The Mirror leads with the preprint I flagged up yesterday estimating that by the end of April 29% of the UK population may have already had the virus (29% of 66 million is ~19 million). If we assume that roughly 50,000 people in the UK will have died from COVID-19 by May 21st – allowing for the three-week lag time between infection and death – that gives an infection fatality rate (IFR) of ~0.076%, less than half the IFR of seasonal flu.
Is a seroprevalence of 29% high enough for herd immunity? Yes, according to a summary of the evidence by Nicholas Lewis about the threshold that needs to be reached that I flagged up a few days ago. According to Lewis, the variation in COVID-19 susceptibility and infectivity between individuals, arising mainly from differences in their social connectivity, lowers the herd immunity threshold to 7% – 24% of the population, much lower than the 50% – 60% previously thought. His analysis draws on a recent preprint by Gomes et al entitled ‘Individual variation in susceptibility or exposure to SARS-CoV-2 lowers the herd immunity threshold‘.
New data from London suggests the city has already obtained herd immunity. According to the latest estimates by Public Health England (PHE) and Cambridge University, as reported in the Telegraph, only 24 people a day are being infected in the capital and the R has fallen to 0.4. That means the number of new infections is halving every 3.5 days and London will have virtually eliminated the virus by the end of the month. It is Yorkshire and the North East that have the highest infection rate, according to the PHE/Cambridge analysis – double that of the capital. It’s ironic, then, that the local authorities in those areas are so paranoid about day-trippers from London infecting their populations that they’ve banned parking at local beauty spots. Turns out, it’s Londoners who should be worried about visitors from Yorkshire and the North East, not the other way round.
But it’s not all good news. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the second wave of the pandemic will be deadlier than the first. The Telegraph has interviewed Dr Hans Kluge, Director for the WHO European region, who delivered a stark warning to countries beginning to ease their lockdowns, saying that now is the “time for preparation, not celebration”. File this under the same heading as the WHO’s January 14th announcement that there’s “no clear evidence of human to human transmission”.
My Lockdown Sceptic of the week is Luke Johnson, former chairman of Pizza Express and Channel 4, who was on Question Time last night. He dared to suggest the lockdown will cause a greater loss of life that it will prevent and duly reaped the whirlwind. One of the points he made is that if you’re under 60 with no underlying health conditions you’re more likely to drown than die of COVID-19. You can watch Johnson firing off truth bullets here.
I was sent a terrific piece this morning by an occupational health doctor about the catastrophic consequences for the British economy of treating COVID-19 as a workplace health hazard, similar to asbestos. He rightly points out that there’s no scientific evidence that workplaces are more hazardous environments than any other environments when it comes to susceptibility to the virus. But over time, the risk of catching the virus has morphed from a hazard that exists in the general community to a hazard that’s specific to the workplace. This is a consequence, in part, of the Government telling people to stay in their homes to avoid infection. But it may also be related to the widespread belief that “key workers” are at greater risk of infection than others because they’re still at work – actual “fake news” and “misinformation” that’s pumped out by the mainstream media daily. And, of course, the Government’s unscientific gobbledegook about the need to maintain a distance of two metres apart in offices has undoubtedly played a part. The author points out that this will create a mountain of obstacles that businesses wanting to reopen will have to overcome if they’re to persuade people to return to work.
“You must put in place universal distancing and cleaning measures throughout every part of your operation,” he says. “You must issue PPE, with all of the regulations surrounding the provision of PPE. You must screen every employee with an underlying medical condition to determine if they are safe to even enter the workplace.”
That last task, in particularly, will saddle businesses with enormous extra costs:
Every single employee, returning to almost any workplace in the country, now needs to be risk assessed to characterise the risk to their safety. For many, this will be a quick process. But for many others with common, chronic health conditions (who will number several millions nationally), it will require significant resource to undertake assessments. As there is little guidance available and given the fear of a backlash from the media, unions, lawyers or the authorities, many employers will feel forced into excluding workers, even where there is little evidence that this is necessary. Employees may feel forced back in fear of their lives, whilst others will not be allowed back despite being desperate for a return to normality.
I have to confess, I hadn’t thought through to the consequences of branding the workplace a hazardous environment. But this occupational health doctor has and it’s clearly going to be a massive problem. Do read the whole piece.
