Boris Johnson

“You Can Never Exclude the Possibility that There Will be Some New Disease,” Says Boris Johnson as he Warns of “Rough Winter” Ahead

Despite talking of the U.K.’s long, slow lockdown easing as “irreversible”, the Prime Minister today told reporters that an anticipated resurgence of Covid, flu and other diseases means there may be a “rough winter” ahead. Noting that hospitalisations and ICU numbers are up around 30%, Boris Johnson said:

You can never exclude the possibility that there will be some new disease, some new horror we haven’t budgeted for or accounted for… but I think it’s looking good for July 19th to be that terminus point. Things like flu may come back this winter, we may have a rough winter for all sorts of reasons – but that is all the more reason to reduce Covid cases now, give the NHS the breathing space it needs now.

His comments suggest that the reason for the hugely costly decision to defer ‘freedom day’ for a month was to “reduce Covid cases” and “give the NHS the breathing space it needs”. That raises the alarming possibility that restrictions might be re-imposed whenever some pessimistic, unverified modelling suggests the NHS might come ‘under pressure’ during the winter – despite the fact that the NHS comes ‘under pressure’ almost every winter.

There are many criticisms that could be made of this, including that there is no real-world evidence that lockdowns make any significant impact on the course of a COVID-19 epidemic, and that it shows a very narrow and warped sense of priorities when it comes to managing public affairs and public health.

But besides that, even on its own terms it makes no sense to “give the NHS breathing space” by continuing or re-imposing restrictions. Since the main reason experts are so worried about flu this year is they are concerned that lockdowns and social distancing have successfully suppressed flu and other pathogens and left people unexposed to them and thus more vulnerable. In addition to this, Matt Hancock warned last week that the backlog in the NHS of people in need of elective procedures such as hip, knee and eye operations is now estimated to be as high as 12.2 million, resulting in the NHS facing the “biggest pressure in its history”.

But where is this pressure coming from? By the Government’s own admission, the backlog is caused by people staying away from the health service. So how can re-imposing restrictions and stoking panic be the solution to pressure caused by the very restrictions and panic that led people to avoid seeking medical treatment? The only way to break out of this vicious circle is to accept that lockdowns cause more problems than they solve.

“Four More Weeks to, Er…” – The Weakest Excuse for a Lockdown Yet

What justifies a lockdown? That’s the question which, 16 months after the policy was introduced into Western democracies as a draconian tool of disease management, we still don’t have a clear answer to. First sold to the public as a way of mitigating peak health service demand during the initial pandemic wave (and thus supposedly saving lives by ensuring more people could get treated – ignore the irony that the overuse of ventilators during those first few weeks likely increased the mortality rate), the justification has evolved over time. In November it was a “circuit breaker” to save Christmas, though Christmas was not saved. In January it was to buy time to allow the most vulnerable to receive at least their first vaccine dose, though it turned out that was not enough to restore our freedoms.

Yesterday the Prime Minister and his scientific flunkies Chris Witless and Patrick Unbalanced unveiled the Government’s latest excuse to keep the restrictions going. “The objective of this short delay,” said the Prime Minister, “is to use these crucial weeks to save thousands of lives, of lives that would otherwise be lost… by vaccinating millions more people as fast as we can.”

Sir Patrick elaborated on three benefits to the delay:

  1. Some protection for over-18s as they will have been offered one vaccine by July 19th.
  2. More protection for over-40s as more of them will have had both their vaccine doses.
  3. Reopening will be near to the school holidays when no mixing in schools will take place.

What none of the three explained was why these benefits justified four more weeks of restrictions, which hospitality leaders have said will mean a £3 billion loss to the industry during what should be one of its busiest trading periods.

The vaccines are “not 100% effective”, Vallance said, as though anyone had ever suggested they were, “and therefore avoiding a very large peak is very important. Realistically, if we ever got a very large wave, there would be a very large number of people in hospital”.

But would there? If the vaccines are as good as they are reported to be at reducing serious illness – Vallance described them yesterday as “spectacularly more effective than we ever could have hoped for” – then even if there are lots of cases in the young, why should hospitals get overrun?

