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Postcard From Nordrhein-Westfalen

I’m publishing another postcard today, this one from Nordrhein-Westfalen in Germany. The author, who has written under a pseudonym, is a professional musician and life has been tough, as you would imagine. But as he explains, he’s been more fortunate that most.

I live in a smallish town in West Germany and am a musician. Needless to say work has been pretty hard to come by but luckily I have been able to continue some of the teaching and we are back to some type of normalcy, face to face without a mask, after having utilised Skype in less than optimal circumstances. I have also benefited from a emergency state loan some of which may have to be paid back, any of the funds not paid back will be subjected to tax as income.

I am one of the lucky ones. I have a few English friends who are not as fortunate. One – an Echo winner of a few years ago – has seen his income dry up almost completely as he does not teach, lives in a different state where his loan is much less generous and has only a few recording opportunities. The rest were cancelled long ago. Another works for an orchestra which tours the world. At the moment they are trying to find ways of possibly giving concerts locally in the near future. Needless to say a full compliment on stage is impossible and the restrictions still being enforced mean the audience would be reduced to a figure of around 25%.

Worth reading in full.

Template Letter to Object to Mandatory Face Coverings in Schools

The pressure group Them For Us, which has been tirelessly campaigning for schools to re-open, has created a template letter for parents who want to object to mandatory face coverings in schools when they re-open in September. I’m reporting it in full below.

Dear [Governor of School, copying Headteacher and relevant Local Authority]

I am writing in relation to the [newsletter] from school dated XX July 2020 (the “Newsletter”). In the Newsletter, you explained amongst other things that:

“[insert relevant rule requiring wearing of masks in school.]”

(the “policy”)

I and my child have strong objections to this policy. I do not consent to [name of child] wearing a face covering in school.

I must also stress that I understand there to be serious legal problems with your policy and that, if implemented, your policy would be potentially subject to legal redress including by way of proceedings in the Administrative Court.

Public Health England does not, based on current evidence, recommend the use of face coverings in schools and this is reflected in the recently issued guidance (which you are required as a matter of law to have regard to) from the Department for Education:

“They are not required in schools as pupils and staff are mixing in consistent groups, and because misuse may inadvertently increase the risk of transmission. There may also be negative effects on communication and thus education.”

(the “Guidance”)

Your policy – the requirement for pupils to wear masks – is contrary to the Guidance, and could lead to the adverse educational outcomes referred to in that Guidance. Mandatory mask wearing is likely to have a disproportionate and damaging effect upon students. In particular, I am concerned about the effect face coverings have on:

* Breathing, especially if the mask is worn for long periods or during sport

* Restriction of interaction with peers compounding the existing mental health damage

* Limitations to learning and educational outcomes

* Increase in anxiety as a result of an alien environment and behaviour

In legal terms, the policy is accordingly at present irrational and disproportionate and therefore unlawful. You have failed to provide cogent and intelligible reasons as to why you consider that the school should depart from the Guidance.

In light of the serious welfare, health and learning, and legal issues at stake, you must reverse this policy immediately, and issue new school guidance to that effect. If you fail to do so, you are required to explain the policy in further detail, in writing, including providing me with a copy of all risk assessments you have undertaken in relation to such measure, and all supporting evidence by reference to contemporaneous internal documents.

I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible and certainly within seven working days of receipt of this letter.

Yours,

Elusive Report Found

A reader has found the elusive report I blogged about yesterday and which shows more than 200,000 people dying as a result of the lockdown in a reasonable worst case scenario. It’s here. It was published last April, but received no attention until Sir Patrick Vallance mentioned it when testifying before the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee last Thursday. Makes for very interesting reading.

Number of People Testing Positive Dwindles to Almost Nothing

As the Government’s propaganda shifts from focusing on the daily death toll (approaching single digits) to new cases, a reader has looked at the number of people testing positive as a percentage of the total tested (see above). Turns out, the percentage of people testing positive is also rapidly approaching zero.

Bull Stat on the BBC

A reader flagged up a bit of idiocy in BBC News story:

There was an interesting Covid bull stat for you in aside on the BBC News story on govt pay increases today. They suggest that that more than 300 NHS workers have fallen to Covid 19. If we assume it’s 400, and there are 1.4m NHS employees, that is a fatality rate of 0.03% at this point, i.e. really very low given that presumably much of the NHS was at greater risk of exposure than the population as a whole, and fairly reliable given the decent amount of testing for health workers.

Chris Whitty Admits Virus in Retreat Before Lockdown

Chris Whitty appeared before the House of Commons Heath Committee yesterday and admitted that the lockdown may not have been necessary after all. According to the Times

The coronavirus epidemic was probably already in retreat before full lockdown was imposed, the Chief Medical Officer for England has said as he insisted there was no “huge delay” in government action.

Interestingly, he put a different spin on Sir Patrick Vallance’s testimony to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee last Thursday, which was widely interpreted as Sir Patrick claiming Sage had advised the Government to lock down a week earlier than it did.

Last week Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said that Sage had advised on March 16 that more draconian measures were needed. Professor Whitty said today that Sir Patrick had not been referring to full legal lockdown but the advice on avoiding needless travel and socialising that Mr Johnson issued that day.

“Quite a lot changed that led to R going below one well before, or to some extent before, March 23”, when full lockdown was imposed, Professor Whitty said.

More Under-25 Year-Olds Died From Influenza in 16 Weeks in 2014/15 Than COVID-19 This Year

A comparison of deaths in 2020 up to July with deaths in England and Wales over a typical 16 week period in previous years

There’s a fascinating table on the website of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication (see above) comparing the data on different causes of death in 2020 up July 3rd with the data for a typical 16-week period in previous years. It shows, among other things, that more under-49 year-olds died of suicide and injury/poisonings in 2018 than Covid in 2020.

Round-Up

Here’s a 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 By Readers

Only one today: “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath.

Small Businesses That Have Re-Opened:

A couple of months 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 re-opened, 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.

Now that non-essential shops have re-opened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. As of July 4th, many of them have re-opened too, but not all. 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 – particularly if they’re not insisting on face masks! Don’t worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

Note to the Good Folks Below the Line

I enjoy reading all your comments and I’m glad I’ve created a “safe space” for lockdown sceptics to share their frustrations and keep each other’s spirits up. But please don’t copy and paste whole articles from papers that are behind paywalls in the comments. I work for some of those papers and if they don’t charge for premium content they won’t survive.

We created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, but they became a spam magnet so we’ve temporarily closed them. However, we can open them again if some readers volunteer to be moderators. If you’d like to do this, please email Ian Rons, the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster, here.

Gone Fishin’

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation recently to pay for the upkeep of this site. If you feel like donating, however small the sum, please click here. I’m on holiday in Italy until Saturday, July 25th and won’t be doing my usual amount of work on the site until I return. If you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here.

Salem 2.0

I thought I’d give my readers something to chew on while I’m away: Salem 2.0: The Return of the Religious Police to the Public Square. This is a book about cancel culture that I’ve been working on for a while now, but which took a back seat during the coronavirus crisis. Hoping to get back to it as the crisis recedes – although that’s happening more slowly than any of us hoped. It’s a work in progress, so don’t expect too much.

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Anti-Mask Rally in Hyde Park

The Mail headline was “‘I will be not be masked, tested, tracked or poisoned’: Hundreds of anti-mask activists march on London’s Hyde Park to protest the mandatory use of face coverings in shops from Thursday”, but judging from a reader who attended yesterday’s rally there were no more than 250 there. It was organised by Keep Britain Free, Simon Dolan’s fledgeling political organisation, but Dolan himself wasn’t there. However, James Delingpole was and I will get a full download from him on the next episode of London Calling, mine and James’s weekly podcast, available later today.

We’re All Thought Criminals Now

Bari Weiss: Thought criminal

In my latest column for Spectator USA, I pay tribute to the people who’ve been ringing the alarm bells about cancel culture in America, including the 153 signatories of the Harper’s letter, and Bari Weiss, who recently resigned from the New York Times. (You can read the Harper’s letter here and Bari’s resignation letter here.) And I wrote this before the conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan was sacked by New York magazine. (You can read his farewell here.)

The Social Justice Left has, of course, rejected the suggestion that it has cancelled, or tried to cancel, any of its critics. How dare they?!? Pankaj Mishra, the Indian essayist, wrote a riposte in Bloomberg Opinion, arguing that the “privileges” of the whistleblowers invalidated their complaints.

Could it be that increasingly diverse voices and rich conversations are a threat to their free speech — more accurately, the prerogative of famous and powerful people to speak at length on all sorts of things without interruption or disagreement?

This is a standard counter-argument, but it’s an easy one to rebut. The Harper’s letter writers weren’t complaining about their own speech rights being endangered… but those of nonconformists in general. They were using their platform to highlight a problem afflicting people less well protected than they, particularly in the media, the academy and the arts. “Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes,” they wrote.

The other counter-argument, this one a bit more sophisticated, is that these public defenestrations aren’t an assault on the norms of a liberal society; rather, they’re an example of democracy in action. When the storm troopers of the left mobilise to get someone fired, they’re exercising their right to free speech. If the person does end up losing their livelihood, that’s just an example of them being held accountable for their views.

There are numerous problems with that position. First, the justice being meted out to these thought criminals is mob justice, with little or no due process. If someone is accused of being racist or transphobic, their employer rarely gives them a chance to defend themselves. Second, being held accountable often involves more than just losing your job. Was Professor Allison Stanger, who tried to prevent Charles Murray being no-platformed at Middlebury College and ended up in the emergency room, being held accountable? And third, canceling someone for having the wrong opinions, even if it just involves publicly shaming them, is not within the acceptable boundaries of conventional liberal discourse, however you dress it up. It stifles dissent, shuts down conversations and creates a climate of self-censorship.

I end by revealing that I’m setting up a US branch of the Free Speech Union – which is clearly much needed – and urge anyone who want to get involved to contact me here.

Worth reading in full.

Round-Up

No time for a proper update today, but here’s a round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours (and a special thanks to Mitesh Kariah who has been tirelessly flagging up stories for me for months):

Theme Tune Suggestions by Readers

Only one today: “No Hope” by the Vaccines.

Small Businesses That Have Re-Opened

A couple of months 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 re-opened, 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.

Now that non-essential shops have re-opened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. As of July 4th, many of them have re-opened too, but not all. 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 – particularly if they’re not insisting on face masks! Don’t worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

Note to the Good Folks Below the Line

I enjoy reading all your comments and I’m glad I’ve created a “safe space” for lockdown sceptics to share their frustrations and keep each other’s spirits up. But please don’t copy and paste whole articles from papers that are behind paywalls in the comments. I work for some of those papers and if they don’t charge for premium content they won’t survive.

Gone Fishin’

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. If you feel like donating, however small the sum, please click here. I’m in Italy until Saturday, July 25th and won’t be doing much work on this site for a week (although I will try and do a rudimentary daily update). If you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

Salem 2.0

I thought I’d give my readers something to chew on while I’m on holiday: Salem 2.0: The Return of the Religious Police to the Public Square. This is a book about cancel culture that I’ve been working on for a while now, but which took a back seat during the coronavirus crisis. Hoping to get back to it as the crisis recedes – although that’s happening more slowly than any of us hoped. It’s a work in progress, so don’t expect too much.

Latest News

Design Your Own Face Mask

You can design your own face mask here. My suggestion above, courtesy of my daughter Sasha who came up with the prototype. We were using it in our merch store but I’ve now closed that because I actually lost money in the first month of trading.

If you cannot bear the thought of wearing a face covering of any kind, even one you’ve designed yourself, here’s a handy solution:

These lanyards are available from Amazon for the very reasonable price of £4.95. Purchase here. According to this piece in Edinburgh Live, you can also get “Hidden Disability” lanyards from eBay. One seller has already clocked up £300.

Get them now while stocks last.

Lidl Won’t Enforce Mask Compliance in Wales (and Neither Will the Police)

Encouraging email from a reader in Wales;

I’ve double checked by ringing Lidl and they confirm that, though they have to recommend masks, they will not be stopping entry or accosting anyone. Our local branch staff are always very laid back and cheerful and have been throughout The Madness. Claps all round for them! Incidentally, to my knowledge not one of them has been ill since early March.

My stepson is a sergeant in the local police and they say they’re not getting involved in the mask business – there aren’t enough of them and they have a considerable increase in mental health problems and domestic abuse calls to deal with.

Why No-One Can Ever Recover From COVID-19 in England

There’s an excellent post on the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine blog by Yoon K Loke and Carl Heneghan pointing out that, due to the way statistics are recorded by Public Health England (PHE), it’s impossible for a patient to recover from COVID-19. Here’s the key passage:

It seems that PHE regularly looks for people on the NHS database who have ever tested positive, and simply checks to see if they are still alive or not. PHE does not appear to consider how long ago the Covid test result was, nor whether the person has been successfully treated in hospital and discharged to the community. Anyone who has tested Covid positive but subsequently died at a later date of any cause will be included on the PHE Covid death figures.

By this PHE definition, no one with Covid in England is allowed to ever recover from their illness. A patient who has tested positive, but successfully treated and discharged from hospital, will still be counted as a Covid death even if they had a heart attack or were run over by a bus three months later.

This is one reason the daily PHE Covid death tolls include so many people who died weeks, sometimes months, ago – they include people who had COVID-19, made a complete recovery, then died of a completely unrelated illness.

Loke and Heneghan conclude:

It’s time to fix this statistical flaw that leads to an over-exaggeration of Covid-associated deaths. One reasonable approach would be to define community Covid-related deaths as those that occurred within 21 days of a Covid positive test result.

In summary, PHE’s definition of the daily death figures means that everyone who has ever had Covid at any time must die with Covid too. So, the Covid death toll in Britain up to July 2020 will eventually exceed 290k, if the follow-up of every test-positive patient is of long enough duration.

Worth reading in full.

Mask-Up, Granny Killer

Laura Dodsworth, the artist who’s started an ‘Art Under Lockdown‘ project, has written an excellent squib for Lockdown Sceptics about the absurdity of the mask edict. Here’s a taster:

According to Michael Gove, wearing masks is good manners. Nicola Sturgeon says they are a sign of ‘solidarity’. Matt Hancock has admitted they are to ‘give people more confidence to shop safely’. The emotionally manipulative and coercive language around masks focuses on what they represent – showing you care. Who wants to be impolite? Who wants to be derided for not caring? While very few people are wearing masks on the high street, online mask shaming is in your face. Covidiot. Selfish. Get over it. Mask up. Granny killer.

Worth reading in full.

No Cost-Benefit Analysis

The FT published a long investigation yesterday into the mistakes the Government has made in its handling of the coronavirus crisis, focusing on the week leading up to lockdown. Unfortunately, the crack investigative team simply take it for granted that we should have locked down earlier – a week earlier, to be precise – and concentrate their fire on exposing the series of blunders and missteps that meant we didn’t lock down until March 23rd.

This trope is now so firmly embedded in the mainstream media, it’s going to take a lot to dislodge it. And it received more support yesterday from Sir Patrick Vallance who told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee that SAGE urged the Cabinet to lock down a week earlier. He said he couldn’t remember whether it was at the meeting on March 16th or 18th, but whichever it was the advice was that “the remainder of the [lockdown] measures should be introduced as soon as possible”.

One small problem with that claim, Sir Patrick: it isn’t in the minutes of the SAGE meetings for March 16th and 18th – at least, not those released so far. As readers will recall, I parsed those minutes and found no evidence that any of the Government’s scientific advisors were arguing for a full lockdown before March 23rd, let alone the Chief Scientific Advisor. Here’s what I wrote on June 11th:

At no point did SAGE discuss anything resembling a full lockdown. Indeed, SAGE noted at a meeting on March 10th that banning public gatherings would have little effect since most viral transmission occurred in confined spaces, such as within households.

The last SAGE meeting before the lockdown was on March 18th where it was noted that the impact of the social distancing measures introduced thus far would not be known for two or three weeks. The attendees did not at that stage know whether those measures would be sufficient to prevent the NHS’s critical care capacity being overwhelmed and in the absence of more data could not offer any advice on whether additional measures – such as closing bars, restaurants and entertainment centres, and limiting use of indoor workplaces – would be necessary. The only further measure SAGE recommended at that meeting was closing schools.

