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YouTube Censors Me

Verboten!

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“.

France Passes New Censortech Law. Will Britain be Next?

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.

How Have We Responded to Previous Pandemics?

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.

Excess Deaths Much Higher That Reported Covid Death Count

Financial Times graphs showing the number of excess deaths in different cities since the beginning of 2020

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%).

BBC Death Porn

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.

Around the World in Eighty Lockdowns

Still from the 1956 film adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days, starring (from left) Robert Newton as Inspector Fix, David Niven as Phileas Fogg, and Shirley MacLaine as Aouda

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.

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 From Readers

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: “I Aint Been Nowhere” by Chuck Mead, “I’m Bored” by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and “Set Me Free” by the Kinks.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

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.

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. 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.

And Finally…

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!

Latest News

Did Dominic Cummings’s press conference in the Downing Street rose garden yesterday succeed in taking the heat out of whether or not he should resign following his trip to his parents’ farm in Durham? For a while it seemed to, but this is a dumpster fire that refuses to go out. Today, Douglas Ross, a junior minister in the Scottish Office, has resigned over the matter.

“While the intentions may have been well meaning, the reaction to this news shows that Mr Cummings’s interpretation of the Government advice was not shared by the vast majority of people who have done as the Government asked,” Mr Ross said.

This comes after more than 30 Conservative MPs have called for Cummings to go. In another attempt to quell the flames, Matt Hancock announced at today’s press briefing that the Government would be reviewing those fines issued to people for breaching lockdown rules to seek childcare.

But the Prime Minister is unlikely to do a U-turn, even though his approval ratings have dropped 20 points in the wake of the controversy, according to the Telegraph.

Dead Cat Announcement

In what was widely seen as a “dead cat” move – a political term referring to a politician’s attempt to deflect attention from an embarrassing story by throwing a dead cat on the table – Boris announced at yesterday’s press briefing that high street shops, department stores and shopping centres are set to reopen on June 15th in the biggest easing of the lockdown since it was imposed on March 23rd. The Prime Minister added that outdoor markets and car showrooms would be the first to open on June 1st provided they had social distancing measures in place.

Boris also said the Government would be updating its “plan to rebuild” the British economy, and the update was published on the Government’s website this morning. You can read a summary of what’s new in the Telegraph.

According to the Times, At Cabinet yesterday Mr Johnson told ministers about his plans to allow people to hold barbecues and garden parties at the end of next month with a limited numbers of guests. The move is part of a broader plan to allow people to mix with a “bubble” of friends and family. The Prime Minister also said that the British Grand Prix would go ahead in July.

But don’t get out the bunting quite yet. In most non-essential shops, it will be a case of “look, don’t touch“, says the Times:

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, said that shopping would be different when the restrictions are lifted. “We need to ensure that some of the shopping habits people may have grown used to in the pre-Covid days are habits that we exercise a degree of restraint on,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“So when it comes to touching and testing goods, when it comes to trying on clothing, when it comes to trying make-up and so on, that all of us exercise restraint in not doing that and recognise that as these stores reopen, it is a new normal.”

COVID-19 as a Workplace Hazard – Part 2

On May 15th I published an excellent article by an occupational health doctor about the economic risks of treating COVID-19 as a workplace health hazard, similar to asbestos. He pointed out the difficulties this created, particularly for small businesses that might not be able to afford the additional costs associated with making their work environments compliant with the new health and safety regulations:

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.

Since then, the Government has issued some guidance about how to make workplaces “safe” but it is incomplete and ambiguous and I don’t hold out much hope of it being adequately fleshed out when it’s updated. In particular, it over-estimates the expert guidance that anxious company directors will have access to. The same occupational health doctor has written a follow-up, reviewing the latest guidance, and concluded that if the Government doesn’t raise its game the economic recovery will be far slower than it needs to be:

The end of lockdown will only signal the beginning of the next phase of this crisis. The potential for COVID-19 workplace measures to continue to exert drag on the economic recovery is clear and a failure of Government to adequately address the support that employers need can only prolong the damage to businesses and livelihoods. Without this leadership, businesses and organisations of all types will continue to wallow in confusion, while all the while being vilified by the press. There will always need to be some degree of local interpretation of guidance or legislation, but fundamental misunderstandings need leadership otherwise the resulting confusion and chaos will only serve to prolong the damage to the economy and to livelihoods.

Worth reading in full.

