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British Public No Longer on Double Secret Probation; Just Probation

Okay, it’s an Animal House joke and those who aren’t of my vintage might not get it. But at one point, when Dean Vernon is trying to think of ways to nobble Delta House, he says, “There is a little known codicil in the Faber College constitution which gives the Dean unlimited power to preserve order in time of campus emergency.” On this basis, he puts the unruly fraternity on “double secret probation”.

The “alert level” was lowered today from “Level 4” to “Level 3”. The UK Government’s press release about it is full of “the science” – “The Joint Biosecurity Centre has recommended that… blah, blah, blah.” Apparently, the definition of Level 4 is “a COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially” and the definition of Level 3 is “a COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation”.

Transmission hasn’t been “rising exponentially” since around March 18th, according to best estimates, so why has the Government left it until now to lower the “alert level” to 3? They really are making it up as they go along. Presumably, this charade is so Boris can say he’s abandoning the absurd two-metre social distancing rule because of “the science”.

Incidentally, according to the eagle-eyed reader keeping a beady watch on the NHS England daily death tolls, only two people died in English hospitals yesterday. He writes:

I was interested to read on the BBC news website a piece in which it was going through the various reasons people disbelieve some of the “facts” about COVID-19.

One of the reasons the BBC gave was that “people think the numbers are being misrepresented”.

I think the irony of that was lost on the BBC which regularly distort the numbers.

We only have to look at the officially produced figures released by the NHS every day, and the ONS weekly, to see for ourselves that the numbers quoted in the daily briefings are misrepresenting the actual figures.

He predicts that any day now NHS England will be forced to disclose that no people have died in English hospitals from COVID-19 the previous day.

Will that mean the Government drops the “alert level” to Level 2? Don’t bet on it.

Meanwhile, Britain’s largest hospital trust – the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust – has become the first to declare it has no COVID-19 patients requiring treatment in intensive care.

Ripley’s Un-PC, Believe it or Not

I can understand Aunt Jemima being cancelled, even, at a pinch, Uncle Ben. I mean, it’s batshit crazy, but you can see the twisted logic. But Ripley from Aliens? The kick-ass space soldier who takes on one of the scariest creatures in the universe? She’s a feminist icon, surely? I mean, she’s right up there with JK Rowling… no, wait.

Incidentally, it isn’t just Aliens that now carries a “disclaimer” on Sky. According to the Mail, 16 films have now been put on the naughty step:

Sky has warned viewers that Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Flash Gordon, Aladdin and even a version of The Jungle Book from as recently as 2016 have “outdated values”, as broadcasters respond to concerns that some content is no longer acceptable.

Sky Cinema, the broadcasting giant’s movie service, has issued a disclaimer to its subscribers that some of its content “has outdated attitudes, languages and cultural depictions which may cause offence today”.

Sixteen films have the warning, including The Goonies, Aliens, Dumbo, Gone With The Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Tropic Thunder, The Jazz Singer, The Littlest Rebel, The Lone Ranger, Balls of Fury and The Last Samurai.

Hang on a minute. Why hasn’t How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, the film based on my memoir of the same name, been given a “disclaimer”? Oh, the shame…

Has Smoking Always Been a Prophylactic Against the Plague?

A reader sent me the above extract from Thomas Hearne’s Diary. Looks like it isn’t just Covid that tobacco protects people from…

Greater Anglia Absolutely Determined to go Bust

Greater Anglia is literally begging people not to use its service

A reader has drawn my attention to the absurdly alarmist notice on the home page of Greater Anglia’s website. Here’s the notice in full:

Can you travel another way? Help us keep trains clear for those who really need them.

Greater Anglia is temporarily running an amended rail service as part of the national effort to deal with the coronavirus crisis. To support this, it is important that people work from home if they can, stagger their travel times to avoid crowds, and use other forms of transport wherever possible.

To help stay safe, you should maintain social distancing wherever possible and remember passengers should wear a face covering whilst on our stations or trains. This will be mandatory from 15 June 2020.

Social distancing measures will effectively cut the number of people able to travel on our trains by up to 90 per cent – so it’s even more important that people take only necessary journeys.

Passengers should always book online where possible and travel at quieter times, and we urge those who must travel to be considerate of other travellers and our staff during these testing times.

It seems like a parody. Social distancing has “effectively cut” the number of people who can use Greater Anglia’s service by “up to 90 per cent”? How have they worked that out? Nonetheless, this warning seems to be having the desired effect. According to the reader:

We travelled on four trains today and we were the only people in the entire carriage in each case…

It’s heart-breaking. Rail businesses, strapped for cash at the best of times, are now doing their utmost to discourage people from using their services. Their chances of surviving this period of insanity must be slim. Although, to be fair, they’re just doing the Government’s bidding. Perhaps with the “alert level” falling from “Level 4” to “Level 3”, they’ll be able to reduce the number of rail users they’ll have to cut from 90% to 75%.

It’s not just a cynical old Tory like me saying this, incidentally. Someone forwarded this message by the Labour-supporting railway historian Christian Wolmar:

The railways emphasis on simply deterring people from using trains will undoubtedly have a long term effect. Usage bottomed out at around 5 per cent of previous levels but even now, in the middle of June, it is only approximately 11%. How is the industry going to start persuading people that train travel is safe? In fact, evidence from Japan, Italy and New York suggests that very few people actually catch the disease from public transport – in research, few clusters were found on public transport.

When will the rail industry change its message? Waiting for a vaccine could be worse than waiting for Godot. Social distancing and the railways are simply incompatible and the industry bosses should be honest enough to accept that and put out messaging to that effect. Unfortunately the unions have been complicit in this as well. Rather than supporting measures that would begin to attract people back, TSSA boss Manuel Cortes said on June 15th that he hoped the mandatory wearing of masks would not mean people started using the railways again. Yet, his members’ jobs depend on precisely that.

The long term consequences could be devastating. The hordes of the Treasury are already circling the rail industry’s wagons. They are already unhappy about the huge cost of the bail-out to the railway companies and things will only get worse if passenger numbers do not pick up substantially soon. Even optimists in the industry reckon usage will reach 50% of last year’s norm by the middle of next year. That means subsidies to operate the railway will be enormous – possibly £300m per month in addition to the £5bn or so a year for investment – and there will be enormous pressure to cut back on investment and even on services.

The railways must start welcoming people and not keep telling them to go away.

Schools Soon Able to Increase “Protective Bubbles” From 15 to 30!

How’s this for a non-climb down climb down? According to the Mail, Gavin Williamson has announced that schools will be able to increase the number of pupils in “protective bubbles” from 15 to 30 so all children can return in September. So, er, what’s the difference between a “protective bubble” and a “classroom”, then? Thirty pupils is the average class size in England, for heaven’s sake.

He said the “bubbles” would in future be expanded to “include the whole class” – which would be around 30 pupils. But he refused to give more details, saying full guidance for schools will be published over the next fortnight.

Expanded to “include the whole class”? So they’re not actually “bubbles” any more? Doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The only “bubbles” are in Boris’s brain.

Simon Dolan Gets His Day in Court

Simon Dolan has been given a High Court date for his application for permission to Judicially Review the Government’s coronavirus regulations to be heard: July 2nd.

The Judicial Review will seek to challenge the Government on three main points:

  • Whether lockdown is unlawful because the Government implemented regulations under the Public Health Act 1984 instead of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 or the Coronavirus Act 2020.
  • The legality of the continuation of lockdown, and whether the tests for lifting it are too narrow, failing to take account of the economic and social impacts of lockdown.
  • Whether the restrictions brought in by the Government contravene the European Convention of Human Rights, which cover the right to liberty, family life, education and property.

To date, the CrowdJustice campaign behind the Judicial Review has raised more than £182,000, with 5,400 pledges. Thanks in no small part to readers of this site. If you feel like contributing again, click here.

Sign the Stu Peters Petition

The Free Speech Union has gone to bat for Stu Peters, the Manx Radio host who’s been suspended by his employer and referred to the Isle of Man’s Communications Commission – the equivalent of Ofcom – because he had the temerity to challenge the concept of “White Privilege”. This is a flagrant violation of Stu Peters’ right to free speech and the FSU has written to the Communications Commission demanding it drop its investigation and exonerate him.

A petition has been started by some Isle of Man locals in support of Stu. Please sign it to show your support for free speech.

Another Poem

Tiree MacGregor, who has written a poem for Lockdown Sceptics before, has written another.

Of a Convention under Threat

“[A]nd the two honest men grasped each other’s hard hands in mutual understanding.”
— George Eliot, Adam Bede

Handshaking: formerly, a civil act
In which the right hand, classically, grasped
Another’s and, depending on the tact
Of each, then “shook” (jerked up and down), while clasped
Briefly or long; in pressure varied, some
Shakes called “firm,” “crushing,” “wet fish,” even “non-”;
Of universal use; perhaps had come
From early in mankind’s existence on
The continent of Africa; of late,
Since civil life has seemed to many rotten
And Covid fears hold sway at any rate,
Avoided if not seemingly forgotten,
Forbye defences of civility
Put forth by lockdown sceptics (please which see).

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 for theme tunes for this site from readers today: “Lunacy” by Swans and “Right to Decide” by Hawkwind.

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.

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. (Note: please don’t email me at any other address.)

And Finally…

Amusing video by a YouTuber calling himself AwakenWithJP. It purports to be useful advice for risk-averse people – particularly about how they can protect themselves from the super-dangerous, Spanish Flu-like, killer-virus known as Covid.

Latest News

Government Abandons NHSX Contact-Tracing App

An Isle of Wight resident poses with his smartphone showing the NHS Covid-19 app. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

According to the Mail, the Telegraph, the Guardian, etc., Matt Hancock has finally given up trying to roll out the NHSX contact-tracing app. Instead, the Government will rely on the method that’s been developed by Apple and Google and is already in use in most major European countries. I asked our correspondent, who’s been following this slow-motion car crash since the beginning, to give us his take on this U-turn.

It was over six weeks ago that this site asked, “If the app is being developed by the NHS, will it actually work?” This week we got our told-you-so moment as the Minister for Innovation, Lord Bethell, told the Science and Technology Committee that he was unable to give a date for the launch, admitting: “I won’t hide from you that there are technical challenges with getting the app right.”

Once the mainstay of the Government’s response to COVID-19, with Matt Hancock announcing a June 1st launch in England, the NHSX contact-tracing app is now a festering embarrassment. Lord Bethell blamed the virus itself for not sticking around long enough for a Government-managed IT project to deliver. Apparently, the relatively low prevalence of the virus means “we’re not feeling under great time pressure”. He also blamed the public, which is supposed to be afraid of the virus not the app, saying the public were highly concerned about privacy issues and such-like and this was one reason an app had not been “rushed” out. (Lol.)

