Lockdown zealots like Piers Morgan and Carole Cadwalladr have exploded with delight at the Guardian‘s story that Dominic Cummings attended the Secret Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) on March 23rd, the day Boris Johnson announced the lockdown. “This may turn out to be the biggest scandal of the crisis,” tweeted Piers, while Carole declared it “unfuckingbelievable”. Ooh, mother!
So are they – and the Guardian – suggesting the decision to impose a lockdown was, in part, a political one and not just based on the wise counsel of the Government’s scientific advisors? That the Machiavellian Brexit mastermind had to infiltrate SAGE to browbeat the boffins into advising Boris to do what he judged to be in Boris’s best interests, not the country’s? Does this mean they’ve all done a reverse ferret and joined the ranks of lockdown sceptics? Not sure how the Guardian‘s scoop will sit with its columnists, who until now have tried to out-bid each other in their enthusiasm for the lockdown – “No I care about the NHS more.” “No I do.” “No I do.” Hitherto, the Guardian‘s main criticism of Boris is that he didn’t place the British people under house arrest even sooner. Now, apparently, the lockdown is just a piece of political theatre staged by Dominic Cummings.
The statement from No 10 rebutting the story, attributed to a “spokesman”, denied Cummings was a member of SAGE, claimed he sometimes listened in to meetings “to understand better the scientific debates concerning this emergency” and “the limits of how science and data can help Government decisions” and said he “occasionally” offers to help “when scientists mention problems in Whitehall”. (Darn those pesky bureaucrats.) The statement concluded: “Public confidence in the media has collapsed during this emergency partly because of ludicrous stories such as this.” Sounds like Cummings wrote that himself, but I can’t help thinking he has a point.
In other news, it looks as though the Government is engaging in a bit of “pitch rolling” ahead of an exit strategy announcement. At yesterday’s Downing Street press conference, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, seemed to admit we were beyond the peak, albeit in a mealy mouthed way. “It isn’t over, we’re riding perhaps, we hope, a downward trend but it is by no means, no means established yet,” he said. Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, told MPs on the Science and Technology Select Committee that the virus’s reproduction number – its R0 – is now less than one. “The R that we have at the moment is somewhere between 0.5 and 1,” he said. “Let’s say for the sake of argument it is in the middle of that range, which I think is likely, that does give a little bit of scope for manoeuvre and ticking some things off while still keeping it below 1.” Scope for manoeuvre. Geddit?
As if in anticipation of Monday’s big reveal – yes, I’m still optimistic – several of today’s papers report that the Government has “discreetly” told various businesses to get back to work, although not all that discreetly since it has evidently briefed this story out. (See this story in the Telegraph and this one in the Mail.) McDonald’s, British Steel and Persimmon are among those companies that have announced they’ll be reopening next month.
While we wait for Boris’s return, I thought it might be helpful to list the countries that have either eased their lockdowns or announced they’ll do so shortly: Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Columbia, Croatia, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany… actually, this is going to take too long, but you get the idea. The UK is now an extreme outlier. Incidentally, Dominic Raab’s five tests have all been met according to Alistair Haimes in the Critic. You can read his persuasive analysis here.
If Boris still hasn’t decided on an exit strategy, I can recommend this one by the climate change researcher Nicholas Lewis. He’s crunched the data and concluded that the infection fatality rate for those under-70 who do not suffer from any of the chronic health conditions associated with COVID-19 morbidity, as well as those under 30 who do have one or more of the relevant health conditions, is 0.03%. That’s 41 million people, according to Lewis. Let them return to normal life while keeping the elderly and the vulnerable fairly isolated. By the end of the year, he calculates, approximately 54% of the population would no longer be susceptible to COVID-19, which would be sufficient to give us herd immunity. (It would also have the advantage of minimising the risk of a second wave of infections next winter, although my own view is that such a risk is negligible.) Lewis’s plan won’t be popular with readers of this site aged 70 and over, but this piece by John Humphries in today’s Mail will be. The headline is: ‘Keeping grandparents away from their loved ones after lockdown ends isn’t “shielding” – it’s cruelty.’