Irish Taoiseach Flouts Lockdown Rules

Irish premier Leo Varadkar (second left), his partner Matt Barrett (left) and two friends (right, one standing and one crouching) in Dublin’s Phoenix Park yesterday

Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, was photographed topless in Dublin’s Phoenix Park yesterday, despite official warnings against having picnics. Tsk, tsk. Will he read out a long statement in the Irish equivalent of the rose garden – the shamrock garden? – and then take questions from a baying mob of journalists?

Will Blue States Fare Worse Than Red States, Post-Lockdown?

Some interesting data in today’s Wall St Journal. Nearly two-thirds of leisure and hos­pi­tal­ity jobs in New York and New Jer­sey and about half in Cal­i­for­nia and Illi­nois dis­ap­peared be­tween Feb­ruary and April com­pared to 43% in Flor­ida, which was among the last states to lock down and first to re­open. Flor­ida Gov. Ron De­San­tis also pro­vided ex­emp­tions for lower-risk businesses includ­ing con­trac­tors, man­u­fac­tur­ers and some re­tail­ers. Four per­cent of con­struc­tion work­ers in Flor­ida lost their jobs com­pared to 41% in New York, 27% in New Jer­sey, 17% in Cal­i­for­nia and 11% in Illi­nois.

Worth remembering that as recently as last week the Washington Post’s Ben Terris and Josh Dawsey dismissed Gov. DeSantis as a typical “Florida Man”, with his “devil-may-care” attitude and “oafish” demeanour. That’s liberal, Ivy League code for “conservative”. Turns out, DeSantis made the right call.

HMRC Officers So Worried About Catching Covid They Won’t Calculate Inheritance Tax

Every cloud, as they say.

I got an interesting email from a self-employed man today who’s business has been disrupted by over-anxious employees at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (that’s the UK’s IRS to my American readers):

I am a self-employed will writer who also assists clients with probate and estates and am lucky that I’ve been able to continue my business, albeit at a reduced level, during lockdown. Sadly, the same cannot be said of our glorious public sector.

One of my clients has been advised by HMRC, in relation to his late mother’s estate, that “due to current measures to control the spread of coronavirus we are not able to send you copies of your Inheritance Tax calculations”. Presumably, some idiot has advised them that there is a risk of the virus spreading to the wider community on the paper calculations, but, apart from the fact that I believe it is unlawful for them not to show my client how the tax has been calculated, they advised him of this by (yes, you guessed it) sending him a letter in the post! I wonder if some muppet licked the stamp?

The world, or at least the one inhabited by the public sector, really has gone mad.

Good Briefing Document on Why Schools Should Reopen

The Reopen Maryland group, which is petitioning the Governor of Maryland to end the shutdown, has produced an excellent briefing document, laying out the case for reopening schools. Some of the highlights:

  • Schools that have reopened haven’t caused a rise in infections anywhere and those countries that never closed schools, such as Taiwan, haven’t seen a higher death rate than those that have.
  • The ​World Health Organisation’s chief scientist says ​children seem “less capable” of spreading coronavirus and are at “very low risk” of illness.
  • Children accounted for fewer than 2% of total COVID-19 cases​ in a large CDC study​, and of those children who did contract the virus, ​a maximum of 2%​ required hospitalization. Almost no children have died of COVID-19 anywhere.
  • Remote learning can be ​less effective than face-to-face learning.
  • Remote learning disadvantages children with special education needs​, as well as students from poor backgrounds and those for whom English is a second language.
  • Spring 2020 closures are estimated to place students 30-50% behind where they would otherwise have been, with more significant​ loss in maths. Some students will lose ​almost a full year ​of growth from the spring term closure alone.
  • There is widespread agreement that school closure is ​harmful to children’s mental health​, with parents reporting increased depression, stress, anxiety and suicidal ideation.
  • The economic impact of school closure and interruptions to learning are substantial and harmful.

New German Anti-Lockdown Medical/Scientific Group

A new initiative in Germany has been launched called Medical Professionals and Scientist for Health, Freedom and Democracy. “Our credo is to act on evidence-based science with common sense and empathy, for the sake of health and freedom in a democratic society,” it says in this English-language YouTube video. One of the people involved is Dr Bobo Schiffmann, co-founder of Widerstand 2020, the German anti-lockdown party. But the driving force appears to be Professor Sucharit Bhakdi, Director of the Institute for Medical Microbiology. He is a long-standing lockdown sceptic and penned an open letter to Angela Merkel last month which was translated on Peter Hitchens’s blog.

The Big Debate

“Take that, Labash, you lockdown zealot.”

I’ve just concluded a debate on the lockdown policy with Matt Labash in the pages of the Spectator USA. It started off as a light-hearted, humorous exchange of the kind you might witness in a gentleman’s club, but quickly degenerated into a schoolyard knife fight. I think we covered most of the issues, although I didn’t linger on the economic argument and herd immunity gets nary a mention. Hard to know whether either of us will have changed anyone’s mind. Probably not.