So well done to NHSX’s two lead managers, Matthew Gould and Geraint Lewis, who will now be “stepping back”. Job done!

To be fair to the UK Government, they are not the only ones making a mess of delivering a Covid-tracing app. Norway, which I pointed out on May 4th was already in difficulty with its app, has had to delete all the data it’s collected so far. The Norwegian Data Protection Authority ruled the Smittestopp app represented a disproportionate intrusion into users’ privacy. Like the UK Government, Norway shunned the Apple/Google privacy-respecting approach, but is now having second thoughts and could be joining Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Latvia et al in using the decentralised approach. Further afield, a bug in the latest version of Australia’s app means many iPhones have failed to log matches.

If the software wasn’t enough of a problem, researchers from Trinity College Dublin have found that the physics isn’t even being cooperative. All the apps depend on Bluetooth Low Energy radio technology and the understanding that the further away you are from a radio transmitter, the weaker the received signal; inverse square law and all that. So measuring signal strength should be a way to determine proximity to another phone. Great in theory, but in practice the signal can be disrupted by the bag that it’s in, or the person holding the phone, or even where you happen to be. One test in a railway carriage found the signal strength increasing as the separation went beyond two meters because of the way the metallic body of the carriage funnels the signal. In a supermarket, the signal strength could not be used to distinguish between a separation of two metres or less.

Let’s hope they don’t waste any more money on it.

So a Government-managed IT project has failed to deliver and ministers have turned to the private sector for a solution? Who would have thunk it?

File this one under “dog bites man”.

Back in the USSR

There was a funny story in the MailOnline yesterday.

A mix-up on the Government’s new online quarantine form has given the option for travellers entering the UK to declare themselves as being from countries which no longer exist.

Those filling it out on the Home Office’s website were able to claim they were from places such as Czechoslovakia and the USSR – both of which have not existed for almost three decades.

Other options included on the drop-down list were the German Democratic Republic, known as East Germany, which was reunified with West Germany in 1990, Upper Volta, which is now the West African country of Burkina Faso and Southern Rhodesia, which is now part of Zimbabwe.

From Our Welsh Correspondent

Yesterday, I published an email from a reader about the absurdities of trying to view a house in Wales under the present restrictions. But his encounter with the English estate agent ended up being quite pleasant:

Turned out the estate agent who showed us around was a lockdown sceptic! He’s refused furlough, and been working through the lockdown selling houses. We were swapping anti-lockdown stats and facts. (He was impressed when I told him that people under the age of 19 are more likely to perish from trouser-related accidents than COVID-19). And we rounded off a pleasant encounter by bemoaning the fact that our British Bulldog spirit has been usurped by “bloody snowflakes”.

Also, he was chatting to us from about two feet away, and told us we could ignore the “glove-wearing rule”.

Oh, and the house was next to a golf course, open now at last, and about eight golfing old-timers were congregating at the picnic tables near the clubhouse, flouting every law in the Corona-rulebook, regardless of their “vulnerable” status.

At last, some sanity!

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

Three suggestions for theme tunes for this site from readers today: “Patience” by Guns N’ Roses, “Isolation” by John Lennon and “Virtual Insanity” by Jamiroquai.

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.

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. Bit short today – busy, busy, busy – but it usually takes me several hours, 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. (Note: please don’t email me at any other address.)

And Finally…

A friend of mine – Aidan Hartley – is the Chairman of a new private testing company called Pyser Testing that’s set up shop in the Honourable Artillery Company in the City and I went and got tested on Tuesday. For £48, you can get a pretty reliable antibody test. The tests are administered by ex-Army medics and you get the results back in 10-15 minutes.

For testing experts, it’s a lateral flow rapid antibody test manufactured by CTK Biotech. It hasn’t been officially endorsed by Public Health England, which, to date, has only endorsed the Roche and Abbott antibody tests, but it has been licensed for sale in the UK by MHRA. The same test at a private clinic in Harley Street would cost upwards of £150 and it’s cheaper than the one that was on sale at Superdrug but which has now been withdrawn. You can also get an Abbott test – the gold standard, according to Aidan – but that costs £96 and you have to wait three or four days for the results. All fees are inclusive of VAT.

If you want to book a test, you can do so online here. The plan is to roll it out across the country in due course.

I’ve written about the experience in this week’s Spectator. The stakes were quite high for me, and not just because I wanted to know whether I really had COVID-19, as I think I did back in March. My column begins:

Back in April, the Spectator ran a feature in which the partners of regular contributors wrote about what it was like being stuck in quarantine with the likes of us. What Caroline had to say was not very flattering: “Toby spent the first week of lockdown in bed convinced he had coronavirus. He didn’t. He is a complete hypochondriac at the best of times and this pandemic has sent his anxiety levels through the roof. He was so worried about catching it that the stress led to a bout of shingles, which is what actually laid him up.” Ever since then I have been trying to prove to her that I really did have COVID-19, but without success.

But this is a tale that ends happily, at least for me.

On my way back to the Tube I called Caroline. “Looks like you’re going to be eating humble pie this evening,” I said. She couldn’t believe it. But, sure enough, I’d tested positive for immunoglobulin G. Turns out it wasn’t man flu after all.

“I’m a vegetarian,” she objected.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “There’s no meat in humble pie. It’s full of things that are really good for you.”

Latest News

Professor Ferguson unveils his latest model

I’ve decided to post an update every day, but the updates proper will be on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with shorter ones on the other days. This is in response to numerous requests in the comment from people who find it difficult to keep track of the threads if there are over 1,000 comments, something that happens if more than 24 hours pass since the previous update. Friday’s update, for instance, attracted 1,714 comments.

Today, I’ve decided to devote the entirety of the update to Professor Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College, including a guest post by “Sue Denim”, the software engineer who wrote “Code Review of Ferguson’s Model” for Lockdown Sceptics on May 6th. That article was the most talked-about post that’s appeared on this site, as well as the most viewed.

This seems like a good time to publish Sue’s latest thoughts about Professor Ferguson’s model because yesterday the Imperial College modelling team, including Neil Ferguson, published a paper in Nature, based on a new model, arguing that the lockdowns have saved the lives of approximately 3.1 million people in 11 European countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK). In the UK alone, the authors think the lockdown has saved 470,000 lives.

That 3.1 million figure, which they call “counterfactual deaths”, is the number of deaths they estimate would have occurred by May 4th if there had been no non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) and people’s behaviour hadn’t changed one jot in response to the pandemic. But that’s a rather obvious sleight of hand. In effect, their argument involves contrasting the collective impact of the NPIs in all 11 countries, including Sweden, with a counterfactual scenario in which nothing was done at all, and saying, “Look! The lockdowns saved 3.1 million lives.”

No one, as far as I’m aware, has ever advocated that governments around the world do nothing in response to the pandemic. Rather, the argument is about whether they over-reacted. Have the full lockdowns saved more lives than less severe restrictions would have done, given the public health impact of imprisoning everyone in their homes, as well as the catastrophic economic consequences?

It’s also highly implausible to imagine people would have done nothing in response to the pandemic – just carried on as normal – in the absence of state-mandated, top-down directives. This flatly contradicts both common sense and actual mobility data from Google and other sources that shows people’s mobility falling before the lockdowns were imposed.

The authors try and get round this by including the following caveat:

The counterfactual model without interventions is illustrative only and reflects our model assumptions. We do not account for changes in behaviour; in reality even in the absence of government interventions we would expect Rt to decrease and therefore would overestimate deaths in the no-intervention model

So they know the 3.1 million number is wrong because their assumptions are wrong, but provide a specific number anyway for “illustrative only” purposes. But what is it supposed to illustrate, given that it doesn’t actually tell us how many people would have died in the absence of any NPIs?

I think I know the answer: it illustrates the ideological worldview of the scientists involved, which is that virtually the entire population in these 11 countries are sheep-like entities who must be told what to do by experts like them. Reading about a dangerous virus in the news –seeing pictures of hospitals in Italy being overwhelmed – won’t affect their behaviour in the slightest.

The epidemiologists who’ve been advising the UK Government during this crisis often protest that they are perfectly neutral scientists, and anyone who criticises them is “ideological”. But as we can see, this Imperial College model takes for granted an essentially communist worldview in which the masses must be directed by central planners.

In order to make a convincing argument for the lockdowns, the paper would have to compare the number of lives saved as a result of the severe restrictions imposed in 10 of the 11 countries with the number that would have been saved if those 10 countries had stuck with the same mitigation strategy as Sweden. That’s the relevant counterfactual, not the one they’ve conjured up, and the case for the lockdowns depends upon calculating the number of lives saved in contrast to that counterfactual and demonstrating that it’s greater than the collateral damage done by the extra measures taken. This paper only tells us how effective the lockdowns have been in contrast to an alternative scenario – the do-nothing approach – which no one is arguing for.

In other words, the paper isn’t a defence of the lockdowns imposed in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and the UK. Rather, it’s an argument for doing something rather than nothing.

Needless to say, that isn’t how it’s being presented by its authors, or how it’s being reported in the press. The BBC’s headline yesterday, predictably enough, was “Lockdowns in Europe saved millions of lives“, apparently taking the Imperial team’s claim at face value, while the Sun at least has the good sense to put that claim in inverted commas: “Lockdown ‘prevented the deaths of 470,000 Brits from coronavirus – and 3m across EU’.

Imperial has put out a press release claiming that the lockdowns have saved 3.1 million lives in Europe. Hang on. Wasn’t that 3.1 million number supposed to be purely “illustrative”, i.e. not a meaningful estimate of how much loss of life (if any) the lockdowns have prevented? The same release includes a quote from Dr Seth Flaxman, one of the paper’s authors, bragging about how many lives have been saved because governments across Europe have followed the sagacious advice of him and his team:

Using a model based on data from the number of deaths in 11 European countries, it is clear to us that non-pharmaceutical interventions – such as lockdown and school closures, have saved about 3.1 million lives in these countries.

An “illustrative only” figure seems to have been transformed into a hard data point without a second glance.

In the BBC story, Dr Flaxman emphasises that the crisis is far from over. “Claims this is all over can be firmly rejected,” he says. “We are only at the beginning of this pandemic.” That warning is echoed by Dr Samir Bhatt, another of the paper’s authors: “There is a very real risk if mobility goes back up there could be a second wave coming reasonably soon, in the next month or two.”