“SAGE advises that the measures already announced should have a significant effect, provided compliance rates are good and in line with the assumptions. Additional measures will be needed if compliance rates are low.” – Minutes of the 17th SAGE meeting on COVID-19, March 18th 2020

Is this really what we’ve got to look forward to in the forthcoming public inquiry? A forensic investigation of why the Government didn’t lock down a week earlier, with all the protagonists in the drama frantically trying to dodge the blame for the delay, rather than questioning whether we should have locked down at all?

Wake me up when it’s over.

But there is one hidden gem in the FT’s investigation. It’s in the section focusing on March 23rd, when the decision to lockdown was “finally” taken.

Later that day, a plan to lockdown the UK simultaneously finally took shape, an approach backed by leaders in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

On that fateful Friday, Cobra was chaired by Michael Gove, cabinet office minister, not Johnson. Khan says: “I went to that meeting expecting it to be London only.” Gove proposed that the pubs should close on Saturday lunchtime, but Khan and Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, argued that this was a disastrous idea and that Friday night would see mayhem. “There would have been an end of days party,” says one participant.

Gove agreed — Cummings had also come to the same conclusion — and a message was hastily relayed to Johnson, preparing for the 5pm press conference, that Cobra had agreed that the closure of pubs and restaurants should take immediate effect on Friday night. Only Jesse Norman, a Treasury minister, raised any doubts, asking whether there had been any cost-benefit analysis of the economic and health impacts of lockdown or consideration of less onerous alternatives. Around the room there were blank looks: the decision had been taken.

So there you have it folks. Only one person at that critical meeting on March 23rd asked whether any cost-benefit analysis of the impact of the lockdown had been done – Jesse Norman MP. And his question was answered with blank looks. Clearly, no such analysis had been done. When the Government took the decision to lock down the country, it was flying blind.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, but I have to confess to a moment of shock when I read that. My position has always been that if the state is going to curtail our liberty, it needs a very good reason for doing so. My understanding was that when the decision was taken to place the entire population under virtual house arrest, the Government had calculated that it would do more good than harm – that it would have a net public health benefit. I was always sceptical about the claim that it would, but at least the Government had an arguable case – or so I thought. Turns out, they didn’t. They hadn’t made any calculations. They literally had no idea whether such a draconian act would do more good than harm. From the sound of it, it didn’t even occur to anyone in the Cabinet to ask the question. They just went ahead and removed our liberty anyway.

Unforgivable.

Graham Brady MP: No Fan of Masks

Sir Graham Brady: second Sceptic of the Week

A reader has passed on the reply of her local MP – Sir Graham Brady – after she wrote to him setting out her objections to face masks. It makes for interesting reading:

Thank you for your email.

A number of constituents have written to me with their concerns of this new regulation, with reasonable questions regarding how long we may have this in place and whether this will again be extended to office and work spaces. I am pleased at least that the Government has made it clear that this requirement will not extend to offices.

Other countries such as Germany, Italy and Spain have taken a similar step to try to halt the spread of COVID-19 as their economies begin to open up. The evidence in relation to the efficacy of face masks outside a clinical setting is however, finely balanced, one local specialist said to me that if there is a benefit, it is more likely because a mask makes it less likely that the wearer will touch his face than because of any effect in preventing airborne transmission. I do not think that a compelling case has been made for something of such uncertain value to be made compulsory, but this decision has been made under emergency powers and was not debated or voted on in the House of Commons.

It is important that this regulation, along with other emergency COVID-19 legislation, should only be temporary. My biggest concern is that the government has not set out the criteria on which the decision to introduce compulsion was made, and that we remain therefore in the dark as to when it will end.

These laws sit very uncomfortably with our traditions of liberty and I shall be working to ensure that they do not continue for any longer than is strictly necessary.

Best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Sir Graham Brady

Sad News From Ireland

A reader called Clive Buckley has been in touch to tell me about the news from Ireland. It was good. Now it’s bad.

I’m fortunate enough to have a second home in Waterford County in the Republic of Ireland where I also have an ongoing project. Converting a cowshed in to an events venue. When lockdown started I was in the UK. Managed to return to Ireland end of May and was expecting strict protocols. However, to my delight I found a healthy disregard to the regs as only the Irish know how. No queues at supermarkets, no face nappies. No pubs open, but people meeting on beaches and in each others gardens for beer and company and using their common sense. At one of these BBQs I was informed by a member of the emergency services that the total number of cases in the whole of Waterford County was 166, no deaths and I had more chance of being killed by a cow. The Government were accelerating easing of restrictions. Hotels and gastro pubs, hair salons, beauty parlours would all reopen on July 10th with full reopening of all pubs on July 20th. Happy days. They even came up with a brilliant new slogan: “Take Responsibility, Use Your Common Sense.” Why hadn’t Mr Johnson thought that one up?

Went back to the UK and returned to Ireland yesterday to continue my project now three months behind schedule, looking forward to the re-opening on July 20th and that pint of proper Draught Guinness as only the Irish know how. Then the news arrived.

Listening to Matt Cooper on Today fm it was announced the Irish Government were putting the breaks on re-opening and were going back to plan A due to an increase in infections. A massive rise in infections amongst the young taking the R number above 1. The usual rhetoric about it being cruel and indiscriminate. Numbers? Fourteen new cases and two deaths. I haven’t crunched the numbers but that looks like the virus has all but disappeared. They then wheeled out Professor Gerard Killean from the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental science to justify the new stance. Again the usual rhetoric, but when asked why is it OK for gastro pubs, hair salons, etc. to be open he agreed with the question and stated that they should never have been opened. Nothing should have opened. Not until the infection rate hits zero like New Zealand. What is it with these scientists?

So to get that pint of Guinness I have to book a table in a Gastro Pub, order a substantial order of food to a minimum of €9 (who thought that one up?) and leave after 90 mins. Back to Draught in cans.

Sue Denim Weighs in on Academy of Medical Sciences Report

How did the Academy of Medical Sciences work out how many people were likely to die from Covid this winter? They asked Neil Ferguson to look into his “model”.

Longtime Lockdown Sceptics contributor “Sue Denim” – the pseudonymous ex-Google engineer who drew attention to the shortcomings of the code underpinning Imperial’s notorious Report No. 9 – has taken a look at the Academy of Medical Sciences report that predicts 119,000 people will die in hospitals this winter if we don’t wear face coverings, etc. I wrote about it for the Telegraph on Monday (and the Times, rather oddly, wrote about it yesterday). As you’ll recall, the 37 “experts” who compiled that report relied on Imperial’s shonky computer model to come up with the apocalyptic scenario.

I took a look and noticed the following.

Why is a “researcher in atmosphere, oceans and climate” credited as a source of “additional expertise”? Why is one of the contributors from the Met Office? The only parts of the report that address the weather speak in generalities anyone could have said, things like respiratory viruses spread better in winter, or air pollution may exacerbate Covid. You don’t need to be a weather expert to know that people catch such viruses in winter.

Especially odd because the report states transmission is “dominated by indoor pathways”. So why care so much about conditions outside?

Annex 1 is bizarrely out of place for what purports to be a medical document. It’s titled “People’s Perspective” but defines people to mean patients with long-term illnesses, and BAME minorities. What about the people who don’t have long term illness? What about white people? Their perspectives don’t matter and they aren’t “involved in the decisions made about our lives”, as they put it.

It has “not been subject to formal peer review” and they “accept no legal liability for decisions made based on this evidence”.

They say that their IFR estimate is “at the time of writing” estimated to be 1.1%. As you already noted, this is far too high when compared with actual measurements. Why does their number differ so much from current information?

They provide three citations for this value, citations 37-39. Each citation is problematic.

Citation 37 dates from June 11th and is a letter that comes from Professor Ferguson’s team. It argues that herd immunity isn’t reached because number of recorded deaths varies significantly by country, so that means only different lockdowns can explain the inter-country differences.

Citation 38 is a website showing the output of a continuously updated Cambridge model. It estimates IFR at 1.3%. It’s unclear why they conclude such a different IFR from others, but one issue might be that their only sero-survey is based exclusively on NHS blood transfusion donors. Are blood donors really statistically representative of the entire UK population? How have people been donating blood in recent weeks given the lockdowns? Given Ioannidis et al were criticised quite heavily for recruiting people via Facebook, on the grounds that this may have led to an unrepresentative sample, it would appear this methodology may have far worse biases.

Citation 39 is again a paper from Neil Ferguson’s team (credited as Verity et al), which beyond being another model based analysis, dates from March 30th and it thus hopelessly out of date.

There are over 300 citations in this 78 page report. “At the time of writing” isn’t defined anywhere, but it seems likely they’ve been writing it for so long that their conclusions were based on obsolete sources by the time of publication but they didn’t want to revisit and rewrite their conclusions.

At any rate, to support their core figure they give what look like multiple citations, but in reality they’re citing the same people saying the same things in different forums. It looks more robust than it really is.

They now accept that exposure to sunlight is good for stopping Covid and prolonged indoor contact spreads it – so why did they previously recommend everyone be locked indoors and why has this prior failure not reduced their self confidence?

Interestingly, they say 10% of all excess winter deaths are caused by fuel poverty, not influenza. Attributing all excess winter deaths to influenza is a pretty typical way to guesstimate how many people it kills.

“Removing the many practical and financial disincentives/barriers to infection control measures (e.g. loss of income/employment) would improve adherence and mitigate wider health effects” 😂

They mention remdesivir and dexamethasone as potential treatments, but not hydroxychloroquine. What a shock.

Although they observe that lockdown hurts mental health in the first section, by the time they’re discussing what to do this winter they’re only interested in protecting the mental health of NHS workers.

The survey in Annex 3 is interesting.

Oddly, it appears awareness of the NHS backlog is zero amongst the general public (section 3.3, “there did not appear to be an awareness of the backlog among participants in our public dialogue sessions”).

“Participants were aware that many regular health check-ups and appointments have been cancelled… however this combination of local experiences did not translate in the group into a picture of a national backlog”.

Perhaps a way to create more lockdown skepticism is by pointing out that the NHS is now hopelessly overloaded and with no obvious way to ever catch up except by people who need treatment dying (as it’s at max capacity in normal conditions). They estimate the backlog will reach 10 million by the end of the year.

Also, people who know more about the pandemic trust scientists less:

“There was a common perception that a single scientific truth exists around the pandemic and that scientists are the ones promoting and defending it, while politicians are more focussed on protecting the economy.

“But those who were more interested in the pandemic and knew more about it were also more likely to question the mortality and infection figures, wondering whether they are being massaged or underreported. Among this group, those who distrusted the government transferred this distrust to the scientists leading the response, whose position was seen to be politicised.”

The UK May Have Achieved Herd Immunity Already, Say Oxford Scientists

I was ridiculed for making this argument in the Telegraph last Saturday, so it’s nice to get some back up from a team of distinguished Oxford scientists. Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Epidemiology at Oxford and long-standing rival of Neil Ferguson, has a preprint out in which she and her team argue that “sufficient herd-immunity may already be in place to substantially mitigate a potential second wave”. How come? T cell mediated immunity.

The Herd Immunity Threshold… may be greatly reduced if a fraction of the population is unable to transmit the virus due to innate resistance or cross-protection from exposure to seasonal coronaviruses.

Worth reading in full (although it’s quite technical).

Care Home Death Mystery

A probate lawyer has emailed me to tell me about a care home death that strikes him as suspicious.

I recently dealt with an Estate where the person died in a nursing home in April and where the Death Certificate, which was issued two days after death, gives the sole cause of death as “COVID-19 (confirmed)”. The speed with which the Death Certificate was issued is, in itself, suspicious, as I know from other clients whose relatives died around that time that it was taking at least a couple of weeks to get the Death Certificate as Registrars had cancelled all face-to-face meetings.

However, apart from the fact that the deceased was nearly 94 and could therefore quite easily have died at any time just from old age, I have a friend who works in that nursing home and who tells me that the staff there have not been made aware of even a single case of COVID-19 amongst the residents, let alone any deaths.

This suggests to me that either the doctor deliberately falsified the Death Certificate (which surely must be a criminal offence), or that the management of the home has not given the staff information which is crucial for them to protect themselves and the other residents (which is likely to be a serious breach of Health & Safety legislation).

Sadly there is no way of knowing, because the funeral has taken place and even if the family were to challenge the cause of death, no doubt they would be told that the test samples (if there were any, which I doubt) have been lost or destroyed.

I no longer believe anything this Government tells me about COVID-19 and it never ceases to amaze me how many people do seem to trust them (over things such as face masks), when those same people would normally not believe anything the Government (especially Boris) tells them!

He makes a very good point and it reminded me of the late David Crowe’s analysis for Lockdown Sceptics of why Sweden has suffered so many deaths in care homes. Could it be that the real reason for the high death toll in care homes during the lockdown is not that COVID-19 ripped through them, killing elderly residents, but because, for a variety reasons, those residents were badly neglected? Managers were distracted by the need to obtain PPE and put social distancing protocols in place, staff went off sick, relatives weren’t able to visit to make sure their loved ones were okay, and as a result tens of thousands of people died. However, rather than admit it was due to negligence, the care home managers simply told the doctors that the residents in question had died of coronavirus and the doctors were happy to put that on the death certificate.

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 By Readers

Only one today: “The Masquerade” by George Benson.

Small Businesses That Have Re-Opened

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 re-opened, 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. Now that non-essential shops have re-opened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. As of July 4th, many of them have re-opened too, but not all. 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 – particularly if they’re not insisting on face masks! Don’t worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

Note to the Good Folks Below the Line

I enjoy reading all your comments and I’m glad I’ve created a “safe space” for lockdown sceptics to share their frustrations and keep each other’s spirits up. But please don’t copy and paste whole articles from papers that are behind paywalls in the comments. I work for some of those papers and if they don’t charge for premium content they won’t survive.

I know it becomes difficult to navigate the comment threads after 24 hours. One alternative to continuing to post below my updates is to move to our new Lockdown Sceptics Forums, which webmaster Ian Rons has just created. You’ll need to verify your email address before you can start posting, but they should be relatively easy to navigate. Apologies for not creating them sooner. Any problems, email Ian here. Or just email him to thank him for creating such a great website.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 48 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It usually takes me several hours to do these updates, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here.

Gone Fishing

I’m off to Italy today, back next Friday. Hoping to do my bit for the Italian economy, which is facing a “disaster” due to the lack of tourism, according to the Telegraph. I’m heading to Venice with the family for three nights, followed by four nights in the Dolomites. I will try and get at least one update done from the mountains, but cannot promise it will be very long as I need a bit of a break. Hopefully, the new Lockdown Sceptics Forums will sustain you all until my return.

Spectator Column

“Thanks Ghislaine, but no, I don’t want a lift to Aspen on the Lolita Express.”

In this week’s Spectator I’ve written about the misfortunate of having my name included in Jeffrey Epstein’s “little black book”.

The column begins:

Every time Jeffrey Epstein is in the news, I start getting calls from strangers wanting to scream abuse at me. This happened a lot when the billionaire financier was found dead in his jail cell last year after being arrested on sex trafficking charges, and it has started again following the arrest of his ex-girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell a couple of weeks ago. The reason is that my contact details were in Epstein’s “little black book”, and whenever his name pops up some kindly soul takes it upon themselves to post a picture of the relevant page, which shows my mobile phone number, on Twitter. I may have to change my number, so frequent have the calls become.

I then make a protestation of innocence that won’t convince the peado-hunters:

I can honestly say, hand on heart, I’ve no idea how I ended up in Epstein’s address book. I never met him and never set foot in any of his houses, let alone on his private island. Not that anyone believes me when I say this. Ever since the contents of the book were published on a gossip website in 2015, the people in it have been frantically protesting their innocence. Charles Finch, the film producer, told the New York Times he had no idea why his name was there, as did Vanessa von Bismarck, the founder of a PR company. Joan Juliet Buck, the former editor of French Vogue, said: “As far as I know, I never met Epstein. I never went to any of those famous parties at the biggest house in New York City.” To the conspiracy theorists piecing together the web-like connections between the dramatis personae, these denials might as well be admissions of guilt.

