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As week eight of the lockdown comes to a close, there are some rumblings of dissent – although it’s coming from people unhappy from the Prime Minister’s easing of the lockdown rather than the fact that we’ve been confined to our homes for two months. Opinium polling for the Observer over the past week has seen a significant drop in public confidence in – and approval of – the Government. Approval ratings have been dropping steadily since a highpoint in late March – and those who disapprove now form the majority for the first time since the lockdown began:

Anti-Lockdown Protests

A Protestor in Hyde Park yesterday holding up a sign

What little genuine dissent there is was confined to a handful of anti-lockdown protestors yesterday. One such demonstration was in Hyde Park where, according to the Mail, 19 people were arrested, including Jeremy Corbyn’s brother. My friend James Delingpole attended and was threatened with a £30 fine merely for trying to report on the demo for Breitbart. You can read his piece about that here (includes video footage of him being confronted by a police officer).

I’ve received several reports from readers who attended the Hyde Park rally, including this one:

I went to Speakers’ Corner today. Britain’s traditional fee speech locale in London. I counted 255 people, but there were more than that, perhaps as many as 300. No “far right” evident. People from all sides of the political divide, including pro- and anti-Brexit. What the people I spoke to had in common was getting their news and info and trying to make decisions based on information from ‘alternative’ sources. All were dubious about the number of deaths from COVID-19 being recored by doctors in the absence of testing evidence, although most were also dubious about the accuracy of the standard PCR tests. Huge mistrust of official “science” and officialdom in general.

It was therapeutic being with these people. Heart-warming after these weeks of terror and house arrest. Odd looks from passers-by, as if we were all mad. Like being a Brexit-voter while working at a university. Some humorous looks, but others aggressive and combative. One cyclist deliberately accelerated towards some protesters who managed to avoid a collision by the skin of their teeth.

I was asked to move on by a police officer after being told I was “breaking the law”, even though I was just sitting on the grass in the sunshine with a few others. When I asked the officer which law I was breaking he got a bit twitchy. Said assembling with others not from my household was against the rules enshrined in the 1984 Public Health Act. When I challenged the lawfulness of these rules and mentioned Simon Dolan’s lawsuit, he said “don’t start being clever” and threatened to arrest all of us.

Spoke with many afterwards. Was told that weekly protests are planned from now on. All the people I met have gone from respectable to deplorable in a matter of weeks.

If you want to see some footage from the Hyde Park demonstration, including the arrest of Piers Corbyn, click here. This was shot exclusively for Lockdown Sceptics by a professional filmmaker who attended the event.

I’ve also been contacted by someone from For Freedom’s Sake, the Manchester-based anti-lockdown group, who attended the demo in Platt Fields Park. Smaller turnout than in Hyde Park and no arrests:

There was a turnout of around 60 people, mixed gender and ages and a largely ordinary working people crowd. Police presence was pretty heavy, including officers mounted on bikes and horseback, but thankfully there were no arrests or fines doled out (as far as we witnessed.)

You can see some footage on Twitter of the Manchester protest here.

Lord Gumption

One person who would defend our right to protest, even in the midst of a pandemic, is Lord Sumption, the former UK Supreme Court judge. He has consistently been the most high-profile public figure to criticise the lockdown – a great advocate for the sceptics’ cause. His lead opinion piece in today’s Sunday Times is worth reading in full (and sharing on social media), but his point about “Protect the NHS” being the main reason for shutting us all in our homes is particularly good:

It was never much of a rationale. The NHS is there to protect us, not the other way round. How could its unpreparedness possibly justify depriving the entire UK population of its liberty, pushing us into the worst recession since the early 18th century, destroying millions of jobs and hundreds of thousands of businesses, piling up public and private debt on a crippling scale and undermining the education of our children?

Since the Prime Minister’s broadcast last Sunday, the lockdown has found a new rationale. The Government has dropped “Protect the NHS” from its slogan. The reason is plain from the paper it published the following day. The NHS is not at risk.

Sumption’s conclusion is withering:

The Prime Minister’s broadcast was supposed to be his Churchillian moment. Instead, we beheld a man imprisoned by his own rhetoric and the logic of his past mistakes.

The lockdown is now all about protecting politicians’ backs. They are not wicked men, just timid ones, terrified of being blamed for deaths on their watch. But it is a wicked thing that they are doing.

Failings of Irish High Court

John Waters addresses supporters outside the Court

It’s a pity the High Court judge in the John Waters and Gemma O’Doherty case – they’re the two applicants trying to get a judicial review of the lockdown in Ireland – isn’t more like Lord Sumption. I’ve published a piece today by an Irish social scientist (whom I’ve given the pseudonym “John William O’Sullivan”) explaining what the judge in that case got wrong when he refused their application last week. Here’s the key paragraph:

Justice Meenan’s argument against Waters’ and O’Doherty’s case is rather simple: he claims they must prove that the Irish Government’s actions have been “disproportionate” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He claims, citing previous cases, that constitutional rights are not absolute and that if a government acts against them to deal with a threat “proportionately” then the government is allowed to trample on those constitutional rights.

The problem with this argument is that it implicitly sides with Government action as against the constitution. The Government is assumed to be in the right and the onus is on the citizen to prove not that the Government’s actions are unconstitutional, but that they are “disproportionate” given the threat of the pandemic relative to the constitutionally-protected rights they override.

Not So Rich List

Elsewhere in the Sunday Times is the news that the pandemic has wiped £54 billion from the wealth of Britain’s super rich in the past two months. “More than half of the country’s billionaires are nursing losses as high as £6 billion, with the combined wealth of the 1,000 wealthiest individuals and families plunging for the first time since 2009, in the wake of the financial crisis,” it says.

UK Government Petition Finally Approved

At last, the UK Government Petitions site has approved an anti-lockdown petition. Not as militant as some of us would like, but better than nothing. You can sign it here. If it gets 10,000 signatures the Government will have to respond; if it gets 100,000, it will be considered for debate in Parliament. Last time I checked it had just over 500.

Epidemiologist Condemns Lockdowns

Knut Wittkowski

There’s a great Q&A in Spiked with Knut Wittkowski, former head of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design at the Rockefeller University’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science. A more sceptical epidemiologist you’re unlikely to find, and that’s going some given how many we’ve already featured on this site. Here’s one of the highlights:

Spiked: Have our interventions made much of an impact?

Wittkowski: When the whole thing started, there was one reason given for the lockdown and that was to prevent hospitals from becoming overloaded. There is no indication that hospitals could ever have become overloaded, irrespective of what we did. So we could open up again, and forget the whole thing.

I hope the intervention did not have too much of an impact because it most likely made the situation worse. The intervention was to ‘flatten the curve’. That means that there would be the same number of cases but spread out over a longer period of time, because otherwise the hospitals would not have enough capacity.

Now, as we know, children and young adults do not end up in hospitals. It is only those who are both elderly and have comorbidities that do. Therefore you have to protect the elderly and the nursing homes. The ideal approach would be to simply shut the door of the nursing homes and keep the personnel and the elderly locked in for a certain amount of time, and pay the staff overtime to stay there for 24 hours per day.

How long can you do that for? For three weeks, that is possible. For 18 months, it is not. The flattening of the curve, the prolongation of the epidemic, makes it more difficult to protect the elderly, who are at risk. More of the elderly people become infected, and we have more deaths.

Spiked: What are the dangers of lockdown?

Wittkowski: Firstly, we have the direct consequences: suicides, domestic violence and other social consequences leading to death. And then we have people who are too scared to go to the hospitals for other problems like strokes or heart attacks. So people stay away from hospitals because of the Covid fear. And then they die.

COVID-19 and the Cult of Anxiety

I published a piece last week called “COVID-19 and the Infantilisation of Dissent” by a maverick academic whom I called “Wilfred Thomas”. That went down well, so today I’m publishing a follow-up: “The Hyper-Rationality of Crowds: COVID-19 and the Cult of Anxiety“. This academic, a social scientist, is trying to understand why governments around the world seemed to panic simultaneously in response to the viral outbreak, gripped by the same irrational fear. But this isn’t a dry, academic paper. On the contrary, it’s like a rant delivered at 100mph by your best mate in the pub after he’s taken a superdrug that temporarily boosts his IQ to 200. Here’s a particularly good paragraph:

So how did we get here, to a world in which children can be herded into their little playpark Guantanamo cells not as a punishment but – remarkably – as an indicator of a society’s love and care for those same children? One word that springs immediately to mind is “madness.” “We must be mad – literally mad – to be permitting all of this,” you may very well say to yourself (if, that is, you have a fondness for paraphrasing Enoch Powell). Madness. It’s a good word, isn’t it? Rolls off the tongue. Helps to burn off steam. After all, who doesn’t like to channel their inner cab driver every now and then? “The world’s gone mad, mate. Take that wot’s-’is-name. Bonking Boris. That’s ’im. I had ’im in the back of me cab once. Screw loose, if you ask me. It’s all that sex wot’s done it. And that Ferguson? Shag other people’s wives all you like mate, but take your mathematical modelling back to the funny farm wiv ya when you’re done!” And yet, sadly, individual madness can’t really explain our current predicament. It’s a bit like blaming the invasion of Iraq in 2003 solely on President Bush and his family’s supposed mania for oil. Nice and comforting and all that, but hardly convincing when considered in light of the messy complexities of 21st century geo-politics. The problem with any individualised idea of madness is that we have a large group of people in the West right now who have allowed – have willingly and happily enabled – our lockdown societies to emerge. You and I may not be directly culpable. We may not agree with what’s happening. We may turn the cold eye of reproof upon our fellow citizens. If society were a golf club, we might even go so far as to write a strongly-worded letter of complaint to the club secretary. But whether we like it or not, right now we’re individual members of a society that, precisely as a society, has decided that battery-farming kids, playing football without tackling and hiding under the bed in order to avoid social interaction are all genuinely, 100% bona fide great ideas.

Please do read the whole thing.

Welsh Government Angling For First Prize As Most Incompetent Regional Executive in UK

A reader in Wales has got in touch to vent his despair about the idiocy of the Welsh Government, which seems determined to ruin the economy. “The tourism industry, and especially the holiday accommodation and sporting sector (which I am involved with), is being decimated,” he says. He points to this story as evidence of how brain-dead the official response to the pandemic has been – it relates to how police stopped people fishing at Cledlyn Lake Fishery in Ceredigion on Friday, even though the initial advice from Angling Cymru is that fishing is a permitted form of exercise and people are allowed to drive short distances to do it. The revised guidelines now state only disabled people can drive to go fishing. (They may have changed again since going to press.)

US Government Was Advised Against Closing Schools During 1951-52 Polio Pandemic

A reader has drawn my attention to a paper published in the Journal of School Health in 1951 on the US polio epidemic entitled “Should Polio Close Schools?“. Then, as now, one of the biggest questions was about the efficacy of closing schools to prevent the disease being spread. Here’s an extract from the abstract:

Anderson and Arnstein in “Communicable Disease Control”, 1948, in discussing poliomyelitis, say: “School closure, as well as closure of moving picture theatres, Sunday schools, and other similar groups, is frequently attempted in response to popular demand that ‘something be done’. Although tried repeatedly, it is of no proved value, never altering the usual curve of the epidemic: nor has the disease been more prevalent or persistent in those communities with the courage to resist such demands.”

The author of this paper comes to the same conclusion about the 1951–52 epidemic. For context, the number of Americans diagnosed with polio in the epidemic of 1948–49 was 42,173, with 2,720 fatalities. The 1951–52 epidemic was the worst in America’s history. Of the 57,628 cases reported that year, 3,145 died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis. By contrast, the number of people aged 19 and under who have died in English hospitals after testing positive for COVID-19 in the UK is currently 12. For those aged 15 and under, it’s two, according to Channel 4 Fact Check. Professor David Spiegelhalter at the University of Cambridge estimates that the risk to children of catching and then dying from coronavirus is one in 5.3 million. In the light of this, might Anneliese Dodds, Labour’s shadow chancellor, reconsider her decision not to send her six year-old back to school?

Scottish Mum Starts a Petition Urging the Government to Reopen Schools… and is Cancelled

Last week, Kathrine Jebsen Moore, a journalist based in Scotland (and a friend of mine), started a Change.org petition urging the Government to re-open schools across the UK. In the hope of getting some signatures, she posted a message about it on a Facebook group she’s a member of called Edinburgh Gossip Girls. Perhaps naively, she was expecting this group of about 16,000 women in the Scottish capital – many of them mothers – to be sympathetic. I’ll let Kathrine take up the story:

Within a few minutes my post had 62 angry emojis, six stunned ones, three sad ones, and only 26 likes – and one heart. The comments reinforced the mood. As well as the simple “that’ll be a no” and “wouldn’t dream of signing this”, it quickly progressed to mud-slinging, strawmen and high tempers. Some comments were, worryingly, from teachers, who failed to show the professional pride that has been apparent among NHS workers and others who’ve continued to do their jobs during the pandemic. Although a few were supportive, I’ll include a selection which conveys the general spirit:

“Eh, not a chance. Most kids are fine without school.”

“Education matters but so does not dying.”

“Can everybody please report to admin and get this goady post taken down?”

Another accused me of having had “too many daytime G&Ts”.

“Boo hoo, my kids miss their friends… they’ll miss them a lot more if they’re dead.”

That was the last comment before the admin switched off comments, with the words: “I’m not sure you’re going to get much support here, and this is a post that clearly stirs up a lot of angst and emotion which I’m trying to avoid. This is one for your personal FB, thanks.”

I’ve published the whole story on Lockdown Sceptics under “Is Shutting Schools Really Necessary?” on the right-hand side. You can read it here.

A Doctor Writes…

I received an email from a doctor today which notes that, among other things, the two-metre social distancing rule isn’t observed by doctors and nurses at her hospital. Nor do they wear masks when off the wards.

I’m a critical care consultant in a non-London District General Hospital and have been working throughout the pandemic.

There has been adequate PPE, which has been used in compliance with Government guidance, throughout this time by staff having patient contact. There has been a noticeable difference in how different areas apply this though, with some areas or specialties being extremely cautious, e.g. full PPE for procedures involving patients who’ve tested negative, making procedures slower, more difficult and more prone to complications.

As part of the escalation plan, more staff have been moved into critical care to assist with patient management. As our facilities have not increased, we have therefore had crowded coffee rooms and offices, with everybody sitting at a normal distance next to each other, without masks – it’s difficult to eat with a mask on) – sharing kitchen facilities and changing rooms. We then have the farce of going to the hospital dining room or coffee shop, and sitting spaced out two to a table, as we are visible to the non-clinical world. Several junior doctors at my hospital tested positive, and had a week off, returning once symptoms had resolved, although as they are not re-tested, and are allowed to return to work with a persistent cough, who knows whether they were still shedding the virus. My personal belief is that a significant proportion of the nursing and medical staff have had the virus, with either no or minor symptoms, and have some degree of immunity.

In my opinion, the hospital I work at did an admirable job of preparing and escalating, and managed well with a significant number of very ill patients. The de-escalation, now that we have far fewer patients, seems to be less logical, although this is probably due to the national guidance.

On a separate note, the news from NHS England earlier this week that showed that patients with diabetes have a higher chance of dying with covid was really unhelpful. Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are completely different diseases, with Type 2 being associated with obesity, which we already know is one of the strongest risk factors for a poor outcome from covid. I’m not aware of any evidence showing an increased risk from having Type 1 diabetes. I haven’t seen any seriously unwell people with Type 1 diabetes, compared to Type 2. While it seemed logical before we had first hand experience to assume that people with Type 1 would be at increased risk, this hasn’t appeared the case, but statements like this from NHS England will continue to terrify those people with Type 1 who are otherwise fit and at low risk.

By the end of last week, we had no Covid patients left in critical care. As the pandemic dies down, paradoxically, the public’s paranoia and pointless mask-wearing is increasing. I have no wish to wear a face covering in public that will become saturated with the vapour I breathe out, including the many normal bacteria that colonise my nose. Face coverings are wrong for so many reasons – being a harbour for viruses and bacteria being one, but also for reducing facial recognition, contact and empathy with those we are interacting with, which I worry will cause increased friction between members of the community.

I was delighted to find your Lockdown Sceptics website, and know I’m not alone.

Latest on Slow-Mo Car Crash that is the NHS’s Contact-Tracing App

My correspondent who’s been covering the roll-out of the NHS contact-tracing app draws my attention to a leak over the weekend:

Can’t usually bring myself to read the Guardian but I may have to develop a tolerance as it seems to be the go-to paper for leaks from the Ethics Advisory Board overseeing the NHSx ‘public panic’ app. Not surprising, given that the majority of the board are legal and philosophy academics. Not a technologist amongst them as far as I can tell from the publicly available data.

The news is… the Board was not told about the development of a second version of the app (the Zulke developed one). According to the Guardian, which has spoken to some Board members on condition of anonymity: “Some members are particularly concerned that they were not informed about the development of a second, parallel NHS app that was being built in secret until its existence was disclosed by the Financial Times last week.”

