillan’s health secretary Dennis Vosper had yet to make a public statement setting out the threat posed by H2N2. The virus was at its peak when Aneurin Bevan was heckled at the Labour Party Conference on October 3rd 1957 for arguing that unilateral disarmament wasn’t possible. It was still going about its infective business when CND held its first meeting at Westminster Central Hall on February 17th 1958. During the winter of 1957, Macmillan was kept busy not by the Asian Flu pandemic but by the events that followed the world’s first nuclear reactor accident, when Windscale Pile No. 1 caught fire. President Eisenhower meanwhile was preoccupied by the Russians’ launching of Sputnik 1 on October 4th. In October, during the peak of the outbreak in Britain, the Conservative party conference went ahead as usual. In his speech to conference Macmillan speech didn’t even mention the pandemic.
Partly as a result of this much more stoical approach, the total cost to the British economy of the Asian Flu epidemic was around £2.6 billion in today’s money. In the four quarters of 1957, only one saw negative economic growth – Q3 saw GDP shrink by -0.6% – and only one did in 1958 (Q2). Overall, 1957 saw growth of +1.5%, as did 1958. Quite a contrast with the financial and economic cost of Britain’s management of the coronavirus epidemic, with the Bank of England forecasting a -35% contraction in Q2 alone. If we generously assume that the cost of the measures the current Chancellor has put in place will be £108.35 billion, that’s 4,358% more expensive than the cost of managing the 1957-58 epidemic.
Mr “Thomas” concludes by analysing the difference in our response to these two remarkably similar episodes, detecting a profound cultural shift:
In 1957, the UK responded to a global pandemic with cool, calm stoicism. The pandemic was “just” a pandemic, not a social catastrophe. Citizens could cope. Death was the exception not the rule. Society (and the economy that paid for it) would struggle on. People would continue to go about their everyday lives. Fast forward to the UK of 2020, and we encounter a society that’s responding to a similarly infectious, similarly dangerous pandemic with what amounts to shrill, hyperventilating hysteria. The pandemic will destroy everything we know and hold dear about life. Individuals can’t cope. Death lurks around every corner. Society (and the economy that pays for it) must be suspended. People must be protected from the myriad risks posed by everyday life. Whereas the stoic proclaims, “I’ll manage, let me be!” the hysteric wails, “I can’t cope, help me!”
Mr “Thomas” has put a huge amount of work into this. Please do read it in full.
In its latest weekly update, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) notes that the total number of deaths in care homes England and Wales in Week 20 (May 8th – 15th) was 2,350 higher than the five-year average for Week 20 and COVID-19 only accounted for 1,078 of them. As the Times points out, 12,335 more people have died at home this year than usual. “There have been almost as many unexplained deaths at home as there have been as a result of COVID-19, according to analysis of official figures,” it reveals, in a story based on the latest ONS data.
But this isn’t a phenomenon that’s unique to England and Wales. On the contrary, excess deaths have exceeded the total number of deaths attributable to COVID-19 all over the world, as the above FT graph makes clear.
Some statisticians believe the reason excess deaths cannot be accounted for by deaths from coronavirus alone is because the latter are being under-counted. But another explanation – more plausible, in my view – is that the lockdowns themselves are causing excess deaths. Note that the number of of excess deaths relative to the average for recent years, expressed as a percentage, is lower in Stockholm (88%) than in London (142%) or New York (398%).
Yesterday, the BBC’s News at Six (and the News at Ten) led with an eight-minute report about “the growing fears among doctors of a second peak of coronavirus infections as the lockdown restrictions are eased in England”. Huw Edwards, introducing the report, said: “Medical staff say a rise in cases is now inevitable as more people have contact with each other.” Bit odd to report the fears of “medical staff” so uncritically when the easing of lockdown restrictions hasn’t seen a rise in infections anywhere. Not in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland… not in any US states… not in China… The “second spike” that’s been so confidently predicted by epidemiologists touting their infallible computer models simply hasn’t materialised. Why then would the BBC give such credence to this clearly unfounded “fear”?
One reader was so incensed he sent me the following screed:
I have just sat and watched the BBC1 News at Six tonight. It led with the most extraordinary virus death porn story to date. This one was by Clive Myrie, the latest “embedded” BBC hack to be parked in a hospital (in this case the Royal London Hospital in East London). It almost amounted to a nostalgia piece for the glory days of COVID-19. We were treated to the tear-sodden exhausted medics waxing lyrical about how it been only a few days ago with people dying left, right and centre, and how shattered they are. They are terrified of a second wave that’s supposedly going to be caused by people interacting with one another. Lots of shots of patients on ventilators and some speeded up footage to show how frantic it had all once been and how it might be again if anyone speaks to anyone outside their households. I was completely incredulous.
