Neil Ferguson

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.

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’.

“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.

All U.K. Children Could Be Offered Covid Vaccines by the End of the Year

The Government will announce its plans for the vaccination of children against Covid later today and is expected to say that only clinically vulnerable children and those living with vulnerable adults will be included in the national roll-out – for now. It hasn’t taken long for reports to emerge suggesting that all children could be offered a vaccine by the end of the year. The argument is that it will be difficult to reach herd immunity if children remain unvaccinated. The Telegraph has the story.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is expected to announce that only vulnerable youngsters between the ages of 12 and 15, and 17 year-olds within three months of their 18th birthday, will be offered a jab amid concerns there is too little data on safety and efficacy in young people.

But the JCVI is expected to leave the door open for more children to be vaccinated once trials conclude later this year, the Telegraph understands.

In June, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved the Pfizer jab for 12 to 15 year-olds in Britain following early trial results in teenagers, but there is still no data for younger children. 

Pfizer is expected to release results on trials for five to 11 year-olds in September and two to five year-olds by November, with the company expecting regulator approval within a month of releasing positive data. AstraZeneca is also conducting trials in children aged six to 17, with the British team likely to release results before the end of the year.

On Sunday, experts warned that it may be difficult to reach herd immunity in Britain if children are not vaccinated. Nearly one in five people in the U.K. are under 16 and, despite everyone being offered a vaccine, around 12% of adults have not had a first jab.

Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College, a member of SAGE, told the BBC: “In the absence of vaccinating it’s inevitable that we’re going to have very high numbers of cases in teenagers, and we will not be able to reach herd immunity without significant immunity in people under 18.”

The JCVI is expected to keep the situation under review and will be watching the results from trials closely. 

Scientists are particularly concerned that vaccination may damage the developing immune system of younger children. Different age groups may require different doses, further complicating the roll-out, and companies must show it will not make children who get Covid more ill – which has happened with other vaccines in the past. 

Experts are also worried that the benefits to children may not outweigh the risks, making vaccination ethically dubious and leaving the Government vulnerable to legal challenges.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “The Government will continue to be guided by the advice of the JCVI, and no decisions have been made by ministers on whether people aged 12 to 17 should be routinely offered Covid vaccines.”

Worth reading in full.

Letter in Telegraph About the Damage Done By Imperial’s Alarmist Modelling

There was a good letter in the Telegraph today co-signed by Lockdown Sceptics contributor David Campbell and his colleague Kevin Dowd. It was a pithy summary of a piece they co-authored for Spectator Australia earlier this month.

SIR – Matt Ridley’s criticism (Comment, June 21st) of the distorted presentation of scientific predictions in order for those predictions to have political impact identifies the worst feature of current public policymaking.

Amazingly, however, in the case of Covid policymaking his criticism is insufficient. The crucial prediction was that of the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team, which said that 510,000 deaths would occur “in the (unlikely) absence of any control measures or spontaneous changes in individual behaviour”. This was misleading in the extreme, for there was absolutely no possibility that the outbreak of this disease would not be met by widespread spontaneous changes in behaviour, or that the Government would not take extensive measures to support them.

The world has been turned upside-down by an absurd, alarmist prediction of what was always a zero-probability event, as it was this prediction which panicked the Government into adopting a “suppression” policy.

Professor David Campbell
Lancaster University Law School
Professor Kevin Dowd
Durham University Business School