Lockdowns

Norway Ends Lockdown After 561 Days of “Toughest Measures” in Peacetime

Mass celebrations and street brawls followed Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s lifting of all lockdown measures – including the need to prove your vaccination status – at 4pm on Saturday, having given less than 24 hours’ notice. Despite urging continued vaccine uptake, the PM insisted the country would not implement strict Covid measures “unless they are professionally justified”. MailOnline has the story.

The Prime Minister’s unexpected unlocking kicked off boozy celebrations the following afternoon which lasted late into Saturday night, with an impromptu rave in Stavanger, a mass brawl in Tønsberg and no less [sic] than 50 fights reported to police in Oslo.

Neither vaccination status nor a negative test result was required for any venue, leading to blockbusting queues outside nightclubs and restaurants packed with dinner reservations as people returned to their favourite hangouts in droves.

Queues for the clubs in Trondheim were so long that several people fainted while waiting to get inside.

Police in the city reported a generally good-natured atmosphere, with revellers singing the national anthem in the streets.

In Tønsberg, police were called after a group of around 10 young men started scrapping outside a nightclub near the pier. Fortunately nobody was seriously injured and the police arrested a 20 year-old man. 

The chaos on the streets provoked an angry response from some, including nightclub manager Johan Hoeeg Haanes in Oslo, who said the Prime Minister could have given more warning.

“That’s exactly what I predicted would happen,” he told the VG newspaper. “It was a life-threatening situation in the city because they [the Government] didn’t give us at least a few days advance notice. This was a dangerous situation, as police said all places were packed.”  

However, others were grateful to be getting back to business despite the challenges for staff.

Worth reading in full.

The Role of Variants in Driving Surges is Good News for Sceptics

As an addendum to my piece yesterday on the evidence for variants driving Covid surges, a comparison between India and neighbouring Bangladesh is illuminating. Once again, the curves below are the positive test rate and they are superimposed on the graphs of variant proportions over time from the CoVariants website.

India

India has had one large surge in 2021 so far, occurring in spring and associated with the Delta variant (which was first identified there; in dark green). It has had no summer surge, and no new variant since.

Bangladesh

Bangladesh, on the other hand, has had two peaks in 2021, a spring peak associated with the Beta variant (light red) and a summer one associated with the Delta variant.

The Government’s Latest Scary Modelling is Already Wrong

There follows a guest post by Daily Sceptic reader Graham Williams (a pseudonym), a maths graduate and by profession an analyser of business plans, models, forecasts and funding requests. He is not impressed with the latest Government pandemic modelling.

I have just read the SPI-M consensus statement paper of September 8th, which appears to be at the heart of the recent stories about possible future lockdowns etc. This paper seems to be as big a load of negative, hyperbolic scaremongering as all the ones they have issued so far this year (February at the start of the roadmap, March, April, June and July).

In paragraph two they state: “SPI-M-O groups have reflected on their modelling of Step 4 of the Roadmap, and despite unexpected falls in cases in mid-July 2021, these scenarios can still be used to consider the future autumn and winter trajectory.”

They appear however not to have reflected that were it not for the unforecast Delta variant their modelling since February would have overstated the position of deaths, cases, and hospitalisations by June 21st by around 1,000%. Even with the rise caused by the variant, their forecasts remained hugely overblown, but they still continue to model with the same flawed methodology.

After paragraph two there follow about 18 paragraphs of largely unsubstantiated waffle with a few facts thrown in.

One of the facts is that R is currently (i.e., at the date of the paper) between 0.9 and 1.1, so broadly flat. The covering page to the report says: “These are not forecasts or predictions… They are based only on the observable trends and data available at the time the projections were produced.”

Had the modelling actually done what it said on the tin, project observable trends, then it would have been in line with their own medium-term projection of September 8th, which shows a fairly flat trend for September, even if arguably the base they have used is a bit low.

We Should Have Trusted Our Immune Systems

There follows a guest post by retired dentist and Daily Sceptic contributor Dr. Mark Shaw, who says that just as dentists are taught to intervene as little as possible and trust the human body, public health experts should heed the same lesson.

As well as dentistry, sport has played a big, happy part of my life. Athletics, cross country and squash mainly but also many other competitive sports. So I was relieved to find that, following a long spell on the NHS waiting list, I wouldn’t need a hip replacement after all. I’d used the waiting time to do as much research on hip physio as possible and found that my mobility was improving steadily and significantly. My experience and knowledge of sports injuries through intense training and competing for my country had definitely helped.

