Today’s Sunday Times leads with the story that senior ministers have drawn up a three-phase exit plan that would see schools reopened on May 11th. (If you can’t get past the Sunday Times‘s paywall, you can read about the plan in the Mail here.) Under the “traffic light” plan, which has yet to be approved by Boris, schools would reopen on May 11th during the “green” phase, along with clothes shops, garden centres and hairdressers, and rail and bus services would return to normal. This would be followed by a second “amber” stage, starting in late May or early June, which would see more shops and businesses reopen, all employees urged to return to work and some small social gatherings permitted. Pubs and restaurants and larger events such as sport and concerts would be phased in later in the summer. However, the over-70s and those with underlying health conditions will be stuck on a “red” light and have to wait until a vaccine is available before they’re allowed to resume normal life. (Note to Boris: a vaccine probably won’t be available for several years, so why not just let older people decide for themselves whether to leave their homes and see their grandchildren?)
This, or something like it, is the exit strategy the Government should have unveiled on Thursday when it announced the lockdown would be extended for three weeks. It looks like the “hawks” in the Cabinet – those who want to end the lockdown – have triumphed over the “doves”. (Michael Gove, who was a leading dove, has “changed his position”, according to the Sunday Times.) One reason the hawks have gained the upper hand, the paper says, is because the Treasury has produced an “apocalyptic” report – soon to be leaked, no doubt – warning that failure to ease restrictions in “the next few weeks” will mean 60% of businesses running out of cash within three months. Did the Cabinet really need to wait for this report, given that the British Chamber of Commerce flagged up exactly the same risk nearly three weeks ago? And why did the doves – or former doves – not heed the warnings of the Resolution Foundation, the Centre for Economic and Business Research, the OBR, the OECD, the IMF, the Governor of the Bank of England, Uncle Tom Cobley and all? I suppose we should be grateful that they’ve finally woken up and smelt the coffee.
Meanwhile, evidence continues to mount that the epidemiologists and virologists on NERVTAG and SAGE who spooked the Government into imposing a lockdown underestimated the percentage of the population that’s already been exposed to the virus and overestimated the infection fatality rate. For instance, all 397 residents in a Boston homeless shelter were given a swab test a couple of weeks ago and 146 tested positive, an infection rate of 37%. And not a single one of them had any symptoms. You can read more about that here. A reader flagged up a story in yesterday’s Le Figaro that points to a similar conclusion. The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle experienced a Covid outbreak and all the crew were tested (1760) of whom 1046 (60%) were positive. 50% of those were asymptomatic. 20-30 of them were hospitalised, but only one required critical care – an officer in his 50s. And here’s another story out of Boston: a researcher from Massachusetts General Hospital gave antibody tests to 200 random passers-by street and a third tested positive. The Boston Globe has the story.
Mikko Paunio, the epidemiologist who’s been advising the Finnish Government, has written an addendum to his paper, ‘Has SARS-CoV-2 fooled the whole world?’, that I published on this site on Friday. In the update he refers to a number of surveys that have been published since he wrote the paper that seem to corroborate his hypothesis, namely, that many more people have been exposed to the virus than the WHO originally estimated, that at least 50% of people infected are asymptomatic and that large cities like New York are close to herd immunity. You can read the addendum here (scroll down).
Lockdown zealots got very excited over the mid-week figures showing the Swedish death toll was beginning to climb again, citing this as incontrovertible proof that the Swedish Government’ approach to managing the crisis is flat out wrong. Unfortunately for them, the daily death toll in Sweden has started to fall again – 67 on April 17th, down from 130 on April 16th and 170 the day before. As of April 17th, the total number of COVID-19 deaths in Sweden was 1,511, less than 10% of the total deaths in the UK (15,464). Sweden’s population is smaller than the UK’s – 10.23 million compared to 66.65 – but not 10 times smaller. Deaths per million in Sweden are 150, compared to 228 in the UK. Admittedly, that’s a higher number than in Denmark (60 per million) or Norway (30), which have imposed lockdowns, but you’d expect it to be far higher if lockdowns are as effective as the zealots claim. Meanwhile, Belgium, which has roughly the same population as Sweden and has just announced an extension of its lockdown, is recording 471 deaths per million. When this is over and the post-mortem begins, I wonder if lockdowns will be shown to have had any effect on slowing the rate of infection and reducing the total number of fatalities? Certainly doesn’t look that way based on current evidence.
One subject I’ve neglected in these daily updates so far is the source of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, but there’s been an interesting development on that front seeming to show that the virus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology and not the Huanan Seafood Market. For those unversed in this conspiracy theory – at least, I used to think it was a conspiracy theory – this YouTube video is a good primer. This investigation by the Washington Post is also good. The latest person to endorse the theory is Dr Luc Montagnier, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Medicine. He’s not suggesting SARS-CoV-2 was developed as a bioweapon, or released deliberately to wreck the economies of China’s competitors. But having analysed the genome of the virus, he and a colleague have concluded that it contains sequences from the HIV virus. The only explanation, according to Dr Montagnier, is that molecular tools were used to insert the HIV virus in the genome of SARS-CoV-2 and that could only be done in a laboratory. There’s a summary of his argument in the Jewish Voice and a podcast in which he’s interviewed about it by Dr Jean-François Lemoine (in French).
A reader has tipped me off about an out-of-print dystopian novel that seems to have anticipated this moment. She writes:
In this horribly topical tale, the Brits are gradually herded into walled cities like medieval castles, life is pared back to the minimum, with rationing and state-ordered work, because of some unnamed external threat, presumed to be the superpowers lobbing nuclear bombs at each other. (China is one of the superpowers). It’s all done over several years, by harmless sounding but increasingly authoritarian ministerial pronouncements. Society ends up in total lockdown, with everyone spying on each other, travel bans, thought police, 24-hour passes into cities, and even murders of passing strangers condoned by the courts, purely because they’re strangers. The hero, an academic who seems untouched by the brainwashing, says to his girlfriend’s parents: “But how can you accept all this so easily? Don’t you remember the way you were living a year ago? Don’t you ever ask who’s responsible for all this happening? Or why? Don’t you care?” There is a pause, and then the old man leans forward and pats him on the knee. “We’re safe, lad,” he says. “No one cares how much they pay for that.”
The novel, called Mandrake, is by Susan Cooper, author of the Dark is Rising Sequence, a series of five fantasy novels written for older children and young adults. You can buy it second-hand on Amazon.co.uk, but the cheapest paperback edition appears to be £29.70! Let me know if you see it on sale for less. You can email me here.
Several readers got in touch to say they tried to sign the petition I flagged up yesterday but were unable to. The reason is because once a proposed UK Government and Parliament petition has received a sufficient number of signatures it is then checked to make sure it meets the relevant standards and, in the meantime, no one else can sign it. On the website it says, “This usually takes a week or less, however we have a very large number to check at the moment so it is likely to take longer.” I will keep an eye on it and let you know when it’s approved (if ever), but in the meantime here is an ‘End the Lockdown’ petition on Change.org you can sign.
Finally, I’d like to say a big thanks to all those readers who donated yesterday. If you’d like to make a donation to Lockdown Sceptics, please click here. Constantly adding to the links on this site, moderating your comments and writing the daily update is proving quite time-consuming!