If the Ethics Advisory Board cannot speak out publicly and is dependent on Matt Hancock reading the Guardian to get its message across then no wonder Parliament’s Human Rights Committee felt the Board was inadequate (as previously reported on Lockdown Sceptics).

The apparent lack of a tech member of the Board is astonishing. It means dropped balls – such as asking for all app code to be open sourced, but not asking for server-side, backend code to be included. Given the centralised data model, that’s a big deal.

As things stand, the Ethics Advisory Board appears to be a political fig leaf, whining about how powerless it is to the Guardian while Hancock charges ahead with his Big Brother apps.

Sue Denim Responds to Imperial College’s Statement to the Sunday Telegraph

The ex-Google engineer who reviewed Neil Ferguson’s code for this site under the name “Sue Denim” has sent me a response to today’s news story in the Sunday Telegraph – “Coding that led to lockdown was ‘totally unreliable’ and a ‘buggy mess’, say experts“. That story is based on a comment piece in the same paper by two senior software engineers. In response to their scathing assessment of Ferguson’s computer model, Imperial College has dug in. It gave the following statement to the Sunday Telegraph:

The UK Government has never relied on a single disease model to inform decision-making. As has been repeatedly stated, decision-making around lockdown was based on a consensus view of the scientific evidence, including several modelling studies by different academic groups.

Multiple groups using different models concluded that the pandemic would overwhelm the NHS and cause unacceptably high mortality in the absence of extreme social distancing measures. 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.

Epidemiology is not a branch of computer science and the conclusions around lockdown rely not on any mathematical model but on the scientific consensus that COVID-19 is a highly transmissible virus with an infection fatality ratio exceeding 0.5pc in the UK”

Sue Denim has responded as follows:

ICL is asserting here that once a few academics with the right kind of politics agree on something, that’s science. Replicability, accuracy versus observed outcomes and not being buggy are things that apparently only partisans care about. The claim about ideology is probably a reference to my comment about the insurance industry, but they then immediately prove the point by claiming “epidemiology is not a branch of computer science”. That’s exactly the sort of explanation for failure that companies can’t give to their customers, because nobody cares. Refusal to work cross-discipline is a mindset problem unique to academia, one that companies cannot and do not tolerate.

Finally, their claim about the Government never relying on a single disease model to make decisions doesn’t seem to match the official SAGE publication from March 9th, “Potential impact of behavioural and social interventions on an epidemic of Covid-19 in the UK“, which cites the ICL Report 9 paper and its assumptions as the only source of predictions for what would happen. The claim about consensus is equally dodgy: nearly as soon as the UK changed course in response to ICL’s model, a team at Oxford (Gupta et al) publicly contradicted them.

In my second post I asked if Imperial College’s administrators knew how out of control this department had become. Now we know the answer: yes, and they don’t care.

Worth noting that Imperial has just sealed a deal with with the Chinese company Huawei worth £5 million. The Mail on Sunday has the story.

A Banker Writes…

A banker has got in touch to express his astonishment that last weekend’s leak from Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT), revealing how much the Government’s expenditure is likely to increase by this year, didn’t result in more comment:

I was a banker for 30 years and have worked with governments in the NL, France, Germany and the UK as well as major European corporates on privatisations and major capital raisings. Never have I seen a finance ministry send up what I can only describe as a distress flare to advertise the trouble its economy is in. Most finance ministries would avoid doing this like the plague (pardon the phrase). They all borrow internationally and the rule of the game is do nothing that damages your credit rating. If you damage it, not only does your cost of borrowing go up, but your very ability to borrow may be impacted. This matters when you’re going to have to rely massively on the kindness of strangers to finance your spending by massively increased debt issuance.

He can think of three possible explanations for the leak:

  • There is serious alarm in HMT about the Government’s reaction to Covid and the economic cost of the lockdown, including Rishi Sunak’s expensive and over-generous bailouts. Maybe a worried official hoped the international capital markets could be used to put the frighteners on the PM.
  • There’s tension between No 10 and No 11 and Sunak was trying to appeal to the international capital markets to put a brake on his boss’s recklessness by pointing out the financial and potentially political cost of an extended lockdown.
  • HMT officials are scared shitless about the cost of Sunak’s crowd-pleasing and trying to put a shot across his bows.

He continues:

I’m astonished how little serious reflection this leak has occasioned. The FT barely noticed it. More tellingly, it didn’t spark a week-long comment war on Bloomberg, Twitter or the Wall St Journal. All it did was spark a straw fire about “no tax increases” with some sensible reactions from former Chancellors.

But it still puzzles me as to why it ever happened. And why it didn’t cause utter pandemonium. Because the economic cost of this madness will only be felt once we get out of lockdown’s phoney war and the “Blitz” proper gets underway later this year, by which I mean when all those who are unemployed and don’t know it yet have a bruising encounter with economic reality. I wonder what the Blitz spirit will feel like then? How many royals will have to be axed from the civil list so that Buck House can once again look the East End in the eye?

Or maybe the leak was just mistimed, premature. We’re still all too busy clapping Captain Tom and the nurses (God bless them) to cope with any likely reality 3-6 months down the road. Hence the damp squib?

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

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

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. A journalist called David Oldroyd-Bolt lent a hand today and I’d like to pay him something, so if you feel like donating please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here. Incidentally, hope you like the new format with sub-headings and more pictures.

And Finally…

I seem to have taken a leaf out of the News at Ten and begun to round off each daily bulletin with a funny bit beginning “And finally…” Today’s “and finally” is brought to you courtesy of our friends at Comedy Unleashed and features Meggie Foster, a performer who specialises in lip-synch comedy. Her Boris is particularly good. Until tomorrow…

Latest News

The Express leads with the fact that 15 million day-trippers are expected to hit the road this weekend, taking advantage of the easing of restrictions. Unfortunately, they may not be greeted with open arms when they reach their destinations. Council executives, tourism boards and national park bodies have warned off members of the public who might want to take advantage of the good weather and fresh air. Despite overwhelming evidence that the risk of transmission in the open air is practically zero and that sunlight is vital in helping the body resist infection, quangocrats and town hall Sir Humphries are pulling up the drawbridge.

The leader of Cornwall Council issued a proclamation: “People shouldn’t be coming to Cornwall on holiday and that it’s totally inappropriate. The minor changes in policy that happened this week don’t change that and we’re not open for tourism.” The Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire has taken a similar line. He told the Times: “People also need to understand that not all services would be open as usual, including public conveniences, pubs, restaurants and accommodation so it won’t be the usual visitor experience. If you’re travelling more than 10-15 miles is it really necessary? We’d say, ‘Dream about it, explore later.'” Hard to believe his job is to persuade people to visit Yorkshire.

You might have better luck in the South Downs National Park. Its representative says visitors are welcome provided they follow social-distancing guidance – which shouldn’t be too hard, given that it covers almost 630 square miles of Sussex and Hampshire.

A reader tells me he took his family to the beach yesterday in Hunstanton, Norfolk, having been reassured by his council that beaches have reopened. But when they arrived, they were confronted with this sight:

Presumably, the boys in blue were there to make sure no one comes within two metres of each other. Baywatch, Covid-style.

The Times, Guardian and BBC this morning all led with the news that academies and independent schools will definitely reopen on June 1st – though only for the “priority” year groups of Reception, Years 1 and Year 6. Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, says the plan is “sensible” and pointed out the “overwhelming” evidence that prolonged periods out of education are damaging, particularly for vulnerable and disadvantaged children.

Teaching unions, however, have instructed their members not to “engage”– and, as Juliet Samuel says in the Telegraph, they should be ashamed of thsemselves. They were given some succour by Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chairman of the BMA Council, who told the Telegraph: “Until we have got case numbers much lower, we should not consider reopening schools.” Why, given that children are not themselves vulnerable to COVID-19 and there’s little evidence that they can infect others? Liverpool City Council says its schools won’t reopen until June 15th, and then only for Year 6.

The Chief Executives of some of the country’s largest academy chains – Reach 2, Oasis, GEP and Harris – say they will reopen their schools on time. Roughly 25% of English primary school pupils attend academies, over which local authorities have no control. Christopher King, head of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, which comprises 670 schools, says he expects all of them to reopen for priority groups on June 1st, in line with the Government’s plan.

I’ve come across lots of anecdotal evidence that mental health has taken a battering since the lockdown began, most often due to job losses, isolation, bereavement and substance abuse. Now, the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) has reinforced this with evidence from its latest survey of 1,369 practitioners, carried out between May 1st and 6th. Its conclusion is that those with no previous history of mental illnesses are becoming unwell in alarming numbers.

According to the Guardian, four out of 10 psychiatrists say they have seen an increase in the number of people urgently requiring emergency care for mental health. Particularly prevalent are 18-25 year-old men with no previous history of mental illness. Participants in the survey reported “patients having severe psychotic symptoms which incorporate Covid-related themes” and that “many of our patients have deteriorated or developed mental disorders as a direct result of the coronavirus disruption, for example social isolation, increased stress [or that they have] run out of meds”.

Dr Kate Lovett, the RCP’s Dean, told the Guardian: “Of the people I am seeing, many are extremely unwell with symptoms of severe mental illness: serious changes in their moods, belief system and hallucinations. Life events associated with COVID-19 have triggered this or led to a relapse for almost all of them. Relationships are now all feeling lockdown pressures. Routines have disappeared.”

A member of Simon Dolan’s legal team has sent me this chart, showing how the the death toll from coronavirus stacks up against other viruses. Helps to put things in perspective. And worth nothing that during none of these previous pandemics did governments react by locking down entire populations:

I linked to a 2007 story in the New Scientist yesterday about how the foot and mouth epidemic was caused by a leak from a rusty pipe at one of the Government’s scientific research labs in Pirbright, Surrey and said it made the theory that SARS-CoV-2 had escaped form the Wuhan Institute of Virology more plausible. Today, an architect has got in touch to say he thinks that’s a plausible hypothesis, too:

A few years back, as an architect, I became involved with the then Health Protection Agency (HPA) and Centre For Emergency Preparedness and Response (CEPR) operations on their Porton Down site, adjacent to the MOD’s DsTL operation.

The reason I became involved was a mooted £600 million refurbishment of their rotting accommodation. They had just spent £17 million on rebuilding their drainage to avoid a repeat of the MASSIVELY embarrassing Pirbright event.

There is some interesting footage on YouTube regarding the genesis of the Wuhan lab, where the Chinese typically stole a French Cat IV containment lab design and built it out themselves. I would not be at all surprised if the drainage design at Wuhan is not fit for purpose, as the drainage designs would not have been sufficiently developed at that point in the procurement process for the Chinese to steal them. Equally, the functioning of the physical lab is very dependent on good practice of its scientists, which is also reported as being lamentable at Wuhan.

In short, I strongly suspect the pandemic is due to very embarrassing cock up at the Wuhan lab. Dictators a la Chairman Xi do not like to be embarrassed, so don’t expect this to ever be disclosed. My suspicion is intelligence agencies had wind of COVID-19’s origin in a Wuhan lab, and were consequently more fearful of it than they might have been of a coronavirus without a relationship to a biowarfare research establishment, and this fear may have influenced the massive overreaction of global responses.

Yesterday, I mentioned that a financial journalist had done a bit of analysis based on the “response tracker” that Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government has created. This is a tool that enables you to compare and contrast different countries according to how severe their lockdowns are. Using this information, he created a spreadsheet that included the data for deaths per million in each country from Our World in Data and the IMF’s estimate of what the deficit in each country is likely to be and the fall in GDP per capita. He concluded, not surprisingly, that there was no statistical correlation between the severity of the lockdown and the number of infections and deaths – no signal in the noise – but quite a strong correlation between the severity of the lockdown and the economic trouble each country is in.

Today, a reader gets in touch to say that he’s also done a similar piece of work using the Blavatnik tool, looking at infections and deaths. Peter Forsythe, a Hong Kong resident, has blogged about his findings and linked to his spreadsheet. As he says, if lockdowns are effective you would expect to see a correlation between the stringency of the lockdown and the number of cases or deaths per million. But there isn’t one. His conclusion:

So, there is – at least accusing to the figures we have so far – no correlation between the strength of the lockdown and the number of cases and deaths. This could change, and I’ll keep an eye on it.

Incidentally, my financial journalist friend has been back in touch today to flag a piece of virtue-signalling nonsense in Bloomberg‘s ‘Evening Briefing’ yesterday. “The financial cost of coronavirus crisis could reach $8.8 trillion, but the higher cost – the one in lives – already stands at 306,000,” it says. As my friend points out, if you divide $8.8 trillion by 306,000 (the total number of Covid deaths so far) you get $24.4 million. So the author of Bloomberg’s ‘Evening Briefing’ believes each of those lives is worth $24.4 million? Quite generous, when you factor in that the median age of those who’ve died of the virus in most countries is about 80, with the vast majority having underlying health conditions. There’s another consideration too, which is the lives that are likely to be lost as a result of the global economic recession that’s heading towards us like a tsunami. As my friend points out:

The loss of $8.8 trillion in global output – of which a large amount must be due to the self-inflicted lockdowns – will inevitably lead to the loss of a great many lives in future, especially in poor countries like India and South Africa.

Do lives lost in the future not matter to Bloomberg’s virtue-signallers?

A reader has some scuttlebutt on why hospitals are half empty:

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine yesterday who is a nurse at a hospital in Suffolk. She said the Covid ward (once a surgical ward) is now empty. However, because of the rules on social distancing, only three bays out of six are allowed to be occupied on all other wards, effectively reducing the capacity of the hospital by half. I asked why do they not test all incoming patients. She said the results take five days to come back so they can only test patients who have a planned admission but cannot test those who are admitted as an emergency admissions. Just hope I don’t get ill or have an accident…

We’ve seen very few examples of bold political leadership in this crisis. But here’s one you may not be aware of: President John Magufuli of Tanzania. He’s a lockdown sceptic and when a government advisor instructed him to over-react to the crisis – because of “the science” – he did what Boris should have done to Professor Niel Ferguson and sacked him. Africa News has the story, but here are the highlights:

There has been a top and controversial sacking in Tanzania. Head of the country’s national health laboratory in charge of coronavirus testing was suspended, a day after President John Magufuli questioned the accuracy of the tests.

On Sunday President Magufuli, who has consistently downplayed the effect of the virus, shocked the world when he said animals, fruits and vehicle oil had been secretly tested at the laboratory. Now, take a look at some of the specific things he said had been tested. A papaya, a quail and a goat. All of them he says had been found to be positive for COVID-19.

Magufuli cast doubt on the credibility of laboratory equipment and technicians and questioned official data on the pandemic. He called for an investigation into what he suspected to be a “dirty game” in the laboratory. Where the kits had been imported from though, he would not say. So, the lab director here Nyambura Moremi has been fired. And a 10-person committee has been formed to investigate the laboratory’s operations, including its process of collecting and testing samples. Presently, that is, as of May 5th, Tanzania has about 480 Covid-19 cases including 16 deaths.

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:

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

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. A journalist called David Oldroyd-Bolt helped me with today’s update and will be lending a hand in future. I’d like to pay him something, so if you feel like donating you can do so by clicking here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

Bit shorter than usual today – my wife Caroline is getting a bit cross that I’m spending so much time doing this so we’re off to Richmond this afternoon for a walk by the river. The Covid hit parade will be back tomorrow.

I’ll leave you with this picture of an innovative social distancing measure instroduced by the owner of a German cafe: hats with pool noodles on them.

Latest News


The Mirror leads with the preprint I flagged up yesterday estimating that by the end of April 29% of the UK population may have already had the virus (29% of 66 million is ~19 million). If we assume that roughly 50,000 people in the UK will have died from COVID-19 by May 21st – allowing for the three-week lag time between infection and death – that gives an infection fatality rate (IFR) of ~0.076%, less than half the IFR of seasonal flu.

Is a seroprevalence of 29% high enough for herd immunity? Yes, according to a summary of the evidence by Nicholas Lewis about the threshold that needs to be reached that I flagged up a few days ago. According to Lewis, the variation in COVID-19 susceptibility and infectivity between individuals, arising mainly from differences in their social connectivity, lowers the herd immunity threshold to 7% – 24% of the population, much lower than the 50% – 60% previously thought. His analysis draws on a recent preprint by Gomes et al entitled ‘Individual variation in susceptibility or exposure to SARS-CoV-2 lowers the herd immunity threshold‘.

New data from London suggests the city has already obtained herd immunity. According to the latest estimates by Public Health England (PHE) and Cambridge University, as reported in the Telegraph, only 24 people a day are being infected in the capital and the R has fallen to 0.4. That means the number of new infections is halving every 3.5 days and London will have virtually eliminated the virus by the end of the month. It is Yorkshire and the North East that have the highest infection rate, according to the PHE/Cambridge analysis – double that of the capital. It’s ironic, then, that the local authorities in those areas are so paranoid about day-trippers from London infecting their populations that they’ve banned parking at local beauty spots. Turns out, it’s Londoners who should be worried about visitors from Yorkshire and the North East, not the other way round.

