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Abandon Ridiculous Two-Metre Rule

Bob’s cartoon in the Telegraph on May 30th 2020

I’ve written a piece in today’s Telegraph entitled: “For the sake of our economy, we need to scrap the absurd two-metre rule.” I point out that this and other over-cautious social-distancing rules will mean our economy is permanently stuck in second gear.

For most shops, the only way to keep customers six feet apart will be to introduce cumbersome one-way systems and force them to queue up outside. All very well when the only retail outlets we’re talking about are supermarkets and newsagents, but how will people observe that rule on the pavement when there are queues outside every shop?

For pubs and restaurants, due to reopen on July 4th, the two-metre rule will mean that many of them can’t resume trading and those that can will be forced to operate at less than 50% capacity.

I also point out that there’s no scientific basis for the rule.

What’s so absurd about this measure, which will decimate the hospitality trade, is that there’s no obvious scientific basis for it and many countries are much more relaxed. In South Korea, for instance, the acceptable distance in 1.4 metres, and in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and France, people are only expected to stay one metre apart.

Indeed, the World Health Organisation says a distance of one metre is more than sufficient. In Sweden, which has had fewer deaths per million than the UK in spite of not locking down formally, there is no hard-and-fast rule. People are just expected to use their common sense.

Boris Johnson is reported to be reconsidering the two-metre rule. Worth reading in full, Prime Minister.

SAGE Member Does U-Turn on Lockdown

No, it’s not what you think. Yesterday, a member of SAGE gave a press conference in which he warned that the Government was easting lockdown too fast. This is how it was reported on the BBC News website:

A scientist on the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has suggested he does not agree with easing the lockdown at this stage.

In a briefing to health journalists Prof John Edmunds, from the London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine, said that 8,000 new infections a day in England, as calculated by the Office for National Statistics, was “a very high incidence” level.

“Many of us would prefer to see incidence down to lower levels before we relax measures,” he said.

He said that with an “untested” test and trace system “we are taking some risk here” and “even if we keep it flat, that’s still quite a level”.

“Lifting the lockdown is a political decision. Lifting it now, means we’re keeping incidence at this level,” he added.

The Labour MP Richard Burgon was so over-excited by this news, he linked to the BBC report and tweeted the following: “So the Government is no longer following the science. It’s a political decision and we can’t trust this Government to make the right decisions with public safety.”

But hang on a second. Is this the same Professor John Edmunds who told Channel 4 News on March 13th that “the only way to stop this epidemic is indeed to achieve herd immunity”?

I guess he’s changed his mind.

Nobel Laureate Skewers Member of Imperial College Modelling Team

Michael Levitt applies his Nobel Prize-winning mind to Imperial College’s computer model

A few days ago I linked to a fantastic webinar, organised out of Brazil, in which a group of scientists discussed the reliability of predications generated by epidemiological computer models and whether those predictions should be used as the basis for government responses to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Among the participants were Michael Levitt, Professor of Structural Biology at Stanford and the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, and Samir Bhatt, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial’s School of Public Health.

One of my concerns as I’ve watched the British Government’s disastrous mishandling of this crisis unfold is that the people behind the Imperial College modelling that informed so much of the Government’s response will never be properly held to account. This webinar, in which Michael Levitt cross-examines Samir Bhatt, may be the closest we ever get.

If you have the time, I urge you to watch the whole thing. But if you don’t, watch it from the two-hour point onwards, in which Levitt begins to lose patience with the dissembling Bhatt. A reader has very kindly made a transcript of this part of the exchange. My favourite part is when Levitt – beginning to get angry – lays the blame for the coming global recession at the door of the Imperial College modelling team, whom he thinks wildly over-estimated the deadliness of the disease. “That is an error that has cost the world many, many trillions of dollars, but it isn’t a joke. I mean an error like that is not a small error,” he says.

Michael Levitt: I’m concerned by, there’s been a massive communications gap here and you know one question that I did raise which Rui didn’t pick up, is I’ve noticed that for example, that epidemiologists and I’m not talking about you guys, don’t think anything wrong about being a factor of 10 too high but are dead scared to be a factor of 10% too low.

I mean the number of deaths caused by lockdown is way higher than anything that will be caused by Covid, unless you assume exponential growth, forever. So, therefore this is a price that the world is paying for this asymmetry. In other words, I don’t know how we handle it, you know.

Sweden is not locked down. You guys are going to have a very hard time when Sweden plateaus at 6,000 deaths, which is 0.06, 0.6 per 100,000, and you can say well they social distance, they’re Scandinavians, they’re cold, there’s high population density. But, you know, the fact remains that the plateau rate of population reached by England, New York City, Lombardy, France is basically around one month of natural death. Ferguson said a year of natural death. That is horrible. That is an error that has cost the world many, many trillions of dollars, but it isn’t a joke. I mean an error like that is not a small error.

