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Signal your opposition to the lockdown by buying this marvellous Lockdown Sceptics mug

Finally, the Lockdown Skeptics shop is here! Yes, click on this link and you will be taken to the all-singing, all-dancing Lockdown Sceptics shop. I’ve also included a link in the top right-hand corner of every page.

No need to wear a mask and no social distancing required!

In addition to this splendid mug, we have T-shirts in all different colours, hoodies and tote bags. More merchandise will follow…

The central motif – a British bulldog muzzled by a face mask – was designed by my 16 year-old daughter and turned into a proper logo by a professional illustrator. I’ve promised Sasha 10% of the profits so she can enjoy the summer after a miserable three months being under house arrest at our home in Acton. So please get your shopping trolleys out and go bananas.

Help me turn the muzzled bulldog into this summer’s must-have brand.

YouTube Shadow-Bans Peter Hichens

Peter Hitchens tells Triggernometry that this is the only face mask he’ll consider wearing

YouTube is at it again. Today, the company has been caught red-handed “shadow banning” an interview Peter Hitchens did on the Triggernometry channel entitled “Lockdown is a catastrophe“. The interview was published at 6pm yesterday, but if you search for for “triggernometry Peter Hitchens” on YouTube or search for “triggernometry YouTube Peter Hitchens” on Google the video doesn’t appear in the results. That’s no accident. On the contrary, it’s a tried-and-tested way for YouTube – and its parent company Google – to suppress traffic to an interview they deem suspect. The two comedians who host Triggernometry, Konstantin Kisin and Francis Foster, have made a video (on YouTube) to illustrate the problem.

Shadow-banning is a particularly insidious form of censorship because it’s impossible to appeal against. When I was notified by YouTube last week that my video entitled “The Case Against Lockdowns” had been removed because it violated the company’s “community standards”, I was given the option to appeal, something I’m intending to do. But in this case, the censorship is unofficial – YouTube hasn’t notified Triggernometry that it’s suppressed the interview with Hitchens. It’s censorship on the sly.

Konstantin Kisin and Francis Foster are both members of the Free Speech Union’s Advisory Council and the FSU will be doing what it can to help. Six months ago, YouTube removed an interview they did with the feminist campaigner Posie Parker for the Triggernomentry channel, claiming it contained “hate speech that promotes or encourages violence against vulnerable groups”. Parker’s sin, apparently, was to say she didn’t believe transwomen are women. Kisin and Foster appealed the decision and also kicked up a stink on social media and the video was reinstated. Needless to say, YouTube didn’t even bother to respond to their appeal.

Shadow-banning is a form of “deceptive blocking” which was referred to in Trump’s executive order last week aimed at removing the legal protections currently enjoyed by social media companies like YouTube so that henceforth they can be sued by users if they censor their content, whether directly or indirectly.

Let’s hope Trump’s Executive Order, as well as the threat of legislation, forces YouTube and other social media companies to be less censorious. Given their increasingly important role as forums for public debate, their terms of service and content moderation policies should be politically neutral, not designed to promote a narrow range of woke orthodoxies.

Stop Press: The WHO has changed its mind about wearing masks and now recommends against dong so. Let’s hope it doesn’t post its new guidance on YouTube because the company may be forced to remove it on the grounds that it contravenes the recommendations of… the WHO.

#NotOK, the lobby group set up by three mothers to campaign for the reopening of schools, has threatened the Government with a law suit for breaching children’s human rights if schools don’t remove the absurdly restrictive social distancing rules they’ve brought in, supposedly following official guidance.

According to a story in today’s Mail:

Three mothers are considering suing the Government over school closures – amid claims they may have breached children’s human rights and pupils are being “treated like they’re germs”.

The women have also written to the Secretary of State Gavin Williamson to ask whether the “long term physical and mental welfare” of pupils has been considered, and to raise concerns about social distancing.

Campaigner Christine Brett, who has two children, said: “These are healthy children who have been quarantined for 12 weeks – they shouldn’t be treated like they’re germs, disinfected on entry and separated on to individual tables.”

“Us and Them” campaign group founders Molly Kingsley, 41, Liz Morris, 46, and Mrs Brett, 48, all from Cambridgeshire, have one child each returning to school and another still stuck at home.

Regular readers won’t need reminding that Christine Brett is a contributor to Lockdown Sceptics. She wrote a piece for the site arguing for the reopening of schools on May 17th that you can read here.

It’s not just the fact that some primary age children still can’t return to school that #NotOK objects to. It’s also the draconian social distancing measures that children as young as four will be expected to observe once they return to school. It is that, rather than fear of infection, that is prompting a lot of parents to keep children at home – 50% of those eligible to return today, according to the Times. Christine told the Mail: “Children are social beings and it’s really worrying that instead of going back to a supportive environment where they can actually recover from what’s happened, they’re going to be further damaged.”

If you want to sign up to the campaign, you can do so here.

Scotland Becomes More Like North Korea Every Day

Nic Sturge-un being congratulated by her little brother Kim

Nicola Sturgeon has today threatened to pass draconian new laws to force the Scottish people to observe the country’s social distancing rules following a number of breaches over the weekend. On Saturday, for instance, Police Scotland dispersed 797 gatherings and car traffic trebled at some beauty spots like Loch Lomond and Glen Coe.

At present, the social distancing rules in Scotland are guidelines and don’t have the force of law. But that will change, the First Minister said, if people continue to flout them.

“It’s worth being clear that if there is continued evidence of even a minority not abiding by these guidelines and travelling unnecessarily, or meeting up in larger groups, we will have to put these restrictions on group size and travel distance into law,” she said. “We will not hesitate to do that if it is necessary for the collective wellbeing of society.”

That last phrase has an ominously authoritarian ring to it, suggesting Scotland is fast-becoming a one-party state. Guy de la Bédoyère, a regular contributor to Lockdown Sceptics, is unimpressed:

Just as I said the other week: the state always travels in the direction of totalitarianism unless someone stops the process. When do we ever hear from anyone in Scotland except Sturgeon? It’s a one-woman state so she proceeds unchecked. Furious that anyone has dared to challenge her edicts by travelling around at the weekend she cannot, like any tinpot totalitarian, resist the temptation to elevate the threat of punitive recriminations, believing that that’s the way to rule.

Perhaps this talk of bringing in more laws is Sturgeon’s version of a “dead cat”, hoping to deflect attention from the number of care home deaths in Scotland. According to the National Records of Scotland website, 46% of Covid deaths in Scotland since the beginning of the year have been in care homes, considerably more than England (37.4%). In an interview with Sophy Ridge on Sky News yesterday, Sturgeon made two dubious claims in her own defence.

First, she said she thought care home deaths in England had been under-counted. But while that may or may not be true, there’s no reason to think deaths in care homes are more likely to have been under-counted than deaths in hospitals or the community, thereby altering the total percentage of deaths that have occurred in care homes. It’s still going to be higher in Scotland.

Second, she said that when the Scottish Government passed the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act on April 7th, empowering councils to move elderly adults with no symptoms of the disease from hospitals to care homes, she didn’t know that carriers of the virus could be asymptomatic. If true, that would reveal an astonishing depth of ignorance about the disease on the part of the First Minister. Was she living on another planet between mid-January, when the large number of asymptomatic carriers was first discussed by SAGE, and April 7th?

As the Times points out today:

  • At a public briefing on February 25th, Dr Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to the WHO Director General, said: “The iceberg is you’ve got critical cases, you’ve got severe cases, you’ve got mild cases and a bit of asymptomatic transmission probably at the bottom. That seems to be what it looks like.”
  • On February 28th, the WHO published a study from China entitled: “A familial cluster of COVID-19 indicating virus can be transmitted by asymptomatic carriers.”
  • At a briefing on April 1st, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the Imperial College academic, said: “We know that… the transmission of this virus is driven by people who are asymptomatic.”
  • The following day, the WHO issued a COVID-19 situation report that stated: “Asymptomatic cases have been reported as part of contact-tracing efforts in some countries.”
  • At the WHO briefing on April 3rd, Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said: “There is always the possibility of asymptomatic transmission.”
  • On April 4th, Sir Harry Burns, the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland when Ms Sturgeon was Health Secretary, told the Times: “There may be tens of thousands of people out there with the virus but no symptoms, and they are liable to spread it.”

Tony Banks, founder of the Balhousie Care Group which operates 26 care homes across Scotland with about 940 residents, accused Scottish ministers of a “disgusting” attempt to deflect attention from their own “missed opportunities” yesterday.

Let’s hope Mr Banks appears as a witness in Scotland’s public inquiry.

Keep Britain Free

Simon Dolan

Simon Dolan has launched a spiffy new website and given a name to his campaign to hold the Government to account – “Keep Britain Free”. You can check it out here. He’s also given an interview to Spiked that you can read here.

Could this be the beginning of a new political movement? Numerous people have contacted me, on the left as well as the right, urging me to found a new political party devoted to defending our ancient liberties. Not a libertarian party, since it wouldn’t be campaigning to strip the role of the state back to that of a night-watchman. Rather, a party that campaigned for our Common Law rights as freeborn Englishmen to be restored – not just those suspended during the lockdown, but those that have been gradually eroded since the Second World War, such as our right to free speech. The Common Law Rights Party… although with a snappier name.

Watch this space.

Chris Whitty Opposed Airport Screening in 2018

A reader has got in touch to flag up this 2018 lecture by Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer of England, in which he says that screening at airports and banning travel is utterly useless when it comes to preventing pandemics spreading. Could this be why the NERVTAG meeting on January 21st, attended by Chris Whitty, recommended against port-of-entry screening? As I pointed out yesterday, those countries that introduced it in early January have some of the lowest Covid death counts in the world.

How High Are Excess Deaths in the US?

Nobel laureate Michael Levitt has compared excess deaths in the 2019/20 Flu + COVID-19 season in the US with excess deaths in the 2017/18 flu season and estimated that there have been 185,315 in 2019/20 compared to 136,313 in 2017/18. So a difference of 49,002, or an increase of 36%. This is a much smaller estimate than that made by the Yale School of Public Health and published in the Washington Post on Saturday, although even the Post says, based on Yale’s state-by-state analysis, that excess deaths have been higher in those states that have imposed the strictest lockdowns and haven’t yet eased them. “For the most part, the states that continue to maintain especially restrictive social distancing rules are those that suffered the largest numbers of excess deaths,” the Post writes.

