SAGE

The SAGE Models are Already Wrong

In a recent article, we considered the implications of the U.K.’s spring rise in infections, given that before now the assumption has been that coronaviruses are seasonal at northern temperate latitudes. Do we have to dismiss that hypothesis in light of the ‘Third Wave’?

Here we argue that, contrary to Government claims, the British summer is indeed finally impacting viral transmission, with sharp falls in positives reported across the U.K. In England, reported cases have more-or-less halved in a week, from 50,955 to 25,434.

This sharp fall runs counter to all three of the most recent SAGE models driving Government policy, which predict rising infections leading to peaks in hospital admissions in high summer – and by implication falsifies the assumptions upon which these models are based.

Parsimony predicts the summer troughs and winter peaks evident for SARS-CoV-2

In spring and summer 2020 and winter 2020-1, SARS-CoV-2 infections parsimoniously followed the pattern of seasonal respiratory viruses, falling away in the summer months and rising again in the autumn, with peaks in deaths occurring between mid-November 2020 and mid-April 2021 in different northern temperate countries.

Although falling infection levels were sometimes prolonged into early summer or began to rise again in late summer, there were no peaks in fatalities in summer or early autumn 2020. 

Most notably, while cases in Sweden rose in a pattern close to the European average in early 2020, they persisted much later, continuing to a plateau in late spring and early summer, before falling away sharply from the end of June. Hospitalisations and deaths fell more smoothly from the mid-April peak, however, and showed no corresponding rise in late spring and early summer.

Similarly, while infections began to rise in late summer in some countries – such as France – there was no substantial increase in deaths before mid-autumn. Summer 2020 appears to have broken the link between infections and serious illness in the absence of vaccination. 

Sweden has so far emerged relatively unaffected by the Delta variant. Although this variant was detected in Sweden – as it was in most other European countries – infections in Sweden nevertheless fell with the onset of summer. As Sweden’s State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell remarked in an interview on June 18th, 2021 (at about 8 minutes 25 seconds), “the number of cases in Sweden are falling rapidly, very rapidly I would say, much more rapidly than we ever thought was possible”. Tegnell also makes some sceptical points about asymptomatic transmission and mass testing, so beloved of the U.K.’s SAGE committees.

Recent peaks attributable to the Delta variant have occurred in countries such as Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands, but these outbreaks too may have peaked as they appear to have in the U.K.

SAGE scenarios – anything can happen in the next eight weeks…?

Turning to the latest (July 6th) scenarios of the SAGE’s SPI-M-O modelling groups, we find hospitalisations could be between 50 and 10,000 per day by August 31st depending on the R value. SPI-M-O note these scenarios are not forecasts or predictions, leaving open to question their purpose with regard to Government formulation of policy. 

Previous over-estimations of hospitalisations are attributed to: 1) the cancellation of ‘Freedom Day’ on June 21st permitting more vaccinations to be administered and transmission to be delayed due to restrictions; 2) less than anticipated mixing between adults since late April to mid-May; and 3) the effectiveness of vaccines against the Delta variant.

There appears to be no suggestion of an emphatic effect of spring and summer on behaviour, the virus or viral transmission, which would have been considered conventional wisdom until mid-March 2020.

Warwick University

The Warwick models predict the current rise in hospitalisations will persist to peak in late summer or early autumn, which may or may not be accompanied by a small wave – based on the mean estimates – from late December 2021 or early February 2022 depending on supposed “precautionary behaviour”.

None of the Warwick models predict a fall in hospitalisations in summer 2021 nor – by implication – a fall in infections.

Imperial College London

Imperial College offers two models, based on optimistic (upper figure) and central (lower figure) estimates of vaccine effectiveness, adjusted according to estimates of the speed of change in behaviour and the R value. 

Both models predict peaks in the early autumn, possibly delayed to mid-autumn if changes in behaviour are slow. Using these assumptions, the mean estimates presented for hospitalisations are higher than in the Imperial models. 