When I sat down with the consultant for the assessment of my hip I described the progress made and how keen I was to avoid, or at least put off, an operation. The consultant orthopaedic surgeon seemed happy with my attitude and said that nothing would improve on my original hip and that, no matter how bad the hip looked on the X-ray, as long as I could function and manage the pain, I should avoid surgical treatment and continue with my physio and general health measures. Happy days!

This experience reminded me of my own profession (including its history) and the training involved and how medical science has responded to Covid.

In the early years of training we were taught about the ‘old’ treatments and how advances in technology had changed the way we removed decay and designed restorative work (fillings, crowns and bridges etc.). After qualifying and through the years this theme continued. Restorative work involves working out how little, if any, healthy tooth tissue you can get away with removing. All our technology and materials still can’t beat the real thing.

Prevention of the causes of gum disease and tooth decay through education is therefore the most important aspect of dentistry in my opinion. Appropriately frequent monitoring (check-ups) – and treatment as a last resort.

Evolutionary Insights on Lockdowns

One aspect of the pandemic that’s received comparatively little attention is the impact that ‘non-pharmaceutical interventions’ have had on pathogens other than SARS-CoV-2.  

All the things we’ve been doing over the past year and a half – lockdowns, voluntary social distancing, frequent use of hand sanitiser – are highly unusual. And they may have reduced our exposure to many different viruses and bacteria.

The potential consequences of this reduced exposure were discussed in an article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last November. That article – which represents the combined efforts of a dozen scientists – lists 10 ‘evolutionary insights’ on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The second insight listed is that members of ‘generation quarantine’ may lack critical microbial exposures. As the authors note: “Quarantine has temporarily halted the regular exposure to novel pathogens that is characteristic of human social interaction.”

While most adults have already been exposed to many pathogens at least once, children may not have been. And proper cognitive development, the authors note, “requires adequate and diverse microbial exposure”.

They cite experimental evidence that animals deprived of normal microbiota during critical windows “develop into adults with altered cognition and anxiety”, as well as evidence that disruptions to the microbiome are associated with some neurodegenerative diseases.

Lockdowns and social distancing, the authors note, will result “in a generation whose neurodevelopment will have been influenced disproportionally more by the microbial environment of their natal family in quarantine than by the outside world”. And the long-term effects of this are “unknown”.

This year, New Zealand has already seen an unusually large outbreak of RSV (a respiratory virus affecting children), which doctors have attributed to an ‘immunity debt’ caused by lockdowns last winter. We may have to wait months or years to get a full picture of the impact on children’s health and development.

All 10 of the ‘evolutionary insights’ listed by Benjamin Seitz and colleagues are interesting, and the paper is worth reading in full.

Justifications for Lockdown Have Implications That Most People Would Not Accept, Say Philosophers

Although nationwide lockdowns are unprecedented in modern history, there’s been remarkably little public debate about whether they are justified ethically. Vague appeals to ‘protecting the NHS’ will not do, especially since the U.K. Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011 says that halting the spread of pandemic influenza virus would be “a waste of public health resources”.  

In a paper due to appear in the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, Samuel Director and Christopher Freiman examine the two main justifications that have been given for lockdown. And they find both of these justifications wanting. In particular, they argue that each one has implications that most people would not accept.

The first major justification for lockdowns is that we have to minimise lives lost (or perhaps life years lost). In other words: we should adopt whichever policy minimises the total number of deaths, and since lockdown is the policy that achieves that, we should implement lockdowns.

As an example of this justification, the authors quote the former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who said, “We’re not going to put a dollar figure on human life. The first order of business is to save lives, period. Whatever it costs.”

Yet upon reflection, this justification makes very little sense. For example, it would imply that governments should drastically reduce speed limits to prevent all road deaths – at the cost of time, convenience and economic efficiency. (Or perhaps they’d have to ban cars altogether.)

As I’ve previously noted: “Society has functions other than simply extending people’s lives for as long as possible. If it did not, we’d spend a much higher fraction of GDP on healthcare, and we’d ban alcohol, smoking and extreme sports.”

The second major justification for lockdowns is that we must defer to experts. In other words: we should adopt whichever policy the experts advocate, and since the experts advocate lockdown, that is what we should do.