Vallance explained that it was only because of the vaccines that they weren’t already looking at new lockdown measures: “If we didn’t have the vaccinations we’ve got, we would be looking at what lockdowns would be needed.” This is despite him also acknowledging that: “This is a virus that’s going to be with us forever.” Together these statements imply that lockdowns, too, are going to be with us forever, hanging over us, threatened whenever over-zealous public health advisers can persuade a risk-averse Prime Minister that the latest variant or virus is going to, well, what? As I say, that’s the question that still hasn’t been answered.

The latest restrictions are intended to “reduce the peak by 30-50%”, Vallance said. But will it be a big peak or a small peak? “Thousands of lives” will be saved, said the Prime Minister. But how many thousands? After all, thousands of lives are lost in the U.K. to contagious diseases every year – mostly though not exclusively among the very frail and otherwise unwell. If restrictions on social interaction are justified merely to save “thousands of lives”, why not impose them every winter? Or keep them in place permanently to prevent people getting too close and spreading their germs? That’s the logic of this mad, totalitarian approach to disease control (even if we allow, for the sake of argument, that lockdowns are effective at controlling COVID-19, a theory for which there is no real-world evidence).

The Prime Minister made much of a recent “doubling” in Covid hospital admissions, though on the Government dashboard hospital admissions are still short of doubling.

“We May Need to Wait” before Pushing Ahead with Unlocking, Says Boris

Members of SAGE are out in force today, warning the Prime Minister that Britain should not unlock on June 21st because of the risk posed by the Indian Covid variant. Professor Neil Ferguson said on Wednesday that this strain could result in restrictions needing to be “tightened“, despite the recent increase in Covid cases not being matched by an increase in deaths. Following further pressure from other members of the advisory group today, the Prime Minister has said that Number 10 may have to “wait” for more data before pushing ahead with ending the lockdown. The MailOnline has more.

Top scientists have called for Downing Street to delay next month’s lockdown-easing because of the spread of [the Indian variant], which has been found in half of England’s 300-plus local authorities.

SAGE member Professor John Edmunds said he would advise Boris Johnson not to take the next step as planned because “at the moment it looks a little bit risky”.

Meanwhile, fellow adviser “Professor Lockdown” Neil Ferguson warned the plans to ease restrictions hang “in the balance”. He said the now-dominant strain would trigger a “small third wave” but that the next two or three weeks would be “critical” in deciding whether it was safe to move to step four on the roadmap.

But one of the Government’s top scientists today hailed “encouraging” data that showed hospitalisations remain low despite cases having ticked up in every region except the East Midlands. However, Dr Yvonne Doyle, Public Health England’s Medical Director, said they have risen slightly and that they were “concerned” about the Indian variant.

Discussing the threat of the Indian variant during a visit to a hospital in Colchester this morning, Mr Johnson said: “As I have said many times I don’t see anything currently in the data to suggest that we have to deviate from the road map. But we may need to wait.

“Don’t forget the important point about the intervals between the steps of the road map, we put that five weeks between those steps to give us time to see what effect the unlockings are having.”

Mr Hancock admitted he “desperately” wanted to proceed with plans to drop the final set of lockdown restrictions next month but ministers would only do that “if it’s safe”. He will address the nation tonight in a 5pm Downing Street press conference.

In a statement that suggested lockdown could continue until every man and his dog has been vaccinated, the Health Secretary said: “Our vaccination programme has reached 73% of the adult population, but that means that more than a quarter still haven’t been jabbed.”

43% of adults have had both jabs, but that means that more than half are yet to get the fullest possible protection that two jabs give.

Worth reading in full.

“The NHS is Going to be Smashed in Weeks”, Cummings’s Data Geek Told Boris – on the Day Infections Peaked in London

Lockdown Sceptics‘ readers have had their fill of Dominic Cummings stories in the last 24 hours. However, his claim, repeated yesterday in front of MPs, that without a lockdown last March “the NHS is going to be smashed in weeks” cannot go unanswered.

These are the words that, according to Cummings, data analyst Ben Warner said to Boris Johnson when he confronted him with “evidence” on Friday March 13th 2020 that a lockdown was necessary to prevent the NHS being imminently overwhelmed.

