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God help us, it’s finally happened. Later today, Matt Hancock – it would be him – is due to announce that face masks will be mandatory in all shops from July 24th, with the police empowered to issue £100 on-the-spot fines to anyone who doesn’t comply.

To coincide with this fresh hell, I’ve posted a round-up of all the evidence concerning face masks by an anonymous contributor on the right-hand side called “Masks: How Effective Are They? An Update“. Most of the evidence suggests the case for mandatory mask wearing outside healthcare settings is weak, particularly the non-surgical, re-usable cloth masks that the Government is insisting on. Here’s a typical paragraph from one of the articles linked to in the new round-up:

Sweeping mask recommendations – as many have proposed – will not reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission, as evidenced by the widespread practice of wearing such masks in Hubei province, China, before and during its mass COVID-19 transmission experience earlier this year. Our review of relevant studies indicates that cloth masks will be ineffective at preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission, whether worn as source control or as PPE.

There was a good Newsnight report by health correspondent Deborah Cohen last Friday, which included contributors making the case for and against mandatory face coverings. Making the case for were Oxford Professor Trish Greenhalgh and Royal Society President Sir Venki Ramakrishnan and making the case against were Nottingham Professor Robert Dingwall and Oxford Professor Carl Heneghan. Needless to say, the latter were far more convincing.

Heneghan pointed out that there was little evidence from randomised control trials showing masks were effective and it was odd for the Government to be mandating a public health measure that isn’t based on RCT evidence. He also said that if masks are used repeatedly, rather than disposed of daily, someone with a viral infection can re-infect themselves when they put the mask back on.

Robert Dingwall was even more scathing:

It doesn’t matter whether the evidence is effective or not. The demand is that governments do something and what we’re seeing here I think is the latching on to the idea that masks are something that a government could do which is cheap, which is symbolic, but which is probably not particularly effective.

But the most interesting thing in the report was the following scoop by Deborah Cohen:

The debate is deeply political. Newsnight understands that the World Health Organisation committee that reviewed the evidence for the use of face coverings in public didn’t back them. But after political lobbying, the WHO now recommends them.

After the report was broadcast, Trish Greenhalgh took to Twitter to criticise it. She complained that Newsnight hadn’t used all of her interview (has she never done a pre-record before?) and that interviewing scientists on both sides of the debate, as opposed to just her side, “sows confusion and could cost lives”. “We need responsible journalism or programmes could/will cost lives,” she tweeted.

This is essentially the same argument that Ofcom made when it issued its coronavirus guidance and which the Free Speech Union is seeking to challenge in the High Court. The evidence that a particular Government regulation will be do more good than harm is inconclusive, but nevertheless it’s wrong to allow people to criticise that regulation just in case it is as effective as the Government claims. If it is – even though we don’t know whether it is – then public criticism of it will mean people are less likely to comply and that, in turn, will cause harm. It’s a bad argument because it’s conditional upon taking it for granted that the Government is right and you can’t ask members of the free press to do that.

Deborah Cohen took to Twitter to defend herself and made a good job of it. “She tried to warn me off talking about the evidence saying people would die if I did that,” she said of Professor Greenhalgh. But she pointed out that the Danish Health Authorities do not currently recommend wearing face coverings in non-healthcare settings, pending the outcome of an an ongoing RCT with 6,000 participants. The bottom line is, you’ll only put people at risk by presenting the case against mandatory face masks if they do more good than harm and the evidence for that is threadbare, at best.

Deborah also doubled down on her scoop: “We had been told by various sources WHO committee reviewing the evidence had not backed masks but they recommended them due to political lobbying. This point was put to WHO who did not deny.”

Recommended them due to political lobbying.

One of the most depressing things about this Government’s diktat is that it will mean people are even less likely to go shopping than they were when non-essential shops were allowed to re-open on July 4th. It’s as if the Government is determined to destroy the high street. First, it insisted on the closure of non-essential shops; then it allowed them to re-open, but only on the proviso that they put ridiculous social distancing measures in place, such as limiting the number of people that can be inside at any one time and insisting that anyone entering use hand sanitiser; now they’ve decided to make the shopping experience even more unpleasant. It’s the final blow, surely? Who will bother to go to a shop when they can get everything delivered to their front door?