My theory is that, in reality, the address book belonged to Ghislaine Maxwell (and I’m 99.9% sure I’m right):

My best guess is that, in reality, the address book belonged to Ghislaine, whom I do know slightly. When I lived in New York between 1995 and 2000, I bumped into her occasionally at parties and the London address listed as mine dates back to that period. (I sometimes worry about a mob of enraged paedo-hunters turning up outside my old Shepherd’s Bush bedsit and demanding justice.) Rather unhelpfully, the Daily Mail recently ran a picture spread showing Ghislaine out and about “in society” and including a photo of me saying something funny to her in a nightclub, making her howl with laughter. Ever since, that picture has been posted dozens of times on Twitter, alongside the relevant page in the “little black book”, as if it were proof that I was a member of Epstein’s inner circle. It’s guilt by association, although as I point out to the screamers on the other end of the phone, Ghislaine hasn’t actually been found guilty of anything. Needless to say, the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t cut much ice with them.

Worth reading in full.

Salem 2.0

I thought I’d give my readers something to chew on while I’m on a break: Salem 2.0: The Return of the Religious Police to the Public Square. This is a book about cancel culture that I’ve been working on for a while now, but which took a back seat during the coronavirus crisis. Hoping to get back to it as the crisis recess – although that’s happening more slowly than I hoped. It’s a work in progress, so don’t expect too much. The shape of it should be pretty clear, however.

Latest News

Face Mask Hell

I’m still not over yesterday’s announcement that face coverings will become mandatory in shops from July 24th. Apart from everything else, the only coverings the Government is insisting on are cloth ones, which every man and his dog knows are COMPLETELY USELESS. As Allison Pearson says in her excellent comment piece in today’s Telegraph, “anything other than tight-fitting, surgical-grade masks are utterly pointless – like trying to stop a bullet with a chain-link fence”. I mean, the evidence that the gold-standard N95 masks are effective in non-healthcare settings is threadbare at best – and they have to be disposed of after a single use. There is literally no evidence that re-usable cloth masks are effective in community settings. None. It’s like wearing a tin foil hat in case you get struck by lightening – an ineffective way to protect yourself from an almost non-existent risk. What has become of us?

I was busy trying to debunk this nonsense yesterday, doing an interview on TalkRadio with Mark Dolan and Iain Dale on LBC, and writing a piece for the Telegraph entitled “Mandatory masks are a matter of politics, not public health“.

Face nappies were not the main focus of my ire in that article, but the absurd report by the Academy of Medical Sciences that just happened to be published on exactly the same day the Government announced it would be making masks mandatory.

It cannot be a coincidence that on the day the Government announces that face coverings in shops will be mandatory from 24 July, a group of scientists led by Sir Patrick Vallance has issued a dire warning about the risk of a ‘second wave’ unless we “get on top of things”.

According to this group of 37 scientists from the Academy of Medical Sciences, 119,000 people will die from COVID-19 in hospital this winter. In fact, the death toll could be even higher, they warn, because they haven’t factored in likely deaths in care homes. In the executive summary, the list of steps we need to take to “get on top of things” includes “wearing face coverings in settings where physical distancing is not possible”, i.e. shops. You don’t have to be David Icke to wonder if there are signs of collusion here.

Before getting into the shortcomings of this report, I allow that its 37 authors are probably right about one thing: the increase in demand for hospital care this winter resulting from all those patients turned away by the NHS this spring.

Hospitals suspended all surgery that wasn’t “essential” during the crisis – due to fears of “the surge” – which means that millions of scheduled operations have been cancelled in the last four months, as well as screening programmes and outpatient care. Consequently, the NHS will be dealing with a huge backlog of patients this winter as a result of unnecessarily turning all those people away this spring. The Academy of Medical Sciences predicts hospital waiting lists could increase from 4.2 million to 10 million by the end of the year.

The rest of the report, though, is the usual scaremongering balls. For one thing, the scientists assume that between 90 and 95% of the UK population hasn’t yet been exposed to the virus, based on the ONS’s seroprevalence surveys. But as I was at pains to point out in my exchange with Dr Adam Rutherford on Monday, just because a person has no detectable IgG antibodies doesn’t mean they haven’t come into contact with SARS-CoV-2 or, if they haven’t, that they’ll be completely defenceless when they are. In other words, the boffins haven’t taken account of T-cell mediated immunity, which significantly lowers the percentage of the population that’s still vulnerable to the disease. Indeed, we may have achieved herd immunity by the time winter is upon us. (Australia is doing pretty well, in spite of it being winter there.)

Then there’s the fact that the authors of the report have over-estimated the infection fatality rate, which they put at 1.1%. The CDC’s recent “best estimate” was a quarter of that, and it will likely fall even further.

And finally, Sir Patric Vallance’s merry men have inserted a ludicrously pessimistic assumption about the infection fatality rate in the absence of the soul-destroying precautions they’re urging us to take, such as wearing face nappies in supermarkets.

The scientists’ “reasonable worst case scenario” assumes the reproduction rate of the virus, absent special measures, will be 1.7, meaning that 10 people that are infectious with COVID-19 will go on to infect a further 17. But according to Professor Carl Heneghan and others, the R number had fallen to below one in the week leading up to the full lockdown on March 23 because the more modest social distancing measures that had been introduced already, which did not include mandatory face coverings, were effective. So why have these 37 experts assumed that the same more modest measures would mean the R number climbing to 1.7 this winter?

My conclusion is that these “experts” are a group of tame lapdogs doing the bidding of their political masters.

I’m afraid that this report looks suspiciously like a propaganda exercise to try and make compulsory face nappies appear more reasonable. The scientists are right about the stress that’s likely to be placed on the NHS this winter from the backlog of patients who weren’t able to access hospital care this spring. But they would do well to remember that the reason those patients were turned away was because of apocalyptic predictions about the “surge” in demand for critical care that turned out to be wildly inaccurate. Let’s not repeat that mistake.

But I regret to say I missed something which a lecturer in mechanical engineering has flagged up to me. Which is that the report’s authors haven’t created their own model, but have relied on the notoriously flawed Imperial College model. Yup, their 119,000 number has been spat out by the same gimcrack computer model held together with sellotape and chewing gum that produced the 510,000 figure back in March.

My eagle-eyed informant writes:

Ignoring appropriate academic practice, the report’s authors are not transparent about how the modelling was carried out. Following up references 42 and 46 on p.12 reveals that it is the Imperial College model, and Ferguson appears in the acknowledgements. A casual reader might assume that the report team did the modelling. They are claiming that “The modelling estimates 119,900… hospital deaths between September 2020 and June 2021” . Have these people learned nothing? Prediction 510k (or 250k, depending), 45k actual (for “with covid” deaths). To suggest that the number of deaths likely to occur is nearly three times greater than shoving the infectious elderly back into care homes is unfathomable. I assume that hospitals will not be repeating that calamity.

Sartre famously said “hell is other people”, but I think I can improve on that. Hell is exactly the same people being wheeled out to provide cover every time the Government wants to take away another of our liberties.

Stop Press: I will keep you posted about the below, spotted on Twitter earlier.

Sceptic of the Week

Sir Desmond Swayne: Not all heroes wear masks

One voice spoke for the nation in the House of Commons yesterday – or, rather, that tiny part of it that is sceptical. And that man was Sir Desmond Swayne, Conservative MP for New Forest West.

“Nothing would make me less likely to go shopping, than the thought of having to mask up!” he bellowed across the chamber when Matt Hancock made his announcement.

I’ll leave it to Michael Deacon, the Telegraph‘s parliamentary sketch writer, to tell the rest.

He was aflame with indignation. It was quite out of character. Normally in the Commons Sir Desmond prides himself on his calm concision, challenging himself to ask questions in the fewest words possible. His record is believed to be three, which he set in May 2018 following a promise by the then Transport Secretary to pursue a “digital railway strategy”. Sir Desmond’s question, in full, was: “What is it?”

Here, however, he was so enraged that he flung brevity to the wind. This was no time for holding back. An Englishman’s face, after all, was his castle.

“Was this consultation with the police force,” he fumed, “and in particular with the chief constable of Hampshire? For it is she who will have to enforce this monstrous imposition” – he spat out this phrase as if it were a maggot in a mouthful of apple – “this monstrous imposition against myself, and a number of outraged and reluctant constituents!”

Competition to Find Best Riposte to Crazy Masked Lady

A reader has been in touch with an interesting brain teaser:

I’ve just received a stern telling off for not wearing a mask on the tube by a crazy masked lady with a posh voice telling me she’s lost six (I tell you six!) family members to the “virus”. I must admit I was left a bit lost for words but obviously still mask free. What should my response have been?!

Please email your answers to me here. I’ll publish the best tomorrow.

No Mask Enforcement in Supermarkets

Got an encouraging message from a reader who works for a high street supermarket chain.

This morning (14/07) we were told that employees would not be expected to wear face coverings, but customers would. However, we should also wait for further advice from head office.

This afternoon, further advice came. The present position is that we have been told “under no circumstances to try and enforce this rule on customers and put ourselves at risk”.

I think everyone should be encouraged that enforcement may not occur at all. Certainly, most of my colleagues have said they won’t be wearing one.

One in the Eye for Pravda

The new-look Radio Times

Good spot from regular Lockdown Sceptics contributor Guy de la Bédoyère yesterday morning:

The BBC’s self-appointed role as the Government’s Pravda slightly backfired this morning when Naga Munchetty interviewed the virologist Professor Jonathan Ball of the University of Nottingham at about half past eight. Her opening, loaded and leading, question was: “Can you explain why (her emphasis) it is important that face coverings are worn in particular environments such as shops and public transport?”

Ball obligingly explained the theory but went on… “the reality is that we know face coverings trap large droplets and therefore if somebody coughs or sneezes it will reduce the chances of them spreading those droplets but unfortunately when people go about their daily lives they often touch those masks; if they are infected they’ll contaminate their hands and they’ll go on to contaminate surfaces so I think that it’s very important everybody understands that the evidence for mask wearing isn’t great but also it may come with hidden risks that they may help spread the virus.”

As ever the Government trope that somehow scientific opinion is a unitary force was exposed once more as nonsense. So now we face 100 quid fines for wearing things that might, in one scientist’s view at least, actually have the potential to extend the virus’s reach.

What’s next then? Street corner marshalls accosting shoppers to inspect masks and how often they’ve been cleaned? Hazmat suits? Why not just dynamite every high street in the country to protect people from shops altogether?

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 Re-Opened

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 re-opened, 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. Now that non-essential shops have re-opened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. As of July 4th, many of them have re-opened too, but not all. 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 – particularly if they’re not insisting on face masks! Don’t worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

Note to the Good Folks Below the Line

I enjoy reading all your comments and I’m glad I’ve created a “safe space” for lockdown sceptics to share their frustrations and keep each other’s spirits up. But please don’t copy and paste whole articles from papers that are behind paywalls in the comments. I work for some of those papers and if they don’t charge for premium content they won’t survive.

I know it becomes difficult to navigate the comment threads after 24 hours. One alternative to continuing to post below my updates is to move to the forum on Lockdown Truth. The creator of that site has extended a warm welcome to everyone here (and he’s launching a crowdfunder to mount a legal challenge against the face mask edict which you can read about here).

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 48 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It usually takes me several hours to do these updates, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here. I’ll try and get another update done soon.

And Finally…

Arise, Sir Dellers

For those miscreants who haven’t yet subscribed, here’s a link to the latest episode of London Calling, mine and James Delingpole’s weekly podcast. This week we discuss Prince Harry’s hostage video, my looming holiday in Italy and the horror – the absolute horror! – of mandatory face masks.

Canaries in the Mine: A Second Update

by Rudolph Kalveks

For several weeks now, I have been tracking the fate of the “Canaries in the Mine” to see what the Coronavirus death statistics (courtesy of Worldometer) can tell us about the progress of the epidemic in the UK, along with a selection of other countries.

The method used is to fit the evolving historic death statistics to a simple Susceptible Infected Recovered/Resolved (“SIR” ) epidemiological model, as explained in the first article in this series. This data fitting exercise identifies four essential parameters that govern an archetypal epidemic in a given country or region. These correspond to the early rate of spread of infections, the rate at which infected individuals recover (or expire), the size of the (fatally) susceptible sub-population, and the date at which the epidemic starts.

Historic death statistics are augmented daily, and so we should not generally expect the parameters obtained from such a data fitting exercise to remain constant over time. The circumstances where the parameters do remain stable are those where the new death statistics match those extrapolated from the historic statistics under the simple model. This requires (i) that an epidemic conform to a simple SIR profile, (ii) that there is no material change in the combined effects of the many surrounding factors that influence the parameters of the SIR model (such as inherent population characteristics, nature of the pathogen, healthcare systems, social structure, etc.), and (iii) that there is sufficient historic data about the epidemic for the simple SIR model parameters to be well determined.

We can assess the extent to which the profile of an epidemic is stable by tracking these parameters. This in turn can provide data driven insights about the effects of historic or prospective government policy decisions.

Suppose we take as a “Null Hypothesis” the suggestion that the profile of a Coronavirus epidemic in a country is determined by the aforementioned surrounding factors and its early dynamics, so that its SIR model parameters are settled, once it has reached a late stage. Does the historic data for the UK epidemic fit with or disprove such a Null Hypothesis? And what does the data tell us about the UK experience compared with other countries?

The parameters, calculated as above, for simple SIR country models based on Worldometer statistics up to July 7 are set out in Table 1. As previously, various graphics illustrating (i) the fit of the model with the data, (ii) the three model sub-populations and (iii) the R values implied by the model are shown in Figures 1 to 3 below.

Table 1. Key Statistics for Selected Country Models (July 7, 2020).
Doubling days = natural log(2) / alpha. Half-life = natural log(2) / beta. R0=alpha/beta. Gamma = potentially fatally susceptible population.

Importantly, we can contrast these parameters with those calculated (and published here) a month ago, based on Worldometer statistics up to June 7, as set out in Table 2.

Table 2. Key Statistics for Selected Country Models (June 7, 2020).

It can be seen from a comparison of Tables 1 and 2 that in the main European countries (Spain, France, UK, Italy, Germany) and in the USA, the simple SIR models have been stable and their parameters have not changed significantly over the last month, despite the partial relaxation of lockdowns. These countries were amongst the first to be hit by the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic and it appears that they have been the first to reach the late stages of their epidemics. Their parameters for doubling periods (alpha) and recovery half-lives (beta) remain within a few percent of their earlier values. Importantly, if we consider the parameters (gamma) for their fatally susceptible sub-populations, the values have shifted by less than 2%. In Sweden, intriguingly, the outlook appears to be for an 8% lower fatally susceptible sub-population than a month ago – although this is perhaps just data noise following historic data revisions during June.

Thus, in Europe and in the USA, the Null Hypothesis (that each country is in the later stages of an archetypal SIR epidemic governed by fixed parameters) has held surprisingly well over the last month – within a small variation of 1-2% in term of the size of the fatally susceptible sub-populations. It appears that the partial relaxations of lockdown policies and the well-publicised breaches of lockdown restrictions have not had a material adverse effect, and there has not been any material “second wave”.

The situations of countries such as Brazil, India and S.Africa (amongst others worldwide) are different, since the new data has altered the best-fit parameters for their epidemics. The infection has spread much more slowly (as evident in longer early stage doubling periods) and the epidemics have not yet formed clear peaks (as evident in their long modelled infection half-lives). These epidemics are insufficiently well advanced for the simple SIR model parameters to have stabilised, and it would be premature to take the parameters for their fatally susceptible populations as forecasts. We can expect their simple SIR model parameters to continue to evolve in response to new data.

In Australia, a strict lockdown including inbound travel restrictions was implemented early in the epidemic, with the result that it has not penetrated far into the population. Indeed, as can be seen from Figure 2, the simple SIR model identifies that a proportion of the population has so far remained unexposed. Paradoxically, by virtue of the success of the Australian lockdown, it may be premature to take the parameters for the fatally susceptible sub-populations as a forecast for the outcome when travel restrictions are eventually relaxed.