Here’s Matt trying to goad me with some death data:

Skeptics love to quibble about the true mortality rate of Covid. Which, fine. I get that. Any reliable analysis has to concede that God-knows-how-many people are walking around asymptomatically, never even thinking to get tested, let alone, dying. However, there’s another supremely inconvenient statistical reality that the skeptics dodge, almost as often as they dodge giving the death toll, when discussing Covid-19’s lethality.

And that is: how many people are dying who actually do get logged as identified cases? That’s not a model, that’s perfectly knowable right now. In the US, we have 1,674,054 total cases, as of this writing. (Again, these numbers are obsolete almost as soon as I set them down, since they’re always ticking up.) And we’ve had 98,315 deaths. Aside from that meaning that one out of every 198 Americans is identifiably infected with the coronavirus, it also means of those cases, 5.9 percent die. And that number hasn’t budged in weeks, no matter how much more we’ve tested, no matter how many more cases are added to the pile.

It’s even worse in other hotspots. Way worse. Spain and Italy both test at a higher per capita rate than we do. Yet Spain’s death toll among diagnosed cases is 10.1 percent. Italy’s is 14.2 percent. And while I respect your skepticial (or sceptical) propensity to ask some tough questions, I wouldn’t rest easy if I were you, either. The UK’s current death rate among identified cases is a whopping 14.1 percent.

And this is my irritable response:

I’m afraid your back-of-the-envelope calculation of the infection fatality rates in different countries are worthless. The number of cases doesn’t reflect the number who’ve been infected – not even close. To get that figure you need to carry out seroprevalence surveys, as John Ioannidis and his team at Stanford have done. In Ioannidis’s latest preprint, he calculated the infection fatality rate by looking at 12 seroprevalence studies in which the population sample size was higher than 500. His conclusion is that it’s ‘in the same ballpark as seasonal flu’, i.e. between 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent. Yes, your chances of dying from COVID-19 are higher than being struck by lightning, but not much.

But we’re getting distracted here. The argument against the lockdowns isn’t that the virus isn’t as deadly as people initially thought. It’s that there’s no evidence they suppress fatalities. I don’t know how many different ways to say this so that it sinks in. Some non-pharmaceutical interventions work – Taiwan’s decision to quarantine people entering the country in early January was smart and South Korea’s track-and-trace programme has been effective. But stay-at-home orders don’t work. That’s the reason I have every sympathy with those protestors in states like Michigan and Colorado. The civil rights of hundreds of millions of Americans, which are supposedly guaranteed by your constitution, have been suspended needlessly. They should be restored immediately.

Worth reading in full.

Trump Regrets Ordering the Shutdown – Or Does He?

In typical style, President Trump has given an interview in which he admits he wouldn’t have ordered the shutdown on March 13th if he’d known then what he knows now – and then immediately contradicted himself and said it was an “incredible” decision, a “great” decision, one that saved “hundreds of thousands of lives”.

Here’s a transcript of the relevant bit of the interview with Sharyl Attkisson of the syndicated American TV show Full Measure:

President Trump: So I was hearing millions of people, and it would have been millions of people if we didn’t shut down. Now, would I shut it down again? No, because we understand it now much better. We didn’t know anything about it, it was new, it was fresh.

Sharyl: You mean you would not have, in retrospect, shut down the –

President Trump: I would have done exactly. We’ve done the exact moves that I would have done. And I did it early. Tony Fauci, Dr. Birx, they all said what I did was incredible. In retrospect, Tony, as you know, never thought he was going to be as severe as it was. And we’re talking about months later, a long time after I did the ban. I did a ban and nobody thought I should do it. I mean, literally I don’t think anybody thought I should do it. I made that decision by myself and it turned out to be a great decision. Hundreds of thousands of lives are saved.

Latest Episode of London Calling

Lucky for Dom, the two best reporters in the UK weren’t present in the Downing Street rose garden yesterday

James Delingpole and I debate Cummings-gate in the latest episode of our weekly podcast. We both agree: he shouldn’t resign because he drove to Durham with his wife and son, but his decision to support the lockdown is unforgivable. Listen to the whole riveting discussion here.

If you enjoy London Calling please do subscribe.

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: “Cut Your Hair” by Walk Disco, “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” by Dominic Cummings Lynn Anderson and “Can I Have My Money Back” by Gerry Rafferty.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

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.