If you knew nothing else about the virus and watched this piece you’d have visions of the streets piled with corpses, hospitals completely out of control and total armageddon imminent. Incredibly, the piece built to its climax by actually tracking a 55-year-old male patient in his final minutes, the ultimate Covid death porn scene as medics piled in to try and save him. The drama building, Myrie sidestepped to interview medics who told us how close the hospital came to be broken, briefly showing another patient having a ventilator removed (successfully). But the piece finished with Myrie ponderously announcing the 55-year-old patient had died. The whole piece had turned into a real-time death scene. “Another soul lost,” Myrie intoned solemnly, in case you hadn’t realised what death amounts to.
Myrie doesn’t seem to have been keeping up with current events. He seemed mainly worried, naturally using his best doom-laden ponderous tone, that with declining cases he might not have been able to make these reports in time for his moment in the Covid media sun. In the general poverty of BBC journalism during this crisis, this slavish lockdown propaganda was a new low. Totally unbalanced, it foundered first and foremost on the belief that by interviewing people in a foxhole you are likely to get an accurate take on what’s going on. It was a perverse celebration of the height of the virus being some sort of Battle-of-the-Somme moment that he and his NHS subjects seemed unable to move on from. “Now you understand what the peak of the pandemic was like,” Myrie intoned in his best gloom-laden, ponderous tone.
What’s next? This wasn’t just Covid death porn, it was competitive death porn.
The entire agenda of Myrie’s commentary and interviews seemed to be that we should be locked down forever. Naturally, there was a trailer for the next instalment, coming tonight, flagging up “prayers for the dying”, over-flowing morgues and showing a body being pushed into one of the racks. It was like a Monty Python “bring out your dead” homage.
I’ve started a new section today called “Around the Work in 80 Lockdowns“. My aim is to build up a picture of what it’s like to be locked down in different countries by publishing first-hand accounts from readers in those countries. So far we’ve published three “Postcards” – one from Spain, one from Sri Lanka and one from Belarus. If you fancy writing one from a country we haven’t included yet, please email me here.
Here’s an extract from the “Postcard from Belarus“, published today:
I took an eventful 12-hour coach journey from Warsaw to Belarus. Arriving in Minsk was like stepping into a different realm. The mood of the city was not one of fear – things felt pretty normal. Roughly one in ten people chose to wear a mask, and while there were fewer people out and about than usual, by and large they went about their everyday business as if life was normal. Had nobody told them to be terrified of one another? That by simply stepping outside they are risking not just their own life, but the lives of everyone around them? What on earth would Neil Ferguson and his infamous Imperial College model say?
Belarus decided against the nuclear option: they have not pressed the panic button and destroyed the country’s economy, like most of the world. That’s not to say they haven’t introduced some measures. In Minsk, universities have switched to remote lectures; museums and theatres are closed; business trips have been cancelled, with meetings moved to video conferencing; care homes are closed to visitors, and arrivals into the country must self-isolate for fourteen days. But schools remain open, as do cafés, restaurants, bars, shopping malls and most outdoor events. Indeed, many thousands of people lined the streets for the annual Victory Day parade on May 9th. Belarus has struck a refreshing balance: one which has not led to a population in fear of one another.
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:
- ‘How a suburban church-going Conservative found himself confronting police in Hyde Park‘ – Chris Larkin in Hector Drummond Magazine on how he found himself shoulder-to-shoulder with Piers Corbyn at an anti-lockdown protest
- ‘Wankers Lovin’ Lockdown‘ – Comedy Unleashed‘s Leo Kearse thinks he may have discovered the common thread linking all lockdown enthusiasts
- ‘What the Dominic Cummings saga tells us about lockdown‘ – Dr John Lee’s latest for the Spectator in which he marvels at the media’s focus for days on the alleged behaviour of one Government advisor, while failing to question the rationale for the ongoing devastation of education, health and the economy unfolding in front of us
- ‘France’s facemask fiasco burns deep for Macron‘ – The Times reports on the mass burning of facemasks by the French army just as coronavirus arrived in the country
- ‘Superdrug suspends sales of antibody tests following questions over reliability‘ – Misleading headline from the Times. In fact, Superdrug has been forced to suspend sales of its tests because the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has banned all private testing. The Mail‘s version is better. More on this scandal tomorrow
- ‘What does the Covid-proof gym of the future look like?‘ – Something tells me this isn’t going to boost David Lloyd’s share price
- ‘National helpline charity reveals ten-fold increase in visits to its domestic abuse website‘ – The Telegraph reports on the huge surge in domestic abuse in Lockdown Britain
- ‘More People Are Taking Drugs for Anxiety and Insomnia, and Doctors Are Worried‘ – The WSJ reports on the psychological toll inflicted by the lockdown in the US
- ‘REOPEN WIDE: Dentists should plan for treating patients again “in three weeks”, say MPs‘ – The Sun reports that dentists’ surgeries are set to reopen on June 15th
- ‘Boris’s Corona Catastrophe‘ – Simon Heffer with a hard-hitting piece about Boris’s failures in the June issue of the Critic
A couple of weeks ago, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have 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.
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. If you feel like donating, however paltry the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.
This video is worth watching. An MSNBC reporter chastises locals in Wisconsin for not wearing facemasks – while wearing one himself, of course – and is then ambushed by a passer-by who casually points out that his cameraman isn’t wearing one either. Busted!