The news this week has been dominated by testing, with lockdown zealots in the media eagerly looking forward to Matt Hancock missing his target of 100,000 tests per day by the end of the month. (In an ominous portent, the Government’s website allowing essential workers to book coronavirus tests shut down yesterday after 16,000 people rushed to make an appointment.) At yesterday’s press briefing Grant Shapps said the Government hoped to have 48 test centres open across the country by next week. But if people think they’ve got the virus, do we really want them using public transport to get to one of these centres? And once they get there, how are they going to stop themselves infecting other people queuing for tests? (Although that might help us achieve herd immunity quicker.) Perhaps most important, how reliable will these tests be? Lockdown Sceptics has published an analysis by David Crowe, an infectious diseases expert, of 33 of the PCR tests approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and concluded they all have serious limitations. You can read his article here. Will the Government’s PCR tests be any more reliable?
One reader has been in touch to take issue with my use of the “hawks v doves” language to describe those in Government in favour of easing the lockdown (the hawks) and those against (the doves). “The trouble is that doves are always seen as the kind caring guys – in geopolitics they favour peace over war, in central banking they call for easy money, in government they prefer deficit spending, etc,” he writes. “Is it really correct to describe someone who wishes to keep a nation locked down on the flimsiest of evidence with fathomless economic, social and now mounting healthcare costs, a ‘dove’? They more closely resemble the pelican that rips at its own breast.”
Lots of people have been in touch to recommend this video of two doctors in Bakersfield who’ve studied COVID-19. Some of what they say will be familiar to readers of this site – the initial modelling underestimated the percentage of the population who’ve been infected and overestimated the IFR (which these doctors put at 0.03 in the state of California), non-COVID-19 patients are being neglected by healthcare systems geared up to treat COVID-19 patients, lockdowns are no more effective at flattening the peak than more modest social distancing measures, etc. But some of it will be unfamiliar, such as their scepticism about the effectiveness of wearing masks and gloves. Worth a watch.
Among those groups who aren’t having a good crisis, celebrities must be near the top. This video produced by an Australian comedy troop is very funny and Ricky Gervais took aim at celebs in typically withering style on Radio 5 Live yesterday. (The Mail has the highlights.) The gist of the criticism is that if you’re living in a tiny flat in a high rise, self-isolating with your wife and three kids, it won’t be much comfort to watch a video clip of a multi-millionaire on Twitter, recorded at their 2,000-acre ranch in Montana, urging us to remain in our homes and assuring us that we’re all in this together.
Yesterday I was asked by one lockdown zealot whether this site is receiving “funny money” from Russia. Not sure he’d thought that one though. Surely, if Putin wants to crush his geopolitical rivals then it’s in his interests for Britain to prolong its lockdown for as long as possible, thereby turning our economy into a basket case? In fact, Lockdown Sceptics is entirely dependent on readers’ donations – and thanks to those who donated yesterday. If you’d like to donate, please click here. As far as I’m aware, Putin is not a reader.
And finally, the Free Speech Union (which I co-founded in February) fired off a letter to Ofcom yesterday complaining about its ridiculous decision to reprimand ITV and London Live for comments made by Eamonn Holmes and David Icke about links between 5G technology and coronavirus. Holmes’s sin, according to the regulator, was to say on ITV’s This Morning that the theory linking 5G and coronavirus deserved to be discussed in the mainstream media, even though he agreed with his co-presenter that it was “not true and incredibly stupid”. Ofcom said that this view – the view that the theory deserved a public hearing – was “ill-judged and risked undermining viewers’ trust in advice from public authorities and scientific evidence” and could lead to “significant harm to the public”. The Free Speech Union regards these decisions as highly inimical to freedom of expression for reasons set out in the letter, which you can read here. As I’ve said several times before, the state has substantially increased its powers and imposed restrictions on long-established liberties during this crisis and it’s absolutely vital that we should scrutinise and challenge those measures. The idea that any dissent from the official line causes “significant harm to the public” is for the birds. No doubt if this site was regulated by Ofcom it would have been sanctioned too.