Importantly, across all countries, the SIR model parameters for fatally susceptible populations remain of the order of 0.1% or less of general populations. This calls into question the assumption of the infection fatality rate (“IFR”) in the region of 0.9% that continues to be used by the UK government’s model builders [1]. Other epidemiologists assess the situation differently. Based on a review of seroprevalence studies from various countries worldwide, a recent preprint by Prof. Ioannidis at Stanford [2] estimates country/regional IFRs for Coronavirus in a wide range from only 0.02% up to 0.86%, with a median value of 0.25% (in line with US CDC estimates). The preprint also notes, “an unknown proportion of people may have handled the virus using immune mechanisms (…) that did not generate any serum antibodies”. Thus, the sizes of susceptible populations may be lower than those implied by IFRs estimated from seroprevalence, and could be consistent with the magnitudes of the fatally susceptible populations (gamma) tabulated herein.

Notwithstanding that populations are not homogeneous, so that there may remain local groups of vulnerable individuals who may continue to benefit from continued sheltering, the simple message for UK policymakers is that the historic data from the Coronavirus pandemic does not at present provide evidence to support the continuation of substantial restrictions on the normal functioning of our society and economy.

[1] Flaxman, S., Mishra, S., Gandy, A., Unwin, H.J.T., Mellan, T.A., Coupland, H., Whittaker, C., Zhu, H., Berah, T., Eaton, J.W. and Monod, M., 2020. Estimating the effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19 in Europe. Nature, pp.1-8.

[2] Ioannidis, J., 2020. The infection fatality rate of COVID-19 inferred from seroprevalence data. medRxiv.

Figure 1. Model Fit with Data.
The orange data points are cumulative deaths, as reported daily by Worldometer, starting from the first recorded death until July 7, 2020. The solid curves represent the minimal SIR model. Calculations carried out using Mathematica.

Figure 2. Model Sub-Populations
The three SIR model sub-populations are Susceptible (blue), Infected (orange) and Resolved (green). The vertical scale counts cumulative deaths. The horizontal scale counts days from the first recorded death, with the vertical red line indicating the most recent data (July 7, 2020). Calculations carried out using Mathematica.

Figure 3. Model Epidemiological R.
The horizontal scale counts days from the first recorded death, with the vertical red line indicating the most recent data (July 7, 2020). Calculations carried out using Mathematica.

Dr Rudolph Kalveks is a retired executive. His PhD was in theoretical physics.

Latest News

What on earth does the Government think it’s doing? What possible reason is there for reimposing a full lockdown on Leicester? In an act of sheer lunacy, Matt Hancock announced this morning that non-essential shops have been told to close today and schools asked to shut their doors to the majority of children from Thursday. Pubs, restaurants and hair salons that have been gearing up to re-open on Saturday have now been told to remain closed.

The rationale, needless to say, is that Leicester has seen a “surge” in cases, with over 900 new cases in the past two weeks. Confusion surrounded this figure since the published data for Leicester recorded just 80 new positive tests between June 13th and 26th. But Hancock now says there were in fact 944.

How do we know the increase in cases isn’t simply an artefact of increased testing in Leicester? We don’t, obviously. The 80 figure is based on Pillar 1 data, which are from tests done in hospitals; the 944 figure is based on Pillar 2 data, which are from tests done at Government centres or at home and processed by commercial labs. But surely the hospital data are more reliable than the community data – although these are all PCR tests and they’re all notoriously unreliable (see this Off-Guardian piece). And if the number of new cases being discovered by hospitals is low that suggests there isn’t a “surge” in new cases in the community. Deaths, too, are low, although, to be fair, if the alleged rise in cases has only happened since June 13th you wouldn’t expect to see any corresponding rise in deaths yet. On June 29th, only two people died from COVID-19 in the whole of the Midlands. According to the FT, the rise in infections is mainly among younger people (as it is in southern and southwestern US states) which means we’re unlikely to see any corresponding rise in deaths.

Let’s suppose the Pillar 2 data are accurate and there have been 944 new cases in Leicester between June 13th and 26th. That’s an average of 472 new cases/week. Assuming an infection fatality rate of ~0.25% (almost certainly an over-estimate), that means ~1 person/week will die if the infection rate remains where it is. And even that’s over-egging it, given that a majority of the new cases are among younger people.

Is it really worth reimposing a lockdown on Leicester to prevent one person/week from dying? I looked at the NHS England data for hospital deaths and of the five people who died from coronavirus on June 29th four were 80+ years’ old.

So the people of Leicester are being asked to close schools, shut non-essential shops and keep their pubs, restaurants and hair salons shuttered for two more weeks in order to prevent the deaths of two people aged 80+? Setting aside the civil liberties argument, is Matt Hancock confident that more than one person per week won’t die as a result of reimposing the lockdown? I’m thinking of cancer operations being postponed, the increased risk of suicide and domestic violence, and elderly people who may die of thirst or starvation because their relatives aren’t allowed to visit them.

What an absolute shower this Government is. If I was the Mayor of Leicester, I’d just point-blank refuse to comply. This report on Sky says the Leicester lockdown has “legal underpinning” which sounds like a mealy-mouthed way of saying its not legally enforceable.

Hector Drummond’s Graph

There’s a good piece in Hector Drummond Magazine entitled “This Is What We Shot Ourselves in the Foot For“. Hector has plotted the ONS’s figures for all-cause mortality in England and Wales dating back to 1900 on a graph and it shows a pretty modest uptick in 2020. For graphing purposes, he assumes that the number will be the five-year average for 2015-19 (531,355) + total Covid deaths. However, as he says, that’s probably an overestimate since some of the people who’ve succumbed to coronavirus would have died anyway this year. He’s also taken total Covid deaths for the UK (42,462), not England and Wales, so that too means the uptick is higher than it will be. Nonetheless, it’s still a pretty meagre increase. He concludes:

So: no gigantic, bowel-emptying spike in 2020. No jaw-dropping upwards vertical rocket-ship to match those jaw-dropping downward vertical cliffs we saw with the economic data. Just a tiny little uptick, like many other little upticks in there, indistinguishable from random noise. If you asked someone in the future who was unacquainted with the era to point to where the once-in-a-century medical disaster was, they would have no chance of picking it out.

Far from being a once-in-a-century pandemic, COVID-19 turned out to be a bad flu. We shut down the world for a bad flu. We shut down the world despite living in the safest era in the whole of history.

ONS Says All-Cause Deaths Now Below Five-Year Average

Deaths in England and Wales

Today’s data release from the ONS for the w/e June 19th shows all-cause mortality has dropped below the five-year average. This is in addition to Week 23 having the lowest Covid death toll for 13 weeks (623).

A total of 9,339 people died of any cause in the w/e June 19th, down from an average of 9,404 for the same week over the past five years. This bears out Hector Drummond’s suspicion (see above) that the total Covid death toll for 2020 is likely to be lower than the five-year average + those who’ve died from Covid.

As one reader points out:

Since it’s inconceivable and impossible that without COVID-19 being a factor the average death figures would have been below average for Week 23 because of some magical and coincidental reduction in other causes of death, then that leaves only one conclusion, viz. that many people who have died of (or “with”) coronavirus in the UK would have done so this year anyway.

In the movie Aliens, Ripley tells Newt, the small girl and only survivor of the deserted space colony, of all the precautions she and the marines will take to protect Newt against the aliens.

Newt says: “It won’t make any difference.”

I wonder what Newt would say if you told her that, from tomorrow, we’ll have been locked in our homes for 100 days?

“It won’t make any difference.”

Rate of Decline Flattening. Oh No! Mother!

Amusing comment in the Guardian on this graph just released by Downing Street showing the declining daily death tolls:

Downing Street has updated its daily dashboard with the latest coronavirus figures. These are UK figures. Here is the graph showing the number of daily deaths. It is still going down, but now the rate of decline is flattening.

Well, yes. The rate of decline is flattening. That’s what happens when the number approaches zero. When it actually gets to zero – next week? – expect the Guardian run a story saying: “Rate of Decline In COVID-19 Deaths Worryingly Flat.”

Price Fixing

Why is the Government telling pharmacies what price to put on hand sanitiser products and face masks? Has it lost its faith in the market to price those items fairly? A reader writes:

Another nail in our freedoms: the Competition and Markets Authority and the General Pharmaceutical Council have threatened pharmacies with fines if they sold face masks and hand sanitiser at high prices. Have these two organisations heard that in a free enterprise market economy prices are not fixed by officialdom but float subject to supply and demand, the exception being where there is an abuse of a monopoly? As far as I am aware, there are multiple manufacturers and suppliers of these products, which are available in supermarkets and on-line as well as in pharmacies. Why are we allowing our freedom to be infringed by such bureaucrats?

Alternative Poem

Excellent alternative to the ghastly propaganda poem I published in the last Lockdown Sceptics update. This one is by Annie, one of the best commenters below the line.

POEM, TO BE LEARNED BY HEART BY ALL CHILDREN WHOSE PARENTS ARE NOT ZOMBIES

By Annie, Covipoet Laureate and Composer of Deathless Verse for All Occasions (fee scale sent on request)

There was a boy called Johnny
Who as a general rule
Lived a normal, quiet existence
Between home and play and school.

But when the lad was seven
His whole life turned to bad:
Some people caught a flu germ
And all the world went mad.

They took our little Johnny
And every other kid,
And slammed them in a dungeon
And then screwed down the lid.

Johnny went into the garden
But the policemen came and said
There was virus in the garden
And our John would soon be dead.

Mummy took him to the playground,
But all the slides and swings
Had hazard tape all round them
And other dreadful things.

His granny came to see him
Most secretly one day,
But the next-door neighbour dobbed them
And the police dragged her away.

John’s mummy said the police were right,
And Johnny he should not
Even dream of hugging granny
Or she’d drop dead on the spot.

When mummy went out shopping
She put a bandage round her head
It made her look so monstrous
Johnny hid under his bed.

Then she put a mask on Johnny
And to our lad it seemed
That mask was going to choke him,
And he screamed and screamed and screamed.

Then Johnny got into his bed
And turned to face the wall
And it makes no difference what they do,
He won’t come out at all.

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

Two suggestions today: “Beyond Belief” by Elvis Costello and “It’s Time to Get Away” by LCD Soundsystem.

Small Businesses That Have Re-opened

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 re-opened, 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. Now that non-essential shops have re-opened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. 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. Don’t worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

Note to the Good Folk Below the Line

I enjoy reading all your comments and I’m glad I’ve created a “safe space” for lockdown sceptics to share their frustrations and keep each other’s spirits up. But please don’t copy and paste whole articles from papers that are behind paywalls in the comments. I work for some of those papers and if they don’t charge for premium content they won’t survive.

And while I’ve got you, any holiday tips? Mrs Young thinks Greece is too risky – sensible, given that they’ve just extended their quarantine for another two weeks. We’re now looking at Italy, Austria and Switzerland, but can go further afield. All tips gratefully received. The little male Youngs are keen on a swimming pool that’s actually open and Mrs Young is happy with anything sunny provided she doesn’t have to cook. Miss Young (16) would ideally like to be near a beach.

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 usually takes me several hours to do these updates, along with everything else, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here. (Please don’t email me at any other address.) I’ll try and get another update done on Thursday.

And Finally…

I was interviewed by Stephen Knight, otherwise known as Godless Spellchecker, for his YouTube channel on Monday. We were supposed to be talking about the Free Speech Union, but I got a bit sidetracked when he asked about Lockdown Sceptics and launched into an epic rant against the Government.

Worth watching in full, obviously.

And, for the die-hard fans, there’s always London Calling, the weekly podcast with James Delingpole and me. Quite a lively one this week, with both of us getting steamed up about Britain and America’s Maoist moment.

Lockdown Sceptics

Bournemouth beach earlier today. Looks like the British public have decided lockdown is over

Lockdown is over as far as the British public is concerned. At least, it is when it’s the hottest day of the year with temperatures peaking at 33.3C, as they did today. Half a million people descended on the Dorset coastline, according to the Times, creating a “major incident”.

The council said it had issued 558 parking fines in 24 hours and dealt with congested roads into the early hours this morning. With campsites still closed, large numbers of people pitched camp illegally.

In the area between Bournemouth’s piers eight tonnes of waste were collected yesterday on the second collection run of the day. This morning, a further 33 tonnes of waste were removed along the full stretch of coastline.

The Daily Mail has more.

A major incident was declared in Bournemouth today after thousands of people flocked to Britain’s beaches, leaving the emergency services “stretched to the absolute hilt” on the second hottest day of the year in a row.

Furious council bosses said they were “appalled” at the scenes on the Dorset coast, blasting the “irresponsible behaviour and actions of so many people” as temperatures hit 91.9F (33.3C) in southern England this afternoon.

Police desperately urged people to “stay away” and “think twice before heading to the area”, while Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council said 558 parking enforcement fines had been issued – the highest on record.

There’s an easy solution to this chaos, Boris.

Abandon the ridiculous, completely pointless policy of forcing people who return from holidays abroad to quarantine themselves for two weeks.

Victory for Stu Peters

The Free Speech Union has scored a significant victory. At the beginning of the month, Stu Peters, a Manx Radio presenter, got into a heated discussion with a caller on a late-night phone-in show about the BLM protests in which he challenged the idea that he’d received special treatment because of the colour of his skin. The following day, the Isle of Man Creamery withdrew its sponsorship of his show and Manx Radio suspended him and referred the matter to the Communications Commission, the IOM equivalent of Ofcom.

Stu is a member of the Free Speech Union and we wrote to the Commission, pointing out that he was simply exercising his right to free speech, as enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and nothing he said could be construed as remotely racist. (You can read that letter here.) We concluded by asking the Commission to exonerate him.

Well, yesterday the Commission did precisely that. You can read the full decision notice here, but the gist of it is that Stu didn’t breach the IOM’s Programme Code. After examining all the evidence, the regulator said: “Whilst issues surrounding race can be an emotive matter, the debate in question was conducted in a fair and measured way, and for the most part, in a calm and open manner.”

The Commission noted that some of the language in the show – such as a caller using the word “coloured”, which Stu didn’t correct – was “insensitive”. But this wasn’t a reason to reprimand the presenter.

This must also be balanced against the provisions for freedom of expression in both the Code and the relevant Human Rights legislation which is clear that people are free to hold and express opinion without interference by public authority regardless of frontiers.

Ofcom, take note.

Chalk this one up to common sense. But there are many more battles to be fought in the War against Cancel Culture so please do contribute to the Free Speech Union’s Litigation Fund so we can stand up for people’s speech rights in the court.

Unlocked

A new organisation has been launched this week called Unlocked. It’s a group of people from all walks of life – some of them ex-Brexit Party MEPs, but it’s a broad church – who want life to return to normal as soon as possible.

Here’s what it says on the website:

It’s year zero. Not since the second world war have we faced a crisis like Covid-19 and the lockdown. From businesses that can’t open, to farmers who can’t bring in the harvest, from care-workers on zero hours contracts, to doctors who can’t get PPE. Share your big problem with us, so we can reach out to the country for pioneering solutions that unlock the UK’s potential.

I’ve a feeling we’re going to be hearing a lot more from this group. Sign-up here to get on board early.

It’s Vanished Into Air. Into Thin Air

Where’s that pesky virus gone?

I’ve got a piece in the Telegraph today predicting there will be no “second wave”. To be honest, I’m doubtful there’s been a “first wave” – all-cause mortality was only 7.3% above the five-year average in the w/e June 5th and it remains to be seen whether total deaths in 2020 will be above the five-year average. But, as Michael Levitt has pointed out, no one’s reputation suffers if they overestimate the death toll from a new virus (just look at Neil Ferguson); they only get pilloried if they underestimate it. So if even one person dies from COVID-19 in October, I expect George Monbiot will link to this article and demand that I be kicked out of the Honourable Company of Journalists. (Not that there is such a thing – but if there was I would surely have been kicked out already).