Now you could say, oh it’s our intervention, we intervened, Sweden intervened by itself, Italy was a very intervened country. Anyone who believes that Iran intervened is crazy.

Certain countries, there’s no doubt that the one place where there’s beautiful intervention is a part of China I call non-Hubei China…

In Hubei, the Chinese were out of control, but out of Hubei the epidemic is the most beautiful Gompertz function. It was so beautiful that everyone said they must have hacked my computer, except that New Zealand has the same distribution and other countries do as well. So I am trying to understand this.

There’s no doubt that once lockdown has been forced, everyone’s going to believe it was a good thing because otherwise why did we need to do it? But there’s no evidence for it.

Samir Bhatti: It’s not about believing if it’s a good thing. What mechanism do you conjecture for the plateauing of death in the UK that’s not lockdown?

ML: It reached one in a thousand. It’s nothing to do with lockdown. The UK policy led to early saturation. The whole country was infected before lockdown was done. The same thing was true of New York.

SB: No serological data supports this hypothesis.

ML: This is going to saturate at 20% serology. We know that already. You know this assumption that 80% based on R0 is basically nonsense. You guys don’t know what you’re doing to yourselves. You guys are going to end up being responsible for a hundred billion dollar crisis to the world and this is not funny.

And you start to use clean terminology. Don’t estimate herd immunity from an R0 value, which is completely meaningless. If the R0 value is 1.3 then I get saturation at 25%. The Diamond Princess, this wonderful experiment, saturated at 25% and you can say, “Oh, it was such good lockdown. We had shared air conditioning, it was an aged population.”

It doesn’t work. In other words, there needs to be sanity checks. Sanity checks come from looking at the data.

SB: OK so we’re going to talk about the data then. So you’re hypothesis is that infection fatality rate is much lower, everyone has been infected, that’s what caused the curve to bend. A massive serological study occurred just now in Spain, suggesting that with the 28,000 deaths, 5% of the population has been infected based on serology.

ML: And I think we’ve seen that the serological studies have serious shortcomings. We’re now seeing signs there may be T cell receptors.

Daily Mail Guide to Having a Socially Distanced BBQ

This illustration is in today’s Daily Mail, based on advice from Professor Patricia Riddell, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Reading.

Prof Riddell recommended asking guests to bring their own cutlery, plates and condiments to reduce the risk of virus transmission through touching the same surfaces, and having only one person using the tongs.

She also endorsed serving food on plates from a distance rather than everyone approaching the grill, setting out seats in advance for people to sit two metres apart, and sitting alongside each other rather than face to face.

Can’t say it looks like a barrel of laughs. Bagsy not sit next to the guy with the guitar.

Brazilian Scientists Challenge Concept of “the Science”, Defend Hydroxychloroquine

A group of more than 25 Brazilian scientists have written an open letter, questioning the idea that indiscriminately locking down whole populations, as well as other responses to the pandemic, is supported by “the science”. In particular, it challenges the idea that “the science” has concluded hydroxychloroquine shouldn’t be used to treat patients with COVID-19.

The letter has been coordinated by Marcos Nogueira Eberlin. He’s a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and holds a PhD in chemistry from the University of Campinas. Founder of the Thomson Mass Spectrometry Laboratory and winner of the prestigious Thomson Medal (2016), Eberlin is recognized worldwide as one of the most productive mass spectrometrists ever, having published close to 1,000 scientific articles. He discovered the Eberlin Reaction during his work on gas phase ion chemistry, and he and his research group introduced EASI (Easy Ambient Sonic-spray Ionization), an ionization technique used in mass spectrometry. In other words, a highly-respected, mainstream scientist.

It’s not the usual dry, scholarly dirge, but an angry, impassioned screed. (The caps haven’t been added by me.) I’m going to quote the opening few paragraphs in full because they’re so good.

During this pandemic, the term “science” has been used “ad nauseam”, that is, has been repeated to exhaustion: “Science, science, science”, “I’m pro-science”, “For from the science, through the science and to the science I guide my decisions and acts” and “I am, therefore, fully right to do so”. It is clear that the intention here is to lead all of us to the idea of ​​decisions based on something unquestionable and infallible, as scientific as law, as the law of gravity.

Groups of “science experts” or famous YouTube scientists, many of them still “beginners” in science, some of them with a minimal or no experience in fighting pandemics, are selected by the establishment and the media to give “scientific aura” for the lockdown and the condemnation of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) as an ineffective drug; worse, as a deadly poison.

