The Observer leads with a new poll by Opinium that reveals fewer than one in five of the British public believe the lockdown should be lifted. 67% of people think schools should remain closed, against only 17% who think they should reopen. Just 11% think it’s time to reconsider reopening restaurants, with 78% against, while only 9% think pubs should reopen, with 81% against. When it comes to sporting events, 84% are against allowing mass gatherings to take place, with just 7% in favour.
Unfortunately, that poll isn’t an outlier. A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times found that just 25% of adults would feel safe returning to work and the public opposes reopening schools by 48% to 28%. And 59% of people polled by the Sunday Express said they would not feel comfortable going out and don’t plan to resume a normal life any time soon.
It’s official. We’re a nation of bedwetters. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
And it isn’t just us. In America, the lockdown zealots are on the march, having got the hashtag #extendthelockdown trending on Twitter. New York Times journalist Taylor Lorenz has been banging the drum for this cause, tweeting: “The ‘open up the economy’ people are truly the dumbest ppl on here. How do they think the economy will look when millions are dead and our hospitals are overwhelmed? If u want to ‘save the economy’ then u need to keep everyone *alive.*”
Among the “dumbest ppl” expressing scepticism about the effectiveness of the lockdown policy is Michael Levitt, Professor of Structural Biology at Stanford and the winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2013. Levitt has given a great interview to Freddie Sayers at UnHerd pouring scorn on lockdown advocates and their scientific handmaidens. Among the points he makes is that the total number of deaths we are seeing in places as different as New York City, parts of England, parts of France and Northern Italy all seem to level out at a very similar fraction of the total population. “Are they all practising equally good social distancing?” he asks. “I don’t think so.” He points out that the lifecycle of the virus, wherever it has broken out, is remarkably similar, regardless of local differences and irrespective of whether lockdowns have been imposed or not. In particular, after a two week period of exponential growth infections and deaths tail off, meaning the projections of Neil Ferguson and other modellers, which assume constant exponential growth absent a lockdown, are vast overestimates. And worth bearing in mind that so far Levitt’s death toll estimates have been much more accurate than Professor Ferguson’s.
Here’s one of the interview highlights:
I think the policy of herd immunity is the right policy. I think Britain was on exactly the right track before they were fed wrong numbers. And they made a huge mistake. I see the standout winners as Germany and Sweden. They didn’t practise too much lockdown and they got enough people sick to get some herd immunity. I see the standout losers as countries like Austria, Australia and Israel that had very strict lockdown but didn’t have many cases. They have damaged their economies, caused massive social damage, damaged the educational year of their children, but not obtained any herd immunity. There is no doubt in my mind that when we come to look back on this, the damage done by lockdown will exceed any saving of lives by a huge factor.
One of the most interesting sections of the interview is when Levitt explains why epidemiologists’ predictions tend to be so apocalyptic. The reason, he says, is because if they underestimate the death toll likely to result from a viral outbreak they face catastrophic reputational damage – if people die, they get the blame – but if they overestimate it they face zero consequences. “In my work, if I say a number is too small and I’m wrong, or a number is too high and I’m wrong, both of those errors are the same,” he says. “It seems that being a factor of 1,000 too high is perfectly okay in epidemiology, but being a factor of three too low is too low.”
Worth reminding ourselves that Neil Ferguson’s estimates of the impact of previous viral outbreaks – which have been almost comically inaccurate – haven’t damaged his scientific reputation in the slightest. In 2001, he predicted that foot and mouth disease could kill up to 50,000 people. It ended up killing less than 200. In 2005, he told the Guardian that up to 200 million people could die from bird flu. The final death toll from avian flu strain A/H5N1 was 440. And in 2009, a Government estimate based on one of Ferguson’s models estimated the likely death toll from swine flu at 65,000. In fact, it was 457.
Just in case the Government’s anointed scientific experts haven’t done quite enough to scare the bejesus out of people, another group of experts is intending to shadow the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and publish what looks to be even more cautious advise. According to the Sunday Times, the former Chief Scientific Advisor to the British Government, Sir David King, will chair the group, which is meeting for the first time tomorrow. “It is expected to focus on seven key areas,” says the report. “These include the criteria being used to lift the lockdown, how testing and tracing can be achieved, whether the policies on quarantine and the shielding of vulnerable groups are sufficient and how untapped resources can be better deployed.”
Whether the existing lockdown is sufficient?!? God give me strength.
Incidentally, it’s probably a good idea to watch Professor Levitt’s interview ASAP because there’s a risk YouTube will take it down. Yesterday, the video platform deleted David Icke’s channel, telling the BBC it had “clear policies prohibiting any content that disputes the existence and transmission of COVID-19 as described by the WHO and the NHS”.
