Did Dominic Cummings’s press conference in the Downing Street rose garden yesterday succeed in taking the heat out of whether or not he should resign following his trip to his parents’ farm in Durham? For a while it seemed to, but this is a dumpster fire that refuses to go out. Today, Douglas Ross, a junior minister in the Scottish Office, has resigned over the matter.
“While the intentions may have been well meaning, the reaction to this news shows that Mr Cummings’s interpretation of the Government advice was not shared by the vast majority of people who have done as the Government asked,” Mr Ross said.
This comes after more than 30 Conservative MPs have called for Cummings to go. In another attempt to quell the flames, Matt Hancock announced at today’s press briefing that the Government would be reviewing those fines issued to people for breaching lockdown rules to seek childcare.
But the Prime Minister is unlikely to do a U-turn, even though his approval ratings have dropped 20 points in the wake of the controversy, according to the Telegraph.
In what was widely seen as a “dead cat” move – a political term referring to a politician’s attempt to deflect attention from an embarrassing story by throwing a dead cat on the table – Boris announced at yesterday’s press briefing that high street shops, department stores and shopping centres are set to reopen on June 15th in the biggest easing of the lockdown since it was imposed on March 23rd. The Prime Minister added that outdoor markets and car showrooms would be the first to open on June 1st provided they had social distancing measures in place.
Boris also said the Government would be updating its “plan to rebuild” the British economy, and the update was published on the Government’s website this morning. You can read a summary of what’s new in the Telegraph.
According to the Times, At Cabinet yesterday Mr Johnson told ministers about his plans to allow people to hold barbecues and garden parties at the end of next month with a limited numbers of guests. The move is part of a broader plan to allow people to mix with a “bubble” of friends and family. The Prime Minister also said that the British Grand Prix would go ahead in July.
But don’t get out the bunting quite yet. In most non-essential shops, it will be a case of “look, don’t touch“, says the Times:
Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, said that shopping would be different when the restrictions are lifted. “We need to ensure that some of the shopping habits people may have grown used to in the pre-Covid days are habits that we exercise a degree of restraint on,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“So when it comes to touching and testing goods, when it comes to trying on clothing, when it comes to trying make-up and so on, that all of us exercise restraint in not doing that and recognise that as these stores reopen, it is a new normal.”
On May 15th I published an excellent article by an occupational health doctor about the economic risks of treating COVID-19 as a workplace health hazard, similar to asbestos. He pointed out the difficulties this created, particularly for small businesses that might not be able to afford the additional costs associated with making their work environments compliant with the new health and safety regulations:
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.
Since then, the Government has issued some guidance about how to make workplaces “safe” but it is incomplete and ambiguous and I don’t hold out much hope of it being adequately fleshed out when it’s updated. In particular, it over-estimates the expert guidance that anxious company directors will have access to. The same occupational health doctor has written a follow-up, reviewing the latest guidance, and concluded that if the Government doesn’t raise its game the economic recovery will be far slower than it needs to be:
The end of lockdown will only signal the beginning of the next phase of this crisis. The potential for COVID-19 workplace measures to continue to exert drag on the economic recovery is clear and a failure of Government to adequately address the support that employers need can only prolong the damage to businesses and livelihoods. Without this leadership, businesses and organisations of all types will continue to wallow in confusion, while all the while being vilified by the press. There will always need to be some degree of local interpretation of guidance or legislation, but fundamental misunderstandings need leadership otherwise the resulting confusion and chaos will only serve to prolong the damage to the economy and to livelihoods.
Worth reading in full.
Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, was photographed topless in Dublin’s Phoenix Park yesterday, despite official warnings against having picnics. Tsk, tsk. Will he read out a long statement in the Irish equivalent of the rose garden – the shamrock garden? – and then take questions from a baying mob of journalists?
