As week eight of the lockdown comes to a close, there are some rumblings of dissent – although it’s coming from people unhappy from the Prime Minister’s easing of the lockdown rather than the fact that we’ve been confined to our homes for two months. Opinium polling for the Observer over the past week has seen a significant drop in public confidence in – and approval of – the Government. Approval ratings have been dropping steadily since a highpoint in late March – and those who disapprove now form the majority for the first time since the lockdown began:
What little genuine dissent there is was confined to a handful of anti-lockdown protestors yesterday. One such demonstration was in Hyde Park where, according to the Mail, 19 people were arrested, including Jeremy Corbyn’s brother. My friend James Delingpole attended and was threatened with a £30 fine merely for trying to report on the demo for Breitbart. You can read his piece about that here (includes video footage of him being confronted by a police officer).
I’ve received several reports from readers who attended the Hyde Park rally, including this one:
I went to Speakers’ Corner today. Britain’s traditional fee speech locale in London. I counted 255 people, but there were more than that, perhaps as many as 300. No “far right” evident. People from all sides of the political divide, including pro- and anti-Brexit. What the people I spoke to had in common was getting their news and info and trying to make decisions based on information from ‘alternative’ sources. All were dubious about the number of deaths from COVID-19 being recored by doctors in the absence of testing evidence, although most were also dubious about the accuracy of the standard PCR tests. Huge mistrust of official “science” and officialdom in general.
It was therapeutic being with these people. Heart-warming after these weeks of terror and house arrest. Odd looks from passers-by, as if we were all mad. Like being a Brexit-voter while working at a university. Some humorous looks, but others aggressive and combative. One cyclist deliberately accelerated towards some protesters who managed to avoid a collision by the skin of their teeth.
I was asked to move on by a police officer after being told I was “breaking the law”, even though I was just sitting on the grass in the sunshine with a few others. When I asked the officer which law I was breaking he got a bit twitchy. Said assembling with others not from my household was against the rules enshrined in the 1984 Public Health Act. When I challenged the lawfulness of these rules and mentioned Simon Dolan’s lawsuit, he said “don’t start being clever” and threatened to arrest all of us.
Spoke with many afterwards. Was told that weekly protests are planned from now on. All the people I met have gone from respectable to deplorable in a matter of weeks.
If you want to see some footage from the Hyde Park demonstration, including the arrest of Piers Corbyn, click here. This was shot exclusively for Lockdown Sceptics by a professional filmmaker who attended the event.
I’ve also been contacted by someone from For Freedom’s Sake, the Manchester-based anti-lockdown group, who attended the demo in Platt Fields Park. Smaller turnout than in Hyde Park and no arrests:
There was a turnout of around 60 people, mixed gender and ages and a largely ordinary working people crowd. Police presence was pretty heavy, including officers mounted on bikes and horseback, but thankfully there were no arrests or fines doled out (as far as we witnessed.)
You can see some footage on Twitter of the Manchester protest here.
One person who would defend our right to protest, even in the midst of a pandemic, is Lord Sumption, the former UK Supreme Court judge. He has consistently been the most high-profile public figure to criticise the lockdown – a great advocate for the sceptics’ cause. His lead opinion piece in today’s Sunday Times is worth reading in full (and sharing on social media), but his point about “Protect the NHS” being the main reason for shutting us all in our homes is particularly good:
It was never much of a rationale. The NHS is there to protect us, not the other way round. How could its unpreparedness possibly justify depriving the entire UK population of its liberty, pushing us into the worst recession since the early 18th century, destroying millions of jobs and hundreds of thousands of businesses, piling up public and private debt on a crippling scale and undermining the education of our children?
Since the Prime Minister’s broadcast last Sunday, the lockdown has found a new rationale. The Government has dropped “Protect the NHS” from its slogan. The reason is plain from the paper it published the following day. The NHS is not at risk.