This follows from their model, since they assume the only reason the rate of infection has declined in the 11 countries they’ve looked at is because it’s been effectively suppressed by NPIs, not because the number of people with natural immunity is far greater than initially thought, or because the virus is nosocomial, or seasonal. The possibility that the majority of people who’ve died from COVID-19 are unusually vulnerable – elderly people in care homes and hospitals with underlying health conditions – and that further waves of infection are unlikely to have anything like the same infection fatality rate (IFR) isn’t considered by the paper’s authors. The model assumes the IFR is and will continue to be about 1% – four times greater than the CDC estimate. It also doesn’t allow for the fact that the IFR varies according to age.

Meanwhile, another paper in Nature – this one from a team at the University of California – claims that NPIs in China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, France, and the United States have prevented 530 million people becoming infected. But, again, the relevant counterfactual is no NPIs whatsoever, rather than a more measured approach. So not a persuasive argument for lockdowns either.

The argument made in these papers for the lockdowns is unpersuasive. It’s the equivalent of justifying Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal crackdown on drug trafficking in the Philippines, in spite of the fact that it’s resulted in the deaths of over 7,000 suspects, by pointing to the number of drug deaths it’s prevented and making the relevant counterfactual the absence of any policing whatsoever rather than a less draconian approach.

There’s a saying among scientists – just because something is published in Nature doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong. But Imperial’s new paper takes the biscuit. Running my eye over the list of authors, I was surprised not to see Mystic Meg’s name there.

____________________________

So, on to the main event: Sue Denim’s latest blog post. I’m posting it in the update today, but will move it to the right-hand menu tomorrow so it sits beneath Sue’s previous two blog posts. A quick reminder that “Sue Denim” is not the author’s real name – kinda obvious when you think about it. The writer is a senior software engineer/consultant who doesn’t want to disclose his/her identity. As he/she wrote at the beginning of his/her first post:

I have been writing software for 30 years. I worked at Google between 2006 and 2014, where I was a senior software engineer working on Maps, Gmail and account security. I spent the last five years at a US/UK firm where I designed the company’s database product, amongst other jobs and projects. I was also an independent consultant for a couple of years.

How Replicable is the Imperial College Model?

by Sue Denim

In Multiplicity, the Michael Keaton character struggled to replicate himself accurately

After Toby published my first and second pieces, Imperial College London (ICL) produced two responses. In this article I will study them. I’ve also written an appendix that provides some notes on the C programming language to address some common confusions observed amongst modellers, which Toby will publish tomorrow.

Attempted replication. On the June 1st ICL published a press release on its website stating that Stephen Eglen, an academic at Cambridge, was able to reproduce the numbers in ICL’s influential Report 9. I was quite interested to see how that was achieved. As a reminder, Imperial College’s Report 9 modelling drove lockdown in many countries.

Unfortunately, this press release continues ICL’s rather worrying practice of making misleading statements about its work. The headline is “Codecheck confirms reproducibility of COVID-19 model results”, and the article highlights this quote:

I was able to reproduce the results… from Report 9.

This is an unambiguous statement. However, the press release quotes the report as saying: “Small variations (mostly under 5%) in the numbers were observed between Report 9 and our runs.”

This is an odd definition of “replicate” for the output of a computer program, but it doesn’t really matter because what ICL doesn’t mention is this: the very next sentence of Eglen’s report says:

I observed 3 significant differences:

1. Table A1: R0=2.2, trigger = 3000, PC_CI_HQ_SDOL70, peak beds (in thousands): 40 vs 30, a 25% decrease.
2. Table 5: on trigger = 300, off trigger = 0.75, PC_CI_HQ_SD, total deaths: 39,000 vs 43,000, a 10% increase.
3. Table 5: on trigger = 400, off trigger = 0.75, CI_HQ_SD, total deaths: 100,000 vs 110,000, a 10% increase.

In other words, he wasn’t able to replicate Report 9. There were multiple “significant differences” between what he got and what the British Government based its decisions on.

How significant? The supposedly minor difference in peak bed demand between his run and Report 9 is 10,000 beds, or roughly the size of the entire UK field hospital deployment. This supports the argument that ICL’s model is unusable for planning purposes, although that’s the entire justification for its existence.

Eglen claims this non-replication is in fact a replication by arguing:

although the absolute values do not match the initial report, the overall trends are consistent with
the original report

A correctly written model will be replicable to the last decimal place. When using the same seeds and same input data the expected variance is zero, not 25%. Stephen Eglen should retract his “code check”, as it’s incorrect to claim a model is replicable when nobody can get it to generate the same outputs that other people saw.

Number of simulation runs. ICL have contradicted themselves about how Report 9 was generated. Their staff previously claimed that, “Many tens of thousands of runs contributed to the spread of results in report 9.” In Eglen’s report we see a very different claim. He explains some of the difference between his results and ICL’s by saying:

These results are the average of NR=10 runs, rather than just one simulation as used in Report 9

Imperial College’s internal controls are so poor they can’t give a straight accounting of how Report 9 was generated.

The point of stochasticity is to estimate confidence bounds. If incorporating random chance into your simulation changes the output only a bit, you assume random chance won’t affect real world outcomes much either and this increases your confidence. Report 9 is notable for not providing any confidence bounds whatsoever. All numbers are given as precise predictions in different scenarios, with no discussion of uncertainty beyond a few possible values of R0. None of the graphs render uncertainty bounds either (unlike e.g. the University of Washington model). The lack of bounds would certainly be explained if the simulation was run only once.

People working on the ICL model have argued the huge variety of bug reports they received don’t matter, because they just run it repeatedly and average the outputs. This argument is nonsense as discussed repeatedly, but if they didn’t actually run it multiple times at all then the argument falls apart on its own terms.

Models vs experiments. The belief that you can just average out model bugs appears to be based on a deep confusion between simulations and reality. A shockingly large number of academics seem to believe that running a program is the same thing as running an experiment, and thus any unexplained variance in output should just be recorded and treated as cosmic uncertainty. However, models aren’t experiments; they are predictions generated by entirely controllable machines. When replicating software-generated predictions, the goal is not to explore the natural world, but to ensure that the program can be correctly tested, and to stop model authors simply cherry-picking outputs to fit their pre-conceived beliefs. As we shall see, that is a vital requirement.

Does replication matter? It does. You don’t have to take my word for it: ask Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, who in 2015 stated:

The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness. As one participant put it, “poor methods get results”.

Alternatively ask Professor Neil Ferguson, who is a signatory to this open letter to the Lancet requesting retraction of the “hydroxychloroquine is dangerous” paper because of the unreliability of the data it’s based on, supplied by an American health analytics company called Surgisphere. The letter justifies the demand for retraction by saying:

The authors have not adhered to standard practices in the machine learning and statistics community. They have not released their code or data.

ICL should give the authors the benefit of the doubt – maybe Surgisphere just need a couple of months to release their code. They are peer-reviewed experts, after all. And statistics isn’t a sub-field of epidemiology, so according to Imperial College spokespeople that means Ferguson isn’t qualified to criticise it anyway.

Initial response and the British Computer Society. Via its opinion writers, the Daily Telegraph picked up on my analysis. ICL gave them this statement:

A spokesperson for the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team responded to criticism of its code by saying the Government “has never relied on a single disease model to inform decision-making”.

“Within the Imperial research team we use several models of differing levels of complexity, all of which produce consistent results. We are working with a number of legitimate academic groups and technology companies to develop, test and further document the simulation code referred to. However, we reject the partisan reviews of a few clearly ideologically motivated commentators.

The first bolded statement is typically misleading. In the SAGE publication from March 9th addressing lockdowns, the British Government was given the conclusions of the SPI-M SAGE subgroup in tables 1 and 2. On page 8, that document states the tables and assumptions are sourced to a single paper from ICL which has never been published, but from the title and content it seems clear that it was an earlier draft of Report 9. There is no evidence of modelling from any other institution contributing to this report, i.e. it doesn’t appear to be true that the Government has “never” relied on a single model – that’s exactly what it was fed by its own advisory panel.

The second bolded statement is merely unfortunate. By ideologically motivated commentators they must have meant the vast array of professional software engineers who posted their reactions on Twitter, on GitHub and on this site. The beliefs of the vast majority in the software industry were summarised by the British Computer Society (BCS), a body that represents people working in computer science in the UK. The BCS stated:

Computer code used to model the spread of diseases including coronavirus “must meet professional standards” … “the quality of the software implementations of scientific models appear to rely too much on the individual coding practices of the scientists who develop them”

Is Imperial College going to argue that the BCS is partisan and ideologically motivated?

On motivations. It’s especially unfortunate when academics defend themselves by claiming their critics – all of them, apparently – are ideological. Observing that coding standards are much higher in the private sector than in the academy isn’t even controversial, let alone ideological, as shown by the numerous responses from academics agreeing with this point, and stressing that they can’t be expected to produce code up to commercial standards. (They “need more funding”, obviously.)

But in recent days people have observed that “for months, health experts told people to stay home. Now, many are encouraging the public to join mass protests.” The world has watched as over 1,200 American epidemiologists, academics and other public health officials published an open letter which said: “[A]s public health advocates, we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission …. this should not be confused with a permissive stance on all gatherings, particularly protests against stay at home orders.”

According to “the science” the danger posed by this virus depends on the ideological views of whoever is protesting. This is clearly nonsense and explains why Imperial College administrators were so quick to accuse others of political bias: they see it everywhere because academia is riven with it.

To rebuild trust in public science will require a firm policy response. As nobody rational will trust the claims of academic epidemiologists again any time soon, as the UK’s public finances are now seriously damaged by furlough and recession, and as professional modelling firms are attempting to develop reliable epidemic models themselves anyway, it’s unclear why this field should continue to receive taxpayer funding. The modellers with better standards can, and should, advise the Government in future.

Professor Sunetra Gupta Pooh-Poohs Imperial’s “We Saved the Planet” Baloney

Professor Sunetra Gupta: Sceptic of the Week

Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at Oxford and a long-standing sceptic, was interviewed by Sarah Montagu on Radio 4’s World at One today and asked whether she agreed that the lockdown has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. She demolished the lockdown case so I asked a regular contributor to this site to make a transcript.

Sarah Montagu: Coronavirus is in retreat across the country. So said England’s Health Secretary yesterday after reporting 55 deaths, the lowest death toll since the weekend before the lockdown. Is the virus in retreat because of the lockdown and does it mean that it was all worth it? Imperial College said this week that the lockdown saved millions of lives in Europe. But there is another view that the price of the lockdown was and will yet be felt in different ways. Sunetra Gupta is Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at the University of Oxford and I asked her whether she would have argued for herd immunity all along.