We may not have to keep this service going for much longer, following yesterday’s announcement that car showrooms and outdoor markets would be allowed to reopen on June 1st and all other non-essential retail outlets from June 15th, including shops selling clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, books, and electronics, together with tailors, auction houses, photography studios. and indoor markets.

Still no news about when pubs, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, gyms and outdoor sporting arenas can reopen, though.

There will also be plenty of over-anxious Covidiocy to report on. According to today’s Times, shoes tried on in newly-opened shoe shops will be quarantined for 24 hours.

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 all my journalist helpers have gone! 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.

And Finally…

Violent Amnesia by Oscar Murillo, aged three-and-a-half 32

Some good news amid the gloom. The Turner Prize has been cancelled. The picture above is by last year’s joint winner Oscar Murillo.

Latest News

One story dominates the news and it isn’t “English Tourism Week“, which started today. The Prime Minister’s efforts to draw a line under the Dominic Cummings’ affair yesterday by declaring he had done nothing wrong and he was standing by him were not successful. If anything, they just emboldened his chief advisor’s critics. If they could now force Boris to do a U-turn they would succeed in weakening him as well as burying Dom. The airwaves this morning were dominated by the same coalition of politicians and commentators that supported the Remain side in the EU Referendum, sniffing an opportunity to take revenge on their two greatest foes.

This afternoon at 4.30pm Cummings took the unusual step of holding a press conference in the Downing Street rose garden, beginning with him reading a lengthy statement explaining why his behaviour was “reasonable” in the circumstances. Turns out, he didn’t make a second visit to his parents’ farm in Durham; rather, he remained there for two weeks while he, his wife and his four year-old son battled with illness. He wasn’t staying in the same household as his parents, or his sister, but a separate cottage on the family farm, and he didn’t come within two metres of any members of the public. His reason for driving to Barnard Castle was to see if he was fit enough to make the longer drive to London; it wasn’t for sightseeing purposes. As far as he was concerned, his behaviour was “reasonable” because he was doing whatever was necessary to protect his child.

Will this be enough to save him?

According to some lockdown zealots, Boris’s refusal to throw Cummings under a bus will “cost lives”. That was what Stephen Reicher, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of St Andrews and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), a sub-group of the Strategic Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), told Sky News. “More people are going to die” because Cummings is still in post, he said.

One Cabinet source told the Telegraph: “The discussion among Cabinet ministers at the moment is that this will cost lives. People will look at this and decide that if Dom can ignore the rules so can they, and the consequence of that will be that people get infected who would have otherwise stayed at home. This has massively undermined the lockdown message.”

For lockdown sceptics, of course, that’s all the more reason to applaud the Prime Minister for standing by Cummings.

“Boris has put his credibility and the Government’s credibility on the line by sticking up for Dom,” a senior Tory source told the Telegraph. “How can we tell people they must abide by the lockdown now? The lockdown is effectively over because this makes it unenforceable.”

We can but hope.

My view is that Cummings’s behaviour complied with the letter, if not the spirit, of the rules. I don’t think he should be punished for this, not least because that will confirm people’s mistaken view that travelling across the country to visit their relatives will “cost lives”. It will embolden the finger-waggers and tell-tales, encouraging them to inform on other miscreants and probably prolong the lockdown – and that is what will cost lives, as we sceptics know only too well. I’m thinking of the recent interview on ABC News with some doctors in Northern California saying the rise in suicides since the state was shutdown on March 19th has killed more people than the virus. The same is true of Tennessee and no doubt other US states too. A report compiled by Just Facts at the beginning of the month estimated that anxiety alone will result in at least seven times the loss of life than can possibly be prevented by the shutdowns. Seven times was the low end. The high end was 90 times.

But in the grander scheme of things, it’s difficult to have much sympathy for Cummings. As more than one reader has pointed out, he was Boris’s chief adviser when the Prime Minister embraced what may well turn out to be the most damaging and costly policy in British history. That was confirmed by Cummings in the Downing Street rose garden this afternoon. “The truth is, I’d argued for lockdowns,” he said. “I did not oppose the policy.”

Perhaps the Government’s initial decision to place the country under lockdown is understandable, given the apocalyptic predictions it was being presented with by Professor Neil Ferguson and others, talking about “the science”. But given the weight of later evidence, strongly implying that that Ferguson’s doomsday predictions were exaggerated, not to have immediately eased the lockdown is unforgivable. Cummings has to accept some of the responsibility for that.