Some interesting data in today’s Wall St Journal. Nearly two-thirds of leisure and hospitality jobs in New York and New Jersey and about half in California and Illinois disappeared between February and April compared to 43% in Florida, which was among the last states to lock down and first to reopen. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also provided exemptions for lower-risk businesses including contractors, manufacturers and some retailers. Four percent of construction workers in Florida lost their jobs compared to 41% in New York, 27% in New Jersey, 17% in California and 11% in Illinois.
Worth remembering that as recently as last week the Washington Post’s Ben Terris and Josh Dawsey dismissed Gov. DeSantis as a typical “Florida Man”, with his “devil-may-care” attitude and “oafish” demeanour. That’s liberal, Ivy League code for “conservative”. Turns out, DeSantis made the right call.
Every cloud, as they say.
I got an interesting email from a self-employed man today who’s business has been disrupted by over-anxious employees at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (that’s the UK’s IRS to my American readers):
I am a self-employed will writer who also assists clients with probate and estates and am lucky that I’ve been able to continue my business, albeit at a reduced level, during lockdown. Sadly, the same cannot be said of our glorious public sector.
One of my clients has been advised by HMRC, in relation to his late mother’s estate, that “due to current measures to control the spread of coronavirus we are not able to send you copies of your Inheritance Tax calculations”. Presumably, some idiot has advised them that there is a risk of the virus spreading to the wider community on the paper calculations, but, apart from the fact that I believe it is unlawful for them not to show my client how the tax has been calculated, they advised him of this by (yes, you guessed it) sending him a letter in the post! I wonder if some muppet licked the stamp?
The world, or at least the one inhabited by the public sector, really has gone mad.
The Reopen Maryland group, which is petitioning the Governor of Maryland to end the shutdown, has produced an excellent briefing document, laying out the case for reopening schools. Some of the highlights:
- Schools that have reopened haven’t caused a rise in infections anywhere and those countries that never closed schools, such as Taiwan, haven’t seen a higher death rate than those that have.
- The World Health Organisation’s chief scientist says children seem “less capable” of spreading coronavirus and are at “very low risk” of illness.
- Children accounted for fewer than 2% of total COVID-19 cases in a large CDC study, and of those children who did contract the virus, a maximum of 2% required hospitalization. Almost no children have died of COVID-19 anywhere.
- Remote learning can be less effective than face-to-face learning.
- Remote learning disadvantages children with special education needs, as well as students from poor backgrounds and those for whom English is a second language.
- Spring 2020 closures are estimated to place students 30-50% behind where they would otherwise have been, with more significant loss in maths. Some students will lose almost a full year of growth from the spring term closure alone.
- There is widespread agreement that school closure is harmful to children’s mental health, with parents reporting increased depression, stress, anxiety and suicidal ideation.
- The economic impact of school closure and interruptions to learning are substantial and harmful.
A new initiative in Germany has been launched called Medical Professionals and Scientist for Health, Freedom and Democracy. “Our credo is to act on evidence-based science with common sense and empathy, for the sake of health and freedom in a democratic society,” it says in this English-language YouTube video. One of the people involved is Dr Bobo Schiffmann, co-founder of Widerstand 2020, the German anti-lockdown party. But the driving force appears to be Professor Sucharit Bhakdi, Director of the Institute for Medical Microbiology. He is a long-standing lockdown sceptic and penned an open letter to Angela Merkel last month which was translated on Peter Hitchens’s blog.
I’ve just concluded a debate on the lockdown policy with Matt Labash in the pages of the Spectator USA. It started off as a light-hearted, humorous exchange of the kind you might witness in a gentleman’s club, but quickly degenerated into a schoolyard knife fight. I think we covered most of the issues, although I didn’t linger on the economic argument and herd immunity gets nary a mention. Hard to know whether either of us will have changed anyone’s mind. Probably not.
Here’s Matt trying to goad me with some death data:
Skeptics love to quibble about the true mortality rate of Covid. Which, fine. I get that. Any reliable analysis has to concede that God-knows-how-many people are walking around asymptomatically, never even thinking to get tested, let alone, dying. However, there’s another supremely inconvenient statistical reality that the skeptics dodge, almost as often as they dodge giving the death toll, when discussing Covid-19’s lethality.
