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Cakes and Ale Back on Sale

Sir Toby Belch and the Clown by Keeley Halswelle. But which one’s Boris?

Boris has earmarked June 22nd as the day when pubs and restaurants across the nation will be allowed to reopen, according to the Mail. This is two weeks ahead of schedule (the original date for the grand reopening was July 4th). The accelerated timetable follows a crunch meeting last Tuesday when the Prime Minister was warned by Business Secretary Alok Sharma that prolonging the shutdown could cost 3.5 million jobs in the hospitality sector.

According to Tim Shipman and Arthi Nachiappan in yesterday’s Sunday Times, the 3.5 million figure came as a shock to Boris, who is supposed to have said, “Christ!” when told the news. If the Prime Minister was surprised to discover that the lockdown is causing job losses – and will cause many, many more – he hasn’t been paying attention.

But don’t get out the bunting quite yet: those pubs and restaurants that do reopen will only be able to serve customers outside. Not a very appealing prospect, given the current state of the weather.

In other news:

  • Britain recorded its lowest daily death toll today since March 22nd, with only 55 new deaths reported
  • No new deaths were reported today in Scotland or Northern Ireland
  • Britons should be able to travel freely within the EU without having to quarantine for 14 days by mid-July. Shame ministers aren’t put in the corner for 14 days every time they walk some crazy policy back
  • Sunday trading laws could be suspended for a year to encourage people to go shopping

More on the Dreaded “Second Spike”

Not immediately clear on studying this graph when the “second spike” is supposed to have occurred

I was having supper with my children on Friday, having just filed the latest daily update, when they all received news alerts on their phones warning that the R number was going up again. “Looks like you were wrong about lockdown easing, Dad,” said my 15 year-old son.

This was based on a Public Health England/Cambridge University study saying there was “some evidence” the R number had “risen in all regions” of England. But on closer inspection, this wasn’t as alarming as it seemed. What the study in fact said is that it was “probable” the rate of infection was below 1 in all regions apart from the North West and the South West. But even in the latter, the study estimated the R number was “around” 1. So in fact it was only above 1 in the North West.

When asked about this at Friday’s Downing Street press briefing, Matt Hancock pooh-poohed it, pointing out that SAGE believed the R number was below one across the country.

The problem with the R number, as I’ve pointed out before, is that it’s fiendishly difficult to calculate, given incomplete data about who is and isn’t infected, and if the number of infected people in a particular region is quite low, as it is across the UK, a localised flare-up – in a care home or hospital, for instance – can push the R number above 1 without cause for alarm. Indeed, that’s what happened in Germany a few weeks ago. So few people were infected in the country, that an outbreak of infection at a single meat-packing plant in North Rhine-Westphalia pushed the R number above 1. The following day it fell back down again.

YouTube’s Censor-in-Chief Heading For Nervous Breakdown Trying to Keep Up With WHO’s Constantly Changing Guidance

“For God’s sake Tedros, make up your mind so I know who to censor.”

My heart goes out to the poor drudge at YouTube charged with overseeing the removal of any content that challenges the WHO’s official guidance on COVID-19.

As you’ll recall, the CEO of YouTube Susan Wojcicki told CNN’s Reliable Sources at the end of April that the social media platform would be “removing information that is problematic”, including “anything that would go against World Health Organisation recommendations”.

But the problem is, those recommendations change from one day to the next. So how is YouTube’s Censor-in-Chief supposed to keep up?

Take face masks.

Readers with long memories will recall this WHO video which tentatively recommended the wearing of masks, in combination with other protective measures.

Then, on April 6th, the WHO updated its advice. Now, apparently, there was no point in wearing masks:

there is currently no evidence that wearing a mask (whether medical or other types) by healthy persons in the wider community setting, including universal community masking, can prevent them from infection [sic] with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.

But in its latest official guidance, published on June 5th, the WHO has recommended that everyone should wear masks in public areas. The WHO’s technical lead expert on COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, said in a Reuters interview: “We are advising governments to encourage that the general public wear a mask.”

No doubt in a few weeks time, the WHO’s advice will change again. It’s almost as if the organisation is trolling us now.

Question for Susan Wojcicki: If your video was removed because you expressed a point of view that was contrary to the WHO’s guidance on, say, April 9th, but is now in line with it because the WHO has changed its mind, can you apply to have your banned video reinstated?