The Government wrote to Simon Dolan’s layers yesterday, responding to his Letter Before Action. This is the update on his Crowdfunding page:
Just a few hours ago we received a detailed response form the Govt to our letter before action. Our legal team are currently considering the various points raised. The letter runs to some 13 pages and as you can imagine contains some highly technical points. We can confirm for now that they are however refusing to release the minutes of the SAGE meetings.
Will update further just as soon as the legal team have formulated their plan of action. rest assured, the fight very much continues. Expect another update in the next couple of days.
If you want to find out more about Dolan and what’s motivating him, I recommend this interview by my friend James Delingpole for the Delingpod. And I’ve published a piece today by John Waters, one of the two anti-lockdown litigants trying to take take the Irish Government to court. You can read that here.
More depressing polling news: A recent five-country survey by Kekst CNC found that British voters top the table in wanting their government’s top priority to be limiting the spread of the virus (73%) rather than avoiding recession (14%) That net 59-point “lead” for tackling the virus compares with net figures of 44 points (Japan), 30 points (US), 16 points (Germany) and 15 points (Sweden). Prospect has more.
A reader tells me about the difficulties he’s had trying to see a dentist:
Like many of a certain generation I have had the pleasure of getting to visit my dentist regularly and we are on first name terms. Once I experience toothache I usually phone up for an appointment and hope to get away with a filling but have on occasion had to suffer the expense and pain of a deep root canal filling. Since the middle of March the doors of every dental surgery have been firmly closed in the UK and the only treatment available is from emergency dental hubs. These dental hubs can offer you a choice of either antibiotics and pain killers and if that doesn’t work an extraction of the painful tooth.
I did write to my dentist at the beginning of April, initially by email, which wasn’t replied to, then by a hand-written letter explaining I had a lot of pain from a tooth. I had already taken a weeks worth of antibiotics and paracetamol My dentisit kindly did phone me, had a look at some x-rays from last year and said he could refer me to a hub for it to be removed, as that was the only option.
When the dentists open possibly in July they think that they will only be doing teeth extractions anyway. All the dental work involving ” aerosols”, i.e. drilling and filling, is not allowed and will not be available for months because of the need for PPE for all staff and a total refit of dental surgeries.
We have returned to the world of dentistry in the 18th Century.
This is quite shocking. Dr Jeannette Young, the Chief Health Officer of Queensland in Australia, has told the Brisbane Times that she urged the state’s premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, to shut down schools in order to send a “message”, not because she thought it was scientifically advisable. Here are the key paragraphs:
Dr Young told Ms Palaszczuk to shut down schools on March 26th.
She says while evidence showed schools were not a high-risk environment for the spread of the virus, closing them down would help people understand the gravity of the situation.
“If you go out to the community and say, ‘this is so bad, we can’t even have schools, all schools have got to be closed’, you are really getting to people,” Dr Young says.
“So sometimes it’s more than just the science and the health, it’s about the messaging.”
I’ve long suspected that senior civil servants think they know better than democratically-elected politicians and have no qualms about misrepresenting scientific or legal advice in order to manipulate them. But they don’t often brag about it in national newspapers, particularly not when still in post. One telling detail from the profile: Dr Young has a “no-smoking” sign displayed on her “trophy” wall, given to her by Health Minister Steven Miles after she helped to get cigarettes banned in national parks in 2017.
On the subject of schools, a reader has passed on a Facebook post complaining about the arrangements that have been made at Holywell Village First School in Whitley Bay to facilitate its reopening on June 1st. These apply to children in Reception and Year 1, i.e. aged four to six:
- Children to be isolated in bubbles of small groups
- To remain with one teacher in one classroom all day
- All toys, books and soft furnishings removed
- Children to work at desks 1m apart, all to face the same direction, and not mix, INCLUDING NURSERY!
