The Independent leads with the news that the NHS is about to pilot its new coronavirus detector app – known as the “NHSX app” – in the Isle of Wight. Matt Hancock is expected to announce at today’s Downing Street press briefing that the 141,000 residents of the island will become the first people in the country to test the new homegrown app.
But why has the NHS developed its own contact-tracing app rather than rely on the tried-and-tested approach developed by Apple and Google? According to this report in The Register, the British Government has rejected the Apple-Google approach because the US tech giants protect their users’ privacy too well. The Apple-Google approach is a tracing programme that relies on users consenting to their phones being used for data collection without creating a hackable data pool. The NHS app, by contrast, automatically sends that information to a central database on state-owned servers that creates a honey-pot for identity thieves.
Two concerns immediately spring to mind. First, if the app is being developed by the NHS, will it actually work? The NHS’s efforts to develop its own computerised patient record system had to be abandoned in 2013 at a cost of nearly £10 billion to the taxpayer. Second, will the NHS be able to protect all the data it gathers? Pooling data in one place is very bad practice from a security point of view and a group of 173 security academics have written a ‘we, the undersigned’ letter flagging up their concerns about privacy and medical confidentiality if the NHS app is rolled out nationally. (More on that letter here.) Two years ago the NHS became one of the most high-profile victims of the global WannaCry cyber attack that ended up costing the UK taxpayer £92 million. One of the reasons the NHS was particularly vulnerable is that it was using out-of-date IT systems, including Windows XP, then 17 years old. Incidentally, the Norwegian government developed it’s own Covid-tracker app and refused to publish the source code on the grounds that it would pose a security risk. Within a week, open source advocates had decompiled it, published their findings and identified numerous glitches. If, by some miracle, nothing goes wrong on the Isle of Wight, we’ll all be expected to download the new NHS app to our phones in the next two or three weeks.
Meanwhile, at yesterday’s press briefing Michael Gove said the British public must learn to live with restrictions on our movement for many months and would have to adapt to a “new normal” going forward. (As if to underline the point, several of today’s papers have said Boris won’t unveil an exit plan on Thursday as expected, but will now wait until next Sunday – and BuzzFeed‘s Alex Wickham has some detail on what’s likely to be in that plan here.) “Ultimately, unless and until we have a vaccine then I suspect that we are going to have to live with some degree of constraint because of the nature of the virus,” Gove said.
Does this mean we should start calling the restrictions the Government has put in place the “Forever Lockdown” after Joe Haldeman’s science fiction classic The Forever War? A reader has flagged up a quote from another science fiction author, Robert Heinlein, that is appropriate for the current time, given how little dissent from Covid orthodoxy is tolerated:
I began to sense faintly that secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy . . . censorship. When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, “This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,” the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything – you can’t conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.
If you’re concerned about the silencing of critical voices, someone has started a petition on Change.org calling for the resignation of Diane Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube whom the petitioner describes as the video publishing platform’s “chief censor”. You can sign that petition here.
At least the lockdown will be subjected to some proper Parliamentary scrutiny today, with a debate about the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations due to take place in the House of Commons this afternoon. Several Tory rebels are expected to take the Government to task – the Mail has more. Leading the charge will be Steve Baker MP, a former Conservative minister and leading Brexiteer, who’s written an op ed in today’s Telegraph in which he urges Boris to end the lockdown, which he describes as “absurd, dystopian and tyrannical”. (I always liked the cut of his jib.) Among other things, Baker says he thinks the lockdown laws may be unlawful:
A judicial review is being brought against the lockdown laws, claiming they are ultra vires – that is, that ministers have no legal authority to impose them in the way they did – and that they incur a disproportionate interference with fundamental rights and freedoms. There is serious legal scholarship supporting that view. I fear the present rules may be unlawful.
One of the most egregious examples of state over-reach Baker flags up in his jeremiad is South Yorkshire Police telling a father-of-two that he couldn’t use his own front garden in Rotherham to play with his children. “Families have been driven off their own outdoor property, against the law,” writes Baker. Yesterday, in a rare act of humility, the same police force apologised after it criticised a man for exercising while wearing jeans. Who knew that was against the rules? Yahoo News has the story.
Professor Sir Ian Diamond, the head of the Office of National Statistics (ONS), was interviewed on Marr yesterday. (You can watch it on the BBC iPlayer here.) They got into a number of interesting issues, including how best to calculate the UK death toll, which Diamond predicted is really around 30,000, not the 28,131 as of yesterday morning. This is if you add those deaths where medical practitioners have recorded COVID-19 as the cause of death on the death certificate but don’t have any test evidence to corroborate that. At present, as readers of this site will know, only those COVID-19 deaths where the patient tested positive are currently included in the Government’s official death toll.
