Mumsnet published a survey today asking parents how satisfied they were with the arrangement schools put in place to re-admit some children in July. It contains this horrifying finding:
Among parents whose child was offered the opportunity to spend some time in school before the summer holidays, 23% say they did not take up the offer. The top reasons included:
* concern that their child might transmit COVID-19 to family members (48%);
* confidence that homeschooling was working well (39%);
* concern that their child might catch COVID-19 and become ill (38%); and
* worries about the local or regional infection rate (32%).
I don’t suppose I need remind readers that there isn’t a single documented case, anywhere in the world, of a child passing on the virus to an adult and the risk of a child under the age of 15 dying from COVID-19 is lower than the risk of them dying from a lightning strike.
A reader with a background in infectious diseases has emailed me in answer to the question I posed yesterday about the reliability of the PCR test. This won’t surprise anyone.
Your reader’s comments on the PCR test are interesting. It’s worth noting that the test have been in existence for decades but has never been fully tested for efficacy. The manual issued by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the US actually states the following at the very start of the document: “Results are for the identification of 2019-nCoV RNA. The 2019-nCoV RNA is generally detectable in upper and lower respiratory specimens during infection. Positive results are indicative of active infection with 2019-nCoV but do not rule out bacterial infection or co-infection with other viruses. The agent detected may not be the definite cause of disease. Laboratories within the United States and its territories are required to report all positive results to the appropriate public health authorities.”
So it was acknowledged not to be virus-specific reliable but nevertheless made positive PCR results notifiable. Brilliant stroke.
Meanwhile, the reader who posed the original question has followed up with a few more:
There are two other aspects of Government testing I find confusing and misleading
When working with biological and biochemical test data, it is important to understand what the test is measuring. There is a general perception, endorsed by the media and Government spokespeople, that the RT-PCR test detects the presence of the virus in swabs. It does no such thing. It detects a segment of one component of the virus, namely the RNA molecule contained within the virus capsule. The segment detected could have arisen from an intact viable virus particle, from a non-viable virus particle or from residual material or debris from virus particles destroyed or degraded by the host’s immune response.
Where the donor has symptoms and their swabs produce a positive result it is reasonable to conclude that they are probably infected with the virus. On the other hand, where the donor experiences no symptoms at the time of sampling nor within the next few days, most likely a positive test result would be derived from debris of degraded virus particles, in which case the donor would neither be infected nor infectious. This latter point neatly explains how donors can test positive but be asymptomatic: they would have been infected in the days before testing with symptoms unnoticed or inconsequential and which infection their immune system effectively fought off.
Of course, all testing to date assumes that we know what the pathogen causing COVID-19 is. Many years ago, Koch proposed criteria for establishing the causative agent of infectious diseases and these have been adapted to encompass viral diseases. Essentially, they require that the virus be isolated and purified, that it is shown to replicate in relevant host cells and that it demonstrates the symptoms of the disease when dosed to an appropriate animal. In January, RNA from a supposed virus was sequenced, shown to be related to the Sars virus and named SARS-CoV-2. Perhaps your readers may know to what extent the criteria have established that SARS-Cov-2 is the causative pathogen of COVID-19. In particular, I am not aware that any virus has been shown to induce the same symptoms and disease progression in animals.
Back in December and January, when COVID-19 was new and spreading rapidly, assumptions had to be made and shortcuts taken. There was no time to do the basic studies in logical order. We are now 8-9 months into the disease and there has been time to do these studies. Until they are done, we have to take it on faith we are testing for the right causative agent.
Good news on the legal front. Simon Dolan’s has been given permission to appeal the High Court’s verdict on his Judicial Review. Here’s what it says on his CrowdJustice page:
Our challenge against the UK Government lockdown will continue to be heard after the Court of Appeal yesterday ruled that the case highlighted ‘fundamental’ concerns over the accountability of Government Ministers.
The Judicial Review will now proceed to a rolled-up hearing expected to be held at the Court of Appeal during the week commencing the 28th September after a ruling was handed down by Lord Justice Hickinbottom.
