Month: June 2020

Latest News

What on earth does the Government think it’s doing? What possible reason is there for reimposing a full lockdown on Leicester? In an act of sheer lunacy, Matt Hancock announced this morning that non-essential shops have been told to close today and schools asked to shut their doors to the majority of children from Thursday. Pubs, restaurants and hair salons that have been gearing up to re-open on Saturday have now been told to remain closed.

The rationale, needless to say, is that Leicester has seen a “surge” in cases, with over 900 new cases in the past two weeks. Confusion surrounded this figure since the published data for Leicester recorded just 80 new positive tests between June 13th and 26th. But Hancock now says there were in fact 944.

How do we know the increase in cases isn’t simply an artefact of increased testing in Leicester? We don’t, obviously. The 80 figure is based on Pillar 1 data, which are from tests done in hospitals; the 944 figure is based on Pillar 2 data, which are from tests done at Government centres or at home and processed by commercial labs. But surely the hospital data are more reliable than the community data – although these are all PCR tests and they’re all notoriously unreliable (see this Off-Guardian piece). And if the number of new cases being discovered by hospitals is low that suggests there isn’t a “surge” in new cases in the community. Deaths, too, are low, although, to be fair, if the alleged rise in cases has only happened since June 13th you wouldn’t expect to see any corresponding rise in deaths yet. On June 29th, only two people died from COVID-19 in the whole of the Midlands. According to the FT, the rise in infections is mainly among younger people (as it is in southern and southwestern US states) which means we’re unlikely to see any corresponding rise in deaths.

Let’s suppose the Pillar 2 data are accurate and there have been 944 new cases in Leicester between June 13th and 26th. That’s an average of 472 new cases/week. Assuming an infection fatality rate of ~0.25% (almost certainly an over-estimate), that means ~1 person/week will die if the infection rate remains where it is. And even that’s over-egging it, given that a majority of the new cases are among younger people.

Is it really worth reimposing a lockdown on Leicester to prevent one person/week from dying? I looked at the NHS England data for hospital deaths and of the five people who died from coronavirus on June 29th four were 80+ years’ old.

So the people of Leicester are being asked to close schools, shut non-essential shops and keep their pubs, restaurants and hair salons shuttered for two more weeks in order to prevent the deaths of two people aged 80+? Setting aside the civil liberties argument, is Matt Hancock confident that more than one person per week won’t die as a result of reimposing the lockdown? I’m thinking of cancer operations being postponed, the increased risk of suicide and domestic violence, and elderly people who may die of thirst or starvation because their relatives aren’t allowed to visit them.

What an absolute shower this Government is. If I was the Mayor of Leicester, I’d just point-blank refuse to comply. This report on Sky says the Leicester lockdown has “legal underpinning” which sounds like a mealy-mouthed way of saying its not legally enforceable.

Hector Drummond’s Graph

There’s a good piece in Hector Drummond Magazine entitled “This Is What We Shot Ourselves in the Foot For“. Hector has plotted the ONS’s figures for all-cause mortality in England and Wales dating back to 1900 on a graph and it shows a pretty modest uptick in 2020. For graphing purposes, he assumes that the number will be the five-year average for 2015-19 (531,355) + total Covid deaths. However, as he says, that’s probably an overestimate since some of the people who’ve succumbed to coronavirus would have died anyway this year. He’s also taken total Covid deaths for the UK (42,462), not England and Wales, so that too means the uptick is higher than it will be. Nonetheless, it’s still a pretty meagre increase. He concludes:

So: no gigantic, bowel-emptying spike in 2020. No jaw-dropping upwards vertical rocket-ship to match those jaw-dropping downward vertical cliffs we saw with the economic data. Just a tiny little uptick, like many other little upticks in there, indistinguishable from random noise. If you asked someone in the future who was unacquainted with the era to point to where the once-in-a-century medical disaster was, they would have no chance of picking it out.

Far from being a once-in-a-century pandemic, COVID-19 turned out to be a bad flu. We shut down the world for a bad flu. We shut down the world despite living in the safest era in the whole of history.

ONS Says All-Cause Deaths Now Below Five-Year Average

Deaths in England and Wales

Today’s data release from the ONS for the w/e June 19th shows all-cause mortality has dropped below the five-year average. This is in addition to Week 23 having the lowest Covid death toll for 13 weeks (623).

A total of 9,339 people died of any cause in the w/e June 19th, down from an average of 9,404 for the same week over the past five years. This bears out Hector Drummond’s suspicion (see above) that the total Covid death toll for 2020 is likely to be lower than the five-year average + those who’ve died from Covid.

As one reader points out:

Since it’s inconceivable and impossible that without COVID-19 being a factor the average death figures would have been below average for Week 23 because of some magical and coincidental reduction in other causes of death, then that leaves only one conclusion, viz. that many people who have died of (or “with”) coronavirus in the UK would have done so this year anyway.

In the movie Aliens, Ripley tells Newt, the small girl and only survivor of the deserted space colony, of all the precautions she and the marines will take to protect Newt against the aliens.

Newt says: “It won’t make any difference.”

I wonder what Newt would say if you told her that, from tomorrow, we’ll have been locked in our homes for 100 days?

“It won’t make any difference.”

Rate of Decline Flattening. Oh No! Mother!

Amusing comment in the Guardian on this graph just released by Downing Street showing the declining daily death tolls:

Downing Street has updated its daily dashboard with the latest coronavirus figures. These are UK figures. Here is the graph showing the number of daily deaths. It is still going down, but now the rate of decline is flattening.

Well, yes. The rate of decline is flattening. That’s what happens when the number approaches zero. When it actually gets to zero – next week? – expect the Guardian run a story saying: “Rate of Decline In COVID-19 Deaths Worryingly Flat.”

Price Fixing

Why is the Government telling pharmacies what price to put on hand sanitiser products and face masks? Has it lost its faith in the market to price those items fairly? A reader writes:

Another nail in our freedoms: the Competition and Markets Authority and the General Pharmaceutical Council have threatened pharmacies with fines if they sold face masks and hand sanitiser at high prices. Have these two organisations heard that in a free enterprise market economy prices are not fixed by officialdom but float subject to supply and demand, the exception being where there is an abuse of a monopoly? As far as I am aware, there are multiple manufacturers and suppliers of these products, which are available in supermarkets and on-line as well as in pharmacies. Why are we allowing our freedom to be infringed by such bureaucrats?

Alternative Poem

Excellent alternative to the ghastly propaganda poem I published in the last Lockdown Sceptics update. This one is by Annie, one of the best commenters below the line.

POEM, TO BE LEARNED BY HEART BY ALL CHILDREN WHOSE PARENTS ARE NOT ZOMBIES

By Annie, Covipoet Laureate and Composer of Deathless Verse for All Occasions (fee scale sent on request)

There was a boy called Johnny
Who as a general rule
Lived a normal, quiet existence
Between home and play and school.

But when the lad was seven
His whole life turned to bad:
Some people caught a flu germ
And all the world went mad.

They took our little Johnny
And every other kid,
And slammed them in a dungeon
And then screwed down the lid.

Johnny went into the garden
But the policemen came and said
There was virus in the garden
And our John would soon be dead.

Mummy took him to the playground,
But all the slides and swings
Had hazard tape all round them
And other dreadful things.

His granny came to see him
Most secretly one day,
But the next-door neighbour dobbed them
And the police dragged her away.

John’s mummy said the police were right,
And Johnny he should not
Even dream of hugging granny
Or she’d drop dead on the spot.

When mummy went out shopping
She put a bandage round her head
It made her look so monstrous
Johnny hid under his bed.

Then she put a mask on Johnny
And to our lad it seemed
That mask was going to choke him,
And he screamed and screamed and screamed.

Then Johnny got into his bed
And turned to face the wall
And it makes no difference what they do,
He won’t come out at all.

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

Two suggestions today: “Beyond Belief” by Elvis Costello and “It’s Time to Get Away” by LCD Soundsystem.

Small Businesses That Have Re-opened

A few 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 re-opened, 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. Now that non-essential shops have re-opened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. 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. Don’t worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

Note to the Good Folk Below the Line

I enjoy reading all your comments and I’m glad I’ve created a “safe space” for lockdown sceptics to share their frustrations and keep each other’s spirits up. But please don’t copy and paste whole articles from papers that are behind paywalls in the comments. I work for some of those papers and if they don’t charge for premium content they won’t survive.

And while I’ve got you, any holiday tips? Mrs Young thinks Greece is too risky – sensible, given that they’ve just extended their quarantine for another two weeks. We’re now looking at Italy, Austria and Switzerland, but can go further afield. All tips gratefully received. The little male Youngs are keen on a swimming pool that’s actually open and Mrs Young is happy with anything sunny provided she doesn’t have to cook. Miss Young (16) would ideally like to be near a beach.

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 usually takes me several hours to do these updates, along with everything else, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here. (Please don’t email me at any other address.) I’ll try and get another update done on Thursday.

And Finally…

I was interviewed by Stephen Knight, otherwise known as Godless Spellchecker, for his YouTube channel on Monday. We were supposed to be talking about the Free Speech Union, but I got a bit sidetracked when he asked about Lockdown Sceptics and launched into an epic rant against the Government.

Worth watching in full, obviously.

And, for the die-hard fans, there’s always London Calling, the weekly podcast with James Delingpole and me. Quite a lively one this week, with both of us getting steamed up about Britain and America’s Maoist moment.

Lockdown Sceptics

Holiday bookings have exploded on the eve of the Government’s “air bridges” announcement, according to the Daily Mail.

Over the weekend, Britain’s biggest travel websites saw inquires for some European destinations rise by 350 per cent and bookings were up by as much as 80 per cent on the week before.

Travellers are being tempted by promised savings of up to 76%.

The reductions mean it is possible for a family of four to save more than £500 on the headline price of a sunshine break.

Such was the surge in interest that the Eurostar website ground to a halt under the weight of bookings.

I looked at booking a family holiday in Santorini in July on Sunday, but when I checked Greece was still conducting port-of-entry screenings and insisting that new arrivals who test negative quarantine themselves for seven days. Doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs.

Beware the Jabberwocky Second Wave

So how worried should we be about a second wave? Readers will know my answer to that question, not least because I wrote a piece about it for the Telegraph on Friday.

Let’s start with Sweden. At this point, I’m going to hand over to Freddie Sayers, the editor of UnHerd. UnHerd‘s coverage of the pandemic has been consistently excellent. Freddie had a good article in the Sunday Telegraph about his home country.

Sweden, my normally uncontroversial motherland, is again at the front of this battle between the Pollyannas and the pessimists. Because of its more laissez-faire strategy, it must be finally proven to be either a triumph or a catastrophe. The truth is somewhere in between. Charts of newly recorded cases in Sweden or maps of new cases per 100,000 population look bad, as if that country is suffering a plague out of proportion with the rest of the continent. But look at a chart showing admissions into Swedish intensive care with Covid-19 and you’d think the epidemic was pretty much over – sharply falling from its peak in mid-April to under 200 people nationwide today.

The answer to this confusion lies in testing. Starting from a low base, the Swedes have now doubled tests, and so have started picking up large numbers of mild cases that previously went undetected. Case numbers look bad, but hospitalisations and deaths continue to come down. They have no excess deaths compared with what would be normal for this time of year.

It’s the same story across the rest of Europe: no second wave.

The real story across Europe has been that, despite country after country opening up, none has yet been hit by a genuine second wave. There have been big local outbreaks, such as in a meat-processing plant in Gütersloh in Germany and in Lisbon, but while they have understandably caused concern and led to local lockdowns, there have not been national surges or significant increases in hospitalisations or deaths.

What about the United States? The bedwetters’ line is that states that re-opened early have seen a “surge” in infections, although that’s not actually true since several states that re-opened early – such as Ohio – have not seen an uptick in infections and infections have continued to decline in those seven states that never shut down at all. Another difficulty with this hypothesis is that infections are rising in 22 states, not all of which re-opened early.

Partly, the rise is due to more people being tested, as this graph makes clear:

However, there’s no denying that in some southern and southwestern states, case counts have been climbing in a way that can’t be fully explained by increased testing. Last Friday, for instance, 25% of Arizona tests were positive, up from around eight percent on Memorial Day, when the rise began. Florida had a record single-day case count last Friday, and about a quarter of Alabama’s total cases have come in the last week. Scary stuff, right?

No, not really, because there’s been no corresponding rise in deaths. The daily death tolls are continuing to drop in Texas, Florida and Arizona, as they are for the whole of the United States, as this graph from the New York Times makes clear:

And before you say, “But what about the lag time between infection and death?” let me point out that cases started to rise in southern and southwestern states five weeks ago, so if the rise in cases was going to cause a proportionate rise in deaths we’d have seen that by now. Why haven’t we? Because most of the people getting infected since those states re-opened have been young people. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says the median age for new cases in his state is 37, while in Texas Greg Abbott says a majority of new cases are from people under 30. And as we know, the infection fatality rate for people under 50 with no underlying health conditions is close to zero. A recent seroprevalence study in Sweden found that among 36,000 sero positive cases, only two deaths were detected, giving an IFR of 0.005%.

And in the extremely unlikely event of an infected young person requiring critical care, we’ve got a lot better at treating the disease – Dexamethasone really does work.

Another complicating factor is that Arizona’s rising death toll is partly due to deaths that occurred much earlier only just being reported. On Wednesday, for instance, it reported 79 “new” deaths, but they weren’t really new at all, according to azcentral.

The 79 deaths, while included in Wednesday’s report, did not all occur in the past day. According to the health department, 53 of those deaths were from “death certificate matching” for deaths that occurred previously and the department is just identifying as Covid-related. Arizona’s death total now is 1,463.

1,463, incidentally, is low. Worth remembering that over 17,000 people have died in New York.

Meanwhile, across America as a whole daily deaths are 90% lower than they were at their peak (see graph below). Weirdly, though, the British media isn’t reporting that story.

Will All Schools Really Re-open in September?

In spite of the Government’s expressed intentions, I’m sceptical that all schools will re-open in September, at least not in full. A reader passed on this email from the headteacher of Highgate Woods School in Haringey which I fear is pretty typical.

Planning for September return – an update

I shared the table below with you last Friday. You may recall that we are planning for each of the four scenarios below, but that we are particularly focused on scenarios 2 and 3 as we think they are the most likely.

Scenario 1 COVID-19 disappears completely over the summer and the risk of contracting COVID-19 has been eliminated. Full school return in September

Scenario 2 The risk level of contracting COVID-19 is lower than now but not eliminated. This would probably mean that we could have half the school in at any time

Scenario 3 The risk level of contracting COVID-19 is something like now. This is likely to see Year 11/Year 13 in school significantly more than other year groups, whose main provision would be remote learning

Scenario 4 The risk of a severe second spike is high. School would be closed to all students

Since then you will probably be aware that the Prime Minister has announced that the Government plan to open all schools fully in September (scenario 1). However, at the moment, this is just a stated intention and from experience, we have seen such statements alter and in some cases get retracted. There has been no official guidance.

My view is that this is a highly ambitious objective by the government and although I welcome this, I am also clear that we will proceed with caution. Until such time that we receive official guidance from the Government, we will continue to plan for all four scenarios. The emphasis for us at HWS is safety first. Irrespective of the Government’s position, I want to reassure parents that we will make decisions about how we re-open based on our ability to do so safely.