The question no one seems to be asking is: Why do we need to worry about interrupting transmission of the virus when almost no one has it any more? The number of new cases in the UK yesterday was 530. People remain infectious for a maximum of 10 days, so that’s 5,300 infectious people in the UK at the moment. If we assume that 60% of them are symptomatic and will stay at home, that’s 2,120 people who could be out shopping, or one person in every 31,604. That’s an infinitesimally small risk.

So what is the bloody point?

Stop Press: David Crowe, who wrote the first round-up of the evidence on mask wearing for Lockdown Sceptics, has died of cancer. RIP David.

Academy of Medical Science Issues Apocalyptic Warning

Sir Patrick Vallance gets his own stamp

This cannot be a coincidence. On the day the Government announces face nappies will be compulsory, the Academy of Medical Science has warned that unless we start making “intense preparations” before next Winter, the NHS will be overwhelmed and up to 120,000 people will die from coronavirus. Sound familiar? The Guardian has the story.

Senior doctors and scientists convened by the Academy of Medical Sciences said on Tuesday that, without urgent action, a resurgence of cases this winter could overwhelm the NHS when services are already stretched because of flu and other seasonal pressures.

The experts were commissioned by Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, to model a “reasonable worst case scenario” for COVID-19 this winter. Their report, which has been shared with ministers and local health authorities, calls for immediate efforts to prepare for a second wave.

Compiled by 37 experts, the report stresses the worst case scenario is not a prediction of what is likely to happen, but a description of how the outbreak may evolve if infections are allowed to surge and little is done to prepare the NHS and social care services.

“The modelling suggests that deaths could be higher with a new wave of COVID-19 this winter, but the risk of this happening could be reduced if we take action immediately,” said Stephen Holgate, Chair of the expert group and Professor of Immunopharmacology at the University of Southampton.

“With relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases at the moment, this is a critical window of opportunity to help us prepare for the worst that winter can throw at us.”

Take action immediately! Critical window of opportunity! Achtung, achtung! Face masks on, comrades.

Hideous Mask Statue Unveiled in Latvia

Monstrous Project Fear sculpture disfigures Riga Cityscape

This hideous monstrosity was unveiled in Riga, Latvia yesterday, presumably to remind people of the need to be constantly vigilant against the risk of a “second wave”.

Have a guess as to how many people in Latvia have died from COVID-19? 31. And I don’t mean yesterday. I mean in total.

Another Twitter Spat

“Take that, pompous science guy.”

Dr Adam Rutherford, a left-wing science journalist, launched a rather unpleasant attack on me on Twitter on Monday morning, which began: “It is so perpetually exhausting to have to correct these medically and scientifically illiterate pub bores that somehow have national voices gifted to them not by talent or knowledge, but by virtue of nothing other than their volume.” It was a reference to my Telegraph piece on Saturday in which I claimed the population of the UK would soon achieve herd immunity.

He continued:

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge

Herd immunity does not work like this – as we teach in GCSE biology. Individual immunity, typically via vaccination, prevent the spread of a contagious disease through a population when a majority of that population are immunised and this cannot infect others when exposed to it.

We don’t know if this will work for COVID-19, as a) there is no vaccine b) symptomless infection occurs c) we don’t know if having had the disease confers immunity… d) or if it does, with any permanence e) vaccine-less herd immunity (with the previous crippling caveats) will require more people to get the disease, and therefore more people to die f) I believe exposure rates in the U.K. are currently around 5%, 17% in London. Herd immunity requires >80%.

Apologies if I’ve made any errors here, this is not really my area of expertise. Please do correct me below.

What @toadmeister has done here is to confidently and loudly mistake ignorance for knowledge, because the facts don’t fit his preconceived ideology. Dangerously so.

I suppose the broader point is that in science we are trained to and predisposed to perpetually identify where we are wrong. Look at your work and ask ‘how am I wrong about this?’

Without that you are an ideologue.