The hearing will decide on whether the case should progress to a full Appeal which would see the Government once again pressed to defend the introduction of measures which were described by the court as “possibly the most restrictive regime on the public life of persons and businesses ever”.
Lord Justice Hickinbottom said that the legal challenge “potentially raises fundamental issues concerning the proper spheres for democratically-accountable Ministers of the Government and judges”.
Owing to Government restrictions, our first hearing was held virtually. However, Lord Justice Hickinbottom ordered in his review that the case should be “considered by the full court in open court, and the Applicants given any opportunity to make good their case at least on arguability”.
I got an email from a reader who has been left feeling disheartened after making a dental appointment.
Today I took a call from my dentist about an imminent check-up and filling. Previously I have never had any qualms about going to the dentist but I now confess to twinges of apprehension…
It is not hyperbole to say I felt as though I was being prepared to face an Ebola outbreak or a nuclear leak. First of all I was given an over-the-phone medical. The whole emphasis was on danger: the risk I posed to them and the risk they posed to me and what was being done to mitigate it. I started off getting irritated but by the end of the call I was grinning. Sometimes that’s all the you can do.
In summary: I cannot enter the surgery as it will be locked. I must wait in my car or stay a minimum of 2 meters from the front entrance until called on my mobile. A minimum of two metres? When I’m out on the street? That is beyond ridicule so I won’t even try. On entering I will immediately have my hands sanitised and can bring neither people nor possessions in with me. I will then have a face nappy applied, something which I have successfully avoided until now. I explained that I cannot wear one and have a lanyard. They were clear – no mask, no entry, Again, the emphasis was on the danger I posed to them. Should I have a coughing fit I could endanger the staff, all of whom appear to be my age or younger.
I was advised that my mask would be removed for the actual check-up and work, which was reassuring.
Finally, I was told to use the loo before I left home as the toilet is for staff only. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue but it’s a one-and-three-quarter-hour drive for me, time for the treatment, and a one-and-three-quarter-hour drive home. I did say this may be difficult if I was caught short. I was advised that if I absolutely needed it then they would comply – but – their rules state that if I do then no one else may use if for a period of one hour (huh?) and it would then need to be “deep cleaned” (double huh??). So, no pressure then. I’ve no idea what they felt I might do in there but I suddenly felt very grubby. I have decided to change my usual breakfast routine and will instead have some toast and no liquids at all. I can’t put those good people through that.
I’ve published the third articl in a series for Lockdown Sceptics written by a senior occupational health therapist about the difficulties the Government and its agencies are creating for businesses that want to re-open, this one pointing out that older workers may not be allowed to return to work when the economy grinds back to life. He sets out the problem in the opening few paragraphs:
Employers are seeking to return staff from shielding, but can only do this where they can demonstrate that the role is “Covid-secure”. Some employers are requesting their occupational health providers assess staff and advise of their “Covid-age”. Covid-age is a scheme that has been developed by occupational health doctors to stratify employees based on their risk of experiencing severe illness or death as a result of COVID-19.
You’re supposed to start with the person’s actual age and then add additional years for various reasons, e.g. high BMI, ethnicity, gender, medical conditions. This then results in the individual’s Covid-age. There is then a ‘traffic light system‘ that applies to you depending on your Covid-age – green, yellow, orange, red
It is immediately apparent that the higher your age, the more likely you are to fall into a higher risk category.
Don’t imagine that if you’re prepared to take the risk – or even sign a waiver, absolving your employer of any legal liability should you die of COVID-19 – it will make any difference. That doesn’t apply to normal workplace hazards – employers cannot escape liability that way – and it won’t apply to Covid.
I have no doubt that employers will err on the side of caution and prevent employees with a high Covid-age back to the workplace. Doesn’t matter how prepared the employee is to take the risk. As long as COVID-19 is regarded as a workplace hazard in the conventional sense, employers will not be able to take the employee’s own view into account. This will lead to individuals who are quite prepared to risk catching Covid losing their employment on medical capability grounds.