Picture taken on the tube in London this morning. The commuters seem more worried about dying from putting on their trousers than from COVID-19 – and the risk may actually be greater, given that London is almost virus-free and eight people died while trying to put on their trousers last year.

But it’s not all good news. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the second wave of the pandemic will be deadlier than the first. The Telegraph has interviewed Dr Hans Kluge, Director for the WHO European region, who delivered a stark warning to countries beginning to ease their lockdowns, saying that now is the “time for preparation, not celebration”. File this under the same heading as the WHO’s January 14th announcement that there’s “no clear evidence of human to human transmission”.

My Lockdown Sceptic of the week is Luke Johnson, former chairman of Pizza Express and Channel 4, who was on Question Time last night. He dared to suggest the lockdown will cause a greater loss of life that it will prevent and duly reaped the whirlwind. One of the points he made is that if you’re under 60 with no underlying health conditions you’re more likely to drown than die of COVID-19. You can watch Johnson firing off truth bullets here.

I was sent a terrific piece this morning by an occupational health doctor about the catastrophic consequences for the British economy of treating COVID-19 as a workplace health hazard, similar to asbestos. He rightly points out that there’s no scientific evidence that workplaces are more hazardous environments than any other environments when it comes to susceptibility to the virus. But over time, the risk of catching the virus has morphed from a hazard that exists in the general community to a hazard that’s specific to the workplace. This is a consequence, in part, of the Government telling people to stay in their homes to avoid infection. But it may also be related to the widespread belief that “key workers” are at greater risk of infection than others because they’re still at work – actual “fake news” and “misinformation” that’s pumped out by the mainstream media daily. And, of course, the Government’s unscientific gobbledegook about the need to maintain a distance of two metres apart in offices has undoubtedly played a part. The author points out that this will create a mountain of obstacles that businesses wanting to reopen will have to overcome if they’re to persuade people to return to work.

“You must put in place universal distancing and cleaning measures throughout every part of your operation,” he says. “You must issue PPE, with all of the regulations surrounding the provision of PPE. You must screen every employee with an underlying medical condition to determine if they are safe to even enter the workplace.”

That last task, in particularly, will saddle businesses with enormous extra costs:

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.

I have to confess, I hadn’t thought through to the consequences of branding the workplace a hazardous environment. But this occupational health doctor has and it’s clearly going to be a massive problem. Do read the whole piece.

The Government wrote to Simon Dolan’s layers yesterday, responding to his Letter Before Action. This is the update on his Crowdfunding page:

Just a few hours ago we received a detailed response form the Govt to our letter before action. Our legal team are currently considering the various points raised. The letter runs to some 13 pages and as you can imagine contains some highly technical points. We can confirm for now that they are however refusing to release the minutes of the SAGE meetings.

Will update further just as soon as the legal team have formulated their plan of action. rest assured, the fight very much continues. Expect another update in the next couple of days.

If you want to find out more about Dolan and what’s motivating him, I recommend this interview by my friend James Delingpole for the Delingpod. And I’ve published a piece today by John Waters, one of the two anti-lockdown litigants trying to take take the Irish Government to court. You can read that here.

More depressing polling news: A recent five-country survey by Kekst CNC found that British voters top the table in wanting their government’s top priority to be limiting the spread of the virus (73%) rather than avoiding recession (14%) That net 59-point “lead” for tackling the virus compares with net figures of 44 points (Japan), 30 points (US), 16 points (Germany) and 15 points (Sweden). Prospect has more.

A reader tells me about the difficulties he’s had trying to see a dentist:

Like many of a certain generation I have had the pleasure of getting to visit my dentist regularly and we are on first name terms. Once I experience toothache I usually phone up for an appointment and hope to get away with a filling but have on occasion had to suffer the expense and pain of a deep root canal filling. Since the middle of March the doors of every dental surgery have been firmly closed in the UK and the only treatment available is from emergency dental hubs. These dental hubs can offer you a choice of either antibiotics and pain killers and if that doesn’t work an extraction of the painful tooth.

I did write to my dentist at the beginning of April, initially by email, which wasn’t replied to, then by a hand-written letter explaining I had a lot of pain from a tooth. I had already taken a weeks worth of antibiotics and paracetamol My dentisit kindly did phone me, had a look at some x-rays from last year and said he could refer me to a hub for it to be removed, as that was the only option.

When the dentists open possibly in July they think that they will only be doing teeth extractions anyway. All the dental work involving ” aerosols”, i.e. drilling and filling, is not allowed and will not be available for months because of the need for PPE for all staff and a total refit of dental surgeries.

We have returned to the world of dentistry in the 18th Century.

This is quite shocking. Dr Jeannette Young, the Chief Health Officer of Queensland in Australia, has told the Brisbane Times that she urged the state’s premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, to shut down schools in order to send a “message”, not because she thought it was scientifically advisable. Here are the key paragraphs:

Dr Young told Ms Palaszczuk to shut down schools on March 26th.

She says while evidence showed schools were not a high-risk environment for the spread of the virus, closing them down would help people understand the gravity of the situation.

“If you go out to the community and say, ‘this is so bad, we can’t even have schools, all schools have got to be closed’, you are really getting to people,” Dr Young says.

“So sometimes it’s more than just the science and the health, it’s about the messaging.”

I’ve long suspected that senior civil servants think they know better than democratically-elected politicians and have no qualms about misrepresenting scientific or legal advice in order to manipulate them. But they don’t often brag about it in national newspapers, particularly not when still in post. One telling detail from the profile: Dr Young has a “no-smoking” sign displayed on her “trophy” wall, given to her by Health Minister Steven Miles after she helped to get cigarettes banned in national parks in 2017.

On the subject of schools, a reader has passed on a Facebook post complaining about the arrangements that have been made at Holywell Village First School in Whitley Bay to facilitate its reopening on June 1st. These apply to children in Reception and Year 1, i.e. aged four to six:

  • Children to be isolated in bubbles of small groups
  • To remain with one teacher in one classroom all day
  • All toys, books and soft furnishings removed
  • Children to work at desks 1m apart, all to face the same direction, and not mix, INCLUDING NURSERY!
  • Desks etc to be continually cleaned throughout the day
  • To be seated at desks all day. No sitting on the floor
  • Children only to attend in clean clothes and a clean coat every day
  • No hot lunch for Reception and Year 1, packed lunches to be provided by the school
  • No outdoor equipment to be touched
  • They will have to spend much of the day working independently (the teacher cannot help them)
  • Set toilet times
  • Toileting accidents – children to clean themselves up; if they can’t then the parent has to come and collect the child to clean them at home

As my correspondent says, “The psychological scars this will leave beggar belief.” The headteacher of Holywell Village First School would do well to read this piece by Rachel de Souza, chief executive of Inspiration Trust, or indeed this article that I’ve been sent by Christine Brett, a health economist, and which I’ve published today. Christine has crunched the numbers and concluded that the chances of your child dying from the virus, or infecting others, are extremely slight. To date, one child has died from coronavirus per 1.1 million children in the UK (12 in total). But even though the risk is negligible, Christine is far from cavalier about it. As she says in her piece, her own son Michael died at the age of 19 months:

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

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

Christine’s article, which is very sober and sensible, is well worth a read.

Someone has sent me an interesting piece published in the New Scientist in 2007 saying the cause of the foot and mouth epidemic was a virus escaping from leaky pipe at a Government research lab in Pirbright, Surrey. Perhaps the theory that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology isn’t that far-fetched after all.

The New York Times has an article attempting to smear all lockdown sceptics as far-right loons and conspiracy theorists, focusing on the dissemination of the Stanford Santa Clara serological study by right-wing commentators on Twitter. That study, led by John Ioannidis, Professor of Medicine at Stanford, seemed to show that public health organisations, such as the WHO, had under-estimated the seroprevalence of the virus and, as a consequence, over-estimated the infection fatality rate (IFR). According to the Times, the signal boost the study received from wing-nuts on Twitter led to “a surge of misinformation”. “By the end of the weekend, right-wing social media had passed around the study, often with hashtags like #ReopenAmerica, #FactsNotFear, #endthelockdown and #BackToWork slapped on,” writes the Times.

Trouble is, the estimate of the IFR in that preprint – 0.17% – has turned out to be more accurate than official estimates. If you look at this Excel spreadsheet collating the data from some of the major PCR and serological studies that have been done so far, the median IFR is 0.36. Admittedly, more than double 0.17, but bear in mind that was an estimate of the IFR in Santa Clara county. And an IFR of 0.36 is just over a third of the estimate used in the Imperial College computer model, which was 0.9%.

So which figure should be classed as “misinformation”? The one produced by Professor Ioannidis and his team at Stanford or the one produced by Professor Ferguson and his team at Imperial? I’m willing to bet my house that when the IFR of SARS-CoV-2 is a settled figure, it will be closer to 0.17% than 0.9%.

The Times concludes it’s analysis by saying that there are two internets, one interested in scientific evidence and governed by reason, the other a Wild West dominated by right-wing conspiracy theorists:

What this cascade of sharing behaviour reveals, based on our analysis of nearly 900 COVID-19 preprints, is a tale of two internets: one largely ideological, in which science is leveraged as propaganda, and one that consists of the kind of discussion and debate vital for academia — and democracy.

That’s kind of true, but the authors of the article – Aleszu Bajak and Jeff Howe – have got it backwards: it’s mainstream media organisations like the New York Times and the BBC that are disseminating propaganda, with the truth about coronavirus more likely to be found in little tributaries of the internet like this one. At the foot of the piece Bajak and Howe are described as teachers of journalism at Northeastern University. Make of that what you will.

A regular contributor to this site – anonymous, but one of the best financial journalist in the country – has done a bit of analysis based on the “response tracker” that Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government has created. This is a tool that enables you to compare and contrast different countries according to what non-pharmaceutical interventions they’ve put in place in an attempt to mitigate the impact of the virus:

The Blavatnik School of Government provides an estimate of Lockdown “stringency” (100 being complete lockdown). I put the numbers for a few countries into a spreadsheet. What you find is that there is no statistical relationship between the stringency of lockdown (at the end of March) and a country’s rate of COVID-19 infections and deaths (per million of population – numbers from Our World in Data). There is, as you would expect, a stronger statistical relationship between the degree of stringency and projected fiscal deficits (estimated by the IMF, and already massively understating the problem).

Never have some many sacrificed so much for so little…

In Austria, a new organisation called “Initiative for evidence-based information on the coronavirus” (ICI) has been created by a controversial doctor called Dr. Christian Fiala. (He has written papers in the past disputing that AIDS is a killer virus.) It’s an anti-lockdown organisation that describes itself as an “independent initiative” but, unlike Widerstand 2020 Deutschland, ICI has no ambition to become a political party. It says on the site that it isn’t affiliated to any existing party and rejects any form of political extremism. It helps to organise anti-lockdown demonstrations and offers pro-bono legal support to people who’ve been prosecuted for participating in protests or fined for breaking the quarantine. The website publishes an endless stream of academic papers contradicting what the site refers to as “prevailing corona-alarmist orthodoxies” – a bit like this one! The site claims ICI has three objectives:

  • Facts instead of panic
  • Back to basic rights
  • Back to pluralistic discussion

One of ICI’s campaigns urges Austrians to wear face masks with the words “mund-tot” on them, which translates as “mouth-dead” or “silenced”:

ICI organised a protest in Vienna outside the Austrian Chancellory yesterday. It was forbidden by the police, but people gathered anyway. If you click here, you’ll see pictures from it. The text at the top of that page translates as: “We’re not left-wing, we’re not right-wing – we’re angry.”

I asked my always-helpful German-speaking reader to see what had been written about the group in the Austrian press and this is his summary:

The group doesn’t seem to getting much pick up in main Austrian papers. Couldn’t find anything in the Kurier or the Kronenzeitung. The one article I found in a major paper, Der Standard, is extremely hostile. It makes no attempt to understand the ICI’s purpose or arguments, but smears it by linking it to the right-wing nationalist organisation, the Identitarian Movement Austria led by Martin Sellner. Sellner has endorsed the ICI, clearly seeking to exploit it for his own purposes. ICI organisers were none too pleased that Sellner’s followers showed up at the demo – and said as much – but felt they couldn’t do much about it. Despite this, the article portrays ICI moderates as naive, ill-informed misfits and anti-vaxxers who won’t wear masks and feel no sense of responsibility towards the old and vulnerable. It points to the apparent irony of the group’s name, given that the ICI attracts people who clearly have no understanding of or respect for evidence-based health policy.

One thing I’ve noticed about ICI and Widerstand 2020 Deutschland is that both organisations are militantly pro-free speech. I am too, of course, and helped set up an organisation called the Free Speech Union earlier this year. I imagine a belief in the importance of free speech is something nearly all lockdown sceptics have in common.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the scandal caused by the leak of an 80-page impact assessment of the lockdown by an auditor in the Ministry of the Interior continues to rumble on. I’ve found this summary by German-to-English translator Paul Charles Gregory on an anti-deep state website. I’ve asked him to translate the whole thing for me so I can publish it on this site, but haven’t heard back yet. It’s quite an undertaking.

Slovenia declared an official end to its coronavirus epidemic yesterday, becoming the first country in Europe to do so. It was among the first to ease its lockdown – on April 20th – and saw no increase in infections. Public transport resumed earlier this week while next week some pupils will return to schools. All bars and restaurants, as well as small hotels with up to 30 rooms, will also be allowed to open next week. European visitors to the country will no longer be quarantined on arrival, although visitors from other parts of the world will be. To date it has had 1,464 cases and 103 deaths.

I get a lot of emails from readers like this one:

My neighbour’s father died three weeks ago. Elderly, unwell. Tested three times for Covid, all tests came back negative.
Death Certificate, Dr. put as cause of death “Covid”.

One thing that makes me slightly sceptical about these anecdotal reports is that I don’t get what the motive is. Why would a GP misdiagnose the cause of death? In the US, hospitals doctors have a financial incentive to put “COVID0-19” on death certificates because they get tens of thousands of dollars from the federal Government for each patient who dies of COVID-19. But there’s no equivalent incentive in the UK as far as I’m aware.

I also get a lot of emails like this:

I’m a huge fan of Lockdown Sceptics. Thank you for helping to save my sanity. At times this has felt like I’ve been standing in front of a lorry which is going to run me over. I want to move out of the way, but I can’t unless unless everyone else moves out of the way. They can’t see the lorry or hear me. It’s felt nightmarish and more isolating than lockdown itself.

I’m sure many of you know exactly how this woman feels.

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:

On Monday, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area – all the more urgent in light of the latest forecast of the Federation of Small Businesses, which says that up to a third of small businesses in Britain may close as a result of the lockdown. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those small businesses that have reopened near you. Should be fairly self-explanatory – and the owners of small businesses are welcome to enter their own details. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers, with a heavy metal theme today: “What’s Another Year?” by Johnny Logan, “Wake Me Up When September Ends” by Green Day and “Don’t Box Me In” by Stan Ridgway and Stewart Copeland.

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’s a daunting task, as I say in my latest Spectator column. If you feel like donating, you can do so by clicking here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

If you want a laugh, this Kevin James video is very funny. Stay with it – you’ll get the point.

And finally, I participated in quite a high-level discussion on Tuesday courtesy of How the Light Gets In, a philosophy festival that takes place in Hay-on-Wye each spring, but which has gone virtual for this year. One of the other panelists was fellow sceptic Michael Levitt, Professor of Structural Biology at Stanford and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. These things are often quite adversarial but this one wasn’t. Worth a watch.

Watch more videos on iai.tv

Latest News

Today’s Guardian leads on the care home scandal, which Keir Starmer succeeded in moving to the top of the news agenda by grilling Boris about it in yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions. It didn’t help that Boris fluffed his response. Starmer picked up on the fact that Public Health England (PHE) had advised in March that care home residents were “very unlikely” to become infected by COVID-19. Boris denied PHE had ever said this, only for him to be confronted with irrefutable evidence, at which point he accused Starmer of taking the quote out of context. He is clearly rattled by this attack line because yesterday the Government announced a £600 million cash injection for care homes to help control infection.

How many have died in care homes to date? The latest assessment of fatalities in care settings in England and Wales by academics at the London School of Economics finds that more than half of all “excess deaths” up to 1st May – those above the five-year average for the period from 28th December to 1st May – have happened in care homes. The researchers say that from 13th March to 1st May, care homes accounted for 19,938 excess deaths – a figure corroborated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). According to the ONS’s data, there have been just under 20,000 excess deaths registered in England and Wales up to 1st May in care homes since the pandemic started. “Of those, 8,312 have had COVID-19 mentioned on the death certificate,” a spokesman for the ONS told the Guardian.

At a briefing hosted by the Science Media Centre two days ago, several eminent professors cast doubt on the claim that all the excess care home deaths are due to COVID-19. Sir David Spiegelhalter, chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, said: “When we look back… this rise in non-Covid extra deaths outside hospitals is something I hope will be given really severe attention.”