Sumption’s conclusion is withering:
The Prime Minister’s broadcast was supposed to be his Churchillian moment. Instead, we beheld a man imprisoned by his own rhetoric and the logic of his past mistakes.
The lockdown is now all about protecting politicians’ backs. They are not wicked men, just timid ones, terrified of being blamed for deaths on their watch. But it is a wicked thing that they are doing.
It’s a pity the High Court judge in the John Waters and Gemma O’Doherty case – they’re the two applicants trying to get a judicial review of the lockdown in Ireland – isn’t more like Lord Sumption. I’ve published a piece today by an Irish social scientist (whom I’ve given the pseudonym “John William O’Sullivan”) explaining what the judge in that case got wrong when he refused their application last week. Here’s the key paragraph:
Justice Meenan’s argument against Waters’ and O’Doherty’s case is rather simple: he claims they must prove that the Irish Government’s actions have been “disproportionate” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He claims, citing previous cases, that constitutional rights are not absolute and that if a government acts against them to deal with a threat “proportionately” then the government is allowed to trample on those constitutional rights.
The problem with this argument is that it implicitly sides with Government action as against the constitution. The Government is assumed to be in the right and the onus is on the citizen to prove not that the Government’s actions are unconstitutional, but that they are “disproportionate” given the threat of the pandemic relative to the constitutionally-protected rights they override.
Elsewhere in the Sunday Times is the news that the pandemic has wiped £54 billion from the wealth of Britain’s super rich in the past two months. “More than half of the country’s billionaires are nursing losses as high as £6 billion, with the combined wealth of the 1,000 wealthiest individuals and families plunging for the first time since 2009, in the wake of the financial crisis,” it says.
At last, the UK Government Petitions site has approved an anti-lockdown petition. Not as militant as some of us would like, but better than nothing. You can sign it here. If it gets 10,000 signatures the Government will have to respond; if it gets 100,000, it will be considered for debate in Parliament. Last time I checked it had just over 500.
There’s a great Q&A in Spiked with Knut Wittkowski, former head of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design at the Rockefeller University’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science. A more sceptical epidemiologist you’re unlikely to find, and that’s going some given how many we’ve already featured on this site. Here’s one of the highlights:
Spiked: Have our interventions made much of an impact?
Wittkowski: When the whole thing started, there was one reason given for the lockdown and that was to prevent hospitals from becoming overloaded. There is no indication that hospitals could ever have become overloaded, irrespective of what we did. So we could open up again, and forget the whole thing.
I hope the intervention did not have too much of an impact because it most likely made the situation worse. The intervention was to ‘flatten the curve’. That means that there would be the same number of cases but spread out over a longer period of time, because otherwise the hospitals would not have enough capacity.
Now, as we know, children and young adults do not end up in hospitals. It is only those who are both elderly and have comorbidities that do. Therefore you have to protect the elderly and the nursing homes. The ideal approach would be to simply shut the door of the nursing homes and keep the personnel and the elderly locked in for a certain amount of time, and pay the staff overtime to stay there for 24 hours per day.
How long can you do that for? For three weeks, that is possible. For 18 months, it is not. The flattening of the curve, the prolongation of the epidemic, makes it more difficult to protect the elderly, who are at risk. More of the elderly people become infected, and we have more deaths.
Spiked: What are the dangers of lockdown?
Wittkowski: Firstly, we have the direct consequences: suicides, domestic violence and other social consequences leading to death. And then we have people who are too scared to go to the hospitals for other problems like strokes or heart attacks. So people stay away from hospitals because of the Covid fear. And then they die.