Sunetra Gupta: Yes I think I would have said that but on the proviso that we put as much money as possible and to make up for what hasn’t happened over the last 30 years to support the vulnerable sections of the population. So I would have said yes, I think at that point we had enough information to know that there were certain sectors of the population who were particularly vulnerable and that we needed to protect them. And the word protect of course carries with it all sorts of implications, but essentially it seemed to me that there was a real gap in the resources available to achieve that. Let’s now try and divert as many resources as possible to protect the vulnerable population and to reduce their risk. And the way to reduce the risk to the vulnerable population, as we have done unwittingly in some cases with the pathogens that do kill elderly people and others who are vulnerable, is by having enough immunity ourselves such that the risk posed to the vulnerable population is low.

Sarah Montagu: So what the idea [is] that the rest of the population carry on as normal, try possibly to get the virus so that they can be the people who represent the herd immunity?

SG: I mean, that’s how we’ve traditionally dealt with the pathogens that do at the moment kill the elderly and vulnerable. I mean it’s a terrible thing that that happens, but it happens, but I guess we’ve made that decision that we need to balance out that problem against the problem of completely shutting down the economy or compromising our social interactions to the point of farce, let’s face it.

SM: So, what? Has the lockdown been a farce?

SG: We’re trying to wriggle out of this situation in a way that is I think quite farcical, we’ve come up with rules that are quite arbitrary to my mind.

SM: The idea would be to change the strategies so that it is the older and frail who should be staying indoors?

SG: First of all I think we need to go out there and make a proper map of what their risk is, and the risk to the elderly and frail is not just contingent on how elderly and frail they are but how immune the rest of the population is. So we need to go out and test to the best of our abilities, knowing now that some people are not going to register positive on these tests simply because they happen to be entirely resistant to the disease. We need some very clever statisticians and people who are disinterested in promoting any kind of sense of what they think is going on to make a proper clear, best assessment of what the risks are to the vulnerable in every part of the country – which is, talking about the UK, there is a huge variation in who’s been exposed, given the locality; there’s enormous heterogeneity and homogenising this data just to fit certain precepts or some preconceptions is not helpful. What we need to do is go out there, look at who’s been exposed in different regions, look at who is vulnerable and come up with a strategy, put money – public money – into supporting the people who are vulnerable, given the risks that they face. Though in London I think the epidemic has more or less run its course from what I can see and, you know, perhaps we can have different strategies, but it’s very likely from the data that it hasn’t spread out from London, so we need to make sensible decisions about how to protect people.

SM: So should we relax about the R number, lift the lockdown quickly and not be phased by the idea of a second wave?

SG: I think the R number is impossible… There will be another resurgence of this, like any other respiratory pathogen in the winter, and we need to prepare for that.

SM: We hear that there is some regret expressed in Sweden at their high death toll. Would that not have happened here if we didn’t have the lockdown?

SG: I think it’s unfortunate that people are focusing on that point. I think that what Tegnell said that they could have done better to protect the care homes and that is indeed what we should have done… we should have protected if we could, and far be it from me to say how that would have been possible, but to protect people in care homes – I think we’re agreed on that and I think it’s unfortunate that people are jumping on that to say that they should have locked down earlier. What I don’t understand about lockdown, is what is the exit strategy from it anyway?

SM: Would you just lift it as quickly as possible?

SG: Yes. Right now, yes, absolutely.

SM: Do you think the disease arose earlier in China than has been suggested?

SG: Absolutely, yes.

SM: When do you think it appeared?

SG: I wouldn’t want to put a number on it but I think that in any normal system by the time you detect deaths from a disease it’s been around for at least a month.

SM: So, what are we talking – October rather than November?

SG: Yes, something like that – October or November.

For those who want to listen to it, it’s here. Starts at the 20m 25s point.

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:

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. If you feel like donating, 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.

And Finally…

For those of you who haven’t yet subscribed to mine and James Delingpole’s weekly London Calling podcast, here’s a link to the latest episode, recorded yesterday. We share our dismay at the events of last weekend – with the journalists who applauded the mob that tore down Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, and the police who stood by and let them do it. What’s next? Hadrian’s Wall? It’s a symbol of colonialism, after all. I suggest to James that we should head north and start dismantling it ourselves as a parody of the “Rhodes Must Fall” nonsense, but he worries about the “wildlings” that might pour through the gap. You can listen to it here.

It’s surely only a matter of time before James Delingpole and I are cancelled

Latest News

Cakes and Ale Back on Sale

Sir Toby Belch and the Clown by Keeley Halswelle. But which one’s Boris?

Boris has earmarked June 22nd as the day when pubs and restaurants across the nation will be allowed to reopen, according to the Mail. This is two weeks ahead of schedule (the original date for the grand reopening was July 4th). The accelerated timetable follows a crunch meeting last Tuesday when the Prime Minister was warned by Business Secretary Alok Sharma that prolonging the shutdown could cost 3.5 million jobs in the hospitality sector.

According to Tim Shipman and Arthi Nachiappan in yesterday’s Sunday Times, the 3.5 million figure came as a shock to Boris, who is supposed to have said, “Christ!” when told the news. If the Prime Minister was surprised to discover that the lockdown is causing job losses – and will cause many, many more – he hasn’t been paying attention.

But don’t get out the bunting quite yet: those pubs and restaurants that do reopen will only be able to serve customers outside. Not a very appealing prospect, given the current state of the weather.

In other news:

  • Britain recorded its lowest daily death toll today since March 22nd, with only 55 new deaths reported
  • No new deaths were reported today in Scotland or Northern Ireland
  • Britons should be able to travel freely within the EU without having to quarantine for 14 days by mid-July. Shame ministers aren’t put in the corner for 14 days every time they walk some crazy policy back
  • Sunday trading laws could be suspended for a year to encourage people to go shopping

More on the Dreaded “Second Spike”

Not immediately clear on studying this graph when the “second spike” is supposed to have occurred

I was having supper with my children on Friday, having just filed the latest daily update, when they all received news alerts on their phones warning that the R number was going up again. “Looks like you were wrong about lockdown easing, Dad,” said my 15 year-old son.

This was based on a Public Health England/Cambridge University study saying there was “some evidence” the R number had “risen in all regions” of England. But on closer inspection, this wasn’t as alarming as it seemed. What the study in fact said is that it was “probable” the rate of infection was below 1 in all regions apart from the North West and the South West. But even in the latter, the study estimated the R number was “around” 1. So in fact it was only above 1 in the North West.

When asked about this at Friday’s Downing Street press briefing, Matt Hancock pooh-poohed it, pointing out that SAGE believed the R number was below one across the country.

The problem with the R number, as I’ve pointed out before, is that it’s fiendishly difficult to calculate, given incomplete data about who is and isn’t infected, and if the number of infected people in a particular region is quite low, as it is across the UK, a localised flare-up – in a care home or hospital, for instance – can push the R number above 1 without cause for alarm. Indeed, that’s what happened in Germany a few weeks ago. So few people were infected in the country, that an outbreak of infection at a single meat-packing plant in North Rhine-Westphalia pushed the R number above 1. The following day it fell back down again.

YouTube’s Censor-in-Chief Heading For Nervous Breakdown Trying to Keep Up With WHO’s Constantly Changing Guidance

“For God’s sake Tedros, make up your mind so I know who to censor.”

My heart goes out to the poor drudge at YouTube charged with overseeing the removal of any content that challenges the WHO’s official guidance on COVID-19.

As you’ll recall, the CEO of YouTube Susan Wojcicki told CNN’s Reliable Sources at the end of April that the social media platform would be “removing information that is problematic”, including “anything that would go against World Health Organisation recommendations”.

But the problem is, those recommendations change from one day to the next. So how is YouTube’s Censor-in-Chief supposed to keep up?

Take face masks.

Readers with long memories will recall this WHO video which tentatively recommended the wearing of masks, in combination with other protective measures.

Then, on April 6th, the WHO updated its advice. Now, apparently, there was no point in wearing masks:

there is currently no evidence that wearing a mask (whether medical or other types) by healthy persons in the wider community setting, including universal community masking, can prevent them from infection [sic] with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.

But in its latest official guidance, published on June 5th, the WHO has recommended that everyone should wear masks in public areas. The WHO’s technical lead expert on COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, said in a Reuters interview: “We are advising governments to encourage that the general public wear a mask.”

No doubt in a few weeks time, the WHO’s advice will change again. It’s almost as if the organisation is trolling us now.

Question for Susan Wojcicki: If your video was removed because you expressed a point of view that was contrary to the WHO’s guidance on, say, April 9th, but is now in line with it because the WHO has changed its mind, can you apply to have your banned video reinstated?

In case you missed it, Lockdown Sceptics published a summary of the scientific evidence that wearing face masks reduces transmission on Friday that you can read here. TL;DR: it’s pretty threadbare.

Stop Press: The WHO has just announced that asymptomatic coronavirus patients aren’t infectious.

Editorial in Wall St Journal

A Black Lives Matter rally in Brisbane, Australia, on Saturday

There’s a great editorial in the Wall St Journal today entitled “Doctors For Lockdown Discrimination” pointing out the rank hypocrisy of Democratic politicians and public-health scientists who condemned anti-lockdown protestors, but who are now enthusiastically endorsing the Black Lives Matter protests. The editorial board homes in on the letter circulated by public-health researchers at the University Washington last week, signed by 1,300 health-care providers, epidemiologists and medical students around the country, seeking to justify this volte face.

“On April 30th, heavily armed and predominantly white protesters entered the State Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, protesting stay-home orders and calls for widespread public masking to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Infectious disease physicians and public health officials publicly condemned these actions and privately mourned the widening rift between leaders in science and a subset of the communities that they serve,” they write.

“As of May 30th, we are witnessing continuing demonstrations in response to ongoing, pervasive, and lethal institutional racism set off by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among many other Black lives taken by police,” they continue. “However, as public health advocates, we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission” because “white supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19.”

“This should not be confused with a permissive stance on all gatherings, particularly protests against stay-home orders,” they add. “Those actions not only oppose public health interventions, but are also rooted in white nationalism and run contrary to respect for Black lives.”

So there you have it folks. If you want to protest in favour of Black Lives Matter – a political group that wants to end capitalism, among other things – that’s perfectly fine. In fact, it’s your moral duty to do so. But if you want to protest against the lockdowns, you’re a “white nationalist”, i.e. a fascist.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too outraged by this. After all, it means we don’t have to worry about a vaccine before we can dispense with social distancing measures. All we need do is proclaim our allegiance to a progressive cause and we’ll be immune from infection.