So what caused those deaths? In some cases it will be undiagnosed COVID-19, but in others it will be because care home residents with other diseases were either not admitted to hospital or discharged prematurely. David Leon, Professor of Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who was also at the Science Media Centre briefing, said: “Some of these deaths may not have occurred if people had got to hospital. How many is unclear. This issue needs urgent attention, and steps taken to ensure that those who would benefit from hospital treatment and care for other conditions can get it.”

Sounds like David Spiegelhalter and David Leon think the lockdown is causing a greater loss of life than it’s preventing. The BMJ has more.

“Oi! You lot, disperse”

It looks like we can add UNICEF to the growing ranks of lockdown sceptics. Dr Stefan Peterson, Chief of Health at UNICEF, has given an interview to the Telegraph in which he says that indiscriminate lockdowns in low- and middle-income countries are an ineffective way to suppress infections and the harm they’re likely to do “far outweighs any threat presented by the coronavirus”. And that claim has been corroborated by a team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. According to a preprint in the Lancet, more than one million children under five and 60,000 more mothers could die in the next six months alone as a result of disruptions to health services caused by the pandemic in low- and middle-income countries. Among those things “caused” by the pandemic they include “intentional choices made in responding to the pandemic”, e.g. imprisoning entire populations in their homes. As Dr Peterson puts it: “If you’re asking families to stay at home in one room in a slum, without food or water, that won’t limit virus transmission… We need to lift our eyes and look at the total picture of public health.”

In other news, the Daily Mail reveals the police have no power to enforce the two-metre social distancing rule – just as well, considering how arbitrary it is. In case you need reminding of that, here’s a chart from the excellent presentation by Numis Healthcare that I flagged up yesterday showing the different “safe” distances recommended in different countries:

Another reader has got in touch with more detail on the leaked document from the German Ministry of the Interior that I’ve referred to in the last two updates. The author – “K” – concludes his 80-page analysis by listing the negative consequences of the lockdown:

  • In March and April 2.5 million necessary operations were not carried out.
  • Between 5000 and 125,000 patients have died or will die as a result. Cancer, stroke and heart patients will have suffered. 
  • 3,500 additional deaths of care home residents.
  • Increase in suicides.
  • Psychological effects of the lockdown, especially on elderly persons. Psychoses, Neuroses.
  • Increase in domestic violence.
  • Ill-effects arising from the wearing of masks.
  • Lower life expectancy

There’s good reason to believe all of those things are happening in the UK too. Last night, Channel 4 News broadcast a disturbing report by Jackie Long, the Social Affairs Editor, from inside a women’s refuge about how it’s coping with the surge in demand. According to the news programme: “The first three weeks of lockdown saw the largest number of killings of women over any 21-day period in the last decade.” You can watch the report and read a write-up by Jackie Long here.

My friend Kathrine Jebsen Moore has started a petition on Change.org to reopen all British Schools. You can sign that here. There is also a Twitter account worth following called @Teach4Teaching. It’s been set up by a couple of teachers “who want to get back to teaching and prevent disadvantaged kids from falling further behind”. They’ve started a petition that’s specifically for teachers.

I asked Guy de la Bédoyère, the historian with a working knowledge of statistics who crunched the numbers on health workers for me, to look at whether school staff are dying from COVID-19 in disproportionately large numbers. This is his verdict:

I’ve spent the last couple of hours wading through the data. I’d say that health and education are not that different. It’s hugely muddied by both areas having a large proportion of women which makes comparing them with, say, security guards (the most vulnerable workers) rather difficult. But there are a number of professions where the death rates per 100,000 are far higher than either education or health.

At any rate, it’s striking that the two professions (education and health) that the media have focused on and whipped up fear among, not only belong to a large group of professions which have a similarly low level of risk but also have a huge preponderance of women, a fact we now know dramatically reduces their susceptibility to the disease.

Woes continue to mount for the NHSx contact-tracing app. Wired has got hold of a cache of NHS documents left unsecured on Google Drive. I asked the reader who’s been keeping an eye on this story for us to take a look and this is his verdict:

  • Leaving internal docs on publicly accessible Google Drives shows that although NHSx talks the talk on security, it doesn’t walk the walk.
  • The author of the documents expresses the concern that I raised about self-diagnosis. This is why I would like to hear from testers to see how this is working in practice. The roadmap shows a “lightweight new process for verifying clinical results” but then we are into storage of special-category personal data, i.e. your very private medical information, and that raises the security stakes.
  • They also recognise the risk of mass notifications. Their worst-case example is of an NHS employee seeing hundreds of people, then self-reporting causing messages to go to hundreds of people telling them to self isolate. They think it could lead to public panic. I think it could shut down a hospital. How’s that for unintended consequences? Or would the NHS ignore the advice of its own app?
  • The roadmap shows future versions collecting post code, demographic info (usually meaning age, sex, income, employment status, etc.). This is what we mean by mission creep. It is a problem because the design assumptions in the NCSC security paper are based on not holding this kind of data. For example NCSC dismissed the honeypot problem (reindentification as they call it) because “There is insufficient data here to attract any reidentification risk”. But future versions look very likely to hold such data. So perhaps this roadmap is contingent on the Zulke version replacing what is currently being tested in IoW? If so, what will be rolled out is not what has been tested. This is what happened with “smart” motorways where the scheme worked with densely packed refuges but they rolled out with more distantly spaced refuges and that has led to unexpectedly high death rates.
  • The same goes for the cryptic statement “enable NHS and strategic leaders to add contact events”. This is even worse. It seems to propose mixing in data not provided by the user. Where is it coming from? Has the user given their permission for it to be used in this way? What conclusions are going to be drawn from it? It’s getting very Big Brother.

He concludes that the NHS’s app has all the signs of being driven by a politician who believes technology is the solution and doesn’t want to hear about the niggling issues of privacy or security. And in case you haven’t had enough scepticism about the contact-tracing app, read this withering assessment by Marc de Gentile-Williams.

President Trump invited World War Two veterans to Washington to commemorate the Allied victory in Europe last week – and the enforcers of Covid orthodoxy in the media went bananas. “Ninety-three-year old veterans will be traveling to visit the White House – they should not be traveling!” harrumphed MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace. The New York Times couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a swipe at the President, printing a photo of him without a mask on and then scolding him for his recklessness in the caption: “President Trump did not wear a mask Friday during a wreath-laying ceremony that was attended by World War Two veterans, who are in their 90s and highly vulnerable.” Needless to say, the veterans didn’t bother with masks either. Long-standing sceptic Heather Mac Donald has written a funny piece about America’s “mask scolds” for Spectator USA.

While we’re on Trump, I know he gives lockdown sceptics a bad name – and many liberals on both sides of the Atlantic only seem to be in favour of lockdowns because Trump has come out against them. But it’s hard not to like the latest initiative of his Reopen America Task Force – DoctorsForOpeningAmerica.com. Launching the website at the White House, the President said: “So many doctors, nurses, and EMTs have personally told me they’re thrilled to support working Americans in reopening our great country. They know getting our country open and getting it open soon is important. And they badly want America to know they’re ready to weather the toll.”

It’s true that the sceptics v zealots divide skews along right-left lines – and Francis Menton tries to figure out why that is in Manhattan Contrarian. But there are exceptions to the rule on both sides. I’m always heartened to get emails from readers beginning, “I don’t usually agree with anything you write, but…” and today I got sent a wonderful essay by a young firebrand in Ireland explaining why it’s the duty of every upstanding member of the left to oppose the lockdown with every fibre of their being. It begins:

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

The essay is so good that I’ve created a new page on the right-hand menu called ‘The Left-Wing Case Against Lockdowns’. I urge you to read the whole thing by clicking here.

A reader in Bradford has been in touch to flag up an article in his local paper, the Telegraph and Argus. It’s based on an interview with Professor John Baruch, former head of cybernetics at the University of Bradford, who has set up the Bradford Science Collective in response to the coronavirus pandemic. He is adamant that the Government’s easing of the lockdown this week will send infections “through the roof”. Professor Baruch tells the paper: “Our message to the people of Bradford is what Nicola Sturgeon is saying – stay at home. There’s no science to justify what Boris Johnson is saying, it’s wishful thinking.”

Well, actually, Professor Baruch, there’s plenty of scientific evidence to justify easing the lockdown. Try this: a new antibody survey just published in Spain has found that “key workers” who were allowed to leave their homes during Spain’s recent lockdown were less likely to become infected than those who remained in confinement. (Hat tip to Didier Raoult, the dissident French doctor and hydroxychloroquine champion, who flagged this up on Twitter.) If you think that study’s an outlier, here’s one from China which could only find one outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 infection due to outside transmission.

Perhaps the reason Professor Baruch isn’t aware of the tsunami of scientific evidence that contradicts the dominant narrative is because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to share it with people on social media. I flagged this up yesterday, linking to an excellent article in the FT by Izabella Kaminska who has coined the phrase “censortech” to describe the draconian content-moderation policies of companies like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Although there’s no need for Facebook’s AIs to read every post about coronavirus, searching for wrongthink, because group administrators will often do that job themselves. The pandemic has unleashed an army of these petty martinets, scouring everything we write in public forums, ready to leap into action with their red pencils.

A reader got in touch to tell me about an “appalling act of censorship” from the administrator of her local town group page on Facebook. It’s all too typical I’m afraid:

After I had dared to share Dr John Lee’s article in the Spectator about reasons why we should end lockdown, with a brief introduction saying who he was, adding the link to his article and saying that even if you believed in the lockdown process it was worth a read to gain a more balanced perspective and consider the consequences, the administrator publicly posted a comment below it accusing me of spreading “misinformation”. When I explained that it was not misinformation but an opinion of a qualified medical professional, he responded that I did not understand the seriousness of the situation, knew nothing about the disease, did not understand how it spread or how dangerous it was, was guilty of posting “fake news”, and, worse, was inciting the public to break the law and supporting the practice of genocide in the face of this deadly disease! Gasp. I calmly pointed out that I had a degree and also an environmental health qualification and was a former practitioner so out of personal interest had been doing a lot of studying via Science Direct, Elsevier Science and other reputable sources of data, explaining that I disagreed the information was “fake”, or “misinformation”, and adding a list of my sources. I said I simply agreed with many professional experts in their fields, such as Professor Michael Levitt and Johan Giesecke. His response was to publicly inform me (i.e. via the comments) that I was not to post to the group again and repeated his assertion about misinformation and fake news!

In the fullness of time, when it’s the settled consensus that the lockdowns led to a greater loss of life than they prevented, will there be any kind of reckoning for people like this administrator? Given that it’s them, and not us, who are guilty of disseminating misinformation and fake news, we could ask them to ban themselves from social media platforms lest their craven parroting of state propaganda causes any more unnecessary deaths in future.

The moderator of my neighbourhood Facebook group spotted in an unmarked van outside my house yesterday

Good rant in a Reddit thread by a “key worker”. Doesn’t sound like there’s much scope for social distancing if you’re a shelf-stacker at Tesco’s:

I am what you would call an “essential worker”. I am a student who currently works at a supermarket around 4 or five days a week. My brother who I currently live with is also in this category and he works at a different supermarket in the same town. Aside from the odd obedient middle class mum, social distancing is virtually non-existant. I constantly have people coming up close to me asking where to find flour and the isles are too narrow to conceivably practice it anyway. There is no limit on how many people can enter the shop. None of the staff wear masks as wearing one for a prolonged period of time (i.e 6 hours) is extremely uncomfortable and having to readjust them by touching your face completely destroys the purpose of wearing one. The staff room and the toilets are pretty filthy, so much so that I will use hand sanitiser after touching every single appliance. The staff themselves don’t practice any form of social distancing as it makes their job literally impossible, not to mention everyone is working twice as hard to stock the shelves because people still continue to stock pile. My only defence against covids is constant hand sanitising and refraining from ever touching my face, which ironically is probably the best scientific defence againt contracting the virus.

You can read the rest of it here.

There are several protests/mass gatherings taking place this Saturday in different parts of the country to protest against the lockdown, according to the Mail. It says at least eight of them are being organised by the UK Freedom Movement, which it describes as an “anti-vaxxer group”. I’m not an anti-vaxxer myself, but would defend the right of anyone who wants to protest about a Government policy in the public square and regard the current legal prohibition on protests – one of the many civil rights that have been suspended during the lockdown – as an attack on our liberty that may well be unlawful. If anyone is planning to attend these events I would advise them to exercise their common sense when it comes to social distancing, not engage in needlessly provocative behaviour and remain peaceful. The more respectable and sensible you are, the more politically effective the protests will be. Don’t make it easy for the mainstream media to depict you as a bunch of paranoid weirdos with a far-right, anti-scientific agenda.

And if you think I’m engaging in wishful thinking by saying the lockdown restrictions may be unlawful, read this account in the Mail of what happened in Wisconsin when a group of sceptics challenged the Governor’s stay-at-home order in the state Supreme Court. They won, prompting a stampede to local bars from grateful residents. Here’s a picture of Marvin Radtke toasting the opening of the Friends and Neighbors bar in Appleton:

More good news from across the pond: Alameda County health officials have backed down in their conflict with Elon Musk, reversing their shutdown order and granting provisional approval for Tesla’s Fremont, California plant to reopen. Why have they thrown in the towel? The Babylon Bee may know the answer. The satirical online magazine ran a piece entitled: ‘California Police Attempt To Arrest Elon Musk’s Holographic Decoy As Real Musk Escapes On Rocket To Mars.’

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:

On Monday, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area – all the more urgent in light of the latest forecast of the Federation of Small Businesses, which says that up to a third of small businesses in Britain may close as a result of the lockdown. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those small businesses that have reopened near you. Should be fairly self-explanatory – and the owners of small businesses are welcome to enter their own details. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Fancy a pint of Flowers?

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers, with a heavy metal theme today: ‘Hysteria‘ by Def Leppard, ‘Run to the Hills‘ by Iron Maiden, ‘Creeping Death‘ by Metallica and ‘Paranoid‘ by Black Sabbath.

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’s a daunting task, let me tell you, although not quite as daunting as I say in my latest Spectator column. In a self-pitying whinge, I say that looking after this blog may be death of me but that will be okay because my death will be one more piece of evidence that the lockdown is killing more people than it’s saving. If you still feel like donating after reading this nonsense, you can do so by clicking 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 has come up with a wizard wheeze if you’re missing having your closest friend round for a drink. Even though socialising inside your home is verboten, you’re now allowed to list your home for sale with an estate agent and the agent is allowed to bring prospective buyers round. So contact your local Foxtons, tell them you want to sell your home and then put them in touch with your best friend, making sure to describe them as a “buyer”. When the Foxtons’ agent turns up at your doorstep with friend in tow, tell them you’re happy to show them round yourself, close the door and uncork a bottle of wine.

Latest News

The Times says the teaching unions are advising their members not to return to work if primary schools reopen in June. “The National Education Union (NEU) said it was unconvinced that there was any scientific basis behind government guidance issued yesterday that teachers didn’t need PPE equipment to keep them safe,” Rosemary Bennett reports. She continues: “Many parents are also sceptical that the guidelines would keep their children, family members and the wider population safe.” I was quite surprised to read that, given the recent slew of evidence that children don’t transmit the disease. But the real jaw-dropper is that Anneliese Dodds, the shadow chancellor, told the Times she would keep her six year-old son at home unless the Government provided evidence to show that going to school would not risk harming others. Does she not realise that children under 10 aren’t infectious? Across the entire world, there hasn’t been a single case – NOT A SINGLE CASE – of a child under 10 infecting someone else. What more assurance does Anneliese Dodds need?

I wonder if the shadow chancellor has signed this Change.org petition demanding the Government give parents the option of keeping their kids out of school if they reopen in June because “many of us… feel it is too early”. So far, it has had over 500,000 signatures.

Children at a primary school in France playing alone in chalk ‘isolation zones’ to maintain social distancing

The news broke this morning that the UK economy shrank by 5.8% in March, the largest month-on-month fall since records began in 1997, according to the Times. The economy shrank by 2% in the first quarter, the sharpest fall since the final quarter of 2008, when Britain was in the throes of the financial crisis. The story continues: “Official figures are likely to show a much sharper contraction in the second quarter of the year as the data will capture the full effects of lockdown, which was introduced on March 23rd. Analysts said that the latest data suggested that the economy contracted by 21% after the lockdown was imposed.”

On its front page, the Telegraph splashes with a story based on a leaked Treasury document it’s got its hands on that estimates this year’s budget deficit will be £376 billion. “The Treasury’s own ‘base case scenario’ for its budget deficit by the end of this financial year is £337 billion – more than £280 billion more than pre-pandemic forecasts,” write Gordon Rayner and Anna Mikhailova. And remember, that’s “base case”. The Treasury’s “worst-case” scenario is for a deficit of £516 billion, although in the most extreme case it could be as high as £1.2 trillion. How’s the Government going to pay for this without plunging us into a sovereign debt crisis? Tax rises, freezing public sector wages and abandoning the “triple lock” on pensions, according to the Telegraph. This would break the “tax lock” included in the Conservative Party’s last manifesto, promising not to increase the headline rates of income tax, National Insurance contributions or VAT. As one senior Conservative MP said to me at the weekend, “I’m beginning to think we may not win the next election.”