At first glance, it’s hard to understand. He makes no attempt to explain why the school won’t re-open in full if there’s the slightest risk of the children contracting COVID-19, given that it poses less threat to children’s safety than a thunder storm. Mystifying. Then there’s a chink of light. He says he “welcomes” the Government’s objective of re-opening all schools in full in September but will only re-open his school if he receives “official guidance” to that effect. Well, of course. God forbid that a headteacher should take any initiative himself. That’s a bit clearer, I suppose: official guidance = school re-opening. But then the sky begins to darken again. He adds: “Irrespective of the Government’s position, I want to reassure parents that we will make decisions about how we reopen based on our ability to do so safely.”

In other words, he’s not going to reopen the school in full even if the Government orders him to do so.

My favourite bit is this line: “The emphasis for us at HWS is safety first.”

Forget about putting the welfare of the children first or, God forbid, their education. No, the critical thing is to put “safety” first.

Gawd help us.

Do Asda, Not As I Say

Got an encouraging email from a reader about how relaxed his local supermarket has become. I expect this is true of many shops that have embraced all the social-distancing bells and whistles.

My local Asda has all the lockdown features even the most fanatical virus paranoid could want: stickers, signs, screens, one-way lanes – you name it. No-one, not even the staff, now takes the slightest notice and there is zero enforcement. They’ve even stopped having a Brian Hanrahan on the door to count shoppers in and out. Nearby, the queuing lanes, once packed with the living dead waiting their turn, are empty with just the miles of tape flapping in the breeze.

Sceptic of the Week

Ralph Findlay, chief executive of Marston’s, is also refusing to make staff wear masks, claiming pubs should not feel like hospitals

A clear winner this week: Ralph Findlay, CEO of Marston’s, a pub chain that has 1,400 sites. He told the Mail that he will re-open 90% of his pubs on July 4th and not only will customers not have to register, he won’t insist on anyone having to wear face masks either.

The brewer will spend several hundred thousand pounds on personal protective equipment for employees who want to use it for “their own peace of mind” but not as a matter of course.

The Wolverhampton-based group, which owns the Pitcher & Piano and Revere chains, said it would leave pens and paper for customers to fill out their details if they wanted to.

It means this voluntary information, and potentially the records of those making digital bookings, will be the only data it can provide to help the Government’s track and trace efforts.

Unleashing the Welsh Dragon

For my Welsh readers, a crumb of comfort. Nicola Sturgeon, it seems, is acting even more ridiculously than your own First Minister. On Sunday it was announced that Scotland may introduce mandatory quarantine for those travelling from England if cases begin to rise once again. That won’t do much for the Scottish tourism industry. Bear in mind it’s worth £10.5 billion a year to the Scottish economy and employs approximately eight per cent of the working population.

A Rig Pig Writes

Got an excellent email from someone who works on a North Sea oil rig – sort of a Postcard from the North Sea. Sounds like he’s had to put up with less social distancing balls than most, but even in the middle of the North Sea there are still some face mask Nazis…

I work offshore in the North Sea, and work has continued as normal – we have gone to four weeks on/four weeks off instead of our normal 3/3 – ostensibly to reduce the amount of time spent in heliports and traveling. But the rig has actually been busier than ever, with more people on board than normal. Gotta keep the gas flowing! We have established token social-distancing: removing every other seat in the mess room, or spreading out in the locker-room for our pre-shift briefing instead of sitting shoulder to shoulder. We also don’t meet our back-to-backs face-to-face on crew change day (you used to get a quick ten minute chat while the helicopter was turned-round). All perfectly reasonable, and non-intrusive. We still work very (physically) closely, it just goes with the job – my mate is holding something in place while I bolt it up.

The “authorities” have come up with some rather daft policies, needless to say.

My first “lockdown trip” was just after the full lockdown started. After taking the crew of 12 in half at a time to watch a rousing video from our head honcho – “You may ask why you are still going out to work when the whole country is in lockdown? The answer is because YOU are powering the country” – we then went into separate departure rooms to get our survival suits on and watch the safety video. Six people together is surely safer than 12! Then all got on the same helicopter to fly out to the same rig to live and work together for four weeks! (No masks required that time.)

The following trip out (so eight weeks later) was much the same, but we had to wear these stupid snoods whilst on the chopper, which I found extremely annoying, and couldn’t help keep faffing with it and itching my face.

I do accept wearing this during the helicopter journey though, out of politeness to the pilots if nothing else. However…

Coming home from that trip, we were out on the upper deck, in the North Sea wind, 30 yards away from the helideck, waiting for the helicopter (with blades turning) being refueled. I had my snood around my neck, and was told that I MUST wear it right now. “If the pilots see you, we will get a snotty email from the helicopter company,” I was told. I asked: “Do you think viral transmission is likely in the middle of the ocean next to a running helicopter?” and was given a “rules are rules”-type reply.

The final stupidity was that we were explicitly told we were not allowed to remove these muzzles whilst walking across the Aberdeen tarmac, only when we were INSIDE the terminal!

All in all, I feel like one of the lucky ones. When offshore, things are almost completely normal, working away and surrounded by friends. But these completely random rules from the heliport did my head in, as did not being able to go straight to the Spider’s Web boozer for a traditional back onshore pint.

Is Anything Not a Symptom of COVID-19?

According to Fox News, the CDC has added yet more items to its already very long list of COVID-19 symptoms. It’s just as well the pubs are closed because everyone waking up with a hangover would think they had the virus.

Why Aren’t We Allowed to Go to Ethiopia?

A reader who went to Ethiopia recently on his hols got a heart-rending note from the guide he hired to take him round the Simien Mountains National Park. The advice from the Foreign Office is to avoid the country. But why? People are literally dying in Ethiopia because the tourism industry has collapsed. My correspondent writes:

To begin with, the number of deaths from COVID-19 in Ethiopia has been 89 in a population of roughly 109 million. The peak was in April. The FCO is of course advising against all but essential travel to Ethiopia, and the Government is not planning to include Ethiopia in its initial “air bridge” scheme. It’ll probably be one of the last countries to get its tourism industry back. Yet the infection rate has been much higher in those countries that are part of the air bridge scheme. The only rationale for this policy (playing into perceptions of the country) would be that Ethiopia has under-reported deaths, or can’t properly test people so doesn’t know. But the reverse seems to be the case, and they are getting praise for their response (e.g., here and here). Is it that they are not screening people coming in to Addis Ababa? Apparently not. They seem to be doing screening and also requiring a 14 day quarantine in a hotel of their choice. So it seems that Ethiopia ought to be high on the list of countries with whom we could run an air bridge scheme. Apparently “some Caribbean islands” are high on the list, so it’s not like the GDP of the nation in question or the likely demand for flights is all that much of an issue – after all, demand for flights to Ethiopia was enough that Ethiopian Airlines was (until COVID-19) going to begin direct flights from Manchester to Addis Ababa (they already fly direct from Heathrow). It does make me wonder whether “some Caribbean islands” are on the list for other reasons.

The Great Awokening and the Second American Revolution

I interviewed Professor Eric Kaufmann for the Quillette podcast on Friday. He wrote an absolutely spell-binding essay about America’s Mao-ist moment for Quillette last week and this was an opportunity for me to explore some of his ideas in more detail. Professor Kaufmann believes America may be going through something akin to China’s Cultural Revolution in which many aspects of American society, from the constitution to the name of the country, could change. I’m not quite as alarmist as him, but his argument is persuasive.

Propaganda Poem

A mum of two primary school children sent me this poem that was set for her 10 year-old in Year Five last week. The poor little mite was expected to learn this abominable propaganda by heart! She quite rightly told the school to get knotted. Message: The Lockdown has brought about a spiritual awakening that has made people realise the error of their planet-destroying ways.

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

Just one suggestion today: “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. Can’t believe we haven’t had that one before. Or have we?

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A few 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. Now that non-essential shops have reopened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. 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. Don’t worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

Note to the Good Folk Below the Line

I enjoy reading all your comments and I’m glad I’ve created a “safe space” for lockdown sceptics to share their frustrations and keep each other’s spirits up. But please don’t copy and paste whole articles from papers that are behind paywalls in the comments. I work for some of those papers and if they don’t charge for premium content they won’t survive.

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 usually takes me several hours to do these updates, along with everything else, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here. (Please don’t email me at any other address.) I’ll try and get another update up on Tuesday.

And Finally…

Jonathan Pie’s latest rant – about cancel culture – is well worth a watch. When he’s good, he’s very, very good.

Coming Soon

A pedestrian in Florida doing her best to protect herself from infection

No update today, but am planning one for tomorrow looking at the rise in infections in those US states that were among the first to ease shutdown restrictions. In light of this rise, should we be worried about a “second wave” in the UK? You can probably guess the answer…

Lockdown Sceptics

Bournemouth beach earlier today. Looks like the British public have decided lockdown is over

Lockdown is over as far as the British public is concerned. At least, it is when it’s the hottest day of the year with temperatures peaking at 33.3C, as they did today. Half a million people descended on the Dorset coastline, according to the Times, creating a “major incident”.

The council said it had issued 558 parking fines in 24 hours and dealt with congested roads into the early hours this morning. With campsites still closed, large numbers of people pitched camp illegally.

In the area between Bournemouth’s piers eight tonnes of waste were collected yesterday on the second collection run of the day. This morning, a further 33 tonnes of waste were removed along the full stretch of coastline.

The Daily Mail has more.

A major incident was declared in Bournemouth today after thousands of people flocked to Britain’s beaches, leaving the emergency services “stretched to the absolute hilt” on the second hottest day of the year in a row.

Furious council bosses said they were “appalled” at the scenes on the Dorset coast, blasting the “irresponsible behaviour and actions of so many people” as temperatures hit 91.9F (33.3C) in southern England this afternoon.

Police desperately urged people to “stay away” and “think twice before heading to the area”, while Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council said 558 parking enforcement fines had been issued – the highest on record.

There’s an easy solution to this chaos, Boris.

Abandon the ridiculous, completely pointless policy of forcing people who return from holidays abroad to quarantine themselves for two weeks.

Victory for Stu Peters

The Free Speech Union has scored a significant victory. At the beginning of the month, Stu Peters, a Manx Radio presenter, got into a heated discussion with a caller on a late-night phone-in show about the BLM protests in which he challenged the idea that he’d received special treatment because of the colour of his skin. The following day, the Isle of Man Creamery withdrew its sponsorship of his show and Manx Radio suspended him and referred the matter to the Communications Commission, the IOM equivalent of Ofcom.

Stu is a member of the Free Speech Union and we wrote to the Commission, pointing out that he was simply exercising his right to free speech, as enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and nothing he said could be construed as remotely racist. (You can read that letter here.) We concluded by asking the Commission to exonerate him.

Well, yesterday the Commission did precisely that. You can read the full decision notice here, but the gist of it is that Stu didn’t breach the IOM’s Programme Code. After examining all the evidence, the regulator said: “Whilst issues surrounding race can be an emotive matter, the debate in question was conducted in a fair and measured way, and for the most part, in a calm and open manner.”

The Commission noted that some of the language in the show – such as a caller using the word “coloured”, which Stu didn’t correct – was “insensitive”. But this wasn’t a reason to reprimand the presenter.

This must also be balanced against the provisions for freedom of expression in both the Code and the relevant Human Rights legislation which is clear that people are free to hold and express opinion without interference by public authority regardless of frontiers.

Ofcom, take note.

Chalk this one up to common sense. But there are many more battles to be fought in the War against Cancel Culture so please do contribute to the Free Speech Union’s Litigation Fund so we can stand up for people’s speech rights in the court.

Unlocked

A new organisation has been launched this week called Unlocked. It’s a group of people from all walks of life – some of them ex-Brexit Party MEPs, but it’s a broad church – who want life to return to normal as soon as possible.

Here’s what it says on the website:

It’s year zero. Not since the second world war have we faced a crisis like Covid-19 and the lockdown. From businesses that can’t open, to farmers who can’t bring in the harvest, from care-workers on zero hours contracts, to doctors who can’t get PPE. Share your big problem with us, so we can reach out to the country for pioneering solutions that unlock the UK’s potential.

I’ve a feeling we’re going to be hearing a lot more from this group. Sign-up here to get on board early.

It’s Vanished Into Air. Into Thin Air

Where’s that pesky virus gone?

I’ve got a piece in the Telegraph today predicting there will be no “second wave”. To be honest, I’m doubtful there’s been a “first wave” – all-cause mortality was only 7.3% above the five-year average in the w/e June 5th and it remains to be seen whether total deaths in 2020 will be above the five-year average. But, as Michael Levitt has pointed out, no one’s reputation suffers if they overestimate the death toll from a new virus (just look at Neil Ferguson); they only get pilloried if they underestimate it. So if even one person dies from COVID-19 in October, I expect George Monbiot will link to this article and demand that I be kicked out of the Honourable Company of Journalists. (Not that there is such a thing – but if there was I would surely have been kicked out already).

Here are the first four paragraphs:

Across the United Kingdom, epidemiologists, public health officials and local bureaucrats are stamping their feet and gnashing their teeth. They’re furious about the fact that daily deaths from COVID-19 are continuing to decline at a precipitous rate. Contrary to their dire warnings, the easing of lockdown restrictions hasn’t led to an uptick in the rate of infection. The much ballyhooed ‘second spike’ has refused to materialise. The virus has all but disappeared.

The extent to which COVID-19 has vanished isn’t immediately apparent from the figures. The death tolls announced each day refer to all those deaths involving coronavirus that have been ‘registered’ in the last 24 hours. That includes people who died weeks ago – sometimes months ago – but whose paperwork has only just been completed. If you look instead at the number of actual deaths in English hospitals in the last 24 hours, that gives a clearer picture. The number on June 23 was four – all in the north west. Fewer than 20 died in London hospitals in the past week. No one died on Tuesday.

The number of deaths involving coronavirus is a better yardstick than the number of infections, partly because more and more people are being tested each day, and partly because the test itself isn’t very reliable. There is a gold-plated antibody test you can have done by a company called Pyser that employs ex-Army medics and operates out of the Honourable Artillery Company in the City of London. I took one last week and tested positive.

But the PCR test – which tells you whether you’ve got it, not whether you’ve had it – throws up a lot of false positives. To give you an idea of how unreliable it is, take this announcement by Norway’s Institute of Public health last month. “Given today’s contagion situation in Norway, health professionals must test around 12,000 random people to find one positive case of Covid-19,” it said. “In such a selection, there will be about 15 positive test responses, but 14 of these will be false positives.”

Worth reading in full, obviously.

More Evidence That There’s no ‘Second Wave’

In case there’s any doubt about the easing of lockdown restrictions not leading to a second wave, I’m publishing an update today by Dr Rudolph Kalveks, the theoretical physicist who crunched the Covid data for us last week. He’s looked at the data for the last couple of weeks and reached the same conclusion as me: no second wave.

In conclusion, although the epidemics are obviously further progressed, over the last two weeks there has been no signal for any material change in the shape of the epidemic SIR model curves in Europe, the USA and Australia. Thus, the relaxation of lockdowns (well documented elsewhere) has so far had no discernible impact on the recovery from the epidemic in these countries.

