Chris Whitty

Don’t Stop People Going to the Football, Prime Minister

Boris is due to meet with Sir Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty later today to discuss what additional Covid restrictions to impose, if any. We already know that he doesn’t want schools to close again and, according to today’s Times, weddings and funerals will also be exempt from any new rules. But what about large sporting events, like football matches? The new rules in Scotland mean that only 500 people can attend games and in Wales they’ll be played behind closed doors for the foreseeable future. Will the Prime Minister be tempted to follow suit?

I sincerely hope not. As I’ve said many times before, the thing I missed the most during the previous three lockdowns was not being able to go and see my beloved QPR. Since we were allowed back into football stadiums in August of last year I’ve tried to go to every single QPR game, home and away, and to date I’ve only missed four. Indeed, my son Charlie and I started a Substack newsletter about following QPR this season that you can find here. The thought of having to go back to watching games on an iPad again is beyond depressing.

So, Prime Minister, if Sir Patrick and the soon-to-be Sir Chris urge you to ban attendance at large sporting events, here is some evidence that you can point to suggesting that such a measure would be pointless:

  • Last year, Chris Whitty said: “The evidence is very clear that outdoor spaces are safer than indoors.”
  • A systematic review of five studies found that “a low proportion of reported global SARS-CoV-2 infections occurred outdoors (<10%)”.
  • A rapid review of 14 sources of evidence “found very few examples of outdoor transmission of COVID-19 in everyday life among c. 25,000 cases considered, suggesting a very low risk”.
  • An Italian study concluded that “the probability of airborne transmission due to respiratory aerosol is very low in outdoor conditions”.
  • Official figures in Ireland showed that, of the “232,164 cases of COVID-19 recorded in the state up to March 24th this year, 262 were as a result of outdoor transmission, representing 0.1% of the total”.
  • A paper by the PHE Transmission Group noted: “Evidence continues to suggest that the vast majority of transmission happens in indoor spaces; recent reviews considering data from several countries found very little evidence of outdoor transmission for SARS-CoV-2, influenza or other respiratory viruses.”
  • This study from early cases in China found only one outbreak (of two cases) out of a sample of 7,324 infections that could be traced to an outdoor setting.
  • The Cheltenham Festival on March 10th-13th of 2020, which drew crowds of around 250,000 people, has entered folklore as a “superspreader event”, but in fact the evidence that it led to a spike in infections in the locality is threadbare. As the Racing Post pointed out in April 2020, Gloucestershire was one of the parts of the U.K. least affected by Covid: “HSJ statistics for reported COVID-19 positive deaths in England per 100,000 people put Gloucestershire comfortably in the bottom half of a table headed by The Black Country and West Birmingham. … Gloucestershire actually has a lower number of confirmed COVID-19 cases than surrounding counties – the south west itself is very low and within that Gloucestershire is below average.”
  • 25,000 fans were admitted to the NFL Super Bowl in Florida on February 7th, at the height of America’s ‘second wave’, along with 12,000 staff. Even though only a third of fans had been vaccinated at the time, U.S. health officials only found three people who were infected as a result of attending the game.

God willing, Boris will stick to his guns and not impose any further restrictions, as the Daily Mail recommends in a strong leader this morning. But if you’re tempted to do something, Prime Minister, please leave football alone. Like all the other non-pharmaceutical interventions recommended by SAGE scientists, banning attendance at football games will make zero difference to Covid transmission.

D-Day

The Prime Minister is due to meet with Sir Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty on Monday to decide whether to impose any more restrictions. If the Chief Scientific Officer and Chief Medical Officer manage to persuade Boris that that’s necessary, he will need to convene a Cabinet meeting and get the decision approved. No small task since, according to the Guardian, the main leadership contenders will oppose any tighter measures. The Sun says Boris’s decision will hinge on whether Covid hospital admissions are increasing.

If the numbers have continued to rise it will mean increased pressure on the NHS, with experts urging the Government to take action.

His meeting comes as a string of hugely positive studies show Omicron is milder than other strains, with the first official UK report revealing the risk of hospitalisation is 50 to 70% lower than with Delta.

Covid booster jabs protect against Omicron and offer the best chance to get through the pandemic, health officials have repeatedly said. …

Questions continue to swirl over possible restrictions in England as the Prime Minister is set to evaluate the rules tomorrow.