Good Thread By QC on Draconian Quarantine Regulations

I spotted a good Twitter Thread by Tom Hickman, a QC at Blackstone Chambers, about the new quarantine regulations that came into force today:

(1) So, the 14 day quarantine regs. How do they affect your summer holiday plans? Your work? Let me explain. And let me explain some surprising features of the rules.
(2) You may be thinking that people arriving in the UK – including you returning from a summer holiday – would have to observe the sort of stay at home measures you were observing in March and April. Wrong.
(3) The regs would require you to stay at home full stop. No leaving for exercise, not even once round the block. No leaving for shopping, unless you are on brink of starvation and no-one can go for you (“exceptional circumstances”) No cleaner, no nanny,…
(4) There isn’t even the “reasonable excuse” exception (otherwise known as the Dominic Cummings exception) like there used to be in the lockdown regs.
(5) These rules are criminal law, backed by criminal law sanctions.
(6) Here’s some surprising features of this system. In lawyerly sub para numbers.(6.1). As I have hinted at, these restrictions on liberty are far more severe than were imposed, and were effective, at the height of the pandemic, when transmission rates in the UK were very high.
(6.2) These are more stringent restrictions on liberty than those people diagnosed with or displaying symptoms of Covi-19 are subject to – 7 day isolation, based on guidance, entirely voluntary and based on individual responsibility.
(6.3) The restrictions apply in an entirely blanket fashion even from arrivals from countries with v low transmission levels. Contrast England with 17k each day.
(6.4) Buried in the schedule is an exception for people whose work requires weekly travel to the UK or to countries outside the UK. So most frequent work travellers are exempted from quarantine and can continue to come and go as they please.
(6.5) Whilst the UK Gov website proclaims this a UK wide approach starting on 7 June there are currently no regs have been published outside England. Therefore if you enter the UK outside England or live outside England on Monday: no quarantine.

Herd Opinion

Guardian journalists prepare to stampede on discovering a trainee reporter doesn’t support the BLM movement

Good question posed in the thread beneath Friday’s update from an executive of a large American corporation:

I have to be a little circumspect here, because I can’t risk being identified, especially in the current economic climate.

I work for a large American corporation, which is a very large employer in many countries around the world. I was surprised to see in the last few days that our CEO decided to send an internal communication to all employees taking a definite and unequivocal position on the BLM protests that are happening in the US and elsewhere. It’s not the first time I’ve seen him go on record with a political opinion, but it’s the first time I’ve seen an official party line be broadcast in this way.

For three months, the entire focus of the top management of the company has been on how to mitigate the blood bath that we’re seeing in terms of results around the world because of lockdowns. I know this, because I’ve been in many of the “meetings”. Nobody has been supportive of the lockdown and everyone thinks it’s an overreaction. We’ve lost, at a guess, between $3 – $4 billion in revenue this year compared to last year (again, to be very clear, I’m not naming the company and I have not seen the actual numbers. This is a gut feel).

Nobody has made any statement on our opinion beyond “keeping employees safe”.

How can it make any sense that the corporation is prepared to go on record with an opinion about the death of one man in Minneapolis but not prepared to comment on the destruction of the global economy? It’s perverse.

What’s the answer? It must have something to do with people being frightened to challenge herd opinion. Free speech used to be better protected, but one of the reasons governments around the world have been able to take away the civil rights of over a billion people is because people are frightened to challenge prevailing orthodoxies for fear of being publicly shamed or worse.

Is the NHS Becoming Schrödinger’s Cat?

Alarming email from a reader:

I called my sister on Saturday for news about our ailing and widowed father who is insisting on soldiering on in his house. She has given up keeping away, realizing that reassuring and caring for a confused old man at the end of his life is a more important priority.

She works at a local secondary school helping the special needs children. It’s already become apparent that ‘social distancing’ is ludicrously impossible. She goes in once a week at the moment to deal with the offspring of essential workers. They frequently turn up without equipment like pens and need constant assistance. Various members of staff have discovered they have to give them something to write with and can’t possibly sort out computer problems and other issues by standing half a mile away. Nonetheless, the headteacher has taken it upon herself to patrol the school, ever vigilant for such misdemeanours, and has already issued two teachers with disciplinary warnings – these of course will stay on their professional records. With that kind of motivational leadership, it’s easy to imagine how oppressive a school could become for everyone concerned.

One of her friends, a lawyer, went to the dentist at the of February and was told a lump in her tongue caused him great concern. He referred to her GP. But by then the lockdown was in force. Naturally, this GP NHS hero was a great deal more concerned about his own welfare and refused to see her. He passed her on to a consultant. He likewise seems to have forgotten his Hippocratic oath and refused to see her too. Only when her husband managed to take a photograph of the lump and send it in with a suitably-worded letter did the health-conscious consultant decide to remember what he’d been trained to do (and is being paid to do). The woman was called in immediately and operated on very recently to remove the tumour before cancer destroyed the whole organ. One dreads to think what might have happened to her without the emergency treatment.

The woman and her husband are educated professionals who wouldn’t take no for an answer and knew how to demand treatment, and even then it was a very close call. How many other people are silently malingering with conditions that will become irreversible and terminal? Protecting the NHS has become one of the greatest absurdities of our time. It’s like having a cherished vintage car in the garage you never dare take out in case it gets dirty or damaged. The NHS is turning into Schrödinger’s cat – before long it’ll be so invisible we’ll wonder whether we even know it exists. For many people it has already ceased to do so.

Around the World in 80 Lockdowns

Mexico under lockdown

I’ve been receiving a steady flow of ‘Postcards’ – first-person accounts of what it’s like to be locked down in different parts of the world. You can see them all on the right hand menu under the heading: “Around the world in 80 Lockdowns.” Today, I’m publishing postcards from Mexico, Slovakia and Zimbabwe. Here’s an extract from the “Postcard From Zimbabwe“:

Though conditions have been relaxed and some business that provide essential services have been able to reopen, the Government recently announced that lockdown would continue indefinitely with fortnightly updates. One particularly annoying and, to the minds of most people, illogical regulation concerns the wearing of face masks which is required even when you are alone in your car. Given the low levels of infection, these impositions on our liberties are somewhat puzzling not to say inconvenient. Further, all travellers to the country, and there are many Zimbabweans trapped abroad, are required to be quarantined for 21 days, either in Government-operated facilities which, to be blunt, are disgusting, or in certain approved hotels and guest houses at great expense to themselves.

All of them are worth reading in full.

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A few weeks ago, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It takes me about nine hours, 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.

And Finally…

Picture taken by a reader on Sunday. Just in case you were in any doubt about what the UK’s state religion is.

Postcard From Slovakia

by Graham Strouts

Chuck Norris Bridge, linking Slovakia and Austria

With the final stage of Slovakia’s easing of lockdown restrictions complete a couple of weeks ago, the next major block to be lifted is opening the borders, now well underway: as of Thursday, the border between Czech and Slovakia re-opened without any restrictions of checks. Rather oddly, prime minister Igor Matovič claimed this represented the re-instatement of “Czechoslovakia” which must have raised a few eyebrows since of course it is nothing of the kind, merely restoring the pre-pandemic Schengen area between the two republics.

Free travel is also possible between Slovakia and Austria – at least in practice, since technically this only applies if you want to return within 48 hours of departing, otherwise you have to undergo the 14-day home quarantine. But as we discovered yesterday on a cycling trip taking us over the “Freedom Bridge” across the Moravia, there are no police checks of any kind either side of the border. It is likely (but not yet confirmed) that all border restrictions for Hungary will also be lifted by the middle of the month, or by the end of June at the latest.

Better known as the “Chuck Norris” Bridge, after a public poll revealed this as the most popular name, the fine cycling bridge stands as a powerful symbol of unity and freedom of travel between east with west, something not possible before 1992. November of last year marked the 30th anniversary of the end of socialism. This was the last time we cycled over the bridge, where a temporary mock barrier had been erected and visitors were handed “visas” as a reminder that free travel across the Moravia should not be taken for granted. Never could we have imagined that the bridge would once again be closed so soon, albeit for a different reason.

During the lockdown we went to Devin a couple of times and gazed mournfully across the river towards the shores of Austria just a few hundred yards away. We got a feeling of what it must have been like under the communist regime, except that this time, of course, restrictions were not just between east and west, but on borders everywhere.

The Slovak Government imposed a 90-day State of Emergency in March, and this will expire in a week’s time. In principle, they could simply reimpose another 90-days immediately, but this seems unlikely, with Igor Matovič, the Prime Minister, seemingly alone in his desire to do so. There is little support for the continuation of such measures from either the ruling coalition or the opposition parties. With new cases close to zero, Slovakia has escaped both the ravages of the virus and the worst excesses of the lockdown. As in much of mainland Europe, things are rapidly returning to something close to normal.

Traffic in the city is almost back to pre-Covid rates, sidewalk cafes and restaurants are busy, some schools have re-opened and people are returning to work, albeit with some changes such as staggered shifts. Cinemas and theatres remain closed due to social distancing measures which would make them uneconomic, but outdoor events are starting again including live music. Masks are much less in evidence outside, where they are only required if you breach the two-metre rule. It is permitted to sit in groups of up to six in restaurants, although the two-metre rule still applies between tables and in shops. Secondary schools will remain closed until the start of the next academic year in September.

Slovakia has one of the lowest death rates in the world, a total of only 28 deaths in a population of five-and-a-half million. As in other countries, hospitals were emptied out here to make way for Covid patients who mainly failed to materialise. Most regular operations and procedures were suspended as the Covid wards remained largely empty. GPs stopped coming to work or referred patients to specialists instead. My partner, a neurologist, saw her own patients all but disappear for several weeks, frightened away from seeking medical attention by media scare stories about over-run hospital wards. For the past few weeks, she has been going into work with barely a handful of patients to see each day. As of last week, this situation seems to have ended and she is as busy as before the lockdown.

Mainly, despite taking a big economic hit – estimated to be at least 10% – 15% of GDP – we have been very lucky here. Outside exercise was never really restricted and although everything in the city was closed for some weeks we were able to cycle along the river where buffets remained open for take-away beer and sandwiches.

While some are concerned about a second wave and would prefer the borders to remain closed, it seems unlikely there will be any return to lockdown even if infections tick up. Across Europe, borders are re-opening like floodgates. Italy, which had one of the hardest lockdowns and the highest number of deaths, abruptly changed course last week to throw open its borders and welcome all comers in an attempt to save its tourism industry. Overall, there seems to be a sense that enough is enough and that whether the virus has run its course or not, there is little public appetite for imposing such draconian restrictions again as other concerns take over.

You can read more by Graham Strouts on his blog.