- Desks etc to be continually cleaned throughout the day
- To be seated at desks all day. No sitting on the floor
- Children only to attend in clean clothes and a clean coat every day
- No hot lunch for Reception and Year 1, packed lunches to be provided by the school
- No outdoor equipment to be touched
- They will have to spend much of the day working independently (the teacher cannot help them)
- Set toilet times
- Toileting accidents – children to clean themselves up; if they can’t then the parent has to come and collect the child to clean them at home
As my correspondent says, “The psychological scars this will leave beggar belief.” The headteacher of Holywell Village First School would do well to read this piece by Rachel de Souza, chief executive of Inspiration Trust, or indeed this article that I’ve been sent by Christine Brett, a health economist, and which I’ve published today. Christine has crunched the numbers and concluded that the chances of your child dying from the virus, or infecting others, are extremely slight. To date, one child has died from coronavirus per 1.1 million children in the UK (12 in total). But even though the risk is negligible, Christine is far from cavalier about it. As she says in her piece, her own son Michael died at the age of 19 months:
In the interests of full disclosure, I fully understand the anxiety parents feel about their children. My first son was born with a congenital heart condition and spent the first ten days of his life on the cardiac intensive care unit at Great Ormond Street Hospital. He underwent eight hours of open-heart surgery at three days old. He had his oxygen levels, and weight monitored weekly. He was rushed back into the hospital after having his first set of vaccines. Ultimately, my husband and I decided that since he had survived, we wanted him to live. Yes, I was nervous being around people with a cold, but I wheeled him down the street choked with traffic fumes to take him to baby groups – yoga, massage, singing. We travelled on trains, buses and even planes to visit friends and family.
He died at 19 weeks – the post-mortem showed evidence of cytomegalovirus (CMV) is his lungs. CMV is a common virus that is usually harmless. Most people don’t know they have CMV because it rarely causes problems in healthy people. However, for people with weakened immune systems, it is a cause for concern. For Matthew’s delicately balanced circulation, it was fatal. I always knew he didn’t have a long life ahead with his condition, but he lived a short, fun-filled life
Christine’s article, which is very sober and sensible, is well worth a read.
Someone has sent me an interesting piece published in the New Scientist in 2007 saying the cause of the foot and mouth epidemic was a virus escaping from leaky pipe at a Government research lab in Pirbright, Surrey. Perhaps the theory that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology isn’t that far-fetched after all.
The New York Times has an article attempting to smear all lockdown sceptics as far-right loons and conspiracy theorists, focusing on the dissemination of the Stanford Santa Clara serological study by right-wing commentators on Twitter. That study, led by John Ioannidis, Professor of Medicine at Stanford, seemed to show that public health organisations, such as the WHO, had under-estimated the seroprevalence of the virus and, as a consequence, over-estimated the infection fatality rate (IFR). According to the Times, the signal boost the study received from wing-nuts on Twitter led to “a surge of misinformation”. “By the end of the weekend, right-wing social media had passed around the study, often with hashtags like #ReopenAmerica, #FactsNotFear, #endthelockdown and #BackToWork slapped on,” writes the Times.
Trouble is, the estimate of the IFR in that preprint – 0.17% – has turned out to be more accurate than official estimates. If you look at this Excel spreadsheet collating the data from some of the major PCR and serological studies that have been done so far, the median IFR is 0.36. Admittedly, more than double 0.17, but bear in mind that was an estimate of the IFR in Santa Clara county. And an IFR of 0.36 is just over a third of the estimate used in the Imperial College computer model, which was 0.9%.
So which figure should be classed as “misinformation”? The one produced by Professor Ioannidis and his team at Stanford or the one produced by Professor Ferguson and his team at Imperial? I’m willing to bet my house that when the IFR of SARS-CoV-2 is a settled figure, it will be closer to 0.17% than 0.9%.
The Times concludes it’s analysis by saying that there are two internets, one interested in scientific evidence and governed by reason, the other a Wild West dominated by right-wing conspiracy theorists:
What this cascade of sharing behaviour reveals, based on our analysis of nearly 900 COVID-19 preprints, is a tale of two internets: one largely ideological, in which science is leveraged as propaganda, and one that consists of the kind of discussion and debate vital for academia — and democracy.
That’s kind of true, but the authors of the article – Aleszu Bajak and Jeff Howe – have got it backwards: it’s mainstream media organisations like the New York Times and the BBC that are disseminating propaganda, with the truth about coronavirus more likely to be found in little tributaries of the internet like this one. At the foot of the piece Bajak and Howe are described as teachers of journalism at Northeastern University. Make of that what you will.