Among the proposals being considered is a two-week circuit-breaker, which would include a ban on meeting friends and family indoors.

If the data continues to worsen then he could plunge the UK into further restrictions – with pubs and non-essential shops fearing they could be forced to close.

This could include plans that will prevent Brits meeting others indoors except for work purposes.

Any new restrictions will need to be passed by parliament, meaning that the Prime Minister will have to hold a cabinet meeting to approve his plans.

He would then need to recall parliament and get the support of MP’s to legalise the new restrictions.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Guardian reckons Boris is “leaning away from stricter curbs“. Let’s hope that’s right, but MailOnline has the same story, which suggests it’s a line being briefed out by Downing Street. That, in turn, makes me suspicious. Is Boris hoping to get away with trying to impose new restrictions by claiming he was planning not to but had no choice, given the hospitalisation data?

Stop Press 2: MPs and hospitality bosses have told Boris Johnson that if he brings in new restrictions before New Year’s Eve he will risk “devastating” businesses. MailOnline has more.

A Doctor Writes: An Omicron Tsunami is Coming, isn’t it?

We’re publishing a guest post by our in-house doctor, formerly a senior NHS medic, about the data released this afternoon. Does it support the claim that there’s a tsunami of Covid hospital admissions heading our way? Not really…

I have been asked to give a brief update on some interesting data released this afternoon. I hope readers will forgive a certain festive levity on my part and not consider it too inappropriate. For all I know we may be on the brink of a catastrophe. All I can say for sure is that it didn’t happen today.

Since Professor Whitty predicted at the Downing Street press conference on 15th December that ‘Records will be broken a lot in the next few weeks’, we have been glued to the numbers even more tightly than before. On Thursday afternoons a couple of large data packets are released by the NHS. They contain some surprising information.

Many expert colleagues have been predicting portents of imminent doom on the airwaves in the last week or 10 days. I have heard terms like ‘tsunami’ and ‘avalanche’ used to predict the coming wave of Covid admissions. Being a humble clinician and not an expert epidemiologist, I defer to my specialist colleagues on these points.

Graph 1 shows the extent of the avalanche so far in London, the epicentre of the Omicron wave in the U.K. I have graphed admissions from the community with Covid in London from the December 1st so readers can see for themselves the severity of the catastrophe.

Just Say No, Prime Minister

This feels like a pivotal moment.

Boris could listen to the doom-mongers urging him to impose tighter rules after Christmas, just as Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford have done. The modelling team at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine predicts the number of daily Covid hospital admissions will rise to 7,190 in January, but that’s far from the most apocalyptic scenario. Not to be outdone, Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College have estimated that Covid deaths are likely to rise to 5,000 a day without further restrictions. Hardly surprising, given the virus’s “exponential growth”. According to the Prime Minister’s scientific advisors, the number of daily Omicron infections is doubling every two-to-three days. Or is it every two days? Or every one-and-a-half days? They’re certainly growing very, very quickly. And it isn’t just Chris Whitty screaming in Boris’s ear demanding he do something – anything! – to stop this tidal wave engulfing our beloved NHS. Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament earlier this month that the number of new cases could exceed one million a day by the end of December. That’s in a week’s time. Crikey Moses!

Or Boris could look at the actual data, as several members of his Cabinet have been urging him to do. The data from South Africa suggesting Omicron is 80% milder than Delta. The data suggesting that, far from doubling every couple of days, the number of daily infections is plateauing. The data suggesting that, for whatever reason, the link between Covid infections and hospitalisations has been broken, with Covid hospital admissions remaining largely flat over the past two weeks in spite of the uptick in daily infections. The data on the length of time Omicron patients stay in hospital, with one South African study showing the average hospital stay had been reduced from 8.5 days to 2.8 days. The data – endlessly reproduced on this site – showing that non-pharmaceutical interventions do little or nothing to suppress Covid infections, with every wave following exactly the same trajectory, regardless of the severity of the restrictions, or whether any containment measures are imposed at all.

The reason this is such a momentous decision is because it will set the pattern for every subsequent response of the Government to the emergence of a new variant, of which there will be many. If Boris can hold his nerve over the next week or so and the Omicron fire shows signs of burning itself out without the need for any further measures, that will leave the gloomsters of SAGE looking very silly indeed. It will be obvious to everyone, even the most fanatical lockdown zealot, that they’ve been crying wolf. It might even permanently break the spell they’ve cast over the nation for the past 22 months.