As usual, the Government appears to be aware that it has dug itself into a god almighty hole, but hasn’t a clue how to get out of it and the measures it’s taking to “restart” the economy will inevitably make things worse.
All three “workplace hazard” articles are in the right-hand menu under “What is the Exit Strategy?” This one is worth reading in full.
There was an extraordinary story in the Telegraph yesterday. The Prime Minister has given a broad range of powers to local authorities to contain outbreaks, including getting a magistrate to order the demolition of your home!
Councils will be able to draw on six separate Acts of Parliament to impose lightning closures of public buildings, order mass testing, ban events or shut down whole sectors of the economy.
They will also be able to limit school openings to set year groups and restrict travel to key workers only.
The power to demolish buildings, however, is perhaps the most striking inclusion in the Government’s Covid-19 Contain Framework.
The document, published by the Department of Health and Social Care, advises councils that, under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, they can apply to a magistrate “to impose restrictions or requirements to close contaminated premises; close public spaces in the area of the local authority; detain a conveyance or movable structure; disinfect or decontaminate premises; or order that a building, conveyance or structure be destroyed”.
It raises the possibility that care homes, factories, offices or even private homes could be bulldozed as a last resort if the virus starts to run out of control, although such measures have not been considered necessary during the outbreak.
Downing Street regards local or regional lockdowns as the way forward in containing coronavirus.
Given that the UK Government is unable to properly interpret the data about the prevalence of infections, what hope is there that Town Hall Sir Humphries will get it right?
When will this madness end?
Lockdown Sceptic‘s Covid tracing app correspondent – an experienced techie – has been in touch to point out that the apps don’t appear to be working anywhere. It’s not just our app that’s practically useless – they all are. Here’s his round-up.
When pressed over the lack of a UK contract tracing app at PMQs, Boris claimed that no country has a working coronavirus app. What about Germany with 12m downloads, replied Sir Keir Starmer, brilliantly skewering him over his bizarre claim, said the Independent.
Germany and many other countries do have some software you can put on your phone. Indeed, there are so many of them that MIT Technology Review has a Covid Tracing Tracker currently listing 46 of them. But do they work, as in stop the spread of corona virus, and would they be legal or socially acceptable in the UK? How many people have to download the app for them to be effective? An Oxford University study claimed that such apps would have an effect at all levels of uptake, not just the widely reported 60%. That’s what the modellers say, so what happened in practice and was Boris or Keir correct?
Singapore’s TraceTogether was the first major Bluetooth-based app, downloaded by 2.1m Singaporeans or 35% of the population. Unfortunately, that didn’t include the migrant workers living in dorms who account for the majority of Singapore’s 44,000 infections. The Government admitted its tech wasn’t ideal because the phone has to be unlocked with the app running in the foreground for it to work, a problem that other countries releasing apps later should have heeded. The app also drained the phone’s battery, so people removed it. The Singaporean Government is now pinning its hopes – and a whopping $73m – on a wearable device instead.
Australia was quick off the mark in April with its Covidsafe app. It only detected 1 in 4 encounters during testing, with phones having to be unlocked and running the app in the foreground, but that didn’t stop Australia’s health minister, Greg Hunt, promising Australians in lockdown: “It will help us as we seek to return to normal and the Australian way of life.” He reckoned 40% of Australians needed to be using it for it to be effective. Three months later, only 24% of Australians had downloaded it. Was it helping return Australia to normal life? ABC reported its impact was hard to measure. In Victoria, authorities have yet to point to a single COVID-19 exposure that was not picked up by manual contact tracing. In New South Wales, there’s only a single instance of a person being contacted using app data. Was it worth the $2.75M?
