Chris Whitty

No, Locking Down a Week Earlier Would Not Have Saved Tens of Thousands of Lives

Toby has already gone through in detail the new report from the Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee of the House of Commons on the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and taken it apart.

One point worth underlining further is that one of its central conclusions – that “if the national lockdown had been instituted even a week earlier ‘we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half'” (the report quoting Professor Neil Ferguson here) – is demonstrably false on all the data available. That’s because it assumes that the epidemic was continuing to grow exponentially in the week before lockdown was brought into effect on March 24th, a growth which supposedly only the lockdown brought to an end.

That this is not the case is evident from all the data we have, as has been shown on numerous occasions.

For example, already in April 2020 Oxford’s Professor Carl Heneghan had noted that by projecting back from the peak of deaths on April 8th it could be inferred that the peak of infections occurred around a week before the lockdown was imposed. This early deduction was subsequently backed up by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty himself, who told MPs in July 2020 that the R rate went “below one well before, or to some extent before, March 23rd”, indicating a declining epidemic.

Further support arrived in March 2021, when Imperial College London’s REACT study published a graph showing SARS-CoV-2 incidence in England as inferred from antibody testing and interviews with those who tested positive to ascertain date of symptom onset. It clearly showed new infections peaking in the week before March 24th (see below), as well as a similar peaking of infections ahead of the subsequent two national lockdowns.

Community Masking: Where did ‘The Science’ Come From?

Before 2020, evidence for the efficacy of community masking – that is, asking ordinary members of the public to wear cloth or surgical masks when going about their business – was shaky at best.

This evidence was reviewed in detail by Jeffrey Anderson, a former director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. He notes that:

of the 14 RCTs that have tested the effectiveness of masks in preventing the transmission of respiratory viruses, three suggest, but do not provide any statistically significant evidence in intention-to-treat analysis, that masks might be useful. The other eleven suggest that masks are either useless—whether compared with no masks or because they appear not to add to good hand hygiene alone—or actually counterproductive.

In another piece that’s well worth reading, Professor Steve Templeton provides a list of quotations from what he calls “the BP era” (Before Things Got Political). Each quotation, taken from one or other expert, testifies to the lack of evidence that community masking works against respiratory pathogens.

For example, in a systematic review published early last year, Jingyi Xiao and colleagues “did not find evidence that surgical-type face masks are effective in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza transmission, either when worn by infected persons… or by persons in the general  community to reduce their susceptibility”.

This is presumably why, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, health authorities in both the U.K. and the U.S. advised against community masking.

For example, on 4th March 2020, Chris Whitty told Sky News that “wearing a mask if you don’t have an infection reduces the risk almost not at all”. And as late as 3rd April, Jonathan Van Tam said “there is no evidence that general wearing of face masks… affects the spread of the disease”.

Likewise, in a tweet sent on 27th February, the CDC said that it “does not currently recommend the use of facemasks”. And two days later, the U.S. Surgeon General urged people to “STOP BUYING MASKS” because they are “NOT effective” at preventing the general public from catching coronavirus.

In a video interview from May of 2019, Anthony Fauci actually laughed at the notion of wearing a face mask. The interviewer asks him, “The best way for me to prevent getting an infectious disease… is what? Wearing a mask?” To which Fauci replies, “No, no no… you avoid all the paranoid aspects.”

Yet by the summer of 2020, the health authorities in both countries had done an about-face, and were now recommending face masks to the public. These recommendations subsequently became mandates.

‘The Science,’ in other words, had changed. But what prompted this change? The charitable answer is that new evidence emerged suggesting that community masking does work against SARS-CoV-2. However, this new evidence looks just as shaky – if not shakier – than the pre-Covid evidence.

Tory MP Calls on Chris Whitty to Resign after Giving Green Light for Vaccination of All Healthy Teenagers

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty should resign for approving the vaccination of all healthy teenagers against Covid “without good clinical reason”, according to Marcus Fysh MP. The Independent has the story.

A row broke out on Monday after the government announced 12 to 15 year-olds will be offered one Pfizer jab from next week, following a decision made by the chief medical officers (CMO) of each of the U.K.’s four nations…

Responding to the move in a tweet on Monday night Marcus Fysh, the Conservative MP for Yeovil, claimed Prof Whitty “does not deserve the confidence of the country” as he called for him to step down.