Aside from the fact that many experts were against lockdown – not to mention the difficulty of even defining ‘expertise’ in this area – insisting that we must defer to experts has implications that many people would reject.

For example, it would imply that we should adopt free trade, open immigration, legalisation of some drugs, and perhaps even markets in human organs – since these policies all receive support from academic economists. Note: I’m not saying these are all necessarily bad policies; but they can’t be justified purely on the basis of what ‘the experts’ believe. 

According to the authors, the only justification that actually makes sense is that lockdowns have large “net welfare benefits”, i.e., their benefits in terms of lives saved outweigh all the costs they impose on society. However, as a matter of empirical fact, the authors doubt that lockdowns do have large “net welfare benefits”.  

For example, they entertain economist Bryan Caplan’s argument that the reduction in quality of life alone may have offset any lives saved by lockdowns. (Though of course, there’s not much evidence that lockdowns have saved lives in most of the countries where they’ve been tried.)

Director and Freiman’s paper provides a good overview of the debate over the ethics of lockdown, and is worth reading in full.

Boris Johnson Will Impose New Lockdown if Reported Covid Deaths Reach Around 1,000 a Week, According to Government Sources

The Prime Minister is said to have devised a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether he should plunge the country into another lockdown. A Government adviser says Johnson would be minded to impose further restrictions if the reported number of Covid-related deaths in the U.K. over the space of a year looked likely to rise above 50,000 (that’s just under 1,000 a week, or 137 a day). i news has the story.

Downing Street has denied it has set any “acceptable level” of Covid deaths but one adviser, who has been close to the Government since coronavirus struck 18 months ago, told i that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had privately accepted that there would be at least a further 30,000 deaths in the U.K. over the next year, and that the Prime Minister would “only consider imposing further restrictions if that figure looked like it could rise above 50,000”.

The Government’s cost-benefit analysis on Covid measures is believed to set not only the acceptable level of cost to save the life of a Covid patient at up to £30,000, but also how much each life lost costs the U.K. economy.

It is understood the analysis shows that the cost of keeping the annual death rate below 50,000 would outweigh the cost to the U.K. economy of allowing it to rise above this level.

As i revealed earlier this month, the Government has put contingency plans in place should the rate of infection and deaths rise to an “unacceptable level”.

The source said: “The Prime Minister is minded to implement another lockdown or new restrictions only if the figure of annual deaths looks like it’s going to go above 50,000. That means deaths from Covid of 137 a day, or just under 1,000 a week.

“However, it won’t be an immediate reaction. A sustained rate of death of around a 1,000 a week for two or three weeks will, though, lead to discussion on restrictions being reimposed. Unfortunately, prime ministers have to weigh up the cost of saving lives to the impact on the economy. No one wants to talk about that’s how it works.” …

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “There is no set number of acceptable deaths from Covid.”

But one of the Government’s most senior scientific advisers has also suggested the cost of saving lives could be a factor in the strategy.

Worth reading in full.

When Will Neil Ferguson Admit He Got it Wrong?

We’re publishing another critique today, this one by Glen Bishop, of the new paper in Nature by Neil Ferguson and others claiming that a lockdown in Sweden would have resulted in a two- to four- fold reduction in mortality. Hard to credit they’re still banging this drum, given that Ferguson’s team originally predicted the absence of a lockdown in Sweden would have resulted in up to 90,000 deaths by July 2020. The real number was 5370. When will Ferguson admit he simply got it wrong?

In the latest episode of the Imperial modelling saga, Imperial have dusted off old modelling techniques and cherry picked the time scale and countries in a study to try to disparage the Swedish success, the Achilles heel of the lockdown lobby. In the paper published in Nature, Imperial propose a counterfactual model, whereby the Danish, Swedish and British responses to coronavirus are transposed to the other two countries respectively, to compare the effectiveness of each approach in reducing covid mortality when accounting for the heterogeneities between the countries.

Imperial’s team models the respective change in R value through the first months of the pandemic using the death data from each country. Interestingly, it implies that the R0 value of the virus in March 2020 in the U.K. was around 4.5, far higher than previous estimates of 2.5 to 3. These changes in the R-value are then applied to the other countries. The problem is that the Imperial team then retrospectively model the pandemic for each hypothetical scenario using the same flawed modelling techniques which have consistently been wildly inaccurate. Despite Professor Ferguson misleading Matt Ridley at a select committee hearing to suggest Imperial had not produced estimates for Sweden, his Imperial team had in fact predicted between 30,000 and 42,000 deaths in Sweden with social distancing lockdowns and up to 90,000 deaths by July 2020 if the pandemic was left unmitigated. By July 2020 the actual figure was 5370, an order of magnitude below Imperial’s predictions.

