Chris Whitty

A Doctor Writes: Chris Whitty’s Slide Show Yesterday Was a Blatant Exercise in Biased Data Selection

The following is a guest post from Lockdown Sceptics’ in-house doctor, formerly a senior medic in the NHS.

In early November, Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty were summoned before the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and questioned about their presentation of data to justify a second lockdown. Following their appearance, the government was obliged to ‘correct’ a number of misleading graphics which portrayed the situation as being far more serious than it actually was. The Government was officially criticised by the U.K. statistics watchdog for the misleading presentation.

After last night’s Downing Street press conference I expect Greg Clark, the Committee Chair, will be scheduling a repeat appointment.

Professor Whitty’s presentation was a blatant example of data selection. At the risk of image overload, I will run through a few points he made and quite a few more that he somehow overlooked. This is by no means a comprehensive critique – to be frank, I don’t have time and I doubt the readers have the patience to go through all the egregious errors and data manipulation that went on last night. We will have to leave that to the Science and Technology Committee.

Let’s start with hospital admissions. The official slides measure admissions per 100K population. Here it is, showing an alarming rise in admissions in the North West of England in Graph One.

Lockdown Could Be Extended by “Between Two Weeks and a Month” Following “Grim” Briefing to Ministers by Whitty and Vallance

On Monday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said (and not for the first time): “[It] still remains that there is nothing in the data currently to suggest step four [of the lockdown roadmap] can’t go ahead at the earliest date.” Unfortunately, reports today are far more pessimistic about a June 21st unlock. This is largely due to a “fairly grim” briefing given to ministers by the Government’s two most senior scientific advisers on Monday. The Times has the story.

Britain’s roadmap for easing lockdown could be delayed by a fortnight with cabinet ministers increasingly pessimistic after a “downbeat” briefing from Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance.

The delay would enable all over-50s to be fully vaccinated and leave sufficient time for jabs to take effect before restrictions are lifted.

Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, and Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, yesterday gave a briefing to ministers on the latest data that was described as “fairly grim”.

They emphasised concerns about the rate of transmission of new strains of coronavirus, such as the Indian variant, and that vaccinations did not provide 100% protection. Millions of Britons remain unvaccinated.

One cabinet source said they expected a delay of “between two weeks and a month” but suggested that the political fallout was likely to be limited as long as the full reopening took place before the start of the school summer holidays late next month. Another said that a delay made more sense than a partial lifting of lockdown restrictions to avoid any “confusion” in messaging…

Johnson is expected to make a formal announcement on Monday, when the Government’s social distancing review will be published…

Another cabinet source described the mood in Whitehall as “downbeat”. “We always said it was June 21st at the earliest. We may need another few weeks to let the effects of vaccination take hold. Doing a partial reopening would create confusion. People have planned on the basis of a full reopening. It’s important that the messaging is consistent.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: James Melville is unimpressed by the suggestion of an extension to lockdown. “Hospitalisations are still low. One death [on Monday]. We have a vaccine. After June 21st, we can’t do this anymore. We are done.”

Stop Press 2: Matt Hancock has told four million people in Greater Manchester and Lancashire to “minimise travel”, get tested and only meet outdoors in a further sign that the unlocking will be delayed. MailOnline has more.

Stop Press 3: Rishi Sunak is willing to accept a delay of up to four weeks to the final stage of England’s reopening roadmap, according to the Guardian.

Sunak, the Chancellor, has in the past been regarded as more keen to lift lockdown constraints than some cabinet colleagues. But a Whitehall source said he was not fixated on the June 21st date and was more concerned that when restrictions are lifted, the move can be permanent. “The Treasury’s main thing is that freedoms are irreversible and businesses have clarity,” the source said.

Worth reading in full.

Why Ministers are Telling the Truth When they Say ‘Herd Immunity’ Was Never Government Policy

Home Secretary Priti Patel appeared on Andrew Marr on Sunday and repeated the Government line that “herd immunity” was never the Government’s strategy. “Our strategy was always about protecting public health, saving lives, and protecting the NHS,” she said.

Outside Government it seems to be accepted, including by its defenders, that this is untrue and herd immunity was originally part of the Government’s plan. Referring to allegations by Boris Johnson’s former Chief Adviser Dominic Cummings that the Government was following a herd immunity strategy until March, UnHerd editor Freddie Sayers writes:

Cummings’s big accusation that the initial pandemic response plan, based on flu, included the goal of herd immunity is long-established, as is the fact that the Government initially considered it, then deviated from it rapidly when its implications became clear.

If this is so, why does the Government continue to deny it?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Minister for Business, appeared on Good Morning Britain today to try to explain:

It was never the policy of this Government. Boris Johnson was very clear that the only thing that mattered was that we make sure that we saved lives and we keep our NHS safe and able to function, not only to protect those who might get Covid but also everybody else. … I’m very comfortable that the Prime Minister never had as his policy herd immunity.

Trevelyan was asked about remarks by Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance on March 13th 2020, when he said: “Our aim is to try and reduce the peak, broaden the peak, not suppress it completely. Also, because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease.”

The Times explains the distinction Trevelyan and the Government are seeking to draw.

The War on Pubs is Being Waged by Puritans Against Joy

We’re publishing an original piece by former university teacher Sean Walsh today about the Government’s war on pubs. He sees this as a puritanical crusade intended not just to make sure no one’s having any fun but also to suppress dissent. Here’s an extract:

The Lockdown Sanhedrin, the SAGE clerisy, is itself infected with the virus of puritanism. It’s impossible to look at Chris Whitty without concluding that other people’s enjoyment presents itself to him as a sort of personal Kryptonite. Boris’s self-announced “libertarianism” seems to amount to little more than the thesis that he gets to do what he wants and the rest of us can go hang. But I think it goes deeper than that – the Government and in particular its advisers are in thrall to a metaphysics of joylessness.

At the start of this crisis, the Government decided that it was qualified to make a distinction between those activities which are essential and those which are not. The latter were consequently eliminated from the list of what was permitted. To put it another way, it took upon itself the right to decide what counts as work, and what counts as mere “play”.

But it is not clear that any such distinction exists, and if it does then it does not follow that we should prioritise work over play, even in a pandemic. Aristotle claimed that the “first principle of activity is leisure”: that we work in order to play; that play is a more valuable activity than work because it is something that is done for its own sake. The vulgar utilitarianism which has shaped SAGE’s pandemic response is a crude sanitisation of our understanding of the human soul. Not every worthwhile thing that we do as human persons can be reduced to the requirements of a Downing St data slide.

Worth reading in full.