A regular contributor to this site – anonymous, but one of the best financial journalist in the country – has done a bit of analysis based on the “response tracker” that Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government has created. This is a tool that enables you to compare and contrast different countries according to what non-pharmaceutical interventions they’ve put in place in an attempt to mitigate the impact of the virus:
The Blavatnik School of Government provides an estimate of Lockdown “stringency” (100 being complete lockdown). I put the numbers for a few countries into a spreadsheet. What you find is that there is no statistical relationship between the stringency of lockdown (at the end of March) and a country’s rate of COVID-19 infections and deaths (per million of population – numbers from Our World in Data). There is, as you would expect, a stronger statistical relationship between the degree of stringency and projected fiscal deficits (estimated by the IMF, and already massively understating the problem).
Never have some many sacrificed so much for so little…
In Austria, a new organisation called “Initiative for evidence-based information on the coronavirus” (ICI) has been created by a controversial doctor called Dr. Christian Fiala. (He has written papers in the past disputing that AIDS is a killer virus.) It’s an anti-lockdown organisation that describes itself as an “independent initiative” but, unlike Widerstand 2020 Deutschland, ICI has no ambition to become a political party. It says on the site that it isn’t affiliated to any existing party and rejects any form of political extremism. It helps to organise anti-lockdown demonstrations and offers pro-bono legal support to people who’ve been prosecuted for participating in protests or fined for breaking the quarantine. The website publishes an endless stream of academic papers contradicting what the site refers to as “prevailing corona-alarmist orthodoxies” – a bit like this one! The site claims ICI has three objectives:
- Facts instead of panic
- Back to basic rights
- Back to pluralistic discussion
One of ICI’s campaigns urges Austrians to wear face masks with the words “mund-tot” on them, which translates as “mouth-dead” or “silenced”:
ICI organised a protest in Vienna outside the Austrian Chancellory yesterday. It was forbidden by the police, but people gathered anyway. If you click here, you’ll see pictures from it. The text at the top of that page translates as: “We’re not left-wing, we’re not right-wing – we’re angry.”
I asked my always-helpful German-speaking reader to see what had been written about the group in the Austrian press and this is his summary:
The group doesn’t seem to getting much pick up in main Austrian papers. Couldn’t find anything in the Kurier or the Kronenzeitung. The one article I found in a major paper, Der Standard, is extremely hostile. It makes no attempt to understand the ICI’s purpose or arguments, but smears it by linking it to the right-wing nationalist organisation, the Identitarian Movement Austria led by Martin Sellner. Sellner has endorsed the ICI, clearly seeking to exploit it for his own purposes. ICI organisers were none too pleased that Sellner’s followers showed up at the demo – and said as much – but felt they couldn’t do much about it. Despite this, the article portrays ICI moderates as naive, ill-informed misfits and anti-vaxxers who won’t wear masks and feel no sense of responsibility towards the old and vulnerable. It points to the apparent irony of the group’s name, given that the ICI attracts people who clearly have no understanding of or respect for evidence-based health policy.
One thing I’ve noticed about ICI and Widerstand 2020 Deutschland is that both organisations are militantly pro-free speech. I am too, of course, and helped set up an organisation called the Free Speech Union earlier this year. I imagine a belief in the importance of free speech is something nearly all lockdown sceptics have in common.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the scandal caused by the leak of an 80-page impact assessment of the lockdown by an auditor in the Ministry of the Interior continues to rumble on. I’ve found this summary by German-to-English translator Paul Charles Gregory on an anti-deep state website. I’ve asked him to translate the whole thing for me so I can publish it on this site, but haven’t heard back yet. It’s quite an undertaking.
Slovenia declared an official end to its coronavirus epidemic yesterday, becoming the first country in Europe to do so. It was among the first to ease its lockdown – on April 20th – and saw no increase in infections. Public transport resumed earlier this week while next week some pupils will return to schools. All bars and restaurants, as well as small hotels with up to 30 rooms, will also be allowed to open next week. European visitors to the country will no longer be quarantined on arrival, although visitors from other parts of the world will be. To date it has had 1,464 cases and 103 deaths.
I get a lot of emails from readers like this one:
My neighbour’s father died three weeks ago. Elderly, unwell. Tested three times for Covid, all tests came back negative.
Death Certificate, Dr. put as cause of death “Covid”.
One thing that makes me slightly sceptical about these anecdotal reports is that I don’t get what the motive is. Why would a GP misdiagnose the cause of death? In the US, hospitals doctors have a financial incentive to put “COVID0-19” on death certificates because they get tens of thousands of dollars from the federal Government for each patient who dies of COVID-19. But there’s no equivalent incentive in the UK as far as I’m aware.