Another Cost-Benefit Analysis Finds That Lockdowns Weren’t Worth It

Did the costs of lockdown outweigh the benefits? Numerous analyses have concluded ‘yes’. However, these were all carried out by academics or independent researchers. To my knowledge, no Western government has published a cost-benefit analysis of lockdown (presumably due to what it might show).

In an unpublished paper, the economic consultant L. Jan Reid has attempted a cost-benefit analysis of lockdown in the United States. He in fact reports two separate analyses: first, what he calls a “traditional analysis”; and second, what he calls his “preferred analysis”.

Reid’s traditional analysis makes the unrealistic assumption that every life lost is valued equally at $7.8 million (which is the average value from a list of published estimates). It yielded a benefit/cost ratio slightly greater than one, suggesting the lockdowns were worth it. On the other hand, three out of four sensitivity analyses yielded benefit/cost ratios of less than one.

By contrast, Reid’s preferred analysis makes the much more realistic assumption that the value of lives lost decreases with age, such that each 20 year old represents a loss of $11 million, whereas each 70 year old represents a loss of $1.5 million.

To estimate the total benefits of lockdown, he multiplies the estimated number of lives saved in each age-group by the ‘economic value of life’ for that age-group, and then sums the values across all age-groups.

When calculating the costs of lockdown, Reid includes the hit to GDP, money spent on federal stimulus programs, lives lost from the restrictions themselves, and several other items. Overall, his preferred analysis yields a benefit/cost ratio far below one, indicating that the lockdowns weren’t worth it.

While I suspect Reid overestimates lives lost from the restrictions themselves, the benefit/cost ratio is still below one even excluding this particular item. What’s more, he uses a very liberal estimate of the number of lives saved by lockdowns – approximately two million. The true figure, I would guess, is substantially less than this.

Reid concludes that the “cost of the lockdowns was up to 10 times greater than the benefits”. You may not agree with all his assumptions, but the paper is worth reading in full.

How Much Did Lockdown Affect U.K. Mobility?

The mainstream narrative concerning England’s national lockdowns is that each one arrested a steep upward trend in daily infections that would have otherwise continued unabated. Infections were rising; we had a lockdown; and infections started falling.

However, there are several reasons to doubt this narrative. To begin with, the international evidence suggests the impact of lockdowns on COVID-19 outcomes was marginal at best. They only ‘worked’ – in the sense of halting a nascent epidemic – in a small number of geographically peripheral Western countries, like Australia and New Zealand.

Next, the statistician Simon Wood crunched the numbers on the three English lockdowns, and found that infections were already declining before each one was introduced. His analysis is consistent with the time-course of infections reconstructed by researchers on the REACT antibody survey.

What’s more, the economist David Paton identified seven separate indicators, each showing that infections peaked before the third English lockdown. Indeed, lockdowns are often imposed around the peak of the curve, as governments come under increasing pressure to ‘do something’ about rising case numbers. (Back in July, Chris Whitty told MPs the epidemic was probably already in retreat when the first full lockdown was imposed.)   

The way lockdowns are assumed to work is by reducing the number of interactions that result in viral transmission. However, distinguishing their impact from that of voluntary changes in behaviour is no easy feat (see my recent interview with Philippe Lemoine).

What’s more, since transmission is driven by ‘superspreaders’ (those few individuals who account for a disproportionate share of infections), the relationship between interactions and infections isn’t necessarily linear. For example, reducing interactions by 50% may reduce infections by much less than 50%.

Rather than trying to tease out the effect of lockdowns on infections, one can look at their impact on mobility. If lockdowns are what account for the curves peaking and then falling, one would expect to see sudden declines in mobility just after lockdowns are introduced. And you’d expect these declines to be sustained until case numbers had come down substantially.

Is that what we see? We know from the Google mobility index that there was a rapid decline in mobility during March of 2020, though that decline began seven to 10 days before the first lockdown commenced (on March 24th). This is shown in the chart below: