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I’m not going to say much about this story on the Telegraph‘s front page except to say: You read it here first. I pointed out that children under the age of 15 were more likely to be struck by lightning than die of COVID-19 on May 23rd.

Remember folks. If you want tomorrow’s news today. read Lockdown Sceptics.

Nature Joins the Resistance

Professor Neil Ferguson takes the British Cabinet on a stroll on the cliffs of Dover

Nature, Britain’s leading scientific journal, has enthusiastically endorsed a campaign calling for academia to be “shut down”. More specifically, the campaign wants Stem subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – to be “shut down”.

Crikey, I thought when I first read it. I know I had a crack at Neil Ferguson’s latest paper in Nature in yesterday’s update, but I wasn’t expecting the editor to react by calling for the closure of Imperial College, along with every other British university. The paper wasn’t that bad. Couldn’t Nature just retract it and move on?

Turns out, it was just a way for the editor to signal his support for the Black Lives Matter movement which, among other things, wants to “dismantle capitalism”. Phew. For a second there I thought Nature had abandoned its commitment to the pursuit of truth and joined the radical Left.

How Does Imperial’s New Paper Account for Sweden’s Low Death Toll?

Readers will recall the above graph showing the number of deaths from coronavirus that Imperial College’s model originally predicted would occur in Sweden if the authorities did nothing or stuck with the mitigation strategy. As we know, the Swedish Government did stick with its original strategy – unlike our own cowardly-custards – and the number of people who actually died fell somewhere short of Imperial’s apocalyptic prediction.

Which begs the question, how did does Imperial College’s new analysis – the one unveiled in Nature on June 8th – account for the fact that Sweden’s rise and fall in infections and deaths has largely mirrored that of the other 10 countries studied in the paper in spite of the fact that they all imposed full lockdowns and Sweden didn’t?

Imperial’s latest paper is closely based on an earlier one – Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team – Report 13 – which models the course of the pandemic in the same 11 countries as the new paper, including Sweden. In that paper, published on March 30th, Sweden’s infection rate, or Rt, is estimated to be around 2.6 after accounting for the various non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) made by the authorities, including encouraging infected people to self-isolate on March 10th, banning public events of over 500 people on March 12th, encouraging people to remain a metre or so apart on March 16th, and the closure of schools for those aged 15 and over on March 18th.

Figure 2 from Imperial’s Report 13 showing the model’s estimates of infections, deaths and Rt in Sweden

The implication of this is that deaths in Sweden would continue to rise strongly – with each infected person infecting an average of 2.6 people, and so on – until most of the population was infected and tens of thousands of people would die. As we now know, that didn’t happen. After mid-April, Swedish COVID-19 deaths ceased to increase, which suggests its Rt had fallen to below 1 about three weeks earlier. Indeed, if you adjust for the lower number of daily deaths in Sweden than in the UK, the trajectory of the pandemic in both countries is remarkably similar.

So how do the boffins on Imperial’s modelling team explain this? What happened in Sweden between the end of March – when the Rt was ~2.6 – and mid-April, when the Rt clearly fell to <1? The answer is buried in a table in the paper entitled “Extended Data Fig. 4” which shows the different NPIs introduced in the 11 countries, as well as when they were introduced.

This above table shows “Public events banned” in Sweden on March 29th. Contrast this with the same table in Report 13, which shows “Public events banned” in Sweden on March 12th.

What’s going on? Why has the little round flag representing Sweden in the “Public events banned” column moved from March 12th to March 29th? True, Sweden did roll out its prohibitions on large gatherings in two stages, banning gatherings of over 500 people on March 12th and over 50 on March 29th. But why make no reference to the first ban in the more recent paper? Was it that they thought it might look a bit awkward to include two little round flags in the same row? Or is something else going on, namely, that they want the second ban on March 29th to do all the work in explaining why the death toll started to decline in mid-April?

The answer is contained in the supplementary material to the June 8th paper, where you find the following estimates of Imperial’s new, revised model for Sweden.

As you can see, the various NPIs Sweden introduced between March 10th and 18th, including the ban on public events of over 500 (now airbrushed from history), had virtually no impact on the Rt number; but banning gatherings of over 50 people on March 29th had a dramatic impact – so dramatic, it was sufficient to bring the Rt number to <1, even though Sweden introduced no other restrictions.

Does that strike you as rather convenient?

