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Today’s Guardian leads on the care home scandal, which Keir Starmer succeeded in moving to the top of the news agenda by grilling Boris about it in yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions. It didn’t help that Boris fluffed his response. Starmer picked up on the fact that Public Health England (PHE) had advised in March that care home residents were “very unlikely” to become infected by COVID-19. Boris denied PHE had ever said this, only for him to be confronted with irrefutable evidence, at which point he accused Starmer of taking the quote out of context. He is clearly rattled by this attack line because yesterday the Government announced a £600 million cash injection for care homes to help control infection.

How many have died in care homes to date? The latest assessment of fatalities in care settings in England and Wales by academics at the London School of Economics finds that more than half of all “excess deaths” up to 1st May – those above the five-year average for the period from 28th December to 1st May – have happened in care homes. The researchers say that from 13th March to 1st May, care homes accounted for 19,938 excess deaths – a figure corroborated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). According to the ONS’s data, there have been just under 20,000 excess deaths registered in England and Wales up to 1st May in care homes since the pandemic started. “Of those, 8,312 have had COVID-19 mentioned on the death certificate,” a spokesman for the ONS told the Guardian.

At a briefing hosted by the Science Media Centre two days ago, several eminent professors cast doubt on the claim that all the excess care home deaths are due to COVID-19. Sir David Spiegelhalter, chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, said: “When we look back… this rise in non-Covid extra deaths outside hospitals is something I hope will be given really severe attention.”

So what caused those deaths? In some cases it will be undiagnosed COVID-19, but in others it will be because care home residents with other diseases were either not admitted to hospital or discharged prematurely. David Leon, Professor of Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who was also at the Science Media Centre briefing, said: “Some of these deaths may not have occurred if people had got to hospital. How many is unclear. This issue needs urgent attention, and steps taken to ensure that those who would benefit from hospital treatment and care for other conditions can get it.”

Sounds like David Spiegelhalter and David Leon think the lockdown is causing a greater loss of life than it’s preventing. The BMJ has more.

“Oi! You lot, disperse”

It looks like we can add UNICEF to the growing ranks of lockdown sceptics. Dr Stefan Peterson, Chief of Health at UNICEF, has given an interview to the Telegraph in which he says that indiscriminate lockdowns in low- and middle-income countries are an ineffective way to suppress infections and the harm they’re likely to do “far outweighs any threat presented by the coronavirus”. And that claim has been corroborated by a team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. According to a preprint in the Lancet, more than one million children under five and 60,000 more mothers could die in the next six months alone as a result of disruptions to health services caused by the pandemic in low- and middle-income countries. Among those things “caused” by the pandemic they include “intentional choices made in responding to the pandemic”, e.g. imprisoning entire populations in their homes. As Dr Peterson puts it: “If you’re asking families to stay at home in one room in a slum, without food or water, that won’t limit virus transmission… We need to lift our eyes and look at the total picture of public health.”

In other news, the Daily Mail reveals the police have no power to enforce the two-metre social distancing rule – just as well, considering how arbitrary it is. In case you need reminding of that, here’s a chart from the excellent presentation by Numis Healthcare that I flagged up yesterday showing the different “safe” distances recommended in different countries:

Another reader has got in touch with more detail on the leaked document from the German Ministry of the Interior that I’ve referred to in the last two updates. The author – “K” – concludes his 80-page analysis by listing the negative consequences of the lockdown:

  • In March and April 2.5 million necessary operations were not carried out.
  • Between 5000 and 125,000 patients have died or will die as a result. Cancer, stroke and heart patients will have suffered. 
  • 3,500 additional deaths of care home residents.
  • Increase in suicides.
  • Psychological effects of the lockdown, especially on elderly persons. Psychoses, Neuroses.
  • Increase in domestic violence.
  • Ill-effects arising from the wearing of masks.
  • Lower life expectancy

There’s good reason to believe all of those things are happening in the UK too. Last night, Channel 4 News broadcast a disturbing report by Jackie Long, the Social Affairs Editor, from inside a women’s refuge about how it’s coping with the surge in demand. According to the news programme: “The first three weeks of lockdown saw the largest number of killings of women over any 21-day period in the last decade.” You can watch the report and read a write-up by Jackie Long here.