The number of excess deaths during the pandemic compared to the number of excess deaths from seasonal flu in recent years will be a big debating point as the post-mortems get underway, as will the number of excess deaths caused directly by COVID-19 compared to the number caused indirectly, e.g. as a result of the lockdowns.

In Germany, for instance, the number of directly caused COVID-19 deaths to date (8,605) is about a third of the number who died of seasonal influenza in 2017/18 (25,100). Angela Merkel initially described the pandemic as the worst crisis to afflict the country since the Second World War. She may come to regret those words…

Readers’ Dispatches from Singapore and Albuquerque

I’ve published two more “postcards” from people in different countries, describing what it’s like to be locked down in their parts of the world – one from Singapore and one from Albuquerque. The latter is by a severely disabled person called Kaatje van der Gaarden who’s found that the lack of support for people like her has made the lockdown particularly hard to navigate. Here’s an extract in which she points out that the cost of the lockdown in her state is likely to be greater than any benefit:

Studies show that prolonged stay-at-home orders aggravate mental health disorders, decrease our immune systems, and may prevent herd immunity. Most worryingly, the lockdown is destroying our societal and global fabric. Segregate and protect the elderly and those at risk, maintain voluntary distancing and use masks and gloves as needed, and let people decide whether or not they want to risk going to a store. Being alive comes with all sorts of risks that we normally accept, yet COVID-19 scared politicians and the media into a panic which they turned into propaganda.

Both postcards are 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 From Readers

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: “Culturecide” by Primal Scream, “F**k Off Get Free” by the Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra and “Police and Thieves” by the Clash.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A few 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 takes me about nine hours a day which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. Alternatively, you can support the site by going to our shop and buying a T-shirt or a mug. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here.

No Update Tomorrow

I won’t be filing a daily update tomorrow as I’ve got to write my Spectator column, attend a Zoom meeting to discuss the decline of academic free speech, and prepare the papers for the forthcoming Free Speech Union board meeting. Normal service will resume on Wednesday.

And Finally…

A ‘silent spreader’ contaminating a London Underground carriage

This image appeared on the BBC’s website yesterday to accompany a story entitled: “The mystery of asymptomatic ‘silent spreaders’.” Even by the BBC’s scare-mongering standards, it’s quite something. Bear in mind that: (a) there isn’t a single case anywhere in the world of the virus being spread by footwear; and (b) the evidence that the virus can remain contagious on surfaces other than the human body is threadbare, at best.

There’s another consideration, too, which is the fact that ‘silent spreaders’ are responsible for so much infection – 10% of carriers account for 80% of cases, according to some estimates – is a good thing, not a bad thing, as Justin Fox points out in Bloomberg. It means far fewer people are infectious than previously thought and if we can identify these spreaders we’ll be well on our way to controlling the pandemic. But no. According to this BBC article, it’s one more reason to remain under our beds until we have a vaccine.

Latest News

Abandon Ridiculous Two-Metre Rule

Bob’s cartoon in the Telegraph on May 30th 2020

I’ve written a piece in today’s Telegraph entitled: “For the sake of our economy, we need to scrap the absurd two-metre rule.” I point out that this and other over-cautious social-distancing rules will mean our economy is permanently stuck in second gear.

For most shops, the only way to keep customers six feet apart will be to introduce cumbersome one-way systems and force them to queue up outside. All very well when the only retail outlets we’re talking about are supermarkets and newsagents, but how will people observe that rule on the pavement when there are queues outside every shop?

For pubs and restaurants, due to reopen on July 4th, the two-metre rule will mean that many of them can’t resume trading and those that can will be forced to operate at less than 50% capacity.

I also point out that there’s no scientific basis for the rule.

What’s so absurd about this measure, which will decimate the hospitality trade, is that there’s no obvious scientific basis for it and many countries are much more relaxed. In South Korea, for instance, the acceptable distance in 1.4 metres, and in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and France, people are only expected to stay one metre apart.

Indeed, the World Health Organisation says a distance of one metre is more than sufficient. In Sweden, which has had fewer deaths per million than the UK in spite of not locking down formally, there is no hard-and-fast rule. People are just expected to use their common sense.

Boris Johnson is reported to be reconsidering the two-metre rule. Worth reading in full, Prime Minister.

SAGE Member Does U-Turn on Lockdown

No, it’s not what you think. Yesterday, a member of SAGE gave a press conference in which he warned that the Government was easting lockdown too fast. This is how it was reported on the BBC News website:

A scientist on the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has suggested he does not agree with easing the lockdown at this stage.

In a briefing to health journalists Prof John Edmunds, from the London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine, said that 8,000 new infections a day in England, as calculated by the Office for National Statistics, was “a very high incidence” level.

“Many of us would prefer to see incidence down to lower levels before we relax measures,” he said.

He said that with an “untested” test and trace system “we are taking some risk here” and “even if we keep it flat, that’s still quite a level”.

“Lifting the lockdown is a political decision. Lifting it now, means we’re keeping incidence at this level,” he added.

The Labour MP Richard Burgon was so over-excited by this news, he linked to the BBC report and tweeted the following: “So the Government is no longer following the science. It’s a political decision and we can’t trust this Government to make the right decisions with public safety.”

But hang on a second. Is this the same Professor John Edmunds who told Channel 4 News on March 13th that “the only way to stop this epidemic is indeed to achieve herd immunity”?

I guess he’s changed his mind.

Nobel Laureate Skewers Member of Imperial College Modelling Team

Michael Levitt applies his Nobel Prize-winning mind to Imperial College’s computer model

A few days ago I linked to a fantastic webinar, organised out of Brazil, in which a group of scientists discussed the reliability of predications generated by epidemiological computer models and whether those predictions should be used as the basis for government responses to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Among the participants were Michael Levitt, Professor of Structural Biology at Stanford and the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, and Samir Bhatt, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial’s School of Public Health.

One of my concerns as I’ve watched the British Government’s disastrous mishandling of this crisis unfold is that the people behind the Imperial College modelling that informed so much of the Government’s response will never be properly held to account. This webinar, in which Michael Levitt cross-examines Samir Bhatt, may be the closest we ever get.

If you have the time, I urge you to watch the whole thing. But if you don’t, watch it from the two-hour point onwards, in which Levitt begins to lose patience with the dissembling Bhatt. A reader has very kindly made a transcript of this part of the exchange. My favourite part is when Levitt – beginning to get angry – lays the blame for the coming global recession at the door of the Imperial College modelling team, whom he thinks wildly over-estimated the deadliness of the disease. “That is an error that has cost the world many, many trillions of dollars, but it isn’t a joke. I mean an error like that is not a small error,” he says.

Michael Levitt: I’m concerned by, there’s been a massive communications gap here and you know one question that I did raise which Rui didn’t pick up, is I’ve noticed that for example, that epidemiologists and I’m not talking about you guys, don’t think anything wrong about being a factor of 10 too high but are dead scared to be a factor of 10% too low.

I mean the number of deaths caused by lockdown is way higher than anything that will be caused by Covid, unless you assume exponential growth, forever. So, therefore this is a price that the world is paying for this asymmetry. In other words, I don’t know how we handle it, you know.

Sweden is not locked down. You guys are going to have a very hard time when Sweden plateaus at 6,000 deaths, which is 0.06, 0.6 per 100,000, and you can say well they social distance, they’re Scandinavians, they’re cold, there’s high population density. But, you know, the fact remains that the plateau rate of population reached by England, New York City, Lombardy, France is basically around one month of natural death. Ferguson said a year of natural death. That is horrible. That is an error that has cost the world many, many trillions of dollars, but it isn’t a joke. I mean an error like that is not a small error.

Now you could say, oh it’s our intervention, we intervened, Sweden intervened by itself, Italy was a very intervened country. Anyone who believes that Iran intervened is crazy.

Certain countries, there’s no doubt that the one place where there’s beautiful intervention is a part of China I call non-Hubei China…

In Hubei, the Chinese were out of control, but out of Hubei the epidemic is the most beautiful Gompertz function. It was so beautiful that everyone said they must have hacked my computer, except that New Zealand has the same distribution and other countries do as well. So I am trying to understand this.

There’s no doubt that once lockdown has been forced, everyone’s going to believe it was a good thing because otherwise why did we need to do it? But there’s no evidence for it.

Samir Bhatti: It’s not about believing if it’s a good thing. What mechanism do you conjecture for the plateauing of death in the UK that’s not lockdown?

ML: It reached one in a thousand. It’s nothing to do with lockdown. The UK policy led to early saturation. The whole country was infected before lockdown was done. The same thing was true of New York.

SB: No serological data supports this hypothesis.

ML: This is going to saturate at 20% serology. We know that already. You know this assumption that 80% based on R0 is basically nonsense. You guys don’t know what you’re doing to yourselves. You guys are going to end up being responsible for a hundred billion dollar crisis to the world and this is not funny.

And you start to use clean terminology. Don’t estimate herd immunity from an R0 value, which is completely meaningless. If the R0 value is 1.3 then I get saturation at 25%. The Diamond Princess, this wonderful experiment, saturated at 25% and you can say, “Oh, it was such good lockdown. We had shared air conditioning, it was an aged population.”

It doesn’t work. In other words, there needs to be sanity checks. Sanity checks come from looking at the data.

SB: OK so we’re going to talk about the data then. So you’re hypothesis is that infection fatality rate is much lower, everyone has been infected, that’s what caused the curve to bend. A massive serological study occurred just now in Spain, suggesting that with the 28,000 deaths, 5% of the population has been infected based on serology.

ML: And I think we’ve seen that the serological studies have serious shortcomings. We’re now seeing signs there may be T cell receptors.

Daily Mail Guide to Having a Socially Distanced BBQ

This illustration is in today’s Daily Mail, based on advice from Professor Patricia Riddell, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Reading.

Prof Riddell recommended asking guests to bring their own cutlery, plates and condiments to reduce the risk of virus transmission through touching the same surfaces, and having only one person using the tongs.

She also endorsed serving food on plates from a distance rather than everyone approaching the grill, setting out seats in advance for people to sit two metres apart, and sitting alongside each other rather than face to face.