The mastermind of Brexit once talked, very persuasively, of “taking back control” from a centre-left, technocratic elite whose policies (such as the creation of the single currency) have wreaked great damage in Europe. In the UK, the same people have presided over a massive transfer of power from the British Parliament to unelected officials in Brussels and elsewhere, all in the name of “progress”. Cummings gave many people hope, including me, that this trend would be reversed, and the success of the Conservatives at the last General Election seemed to confirm that faith. Yet the lockdown policy has handed these same ham-fisted “experts” and bureaucrats unparalleled power and allowed them to do more harm on a grander scale than ever before. Our civil rights have been suspended, Parliament has effectively been mothballed and freeborn Englishmen have been treated with the same arrogant contempt as always. In short, Cummings has not “taken back control” from the metropolitan, liberal elite. Over the last two months, he has handed back control to them.

Lockdown Blowback in Bangladesh

I got an email this morning from a donor, explaining the catastrophic impact of the lockdown on his business and the knock-on effect for his migrant workers and their families:

I am by no means the first to call attention to the millions who will die in poorer countries because of our lockdown and our obsession with a relatively small death count here at home. I have first-hand knowledge of this knock-on effect. I employ a number of Bangladeshi workers in a fish-trading business in the Maldives. Their salaries sustain large families back home. Dim-witted policies like inbound quarantine have now extended the block on tourist travel to the Maldives, so there is no one to eat our fish.

I am trying to keep the Bangladeshi boys on even with no business coming in, but our cash flow forecast says we will run out of cash at the end of July. The situation is made worse by their relatives back home who work in garment factories having been laid off because big buyers like Top Shop and Next have stopped placing orders. These families will come very close to starvation and disease will start to cull the least strong. The relatively minor risk of getting an illness which most people recover from quite quickly pales into insignificance beside the massive knock-on effects the lockdown policy creates. And I speak as an 80 year-old who is firmly in the so-called high-risk category.

A Thunderer from Brendan O’Neill in Spiked

There’s a humdinger of a column by Brendan O’Neill in Spiked today. He detects a growing disconnect between the fealty people pay to lockdown orthodoxy when asked about it by pollsters or journalists doing vox pops and their actual behaviour, in which they regularly flout the rules.

The disconnect between public backing for the lockdown and (anonymous) public breaking of the lockdown is fascinating. It suggests there is a significant minority of what we might call shy libertines out there – people who have been exercising their freedom in defiance of the strict rules but who are shy about saying so. They live part of their life outside the lockdown, but they tell pollsters the lockdown is great and must continue.

He argues that we need to empower these shy libertines so they feel more confident about challenging Covid orthodoxy:

Covid conformism must be confronted. In their echo chambers, where they’re all trying to outdo each other in their levels of commitment to smashing Covid, the political and media elites have become increasingly blinkered, dogmatic and intolerant on everything related to COVID-19. The lack of relaxed, freely stated opposition to their lockdown mania means they become madder and madder in their commitment to it. The corrosion of freedom of thought in relation to COVID-19 has deadly consequences, because it means the lockdown endures – nine weeks now – when many people know in their heart of hearts that it is wrong and deeply damaging to the future of this country.

Worth reading in full.

A Contrary Point of View

I get surprisingly few emails from defenders of the lockdown. But I do get the occasional one, such as this one from a former epidemiologist who posts as djaustin in the comment threads:

Whether people choose to accept it or not, cases were doubling at the time of lockdown every three days and deaths every two (my comment under Djaustin has the numbers for you). Whilst models might have predicted the four horsemen were soon to arrive, even simple extrapolations showed that we were in a bad place and that healthcare would be swamped within a couple of weeks. Forget the 500k deaths, micro Simulation models etc… Robust decisions are insensitive to assumptions. This point has been lost in the noise. Early in an epidemic all one can know is the rate of doubling.

As for “Does the lockdown work?”, well there is ample evidence on the way DOWN that the harder the lockdown, the shorter the time to halve cases and deaths. Spain is declining faster than Italy and UK, which are in turn declining faster than Sweden. These are the facts. The debate is really what level of infection can reasonably be sustained? How low should cases fall before we adopt the (probably fortuitous) Sweden experience of static population burn (albeit at a much slower rate than they expected). Should eradication of this new pathogen be a goal?

I’m a mathematician, scientist, former epidemiologist, and now work on COVID-19 new treatments. I generally disagree with your political stance and the incumbent Government. However, with regards to the scientific method and scepticism, I agree that one should be sceptical. I believe that when the data is analysed carefully (which I have done since mid-March), there is evidence that lockdown has had some impact, both on peak and rate of decline. The questions regarding cost, ethics, liberties and so on are valid, but the science is clear.