The censorious attitude of the tech giants – and the gatekeepers of the mainstream media – to anyone who challenges official Covid orthodoxy is reminiscent of the suppression of dissent in totalitarian societies. A reader pointed me towards this quote by Friedrich Hayek:
The situation in a totalitarian state is permanently and in all fields the same as it is elsewhere in some fields in wartime. Everything which might cause doubt about the wisdom of the government or create discontent will be kept from the people. The basis of unfavourable comparisons with conditions elsewhere, the knowledge of possible alternatives to the course actually taken, information which might suggest failure on the part of the government to live up to its promises or to take advantage of opportunities to improve conditions, will be suppressed.Friedrich Hayek, The road to Serfdom
Yesterday I flagged up the fact that America had endured a bad bout of seasonal flu in 1967 that killed 100,000 people – more Americans than COVID-19 has killed so far – and managed to cope without placing its citizens under virtual house arrest. A reader has drawn my attention to this piece in the National Review about how America responded to what was referred to in 1968 as “Hong Kong flu”, which, needless to say, didn’t involve closing schools or shutting down businesses or imposing stay-at-home orders. As an article in the American Institute for Economic Research pointed out, Woodstock took place during that flu outbreak. And the Telegraph ran a similar piece yesterday, pointing out that the British authorities responded to the same pandemic without over-reacting, recommending hand-washing and social distancing at work but nothing more. Both pieces drew on an article in the British Medical Journal by a retired professor of medicine called Philip Philip Snashall, whose two-year-old daughter was the first known case of Hong Kong flu to hit Europe. “How things change,” he noted. “The stock market did not plummet, we were not besieged by the press, men in breathing apparatus did not invade my daughter’s play group.”
It’s not all bad news in today’s papers. The Mail on Sunday reports that the Royal College of GPs and the British Medical Association have warned the Government against quarantining healthy people aged 70 and over when the lockdown is eased – and a furious row has broken out between Matt Hancock and the Sunday Times, which has the same story, in which the Health Secretary disputes that quarantining the elderly for 12 weeks is official Government policy. “The clinically vulnerable, who are advised to stay in lockdown for 12 weeks, emphatically DO NOT include all over 70s,” he tweeted above a screen grab of the Sunday Times‘s front page.
Here’s a quick round up of stories that have stood out for me, and been flagged up by readers, in the past 24 hours:
- ‘The science is becoming clear: lockdowns are no longer the right medicine‘ – Op Ed in the Sunday Times by John Ioannidis and Rohan Silva
- ‘Wuhan virus lab “cover-up”‘ – Story in the Mail on Sunday about lax security at the Wuhan Virology Institute
- ‘Is evidence rising that Britain’s lockdown could be a deadly mistake?‘ – Great column in the Telegraph by Sherelle Jacobs
- ‘I’ve worked the coronavirus front line – and I say it’s time to start opening up‘ – Op Ed by a New York City ER doctor in the New York Post
- ‘We’re destroying the nation’s wealth – and the health of millions‘ – Peter Hitchens, an early sceptic, in the Mail on Sunday
- ‘Protesters in London take part in group hug in defiance of coronavirus lockdown outside Met Police headquarters‘ – Story about a small protest in the Evening Standard
- ‘GCHQ granted extended powers to demand data from the NHS during the COVID-19 crisis‘ – Story in Computing about the intelligence-gathering hub being given extended powers by Matt Hancock
- ‘Why do we clap the NHS, yet take the success of the private sector for granted?‘ – Good column in the Telegraph by Dan Hannan
- ‘Capitalism 1, Big Government 0‘ – Entertaining column in the Critic by the always amusing David Starkey pointing out that privately-run supermarkets addressed critical shortages much better than the publicly-run NHS
In what may be becoming a series, here’s another letter in the Telegraph about the wrongful diagnosis of COVID-19 as the cause of death in a care home:
Sir – My mother died last week in a care home at the age of 98. When my brother registered her death, as expected the cause given was “frailty due to old age”, but he was surprised to see that the doctor certifying the death had added “presumed COVID-19”, an inclusion that also shocked the home’s manager.
The day before our mother died, my brother was allowed to sit with her for an hour. His temperature was checked before he was admitted, but there was no form of isolation and none of the home’s staff were wearing personal protective equipment.
If doctors are attributing all deaths in care homes to COVID-19, it makes a nonsense of any statistics and does great reputational damage to both individual care homes and to the care industry as a whole.Tony Parkinson, Christchurch, Dorset
And for a bit of light relief, there’s a story in the Sunday Times about how the lockdown has given an unexpected boon to amateur pornographers (‘Debbie does lockdown: coronavirus home porn goes viral‘.) “Data from Pornhub, the world’s most popular video-sharing website, suggests COVID-19 is far from a turn-off for libidos inflamed by the sight of a mask or the thought of a police officer hiding in the bushes,” says the paper. “It has reported more than 8.2 million searches for videos about ‘quarantine’, with overall viewership up by about 25% since lockdowns were introduced.’ Wannabe porn stars have to apply to be verified by the website, but after they’ve received Pornhub’s imprimatur they can then upload their videos and are paid when the clips are viewed. The site now boasts more than 165,000 amateur performers, up 41% in the past year. According to the Sunday Times: “Popular themes in the coronavirus genre include ‘doctors and nurses’ inspecting ‘patients’; women performing sexual acts in return for loo paper or dried pasta; and police officers turning up at opportune moments.”
Another candidate for Hero of the Week has been nominated by a reader: Plants Galore, a company that has garden centres in Plymouth, Exeter and Newton Abbott. Not only has this company defied the lockdown order, arguing that their garden centres are also hardware stores and therefore should be exempt, it has also started a petition to try and stop the local council shutting down its outlets. The petition has already attracted over 3,500 signatures, including mine. Thanks to CBird for flagging this up in the comment thread below yesterday’s Latest News.
Readers have suggested more theme tunes for the site: ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now‘ by the Smiths, ‘No Restrictions‘ by Men at Work, Thomas Tallis’s ‘Spem Alium‘ by Stile Antico and ‘I’m a Lazy Sod‘ by the Sex Pistols.
Thanks to those who donated to this site yesterday. If you feel like donating, you can do so by clicking here. (Every little helps!) And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, you can email me here. See you tomorrow.