And that is: how many people are dying who actually do get logged as identified cases? That’s not a model, that’s perfectly knowable right now. In the US, we have 1,674,054 total cases, as of this writing. (Again, these numbers are obsolete almost as soon as I set them down, since they’re always ticking up.) And we’ve had 98,315 deaths. Aside from that meaning that one out of every 198 Americans is identifiably infected with the coronavirus, it also means of those cases, 5.9 percent die. And that number hasn’t budged in weeks, no matter how much more we’ve tested, no matter how many more cases are added to the pile.
It’s even worse in other hotspots. Way worse. Spain and Italy both test at a higher per capita rate than we do. Yet Spain’s death toll among diagnosed cases is 10.1 percent. Italy’s is 14.2 percent. And while I respect your skepticial (or sceptical) propensity to ask some tough questions, I wouldn’t rest easy if I were you, either. The UK’s current death rate among identified cases is a whopping 14.1 percent.
And this is my irritable response:
I’m afraid your back-of-the-envelope calculation of the infection fatality rates in different countries are worthless. The number of cases doesn’t reflect the number who’ve been infected – not even close. To get that figure you need to carry out seroprevalence surveys, as John Ioannidis and his team at Stanford have done. In Ioannidis’s latest preprint, he calculated the infection fatality rate by looking at 12 seroprevalence studies in which the population sample size was higher than 500. His conclusion is that it’s ‘in the same ballpark as seasonal flu’, i.e. between 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent. Yes, your chances of dying from COVID-19 are higher than being struck by lightning, but not much.
But we’re getting distracted here. The argument against the lockdowns isn’t that the virus isn’t as deadly as people initially thought. It’s that there’s no evidence they suppress fatalities. I don’t know how many different ways to say this so that it sinks in. Some non-pharmaceutical interventions work – Taiwan’s decision to quarantine people entering the country in early January was smart and South Korea’s track-and-trace programme has been effective. But stay-at-home orders don’t work. That’s the reason I have every sympathy with those protestors in states like Michigan and Colorado. The civil rights of hundreds of millions of Americans, which are supposedly guaranteed by your constitution, have been suspended needlessly. They should be restored immediately.
Worth reading in full.
In typical style, President Trump has given an interview in which he admits he wouldn’t have ordered the shutdown on March 13th if he’d known then what he knows now – and then immediately contradicted himself and said it was an “incredible” decision, a “great” decision, one that saved “hundreds of thousands of lives”.
Here’s a transcript of the relevant bit of the interview with Sharyl Attkisson of the syndicated American TV show Full Measure:
President Trump: So I was hearing millions of people, and it would have been millions of people if we didn’t shut down. Now, would I shut it down again? No, because we understand it now much better. We didn’t know anything about it, it was new, it was fresh.
Sharyl: You mean you would not have, in retrospect, shut down the –
President Trump: I would have done exactly. We’ve done the exact moves that I would have done. And I did it early. Tony Fauci, Dr. Birx, they all said what I did was incredible. In retrospect, Tony, as you know, never thought he was going to be as severe as it was. And we’re talking about months later, a long time after I did the ban. I did a ban and nobody thought I should do it. I mean, literally I don’t think anybody thought I should do it. I made that decision by myself and it turned out to be a great decision. Hundreds of thousands of lives are saved.
James Delingpole and I debate Cummings-gate in the latest episode of our weekly podcast. We both agree: he shouldn’t resign because he drove to Durham with his wife and son, but his decision to support the lockdown is unforgivable. Listen to the whole riveting discussion here.
If you enjoy London Calling please do subscribe.