We currently have approximately 60k excess deaths, more than any bad influenza year from 2010-19. These excess deaths are nicely correlated with COVID-19 deaths In timing and magnitude, and will soon be back to weekly baseline. The bigger questions, which I think your site should ask, are why we were not encouraged to act more responsibly and earlier (as in Germany). Clearly this has given Germany more options on the way down.

A Good Reason For Not Sending Your Child Back to School?

I got an email from a grandpa, worried that his granddaughter, who’s in Reception, won’t be returning to school on June 1st:

Had an interesting conversation with my daughter on Zoom last night. She’s not sending her daughter back to school. It’s nothing to do with the risk of catching Covid which she fully accepts is negligible.

No, she doesn’t want her daughter to be taught in an atmosphere of “silly” social distancing which she thinks will stop her daughter playing with her mates properly.

She also doesn’t want her being taught by teachers wearing masks and rubber gloves which she believes will scare the children.

Finally, she doesn’t want her to suffer the indignity of being sent home because she has had an unexpected “accident”.

She says she’s going to wait until September when she hope things have calmed down and got a bit more sensible.

What sort of world are we living in?

It’s Worse in Scotland

I get quite a few emails from readers telling me that as bad as things are in England, they’re worse in Scotland under Kim Sturge-on. This one, from a donor, is typical:

In Scotland, the situation for anyone who is pro-free enterprise is even worse than in England as our First Minister makes unchallenged assertions to UK network journalists who are not well-briefed enough to respond. Meanwhile, our domestic institutions are starting to resemble a one-party state. You will no doubt have seen the story in the Times today about STV publishing videos of children praising our glorious Nicola. Scotland is so poisoned that even a pandemic has constitutional overtones. But the point about the lockdown is the same as for the rest of the UK. It is an irrational and catastrophic reaction that has destroyed lives in ways more insidious than the virus itself.

Some Hope For Parents of Newborns

A reader has got in touch who is friends with a registrar in her county with news of a possible loophole to get your newborn registered (I flagged up this problem yesterday):

It is indeed true that birth registrations have been on hold. But apparently parents can demand registration by a special dispensation. Most people don’t know about this and councils haven’t publicised it.

Usually births, marriages and deaths have to be registered in person. Procedures have been in place to register deaths, but there is now a backlog of births. My friend estimates about 2000 in our county alone.

Postcard From Sri Lanka

A few weeks ago we published a “Poscard From Spain” by a reader and today I’m publishing a “Postcard from Sri Lanka” by another. This one is from Omar Kahn, a global consultant who’s been locked down in the country the the past nine weeks. Here’s a taste of the Sri Lankian authorities’ response:

At the time of the curfew, Lanka had 66 cases of Covid-19, with seven fatalities. One month on, post curfew, there have been 271 cases and… wait for it… seven fatalities! But rather than throwing a success party, the authorities decided to double down, even though it was now clear that the healthcare system wasn’t being overwhelmed and that the fatality needle hadn’t budged. No one is quite sure why the most draconian option was chosen and then manically sustained, except that we all mistakenly thought that this was an “equal opportunity” virus, and it’s not. The fatality numbers testify to that, and some regions are relatively far less scathed than others, which clearly hasn’t always been down to the brilliance of their response. But as per all the model-spinners and prognosticators, it was only a matter of time before things exploded here. As of today, the fatalities up to nine, and we have been curfewed longer than Wuhan was economically shut down.

Worth reading in full.

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: “Libera Nos (Deliver Us)” by The Sixteen, “Keep Your Distance” by Richard Thompson, and, for Dom, “Where do you go to my Lovely?” by Peter Sarstedt and “Six Days on the Road” by Dave Dudley.

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.

And try to avoid getting too irritated by the over-the-top social distancing procedures some retailers are putting in place. One reader has complained about the absurdly elaborate rules her local garden centre has imposed, including:

  • Please have a shopping list ready before entry, we cannot allow for prolonged visits and wandering.
  • If we suspect any illness, we have the right to refuse entry.
  • Do not touch any products that you are not purchasing.
  • When at the tills, wait to be called forward by a cashier. Once called, push your trolley into the taped area in front of the till. Then stand in the taped waiting box whilst the cashier stands your items. You will then be called forward to pay once the cashier is safely behind their screen.
  • CARD PAYMENTS ONLY!
  • Vacate the exit area immediately.

On the plus side, the same reader says other shops in her neighbourhood are being more reasonable:

A local grocer has a simple sign outside his shop saying: ‘Only five people at a time’. (It’s not a big shop – I can’t remember ever seeing more than five people in there at any one time.)