Diamond went on to explain to Andrew Marr that of the excess deaths he and his colleagues at the ONS have counted, up to a third are an indirect consequence of the lockdown and other measures, adding that even more indirect deaths will occur in the future. He said:
…but I think we also need to remember that at the moment we are seeing the highest number of deaths each week that we at the Office of National Statistics have recorded since weekly records started in 1993… when we see these very high levels of death not all of them, not all of them are the result of Covid-19. The last week we had records for the excess was approaching 12,000 deaths of which, I would suggest, between eight and 9,000 were Covid and the rest were what we call indirect deaths. Those could be for example people who would normally have gone into hospital for some reason but the beds were not available. Just give you an example: in my late mother’s last couple of years of her life she went into hospital and back out again a few times. Had she not been able to go in one of those times she may well have died a little earlier than she did. So I think it’s important to recognise there are indirect deaths as well as the Covid-related deaths. We have a piece from the Office of National Statistics that we’ve done jointly with the government actuaries department, the Home Office and Department of Health coming out in the next few days which will show also a third group which will come out over the next few years where changes in the prioritisation of the Health Service, for example, reductions in cancer screening, will lead to deaths over the next few years. And the final thing I’d just like to say, Andrew: if we have a lengthy and deep recession then we know that can lead to increased deaths as people are pushed into lengthy periods of unemployment… the headline numbers that I started with need to be adjusted and added to by those indirect deaths.
Marr followed up by saying it sounded as if Diamond was confirming that the UK is heading for the worst death toll in Europe. But Diamond wasn’t having that:
I wouldn’t say that at all. And I would say that making international comparisons Andrew is an unbelievably difficult thing to do. We in this country have, in my opinion… I think we have the best reporting, the most transparent reporting, and the most timely reporting because we include death registrations and we’ve been pushing our deaths registration reporting as fast as we possibly can. And then even after you look at the actual deaths it is incredibly important to recognise that context. So deaths are going to be more concentrated, as I’ve already indicated, in inner cities. If you have a rural country then it’s likely that your death rates will be lower. I’m not saying that we’re at the bottom of any potential league table – it’s almost impossible to calculate a league table – but I’m not prepared to say that we’re heading for the top.
The fact that the ONS is about to publish data on the likely number of deaths caused by the Government’s strategy for mitigating the impact of the virus was news to me. From the point of view of lockdown sceptics, that data will be invaluable evidence in the case for the prosecution. (Thanks to Guy de la Bédoyère for transcribing Bob Diamond’s comments.)
An eagle-eyed reader spotted an interesting detail in a doctor’s diary published by BBC News yesterday. According to Dr John Wright of Bradford Royal Infirmary, the ‘clap for carers’ that takes place every Thursday at 8pm causes a small spike in Accident and Emergency admissions. (That’s ER admissions for our American readers.) Some people are jumping up on concrete bollards and letterboxes in order to clap, only to then fall off and hurt themselves. Ella Simkin, a health 23 year-old, went out with her parents to clap last Thursday at their house in south London and decided to jump on to a raised concrete flower bed. She missed her footing and ended up in hospital. And it’s not just young people. While some have been exercising more than usual during the lockdown, others have stopped exercising altogether, particularly the elderly, and problems can occur when they suddenly get up and clap. They may fall and break a bone, for instance. How long before clapping every Thursday night is replaced by the British Sign Language equivalent – basically, waving your hands in the air – as it has been at Manchester University Students’ Union? The reason for that daft bit of snowflakery was not to avoid injury, but because traditional clapping can supposedly cause “issues” for sensitive students.
The Times has some interesting detail on the YouGov poll that was reported in the Sunday Times yesterday, with fieldwork done on Thursday and Friday of last week. The headline figure is that that 55% of the British public remain scared about getting coronavirus. And, interestingly, this doesn’t vary much with political affiliation or how you voted in the EU Referendum (although ConservativeHome found that a third of its readers support the Swedish Government’s approach). However, it does vary between men and women: just 47% of men are scared, compared to 62% of women. Among different age groups, the most scared are not the over-55s, but 34-44 year-olds. Our older readers will not be surprised by that finding.
Indeed, one of these, describing herself as “Frustrated in Kent”, has sent me a marvellous rant about the supine cowardice of her fellow countrymen:
Today, walking my dog, I saw a young man zoom by on a bicycle, wearing what looked like a WWI gas mask with full goggles and, of course, gloves. This in the middle of the Kent countryside. Later this morning, in a queue outside Waitrose, I got into conversation with a woman behind me who was dead scared that her mask was not going to protect her inside the store. This afternoon, I ran into a neighbour while I was walking on a footpath across an orchard. He nearly fell into the apple trees in his scramble to social distance.