In case you missed it, Lockdown Sceptics published a summary of the scientific evidence that wearing face masks reduces transmission on Friday that you can read here. TL;DR: it’s pretty threadbare.

Stop Press: The WHO has just announced that asymptomatic coronavirus patients aren’t infectious.

Editorial in Wall St Journal

A Black Lives Matter rally in Brisbane, Australia, on Saturday

There’s a great editorial in the Wall St Journal today entitled “Doctors For Lockdown Discrimination” pointing out the rank hypocrisy of Democratic politicians and public-health scientists who condemned anti-lockdown protestors, but who are now enthusiastically endorsing the Black Lives Matter protests. The editorial board homes in on the letter circulated by public-health researchers at the University Washington last week, signed by 1,300 health-care providers, epidemiologists and medical students around the country, seeking to justify this volte face.

“On April 30th, heavily armed and predominantly white protesters entered the State Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, protesting stay-home orders and calls for widespread public masking to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Infectious disease physicians and public health officials publicly condemned these actions and privately mourned the widening rift between leaders in science and a subset of the communities that they serve,” they write.

“As of May 30th, we are witnessing continuing demonstrations in response to ongoing, pervasive, and lethal institutional racism set off by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among many other Black lives taken by police,” they continue. “However, as public health advocates, we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission” because “white supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19.”

“This should not be confused with a permissive stance on all gatherings, particularly protests against stay-home orders,” they add. “Those actions not only oppose public health interventions, but are also rooted in white nationalism and run contrary to respect for Black lives.”

So there you have it folks. If you want to protest in favour of Black Lives Matter – a political group that wants to end capitalism, among other things – that’s perfectly fine. In fact, it’s your moral duty to do so. But if you want to protest against the lockdowns, you’re a “white nationalist”, i.e. a fascist.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too outraged by this. After all, it means we don’t have to worry about a vaccine before we can dispense with social distancing measures. All we need do is proclaim our allegiance to a progressive cause and we’ll be immune from infection.

Good Thread By QC on Draconian Quarantine Regulations

I spotted a good Twitter Thread by Tom Hickman, a QC at Blackstone Chambers, about the new quarantine regulations that came into force today:

(1) So, the 14 day quarantine regs. How do they affect your summer holiday plans? Your work? Let me explain. And let me explain some surprising features of the rules.
(2) You may be thinking that people arriving in the UK – including you returning from a summer holiday – would have to observe the sort of stay at home measures you were observing in March and April. Wrong.
(3) The regs would require you to stay at home full stop. No leaving for exercise, not even once round the block. No leaving for shopping, unless you are on brink of starvation and no-one can go for you (“exceptional circumstances”) No cleaner, no nanny,…
(4) There isn’t even the “reasonable excuse” exception (otherwise known as the Dominic Cummings exception) like there used to be in the lockdown regs.
(5) These rules are criminal law, backed by criminal law sanctions.
(6) Here’s some surprising features of this system. In lawyerly sub para numbers.(6.1). As I have hinted at, these restrictions on liberty are far more severe than were imposed, and were effective, at the height of the pandemic, when transmission rates in the UK were very high.
(6.2) These are more stringent restrictions on liberty than those people diagnosed with or displaying symptoms of Covi-19 are subject to – 7 day isolation, based on guidance, entirely voluntary and based on individual responsibility.
(6.3) The restrictions apply in an entirely blanket fashion even from arrivals from countries with v low transmission levels. Contrast England with 17k each day.
(6.4) Buried in the schedule is an exception for people whose work requires weekly travel to the UK or to countries outside the UK. So most frequent work travellers are exempted from quarantine and can continue to come and go as they please.
(6.5) Whilst the UK Gov website proclaims this a UK wide approach starting on 7 June there are currently no regs have been published outside England. Therefore if you enter the UK outside England or live outside England on Monday: no quarantine.

Herd Opinion

Guardian journalists prepare to stampede on discovering a trainee reporter doesn’t support the BLM movement

Good question posed in the thread beneath Friday’s update from an executive of a large American corporation:

I have to be a little circumspect here, because I can’t risk being identified, especially in the current economic climate.

I work for a large American corporation, which is a very large employer in many countries around the world. I was surprised to see in the last few days that our CEO decided to send an internal communication to all employees taking a definite and unequivocal position on the BLM protests that are happening in the US and elsewhere. It’s not the first time I’ve seen him go on record with a political opinion, but it’s the first time I’ve seen an official party line be broadcast in this way.