Can’t say it looks like a barrel of laughs. Bagsy not sit next to the guy with the guitar.

Brazilian Scientists Challenge Concept of “the Science”, Defend Hydroxychloroquine

A group of more than 25 Brazilian scientists have written an open letter, questioning the idea that indiscriminately locking down whole populations, as well as other responses to the pandemic, is supported by “the science”. In particular, it challenges the idea that “the science” has concluded hydroxychloroquine shouldn’t be used to treat patients with COVID-19.

The letter has been coordinated by Marcos Nogueira Eberlin. He’s a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and holds a PhD in chemistry from the University of Campinas. Founder of the Thomson Mass Spectrometry Laboratory and winner of the prestigious Thomson Medal (2016), Eberlin is recognized worldwide as one of the most productive mass spectrometrists ever, having published close to 1,000 scientific articles. He discovered the Eberlin Reaction during his work on gas phase ion chemistry, and he and his research group introduced EASI (Easy Ambient Sonic-spray Ionization), an ionization technique used in mass spectrometry. In other words, a highly-respected, mainstream scientist.

It’s not the usual dry, scholarly dirge, but an angry, impassioned screed. (The caps haven’t been added by me.) I’m going to quote the opening few paragraphs in full because they’re so good.

During this pandemic, the term “science” has been used “ad nauseam”, that is, has been repeated to exhaustion: “Science, science, science”, “I’m pro-science”, “For from the science, through the science and to the science I guide my decisions and acts” and “I am, therefore, fully right to do so”. It is clear that the intention here is to lead all of us to the idea of ​​decisions based on something unquestionable and infallible, as scientific as law, as the law of gravity.

Groups of “science experts” or famous YouTube scientists, many of them still “beginners” in science, some of them with a minimal or no experience in fighting pandemics, are selected by the establishment and the media to give “scientific aura” for the lockdown and the condemnation of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) as an ineffective drug; worse, as a deadly poison.

That disastrous apocalyptic simulations from the “Imperial College” – this pompous name that brings us to the idea of ​​a center of excellence of infallible, omnipotent and unquestionable knowledge, an “College of the Empire” – are being used to place everyone at home, and then, to compare data as being the absolute reference of the truth. “We did something and as a result, we reduced those many deaths. Therefore: ‘blessed be the science!’”.

But what kind of “science” is that to which they are appealing? And who, in the name of this “science”, would be allowed to speak? Science (I know that there are controversies, as scientists even debate on its meaning) is “the dispassionate search for the truth about the Universe and life”. But ironically, we seek truths that we don’t even know what those truths would be like, or where they would be found. For this reason, sometimes, ironically, even when scientists find a truth that is indeed true, yet they doubt that they have found it. We literally zigzag in the dark, searching for solutions to our problems. Therefore, we sometimes say that: “eating eggs is bad, it increases cholesterol”; and sometimes: “eggs are good, eat at ease”.

Richard Feynman put it this way: “Science is the culture of doubt”. And I would add, “science is the culture of debate, of divergence of opinions”.

Rarely, there are situations in which we reach consensus in science, even a momentary consensus. Some defend the “Big Bang” and the theory of evolution, others, including myself, are skeptical of them. Some defend with data and papers the central role of men in global warming, others defend, with the same data and papers, that human activity is irrelevant. Scientists are human beings, therefore, skeptics and enquirers who can and should speak for themselves, like all scientists have the right to do, but NEVER A SCIENTIST OR A GROUP OF THEM CAN DECLARE TO BE AUTHORIZED TO SPEAK IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE!

Nobody, absolutely nobody is allowed to speak for science or declare that he is “been guided” by science! In times of pandemic, this impossibility is even greater, as we face an unknown enemy. Data is still being collected and researches are being performed and published by scientists divided by their worldviews, and by their political and party preferences.

Whoever said he acted in the name of science, dishonestly usurped science prestige. For what type of “science” is this, unanimous and consensual, that no one has ever heard of? Could someone give me its address so I can confirm its consent? Its phone, email and WhatsApp?

For defenders of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), the next section is manna from heaven, ripping apart the studies that purport to show it’s ineffective or, worse, dangerous.

The Manaus’ study with chloroquine (CQ) performed here in Brazil and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) [1], is emblematic to this discussion of “science”. Scientists there used, the manuscript reveals, lethal doses in debilitated patients, many in severe conditions and with comorbidities. The profiles of the groups do not seem to have been “randomized”, since a clear “preference” in the HIGH DOSE group for risk factors is noted. Chloroquine, which is more toxic than HCQ, was used, and it seems that they even made “childish mistakes” in simple stoichiometric calculations, doubling the dosage with the error. I’m incapable of judging intentions, but justice will do it. The former Brazilian Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta quoted this study, supported it, and based on it, categorically stated: “I do not approve HCQ because I am based on ‘science, science, science’!”.

Definitely worth reading in full.

Incidentally, the recent HCQ study in the Lancet that led to the worldwide suspension of clinical trials of the drug and hospitals around the world yanking it from their treatment protocols has been criticised in another open letter signed by a group of scientists, this one addressed to Richard Horton, the Editor of the Lancet. It’s not quite as angry as the Brazilian letter, but almost. Also worth reading in full.

Trump Terminates the WHO

Trump: “China has total control over the World Health Organisation.”

Donald Trump has said he’s “terminating” America’s relationship with the World Health Organisation (WHO), having already said the international body will get no more US funding.

The US president cited the body’s ties to Beijing as he made the announcement yesterday, saying: “China has total control over the World Health Organisation.”

Does this mean we’ll now be able to challenge some of the WHO’s wilder claims about the virus on YouTube? Interestingly, the WHO has just done another U-turn – is this number 657? – recommending against the wearing of masks.

As I’ve said before, if you’re the YouTube employee in charge of removing any content that contradicts the WHO’s recommendations about how to stay safe, keeping up with the organisation’s constant flip flops must be a nightmare.

Church Leaders Threaten Government With Judicial Review if Churches Aren’t Allowed to Reopen

A coalition of church leaders has written to the Government, threatening a Judicial Review if the ban on churches opening isn’t lifted. The pre-action letter supported by Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre argues that blanket ‘lockdown’ restrictions imposed on all churches are both unlawful and unnecessary, and asks the Government to prioritise the re-opening of churches as part of its exit-strategy.

The letter, which you can read here, says the blanket ban is disproportionate, given that lots of churches closed voluntarily and those that remained opened introduced social distancing measures. It also makes the argument that the ban contravenes the separation of church and state:

While the short-term practical difference between state regulation and church self-regulation may be limited in present circumstances, the principle of Church autonomy is extremely important in the broader constitutional context, and must be protected for the benefit of present and future generations.

Among the list of 24 claimants requesting an urgent meeting with the Government to discuss lifting the ban are Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, President, Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue (OXTRAD); Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, Senior Pastor, Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC); and Revd. Dr David Hathaway, President of the Eurovision Mission to Europe.

Pastor Ade Omooba MBE, Christian Concern’s co-founder and one of the claimants in the letter, says:

It cannot be right that at present it is lawful to go to a bike shop, B&Q, visit a chiropractor or dry cleaner, and not be allowed to receive Holy Communion or engage in silent prayer in a church.

Similar legal challenges have been successful in other countries. Last week, France’s Supreme Court ruled that the French Government’s absolute ban on religious gatherings as part of its lockdown restrictions is unlawful, and ordered the Government to relax restrictions on religious worship.

The Government should lift the ban immediately or face the consequences.

Government Publishes Chart That Inadvertently Discredits its Own Policy

The Cabinet Office Briefing Room issued a chart yesterday (see above) showing that the Government’s first “test” – “We must be confident that we are able to provide sufficient critical care and specialist treatment right across the UK,” in the words of the Prime Minister – has been met. This was part of the rationale for allowing up to six people from different households to meet up from June 1st.

But look closely at the chart and you’ll see that in the small print on the left-hand side is says occupancy of mechanical ventilator beds in the NHS peaked on April 10th at 41%. In other words, the risk of the NHS’s critical care capacity being overwhelmed – something flagged up in Neil Ferguson’s March 16th paper and one of the key reasons for locking down the country on March 23rd – was exaggerated. We didn’t need to remain in our homes to “Protect the NHS” after all.

Another embarrassing implication of that number – only 41% of the NHS’s ventilators used – is that it makes a mockery of the Government’s wartime-style drive to manufacture more ventilators. Just as well, since the entire effort – dubbed the “ventilator challenge” – was a fiasco from start to finish. Not that it would have mattered if there had been a shortage and the “challenge” was a success, since ventilators are almost completely useless when it comes to treating patients with COVID-19.

Six Reasons the Cure is Worse Than the Disease

In the latest anti-lockdown jeremiad by Professor Ramesh Thakur, the former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations lists six reasons why the official response to the pandemic will end up causing more harm that it has prevented:

  • Lockdowns will have a negative impact on mental health and lead to more suicides.
  • With elective surgeries and routine screenings suspended, many diseases that would be treatable if caught in time will end up killing hundreds of thousands.
  • People have been so terrorised by the propaganda unleashed by governments around the world that people requiring crucial care have refused to go to hospital, whether through fear of catching the virus, or because being good citizens they don’t want to trouble a badly over-burdened health system.
  • The lockdowns reduced the amount of time people spent in the fresh air and sunshine, with some people being cooped up in high-risk environments like congested living complexes.
  • Elderly hospital patients infected with COVID-19 were discharged into care and nursing homes to deadly effect, accounting for more than half of all Covid deaths.
  • The deadliest impact of the lockdowns will be on the world’s poorest billion people over the next decade along multiple sub-pathways.

Worth reading in full.

Rioters in Minneapolis Comply With Mayor’s Order to Wear Face Masks in Shopping Malls

Rioters in Minneapolis wearing face masks

I got an email from a reader in Minneapolis yesterday, the American city that was set ablaze by rioters on Tuesday night following the death in police custody of George Floyd, a 46 year-old African-American, and has been burning ever since.

We’ve been a bit busy here in Minneapolis dealing with the city being burned down around us. It was oddly relaxing to think about Chinese viruses. All of the businesses I service – my customers – are either in ashes, boarded up or looted.