Central estimates of vaccine effectiveness with sudden relaxation in precautionary behaviour appears to predict mean daily hospitalisations of about 2,500 to about 12,000 per day by the end of September depending on the R value. Imperial have produced a further model based on pessimistic estimates of vaccine effectiveness (not shown).

Of the Imperial models, only the gradual relaxation of restrictive behaviour scenarios indicate a fall in hospitalisations, but in both instances this simply delays a peak in hospitalisations and – by implication – infections until the early autumn. Neither model anticipates an imminent fall continuing into summer, nor a winter peak between December and February.

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM)

LSHTM present similar models based on a further set of assumptions and predict a peak in hospitalisations in mid-summer, varying in size according to the extent of reduction in transmission (five to 20% reduction at medium mobility is shown in the figure).

Again, the LSHTM model precludes the current reduction to a baseline as in summer 2020.

The ZOE Symptom Study, which provides invaluable independent comparator to reported positives figures, appears to show infections to be rising to July 20th, but only since the method of estimation was revised. Comparators such as ONS and REACT-1 are out of date.

Implications of the models

None of the SAGE models predict a sharp fall and summer lull in infections. Rather, the SAGE report states “the prevalence of infection will almost certainly remain extremely high for at least the rest of the summer”.

We are left with two competing hypotheses:

SAGE predict a continued rise in infections, accompanied by hospitalisations and deaths, peaking in mid-summer or early autumn. There may be a further small wave from late December or early February, or none at all.

Parsimony predicts cases will fall to baseline as summer advances, much as occurred in Sweden last year – a late spring or early summer cold that does not cause significant morbidity or mortality. The summer disappearance will be followed by a resumption in the autumn rising to a peak in infections and deaths in winter proper.

Are the SAGE models already wrong?

Although summer peaks in infections in seasonal respiratory viruses are rare, they are not unknown, particularly in novel varieties and, it may be noted that – unlike in Sweden in 2020 – the spring rise in infections in the U.K. arose from a low base and involved a new variant – the Delta variant – and was preceded by the vaccine roll-out.

While vaccination is argued to be the key factor in keeping hospitalisations and deaths figures low, these measures were also low in the late spring 2020 wave of infections in Sweden. It is possible that nosocomial and care-home outbreaks have also been prevented, in part due to the seasonal fall in general demand for hospital beds in the spring and summer. The most recent ONS report shows overall excess deaths in England and Wales to be higher at home than in care homes or hospitals. Nevertheless, it is striking that reported positives in Scotland have been falling since the end of June.

Hospitalisations in Scotland are also falling from a peak approximately a week later.

The rest of the U.K. is now following the trend in Scotland, which showed a rapid fall in infections from the end of spring and beginning of summer, as Sweden did in 2020. Are we simply experiencing a late impact of seasonality on suppression of spread, which has finally taken effect?

Reported positives peaked just prior to ‘Freedom Day’ in England and about three weeks earlier in Scotland. There is no sign of any stall in the falling trajectory of infections in either country, as could be attributed to the relaxation of restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’. This would be not at all surprising to those who observed the lack of impact of ‘opening up’ in Texas and Florida some months ago.

On the basis of current infection data, the SAGE models are already wrong.

So must be the assumptions of virus transmission and effects of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions – and lack of effect of nature – on which they are based.

It begs the question as to why the Government and media have again so enthusiastically engaged with consistently disappointing predictions leading to such damaging public health policy.

None of this should be a distraction from the point that lockdowns cause a good deal of harm to physical and mental health and to the economy, far outweighing any presumed benefit – if any can be shown. The models, NPIs and lockdowns are about politics, not science.

The co-authors are a PhD epidemiologist trained at a Russell Group University and a retired former Professor of Forensic Science and Biological Anthropology.