Nothing wrong with our original model, guv. If Sweden hadn’t imposed more restrictions on social gatherings on March 29th, armageddon would have certainly befallen the Scandinavian kingdom, just as we predicted. But because it banned gatherings of over 50 people, the Rt immediately plummeted to <1.

Note to the thick-skulled: This isn’t an actual quote from the Imperial College press release that accompanied the publication of the June 8th paper

You can see what’s going on here, can’t you? The authors of the paper don’t want to acknowledge that their original model wildly over-estimated the number of deaths from COVID-19 that would occur in the absence of full lockdowns – 510,000 in the UK and 2.2 million in America, you’ll recall. So they’ve effectively pretended that Sweden imposed exactly the same restrictions as the other 10 countries they’re looking at, as if banning gatherings of more than 50 people is completely indistinguishable from closing restaurants, bars and high streets and imprisoning people in their homes. Needless to say, Sweden didn’t do any of that. Apart from football games being cancelled and nightclubs closed, life carried on pretty much as normal.

There’s another sleight of hand you’ll see in the tables showing what social distancing measures Sweden imposed. Both the table in Report 13 and the new paper have “School closure ordered” in Sweden on March 18th even though Sweden never closed its schools. Yes, it closed high schools, which in Sweden means schools for children aged 15 and older. But all schools for those aged 15 and under remained open. So in addition to not really banning social gatherings, Sweden didn’t really close schools either. But you wouldn’t know that from looking at Extended Data Fig.4 in Imperial’s latest paper.

Are there any lessons we can usefully draw from Imperial’s latest paper? I can think of at least two possibilities:

  • If there’s another pandemic, there’ll be no need to close bars, restaurants and high streets and place entire populations under virtual house arrest – merely banning gatherings of over 50 people will have exactly the same effect; or
  • Imperial College’s epidemiological model is no more reliable than a crystal ball.

Of course, both of the above could be true.

Government Does U-Turn; Schools Won’t Reopen Until September, If Then

Depressing news which I expect most of you have seen. At Monday’s daily briefing, Matt Hancock hinted that secondary schools may not reopen in September and yesterday Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs that he doesn’t now think all primary school children can return for a few weeks before the summer holidays.

As Robert Halfon, the Chaiman of the Education Select Committee, put it:

I think we’re a strange country in which we turn a blind eye to mass demonstrations all over in every city, we campaign for pubs and cafes to open and yet we say to open schools before September is too risky.

Amen, Brother.

As a father of four school-age children as well as the co-founder of four schools, I’m pretty angry about this. The reason for this almighty cock-up is that the Government is insisting that children be taught in “protective bubbles” of no more than 15.

But who on earth are they protecting, given that the risk coronavirus poses to children is virtually zero and, according to the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health, there hasn’t been a single case of a child passing on the virus to an adult?

What’s particularly galling, as Halfon pointed out, is that the very same virtue-signalling politicians who are praising teenagers for pouring onto our streets in their tens of thousands to protest about racial injustice are also claiming it’s far too dangerous for them to go back to school. Yesterday, Rebecca Long-Bailey, the Shadow Education Secretary, “welcomed” this Government’s U-turn on reopening schools – forgetting, perhaps, that those who are suffering the most from the continuing closure of schools are the 700,000 disadvantaged children who aren’t doing any work at home.

I’ve written about this for today’s Telegraph. Here are the opening paragraphs:

The reaction of various organs of the state to the ongoing coronavirus crisis – Downing Street, the Department of Health, local authorities, the police, the BBC – has left me profoundly shocked.

I didn’t have a particularly high opinion of our ruling elites to begin with, but the lack of political courage, the failure to put the interests of the country above their own sectarian self-interest, the staggering incompetence of agencies like PHE, the lack of integrity of our leading scientists… it’s all a bit much. I hadn’t realised just how dysfunctional the British state is. But the absolute nadir has been the closure of our schools and the failure to reopen them.

It beggars belief that virtually all ‘non-essential’ businesses will be open again within a matter of weeks, including Alton Towers, but schools will remain closed until September – and, according to Matt Hancock, may not reopen even then. Thanks to the intransigence of the teaching unions and the Government’s ludicrously over-the-top social distancing guidance, we have blighted the lives of millions of children.