The WHO’s Erroneous Risk Assessment

by Mikko Paunio, MD (University of Helsinki), MHS (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health), adjunct professor (general epidemiology) at the University of Helsinki

At the heart of the WHO’s risk assessment, at the start of the pandemic, was the assumption that only 1% of those infected would show no symptoms.1New data from China buttress fears about high coronavirus fatality rate, WHO expert says2Characteristics of and Important Lessons From the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Outbreak in China

The claim that few of the infections would be symptomless – and thus that everyone would become ill and that many people would die – paved the way to weeks of horror stories on the BBC, CNN, and in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian. And even more sober outlets like the Financial Times and the Economist followed suit, with little by way of analysis of what was actually known. In fact, the WHO’s claim was quickly rebutted by a member of its own Infectious Disease Catastrophe Committee,1New data from China buttress fears about high coronavirus fatality rate, WHO expert says but too late to prevent panic spreading. The result was a lockdown across much of the world, the collateral damage from which will do far more harm than the virus.

A major serological survey from Spain3https://www.lamoncloa.gob.es/serviciosdeprensa/notasprensa/sanidad14/Documents/2020/130520-ENE-COVID_Informe1.pdf now shows how wrong the initial WHO risk assessment was.

Spanish serosurvey

The first wave of the pandemic caused around 27,000 deaths in Spain, a figure so small in comparison with the size of the population that it will probably have little effect on the overall 2020 mortality rate. Those who succumbed were mostly frail old people in nursing homes and had only short life expectancy.

The WHO claimed at the end of February that the virus might kill up to 4% of those infected.1New data from China buttress fears about high coronavirus fatality rate, WHO expert says I have now tabulated data for the case fatality rate (CFR), infection fatality rate (IFR) and the mortality in Spain (Table 1). The rightmost column shows the age-specific COVID-19 mortality. Even amongst the most vulnerable – people over the age of 90 – the survival rate is above 99%. Below 60 years of age, the death rate so far – with the first wave of the pandemic about to come to an end – is 3.6 per 100,000 population.

Symptomless infections

The Spanish serological survey was based on a random sample of 102,803 individuals, although only 60,983 individuals were traced and agreed to be tested. A quick serological test determined the presence of antibodies in the cohort, and the study authors also asked them about respiratory symptoms during the epidemic period. It turned out that around 5% had SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.

Among those surveyed, 257 had previously tested positive via a PCR test, and 87% of these had antibodies. These few people were the only ones who knew for sure they were already infected, though 14% thought they had COVID-19 like symptoms. Based on this PCR data it can be deduced that the quick serological test had 87% sensitivity.

Those without any respiratory symptoms (40,202) and those with mild flu-like symptoms had an antibody prevalence rate of 3.1%. This means there were 1,629 individuals who had become infected without knowing it. When these 1,629 people are divided by the number of former PCR-positive individuals, we get a ratio of 6.6:1. After correcting for the sensitivity of the test, we get a ratio of 7.6:1. This tells us that for each infection established by PCR there are 7.6 people who are infected but do not know it.

Someone who tests positive for the virus under PCR may never develop symptoms. Thus the ratio of symptomless to symptomatic infections may be even higher than 7.6. When you look at Table 1 you can see that there are almost nine times more serologically established infections than there are confirmed COVID-19 cases. The 60,000 people tested in Spain will be re-tested twice in the coming month, so we will soon have a better idea on this question. It is also worth noting that not all who lack antibodies lack immunity.4https://www.lamoncloa.gob.es/serviciosdeprensa/notasprensa/sanidad14/Documents/2020/130520-ENE-COVID_Informe1.pdf

It is also worth noting a study of an outbreak of the virus on a cruise ship on a voyage to Antarctica. All passengers and crew were tested, and found that 81% of those infected were non-symptomatic.5https://thorax.bmj.com/content/early/2020/05/27/thoraxjnl-2020-215091.full And even then, the non-symptomatic/symptomatic ratio of 4.4 reported will be an underestimate, since the PCR test used would not pick up all those who were infected.

Mortality

Next I compared the mortality rate you would expect based on the WHO assumption of few asymptomatic infections to reality: the number of infections in Spain based on the serological data, both on relative and absolute scales (Table 2).

Back in March, and for several weeks, the mainstream media were reporting COVID-19 case fatality rates of around 10% in Spain and Italy. But the reality of large numbers of asymptomatic infections means that the infection mortality rate is only one tenth of this figure. When the case fatality rates publicised by the WHO are compared to the true rates, one finds that the WHO overstated elevenfold the risk to under-60s, although that risk was very small. For older age groups, where the true risk was much higher, the overstatement was less – but especially significant in absolute scale. For example, for those aged 80–89 years, the IFR was 9%, or roughly a third of the level claimed by the WHO.

An infection fatality rate (IFR) of 1% is 10 times higher than that of seasonal flu. This figure, derived from the Spanish data, has been widely interpreted in the media to be generalisable to other countries, but this is not the case. In Southern Europe there is much more contact between young and old people than in Northern Europe, increasing the number exposed there. Also the population of Spain is relatively elderly, and wide-spectrum antibiotic use is rampant, potentially hampering treatment of secondary bacterial pneumonias and other conditions. These factors may well explain the high IFR in Spain.

Iceland serosurvey

The suggestion that the IFRs of each country or even subpopulations within societies must be considered one by one becomes clear and confirmed by recent data from Iceland (Table 3). Currently, it has 1,804 confirmed COVID-19 cases and just ten deaths. There is nobody in hospital and, to all intents and purposes, the epidemic is over. Interestingly, among those who contracted COVID-19, all eight of those aged over 90 survived.6covid.is/dat The very low level of deaths means that it is likely that the IFR will be very low too. The ratio of asymptomatic infections to confirmed cases can be as low as five and would still imply an IFR similar to that of seasonal flu.

The CFR was 18 times higher in Spain than Iceland, with the notable differences seen across the age groups, (80–89 years is an exception), which tells us that the older age distribution of COVID-19 cases in Spain does not explain all the differences. It is possible that aggressive PCR-screening of the population in Iceland might have skewed confirmed COVID-19 cases towards those with a milder natural history than in Spain; i.e. Iceland might have diagnosed more mild cases than Spain. If Iceland had the same age distribution of COVID-19 cases as Spain, there would have been 86 deaths, not ten. If Iceland had both Spain’s COVID-19 age distribution and its CFR, the death toll would have risen to 178. These remarkable differences show that it is not possible to generalise the widely disseminated one percent SARS-CoV-2 infection fatality rate of Spain to other countries. Iceland seems to have able to protect its elderly much better than Spain.

Other serosurveys

An even less worrying picture emerges from the serosurvey of LA County, California published in JAMA7https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766367 Here, on around 10th April 2020, there were 44 times more serologically established infections than confirmed COVID-19 cases – a remarkable contrast to the WHO claim that only 1% of infections were asymptomatic. The researchers involved have said that there was a selection bias in their study, and it was likely that symptomless infections were under-represented. If one calculates IFR of SARS-CoV from this material by assuming that there were around 1,220 cumulative deaths in early May in La County, one gets an IFR of 0.33%.

Conclusions

The outbreaks of COVID-19 we have seen across the world have remained exponential for only a very short period.8https://twitter.com/MLevitt_NP2013/status/1261686382600302592 We do not fully understand why, but it is possible that non-SARS coronaviruses, which account for around 20% of common colds, might have given cell-mediated immunity to some sections of the population.9https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/05/t-cells-found-covid-19-patients-bode-well-long-term-immunity Either way, the global impact of the virus remains small, despite what the media would have you think.


Table 1. Key metrics calculated from Spanish data.
Age Deaths Confirmed cases Antibody prevalence (%) Real number of SARS-CoV-2 infections in population Population (m) Case fatality rate (%) Infection fatality rate (%) Corrected infection fatality rate (%) COVID-19 death rate in Spain
<60 1,269 131,688 4.2 1,470,000 35.0 1.0 0.09 0.08 3.6/100,000
60-69 2,376 39,806 6.0 312,000 5.2 6.0 0.76 0.66 4.6/10,000
70-79 6,696 38,443 6.5 253,500 3.9 17.4 2.64 2.30 1.7/1000
80-89 11,151 42,805 5.4 124,200 2.3 26.0 8.98 7.81 4.8/1000
90+ 5,481 19,903 5.8 34,800 0.6 27.5 15.75 13.70 9.1/1000
Total 26,973 272,645 5.0 2,194,000* 47.0 9.9 1.22 1.06 5.7/10,000

* 5% × 47,000,000 = 2,350,000; figure differs as age-specific serology prevalence means are not weighted


Table 2. WHO overstatement of risk

Risk assessment (%) Exagerration
Age Per WHO Per serological data Relative (×) Absolute (%)
<60 1.0 0.08 11.1 0.80
60–69 6.0 0.66 7.9 5.34
70–79 17.4 2.30 6.6 15.1
80–89 26.0 7.81 2.9 18.9
90+ 27.5 13.70 1.7 13.8
Total 9.9 1.06 8.2 8.84

Table 3. COVID-19 case fatality rate (CFR) in Spain and Iceland and CFR ratio Spain vs. Iceland and expected number of deaths in Iceland assuming age distribution of COVID-19 of Spain and CFR of Iceland and expected number of deaths in Iceland assuming age distribution and CFR of Spain.

CFR COVID-19 age distribution Iceland Covid-19 cases assuming same age distribution of cases as Spain Expected deaths in Iceland assuming:
Age group Spain Iceland Ratio Spain Iceland age distribution of COVID-19 of Spain and CFR of Iceland age distribution and CFR of Spain
<60 1269/131688 0.96 1*/1501 0.067 14.3 48.3 83.2 871 0.6 8.4
60-69 2376/39806 5.97 2/215 0.93 6.4 14.6 11.9 263 2.4 15.7
70-79 6696/38443 17.42 3/62 4.83 3.6 14.1 3.4 254 12.3 44.2
80-89 11151/42805 26.05 4/16 25.00 1.0 15.7 0.9 283 70.8 73.7
90+ 5481/19903 27.53 0/8 0.00 N/A 7.3 0.4 132 0 36.3
Total 26973/272645 9.89 10/1804 0.55 18.0 100 99.8 1803 86.1 178.3

* An Australian tourist in his 30s

Latest News

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

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

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

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

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

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

YouTube Shadow-Bans Peter Hichens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to a story in today’s Mail:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scotland Becomes More Like North Korea Every Day

Nic Sturge-un being congratulated by her little brother Kim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the Times points out today:

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

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

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

Keep Britain Free

Simon Dolan

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

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

Watch this space.