I published a piece last week called “COVID-19 and the Infantilisation of Dissent” by a maverick academic whom I called “Wilfred Thomas”. That went down well, so today I’m publishing a follow-up: “The Hyper-Rationality of Crowds: COVID-19 and the Cult of Anxiety“. This academic, a social scientist, is trying to understand why governments around the world seemed to panic simultaneously in response to the viral outbreak, gripped by the same irrational fear. But this isn’t a dry, academic paper. On the contrary, it’s like a rant delivered at 100mph by your best mate in the pub after he’s taken a superdrug that temporarily boosts his IQ to 200. Here’s a particularly good paragraph:
So how did we get here, to a world in which children can be herded into their little playpark Guantanamo cells not as a punishment but – remarkably – as an indicator of a society’s love and care for those same children? One word that springs immediately to mind is “madness.” “We must be mad – literally mad – to be permitting all of this,” you may very well say to yourself (if, that is, you have a fondness for paraphrasing Enoch Powell). Madness. It’s a good word, isn’t it? Rolls off the tongue. Helps to burn off steam. After all, who doesn’t like to channel their inner cab driver every now and then? “The world’s gone mad, mate. Take that wot’s-’is-name. Bonking Boris. That’s ’im. I had ’im in the back of me cab once. Screw loose, if you ask me. It’s all that sex wot’s done it. And that Ferguson? Shag other people’s wives all you like mate, but take your mathematical modelling back to the funny farm wiv ya when you’re done!” And yet, sadly, individual madness can’t really explain our current predicament. It’s a bit like blaming the invasion of Iraq in 2003 solely on President Bush and his family’s supposed mania for oil. Nice and comforting and all that, but hardly convincing when considered in light of the messy complexities of 21st century geo-politics. The problem with any individualised idea of madness is that we have a large group of people in the West right now who have allowed – have willingly and happily enabled – our lockdown societies to emerge. You and I may not be directly culpable. We may not agree with what’s happening. We may turn the cold eye of reproof upon our fellow citizens. If society were a golf club, we might even go so far as to write a strongly-worded letter of complaint to the club secretary. But whether we like it or not, right now we’re individual members of a society that, precisely as a society, has decided that battery-farming kids, playing football without tackling and hiding under the bed in order to avoid social interaction are all genuinely, 100% bona fide great ideas.
Please do read the whole thing.
A reader in Wales has got in touch to vent his despair about the idiocy of the Welsh Government, which seems determined to ruin the economy. “The tourism industry, and especially the holiday accommodation and sporting sector (which I am involved with), is being decimated,” he says. He points to this story as evidence of how brain-dead the official response to the pandemic has been – it relates to how police stopped people fishing at Cledlyn Lake Fishery in Ceredigion on Friday, even though the initial advice from Angling Cymru is that fishing is a permitted form of exercise and people are allowed to drive short distances to do it. The revised guidelines now state only disabled people can drive to go fishing. (They may have changed again since going to press.)
A reader has drawn my attention to a paper published in the Journal of School Health in 1951 on the US polio epidemic entitled “Should Polio Close Schools?“. Then, as now, one of the biggest questions was about the efficacy of closing schools to prevent the disease being spread. Here’s an extract from the abstract:
Anderson and Arnstein in “Communicable Disease Control”, 1948, in discussing poliomyelitis, say: “School closure, as well as closure of moving picture theatres, Sunday schools, and other similar groups, is frequently attempted in response to popular demand that ‘something be done’. Although tried repeatedly, it is of no proved value, never altering the usual curve of the epidemic: nor has the disease been more prevalent or persistent in those communities with the courage to resist such demands.”
The author of this paper comes to the same conclusion about the 1951–52 epidemic. For context, the number of Americans diagnosed with polio in the epidemic of 1948–49 was 42,173, with 2,720 fatalities. The 1951–52 epidemic was the worst in America’s history. Of the 57,628 cases reported that year, 3,145 died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis. By contrast, the number of people aged 19 and under who have died in English hospitals after testing positive for COVID-19 in the UK is currently 12. For those aged 15 and under, it’s two, according to Channel 4 Fact Check. Professor David Spiegelhalter at the University of Cambridge estimates that the risk to children of catching and then dying from coronavirus is one in 5.3 million. In the light of this, might Anneliese Dodds, Labour’s shadow chancellor, reconsider her decision not to send her six year-old back to school?