For three months, the entire focus of the top management of the company has been on how to mitigate the blood bath that we’re seeing in terms of results around the world because of lockdowns. I know this, because I’ve been in many of the “meetings”. Nobody has been supportive of the lockdown and everyone thinks it’s an overreaction. We’ve lost, at a guess, between $3 – $4 billion in revenue this year compared to last year (again, to be very clear, I’m not naming the company and I have not seen the actual numbers. This is a gut feel).

Nobody has made any statement on our opinion beyond “keeping employees safe”.

How can it make any sense that the corporation is prepared to go on record with an opinion about the death of one man in Minneapolis but not prepared to comment on the destruction of the global economy? It’s perverse.

What’s the answer? It must have something to do with people being frightened to challenge herd opinion. Free speech used to be better protected, but one of the reasons governments around the world have been able to take away the civil rights of over a billion people is because people are frightened to challenge prevailing orthodoxies for fear of being publicly shamed or worse.

Is the NHS Becoming Schrödinger’s Cat?

Alarming email from a reader:

I called my sister on Saturday for news about our ailing and widowed father who is insisting on soldiering on in his house. She has given up keeping away, realizing that reassuring and caring for a confused old man at the end of his life is a more important priority.

She works at a local secondary school helping the special needs children. It’s already become apparent that ‘social distancing’ is ludicrously impossible. She goes in once a week at the moment to deal with the offspring of essential workers. They frequently turn up without equipment like pens and need constant assistance. Various members of staff have discovered they have to give them something to write with and can’t possibly sort out computer problems and other issues by standing half a mile away. Nonetheless, the headteacher has taken it upon herself to patrol the school, ever vigilant for such misdemeanours, and has already issued two teachers with disciplinary warnings – these of course will stay on their professional records. With that kind of motivational leadership, it’s easy to imagine how oppressive a school could become for everyone concerned.

One of her friends, a lawyer, went to the dentist at the of February and was told a lump in her tongue caused him great concern. He referred to her GP. But by then the lockdown was in force. Naturally, this GP NHS hero was a great deal more concerned about his own welfare and refused to see her. He passed her on to a consultant. He likewise seems to have forgotten his Hippocratic oath and refused to see her too. Only when her husband managed to take a photograph of the lump and send it in with a suitably-worded letter did the health-conscious consultant decide to remember what he’d been trained to do (and is being paid to do). The woman was called in immediately and operated on very recently to remove the tumour before cancer destroyed the whole organ. One dreads to think what might have happened to her without the emergency treatment.

The woman and her husband are educated professionals who wouldn’t take no for an answer and knew how to demand treatment, and even then it was a very close call. How many other people are silently malingering with conditions that will become irreversible and terminal? Protecting the NHS has become one of the greatest absurdities of our time. It’s like having a cherished vintage car in the garage you never dare take out in case it gets dirty or damaged. The NHS is turning into Schrödinger’s cat – before long it’ll be so invisible we’ll wonder whether we even know it exists. For many people it has already ceased to do so.

Around the World in 80 Lockdowns

Mexico under lockdown

I’ve been receiving a steady flow of ‘Postcards’ – first-person accounts of what it’s like to be locked down in different parts of the world. You can see them all on the right hand menu under the heading: “Around the world in 80 Lockdowns.” Today, I’m publishing postcards from Mexico, Slovakia and Zimbabwe. Here’s an extract from the “Postcard From Zimbabwe“:

Though conditions have been relaxed and some business that provide essential services have been able to reopen, the Government recently announced that lockdown would continue indefinitely with fortnightly updates. One particularly annoying and, to the minds of most people, illogical regulation concerns the wearing of face masks which is required even when you are alone in your car. Given the low levels of infection, these impositions on our liberties are somewhat puzzling not to say inconvenient. Further, all travellers to the country, and there are many Zimbabweans trapped abroad, are required to be quarantined for 21 days, either in Government-operated facilities which, to be blunt, are disgusting, or in certain approved hotels and guest houses at great expense to themselves.

All of them are 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. 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 about nine hours, 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.

And Finally…

Picture taken by a reader on Sunday. Just in case you were in any doubt about what the UK’s state religion is.