March 12th and 13th 2020 are notable for being the days when various Government advisers did the media rounds to sell to the public the idea of “building up some kind of herd immunity“, as Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance put it on Radio 4’s Today programme. Prior to this, the Government had been sticking to the script of their action plan and pandemic preparedness strategy that did not talk about herd immunity (even if it implied it) but about mitigation of the impact of the disease.

Whose idea it was to start talking about building up herd immunity by infection is not clear, and, despite pontificating for seven hours yesterday, Dominic Cummings did not enlighten us on that point. The move was, however, disastrous for Government public relations, as the concept jarred with the public. Worse, it was criticised by scientists and health care professionals, who argued that herd immunity through infection was not a sound policy aim even if it would be the inevitable result of the mitigation strategy. Dr Adam Kucharski from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine put the matter succinctly on Twitter:

Is Boris a Lockdown Sceptic?

Having read Dominic Cummings’ twitter thread on the Government’s lack of preparedness for the pandemic – I had 10 hours to spare and thought, ‘Why not?’ – I began to suspect that Boris might be a lockdown sceptic. The central plank of Dom’s case against the PM in his thread is that he should have locked down earlier and the reason he didn’t is that he naively thought that a policy of shielding the elderly and vulnerable, and encouraging symptomatic people to quarantine at home, would mean ~60% of the population would become infected over the summer, thereby avoiding a second wave in the autumn/winter, when the NHS would have found it harder to cope due to the annual winter NHS crisis – the so-called ‘herd immunity’ strategy. Hmmm. Sounds pretty sensible to me – and to get an idea of how that would have worked out, we only have to look at Sweden, which avoided a hard lockdown throughout 2020 and had one of the lowest age-adjusted excess mortality rates in Europe.

Dom tries to swat this argument away in his thread, accusing “UK political pundits” of “spreading nonsense on Sweden/lockdowns”, and compares Sweden unfavourably with Denmark. A pretty feeble response, as we’ve pointed out numerous times on Lockdown Sceptics. (see Noah Carl’s piece on Monday for a comprehensive rebuttal of the “Yeah, but, Denmark” critique of Sweden’s approach.) No, the example of Sweden, which refused to lock down and whose health service never came close to being overwhelmed, remains a devastating riposte to the apocalyptic doom-mongering of people like Dom back in March of last year, who were screaming at the Prime Minister to lock everyone in their homes because… the NHS.

As I say, reading that thread, it seems pretty clear that Boris’s instincts were correct and the reason he switched tack in the week leading up to March 23rd was because he was surrounded by bed-wetting hysterics like Mr Cummings.

But today’s Daily Mail confirms it: Boris is a lockdown sceptic. I’ll let the Mail summarise the “explosive allegations”, which Dom has clearly leaked to them:

Boris Johnson referred to Covid as “Kung-Flu” and – before he was infected with the virus – offered to be injected with it live on TV to “show it’s nothing to be scared of”, Dominic Cummings will claim today.

They are among the explosive allegations that Mr Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser, will make to MPs investigating the Government’s handling of the epidemic.

In an extraordinary claim, he will accuse the Prime Minister of being responsible for “thousands of deaths” by delaying a second lockdown when a second wave of the virus hit the U.K. in the winter. …

The Mail has learned that Mr Cummings will allege Mr Johnson:

* Argued against tough Covid curbs on the grounds that “it is only killing 80-year-olds”;
* Did say “no more f***ing lockdowns, let the bodies pile high in their thousands”.
* Said he regretted being “pushed” into ordering lockdowns because the “economic damage is more damaging than the loss of life”.

No doubt Boris could have expressed his scepticism more diplomatically – assuming Dom is telling the truth – but the substance of these points is correct: for those under 65 and with no underlying health conditions, the virus is nothing to be scared of; the average age of those who’ve died from COVID-19 in the UK is about 80; and the economic damage caused by the lockdowns will certainly outweigh the harms the lockdowns have prevented, if any.