Mandatory Face Masks and Advice to Work From Home Should Be Reintroduced to Keep Figures “Under Control”, Say SAGE Scientists

Just how final was the July 19th “terminus date“? If Government advisers in SAGE have anything to do with it, then not at all. Some have argued that a number of restrictions, such as mandatory face masks and advice to work from home, should be brought back at the beginning of August if hospitalisation levels increase to keep the figures “under control”. And it’s hard to imagine the Government standing firm against this pressure, given that both a minister and the Chief Medical Officer have said Brits will “of course” face a new lockdown if the NHS comes under further pressure. The i has the story.

Scientific advisers have warned that Boris Johnson should be prepared to act in the first week of August to prevent the NHS becoming overwhelmed by the end of that month.

Modelling has suggested that the central case for U.K. daily hospitalisations at the peak of the third wave – expected at the end of August – could be between 1,000 and 2,000, with deaths predicted to be between 100 and 200 per day. …

Last week Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said hospitalisations were doubling roughly every three weeks. 

This would suggest close to 1,500 admissions by the end of the first week of August, well above the trajectory for the central case scenario for the third wave. It would point to 3,000 at the peak by the end of that month, which would match the peak of the first wave in April 2020.

Insiders stressed there is a lot of uncertainty in the modelling, and the picture will change all the time depending on vaccine take-up and people’s behaviour after July 19th.

But if admissions are outstripping the central estimates, SAGE scientists have advised that some non-pharmaceutical measures should be reintroduced, such as mandatory face masks and advice to work from home, in early August, halfway between the July 19th unlocking and the predicted peak at the end of August.

This early intervention, they argue, would prevent the NHS becoming swamped in a late summer crisis. …

Last week, when the Prime Minister gave the go-ahead for the fourth and final stage of the roadmap in England, he accepted that some restrictions may have to be reimposed if the situation worsened.

A source said what was needed was “less of an emergency brake and more of a gear change” in readiness to keep the third wave “under control”.

While mandatory face masks would be the “easiest” route to curb transmission, with minimal impact on the economy if it were kept to public transport and essential settings like supermarkets, this would have to be weighed against the “totemic” impact it would have on the public if they were ordered to cover up once again.

But others are arguing that the Government should be prepared to take tougher action.

Professor Dominic Harrison, Director of Public Health for Blackburn, said: “Any return to non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to control spread would have to focus on those that give the biggest suppression effect. 

“Essentially we might expect a reverse through the lockdown lifting steps with each ‘reverse step’ being introduced to match the scale of the surge in cases.”

Worth reading in full.

Cloth Face Masks Might Make You Feel Better but They Won’t Protect You From Covid

A standard face mask acts as nothing more than a “comfort blanket” and offers little protection against Covid, a scientific adviser to SAGE has said ahead of the partial easing of the mask mandate on Monday. The Telegraph has the story.

Dr Colin Axon, who has advised the Government on minimising the risk of cross-infection in supermarkets, accused medics of presenting a “cartoonish” view of how tiny particles travel through the air.

He warned some cloth masks have gaps which are invisible to the naked eye, but are 500,000 times the size of viral Covid particles.

“The small sizes are not easily understood but an imperfect analogy would be to imagine marbles fired at builders’ scaffolding, some might hit a pole and rebound, but obviously most will fly through,” he told the Telegraph.

The mask debate has been reignited this week after the Government published “Freedom Day” guidance recommending their continued use. It led to Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, enforcing their continued use on the London Underground.

Dr Axon said the public need to be offered a wider view of the science behind face masks, rather than the “partial view” of information being pushed by medics over their effectiveness.

“Medics have this cartoonised view of how particles move through the air – it’s not their fault, it’s not their domain – they’ve got a cartoonish view of how the world is,” he said.

“Once a particle is not on a biological surface it is no longer a biomedical issue, it is simply about physics. The public has only a partial view of the story if information only comes from one type of source. Medics have some of the answers but not a whole view.” …

An Oxford study last summer concluded that masks were “effective” in reducing the spread of the virus.