Germany’s app was built by the software giant SAP and Deutsche Telekom, and launched in mid-June along with a massive advertising campaign involving leading DAX companies and the German Football Association, the DFB, according to the Guardian. Helge Braun, the head of Angela Merkel’s office, said downloading the app amounted to “one small step for us, but a giant step in our fight against the pandemic”. That resulted in 6.5m downloads on the first day alone. One month later, the Government was boasting 16.2m downloads, 20% of Germany’s 83 million population. Because of the decentralised, privacy-respecting nature of the tech, we don’t know how many people were alerted by the German app. Well that’s the theory, anyway. In practice, we know that by July 20th a grand total of 660 Germans had been alerted by their app. Perhaps something to do with it not working unless –you guessed it – the phone is unlocked and the app is running in the foreground? Small step or giant leap? It was certainly a giant bill: €20M. And they open sourced it, so if you want €20M of software for free you can download it here.
In Ireland their bill was only €850k and 1.4m people – 28% of the population – downloaded it, 91 of whom received an exposure alert. What about France? It was launched in June, with the digital affairs minister Cédric O proclaiming: “From the first downloads the app helps avoid contamination, illness and so deaths.” Two million people were moved by that appeal to download le app. The headline on the MIT Technology Review article about it sums up what happened next: “Eight million people, 14 alerts: Why some COVID-19 apps are staying silent.”
Are there any apps that work? It seems unlikely given that the underlying physics of radio signal propagation does not work as the technocrats think it does. As I pointed out in Lockdown Sceptics back in June, Trinity College Dublin researchers found that signal strength could not be relied on outside of the lab as a proxy for proximity. China has a different approach, which may work, but given that it depends on handing over so much personal data, such as all your bank transactions, it would not be legal or even socially acceptable outside of China. And of course there is no sign of the Chinese app being withdrawn now the infection has passed, reports the New York Times.
So it appears that Boris was right snd Oxford’s modellers were wrong. No country has a working corona tracing app. Lockdowns don’t work and neither do the apps. Does that make Boris sceptic of the week?
Dr David Nabarro, a Special Envoy to the WHO on COVID-19, gave an interview to Mark Dolan on TalkRadio yesterday in which he made some sceptical noises.
“I don’t think that British society can tolerate more lockdowns and economic deprivation,” he said. “I think it’s wrong for children not to be going to school. What are we able to do as a society in order to push this virus back and get on with our lives?”
The interview begins at the 21 minute mark.
Sir Graham Brady, the Chair of the 1922 Committee, submitted a written Parliamentary Question asking the following on July 17th:
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what assessment his Department has made of the efficacy of routinely available, non-clinical face masks in preventing aerosol spread of viruses.
The answer he received – which only arrived today – is unintentionally hilarious:
In June 2020 Public Health England conducted a rapid evidence review on the efficacy of different types of face coverings designed for use in community settings, and the effectiveness of face coverings to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV2 in the community.
The review found evidence from eight laboratory studies that materials commonly used in non-medical masks such as cotton and polyester may block droplets with a filtering efficiency similar to medical masks when folded in two or three layers. This evidence was limited by variations in materials, study design and testing methods, and judged to be weak.
The review identified evidence from epidemiological and modelling studies that mask wearing in the community may contribute to reducing the spread of COVID-19, but again the evidence was limited by study design and quality.
‘Face coverings in the community and COVID-19: a rapid review’ is available to view at the following link.
So the evidence that routinely available, non-clinical face masks are effective at preventing aerosol spread of viruses is… “weak” and “limited”. Shock!
Why the insistence that we wear them, then?
He also submitted another question on July 17th, quite reasonably asking when this absurd, un-evidenced policy will be reviewed:
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, if he will publish the criteria according to which the legal requirement to wear face masks in retail settings will be ended; and how frequently a review of that policy will take place.
He got the following response, again not received until today:
As of Friday July 24th, members of the public must wear a face covering when visiting a shop or supermarket in England.
In addition, the Government is running a major proactive communications campaign on face coverings to alert the public where they are now required to wear face coverings and educate the public on how to correctly wear one.
The Government will keep the regulations under review and will continue assessing if measures need to be put in place for other settings going forward.
So a Conservative MP had to wait three weeks to receive a non-answer to his question.