Here are the first four paragraphs:

Across the United Kingdom, epidemiologists, public health officials and local bureaucrats are stamping their feet and gnashing their teeth. They’re furious about the fact that daily deaths from COVID-19 are continuing to decline at a precipitous rate. Contrary to their dire warnings, the easing of lockdown restrictions hasn’t led to an uptick in the rate of infection. The much ballyhooed ‘second spike’ has refused to materialise. The virus has all but disappeared.

The extent to which COVID-19 has vanished isn’t immediately apparent from the figures. The death tolls announced each day refer to all those deaths involving coronavirus that have been ‘registered’ in the last 24 hours. That includes people who died weeks ago – sometimes months ago – but whose paperwork has only just been completed. If you look instead at the number of actual deaths in English hospitals in the last 24 hours, that gives a clearer picture. The number on June 23 was four – all in the north west. Fewer than 20 died in London hospitals in the past week. No one died on Tuesday.

The number of deaths involving coronavirus is a better yardstick than the number of infections, partly because more and more people are being tested each day, and partly because the test itself isn’t very reliable. There is a gold-plated antibody test you can have done by a company called Pyser that employs ex-Army medics and operates out of the Honourable Artillery Company in the City of London. I took one last week and tested positive.

But the PCR test – which tells you whether you’ve got it, not whether you’ve had it – throws up a lot of false positives. To give you an idea of how unreliable it is, take this announcement by Norway’s Institute of Public health last month. “Given today’s contagion situation in Norway, health professionals must test around 12,000 random people to find one positive case of Covid-19,” it said. “In such a selection, there will be about 15 positive test responses, but 14 of these will be false positives.”

Worth reading in full, obviously.

More Evidence That There’s no ‘Second Wave’

In case there’s any doubt about the easing of lockdown restrictions not leading to a second wave, I’m publishing an update today by Dr Rudolph Kalveks, the theoretical physicist who crunched the Covid data for us last week. He’s looked at the data for the last couple of weeks and reached the same conclusion as me: no second wave.

In conclusion, although the epidemics are obviously further progressed, over the last two weeks there has been no signal for any material change in the shape of the epidemic SIR model curves in Europe, the USA and Australia. Thus, the relaxation of lockdowns (well documented elsewhere) has so far had no discernible impact on the recovery from the epidemic in these countries.

This undermines the analysis by Flaxman et al (published June 8th in Nature) that continues to predict a tenfold increase in the population at risk from the relaxation of lockdown restrictions.

Worth reading in full.

Two Critiques of the Flaxman et al Paper in Nature

“As you can see, my spermatozoa are very fast swimmers.”

I’m able to bring you not one but two critiques of the Flaxman et al in Nature – the June 8th paper by Imperial College’s modelling team claiming the lockdowns in 11 Europe countries (including, weirdly, Sweden) had saved three million lives. This is the paper I blogged about here and here a couple of weeks ago.

First off is this critique by the independent researcher Nic Lewis. It’s quite dense and not readily accessible to non-specialists, but it looks pretty devastating to my layman’s eye. Here is his conclusion:

First and foremost, the failure of Flaxman et al.’s model to consider other possible causes apart from NPI of the large reductions in COVID-19 transmission that have occurred makes it conclusions as to the overall effect of NPI unscientific and unsupportable. That is because the model is bound to find that NPI together account for the entire reduction in transmission that has evidently occurred.

Secondly, their finding that almost all the large reductions in transmission that the model infers occurred were due to lockdowns, with other interventions having almost no effect, has been shown to be unsupportable, for two reasons:

* the prior distribution that they used for the strength of NPI effects is hugely biased towards finding that most interventions had essentially zero effect on transmission, with almost the entire reduction being caused by just one or two NPI.

* the relative strength of different interventions inferred by the model is extremely sensitive to the assumptions made regarding the average delay from infection to death, and to a lesser extent to whether self isolation and social distancing are taken to exert their full strength immediately upon implementation or are phased in over a few days.

It seems likely that the inferred relative strengths of the various NPIs are also highly sensitive to other assumptions made by Flaxman et al., and to structural features of their model. For instance, their assumption that the effect of different interventions on transmission is multiplicative rather than additive will have affected the estimated relative strengths of different types of NPI, maybe substantially so. The basic problem is that simply knowing the dates of implementation of the various NPI in each country does not provide sufficient information to enable robust estimation of their relative effects on transmission, given the many sources of uncertainty and the differences in multiple regards between the various countries.

Critique number two is by two German academics, Stefan Homburg and Christof Kuhbandner – “Comment on Flaxman et al. (2020, Nature: The illusory effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19 in Europe“.

This one is a bit more accessible. Here’s the introductory paragraph:

Flaxman et al. infer that non-pharmaceutical interventions conducted by several European countries considerably reduced effective reproduction numbers and saved millions of lives. We show that their method is ill-conceived and that the alleged effects are artefacts. Moreover, we demonstrate that the United Kingdom’s lockdown was both superfluous and ineffective.

Here’s what they have to say about Sweden (which is more or less what I said in my second critique of the paper):

Our final remark regards Sweden, the only country in the dataset that refrained from strong measures, but has lower corona deaths per capita than Belgium, Italy, Spain, or the United Kingdom. In the absence of a lockdown, but with an effective reproduction number that declined in the usual fashion, Flaxman et al. attribute the sudden decline in Sweden’s R(t) on March 27th almost entirely to banning of public events, i.e., to a NPI that they found ineffective in all other countries. This inconsistency underlines our contention that the results of Flaxman et al. are artefacts of an inappropriate model.

Both Lewis’s critique and the Homburgl/Kuhbandner comment are worth reading in full.

Searing, Merciless Critique of Lockdowns

A reader has flagged up a brilliant paper by Carlo Caduff, an academic at King’s College London, in a journal called Medical Anthropology Quarterly. It’s entitled “What Went Wrong: Corona and the World After the Full Stop“. It’s a searing, merciless critique of the global lockdowns. Here’s a taster from Part III: Towards Another Politics of Life.

The story of how the Chinese approach became a model for generic lockdowns in the Global North and then exported to countries in the Global South is important to note, particularly considering the dramatic consequences for millions of people struggling to survive without any source of income. Ironically, these extremely restrictive lockdowns were sometimes demanded by people eager to criticize the authoritarianism of the Chinese state. Across the world, the pandemic unleashed authoritarian longings in democratic societies allowing governments to seize the opportunity, create states of exception and push political agendas. Commentators have presented the pandemic as a chance for the West to learn authoritarianism from the East. This pandemic risks teaching people to love power and call for its meticulous application.

As a result of the unforeseeable social, political and economic consequences of today’s sweeping measures, governments across the world have launched record “stimulus” bills costing trillions of dollars, pounds, pesos, rand and rupees. Earmarked predominantly for individuals and businesses, these historic emergency relief bills are pumping staggering amounts of money into the economy, but ironically they are not intended to strengthen the public health infrastructure or improve medical care. The trillions that governments are spending now as “stimulus” packages surpass even those of the 2008 financial crisis and will need to be paid for somehow. Today there is a massive global recession in the making. If austerity policies of the past are at the root of the current crisis with overwhelmed healthcare systems in some countries, the rapidly rising public debt is creating the perfect conditions for more austerity in the future. The pandemic response will have major implications for the public funding of education, welfare, social security, environment and health in the future.

If you think something good will come out of this crisis, you should think again.

New Essay by by Guy de la Bédoyère

Our old friend Guy de la Bédoyère has written a new essay for Lockdown Sceptics. Entitled “The False Choice“, it nails the lie that we have to choose between saving lives and saving the economy, between people and profits. As Guy points out, the two are completely co-dependent and not in any sense in opposition to each other.

Most people in Britain seem to have forgotten that the NHS only exists because we have, or had, one of the largest economies in the world. Without a thriving economy the future can only be one of unemployment, destitution, deprivation and want. And we all know what catastrophic health consequences of all those would be.

The reality is that if we tell ourselves to prevent the so-called second wave at all costs, by extending the destructive effects of the lockdown further and for longer, then the health and economic crisis that will follow and echo down for generations, not just here but across the world, will be one we will be far less able to do anything about. Most people in Britain seem to have forgotten that the NHS only exists because we have, or had, one of the largest economies in the world. Without a thriving economy the future can only be one of unemployment, destitution, deprivation and want. And we all know what catastrophic health consequences of all those would be.

That economy has enabled us not only to spare huge numbers of productive young people to work in that health service, rather than in making or generating wealth, but also to appropriate or entice others from around the world to work here with them. The result is that around 1.5 million people work in the NHS which is around three percent of the working population. To those we can add many more involved in healthcare. They spend much of their time dealing with an economically unproductive part of the population, primarily the elderly and vulnerable. Being able to do so and living in a society which values that is part of being civilized.

The same applies to education. Since 1944 there has been universal state education available in this country. It’s far from perfect but it means the vast majority of children emerge from school literate and able to take part in the social, cultural and economic life of this country. Yet, as a result of the disastrously blinkered scientific advice that has driven this crisis we have apparently been prepared to condemn a whole generation of children to compromised education and all the social, health and economic risks we know that will entail. No wonder then that in the Mirror of June 24th Polly Hudson wrote about the shameful betrayal of a generation.

Like mass education, the NHS is a fabulous luxury, a superb and enviable benefit of living in an economically powerful nation. It’s also a privilege. We are extremely fortunate to have it. But the price is massive and it means there is no point in ‘protecting the NHS’ if the result is that we end up being unable to afford it thanks to the economic Armageddon of lockdown. In the end the only way any disease is controlled is through herd immunity, gained either by letting the disease run its course or by developing a vaccine.

The choice we face is not a simplistic one between ‘health’ on one hand and ‘the economy’ on the other. By believing that it was or still is, the result has been to take this country and many others to the point where the very health crisis the lockdown was supposed to prevent is now facing us on a far larger scale. It’s time to get real and stop playing games.

Watching the Watchdog

In my Spectator column today, I’ve written about the Free Speech Union’s legal action against Ofcom. If you want chapter and verse on this, you should read Tuesday’s update on Lockdown Sceptics, but this piece summarises all the issues at stake. Here are the opening three paragraphs:

At the beginning of April, I became so frustrated by the supine coverage of the Government’s response to the coronavirus crisis, particularly on radio and television, that I decided to start a blog called Lockdown Sceptics. The idea was to create a platform for people who wanted to challenge the official narrative. In addition to publishing original material by Covid dissidents, many of them eminent scientists, I include links to critical papers and articles, and write daily updates commenting on the news. One of the things that puzzles the contributors is why the coverage on broadcast media has been so hopelessly one-sided.

The BBC, in particular, seems to have become a propaganda arm of the state. Normal journalistic standards have been abandoned and it just regurgitates the views of the public authorities, transmits nightly ‘death porn’ to terrify people into compliance and regularly warns its viewers and listeners about the ‘fake news’ circulating on social media. Often, something condemned as ‘misinformation’ one week — that face masks protect against infection, for instance — becomes Government policy the next, and the BBC’s phalanx of reporters all swivel by 180 degrees like a well-drilled marching band.

Much of this is down to group-think. But there’s another factor at play, which is the behaviour of Ofcom, the broadcast watchdog. It published some official guidance on March 23rd, the same day the government suspended our civil rights, and then further ‘confidential’ guidance on March 27th, advising its licensees to exercise extreme caution when broadcasting “statements that seek to question or undermine the advice of public health bodies on the corona-virus, or otherwise undermine people’s trust in the advice of mainstream sources of information”. No wonder there are so few dissenting voices!

Worth reading in full.

If you want to contribute to the legal costs of this action, please donate to the Free Speech Union’s Litigation Fund.

And if you’d like to join the FSU, please click here.

Vindication at Last

Back in March, I was pilloried on Twitter and elsewhere for a piece I wrote in The Critic in which I attempted a back-of-the-envelope cost-benefit analysis of the lockdown. I tried to put a financial value on the years of life that Neil Ferguson claimed the lockdown would save, using the Qaly metric employed by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, and compare that to the financial cost of the lockdown. Not surprisingly, given that the average age of those who’ve been “saved” by the lockdown is 80, I concluded that, no, it wasn’t worth it. I was then almost universally condemned for being “heartless”, “monstrous”, “inhuman”, etc.

Well, it turns out I was right – at least, according to David Miles, Mike Stedman and Adrian Heald, three economists who’ve written a paper doing exactly what I did, but in much more granular detail.

Let’s suppose that Neil Ferguson is right and the lockdown has saved 440,000 lives (the 500,000 that would have died if we’d done nothing, minus the 60,000 that have died or will die). Of course, people would have voluntarily engaged in voluntary social distancing behaviour in the “do nothing” scenario, and Ferguson et al made a string of dubious assumptions: that we are all equally susceptible, that 81% of the population would get it and 0.9% of us would die – all complete balls, obviously. But nonetheless, even if you give Professor Lockdown the benefit of the doubt, assume that each of those 440,000 people will live for a further 10 years and value those years at £30,000 each – the upper band of the Qaly estimate – that still gives a total value of the lives saved of £132 billion.

What about the other side of the equation? Even on the most conservative estimate, the UK economy will shrink 9% this year, which equals about £200 billion. So a net loss of £68 billion. And, of course, if you plug in a more realistic estimate of the number of life years saved, the net loss increases, as we can see in the table above.

Where did Ferguson get the figure of 500,000 from? Forget all the fancy modelling. If you assume 81% of the UK population (67 billion) would have got Covid absent the lockdown, that’s 54,270,000 people. And if we assume 0.9% of them will die, that gets you to 488,430. Close enough. So what happens if you take just one of Ferguson’s dodgy assumptions – that COVID-19 has an infection fatality rate of 0.9% – and replace it with a more scientifically accurate one, i.e. 0.26%, which is the CDC estimate? That brings the number of people who would have got it in Ferguson’s “do nothing” scenario to 141,102. Subtract the 60,000 who’ll die even with the lockdown and that leaves 81,102 lives “saved”. If we value each of those lives at £300,000 (£30,000 x 10), that gives a total value of £24,330,600,000. So a net loss of more than £175 billion.

And, of course, that’s without factoring in the cost of all the additional collateral damage caused by the lockdown, such as children losing six months of schooling, the cancer operations postponed, the people not being diagnosed with diabetes and heart disease, the rise in suicide and domestic violence, etc., etc.

Not surprisingly, the three economists conclude that the lockdown has been an absolutely catastrophic policy. Although, being academics, they put it more politely than that:

We find that the costs of lockdown in the UK are so high relative to likely benefits that a continuation of severe restrictions is very unlikely to be warranted. There is a need to normalise how we view COVID-19 because its costs and risks are comparable to other health problems (such as cancer, heart problems, diabetes) where governments have made resource decisions for decades. Treating possible future COVID-19 deaths as if nothing else matters is going to lead to bad outcomes. Good decision making does not mean paying little attention to the collateral damage that comes from responding to a worst case COVID-19 scenario.

The lockdown is a public health policy and we have valued its impact using the tools that guide health care decisions in the UK public health system. On that basis, and taking a wide range of scenarios of costs and benefits of severe restrictions, we find the lockdown consistently generates costs that are greater – and often dramatically greater – than likely benefits.

Worth reading in full.

Alistair Haimes’s Must-Read Cover Story for The Critic

Love this cover of the latest issue of the Critic. The Critic is one of the few British publications to get the lockdown right, along with the Spectator and, to a lesser extent, the Telegraph. Alistair Haimes, a contributor to Lockdown Sceptics, has written the cover story in the July issue and it is as caustic and withering as you’d expect. Here are his opening two paragraphs:

I am writing these words at the beginning of June, but you should by now be looking back on the worst of the UK’s COVID-19 epidemic. History books will dissect every aspect of the disease and governments’ response to it, but it is already clear that there has been an unexampled disregard for the foundational pillars of the scientific method even as governments trumpet that they are “following the science”.

The Royal Society’s motto is nullius in verba — “take nobody’s word for it” — but at every stage we have failed to apply scrutiny where it is due, or even to stop and check we are on the right ladder before we carry on climbing. For the country that is the birth-place of scientific inquiry and epidemiology it is astonishing. My godfather, professor of physics at Oxford, told me that the three most scientific things you can say are, “I don’t know”, “prove it” and “I’ve changed my mind”. Let us do each in turn.

