Neil Ferguson

Professor Lockdown’s ‘Apocalyptic’ Omicron Predictions Have Fuelled Unnecessary Shutdowns

The alarmist claims of Neil Ferguson and his modelling team at Imperial College have fuelled vaccine scepticism and led to needless lockdowns being imposed all over Europe, according to several leading scientists. The Telegraph‘s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has more.

The Covid modellers at Imperial College have begun to back down. About time too. Over the past few weeks, they have made extreme claims about the omicron variant that cannot be fully justified by fundamental science, let alone by clinical observation.

Academic etiquette restrains direct criticism, but immunologists say privately that Professor Neil Ferguson and his team breached a cardinal rule by inferring rates of hospitalisation, severe disease, and death from waning antibodies, and by extrapolating from infections that break through the first line of vaccine defence.

The rest are entitled to question whether they can legitimately do this. And we may certainly question whether they should be putting out terrifying claims of up to 5,000 deaths a day based on antibody counts.

“It is bad science and I think they’re being irresponsible. They have a duty to reflect the true risks but this is just headline grabbing,” said Dr Clive Dix, former chairman of the UK Vaccine Task Force.

Needless to say, these headlines have spread as fast as omicron itself. Britain is the Covid laboratory of the developed world, and what Imperial says right now has global resonance. Its dire warnings are contributing to some European countries imposing full or partial Christmas lockdowns.

Governments are so alarmed by the possibility that healthcare systems might collapse under pressure that they have neglected the opposite risk – and much more probable outcome – that omicron will largely bounce off a population where almost everybody has cell immunity from vaccines or past infection, and in the case of Britain where most vulnerable people have been triple jabbed for good measure.

“To talk of 5,000 deaths a day is a very high number. It is risky to push apocalyptic scenarios that are highly unlikely to happen,” said Professor Francois Balloux, Director of the UCL Genetics Institute.

“What I am more worried about is a loss of trust in governments and public institutions for crying wolf. The mood is changing everywhere.”

Worth reading in full.

Just Say No, Prime Minister

This feels like a pivotal moment.

Boris could listen to the doom-mongers urging him to impose tighter rules after Christmas, just as Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford have done. The modelling team at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine predicts the number of daily Covid hospital admissions will rise to 7,190 in January, but that’s far from the most apocalyptic scenario. Not to be outdone, Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College have estimated that Covid deaths are likely to rise to 5,000 a day without further restrictions. Hardly surprising, given the virus’s “exponential growth”. According to the Prime Minister’s scientific advisors, the number of daily Omicron infections is doubling every two-to-three days. Or is it every two days? Or every one-and-a-half days? They’re certainly growing very, very quickly. And it isn’t just Chris Whitty screaming in Boris’s ear demanding he do something – anything! – to stop this tidal wave engulfing our beloved NHS. Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament earlier this month that the number of new cases could exceed one million a day by the end of December. That’s in a week’s time. Crikey Moses!

Or Boris could look at the actual data, as several members of his Cabinet have been urging him to do. The data from South Africa suggesting Omicron is 80% milder than Delta. The data suggesting that, far from doubling every couple of days, the number of daily infections is plateauing. The data suggesting that, for whatever reason, the link between Covid infections and hospitalisations has been broken, with Covid hospital admissions remaining largely flat over the past two weeks in spite of the uptick in daily infections. The data on the length of time Omicron patients stay in hospital, with one South African study showing the average hospital stay had been reduced from 8.5 days to 2.8 days. The data – endlessly reproduced on this site – showing that non-pharmaceutical interventions do little or nothing to suppress Covid infections, with every wave following exactly the same trajectory, regardless of the severity of the restrictions, or whether any containment measures are imposed at all.

The reason this is such a momentous decision is because it will set the pattern for every subsequent response of the Government to the emergence of a new variant, of which there will be many. If Boris can hold his nerve over the next week or so and the Omicron fire shows signs of burning itself out without the need for any further measures, that will leave the gloomsters of SAGE looking very silly indeed. It will be obvious to everyone, even the most fanatical lockdown zealot, that they’ve been crying wolf. It might even permanently break the spell they’ve cast over the nation for the past 22 months.

Neil Ferguson Makes the Case for Focused Protection

Neil Ferguson, a.k.a. ‘Professor Lockdown’, isn’t the first person you’d expect to be making the case for focused protection. But that’s more or less what he did in a BBC interview last week.

Britain, the professor noted, is in a “quite different position” from countries like the Netherlands and Germany – both of which recently posted their highest infection rates since the pandemic began (despite the presence of mask mandates and vaccine passports).

“We’ve had very high case numbers,” Ferguson continued, “between 30,000 and 50,000 a day – really for the last four months.” And this has “paradoxically” had the effect of “boosting” population immunity.

I’m no expert in epidemiology, but I don’t really see the “paradox” here. If you have large numbers of infections, and they’re heavily concentrated in low-risk groups, then – yes – population immunity will be boosted.