Chris Whitty Opposed Airport Screening in 2018

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

How High Are Excess Deaths in the US?

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

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

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

Readers’ Dispatches from Singapore and Albuquerque

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

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

Both postcards are worth reading in full.

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Theme Tune Suggestions From Readers

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

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A few weeks ago, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It takes me about nine hours a day which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. Alternatively, you can support the site by going to our shop and buying a T-shirt or a mug. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here.

No Update Tomorrow

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

And Finally…

A ‘silent spreader’ contaminating a London Underground carriage

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

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

Latest News

Abandon Ridiculous Two-Metre Rule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAGE Member Does U-Turn on Lockdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I guess he’s changed his mind.

Nobel Laureate Skewers Member of Imperial College Modelling Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SB: No serological data supports this hypothesis.

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

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

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

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

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

Daily Mail Guide to Having a Socially Distanced BBQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Definitely worth reading in full.

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

Trump Terminates the WHO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Publishes Chart That Inadvertently Discredits its Own Policy

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

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

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

Six Reasons the Cure is Worse Than the Disease

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

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

Worth reading in full.

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

Rioters in Minneapolis wearing face masks

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

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

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

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

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Theme Tune Suggestions From Readers

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

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A couple of weeks ago, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It still takes me about nine hours a day, what with doing these updates, moderating your comments and commissioning original material. If you feel like donating, however paltry the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

And Finally…

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

Latest News

YouTube Censors Me

Verboten!

A few weeks ago I took part in a discussion about the coronavirus crisis organised by the Institute of Arts and Ideas. The other participants were David Alexander, Professor of Risk and Disaster Reduction at University College London; Anne Johnson, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at University College London; and Michael Levitt, Professor of Structural Biology at Stanford and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Among other things, we discussed the pros and cons of lockdowns and I set out the case against, which is what I’d been invited to do.

Afterwards, I extracted a four-minute clip featuring me and Michael Levitt – although he was nodding along enthusiastically to what I was saying rather than speaking – and put it on my YouTube channel, calling it “The Case Against Lockdowns”. I also created a two-minute clip and posted that on Twitter which you can see here.

This morning at 12.20am I received an email from YouTube which said the following:

Hi Toby Young,

As you may know, our Community Guidelines describe which content we allow – and don’t allow – on YouTube. Your video The Case Against Lockdowns was flagged to us for review. Upon review, we’ve determined that it violates our guidelines and we’ve removed it from YouTube.

As regular readers will know, when I post links to controversial YouTube videos I often joke that they should watch them before they’re taken down by the censorious video platform. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki told CNN’s Reliable Sources back in April that the company would be “removing information that is problematic”. Wojcicki told host Brian Stelter that this included “anything that is medically unsubstantiated”. She continued:

So people saying “take vitamin C; take turmeric, we’ll cure you”, those are the examples of things that would be a violation of our policy.

Anything that would go against World Health Organisation recommendations would be a violation of our policy.

In the four-minute clip of the Nobel Laureate and me, I don’t recommend any miracle cures for COVID-19, or indeed say anything “medically unsubstantiated”. So what did I say that violated YouTube’s “Community Standards”? Presumably, just challenging the idea that lockdowns are effective, or disputing the notion that states are entitled to suspend the civil rights of their citizens without any compelling evidence that doing so is necessary to reduce fatalities, is what set off alarm bells at YouTube since indiscriminately quarantining whole populations was one of the WHO’s recommendations. Readers will recall that the WHO initially praised China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, which involved more or less imprisoning up to 60 million people in Wuhan and surrounding cities, before it changed tack and praised Sweden’s response.

I’ve now reposted my video on Bitchute and you can watch it here. Is this so dangerous that it needs to be removed by YouTube? Judge for yourself.

Stop Press: The FT’s Izabella Kaminska has written about this latest example of big tech silencing a dissident in a piece headlined “Censortech strikes again“.

France Passes New Censortech Law. Will Britain be Next?

In France, YouTube would have no choice about whether to take down my video. Two weeks ago, the French parliament passed a new law forcing social networks to remove problematic content within 24 hours or face fines of up to €1.25 million. Signed into law on May 13th, the “Lutte contre la haine sur internet” requires digital platforms to remove discriminatory and sexually abusive comments within 24 hours of being flagged by users.

It’s based on a similar law passed in Germany in 2018 – the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) – and before it became law in France it was vigorously opposed by pro-free speech advocates. As with the German law, one of the flaws of the new French law is that there are no penalties if social media networks wrongly remove content that is later found not to be in violation of any laws or community guidelines. This will inevitably mean legitimate freedom of expression will be curtailed. For instance, anyone challenging the view that “transwomen are women”, however respectable their argument or impressive their credentials, will no longer be able to express that view on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube or Twitter because the social media companies will remove it rather than risk being fined for permitting “hate speech”.

The law doesn’t explicitly mention the coronavirus pandemic, but according to Simon Chandler writing in Forbes, “the French Government and the Assemblée Nationale has exploited fear over online coronavirus misinformation to pass it”.

Will the British Government take advantage of coronaphobia to fast-track its own censortech law?

Under the ‘Online Harms‘ proposal, published in the form of a White Paper last year and on course to become an Act of Parliament, the British Government would appoint Ofcom, currently the broadcasting watchdog, to regulate social media companies, empowering it to levy fines of up to four per cent of annual worldwide turnover – and jail company directors – if they don’t comply with Ofcom’s new guidance on harmful content. According to the White Paper, the regulator would ban online material “that may directly or indirectly cause harm” [my emphasis], although it neglects to define “harm” and says that content may be deemed harmful even if it’s “not necessarily illegal”.

As an example of what it has in mind, the White Paper singles out “offensive material”, as if giving offence is itself a form of harm. In effect, Ofcom would have the power to prohibit speech which isn’t unlawful but which it believes may indirectly cause harm because it’s offensive. That gives it almost limitless scope to prohibit the expression of opinions which some people find disagreeable.

There’s much talk in the White Paper of a “right of appeal”, but this turns out to apply to the tech companies only — individual social media users cannot appeal the regulator’s decisions — and would necessitate the companies applying for a judicial review. Not only is that a lengthy and cumbersome procedure, but it’s unclear how Facebook, YouTube or Twitter could demonstrate that a particular viewpoint won’t under any circumstances cause harm, particularly when “harm” isn’t defined. Merely showing that the content in question hasn’t caused the complainant any tangible harm won’t be sufficient, since all the regulator will need to show is that it may cause them indirect harm. More or less anything falls into that category, including any content challenging the Government’s guidance relating to the virus.

The part of the White Paper concerned with “fake news” would give the new regulator almost limitless discretion when it comes to removing content that dissents from Covid orthodoxy. In a section entitled “Disinformation”, the document says tech companies will “need to take proportionate and proactive measures… to minimise the spread of misleading and harmful disinformation and to increase the accessibility of trustworthy and varied news content”. But who’s to say what content is “misleading” and what’s “trustworthy”? Presumably, the BBC is “trustworthy” and sites like Lockdown Sceptics are “misleading”.

The White Paper suggests social media platforms should promote “authoritative news sources” and make use of “reputable fact-checking services”, by which it means organisation like the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which is currently urging social media companies to remove anything suggesting SARS-CoV-2 originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology rather than the Huanan seafood market, as Douglas Murray wrote about for UnHerd a few weeks ago. (Incidentally, Chinese scientists have now uncovered even more reasons to doubt the virus originated in the seafood market.)

If you want to read more about the ‘Online Harms’ White Paper and why it should be resisted at all costs, read this piece I wrote about it in the Spectator last year. At that point, the Government hadn’t decided whether it was going to create a new, stand-alone regulator or enlarge Ofcom’s jurisdiction. It has decided to do the latter – and that in itself is worrying, given that Ofcom recently reprimanded Eamonn Holmes merely for suggesting on ITV’s This Morning that David Icke’s theory linking 5G masts to COVID-19 symptoms should be discussed in the public square. This was in spite of the fact that he described the theory as “not true and incredibly stupid”. The Free Speech Union has written to Ofcom to complain about this.

How Have We Responded to Previous Pandemics?

I’ve put up a new page on the right-hand menu entitled “How Have We Responded to Previous Pandemics?” Apart from this being historically interesting, the idea is to draw attention to the fact that the indiscriminate quarantining of whole populations has never been attempted before as a way of mitigating the impact of a pandemic, save for in Mexico in 2009 in response to the swine flu outbreak. That particular experiment was abandoned after 18 days due to the rising social and economic costs.

I will be adding to the page in due course, but also publishing sub-pages about specific pandemics – and today I’m publishing the first one.

In “The 1957-58 Asian Flu Pandemic: Why Did the UK Respond So Differently?“, the brilliant young academic who’s written for Lockdown Sceptics before under the pseudonym “Wilfred Thomas” contrasts the stoicism of the British response to the flu pandemic of 1957-58 with the hysterical over-reaction of today.

Globally, Asian Flu (H2N2) killed between two and four million people – the equivalent of three to six million people in today’s money. It was just as infectious as SARS-CoV-2 – an isolated outbreak in Hong Kong managed to spread across the world – and young people were more susceptible than older people, so in that respect it was more dangerous.

In total, it’s estimated that anywhere from 9 – 12 million people contracted H2N2 in the UK. That’s the equivalent of 15.4 million reported cases in the UK of 2020. To put that into context, the UK currently has 267,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. There were around 33,000 deaths directly attributable to H2N2 and if you scale that up to the UK’s current population it’s the equivalent of 42,000. As I don’t need to tell you, that’s higher than the current death toll from coronavirus.

Yet the Asian Flu caused very little fuss. Mr “Thomas” has trawled through the British Newspaper Archive for 1957 and can only find 427 articles about the epidemic between January 1st to December 31st. As he points out, it’s probable that the BBC alone produces that many stories about COVID-19 across its various news platforms in an average day. He continues:

It’s fascinating to sit here, in the lockdown society of 2020, and read about a pandemic response from history that involved society doing its best to keep going. Back then you got ill, you went to bed, you got better, you re-joined society, and society continued to function. That was it. In the UK, something of this stoic philosophy was at the heart of the pandemic response rolled-out by a then recently instilled Conservative Government under the leadership of Harold Macmillan. Rather than dragging power and authority towards Whitehall, Macmillian seemed happy enough to devolve most of the operational, day-to-day responsibility for responding to the pandemic down to local and regional medical authorities. To be sure, the Government advised those with symptoms to stay at home, but otherwise took little national action as the flu spread right across the country during the autumn. Senior figures within the medical establishment of the time also seemed happy to adopt this hands-off approach. “In the end, and in spite of the scare stuff in the lay press,” wrote Ian Watson, Director of the College of General Practitioners’ Epidemic Observation Unit to a local GP on June 24th, 1957, “we will have our epidemic of influenza, of a type not very different from what we know already, with complications in the usual age groups.”