Has Boris Finally Placed His Trust in the Common Sense of the British People Rather than the Cassandras in Lab Coats?

I’ve written a piece for Mail+ praising Boris for deciding not to impose further restrictions at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. This could be a turning point, I argue.

It was the first time a decision about whether to lock down had been made based on real-world data, as opposed to the gloomy predictions of the Sage modellers.

Last week, the UK Health Security Agency – the successor agency to Public Health England – said the number of new daily Covid infections from the Omicron variant had reached 200,000 a day. These figures just hadn’t shown up yet in the Government’s coronavirus dashboard because of reporting delays.

In fact, that number was an estimate based on Sage modelling which, as usual, turned out to be overly pessimistic. In the past seven days, the number of daily Covid cases by specimen date peaked at 102,297 on December 15th, and yesterday, the number of newly reported cases was 91,743. Meanwhile, the UKHSA has quietly withdrawn the 200,000 figure.

We cannot say for certain that daily cases won’t tick up again over Christmas, which is why Boris Johnson has been careful not to rule out any further restrictions. But the data from Gauteng province in South Africa, the centre of the Omicron outbreak, shows cases falling sharply in the past week. That suggests the new variant burns out quite quickly as it runs out of new people to infect.

On Sunday, this prompted South Africa’s ministerial advisory committee on Covid, which is similar to Sage, to recommend that the quarantining of contacts and all contact tracing be halted with immediate effect.

One of the reasons our Government’s scientific advisers have been so gloomy is because the Sage modelling teams have assumed that Omicron is as deadly as the Delta variant, but the data from other countries, including South Africa, implies it’s less likely to result in severe disease or death.

For instance, new data from Denmark suggest Omicron is 60 per cent less likely to result in hospital admission than infections from previous variants.

That might explain why Covid hospitalisations have not been significantly increasing in the UK, in spite of the rise in case numbers, and why they’re falling in South Africa.

Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty have warned of 3,000 new hospital admissions a day if further restrictions aren’t introduced – a figure Sajid Javid quoted in yesterday’s Cabinet meeting when arguing for more severe measures. But on Saturday, just 900 people were admitted to hospital with Covid, not much higher than the 865 daily average for the previous seven days.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Boris has confirmed that no new Covid restrictions will be brought in before Christmas, although he hasn’t ruled out some changes to the rules immediately after Christmas. BBC News has more.

In a video clip released on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said: “What I can say tonight, is that naturally we can’t rule out any further measures after Christmas – and we’re going to keep a constant eye on the data, and we’ll do whatever it takes to protect public health.

But in view of the continuing uncertainty about several things – the severity of Omicron, uncertainty about the hospitalisation rate or the impact of the vaccine rollout or the boosters, we don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas.

We continue to monitor Omicron very closely and if the situation deteriorates we will be ready to take action if needed.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press 2: Philip Thomas, a Professor at Bristol University, writes in the Daily Mail his Covid model has consistently got it right and it’s telling him there’s no need for another lockdown.

Stop Press 3: Andrew Lilico in the Telegraph says we should be able to get through the Omicron outbreak without any further restrictions.

Omicron is an Anagram of Moronic – Which Helps Explain the Government’s Idiotic New Measures to Curb the Spread of the New Virus

At a special Downing Street press conference convened at 5pm, the Prime Minister announced that face coverings would become mandatory in shops and on public transport and everyone arriving in the U.K. would have to take a PCR test, regardless of their vaccination status, in an effort to curb the spread of the new Omicron variant. BBC News has a summary:

* PM says anyone arriving in the UK will be asked to take a PCR test for COVID-19 on the second day
* They would then have to self isolate until they provide a negative test, he says
* Rules on face coverings will be tightened up in shops and public transport, with a review in three weeks

Rather confusingly, Chris Whitty said there was a “reasonable chance” the new variant can partially escape the Covid vaccines and, in the next breath, said it was therefore very important for people to get the booster jab. Eh?