My friend Kathrine Jebsen Moore has started a petition on Change.org to reopen all British Schools. You can sign that here. There is also a Twitter account worth following called @Teach4Teaching. It’s been set up by a couple of teachers “who want to get back to teaching and prevent disadvantaged kids from falling further behind”. They’ve started a petition that’s specifically for teachers.

I asked Guy de la Bédoyère, the historian with a working knowledge of statistics who crunched the numbers on health workers for me, to look at whether school staff are dying from COVID-19 in disproportionately large numbers. This is his verdict:

I’ve spent the last couple of hours wading through the data. I’d say that health and education are not that different. It’s hugely muddied by both areas having a large proportion of women which makes comparing them with, say, security guards (the most vulnerable workers) rather difficult. But there are a number of professions where the death rates per 100,000 are far higher than either education or health.

At any rate, it’s striking that the two professions (education and health) that the media have focused on and whipped up fear among, not only belong to a large group of professions which have a similarly low level of risk but also have a huge preponderance of women, a fact we now know dramatically reduces their susceptibility to the disease.

Woes continue to mount for the NHSx contact-tracing app. Wired has got hold of a cache of NHS documents left unsecured on Google Drive. I asked the reader who’s been keeping an eye on this story for us to take a look and this is his verdict:

  • Leaving internal docs on publicly accessible Google Drives shows that although NHSx talks the talk on security, it doesn’t walk the walk.
  • The author of the documents expresses the concern that I raised about self-diagnosis. This is why I would like to hear from testers to see how this is working in practice. The roadmap shows a “lightweight new process for verifying clinical results” but then we are into storage of special-category personal data, i.e. your very private medical information, and that raises the security stakes.
  • They also recognise the risk of mass notifications. Their worst-case example is of an NHS employee seeing hundreds of people, then self-reporting causing messages to go to hundreds of people telling them to self isolate. They think it could lead to public panic. I think it could shut down a hospital. How’s that for unintended consequences? Or would the NHS ignore the advice of its own app?
  • The roadmap shows future versions collecting post code, demographic info (usually meaning age, sex, income, employment status, etc.). This is what we mean by mission creep. It is a problem because the design assumptions in the NCSC security paper are based on not holding this kind of data. For example NCSC dismissed the honeypot problem (reindentification as they call it) because “There is insufficient data here to attract any reidentification risk”. But future versions look very likely to hold such data. So perhaps this roadmap is contingent on the Zulke version replacing what is currently being tested in IoW? If so, what will be rolled out is not what has been tested. This is what happened with “smart” motorways where the scheme worked with densely packed refuges but they rolled out with more distantly spaced refuges and that has led to unexpectedly high death rates.
  • The same goes for the cryptic statement “enable NHS and strategic leaders to add contact events”. This is even worse. It seems to propose mixing in data not provided by the user. Where is it coming from? Has the user given their permission for it to be used in this way? What conclusions are going to be drawn from it? It’s getting very Big Brother.

He concludes that the NHS’s app has all the signs of being driven by a politician who believes technology is the solution and doesn’t want to hear about the niggling issues of privacy or security. And in case you haven’t had enough scepticism about the contact-tracing app, read this withering assessment by Marc de Gentile-Williams.

President Trump invited World War Two veterans to Washington to commemorate the Allied victory in Europe last week – and the enforcers of Covid orthodoxy in the media went bananas. “Ninety-three-year old veterans will be traveling to visit the White House – they should not be traveling!” harrumphed MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace. The New York Times couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a swipe at the President, printing a photo of him without a mask on and then scolding him for his recklessness in the caption: “President Trump did not wear a mask Friday during a wreath-laying ceremony that was attended by World War Two veterans, who are in their 90s and highly vulnerable.” Needless to say, the veterans didn’t bother with masks either. Long-standing sceptic Heather Mac Donald has written a funny piece about America’s “mask scolds” for Spectator USA.

While we’re on Trump, I know he gives lockdown sceptics a bad name – and many liberals on both sides of the Atlantic only seem to be in favour of lockdowns because Trump has come out against them. But it’s hard not to like the latest initiative of his Reopen America Task Force – DoctorsForOpeningAmerica.com. Launching the website at the White House, the President said: “So many doctors, nurses, and EMTs have personally told me they’re thrilled to support working Americans in reopening our great country. They know getting our country open and getting it open soon is important. And they badly want America to know they’re ready to weather the toll.”