However, other studies have cast doubt on their effectiveness. A subsequent Danish study involving 6,000 people concluded that there was no statistical difference in infection spread in non-wearers, while data on U.S. states with non-mandated usage failed to show a correlated uptick in cases.

“The public were demanding something must be done, they got masks, it is just a comfort blanket,” Dr Axon noted. “But now it is entrenched, and we are entrenching bad behaviour.”

Worth reading in full.

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.

Pro-Lockdown SAGE Advisor Stephen Reicher Thinks Caring about Freedom is Selfish and Wants Us to Surrender to the Supreme Authority of the State For Ever in the Name of Compassion

We’re publishing a guest post today by Professor David McGrogan, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law and Business at Northumbria University, about the recent twitter rant of Stephen Reicher, a lockdown zealot who sits on SAGE. Reicher was absolutely horrified by Sajid Javid’s suggestion that we have to learn to live with the virus and that means taking personal responsibility for managing our own behaviour. He is one of many so-called experts who are ranting and raving about the lifting of restrictions on July 19th – out in force on the airwaves today –  believing its a terrible dereliction of duty on the Government’s part.

Stephen Reicher, a psychologist who sits on SAGE, recently made headlines with a twitter rant against Sajid Javid. It is full of bluster, bombast and keyboard-warrior aggression like twitter rants always are, but also contains one tweet that is highly revealing about the pro-lockdown mindset.

“Above all,” Reicher tells us, “it is frightening to have a ‘Health’ [sic] Secretary who wants to make all protections a matter of personal choice when the message of the pandemic is ‘this isn’t an ‘I’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing. Your behaviour affects my health. Get your head around the ‘we’ concept.’”

We’ve heard this kind of thing a lot, of course: one of the chief rhetorical devices of the pro-lockdown movement is the depiction of anybody who dissents as selfish. Those of us who are sceptical can only possibly be that way because we just want to go to the pub and everybody’s grannies can simply go hang. But it is worth dwelling on certain assumptions underlying the tweet, because they help us to understand a little bit more about the worldview upon which people like Stephen Reicher base their views and advice.

The first is the elision between ‘we’ and the state, which has characterised support for lockdown since the very beginning, and which suggests both a disregard for the distinction between the public and private spheres and a lack of concern for, or appreciation of, the existence of a society as a thing independent from the realm of politics. No sceptic I am aware of has ever taken the position that life should have continued completely as normal during the pandemic period. Our position has been that it is up to us (or the ‘”we” concept’ as Reicher might put it) to make those decisions for ourselves in consideration of those around us, rather than to have the State impose them on us from above. It is not about anarchic libertarianism sticking two fingers up to authority. It is about taking responsibility for our own actions, like adults.

There is something deeply Hobbesian about the view to which Reicher subscribes: the idea that the leviathan must take responsibility for every aspect of our lives, since left to our own devices we’re simply incapable of making sensible decisions. The difficulty that somebody in his position faces, of course, is that once that logical leap has been made, everything is up for grabs – the state might as well make all significant decisions for everybody for ever, since it alone possesses the advice of the ‘experts’, and since we’re so damned untrustworthy and stupid. Perhaps he finds that idea appealing, but if he does, he is in a tiny minority.

The second is the unstated rejection of individual rights. As Ronald Dworkin, probably the most important legal philosopher of the latter part of the 20th century, was wont to emphasise, individual rights have no meaning unless they trump considerations of the general welfare. If individual rights (to free expression, conscience, assembly, liberty, etc.) have to give way if it is for the good of the ‘general welfare’, then that means individual rights do not exist. Whenever politicians deem it important to override them, then they can, because it will always be possible to declare a policy to be in the ‘general welfare’. Civil liberties are only worth more than the paper they are written on if they protect individual freedom even though it is not in the general welfare. There may be circumstances in which a serious public emergency will trump even that consideration (and one individual’s rights can be limited by another individual’s competing rights, of course). But that situation has to be extremely rare. And we are certainly not in such a situation now that all of the vulnerable have been double-jabbed and almost all other adults at least partially vaccinated. Stephen Reicher may not deem it important to live in a rights-respecting democracy, but he should say so if that is his opinion.