This undermines the analysis by Flaxman et al (published June 8th in Nature) that continues to predict a tenfold increase in the population at risk from the relaxation of lockdown restrictions.

Worth reading in full.

Two Critiques of the Flaxman et al Paper in Nature

“As you can see, my spermatozoa are very fast swimmers.”

I’m able to bring you not one but two critiques of the Flaxman et al in Nature – the June 8th paper by Imperial College’s modelling team claiming the lockdowns in 11 Europe countries (including, weirdly, Sweden) had saved three million lives. This is the paper I blogged about here and here a couple of weeks ago.

First off is this critique by the independent researcher Nic Lewis. It’s quite dense and not readily accessible to non-specialists, but it looks pretty devastating to my layman’s eye. Here is his conclusion:

First and foremost, the failure of Flaxman et al.’s model to consider other possible causes apart from NPI of the large reductions in COVID-19 transmission that have occurred makes it conclusions as to the overall effect of NPI unscientific and unsupportable. That is because the model is bound to find that NPI together account for the entire reduction in transmission that has evidently occurred.

Secondly, their finding that almost all the large reductions in transmission that the model infers occurred were due to lockdowns, with other interventions having almost no effect, has been shown to be unsupportable, for two reasons:

* the prior distribution that they used for the strength of NPI effects is hugely biased towards finding that most interventions had essentially zero effect on transmission, with almost the entire reduction being caused by just one or two NPI.

* the relative strength of different interventions inferred by the model is extremely sensitive to the assumptions made regarding the average delay from infection to death, and to a lesser extent to whether self isolation and social distancing are taken to exert their full strength immediately upon implementation or are phased in over a few days.

It seems likely that the inferred relative strengths of the various NPIs are also highly sensitive to other assumptions made by Flaxman et al., and to structural features of their model. For instance, their assumption that the effect of different interventions on transmission is multiplicative rather than additive will have affected the estimated relative strengths of different types of NPI, maybe substantially so. The basic problem is that simply knowing the dates of implementation of the various NPI in each country does not provide sufficient information to enable robust estimation of their relative effects on transmission, given the many sources of uncertainty and the differences in multiple regards between the various countries.

Critique number two is by two German academics, Stefan Homburg and Christof Kuhbandner – “Comment on Flaxman et al. (2020, Nature: The illusory effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19 in Europe“.

This one is a bit more accessible. Here’s the introductory paragraph:

Flaxman et al. infer that non-pharmaceutical interventions conducted by several European countries considerably reduced effective reproduction numbers and saved millions of lives. We show that their method is ill-conceived and that the alleged effects are artefacts. Moreover, we demonstrate that the United Kingdom’s lockdown was both superfluous and ineffective.

Here’s what they have to say about Sweden (which is more or less what I said in my second critique of the paper):

Our final remark regards Sweden, the only country in the dataset that refrained from strong measures, but has lower corona deaths per capita than Belgium, Italy, Spain, or the United Kingdom. In the absence of a lockdown, but with an effective reproduction number that declined in the usual fashion, Flaxman et al. attribute the sudden decline in Sweden’s R(t) on March 27th almost entirely to banning of public events, i.e., to a NPI that they found ineffective in all other countries. This inconsistency underlines our contention that the results of Flaxman et al. are artefacts of an inappropriate model.

Both Lewis’s critique and the Homburgl/Kuhbandner comment are worth reading in full.

Searing, Merciless Critique of Lockdowns

A reader has flagged up a brilliant paper by Carlo Caduff, an academic at King’s College London, in a journal called Medical Anthropology Quarterly. It’s entitled “What Went Wrong: Corona and the World After the Full Stop“. It’s a searing, merciless critique of the global lockdowns. Here’s a taster from Part III: Towards Another Politics of Life.

The story of how the Chinese approach became a model for generic lockdowns in the Global North and then exported to countries in the Global South is important to note, particularly considering the dramatic consequences for millions of people struggling to survive without any source of income. Ironically, these extremely restrictive lockdowns were sometimes demanded by people eager to criticize the authoritarianism of the Chinese state. Across the world, the pandemic unleashed authoritarian longings in democratic societies allowing governments to seize the opportunity, create states of exception and push political agendas. Commentators have presented the pandemic as a chance for the West to learn authoritarianism from the East. This pandemic risks teaching people to love power and call for its meticulous application.

As a result of the unforeseeable social, political and economic consequences of today’s sweeping measures, governments across the world have launched record “stimulus” bills costing trillions of dollars, pounds, pesos, rand and rupees. Earmarked predominantly for individuals and businesses, these historic emergency relief bills are pumping staggering amounts of money into the economy, but ironically they are not intended to strengthen the public health infrastructure or improve medical care. The trillions that governments are spending now as “stimulus” packages surpass even those of the 2008 financial crisis and will need to be paid for somehow. Today there is a massive global recession in the making. If austerity policies of the past are at the root of the current crisis with overwhelmed healthcare systems in some countries, the rapidly rising public debt is creating the perfect conditions for more austerity in the future. The pandemic response will have major implications for the public funding of education, welfare, social security, environment and health in the future.

If you think something good will come out of this crisis, you should think again.

New Essay by by Guy de la Bédoyère

Our old friend Guy de la Bédoyère has written a new essay for Lockdown Sceptics. Entitled “The False Choice“, it nails the lie that we have to choose between saving lives and saving the economy, between people and profits. As Guy points out, the two are completely co-dependent and not in any sense in opposition to each other.

Most people in Britain seem to have forgotten that the NHS only exists because we have, or had, one of the largest economies in the world. Without a thriving economy the future can only be one of unemployment, destitution, deprivation and want. And we all know what catastrophic health consequences of all those would be.

The reality is that if we tell ourselves to prevent the so-called second wave at all costs, by extending the destructive effects of the lockdown further and for longer, then the health and economic crisis that will follow and echo down for generations, not just here but across the world, will be one we will be far less able to do anything about. Most people in Britain seem to have forgotten that the NHS only exists because we have, or had, one of the largest economies in the world. Without a thriving economy the future can only be one of unemployment, destitution, deprivation and want. And we all know what catastrophic health consequences of all those would be.

That economy has enabled us not only to spare huge numbers of productive young people to work in that health service, rather than in making or generating wealth, but also to appropriate or entice others from around the world to work here with them. The result is that around 1.5 million people work in the NHS which is around three percent of the working population. To those we can add many more involved in healthcare. They spend much of their time dealing with an economically unproductive part of the population, primarily the elderly and vulnerable. Being able to do so and living in a society which values that is part of being civilized.

The same applies to education. Since 1944 there has been universal state education available in this country. It’s far from perfect but it means the vast majority of children emerge from school literate and able to take part in the social, cultural and economic life of this country. Yet, as a result of the disastrously blinkered scientific advice that has driven this crisis we have apparently been prepared to condemn a whole generation of children to compromised education and all the social, health and economic risks we know that will entail. No wonder then that in the Mirror of June 24th Polly Hudson wrote about the shameful betrayal of a generation.

Like mass education, the NHS is a fabulous luxury, a superb and enviable benefit of living in an economically powerful nation. It’s also a privilege. We are extremely fortunate to have it. But the price is massive and it means there is no point in ‘protecting the NHS’ if the result is that we end up being unable to afford it thanks to the economic Armageddon of lockdown. In the end the only way any disease is controlled is through herd immunity, gained either by letting the disease run its course or by developing a vaccine.

The choice we face is not a simplistic one between ‘health’ on one hand and ‘the economy’ on the other. By believing that it was or still is, the result has been to take this country and many others to the point where the very health crisis the lockdown was supposed to prevent is now facing us on a far larger scale. It’s time to get real and stop playing games.

Watching the Watchdog

In my Spectator column today, I’ve written about the Free Speech Union’s legal action against Ofcom. If you want chapter and verse on this, you should read Tuesday’s update on Lockdown Sceptics, but this piece summarises all the issues at stake. Here are the opening three paragraphs:

At the beginning of April, I became so frustrated by the supine coverage of the Government’s response to the coronavirus crisis, particularly on radio and television, that I decided to start a blog called Lockdown Sceptics. The idea was to create a platform for people who wanted to challenge the official narrative. In addition to publishing original material by Covid dissidents, many of them eminent scientists, I include links to critical papers and articles, and write daily updates commenting on the news. One of the things that puzzles the contributors is why the coverage on broadcast media has been so hopelessly one-sided.

The BBC, in particular, seems to have become a propaganda arm of the state. Normal journalistic standards have been abandoned and it just regurgitates the views of the public authorities, transmits nightly ‘death porn’ to terrify people into compliance and regularly warns its viewers and listeners about the ‘fake news’ circulating on social media. Often, something condemned as ‘misinformation’ one week — that face masks protect against infection, for instance — becomes Government policy the next, and the BBC’s phalanx of reporters all swivel by 180 degrees like a well-drilled marching band.

Much of this is down to group-think. But there’s another factor at play, which is the behaviour of Ofcom, the broadcast watchdog. It published some official guidance on March 23rd, the same day the government suspended our civil rights, and then further ‘confidential’ guidance on March 27th, advising its licensees to exercise extreme caution when broadcasting “statements that seek to question or undermine the advice of public health bodies on the corona-virus, or otherwise undermine people’s trust in the advice of mainstream sources of information”. No wonder there are so few dissenting voices!

Worth reading in full.

If you want to contribute to the legal costs of this action, please donate to the Free Speech Union’s Litigation Fund.

And if you’d like to join the FSU, please click here.

Vindication at Last

Back in March, I was pilloried on Twitter and elsewhere for a piece I wrote in The Critic in which I attempted a back-of-the-envelope cost-benefit analysis of the lockdown. I tried to put a financial value on the years of life that Neil Ferguson claimed the lockdown would save, using the Qaly metric employed by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, and compare that to the financial cost of the lockdown. Not surprisingly, given that the average age of those who’ve been “saved” by the lockdown is 80, I concluded that, no, it wasn’t worth it. I was then almost universally condemned for being “heartless”, “monstrous”, “inhuman”, etc.

Well, it turns out I was right – at least, according to David Miles, Mike Stedman and Adrian Heald, three economists who’ve written a paper doing exactly what I did, but in much more granular detail.

Let’s suppose that Neil Ferguson is right and the lockdown has saved 440,000 lives (the 500,000 that would have died if we’d done nothing, minus the 60,000 that have died or will die). Of course, people would have voluntarily engaged in voluntary social distancing behaviour in the “do nothing” scenario, and Ferguson et al made a string of dubious assumptions: that we are all equally susceptible, that 81% of the population would get it and 0.9% of us would die – all complete balls, obviously. But nonetheless, even if you give Professor Lockdown the benefit of the doubt, assume that each of those 440,000 people will live for a further 10 years and value those years at £30,000 each – the upper band of the Qaly estimate – that still gives a total value of the lives saved of £132 billion.

What about the other side of the equation? Even on the most conservative estimate, the UK economy will shrink 9% this year, which equals about £200 billion. So a net loss of £68 billion. And, of course, if you plug in a more realistic estimate of the number of life years saved, the net loss increases, as we can see in the table above.

Where did Ferguson get the figure of 500,000 from? Forget all the fancy modelling. If you assume 81% of the UK population (67 billion) would have got Covid absent the lockdown, that’s 54,270,000 people. And if we assume 0.9% of them will die, that gets you to 488,430. Close enough. So what happens if you take just one of Ferguson’s dodgy assumptions – that COVID-19 has an infection fatality rate of 0.9% – and replace it with a more scientifically accurate one, i.e. 0.26%, which is the CDC estimate? That brings the number of people who would have got it in Ferguson’s “do nothing” scenario to 141,102. Subtract the 60,000 who’ll die even with the lockdown and that leaves 81,102 lives “saved”. If we value each of those lives at £300,000 (£30,000 x 10), that gives a total value of £24,330,600,000. So a net loss of more than £175 billion.

And, of course, that’s without factoring in the cost of all the additional collateral damage caused by the lockdown, such as children losing six months of schooling, the cancer operations postponed, the people not being diagnosed with diabetes and heart disease, the rise in suicide and domestic violence, etc., etc.

Not surprisingly, the three economists conclude that the lockdown has been an absolutely catastrophic policy. Although, being academics, they put it more politely than that:

We find that the costs of lockdown in the UK are so high relative to likely benefits that a continuation of severe restrictions is very unlikely to be warranted. There is a need to normalise how we view COVID-19 because its costs and risks are comparable to other health problems (such as cancer, heart problems, diabetes) where governments have made resource decisions for decades. Treating possible future COVID-19 deaths as if nothing else matters is going to lead to bad outcomes. Good decision making does not mean paying little attention to the collateral damage that comes from responding to a worst case COVID-19 scenario.

The lockdown is a public health policy and we have valued its impact using the tools that guide health care decisions in the UK public health system. On that basis, and taking a wide range of scenarios of costs and benefits of severe restrictions, we find the lockdown consistently generates costs that are greater – and often dramatically greater – than likely benefits.

Worth reading in full.

Alistair Haimes’s Must-Read Cover Story for The Critic

Love this cover of the latest issue of the Critic. The Critic is one of the few British publications to get the lockdown right, along with the Spectator and, to a lesser extent, the Telegraph. Alistair Haimes, a contributor to Lockdown Sceptics, has written the cover story in the July issue and it is as caustic and withering as you’d expect. Here are his opening two paragraphs:

I am writing these words at the beginning of June, but you should by now be looking back on the worst of the UK’s COVID-19 epidemic. History books will dissect every aspect of the disease and governments’ response to it, but it is already clear that there has been an unexampled disregard for the foundational pillars of the scientific method even as governments trumpet that they are “following the science”.

The Royal Society’s motto is nullius in verba — “take nobody’s word for it” — but at every stage we have failed to apply scrutiny where it is due, or even to stop and check we are on the right ladder before we carry on climbing. For the country that is the birth-place of scientific inquiry and epidemiology it is astonishing. My godfather, professor of physics at Oxford, told me that the three most scientific things you can say are, “I don’t know”, “prove it” and “I’ve changed my mind”. Let us do each in turn.

Worth reading in full.

New Poem From Bent Knee

A new poem from an anonymous reader who calls himself “Bent Knee”.

Wave helicopter arms
Minimise playground harms
Nine poor kids to a room
Private schools do it better by zoom

Guests forbidden in the home
Never let your love roam
Best not dream of skin on skin
Sharing breath’s a dangerous sin

Save Lives, Stay alert!
More sanctions will only hurt
Authority is your new friend
Rules creep, they do not end

Jobs lost exponentially
Forget bodily sovereignty
Habeas Corpus struck though in black ink
Feel your hearts and hopes sink

Obey the governmental say so
Trust in GAVI, the new NATO
Viruses are deadly trouble
Relax in your mandated bubble

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:

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A few 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. Now that non-essential shops have reopened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. 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. Don’t worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

Note to the Good Folks Below the Line

I enjoy reading all your comments and I’m glad I’ve created a “safe space” for lockdown sceptics to share their frustrations and keep each other’s spirits up. But please don’t copy and paste whole articles from papers that are behind paywalls in the comments. I work for some of those publications and if they don’t charge for premium content they won’t survive.

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 usually takes me several hours to do these updates, along with everything else, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here. (Please don’t email me at any other address.)