Worth reading in full.

New Poem From Bent Knee

A new poem from an anonymous reader who calls himself “Bent Knee”.

Wave helicopter arms
Minimise playground harms
Nine poor kids to a room
Private schools do it better by zoom

Guests forbidden in the home
Never let your love roam
Best not dream of skin on skin
Sharing breath’s a dangerous sin

Save Lives, Stay alert!
More sanctions will only hurt
Authority is your new friend
Rules creep, they do not end

Jobs lost exponentially
Forget bodily sovereignty
Habeas Corpus struck though in black ink
Feel your hearts and hopes sink

Obey the governmental say so
Trust in GAVI, the new NATO
Viruses are deadly trouble
Relax in your mandated bubble

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

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. Now that non-essential shops have reopened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. 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. Don’t worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

Note to the Good Folks Below the Line

I enjoy reading all your comments and I’m glad I’ve created a “safe space” for lockdown sceptics to share their frustrations and keep each other’s spirits up. But please don’t copy and paste whole articles from papers that are behind paywalls in the comments. I work for some of those publications and if they don’t charge for premium content they won’t survive.

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 usually takes me several hours to do these updates, along with everything else, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here. (Please don’t email me at any other address.)

This is only the second daily update this week and I don’t expect to do one tomorrow. Will try and do one over the weekend. Apologies for winding down, but Free Speech Union business is becoming all-consuming, thanks to the fact that we’re in the midst of a Maoist Cultural Revolution. (And incidentally, if you want to understand what’s happened in the last four weeks in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, I highly recommend this essay by Professor Eric Kaufmann in Quillette. It’s astonishingly good.)

I asked my webmaster on Monday how many total page views Lockdown Sceptics had had so far and the answer is 1,652,739. Not too shabby. Peak traffic was 148,188 page views on 7th May, thanks to “Sue Denim”‘s first code review.

I feel the mood beginning to shift as it dawns on more and more people that the Government has bungled its management of the pandemic. The fourth estate, which has largely slept through the crisis, is beginning to stir. It’s going to get ugly – very ugly – and I cannot see how Boris can hope to win the next General Election, assuming he lasts that long. I need a new political home, as I suspect do many readers of this site, right and left. More on that soon…

And Finally…

Should we start selling these T-shirts in the merch store?

Click here to listen to the latest episode of London Calling in which James Delingpole and I almost succumb to Boris Derangement Syndrome, so unhappy are we with his excessively cautious approach to ending the lockdown. The virus is gone, pfffft, kaput. Forget about the one-metre-plus rule. Just admit you made a terrible mistake and say everything can go back to normal. We also discuss the Cultural Revolution and… well, it all gets a bit ranty. Not many jokes in this episode. Incidentally, the brilliant Sherelle Jacobs column in the Telegraph praised by James at the beginning of the podcast is here.

Latest News

Apologies for not filing an update yesterday. Been incredibly busy with Free Speech Union business for the last couple of days. As regular readers will know, we wrote to Ofcom at the beginning of June informing the broadcast watchdog that if it didn’t withdraw its coronavirus guidance, which cautions its licensees against broadcasting “statements that seek to question or undermine the advice of public health bodies on the Coronavirus, or otherwise undermine people’s trust in the advice of mainstream sources of information about the disease”, we would apply to the High Court to have that guidance struck down. It would be an exaggeration to say it has played a major role in suppressing public debate about the pandemic and the Government’s management of it. But it has undoubtedly been a factor. Anyway, Ofcom has dug its heels in so we’re pressing ahead.

We had to file all the papers by close of play today and, inevitably, it was a last-minute rush. Apart from me, the team consists of two members of the FSU’s Legal Advisory Council – Dan Tench and Paul Diamond, both working pro bono – and Peter Ainsworth, the FSU’s Case Management Director. We had to challenge the guidance within three months of it being published and since it was published on March 23rd, the same day the Government imposed a full lockdown, we had to file today.

That means we’ve been working flat out over the past 48 hours to pull together all the documents, including a 5,000-word witness statement from Dr John Lee, the retired pathologist who’s written a string of brilliant pieces about the virus for the Spectator. Here is a key section from John’s statement:

A key error that I would like to highlight is the characterisation of COVID-19 by the Government and also by the broadcast media.

As has been well publicised, COVID-19 is a disease caused by a novel coronavirus usually causing a respiratory infection. In some cases it can be directly fatal, or at least a strongly contributory cause of death. Many of the fundamental parameters of the disease were unknown when the outbreak first came significantly to public attention in February and March of this year, and are still the subject of much uncertainty. For example, its reproduction rate in various settings (that is the number of people who will catch the disease from one person who already has it), the mortality rate, the percentage of the population who may be susceptible to catching it, and how the passage of the disease may vary with climate and seasonal changes.

There are of course a large number of serious human infectious diseases many of which we have largely conquered through vaccination or other public health initiatives. But globally many diseases remain. In addition to the burden of chronic disease, recent figures estimate 1.5 million annual deaths from tuberculosis, 1.4 million from diarrhoeal diseases, 1 million deaths from AIDS, 400,000 from malaria. Lower respiratory tract diseases are estimated to cause 3 million deaths annually, of which the various forms of influenza may kill 28,000 or more people in the United Kingdom in a bad year. The question is where does COVID-19 rank in the panoply of other serious diseases?

The answer from Government and the media was that COVID-19 is a uniquely serious disease presenting a grave threat to human beings and to our society. In January, February and March 2020, the broadcast media repeatedly showed graphic images from, for example, China, Italy and New York, illustrating hospitals apparently overrun with COVID-19 patients. This inspired a Government response unprecedented in peacetime.

I believe that this characterisation of COVID-19 is highly questionable. It is certainly a contagious disease, though not obviously significantly more contagious than a typical influenza, and much less contagious than diseases such as measles. It is also true that in a small proportion of cases, particularly in elderly people with co-morbidities, it can be an extremely serious disease, and in a small fraction of those cases, it can lead to death. But the initial framing of this disease was seriously flawed. The infection fatality rate (the proportion of those who catch the disease and die) came down from an initial wild estimate from the World Health Organisation of 3.4% (which would indeed have been an emergency and crisis) to 0.9% by Imperial College London, to 0.67% also by ICL, to 0.2% by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and will probably finally be around 0.1% (very similar to influenza).

But even this fails to characterise the epidemic properly. Those under the age of 18 have a vanishingly low chance of being seriously ill with this disease or dying of it, those under 60 a very low chance, and even older patients into their eighties who are otherwise fit and well, a low chance of this disease significantly affecting their overall level of health or their lifespan.

I would not want to be misinterpreted. Because this is a new disease and therefore could potentially affect a large number of people, I believe that it was reasonable to believe at the inception of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom that it constituted a potentially important and serious public health challenge for the Government and other institutions such as the National Health Service.

However, I do not consider, from early on in the epidemic, that it could continue reasonably or rationally to be characterised as a threat out of all proportion to other commonly experienced public health challenges, including the annual contagion of influenza. (In Germany, for example, mortality in the seasonal influenza epidemic of 2017/18 was about 21,500, while to date Covid-19 mortality is less than 9,000.) The alarm raised by the potential for a dangerous epidemic was rapidly replaced by increasing information showing, to informed and unbiased assessment, that the highly probable outcome of the epidemic was well within the envelope experienced in many years of the last quarter-century. At the same time, clear harms from the un-assessed policy of lockdown became apparent very soon after its inception.

This alternative interpretation was suppressed to the extent that the narrative concerning the disease presented on the broadcast media still maintains unchallenged belief in the disproportionate severity of the Covid-19 epidemic, long after this has been untenable in the face of accumulating evidence.

If one studies datasets published by the Office for National Statistics, and calculates all cause mortality for winter/spring for the last 27 years corrected for population for each year, 2019/2020 ranks not first, second or third, but eighth. It is also clear that for several of the last six years there has been lower than usual mortality, meaning that, in the unavoidable cycles of nature, a year of excess mortality should have been expected.

It also turns out that a key early assumption is incorrect, namely that the entire population is vulnerable to the disease. A large proportion of the population (40–60%) show immunological evidence of immune responses to this virus without ever having been exposed to it. This is because as many as one in six respiratory infections in a normal winter are caused by other coronaviruses, and, perhaps not entirely surprisingly, these stimulate immune responses that cross-react with the new virus. Yet even now, the broadcast media continue to repeat the initial incorrect assumption, many weeks after something that seemed highly likely from the outset, namely that many of us have some immunity to the disease, has new clear data to support it.

It seems to me that the conceptualisation and contextualisation of the disease, designed to support the official narrative established in the earliest stages of the epidemic, has not been seriously scrutinised or challenged by the broadcast media to date. Particularly in the key months of February, March and April, I believe that this lack of challenge has been a major factor in the formulation of responses which have been inappropriate and caused major collateral damage.

In my statement, I focus less on the way the Government has exaggerated the contagiousness and deadliness of the disease and more on the wrong-headedness of Ofcom seeking to suppress dissent when there is so little scientific consensus about the disease and how best to minimise the harm it causes.

The right to free speech is one of our most precious liberties – perhaps the most precious of all – and the fact that we’re in the midst of a public health crisis is a reason to protect it, not curtail it. All of us, whether scientists, politicians or ordinary citizens, are doing our best to understand the threat posed by COVID-19 and how best to minimise the harm it causes, both directly and indirectly. There are, at present, no settled views about any of these issues, and there is certainly no consensus among scientists that can be described as “the science”.

That is obvious from the number of times public authorities, including the Government, have changed their mind about how best to minimise the damage wrought by the virus. To give just a few examples:

a. on January 14th the WHO tweeted that there was “no clear evidence of human to human transmission of the novel #coronavirus”; on March 12th it declared that the Covid-19 outbreak was a “global pandemic”;

b. the WHO and the UK Government initially advised that the wearing of face masks did not play a major role in protecting people from infection outside healthcare settings; on June 5th the WHO issued new guidance, recommending the wearing of face masks in community settings and the Government made the wearing of face masks mandatory on public transport on June 15th;

c. on January 29th the WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, praised China’s policy of locking down the population of Wuhan, as well as those in surrounding areas, saying it “helped prevent the spread of coronavirus”; on April 29th, the WHO’s top emergencies expert, Dr Mike Ryan, praised the response to the pandemic of Sweden, which did not lock down its population, as a “model” for the rest of the world;

d. on April 2nd the WHO issued a Situation Report in which it warned that people infected with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic could infect others; on June 6th the WHO’s technical lead on the pandemic, Maria Van Kerkhove, said at a press conference that examples of asymptomatic people infecting others were “very rare”;

e. on March 5th Boris Johnson appeared on This Morning and told the presenters that stopping public gatherings in order to reduce the spread of the virus would be “quite draconian”, and that one theory being discussed, and which he appeared to endorse, was that the British population could “take it on the chin”, “take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population, without taking as many draconian measures”; on March 23rd Boris announced that to prevent the NHS becoming overwhelmed (due in part to insufficient numbers of ventilators), the British public “must stay at home” and the Government was ordering all non-essential shops to close, as well as libraries, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship, and it was prohibiting gatherings of more than two people in public and stopping all social events, including weddings and baptisms;

f. on May 24th Boris Johnson announced that primary schools would reopen on June 1st, with secondaries reopening on 15 June, and expressed the hope that all primary school children would enjoy at least four weeks of school before the summer holidays; on June 8th Health Secretary Matt Hancock conceded at the daily Downing Street press briefing that all schools would not reopen until September “at the earliest”.

Reviewing the constantly changing policies of public authorities, particularly the UK Government, it is hard to disagree with the words of Lord Sumption in an article published in the Mail on Sunday on June 21st 2020: “Does the Government have a policy for coronavirus? Indeed it does. In fact, it has several. One for each month of the year, all mutually inconsistent and none of them properly thought through. Sometimes, Governments have to change tack. It shows that they are attending closely to a changing situation. But this crisis has exposed something different and more disturbing: a dysfunctional Government with a deep-seated incoherence at the heart of its decision-making processes.”

In light of this, it was wrong of Ofcom to issue guidance advising its licensees not to broadcast material likely to undermine people’s trust in the advice of public authorities on the grounds that doing so is potentially harmful. In fact, based on the current advice of the UK Government, ignoring huge swathes of its initial advice — “take it on the chin” — would have been sensible and prevented more harm than it caused. It now seems plain that the Government’s response to the crisis from month to month has indeed been deeply incoherent, with its advice and the advice of state agencies often changing radically from one week to the next. In such circumstances, the best way to protect the public from harm is to allow scientists, experts, journalists and others to vigorously challenge the Government and public authorities, without the threat of broadcasters being sanctioned by the state regulator if those views happen not to accord with the constantly-changing position of the Government or other public bodies.

Do John and I have evidence that broadcasters deliberately chose not to feature sceptical voices on the airwaves as a result of Ofcom’s coronavirus guidance? No direct evidence, no, but we share the impression of many people in the sceptical camp that the coverage of the crisis by national broadcasters has been heavily slanted in favour of the official narrative.

John cites the fact that he’s been asked to appear on American radio stations more often than on British ones:

I was informed by Fraser Nelson, the editor of the Spectator, that my initial article was accessed online over a million times in the first couple of weeks. However, there was no response to it from broadcast media in the UK. While I was invited several times on to radio shows and television in the USA, including nationally syndicated programmes, there was no contact from the BBC, which in normal times would be extremely surprising given the importance of the topic and the profile of the article.

I, too, flag up that I’ve had far fewer invitations to appear on broadcast media than in normal times, and cite the popularity of Lockdown Sceptics as evidence that the public has an appetite for hearing sceptical views that the mainstream media hasn’t been feeding:

At the beginning of April, I set up a website called Lockdown Sceptics in which I publish original material by scientists and public health experts, as well as links to articles by scientists, experts and journalists who are critical of what Eamonn Holmes called the “state narrative”, and daily updates in which I comment on the news. As of June 22nd 2020, the site has had 1,652,739 page views. On just one day May 7th – it attracted 148,188 page views. The site attracts a lot of comments from users – more than 1,000 a day at its peak – and one of the most common complaints below the line is that the coverage of the crisis on broadcast media is hopelessly one-sided, uncritically echoing the views and advice of the authorities.

During normal times I am regularly invited to appear as a commentator or newspaper reviewer on news and current affairs programmes, including the BBC News Channel, ITV News, Channel 4 News, Sky News, the Today programme, Newsnight, Daily Politics and the Andrew Marr Show. But since I started expressing scepticism about the virulence and severity of COVID-19, as well as being critical of the lockdown policy, I have not been invited to appear on any of these programmes to discuss the coronavirus crisis, save for Newsnight which booked me, then cancelled when I told the producer my views. And while it’s hard to generalise from my own experience, other commentators with similar views about the virus have told me the same thing.

For instance, the hostility of broadcasters towards dissenting voices has been noticed by Karol Sikora, Professor of Medicine at the University of Buckingham and a former WHO advisor on cancer. He has written several articles in newspapers drawing attention to the collateral damage likely to be caused by the lockdown – such as the number of people who will die because cancer operations and cancer screening programmes have been suspended – and yet his voice has been largely unheard on the broadcast media. He told me: “I have been asked on to the Today programme, the World at One and Newsnight. But after I’ve accepted, I get dropped a few hours later probably as they’ve been told I might express the wrong views.”

That the coverage of the crisis has been completely one-sided, with very few genuinely critical voices being heard, is also the view of Robin Aitken MBE, a journalist who worked as a reporter for the BBC for 25 years, ending up on the Today programme. He told me: “The BBC very quickly bought in to the Government’s lockdown plans and thereafter very little real debate was allowed. Jonathan Sumption popped up a couple of times but, in the main, anti-lockdown voices, which had a perfectly respectable case to make, were simply not heard.”

We’re unlikely to come before a judge this side of September, unfortunately, so there isn’t much we can do to salvage the current situation. But if we’re successful, at least Ofcom will think twice before issuing equally censorious guidance next time there’s a public health emergency.