Speaking in the House of Commons earlier, Mr. Fysh said he had “grave concerns about this policy and the fact that the CMOs have made their decision on the basis of the educational impact rather than the health of the children at clinical level”.

In a previous ruling the JCVI, which looks at vaccinations from a purely clinical perspective, concluded that the virus presents a very low risk for children and therefore an inoculation programme would offer only minor benefits.

The CMOs, who had come under significant political and media pressure to approve the roll-out, told a Downing Street press conference on Monday that there were other benefits, including reducing the disruption to the school term.

Professor Whitty told the news conference it had been a “difficult decision” but CMOs would not be recommending the jabs “unless we felt that benefit exceeded risk”.

Three million eligible teenagers will be offered a first dose as early as next week as part of in-school vaccination services.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Appearing on talkRADIO later on Tuesday, Marcus said the vaccination of healthy children is “an appalling decision [that’s] not based on medical need or clinical need”.

They’ve come up with the idea, because the JCVI didn’t think it was warranted, that somehow children’s mental health is a clinical need for this vaccination. Well, I’m sorry [but] we need to lead children to a better place of understanding they are not at risk if they are worried about getting Covid. It just is not something that is going to be dangerous for them. I just don’t buy that for a second and I think it’s an outrageous way that the medical advice has been manipulated.

Chief Medical Officers Say All U.K. Teenagers Should Be Vaccinated against Covid

The U.K.’s four Chief Medical Officers have advised that all healthy teenagers should be vaccinated against Covid, while admitting that “in those aged 12-15, [the virus] rarely, but occasionally, leads to serious illness, hospitalisation and even less commonly death”. The decision will trigger the launching by the Government of a vaccine roll-out for 12-15 year-olds, despite ministers being warned by the JCVI of the risk of side effects. The Telegraph has the story.

Professor Chris Whitty and his counterparts in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland said the benefits of vaccinating young people and reducing transmission of the virus outweighed potential costs of side effects for children and disruption to school timetables.

They also recommended that ministers “present the risk-benefit decisions in a way that is accessible to children and young people, as well as their parents”. 

“A child-centred approach to communication and deployment of the vaccine should be the primary objective,” they said.

Boris Johnson, Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, will give a press conference on Tuesday in which the Prime Minister is expected to announce he has accepted his chief medical officers’ advice and the rollout for 12 to 15 year-olds will begin.

A similar roll-out for children aged 16 and over is already running.

In a letter to Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, and other health ministers in devolved parts of the U.K., the medical officers warned that “in those aged 12-15, Covid rarely, but occasionally, leads to serious illness, hospitalisation and even less commonly death”.

“The risks of vaccination (mainly myocarditis) are also very rare,” they said. …

They… warned that individual choice to receive the vaccine or not should be respected.

“It is essential that children and young people aged 12-15 and their parents are supported in their decisions, whatever decisions they take, and are not stigmatised either for accepting, or not accepting, the vaccination offer,” they said, adding that information on the jabs should be communicated in a “child-centred” way.

Worth reading in full.

Vaccine Roll-Out for Healthy 12-15 Year-Olds Could Begin as Soon as September 22nd

The Government may have rolled back on vaccine passports and a few other measures today but it seems determined to push ahead with the vaccination of healthy children against Covid. Following reports that Chris Whitty will advise the ‘jabbing’ of 12-15 year-olds to benefit their mental health, it has emerged that the roll-out could begin as soon as September 22nd. The Observer has the story.

It is believed that vaccinations for children will begin on September 22nd. NHS leaders are understood to have been briefed on the plans after schools were told to be ready to introduce the programme.

The move follows the conclusion of a review by the chief medical officers (CMOs) of all four nations, led by Chris Whitty.

When asked to confirm the plan, a Department of Health source said ministers had not received final advice from the CMOs and did not want to prejudge them.

Last week, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said children would receive only marginal health benefits from a mass vaccination campaign but did not consider the potential benefits to children’s education.

Some Tory MPs had said they would oppose vaccinations for children without definite medical and scientific evidence in favour and a green light from the CMOs.

Worth reading in full.

