Sir Patrick Vallance

Government Hides Details of Key Conversation between Leading Scientists on Covid’s Origins

Attempts to see details of a key email conversation between leading scientists – including Sir Patrick Vallance and Anthony Fauci – on the origins of Covid have been quashed by the British Government which has redacted page after page with thick black lines, begging the question: “What are they hiding?” The Mail on Sunday has the story.

[The MoS] used Freedom of Information rules to obtain a cache of 32 emails about a secretive teleconference between British and American health officials held early in the pandemic.

But officials blacked out almost every word before releasing the crucial documents.

Before this discussion, several of the world’s most influential experts believed the new virus most likely came from a laboratory – but days later, the scientists began dismissing such scenarios as “implausible” and branding them conspiracy theories.

The critical call is at the centre of concerns that the scientific establishment tried to stifle debate on the pandemic’s origins, as damning new evidence emerges of U.S. ties to high-risk research on bat viruses in Wuhan, where the first cases emerged in late 2019.

The MoS requested emails, minutes and notes on the call between Sir Patrick Vallance – Britain’s Chief Scientific Adviser – and its organisers Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust medical charity, and Anthony Fauci, the U.S. infectious diseases expert and presidential adviser.

Yet when the documents were released they had page after page redacted with thick lines of black ink by Whitehall officials. Even the names of experts copied in on discussions were blocked – and exchanges as trivial as one Edinburgh biologist’s “thank you” for being invited – leaving only a few basic details about the call visible.

The lines left intact include a demand for the discussions, involving 13 participants around the world, to be conducted in “total confidence”, and an intriguing email line suggesting “we need to talk about the backbone too, not just the insert”.

That was possibly sent by Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans, a member of the World Health Organisation team that produced a widely criticised report into Covid’s origins.

Such absurd state secrecy is highly contemptuous towards taxpayers and to a world that wants to know what caused this devastating pandemic to guard against similar catastrophes in the future.

The response was condemned by Tory MP and freedom of information campaigner David Davis.

“This is a matter of massive public and global importance,” he said. “It is hard to see why there should be such secrecy that it outweighs the immense public interest and requires them to redact this sort of important data.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Ian Birrell, who wrote the piece in the Mail on Sunday, has produced a Twitter thread showing some of the redacted documents which you can see here.

Lockdown Could Be Extended by “Between Two Weeks and a Month” Following “Grim” Briefing to Ministers by Whitty and Vallance

On Monday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said (and not for the first time): “[It] still remains that there is nothing in the data currently to suggest step four [of the lockdown roadmap] can’t go ahead at the earliest date.” Unfortunately, reports today are far more pessimistic about a June 21st unlock. This is largely due to a “fairly grim” briefing given to ministers by the Government’s two most senior scientific advisers on Monday. The Times has the story.

Britain’s roadmap for easing lockdown could be delayed by a fortnight with cabinet ministers increasingly pessimistic after a “downbeat” briefing from Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance.

The delay would enable all over-50s to be fully vaccinated and leave sufficient time for jabs to take effect before restrictions are lifted.

Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, and Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, yesterday gave a briefing to ministers on the latest data that was described as “fairly grim”.

They emphasised concerns about the rate of transmission of new strains of coronavirus, such as the Indian variant, and that vaccinations did not provide 100% protection. Millions of Britons remain unvaccinated.

One cabinet source said they expected a delay of “between two weeks and a month” but suggested that the political fallout was likely to be limited as long as the full reopening took place before the start of the school summer holidays late next month. Another said that a delay made more sense than a partial lifting of lockdown restrictions to avoid any “confusion” in messaging…

Johnson is expected to make a formal announcement on Monday, when the Government’s social distancing review will be published…

Another cabinet source described the mood in Whitehall as “downbeat”. “We always said it was June 21st at the earliest. We may need another few weeks to let the effects of vaccination take hold. Doing a partial reopening would create confusion. People have planned on the basis of a full reopening. It’s important that the messaging is consistent.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: James Melville is unimpressed by the suggestion of an extension to lockdown. “Hospitalisations are still low. One death [on Monday]. We have a vaccine. After June 21st, we can’t do this anymore. We are done.”