By way of confirmation, the latest YouGov poll has Keir Starmer’s approval ratings climbing above Boris’s – and Starmer made a decent fist of Prime Minister’s Questions today, skewering Boris on care home deaths. Ladbrokes is currently offering 11/8 on Labour winning the most seats at the next election, although you may get better odds elsewhere. Worth a punt, I’d say.

In other polling news, YouGov reveals that a majority of Britons have found being imprisoned in their homes during lockdown a “positive” experience. 56% of respondents think it’s “positive” compared to just 11% who think it’s “negative”. Could it be connected with the fact that Tequila sales are up 175%? To help readers understand this curious phenomenon I thought I’d post a picture of a typical Briton enjoying lockdown:

One of the human characters in WALL-E, Pixar’s prophetic film about a dystopian future

Not every country is as reluctant to resume normal life as the UK. The Swiss have accelerated their exit plans, bringing them forward by three weeks. Under the original plan, bars, restaurants, gyms, schools, museums and libraries weren’t due to reopen until June 8th, but they reopened on Monday instead. Minister of Health Alain Berset thinks bringing the timetable forward “is a good way to learn to live with the virus”. You can read more here. On the plus side, some British golf clubs will be reopening tomorrow and Jacob Rees-Mogg thinks MPs should return to the House of Commons to “set an example”.

In case you missed Matt Ridley and David Davis MP’s joint piece criticising Imperial College’s modelling in the Sunday Telegraph, Matt has reposted it on his blog. They focus on the shortcomings of the code, drawing in part on the review published on this website last week. The two parliamentarians also make the point that if critical Government decisions affecting all our lives are going to be based on computer models, the code powering those models really ought to be made public:

When ministers make statements about coronavirus policy they invariably say that they are “following the science”… In this case, that phrase “the science” effectively means the Imperial College model, forecasting potentially hundreds of thousands of deaths, on the output of which the Government instituted the lockdown in March. Sage’s advice has a huge impact on the lives of millions. Yet the committee meets in private, publishes no minutes, and until it was put under pressure did not even release the names of its members. We were making decisions based on the output of a black box, and a locked one at that.

A reader has flagged up an excellent presentation by Numis Healthcare Research Team – a real tour de horizon of what we know about the pandemic. Lots of great graphs, including the one below. Orange lines for countries that have lockdowns, black lines for those that don’t:

The Telegraph has published a very damning piece by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. His assessment of the Government’s response to the crisis is withering, and much of it is based on an email he received from a “Covid cardiologist at a top London hospital”. Here’s Ambrose’s summary of the email, as well as some direct quotes from it:

Basically, every mistake that could have been made, was made. He likened the care home policy to the Siege of Caffa in 1346, that grim chapter of the Black Death when a Mongol army catapulted plague-ridden bodies over the walls.

“Our policy was to let the virus rip and then ‘cocoon the elderly’,” he wrote. “You don’t know whether to laugh or cry when you contrast that with what we actually did. We discharged known, suspected, and unknown cases into care homes which were unprepared, with no formal warning that the patients were infected, no testing available, and no PPE to prevent transmission. We actively seeded this into the very population that was most vulnerable.

“We let these people die without palliation. The official policy was not to visit care homes – and they didn’t (and still don’t). So, after infecting them with a disease that causes an unpleasant ending, we denied our elders access to a doctor – denied GP visits – and denied admission to hospital. Simple things like fluids, withheld. Effective palliation like syringe drivers, withheld.”

“The striking thing is how consistently the government failed, in every single element of the response, everywhere you turn (the Army excepted),” writes the doctor. “This is probably the most expensive series of errors in the country’s history.”

Reading this doctor’s email helped clarify for me that the case against the lockdown isn’t just that the loss of life it will bring about from other causes will be far greater than the number of people it has supposedly saved from dying of COVID-19 (if any). It’s also that the lockdown itself has exacerbated the loss of life from COVID-19. The fact that NHS hospitals discharged elderly patients diagnosed with coronavirus and sent them back into care homes is an appalling scandal. As Dominic Lawson wrote in the Sunday Times, it shames the nation. Heads must roll.

Izabella Kaminska wrote a terrific piece for the Alphaville section of the FT yesterday in opposition to the censorship of Covid dissent by big tech companies like Facebook and Google via the use of algorithms. She refers to this as “censortech” and the title of her piece is ‘From Fahrenheit 451 to “censortech’.” You need to register with the FT to access Alphaville, but it’s free once you have and it’s worth it just to read this piece. (Jemima Kelly, another Alphaville writer, is also top notch.)

Kaminska points out that not only is content on Facebook and YouTube being removed if it challenges the official Covid orthodoxy, but our private messages are also being policed. (Facebook has just shut down Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine, an anti-lockdown digital group with 385,000 members.) WhatsApp, for instance, has made it impossible to share controversial clips with more than one person in an effort to limit the dissemination of “fake news”. And what counts as “fake news”? Any newsy content that’s gone viral, apparently. Kaminska found that out when she tried to share a clip of former Swedish chief epidemiologist Johan Giesecke defending Sweden’s response to the pandemic on Sky Australia’s Outsiders programme and received a message telling her she was only allowed to send it to one person. “You can dislike Giesecke’s views,” she says. “But you shouldn’t suppress them. Dissent is essential in a democracy, as is criticism of national policy via respected peers. What are we supposed to do? Pretend Sweden suddenly doesn’t exist?”

What’s so good about Kaminska’s piece is that she doesn’t just rely on standard free speech arguments to criticise “censortech”. She also tries to engage with those who believe that allowing genuine “fake news” to circulate in the public square is dangerous, such as theories linking 5G masts to coronavirus. She points out that suppression is always self-defeating – it pushes the conspiracy theory underground where it can grow unchecked by rational scrutiny and evidence-based rebuttal. Here is the kernel of her argument:

The population doesn’t want to be treated as moronic imbeciles. Most of us have the capacity to differentiate real wingnuttiness from fair and logically set-out criticism.

Besides, fake news and conspiratorial dissent operate much like viruses themselves: there’s often not much we can do about them. Sometimes, rather than suppressing them, the best way of dealing with such content is to let it circulate and die out of its own accord, due to its obvious absurdity.

Like a virus, if the content is too obscene, wacky, or obviously dangerous, it kills its own chances of long-term survival because it can be so easily debunked or argued against. Society will eventually push back with anti-fake news arguments that appeal to the logic of those infected by the false tales, or by “vaccinating” the yet-to-be exposed with measured and controlled exposure to the mistruth, albeit in the correct factual context. This is why the most destructive conspiracies only ever marginally veer away from the truth. The more logical, believable and seemingly benign they appear, the far more likely they are to survive and propagate.

Suppression of a highly persuasive conspiracy theory – say by making it more difficult to spread, or by its becoming too controversial to even mention in polite company – is rarely an effective strategy for keeping it at bay. All that does is make it even more difficult for society (in the style of an immunological response, if you might allow us to extend this metaphor) to challenge its assumptions, as then it retreats to secretive echo chambers where opposing views cannot be directed at it. This, in turn, allows such “fake news” to penetrate deep into the minds of the exposed, and indoctrinate them on a potentially irreversible level.

That last paragraph reminded me of a similar point made by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker in a panel discussion organised by Spiked a couple of years ago about why censorship is self-defeating. He even uses the same metaphor as Kaminska, saying that far-right ideology is more likely to flourish underground because if it isn’t challenged in the public square people won’t have the antibodies to resist it. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Bad news from the Emerald Isle this morning: the High Court has refused to give permission to John Waters and Gemma O’Doherty to legally challenge the constitutionality of the Irish Government’s response to the pandemic. The judge ruled that the burden of proof fell on the litigants to show that the Government’s reaction was disproportionate to the threat posed by the virus and they hadn’t done so. Does this mean the Irish Government is legally entitled to suspend rights enshrined in the country’s constitution, and underpinned by the European Convention on Human Rights, unless the people whose rights are being denied can prove that it’s not necessary for public health reasons? Surely, the burden of proof should be on the state? Next stop: the Court of Appeal.

Good explainer here on what the Ro number means and how complex it is. An Ro of >1 doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in trouble, and an Ro of <1 doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. For instance, you could have a country in which only half a dozen people are infected. If that number increases to 13 the following day, the country would have an Ro of >1. Not a catastrophe, particularly when you factor in that the infection fatality rate is probably ~0.2. Germany’s Ro creeping above 1 for three days in a row wasn’t a catastrophe because the number of new people infected in Germany each day is quite small – about 1,000/day, compared to 20,000/day in the UK. And it returned to below 1 yesterday in any case. When infection numbers are low, a small outbreak somewhere – such as in slaughterhouses, which is what happened in Germany – can push the Ro number above 1, but that isn’t cause for alarm. The BBC’s Science Editor, David Shukman, explains it well here.

Less impressive is this piece by Robert Cuffe, the BBC’s Head of Statistics. He reckons the real death toll from COVID-19 on May 1st was over 50,000. How did he get that figure? By adding up all the “excess deaths”, i.e. the number of deaths in the year to May 1st over and above the five-year average for the same time period. Trouble is, that involves lumping those that haven’t died of COVID-19 in with those that have. He doesn’t even consider the possibility that the lockdown itself may have caused some non-Covid excess deaths – something Sir Ian Diamond, head of the Government’s Statistical Service, drew attention to in his interview on Marr a couple of weeks ago. Must do better, Robert – and you could start by investigating why the piece of work Sir Ian said the ONS was doing on this and would be published “in the next few days” still hasn’t appeared yet. That was on May 3rd.

The German-speaking reader who has been helping this site cover some of the big Covid stories in Germany has read the report by an auditor in the Ministry of Interior that was leaked to Tichys Einblick, a right-of-centre online magazine. It’s now referred to as “the BMI report”, short for Bundesministeriums des Innern. Here are some of the highlights:

Tichys has released the full report. I’ve skimmed through chunks of it and the conclusions and recommendations are uncompromisingly clear: the global threat of the virus has been massively over-estimated, the “collateral damage” caused by lockdown measures is, and will be, “gigantic” and “given that much of this damage will occur in the near and mid-term future, it can no longer be avoided, merely reduced.”

On the lockdown measures still in place, the report says: “The state measures, together with the many social activities and initiatives originally designed to protect the population, but which as causes of the collateral damage have in the meantime lost all purpose, are in the main still in force. This report recommends urgently that they be completely removed in short order to prevent further damage to the population (in particular further unnecessary deaths).”

The report regards the panic over coronavirus as a false alarm and identifies the absence of an adequate feedback loop as the reason the over-reaction wasn’t corrected: “A major reason for the false alarm remaining undiscovered for weeks was that the framework governing the handling by the crisis team, and the wider general management of a pandemic, did not include any processes designed to detect changes in data that might point either to a false alarm, or to the threat of collateral damage – in particular where that involves a threat to life – becoming greater than the risk to health and lives posed by the virus.”

Der Spiegel was predictably dismissive of the report yesterday: “The Interior Ministry led by Horst Seehofer is having to deal with a tricky in-house issue. A researcher in the Ministry has authored a paper – without commission – on the coronavirus crisis that completely contradicts the Ministry’s position. The paper, a good 80 pages long, was (according to Spiegel sources), distributed to a large number of internal colleagues as well as externally. Last weekend it fetched up on on the right-wing site Tichys Einblick, where the researcher is being lauded as some sort of whistleblower.”

Germany is often held up as a model of how to respond to the pandemic, with politicians and commentators citing the country’s lower death rate as evidence that Boris has mishandled the crisis. But this leaked report suggests that, below the surface, the German Government made many of the same mistakes as ours: wildly over-reacting in a blind panic, convinced that if it didn’t do something hundreds of thousands of people would die – which turned out to be a “false alarm”, in the words of Interior Ministry employee. As Andrew Mahon pointed out on Hector Drummond’s blog on Monday, it’s like a remake of Crimson Tide in which the paranoid nuclear submarine commander prevails and starts a nuclear war: “Gene Hackman got his way in almost every country in the Western world.” Where’s Denzel Washington when you need him?

Denzel Washington cautions Gene Hackman not to press the nuclear button in response to Professor Neil Ferguson’s apocalyptic warning

I’m planning to write a book about the catastrophic error governments around the world made in locking down their citizens and have been discussing titles with the pseudonymous author of the piece I published yesterday on this site called “COVID-19 and the infantilisation of dissent“. The three I’ve come up with so far are Burning Down the House, The Model that Gobbled the World and Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds Part 2. My correspondent thinks the first one is the best:

Brill titles, all of them, but my vote is definitely for Burning Down the House. It has a timeless feel to it. I guess for me the issue with a word like madness is whether we are talking about madness in the strict social psychological sense of the word, or whether this whole debacle is driven by something a little closer to textbook clinical anxiety. Le Bon’s mad crowds were driven by irrationality and active aggression. But what I see during this lockdown are crowds driven by anxiety; that is a form of hyper-rationality that causes total passivity. People who are rational (i.e. clinically normal) see risk and are prepared to live alongside it (“Okay, I COULD die of BSE; but I’m still going to eat beef because I like it”); but people who are hyper-rational (i.e. suffer from anxiety) can’t let go of that slim statistical chance that they might be the one tragic case to die/suffer from X. So rather than mad crowds full of violence and action, we’ve ended up with hyper-rational crowds that don’t want a fight… they want to hide! You can deal with mad crowds by bringing out the army. But how do you deal with hyper-rational crowds? Reasoned argument won’t work, because ultimately, they can turn any fact, model or statistic around and show you that, actually, statistically, they’re very vulnerable and could very well die/suffer at any moment. This type of thing has been bubbling away in millennial cancel culture for a while now (to “cancel” of course being to undertake an entirely passive action that prevents engagement with anything you perceive as having the potential to “harm” you). For me, what’s changed during this coronavirus outbreak is that governments have suddenly started to feed this hyper-rational anxiety like never before: “You could die. You might die. We understand. It’s okay to wet yourself. But wear PPE. Sure, stay at home. Hide. Under the bed if it makes you feel better. Here, have some free money. Bleach your carpets. Cry. Sob too. Buy a ventilator. Ebay do them. Stay safe. That’s an order.” And what’s resulted is an utterly dysfunctional society that will give some people a free pass from being proper members of society for years to come.

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:

On Monday, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area – all the more urgent in light of the latest forecast of the Federation of Small Businesses, which says that up to a third of small businesses in Britain may close as a result of the lockdown. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those small businesses that have reopened near you. Should be fairly self-explanatory – and the owners of small businesses are welcome to enter their own details. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: “Ball and Chain” by Social Distortion, “Land of Confusion” by Genesis and “Flying Saucer Attack” by the Rezillos.

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

I’ll leave you with some cheering news. In Spain, a 113 year-old lady has recovered from a bout of coronavirus. Maria Branyas was born in 1907 in the United States, where her father worked as a journalist in San Francisco. Among other things, Branyas experienced the pandemic of the Spanish flu of 1918, the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the Franco dictatorship. She married a doctor in 1931 and has three children and 11 grandchildren.

Maria Branyas on her 113th birthday

Stop Press: John Waters, one of the litigants in the Irish legal challenge that was knocked back by a High Court judge today, has sent me this quote:

Gemma O’Doherty and I have been refused leave in our application to obtain a Judicial Review of the Irish Government’s lockdown legislation by Judge Charles Meenan at the High Court in Dublin.

We weren’t surprised to be shot down at this stage, especially given the clear attitude of this judge, who conducted the Leave hearings with little grace and mounted a series of irrelevant and personalised attacks on us in his Judgement.

His Judgement reads like a series of splenetic tweets.

Ireland currently labours under a deeply corrupt caretaker government which has now been unlawfully occupying office for more than three months, having been booted out in an election on February 8th. The judge in question was appointed by Fine Gael, the party usurping power. Our job was to demonstrate prima facie unconstitutionality, which by asserting we failed to prove disproportionality, the judge tacitly admitted we had done. Yet he denied us access to a process — Judicial Review — of which the purpose was to explore, in the first instance, the issue of constitutionality at a deeper level. At that stage, at full Judicial Review hearing, we would need to demonstrate unconstitutionality to a higher standard of proof. The State would then be obliged to show that its breach of the Constitution occurred for reasons that were proportionate, unavoidable, urgent, etc. This, clearly, is the stuff of a full hearing, not of the Leave process, which is supposed to have a low bar — ‘arguable case’. The judge flipped the onus of proof, asserting that we had failed to show disproportionality. This is nonsense, not least because we did not submit any arguments on disproportionality, anymore than the other side offered arguments as to proportionality. It just wasn’t part of the hearing.

We’re looking at our options, which include an appeal. But the judge has postponed the issue of costs, inviting submissions, so that option is delayed. There are others, however. We are determined to take this all the way. Even though the Irish legislation has a ‘sunset clause” (a date when it lapses, November 2020) we need to expunge it from history so that no one ever dares to attempt anything like this again.