The third, and in my view most troubling, is the implication that freedom itself is selfish. Public health may be a “we” thing, but that does not mean that freedom is an “I” thing. No sensible liberal thinker has ever argued anything other than that individual freedom comes with, and is contingent upon, responsibility, self-control, discipline, restraint, and community-mindedness. To live as a free individual means to live in a dense network of mutual respect, protection, cooperation and compassion, because otherwise one cannot live at all. To be free means to live with the consequences of one’s actions – and that means to act at every turn in the awareness that there are other people around oneself, whose needs and desires are to be respected and mutually bolstered with one’s own. Freedom is a “we” thing – it is probably the most important “we” thing of all. This is to be contrasted with the alienating, atomised, individualised world of the lockdown advocates: no socialising, schooling, community activities or even sex except where mediated by the authority and permission of the state. No society, no family, no friends – unless the state lets you.

I know who needs to get his head around the “we” concept – and it isn’t Sajid Javid.

SAGE Scientist “Frightened” by Sajid Javid’s More Lax Approach to Covid

Professor Stephen Reicher, a leading SAGE Psychologist, says the new Health Secretary’s view that people should learn to live with Covid “as we already do with flu” is “frightening”, despite such a large proportion of the population (including the most vulnerable to the virus) having been vaccinated. Professor Reicher criticised Sajid Javid for wanting “to ditch all protections while only half of us are [fully] vaccinated”. “The key message of the pandemic,” he said on Twitter, “is this isn’t an ‘I’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing. Your behaviour affects my health.”

The MailOnline has more.

The broadside from the University of St Andrews academic comes after Mr Javid, who replaced disgraced Matt Hancock last weekend after the former Health Secretary was caught flouting lockdown with his mistress, called the health reasons for lifting restrictions “compelling”.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, the new Health Secretary says the U.K. is “on track” to escape almost every vestige of lockdown on July 19th, adding: “We will have a country that is not just freer, but healthier, too.”

But he makes no secret of the challenges he faces as Health Secretary, admitting that he has “the biggest in-tray I’ve had at any department – and I’ve run five”. …

The Prime Minister is preparing to announce a raft of measures to come into force from July 19th which will “make Britain the most open country in Europe”. Under plans expected to be signed off by the Cabinet tomorrow, fully-vaccinated people will be able to travel to “Amber List” countries including Spain and Greece without having to self-isolate when they return.

The school “bubbles” system that has seen hundreds of thousands of pupils being forced to self-isolate at home will be axed and replaced with daily testing, while hospitality businesses will no longer have to demand that customers provide their personal data or sign in with a “QR” code.

Worth reading in full.

Covid and the Death of the Scientific Method

We’re publishing an original piece today by John A. Fairclough, an Hon. Consultant Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgeon at the University Hospital of Wales and Professor Emeritus at Cardiff Metropolitan University. It’s very critical of the way in which a few medics and public health directors have dictated government policy over the last 15 months. Here is an extract:

While Matt Hancock was running around in nursery, I managed a polio epidemic, had malaria, treated leprosy and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease in cannibals (Mad Cow) – also abandoned my pregnant wife for safety in a convent in Papua New Guinea to rescue a voluntary worker, had a career in medicine of over five decades, published widely, including on infection ritual, the wearing of masks, and once appeared in the Times Top 10 surgeons.

I was married to a Welsh geography teacher who survived eclampsia, cerebral oedema in ITU and fractured jaw, breast cancer and ectopic pregnancy.

I lectured Internationally on the Myth of Surgical Ritual (including the nonsense of cloth masks). The above photo is a slide from the lecture.