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, however small, 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…

This meme has been doing the rounds for a while, but I thought it particularly appropriate today after watching the press pack hound Dominic Cummings and whip up public anger against him. I know what it’s like to be pursued by an outrage mob and it aint pretty. Whatever you think of the rights and wrongs of the matter, no one deserves this.

Latest News

The Observer drops the second shoe in the Cummings scandal on its front page – the news that he visited his parents in Durham again in the middle of April after staying with them at the end of March. How do they know this? Thanks to an eagle-eyed member of the public:

Robin Lees, 70, a retired chemistry teacher from [Barnard Castle], says he saw Cummings and his family walking by the Tees before getting into a car around lunchtime on 12 April.

Lees said: “I was a bit gobsmacked to see him, because I know what he looks like. And the rest of the family seemed to match – a wife and child. I was pretty convinced it was him and it didn’t seem right because I assumed he would be in London.”

He added: “I went home and told my wife, we thought he must be in London. I searched up the number plate later that day and my computer search history shows that.”

I find it incredible that this man is so unashamed about being a tell-tale he actually flaunts the fact that he plugged Cummings’s number plate into Google on his computer. If Mr Lees had been born in East Germany rather than England, I have little doubt about which state agency he would have worked for.

Keir Starmer has now stuck the boot in, but I don’t think Boris will budge on this one.

Stay Alert, Stay Safe

Great spot by Andrew Mahon, the brilliant journalist who came up with the Crimson Tide metaphor about our handling of the crisis. (He thinks governments around the world behaved like the panicky nuclear submarine commander played by Gene Hackman in the 25 year-old Cold War thriller, rather than his level-headed second-in-command played by Denzil Washington.) A campaign aimed at children in Canada dating back to the early 90s with the slogan “Stay Alert/Stay Safe.”

Andrew has another great piece in Hector Drummond Magazine, this one about “our” NHS.

You Can Register a Death, But Not a Birth

Got an interesting email from a reader:

Our daughter was born at St Thomas’s hospital in London on February 18th and we cannot get a birth certificate for her as councils have stopped all registrations other than deaths.

I understand we have bigger issues with what is going on but my husband and I are feeling increasingly stressed and irritated by this. Without a birth certificate we cannot get our daughter a passport. It does leave us feeling quite trapped! We have plans to attend a wedding in Chicago in August – which is of course unlikely to happen – however if flights do go ahead and we are left unable to go due to a lack of passport for one of our children we are likely to incur the cost of the trip. However, the money isn’t the main issue but the continued lack of freedom that has become our way of life. It feels extremely claustrophobic to think we couldn’t travel once restrictions are lifted – potentially for many months whilst waiting for the certificate.

Has anyone else has raised this with you? Surely thousands of babies will have been born in lockdown and others must be impacted by this. Lambeth council have told me they are unlikely to start to register births until September – that is over seven months of babies with no birth certificates – followed by what I expect to be a long wait with the passport office. I understand the same is true of weddings – however as individuals they could still travel with ease and flexibility.

I wonder if Boris and Carrie are also waiting for a birth certificate for Wilfred? Or is it one rule for them and… etc., etc.

Facebook Censors Sci-Fi Drawing

Last week, I posted a picture a reader had sent me of a drawing that had appeared in an Italian magazine in 1962 depicting life in 2022 because it seemed eerily prescient. The reader had discovered it in a Facebook group dedicated to sci-fi memorabilia, but don’t try and repost it on Facebook because the moderators won’t let you. A reader in Germany tells me he got the above message when he tried to do that, informing him it was “Partially wrong information. Tested by independent fact checker.” It included a link to an article on a Turkish website by Ali Osman Arabaci, presumably the “independent fact checker” being referred to. Arabaci writes:

It is not possible to say that the image depicts the quarantine in 2022. The visuals are made with city traffic and ideas to reduce it… In the box titled, it is stated that the traffic problem can be solved with vehicles similar to small transportation vehicles that are considered as scooters today…

In other words, it is also possible to qualify the claim as a disconnection from the wrong types of information.

Not sure Google Translate has got that last bit quite right, but you get the general idea. That’s something the artist failed to anticipate – in the future people won’t be allowed to see his depictions of the future because it might lead to wrongthink.

Lockdown Land

Guy de la Bédoyère has written another superb essay for this site about the psychological state the lockdown has left people in. It’s called “Lockdown Land” and I urge you to read it. Here are the concluding two sentences:

Not long before the virus crisis took hold my three-year-old granddaughter was supposed to be going out for a walk. “I’m not ready,” she said. It soon transpired that this was not a statement about not having her coat or shoes on but a more metaphysical observation of her state of mind. “I’m not ready” meant she was not disposed to going out at all. Ever. She would therefore never be ready.