Here is the joke: Why did Minneapolis police stand by and watch the looters and arsonists destroy hundreds of businesses? Because the looters were complying with the Mayor’s order to wear a mask inside retail establishments.

Interestingly, that order took effect Tuesday at 5p.m. When did the rioting start? Tuesday evening….

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: “Worry” by Blodwyn Pig, “When Will I See You Again?” by the Three Degrees (can’t believe we haven’t had that yet) and “Locked Up In Jail” by John Lee Hooker.

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…

A reader made a slight adjustment to this Lord of the Rings meme. Works pretty well…

Latest News

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.

Postcard from Sri Lanka

by Omar Khan

Sri Lanka opted to throw nuance to the wind and go for an outright 24/7 multi-month curfew. Announced with mere hours of notice, it threw everyone into desperate pandemonium. Touted originally as a “weekend curfew”, when it was extended and then briefly relaxed it had people desperate to get essentials, with open-air markets here resembling a COVID-19 petri dish.

Then, four days after it was first instituted, it went back on, and has not been fully lifted as of today, May 24th, though it has been relaxed in the last few weeks. Essentially, however, from March 20th the entire economic engine came to a screeching halt, imposing grotesque suffering on the daily wage-earners (roughly 40% of the economy) and the SMEs, except for those who were able to get into the business of delivering essentials, which later came to include Big Macs from McDonalds and birthday cakes, lest the elite be too troubled by any of this.

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 are up to nine, and we have been curfewed longer than Wuhan was economically shut down.

A Rough Build-Up

After a 30+ year civil war, which conscripted Buddhism and Hinduism – despite these usually being more pacific faiths, as practised – Sri Lanka had blossomed on the tourism front in particular, being crowned by Lonely Planet as “The World’s Favorite Destination” for 2019. Then came the Easter bombing, from a splinter Muslim group, which tragically hit churches and hotels, killing locals and travellers alike.

Though this decimated the tourism industry for many months, by November/December 2019 and with a great deal of pluck, fortitude, commitment and imagination, the tourist numbers and profits were climbing up once again.

And then came COVID-19.

The Global Contagion of Panic Applied Locally

Despite very modest cases here, nevertheless China’s disastrous surge, the exploding numbers in Italy and Spain, the gathering storm-clouds over the US and UK, various Drs. WHO intoning in sepulchral tones the case for impending cataclysm and the hysterical Imperial College model exploding onto the scene – all helped ignite panic.

While most countries saw a spike in cases and went for “flattening the curve”, paradoxically Lanka had no real curve to flatten and thus was unable to consult any evidence to indicate they could “relax the brakes”. They too, like much of the world, segued to “eradication”, which is implausible if not impossible, particularly as you only have to open your borders to be at least vulnerable to fresh infections.

This misplaced and unfortunate global segue – never debated, never justified – has prolonged the suspension of life as we know it, with catastrophically mounting economic costs, particularly here for a developing economy with high debt even prior to COVID-19.

To get a sense of the Lanka response, keep in mind that the ability to go and buy food, medicine and take brief walks (even if accompanied by the odd drone) were considered around the world as the very minimal liberties that even under a penal concept like lockdown could be considered “unalienable”.

Here in Lanka, despite such tame statistics, you couldn’t do any of the above. Even those who could afford it were largely at the mercy of food delivery (including from fast-food restaurants) and pharmacy deliveries. Others foraged and scavenged and hoped somehow that essentials might reach them. For those millions not equipped to be able to order online or with instruments for payment other than cash, this was a greater terror than the virus.

Even liquor stores were closed and couldn’t deliver, so a robust “home brew” market and a black market for imported booze flourished, further impoverishing an already besieged exchequer.

The monthly revenue from liquor sales in Sri Lanka is roughly USD $8 million. Now, unfortunately, locking people indoors and asking them to drink their despair away may have other health consequences, but perhaps that should argue against curfew not alcohol.

At any rate, it was medical vainglory from a politically-motivated medical trade union put in charge of the medical response (not a virologist or epidemiologist in sight) which tut-tutted the government out of these desperately-needed excise earnings at the very time that at least a $1 billion a week was being lost from a national shutdown.

The extremely well-connected were eventually able to wangle “curfew passes” and then began leading an alternative lifestyle, pontificating about public health during weekends on family estates in the hills, while everyday citizens and workers sweltered in small apartments – if not outright tenements – unable to find food, and going broke.

Nostradamus or Science?

Around the world the infection rates and fatality rates simply don’t merit the mania. However, the mania proliferates faster than the virus, and feeds on itself.

Lanka, I fear, fell afoul of the “sunk costs fallacy”. The thinking is: “We blew up our economy, we don’t have even middling fatalities from this when 12,000 die per month from normally-occurring causes of mortality, but we must at least eradicate this threat – we have to get something from this.” And then, alas, a late-breaking Navy cluster (navy, armed services and their contacts – some 600+ cases!), isolated as it was, threw the optics of eradication out the window. This didn’t help the official narrative, as the armed services – almost uniquely here – were in charge of the management and administration of this curious home-brew curfew.

The South Asia Paradox

The French paradox is often cited in dieting circles. The French consume large amounts of fat, cream, drink wine, still manage to enjoy their croissants and still live longer than their nutritionally-paranoid American counterparts; they are more slender, and infuriatingly haughty about the whole thing. Or so the story goes.

Immunologically, it seems there is a South Asian paradox, but it may extend beyond South Asia, to SE Asia and perhaps even to Africa. When a Nepalese was asked about their seemingly-charmed COVID-19 immunity and what the secret was, the answer was, “Bad hygiene.” There may be something to that.

South Asia has 23% of the world’s population, and roughly 0.5% of the world’s COVID-19 fatalities. More Vitamin D from enriched sunlight may play a part (hence the silliness of locking people away from it), but also, doubtless, immune systems hardened by lack of hygiene and food less-than-ideally stored that brings with them viruses, pathogens and strains of this and that, and more. When the Spanish flu raged, more than 20% of the global fatalities came from India. So, has something shifted? Have parts of the world so infantilized their immune systems?

Again, Sri Lanka, rather than leveraging its membership in these “elite” immunological circles, seemed hell-bent on punishing itself paradoxically for low fatalities by imposing the most punitive restrictions to economic functioning and social wellbeing upon itself. And then, when fatalities didn’t rise, post hoc ergo propter hoc came into full play: they congratulated themselves for their deft handling! If you then point out that countries with far less of a lockdown – or none – have fewer deaths still, including Taiwan and Hong Kong and Vietnam which never had any extended curfews and all with still-functioning economies, then fact-free outrage and sputtering contumely are rarely far behind.

A Smattering of Other Confusions

Writing unremittingly here throughout and seeking to relay the findings from such astute sober expertise as Dr. David Katz, Professor John Ioannidis, Knutt Wittowski (savaged and censored for promoting the “heresy” that sunlight and air might help, and it may be time to end this charade, go outdoors, and let our immune systems do what they are designed to), I found that such prosaic sanity fell flat in face of the torrential media hysteria that has been so forthcoming worldwide.

The same fatuous “economy vs. lives” bosh did the rounds here, until growing economic desperation, mass failures of SMEs, devastating layoffs in the apparel and tourism sectors (the life-blood of this economy) finally brought home the incontestable reality that the economy is lives, and that economic bankruptcy is not a medical strategy.

Confounding communication still held sway, however. The recent relaxing of curfew strictures are a prime example. We were officially told that businesses can be open, but that people should only venture out for work or to buy essentials. So, if you are a customer-facing business outside this “essential” sphere, being “open” means what, precisely?

Hotels had been advised they can “open”, but no restaurants, bars, health clubs, etc. Since no one is travelling in or out, if you could somehow transport yourself to an “open” hotel, what would you do there? Play a round of lawn tennis? No, actually – not yet allowed, either!

Clarity of communication, therefore, is so needed, and has been so globally missing. It was glaringly deficient in the UK Prime Minister’s rather incoherent, generic and inconclusive recent statement. It certainly is in short supply in the rambling pyrotechnics over the many weeks of the “Trump show” masquerading as a briefing. Such clarity becomes crucial in order to stress-test policy, to enroll support and to engage people – rather than to seek to bully and browbeat them, or to “order” them to do what you seemingly cannot persuade, much less inspire them to do.

And then there is Colombo, the capital city, which accounts for roughly 50% of GDP. The argument for keeping it curfewed has been that it was deemed “high risk”. This was not based on the number of actual cases but because of population density.

Tokyo has had roughly 160 deaths among 12 million people, Hong Kong has had 4 deaths among just under 8 million, the province of Sindh (which includes the teeming Pakistani city of Karachi) has about 45 million people and has had about 299 deaths. In New York, it was not Manhattan that was the epicentre of fatalities, but – other than in nursing homes – it was the economically-underprivileged areas of the Bronx and Queens that had the biggest surges. These statistics certainly throw the concept into question; but even beyond that, Colombo has 750,000 people and has only had 155 cases attributed to it (“cases” not “fatalities”). One has to blush to say it’s “high risk”.

Circuit Breaker

Hong Kong and Singapore have used versions of this, so has New Zealand. It is simply the argument for evidence-based thresholds and differing strategies, bowing to that evidence rather than prefabricated ideological fault lines.

So, you track types of cases, number of cases, growth of cases, nature of cases (isolated, local, community, imported) and then determine which strategies of suppression, mitigation, isolation or quarantining apply to each such “level”, how much of the economy and our mobility and personal discretion is temporarily suppressed in each, etc., and then you apply these strategies, based on evidence, to a street, a neighborhood, a city, a district, a region, and – only in exceptional circumstances – to a whole country.

Even the UN clearly stipulated that any such intrusion in our lives should be carefully targeted and for a limited period of time, and should be as minimally invasive as possible. I wonder how many varietals of intervention would pass that test globally.

But such an assessment – such a clearly-stated set of containment and mitigation strategies, triggered by evidentiary thresholds that have been debated and clearly shared – should surely precede even a single day of lockdown being imposed and asserted, otherwise.

In short, evidence-based thresholds, including a review of the types of cases (so you do not treat nursing home outbreaks the same way as widespread community transmission), each triggering distinctive, focused, brief, targeted strategies – and not some shibollethic “five tests” created by dubious witch-doctors – should actually guide policy and decisions.

Lanka, Calibration and Breaking News!