Should anyone be in any doubt that Boris is a 64 carat lockdown sceptic, Dom has some more “devastating” points:

Mr Cummings will also say that before the decision, Mr Johnson vowed: “I’m going to be the mayor of Jaws, like I should have been in March (when the first lockdown was ordered).”

The Prime Minister has said that he regards the mayor in the Jaws movie – who refuses to close the resort’s beach even after a shark has killed tourists, for fear of damage to the local economy – as one of his “heroes”.

I must say, I take some comfort from this. Regular readers will know that until that fateful U-turn on March 23rd 2020 I was a huge fan of Boris’s and have struggled to reconcile the Rabelaisian, liberty-loving character I’ve known for the past 38 years with the furrowed-browed headmaster of the last 15 months. As I asked the journalist Quentin Letts in our recent Free Speech Union chat: How did Sid James become Hattie Jacques?

Turns out, Boris’s Jamesian side wasn’t entirely abandoned; it was just just kept in check by the Jacquists in 10 Downing Street.

Presumably, one reason Boris allowed himself to be pushed around by these chin-wobblers is because he was worried they’d accuse him of needlessly killing thousands of people if he didn’t do what they said. In which case, Dom’s suicide bomber routine is actually quite helpful. Boris allowed Dom to browbeat him into following his lockdown strategy and the disloyal bastard is still accusing him of being a mass murderer. So Boris has little to lose from ignoring these Cassandras from now on. They’ll turn on him whatever he does so there’s no point in trying to keep them on side.

It’s time to assert yourself, Prime Minister. At the next meeting of the Cabinet, announce that you’re going to reopen on June 21st come hell or high water and anyone who thinks that’s a bad idea should resign now or forever hold their peace. Thereafter, if the usual suspects start briefing against stage 4 of the Roadmap, including those snakes on SAGE, he should sack the bloody lot of them.

Fright Night

Today we’re publishing an excerpt from Laura Dodsworth’s new book, A State of Fear: how the UK government weaponised fear during the COVID-19 pandemic, which goes on sale today. Laura has already got a lot of coverage for her interviews with members of SPI-B, in some of which they confessed to misgivings about using behavioural psychology to terrify the British public. In this excerpt, which is the first chapter of the book, she discusses the oddness of Boris’s speech on March 23rd of last year when he broke the bad news about having to stay in our homes. Here is an extract:

What was it that felt ‘off’ about Boris Johnson’s speech? Johnson is a performer, but he normally performs the ‘likeable buffoon’. You would expect such an important speech to be rehearsed, but it felt too contrived and different to his normal presentation. He was controlled, stern, and at a basic level that was hard to pinpoint, it didn’t feel genuine.

I asked two experts to help me decode Johnson’s body language and style of speech.

Naomi Murphy is a clinical and forensic psychologist who has spent many years working in high-security prisons, often with people who don’t always tell the truth. She echoed my reaction: “His words and some of his body language convey one message, but you sense another message, and that rings alarm bells. He doesn’t seem authentic.” She pointed out that there were times when he was giving a message with his head and hands, bobbing his head forwards and gesticulating, but his body was held back, suggesting that personally he did not believe in the essence of his words.

An appearance of inauthenticity could have been simply down to nerves. It would be natural to feel nervous before such a momentous speech to the nation, and that affects behaviour and body language. As Murphy said, “you can hear his mouth is dry, which is incredible for someone who is used to the limelight. This is a man who likes being liked, and he might be worried that the public will not like him anymore.”

Neil Shah, founder of the Stress Management Society and International Wellbeing Insights, has delivered leadership training which includes how to read non-verbal communication. We watched the YouTube video of the speech remotely over a video call, so that he could analyse it blow by blow.

“Twenty-six seconds in and you can see the tension in his fingers,” Shah commented. “He is clenching so hard his knuckles turn white.” He pointed out Johnson was hunched and leaning forwards like he was holding on for dear life. I asked what it means when someone clenches their fists so hard. He told me it can be for emphasis, or as an aggressive gesture, but “it also looks like a tantrumming toddler. The way he is jabbing his fists at us shows tension.”