The result was a pandemic response that by today’s standards looks astonishingly laissez-faire. Some mines and factories shut, but that was due to a shortage of fit employees rather than Government diktat. Public gatherings were not stopped. In some areas, schools were closed (up to 100,000 children were off in London at the height of the outbreak), but few sporting events or other mass gatherings were cancelled. By early June, as the first cases were beginning to appear, Macmillan’s health secretary Dennis Vosper had yet to make a public statement setting out the threat posed by H2N2. The virus was at its peak when Aneurin Bevan was heckled at the Labour Party Conference on October 3rd 1957 for arguing that unilateral disarmament wasn’t possible. It was still going about its infective business when CND held its first meeting at Westminster Central Hall on February 17th 1958. During the winter of 1957, Macmillan was kept busy not by the Asian Flu pandemic but by the events that followed the world’s first nuclear reactor accident, when Windscale Pile No. 1 caught fire. President Eisenhower meanwhile was preoccupied by the Russians’ launching of Sputnik 1 on October 4th. In October, during the peak of the outbreak in Britain, the Conservative party conference went ahead as usual. In his speech to conference Macmillan speech didn’t even mention the pandemic.

Partly as a result of this much more stoical approach, the total cost to the British economy of the Asian Flu epidemic was around £2.6 billion in today’s money. In the four quarters of 1957, only one saw negative economic growth – Q3 saw GDP shrink by -0.6% – and only one did in 1958 (Q2). Overall, 1957 saw growth of +1.5%, as did 1958. Quite a contrast with the financial and economic cost of Britain’s management of the coronavirus epidemic, with the Bank of England forecasting a -35% contraction in Q2 alone. If we generously assume that the cost of the measures the current Chancellor has put in place will be £108.35 billion, that’s 4,358% more expensive than the cost of managing the 1957-58 epidemic.

Mr “Thomas” concludes by analysing the difference in our response to these two remarkably similar episodes, detecting a profound cultural shift:

In 1957, the UK responded to a global pandemic with cool, calm stoicism. The pandemic was “just” a pandemic, not a social catastrophe. Citizens could cope. Death was the exception not the rule. Society (and the economy that paid for it) would struggle on. People would continue to go about their everyday lives. Fast forward to the UK of 2020, and we encounter a society that’s responding to a similarly infectious, similarly dangerous pandemic with what amounts to shrill, hyperventilating hysteria. The pandemic will destroy everything we know and hold dear about life. Individuals can’t cope. Death lurks around every corner. Society (and the economy that pays for it) must be suspended. People must be protected from the myriad risks posed by everyday life. Whereas the stoic proclaims, “I’ll manage, let me be!” the hysteric wails, “I can’t cope, help me!”

Mr “Thomas” has put a huge amount of work into this. Please do read it in full.

Excess Deaths Much Higher That Reported Covid Death Count

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

In its latest weekly update, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) notes that the total number of deaths in care homes England and Wales in Week 20 (May 8th – 15th) was 2,350 higher than the five-year average for Week 20 and COVID-19 only accounted for 1,078 of them. As the Times points out, 12,335 more people have died at home this year than usual. “There have been almost as many unexplained deaths at home as there have been as a result of COVID-19, according to analysis of official figures,” it reveals, in a story based on the latest ONS data.

But this isn’t a phenomenon that’s unique to England and Wales. On the contrary, excess deaths have exceeded the total number of deaths attributable to COVID-19 all over the world, as the above FT graph makes clear.

Some statisticians believe the reason excess deaths cannot be accounted for by deaths from coronavirus alone is because the latter are being under-counted. But another explanation – more plausible, in my view – is that the lockdowns themselves are causing excess deaths. Note that the number of of excess deaths relative to the average for recent years, expressed as a percentage, is lower in Stockholm (88%) than in London (142%) or New York (398%).

BBC Death Porn

Yesterday, the BBC’s News at Six (and the News at Ten) led with an eight-minute report about “the growing fears among doctors of a second peak of coronavirus infections as the lockdown restrictions are eased in England”. Huw Edwards, introducing the report, said: “Medical staff say a rise in cases is now inevitable as more people have contact with each other.” Bit odd to report the fears of “medical staff” so uncritically when the easing of lockdown restrictions hasn’t seen a rise in infections anywhere. Not in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland… not in any US states… not in China… The “second spike” that’s been so confidently predicted by epidemiologists touting their infallible computer models simply hasn’t materialised. Why then would the BBC give such credence to this clearly unfounded “fear”?

One reader was so incensed he sent me the following screed:

I have just sat and watched the BBC1 News at Six tonight. It led with the most extraordinary virus death porn story to date. This one was by Clive Myrie, the latest “embedded” BBC hack to be parked in a hospital (in this case the Royal London Hospital in East London). It almost amounted to a nostalgia piece for the glory days of COVID-19. We were treated to the tear-sodden exhausted medics waxing lyrical about how it been only a few days ago with people dying left, right and centre, and how shattered they are. They are terrified of a second wave that’s supposedly going to be caused by people interacting with one another. Lots of shots of patients on ventilators and some speeded up footage to show how frantic it had all once been and how it might be again if anyone speaks to anyone outside their households. I was completely incredulous.

If you knew nothing else about the virus and watched this piece you’d have visions of the streets piled with corpses, hospitals completely out of control and total armageddon imminent. Incredibly, the piece built to its climax by actually tracking a 55-year-old male patient in his final minutes, the ultimate Covid death porn scene as medics piled in to try and save him. The drama building, Myrie sidestepped to interview medics who told us how close the hospital came to be broken, briefly showing another patient having a ventilator removed (successfully). But the piece finished with Myrie ponderously announcing the 55-year-old patient had died. The whole piece had turned into a real-time death scene. “Another soul lost,” Myrie intoned solemnly, in case you hadn’t realised what death amounts to.

Myrie doesn’t seem to have been keeping up with current events. He seemed mainly worried, naturally using his best doom-laden ponderous tone, that with declining cases he might not have been able to make these reports in time for his moment in the Covid media sun. In the general poverty of BBC journalism during this crisis, this slavish lockdown propaganda was a new low. Totally unbalanced, it foundered first and foremost on the belief that by interviewing people in a foxhole you are likely to get an accurate take on what’s going on. It was a perverse celebration of the height of the virus being some sort of Battle-of-the-Somme moment that he and his NHS subjects seemed unable to move on from. “Now you understand what the peak of the pandemic was like,” Myrie intoned in his best gloom-laden, ponderous tone.

What’s next? This wasn’t just Covid death porn, it was competitive death porn.

The entire agenda of Myrie’s commentary and interviews seemed to be that we should be locked down forever. Naturally, there was a trailer for the next instalment, coming tonight, flagging up “prayers for the dying”, over-flowing morgues and showing a body being pushed into one of the racks. It was like a Monty Python “bring out your dead” homage.

Around the World in Eighty Lockdowns

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

I’ve started a new section today called “Around the Work in 80 Lockdowns“. My aim is to build up a picture of what it’s like to be locked down in different countries by publishing first-hand accounts from readers in those countries. So far we’ve published three “Postcards” – one from Spain, one from Sri Lanka and one from Belarus. If you fancy writing one from a country we haven’t included yet, please email me here.

Here’s an extract from the “Postcard from Belarus“, published today:

I took an eventful 12-hour coach journey from Warsaw to Belarus. Arriving in Minsk was like stepping into a different realm. The mood of the city was not one of fear – things felt pretty normal. Roughly one in ten people chose to wear a mask, and while there were fewer people out and about than usual, by and large they went about their everyday business as if life was normal. Had nobody told them to be terrified of one another? That by simply stepping outside they are risking not just their own life, but the lives of everyone around them? What on earth would Neil Ferguson and his infamous Imperial College model say?

Belarus decided against the nuclear option: they have not pressed the panic button and destroyed the country’s economy, like most of the world. That’s not to say they haven’t introduced some measures. In Minsk, universities have switched to remote lectures; museums and theatres are closed; business trips have been cancelled, with meetings moved to video conferencing; care homes are closed to visitors, and arrivals into the country must self-isolate for fourteen days. But schools remain open, as do cafés, restaurants, bars, shopping malls and most outdoor events. Indeed, many thousands of people lined the streets for the annual Victory Day parade on May 9th. Belarus has struck a refreshing balance: one which has not led to a population in fear of one another.

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Theme Tune Suggestions From Readers

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

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A couple of weeks ago, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It still takes me about nine hours a day, what with doing these updates, moderating your comments and commissioning original material. If you feel like donating, however paltry the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

And Finally…

This video is worth watching. An MSNBC reporter chastises locals in Wisconsin for not wearing facemasks – while wearing one himself, of course – and is then ambushed by a passer-by who casually points out that his cameraman isn’t wearing one either. Busted!

Latest News

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

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

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

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

Dead Cat Announcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVID-19 as a Workplace Hazard – Part 2

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

Every single employee, returning to almost any workplace in the country, now needs to be risk assessed to characterise the risk to their safety. For many, this will be a quick process. But for many others with common, chronic health conditions (who will number several millions nationally), it will require significant resource to undertake assessments. As there is little guidance available and given the fear of a backlash from the media, unions, lawyers or the authorities, many employers will feel forced into excluding workers, even where there is little evidence that this is necessary. Employees may feel forced back in fear of their lives, whilst others will not be allowed back despite being desperate for a return to normality.

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

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

Worth reading in full.

Irish Taoiseach Flouts Lockdown Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every cloud, as they say.

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

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

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

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

Good Briefing Document on Why Schools Should Reopen

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

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

New German Anti-Lockdown Medical/Scientific Group

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

The Big Debate

“Take that, Labash, you lockdown zealot.”

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

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

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

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

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

And this is my irritable response:

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

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

Worth reading in full.

Trump Regrets Ordering the Shutdown – Or Does He?

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

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

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

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

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

Latest Episode of London Calling

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

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

If you enjoy London Calling please do subscribe.

Round-Up

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Theme Tune Suggestions

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: “Cut Your Hair” by Walk Disco, “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” by Dominic Cummings Lynn Anderson and “Can I Have My Money Back” by Gerry Rafferty.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A couple of weeks ago, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

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

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

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

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It still takes me about nine hours a day, what with doing these updates, moderating your comments and commissioning original material. And all my journalist helpers have gone! If you feel like donating, however paltry the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

And Finally…

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

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