Stop Press 2: Matt Hancock has told four million people in Greater Manchester and Lancashire to “minimise travel”, get tested and only meet outdoors in a further sign that the unlocking will be delayed. MailOnline has more.

Stop Press 3: Rishi Sunak is willing to accept a delay of up to four weeks to the final stage of England’s reopening roadmap, according to the Guardian.

Sunak, the Chancellor, has in the past been regarded as more keen to lift lockdown constraints than some cabinet colleagues. But a Whitehall source said he was not fixated on the June 21st date and was more concerned that when restrictions are lifted, the move can be permanent. “The Treasury’s main thing is that freedoms are irreversible and businesses have clarity,” the source said.

Worth reading in full.

Why Ministers are Telling the Truth When they Say ‘Herd Immunity’ Was Never Government Policy

Home Secretary Priti Patel appeared on Andrew Marr on Sunday and repeated the Government line that “herd immunity” was never the Government’s strategy. “Our strategy was always about protecting public health, saving lives, and protecting the NHS,” she said.

Outside Government it seems to be accepted, including by its defenders, that this is untrue and herd immunity was originally part of the Government’s plan. Referring to allegations by Boris Johnson’s former Chief Adviser Dominic Cummings that the Government was following a herd immunity strategy until March, UnHerd editor Freddie Sayers writes:

Cummings’s big accusation that the initial pandemic response plan, based on flu, included the goal of herd immunity is long-established, as is the fact that the Government initially considered it, then deviated from it rapidly when its implications became clear.

If this is so, why does the Government continue to deny it?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Minister for Business, appeared on Good Morning Britain today to try to explain:

It was never the policy of this Government. Boris Johnson was very clear that the only thing that mattered was that we make sure that we saved lives and we keep our NHS safe and able to function, not only to protect those who might get Covid but also everybody else. … I’m very comfortable that the Prime Minister never had as his policy herd immunity.

Trevelyan was asked about remarks by Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance on March 13th 2020, when he said: “Our aim is to try and reduce the peak, broaden the peak, not suppress it completely. Also, because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease.”

The Times explains the distinction Trevelyan and the Government are seeking to draw.

UK Faces Decades of Misery Due to Lockdown

The Guardian published a story this morning about the huge collateral damage caused by the cack-handed response of the UK Government to the coronavirus crisis, although, typically, it attributes this damage to to the pandemic rather than the lockdowns. If you can overcome your irritation about this basic journalistic failure – why not look at how much less damage the “pandemic” has caused in Sweden, for Christ’s sake? – the story is helpful to the sceptics’ cause. It’s based on a new report by the Royal Academy.

Britain faces a “Covid decade” of social and cultural upheaval marked by growing inequality and deepening economic deprivation, a landmark review has concluded.

Major changes to the way society is run in the wake of the pandemic are needed to mitigate the impact of the “long shadow” cast by the virus, including declining public trust and an explosion in mental illness, the British Academy report found.

Published on the anniversary of the UK’s first lockdown, the report brings together more than 200 academic social science and humanities experts and hundreds of research projects. It was set up last year at the behest of the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

Ironic that Sir Patrick initiated an inquiry into the colossal harms that, in part at least, have been caused by his own mishandling of this crisis. If only he’d stuck to his guns and continued to follow the sensible course set out in the UK’s Pandemic Preparedness Strategy.

Given that the focus of the Royal Academy’s report – which you can read here – is the increase in inequality over the past year caused by the pandemic lockdowns, it will be interesting to see whether there’s a link between the rise in the Gini coefficient in different regions and the stringency of NPIs. Overwhelmingly likely I’d say, given that we already know there’s a link between the stringency of NPIs and economic damage – and the burden of that damage has already fallen on the least well off and will continue to do so over the next decade.

Worth reading in full.