(I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised. As Martin Kulldorff and Jay Bhattacharya note, many scientists who should know better have downplayed or even denied the existence of natural immunity to Covid.)

Anyway, back to Neil Ferguson. Whether he realised it or not (and I’m leaning towards not), he was making the case for focused protection.

The whole point of that strategy is to protect high-risk groups, while allowing immunity to build in the rest of the population. “As immunity builds,” to quote the Great Barrington Declaration, “the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls.”

Given that the vaccines don’t provide lasting protection against infection, they’re best seen as a way to protect the most vulnerable. And even before the vaccines arrived, building population immunity in low-risk groups made sense, as a way to minimise the time that high-risk groups would have to spend shielding.

More than a month ago, I asked whether we should encourage young people to get the virus, so as to build up more immunity before the winter? If the latest data are anything to go by, it seems the answer to my question was “yes”.

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.

More Restrictions May Be Required This Winter, Says Professor Ferguson

Professor Neil Ferguson is at it again. He predicts that a full lockdown will not be necessary this winter, but that the reintroduction of some forms of restrictions will be, warning that “we have currently higher levels of infection in the community than we’ve almost ever had during the pandemic”. The Times has the story.

The Imperial College scientist said that there was no “reason to panic” but urged people to be cautious about social contact.

He said it was “critical we accelerate the booster programme” with millions of eligible older people yet to have a top-up jab despite concerns about waning immunity.

Last year hospital admissions were doubling every 10 days. At present, the rate is about five weeks and some believe outbreaks in schools will burn out before then, causing cases to fall again.

Ferguson told Today on BBC Radio 4: “I think we need to be on the case, and we do need to prioritise the [booster] vaccination programme but we’re not in the same position as last year.”

He added: “I don’t think we’re looking at another lockdown… the worst case here are demands on the NHS… it’s very unlikely we’ll see anything like the levels of deaths we saw last year, for instance.

“Coming into the winter, there may be a plan B which needs to be implemented, which involves some rolling back of measures, but I doubt that we’ll ever get close to the lockdown we were in in January of this year.”

The Government’s official ‘Plan B’ involves the return of working from home and compulsory masks, plus the introduction of vaccine passports. Ministers have been confident that this will not be needed but concern has been mounting as cases rise towards 50,000 a day.

“People need to be aware that we have currently higher levels of infection in the community than we’ve almost ever had during the pandemic – for the last three or four months we’ve been up at well over 1% of the population infected at any point in time,” Ferguson said.

He said the Government was “very clear that it wanted to move away from social distancing measures, but it’s notable, clearly, that most western European countries have kept in place more control measures, vaccine mandates, mask-wearing mandates, and tend to have lower case numbers and certainly not case numbers which are going up as fast as we’ve got”.

Professor Paul Hunter, of the University of East Anglia, said he was not “overly worried” by case numbers, pointing out: “We’re doing far more testing of children than most or all European countries and at least 50% of our cases are in children, mostly teenagers.” …

Modellers are finding it increasingly difficult to know what will happen next, given huge uncertainties about the number of unvaccinated people, how fast immunity wanes and how people will behave over the winter.

Worth reading in full.

No, Locking Down a Week Earlier Would Not Have Saved Tens of Thousands of Lives

Toby has already gone through in detail the new report from the Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee of the House of Commons on the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and taken it apart.

One point worth underlining further is that one of its central conclusions – that “if the national lockdown had been instituted even a week earlier ‘we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half'” (the report quoting Professor Neil Ferguson here) – is demonstrably false on all the data available. That’s because it assumes that the epidemic was continuing to grow exponentially in the week before lockdown was brought into effect on March 24th, a growth which supposedly only the lockdown brought to an end.

That this is not the case is evident from all the data we have, as has been shown on numerous occasions.

For example, already in April 2020 Oxford’s Professor Carl Heneghan had noted that by projecting back from the peak of deaths on April 8th it could be inferred that the peak of infections occurred around a week before the lockdown was imposed. This early deduction was subsequently backed up by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty himself, who told MPs in July 2020 that the R rate went “below one well before, or to some extent before, March 23rd”, indicating a declining epidemic.

Further support arrived in March 2021, when Imperial College London’s REACT study published a graph showing SARS-CoV-2 incidence in England as inferred from antibody testing and interviews with those who tested positive to ascertain date of symptom onset. It clearly showed new infections peaking in the week before March 24th (see below), as well as a similar peaking of infections ahead of the subsequent two national lockdowns.

Like Freddy Krueger, Professor Lockdown Refuses to Admit Defeat

No matter how many disastrously inaccurate predictions he makes, Professor Neil Ferguson is still doing the rounds of broadcasting studios and the parliamentary estate brandishing his crystal ball. His latest appearance was in front of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus earlier today, where he warned that ‘Plan B’ would have to be activated if Covid hospital admissions climb above 1,200 a day. MailOnline has more.