Latest News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as to help people find out what has opened in their area. But we really need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have reopened near you. Should be fairly self-explanatory – and the owners of small businesses are welcome to enter their own details. Please visit the page and let us know about those courageous entrepreneurs who are doing their bit to get the country moving again.

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

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

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

Latest News

Keeping the handbrake on is a polite way of describing Boris’s raft of announcements yesterday about how and when the lockdown is going to be eased. On Twitter, I described it as placing the country on “double secret probation”, so elaborate are the rules about when we’re allowed out of our domestic prisons. Others have been more forthright. One reader described the Prime Minister’s speech as a “nothingburger squared”, while Kathy Gyngell at Conservative Woman has a new name for our glorious leader: Bottler Boris.

The weird thing is, lots of people think he went too far. That was particularly true of left-wing politicians. Jeremy Corbyn, for instance, tweeted: “There should be no return to work until it is safe to do so. If work cannot be done safely, it should not proceed. People must come before private profit.” The idea, obviously, is to get it on record that they think Boris is making a dreadful mistake so if the death toll starts to rise they can pin that on him. Sturgeon is playing the same game. Happily, that didn’t stop people getting on the tube to return to work this morning. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has responded by saying wearing masks on public transport should be compulsory.

One thing that stood out in Boris’s speech was how often he mentioned “the R” – the rate of infection. Clearly, how free we’re allowed to be is inextricably bound up with what the R number is, although the details were hard to follow. That led Ben Pile, a Spiked contributor, to post this amusing summary of the speech on Twitter: “If I understand the Prime Minister, the level of alert will be updated by scientists checking their Rs. If their Rs is low, then we can be free. But if their Rs is high, then we must be locked up again. Scientists will be speaking to the Prime Minister through their Rs.” He then added: “The PM will be checking the scientists’ Rs every day. Scientists will also be checking each others Rs – a method pioneered by Prof Neil Ferguson and his lover.”

If there’s one straw to clutch at, it’s that Boris has abandoned the crackpot notion that any reimposition of restrictions after some modest easing would be “an economic disaster”. That’s what he said when he addressed the nation on April 27th, announcing we couldn’t possibly relax any of the extreme social distancing measures if there was the slightest risk it would lead to an uptick in infections. I despaired at the time because it seemed like a “test” that could never be met. But he’s done a reverse ferret on that, thank God. Now the line is that if infections start to rise, restrictions will be tightened up again until they start to fall. Indeed, he unveiled a ‘Covid Alert’ metre that will dictate when restrictions are turned on and off. As several readers have pointed out, it bears an uncanny resemblance to the ‘Peri-ometer’ at Nando’s, the high-street peri-peri chicken chain:

Another reason we should welcome switching measures on and off in response to the rise and fall of the R number – first suggested in the Imperial College March 16th paper – is that it seems unlikely infections will start to climb again as a result of any easing. In Germany, for instance, it’s clear that new infections have been trending downwards since the lockdown was dialled back a couple of weeks ago. And, of course, infections have also been declining in those countries that never imposed lockdowns in the first place, such as Sweden.

And Belarus. We mustn’t forget Belarus. A reader reminded me yesterday that no lockdown has been imposed in the East European republic and it has experienced one of the mildest Covid outbreaks anywhere in the world. Only 135 deaths so far, which works out at 14 per million. Who would have suspected that Alexander Lukashenko, the autocratic President of Belarus, would have managed this crisis better than our own democratically-elected leaders? As Mark put it in the comments beneath yesterday’s daily update: “What a state we have come to when a thuggish ageing Belarussian autocrat makes our entire political, media and social elite look like a bunch of scared, hysterical old women (with due apologies to all the sterling ladies of a certain age posting here).”

So why are infections unlikely to start trending upwards post-lockdown and why have they been falling in those countries – and US states – that never made the disastrous mistake in the first place? One theory is that the herd immunity threshold is far lower than originally anticipated – more like 7-24% than 50-60%. Nicholas Lewis, a climate change researcher, has written a piece that parses the evidence and sets out the argument. He shows that variation in COVID-19 susceptibility and infectivity between individuals, arising mainly from differences in their social connectivity, lowers the herd immunity threshold to a much more manageable level. His analysis draws on a recent preprint by Gomes et al entitled ‘Individual variation in susceptibility or exposure to SARS-CoV-2 lowers the herd immunity threshold‘. Lewis’s paper is well worth a read.

By the way, what happened to the much-heralded Porton Down antibody testing survey? That involved randomly testing tens of thousands of people with a view to building up a picture of just how many Britons had been infected. It was announced over a month ago and I haven’t heard a peep about it since. Can any reader throw any light on this?

One more reason why the R number is unlikely to go up post-lockdown is that it may have sunk to below 1 before the lockdown was imposed and remained at that level throughout. That’s what happened in Germany. This chart from the Robert Koch Institute shows that by March 23rd, when the German Government imposed its most severe lockdown measures, the reproduction figure was already below 1, meaning the number of new infections was declining. In addition, it shows that in the following weeks, after the lockdown was in place, the R figure didn’t decline any further. So the lockdown didn’t result in any additional reduction of new cases.

“Sue Denim” has been in touch to point out that several other people with similar levels of coding expertise have posted analyses of Neil Ferguson’s code that are as scathing as his. Take this one, for instance, by Chris von Csefalvay. He is an epidemiologist specialising in the virology of bat-borne illnesses, including bat-related coronaviruses. “It is very difficult to look at the Ferguson code with any understanding of software engineering and conclude that this is good, or even tolerable,” he writes. He notes that Ferguson apologised for the poor quality of the code on Twitter, explaining that he wrote it more than 13 years ago to model flu pandemics. Csefalvay responds as follows: “That, sir, is not a feature. It’s not even a bug. It’s somewhere between negligence and unintentional but grave scientific misconduct.”

Then there’s this review by Craig Pirrong, Professor of Finance and Energy Markets Director of the Global Energy Management Institute at the Bauer College of Business, University of Houston. “Models only become science when tested against data/experiment,” he writes. “By that standard, the Imperial College model failed spectacularly.”

Meanwhile, the quality of the responses to these critiques by Ferguson’s defenders is pitiful. Like this one by Phil Bull, a Lecturer in Cosmology at Queen Mary University headlined ‘Why you can ignore reviews of scientific code by commercial software developers‘. Includes a caveat that tells you everything you need to know: “I will caveat this section with the fact that I am an astrophysicist and not an epidemiologist, so can’t critique the model assumptions or even really the extent to which it has been implemented well in the Imperial code.”

Problems continue to mount for the NHSx contact-tracing app. On May 7th, the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights chaired by Harriet Harman published its report on the first version of the app and it doesn’t look like anyone on that Committee is going to be installing it on their phones anytime soon. The same person who wrote a detailed analysis of the app’s shortcomings for Lockdown Sceptics has summarised the Committee’s findings:

  • The Committee does not believe the app, in its nascent form, is even legal: “Unless the efficacy and benefits of the app are clear, the level of data being collected will be not be justifiable and it will therefore fall foul of data protection law and human rights protections.”
  • From the summary: “there are significant concerns about a tracking app being rolled out at speed with the potential longer-term effects on personal freedoms and concerns around surveillance encroaching on people’s everyday lives…” “The implications of such an app are so widespread, significant, and, as yet, subject to limited public examination, that they should be subject to the in-depth scrutiny of Parliament at the earliest opportunity. The Committee is concerned that this has not happened to date.” “The implementation and oversight of this app must, in our view, be urgently placed on a legislative footing…”
  • The Committee is calling for primary legislation to govern the app and the use of its data, plus an independent body to oversee it. Matt Hancock has apparently appointed an independent Ethics Advisory Board but the Committee sees this as insufficient.

Meanwhile, in Germany an anti-lockdown political party has been formed called Widerstand2020 Deutschland. Founded on April 21st, it has already attracted more than 100,000 members (although that number is contested). I can’t find anything about the party in any English-language publications, but it has a German website and a Facebook page and its two leaders are Ralf Ludwig, a Leipzig-based lawyer, and Dr Bodo Schiffmann, an ear, nose and throat specialist. Together, they’re known as Ralf and Bodo. (There was a third leader, Victoria Hamm, but she seems to have dropped out.) There is some discussion in Germany about whether Widerstand2020 Deutschland is, technically, a political party because single-issue parties are legally prohibited from participating in elections by Germany’s Basic Law. The fact that it accepts anonymous donations also rules it out. Widerstand2020 Deutschland has a page on Wikipedia, but lockdown zealots are straining every sinew to get it removed. (The party’s website has also been under attack since May 3rd.) The entry notes that a “right wing extremism researcher” called Matthias Quent believes the party – and the German lockdown sceptics movement in general – is a “collective of dissatisfied, frustrated and esoteric types, conspiracy theorists, people who are against vaccinations, anti-Semites and right-wing radicals”. A German-speaking reader of this website, to whom I’m indebted for doing some research on this for me, notes that nearly all the reporting about Widerstand2020 Deutschland in the German media has been dismissive. “The tendency to lump the entire membership of the organisation together as dangerous extremists dominates all the news reports I found,” he says. Dr Schiffmann also has a YouTube channel in which he makes arguments that will be familiar to readers of this site, such as questioning the level of danger presented by the virus and pointing out how disproportionate the response has been. One interesting fact uncovered by my researcher: the German term for lockdown is “der lockdown”. Incidentally, widerstand is the German word for resistance. If Widerstand2020 Deutschland does figure out how to get around Germany’s election rules I’ve no doubt it will do well. Das Bild, Europe’s biggest-selling newspaper, announced yesterday that the lockdown in Germany had been a “huge mistake”. Breitbart has more.

The UK still seems a long way from the emergence of Widerstand2020 Großbritannien, but an embryonic anti-lockdown movement is emerging. For instance, a group of sceptics in Manchester were out yesterday plastering the town with stickers. The group, which calls itself “For Freedom’s Sake” and can be found on Twitter here, is hoping to encourage others by engaging in small acts of resistance, a bit like Otto and Elise Hampel, the Berlin couple who wrote postcards denouncing Hitler and left them in public places around the city. Here’s one of the stickers:

And now for our own small act of resistance. Today, Lockdown Sceptics is launching a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as to help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have reopened near you. Should all be fairly self-explanatory – and the owners of small businesses are welcome to enter their own details. Please visit the page and let us know about those courageous entrepreneurs who are doing their bit to get the country moving again.

And check this out. An enterprising family has created a drive-thru McDonald’s in their back garden. But don’t add underground businesses like that to our directory. We don’t want the police to use it as a tool to track down Covid dissidents.

A reader in Japan has sent me this imaginative diagram that a designer friend of his has created to help people understand the social distancing rules. Could this be an example of what will come to be known as Covid art? Obviously, I don’t include this monstrous piece of propaganda by Banksy in that category.

Artist: Eisuke Tachikawa, known as NOSIGNER, creator of the PANDAID portal

Good letter in the Yorkshire Post yesterday from Peter Snowdon contrasting his fathers’ generation, which won the Second World War, with the current lot of bed-wetters:

They would be appalled by the way in which we have responded to this pandemic. They would think that we are unable to balance and manage risk. The effects of the breakdown of the economy will put those vital parts of society – the health service, education and social care – back by many years. We will live with the economic effects of these few weeks for years to come. Unemployment will soar and many more people will die worldwide than ever succumb to the virus as a result of the economic strictures that will be in place.

Let’s honour the memory of those who died, or gave up their younger years, by accepting that, in times of natural disaster, we cannot solve everything. Our parents did so and ‘just got on with it’. We cannot reduce the numbers dying to nothing and we shouldn’t rob the future of millions of people in a futile effort to do so.

I received a heart-rending email from an isolated sceptic in Bexhill-on-Sea, a small town on England’s south coast. “Never has there been a bunch of more hysterical, scared-shitless snowflakes, not only wanting the lockdown to carry on for months, but to tighten it down to unprecedented levels,” he writes. “There is a very popular community-based facebook group here and there are literally hundreds of posts screaming about the slight ease-up in restrictions that Bojo spoke about last night.” He continues:

Toby, I wanted to post something on the group with the alternate point of view, but my wife and daughter wouldn’t let me! I realised myself that I would generate so much abuse and hate and wouldn’t be surprised if I was hounded out of the group. I have friends in the same group and I actually think I would lose some of them if I put in my penny-worth. It has actually become like the Brexit/Remainer thing now, dividing communities and even families. There is a lot of shaming of, not only those breaking the lockdown, but those who dare to walk on the seafront who are still socially distancing.

I’m sure there are a lot of readers of this site who feel his pain.

I was at Comedy Unleashed, the samizdat comedy night in Bethnal Green, on March 10th when Dominic Frisby unveiled a new verse to his ‘Maybe’ song, this one about coronavirus. Talk about prophetic! You can see Dominic singing that verse here. If you fancy anther dose of Comedy Unleashed-style humour, there’s this brilliant YouTube piss-take of Nicola Sturgeon reacting to Boris’s announcement by Jane Godley. Warning: Contains profanity. And this YouTube video by Paul Weston is laugh-out-loud funny. Slow start, but wait till you get to the bit when he points out that people aged 19 and under are about as likely to die from COVID-19 as they are from putting on their trousers. Apparently, eight people died while trying to do that last year.

Conor Friedersdorf, a journalist at the Atlantic I have a lot of time for, wrote a good piece yesterday entitled ‘Take the Shutdown Skeptics Seriously‘. After summarising the sceptics’ case, he writes: “These facts may not be evident from the least thoughtful proponents of reopening, many of whom advance arguments that are uninformed, dismissive of experts, or callous. But the warnings of thoughtful shutdown skeptics warrant careful study, not stigma rooted in the false pretense that they don’t have any plausible concerns or value human life.”

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:

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: ‘Wake Up‘ by Rage Against the Machine, ‘Isolation‘ by Joy Division, ‘Sitting Round at Home‘ by the Buzzcocks and, of course, ‘Infected‘ by the The. Can’t believe we haven’t had that one before.

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

And finally, Guy de la Bédoyère, a long-standing contributor to this site, has written a great essay for Lockdown Sceptics about Britain’s slide into totalitarianism. Guy is a historian who mainly writes books about the Roman world, but he taught a course on Totalitarian Ideology in Theory and Practice for a number of years. Please do read the whole thing, but here’s an extract:

One of the most remarkable aspects of the creation of Britain’s Covid Reich was that even in the middle of the Government’s witless, confused and ambivalent approach to the crisis it was able to rustle up overnight many of the key ingredients of totalitarianism. The ideology and the slogans, and the continual repetition of the message with the supine assistance of broadcast media, all fell into place with frightening speed. The speed with which the Great British Public acquiesced was even more alarming.

Latest News

The Sunday Times reports that the Strategic Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has been told that the British death toll from COVID-19 could climb above 100,000 by the end of the year if Boris Johnson eases the lockdown too much or too fast. These estimates come from researchers at the London School of Tropical Hygiene, the always-reliable Imperial College London and other places that have modelled the likely impact of of different exit policies. (Can we see the code please?) However, the paper doesn’t disclose whether this formed part of the advice given to the Government by SAGE when it last met on Thursday.

Boris Johnson’s address to the nation about “phase two” of the lockdown is expected to be at 7pm this evening. According to the Sunday Times, he will announce that:

  • From tomorrow, the limit on one form of exercise a day will be scrapped, allowing people outdoors if they observe the two-metre social distancing rules. Staff at No 10 have been told that Johnson will begin jogging again this week
  • Fines will be increased for those failing to abide by the new rules
  • From Wednesday, garden centres will re-open
  • The public will be advised – but not forced – to wear face coverings on public transport and in shops
  • Within two weeks new arrivals in the UK will be required to go into isolation for 14 days, with quarantine centres set up for those who do not have a home where they can self-isolate.
  • “Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” will be replaced with “Stay alert, save lives”

On that last bullet point, it doesn’t look like Scotland will be ditching the “stay home” slogan. Sturgeon said on Twitter this morning that #StayHomeSaveLives “remains my clear message to Scotland at this stage”. According to the Mail, this has thrown Boris’s planned announcement into chaos.

I thought this would be a good moment to change the slogan of this website. It was: “Stay sane. Protect the economy. Save livelihoods.” However, given that more and more scientists and public health experts are warning that the lockdown will end up causing a greater loss of life than it prevents, I’ve changed it to: “Stay sceptical. End the lockdown. Save lives.”

It looks like Wales isn’t planning to abandon the “stay home” slogan either. Shame, but at least Wales has its very own lockdown sceptics website (no relation) called ‘We The People‘, or, rather, ‘Y Gwir yn Erbyn Y Byd’. Full of useful resources and links. Definitely worth a look.

Many of today’s papers have photographs of people enjoying the sunshine over the bank holiday weekend, suggesting the “stay home” message is beginning to lose some of its power in any event. Here’s one from the Mail:

Battersea Park, London

The Prime Minister has given an interview to the Sun on Sunday‘s David Wooding in which he tries to lower expectations ahead of this evening’s announcement. He told the paper that the “descent” from a mountain is always the riskiest bit. “That’s when you’re liable to be overconfident and make mistakes,” he said. “You have very few options on the climb up – but it’s on the descent you have to make sure you don’t run too fast, lose control and stumble.” He added:

I said that we would turn the tide within three months. I believe we are definitely on course to do that.