That disastrous apocalyptic simulations from the “Imperial College” – this pompous name that brings us to the idea of ​​a center of excellence of infallible, omnipotent and unquestionable knowledge, an “College of the Empire” – are being used to place everyone at home, and then, to compare data as being the absolute reference of the truth. “We did something and as a result, we reduced those many deaths. Therefore: ‘blessed be the science!’”.

But what kind of “science” is that to which they are appealing? And who, in the name of this “science”, would be allowed to speak? Science (I know that there are controversies, as scientists even debate on its meaning) is “the dispassionate search for the truth about the Universe and life”. But ironically, we seek truths that we don’t even know what those truths would be like, or where they would be found. For this reason, sometimes, ironically, even when scientists find a truth that is indeed true, yet they doubt that they have found it. We literally zigzag in the dark, searching for solutions to our problems. Therefore, we sometimes say that: “eating eggs is bad, it increases cholesterol”; and sometimes: “eggs are good, eat at ease”.

Richard Feynman put it this way: “Science is the culture of doubt”. And I would add, “science is the culture of debate, of divergence of opinions”.

Rarely, there are situations in which we reach consensus in science, even a momentary consensus. Some defend the “Big Bang” and the theory of evolution, others, including myself, are skeptical of them. Some defend with data and papers the central role of men in global warming, others defend, with the same data and papers, that human activity is irrelevant. Scientists are human beings, therefore, skeptics and enquirers who can and should speak for themselves, like all scientists have the right to do, but NEVER A SCIENTIST OR A GROUP OF THEM CAN DECLARE TO BE AUTHORIZED TO SPEAK IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE!

Nobody, absolutely nobody is allowed to speak for science or declare that he is “been guided” by science! In times of pandemic, this impossibility is even greater, as we face an unknown enemy. Data is still being collected and researches are being performed and published by scientists divided by their worldviews, and by their political and party preferences.

Whoever said he acted in the name of science, dishonestly usurped science prestige. For what type of “science” is this, unanimous and consensual, that no one has ever heard of? Could someone give me its address so I can confirm its consent? Its phone, email and WhatsApp?

For defenders of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), the next section is manna from heaven, ripping apart the studies that purport to show it’s ineffective or, worse, dangerous.

The Manaus’ study with chloroquine (CQ) performed here in Brazil and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) [1], is emblematic to this discussion of “science”. Scientists there used, the manuscript reveals, lethal doses in debilitated patients, many in severe conditions and with comorbidities. The profiles of the groups do not seem to have been “randomized”, since a clear “preference” in the HIGH DOSE group for risk factors is noted. Chloroquine, which is more toxic than HCQ, was used, and it seems that they even made “childish mistakes” in simple stoichiometric calculations, doubling the dosage with the error. I’m incapable of judging intentions, but justice will do it. The former Brazilian Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta quoted this study, supported it, and based on it, categorically stated: “I do not approve HCQ because I am based on ‘science, science, science’!”.

Definitely worth reading in full.

Incidentally, the recent HCQ study in the Lancet that led to the worldwide suspension of clinical trials of the drug and hospitals around the world yanking it from their treatment protocols has been criticised in another open letter signed by a group of scientists, this one addressed to Richard Horton, the Editor of the Lancet. It’s not quite as angry as the Brazilian letter, but almost. Also worth reading in full.

Trump Terminates the WHO

Trump: “China has total control over the World Health Organisation.”

Donald Trump has said he’s “terminating” America’s relationship with the World Health Organisation (WHO), having already said the international body will get no more US funding.

The US president cited the body’s ties to Beijing as he made the announcement yesterday, saying: “China has total control over the World Health Organisation.”

Does this mean we’ll now be able to challenge some of the WHO’s wilder claims about the virus on YouTube? Interestingly, the WHO has just done another U-turn – is this number 657? – recommending against the wearing of masks.

As I’ve said before, if you’re the YouTube employee in charge of removing any content that contradicts the WHO’s recommendations about how to stay safe, keeping up with the organisation’s constant flip flops must be a nightmare.

Church Leaders Threaten Government With Judicial Review if Churches Aren’t Allowed to Reopen

A coalition of church leaders has written to the Government, threatening a Judicial Review if the ban on churches opening isn’t lifted. The pre-action letter supported by Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre argues that blanket ‘lockdown’ restrictions imposed on all churches are both unlawful and unnecessary, and asks the Government to prioritise the re-opening of churches as part of its exit-strategy.