Johnson also gives the most awkward and uncomfortable smile when he talks about compliance. Shah added that “it’s almost threatening. We smile when things are funny, but also when we are nervous. When he said that no prime minister wants to do this, a grave look would have suited the moment better than a ghoulish grin.”

Like Murphy, Shah thought the Prime Minister didn’t believe everything he was saying: “There doesn’t seem to be congruence between his words and his body language. It suggests he is not speaking from the heart and doesn’t believe what he is saying.”

Worth reading in full – and you can buy Laura’s book from Amazon by clicking here.

Rule, Britannia! Britannia Take the Knee

We’re publishing an original essay today about the decline of Britain into an authoritarian, one-party state by Dr. James Alexander, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Bilkent University in Turkey. I say “essay”, but it’s more of a splenetic howl of rage – and all the better for that. Here is Dr Alexander’s opening salvo:

Britons are slaves and if they are not yet fully enslaved then there is certainly every sign that they wish to be slaves, and this is what all the taking the knee and taking the jab is about. If we do not want to be slaves, then we need beliefs which will enable us to confound the politics of others. And we also need to maintain a politics of justified opposition – something which collapsed during the pandemic.

The BBC was right, by its own standards, to try to erase the words from the performance of Rule, Britannia at the Last Night of the Proms last year: because these words are no longer part of the official ideology of the United Kingdom. Let us consider its most famous lines, and some of the best lines from ‘God Save the Queen’:

Rule, Britannia! Britannia rule the waves!

Britons never, never, never will be slaves!

Confound their politics,

Frustrate their knavish tricks…

In recent times we might as well be signing these lines instead:

Ruled, Britannia! Britannia take the knee!

Britons never, never, never shall be free!

Adopt their politics,

Applaud their knavish tricks…

Worth reading in full. Bracing stuff.

Boris Confirms “Nothing” is Ruled Out in Responding to Indian Variant. How Worried Should We Be?

Boris Johnson confirmed today that “nothing” is ruled out in responding to the Indian variant. Asked if local lockdowns are possible, the Prime Minister told reporters:

There are a range of things we could do, we want to make sure we grip it. Obviously there’s surge testing, there’s surge tracing. If we have to do other things, then of course the public would want us to rule nothing out. We have always been clear we would be led by the data. At the moment, I can see nothing that dissuades me from thinking we will be able to go ahead on Monday and indeed on June 21st, everywhere, but there may be things we have to do locally and we will not hesitate to do them if that is the advice we get.

Meanwhile, Professor James Naismith, from the University of Oxford, told BBC Radio 4 that local lockdowns will be ineffective at containing the variant and it should be viewed as a national problem.

I think we should view it as a countrywide problem. It will get everywhere. We keep learning this lesson, but we know that this will be the case. When we tried locally having different restrictions in different regions that didn’t really make any difference. So I don’t think thinking about a localised strategy for containment will really work.

An emergency meeting of Government scientific advisory group SAGE was convened this morning to address the rapid spread of the variant. One member reportedly warned that a delay to the June 21st lifting of restrictions is “possible”.

Is the Indian variant really something we should be afraid of? No doubt India is currently experiencing a surge in which the variant plays the dominant role. But that doesn’t mean the variant will pull the same trick everywhere – viruses aren’t as simple as that. There are all kinds of reasons one variant might come to dominate, and it isn’t necessarily accompanied by a surge in infections.

Italy is the European country currently most dominated by the Indian variant, having seen it quickly grow in the past few weeks (Indian variant in green).

Here’s what’s happened to the positive test rate in that time.

Clearly, the growth and dominance of the Indian variant does not necessarily lead to a new epidemic.

Meanwhile, in Spain (which has ended its state of emergency) the variant came and went very quickly.

“Social” Distancing Could Be Scrapped from June 21st, but Masks Will Remain and Numbers at Large Events Will Be Capped

Last week, Boris Johnson said there was a “very good chance” all Covid restrictions would come to an end on June 21st, yet the latest reports suggest that mask-wearing and caps on numbers attending large events could stay in place past the “end” of lockdown. The Government is said to have already told football’s UEFA that crowd sizes at upcoming events will be limited to 45,000. So when will restrictions actually come to an end? The Times has more.