The peak could have been colossal, we could have had an absolute disaster. We’re past the peak now but we’ll have to work very hard to get every step right.

We’ve beaten it, we’ve come through it, we can see the sunlight ahead and it is just a question now of making sure, as we come down that mountain, we don’t stumble. We mustn’t throw away the gains that we’ve made.

If everybody works together, we won’t. That’s the message.

Also in today’s Sun on Sunday is a poll revealing that nine in 10 people do not want Boris to ease the lockdown. Only one in 50 believe the restrictions have been in place for too long, with just 4% in favour of a gradual lifting of the lockdown starting this week. Almost a quarter – 24% – don’t want restrictions lifted before the end of July or until the virus has been completely eradicated. A reader has provided me with a quote that seems appropriate here:

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.

Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

As usual, the Germans continue to put us to shame. Yesterday brought news of thousands of people protesting on the streets of Munich and thousands more in Stuttgart to demand the lifting of restrictions ordered by the German authorities.

A protester in Stuttgart holds up a sign reading: “Dictatorship in the guise of health. Wake up.”

I was taken aback to see a Government-sponsored spread in the Sun advising people to avoid “quack” treatments, such as “UV lights” and chloroquine. Quite surprising, given that there’s now a lot of evidence linking Vitamin D deficiency to an increased risk of death from the virus, as reported in the Sun yesterday, and mounting evidence that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are effective treatments for COVID-19, as reported in the Sun on April 29th.

As I noted yesterday, the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD) has decided to police social media to draw attention to fake news and conspiracy theories – and, embarrassingly, it refers to the hypothesis that the virus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology as a “right-wing conspiracy theory” even though the same theory is being investigated by a consortium of Western intelligence agencies. Today, I’ve spotted that the ISD has done some work with Carl Miller, an employee of a left-wing think tank, for the BBC’s flagship technology programme, BBC Click, to identify the source of “disinformation and hate” about the pandemic on Facebook. And the culprit is… drum roll… “the global far right”.

If you watch the report Carl Miller has pulled together for the BBC with the help of Chloe Colliver, Head of Digital Policy for the ISD, you’ll see that among the toxic conspiracy theories they’ve identified is the claim that the virus was “engineered” and that chloroquine is an effective treatment for COVID-19. According to Miller, that last theory is “unproven and potentially dangerous”. Another dangerous idea, apparently, is the notion that the risk from the virus has been “overhyped” by governments and the media. Miller says the “disinformation” he and Colliver have uncovered could be “a lot more potent” than the disinformation pumped out by shady, far right organisations during election campaigns because it might “convince people to not listen to government advice about staying at home”. Miller concludes his report by telling us he passed on his findings to Facebook and received the following reply: “We have removed a number of links BBC Click shared with us for violating our policies on hate speech and the spread of harmful misinformation.”

If the BBC is going to employ left-wing busybodies to browbeat social media companies into censoring people who think SARS-CoV-2 was engineered in a biolab, that chloroquine is an effective treatment and that the risk posed by the disease has been overhyped, that’s one more reason to stop paying the license fee.

Yesterday, I drew readers’ attention to the robotic dog being used by the authorities in Singapore to make sure people follow the social distancing rules. Today, I bring news of an even more ingenious contraption, this one devised by a police force in India. Thanks to this over-sized pick-up reacher, the police can now arrest Covid dissidents without risking infection:

Good to see not all police officers are simply following orders and fining or arresting people for not complying with lockdown orders. A reader sent me this bitchute video of a US cop advising his colleagues that the constitutional rights of US citizens should not be suspended on the say-so of a mayor or a governor or a chief of police. “That’s not how this country works,” he reminds us. Well said, Officer Anderson.

One of the biggest stories of recent weeks has been the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). But what happens to this life-saving kit after it’s been used? One reader in Lincolnshire has found out:

Every time I go out on my bicycle round here I find bits of PPE scattered by the side of the road, usually the giveaway blue gloves. Here’s today’s find – a PPE mask evidently hurled out of a car window and decorating the verge near the village of Ropsley. Who’s the culprit? No idea, but it’s presumably a health worker of some sort who’s quite happy to chuck used PPE into the general environment rather than dispose of it safely.

And it’s not just here. A reader who lives in Malaga has alerted me to the same problem:

The first day we were allowed out everywhere was nice and clean and tidy. But every morning I go out there are masks and gloves littering the sides of the roads and in the hedgerows. I wonder what on earth goes through these twats’ heads. Clearly not very much.

It seems Lockdown Sceptics is gradually transforming itself from a blog into something more – although quite what that is remains to be seen. Yesterday, I published a follow-up by “Sue Denim” to his/her post about the shortcomings of Professor Ferguson’s code; today, I’m publishing a piece by Rob Lyons – real name this time – entitled ‘Public Health England: A Predictable Failure’. Lyons is scathing about the executive agency of the Department for Health and Social Care. Here’s an extract:

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that PHE is a less-than-dynamic organisation. Far from being staffed by the brightest and the best, innovative and entrepreneurial, PHE is run by the usual quangocrats. These are people whose CVs describe a merry-go-round ride of one job after another for which they are, at best, only moderately qualified. Having delivered uninspiring leadership in one organisation, they move along to ‘lead’ another, accumulating vast pensions and titles along the way.

I was pleased to receive this message from a Labour Party voter. It’s not just the Conservative Party which is causing disillusionment among its most fervent supporters:

I’m an avid reader of your website. I’m not ordinarily someone who would find myself in agreement with you about most things – I’ve always voted Labour and was a Corbyn supporter, voting twice for him as leader. However, I’m appalled by the strategy of ‘lockdown’ and also the supine agreement of the Labour Party to this lunacy. I will also never, ever, buy a copy of the Guardian again.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that coronavirus could kill up to 190,000 in Africa this year if it’s not adequately contained. My friend Aidan Hartley, Kenyan resident and Spectator Wild Life correspondent, points out that this isn’t very many in the grand scheme of things:

You are more likely to die of booze (174,000 cirrhosis) than Covid-19 in Africa (maybe 83,000 – 190,000 says the WHO had no measures been imposed – and some countries have been draconian). Africa’s traffic accidents will kill three times to a third more people than COVID-19. These WHO figures for virus deaths would rank just above “self-harm” in Africa, or at its worst, just above “interpersonal violence”. Africa’s main killers are still HIV, TB, malaria, respiratory diseases and dysentery, which kill 3.5 million combined. Those communicable diseases will now skyrocket as 100 million MORE Africans slide back into poverty due to the economic impacts of lockdown here and in the West.

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

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: ‘Eve of Destruction‘ by Barry Neil, ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next‘ by the Manic Street Preachers, ‘Steppin’ Out‘ by Joe Jackson (some hope) and, by way of tribute to the recently deceased Little Richard, ‘Whole Lotta Shaking Going On‘.

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

I thought I’d end today’s update with a poem sent to me by Tiree MacGregor. Called ‘The Back-Pedalling Autocratic Functionary’ it was inspired by the words of Chief Constable Nick Alderly of Northamptonshire Police who said on April 9th: “We will not, at this stage, be setting up road blocks. We will not, at this stage, start to marshal supermarkets and be checking the items in baskets and trolleys to see whether it’s a legitimate, necessary item. But again, be under no illusion. If people do not heed the warnings and the pleas I’m making today, we will start to do that.”

Officious fool in uniform, what need
We of your subtle threats and dour commands?
Zealous for order, at whose pleasure do
You think you serve? If it be government’s
Or monarch’s, then think: At whose pleasure theirs?
Who has “illusions”? – And “necessity”?

For you, your weapons formed of Hobbesian dread,
Where is our gentle Shakespeare, whose high art
Demolishes the thoughts that shape your head,
And, brother, what high ardour forms your heart?

In copperspeak, you’re nicked: for threats won’t wash;
The velvet-covered cosh is still a cosh.

Latest News

The Times today leads with the story that the Government is planning to quarantine all travellers coming to Britain for two weeks. Under the new measures, likely to come into force in early June, travellers will be asked to provide an address at which they’ll self-isolate for 14 days, with spot checks and fines of up to £1,000 for those who don’t comply.

Needless to say, the aviation industry isn’t happy abut this and nor is the travel industry. Airlines UK, which represents British Airways, EasyJet and others, says the proposal will “effectively kill international travel to and from the UK, and cause immeasurable damage to the aviation industry and wider UK economy”. It added: “Nobody is going to go on holiday if they’re not able to resume normal life for 14 days, and business travel would be severely restricted.”

Isn’t this a case of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted? According to Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government, 6.6 million Brits might already be infected. Screening arrivals into British airports and ports, and quarantining those with a temperature, would have made much more sense back in January. Similar policies were adopted in those Southeast Asian countries that are the success stories of this pandemic, such as Thailand, which introduced airport temperature screenings on January 3rd. Had Britain followed suit back then, it might have nipped the problem in the bud.

But we should hesitate before blaming the Government for this oversight. The Department of Health and Social Care asked the Newly Emerging Respiratory Virus Advisory Group (NERVTAG) to hold a meeting to consider the need for port-of entry screening in January and one was duly convened on January 13th chaired by Peter Horby, an Oxford professor with links to the World Health Organisation. At that point, seven other countries had introduced temperature screening at airports for visitors from Wuhan, the centre of the viral outbreak in Hubei. The NERVTAG recommendation was that there would be no point in doing this if exit screening at Wuhan airports was already taking place, although they had no evidence it was.

At the next NERVTAG meeting on January 21st, this one attended by Chris Witty, the Chief Medical Officer of Engalnd, and his deputy Jonathan Van-Tam, the boffins were asked to reconsider the question, but again they passed the buck to the Chinese authorities. By now, human-to-human transmission had been confirmed, i.e. China’s attempt to cover-up the outbreak had been exposed and greater doubt should have been cast on any information coming out of the Communist dictatorship. Nonetheless, NERVTAG’s response was the same:

Neil Ferguson noted that from the modelling perspective, with exit screening in place in China, effectiveness of port-of-entry screening in the UK would be low and potentially only detect those who were not sick before boarding but became sick during the flight. NERVTAG felt there was a lack of clarity on the exit screening process in Wuhan, although it was thought that this process would be robust, and statements had been released by Chinese authorities about stopping febrile passengers from travelling. However, as noted, there were no data on the implementation of this programme.

Minutes of the NERVTAG Wuhan Novel Coronavirus Second Meeting: January 21st 2020

A lack of clarity on the exit screening process in Wuhan?!? You can say that again. As I’ve flagged up before, the Chinese authorities cut off travel from Hubei to the rest of China on January 23rd, two days after this NERVTAG meeting, but not from Hubei to the rest of the world, including the UK. If the exit screening process in Wuhan was as “robust” as the boffins thought – if the Chinese authorities really were “stopping febrile passengers from travelling” – why was the process not good enough to prevent infection spreading to the rest of the country?

I’m basing all this on the minutes of the NERVTAG meetings which are available online here. (Hat tip to a reader who flagged them up and went through them for me.) Could some BBC journalists start looking into this as well please? Like Deborah Cohen, who put together a great package for Newsnight on Thursday? I have no doubt the NERVTAG recommendations will be scrutinised very carefully by the inevitable public inquiry.

Another focus of that inquiry will be the code that sat beneath the model developed by Professor Ferguson and his team at Imperial College. The pseudonymous author of the article I published about the code that attracted so much attention earlier this week has written a follow-up that I’ve published today. The reason he’s revisited the subject is because an enterprising coder realised they could unexpectedly recover parts of the original code’s deleted history from GitHub, meaning we now have an audit log of changes dating back to April 1st. It still isn’t exactly the original code Ferguson ran, but it’s significantly closer. The author, who worked for eight year as a senior engineer at Google, is no more impressed than he was by the more distant version of the code. Read the new piece here.

The Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine (CEBM), a great source of data about COVID-19, has published a graph plotting the rise and fall of deaths from the virus. This shows the numbers who have died in English hospitals and tested positive for the disease at the time of death up to May 7th:

Note that deaths peaked on April 8th, less than three weeks after the lockdown was imposed on March 23rd. Professor Carl Heneghan, the director of the CEBM, has repeatedly made this point. As he says, it suggests the social distancing measures recommended by the Government on March 16th were more than adequate to suppress infections without the need for more draconian measures.

My colleague Jonathan Kay made a similar point in an article for Quillette yesterday using metadata available from Moovit, an Israeli-based transit-app that maps transport use in dozens of cities around the world. Kay has crunched the numbers for four cities – Seattle, New York City, Miami, and Stockholm – and concluded that people stopped using mass transit at the same time, regardless of whether the city went into lockdown or not. He writes: “Much of the lockdown effect was imposed not by top-down fiat, but through millions of small decisions made every day by civic groups, employers, unions, trade associations, school boards and, most importantly, ordinary people.”

Kay’s conclusion is that sceptics have over-stated the negative effect of lockdowns on economic activity – it would have fallen off a cliff anyway – and says the zealots v sceptics debate is “phoney”. But as I pointed out to Kay, the sceptical case isn’t just that the impact of lockdowns will be economically disastrous – and he doesn’t address the argument that the economic damage will be worse in those countries that locked down. The restrictions have also been disastrous for public health. To give just one example, Professor Karol Sikora, an NHS consultant oncologist, believes there could be 50,000 excess deaths from cancer as a result of routine screenings being suspended during the lockdown in the UK.

Defenders of the status quo will point out that we won’t know for sure whether the lockdowns caused a net loss of life for some time, and the debate will probably go on for years. For instance, we won’t know for decades whether the economic impact of the lockdowns has had a negative effect on mortality, assuming we can disentangle it from the impact of the pandemic (the problem Kay flags up). But the uncertainty surrounding this doesn’t mean governments around the world were right to place their citizens under virtual house arrest. As a classical liberal, I accept that in some circumstances the state is justified in suspending people’s rights if it can show that doing so will save lives – during wartime, for instance. But the burden of proof always falls on those seeking to take away our rights and the case for lockdowns hasn’t even been proved on the balance of probabilities, let alone beyond reasonable doubt.

It’s worth remembering that beneath the statistics about the people likely to die from missing hospital appointments during the lockdown lie thousands of individual human stories. Here’s one a reader sent me today:

I have/had prostate cancer and am meant to have regular blood tests. Told by my local surgery not to go to be tested until lockdown is over! Six weeks overdue I went last week anyway, having cleared it with the hospital who said I should come. Normally there is a very lengthy queue. I walked in to find three nurses and me. What must be going undiagnosed is horrifying.

I’ve referred to Simon Dolan’s legal challenge to the lockdown several times on this site, but there is at least one other challenge, this one being mounted by the English Democrats. The co-chair of the English Democrats, Robin Tilbrook, is also the solicitor acting for it in this matter and you can read the Government’s response to his pre-action letter, as well as Tilbrook’s response to that response, here. And if you feel like donating to support that lawsuit, you can do so here.

In case you need reminding of how draconian the lockdown is, the Manifesto Club has compiled a photographic record of public parks and beauty spots in Britain that have been closed by the authorities since March 24th, as well as first-person accounts by people who’ve been harassed by the police at these locations. Read it and weep.

A log in Victoria Park, London

How much longer can these restrictions on free movement be maintained? I went for a walk along the Thames yesterday and was pleased to see plenty of people ignoring the lockdown: couples walking arm-in-arm on Putney Bridge, children playing football in Fulham Palace, groups of friends drinking either side of Hammersmith Bridge. Several readers have reported similar “green shoots” in their neck of the woods – or, as one put it, “the sand slipping off the side of a sandcastle as the tide comes in”. Here’s a report I received from a reader in the Midlands:

Interesting afternoon here in my village on VE day, in a part of the nation where there never hasn’t been a Conservative MP. Various conversations and interactions. Not one, and I do mean not one, person we talked to is in favour of the lockdown carrying on as it has been. These include people working for the NHS. One is a GP practice manager. Her daughter is a doctor in A&E nearby who reports there are no evening drunks coming in but instead they have an elevation in overdose cases. Another is a manager of a gynaecological unit in an East Midlands town – she reports there has been a small but detectable rise in stillbirths since lockdown began.

Of course, there are some benefits to the lockdown, as the writer Harriet Sergeant reminds us on Twitter: “My local heroin dealer has decided lockdown is over. He’s back on the bench outside my house. Customers come and go. But now I know how to get a police response – report him for social distancing.”

And it isn’t just the British police who are zealously enforcing the rules. Police officers in Laredo, Texas are straining every sinew to keep the city’s residents safe. The city’s Covid-19 Taskforce Enforcement arrested Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia and Brenda Stephany Mata and charged them with violation of emergency management plans after they caught them running underground nail-and-eyebrow salons at their homes. With heroic disregard for their own safety, officers disguised themselves as regular customers and scheduled appointments for nail and eyelash services and then took the dangerous criminals in to custody. KGNS News has the story.