This is only the second daily update this week and I don’t expect to do one tomorrow. Will try and do one over the weekend. Apologies for winding down, but Free Speech Union business is becoming all-consuming, thanks to the fact that we’re in the midst of a Maoist Cultural Revolution. (And incidentally, if you want to understand what’s happened in the last four weeks in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, I highly recommend this essay by Professor Eric Kaufmann in Quillette. It’s astonishingly good.)

I asked my webmaster on Monday how many total page views Lockdown Sceptics had had so far and the answer is 1,652,739. Not too shabby. Peak traffic was 148,188 page views on 7th May, thanks to “Sue Denim”‘s first code review.

I feel the mood beginning to shift as it dawns on more and more people that the Government has bungled its management of the pandemic. The fourth estate, which has largely slept through the crisis, is beginning to stir. It’s going to get ugly – very ugly – and I cannot see how Boris can hope to win the next General Election, assuming he lasts that long. I need a new political home, as I suspect do many readers of this site, right and left. More on that soon…

And Finally…

Should we start selling these T-shirts in the merch store?

Click here to listen to the latest episode of London Calling in which James Delingpole and I almost succumb to Boris Derangement Syndrome, so unhappy are we with his excessively cautious approach to ending the lockdown. The virus is gone, pfffft, kaput. Forget about the one-metre-plus rule. Just admit you made a terrible mistake and say everything can go back to normal. We also discuss the Cultural Revolution and… well, it all gets a bit ranty. Not many jokes in this episode. Incidentally, the brilliant Sherelle Jacobs column in the Telegraph praised by James at the beginning of the podcast is here.

Latest News

Apologies for not filing an update yesterday. Been incredibly busy with Free Speech Union business for the last couple of days. As regular readers will know, we wrote to Ofcom at the beginning of June informing the broadcast watchdog that if it didn’t withdraw its coronavirus guidance, which cautions its licensees against broadcasting “statements that seek to question or undermine the advice of public health bodies on the Coronavirus, or otherwise undermine people’s trust in the advice of mainstream sources of information about the disease”, we would apply to the High Court to have that guidance struck down. It would be an exaggeration to say it has played a major role in suppressing public debate about the pandemic and the Government’s management of it. But it has undoubtedly been a factor. Anyway, Ofcom has dug its heels in so we’re pressing ahead.

We had to file all the papers by close of play today and, inevitably, it was a last-minute rush. Apart from me, the team consists of two members of the FSU’s Legal Advisory Council – Dan Tench and Paul Diamond, both working pro bono – and Peter Ainsworth, the FSU’s Case Management Director. We had to challenge the guidance within three months of it being published and since it was published on March 23rd, the same day the Government imposed a full lockdown, we had to file today.

That means we’ve been working flat out over the past 48 hours to pull together all the documents, including a 5,000-word witness statement from Dr John Lee, the retired pathologist who’s written a string of brilliant pieces about the virus for the Spectator. Here is a key section from John’s statement:

A key error that I would like to highlight is the characterisation of COVID-19 by the Government and also by the broadcast media.

As has been well publicised, COVID-19 is a disease caused by a novel coronavirus usually causing a respiratory infection. In some cases it can be directly fatal, or at least a strongly contributory cause of death. Many of the fundamental parameters of the disease were unknown when the outbreak first came significantly to public attention in February and March of this year, and are still the subject of much uncertainty. For example, its reproduction rate in various settings (that is the number of people who will catch the disease from one person who already has it), the mortality rate, the percentage of the population who may be susceptible to catching it, and how the passage of the disease may vary with climate and seasonal changes.

There are of course a large number of serious human infectious diseases many of which we have largely conquered through vaccination or other public health initiatives. But globally many diseases remain. In addition to the burden of chronic disease, recent figures estimate 1.5 million annual deaths from tuberculosis, 1.4 million from diarrhoeal diseases, 1 million deaths from AIDS, 400,000 from malaria. Lower respiratory tract diseases are estimated to cause 3 million deaths annually, of which the various forms of influenza may kill 28,000 or more people in the United Kingdom in a bad year. The question is where does COVID-19 rank in the panoply of other serious diseases?

The answer from Government and the media was that COVID-19 is a uniquely serious disease presenting a grave threat to human beings and to our society. In January, February and March 2020, the broadcast media repeatedly showed graphic images from, for example, China, Italy and New York, illustrating hospitals apparently overrun with COVID-19 patients. This inspired a Government response unprecedented in peacetime.

I believe that this characterisation of COVID-19 is highly questionable. It is certainly a contagious disease, though not obviously significantly more contagious than a typical influenza, and much less contagious than diseases such as measles. It is also true that in a small proportion of cases, particularly in elderly people with co-morbidities, it can be an extremely serious disease, and in a small fraction of those cases, it can lead to death. But the initial framing of this disease was seriously flawed. The infection fatality rate (the proportion of those who catch the disease and die) came down from an initial wild estimate from the World Health Organisation of 3.4% (which would indeed have been an emergency and crisis) to 0.9% by Imperial College London, to 0.67% also by ICL, to 0.2% by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and will probably finally be around 0.1% (very similar to influenza).

But even this fails to characterise the epidemic properly. Those under the age of 18 have a vanishingly low chance of being seriously ill with this disease or dying of it, those under 60 a very low chance, and even older patients into their eighties who are otherwise fit and well, a low chance of this disease significantly affecting their overall level of health or their lifespan.

I would not want to be misinterpreted. Because this is a new disease and therefore could potentially affect a large number of people, I believe that it was reasonable to believe at the inception of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom that it constituted a potentially important and serious public health challenge for the Government and other institutions such as the National Health Service.

However, I do not consider, from early on in the epidemic, that it could continue reasonably or rationally to be characterised as a threat out of all proportion to other commonly experienced public health challenges, including the annual contagion of influenza. (In Germany, for example, mortality in the seasonal influenza epidemic of 2017/18 was about 21,500, while to date Covid-19 mortality is less than 9,000.) The alarm raised by the potential for a dangerous epidemic was rapidly replaced by increasing information showing, to informed and unbiased assessment, that the highly probable outcome of the epidemic was well within the envelope experienced in many years of the last quarter-century. At the same time, clear harms from the un-assessed policy of lockdown became apparent very soon after its inception.

This alternative interpretation was suppressed to the extent that the narrative concerning the disease presented on the broadcast media still maintains unchallenged belief in the disproportionate severity of the Covid-19 epidemic, long after this has been untenable in the face of accumulating evidence.

If one studies datasets published by the Office for National Statistics, and calculates all cause mortality for winter/spring for the last 27 years corrected for population for each year, 2019/2020 ranks not first, second or third, but eighth. It is also clear that for several of the last six years there has been lower than usual mortality, meaning that, in the unavoidable cycles of nature, a year of excess mortality should have been expected.

It also turns out that a key early assumption is incorrect, namely that the entire population is vulnerable to the disease. A large proportion of the population (40–60%) show immunological evidence of immune responses to this virus without ever having been exposed to it. This is because as many as one in six respiratory infections in a normal winter are caused by other coronaviruses, and, perhaps not entirely surprisingly, these stimulate immune responses that cross-react with the new virus. Yet even now, the broadcast media continue to repeat the initial incorrect assumption, many weeks after something that seemed highly likely from the outset, namely that many of us have some immunity to the disease, has new clear data to support it.

It seems to me that the conceptualisation and contextualisation of the disease, designed to support the official narrative established in the earliest stages of the epidemic, has not been seriously scrutinised or challenged by the broadcast media to date. Particularly in the key months of February, March and April, I believe that this lack of challenge has been a major factor in the formulation of responses which have been inappropriate and caused major collateral damage.

In my statement, I focus less on the way the Government has exaggerated the contagiousness and deadliness of the disease and more on the wrong-headedness of Ofcom seeking to suppress dissent when there is so little scientific consensus about the disease and how best to minimise the harm it causes.

The right to free speech is one of our most precious liberties – perhaps the most precious of all – and the fact that we’re in the midst of a public health crisis is a reason to protect it, not curtail it. All of us, whether scientists, politicians or ordinary citizens, are doing our best to understand the threat posed by COVID-19 and how best to minimise the harm it causes, both directly and indirectly. There are, at present, no settled views about any of these issues, and there is certainly no consensus among scientists that can be described as “the science”.

That is obvious from the number of times public authorities, including the Government, have changed their mind about how best to minimise the damage wrought by the virus. To give just a few examples:

a. on January 14th the WHO tweeted that there was “no clear evidence of human to human transmission of the novel #coronavirus”; on March 12th it declared that the Covid-19 outbreak was a “global pandemic”;

b. the WHO and the UK Government initially advised that the wearing of face masks did not play a major role in protecting people from infection outside healthcare settings; on June 5th the WHO issued new guidance, recommending the wearing of face masks in community settings and the Government made the wearing of face masks mandatory on public transport on June 15th;

c. on January 29th the WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, praised China’s policy of locking down the population of Wuhan, as well as those in surrounding areas, saying it “helped prevent the spread of coronavirus”; on April 29th, the WHO’s top emergencies expert, Dr Mike Ryan, praised the response to the pandemic of Sweden, which did not lock down its population, as a “model” for the rest of the world;

d. on April 2nd the WHO issued a Situation Report in which it warned that people infected with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic could infect others; on June 6th the WHO’s technical lead on the pandemic, Maria Van Kerkhove, said at a press conference that examples of asymptomatic people infecting others were “very rare”;

e. on March 5th Boris Johnson appeared on This Morning and told the presenters that stopping public gatherings in order to reduce the spread of the virus would be “quite draconian”, and that one theory being discussed, and which he appeared to endorse, was that the British population could “take it on the chin”, “take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population, without taking as many draconian measures”; on March 23rd Boris announced that to prevent the NHS becoming overwhelmed (due in part to insufficient numbers of ventilators), the British public “must stay at home” and the Government was ordering all non-essential shops to close, as well as libraries, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship, and it was prohibiting gatherings of more than two people in public and stopping all social events, including weddings and baptisms;

f. on May 24th Boris Johnson announced that primary schools would reopen on June 1st, with secondaries reopening on 15 June, and expressed the hope that all primary school children would enjoy at least four weeks of school before the summer holidays; on June 8th Health Secretary Matt Hancock conceded at the daily Downing Street press briefing that all schools would not reopen until September “at the earliest”.

Reviewing the constantly changing policies of public authorities, particularly the UK Government, it is hard to disagree with the words of Lord Sumption in an article published in the Mail on Sunday on June 21st 2020: “Does the Government have a policy for coronavirus? Indeed it does. In fact, it has several. One for each month of the year, all mutually inconsistent and none of them properly thought through. Sometimes, Governments have to change tack. It shows that they are attending closely to a changing situation. But this crisis has exposed something different and more disturbing: a dysfunctional Government with a deep-seated incoherence at the heart of its decision-making processes.”

In light of this, it was wrong of Ofcom to issue guidance advising its licensees not to broadcast material likely to undermine people’s trust in the advice of public authorities on the grounds that doing so is potentially harmful. In fact, based on the current advice of the UK Government, ignoring huge swathes of its initial advice — “take it on the chin” — would have been sensible and prevented more harm than it caused. It now seems plain that the Government’s response to the crisis from month to month has indeed been deeply incoherent, with its advice and the advice of state agencies often changing radically from one week to the next. In such circumstances, the best way to protect the public from harm is to allow scientists, experts, journalists and others to vigorously challenge the Government and public authorities, without the threat of broadcasters being sanctioned by the state regulator if those views happen not to accord with the constantly-changing position of the Government or other public bodies.

Do John and I have evidence that broadcasters deliberately chose not to feature sceptical voices on the airwaves as a result of Ofcom’s coronavirus guidance? No direct evidence, no, but we share the impression of many people in the sceptical camp that the coverage of the crisis by national broadcasters has been heavily slanted in favour of the official narrative.

John cites the fact that he’s been asked to appear on American radio stations more often than on British ones:

I was informed by Fraser Nelson, the editor of the Spectator, that my initial article was accessed online over a million times in the first couple of weeks. However, there was no response to it from broadcast media in the UK. While I was invited several times on to radio shows and television in the USA, including nationally syndicated programmes, there was no contact from the BBC, which in normal times would be extremely surprising given the importance of the topic and the profile of the article.

I, too, flag up that I’ve had far fewer invitations to appear on broadcast media than in normal times, and cite the popularity of Lockdown Sceptics as evidence that the public has an appetite for hearing sceptical views that the mainstream media hasn’t been feeding:

At the beginning of April, I set up a website called Lockdown Sceptics in which I publish original material by scientists and public health experts, as well as links to articles by scientists, experts and journalists who are critical of what Eamonn Holmes called the “state narrative”, and daily updates in which I comment on the news. As of June 22nd 2020, the site has had 1,652,739 page views. On just one day May 7th – it attracted 148,188 page views. The site attracts a lot of comments from users – more than 1,000 a day at its peak – and one of the most common complaints below the line is that the coverage of the crisis on broadcast media is hopelessly one-sided, uncritically echoing the views and advice of the authorities.

During normal times I am regularly invited to appear as a commentator or newspaper reviewer on news and current affairs programmes, including the BBC News Channel, ITV News, Channel 4 News, Sky News, the Today programme, Newsnight, Daily Politics and the Andrew Marr Show. But since I started expressing scepticism about the virulence and severity of COVID-19, as well as being critical of the lockdown policy, I have not been invited to appear on any of these programmes to discuss the coronavirus crisis, save for Newsnight which booked me, then cancelled when I told the producer my views. And while it’s hard to generalise from my own experience, other commentators with similar views about the virus have told me the same thing.

For instance, the hostility of broadcasters towards dissenting voices has been noticed by Karol Sikora, Professor of Medicine at the University of Buckingham and a former WHO advisor on cancer. He has written several articles in newspapers drawing attention to the collateral damage likely to be caused by the lockdown – such as the number of people who will die because cancer operations and cancer screening programmes have been suspended – and yet his voice has been largely unheard on the broadcast media. He told me: “I have been asked on to the Today programme, the World at One and Newsnight. But after I’ve accepted, I get dropped a few hours later probably as they’ve been told I might express the wrong views.”

That the coverage of the crisis has been completely one-sided, with very few genuinely critical voices being heard, is also the view of Robin Aitken MBE, a journalist who worked as a reporter for the BBC for 25 years, ending up on the Today programme. He told me: “The BBC very quickly bought in to the Government’s lockdown plans and thereafter very little real debate was allowed. Jonathan Sumption popped up a couple of times but, in the main, anti-lockdown voices, which had a perfectly respectable case to make, were simply not heard.”

We’re unlikely to come before a judge this side of September, unfortunately, so there isn’t much we can do to salvage the current situation. But if we’re successful, at least Ofcom will think twice before issuing equally censorious guidance next time there’s a public health emergency.

Even though our solicitor and barrister are working pro bono, there will inevitably be costs associated with this action – indeed, there have been some already. The FSU has set up a Fighting Fund to help pay for this and other attempts to stand up for free speech in the courts. If you feel like contributing, please click here. And if you’d like to join the FSU, please click here.