As a lockdown sceptic, I don’t think the Government should have closed schools in the first place. In Sweden, schools for those aged 5 to 15 have remained open throughout the pandemic and it has seen fewer COVID-19 deaths per capita than the UK. Sweden is often contrasted unfavourably with Norway, which has an even lower death toll, but the Norwegian Prime Minister recently appeared on television to apologise for over-reacting to the crisis and said she regretted closing schools.

Worth reading in full if you can get past the paywall. And worth reading these letters from incandescent Telegraph readers, too.

Independent Schools Won’t Reopen Either

There doesn’t seem to be much hope that independent schools will reopen either, partly because their insurers won’t allow it. Bit short-sighted, considering that more than 30 have already gone bust thanks to the crisis. Allison Pearson set out the problem in her Telegraph column today:

Private schools, which have provided full timetables and Zoom lessons for their paying customers, are desperate to open. No wonder. As many as 30 are preparing to shut altogether due to the pandemic with parents struggling to pay the fees. But the Government wants independents to stay in snail-like lockstep with state schools, presumably to spare its blushes. One head told me that they were being deliberately denied insurance to prevent private schools “proving that it is perfectly possible to open a whole school safely”.

I got an email from a reader with an interesting suggestion about how independent schools might get round this problem.

How about independent schools clubbing together to do what the hospitality industry has done?

A pressure group, HIGA, was founded during the lockdown by the litigation PR specialists Bell Yard Communications and they are working alongside Mishcon de Reya to bring a big group action against Aviva and QBE (the biggest insurers of restaurant businesses) to force them to compensate hospitality businesses for losses suffered during the coronavirus crisis.

Couldn’t independent schools do something similar?

Worth looking into.

Avoid Rocks – Could be Infectious

Amusing email from a despairing reader, although, in truth, it’s not all that funny.

If it is your want to collect COVID-19 memorabilia, this one might interest you. As an expression of manipulated mass delusion, it really is quite extraordinary. I found it in Tunbridge Wells on April 23rd. While it is apparently OK to walk on the footpaths and the grass, sitting on a park-bench or stepping on the rocks it’s anchored to puts one at risk of becoming infected.

On what possible basis, one might ask? Uninterrupted sunlight was raining down as I stood there.

I have come across a plague village on my travels, even a plague carpark and a plague public footpath. But a plague park-bench? Yes, I found a notice on one in East Marden in West Sussex claiming that COVID-19 can survive on wood for four hours, making it far too dangerous to put one’s bottom there. But infectious rocks?!? The 17th century witch-hunts had nothing on this madness.

An Englishman Writes

Henny Penny to replace dragon-slaying St George as the patron saint of England

And here’s an email I got from an English reader. I think this will resonate with many:

I am neither a scientist or a statistician, but in my view, the R-number is a concocted fiction designed for crowd control rather than public safety.

Logically, In order to accurately calculate the R-number you would need to identify every single case of COVID-19 at or just after the moment of infection. Collected over a reasonable time (maybe the two-week assumed incubation period), these data could reliably extrapolate an R-number under prevailing conditions as long as those conditions remained rigidly unchanged. Clearly nigh on impossible, and if ever achieved, of very little value in a situation with so many other variables.

Most of our (incomplete and time-lagged) information comes from people presenting to GPs and hospitals as sick or from the slowly expanding testing regime. Surely the R-number calculated from this data is historic, reflecting all the variables as they were at the times of the patients’ infection and may or may not have some limited value in the ongoing decision making processes.

But we’ve all observed the beginnings of a slavish fascination with the mythical ‘R’. People in the north are expressing concern about their safety because they’ve been told that the R-number for their region is 1.1 whereas in other regions it’s 0.9 and for some lucky bastard southerners it’s 0.7.

Now, assume that observation has also been made by a Government struggling to control a country lurching towards widespread civil unrest. Imagine the temptation to make the R number 1.3 or better yet, 1.5. It’s not difficult, it simply needs to be uttered to be “true”. The squealing media will obligingly ramp up their shrill chorus of alarm and lockdown will be automatically tightened, with peer pressure once more serving as our implacable gaoler. Because you’d have to be a Cov-idiot to risk everybody’s lives by going outside when the R is bigger than one… bigger than one, I tell you!

When this is all over, which I’m beginning to doubt, I will be suggesting that we remove the noble, dragon-slaying St George as our patron saint and replace him with Henny Penny, depicted forever gazing skyward with a grimace of hysterical paranoia transfixing her beaky face…

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 to do on a day like this, 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…

Matt Hancock accidentally blurts out the truth at the Downing Street press briefing

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