This is exhausting because of @Painpoint‘a 4th Law of Thermodynamics: ‘The amount of energy required to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude larger than required to create it.’

He then added an “addendum” from someone he described as “m’colleague on immunity” – Professor Francois Balloux, Director of the UCL Genetics Institute – although the word “colleague” is misleading, as are the repeated references to “we” scientists, because Rutherford is a journalist not a scientist. To be precise, he’s a journalist who thinks he’s a scientist. The “addendum” is a twitter thread posted by Professor Balloux on June 30th about the new evidence that’s come to light about Covid immunity, i.e. that being in possession of IgG antibodies is only part of the story. Balloux’s thread is good, although for Rutherford to link to it at the end of his jeremiad against me was odd because it contradicted several of his claims, such as the idea that you can measure “exposure rates” with seroprevalence data.

I wouldn’t normally respond to such sophomoric abuse, but Rutherford is the presenter of Inside Science, Radio 4’s flagship science programme, and many other people on Twitter also took issue with my Telegraph article, accusing me of peddling “dangerous” misinformation based on my poor understanding of COVID-19. Consequently, I did respond. If you’re on Twitter, you can see my response here. If not, I’ve posted it below:

I was preparing a rebuttal Adam, when I saw you’d posted a response from @BallouxFrancois at the end of your thread that rebuts nearly all of the points you’ve made. As he says, surveys that measure the prevalence of IgG antibodies (which you refer to) are an unreliable way of gauging the percentage of a population that has been exposed to SARS-CoV-2. Seroprevalence surveys are unlikely to detect IgG antibodies for asymptomatic or mild infections.

For instance, a Spanish seroprevalence survey found that 2.5% of asymptomatic patients tested positive for IgG antibodies in a point-of-care test and 2% in an immunoassay; for symptomatic patients, the figure was 16.9% for both tests. See Table 2 here. This and other similar findings are important because if many more people have been infected than seroprevalence surveys indicate that means the infection fatality rate is far lower than originally indicated.

The @WHO initially estimated it at 3.4%; @neilfergie and team estimated it at 0.9% and built that assumption into their modelling; the @CDCgov’s best estimate was 0.26%, and it will likely continue to fall (although the @CDCgov did raise its estimate on July 10th). As Dr John Lee, a former Professor of Pathology, wrote recently in the @spectator: “It could yet settle closer to 0.1 per cent – similar to seasonal flu – once we get a better understanding of milder, undetected cases and how many deaths it actually caused (rather than deaths where the virus was present).”

To properly assess the extent of immunity in any given population, and the continuing threat posed by the virus, we need to take into account T cell immunity mediated by exposure to other coronaviruses, as @BallouxFrancois says.

According to a paper in Cell, ~70% of recovering COVID-19 patients studied had CD8+ T cells and 100% had CD4+ T cells. In addition, the researchers detected SARS-CoV-2-reactive CD4+ T cells in ∼40% – 60% of unexposed individuals, suggesting cross-reactive T cell recognition between circulating “common cold” coronaviruses and SARS-CoV-2. See here.

A preprint last month from a team at Oxford came to a similar conclusion.

Of course, we don’t yet know how much protection T cells provide, but the fact that the number of infections and deaths is falling in all European countries that have eased lockdown restrictions, as well as in those European countries that avoided lockdowns altogether, in spite of most seroprevalence surveys showing that <10% of the populations in those countries have IgG antibodies, suggests something is functioning as a prophylactic against the disease – referred to as immunological “dark matter” by Professor Karl Friston at @ucl.

T cell mediated immunity could be that immunological dark matter. It would explain why young people are less susceptible to the virus – the reservoir of programmable T cells declines with age. In a recent article in the @ConversationUK, a Professor of Genetic Epidemiology and a Professor of Epidemiology speculate that T cell mediated immunity could mean a “population can achieve some sort of immunity to the virus with as little as 20% infected – a proportion well below the widely accepted herd immunity threshold (60-70%).”

If that’s the case, the UK could have achieved herd immunity already – remember, seroprevalence surveys only measure the percentage of the pop that has developed IgG antibodies, not the percentage that’s been exposed to infection.