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

Only one suggestion today: “Gaslighter” by the Dixie Chicks. After all, we’ve all been gaslighted by the authorities.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A few 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. Now that non-essential shops have reopened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. 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. Don’t worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

Note to the Good Folks Below the Line

I enjoy reading all your comments and I’m glad I’ve created a “safe space” for lockdown sceptics to share their frustrations and keep each other’s spirits up. But please don’t copy and paste whole articles from papers that are behind paywalls in the comments. I work for some of those publications and if they don’t charge for premium content they won’t survive.

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 usually takes me several hours to do these daily updates, along with everything else, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here. Please don’t email me at any other address.

And Finally…

The scene in may local on July 4th – if only!

Latest News

Teachers Urged to Give Up Part of Six-Week Summer Holiday

Boris Johnson (pictured visiting a school in Hemel Hempstead on Friday) has solemnly promised that schools will return fully in September and hinted at an imminent shift on the two-metre rule

A cross-party group of former education ministers is urging teachers to give up some of their six-week summer holiday so schools can reopen in September, according to Sian Griffiths in the Sunday Times.

Five former education secretaries have backed a plan to get all children back to class in September, including a demand that teachers curtail their six-week summer holiday to deal with the “national emergency”.

Under the plan, put together by Lord Adonis, a former Labour minister for schools, the Government must confirm the social-distancing rules, appoint a national director of school operations to oversee safe reopening, and bring back teachers in August to get schools ready.

Hang on, I thought, when I read that. Haven’t we already got a “national director of school operations” in the form of Education Secretary Gavin Williamson? But as the Mail reports, he may be for the chop.

Mr Williamson’s soft approach with the teachers’ unions had damaged his reputation.

“Gavin played nicely with the unions in the hope that they would sign up, and they didn’t. People in there [Downing Street] know how you take on the teaching unions and beat them,” they said.

The swipe is a reference to No 10 chief Dominic Cummings’s previous role as an adviser to Michael Gove at the Department for Education, when he branded the teaching establishment “The Blob” and forced through reforms.

Needless to say, the proposal that teachers should cut short their holidays has not gone down well with the teaching unions.

Kevin Courtney, co-General Secretary of the National Education Union, said he supported much of the plan.

But in a sign of the resistance the Government faces he added: “I do not think that it is sensible asking people to give up their contractual holiday. Teachers have been working really hard in this period.”

In other words, he supports the plan apart from the bit that would make it work.

The teaching unions have won every battle they’ve engaged in so far during this crisis – one of the reasons Williamson is in trouble. As someone who has debated Kevin Courtney many times, I can confirm that he’s an agile, formidable opponent. The chances of schools reopening in full in September are slim.

In other news, Matt Hancock has hinted that pub customers will be expected to provide their contact details in an electronic register so that they can be traced if it emerges later that someone infected was in the venue. Customers will be advised to order using an app, stand as far apart as possible, face away from each other where they can, and prefer outside spaces.

Sounds like a barrel of laughs.

Where Does Coronavirus Rank in the Pandemic League Table?

Interesting table on Simon Dolan’s twitter feed showing how few people COVID-19 has killed compared to other killer viruses.

Of course, lockdown zealots will say, “Ah yes, but the reason Covid has killed so few people is because governments around the world very sensibly locked up their citizens at the height of the pandemic.”

But as we know, there’s little evidence the lockdowns have done anything to interrupt the progress of the pandemic, with infections rising and falling in each country according to the same pattern, regardless of whether or not that country locked down or how severely.

Disappointing not to see the influenza pandemic of 2017-18 in the table. In Germany, for instance, the coronavirus epidemic, which Angela Merkel described as the worst crisis to afflict the country since the Second World War, has killed less than a third of the people killed by seasonal flu in 2017-18.

Has the Epidemic Really Caused PTSD?

There’s a story in the Sunday Times this morning saying GPs are bracing themselves for a surge of patients suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The NHS faces a “huge surge” in Britons suffering anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the country’s top family doctor.

Months of isolation, economic devastation and the loss of relatives, friends and colleagues to the disease is wreaking havoc on the nation’s mental health, said Dr Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).

More than 50,000 family doctors are being issued with guidance to help them detect post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) triggered by the pandemic. Dr Jonathan Leach, a retired colonel who has supported thousands of veterans, helped draw it up.

I can understand why being locked in your home for three months would cause some people to suffer from anxiety and depression, particularly for teenagers and elderly people and those living on their own. But PTSD? Isn’t that something soldiers experience after being involved in frontline battle for a sustained period of time? The Sunday Times thinks the “surge” in people presenting with PTSD will be caused by “the loss of relatives, friends and colleagues to the disease”. Really?

According to the ONS, ~53,000 have died from Covid to date. That’s less than 10% of the number of people who died in the UK in 2018 (616,000) and, as Neil Ferguson has conceded, up to two-thirds of the people who’ve succumbed to COVID-19 would have died anyway this year, so the total number of deaths in 2020 may not be much larger than it would have otherwise been. And worth reminding ourselves that the average age of those who’ve died from the virus in the UK is 80.

Last time I checked, the death of an elderly relative, friend or colleague is certainly very sad.

But it doesn’t cause PTSD.

Time for Racing to Resume in Full

Frankie Dettori, winner of this year’s Royal Ascot Leading Jockey Award

There’s an excellent piece in the Telegraph today by racing correspondent Marcus Armytage, bemoaning the absurdity of the social distancing arrangements surrounding the sport.

I have to remind myself the reason owners (and racing correspondents) are not there is because, when Ascot started on Tuesday, we were only two weeks and a day into the resumption of racing and, as the first sport back, it has had no choice but to play it by the book adhering to every letter of every often-pointless rule.

The viewing figures on ITV have been excellent, pretty much double what they were last year; 1.5 million saw Stradivarius win a third Gold Cup though, incongruously, a prescient 1.8 million tuned in to see Hayley Turner win the Sandringham Stakes. Less a breakthrough for women’s sport, alas, that the fact that people were switching on early for the Chase.

But while it is better than no racing, behind closed doors is not sustainable. It is no one’s idea of a business model, it is expensive to run having people checked in and out of a racecourse, employing the traffic wardens of COVID-19, social distancing officers, and knocking up jockeys changing cubicles in what would otherwise be a 300-cover restaurant run by a Michelin-starred chef.

Maybe as an ex-jump jockey I am the wrong person to be talking about our risk-averse society. But never did irony hit me harder than watching this week’s five-furlong sprints when you have had 20 jockeys, eight-stone wet through, going at roughly 40mph down the course on an animal weighing 80 stone in a tight bunch, every sinew, equine and human, straining right on the edge of it.

My horse – Sceptical – came third in the Royal Ascot Diamond Stakes yesterday. (Apologies to any readers who acted on that tip!) But it’s time the Government started listening to this sceptical racing correspondent.

Worth reading in full.

London’s Deserted Transport Network

Project Fear on Steroids has worked too well

Got a good email from a reader in London on the pitiful state of the capital’s public transport network. It seems ‘Project Fear on Steroids’ has worked all too well.

On Thursday evening I travelled from Ladbroke Grove to Wandsworth Town for a bite with an old friend. Bus from Ladbroke Grove to High Street Ken; perhaps three others on board [it was a 452; usual capacity, if memory serves me correctly, is c.92, though that, of course, has been…..”trimmed“]. A recorded msg was played twice during the six or seven minutes that it took to reach the last stop on Ken Church St before High St Ken. Given that I was holding a handkerchief loosely to my mouth (but not my nose, through which I breathed), I wondered if they were for my benefit.

High St Ken Tube Station – shortly after 8pm: effectively deserted. One other person waiting for the Victoria-bound Circle Line. Further announcements that face-masks must be worn on public transport and in the station (which, as you may know, is refreshingly open to the elements). Three, perhaps four, perhaps five people, self included, on the Tube. Perhaps one or two more boarded before we reached Victoria, but successive stations were effectively deserted.

More announcements insisting that face-masks were compulsory on public transport and in the station greeted me at Victoria, which usually looks as though it’s about to feature in a documentary about global overpopulation. Deserted – bar perhaps half a dozen travellers, abundant masked staff and three prominent Plods (unmasked).

About five or six people on the train to Clapham Junction (which had something like a dozen carriages; it was one of those Victoria trains destined for the south coast). Remarkably, it had a guard on board – normally as a rare as rocking-horse shit. Yes, more recorded announcements about the necessity of wearing a face-mask. By this stage, I had a minimal, entirely pointless ‘mask’ on, which I wore on my chin, allowing me to breathe freely through mouth or nose as mood dictated.

Clapham Junction was, of course, as deliciously windswept as it always is. But that didn’t silence the inevitable recorded announcement that face-masks were to be worn on public transport and in the station. About half those waiting for a train – of whom there were perhaps twenty or thirty – complied. Very heartening to see that some of the staff had ditched theirs entirely; others opted to wear them around their throats, several inches beneath mouth or nose.

The whole absurd pattern was repeated on the train to Wandsworth Town.

At the end of the evening, I took an Uber home: £12 and 20 minutes. Why would anyone, other than the destitute, ever travel by public transport again?

Regrettably, I had to point out to this reader that face-masks are supposed to be mandatory on Uber too.

Why the Left Should Oppose Lockdowns

The Durham Miners’ Gala

A reader in Australia called Phil Shannon has sent me a great piece about why the left should oppose lockdowns. It started out as a comment on “The Left-Wing Case Against Lockdown” by Alexis FitzGerald (see right-hand menu), but then blossomed into a fully-fledged blog post. Phil is a bona fide leftie – you can see his blog here, which is called “green left”. I’m sure a lot of other old-fashioned lefties are feeling the same.

Here’s a taster:

The ideological failings of the left on lockdown are accompanied by a pronounced tendency to behave in politically-revealing stylistic ways, including:

* Belligerence: Converse with most lockdown leftists and you will be struck by their hostility to sceptical views and their lack of respect for the holders of those views. Calm discussion of evidentiary and political differences on lockdown has been replaced by the left’s need to beat down lockdown apostates in heated argument, not with better ideas but with belligerence. In politics, as in fashion, ‘the style is the man’ and the lockdown/woke left’s antagonistic and intimidating behaviour reflects poorly on a political grouping that claims to value liberalism, tolerance and ‘diversity’.

* Straw Men: Say that lockdown doesn’t work and is worse than the disease and the sceptic will swiftly be accused of being a callous granny-killer, a moral monster who places ‘money’ ahead of ‘lives’, and profit over people (cf. the facile “No life is worth losing to add one more point to the Dow” of Joe Biden, or the rhetorical doing whatever it takes to “save just one life” homily of New York governor, Andrew Cuomo). Setting up straw men (lockdown sceptic = murderer) to knock down is so much easier than respectfully contesting an exchange of ideas or exploring strategies such as demographically-targeting the vulnerable for protection from the virus.

* Smear by association: Oppose the lockdown? Why, says the lockdown leftist, you must be one of those kooky 5G conspiracists or whatever. Case dismissed. Yes, it is true that some strange political life-forms attach themselves to the fringes of lockdown scepticism. But neither is the left free from a history of its own unwanted and unattractive political relatives, particularly the wild and fundamentally anti-democratic anarchists, up to and including the Antifa goons and Extinction Rebellion loons. Guilt-by-association is a tawdry debating gambit whether used by left or right. Neither the left nor the right can enforce an ideological purity test to control who marches under their banner. There is not much either can do about the loose threads in the great tapestry of political life.

* Virtue-signalling: Left lockdown lovers portray themselves, overtly or by implication, as a better class of person who is superior to the lockdown sceptic – intellectually superior to those they misrepresent as ‘Deniers’ of ‘the Science’ and morally superior to those whom they caricature as being more concerned with ‘the economy’ over health. We, say the left, may have lost a democratic national referendum or an election, but we are still better than the nativists, the xenophobes, the gap-toothed, knuckle-dragging deplorables and, now, the heartless lockdown sceptics who are prepared to cruelly cull society of its old geezers.

Antifa goons and Extinction Rebellion loons. Love it! I’m going to give this piece pride of place as a subpage of Alexis FitzGerald’s essay. Please do read it in full.

A Pilot Writes

Got an email from a commercial airline pilot currently taking some time off in Italy. Hard to disagree with any of this.

I think I’ve worked out why the Government is ending lockdown in such a prolonged and plodding way. I had assumed it was because it was being wet, timorous and generally sheepish but now believe it’s actually because it can’t end any aspect of lockdown without having written the appropriate tidal wave of new regulations, recommendations and procedures. It must be very frustrating for Whitehall officials that the virus is disappearing faster than they can write all this stuff.

I heard with despair this morning that social distancing might be reduced in restaurants next week allowing restaurants to open with perspex screens between tables. I managed to escape to Italy on June 3rd, the day it opened its borders. And yet here in Italy, which is supposedly only a week or two ahead of us, there are very few obvious rules in force. People are wearing face-masks to go into shops and are using the hand wash on the way in. Otherwise restaurants are laid out in the normal way, there are no screens, there isn’t tape all over the floors, and although social distancing is one metre life looks pretty normal. The Germans are now arriving in large numbers in my area on the east side of Lake Garda and I’m sure the locals will be welcoming them with huge relief. In the meantime our Government is still making up rules for the situation in the UK as if it was about two months ago.

Unfortunately, this points to a greater malaise in the UK which is our devotion to rules and procedure. We have fooled ourselves for many years that the red tape we suffer from is a result of the EU. But for a long time now we have known that we gold plate those regulations. As a pilot, it’s notable that the UK is the most draconian country with its security checks at airports on crew members. Some of the checks on us are more onerous than those on passengers. Other countries reassessed their policies years ago. And of course aviation has many rules and procedures, most of which are necessary, but with a few that are not. The trouble with having unnecessary regulations and procedures is that, not only are they inefficient and counter productive in themselves, they lead to workers, the public and officials imagining other procedures that don’t actually exist. These can then be justified on the basis of “safety” (or sometimes insurance) when really there is no justification at all. Our ‘SOPs’ (or Standard Operating Procedures) clearly contain a lot of procedures, but there is one which basically goes – “in extreme circumstances the Captain should disregard any of these procedures and do whatever he or she considers necessary to ensure the safe conduct of the flight”. This is very sensible. The worst case of mindless adherence to procedure I can think of was the Grenfell Tower fire where it seems the Fire Brigade bosses stuck slavishly to the “stay put” policy when the premise for that policy was clearly redundant from the moment they arrived on the scene. The fire was not “contained”.

Unfortunately, this type of procedural groupthink is very similar to the other types of left wing groupthink we’re now suffering from. The trouble is, this no risk, super safe, snowflake attitude is not just a product of left wing youth. It’s also a product of people sitting in offices producing unnecessary regulation and procedure simply to show that they’ve done something and to cover their backsides. Maybe that’s why productivity is so poor in the UK. We’ve lost the ability to be flexible and practical. Perhaps Toby, once you’ve got us properly out of lockdown, sorted out freedom of speech and won the current cultural revolution you could then start on ‘proceduralism’ in the UK!

It isn’t just Italy where life has returned pretty much to normal. Christina Lamb in the Sunday Times reports that Portugal is rather nice at this time of year too.

Unlocking the Welsh Dragon

Comedian and author Gryff Rhys Jones, who owns six holiday cottages in Wales, has added his voice to the chorus pleading with Mark Drakeford to reopen the country. According to the Sunday Times:

Like all holiday properties in Wales, the six cottages on Griff Rhys Jones’s Pembrokeshire farm have been closed since late March.

