Fact check

Why is Ofcom Suppressing Covid Information Based on the Advice of a Biased ‘Fact-Checker’ Funded by Google, Facebook and George Soros?

Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has come under fire this week for labelling scepticism of official statistics and statements as “misinformation” during the Covid crisis. The Telegraph has the story.

The broadcasting regulator has been accused of stifling “rational criticism” of the response to Covid by labelling scepticism about Britain’s approach to the pandemic as “misinformation”. 

Amid major controversy over whether official statistics were overstating the prevalence of coronavirus, Ofcom described the idea that there were “a lower number of cases in reality than is being reported” as a “common piece of misinformation”.

It also emerged that the regulator warned broadcasters in the early days of the pandemic that it was prioritising investigations into programmes or news reports featuring advice which “discourages the audience from following official rules and guidance”.

The disclosure will lead to renewed concerns about the approach of the regulator, as the Government seeks a new chairman who can “provide proper scrutiny and challenge”.

Conservative MP Steve Baker described the approach as “dangerous”, stating: “To label any kind of rational criticism as misinformation is unscientific, and a frank rejection of enlightenment values which would catapult us into a new dark age.”

According to the Telegraph, Ofcom has prepared dozens of papers detailing surveys it has carried out relating to Covid, each of which includes a section titled “Misinformation related to Covid”.

All Hail the ‘Swiss Doctor’ and His Facts About COVID-19!

Back in March 2020, as the mainstream virus narrative took shape with suicidal lockdowns at the centre and all dissent smothered, there were few sites early sceptics could go to for a solid second opinion. One that stood out as a font of reliable information was the previously little known (at least in the English-speaking world) website Swiss Policy Research.

On March 14th 2020, three days after the WHO declared a pandemic, a “Note on COVID-19” appeared on the site, which simply said: “A Swiss doctor (internist) asks us to publish the following information on the current situation in order to enable our readers to make a realistic risk assessment.” Shortly renamed “A Swiss doctor on COVID-19“, the page began to be updated everyday, sometimes multiple times a day, and became essential reading for all sceptics trying to stay on top of the fast-changing international situation. While the identity of the original “Swiss doctor” has never been revealed (will they ever let us know who they are?), it was soon expanded to be resourced by a team and in April became the “Facts about COVID-19” page. In May 2020 it moved to monthly updates. You can read all the original daily updates on the web archive here – a fascinating time capsule of how an alternative narrative based on data not panic took shape beneath the radar.

The site was early in raising flags on all these key aspects of the crisis:

  • The evidence for a lab origin
  • The problems with PCR testing, false positives and distinguishing deaths “with” and “from” Covid
  • Infections declining before lockdown and being unaffected by restrictions
  • The dangers of ventilators
  • The lack of evidence for surface transmission
  • The ineffectiveness of masks
  • The problem of deaths caused by lockdown and panic, especially in care homes
  • The importance of early treatment, with the site using its medical expertise to introduce its own protocol in July 2020
  • Issues around vaccine safety and efficacy and the post-vaccine infection spike

The site has been especially useful for hearing from some of Europe’s sceptics, who can otherwise get missed in the Anglophone world. Thai-German virologist Sucharit Bhakdi’s lambasting of lockdowns as “grotesque, senseless, self-destructive, collective suicide” was an early highlight.

Dominic Cummings Blasts Boris for not Imitating China’s Policy of “Welding People Inside Homes” in Fact-Free Twitter Rant

Dominic Cummings has fired off his latest salvo against his former boss ahead of his appearance before MPs to give evidence on May 26th, laying into Boris Johnson and the Government for not locking down sooner, among other complaints.

The disgruntled former chief adviser to the Prime Minister wrote a series of posts on Twitter that began by criticising Sweden’s response before ranging over other issues including human challenge vaccine trials and the transparency of SAGE.

Those of us “obsessed with spreading nonsense on Sweden/lockdowns” are treated to Dom’s “summary evidence on lockdowns”. Unfortunately for him, however, he seems to get his facts from somewhere other than the real world.

Dom takes a shot at the “trade-off argument” – the argument that lockdowns intended to control disease have a lot of downsides. He argues that Taiwan shows how “fast hard effective action [is the] best policy for [the] economy AND for reducing deaths/suffering”, and that “if you REALLY get your act together not only is [the] econ[omy] largely unscathed but life is [close to] normal”. He claims the Government is “totally hostile to learning from East Asia” because they and their advisers believe “Asians all do as they’re told it won’t work here”.

