Why is there a furious row about the Government’s failure to secure more ventilators when the evidence is clear that ventilators are largely ineffective at treating COVID-19? According to this letter published in the Lancet, 86% of patients put on mechanical ventilation in a Wuhan hospital died. An earlier study put the figure at 97%. For patients facing certain death without ventilation, there’s an argument for intubation, although it may just speed their demise when palliative care would be more appropriate. But for those not facing certain death, there’s mounting evidence that mechanical ventilation does more harm than good. This is the kind of gotcha journalism that has seen the public’s estimation of my profession plummet during the crisis. Don’t mean to single out the FT, by the way. Nearly all the papers have the story.
The Telegraph leads with the shortcomings of the PCR test given to almost 100,000 NHS and social care workers and raises the possibility that some could have been given the green light to return to work when they were still infected, thanks to the high incidence of false negatives. Another risk is that those who tested positive – but didn’t, in fact, have the virus – may now be going back to work, convinced they’ve developed immunity. (My 11 year-old son Charlie was tested in February after returning from a school ski trip to Northern Italy with all the classic symptoms of COVID-19 – cough, fever, loss of taste and smell. The result came back negative, but I think he had it.) Dr Kevin Corbett, an independent research consultant, has done some digging into the reliability of the PCR tests being used in America and posted a comment under ‘Testing: Do You Have the Disease’ that you can read here. He’s not impressed.
A reader has forwarded a link to an interesting blog post by someone called Phil Nuttridge. He now works as a masseur and nutritionist but his previous career was in science and he has a masters degree in statistics. His motivation for blogging about coronavirus is, in part, to alleviate the stress caused by the hysterical coverage in the mainstream media. In this post he creates a series of graphs, based on information about six different countries obtained from Our World in Data, that seem to show infections peak between 31 and 33 days after cases first start appearing. This is true of all six countries, regardless of their varying population densities, testing rates, case levels and mortality rates and – crucially – in spite of the severity of the lockdowns they’ve imposed and when they imposed them in the lifecycle of the epidemic. You can read it here or watch it on YouTube here. Phil’s analysis complements that of Professor Isaac Ben-Israel, who maintains that infections rise and fall in each country according to the same timeline, irrespective of local conditions.
Wilfried Reilly, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Kentucky State University, has come to a similar conclusion in Spiked. He’s analysed data from Worldometer’s Coronavirus Project (a great source of data, btw) to compare the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in US states that have adopted lockdowns or ‘shelter in place’ orders with those that have pursued a social-distancing strategy without a formal lockdown. He’s also performed the same exercise for different countries. He ran a regression analysis, controlling for all the factors that could account for discrepancies between different places: population, population density, median income, median age, diversity (measured as the percentage of minorities in a population), etc. The result? Lockdowns are no more effective when it comes to suppressing infections and deaths than well-done social-distancing measures. You can read the article here. (And if you’re interested, you can listen to a podcast in which I interviewed Professor Reilly for Quillette last month here.)
Several think tanks have come up with exit strategies. Guido Fawkes has a summary here. He also flags up a new report by the Centre for Policy Studies showing that Government borrowing this year will rise from £55 billion to approximately £300 billion, representing 15% of GDP. That’s money that will have to be paid back in the form of higher taxes and spending cuts. As Fawkes says, we need to end the lockdown before this climbs even higher.
Two economists presented their proposals for lifting the lockdown to the Treasury Select Committee yesterday: Dr Gerard Lyons and Ian Mulheirn. (You can read their proposals here and here.) One reader has read them and reported back:
- They both claim that lockdowns have been proved to work to control the virus. How can they be so sure as economists?
- They are both fully signed up to the doomsday predictions of mass death without a lockdown and that saving the lives of people who would otherwise die of COVID-19 is far more important than getting the economy restarted.
- There’s talk of a tracing app being essential as we go forward with zero mention of the impact (from what I can see) on civil liberties.
- Further lockdowns can’t be ruled out, according to them.
- No diversity of opinion or critical thought.
- Overall rather depressing stuff.
Not surprisingly, I prefer the exit strategy of Chris Hope, Emeritus Reader in Policy Modelling at Cambridge Judge Business School. His idea is that the young should volunteer to get infected, then isolate until no longer infectious, after which they can go about their normal lives. In that way, herd immunity is gradually built up. You can read Professor Hope’s proposal here. A similar strategy has been suggested by a team of researchers at Princeton University and the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, a public health advocacy group based in New Delhi and Washington. They recommend the best hope for poorer countries like India is herd immunity. You can read a summary here.
After yesterday’s story, sent to me by a reader, about a woman being stopped by the police on Hungerford bypass and given a dressing down for no apparent reason I thought it would be useful to reproduce the Crown Prosecution Service’s guidance about what does and doesn’t constitute a “reasonable excuse” for not being at home, as set out in the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020. There are several interesting loopholes. For instance, the rule that you need a “reasonable excuse” to leave the place you live does not apply to homeless people. So if you want to “remain seated for a much longer period” on a park bench than it takes you to walk there – not reasonable, apparently – just make sure you’re carrying 10 copies of the Big Issue. Another rule is you’re allowed to drive to the countryside to go for a walk, but only if you spend more time walking than you do driving. As one reader asked, does this mean he can make the nine-hour round-trip to Scotland provided he goes for a 10-hour walk in the Highlands? The guidance only applies to England, so I asked an Irish barrister – Ciarán McCollum – to expand it for the other nations in the United Kingdom. I’ve published both the guidance and Ciarán’s piece in an Appendix accessible at the bottom of the right-hand menu. (Scroll down.) Feel free to print them out and wave them in the face of any officious martinet who tries to prevent you going about your lawful business.
Incidentally, some of the official guidance may be illegal. Francis Hoar, one of the barristers who represented Darren Grimes in his battle with the Electoral Commission, has written a guest post for UK Human Rights Blog arguing that some of the powers the state has arrogated to itself to enforce the lockdown may be unlawful. He points out that if this was tested in court by a judicial review the judge would have to consider whether the restrictions on our age-old liberties are a proportionate response to the scientific evidence about how best to manage the virus and that, in turn, would mean assessing the quality of the scientific advice the Government has been relying on. If Francis Hoar ever has the opportunity to cross-examine Professor Neil Ferguson, I’d like a seat in the gallery.
Quick global round-up of sceptical news. A study in India found that 69% of people who tested positive for COVID-19 were asymptomatic. In New Zealand a group of lockdown sceptics have set up a website called ‘Covid Plan B‘ that’s worth a look. And the latest news from Sweden is that Stockholm could have herd immunity by the end of the month according to Dr Anders Tegnell. (Give that man the Nobel Prize for Medicine.) And this video by a frustrated New Yorker who’s fed up with being locked down is a thing of beauty. (Warning: Contains profanity. Lots of profanity.)
A few days ago I passed on a reader’s book recommendation: Mandrake, a dystopian novel written in 1964 by Susan Cooper that anticipates the current moment with spooky accuracy. Another reader has found it on sale for £25.00, a bit less than on Amazon.co.uk. I should say that I now have a copy, generously donated by Stephen Ryan, and I will read it and report back.
As ever, thanks to all those readers who made a donation yesterday to pay for the upkeep of this site. It’s hugely appreciated. If you’d like to make a donation to Lockdown Sceptics, please click here. And ignore the dollar symbol. It all comes out in the wash.