The “one metre-plus” social distancing rule will be scrapped from June 21st under plans to ensure that all restaurants, pubs, theatres and cinemas can reopen fully, the Times understands.

Masks will have to be worn in some cases to mitigate the risks but it will mean venues can reopen at full capacity for the first time in 15 months.

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, confirmed yesterday that some coronavirus restrictions would remain beyond June 21st, causing concern in hospitality…

The Times understands this means theatre and cinema audiences must wear face coverings during performances and there will be strict guidance on ventilation and staggered entry.

Pubs and restaurants may keep one-way systems, screens and a requirement to wear masks while moving around but, crucially, there will be no restrictions on customer numbers.

The Prime Minister is expected to be presented with the recommendations as part of an interim report looking at the success of recent trials, including events held without social distancing. Removing the one metre-plus rule would be a lifeline for thousands of businesses that warned they faced bankruptcy if the Government kept social-distancing rules this summer.

However, the biggest events will still have a cap on numbers beyond June 21st, meaning Wembley Stadium will be half empty for the European Championship final on July 11st. The Government is said to have told UEFA, European football’s governing body, that crowd sizes will be limited to 45,000.

Government sources added that fears of “pinch points” on public transport and at bars around the stadium would prevent a full crowd of 90,000 fans. A source said: “If you’ve got 90,000 people in a stadium, it’s going to be very difficult. It was always quite ambitious to go to 50% but we’ve told UEFA we’re working on a 50% basis.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: MailOnline columnist Dan Wooton says enough is enough. We must make sure June 21st is the day we get our old lives back and if we aren’t we should just take them back.

Stop Press 2: Just one Covid death was reported in the whole of Britain today, leading to further calls for the “roadmap” out of lockdown to be sped up – and for all restrictions to come to an end thereafter.

Boris is the Great Appeaser Who Caves in to the “Experts” at the Expense of Ordinary People

There follows a guest post by Dr Timothy Bradshaw, a retired Oxford Theological Lecturer.

Allegra Stratton, Boris’s replacement for Lee Cain as policy communicator in No.10, has gone, to the BBC as an eco-analyst, after a short spell of announcing nothing, maybe she offended Carrie too? And that communications room, fitted out for a couple of million, won’t be used. So that “reset” of No 10 has itself been reset, maintaining that sense of fairground chaos so beloved of our leader.

But his utterances are, as Janet Daley has shown in her Telegraph column, less and less convincing and being taken as incoherent by a growing number of intelligent people, not just “conspiracy theorists”. He bizarrely proclaimed that the successful lowering of Covid cases and deaths in the UK was not caused by the vaccination programme but by… the lockdowns, which therefore must remain the chief weapon against the epidemic – if the epidemic should return. Hence the shutting of the Nightingale hospitals and no plan for future epidemics being developed. As Daley said, this statement was surely plain wrong, and also politically a gaffe as it portrayed his one massive success as an irrelevance. It also would discourage the population from offering to be vaccinated, a Macronic blunder. Why this idiocy from our leader?    

“Save lockdowning” is the only credible answer, combined with the fact of Boris being, apparently willingly like Patty Hearst, held hostage by that strange and frightening gang of “experts”. Boris is in effect their glove puppet. Their latest utterance through him is that “a third wave is definitely coming” – “hurricane Boris” is building up in India and will soon be blowing us away. Really, or is this just more “precautionary” weather forecasting to get us to board up the economy again, more fear-inducing talk?

At present we can hardly be said to be in an epidemic, but the “experts” are very keen to keep finding Covid wherever they can, and so “save lockdowning”, as if hoping to keep this phenomenon going to maintain their grip on the population. 

The grotesque plan is to keep perfectly healthy and non-vulnerable people taking two home tests per week, followed up by a PCR test for positive results, and these go to a central lab. These tests are for the Covid “genome sequencing” programme and can hardly be defended as a sensible use of the health budget. It is predicated on scanning for and locking down any tiny group of people infected with a new variant, and not on getting a medically based plan for treating future SARS viruses. It is clearly in line with keeping the lockdown hammer available, permanently.