Freedom Day

Ministers Believe Boris’s Freedom Day ‘Gamble’ has Paid Off

According to this morning’s Mail on Sunday, ministers privately believe that falling Covid infection levels in the U.K. – and rising cases on the continent – amount to a vindication of Boris Johnson’s decision to release lockdown restrictions earlier than European countries like Germany and the Netherlands, currently in the grip of surging infections.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that about one in 60 people in England had Covid in the week to November 6th – down from one in 50 the previous week.

Government sources are pointing to the contrast with Germany, which is in the grip of a devastating fourth wave with the number of confirmed daily cases quadrupling in a month.

The Netherlands has returned to a three-week partial lockdown after its prime minister, Mark Rutte, said: “The virus is everywhere and needs to be combated everywhere.”

The move was greeted by anger on the streets of The Hague on Friday night as demonstrators hurled stones, fireworks and bicycles.

Riot police retaliated by firing water cannon after warnings that hospitals would be overwhelmed without closing bars, restaurants and supermarkets early. Austria is also set to impose a lockdown on unvaccinated people.

The UK is in a different position and yesterday Professor Neil Ferguson said Britain was “in quite a different situation from those European countries”.

The epidemiologist, dubbed Professor Lockdown for his modelling that influenced the first UK shutdown, added: “I think it is unlikely we will get anything close to what we had last year, that catastrophic winter wave.

“We might see slow increases as we did in October, for instance, but not anything as rapid as we saw last year.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he continued: “We can’t be complacent, but at the moment I don’t think we’ll be in a situation the Netherlands is coming into where they really do need to get on top of rising case numbers using social distancing. I very much hope we can avoid that in this country.”

Worth reading in full, although if Imperial’s answer to Mystic Meg is predicting clear skies it may be time to batten down the hatches.

Boris Was Right to Release All Restrictions Freedom Day, Says Professor Lockdown

Releasing all Covid restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’ was the right thing to do despite outcry at the time, a study for Imperial College London led by ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson has found. MailOnline has more.

Imperial College London researchers praised the roadmap more generally, saying that it was ‘largely successful at limiting infection levels’.

They said No 10 timed the easing of restrictions well because the dates of each step of the roadmap allowed vaccines to get into the arms of those most at risk.

And the study said it was prudent to delay ‘Freedom Day’ nearly a month from its original date on June 26th after the emergence of the Delta variant.

This decision alone prevented at least 2,000 hospital admissions per day, they found. This ultimately saved countless lives.

Experts previously criticised No10 for being ‘unscientific ‘ and argued Boris Johnson lifted restrictions too early on July 19th.

But scientists like Professor Christ [sic] Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said that abandoning curbs in summer would take some of the sting out of a winter wave by getting infections out of the way.

Scientists including SAGE behavioural science subcommittee member Professor Stephen Reicher and Independent SAGE members Professors Christina Pagel and Martin McKee slammed the return to normality in July as “dangerous and unethical” at the time.

And international health leaders including former Australian health department secretary Stephen Duckett warned opening up was “foolish”.

But the new research suggests the Prime Minister’s course was the right plan of action — even with the unanticipated problems posed by Delta.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Sir Patrick Vallance has advised Boris to “go hard and early” with masks and ‘Plan B’ at first sign of rebounding cases. MailOnline has more.

The Figures Don’t Match Up To the Fear, a Doctor Writes

There follows a guest post from our in-house doctor, formerly a senior medic in the NHS, who says the widely trailed tsunami of hospitalisations has not only failed to arrive after ‘Freedom Day’, but we seem to be on the downslope of the ‘third wave’.

The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once remarked: “Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.” I have been reflecting on that comment, now we are three weeks since the inappropriately named July 19th ‘Freedom Day’. Readers will remember the cacophony of shrieking from assorted ‘health experts’ prophesying certain doom and a tidal wave of acute Covid admissions that would overwhelm our beleaguered NHS within a fortnight. Representatives from the World Health Organisation described the approach as “epidemiologically stupid”. A letter signed by 1,200 self-defined experts was published in the Lancet predicting imminent catastrophe.

Accordingly, this week I thought I should take a look at how the apocalypse is developing and then make some general observations on the centrality of trust and honesty in medical matters.

Let’s start with daily admissions to hospitals from the community in Graph One. Daily totals on the blue bars, seven-day rolling average on the orange line. Surprisingly the numbers are lower than on July 19th. How can that be?