England may have to resort to its winter Covid ‘Plan B’ if daily hospital admissions for coronavirus breach 1,200, ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson said today.

Boris Johnson announced last month that face masks, social distancing and vaccine passports might need to be brought back if the NHS comes under unsustainable pressure.

Ministers said the trigger point will be hospital rates now that the jabs have made case numbers less important – but they have not put a threshold on admissions.

Professor Ferguson – a key Government adviser whose modelling prompted the first lockdown last March – suggested England should not tolerate more than 1,200 daily hospitalisations. For comparison, Covid admission levels breached 4,000 during the darkest days of the second wave in January.

Speaking to a cross-party committee of MPs today, he said that the country was currently recording around 600 Covid admissions per day.

He added: “If that figure were to double, we’d need to think about moving to ‘Plan B’.” The epidemiologist, based at Imperial College London, called for “more intense” curbs if there is a sharp rise in admissions.

To get ahead of a winter wave, he said second doses for 16 and 17 year-olds could be brought forward and advised we are “more aggressive” in administering boosters.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Daily Sceptic‘s in-house doctor has sent through the latest INARC NHS England data, which shows current Covid hospital admissions steadily declining since Covid restrictions were eased on July 21st, in spite of Prof Ferguson’s prediction that cases would rise to 100,000 a day – that was “almost inevitable”, according to Mystic Meg – and possibly to 200,000.

Current daily hospital admissions have stabilised around 600, but ICU admissions continue to decline (see below). Still no sign of the much ballyhooed “surge” after schools reopened.

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.

The Latest Paper From Neil Ferguson et al. Defending the Lockdown Policy is Out of Date, Inaccurate and Misleading

Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College London (ICL) has released a new paper, published in Nature, claiming that if Sweden had adopted U.K. or Danish lockdown policies its Covid mortality would have halved. Although we have reviewed many epidemiological papers on this site, and especially from this particular team, let us go unto the breach once more and see what we find. The primary author on this new paper is Swapnil Mishra.

The paper’s first sentence is this:

The U.K. and Sweden have among the worst per-capita Covid mortality in Europe.

No citation is provided for this claim. The paper was submitted to Nature on March 31st, 2021. If we review a map of cumulative deaths per million on the received date then this opening statement looks very odd indeed:

Sweden (with a cumulative total of 1,333 deaths/million) is by no means “among the worst in Europe” and indeed many European countries have higher totals. This is easier to see using a graph of cumulative results:

But that was in March, when the paper was submitted. We’re reviewing it in August because that’s when it was published. Over the duration of the journal’s review period this statement – already wrong at the start – became progressively more and more incorrect:

Sunetra Gupta: Lockdown Policy Based on Faith, Not Evidence

Professors Sunetra Gupta and Paul Dolan have written a piece for the Telegraph pointing out that lockdowns were rolled out across the world last March in spite of never having been tried before as a way of mitigating the impact of a pandemic and in spite of no cost-benefit analysis having been done.

As it currently stands, it looks like lockdowns had a small effect but, to some large extent, the path of the virus can be explained by “natural” factors such as the accumulation of herd immunity and seasonal differences in the transmissibility of the virus. Furthermore, while lockdowns may have protected some vulnerable people from exposure to the virus, they may also have placed them at increased risk of future exposure by preventing high levels of herd immunity from establishing broadly across the population.

The profound costs of lockdown have been borne disproportionately by younger people, those with limited social support, those with mental health problems, and those in low-income groups with job insecurity. Some older people have benefitted from lockdown, but perhaps by not as much as would have been hoped for, and without ever inquiring into whether they preferred to be isolated from close family for so long. The most obvious beneficiaries of lockdown, at least insofar as the economic impacts are concerned, are those who can work from home on full pay – such as members of the government and advisory committees like Sage.

There are serious ethical questions about these intergenerational transfers and policies that have served to widen economic inequalities. The public inquiry into Covid must be broad enough to consider the narrowness of the perspectives and experiences involved in making decisions that have had such an unprecedented effect on the economic and emotional wellbeing of the youngest and worst-off members of the population.

The critical question, of course, is whether it would have been possible to reduce the mortality and morbidity risks to the vulnerable population at lower cost than lockdowns? Other options were available, such as focused protection, whereby those most at risk from the virus would have been afforded protection whilst those at low risk would be largely allowed to go about life as normal. But this was dismissed as callous without any evidence to support this claim.

Decision making quickly became more faith based than evidence based. In response to case numbers in the UK falling, Professor Neil Ferguson recently said, “I’m quite happy to be wrong, if it’s wrong in the right direction.” This betrays a complete lack of insight into the welfare consequences of lockdowns. The mainstream advice has been to reduce transmission through lockdowns and if this is wrong, and if lockdowns cause more harm than good, then he is not only wrong, but wrong in the wrong direction so far as human welfare is concerned.

Worth reading in full.