It’s true that East Asian countries have suffered considerably fewer deaths during the pandemic than the countries of Europe and the Americas. But the idea that that is because they imposed lockdowns hard and fast is palpable nonsense. Japan has not imposed a strict lockdown and neither has Taiwan or South Korea (see below). Worth recalling that South Korea has more commonly been lauded for avoiding hard lockdown by being so good at contact tracing, not for being fast to lock down hard. Contact tracing is also very unlikely to be the main reason for South Korea’s epidemic remaining small, but either way there is no basis to Dom’s claim that East Asia’s success is due to hard and fast lockdowns. As for Taiwan’s current “normal”, that involves very tight border restrictions that have been in place since February 6th 2020, and the country has just imposed new restrictions on the capital region Taipei.

New York Times Fact Checks “Deceiving” CDC on Masks and Outdoor Transmission

When the New York Times weighs in to fact check the CDC, you know something is in the wind. On Tuesday, reporter David Leonhardt wrote a scathing criticism of the U.S. Federal Health Authority’s recent advice that “less than 10%” of COVID-19 transmission is occurring outdoors.

Leonhardt points out that while this is technically true, it is like saying “sharks attack fewer than 20,000 swimmers a year” when the actual number is around 150 worldwide. “It’s both true and deceiving,” he says.

He calls this “an example of how the CDC is struggling to communicate effectively, and leaving many people confused about what’s truly risky”. The CDC places “such a high priority on caution that many Americans are bewildered by the agency’s long list of recommendations”.

They continue to treat outdoor transmission as a major risk. The CDC says that unvaccinated people should wear masks in most outdoor settings and vaccinated people should wear them at “large public venues”; summer camps should require children to wear masks virtually “at all times”.

However, in reality, “there is not a single documented Covid infection anywhere in the world from casual outdoor interactions, such as walking past someone on a street or eating at a nearby table”.

Leonhardt digs into the studies that supposedly underpin the CDC’s advice and finds layers of conservative over-caution.

Many of the instances of “outdoor transmission” in the literature turn out to be from construction sites in Singapore. This appears to be a classification issue.

The Singapore data originally comes from a Government database there. That database does not categorise the construction-site cases as outdoor transmission, Yap Wei Qiang, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, told my colleague Shashank Bengali. “We didn’t classify it according to outdoors or indoors,” Yap said. “It could have been workplace transmission where it happens outdoors at the site, or it could also have happened indoors within the construction site.”

The decision that they were outdoors was made by researchers making conservative assumptions.

“We had to settle on one classification for building sites,” Quentin Leclerc, a French researcher and co-author of one of the papers analysing Singapore, told me, “and ultimately decided on a conservative outdoor definition.” Another paper, published in the Journal of Infection and Public Health, counted only two settings as indoors: “mass accommodation and residential facilities.” It defined all of these settings as outdoors: “workplace, health care, education, social events, travel, catering, leisure and shopping.”

Even with this conservative definition, however, the studies still found only a maximum of 1% of infections were caught outdoors.

So where did the CDC get 10% from? Leonhardt enquired and received this statement:

Telegraph’s Global Security Correspondents Claim No Trade Off Between Lockdowns and the Economy

The Telegraph‘s Global Health Security correspondents Paul Nuki and Sarah Newey claimed this morning that there is “no trade off” between the economy and public health when it comes to COVID-19 and lockdowns.

Writing in the newspaper, the correspondents (whose coverage is partly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) write that the “‘health v economy’ trade-off” is “false” because “countries where the virus was swiftly contained – such as Vietnam – have seen less economic damage, plus far fewer deaths”.

This claim, based on one country, fails to acknowledge that the entire South East Asian region, regardless of the measures taken, has had a much milder experience of COVID-19 than some other parts of the world, particularly Europe and the Americas. Furthermore, while it may be true that Vietnam’s early border closures produced better outcomes (there is some evidence of this), that bird has well and truly flown for most of the world so the example of Vietnam is now irrelevant as far as this pandemic is concerned.