Children Should Be Vaccinated to Benefit Their Mental Health, Chris Whitty to Say

After months and months of recommending lockdown policies that damaged the mental health, education and social development of young people, Chris Whitty is now set to recommend that children aged 12 and over should be vaccinated against Covid “to benefit their mental health, education and social development”, according to the Times.

The Chief Medical Officer for England is set to conclude a review of medical evidence early next week, with ministers promising that the first younger teenagers will be jabbed within five working days. …

Whitty and his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are finalising a review into the wider benefits of child vaccination after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation gave them responsibility for making a decision. [Or, rather, after the Government chose to ignore the JCVI.]

The committee concluded last week that although the benefits of vaccinating healthy children aged 12 to 15 slightly outweighed the risk, the balance in favour was too small to justify mass immunisation on health grounds alone. They said Whitty should be tasked with considering the broader benefits to children and his review has been holding discussions this week.

The Times understands that talks with senior doctors and other experts reached the conclusion that vaccination should go ahead.

The desire to stop children taking time off school sick, and to help them avoid worrying about the pandemic and learning to get on with their peer group were together judged to tip the balance in favour of vaccination.

Sources close to Whitty stressed that he was still holding discussions and was yet to finalise his recommendations, but the backing of his top advisers means that vaccination of children is in effect agreed.

Worth reading in full.

A Question for Chris Whitty

I haven’t watched any of the Government’s COVID-19 press briefings since the early weeks of the pandemic. The scientific parts seemed to be mostly concerned with projections from rather dubious epidemiological models, and the political parts were even less informative.

As I understand it, the Q&A that follows whatever Boris and the boffins have said often involves journalists demanding to know why there aren’t more restrictions in place (more rules, more limits, more penalties).

Ironically, these questions tend to come from people who a few months before the pandemic might have compared Boris Johnson’s Government to certain mid-20th century political movements that we now associate with authoritarianism.

What questions would I ask Boris and the boffins? There are many I’d like to raise, including: “Why hasn’t the government published a cost-benefit analysis of lockdown?” Such analyses are routine in policy-making, and you’d expect that something as far-reaching as a national lockdown would justify one.

Another query I’d like to make is: “What specific evidence led the government to change its advice on masks?” Back on 4th March 2020, Chris Whitty told Sky News that “wearing a mask if you don’t have an infection reduces the risk almost not at all”. And as late as 3rd April, Jonathan Van Tam said “there is no evidence that general wearing of face masks… affects the spread of the disease”.

However, the question I’d most like to ask – of Chris Whitty in particular – is as follows.

Professor Whitty, on 5th March 2020, you told the Health and Social Care Committee that “we will get 50% of all the cases over a three-week period and 95% of the cases over a nine-week period”. You said that we are “very keen” to “minimise economic and social disruption”, and mentioned that “one of the best things we can do” is “isolate older people from the virus”.  

This all sounds rather similar to the Great Barrington Declaration. Why then, in an interview with The BMJ on November 4th, did you describe that document as “wrong scientifically, practically, and probably ethically as well”? You said that the Great Barrington Declaration is “really a pretty minority view”, but it appears to have been your view as recently as eight months earlier.

As I’m sure you’re aware, there is a document titled “UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011”, which was published by the Department of Health. It says that attempting to stop the spread of a new pandemic influenza “would be a waste of public health resources and capacity”.

And as late as 2019, the World Health Organisation published a report titled “Non-pharmaceutical public health measures for mitigating the risk and impact of epidemic and pandemic influenza”. This document classifies “quarantine of exposed individuals” as “not recommended in any circumstances”.

Given that the WHO, the Department of Health and you – as recently as March 2020 – have rejected suppression as a strategy for dealing with respiratory pandemics, why did you describe the alternative focused protection strategy as “wrong scientifically”? Thank you for listening, and I look forward to your answer.

Brits Will “Of Course” Face New Lockdown If Covid Situation Becomes “Unacceptable”, Government Minister Confirms

We haven’t yet reached lockdown’s “terminus date“, but Government officials are already signalling that restrictions could be reintroduced in weeks if the Covid situation becomes “unacceptable”.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said on Thursday that a “scary” growth in hospitalisations could leave the NHS “in trouble again surprisingly fast“, meaning that in “five, six, seven eight weeks’ time”, the Prime Minister may need to “look again” at reintroducing restrictions.