“Every now and again, there’s an outbreak of people saying: ‘Don’t come here.’ People get rather furious about the idea of visitors coming to Pembrokeshire, as if in some way it’s so beautiful it should be preserved only for the natives,” said the actor and writer, 66, who was born in Cardiff but lives in England.

“But the unavoidable truth is that the hospitality industry for outlying areas of Britain is vital to their successful economies. It needs to be recognised and it needs to be rebuilt.”

On Friday, the First Minister said Wales’s five-mile travel restriction will be scrapped on July 6th and “self-contained accommodation” will be allowed to reopen a week later.

Too little, too late, Drakeford.

Lord Gumption Speaks

The Greatest Living Englishman

Lord Sumption has another great piece out today, this one in the Mail on Sunday. The headline says it all: “These people have no idea what they’re doing.”

Here’s a taster:

Does the Government have a policy for coronavirus? Indeed it does. In fact, it has several. One for each month of the year, all mutually inconsistent and none of them properly thought through. Sometimes, governments have to change tack. It shows that they are attending closely to a changing situation. But this crisis has exposed something different and more disturbing: a dysfunctional Government with a deep-seated incoherence at the heart of its decision-making processes.

It’s glorious stuff. Definitely worth your time.

I’m going to start a petition demanding that Lord Gumption chair the public inquiry into the Government’s (mis)management of the crisis.

More on False Positives

A reader has got in touch following yesterday’s comment from a geneticist and data scientist about the unreliability of PCR tests.

Following the critique of PCR tests by the geneticist you mentioned in your update, I just thought I’d send you this announcement from Norway’s Institute of Public Health on May 25th in case you have’t seen it.

“Given today’s contagion situation in Norway, health professionals must test around 12,000 random people to find one positive case of COVID-19. In such a selection, there will be about 15 positive test responses, but 14 of these will be false positives.”

This is also interesting and begs the question of test accuracy in the UK and therefore a potential COVID-19 death toll adjustment.

Another Petition to Sign

Thomas Guy in front of St Thomas’s

Please sign this petition to save the statue of Thomas Guy, which is due to be removed from St Thomas’s Hospital because of his links to the slave trade. Some students have even started a petition calling for the hospital to be renamed the Desmond Tutu Hospital.

This is what the petitioner has to say:

These matters have been brought to the fore as a result of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the belief that Thomas Guy was involved in the slave trade and made his fortune from this. I am a consultant physician living and working in South London who trained as both a medical student and junior doctor at Thomas Guy’s Hospital and hold this belief to be untrue.

Thomas Guy was a devout Christian, bookseller, astute investor and MP for Tamworth. During his life he acquired a large number of shares in The South Sea Company ( SSC ) in exchange for government debt that he held, which he was required to do. The government paid SSC shareholders a dividend and the company was granted the right by Queen Anne to supply the Spanish colonies with slaves, a right that Britain acquired under the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). He sold his shares in 1720 just before the share price collapsed in a stock market bubble, thereby making a fortune which he largely reinvested in government bonds. As these events show, he was an investor at a time 300 years ago when ethical investing was a pipe dream. He did not own slaves, nor was he a slave trader, nor did he reinvest in the SSC which continued its activities for many years after.

Subsequently, he used his fortune to build and endow Guy’s Hospital for the relief of the poor and suffering of Southwark. As a consequence of his philanthropy, a world famous Hospital was created which for over 300 years has provided healthcare to South East London and has trained tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who have taken their skills and knowledge to care for the sick and needy all over the world irrespective of creed or colour. Such singular achievement should be recognised.

We ask that the absurd and shameful decision to remove his statue from public view be reversed and that any plans to rename the Guy’s campus be abandoned.

This one’s definitely worth signing.

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

Only one suggestion today: the theme from the Lives of Others, the cinematic masterpiece about life under the Stasi in East Germany.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A few 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. Now that non-essential shops have reopened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. 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. Dont worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

Note to the Good Folks Below the Line

I enjoy reading all your comments and I’m glad I’ve created a “safe space” for lockdown sceptics to share their frustrations and keep each other’s spirits up. But please don’t copy and paste whole articles from papers that are behind paywalls in the comments. I work for some of those publications and if they don’t charge for premium content they won’t survive.

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 usually takes me several hours to do these daily updates, along with everything else, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. Alternatively, you can donate to the Free Speech Union’s litigation fund by clicking here or join the Free Speech Union here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here. (Please don’t email me at any other address.)

And Finally…

Oxford’s clown prince in his tented harem

I’ve got a piece in the Mail on Sunday today about Oxford in the 1980s. What was it about that university at that time that produced so many of the people who dominate public life today? The photographs of Boris and others taken by Dafydd Jones, my generation’s pre-eminent party photographer, are quite something.

Here’s how it begins.

The pink-faced young man at the dispatch box of the Oxford Union looked slightly bewildered.

He glanced up at the packed chamber, nervously fingering his mop of blond hair, as if he’d been transported there through a window in the space-time continuum.

This was in October of 1983 and it was a “freshers’ debate” , an opportunity for new arrivals to make a good impression on the senior members of the world-famous debating society. I was due to speak after this young man and had spent several days preparing.

“Can someone kindly remind me what the motion is?” he asked in an exaggerated, upper class accent. Who was this pantomime toff?

“This house would bring back capital punishment,” someone cried out.

“Oh yes, right, of course,” he said, ruffling his hair. Then he looked up, feigning surprise: “Crikey Moses. Capital punishment. Really? I’m not in favour of that!”

Then he ostentatiously crossed the floor, positioned himself at the other dispatch box and started denouncing the motion in what might be called the high Parliamentary style – half-serious, half-comic.

After a few minutes, as he happily demolished the case for capital punishment, the young orator interrupted himself mid-flow.

“No wait,” he said. “That’s actually a pretty good argument. I think I’m in favour of the motion after all!”

He then crossed the floor once again, and made an impassioned case for the other side.

The audience at the Union roared with laughter – and it was laughter of appreciation, not ridicule. There was something so winning about this befuddled yet charismatic 19 year-old that you couldn’t help warming to him.

Latest News

Two-Metre Rule Will be Replaced by One-Metre Rule by July 4th

“Don’t come any closer or you’ll be arrested.”

According to the Times, two metres will be replaced by one metre on July 4th so most pubs and restaurants will be able to reopen.

Boris Johnson will announce next week that the two-metre rule will be relaxed from July 4th and that pubs, restaurants, cafés and attractions can reopen as he attempts to revive the economy. Guidance drawn up by the Government and the hospitality industry will also be published as Britain embarks on a “new normal”.

Separately, ministers will publish legislation next week to encourage an “al fresco revolution”. Every pub, bar and restaurant will be automatically entitled to serve alcohol for people to drink on the pavement and in the street.

The BBC has a similar story.

So that’s the good news. The bad news is, beer gardens and outdoor dining areas will be patrolled by the police to make sure the one-metre rule is being observed.

Let’s hope our brave boys in blue don’t “take the knee” mid-patrol. It will look like they’re proposing to whichever woman happens to be sitting at the nearest table.

A Doctor Writes

Guardian headline following publication of the PHE report into the susceptibility of the BAME population to COVID-19

One of my readers, a retired NHS Consultant and member of the BAME population, has written a brief review for me of the delayed Public Health England report on why BAME people appear to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 than white people. This report was much ballyhooed when it was published a few days ago, with its conclusions seeming to chime with the claims of the Black Lives Matter protestors. It led to hysterical headlines, such as this one in the Guardian: “Historical racism may be behind England’s higher BAME Covid-19 rate“.

My reader is a little more sceptical.

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups have a substantially higher risk of developing the COVID-19 syndrome from infection with SARS-CoV-2. Unfortunately, this has got entangled with the Black Lives Matter campaign before the details of why this should be so have been unravelled. So the finding has been overlaid, somewhat hysterically, by the social constructs of cultural deprivation and racism.

The risk increase varies between BAME subgroups. It is highest in people of Bangladeshi origin – much higher than in Black people of African origin. Research is ongoing, but the Government has rushed out this extraordinary report. Initially, its recommendations were redacted. Frankly they would have been better kept that way because we still don’t know enough. At least I would have put in something about the likelihood of a genetic predisposition. Blood group A seems to be important, but why?

The incidence of a great many medical conditions varies between ethnic subgroups. For instance, sickle-cell anaemia occurs entirely in people of African origin. It is genetically determined. So to ignore the possibility that COVID-19 susceptibility might have a genetic component is foolish. And to make socio-cultural analysis the focus of the investigation, as this report does, is bizarre. What anyway is a “culturally competent” assessment? Answers on a postcard, please.

The risk of death from COVID-19 varies by age, pre-existing condition such as diabetes, or ethnicity. Being on immune suppressants may reduce your risk of death (an Italian study showed a lower risk in patients with inflammatory joint disease on cytokine blockers). Risk may be heightened by the level of exposure; being coughed at as you examine a patient closely will be far more dangerous than being breathed at from a metre away. The virus may spread more in close-contact groups; hospitals, care homes, places of worship, clubs.

But there is little evidence that deprivation plays a part. One cannot argue that hospital consultants (I was one) are financially disadvantaged, yet the death toll has been higher among BAME hospital consultants than their white counterparts too. And why are Bangladeshis at greater risk than Black Britons if racism is the cause? Most are Muslim. Yes, they may communicate closely at the mosque or at home, but hygiene standards are very high. Close contact might explain the high level of acquisition, but not the high death toll. So there remain many unknowns. But we should look for a scientific explanation before we start blustering about racism and deprivation. The virus itself is not knowingly racist; it cannot think.

I do think that groups now shown to be most at risk should be shielded from front-line duties in COVID-19 management. That means BAME doctors, nurses and others. The problem is that the NHS is so heavily reliant on them…

A Geneticist Writes

I got an email from a geneticist and data scientist who is an avid reader of Lockdown Sceptics. He is convinced that the daily deaths in England, both in hospitals and care homes, is close to zero, although you wouldn’t know that from the statistics reeled off at the daily briefings, where, as we all know, they’re reporting the total deaths that were registered in the previous 24-hour period, not those that actually occurred in the past 24 hours. He writes:

COVID-19 really has all but disappeared from the UK. The 1% or so positive cases recorded per day from daily screening may well be in the range of false positives for PCR (a method I know VERY well, and developed variations of over the years).

Sign This Free Speech Petition

The Free Speech Union has gone to bat for Stu Peters, the Manx Radio host who’s been suspended by his employer and referred to the Isle of Man’s Communications Commission – the equivalent of Ofcom – because he challenged the concept of “White Privilege”. This is a flagrant violation of Stu Peters’ right to free speech and the FSU has written to the Communications Commission demanding it drop its investigation and exonerate him.

A petition has been started by some Isle of Man locals in support of Stu. It now has over 6,000 signatures. Please sign it to show your support for free speech.

Did Sweden Lock Down After All?

A sign assures people that the bar is open during the coronavirus outbreak, outside a pub in Stockholm, Sweden March 26th, 2020. REUTERS

I’ve published a piece by David Crowe today entitled “Sweden Did in Fact Lock Down When it Came to Care Homes“. It argues that, when it comes to care homes, Sweden did lock down in that it imposed a blanket ban on visitors. According to Crowe, it was this attempt to protect the elderly from COVID-19 that accounts for the high number of excess deaths in Sweden’s care homes – and excess care home deaths more generally.

I believe that the isolation of patients in nursing homes has not prevented deaths, but has caused deaths. Elderly, infirm people have nothing to live for any more, and poor care and abuse can no longer be observed, and stopped, by visiting friends and relatives. Underpaid staff, those who have not quit or been put in quarantine, are even more overworked than normal, resulting in poor care, frustration and abuse. Hospitals do not want nursing home patients, and the recommended alternative for the nursing home is to sedate and, if that doesn’t work, sedate some more.

Sweden, like virtually every other country, imposed an absolute ban on nursing home visitors. If this is the most destructive part of the lockdown then it is fair to say that Sweden did actually lock down when they banned visitors to nursing homes on March 31st, and this explains why its death rate is in the middle of the pack. We will never know if Sweden would have had a far lower death rate if the doors of their nursing homes had been left open to the outside world.

It’s an interesting argument and worth reading in full.

Newsnight‘s Deborah Cohen Strikes Again

Deborah Cohen: The BBC’s only sceptical health correspondent

One of the few BBC reporters to unpack “the science” is Newsnight‘s Health Correspondent Deborah Cohen. Some readers will remember her excellent report at the beginning of May entitled “Is the Government really ‘following the science’?” Last night, she filed another report, this one about a recent meta-study in the Lancet that analysed just over a dozen studies looking at the effects of physical distance, face masks, and eye protection on virus transmission in health-care and non-health-care (e.g. community) settings. The paper concluded that your chances of catching COVID-19 if standing one metre away from an infectious person were twice as high as if standing at two metres away.

Cohen is quite critical of the study. “It was published in the Lancet and at first glance the results look sound,” she said.

Now questions have emerged about whether the evidence for two metres is quite as good as it looked. The paper concluded your chances of catching COVID-19 at one metre was double your chances at two. Scratch a little deeper and the vast majority of the 15 studies analysed don’t mention one or two metres at all. They say things like face-to-face contact and then this is extrapolated to one or two metres. For some, this extrapolation is very troubling.

We then hear from Professor Carl Heneghan at the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine. He says the evidence “is of such low quality” that it’s “not sound science”.

Dr Colin Axon of Brunel University agrees: “There’s not really any solid evidence to support two metres and there never has been.”

Unfortunately, Deborah’s report isn’t available on YouTube yet, but you can watch last night’s episode of Newsnight again here. The report is near the beginning.

This report cannot be dismissed lightly. Deborah was an editor at the BMJ for 13 years so knows her stuff.

Will the Lancet be forced to retract yet another paper? Embarrassing.

Postcard From Oregon

Anti-lockdown protestors in Oregon

A reader called JJ – a professional journalist in a former life – has written a “Postcard From Oregon” for me and it’s one of the best Postcards we’ve published. Here is an extract:

Even now, going out I nearly feel a fugitive, as if a weekly trip to buy food, supplies, and medicines is committing a terrible wrong against society. A wet, live layer of fear and suspicion drips from everything and everyone. Those of us not masked or distanced are given dirty looks, parents clutch their masked children away from us as we pass, and we get rude or even silent customer service in stores. Unkind words, insults and epithets are uttered publicly. Shame is in abundance. Rational discussion has become scarce. It rapidly descends into hostility and arguing. Comments are flagged and blocked, social accounts get banned. Messages to local officials are ignored or disparaged.

Definitely worth reading in full.

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:

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A few 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. Now that non-essential shops have reopened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. 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. Dont worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

Note to the Good Folks Below the Line

I enjoy reading all your comments and I’m glad I’ve created a “safe space” for lockdown sceptics to share their frustrations and try to keep each other’s spirits up. But please don’t copy and paste whole articles from papers that are behind paywalls in the comments. I work for some of those publications and if they don’t charge for premium content they won’t survive.

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 usually takes me several hours to do these daily updates, along with the other work connected with the site, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. Alternatively, you can donate to the Free Speech Union’s litigation fund by clicking here or join the Free Speech Union here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here. Note: Please don’t email me at any other email addresses.

