“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.

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.

Has the Government Been Undermining Social Norms by Imposing Inconvenient Rules It Cannot Enforce?

Since the start of the pandemic, the Government has introduced a plethora of rules concerning when we can and cannot leave our homes.

Anyone with symptoms is meant to self-isolate at home. Ditto for anyone who tests positive or who comes into contact with someone who’s tested positive. People travelling to Britain from overseas must self-isolate too (except football VIPs). And during the lockdown last year, we weren’t supposed to leave our homes for any reason other than work, exercise or food shopping.

Needless to say, these rules have made life difficult for a lot of people – particularly those who travel regularly, or who manage a small business. The current ‘pingdemic’ is wreaking havoc on Britain’s economy, as service-providers struggle to meet demand for lack of staff.

While asking symptomatic people to self-isolate arguably makes sense, it’s less clear whether all the other rules and regulations can be justified. In a 2019 report on pandemic influenza, the WHO recommended things such as ventilation of indoor spaces and isolation of symptomatic individuals. However, it classified “quarantine of exposed individuals” as “not recommended in any circumstances”.

Aside from the considerable inconvenience they cause, there’s another potential downside of the lockdown rules. Because they’re so difficult to enforce, large numbers of people are simply ignoring them. And might this, in turn, be undermining general norms of law-abidingness?

A major study published in The BMJ back in March found that only 43% of symptomatic people fully adhered to self-isolation – and that was based on data from last year, when the disease was seen as much more of a threat. It’s likely that a similar or even lower percentage of people have been complying with all the other rules.

Why does this matter? Studies have shown that when people observe norms being violated, they become more likely to violate norms themselves, leading to the gradual erosion of norm compliance. For example, a 2008 paper found that people were more likely to litter when there was graffiti next to a “No graffiti” sign than when there were no obvious signs of norm violation.

Regarding the pandemic itself, there’s already evidence that the scandal surrounding Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle had a negative effect on adherence to lockdown rules. People reasoned, “If he’s not following the rules, then why should I?”

But the effect might be even more general than that. After witnessing so many examples of lockdown violations over the past year and a half, might people have become more likely to break other rules in society as well? I’m not aware of any evidence of this at the present time, but it doesn’t seem at all implausible.

Of course, one might say: even if the lockdown rules have slightly undermined law-abidingness, they were worth it to control the epidemic. Given the lack of evidence on stay-at-home orders, I am rather doubtful of this. But at the very least, there’s yet another potential cost of lockdown for us to consider.

Governor Ron DeSantis Stands Firm Against Lockdowns as Covid Surges in Florida

The summer surge, driven by the Delta variant, is now underway in America, including reopened states like Florida, Texas, Mississippi and Georgia.

It is very welcome, therefore, to see Florida Governor Ron DeSantis standing firm against those calling on him to impose restrictions. He said:

If anyone is calling for lockdowns, you’re not getting that done in Florida. I’m going to protect people’s livelihoods. I’m going to protect kids’ rights to go to school. I’m going to protect people’s right to run their small businesses. …

We’re going to lift people up, We’re not locking people down.

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.

The Great Betrayal

Destroy their education. Destroy their jobs and their job prospects. Destroy their social life, their friendships, their mental health. Force them to work long hours at school or in physically demanding jobs in uncomfortable and breath-inhibiting face masks. This is what our country has done to our young people in the past 16 months.

Why? In an attempt (and not a very successful one) to protect a small minority of mostly elderly folk who are particularly vulnerable to one disease while we wait in limbo to develop a vaccine and roll it out to the vulnerable population.

Then do we give them back their freedom? Not at all. Then we move the goalposts, making freedom conditional on more and more people getting the vaccine. Until we make it to so-called ‘Freedom Day’, a month later than originally planned, and Boris Johnson chooses then to tell young people that their freedom to do the things they enjoy will be dependent on receiving a vaccine.

A vaccine that uses experimental technology and was rushed through trials without waiting for the full safety data (trials which will never now conclude as the control groups have been vaccinated). A vaccine, or rather vaccines, which the authorities now acknowledge increase the risk of dangerous blood clotting and heart conditions, particularly in younger people. Vaccines for which there are now more reports of fatalities in the U.S. than all other vaccines put together for the past 30 years.

Lockdown Summit of Experts and Analysts Challenges the Narrative on Lockdowns, Testing, Masks and More

The Question Everything Lockdown Summit took place in London yesterday and featured contributions from many of the lockdown sceptics that have featured prominently on this site over the past year, including Professor David Paton, Professor David Livermore, Dr Clare Craig, Toby and myself. The full video recording (nine hours) is now up on Dan Astin-Gregory’s YouTube channel to watch at leisure. The schedule ran as follows, with time stamps within the links.

A Response to Scott Alexander on Lockdowns

The prolific blogger Scott Alexander has written a long post about lockdowns. It’s not too objectionable from a lockdown sceptic’s point of view. For example, he concedes that “lockdowns weren’t necessary to prevent uncontrolled spread” and says that it’s “harder to justify strict lockdowns in terms of the non-economic suffering produced”.

Nonetheless, I do disagree with him on several points, which I will highlight here.

First, he ignores most of the academic studies that have found little or no effect of lockdowns on mortality. For example, he doesn’t mention Simon Wood’s studies finding that infections were in decline before all three U.K. lockdowns. Nor does he mention the paper by Christopher Berry and colleagues which observed “no detectable health benefits” of shelter-in-place orders in the United States.

Despite ignoring these studies, he dedicates a whole section of his post to something called CoronaGame, which he oddly classifies as “Actual Evidence”.