Perhaps there are more patients stacking up in hospitals – sicker patients tend to stay longer and are hard to discharge, so the overall numbers can build up rather quickly. So, Graph Two shows Covid inpatients up to August 5th. Readers should note that Graph Two includes patients suffering from acute Covid (about 75% of the total) plus patients in hospital for non-Covid related illness, but testing positive for Covid (the remaining 25%). How strange – numbers seem to be falling, not rising. This does not fit with the hypothesis – what might explain this anomalous finding?

Maybe the numbers of patients in ICU might be on the increase – after all, both the Beta variant and the Delta variant were said to be both more transmissible and more deadly than the Alpha variant. Graph Three shows patients in ICU in English Hospitals up to August 5th. It shows a similar pattern to Graph Two – a small fall in overall patient numbers in the last two weeks. I looked into the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre ICU audit report up to July 30th. This confirms the overall impression from the top line figures. Older patients do not seem to be getting ill with Covid. Over half the admissions to ICU with Covid have body mass indices over 30. Severe illness is heavily skewed to patients with co-morbidities and the unvaccinated. Generally speaking, the patients have slightly less severe illness, shorter stays and lower mortality so far.

Finally, we look at Covid related deaths since January 1st, 2021, in Graph Four. A barely discernable increase since the beginning of April.

So, whatever is going on with respect to the progress of the pandemic, the widely trailed tsunami of hospitalisations has not arrived yet – in fact, we seem to be on the downslope of the ‘third wave’.

Why Isn’t It “All Over Bar the Shouting”? Why Aren’t We Back to Normal Yet?

Positive Covid tests as reported by Public Health England declined again yesterday to 29,622 after two days of going up a bit. ONS data, also out yesterday, confirmed that infections have peaked and declined in the past 10 days among people over 16 – though, unexpectedly, also showed a surge among the under-16s that appears not to have been picked up by PHE. Is this because parents have stopped testing their children and reporting it to PHE now school is out and holidays are approaching? Some have suggested the ONS is picking up ‘cold positives’ from old infections. Either way, all eyes are on the data to see what will happen next.

But should they be? After all, what now are we waiting for? All the vulnerable and more are vaccinated, and the vaccines appear to give a decent enough protection from serious disease and death. Or even if they don’t, there’s nothing more that can be done, so we might as well go back to normal anyway and the virus will do whatever it does, and the vaccines will do whatever they do.

With all our delaying of lifting restrictions – planning to take an indefensible four months over it and in the event taking five, and then doing it half-heartedly, leaving strongly-worded guidance in place – it’s hard to believe that Florida ended all statewide restrictions in autumn 2020 and Texas and some other states did so in spring 2021. They saw no new surge after the winter – not until Delta arrived in the last few weeks, suggesting that it’s not lifting restrictions that causes surges (and thus it wasn’t imposing them that ended them) but new variants, presumably due to their partial immune evasion temporarily disrupting herd immunity.

But even so, Delta has shown that it’s nothing much to be afraid of, with the U.K.’s infection rate dropping following the lifting of restrictions on July 19th, having peaked by specimen date on July 15th at 60,665 positive tests. Scotland peaked over two weeks earlier at the end of June.

What more, then, is the Government waiting for? The only reason we were given for still being cautious was uncertainty over the threat from Delta, with Government advisers issuing warnings in the run-up to ‘Freedom Day’ of massive waves of infections and hospitalisations. We now know that this didn’t happen. Even if reported infections don’t continue to drop like they have in the last fortnight, we know that the threat was greatly overblown and the doomy models (which have always exaggerated the risk, as Sweden and South Dakota attest) can’t be trusted.

Google Mobility Data Suggest That ‘Freedom Day’ Will Not Cause a Rebound in Cases

New daily infections have fallen by 31% over the last seven days, causing some consternation and head-scratching in the epidemiological modelling community.

Neil Ferguson, for example, had claimed only ten days ago that cases reaching 100,000 per day was “almost inevitable”. Yesterday he backtracked, noting that “the equation has fundamentally changed”. (One hopes he was referring to the equations in his model.)

As to why daily infections have been falling, some epidemiologists have said the full effects of ‘Freedom Day’ are yet to appear in the data. ‘Freedom Day’, you will recall, was when some remaining lockdown measures were lifted on the 19th of July.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister told reporters, “Step Four of the opening-up only took place a few days ago, people have got to remain very cautious and that remains the approach of the Government.”

Aside from the fact that ‘Freedom Day’ was nine days ago, and you’d expect any effects to show up by now, there’s another indicator suggesting that a rebound in cases is unlikely – the Google mobility index.

Google publishes regular reports on the level of mobility in most of the world’s countries, based on smartphone data. Looking at the latest U.K. numbers, there is no evidence of any change in behaviour caused by ‘Freedom Day’.

The chart below shows the retail mobility index. (Numbers are percentage changes relative to the baseline; ‘Freedom Day’ is marked with a red line.) As you can see, there was no sudden increase on the 19th of July.

The next chart the residential mobility index. Once again, there was no sudden decrease on the 19th of July. (And the other four sub-indices show the same pattern.)

Of course, the Google mobility index isn’t a perfect guide to behaviour. And given that rapid decreases in case numbers have occurred in the absence of mobility changes, it’s possible that rapid increases could too. Nonetheless, these figures suggest that daily infections aren’t about to rebound, and we don’t need to “remain very cautious”.

“This is Still a Very Dangerous Disease,” Says Boris Johnson. But Neil Ferguson Disagrees: “The Equation has Fundamentally Changed”

Boris Johnson today told reporters that Covid is “still a very dangerous disease” as he encouraged people to stick with self-isolation when ‘pinged’. “Don’t forget, we will be coming forward with a new system from August 16th,” he said during a visit to Surrey Police HQ in Guildford. “Until then please everyone, stick with the programme.”

He also warned against drawing “premature conclusions” from the dropping coronavirus case numbers, saying:

I’ve noticed, obviously, that we are six days in to some better figures. But it is very, very important that we don’t allow ourselves to run away with premature conclusions about this. Step Four of the opening-up only took place a few days ago, people have got to remain very cautious and that remains the approach of the Government.

The PM’s remarks may be little more than prudent caution, but describing Covid as “still a very dangerous disease” doesn’t tally with the fatality rate, always very low for most of the population at below 0.1%, and now apparently reduced further including for those at higher risk by the vaccination programme. Does Boris not believe the vaccines are effective? If he doesn’t, what was the point of them? The Government needs to sort out its messaging on this.

Caroline Lucas MP Says “Cases Are Soaring”. Hasn’t She Seen the Data?

A reader has forwarded an email sent by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas via the platform of March for Change in which she reiterates the need for an immediate public inquiry into the Government’s handling of Covid. As with most people calling for a Covid inquiry, she accused Boris Johnson of lifting the coronavirus restrictions “too soon”. That restrictions suppress infections is simply taken for granted.

The odd thing about this email is that it appears to have been written a week ago since it makes no reference to the fact that the number of daily cases yesterday was 40% lower than it was on July 18th, the day before ‘Freedom Day’. By going ahead with ‘Freedom Day’, Caroline Lucas claims, the Prime Minister has “chosen to bury his head in the sand and simply hope for the best”. As a result of this criminal recklessness, “the third wave of Covid [is] sweep[ing] across the country”, she says, and”cases are soaring”.

In fact, official figures show that cases are falling or levelling off in every region of England, including Caroline Lucas’s Brighton constituency. As Will Jones has pointed out, “the myth of the exit wave persists” – and the fact that this myth is so impervious to facts makes it look like a pro-Lockdown conspiracy theory.

The same goes for Lucas’s claim that hospitals are filling up (see orange line in graph below).

Professor Adam Finn of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation says the fall in reported Covid cases “means less viral transmission and eventually fewer hospitalisations and deaths than we feared and expected a week ago”. The biggest problem faced by the NHS is the huge backlog of patients who haven’t received treatment because of successive lockdowns. Not to mention those whose illnesses haven’t even been diagnosed. Isn’t Caroline Lucas concerned that sending out emails like this, including false claims about the case rate, will discourage even more sick people to seek much-needed hospital treatment?

Next time Lucas accuses a lockdown sceptic of trafficking in ‘misinformation’, they should point to this dangerously misleading email.

Stop Press: U.K.’s Covid cases have dropped for the sixth day in a row, according to MailOnline.

Stop Press 2: The Director of March For Change has tweeted an apology to Caroline Lucas for sending out an out-of-date, earlier draft of an email in her name. This is almost certainly a result of our eagle-eyed reader bringing this matter to our attention, the above article and those other Daily Sceptic readers who emailed Caroline Lucas’s office to point out the mistake.

As Infections Plummet Following ‘Freedom Day’ the Models Predicting Catastrophe are Exposed as Fatally Flawed

As reported positive cases plummet following ‘Freedom Day’ – down to 24,950 across the U.K. on Monday, less than half the peak of 54,674 just nine days earlier – the damage limitation among the doomsters begins.

In the Spectator , Professor Oliver Johnson of Bristol University stepped up this morning to try to explain.

He starts by observing that “for the first time in 18 months, there’s been a fall in cases that can’t be easily explained by a national lockdown”. Yet the Spectator recently published an article by Professor Simon Wood showing that new infections peaked and fell before lockdown on all three occasions in England. Did the editors forget to bring it to Professor Johnson’s attention?