Another recent study, this one from the University of Nottingham, estimated the disease-induced herd immunity level is around 43%.

You made the point in your thread that we don’t know if having had the disease confers immunity. True, but the fact that there hasn’t been a single, uncontested case of reinfection is a reason to be optimistic. IgG immunity may fade, but even undetectable levels of IgG antibodies would mean a person who did become reinfected would likely get a milder version of the disease than they had the first time, as @BallouxFrancois says. He also points out that T cell mediated immunity is “extremely long-lived”.

So suggesting that the UK will soon achieve herd immunity, as I did in the @Telegraph, does not make me “scientifically illiterate” or “ignorant” or a “pub bore” or “dangerous”, as you claim. You write as if there is a single scientific consensus on SARS-CoV-2 – “the science” – and anyone who dissents from it is an ideologically-driven purveyor of fake news. In fact, there’s very little about the virus, particularly its prevalence and lethality, that is uncontested. Rather, there’s a wide range of views, each with eminent scientists to back them up, along with plenty of research and data.

You often present yourself as an exemplar of best practice when it comes to scientific debate and inquiry, but then, in the next breath, engage in furious, ad hominem attacks on those who disagree with you. It’s as though your self-important, attention-loving self gets the better of your dispassionate, scientific self. For a journalist claiming to be an advocate for the better public understanding of science, this sophomoric name-calling is counter-productive. Perhaps take a break from Twitter? //ENDS

Nicola Sturgeon: “Write Nothing Down.”

Nic Sturge-un is congratulated by her little brother on her foresight for advising her officials not to write anything down

A reader in Scotland sent three emails to his local MSP, hoping he might throw some light on the dictatorial approach of Nic Sturge-un. Eventually, he got a reply and it contained this jaw-dropping revelation:

It is clear that the Scottish Government have not been transparent with the public as they have implemented new measures as we ease lockdown. The Scottish Government must release the scientific evidence that has been used for the key decision making in Scotland throughout this health crisis and as further measures as relaxed.

Following an FOI request, it was revealed that the First Minister did not have any written scientific advice during the first few months of the coronavirus outbreak, and so none could be made available to the public. Nicola Sturgeon said instead that the scientific advice that she had received had all been orally, by the National Clinical Director, Jason Leitch, and the Scottish Chief Medical Officer at the time, Catherine Calderwood, and so there was nothing to be released.

No written scientific advice! That’s incredible. But presumably it will make it easier for the First Minister to dodge the blame when there’s a public inquiry in Scotland about the fact that more people have died from COVID-19 in care homes than in hospitals.

A Death in the Family

A reader writes with some sad news:

I didn’t want to post this on the page, because it feels ghoulish and like an exploitation of the dead, but at the same time, I want people to know that this is happening.

We had a death in the family yesterday morning. My husband’s grandfather. He was 92 but of completely sound mind and health. Never got sick. He has been deeply emotionally affected by Project Fear since the start of the hysteria and lockdown, and despite restrictions being lifted – because of his age group – they remained social isolating. He was not even seeing their daughter (my mother-in-law), because she devised a system of getting them groceries without communicating in person at all by leaving it in a car in the car park! Four months locked away.

We weren’t told this on the phone when we got the news of his death, but we just learned… it was suicide. He was muttering all week that he had “had enough” and he couldn’t take it anymore.

So there we have it… I don’t know a single person who has been sick with Coronavirus. I know one person (who was pregnant) who tested positive but was asymptomatic (and then separated from her newborn baby for two weeks). And we’ve had a suicide from lockdown (and social isolation) in the immediate family.

I’m mad as hell. This can’t go on. How many have we already lost with this cruel torture?

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 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. As of July 4th, many of them have re-opened too, but not all. 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 – particularly if they’re not insisting on face masks! 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 papers and if they don’t charge for premium content they won’t survive.

I know it becomes difficult to navigate the comment threads after 24 hours. One alternative to continuing to post below my updates is to move to the forum on Lockdown Truth. The creator of that site has extended a warm welcome to everyone here.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 48 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It usually takes me several hours to do these updates, 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. I’ll try and get another update done soon.

And Finally…