Perhaps, though, they have a future pandemic in mind. In fact, the peer-reviewed evidence is that lockdowns have no impact on the epidemic death toll (although it’s worth noting that Vietnam, which Nuki and Newey hold up as an example we should follow in future, has never imposed a full, country-wide lockdown). It’s also not clear how countries which close their borders to an endemic virus can ever hope to open them again – a problem Vietnam is currently experiencing. Vietnam is also not exactly an international global hub.

The article is part of the Global Health Security team’s promotion of an agenda to give the World Health Organisation more funding and more power to declare pandemics faster and be more proactive in ensuring compliance amongst states with public health edicts. They note approvingly that the pandemic has “thrust health to the centre stage, and may be an opportunity to promote a ‘green and healthy recovery'”. They appear to like the idea of a fast-acting global government imposing lockdowns so we can all be like Vietnam and “contain” the virus quickly, supposedly without suffering economic damage despite the vast disruption to the global economy this would bring.

Nuki and Newey highlight the problem of “viral misinformation” as one of 13 “mistakes” made early in the pandemic, though they blame the internet and social media rather than the WHO, despite its part in promoting myths about the virus such as that it doesn’t spread between humans and it doesn’t spread via aerosols.

But are Nuki and Newey engaging in disseminating misinformation of their own, making the bizarre claim that public health containment strategies have no trade-off with the economy based on a single unrepresentative country? When the U.K. economy shrank by a record 9.9% in 2020, this claim is frankly ridiculous and such claims are at odds with the Telegraph‘s overall coverage of the way different countries have managed the pandemic, which has been quite balanced. Should the paper really be allowing a team of journalists whose work is partly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to use its platform to promote an agenda of enhanced global control in the name of public health?

BBC Covid ‘Reality Check’ Needs a Fact Check of Its Own

In its latest “reality check” the BBC attempts to rebut seven of the “most frequently-shared” “false and misleading claims”.

It’s written by Jack Goodman, a “producer, newsreader and reporter at BBC Radio Derby”, and Flora Carmichael, a “journalist and producer with a strong track record of developing media partnerships and managing international projects and teams”.

So you can see why they would be well-qualified to set straight Oxford’s Professor Sunetra Gupta, Harvard’s Professor Martin Kulldorff, Stanford’s Professor Jay Bhattacharya and other eminent sceptics.

Let’s take each of the seven “myths” in turn.

1. “Here we are a year later – the world shut down for a 99.97% survival rate”

Verdict: This figure and similar figures being widely shared, are incorrect.

One recent estimate shows that overall, on average, about 99.3% of people who catch coronavirus survive it, according to statistics analysed by University of Cambridge.

That might not seem like a big difference, but it means that about 70 in 10,000 people are expected to die – not three in 10,000.

The death rate is much higher for older and more vulnerable people.

The “fact check” does not cite any sources for the claims it is debunking so it’s hard to know what the full context is. However, a search on Twitter brings up a number of recent tweets claiming that Covid has a 99.97% survival rate. While taken by itself this is not in line with current best estimates, a number of the tweets claim this is the survival rate once the over-65s have been vaccinated, though without citing a source. One tweet uses data from Minnesota to estimate a survival rate for the under-60s of 99.97%.

The BBC quotes 99.3% (IFR 0.7%) from the Cambridge MRC Biostatistics Unit, but it’s worth bearing mind that this is the same modelling team that produced the notorious projection of more than 4,000 deaths a day by the start of December, modelling which was already wrong on the day it was presented to the public by Witless and Unbalanced.

Professor John Ioannidis has estimated the global IFR for the WHO at 0.23% overall (survival rate 99.77%) and, for people under-70, 0.05% (survival rate 99.95%).

The BBC’s “fact-checked” IFR of 0.7% is therefore on the high side, and if the 99.97% claim refers to the under-60s (or to a scenario where all the over-60s have been vaccinated) then it would be within the ballpark of current data.

The wider point though is that the death rate has been greatly exaggerated, especially for those who are young and without underlying conditions. The median age of death with Covid is 83, and only 388 people under 60 with no underlying conditions died with Covid in English hospitals in 2020. Sweden, a country which did not implement strong restrictions (retail, hospitality and most schools remained open, there were no limits on private gatherings and no mask mandate) experienced only 1.5% excess age-adjusted mortality in 2020.