In Singapore, by contrast, there’s no need for police officers to enforce social distancing rules – robots are more than capable of doing the job. Take a look at this YouTube video of a four-legged robot patrolling Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. (The Straits Times has more.) At present, all the robodog does is broadcast social distancing propaganda and take photographs of people breaking the rules. But how long before it’s equipped with more persuasive tools? I’m reminded of this scene in RoboCop in which the pampered executives of Omni Consumer Products are introduced to ED-209, the latest enforcement droid. Warning: contains scenes some readers may find distressing.

“Return to your home immediately. You have 30 seconds to comply.”

Meanwhile, back in Blighty, police are searching the social media profiles of those who dare to criticise their Gestapo-like behaviour. I was contacted by a reader who has been very critical of police over-reach on Twitter. He saw a Tweet from another sceptic complaining the police had checked his profile on LinkedIn and thought, “That can’t possibly be true. Surely, they’ve got more urgent maters to attend to?” He then checked his own LinkedIn profile and found this:

Someone who must be in the police’s cross-hairs by now is Dr John Lee, a former consultant pathologist for the NHS. He has compiled a list of 10 reasons to end the lockdown for the Spectator. Dr Lee, a retired professor of pathology, was one of the first senior medics to question the wisdom of locking up the entire country. His 10 reasons are:

  1. You cannot understand the significance of this virus simply by looking at the raw death figures
  2. The policy response to the virus has been driven by modelling of Covid – not other factors
  3. We don’t know if lockdown is working
  4. We should ease the lockdown to save lives
  5. Lockdown is not sustainable
  6. Lockdown directly harms those most likely to be affected by coronavirus
  7. Lockdown directly harms those who will be largely unaffected by coronavirus
  8. The health service has not been overwhelmed nor likely to be
  9. The virus is almost certainly not a constant threat
  10. People can be trusted to behave sensibly

Dr Lee also has an article in today’s Mail making the same argument and it’s worth reminding ourselves that his views are by no means uncommon in the medical establishment. I was pleased to see this letter from a biology professor in today’s Telegraph:

SIR – Science proceeds by putting forward conjectures or hypotheses, collecting empirical data to test them, and accepting, rejecting or modifying them on that basis. The implication is that our scientific understanding is not fixed, but changes as evidence accumulates.

In the United Kingdom the initial decision to impose lockdown to control the effects of COVID-19 was based on a conjecture or model that has now been tested against real data and is found to be wanting.

The model predicts that, under the sustainable public health measures taken by Sweden and in the absence of lockdown, there should now be 60,000 deaths in that country from Covid-19, whereas there are currently only about 3,000 there, with deaths now well past the peak and declining.

Given the failure of the model to make useful predictions, there is no justification for using it to guide future policy. In contrast, large amounts of empirical evidence have now been gathered which demonstrate that for a very large fraction of the population the virus poses a very low risk, while a small fraction – whose immune systems are compromised – are vulnerable.

Therefore, to follow the science, an appropriate policy is the targeted shielding of those who choose to be classified as vulnerable, rigorous screening of their carers to prevent transfer of infection to the vulnerable sector, and release from lockdown for those outside these categories.

Continuing the blanket lockdown cannot be justified on the basis that it is “following the science”.

Professor Richard Ennos, Edinburgh

I have written a comment piece in today’s Telegraph asking what happened to our famous stiff upper lip. Forget about the bulldog spirit. We seem to have become a nation of scaredy-cats. Readers of this site will already be familiar with my views about the supine acquiescence of the British people to having their rights curtailed, but here’s a quote in case you need reminding:

How did it come to this? We’re supposed to be a nation of indomitable yeoman who guard our ancient liberties more fiercely than any other people on earth. These islands, which haven’t been invaded since 1066, are the birthplace of liberal democracy.

Yesterday, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the day the Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany after more than 350,000 British soldiers gave their lives to protect this country from tyranny. Yet when the Government enacted a statutory instrument on March 26th that suspended the rights of every freeborn Englishman, some of them dating back to the 12th Century, we didn’t let out so much as a squeak of protest. Probably just as well because protests of more than 100 people are now illegal.

I got a great response from a reader – of the Telegraph, not Lockdown Sceptics, although I suspect she would like this site too. Here are the first three paragraphs:

I have never in my life written to a columnist to berate or applaud something they have written. But after over six weeks of pointless and frustrating lockdown, and an inability to read anything on social media or newspapers for fear of punching a tree, I read your article today in the Telegraph.

Thank you. For voicing everything I want to but don’t have a platform to. We are small business owners who have had no financial help and expect none, and are struggling like everyone else. We have young kids who are being damaged by this prison they live in, and struggling with maintaining the hope that they feel is being snatched from them, despite our protestations. We are all caged in our homes, and my strong belief in liberty is now seen as a badge of defiance and shame. I resent being told what to do by anybody, generally, but I will always respect authority and knowledge. I voted for Boris and Brexit in that belief. But now I do feel that my respect for that authority waning, as the world becomes infantilised and patronising. I can’t take my dog for more than one walk a day or sit on a fallen tree to take in the view without people feeling they have to point and tut. I despair of the example this all sets for the new generation that fear everything, and take pride in nothing except their own social media profiles; who have fallen blindly behind ‘science’ in the form of a randy, fear-spreading, and inept epidemiologist professor.

I idolise the Queen, but she was wrong – I think my wildly brave grandfather and those of his generation would be turning in their graves at the lily-livered modern Britishness, and despair or those neighbours who curtain twitch as I leave the house. I love the NHS, having worked in it for most of my life, but I detest the clapping when I recall that I had no respect shown to me by most people (who are now clapping) when I turned up as a paramedic to treat them. And does the NHS deserve all of this? Well, yes, those in Covid wards do of course. But, my God, there are plenty of complete idiots in the health service who are now relishing their deification, despite never earning it. And many are actually not even working at all, as we have scared the life out of everyone to go to hospital or the GP. I see selfish and self-absorbed self importance all about, and I truly don’t know how I explain this period of history to my children without embarrassment at how my nation has behaved. Suddenly the BBC treats the part-time bin men and supermarket workers as “heroes” and worth more than my young kids – we need only to hear the BBC news that speeding drivers at the moment “may even kill a key worker going to their vital work” to see this view. And why does everyone want now to identify as a key worker? Please…..

Victor David Hanson, writing in the National Review, argues that the divide between lockdown sceptics and zealots reflects the ancient conflict between empiricism and abstraction — between common sense and abstract science. He may be on to something, as this story in the Telegraph about front-line doctors in New York illustrates. State governor Andrew Cuomo favours a phased exit from the lockdown, with life not returning to normal for months, whereas the doctors fighting the disease think the battle has been won, and the fact that the state’s hospitals are now half-empty means people who need urgent medical treatment aren’t getting it. “It’s not often I agree with Trump, but I think that we should open up on May 15,” says Dr Samir Farhat, who runs the emergency room at New York Community Hospital as well as working as a physician at Mount Sinai Brooklyn.

In UnHerd, Douglas Murray highlights the idiocy of those trying to censor what people are and aren’t allowed to say about the virus on social media. Includes an absolute gem from the website of the Institute for Strategy Dialogue (ISD) which describes the hypothesis that SARS-CoV-2 originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, as opposed to the Wuhan wet market, as a “right-wing conspiracy theory”, claiming “there is absolutely no scientific evidence that the genome is man-made”. Evidently, the ISD missed this podcast with Dr Luc Montagnier, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Medicine, who concludes the virus could not have evolved naturally and must have been created in a laboratory. As Murray points out, this supposedly crackpot theory is being investigated by a consortium of Western intelligence agencies, as was revealed in the leaked “five eyes” document. (Proud to say Douglas Murray is a director of the Free Speech Union.)

The P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province. Picture: Hector Retamal/AFP

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

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

No songs today, but I’ll leave you with a quote from my piece in today’s Telegraph:

Let’s hope Boris screws his courage to the sticking place tomorrow and announces an end to this authoritarian nightmare. This is a country in which every man’s home is supposed to be his castle, not his prison.

Latest News

Today is Victory in Europe Day, the 75th anniversary of the day the Allies accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. To mark the occasion, I’ve decided to replace the usual newspaper front page with a picture of Winston Churchill.

Many readers of this site will be aware of the disconnect between the victory we’re celebrating today and the ongoing restrictions on our liberty that we’re expected to endure without complaint for the foreseeable future. One particular reader – a distinguished journalist and author who cannot say what he really thinks about the lockdown without jeopardising his career – has sent me what he’d like to say publicly. I’m sure many of you will share his sentiments. I know I do.

There’s a horrible irony that the 75th-anniversary of VE Day should fall during the lockdown. The British nation fought the Nazis to preserve our ancient freedoms, so that future generations would be able to live without fear. At this moment, Parliament is no longer properly functioning, jury trials have been suspended (perhaps permanently), technology giants appear to be censoring free speech, protest is deemed a dangerous activity and the citizens of this country remain under indefinite house arrest. A Government adviser, Professor Dingwall, of Nottingham University, today admits (in the Telegraph) that the Government has created a “climate of fear” that has “terrorised” Britons. Fear has replaced hope and an untrammelled statel has replaced limited government. A year before VE-Day, Friedrich Hayek published The Road to Serfdom. Never before has our nation progressed so far down that route. What in the hell is there to celebrate?

The Telegraph article referred to above quoting Professor Dingwall is here. In addition to being a Professor of Sociology at the University of Nottingham Trent, Rupert Dingwall is a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, aka NERVTAG. He also featured in a report broadcast by Newsnight last night by Deborah Cohen, a BBC reporter with a background in medical journalism. This was the first time I’ve seen a senior BBC journalist properly scrutinise the advice the Government was relying on when it decided to place the entire country under virtual house arrest in March. It includes an interview with Dame Deirdre Hine, author of The 2009 Influenza Pandemic, the official inquiry into the Swine Flu outbreak. Hine is pretty scathing about the quality of the predictions generated by computer models in 2009 and although she doesn’t mention Neil Ferguson by name we know that his modelling helped guide Gordon Brown’s response. You can watch the 12-minute report here. Deborah Cohen is my Sceptic of the Week.

The Telegraph‘s Camilla Tominey reports that Boris Johnson is alarmed by the hares that have been set running by newspaper headlines proclaiming the lockdown will end on Monday. Yesterday, a spokesman for the Prime Minister tried to lower expectations, saying “we will advance with maximum caution” and Number 10 insiders have warned that any “easements” to the current Government guidelines will be “very limited”. The same tone is struck on the front page of the Times, which reveals Boris is planning to keep the country locked down until June. One close ally of the Prime Minister is quoted using the phrase “baby steps” to describe the easing of restrictions. Meanwhile, Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, has announced Wales is dropping the limits on outdoor exercise from today and garden centres and libraries can reopen from Monday. Looks like England, the birthplace of liberal democracy, is going to be one of the last countries in the world to set its people free.

Matt’s cartoon in today’s Telegraph

Another ‘we, the undersigned’ letter has been published and it reads like a reply to yesterday’s letter in Le Monde signed by Madonna, Robert De Niro and others urging us not to return to normal. This one is co-authored by three Catholic Cardinals and an Archbishop and signed by more than 80 people, including prelates and theologians, doctors, lawyers, journalists and intellectuals. It contains many of the standard Catholic objections to vaccination programmes, but large parts of the letter will appeal to all lockdown sceptics, not just anti-vaxxers. Here’s one of the opening paragraphs, setting out the argument:

The facts have shown that, under the pretext of the COVID-19 epidemic, the inalienable rights of citizens have in many cases been violated and their fundamental freedoms, including the exercise of freedom of worship, expression and movement, have been disproportionately and unjustifiably restricted. Public health must not, and cannot, become an alibi for infringing on the rights of millions of people around the world, let alone for depriving the civil authority of its duty to act wisely for the common good. This is particularly true as growing doubts emerge from several quarters about the actual contagiousness, danger and resistance of the virus. Many authoritative voices in the world of science and medicine confirm that the media’s alarmism about COVID-19 appears to be absolutely unjustified.

Yesterday, I mentioned a new piece of research the University of East Anglia (UEA) had done that the Mail picked up on. I’ve now found out a bit more about it and it’s definitely worth a closer look. Researchers from EUA’s Norwich Medical School examined the impact of different social distancing measures used in 30 European countries using data from the European Centre for Disease Control, analysing how effective they’ve been in reducing the number of COVID-19 infections and fatalities. They concluded that the most effective measures are closing schools, banning mass gatherings and closing some non-essential businesses, particularly in the hospitality industry. However, some measures, such as compulsory face masks, have not been effective. In particular, indiscriminate stay-at-home measures are ineffective.

According to Dr Julii Brainard of UEA’s Norwich Medical School: “We found that banning mass gatherings, closing some non-essential businesses, and closing educational facilities are most strongly associated with reduced incidence after a certain lag period. But widespread closure of all non-essential businesses and stay-at-home policies do not appear to have had a significant effect on the number of Covid-19 cases across Europe.” You can read a summary of the report’s findings here and read the preprint here.

For a layman’s view of “the science” that sat behind the Government’s decision to lock down the country, I recommend this excellent piece sent in by a reader that I’ve published alongside the review of the code that powered Professor Ferguson’s computer model. Lot’s of meat to get your teeth into. You can read it here.

Andy Shaw, Spectator Life‘s resident satirist and the co-host of Comedy Unleashed, the monthly politically incorrect comedy night in Bethnal Green, has written an amusing piece about his phrase of the week: “Herd Immunity.” Andy also co-hosts a weekly podcast for the Spectator called That’s Life with Benedict Spence in which they interview different commentators and comedians. This week, I was the guest on the podcast, which you can listen to here. And in case you missed it, James Delingpole and I recorded a regular episode of London Calling on Tuesday, along with a “shagadelic” special about the resignation of Neil Ferguson on Wednesday. You can listen to the normal one here and the special here.

I flagged up a new anti-lockdown petition on the UK Government website yesterday which I said had got past the gatekeepers. Turns out, I jumped the gun. After receiving enough signatures to get over the first hurdle, it has now disappeared to be processed. Will it ever re-emerge? Who knows. Apologies for the bum steer (and thanks to the 256 people who emailed me to point out my mistake).

Latest data from Germany’s Robert Koch Institute suggests no “second spike” in infections as a result of the country easing its lockdown. Here’s a graph that illustrates the point nicely:

A reader tells me about an encounter with a doctor on his daily bike ride this morning:

I bumped into a neighbour cycling with her daughter. Her daughter is a doctor at a large hospital in the East of England. The mother has been an assiduous lockdown observer but has had enough. So has her daughter who has been working in a Covid ward, and she’s come home for a week’s rest, driving across country to do so. The neighbour’s elderly grandmother died a week or so ago (not from the virus) and will be buried at a funeral with five mourners next week, which will include the profoundly traumatised neighbour’s mother who was unable to see her mother (the grandmother) in her last weeks. The neighbour says she wished she’d arranged the funeral to be in B&Q since on a click-and-collect trip the other day there were so many people in there it was obvious a full wake could have been surreptitiously arranged.

In spite of the polling showing the majority of Britons don’t want the lockdown to end, there is a growing minority of sceptics out there. The driver of this van is one of them:

White Van Man let’s us know his view of the lockdown

Avaaz, the US campaign group that Neil Ferguson’s girlfriend works for, has published a letter calling for even more censorship on social media of anyone who dissents from Covid orthodoxy. Perhaps Antonia Staats could get a job as a member of what the Mail describes as “Facebook’s new thought police”. According to today’s paper, an oversight board has been set up which will be the ultimate court of appeal for those people whose posts are removed from the platform or those who’ve been banned outright. Members include Alan Rusbridger, ex-editor of the Guardian, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the wife of Labour MP Stephen Kinnock and the former Prime Minister of Denmark.

Great letter in the Telegraph this morning from Virginia Ironside, a reader of this site, abut exactly what Professor Lockdown did wrong – and it wasn’t breaking the rules:

SIR – When I heard about Professor Neil Ferguson’s slip-up and resignation (report, May 6) I felt like clapping on my balcony. I’ve distrusted him and his advice from the start. And yet wasn’t he just doing what we’re all doing – sticking to the rules, but only up to a point?

I’ve caught the most law-abiding of my friends arranging get-togethers in their gardens or streets, or meeting friends for walks when it’s not strictly allowed – simply because they realise there’s no logic to doing otherwise.

What Professor Ferguson did wasn’t wrong. If only his edict could have been: “Be as sensible as you possibly can.” Wouldn’t that have caused less misery?

His sin was to think that he knows when the rules can be bent, but everyone else is too much of an idiot to do the same. The idea that there’s an oikish and irresponsible “them” and a responsible and upright “us” is one that pervaded the Brexit argument. It’s patronising and reprehensible.

Virginia Ironside, London W12

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

Song suggestions for today: ‘Wake Up Everybody‘ by the Blue Notes, ‘Rabbit‘ by Chase and Dave, ‘Trapped in My Flat‘ by Reeves and Mortimer, ‘Release the Bats‘ by The Birthday Party and, in anticipation of Sunday’s lockdown announcement, ‘Five Years‘ by David Bowie.

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