The letter, which you can read here, says the blanket ban is disproportionate, given that lots of churches closed voluntarily and those that remained opened introduced social distancing measures. It also makes the argument that the ban contravenes the separation of church and state:

While the short-term practical difference between state regulation and church self-regulation may be limited in present circumstances, the principle of Church autonomy is extremely important in the broader constitutional context, and must be protected for the benefit of present and future generations.

Among the list of 24 claimants requesting an urgent meeting with the Government to discuss lifting the ban are Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, President, Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue (OXTRAD); Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, Senior Pastor, Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC); and Revd. Dr David Hathaway, President of the Eurovision Mission to Europe.

Pastor Ade Omooba MBE, Christian Concern’s co-founder and one of the claimants in the letter, says:

It cannot be right that at present it is lawful to go to a bike shop, B&Q, visit a chiropractor or dry cleaner, and not be allowed to receive Holy Communion or engage in silent prayer in a church.

Similar legal challenges have been successful in other countries. Last week, France’s Supreme Court ruled that the French Government’s absolute ban on religious gatherings as part of its lockdown restrictions is unlawful, and ordered the Government to relax restrictions on religious worship.

The Government should lift the ban immediately or face the consequences.

Government Publishes Chart That Inadvertently Discredits its Own Policy

The Cabinet Office Briefing Room issued a chart yesterday (see above) showing that the Government’s first “test” – “We must be confident that we are able to provide sufficient critical care and specialist treatment right across the UK,” in the words of the Prime Minister – has been met. This was part of the rationale for allowing up to six people from different households to meet up from June 1st.

But look closely at the chart and you’ll see that in the small print on the left-hand side is says occupancy of mechanical ventilator beds in the NHS peaked on April 10th at 41%. In other words, the risk of the NHS’s critical care capacity being overwhelmed – something flagged up in Neil Ferguson’s March 16th paper and one of the key reasons for locking down the country on March 23rd – was exaggerated. We didn’t need to remain in our homes to “Protect the NHS” after all.

Another embarrassing implication of that number – only 41% of the NHS’s ventilators used – is that it makes a mockery of the Government’s wartime-style drive to manufacture more ventilators. Just as well, since the entire effort – dubbed the “ventilator challenge” – was a fiasco from start to finish. Not that it would have mattered if there had been a shortage and the “challenge” was a success, since ventilators are almost completely useless when it comes to treating patients with COVID-19.

Six Reasons the Cure is Worse Than the Disease

In the latest anti-lockdown jeremiad by Professor Ramesh Thakur, the former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations lists six reasons why the official response to the pandemic will end up causing more harm that it has prevented:

  • Lockdowns will have a negative impact on mental health and lead to more suicides.
  • With elective surgeries and routine screenings suspended, many diseases that would be treatable if caught in time will end up killing hundreds of thousands.
  • People have been so terrorised by the propaganda unleashed by governments around the world that people requiring crucial care have refused to go to hospital, whether through fear of catching the virus, or because being good citizens they don’t want to trouble a badly over-burdened health system.
  • The lockdowns reduced the amount of time people spent in the fresh air and sunshine, with some people being cooped up in high-risk environments like congested living complexes.
  • Elderly hospital patients infected with COVID-19 were discharged into care and nursing homes to deadly effect, accounting for more than half of all Covid deaths.
  • The deadliest impact of the lockdowns will be on the world’s poorest billion people over the next decade along multiple sub-pathways.

Worth reading in full.

Rioters in Minneapolis Comply With Mayor’s Order to Wear Face Masks in Shopping Malls

Rioters in Minneapolis wearing face masks

I got an email from a reader in Minneapolis yesterday, the American city that was set ablaze by rioters on Tuesday night following the death in police custody of George Floyd, a 46 year-old African-American, and has been burning ever since.

We’ve been a bit busy here in Minneapolis dealing with the city being burned down around us. It was oddly relaxing to think about Chinese viruses. All of the businesses I service – my customers – are either in ashes, boarded up or looted.

Here is the joke: Why did Minneapolis police stand by and watch the looters and arsonists destroy hundreds of businesses? Because the looters were complying with the Mayor’s order to wear a mask inside retail establishments.

Interestingly, that order took effect Tuesday at 5p.m. When did the rioting start? Tuesday evening….

Round-Up

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:

Theme Tune Suggestions From Readers

Some more suggestions for theme songs from readers: “Worry” by Blodwyn Pig, “When Will I See You Again?” by the Three Degrees (can’t believe we haven’t had that yet) and “Locked Up In Jail” by John Lee Hooker.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

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.

Shameless Begging Bit

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. 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.

And Finally…

A reader made a slight adjustment to this Lord of the Rings meme. Works pretty well…