Next, Professor Johnson offers some reasons why it may yet be a false dawn.

Indeed it’s possible that the peak in cases, welcome though it is, could only be a local maximum with further rises to come. The rapid reversal in trajectory (from 40% increases between corresponding days of the week to 40% decreases) seems too sudden to be caused by a rapid gain in immunity. It seems more likely to be due to changes in behaviour, with school holidays, the end of the European Championship football and recent hot weather meaning that infected people have had fewer opportunities to spread the disease.

You could have made a similar argument about Covid peaking in Bolton, one of the first places hit by the Delta variant. There was plenty of talk of local herd immunity there. But it’s worth noticing that those falls were subsequently reversed.

And here’s the risk now: what behaviour gives, behaviour can take away. I don’t think anyone can be certain if and when Covid might start going up again. But Scotland gives us hope that sustained falls may be possible.

So far we haven’t even seen the effect of the July 19th reopening in the data, let alone people following now-deleted advice not to ‘cower’, plus there’s the return to schools and universities to come, seasonal effects coming back in the autumn and so on.

The argument that “what behaviour gives, behaviour can take away” is precisely why the models always predict exit waves. Yet the modellers don’t seem to have noticed that these exit waves never happen. There was no exit wave in the U.K. or Europe in summer 2020, nor in spring 2021 in the U.K. as restrictions were eased, nor in the U.S. as measures were lifted. Yet the myth of the exit wave persists.

Clubs and Bars Packed Out in First Friday Since Easing of Restrictions on July 19th

People should stick to the behaviours that have become “second nature” over the past year of lockdowns, such as mask-wearing in crowded spaces, according to the latest Government ad campaign. But if clubs and bars are anything to go by, many people would much rather return to normal.

Thousands of punters packed out venues across the country on Friday night – the beginning of the first weekend since ‘Freedom Day’. But with the introduction of vaccine passports in sight, it is unclear how long this will be allowed to last. The MailOnline has the story.

In major party hubs across the U.K., from London to Liverpool to Leeds, tens of thousands of young people descended on packed – and sold-out – events on Friday night.

Pictures taken at the stroke of midnight show huge queues forming outside venues in Newcastle, and hundreds of young people partying in Portsmouth.

Approximately 100,000 punters are expected to let their hair down across the country as partygoers dance the night away without major Covid restrictions for the first time in 16 months. …

Furious hospitality chiefs, MPs and civil liberties campaigners have slammed Boris Johnson’s plans to make vaccine passports compulsory in clubs come September.

And with fears growing of a staffing crisis in pubs, clubs and bars, sparked by the record-breaking number of alerts sent to workers thanks to the ‘pingdemic’, hospitality staff will not be exempt from self-isolation rules despite major concerns from industry leaders.

Venues are gearing up to host thousands inside packed – and largely sold-out – clubs, pubs and bars across the nation throughout the week after most legal restrictions on contact were eased on ‘Freedom Day’.

Several club nights advertised the long-awaited return of freedoms, such as face coverings no longer being required and social distancing measures shelved – with many setting lofty targets of pulling in more than 1,000 patrons a night.

On popular online ticket selling platforms such as Fatsoma and Eventbrite, there are over 200 clubbing events lined up in big party cities across the U.K., including London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. …

Using numbers shared on ticket sales websites, there could be close to 70,000 revellers enjoying club nights in major party hubs across the U.K. if the venues operate at full capacity and can attract punters in droves.

Worth reading in full.

U.K. Positive Cases Plummet 33% in Week Following ‘Freedom Day’

How many positive tests will we reach following the lifting of restrictions? One hundred thousand, as predicted by Health Secretary Sajid Javid? Two hundred thousand, as Professor Neil Ferguson suggested? One thing all the doom-mongers have been confident of is that there will be an exit wave as restrictions are lifted and it will be big. After all, lots of people are still unvaccinated, the vaccines are imperfect, and everyone is mixing again.

Yet what has happened? In the past six days new reported infections have declined from a high of 54,674 on Saturday July 17th down to 36,389 today, a drop of over 33% in just six days. This is despite the lifting of restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’ last Monday.

It can’t be repeated often enough that this demolishes all the models and exposes their assumptions as fundamentally flawed. None of the models predicted anything other than exponential growth at this point as people mingled and dropped the masks. After all, prevalence was high and rising, people were mingling more not less, lots of people are still susceptible (so they assume) – why should it stop? But it did. Unless and until a model can predict data like this it should be regarded as little more than elaborate but flawed guesswork.