It’s true that the sceptics v zealots divide skews along right-left lines – and Francis Menton tries to figure out why that is in Manhattan Contrarian. But there are exceptions to the rule on both sides. I’m always heartened to get emails from readers beginning, “I don’t usually agree with anything you write, but…” and today I got sent a wonderful essay by a young firebrand in Ireland explaining why it’s the duty of every upstanding member of the left to oppose the lockdown with every fibre of their being. It begins:

I consider myself to be left-wing on virtually every political topic: I am a socially-liberal social democrat who believes in a strong social safety net, high-quality public healthcare for all, robust environmental protections (including shifting to renewable energy sources immediately and protecting half of the globe for nature), restorative justice, legal abortion and reducing inequality and corporate influence over politics. I despise Donald Trump and believe Brexit was a huge mistake. I am firstly presenting my political biases in order to dispel the caricature that has emerged of lockdown sceptics as being all right-wing, Trumpian Brexiteers. I think this labelling has been very unfortunate and misguided, as I too believe that the lockdown policy in response to Covid-19 has been an utter and complete disaster, and that most of the left have gotten this issue completely wrong. I will argue that the position of the lockdown sceptic really should be a more naturally left-wing cause to adopt, and those on the left should not be distracted by the reflexive partisan politics and virtue signalling that has taken over so much of the debate around lockdowns.

The essay is so good that I’ve created a new page on the right-hand menu called ‘The Left-Wing Case Against Lockdowns’. I urge you to read the whole thing by clicking here.

A reader in Bradford has been in touch to flag up an article in his local paper, the Telegraph and Argus. It’s based on an interview with Professor John Baruch, former head of cybernetics at the University of Bradford, who has set up the Bradford Science Collective in response to the coronavirus pandemic. He is adamant that the Government’s easing of the lockdown this week will send infections “through the roof”. Professor Baruch tells the paper: “Our message to the people of Bradford is what Nicola Sturgeon is saying – stay at home. There’s no science to justify what Boris Johnson is saying, it’s wishful thinking.”

Well, actually, Professor Baruch, there’s plenty of scientific evidence to justify easing the lockdown. Try this: a new antibody survey just published in Spain has found that “key workers” who were allowed to leave their homes during Spain’s recent lockdown were less likely to become infected than those who remained in confinement. (Hat tip to Didier Raoult, the dissident French doctor and hydroxychloroquine champion, who flagged this up on Twitter.) If you think that study’s an outlier, here’s one from China which could only find one outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 infection due to outside transmission.

Perhaps the reason Professor Baruch isn’t aware of the tsunami of scientific evidence that contradicts the dominant narrative is because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to share it with people on social media. I flagged this up yesterday, linking to an excellent article in the FT by Izabella Kaminska who has coined the phrase “censortech” to describe the draconian content-moderation policies of companies like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Although there’s no need for Facebook’s AIs to read every post about coronavirus, searching for wrongthink, because group administrators will often do that job themselves. The pandemic has unleashed an army of these petty martinets, scouring everything we write in public forums, ready to leap into action with their red pencils.

A reader got in touch to tell me about an “appalling act of censorship” from the administrator of her local town group page on Facebook. It’s all too typical I’m afraid:

After I had dared to share Dr John Lee’s article in the Spectator about reasons why we should end lockdown, with a brief introduction saying who he was, adding the link to his article and saying that even if you believed in the lockdown process it was worth a read to gain a more balanced perspective and consider the consequences, the administrator publicly posted a comment below it accusing me of spreading “misinformation”. When I explained that it was not misinformation but an opinion of a qualified medical professional, he responded that I did not understand the seriousness of the situation, knew nothing about the disease, did not understand how it spread or how dangerous it was, was guilty of posting “fake news”, and, worse, was inciting the public to break the law and supporting the practice of genocide in the face of this deadly disease! Gasp. I calmly pointed out that I had a degree and also an environmental health qualification and was a former practitioner so out of personal interest had been doing a lot of studying via Science Direct, Elsevier Science and other reputable sources of data, explaining that I disagreed the information was “fake”, or “misinformation”, and adding a list of my sources. I said I simply agreed with many professional experts in their fields, such as Professor Michael Levitt and Johan Giesecke. His response was to publicly inform me (i.e. via the comments) that I was not to post to the group again and repeated his assertion about misinformation and fake news!