I am reminded by that every time I hear someone saying “I’m not going back to work until I feel safe”, or “I’m not sending my child back to school until it is safe to do so”. Such sentiments are conveniently couched in rational terms but in reality cloak an emotional reluctance ever to return. Right now they represent this country’s biggest obstacle to recovery. The world has changed and we can never go back to where we were, but whatever we do we have to face up to the realities Lockdown Land has closed so many people’s eyes to and not hide beneath the bedclothes where we might suffocate instead.

Another Hatchet Job

Philip Ball, a science journalist, has written a piece in Prospect attacking lockdown sceptics that, even by his standards, is quite breathtakingly pompous. He has form here – he wrote a piece in the New Statesman a couple of years ago that got a bunch of stuff about me wrong (although he also got some things right, to be fair). Prior to this, he got some things about Dominic Cummings wrong, too, and Dom responded in his usual bracing style. I wrote about both those incidents, and corrected Ball’s errors, in a blog post for the Spectator.

In this piece, Ball argues that sceptics like me – and Hitchens and Delingpole – are part of an “infodemic”. That word was coined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) back in February to describe the spread of fake news about SARS-CoV-2 on social media. Indeed, the WHO urged the tech giants to remove any suspect content about Covid and, as we know, both Facebook and YouTube have done precisely that (see above). Ball is wholly supportive of this censorship

Andrew Pattison, the WHO’s Digital Business Solutions Manager, met with representatives from Google, Apple, Airbnb, Lyft, Uber and Salesforce, among others, at Facebook’s headquarters in Silicon Valley and urged them to remove any “misinformation”, by which he meant any content the WHO disapproves of. And he expressed the hope that all material that isn’t “responsible”, not just content about Covid, would be removed from social media in future. “I think what would be very exciting is to see this emergency changed into a long-term sustainable model, where we can have responsible content on these platforms,” he said.

You would think that as a journalist Ball would disapprove of rich and powerful men deciding what the public can and can’t read, but no. He thoroughly approves of the WHO’s “responsible” approach, overlooking the fact that the WHO itself has disseminated more “fake news” and “misinformation” about the virus than David Icke. Remember that famous tweet saying there was “no human to human transmission”? That’s the tip of the iceberg.

Ball thinks anyone who dissents from official Covid orthodoxy – or, rather, whatever the WHO decides is the “responsible” thing to say, even though it changes its mind about that from one day to the next –  is guilty of trafficking in “fake news” that will undermine public confidence in science and medicine, such as the hypothesis that “the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory”. He neglects to mention that that particular “conspiracy theory” – he calls it that – is believed by Dr Luc Montagnier, joint winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Medicine, and is currently under investigation by multiple intelligence agencies. Ball says such “falsehoods” can be “literally lethal” – that is, people reading an article on Lockdown Sceptics raising doubts about the scientific basis of the two-metre rule might end up neglecting social distancing rules, catch Covid and die. I suppose that’s possible – although, as John Ioannidis pointed out, if you’re under-65 you’re more likely to die in a road traffic accident than from COVID-19 and, as I pointed out yesterday, if you’re under-15 you’re more likely to be struck by lightning – four times more likely, in fact.

But the real problem with this argument isn’t that it exaggerates the risk of dying from Covid, but that it underplays the risks of following the advice pumped out by public health authorities and other organs of the state. For instance, the “Guidance for social or community care and residential settings” published by Public Health England on February 25th that assured people it was “very unlikely that anyone receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected”. As we now know, about a third of all deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in care homes. Indeed, if I had to sum up the Government’s approach to managing this pandemic in a one-sentence slogan, I’d say: “Protecting the healthy, endangering the vulnerable.” If more people had been sceptical about this and other official advice – if journalists hadn’t felt inhibited by finger-wagging colleagues like Philip Ball – there’d be fewer Covid deaths, not more.

As the Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandies put it: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

Ball’s article is called ‘The Epidemiology of Misinformation’. If only Facebook would ban the use of laboured coronavirus metaphors, that might actually be a useful service. 

New Poster From NHS Puts People in Wrong Place

Shouldn’t those people be under the bed?

Theme Tune Suggestions

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: “Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest, “I fought the law” by the Clash, “Caught by the Fuzz‘ by Supergrass, “Jailbreak” by Thin Lizzy and “Gallows Pole” by Led Zeppelin

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

Apologies that Lockdown Sceptics is a bit shorter than usual today. Drank a little too much wine last night and am now going to try to walk off my hangover. 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, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

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.