Everyone wants Lanka to win: it is a warm, charming, inviting place with a captivating culture, but there are turbulent, choppy political waters ahead. And there is what this reveals about gullibility and aversion to evidence; but Lanka is not unique on those fronts, just more acutely afflicted given how little the data has merited the over-reaction here.

Sri Lanka’s economic bungee-jump-without-the-bungee is a tale less about COVID-19 and more about how we can undermine our sense of balance and operational sanity, and how we can be seduced by the siren call of herd panic. We, as a human family, have somehow to outgrow our aversion to the inescapable leadership imperative of assessing the cost-benefit implications of our choices, being able to sift the essential from the incidental.

No one would – in that clarifying light – opt to destroy their economy and society over errant speculation, rather than opting for ongoing, careful, fact-based course correction as we march towards some clearly-defined and credible aim.

We have been advised here in Lanka now (and naysayers say this is as much about an upcoming election as COVID-19, but it is economically on the side of the angels nonetheless) that as of May 26th, a night curfew from 10pm to 4am will apply to the whole island. We are “at liberty” otherwise.

We shall continue to whittle away, hoping each day that facts and human values – and not COVID-19 “theology” – can increasingly hold sway.

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?

How at Risk Are Your Children From Coronavirus?

by Christine Brett

Christine Brett is a freelance market access consultant and holds a Master’s degree in Economic Evaluation of Healthcare from City University in London. Her career spans 25 years in the pharmaceutical industry, with experience in sales, marketing and health economics. You can see her LinkedIn profile here.

Schools are due to open on June 1st for certain year groups after several weeks of lockdown (although this is looking increasingly unlikely). Anxiety and tensions are high. Parents and teachers are worried with unions calling for working conditions to be safe. There are a lot of opinions and data interpretations appearing in the media about children’s susceptibility to the virus. The noise around this topic is adding to the anxiety parents naturally feel about their children returning to school after a period of absence longer than the summer holidays. All across the mainstream media and social media, we are seeing horrifying pictures of children in playgrounds in France playing solo in a chalk circle or being sprayed down before entering school buildings in other countries. Headlines are screeching that children are super-spreaders of flu and other respiratory viruses, so naturally, they must be walking biohazards for Covid. On my Facebook feed, worried friends are sharing letters from headteachers emphasising their concern about children’s safety. But what are the risks really, and how do we rationally make sense of this?

In the interests of full disclosure, I fully understand the anxiety parents feel about their children. My first son was born with a congenital heart condition and spent the first ten days of his life on the cardiac intensive care unit at Great Ormond Street Hospital. He underwent 8 hours of open-heart surgery at three days old. He had his oxygen levels, and weight monitored weekly. He was rushed back into the hospital after having his first set of vaccines. Ultimately, my husband and I decided that since he had survived, we wanted him to live. Yes, I was nervous being around people with a cold, but I wheeled him down the street choked with traffic fumes to take him to baby groups – yoga, massage, singing. We travelled on trains, buses and even planes to visit friends and family.

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

So I appreciate the fear that coronavirus holds for people. That fear is especially acute for those who are immune compromised be that through age, underlying health condition or generally poor health. And now having two healthy children, I understand the fear parents have about their children and their wellbeing. However, there are other consequences to fear beyond the coronavirus itself. Is it in our children’s best interests to be isolated from their friends? What will the impact be of lengthy social distancing and lack of access to education?

I’ve spent the last 25 years working in health economics – looking at the data about the costs and benefits of medicines and presenting this information to bodies such as the National Institute of Health & Care Excellence (NICE). Part of that work weighs up the likelihood of getting a condition and the risks and benefits of treating it or not. When we don’t know the answers to some of the questions, as with new drugs that haven’t been used widely, we take the information we have and try to predict what is going to happen. This approach is what we describe as modelling- effectively, it is making a best guess. But as time goes on, our knowledge increases. We accumulate actual data. And with that data in hand, we transform our original modelling into a much more accurate picture of the reality.

When coronavirus first hit we were all scared, we didn’t know what was going to happen. It looked like people were dying in droves, and we thought of the worst scenario. We hunkered down to protect our young and eventually schools were closed as the UK entered lockdown on March 23rd 2020. Sweden has been an outlier choosing to not lockdown, and schools have remained open throughout the pandemic.

Sweden didn’t lockdown and didn’t close schools so let’s look at what happens when we don’t lockdown and compare it to when we do as in the UK.
Figure 1 shows there were 27,903 cases reported of coronavirus in Sweden at 13 May 2020. The number of cases in children under 19 years old is 433 (1.5%).

Let’s look at the picture in England. As of May 13th, there were 138,264 confirmed cases of coronavirus of which 2235 (1.6%) were children aged under 19 years. This is shown in Figure 2.

So there is the same proportion of cases in children in Sweden as there are in England. Therefore, despite being at school and not socially distancing and “being exposed” to the virus, more children in Sweden are not getting the virus anymore than the children are in England who are locked down.

Figure 1: Number of cases of coronavirus in Sweden by age. © Statista 2020
Figure 2: Number of coronavirus cases in England. © Statista 2020

However, I recognise there is some uncertainty about the number of cases and the amount of testing. So let’s look at the thing that scares us most – death. Before I explore this data, I must stress again that I know how devastating it is to lose a child. It’s our deepest most primitive fear – parents don’t expect to outlive their children. Every single death is a tragedy and the death of a child is unspeakable. Sadly though, these tragedies happen. During the course of the pandemic, many children have died of causes other than COVID-19. In the same time period that deaths from Covid have been reported from March 6th to May 1st (latest mortality data available other than for Covid), 722 children have died in England, but in nearly every case for conditions other than Covid.

Sweden has reported 3460 deaths in total from coronavirus of which one was of a child under the age of 19 – in an environment where children are attending school as normal up until the age of 15. In England there have been 23,953 Covid deaths, of which 12 have been of children under 19. These figures for both countries are shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Deaths from Covid 19 in Sweden and UK Source: derived from data

This means that out of the 433 children in Sweden who have confirmed cases of coronavirus (this obviously excludes asymptomatic or mild cases who were never tested), the mortality has been 0.2% and out of the 2235 children in England the mortality has been 0.5%. So over 99% of confirmed cases in both countries survive. The true infection fatality rate is likely to be even higher.

Therefore in the UK, we have had more deaths of children than Sweden although we of course have a larger population. If we take that larger population into account and examine the population of children, we can see that Sweden has had 1 Covid death in just under 2.4 million children and in England we’ve had 12 Covid deaths in just under 13.4 million children. This means that one child has died from coronavirus out of 1.1 million children in UK versus 2.4 million children in Sweden.

So why are we still scared about sending our children back to school? We can see if we look at the data from other countries that regardless of lockdown, children aren’t getting as many cases of coronavirus around the world. Table 1 shows the number of cases of coronavirus in a number of countries and the number of deaths and the picture is pretty consistent.

What’s striking is that in terms of number of cases in children, Sweden has the lowest and is the country where schools have remained opened so if children are such super-spreaders wouldn’t we have expected to see more cases there than elsewhere rather than fewer?

A number of reviews have been published on the role of children in community transmission of COVID-19. Munro and Faust looked at studies in China, South Korea, Iceland, Italy, Japan, France, the Netherlands and Australia and concluded that “these data so far have been consistent across regions and continue to push the evidence in one direction” which means that children do not appear to be significantly implicated in spreading coronavirus even to siblings and family members.

Viner et al performed a systematic review of studies on the effectiveness of school closures during the pandemic. They could find no evidence that closure of schools has contributed to the control of the epidemic.

This morning’s Times reported that the “children and adults have the same chance of getting ill” based on newly-published data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). This survey was conducted on 10,705 people in the community in England and excluded anyone in hospital, care home or institution. Of the 33 individuals who tested positive from COVID-19 from 30 separate households there were as many children who tested positive as adults. However, what the data don’t say is how many of the 10,705 who were tested were actually children! The numbers are quite low to be able to draw any robust inference and we know that the majority of these infections take place in hospitals and care homes which house the population at risk – the elderly and those with other illnesses. If indeed there are as many children in the community who are testing positive and they are not presenting for treatment it must be more likely that they are asymptomatic. It will be interesting to find out as this survey continues whether there are children who are testing positive with no adults testing positive in the same household. Then we might be able to add more meaningfully to the evidence around transmission.

The fact remains that most of the available evidence so far points to the fact that children are not spreading coronavirus or suffering from it. Closing schools as the government deemed unnecessary initially was an emotional rather than a scientific response. The majority of cases are in adults and the vast proportion of deaths are also. Whilst there have been some cases of severe reactions in children lately, it is unclear whether this is related to their underlying co-morbidity and their immune response to the virus.

Having reviewed many submissions of new drugs and devices in my career, I think we have more data than most for making a decision. We have data available from lots of other countries as well as our own which is not always the case.

Given the volume of available data, the question must be asked – what further evidence is needed to make that decision and what is the cost of acquiring it? We never have all the desired information about a new drug before it is approved, and we make decisions to use it without testing it on every patient who is ultimately prescribed. There will never be perfect information that can guarantee 100% safety but we balance the risk of the drug having a side-effect with the need to relieve the symptom.

If we do not accept the data that is already out there, are we any more likely to believe it if we wait to see what happens when other countries open their schools?

As much as I understand a parent’s desire to protect their child, from the risk of illness, as I did with Matthew, we cannot do that at the expense of them living. Being isolated from their friends, washing their hands until they bleed and wearing masks which ultimately reduce the oxygen intake and suppress their immune system is likely to do more harm than if they catch coronavirus.

Liz Cole helped with the editing of this article.

The Left-Wing Case Against Lockdowns

by Mr Alexis FitzGerald

George Orwell: “In every one of those little stucco boxes there’s some poor bastard who’s never free except when he’s fast asleep and dreaming.”