And Finally…

For those who missed the link to my Spectator column about getting a COVID-19 antibody test on Thursday, here’s your chance to listen to me reading it out. Also includes Laurence Fox on the pitfalls of wrongthink and Lucy Kellaway on the true cost to students of classroom closures.

Latest News

British Public No Longer on Double Secret Probation; Just Probation

Okay, it’s an Animal House joke and those who aren’t of my vintage might not get it. But at one point, when Dean Vernon is trying to think of ways to nobble Delta House, he says, “There is a little known codicil in the Faber College constitution which gives the Dean unlimited power to preserve order in time of campus emergency.” On this basis, he puts the unruly fraternity on “double secret probation”.

The “alert level” was lowered today from “Level 4” to “Level 3”. The UK Government’s press release about it is full of “the science” – “The Joint Biosecurity Centre has recommended that… blah, blah, blah.” Apparently, the definition of Level 4 is “a COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially” and the definition of Level 3 is “a COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation”.

Transmission hasn’t been “rising exponentially” since around March 18th, according to best estimates, so why has the Government left it until now to lower the “alert level” to 3? They really are making it up as they go along. Presumably, this charade is so Boris can say he’s abandoning the absurd two-metre social distancing rule because of “the science”.

Incidentally, according to the eagle-eyed reader keeping a beady watch on the NHS England daily death tolls, only two people died in English hospitals yesterday. He writes:

I was interested to read on the BBC news website a piece in which it was going through the various reasons people disbelieve some of the “facts” about COVID-19.

One of the reasons the BBC gave was that “people think the numbers are being misrepresented”.

I think the irony of that was lost on the BBC which regularly distort the numbers.

We only have to look at the officially produced figures released by the NHS every day, and the ONS weekly, to see for ourselves that the numbers quoted in the daily briefings are misrepresenting the actual figures.

He predicts that any day now NHS England will be forced to disclose that no people have died in English hospitals from COVID-19 the previous day.

Will that mean the Government drops the “alert level” to Level 2? Don’t bet on it.

Meanwhile, Britain’s largest hospital trust – the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust – has become the first to declare it has no COVID-19 patients requiring treatment in intensive care.

Ripley’s Un-PC, Believe it or Not

I can understand Aunt Jemima being cancelled, even, at a pinch, Uncle Ben. I mean, it’s batshit crazy, but you can see the twisted logic. But Ripley from Aliens? The kick-ass space soldier who takes on one of the scariest creatures in the universe? She’s a feminist icon, surely? I mean, she’s right up there with JK Rowling… no, wait.

Incidentally, it isn’t just Aliens that now carries a “disclaimer” on Sky. According to the Mail, 16 films have now been put on the naughty step:

Sky has warned viewers that Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Flash Gordon, Aladdin and even a version of The Jungle Book from as recently as 2016 have “outdated values”, as broadcasters respond to concerns that some content is no longer acceptable.

Sky Cinema, the broadcasting giant’s movie service, has issued a disclaimer to its subscribers that some of its content “has outdated attitudes, languages and cultural depictions which may cause offence today”.

Sixteen films have the warning, including The Goonies, Aliens, Dumbo, Gone With The Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Tropic Thunder, The Jazz Singer, The Littlest Rebel, The Lone Ranger, Balls of Fury and The Last Samurai.

Hang on a minute. Why hasn’t How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, the film based on my memoir of the same name, been given a “disclaimer”? Oh, the shame…

Has Smoking Always Been a Prophylactic Against the Plague?

A reader sent me the above extract from Thomas Hearne’s Diary. Looks like it isn’t just Covid that tobacco protects people from…

Greater Anglia Absolutely Determined to go Bust

Greater Anglia is literally begging people not to use its service

A reader has drawn my attention to the absurdly alarmist notice on the home page of Greater Anglia’s website. Here’s the notice in full:

Can you travel another way? Help us keep trains clear for those who really need them.

Greater Anglia is temporarily running an amended rail service as part of the national effort to deal with the coronavirus crisis. To support this, it is important that people work from home if they can, stagger their travel times to avoid crowds, and use other forms of transport wherever possible.

To help stay safe, you should maintain social distancing wherever possible and remember passengers should wear a face covering whilst on our stations or trains. This will be mandatory from 15 June 2020.

Social distancing measures will effectively cut the number of people able to travel on our trains by up to 90 per cent – so it’s even more important that people take only necessary journeys.

Passengers should always book online where possible and travel at quieter times, and we urge those who must travel to be considerate of other travellers and our staff during these testing times.

It seems like a parody. Social distancing has “effectively cut” the number of people who can use Greater Anglia’s service by “up to 90 per cent”? How have they worked that out? Nonetheless, this warning seems to be having the desired effect. According to the reader:

We travelled on four trains today and we were the only people in the entire carriage in each case…

It’s heart-breaking. Rail businesses, strapped for cash at the best of times, are now doing their utmost to discourage people from using their services. Their chances of surviving this period of insanity must be slim. Although, to be fair, they’re just doing the Government’s bidding. Perhaps with the “alert level” falling from “Level 4” to “Level 3”, they’ll be able to reduce the number of rail users they’ll have to cut from 90% to 75%.

It’s not just a cynical old Tory like me saying this, incidentally. Someone forwarded this message by the Labour-supporting railway historian Christian Wolmar:

The railways emphasis on simply deterring people from using trains will undoubtedly have a long term effect. Usage bottomed out at around 5 per cent of previous levels but even now, in the middle of June, it is only approximately 11%. How is the industry going to start persuading people that train travel is safe? In fact, evidence from Japan, Italy and New York suggests that very few people actually catch the disease from public transport – in research, few clusters were found on public transport.

When will the rail industry change its message? Waiting for a vaccine could be worse than waiting for Godot. Social distancing and the railways are simply incompatible and the industry bosses should be honest enough to accept that and put out messaging to that effect. Unfortunately the unions have been complicit in this as well. Rather than supporting measures that would begin to attract people back, TSSA boss Manuel Cortes said on June 15th that he hoped the mandatory wearing of masks would not mean people started using the railways again. Yet, his members’ jobs depend on precisely that.

The long term consequences could be devastating. The hordes of the Treasury are already circling the rail industry’s wagons. They are already unhappy about the huge cost of the bail-out to the railway companies and things will only get worse if passenger numbers do not pick up substantially soon. Even optimists in the industry reckon usage will reach 50% of last year’s norm by the middle of next year. That means subsidies to operate the railway will be enormous – possibly £300m per month in addition to the £5bn or so a year for investment – and there will be enormous pressure to cut back on investment and even on services.

The railways must start welcoming people and not keep telling them to go away.

Schools Soon Able to Increase “Protective Bubbles” From 15 to 30!

How’s this for a non-climb down climb down? According to the Mail, Gavin Williamson has announced that schools will be able to increase the number of pupils in “protective bubbles” from 15 to 30 so all children can return in September. So, er, what’s the difference between a “protective bubble” and a “classroom”, then? Thirty pupils is the average class size in England, for heaven’s sake.

He said the “bubbles” would in future be expanded to “include the whole class” – which would be around 30 pupils. But he refused to give more details, saying full guidance for schools will be published over the next fortnight.

Expanded to “include the whole class”? So they’re not actually “bubbles” any more? Doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The only “bubbles” are in Boris’s brain.

Simon Dolan Gets His Day in Court

Simon Dolan has been given a High Court date for his application for permission to Judicially Review the Government’s coronavirus regulations to be heard: July 2nd.

The Judicial Review will seek to challenge the Government on three main points:

  • Whether lockdown is unlawful because the Government implemented regulations under the Public Health Act 1984 instead of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 or the Coronavirus Act 2020.
  • The legality of the continuation of lockdown, and whether the tests for lifting it are too narrow, failing to take account of the economic and social impacts of lockdown.
  • Whether the restrictions brought in by the Government contravene the European Convention of Human Rights, which cover the right to liberty, family life, education and property.

To date, the CrowdJustice campaign behind the Judicial Review has raised more than £182,000, with 5,400 pledges. Thanks in no small part to readers of this site. If you feel like contributing again, click here.

Sign the Stu Peters Petition

The Free Speech Union has gone to bat for Stu Peters, the Manx Radio host who’s been suspended by his employer and referred to the Isle of Man’s Communications Commission – the equivalent of Ofcom – because he had the temerity to challenge the concept of “White Privilege”. This is a flagrant violation of Stu Peters’ right to free speech and the FSU has written to the Communications Commission demanding it drop its investigation and exonerate him.

A petition has been started by some Isle of Man locals in support of Stu. Please sign it to show your support for free speech.

Another Poem

Tiree MacGregor, who has written a poem for Lockdown Sceptics before, has written another.

Of a Convention under Threat

“[A]nd the two honest men grasped each other’s hard hands in mutual understanding.”
— George Eliot, Adam Bede

Handshaking: formerly, a civil act
In which the right hand, classically, grasped
Another’s and, depending on the tact
Of each, then “shook” (jerked up and down), while clasped
Briefly or long; in pressure varied, some
Shakes called “firm,” “crushing,” “wet fish,” even “non-”;
Of universal use; perhaps had come
From early in mankind’s existence on
The continent of Africa; of late,
Since civil life has seemed to many rotten
And Covid fears hold sway at any rate,
Avoided if not seemingly forgotten,
Forbye defences of civility
Put forth by lockdown sceptics (please which see).

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

Two suggestions for theme tunes for this site from readers today: “Lunacy” by Swans and “Right to Decide” by Hawkwind.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A few 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. Now that non-essential shops have reopened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. 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 usually takes me several hours to do these daily updates, along with everything else, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. Alternatively, you can donate to the Free Speech Union’s litigation fund by clicking here or join the Free Speech Union here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here. (Note: please don’t email me at any other address.)

And Finally…

Amusing video by a YouTuber calling himself AwakenWithJP. It purports to be useful advice for risk-averse people – particularly about how they can protect themselves from the super-dangerous, Spanish Flu-like, killer-virus known as Covid.

Latest News

Government Abandons NHSX Contact-Tracing App

An Isle of Wight resident poses with his smartphone showing the NHS Covid-19 app. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

According to the Mail, the Telegraph, the Guardian, etc., Matt Hancock has finally given up trying to roll out the NHSX contact-tracing app. Instead, the Government will rely on the method that’s been developed by Apple and Google and is already in use in most major European countries. I asked our correspondent, who’s been following this slow-motion car crash since the beginning, to give us his take on this U-turn.

It was over six weeks ago that this site asked, “If the app is being developed by the NHS, will it actually work?” This week we got our told-you-so moment as the Minister for Innovation, Lord Bethell, told the Science and Technology Committee that he was unable to give a date for the launch, admitting: “I won’t hide from you that there are technical challenges with getting the app right.”

Once the mainstay of the Government’s response to COVID-19, with Matt Hancock announcing a June 1st launch in England, the NHSX contact-tracing app is now a festering embarrassment. Lord Bethell blamed the virus itself for not sticking around long enough for a Government-managed IT project to deliver. Apparently, the relatively low prevalence of the virus means “we’re not feeling under great time pressure”. He also blamed the public, which is supposed to be afraid of the virus not the app, saying the public were highly concerned about privacy issues and such-like and this was one reason an app had not been “rushed” out. (Lol.)

So well done to NHSX’s two lead managers, Matthew Gould and Geraint Lewis, who will now be “stepping back”. Job done!

To be fair to the UK Government, they are not the only ones making a mess of delivering a Covid-tracing app. Norway, which I pointed out on May 4th was already in difficulty with its app, has had to delete all the data it’s collected so far. The Norwegian Data Protection Authority ruled the Smittestopp app represented a disproportionate intrusion into users’ privacy. Like the UK Government, Norway shunned the Apple/Google privacy-respecting approach, but is now having second thoughts and could be joining Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Latvia et al in using the decentralised approach. Further afield, a bug in the latest version of Australia’s app means many iPhones have failed to log matches.

If the software wasn’t enough of a problem, researchers from Trinity College Dublin have found that the physics isn’t even being cooperative. All the apps depend on Bluetooth Low Energy radio technology and the understanding that the further away you are from a radio transmitter, the weaker the received signal; inverse square law and all that. So measuring signal strength should be a way to determine proximity to another phone. Great in theory, but in practice the signal can be disrupted by the bag that it’s in, or the person holding the phone, or even where you happen to be. One test in a railway carriage found the signal strength increasing as the separation went beyond two meters because of the way the metallic body of the carriage funnels the signal. In a supermarket, the signal strength could not be used to distinguish between a separation of two metres or less.

Let’s hope they don’t waste any more money on it.

So a Government-managed IT project has failed to deliver and ministers have turned to the private sector for a solution? Who would have thunk it?

File this one under “dog bites man”.

Back in the USSR

There was a funny story in the MailOnline yesterday.

A mix-up on the Government’s new online quarantine form has given the option for travellers entering the UK to declare themselves as being from countries which no longer exist.

Those filling it out on the Home Office’s website were able to claim they were from places such as Czechoslovakia and the USSR – both of which have not existed for almost three decades.

Other options included on the drop-down list were the German Democratic Republic, known as East Germany, which was reunified with West Germany in 1990, Upper Volta, which is now the West African country of Burkina Faso and Southern Rhodesia, which is now part of Zimbabwe.

From Our Welsh Correspondent

Yesterday, I published an email from a reader about the absurdities of trying to view a house in Wales under the present restrictions. But his encounter with the English estate agent ended up being quite pleasant:

Turned out the estate agent who showed us around was a lockdown sceptic! He’s refused furlough, and been working through the lockdown selling houses. We were swapping anti-lockdown stats and facts. (He was impressed when I told him that people under the age of 19 are more likely to perish from trouser-related accidents than COVID-19). And we rounded off a pleasant encounter by bemoaning the fact that our British Bulldog spirit has been usurped by “bloody snowflakes”.

Also, he was chatting to us from about two feet away, and told us we could ignore the “glove-wearing rule”.

Oh, and the house was next to a golf course, open now at last, and about eight golfing old-timers were congregating at the picnic tables near the clubhouse, flouting every law in the Corona-rulebook, regardless of their “vulnerable” status.

At last, some sanity!

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

Three suggestions for theme tunes for this site from readers today: “Patience” by Guns N’ Roses, “Isolation” by John Lennon and “Virtual Insanity” by Jamiroquai.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A few 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. Now that non-essential shops have reopened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. 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. Bit short today – busy, busy, busy – but it usually takes me several hours, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. Alternatively, you can donate to the Free Speech Union’s litigation fund by clicking here or join the Free Speech Union here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here. (Note: please don’t email me at any other address.)

And Finally…

A friend of mine – Aidan Hartley – is the Chairman of a new private testing company called Pyser Testing that’s set up shop in the Honourable Artillery Company in the City and I went and got tested on Tuesday. For £48, you can get a pretty reliable antibody test. The tests are administered by ex-Army medics and you get the results back in 10-15 minutes.

For testing experts, it’s a lateral flow rapid antibody test manufactured by CTK Biotech. It hasn’t been officially endorsed by Public Health England, which, to date, has only endorsed the Roche and Abbott antibody tests, but it has been licensed for sale in the UK by MHRA. The same test at a private clinic in Harley Street would cost upwards of £150 and it’s cheaper than the one that was on sale at Superdrug but which has now been withdrawn. You can also get an Abbott test – the gold standard, according to Aidan – but that costs £96 and you have to wait three or four days for the results. All fees are inclusive of VAT.