So, if I’ve understood the Government’s reasoning correctly, because two cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in England, it’s essential that as many people as possible should get a booster of a vaccine that is already largely ineffective against the spread of the Delta variant and is even less effective at preventing the spread of this new variant. Clear? Oh, and in addition masks are now going to be mandatory on public transport and in shops, but not in pubs, bars or restaurants because, as any fule know, the Omicron variant poses no threat to people eating or drinking. And this new mask mandate has been imposed in spite of the fact that there’s little robust evidence that tight-fitting, disposable, surgical masks do anything to suppress infection, let alone loose-fitting, multi-use, cloth masks.

Is this a new low in Government idiocy? Has anyone else noticed than ‘Omicron’ is an anagram of ‘Moronic’?

Stop Press: Read Michael Curzon’s reaction to the Downing Street briefing at Bournbrook.

Chris Whitty Worried That the Public Won’t Accept New Covid Restrictions

Chris Whitty has said that his “greatest worry at the moment” is whether, should new restrictions be implemented to fight Covid variants, the Government can “still take people with us” and ensure public compliance with tightening Covid laws. The Chief Medical Officer further stated that it will now be harder to gain public acceptance for more restrictions given that the “people put up with two years of their lives being interfered with”. BBC News has the story.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has said his “greatest worry” is whether people will accept fresh curbs on activities to tackle Covid variants.

His comments came after the Government announced quarantines on travellers from some African countries following the emergence of a new strain.

Whitty said he questioned whether “we could take people with us” if restrictions had to be imposed.

But he added that “my overall view is, I think we will”.

England has been through three national lockdowns since Covid first struck. There have also been many local restrictions imposed at various points during the past 20 months.

Whitty told a panel discussion hosted by the Local Government Association: “My greatest worry at the moment is that people… if we need to do something more muscular at some point, whether it’s for the current new variant or at some later stage, can we still take people with us?”

He admitted that some of the changes the public has had to make have been “very destructive” to society and the economy. However, despite his worries, Whitty struck a positive note, saying he believed the Government will be able to maintain public support for Covid measures.

“I think the extraordinary thing has been the ability of the U.K. population, with very, very small exceptions, to just accept that there are things we collectively have to do to protect one another and do collectively, including things that have been very destructive to social and economic situations for individuals and families,” he said.

“Obviously, we want to avoid having to do those at all if we can, and to do the minimum ones necessary, but will we be able to maintain public support?

I think my overall view is, I think we will.”

There have been a further 50,091 Covid cases in the U.K. and another 160 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, the latest Government figures show.

Both deaths and the number of people admitted to hospital continue to trend lower despite the rise in cases. It is likely we’re seeing the impact of the booster campaign protecting the most vulnerable people and keeping them out of hospital.

Worth reading in full.

Another Question for Chris Whitty

I previously posed a question for Chris Whitty here on the Daily Sceptic. (Outrageously, I have not yet had a response.) To jog your memory, here’s what I asked.

In an interview with The BMJ on 4th November 2020, you (Whitty) characterised the Great Barrington Declaration as “wrong scientifically, practically, and probably ethically as well”.

Yet five months earlier, you had outlined a plan to the Health and Social Care Committee which sounded an awful lot like focused protection. You said that we’re “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”. 

Given that you were recommending focused protection as recently as March of 2020, why did you subsequently describe the Great Barrington Declaration as “wrong scientifically”?

I now have a follow-up question for Professor Whitty. (If he answers this one promptly and in a satisfactory manner, I am willing to forgive his having ignored my first question.)

Professor Whitty, you opined that the Great Barrington Declaration is “probably” wrong ethically. I presume you said this because you believe that focused protection would have led to a higher death toll (notwithstanding the fact that you were recommending it back in March of last year).

The UK’s official death toll is on the order of 150,000. Let’s assume that if we had followed focused protection, the death toll would be double – i.e., 300,000. Note: I don’t consider this remotely plausible, but let’s assume it for the sake of argument.

Now, the ‘UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011’ states that planners should “aim to cope with up to 210,000 – 315,000 additional deaths across the UK over a 15 week period”.

Given that “315,000 additional deaths” is comparable to the number of people who would have died if the UK had followed focused protection, which you regard as unethical, you must regard the UK’s pandemic preparedness plan as unethical too?

If so, why did you not seek to change the plan while you were Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care between 2016 and 2021? Note: the ‘UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011’ was published by this very department.

Thank you for listening, and I once again look forward to your answer.

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.