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

The left should be interested in protecting working class and marginalised people and shielding them from economic hardship and exploitation, first and foremost. However, by many reasonable projections, these lockdown policies are delivering us into the worst economic depression in world history, and this will certainly negatively affect working class and marginalised people more than anyone else. Small businesses are being swallowed up by the thousands by large multinational corporations like Amazon (very much like a novel virus, sweeping through our populations and killing off the weakest among us), and automation has now taken on a whole new impetus for these companies. There will be few jobs left to return to for those furloughed by this lockdown, and there will be no resources to invest in worthy left-wing causes such as better public healthcare and vaccines, renewable energy systems, public transport, universal basic income, upskilling of the workforce, etc. We have developed complete tunnel vision on one cause of death, and forgotten or relegated all of the other causes of human death and suffering. We are now casually discussing the possibility of new famines in Africa and India and of economic bailouts three times the size of the 2008 economic crash, after just one month of lockdown. These outcomes are by no means guaranteed by the appearance of Covid-19 itself. This is the shocking result of lockdown policy, and a stark reminder of how disastrous public policy can be in the wrong hands. The economy is not just some toy for the ultra-rich (although aspects of it can be, e.g. stock markets), it is also crucial to the continued prosperity and flourishing of average working families. Therefore, the flippant dismissal of economic concerns by some on the left is a massive mistake, the consequences of which will be suffered for generations, and the weight of which will fall particularly on the shoulders of young people like myself. This has never been about life versus money, it has always been about life versus life.

In our current media climate it is not often mentioned that national and international lockdowns in response to a virus outbreak are completely unprecedented in world history, and that this is for good reason. Not even in war time did Western governments impose such severe restrictions on citizens’ personal liberties (churches and schools largely stayed open in the United Kingdom during World War II). And it is not just our liberty that we are losing, but our livelihoods and our young people’s futures. It will be young people and struggling working-class families who will bear the burden of the economic aftermath of this policy and who will have to pay back these forced Covid-19 subsidy loans that are being thrust upon us after being forced out of work by government fiat, through economic depression and inevitable austerity over many years. Multi-billion dollar socialism for mismanaged corporations and banks will certainly continue unabated, and ordinary people will be made to foot the bill once again, just as we did in 2008. If we continue with varying levels of lockdown until the end of the summer (and perhaps beyond), we are guaranteed to have destroyed generations of human potential. We on the left should have seen this coming months ago, and we should actively be resisting the lockdowns which caused it.

Given that national lockdowns have never before been attempted and are so extreme in nature, the onus falls upon governments implementing them to provide overwhelming and inarguable evidence and data to justify this policy and to prove its efficacy beyond any reasonable doubt. However, it is clear that governments and public health officials have completely failed us in this regard. You just have to take a look at the Worldometers data for Covid-19 that anyone can access in order to make comparisons between different countries to see how our governments and public health officials have failed. However, there are other scientists and scholars presenting this with more sophisticated statistical analyses which I highly recommend reading, such as Wilfred Reilly’s recent articles on the topic. For example, Sweden had 2,763 infections per million, and 343 deaths per million as of 12th May 2020. These statistics are quite similar to my own country, the Republic of Ireland, with a much higher 4,739 infections per million and a similar 303 deaths per million, also as of 12th May; yet Ireland has been in full lockdown for some seven weeks at this point – a fellow European country with a similar population, similarly dense cities, similar age profiles in the population and similar sizes and densities of nursing homes. Sweden never introduced a national lockdown, but rather maintained strong recommended (rather than government-mandated) social distancing measures while attempting to shield the most vulnerable. Sweden kept its economy open and kept its populace as calm and rationally-informed as possible in the face of this crisis, and has recently been praised by the World Health Organisation for their efforts in tackling the crisis in a long-term sustainable fashion. Sweden also has a much lower death rate than Belgium, Spain, Italy, UK, etc. Those who like to point out that other Scandinavian countries have lower deaths per million seem to forget that Sweden is simply further along the infection curve than these neighbouring countries, and thus that they have not saved any lives but rather delayed the death sentences of those vulnerable people in their populations by a mere few weeks or months – a delaying strategy which could be considered to be socially destructive in itself. And all the while, detractors conveniently forget all those European countries that have fared the same or much worse than Sweden according to the numbers.

This is replicated virtually everywhere when you compare countries or US states in lockdown to those non-lockdown, social-distancing countries or US states such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Nebraska, Wyoming, etc. Therefore, social distancing appears to be doing almost all of the work for us in terms of controlling the spread of the virus. These are live experiments that we are witnessing before our eyes which show us that lockdown is not even working well in terms of our public health, and for some bizarre reason governments and their health advisors are completely ignoring them and not learning any lessons from them. Every week of lockdown that goes by is digging us further into a deep hole of economic turmoil which will take us years to get out of. The evidence for the efficacy of lockdowns is simply not forthcoming, and therefore the policy is utterly unjustified – however much we may imagine it to be. Lockdowns were first instituted when we had no hard evidence to hand, only models (which have since turned out to be wildly out of sync with reality), and the policy has not been re-evaluated in any serious scientific way since this time.

For some strange reason, many people (particularly on the left) appear to want the Swedish model to fail, and the bizarrely-negative media coverage they receive should simply be ignored. In normal times, Sweden is held up as a model country on the left for virtually everything from health care to prisons to immigration policies. Suddenly, they are now viewed as the pariah of the world, being run by semi-fascistic leaders who should be (as one Twitter user noted) “carted off to the Hague” – presumably for crimes against humanity. This level of irrational ire could only be caused by those who are frustrated that the Swedes have not panicked and have instead taken a smart, long-term, balanced, middle-ground approach and have thus succeeded by the numbers while respecting their citizens’ basic liberties and livelihoods, which are also essential to living a decent life. And I really think we should be doing the same.

Furthermore, the lockdowns are almost certainly bad for our public health. Covid-19 is not by any means the only thing that kills people. Many people are now too scared to go to hospitals to get important treatments, tests and surgeries that are certainly losing us lives to undiagnosed cancers, heart issues, etc. Where our healthcare systems cannot cope with Covid-19, we should immediately have funded and expanded our capacity (e.g. with temporary hospitals) rather than locking down society. Our mental health problems, stress, addiction and abuse levels are increasing. Furthermore, it is a well-known sociological phenomenon that suicides – particularly amongst men – increase when a recession puts them out of work for extended periods of time. And our immune systems are weakening. We are a social primate, and our immune systems evolved over millennia to be kept strong by continual exposure to microbes via social contact and being outdoors, thus developing in us an immunity from many different diseases. Therefore, being inside our homes for weeks or months, away from other people and dousing every surface with bleach and sanitiser is almost certainly detrimental in the long term for our immune systems. There are guaranteed to be many novel microbes and diseases other than Covid-19 to which we need to develop an immunity as a species through continued social contact. When lockdowns are finally released, we may see a surge of new infections of various kinds due to this weakening of our immune systems. Recently we have seen that 66% of new Covid-19 cases in New York are of people who have been locked down for weeks, according to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. This indicates that either the virus is much more widespread in New York than was previously thought, and/or that the weeks of lockdown have significantly weakened locked-down New Yorkers’ immune systems, making them much more vulnerable to the virus – and other illnesses.

Furthermore, if the economic collapse continues, we may expect new famines in Africa and India that could threaten many tens to hundreds of thousands of lives, if not more. And this is not to mention the fact that we are losing vast sums of tax money and borrowing power every day by paying large proportions of our national populaces to stay home. This is money that we could be investing in our public health care systems in order to increase capacity, improve treatments and facilities, fund new government vaccines and antibiotic development programmes, etc. So it is very likely that with all these added “lockdown deaths” and the catastrophic loss of public money to spend on health care and vaccines, we are producing a significant net loss of life which will by far outweigh any lives that one might claim to have been saved by the lockdowns (which is a questionable claim at best, as we have seen). Surely it cannot now be the case that Covid-19 deaths are the only deaths that matter any more? Looking at all causes of death and suffering in this world together, an intelligent person should conclude that lockdowns are definitively a net-negative policy for our society and for the globe.

One might think that – at the very least – this lockdown experience would have dramatically improved our sense of national societal solidarity, reflecting the tired and facile comparisons with war time conditions. But even this has been dealt a serious blow by the lockdowns. We are now being primed by our governments, media and public health officials to behave like misanthropic, obsessive-compulsive hypochondriacs who are to regard any other person as a potential viral infestation to be avoided at all costs. Just picture the viral force-field that surrounds people in public health infographics on social distancing. The most basic activities of a social primate like us are now considered to be forms of contagion-ridden, death-spreading evil. I must point out that no such moralising inanity around viruses is entertained when it comes to influenza, which spreads through social contact and kills many tens of thousands worldwide every year. This is because contagion is usually understood to be an inescapable part of life as a social primate and not something one can feasibly control beyond a reasonable degree, such as by staying at home (and/or wearing a mask) when one feels sick, and by maintaining basic hygiene. Things other than life itself are indeed valuable to us – including social contact – and we often take minor risks with our lives for this very reason. Living one’s life is simply inherently risky.

I wish I could say this were hyperbole, but unfortunately I cannot. Barriers that are usually lowered between citizens in times of collective crisis are in fact being raised higher, both physically and emotionally. The invented two-metre distance must be maintained at all times, and in my experience people don’t smile at, or talk to each other lest they are breached by the viral force-field around each human infestation. International solidarity is also waning. We are being told to consider anyone arriving from abroad as a potential disease vector who must lock themselves away for two weeks, despite the obvious logical interjection that you are just as likely to get Covid-19 from your local supermarket (in virtually every major country in the world now) as you are from someone arriving from Brazil or South Africa or Nigeria or India or Turkey – with the possible exceptions of those two global hotspots, New York and northern Italy. A recent protest occurred in late April 2020 at a port in Dingle, Co. Kerry, in the south-west of Ireland, by Irish fishermen who were outraged that a boat originating from Spain would arrive on our shores bringing us our seafood dinner, lest they also bring us their contagion. So to add insult to injury, the lockdown measures have been disconcertingly well designed to accentuate the worst misanthropic aspects of our character, undermining our national and international solidarity and exacerbating base xenophobia.