What is wrong with these people? We’re in the country, for God’s sake, and we’ve been distancing for weeks. Is everybody so unable to think for themselves that this sort of behaviour becomes the norm? I blame the news, the politicians and especially the media coverage – particularly the BBC’s sensationalism. Every story is designed to scare everyone into quiescent behaviour, with the implicit threat of fines and/or worse for nonconformism. Is this how fascism begins – when a quiescent population abjures the right of the individual to speak and think for him or herself and accepts the status quo without question?
I have always wondered how the German nation adapted to the hideous excesses of Hitler and his regime since Germans by and large are sympathetic and stoic and caring people. I happen to be married to a German and have been for 35 years. Now I have a more perfect understanding. If you accept something without questioning authority, then that authority takes ever more advantage of the situation and soon you have a population that is denied the opportunity to question. This is what is happening here and I am concerned that the nation is on the wrong track.
I’m waiting for the day I’m told that I have to wear a special marking on my clothing to show I’m over 70 so that I can be stopped on the street by the authorities for breaking lockdown and then I’ll be hustled on home (with a fine or worse).
Another reader has sent me a good quote from CG Jung about “psychic epidemics”, something we appear to be in the midst of. It was quoted by the late great Christopher Booker in his last book Groupthink: A Study in Self Delusion:
It is becoming more and more obvious that it is not starvation, it is not microbes, it is not cancer, but man himself who is his greatest danger: because he has no adequate protection against psychic epidemics, which are are infinitely more devastating in their effect than the greatest natural catastrophes.
A quick round-up of interesting article I’ve spotted, or which readers have flagged up, in the last 24 hours:
- ‘Freedom isn’t just another word‘ – Must read piece in First Things in which John Waters, one of the two litigants trying to fight the lockdown in the Irish courts, explains why he’s brought the case
- Interview with Anders Tegnell – CNN’s Fareed Zakaria interviews Sweden’s chief epidemiologist and the architect of its mitigation strategy
- ‘Warren Buffett sells all shares in major airlines amid $50bn loss‘ – The Telegraph reports that Buffet has liquidated his airline stock
- ‘Politicians Have Destroyed Markets and Ignored Human Rights with Alarming Enthusiasm‘ – Strident critique of lockdown policies published on the Mises Institute blog
- ‘Public opinion, not scientific advice, is what is keeping us in lockdown‘ – Another great column from Dan Hannan in the Telegraph
- ‘Dossier lays out case against China bat virus program‘ – More details on the ‘five eyes’ intelligence leak in the Australian Telegraph
- ‘It is time to take seriously the link between Vitamin D deficiency and more serious Covid-19 symptoms‘ – Matt Ridley urges the Government to take a look at the mounting evidence that there’s an inverse correlation between the body’s production of Vitamin D and susceptibility to COVID-19. Should we really be kept out of the sunshine?
- ‘Germany’s New Cases, Number Of Deaths at Lowest in Five Weeks‘ – Yet more evidence that Germany’s easing of the lockdown hasn’t caused a rise in infections
- ‘Why Sweden Has Already Won the Debate on COVID “Lockdown” Policy‘ – A point of view I think we all share, this time put forward by Patrick Henningsen on 21st Century Wire
- ‘The effect of human mobility and control measures on the COVID-19 epidemic in China‘ – Paper published in Science mag claiming the lockdown in China actually worked. Thought I’d link to it in the interests of balance.
I was recently interviewed by Meghan Murphy, a Canadian feminist who’s been banned from Twitter for misgendering trans activists, about the lockdown and freedom of speech. You can listen to the podcast here or watch it on YouTube here. That interview took just over 40 minutes. If you want the short version, click here to listen to an interview I did with Kevin O’Sullivan on TalkRadio on Saturday.
Readers continue to suggest songs that would make suitable theme tunes for this site. The latest batch include ‘Every Breath You Take‘ by the Police, ‘Merrie Melodies & Looney Tunes – Opening themes‘, ‘Behind the Mask‘ by Eric Clapton and ‘Fight the Power‘ by Public Enemy.
Thanks to those who donated for the upkeep of Lockdown Sceptics yesterday. I had been hoping to dial down my advocacy on Thursday when Boris was originally supposed to reveal his exit plan, but that’s now been postponed until Sunday and that deadline may slip again. So if you feel like donating, please 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.