If you want to book a test, you can do so online here. The plan is to roll it out across the country in due course.

I’ve written about the experience in this week’s Spectator. The stakes were quite high for me, and not just because I wanted to know whether I really had COVID-19, as I think I did back in March. My column begins:

Back in April, the Spectator ran a feature in which the partners of regular contributors wrote about what it was like being stuck in quarantine with the likes of us. What Caroline had to say was not very flattering: “Toby spent the first week of lockdown in bed convinced he had coronavirus. He didn’t. He is a complete hypochondriac at the best of times and this pandemic has sent his anxiety levels through the roof. He was so worried about catching it that the stress led to a bout of shingles, which is what actually laid him up.” Ever since then I have been trying to prove to her that I really did have COVID-19, but without success.

But this is a tale that ends happily, at least for me.

On my way back to the Tube I called Caroline. “Looks like you’re going to be eating humble pie this evening,” I said. She couldn’t believe it. But, sure enough, I’d tested positive for immunoglobulin G. Turns out it wasn’t man flu after all.

“I’m a vegetarian,” she objected.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “There’s no meat in humble pie. It’s full of things that are really good for you.”

Latest News

BLM protestors throng Parliament Square the weekend before last

Black Lives Matter Protests Haven’t Caused “Second Spike”

In my Spectator column last week, I expressed my gratitude for Black Lives Matters protestors for exposing the hypocrisy of politicians and public health panjandrums who enthusiastically embraced the protests in spite of warning us a few weeks earlier that we had to remain in our homes at all costs to flatten the curve. After this, who would take seriously their prognostications of doom? They clearly didn’t believe their own propaganda.

This was my conclusion:

At bottom, insisting that the little people remain in their homes unless they had a “reasonable excuse” to be outside was an opportunity for holier-than-thou elites to remind us of their role as custodians of our welfare. So, of course, that “scientific” advice has now been trumped by another even bossier, even more self-righteous form of virtue-signalling — namely, anti-racist sermonising. The fact that the two are completely at odds with each other doesn’t bother them in the slightest. Just so long as they can wag their fingers in our faces as they turn puce with rage, they’re happy.

Today brings news of another reason to be grateful to the protestors. I’m thinking of the fact that the daily number of Covid infections is continuing to fall. According to the latest COVID Symptom Study app figures, there are now fewer than 5,000 daily new cases of Covid across the UK, 47% less than last week. According to the Covid Symptom Study:

In England, the number of daily new cases fell in all the regions, including 49% in the North West (820 from 1608), a drop of 46% in the South East (365 from 674) and a drop of 43% in the South West (162 from 284). The North East and Yorkshire is still the area of the country with the highest incidence rates, but the number fell from 1,965 to 1,275 a reduction of 35%, suggesting that the situation is improving.

The reason this is significant is that if mass gatherings of the kind we’ve seen over the last two weeks were going to cause a rise in infections we would have seen some evidence of that by now. More than 300,000 people have turned out to protest, all happily ignoring the two-metre social distancing rule, and yet infections continue to fall. That’s even true in London, where the protests have attracted the most people. According to the Covid Symptom Study, the number of daily new infections in London fell by 27% this week.

No doubt some lockdown zealots are still crouched over their laptops, desperately hoping for evidence of a second spike in the next few days. But given that the average incubation period for COVID-19 is between five and six days, we would have seen some evidence by now.

Face it, folks. The “second spike” is a myth.

Or, as Ron Paul puts it, a “hoax”.

Tony Robbins: Lockdown Sceptic

Yesterday we welcomed William Hague to the sceptical fold; today, it’s the turn of Tony Robbins. The American motivational speaker, with over 900,000 YouTube subscribers, is a lockdown sceptic.

In a new video called “Unmasking the Science You Aren’t Hearing on TV“, he interviews seven sceptical experts, including our friend Professor Michael Levitt, joint winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Levitt says he thinks the total excess deaths in 2020 will be about one-and-a-half times the total in the seasonal flu season of 2017-18, i.e. about half as many again.

Not exactly the apocalypse predicted by the WHO.

Remember, Michael Levitt predicted in February that the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in China would end up around 80,000, something health officials and public health scientists at the time thought was hopelessly naive. In fact, according to Worldometers, the total number of cases in China to date is 83,265. Almost bang on.

Snitch.com

Duke Detain – symbol of white supremacy

One of the downsides of being a professional journalist is that you get spammed every day by public relations companies hoping you’ll write something about their clients. But I got a press release this afternoon that I’m almost tempted to frame in the downstairs loo.

It begins:

I wanted to draw your attention to an article published by CNN today that highlights calls from a number of Adidas employees on June 15th for the company’s supervisory board to examine whether Adidas HR chief Karen Parkin has appropriately responded to racial issues within the company.

That made my ears prick up because I’m compiling a Twitter thread for the Free Speech Union of people who’ve faced calls to resign, or worse, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. So far I’m up to 31, although to be fair these aren’t all human beings. Among the growing ranks of the cancelled are various Lego action figures deemed to be symbols of white supremacy – such as Duke Detain, a one-inch police officer.

But the most common victims are senior managers who’ve being mobbed by their co-workers after issuing statements expressing their support for Black Lives Matters that have been judged insufficiently pious. And the mobbing of Adidas’s HR chief seems to fit that pattern.

On June 9th, the Adidas Board, of which Karen Parkin is a member, issued a statement in which it promised “to confront the cultural and systemic forces that sustain racism”. To achieve this, the Board said it would invest $20 million in black communities and pledged that “a minimum of 30% of all new positions in the US at adidas and Reebok will be filled with Black and Latinx people”.

Apparently, this last pledge, which seems to have originated with Karen Parkin in her capacity as head of HR, was deemed hopelessly inadequate. Just 30%? How dare you? In a letter to executives, 83 employees from five of the company’s offices in Germany, the United States, Australia, and Panama have asked the company’s supervisory board to “investigate whether we have the right approach and behavior from our (chief human resources officer) to tackle this issue within Adidas.”

On its face, then, a textbook workplace mobbing.

The press release from the PR company continued:

A key element of this letter is the call for the creation of an anonymous platform where employees can report instances of racism and discrimination, and for protection against retaliation.

I groaned when I read that. A platform to enable employees to make career-destroying allegations about their co-workers anonymously? As if the atmosphere in contemporary American isn’t quite McCarthyite enough. But I was also intrigued. Was the PR company’s client someone who had a plan to combat the transformation of globe-spanning American corporations into outposts of the German Democratic Republic? An anti-Communist, perhaps, with direct experience of living in some totalitarian dystopia offering to coach CEOs and board members about how to avoid the excesses of the Cultural Revolution? I read on, my curiosity piqued:

This platform does in fact already exist with exactly this mission in mind. Vault Platform is a mobile reporting app that seeks to bridge the trust gap between employers and their employees. The platform gives employees a safe and secure way to report workplace misconduct including bias, harassment, and discrimination both anonymously and otherwise.

Ah, not what I was expecting, then. On the contrary, the PR company’s client is a company which, judging from its product, might as well be called Stasi.com. Or, if Vault wants to maintain the “locked in” theme, Gulag.com. You couldn’t make it up. But here goes anyway:

Thinking of setting up an anonymous hot-line so employees can snitch on their co-workers for not conforming to ever jot and tittle of woke dogma? Don’t trouble yourself. We’ll do it for you! At Stasi.com, we know exactly how to weed out those pesky non-conformists at your company. Say goodbye to free thinking. Say hello to kowtowing to herd opinion. Just call 1-800-666-WOKE today.

Stasi.com is a subsidiary of Witchfinder-General.org

Trust in Media Falls to All-Time Low

Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant hit the phones in His Girl Friday, possibly the finest comedy ever made

According to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, trust in the news media is lower than it’s ever been before, thanks to its hopeless coverage of the coronavirus crisis. The report says overall levels of trust in the news globally (across 40 countries) is at the lowest point since it began tracking the data, with just 38% saying they trust news overall. In the UK, that figure has sunk to 28%.

Interestingly, people who identify as being on the left have less trust in the media than people on the right. Splitting the UK sample of more than 2,000 adults by political leaning, only 15% of those on the left agreed with the statement: “I think you can trust most news most of the time,” compared with 36% for the right. Odd, considering the left-wing bias of the BBC.

This isn’t just a problem for the mainstream media. Trust in news obtained from social media globally stands at a pathetically low 22%.

Perhaps that’s not surprising, given Google’s pandering to the WHO and other public health organisations during the crisis, pulling content from YouTube if it dares to challenge Covid orthodoxy even though the official line on things like face masks changes from day to day.

The latest example of Google’s pro-Establishment, liberal bias is its decision to demonetise Zero Hedge and put the Federalist on notice. Placing the Federalist on double-secret probation is in fact a climb down, since Google earlier announced that it would demonetised that publication, too. It was prompted to do this by a report on NBC that said the two publications had been flagged by a British outfit calling itself the Centre For Countering Digital Hate. On Twitter, it calls itself Stop Funding Fake News and targets online news sources that challenge woke dogma.

After the Centre for Countering Digital Hate succeeded in getting Zero Hedge and the Federalist kicked off Google’s advertising platform, at least initially, it sent a fund-raising email to supporters, bragging about its censorious victory:

Google Ads will no longer help fund the racist fake news sites Zero Hedge and the Federalist.

This is huge win for our campaign and the hundreds of people who have backed it. But we want go further [sic] and we need your help.

Can you chip in to help us get Google ads removed from another six of our target hate sites?

Hang on a second. As Google has now done a reverse ferret, isn’t the claim that Google Ads will no longer fund the Federalist fake news? I hope these holier-than-thou Social Justice Warriors sent a follow-up email, clarifying that their earlier one was wrong.

One of the reasons Google has backed down is because Senator Ted Cruze wrote a stiff letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai objecting to the decision – in his capacity as Chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The letter begins:

The recent actions of Google to “demonetize” a conservative media publisher, the Federalist, raise serious concerns that Google is abusing its monopoly power in an effort to censor political speech with which it disagrees.

This is part of a bigger problem. The culture of free speech in this country is under attack, and Google is helping lead the charge. Whereas Americans once understood that the best response to speech was more speech, some Americans, with the help of some of the most powerful companies on the planet, are now pressing to silence and punish those expressing views that do not align with the prevailing and ever-shifting progressive orthodoxy. These individuals demand that people with different views lose their livelihoods if they step out of line. Employers must fire dissenters. Companies like Google must—to use a most Orwellian term— “demonetize” them.

The letter concludes with a punchy list of demands that should make the Google CEO think twice before blithely doing the bidding of a left-wing lobby group again. Worth reading in full.

Blackouts and Lockdowns

A reader has sent me a quote from Theodore Dalrymple’s book Mass Listeria: The Meaning of Health Scares (1998). It includes a tidbit about the blackouts introduced during the Blitz:

That panic can easily be sown and result in harmful policies was pointed out by the surgeon Wilfred Trotter in the early days of the second WW. He wrote: “A total black out was enforced without compromise or graduation or provision for the devoted pedestrian. The consequences may well become a classical example of the staggering paradoxes that result from mixing good intentions with panic. Deaths by violence on the roads rose in the first month of the war from 500 to 1100. Thus by sitting quietly at home Hitler’s air force was able to kill 600 British citizens at a cost to itself of exactly nothing.”

The Caged Welsh Dragon

I promised to make stories about the wanton destruction of the Welsh tourism industry – and the general ineptitude of the Welsh Government – a regular feature if I got enough messages from readers. Well, they’ve been coming in thick and fast.

Here’s one from a reader in Brecon that’s typical:

Delighted you are taking up the Welsh tourism cause and lockdown in general in the Principality. The really stupid thing is that if you live in Hay you can shop in one shop because it is open in England, cross the street and the shops are closed being in Wales.

You can drive from Wales to England (one mile from Hay) and then drive yourself all over the continent but in theory you can’t drive more than five miles from your Welsh home.

Why oh why can’t I go to my Welsh home which I have owned since 1947. Not exactly a second home.

Drakeford is the most inept leader of the Labour Party in Wales ever. He is pathetic and afraid of his own shadow.

If you high ight our anxiety, distress and the total stupidity of the Welsh decisions I would be hugely grateful.

Happy to oblige, Sir.

And here’s another, this one about the lunacy of trying to buy a new house in Wales at the moment:

Our house hunting was interrupted by the lockdown.

We have begun to resume the search. We have a viewing near Wrexham tomorrow. The estate agent is based in Chester – about 13 miles away. So the estate agent will be driving across the border to open up the house for us. We have to wear gloves, but no muzzles, thank God! (She seemed perplexed when she asked me if I had gloves, and I answered, “Only gardening gloves.”) We are not allowed to touch anything in the house – though how the agent can enforce this I don’t know as she has to stay outside the house while we look around.

Anyway, I have tried to arrange a viewing at another house, near Ruthin. The estate agent for that property is in Buckley, Wales. The distance between Buckley and Ruthin is about 13 miles. I have been told by that estate agent that due to the Welsh Government’s policies, they are unable to provide us with a physical viewing.

So an English-based estate agent is able to enter Wales and drive 13 miles to allow us a viewing of a Welsh property that they are responsible for.

A Welsh-based agent is not allowed to do this.

So what will happen when vendors in Wales near the border realise this? They’ll start using English estate agents, Welsh businesses will lose out from much needed custom, and the Welsh Government will lose revenue across the border.

Drakeford and his lackeys down in Cardiff are not fit for purpose.

Those concerned about these excessive restrictions in Wales have an ally in the form of Sarah Atherton, the Conservative MP for Wrexham. You can read her letter to the First Minister complaining about this here.

And don’t forget the Welsh sceptical website, We The People.

Don’t Flush Out the Virus

Flushing the loo can propel the virus 3ft into the air according to Chinese scientists. So if you’re worried about catching Covid, and you’re in a public lavatory that someone has left in an ugly condition, make sure you close the lid before flushing.

Actually, hang on. Maybe you should do it after you’ve done a number two yourself. Why hasn’t anyone told me about this before? Have I been breathing in tiny fragments of my own poo for 56 years?

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

Four songs today, all by the same band: Lock Down. The tracks, which you can find here, are:

  • Hellbound
  • Destruction of Society
  • In the Blink of an Eye
  • Swing Back

I’m going to book them to play at by post-lockdown party – in 2025.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A few 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. Now that non-essential shops have reopened – or most of them, anyway – we’re now focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. 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 takes me many hours every day, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. Alternatively, you can donate to the Free Speech Union’s litigation fund by clicking here or join the Free Speech Union here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here.

And Finally…

James Delingpole and I discuss the current Cultural Revolution in our latest London Calling podcast and speculate about what role the lockdowns have played in fomenting this febrile moment. My theory is that a lot of under-employed graduates have been spending too much time festering at home, glued to their social media feeds.

In the course of the podcast, James and I joke about how the mob will have us both swinging from lampposts by the end of the year if the Cultural Revolution continues at its current pace. We were joking – sort of – but I’ve just seen this video of Peter Hitchens being following by a mob through the streets of Oxford chanting, “I don’t know what you’ve been told/Peter Hitchens has to go.” Genuinely alarming.