Last week, Kathrine Jebsen Moore, a journalist based in Scotland (and a friend of mine), started a Change.org petition urging the Government to re-open schools across the UK. In the hope of getting some signatures, she posted a message about it on a Facebook group she’s a member of called Edinburgh Gossip Girls. Perhaps naively, she was expecting this group of about 16,000 women in the Scottish capital – many of them mothers – to be sympathetic. I’ll let Kathrine take up the story:
Within a few minutes my post had 62 angry emojis, six stunned ones, three sad ones, and only 26 likes – and one heart. The comments reinforced the mood. As well as the simple “that’ll be a no” and “wouldn’t dream of signing this”, it quickly progressed to mud-slinging, strawmen and high tempers. Some comments were, worryingly, from teachers, who failed to show the professional pride that has been apparent among NHS workers and others who’ve continued to do their jobs during the pandemic. Although a few were supportive, I’ll include a selection which conveys the general spirit:
“Eh, not a chance. Most kids are fine without school.”
“Education matters but so does not dying.”
“Can everybody please report to admin and get this goady post taken down?”
Another accused me of having had “too many daytime G&Ts”.
“Boo hoo, my kids miss their friends… they’ll miss them a lot more if they’re dead.”
That was the last comment before the admin switched off comments, with the words: “I’m not sure you’re going to get much support here, and this is a post that clearly stirs up a lot of angst and emotion which I’m trying to avoid. This is one for your personal FB, thanks.”
I’ve published the whole story on Lockdown Sceptics under “Is Shutting Schools Really Necessary?” on the right-hand side. You can read it here.
I received an email from a doctor today which notes that, among other things, the two-metre social distancing rule isn’t observed by doctors and nurses at her hospital. Nor do they wear masks when off the wards.
I’m a critical care consultant in a non-London District General Hospital and have been working throughout the pandemic.
There has been adequate PPE, which has been used in compliance with Government guidance, throughout this time by staff having patient contact. There has been a noticeable difference in how different areas apply this though, with some areas or specialties being extremely cautious, e.g. full PPE for procedures involving patients who’ve tested negative, making procedures slower, more difficult and more prone to complications.
As part of the escalation plan, more staff have been moved into critical care to assist with patient management. As our facilities have not increased, we have therefore had crowded coffee rooms and offices, with everybody sitting at a normal distance next to each other, without masks – it’s difficult to eat with a mask on) – sharing kitchen facilities and changing rooms. We then have the farce of going to the hospital dining room or coffee shop, and sitting spaced out two to a table, as we are visible to the non-clinical world. Several junior doctors at my hospital tested positive, and had a week off, returning once symptoms had resolved, although as they are not re-tested, and are allowed to return to work with a persistent cough, who knows whether they were still shedding the virus. My personal belief is that a significant proportion of the nursing and medical staff have had the virus, with either no or minor symptoms, and have some degree of immunity.
In my opinion, the hospital I work at did an admirable job of preparing and escalating, and managed well with a significant number of very ill patients. The de-escalation, now that we have far fewer patients, seems to be less logical, although this is probably due to the national guidance.
On a separate note, the news from NHS England earlier this week that showed that patients with diabetes have a higher chance of dying with covid was really unhelpful. Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are completely different diseases, with Type 2 being associated with obesity, which we already know is one of the strongest risk factors for a poor outcome from covid. I’m not aware of any evidence showing an increased risk from having Type 1 diabetes. I haven’t seen any seriously unwell people with Type 1 diabetes, compared to Type 2. While it seemed logical before we had first hand experience to assume that people with Type 1 would be at increased risk, this hasn’t appeared the case, but statements like this from NHS England will continue to terrify those people with Type 1 who are otherwise fit and at low risk.