In the fullness of time, when it’s the settled consensus that the lockdowns led to a greater loss of life than they prevented, will there be any kind of reckoning for people like this administrator? Given that it’s them, and not us, who are guilty of disseminating misinformation and fake news, we could ask them to ban themselves from social media platforms lest their craven parroting of state propaganda causes any more unnecessary deaths in future.

The moderator of my neighbourhood Facebook group spotted in an unmarked van outside my house yesterday

Good rant in a Reddit thread by a “key worker”. Doesn’t sound like there’s much scope for social distancing if you’re a shelf-stacker at Tesco’s:

I am what you would call an “essential worker”. I am a student who currently works at a supermarket around 4 or five days a week. My brother who I currently live with is also in this category and he works at a different supermarket in the same town. Aside from the odd obedient middle class mum, social distancing is virtually non-existant. I constantly have people coming up close to me asking where to find flour and the isles are too narrow to conceivably practice it anyway. There is no limit on how many people can enter the shop. None of the staff wear masks as wearing one for a prolonged period of time (i.e 6 hours) is extremely uncomfortable and having to readjust them by touching your face completely destroys the purpose of wearing one. The staff room and the toilets are pretty filthy, so much so that I will use hand sanitiser after touching every single appliance. The staff themselves don’t practice any form of social distancing as it makes their job literally impossible, not to mention everyone is working twice as hard to stock the shelves because people still continue to stock pile. My only defence against covids is constant hand sanitising and refraining from ever touching my face, which ironically is probably the best scientific defence againt contracting the virus.

You can read the rest of it here.

There are several protests/mass gatherings taking place this Saturday in different parts of the country to protest against the lockdown, according to the Mail. It says at least eight of them are being organised by the UK Freedom Movement, which it describes as an “anti-vaxxer group”. I’m not an anti-vaxxer myself, but would defend the right of anyone who wants to protest about a Government policy in the public square and regard the current legal prohibition on protests – one of the many civil rights that have been suspended during the lockdown – as an attack on our liberty that may well be unlawful. If anyone is planning to attend these events I would advise them to exercise their common sense when it comes to social distancing, not engage in needlessly provocative behaviour and remain peaceful. The more respectable and sensible you are, the more politically effective the protests will be. Don’t make it easy for the mainstream media to depict you as a bunch of paranoid weirdos with a far-right, anti-scientific agenda.

And if you think I’m engaging in wishful thinking by saying the lockdown restrictions may be unlawful, read this account in the Mail of what happened in Wisconsin when a group of sceptics challenged the Governor’s stay-at-home order in the state Supreme Court. They won, prompting a stampede to local bars from grateful residents. Here’s a picture of Marvin Radtke toasting the opening of the Friends and Neighbors bar in Appleton:

More good news from across the pond: Alameda County health officials have backed down in their conflict with Elon Musk, reversing their shutdown order and granting provisional approval for Tesla’s Fremont, California plant to reopen. Why have they thrown in the towel? The Babylon Bee may know the answer. The satirical online magazine ran a piece entitled: ‘California Police Attempt To Arrest Elon Musk’s Holographic Decoy As Real Musk Escapes On Rocket To Mars.’

And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

On Monday, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area – all the more urgent in light of the latest forecast of the Federation of Small Businesses, which says that up to a third of small businesses in Britain may close as a result of the lockdown. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those small businesses that have reopened near you. Should be fairly self-explanatory – and the owners of small businesses are welcome to enter their own details. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Fancy a pint of Flowers?

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers, with a heavy metal theme today: ‘Hysteria‘ by Def Leppard, ‘Run to the Hills‘ by Iron Maiden, ‘Creeping Death‘ by Metallica and ‘Paranoid‘ by Black Sabbath.

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It’s a daunting task, let me tell you, although not quite as daunting as I say in my latest Spectator column. In a self-pitying whinge, I say that looking after this blog may be death of me but that will be okay because my death will be one more piece of evidence that the lockdown is killing more people than it’s saving. If you still feel like donating after reading this nonsense, you can do so by clicking here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.

And finally, a reader has come up with a wizard wheeze if you’re missing having your closest friend round for a drink. Even though socialising inside your home is verboten, you’re now allowed to list your home for sale with an estate agent and the agent is allowed to bring prospective buyers round. So contact your local Foxtons, tell them you want to sell your home and then put them in touch with your best friend, making sure to describe them as a “buyer”. When the Foxtons’ agent turns up at your doorstep with friend in tow, tell them you’re happy to show them round yourself, close the door and uncork a bottle of wine.

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