We have to start thinking much more reasonably, rationally and maturely about the death rate from Covid-19 and the kinds of risk levels that different people and age groups experience. The death rate for the virus is simply far lower than we originally believed it to be at the beginning of the crisis. Randomised serology testing studies carried out in multiple countries in Europe and in the US have shown that from c.4–15% (and even 30% in some cases, depending on the study) of our national populations in Europe and the US either have Covid-19 or have had it recently. And it is becoming increasingly apparent that the virus has been around for quite a bit longer than we previously believed: France recently reported a confirmed case of Covid-19 from December 2019. Any honest analysis of the statistics around this virus (rather than self-serving and scaremongering anecdotes about the tiny number of younger people who have died from this disease) will show that it is an exceptionally ageist one. If you are under 65 and without any major pre-existing conditions (such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.), your chances of dying from Covid-19 are extremely slim; and for people under 30, your chances are infinitesimally so. If nursing homes had been adequately protected from Covid-19 in Ireland, our death rate would be one third of its current rate. Therefore, keeping the entire work-force and all schoolchildren – children are almost entirely immune to this virus – locked up at home is a completely crazy strategy to adopt. As Lord Sumption has pointed out, we are all perfectly capable of assessing our own personal levels of risk based on our age, health, who we live with, etc. and of adjusting the way we live our life accordingly. Some may want to keep working from home or staying isolated or cocooned, while some vulnerable people may want to take a risk with their own lives by ending their isolation because they value things other than life itself, such as being able to spend time with their loved ones. We don’t need an incessantly-intrusive nanny state telling us which friends we can and cannot meet, when and where we can go outside, whether or not we are allowed to exchange goods and services between consenting parties, etc. This sense of fundamental personal liberty – which I had hoped would be strong on the left – appears to be depressingly absent, and in its place there exists a kind of docile supinity and subservience to state power and lab coats. All but forgotten is Benjamin Franklin’s stark warning to us from 260 years ago, that “[t]hose who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”. This is more relevant than ever today. Some governments are using this lockdown as an excuse to undermine democratic institutions and norms, and in some countries even to seize full dictatorial-decree powers (such as Viktor Orban’s government in Hungary), while others are using it as an opportunity to loosen environmental protections (such as in Slovenia).

Ultimately, the decision as to whether or not we prolong the lockdown is not a scientific or public health decision. It is a political, public-policy and economic decision. Public health science can – and should – inform these decisions, but they are ultimately political ones, and politicians hiding with cowardice behind public health officials will eventually be seen for what they are. Now more than ever, we need politicians who are willing to show leadership and a steady, rational hand in a crisis – something that has been noticeably absent throughout this period.

Some like to claim that all of these negative outcomes would have happened naturally in any case because of the virus itself, but this could not be further from the truth. Lockdown policy, combined with panic-inducing, clickbait-oriented and scaremongering media coverage, has caused much of the damage we are experiencing. This is a government- and media-induced insult to add to the injury of the virus itself. My biggest fear is that governments and citizens will continue to defend the lockdown policy (operating on a kind of sunk costs fallacy) and will never realise or admit how much damage it has done (ascribing all the damage to the virus rather than to the lockdown policies), and will then repeat this policy ad infinitum every time a new outbreak of Covid-19 or some other contagion occurs. We simply cannot survive as a civilisation in this way. Governments should step forward and admit honestly that the lockdown policy was a mistake, and that they were simply acting as best they could without available evidence at the time – evidence which, increasingly, we have at our finger-tips. These governments should shift immediately to a Swedish or similar model – for instance with a policy of mandatory mask-wearing in public or crowded spaces – and those of us on the left (as well as those in the centre who are still supporting the lockdowns) need to realise this necessity. At the very least, even if we do not have the wisdom and rational forethought at this time to end these lockdowns as soon as is humanly possible, then I sincerely hope that we will regain enough of our collective rational minds in the coming months in order to realise how destructive these lockdown policies have been, and to make certain that we never again repeat this strategy. Three similarly-sized pandemics were experienced by humanity during the 20th century, and we will continue to face this challenge in the future. Lockdowns were never implemented then. They were wise to avoid it, and we would be wise to learn from them.

Latest News

The press is having fun today about the apparent “confusion” in Boris’s exit plan, with some papers flagging up new rules which weren’t included in his speech on Sunday. For instance, he originally said we could play sports from tomorrow, but only with members of our own household. That’s now been amended to one person from another household as well. Matt Lucas did an amusing impression of Boris getting in a bit of a muddle that went viral. (Are we still allowed to use that word?)

Boris’s response to all the noise about this, as set out on the front page of the Telegraph, is to urge people to use their common sense. This plumber interviewed by Channel 4 News last night seems to have got the point. “Boris is leaving it up to us a little bit,” he said. “What do you want, a full handbook to tell you what to do?” The editor of the programme must have spat out his almond milk latte when he heard that.

Needless to say, much of the mainstream media thinks Boris is being wildly reckless, accusing him of putting our lives at risk. He’s running down the mountain like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, not inching his way down like an experienced climber. (If only!) The Mirror, for instance, urges the Prime Minister to “protect the workers”, although doesn’t explain how destroying the UK economy would achieve this. The Guardian has a piece by David Hunter, Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine at the University of Oxford, flagged on the front page, that predicts “the virus spread will increase, there will be super-spreader events and local or regional lockdowns will have to be reconsidered”.

Much of the criticism focuses on the risk that the sacred two-metre rule might be breached, particularly on public transport. Worth bearing in mind, then, that the distance we’re supposed to keep from each other varies from country to country:

  • WHO recommendation – 1 metre
  • USA – 6 feet
  • Germany – 1.5 metres
  • Australia – 1.5 metres
  • France – 1 metre
  • Italy – 1 metre
  • Sweden – Use your common sense

As William Sullivan points out in American Thinker, social distancing rules are snake oil, not science.

The same “we’re-all-doomed” line was taken by Anthony Costello, ex-Director of the WHO and a member of the ‘alternative’ advisory group shadowing the Strategic Advisory Group for Emergencies that’s due to publish its first report tomorrow. As Guido Fawkes pointed out, this group is packed to the gills with pro-Labour boffins and Costello is no exception. in a long long Twitter thread posted last night he poured scorn on the Boris’s exit strategy, predicting a second spike in infections. “In short, the Government plans will lead to the epidemic returning early, cases rising, further preventable deaths, and no guarantee that herd immunity will ever occur,” he concluded.

He urges the Government to instead follow the advice the WHO has issued, which he quoters as follows: “governments refocus the whole of government on suppression and containing COVID-19”. By “suppression” I think the WHO means keeping the lockdowns in place, although given how hugger-mugger the organisation is with the Chinese Communist authorities it’s hard to be sure. Does this mean the WHO has now decided the Swedish approach was wrong after all? Readers will recall that a senior panjandrum at the WHO gave a press conference two weeks ago in which he praised Sweden as a “model” that the rest of the world should follow. This was after the WHO said exactly the same thing about China a few weeks before that. Makes you feel almost sorry for the moderators at YouTube, given that the company’s CEO has said any content dissenting from the WHO’s official recommendations will be removed. Must be a full time job keeping track of the WHO’s constantly-changing positions.

It’s quite helpful that these lockdown zealots are nailing their colours to the mast, predicting armageddon if we emerge from under our beds and venture outside. It means that when they’re proved wrong, as I suspect they will be, any future advice they might have for the Government can be safely ignored. Then again, the reputations of various climate change alarmists haven’t been damaged in the slightest by their failed predictions, many of them based on similar computer models to that used by Professor Neil Ferguson and his crystal-ball gazers at Imperial. A quick reminder of what some of these soothsayers got wrong:

  • Paul Ehrlich, author of the 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb. “We must realise that unless we are extremely lucky, everybody will disappear in a cloud of blue steam in 20 years,” he told the New York Times in 1969. Ehrlich also predicted America would be subject to water rationing by 1974 and food rationing by 1980. Ehrlich’s “bomb” failed to explode, but his career didn’t. He’s now the Bing Professor of Population Studies at Stanford and the president of Stanford’s Center for Conservation Biology.
  • Peter Wadhams, Cambridge professor. Interviewed in the Guardian in 2013, he predicted Arctic ice would disappear by 2015 if we didn’t mend our ways. It hasn’t, obviously.
  • Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister. He announced in 2009 that we had just 50 days to save the Earth.
  • George Monbiot, Guardian columnist. He predicted a “structural global famine” in as little as 10 years’ time if we didn’t start eating less meat — this was in 2002. No such famine has materialised, although it probably will now thanks to the global lockdowns.
  • Prince Charles, future king. He predicted we had eight years to save the plant 11 years ago.

In foreign news, the Times says on its front page that single French women are happy with the lockdown – the headline is ‘No hook-ups, Merci!’ “Not only have they discovered that they are able to survive on their own, but many have come to the conclusion that they are better off than their counterparts lumbered with menfolk and children at home,” reports Adam Sage.

The always-reliable Professor Carl Heneghan of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine has just finished a piece of work showing that the coronavirus crisis is not technically an epidemic. The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests that just 0.24 per cent of adults – approximately 136,000 people – currently have the virus and the Royal College of GPs puts it at even less – about 0.037%. The official definition of an epidemic is a disease that infects 40 per 10,000, but the new figures suggest it is between four and 24 in 10,000. The Telegraph has more.

The ONS also released data this morning about registered deaths in England and Wales in Week 18 (April 25th – May 1st). All deaths are down, including those involving COVID-19. You can see the year-to-date trend lines in the ONS graph below:

The total number of deaths in Week 18 – 17,953 – is lower that the previous week but still 8,012 more than the five-year average. 6,035 of the deaths mentioned “novel coronavirus”, meaning 1,977 excess deaths in that week weren’t from COVID-19, at least not according to the doctors who signed the death certificates – and, remember, they don’t even need a positive test result to write down “novel coronavirus” as the cause of death.

So why did these people die? When he appeared on Marr on May 3rd, Sir Ian Diamond, head of the Government’s Statistical Service, said the ONS had looked into the cause of non-Covid excess deaths since the beginning of the year and would publish its findings “in the next few days”. Evidently, he was nobbled because that piece of work has yet to see the light of day. Here’s a transcript of what he said on Marr:

The last week we had records for the excess was approaching 12,000 deaths of which, I would suggest, between eight and 9,000 were Covid and the rest were what we call indirect deaths. Those could be for example people who would normally have gone into hospital for some reason but the beds were not available. Just give you an example: in my late mother’s last couple of years of her life she went into hospital and back out again a few times. Had she not been able to go in one of those times she may well have died a little earlier than she did. So I think it’s important to recognise there are indirect deaths as well as the Covid-related deaths. We have a piece from the Office of National Statistics that we’ve done jointly with the Government Actuaries Department, the Home Office and Department of Health coming out in the next few days which will show also a third group which will come out over the next few years where changes in the prioritisation of the Health Service, for example, reductions in cancer screening, will lead to deaths over the next few years.