I also get a lot of emails like this:
I’m a huge fan of Lockdown Sceptics. Thank you for helping to save my sanity. At times this has felt like I’ve been standing in front of a lorry which is going to run me over. I want to move out of the way, but I can’t unless unless everyone else moves out of the way. They can’t see the lorry or hear me. It’s felt nightmarish and more isolating than lockdown itself.
I’m sure many of you know exactly how this woman feels.
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:
- ”Mayor bungee jumps to celebrate easing of lockdown in New Zealand‘ – Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult has done a bungee jump to celebrate the easing of he country’s lockdown restrictions. The Telegraph has video
- ‘Cats can infect each other with coronavirus, study finds‘ – According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, domestic cats infected with COVID-19 can transmit the virus to other felines. The good news is they’re asymptomatic
- ‘There Is No Evidence Lockdowns Saved Lives. It Is Indisputable They Caused Great Harm‘ – William Briggs, who describes himself as “statistician to the stars”, crunches the numbers
- ‘How extreme isolation warps minds‘ – Michael Bond on the psychological harm caused by extreme isolation for the BBC
- ‘Disease Mitigation Measures in the Control of Pandemic Influenza‘ – 2006 paper recommending against quarantining whole populations during a pandemic. The author writes: “The negative consequences of large-scale quarantine are so extreme (forced confinement of sick people with the well; complete restriction of movement of large populations; difficulty in getting critical supplies, medicines, and food to people inside the quarantine zone) that this mitigation measure should be eliminated from serious consideration.”
- ‘Calling the Government to Account For Its Woeful Handling of This Crisis‘ – Rob Slane lets rip for the Blogmire
- ‘Boris Johnson launches a new battle of the bulge‘ – James Forsyth reports in the Times that Boris has decided to go to war on fatties
- ‘Germany’s New Coronavirus Thinking‘ – The Wall St Journal editorial board praises the Germans for not over-reacting to the R number creeping above 1 for three days earlier this week. “A strange thing happened in Germany this week: COVID-19 started spreading a bit faster and officials and the public managed to cope,” they write. “It’s an important benchmark for other governments as they allow their own economies to emerge from viral hibernation.”
- ‘Remembering Huxley’s Warning: Propaganda and Totalitarianism‘ – James Black in Bournbrook Magazine reminding us that sowing fear and panic is the age-old political strategy of would-be dictators
- ‘“Covid-fighting” drug is imperilled by politics‘ – James Berry writes for the Conservative Woman about the political obstacles to the widespread use of hydroxycholoquine
- ‘Fear Kills‘ – Brendan O’Niell, Editor of Spiked, with more evidence that the cure is worse than the disease
- ‘Oldest working tailor in UK Elwyn, 96, beats coronavirus‘ – Heart-warming story about Britain’s oldest-working tailer, Elwyn Hughes, who has recovered from COVID-19
- ‘The risks facing Premier League players are negligible – it is time to stop appeasing and play‘ – Oliver Brown, Chief Sports Feature Writer for the Telegraph, let’s namby pamby footballers know what he thinks of their behaviour
- ‘Police urge people not to walk in the road and say crossing paths with others will not transmit coronavirus‘ – Police are worried that some people are so terrified of catching the virus they’re walking into fast-moving oncoming traffic to avoid breaching the two-metre rule
- ‘No, I Won’t Clap “Our NHS“‘ – James Delingpole at his curmudgeonly best in Breitbart
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.
Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers, with a heavy metal theme today: “What’s Another Year?” by Johnny Logan, “Wake Me Up When September Ends” by Green Day and “Don’t Box Me In” by Stan Ridgway and Stewart Copeland.
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, as I say in my latest Spectator column. If you feel like donating, 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.
If you want a laugh, this Kevin James video is very funny. Stay with it – you’ll get the point.
And finally, I participated in quite a high-level discussion on Tuesday courtesy of How the Light Gets In, a philosophy festival that takes place in Hay-on-Wye each spring, but which has gone virtual for this year. One of the other panelists was fellow sceptic Michael Levitt, Professor of Structural Biology at Stanford and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. These things are often quite adversarial but this one wasn’t. Worth a watch.