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.

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