Even though our solicitor and barrister are working pro bono, there will inevitably be costs associated with this action – indeed, there have been some already. The FSU has set up a Fighting Fund to help pay for this and other attempts to stand up for free speech in the courts. If you feel like contributing, please click here. And if you’d like to join the FSU, please click here.

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

Only one suggestion today: “Gaslighter” by the Dixie Chicks. After all, we’ve all been gaslighted by the authorities.

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. Now that non-essential shops have reopened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. 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. Don’t worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

Note to the Good Folks Below the Line

I enjoy reading all your comments and I’m glad I’ve created a “safe space” for lockdown sceptics to share their frustrations and keep each other’s spirits up. But please don’t copy and paste whole articles from papers that are behind paywalls in the comments. I work for some of those publications and if they don’t charge for premium content they won’t survive.

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 usually takes me several hours to do these daily updates, along with everything else, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here. Please don’t email me at any other address.

And Finally…

The scene in may local on July 4th – if only!

Latest News

Teachers Urged to Give Up Part of Six-Week Summer Holiday

Boris Johnson (pictured visiting a school in Hemel Hempstead on Friday) has solemnly promised that schools will return fully in September and hinted at an imminent shift on the two-metre rule

A cross-party group of former education ministers is urging teachers to give up some of their six-week summer holiday so schools can reopen in September, according to Sian Griffiths in the Sunday Times.

Five former education secretaries have backed a plan to get all children back to class in September, including a demand that teachers curtail their six-week summer holiday to deal with the “national emergency”.

Under the plan, put together by Lord Adonis, a former Labour minister for schools, the Government must confirm the social-distancing rules, appoint a national director of school operations to oversee safe reopening, and bring back teachers in August to get schools ready.

Hang on, I thought, when I read that. Haven’t we already got a “national director of school operations” in the form of Education Secretary Gavin Williamson? But as the Mail reports, he may be for the chop.

Mr Williamson’s soft approach with the teachers’ unions had damaged his reputation.

“Gavin played nicely with the unions in the hope that they would sign up, and they didn’t. People in there [Downing Street] know how you take on the teaching unions and beat them,” they said.

The swipe is a reference to No 10 chief Dominic Cummings’s previous role as an adviser to Michael Gove at the Department for Education, when he branded the teaching establishment “The Blob” and forced through reforms.

Needless to say, the proposal that teachers should cut short their holidays has not gone down well with the teaching unions.

Kevin Courtney, co-General Secretary of the National Education Union, said he supported much of the plan.

But in a sign of the resistance the Government faces he added: “I do not think that it is sensible asking people to give up their contractual holiday. Teachers have been working really hard in this period.”

In other words, he supports the plan apart from the bit that would make it work.

The teaching unions have won every battle they’ve engaged in so far during this crisis – one of the reasons Williamson is in trouble. As someone who has debated Kevin Courtney many times, I can confirm that he’s an agile, formidable opponent. The chances of schools reopening in full in September are slim.

In other news, Matt Hancock has hinted that pub customers will be expected to provide their contact details in an electronic register so that they can be traced if it emerges later that someone infected was in the venue. Customers will be advised to order using an app, stand as far apart as possible, face away from each other where they can, and prefer outside spaces.

Sounds like a barrel of laughs.

Where Does Coronavirus Rank in the Pandemic League Table?

Interesting table on Simon Dolan’s twitter feed showing how few people COVID-19 has killed compared to other killer viruses.

Of course, lockdown zealots will say, “Ah yes, but the reason Covid has killed so few people is because governments around the world very sensibly locked up their citizens at the height of the pandemic.”

But as we know, there’s little evidence the lockdowns have done anything to interrupt the progress of the pandemic, with infections rising and falling in each country according to the same pattern, regardless of whether or not that country locked down or how severely.

Disappointing not to see the influenza pandemic of 2017-18 in the table. In Germany, for instance, the coronavirus epidemic, which Angela Merkel described as the worst crisis to afflict the country since the Second World War, has killed less than a third of the people killed by seasonal flu in 2017-18.

Has the Epidemic Really Caused PTSD?

There’s a story in the Sunday Times this morning saying GPs are bracing themselves for a surge of patients suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The NHS faces a “huge surge” in Britons suffering anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the country’s top family doctor.

Months of isolation, economic devastation and the loss of relatives, friends and colleagues to the disease is wreaking havoc on the nation’s mental health, said Dr Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).

More than 50,000 family doctors are being issued with guidance to help them detect post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) triggered by the pandemic. Dr Jonathan Leach, a retired colonel who has supported thousands of veterans, helped draw it up.

I can understand why being locked in your home for three months would cause some people to suffer from anxiety and depression, particularly for teenagers and elderly people and those living on their own. But PTSD? Isn’t that something soldiers experience after being involved in frontline battle for a sustained period of time? The Sunday Times thinks the “surge” in people presenting with PTSD will be caused by “the loss of relatives, friends and colleagues to the disease”. Really?

According to the ONS, ~53,000 have died from Covid to date. That’s less than 10% of the number of people who died in the UK in 2018 (616,000) and, as Neil Ferguson has conceded, up to two-thirds of the people who’ve succumbed to COVID-19 would have died anyway this year, so the total number of deaths in 2020 may not be much larger than it would have otherwise been. And worth reminding ourselves that the average age of those who’ve died from the virus in the UK is 80.

Last time I checked, the death of an elderly relative, friend or colleague is certainly very sad.

But it doesn’t cause PTSD.

Time for Racing to Resume in Full

Frankie Dettori, winner of this year’s Royal Ascot Leading Jockey Award

There’s an excellent piece in the Telegraph today by racing correspondent Marcus Armytage, bemoaning the absurdity of the social distancing arrangements surrounding the sport.

I have to remind myself the reason owners (and racing correspondents) are not there is because, when Ascot started on Tuesday, we were only two weeks and a day into the resumption of racing and, as the first sport back, it has had no choice but to play it by the book adhering to every letter of every often-pointless rule.

The viewing figures on ITV have been excellent, pretty much double what they were last year; 1.5 million saw Stradivarius win a third Gold Cup though, incongruously, a prescient 1.8 million tuned in to see Hayley Turner win the Sandringham Stakes. Less a breakthrough for women’s sport, alas, that the fact that people were switching on early for the Chase.

But while it is better than no racing, behind closed doors is not sustainable. It is no one’s idea of a business model, it is expensive to run having people checked in and out of a racecourse, employing the traffic wardens of COVID-19, social distancing officers, and knocking up jockeys changing cubicles in what would otherwise be a 300-cover restaurant run by a Michelin-starred chef.

Maybe as an ex-jump jockey I am the wrong person to be talking about our risk-averse society. But never did irony hit me harder than watching this week’s five-furlong sprints when you have had 20 jockeys, eight-stone wet through, going at roughly 40mph down the course on an animal weighing 80 stone in a tight bunch, every sinew, equine and human, straining right on the edge of it.

My horse – Sceptical – came third in the Royal Ascot Diamond Stakes yesterday. (Apologies to any readers who acted on that tip!) But it’s time the Government started listening to this sceptical racing correspondent.

Worth reading in full.

London’s Deserted Transport Network

Project Fear on Steroids has worked too well

Got a good email from a reader in London on the pitiful state of the capital’s public transport network. It seems ‘Project Fear on Steroids’ has worked all too well.

On Thursday evening I travelled from Ladbroke Grove to Wandsworth Town for a bite with an old friend. Bus from Ladbroke Grove to High Street Ken; perhaps three others on board [it was a 452; usual capacity, if memory serves me correctly, is c.92, though that, of course, has been…..”trimmed“]. A recorded msg was played twice during the six or seven minutes that it took to reach the last stop on Ken Church St before High St Ken. Given that I was holding a handkerchief loosely to my mouth (but not my nose, through which I breathed), I wondered if they were for my benefit.

High St Ken Tube Station – shortly after 8pm: effectively deserted. One other person waiting for the Victoria-bound Circle Line. Further announcements that face-masks must be worn on public transport and in the station (which, as you may know, is refreshingly open to the elements). Three, perhaps four, perhaps five people, self included, on the Tube. Perhaps one or two more boarded before we reached Victoria, but successive stations were effectively deserted.

More announcements insisting that face-masks were compulsory on public transport and in the station greeted me at Victoria, which usually looks as though it’s about to feature in a documentary about global overpopulation. Deserted – bar perhaps half a dozen travellers, abundant masked staff and three prominent Plods (unmasked).

About five or six people on the train to Clapham Junction (which had something like a dozen carriages; it was one of those Victoria trains destined for the south coast). Remarkably, it had a guard on board – normally as a rare as rocking-horse shit. Yes, more recorded announcements about the necessity of wearing a face-mask. By this stage, I had a minimal, entirely pointless ‘mask’ on, which I wore on my chin, allowing me to breathe freely through mouth or nose as mood dictated.

Clapham Junction was, of course, as deliciously windswept as it always is. But that didn’t silence the inevitable recorded announcement that face-masks were to be worn on public transport and in the station. About half those waiting for a train – of whom there were perhaps twenty or thirty – complied. Very heartening to see that some of the staff had ditched theirs entirely; others opted to wear them around their throats, several inches beneath mouth or nose.

The whole absurd pattern was repeated on the train to Wandsworth Town.

At the end of the evening, I took an Uber home: £12 and 20 minutes. Why would anyone, other than the destitute, ever travel by public transport again?

Regrettably, I had to point out to this reader that face-masks are supposed to be mandatory on Uber too.

Why the Left Should Oppose Lockdowns

The Durham Miners’ Gala

A reader in Australia called Phil Shannon has sent me a great piece about why the left should oppose lockdowns. It started out as a comment on “The Left-Wing Case Against Lockdown” by Alexis FitzGerald (see right-hand menu), but then blossomed into a fully-fledged blog post. Phil is a bona fide leftie – you can see his blog here, which is called “green left”. I’m sure a lot of other old-fashioned lefties are feeling the same.

Here’s a taster:

The ideological failings of the left on lockdown are accompanied by a pronounced tendency to behave in politically-revealing stylistic ways, including:

* Belligerence: Converse with most lockdown leftists and you will be struck by their hostility to sceptical views and their lack of respect for the holders of those views. Calm discussion of evidentiary and political differences on lockdown has been replaced by the left’s need to beat down lockdown apostates in heated argument, not with better ideas but with belligerence. In politics, as in fashion, ‘the style is the man’ and the lockdown/woke left’s antagonistic and intimidating behaviour reflects poorly on a political grouping that claims to value liberalism, tolerance and ‘diversity’.

* Straw Men: Say that lockdown doesn’t work and is worse than the disease and the sceptic will swiftly be accused of being a callous granny-killer, a moral monster who places ‘money’ ahead of ‘lives’, and profit over people (cf. the facile “No life is worth losing to add one more point to the Dow” of Joe Biden, or the rhetorical doing whatever it takes to “save just one life” homily of New York governor, Andrew Cuomo). Setting up straw men (lockdown sceptic = murderer) to knock down is so much easier than respectfully contesting an exchange of ideas or exploring strategies such as demographically-targeting the vulnerable for protection from the virus.

* Smear by association: Oppose the lockdown? Why, says the lockdown leftist, you must be one of those kooky 5G conspiracists or whatever. Case dismissed. Yes, it is true that some strange political life-forms attach themselves to the fringes of lockdown scepticism. But neither is the left free from a history of its own unwanted and unattractive political relatives, particularly the wild and fundamentally anti-democratic anarchists, up to and including the Antifa goons and Extinction Rebellion loons. Guilt-by-association is a tawdry debating gambit whether used by left or right. Neither the left nor the right can enforce an ideological purity test to control who marches under their banner. There is not much either can do about the loose threads in the great tapestry of political life.

* Virtue-signalling: Left lockdown lovers portray themselves, overtly or by implication, as a better class of person who is superior to the lockdown sceptic – intellectually superior to those they misrepresent as ‘Deniers’ of ‘the Science’ and morally superior to those whom they caricature as being more concerned with ‘the economy’ over health. We, say the left, may have lost a democratic national referendum or an election, but we are still better than the nativists, the xenophobes, the gap-toothed, knuckle-dragging deplorables and, now, the heartless lockdown sceptics who are prepared to cruelly cull society of its old geezers.

Antifa goons and Extinction Rebellion loons. Love it! I’m going to give this piece pride of place as a subpage of Alexis FitzGerald’s essay. Please do read it in full.

A Pilot Writes

Got an email from a commercial airline pilot currently taking some time off in Italy. Hard to disagree with any of this.

I think I’ve worked out why the Government is ending lockdown in such a prolonged and plodding way. I had assumed it was because it was being wet, timorous and generally sheepish but now believe it’s actually because it can’t end any aspect of lockdown without having written the appropriate tidal wave of new regulations, recommendations and procedures. It must be very frustrating for Whitehall officials that the virus is disappearing faster than they can write all this stuff.

I heard with despair this morning that social distancing might be reduced in restaurants next week allowing restaurants to open with perspex screens between tables. I managed to escape to Italy on June 3rd, the day it opened its borders. And yet here in Italy, which is supposedly only a week or two ahead of us, there are very few obvious rules in force. People are wearing face-masks to go into shops and are using the hand wash on the way in. Otherwise restaurants are laid out in the normal way, there are no screens, there isn’t tape all over the floors, and although social distancing is one metre life looks pretty normal. The Germans are now arriving in large numbers in my area on the east side of Lake Garda and I’m sure the locals will be welcoming them with huge relief. In the meantime our Government is still making up rules for the situation in the UK as if it was about two months ago.

Unfortunately, this points to a greater malaise in the UK which is our devotion to rules and procedure. We have fooled ourselves for many years that the red tape we suffer from is a result of the EU. But for a long time now we have known that we gold plate those regulations. As a pilot, it’s notable that the UK is the most draconian country with its security checks at airports on crew members. Some of the checks on us are more onerous than those on passengers. Other countries reassessed their policies years ago. And of course aviation has many rules and procedures, most of which are necessary, but with a few that are not. The trouble with having unnecessary regulations and procedures is that, not only are they inefficient and counter productive in themselves, they lead to workers, the public and officials imagining other procedures that don’t actually exist. These can then be justified on the basis of “safety” (or sometimes insurance) when really there is no justification at all. Our ‘SOPs’ (or Standard Operating Procedures) clearly contain a lot of procedures, but there is one which basically goes – “in extreme circumstances the Captain should disregard any of these procedures and do whatever he or she considers necessary to ensure the safe conduct of the flight”. This is very sensible. The worst case of mindless adherence to procedure I can think of was the Grenfell Tower fire where it seems the Fire Brigade bosses stuck slavishly to the “stay put” policy when the premise for that policy was clearly redundant from the moment they arrived on the scene. The fire was not “contained”.

Unfortunately, this type of procedural groupthink is very similar to the other types of left wing groupthink we’re now suffering from. The trouble is, this no risk, super safe, snowflake attitude is not just a product of left wing youth. It’s also a product of people sitting in offices producing unnecessary regulation and procedure simply to show that they’ve done something and to cover their backsides. Maybe that’s why productivity is so poor in the UK. We’ve lost the ability to be flexible and practical. Perhaps Toby, once you’ve got us properly out of lockdown, sorted out freedom of speech and won the current cultural revolution you could then start on ‘proceduralism’ in the UK!

It isn’t just Italy where life has returned pretty much to normal. Christina Lamb in the Sunday Times reports that Portugal is rather nice at this time of year too.

Unlocking the Welsh Dragon

Comedian and author Gryff Rhys Jones, who owns six holiday cottages in Wales, has added his voice to the chorus pleading with Mark Drakeford to reopen the country. According to the Sunday Times:

Like all holiday properties in Wales, the six cottages on Griff Rhys Jones’s Pembrokeshire farm have been closed since late March.

“Every now and again, there’s an outbreak of people saying: ‘Don’t come here.’ People get rather furious about the idea of visitors coming to Pembrokeshire, as if in some way it’s so beautiful it should be preserved only for the natives,” said the actor and writer, 66, who was born in Cardiff but lives in England.

“But the unavoidable truth is that the hospitality industry for outlying areas of Britain is vital to their successful economies. It needs to be recognised and it needs to be rebuilt.”