If the Chair of the most influential backbench committee in the Conservative party cannot hold the Government to account, what hope do the rest of us have?
A reader who runs a small business has flagged up something that passed me by, but which sounds deeply alarming.
Are you aware of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 which was sneaked into law on June 30th?
This bit of legislation effectively does, amongst other things, the following:
* Shuts down the ability for small businesses to serve statutory demands for non-payment of invoices.
* Absolves every director of any company operating in this country of responsibility for their actions between March 1st and September 30th. Meaning the usual claw-back under the wrongful trading laws and fraud is suspended.
* Creates an impossible situation where Coronavirus can be blamed for anything and everything – regardless of truth.
* Compels small companies to continue supplying non-paying companies with good and services.
There’s been nothing about this in the press at all – which is a surprise to me as it effectively means any commercial contract entered into this year is void. This has been confirmed to me by a solicitor – who told me that it is so badly drafted that it could cover anything.
I run a small design business in London which has been effectively destroyed by this lockdown. As you would expect, nobody is paying any invoices, and we are now owed £60,000+ with no prospect of ever getting it back. We will be closing our company and losing our livelihoods because of this.
We’ve received essentially zero help from the government. All that is on offer is a vague promise of a grant for between £1000 to £5000 – which nobody can seem to tell me how to apply for.
This all means that it’s impossible to run a small business in this country as contract law has been effectively suspended – the larger zombie company will always win by default, as it is so expensive and risky to take them to court now – which no-doubt is the intention…
I’d appreciate it if you could raise a bit of awareness of this – as I’m sure there a lot of people who will be negatively affected.
A report was published last month by the Health Information and Quality Authority, a statutory, government-funded agency in Ireland which monitors the safety and quality of the healthcare and social care systems, drawing attention to possible errors in the Covid death count in the Emerald Isle. Here’s the killer bullet point:
The officially reported COVID-19 deaths may overestimate the true burden of excess mortality specifically caused by COVID-19. This may be due to the likely inclusion within official COVID-19 figures of people who were known to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) at the time of death who were at or close to end-of–life independently of COVID-19 or whose cause of death may have been predominantly due to other factors.
How long before our own authorities admit the same error? (Hat tip to InProportion2 for flagging this up on Twitter.)
The Lockdown Sceptic reader who penned the “Postcard From Melbourne” I published last week has added a P.S. following the imposition of an even more draconian lockdown by Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews, known to disgruntled locals as Kim Jong Dan. Here’s an extract:
A beautiful winter Sunday afternoon was ruined by our hapless (or is that hopeless?) state Premier announcing in his gravest tones that Lockdown 2.0 and mandatory face nappies just aren’t doing the trick. We are all being very naughty and not doing as we’re told and so the ‘State of Emergency’ is being upgraded to a ‘State of Disaster’. This involves a near total shutdown of non-essential businesses, an 8pm-5am curfew, no travel further than 5km from your home and you’re only allowed out for one hour of exercise per day. Schools are closed, weddings banned and numbers at funerals are limited. Welcome to Lockdown 3.0.
Within minutes of the announcement, queues were forming outside supermarkets and by the end of the day the shelves had been stripped of fruit, veg and fresh meat by panic buying locusts. They obviously stopped listening to Kim Jong Dan’s doom-mongering before he got to the bit where he said supermarkets would remain open.
Worth reading in full.