One reason the publication of this data has been delayed – indefinitely? – may be because the Government doesn’t want to face the kind of scandal that’s currently blowing up in Germany about the disastrous impact of the lockdown on public health. Roland Tichy, the editor of Tichys Einblick, a right-of-centre German magazine, has obtained a leaked impact assessment from the Ministry of the Interior saying that the lockdown is causing more more harm than good. The author of the paper is identified as “K”, reminiscent of the central character in The Trial by Franz Kafka. I couldn’t find any stories about this on any English-language mainstream media sites, although there are a few on the fringes, like this one. So I’ve published one myself. I got hold of the Tichys Einblick press release about the story, which someone has kindly translated into English, and you can read the whole thing here. This is the opening paragraph:

The lockdown and the measures taken by the German federal and central governments to contain the coronavirus apparently cost more lives, for example of cancer patients, than of those actually killed by it. This is the result of an internal analysis by the Protection of Critical Infrastructures”unit in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, which has been made available to members of the Ministry’s crisis team and leaked to Tichys Einblick magazine. The 86-page paper with its critical evaluations for example of the data submitted by the Robert Koch Institute, has in the meantime already been dismissed by the Ministry as the expression of an “isolated individual opinion”. According to information from Tichy’s Einblick, the paper’s author, a senior official at the Ministry, has by now been suspended.

The same German-speaking reader who helped me do a bit of digging yesterday on Widerstand2020 Deutschland has flicked through some German newspapers to find out more:

The official reaction to the story has been damning and defensive – the author is reported in some places as having massively overstepped his brief, and the paper is alleged to contain the author’s private view, rather than an official one. The author is seen as having acted particularly irresponsibly because the report is on official headed paper, giving it what the Government is saying is spurious authenticity. I don’t think there can be any doubt that the report is genuine, and the real issue is how damning it is, and the obviously pretty cack-handed cover up that is underway. The report apparently criticises the Robert Koch Institute data and other data sources as confused and inaccurate.

Tichys‘ view is that there was a massive failure to understand the situation in a clear and sober way and the leadership failure extends to the Chancellor who relied exclusively on flawed data. Couldn’t see anything in Bild about it. Was surprised to see nothing in the Sueddeutsche either.

This won’t come as a surprise to readers of Lockdown Sceptics because we’ve already crunched the numbers twice and come to the same conclusion: the ONS has confirmed that NHS workers, listed below as “Health Professionals”, face a lower-than-average risk of dying from COVID-19 than other workers. The BBC ran a story on this, pointing out that the most vulnerable group in the UK are, in fact, security guards.

There’s a great little guest post on Hector Drummond’s blog by Andrew Mahon, celebrating the 25th anniversary of Crimson Tide. As he points out, the plot of this film is extremely relevant to the predicament we find ourselves in now, involving a fight between a panicky submarine commander (Gene Hackman) threatening to over-react to incomplete information about a potential disaster and his more sober-minded second-in-command (Denzel Washington) who wants a few more facts before – literally, in this case – pushing the nuclear button. I recommend you read the entire post, but here’s the kernel of the argument:

The formula is as follows: a real but perhaps exaggerated crisis demands a response, but the information upon which decisive action can be justified is incomplete, so the dilemma becomes either to take action based on incomplete information, which may be premature, or to delay that action in favour of seeking out more information, which could come too late. Delaying action may mean catastrophe, but on the other taking action too quickly may mean a wholly different catastrophe.

In the current coronavirus lockdown this basic formula has just unfolded globally, although very little time was spent on the dilemma before Gene Hackman got his way in almost every country in the Western world. Coronavirus poses a crisis to be sure, but it is and has been exaggerated. The chosen response of lockdown – admittedly not quite a nuclear holocaust – has been based on the worst case predictions, notably those out of Imperial College London, which Nobel Prize-winning biologist Professor Michael Levitt of Stanford has claimed were off by a factor of ten. Other scientists, including those out of Stanford and Oxford Universities offered alternative findings, all of which ought to have been taken together to yield a comprehensive assessment of the threat. But instead most governments have ignored Denzel Washington’s caution, taking instead the incomplete and unreliable apocalyptic modelling as the justification for a premature and disproportionate lockdown.

Good news about Simon Dolan’s lawsuit. His crowdfunder has now raised over £100,000 – pretty good, considering it was only launched 10 days ago. Apparently, donations surged after Boris’s speech on Sunday night, which doesn’t surprise Dolan. “Boris Johnson has flapped and fumbled instead of leading Britain out of the disaster of lockdown,” he says. “Just two days after we celebrated VE Day and the freedoms it secured, millions of families tuned in on Sunday evening hoping for the Prime Minister to deliver decisive action – instead we got more garbled messages of surrender.” Anyone who wants to contribute to the crowdfunder can do so here.

Got an amusing email from a dissident academic who’s finding life under lockdown a bit of a struggle:

I’m a Senior Lecturer at a UK higher education institution currently stuck doing remote working amongst a group of typical identitarian, fair-trade, falafel-munching academics. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that my colleagues really don’t want this magic-money-tree-fuelled piss-about to end. They chirrup along quite happily to each other on Microsoft Teams about how it might bring down the “Tory Scum” Government and thus also cancel “racist Brexit”. Part of the ongoing appeal of the lockdown for them is the opportunity to spend all day safe at home baking Nordic-inspired loaf cakes, knocking out virtue-signalling blogs about sustainable living (whilst simultaneously planning their next foreign holiday, of course) and angrily taking to social media to demand more white deaths from COVID-19 as a form of reparation for colonial injustices. Okay, I might have made that last one up, but you get the idea. This has become a middle-class wet dream of what the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism would look like.

No doubt these wastrels will be delighted to learn that Rishi Sunack has extended the furlough scheme until October.

My correspondent attached a short essay about the use of the word “impatient” across various media outlets to describe those who want the lockdown to end. Boris used the word in his speech on April 27th and the BBC have also picked it up recently – see Jenny Hill’s ‘analysis’ here. It’s a way to position sceptics as childlike or unreasonable, one of the more subtler methods of sidelining us. I have published the essay on this site and given it pride of place on the right-hand menu under ‘Are Sceptical Voices Being Suppressed?’ It’s called ‘COVID-19 and the infantilisation of dissent‘. The byline is “Wilfred Thomas”, but that’s a pseudonym for obvious reasons. “As you probably know, higher education is a genuinely scary place if you’re thoughts are non-orthodox,” he says. Sounds like he should join the Free Speech Union.

An expat living in Spain has been in touch to ask if I’d be interested in publishing a short piece he’s written about life under lockdown which has been even more severe than ours. It’s evidently been quite tough-going, with this Spanish study estimating that the mental health of 46% of the population is at risk. I have published his ‘Postcard From Spain’ here.

A reader has emailed me to say he thinks my correspondent in Bexhill-on-Sea, whose message I published yesterday, was very wise not to publish a sceptical post in his local Facebook group. He incautiously did just that and reaped the whirlwind:

I’ve just read the latest newsletter and was pleased to note the comments by the reader from Bexhill-on-Sea. His wife and daughter were right to restrain him from posting on the local Facebook page. I live in the Forest of Dean and this morning responded to a post from a man in which he railed against concessions for exercise because it would mean folk coming to the Forest from elsewhere. I mildly enquired whether he was concerned for the loss of the peace and quiet we’ve been enjoying recently or worried about plague-bearers, suggesting that the threat of the virus was a little exaggerated. Having just read the hate storm I unwittingly called up I am now literally shaking – good grief! No doubt you get more than your fair share of abusive comment but I was a naive virgin. I checked my post again and no, I hadn’t inadvertently suggested selling off the village children as sex slaves!

Another reader has asked whether there’s any Lockdowns Sceptics merchandise he could buy, like a T-shirt or a face mask – although it would take a brave soul to publicly declare his allegiance to this cause in the current climate. Having said that, the tide will turn and we might as well get out ahead of it. I’ve had a brief look and there are lots of merchandise companies that will do the heavy lifting. All I have to do is submit the designs. Any designers out there who might be able to help? Might be able to pay you a modest amount. If so, please email me here.

Yesterday, I asked what had happened to the much-ballyhooed Porton Down antibody survey. Today, a reader has forwarded an email from a friend of his about an official survey. This may provide a clue about why the Porton Down results have been delayed:

We are one of the 20,000 household supposedly being tested for Covid 19 by Government scientists because we took part in a national ONS study last year and agreed to take part in future studies. We had to register by phone by April 29th – after about 47 phone calls I managed to do that by April 27th, and was offered an appointment on April 30th, with the promise of a phone call in advance of the visit. Guess what? No phone call and no visit. Numerous attempts to call them – got callbacks – carrying two phones around the house 24 hours a day so as not to miss a call – finally got through – to be told they hadn’t received the testing kits!!

I received a press release from the V&A this morning informing me it has put out a call for people to donate homemade signs and rainbow drawing celebrating “our NHS” so it can add these artworks to the Museum’s permanent collection. “The V&A is seeking signs that have been created by individuals and communities in response to the current isolation measures,” it says.

The possibilities to have fun with this are almost limitless, but I thought I’d confine myself to this photograph sent to me by a reader in Birmingham. It’s located outside the Art Department of Birmingham City University.

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:

Yesterday, 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 to help people find out what has opened in their area. But we really 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. Should be fairly self-explanatory – and the owners of small businesses are welcome to enter their own details. Please visit the page and let us know about those courageous entrepreneurs who are doing their bit to get the country moving again.

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: ‘Just Keep Me Hangin’ On‘ by The Supremes, ‘Bedsitter Images‘ by Al Stewart and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again‘ by The Who. Keep ’em coming.

Thanks as always to those who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It’s a Sisyphean task, let me tell you. If you feel like donating, you can do so by clicking here. (Every little helps!) And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

I’ll leave you with the latest episode of London Calling, mine and James Delingpole’s weekly podcast. Only one topic, obviously. And apologies in advance for the fact that we both get a little overheated at times.