We are now the grannies and grandads whom Matt Hancock patronised by asking the younger generation to save. We can’t apparently assess our own risk.

The absence of scientists in the political masters and some media correspondents has rendered them incapable of interrogating the validity of data suggested by some scientists. It may be a surprise to many that epidemiologists are mainly mathematicians not medics and that most scientists on SAGE are not practising clinicians who wear masks as surgeons do as part of their practice.

We now have a new Health Secretary but sill the lamentable voices of SAGE, the BMA and a host of individuals who appear incapable of distinguishing scientific data from opinion.

Worth reading in full.

NERVTAG Member: Stop Publishing Daily Death Data, Ditch Test and Trace, End Self-Isolation, Don’t Vaccinate Kids

Professor Robert Dingwall, consistently the most sensible of the Government’s scientific advisors throughout the pandemic, gave a belter of an interview to Sarah Montague on the World at One earlier. The gist of it is in the headline, but a very kind reader – Stuart Robertson – has transcribed the entire interview for us which we’re republishing below.

SARAH MONTAGUE: Well, Robert Dingwall is Professor of Sociology at Nottingham Trent University. He sits on a number of committees advising the Government on their pandemic response.

ROBERT DINGWALL: What we’re in the process of doing is managing the transition to understanding that Covid as an endemic, respiratory infection is really just like all the other 30 or so respiratory infections that humans have coexisted with forever, and that we shouldn’t be doing anything exceptional in relation to it in September, 2021, that we would not have been doing in September 2019. And that of course means taking on a lot of vested interests, it involves defusing the levels of anxiety and fear that had been generated in the population over the last 15 months or so. And that’s not, neither of those, is a straightforward task.

SM: Okay, so you have said we should stop publishing the daily numbers of cases, hospitalisations, deaths.

RD: Well the daily numbers are increasingly, increasingly meaningless. When we’re dealing with a mild respiratory infection. What is the point of knowing how much of it is there, there is out there. There is some value maybe in in tracking hospitalisations at the moment, but we’re not tracking seriously desperately ill people in the way that we were in January, they’re not progressing through to intensive care in the sorts of numbers that we saw in the spring.

SM: So is Covid now a mild respiratory infection?

RD: In a largely vaccinated population, and that’s a very important qualification. Covid is now really part of the 30 or so respiratory viruses that humans have coexisted with since time immemorial.

SM: In a largely vaccinated population, children, for example, aren’t vaccinated, I mean you have said, given the low risk of Covid for most teenagers, it’s not immoral to think that there may be better protected by natural immunity generated through infection, rather than by asking them to take the possible risk of a vaccine.

RD: Well, indeed I mean there are risks from the infection, there are risks from the vaccine, and the challenges to decide how to weigh those in the balance.

SM: In terms of the way we should be adjusting our lives, if we’re not to treat this any different than for example flu, should people stop being signed up to an app that might ping and tell them to isolate.

RD: Well, it’s very hard to see what are the benefits of that is, again, if the most vulnerable people in the population have had the opportunity to be vaccinated. And if those who are not vaccinated are confined predominantly to groups where the infection is, is a very low risk. What are we achieving by contact tracing, by isolation, by these various associated measures? Why is it relevant to me to know that somebody in my network has been infected, when I have been vaccinated?

SM: So is it time to lift all the restrictions, stop test and trace, stop bubbles in school, and of course, telling people to isolate in pubs and hospitality venues.

RD: Well I think we have to ask very hard questions about what these are now achieving, but we also need to recognise that there are significant commercial interests in prolonging things like test and trace, but from the point of view of public policy, we have to ask, well, we have never thought it was important to do differential diagnosis of schoolchildren with respiratory infections, if they’re not well enough to go to school, they don’t go to school, that’s the sort of equilibrium we need to be moving toward when the school year restarts in the autumn.

SM: Professor Robert Dingwall there.

SAGE Modeller: “We Got Everything Wrong.”