On Friday, the First Minister said Wales’s five-mile travel restriction will be scrapped on July 6th and “self-contained accommodation” will be allowed to reopen a week later.

Too little, too late, Drakeford.

Lord Gumption Speaks

The Greatest Living Englishman

Lord Sumption has another great piece out today, this one in the Mail on Sunday. The headline says it all: “These people have no idea what they’re doing.”

Here’s a taster:

Does the Government have a policy for coronavirus? Indeed it does. In fact, it has several. One for each month of the year, all mutually inconsistent and none of them properly thought through. Sometimes, governments have to change tack. It shows that they are attending closely to a changing situation. But this crisis has exposed something different and more disturbing: a dysfunctional Government with a deep-seated incoherence at the heart of its decision-making processes.

It’s glorious stuff. Definitely worth your time.

I’m going to start a petition demanding that Lord Gumption chair the public inquiry into the Government’s (mis)management of the crisis.

More on False Positives

A reader has got in touch following yesterday’s comment from a geneticist and data scientist about the unreliability of PCR tests.

Following the critique of PCR tests by the geneticist you mentioned in your update, I just thought I’d send you this announcement from Norway’s Institute of Public Health on May 25th in case you have’t seen it.

“Given today’s contagion situation in Norway, health professionals must test around 12,000 random people to find one positive case of COVID-19. In such a selection, there will be about 15 positive test responses, but 14 of these will be false positives.”

This is also interesting and begs the question of test accuracy in the UK and therefore a potential COVID-19 death toll adjustment.

Another Petition to Sign

Thomas Guy in front of St Thomas’s

Please sign this petition to save the statue of Thomas Guy, which is due to be removed from St Thomas’s Hospital because of his links to the slave trade. Some students have even started a petition calling for the hospital to be renamed the Desmond Tutu Hospital.

This is what the petitioner has to say:

These matters have been brought to the fore as a result of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the belief that Thomas Guy was involved in the slave trade and made his fortune from this. I am a consultant physician living and working in South London who trained as both a medical student and junior doctor at Thomas Guy’s Hospital and hold this belief to be untrue.

Thomas Guy was a devout Christian, bookseller, astute investor and MP for Tamworth. During his life he acquired a large number of shares in The South Sea Company ( SSC ) in exchange for government debt that he held, which he was required to do. The government paid SSC shareholders a dividend and the company was granted the right by Queen Anne to supply the Spanish colonies with slaves, a right that Britain acquired under the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). He sold his shares in 1720 just before the share price collapsed in a stock market bubble, thereby making a fortune which he largely reinvested in government bonds. As these events show, he was an investor at a time 300 years ago when ethical investing was a pipe dream. He did not own slaves, nor was he a slave trader, nor did he reinvest in the SSC which continued its activities for many years after.

Subsequently, he used his fortune to build and endow Guy’s Hospital for the relief of the poor and suffering of Southwark. As a consequence of his philanthropy, a world famous Hospital was created which for over 300 years has provided healthcare to South East London and has trained tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who have taken their skills and knowledge to care for the sick and needy all over the world irrespective of creed or colour. Such singular achievement should be recognised.

We ask that the absurd and shameful decision to remove his statue from public view be reversed and that any plans to rename the Guy’s campus be abandoned.

This one’s definitely worth signing.

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

Only one suggestion today: the theme from the Lives of Others, the cinematic masterpiece about life under the Stasi in East Germany.

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. Now that non-essential shops have reopened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. 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. Dont worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

Note to the Good Folks Below the Line

I enjoy reading all your comments and I’m glad I’ve created a “safe space” for lockdown sceptics to share their frustrations and keep each other’s spirits up. But please don’t copy and paste whole articles from papers that are behind paywalls in the comments. I work for some of those publications and if they don’t charge for premium content they won’t survive.

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 usually takes me several hours to do these daily updates, along with everything else, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. Alternatively, you can donate to the Free Speech Union’s litigation fund by clicking here or join the Free Speech Union here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here. (Please don’t email me at any other address.)

And Finally…

Oxford’s clown prince in his tented harem

I’ve got a piece in the Mail on Sunday today about Oxford in the 1980s. What was it about that university at that time that produced so many of the people who dominate public life today? The photographs of Boris and others taken by Dafydd Jones, my generation’s pre-eminent party photographer, are quite something.

Here’s how it begins.

The pink-faced young man at the dispatch box of the Oxford Union looked slightly bewildered.

He glanced up at the packed chamber, nervously fingering his mop of blond hair, as if he’d been transported there through a window in the space-time continuum.

This was in October of 1983 and it was a “freshers’ debate” , an opportunity for new arrivals to make a good impression on the senior members of the world-famous debating society. I was due to speak after this young man and had spent several days preparing.

“Can someone kindly remind me what the motion is?” he asked in an exaggerated, upper class accent. Who was this pantomime toff?

“This house would bring back capital punishment,” someone cried out.

“Oh yes, right, of course,” he said, ruffling his hair. Then he looked up, feigning surprise: “Crikey Moses. Capital punishment. Really? I’m not in favour of that!”

Then he ostentatiously crossed the floor, positioned himself at the other dispatch box and started denouncing the motion in what might be called the high Parliamentary style – half-serious, half-comic.

After a few minutes, as he happily demolished the case for capital punishment, the young orator interrupted himself mid-flow.

“No wait,” he said. “That’s actually a pretty good argument. I think I’m in favour of the motion after all!”

He then crossed the floor once again, and made an impassioned case for the other side.

The audience at the Union roared with laughter – and it was laughter of appreciation, not ridicule. There was something so winning about this befuddled yet charismatic 19 year-old that you couldn’t help warming to him.

Sweden Did in Fact Lock Down When it Came to Care Homes

by David Crowe

FILE PHOTO: A sign assures people that the bar is open during the coronavirus outbreak, outside a pub in Stockholm, Sweden March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Colm Fulton/File Photo

Sweden has been a political football in the argument over whether lockdowns work. Lockdown enthusiasts point to the higher death rate than in other Scandinavian countries while skeptics point out that the rate is lower than Italy, Spain and the UK. But the more important question is why the death rate is in the middle. The answer is because Sweden actually did lock down, in the most important way.

Before I defend this counter-intuitive position it is important to note that the term “COVID-19 lockdown” is not well defined. In several countries people were confined to their homes, but in other places, such as in my province of Alberta, Canada, people could go out, although they would find that all restaurants, bars, playgrounds, concert halls, swimming pools and shopping malls were closed. In reality every country’s lockdown (and in places like the United States and Canada, every state, province and even city) was different. In Alberta, Canada, when hair salons were opened, massages were still banned, but in Ontario, hair salons were banned but massages were allowed.

Sweden only chose two dishes from the lockdown menu: banning large group events and visitors to hospitals and nursing homes.1I will use the term ‘nursing home’ for homes for the elderly, or seriously injured, who cannot look after themselves, who need help eating, dressing, going to the toilet etc. As opposed to retirement homes where people will perform these functions themselves. Different countries have different terms for the facilities that are provided for the oldest and sickest people in society who do not need hospitalization.

If we were God, we could assign two values to every item on the lengthy lockdown menu: the number of lives saved from death by SARS-CoV-2, and the number of deaths caused by that aspect of the lockdown. Of course we are not God, but there is evidence that the combined effect of whatever menu items were chosen has killed lots of people. For example, calls to suicide help lines and actual suicides are up. In Canada, opioid overdoses have been rising during the COVID-19 panic. Psychological distress among US adults has dramatically increased. We can guess that deaths from alcoholism, mental breakdowns, and domestic violence will also rise, although in many cases it will not be until next year that we have the statistics to prove this.

I am not the only person who believes that the intensity of the demonstrations, looting and rioting in the United States comes from keeping young people cooped up at home, taking away the socialization and stimulation that they get at school, at their part time jobs, at soccer practices, shooting hoops or just hanging out at the beach, park or shopping mall. Now that the murder of George Floyd by four white policemen has blown the lid off the pressure cooker it will take a long time for the pent-up energy to dissipate. But this is just a belief, nobody can prove that the anger and sometimes violence is partly due to the lockdown and not entirely due to the too frequent occurrence of abuse and killing of black men by police officers in the United States.

But, back to the issue of assigning relative numbers to the menu items. Readers of this article are likely not in the target zone for death by COVID-19. The majority are probably younger than 70, and those who are older are probably not suffering from multiple, serious pre-existing, health conditions. Naturally, you will see the effect of the lockdown on yourself most intensely, and may ignore the parts that do not affect you. During times and places where home confinement was mandated you couldn’t go out, you couldn’t visit relatives, you couldn’t go for a coffee with a friend, you couldn’t exercise, you couldn’t go for a drive, you might have had to try to juggle online work with online education of your children. You probably didn’t think about the people in nursing homes who were cocooned (to use a phrase recently employed on lockdownskeptics.org), out of sight, out of mind. If anything, you thought that perhaps their isolation had occurred too late, that the practice was protective, and if you had criticisms it might have been of events like the New York governor sending patients from hospitals to nursing homes where they could spread the virus, or that the banning of visitors occurred too late.

Each of our imagined relative numbers for the deaths from each lockdown menu item is the product of two factors: the likelihood of killing one person, and the number of people affected. Given that in many countries it is mostly old people in nursing homes or hospitals who are dying, we need to ask what aspects of the lockdown are most likely to harm these people. They are not affected by restaurants being closed, or playgrounds, or swimming pools, because they cannot use these facilities. But is the effect of their isolation in nursing homes (or hospital wards) purely benign, and protective from COVID-19? Are there any dangers?

I postulate that, in fact, the largest relative number for lockdown harms should be assigned to the dangers of banning visitors from nursing homes and hospitals, and the removal of almost all social contact from these frail old people. This may be the most dangerous aspect of the lockdown due to the severe impact on the elderly people housed there, and due to the large number of people affected (the largest portion of the population with deaths blamed on SARS-CoV-2). On this basis, Sweden, having banned visitors to nursing homes and hospitals like virtually every other European country, has a lockdown that is similar in negative affects to other western countries, hence the similar mortality rate.

Nursing Homes Under Lockdown

What is going on in nursing homes? Unless you work in one you are banned from entering, so it is difficult to know, but one can hypothesize a list of effects of the banning of visitors and the further isolation of residents within the nursing homes:

  • Workers will be scared to death of being infected by their patients and therefore will keep contact to a minimum.
  • Some workers will quit resulting in others being overworked.
  • Other workers will test positive by the flawed COVID-19 RNA test and will be quarantined instead of working, for up to two weeks.
  • The role that visitors play in ensuring that their loved ones are not neglected, not treated in unsanitary ways, and not abused will be removed.
  • The assistance that visitors give the staff, in feeding their loved ones, helping them dress, and so on, will be gone.
  • Any resident who is suspected of being infected will be confined to their room.
  • Eating together will be banned.
  • All social events will be cancelled.
  • All outings will be cancelled.
  • All non-essential health services, such as physiotherapy or exercise classes will be cancelled.

That there were horrors that were mostly hidden was actually known quite early, when in late March the Spanish army found abandoned people and dead bodies in nursing homes that they entered, because the staff had fled, out of fear.

More recently, we have more details on the nightmare within the nursing home walls, thanks to the Canadian Military. Soldiers were asked to go and assist in five of the most problematic nursing homes in Ontario, Canada, by the government, and what they saw shocked them so much that they wrote a detailed report to their superiors, which was released to the public, and needs to be read by everyone.

Awful treatment, that can easily be seen as leading to death, includes the following (read the entire report to be even more shocked):

  • Unsanitary practices with parenteral (tube) feeding including liquid food that has curdled.
  • Unsanitary catheter practices, and leaving them in too long (3 weeks in one patient).
  • Fear of using supplies in a cost-conscious private facility.
  • Wound changes that do not preserve sterility.
  • Lack of wound care supplies, and consequent delayed changing of bandages.
  • No mouth or eye care supplies.
  • Poorly trained staff.
  • Lack of staff (1 RN for 200 residents in one case).
  • Patients sedated just because they are anxious, sad or depressed.
  • Aggressive and rough treatment by staff.
  • Forceful feeding and hydration leading to choking and aspiration.
  • Leaving food in the mouth of a sleeping patient.
  • Insufficient turning of patients in bed to prevent bed sores.
  • Patients left in soiled diapers.
  • Putting diapers on patients instead of letting them go to the toilet.
  • Patients crying for hours without getting attention.
  • Not putting patients in wheelchairs but leaving them in bed continuously.
  • Taking mobility aids away from patients so they don’t wander.
  • Cockroaches and flies.
  • Trays stacked with rotten food.
  • Lack of feeding and hydration.
  • No way to receive personal supplies from outside, such as magazines, snacks, shampoo, and soap.

These horrifying practices of abuse and neglect need to be added to the intended neglect, the removal of virtually all sources of stimulation.
We could compare what is left for these unfortunates to the “Joy of Life” standards for nursing homes in Norway. They define five dimensions that they believe contribute to a nursing home that provides the best possible care:

  1. Positive relations: Relations with caring and loving family members and friends. Being cared for by a positive healthcare staff.
  2. Belongingness: The need of belonging to someone and the necessity of having someone to belong [to]. The need [to] love and care for someone and [to] be loved and cared for.
  3. Sources of meaning: Participating and engaging in daily activities, being valuable to others and [capable] of helping others. Make their own decisions in daily life.
  4. Moments of feeling well: Experience small glimpses of the world outside. Attend social and cultural activities like concerts, theatre, visit a restaurant and being out in the natural environment. Having visitors.
  5. Acceptance: Being able [to accept] one’s life the way it is. Adapting and accepting one’s life situation.

Although standard nursing homes have probably never provided all of these aspects, at least not very well, the lockdown of old people, the banning of visitors, the panicked and overworked staff, has resulted in a complete and absolute removal of anything that could contribute to the “Joy of Life”. Did anyone ask even a single resident whether they would like to take their chance on the virus and continue to live life as normal?

The Canadian Forces report briefly mentioned sedation, but Spanish medical documents indicate that this is the solution when hospitals don’t want nursing home patients which, in Spain, is all the time right now. SECPAL, a Spanish palliative care society, writes (my translation):

In patients with COVID + a poor prognosis, and poor control of symptoms, who are not candidates for treatment in an ICU it could indicate that palliative sedation is necessary when the ordinary treatment is insufficient, and symptoms cannot be controlled.

Palliative sedation is performed with Midazolam, a benzodiazepine medication, that has a side effect of suppressing efforts to breathe. If the maximum dose of Midazolam is reached, then Levomepromazine should be used instead, a neuroleptic drug. Some of its side effects include on blood pressure and the heart.

It is important to understand that these patients may have health conditions that could be treated, and that untreated may cause pain. Sedation will not make the cause of the pain go away, but as the pain increases the patient will be pushed closer and closer to a coma.

Finally, the SECPAL recommendations suggest the removal of various types of medication, but also hydration. Lack of hydration will lead to death.
Little is known about the specific situation in Sweden, but according to a BBC report, workers are coming forward to state that transfer of residents to hospitals is discouraged, and that nursing home staff are not allowed to administer oxygen without the approval of a doctor.

Conclusions

I believe that the isolation of patients in nursing homes has not prevented deaths, but has caused deaths. Elderly, infirm people have nothing to live for any more, and poor care and abuse can no longer be observed, and stopped, by visiting friends and relatives. Underpaid staff, those who have not quit or been put in quarantine, are even more overworked than normal, resulting in poor care, frustration and abuse. Hospitals do not want nursing home patients, and the recommended alternative for the nursing home is to sedate and, if that doesn’t work, sedate some more.

Sweden, like virtually every other country, imposed an absolute ban on nursing home visitors. If this is the most destructive part of the lockdown then it is fair to say that Sweden did actually lock down when they banned visitors to nursing homes on March 31st, and this explains why its death rate is in the middle of the pack. We will never know if Sweden would have had a far lower death rate if the doors of their nursing homes had been left open to the outside world.

David Crowe is a Canadian independent researcher of infectious disease models and the host of a weekly radio show in Canada called The Infectious Myth.