By the end of last week, we had no Covid patients left in critical care. As the pandemic dies down, paradoxically, the public’s paranoia and pointless mask-wearing is increasing. I have no wish to wear a face covering in public that will become saturated with the vapour I breathe out, including the many normal bacteria that colonise my nose. Face coverings are wrong for so many reasons – being a harbour for viruses and bacteria being one, but also for reducing facial recognition, contact and empathy with those we are interacting with, which I worry will cause increased friction between members of the community.
I was delighted to find your Lockdown Sceptics website, and know I’m not alone.
My correspondent who’s been covering the roll-out of the NHS contact-tracing app draws my attention to a leak over the weekend:
Can’t usually bring myself to read the Guardian but I may have to develop a tolerance as it seems to be the go-to paper for leaks from the Ethics Advisory Board overseeing the NHSx ‘public panic’ app. Not surprising, given that the majority of the board are legal and philosophy academics. Not a technologist amongst them as far as I can tell from the publicly available data.
The news is… the Board was not told about the development of a second version of the app (the Zulke developed one). According to the Guardian, which has spoken to some Board members on condition of anonymity: “Some members are particularly concerned that they were not informed about the development of a second, parallel NHS app that was being built in secret until its existence was disclosed by the Financial Times last week.”
If the Ethics Advisory Board cannot speak out publicly and is dependent on Matt Hancock reading the Guardian to get its message across then no wonder Parliament’s Human Rights Committee felt the Board was inadequate (as previously reported on Lockdown Sceptics).
The apparent lack of a tech member of the Board is astonishing. It means dropped balls – such as asking for all app code to be open sourced, but not asking for server-side, backend code to be included. Given the centralised data model, that’s a big deal.
As things stand, the Ethics Advisory Board appears to be a political fig leaf, whining about how powerless it is to the Guardian while Hancock charges ahead with his Big Brother apps.
The ex-Google engineer who reviewed Neil Ferguson’s code for this site under the name “Sue Denim” has sent me a response to today’s news story in the Sunday Telegraph – “Coding that led to lockdown was ‘totally unreliable’ and a ‘buggy mess’, say experts“. That story is based on a comment piece in the same paper by two senior software engineers. In response to their scathing assessment of Ferguson’s computer model, Imperial College has dug in. It gave the following statement to the Sunday Telegraph:
The UK Government has never relied on a single disease model to inform decision-making. As has been repeatedly stated, decision-making around lockdown was based on a consensus view of the scientific evidence, including several modelling studies by different academic groups.
Multiple groups using different models concluded that the pandemic would overwhelm the NHS and cause unacceptably high mortality in the absence of extreme social distancing measures. Within the Imperial research team we use several models of differing levels of complexity, all of which produce consistent results. We are working with a number of legitimate academic groups and technology companies to develop, test and further document the simulation code referred to. However, we reject the partisan reviews of a few clearly ideologically motivated commentators.
Epidemiology is not a branch of computer science and the conclusions around lockdown rely not on any mathematical model but on the scientific consensus that COVID-19 is a highly transmissible virus with an infection fatality ratio exceeding 0.5pc in the UK”
Sue Denim has responded as follows:
ICL is asserting here that once a few academics with the right kind of politics agree on something, that’s science. Replicability, accuracy versus observed outcomes and not being buggy are things that apparently only partisans care about. The claim about ideology is probably a reference to my comment about the insurance industry, but they then immediately prove the point by claiming “epidemiology is not a branch of computer science”. That’s exactly the sort of explanation for failure that companies can’t give to their customers, because nobody cares. Refusal to work cross-discipline is a mindset problem unique to academia, one that companies cannot and do not tolerate.
Finally, their claim about the Government never relying on a single disease model to make decisions doesn’t seem to match the official SAGE publication from March 9th, “Potential impact of behavioural and social interventions on an epidemic of Covid-19 in the UK“, which cites the ICL Report 9 paper and its assumptions as the only source of predictions for what would happen. The claim about consensus is equally dodgy: nearly as soon as the UK changed course in response to ICL’s model, a team at Oxford (Gupta et al) publicly contradicted them.