A Government minister has this morning echoed Whitty’s warning, telling Sky News that: “Of course, if we get into a situation where it’s unacceptable and we do need to put back further restrictions, then that, of course, is something the Government will look at.” The MailOnline has more.

Solicitor General Lucy Frazer suggested it was the right time to open up because of the vaccination drive – which has reached 90% of Britons.

But with cases continuing to soar, hospital admissions tracking above some of SAGE’s worst-case projections, and deaths having hit a four-month high, she warned that Number 10 may be left with no choice but to consider reimposing tough restrictions. …

England’s Chief Medical Officer last night cautioned the U.K. could still “get into trouble again surprisingly fast” and hospitals may face “scary numbers” within a matter of weeks. 

Making it clear the country was not on an irreversible path to freedom despite Number 10 pushing ahead with step four of the ‘roadmap’ to normality on Monday, Professor Chris Whitty said: “We are not by any means out of the woods yet.” …

The Prime Minister [has] sounded a cautious note… and called on people not to “go wild” and immediately rush to take advantage of the final easing – which includes lifting work-at-home orders and reopening nightclubs. …

Saying restrictions should be eased on July 19th, Ms Frazer told Sky News: “I think the Health Secretary has been very clear, as has the Prime Minister, that we will see infections rise. …

“It is really important that we get the balance right between ensuring that we keep this virus under control and we take the necessary clinical measures to do that, but that we also recognise that there are consequences of not opening up and not allowing people to go about their daily lives.”

Worth reading in full.

Britain Won’t Return to Normality This Year, Says Chris Whitty

Whether or not ‘Freedom Day’ takes place on July 19th, we won’t truly return to normal until at least next spring, says Chris Whitty, warning that it is “going to take quite a long time to get back to normality”. The MailOnline has the story.

England’s Chief Medical Officer hinted that some curbs may have to be rolled back later this year when the NHS faces a “difficult winter”.

But, in a glimmer of hope[!], Professor Whitty claimed he anticipated that the U.K. could return to the “status quo” by next spring. 

However, he admitted that he would be “surprised” if British life managed to return to pre-Covid normality before then, adding it was “going to take quite a long time to get back to normality”.

Covid hospital admissions and deaths are expected to rise in the weeks and months after July 19th, when all social distancing measures are due to be lifted in England.

Officials are also bracing for a rise in other respiratory illnesses that have been suppressed by lockdown measures during the pandemic, such as flu. 

But it’s hoped enough people will have been vaccinated or protected due to prior infection by next spring that the coronavirus will no longer trigger a deadly surge.

Speaking to the Local Government Association’s annual conference, Professor Whitty said: “There will almost certainly be a Covid surge [in winter] and that will be on top of a return to a more normal respiratory surge. 

“It’s going to take quite a long time, I think, to get back to normality and I certainly would be surprised if we got back to what most of us would see as a kind of status quo – before the pandemic – by the next spring.

“Because I think we’ve got this current wave, hopefully there will be a period of quieter Covid after that, and then it will still be quite a difficult winter, especially for the NHS – then by next spring I’m hoping slightly more into a more predictable pattern.”

Worth reading in full.

Chris Whitty Warns of Summer AND Winter Waves as Neil Ferguson Raises Prospect of New Lockdowns – But Data Show the Third Ripple is Already Peaking

The doom-mongers of SAGE were out in force again yesterday, building on their recent victory in Downing Street to keep stoking the fear. The Independent brings us the latest wisdom from Imperial College’s Professor Neil Ferguson.

The third wave of COVID-19 cases in the UK has already began, according to Government advisers – who said it was possible strict lockdown curbs would have to reintroduced at some point this year.

It comes as a new study commissioned by the Government found Covid infections have increased 50% since the start of May – as the country struggles to combat the rise of the highly-transmissible Delta variant first detected in India.

“We’re at the beginning of [the third wave] now,” said Professor Neil Ferguson, the Imperial epidemiologist dubbed “Professor Lockdown” by the tabloid press.

Ferguson told a media briefing that his latest modelling predicts between 100 and 1,200 deaths a day at the peak of the summer “third wave”, before raising the possibility that restrictions may need to be introduced.

I’m very much hoping we won’t need to reverse course [on the easing of restrictions] – and I suspect we won’t. We will inevitably see cases and hospitalisations rise. But the key is [how] manageable the level is.