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:
- ‘Before condemning Cummings, we should all take a look in the mirror‘ – Helen Dale urges us to look for the beam in our own eye before pointing at the mote in Dom’s
- ‘The Pandemic Is Exposing the Limits of Science‘ – Ferdinando Giugliano points out in Bloomberg that much of the science around Covid is still uncertain
- ‘Alan Jones on Sky News Australia‘ – Great rant from the Australian Sky News host on the futility of lockdowns
- ‘German Government offers Lufthansa $10 billion bailout‘ – German Government set to become a minority owner of country’s largest airline
- ‘What’s Happening on the Isle of Mann?‘ – Big Brother Watch investigates reports of heavy-handed policing in the Isle of Mann in the wake of the Government granting itself emergency powers
- ‘Attempted suicides by elderly may be increasing six-fold, says Royal College‘ – The hidden toll of the lockdown continues to mount
- ‘Emily Thornberry accused of encouraging protesters who threw eggs at Dominic Cummings‘ – Failed Labour leadership candidate, aka “Lady Nugee”, praised protestors outside Dominic Cummings’ home, including those throwing eggs at the Government advisor
- ‘The lockdown fanatics have revived Project Fear‘ – Paddy Hannan in Spiked says Covid hysteria has a lot in common with Project Fear
- ‘Antibody testing will expose the folly of lockdown‘ – Angus Dalgleish, Professor of Oncology at St George’s, says the Government’s antibody testing will enable us to pinpoint when Covid arrived in the UK and almost certainly confirm that the lockdown came too late to make any difference
- ‘Online porn and gaming surge in lockdown, study finds‘ – Online vices have been flourishing as people fester in their homes, according to the Telegraph. But with all sporting contests postponed, what are they betting on?
- ‘Mexican border city tightens checks on US visitors‘ – Coronaphobia really has turned the world upside down. The latest story from the “You couldn’t make it up” department
- ‘Oxford scientists working on a coronavirus vaccine say there is now only a 50% chance of success because the number of UK cases is falling too quickly‘ – And here’s another from the same department. Oxford vaccine scientists are worried there won’t be enough infectious people to test it on if they don’t hurry up
- ‘Gunshot Victims Count As Coronavirus Deaths in Washington State‘ – And here’s story number three from the same folks, who really have been busy lately – Washington state officials have admitted that people who’ve died from gunshot wounds have been counted in the state’s official Covid death toll
- ‘Italy to recruit army of 60,000 volunteers to enforce social distancing rules‘ – Italy is recruiting an army of paid martinets to make sure people don’t sit too close to each other while eating pizza. No need for such extreme measures in the UK, of course. We have an even bigger army of jobsworths willing to do the same for nothing
- ‘Antidepressant prices soar by more than 800% during lockdown‘ – If you’re depressed, that must be depressing
- ‘The Truth About Social Distancing‘ – A New Zealand doctor says there’s little scientific evidence that social distancing prevents Covid infection. Watch it before YouTube takes it down
- ‘NHS to treat severe COVID-19 patients with Ebola drug‘ – The NHS has approved Remdesivir to treat COVID-19, according to Matt Hancock. Will Hydroxychloroquine be next?
Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: “Cut Your Hair” by Walk Disco, “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” by
Dominic Cummings Lynn Anderson and “Can I Have My Money Back” by Gerry Rafferty.
A couple of weeks ago, 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 opened 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.
We may not have to keep this service going for much longer, following yesterday’s announcement that car showrooms and outdoor markets would be allowed to reopen on June 1st and all other non-essential retail outlets from June 15th, including shops selling clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, books, and electronics, together with tailors, auction houses, photography studios. and indoor markets.
Still no news about when pubs, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, gyms and outdoor sporting arenas can reopen, though.
There will also be plenty of over-anxious Covidiocy to report on. According to today’s Times, shoes tried on in newly-opened shoe shops will be quarantined for 24 hours.
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 still takes me about nine hours a day, what with doing these updates, moderating your comments and commissioning original material. And all my journalist helpers have gone! If you feel like donating, however paltry the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in tomorrow’s update, email me here.
Some good news amid the gloom. The Turner Prize has been cancelled. The picture above is by last year’s joint winner Oscar Murillo.