Okay, that’s a slightly misleading headline because the SAGE modeller in question, Dr Mike Tildesley, who works as a sooth-sayer at the University of Warwick, didn’t actually say that. In an interview with Freddie Sayers for UnHerd, he says he and his colleagues who’ve been producing models for SAGE under-estimated the efficacy of the vaccines and over-estimated the extent to which people would return to normal after restrictions were eased. And for that reason, they almost certainly over-estimated the impact that unlocking on June 21st would have had on infections, hospitalisations and deaths. Indeed, we know their models were wildly pessimistic because if you compare the number of hospital admissions the models were predicting for round about now they are about three times higher than actual hospital admissions – and that’s the number they were predicting if the Government didn’t unlock on June 21st. Regular readers will recall that Glen Bishop pointed out in Lockdown Sceptics that the Government’s court astrologers had underestimated the efficacy of the vaccines when it published the models it was relying on when it postponed the unlocking a few weeks ago.

Here are some choice quotes from Mystic Mike Dr Tildesley:

Underestimated vaccine efficacy

I think the vaccine efficacies throughout have been slightly underestimated, shall we say, by the modelling groups, we are actually find that the vaccines are much more effective than previously we thought they would be. Now when these models are parameterised, the vaccine efficacy data came through from Public Health England, so we’re not making up these values, we are using the best estimates of values that are coming through from those on the ground that have their estimates of them.

Overestimated behavioural change

I suspect this is something else that perhaps some of these models have slightly overestimated as to what we might expect that we’ll do in terms of the R numbers. This is partly because of people’s behaviour. So just because controls have relaxed, it looks like looking at the data that actually people haven’t gone back to ‘normal’ in terms of what we might have expected prior to the pandemic. So people are still being a little bit more cautious. Maybe they’re not going to the pub in the way that they were, say, back in January 2020. And that, obviously has some implications upon these forecasts that when these models were done.

Why July 19th should go ahead as planned

Looking at the data, looking at possible admissions and deaths, there’s nothing at the moment that really worries me. And I think if we are going to get back to normal, we’ve really got to do it over the summer, when the virus is less likely to transmit anyway. Otherwise I think we’re going to be in a situation where it’s going to be really hard. So I’m hopeful 19th of July does go ahead as planned.

Worth watching in full.

Stop Press: The Telegraph‘s Science Editor Sarah Knapton has written a story based on the UnHerd interview.

Data Looking Good For July 19th Unlock, but July 5th Too Soon, Says SAGE Member

The new Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s claim that he would like to see a return to normal “as quickly as possible” has been responded to by a leading member of SAGE who warns that we shouldn’t “rush” into unlocking on July 5th. But with such a high proportion of the adult population (including those who are most vulnerable to Covid) already fully vaccinated, and daily deaths after 28 days of a positive Covid test rarely topping 15, there is no legitimate reason to hold off until July 19th. WalesOnline has more.

An announcement is expected tomorrow from the Prime Minister about when all Covid restrictions can be lifted in England.

The rules were originally planned to lift this month but were put back to July 19th because of the spread of the Delta variant of the virus, will the caveat that could be brought forward by two weeks if all was going well.

Professor Sir Peter Horby, Chairman of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, says “encouraging” Covid data suggested restrictions in England could indeed be eased by July 19th – but not any sooner.

The member of SAGE told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “We always have to be driven by the data, not the dates.

“So we’re watching it very carefully and there will be a lot of analysis of the data coming up to that date, to make sure we’re comfortable with that release.

“At the moment, the data is encouraging that we can do that. But we have to make sure that we follow the data.”

He said he would not bring the restrictions easing date forward, adding that it had been “very sensible” to delay the previous June 21st target date by four weeks.

“I don’t think we should rush into anything, we really want to make sure that we can release all restrictions and not have to backtrack at all,” he added.

Sir Peter said the route out of the pandemic would be “a bumpy road” with “twists and turns”.

Worth reading in full.