SPI-M

Is this the First of Many SAGE Modellers to Recant?

Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of SPI-M, the modelling group on SAGE, has written a book – The Year the World Went Mad – in which he expresses deep regret about the fact that he and the Government’s other scientific advisors got almost everything completely wrong. The lockdown sceptics were right, in other words, particularly those who favoured ‘focused protection’ over universal restrictions. Harry de Quetteville in the Telegraph has more

“We knew from February [2020], never mind March, that the lockdown would not solve the problem. It would simply delay it,” Woolhouse says, a note of enduring disbelief in his voice. And yet in government, “there was no attention paid to that rather obvious drawback of the strategy”.

Instead, lockdowns – which “only made sense in the context of eradication” – became the tool of choice to control Covid. The die was cast in China, which instituted ultra-strict measures and, unforgivably in Woolhouse’s book, was praised by the World Health Organisation for its “bold approach”. “The WHO,” he suggests, “got the biggest calls completely wrong in 2020. The early global response to the pandemic was woefully inadequate.”

Watching on, the rest of the world found itself following the same template, even though no work had been done to assess the costs of lockdowns. After swine flu, modellers had studied the knock-on consequences of many elements of infection control, but they had never envisaged “an instruction for most of the population to stay at home”.

So in March 2020, Britain issued the most dramatic civilian order since the war, with no idea what the harms might be. Why?

Even today, Woolhouse says, from his office at the University of Edinburgh: “I don’t have a good answer for you. It was a frustration from the beginning.” What he does know is that while extremely detailed modelling was being done “on what the epidemic itself might look like and the harms that novel coronavirus would cause… on the other side of the scales, we had pretty much nothing at all. There was never at any stage, even by the following year, any form of analysis of the harms caused by lockdowns. Were they even considered? I haven’t seen any evidence that they were and that is very, very troubling.”

All this despite a report on lockdown’s wider consequences sent to SAGE by the Office for National Statistics as early as April 2020, assessing how many years of quality life would be lost to lockdowns. The best guess was that suppressing the virus would cost three times more years than the disease itself.

In part, this finding emerged because the ONS report reflected on the relative costs of lockdown to different parts of society – in this case, to the young as well as to the old. In retrospect, this seems like an uncontroversial thing to do. But Woolhouse, from his position on the inside as government policy was formed, saw something very different: the disease being described as a universal killer, when it was clear from the beginning some were very much more at risk than others.

“The first good data on this started to emerge in late February 2020,” he says. And as Britain endured the first Covid wave, this data was borne out in the facts. Those over 70 had at least 10,000 times the risk of dying as those under 15 years old. “This is a highly discriminatory virus,” Woolhouse says, still exasperated today. “It’s ageist, it’s sexist, it’s racist. And we certainly knew [that] before we went into lockdown.”

Yet the Government decided that telling half the population that they were at extremely low risk would dilute adherence to the harsh rules it was imposing, and instead ramped up the threat warnings. “We are all at risk,” noted Michael Gove in March 2020. “The virus does not discriminate.” But it did then, and it does now.

“I heard [the official] argument caricatured as: everyone died, but at least no one was saved unfairly,” notes Woolhouse. Policy became a form of epidemiological communism, with imposed equality, even if it was equality of misery. “BBC News backed up this misperception by regularly reporting rare tragedies involving low-risk individuals as if they were the norm,” notes Woolhouse.

As usual when a sinner recants, there is much rejoicing in the Daily Sceptic’s editorial offices. But it is hard not to say at the same time: “We f***ing told you so.”

You can buy Mark Woolhouse’s book here.

The Government’s Latest Scary Modelling is Already Wrong

There follows a guest post by Daily Sceptic reader Graham Williams (a pseudonym), a maths graduate and by profession an analyser of business plans, models, forecasts and funding requests. He is not impressed with the latest Government pandemic modelling.

I have just read the SPI-M consensus statement paper of September 8th, which appears to be at the heart of the recent stories about possible future lockdowns etc. This paper seems to be as big a load of negative, hyperbolic scaremongering as all the ones they have issued so far this year (February at the start of the roadmap, March, April, June and July).

In paragraph two they state: “SPI-M-O groups have reflected on their modelling of Step 4 of the Roadmap, and despite unexpected falls in cases in mid-July 2021, these scenarios can still be used to consider the future autumn and winter trajectory.”

They appear however not to have reflected that were it not for the unforecast Delta variant their modelling since February would have overstated the position of deaths, cases, and hospitalisations by June 21st by around 1,000%. Even with the rise caused by the variant, their forecasts remained hugely overblown, but they still continue to model with the same flawed methodology.

After paragraph two there follow about 18 paragraphs of largely unsubstantiated waffle with a few facts thrown in.

One of the facts is that R is currently (i.e., at the date of the paper) between 0.9 and 1.1, so broadly flat. The covering page to the report says: “These are not forecasts or predictions… They are based only on the observable trends and data available at the time the projections were produced.”

Had the modelling actually done what it said on the tin, project observable trends, then it would have been in line with their own medium-term projection of September 8th, which shows a fairly flat trend for September, even if arguably the base they have used is a bit low.

SAGE Modelling From May Last Year Said Approach Recommended in Great Barrington Declaration Was Least Bad Alternative to Lockdown

We’re publishing an original piece today by Lockdown Sceptics regular Glen Bishop, a second year maths student at Nottingham University. Glen has read a paper released by the Warwick modelling team that is part of SAGE’s SPI-M group last May and uncovered some interesting facts. Not the least of these is that when the team modelled what the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration refer to as “Focused Protection”, i.e. protecting the elderly and allowing those who aren’t vulnerable to the disease to go about their lives taking sensible precautions, as they would during a normal flu season, the projected loss of life between March 2020 and May 2021 was 138,000, only 11,000 more than the 127,000 that have supposedly died from Covid already, with the Government embracing the suppression strategy endorsed by SPI-M. The modelling team also acknowledges that of all the alternatives to an indiscriminate lockdown, shielding those aged 60 and over would have resulted in the least loss of life as well as the least socio-economic disruption. Here’s the key paragraph from the Warwick paper:

A completely uncontrolled outbreak is predicted to lead to around 200,000 deaths, approximately 2 million QALY losses but no lockdown impacts. If the current controls are maintained until the end of 2020, then we predict 39,000 deaths this year [2020], but a further 159,000 if controls were then completely removed. Regional switching and age-dependent strategies provide alternative exit strategies in the absence of pharmaceutical interventions. Of these, the age-dependent shielding of those age 60 or over generates the lowest mortality and also the lowest lockdown scale, thereby minimising socio-economic disruption. However, it is unclear if a protracted lockdown of this age-group would be practical, ethical or politically acceptable.

Glen’s article is worth reading in full.