In my second post I asked if Imperial College’s administrators knew how out of control this department had become. Now we know the answer: yes, and they don’t care.
Worth noting that Imperial has just sealed a deal with with the Chinese company Huawei worth £5 million. The Mail on Sunday has the story.
A banker has got in touch to express his astonishment that last weekend’s leak from Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT), revealing how much the Government’s expenditure is likely to increase by this year, didn’t result in more comment:
I was a banker for 30 years and have worked with governments in the NL, France, Germany and the UK as well as major European corporates on privatisations and major capital raisings. Never have I seen a finance ministry send up what I can only describe as a distress flare to advertise the trouble its economy is in. Most finance ministries would avoid doing this like the plague (pardon the phrase). They all borrow internationally and the rule of the game is do nothing that damages your credit rating. If you damage it, not only does your cost of borrowing go up, but your very ability to borrow may be impacted. This matters when you’re going to have to rely massively on the kindness of strangers to finance your spending by massively increased debt issuance.
He can think of three possible explanations for the leak:
- There is serious alarm in HMT about the Government’s reaction to Covid and the economic cost of the lockdown, including Rishi Sunak’s expensive and over-generous bailouts. Maybe a worried official hoped the international capital markets could be used to put the frighteners on the PM.
- There’s tension between No 10 and No 11 and Sunak was trying to appeal to the international capital markets to put a brake on his boss’s recklessness by pointing out the financial and potentially political cost of an extended lockdown.
- HMT officials are scared shitless about the cost of Sunak’s crowd-pleasing and trying to put a shot across his bows.
I’m astonished how little serious reflection this leak has occasioned. The FT barely noticed it. More tellingly, it didn’t spark a week-long comment war on Bloomberg, Twitter or the Wall St Journal. All it did was spark a straw fire about “no tax increases” with some sensible reactions from former Chancellors.
But it still puzzles me as to why it ever happened. And why it didn’t cause utter pandemonium. Because the economic cost of this madness will only be felt once we get out of lockdown’s phoney war and the “Blitz” proper gets underway later this year, by which I mean when all those who are unemployed and don’t know it yet have a bruising encounter with economic reality. I wonder what the Blitz spirit will feel like then? How many royals will have to be axed from the civil list so that Buck House can once again look the East End in the eye?
Or maybe the leak was just mistimed, premature. We’re still all too busy clapping Captain Tom and the nurses (God bless them) to cope with any likely reality 3-6 months down the road. Hence the damp squib?
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:
- “Coronavirus offers another excuse for the New York Times to bash Britain” – Douglas Murray on the relentless Brit-bashing of the New York Times
- “Coronavirus in Switzerland: restaurants reopen but have diners lost their taste for eating out?” – Sunday Times reports that in spite of restaurants reopening in Switzerland, customers are staying away
- “Liberal Treated With Hydroxychloroquine Hopes He Still Dies Of COVID-19 To Prove Trump Is Stupid” – More laughs from the Babyloon Bee
- “Lemming Immunity” – Omar Khan says we need to stop worrying about herd immunity and figure out how to immunise ourselves against herd opinion
- “Lives vs lives – the global cost of lockdown” – Jayanta Bhattacharya and Mikko Packalen, two professors, argue that when assessing the costs of lockdowns we should consider their devastating impact on the developing world
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. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have reopened near you. 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.
Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. A journalist called David Oldroyd-Bolt lent a hand today and I’d like to pay him something, so if you feel like donating please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here. Incidentally, hope you like the new format with sub-headings and more pictures.
I seem to have taken a leaf out of the News at Ten and begun to round off each daily bulletin with a funny bit beginning “And finally…” Today’s “and finally” is brought to you courtesy of our friends at Comedy Unleashed and features Meggie Foster, a performer who specialises in lip-synch comedy. Her Boris is particularly good. Until tomorrow…