- ‘Is the UK in a better position than we think?‘ – Surprisingly robust piece by Nick Triggle, one of the BBC’s Health Correspondents. Repeats the point I’ve made that the ONS data apparently showing infections are on the rise is based on just 24 people testing positive in the past fortnight
- ‘Close pubs before schools if infections rise, ministers told‘ – The Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield has urged the Government to close pubs rather than delay re-opening schools
- ‘How universities shut out conservative academics‘ – Good piece in UnHerd by Matthew Goodwin about Monday’s Policy Exchange report
- ‘Local lockdown in Aberdeen as Covid cluster grows‘ – Pubs are being closed in Aberdeen thanks to a single cluster of cases being detected among customers of a pub called the Hawthorn
- ‘Doctors criticise “barmy” rules forcing them to treat patients who refuse to wear face masks‘ – Good news – bedwetting GPs can’t refuse to treat patients who refuse to wear face nappies
- ‘Up to 1,500 jobs to go at WHSmith over ‘slow’ lockdown recovery‘ – Another high street staple is in the toilet
- ‘Petition launched as frustration grows over decision to close Bradford’s gyms‘ – Frustration is growing in Bradford over the shutdown of gyms following the imposition of a local lockdown. Energy Mill Gym in Shipley is refusing to comply with the new edict. Congrats to them
- ‘How dare politicians scapegoat the young for their lockdown failings‘ – Good piece by the young Madeline Grant in the Telegraph
- ‘Shutdowns hit the big picture at Disney‘ – The US giant, which has a market value of $212 billion, made a third-quarter loss of $4.7 billion, compared with a profit of $1.4 billion in the same period last year
- ‘Cornish beaches as busy as bank holiday every day‘ – Excellent!
- ‘Sex BAN for Northern couples who aren’t in a “bubble”‘ – Something tells me those “Red Wall” seats may not all return Tory MPs at the next General Election
- ‘Risk of severe COVID-19 disease with ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers: cohort study including 8.3 million people‘ – New paper in the BMJ shows heavy smoking can… save your life. Here’s the killer finding: “We observed a markedly decreased risk of both COVID-19 disease and ICU admission in smokers. The apparent protective association was greatest for heavy and moderate smokers and most markedly on the risk of ICU admission which was 88% lower in heavy smokers compared with non-smokers.”
- ‘Misleading media coverage of Sweden’s response to COVID-19‘ – Excellent comment in the BMJ pointing out how much about Sweden the public health panjandrums get wrong
- ‘Why Covid hasn’t been Boris’s Black Wednesday‘ – Good piece by Patrick O’Flynn in the Spectator
- ‘Will reopening schools really cause a second spike?‘ – Ross Clark in the Spectator asks a question to which the answer is clearly no
Just one today: “You Got it All Wrong” by the Hives.
A couple of months 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 (and some of them are at risk of having to close again). 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.
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.
We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums that are now open. Initially, they became a spam magnet so we temporarily closed them. However, we’ve found a team of people wiling to serve as moderators so the Forums are back up and running. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.
I thought I’d create a new permanent slot down here for people who want to buy (or make) a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and it has the advantage of not explicitly claiming you have a disability. But if you have no qualms about that (or you are disabled), you can buy a lanyard from Amazon saying you do have a disability/medical exemption here (now showing it will arrive between Sept 8th to 19th). The Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. You can get a “Hidden Disability” tag from eBay here and an “exempt” card that looks like as if it’s been issued by the NHS for just £2.79 from Etsy here.
Don’t forget to sign the petition on the UK Government’s petitions website calling for an end to mandatory face nappies in shops here.
A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption.
Meanwhile, there is a land, far away, where the mask-wearing lunatics haven’t yet taken over the asylum. It’s called Holland. More here.
Stop Press: No, wait. From 9am this morning face nappies have been made mandatory in parts of Amsterdam.
Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the past 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. If you feel like donating, however small the sum, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here.
The weekly London Calling podcast that I do with James Delingpole is a day late this week because when we recorded it on Monday I forgot to press the record button! Needless to say, it was the best one we’ve ever done. Anyway, we re-recorded it yesterday and you can listen to it here. Quite a lot of the discussion is devoted to asking whether we should formally apologise for so enthusiastically backing Boris. I imagine a scene in which I’m standing outside the Pearly Gates, pleading for admission, and God says to me: “Well, you helped set up four schools, you founded the Free Speech Union, you’re devoted husband and loving father, you give money to beggars, you’ve done a certain amount for charity… but you did write this 5,000 panegyric about Boris Johnson. Sorry, that’s a dealbreaker. Down you go.”
You can listen to it here. And if you enjoy it, please do subscribe.