Second, he compares the official COVID-19 death rate up to August 2020 in Sweden with various other countries, and claims that “Sweden comes out looking very bad, but not the literal worst”. He then claims that “it looks even worse when you compare Sweden to other Scandinavian/Nordic countries”.

However, if he had used age-adjusted excess mortality, and had extended his window of analysis up to the end of 2020, Sweden would not have come out “looking very bad”. As I’ve noted several times, Sweden saw age-adjusted excess mortality up to week 51 of just 1.7% – placing it 14 out of 22 European countries.

And there are several reasons why the “neighbour argument” – the argument that we have to compare Sweden to its immediate neighbours rather than the rest of Europe – isn’t very convincing. Sweden saw unusually low mortality in 2019; border controls (not lockdowns) made the difference in the first wave; and once you include the Baltics, Sweden no longer stands out.

Third, he claims the cost of lockdown “is measured in psychological suffering and economic decline”, noting that in order to do a cost-benefit analysis “we should figure out how much stricter lockdowns affected the economy”.

While the economic impact of lockdown certainly constitutes a major entry on the costs side of the ledger, Alexander neglects to mention another negative impact of lockdown, namely the switch to remote learning. As several studies have shown, this resulted in sizeable learning losses, which were concentrated among children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

Alexander’s post offers a decent overview of the debate, but he’s too charitable to the lockdown side, leading him to overstate the benefits of lockdown and understate the costs. Not his best piece of work, in other words.

What SAGE Gets Wrong: The Evidence that Almost Everyone is Exposed During a Surge and Most Are Immune

During a Covid surge, what proportion of the population is exposed to an infective dose of the virus, which they either fight off with no or minimal symptoms or are infected by? This is one of the most important questions scientists need to answer.

It’s closely related to the question of whether lockdowns work. If lockdowns work then, as per SAGE and Imperial orthodoxy, the restrictions successfully prevent the virus from reaching most people, who remain unexposed and susceptible – and hence in need of vaccination to protect them when the protective restrictions are lifted. If lockdowns don’t work, however, then they don’t prevent the virus spreading, and thus the majority of people will be exposed to it as it spreads around unimpeded by ineffectual restrictions.

Another related question is: What proportion of exposed people are infected? Using ONS data we can estimate that around 10-15% of the country tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 over the autumn and winter. How many were exposed to the virus to produce this number of infections? Was it, say, 10-20%, with half to all of them catching the virus? Or was it more like 80-90%, with around 10% being infected? It’s a question that makes all the difference in our understanding of the virus and how to respond to it.

If almost all are exposed during a surge, and relatively few of them are infected, then a number of things follow. First, most people have enough immunity to fight off the virus when exposed to it, and only a small minority become infected. Second, the surge ends when enough of that small minority who are particularly susceptible to this virus or variant acquire immunity through infection, i.e., when herd immunity is reached. Third, there won’t be another surge or wave until there is a new virus or variant which evades enough of the existing population immunity to require herd immunity to be topped up via a further spread of infections.

If, on the other hand, very few are exposed during a surge, and most of them are infected, none of these things is true. It means: Most people have little immunity and are highly susceptible. A surge which infects 10-20% of the population has exposed not much more than that. The surge does not end because of herd immunity but because of restrictions. And there will be another surge as soon as restrictions are eased or behaviour changes and the unexposed begin to be exposed again. SAGE orthodoxy, in other words.

The evidence, however, is strongly supportive of the first position – ubiquitous exposure – not the second, limited exposure.

In What Circumstances are Lockdowns Justified?

We’re publishing a guest post by Dr David McGrogan, an Associate Professor of Law at Northumbria Law School, asking whether the state is ever justified in imposing a lockdown? Dr MrGrogan thinks it might be justifiable in certain limited circumstances, but those haven’t arisen over the past 16 months and are unlikely to rise in the near future.

Whether we like it or not (spoiler alert: none of us does), lockdowns, mandatory face mask wearing, social distancing and so on are now tools of public health policy and will be deployed again – probably next winter. We must continue to oppose this. But we must also recognise that for most of the population – and certainly for our politicians – the question simply is no longer whether these restrictions should be imposed, but which ones and in what circumstances. My personal answer to those questions is ‘none’ and ‘never’, but I have to recognise that insisting on ideological purity on this point will get us nowhere.

We need, in other words, to think seriously about when governments should be permitted to use these extraordinary powers if we have to accept as a matter of fact that they evidently do in practice have them.

Our courts have been singularly unhelpful in providing any guidance on this, having repeatedly spurned opportunities to do so. So have our legislators, who – with honourable exceptions such as Steve Baker and Charles Walker – have at best been pusillanimous, and at worst simply egged the Government on. It is incredible that 18 months into all of this it should still be the case that Government ministers simply appear on TV and in newspapers to tell us what we can and cannot do from month to month without any principled or evidentiary basis, let alone any reference to legal principle. But that is indeed what is happening. This is a humble attempt to remedy that situation.

First, let’s begin by granting that governments should have emergency powers and that this is arguably ultimately what being a government is all about. Few would suggest that the Government’s widespread use of emergency powers during WWII was illegitimate, to use the paradigm example. And let us also grant that there may be circumstances in which governments should exercise those powers to protect the health of the population through controlling disease. If the ‘brain-eating amoeba’, which has an IFR above 95%, were to somehow become airborne and communicable, for example, then there are few who would suggest that the government should not act to attempt to restrict its spread. Magistrates have for many years had the power to order quarantines and restrictions on movement for individual people or groups of people in order to stop the spread of disease, and there is nothing unusual about it – although one does have to say that in cases of truly serious emergency like the imaginary one described above, there probably would not need to be any legal restrictions because people would just stay at home anyway.