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“I will be voting to curtail the Government’s powers in this area” – MP backlash begins

MPs are beginning to suspect they know what ministers have replaced Parliament with

Sir Charles Walker, the Vice Chairman of the influential Conservative 1922 committee of MPs, slammed the new restrictions on social gatherings saying he would vote to “curtail” the Government’s powers. The Telegraph has the story.

The changes will impose a legal limit on gatherings in private homes, parks, pubs and restaurants and will come into force in England on Monday.

Sir Charles argued that ministers needed to come to the Commons and “win the argument” on policies, admitting he was “increasingly uncomfortable” about the way the Government was running.

He said: “I am incredibly exercised about the continued use by the Government of powers that we granted it six months ago admittedly, to basically restrict people’s civil liberties without any recourse back to Parliament.

“Now these powers are due to be reviewed at the end of September, or the beginning of October, and hopefully there will be another vote on them.

“And I will be voting – if given the chance to vote in this rather strange Parliament – to curtail the Government’s powers in his area.”

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle was visibly livid that Matt Hancock had failed to make the announcement in the chamber first:

It is really not good enough for the Government to make decisions of this kind in the way which show insufficient regard to the importance of major policy announcements being made first in this House. I’ve already sent a letter to the Secretary of State. I think the total disregard for this Chamber is not acceptable. I know the Prime Minister is a Member of Parliament as well and he will ensure that statements should be made here first.

The Government has clarified that – for now – the restrictions apply specifically to private gatherings in homes, restaurants, parks and so on (see here and here). They do not affect workplaces, schools, churches, etc. But for how long? The Prime Minister seems to be abandoning his earlier hope of getting back to normal by Christmas, with chief medical officer Chris Whitty warning that “people shouldn’t see this as a very short term thing” and it is “very unlikely to be just over in two or three weeks”.

The reason? Because “cases” (actually positive PCR tests – almost none of these people are unwell) have been approaching 3,000 in recent days. But even the BBC has pointed out that this spike is a result of the massive increase in testing (Toby wrote about this in the Telegraph here). There is no corresponding rise in hospital admissions and deaths. Here’s today’s graph:

COVID-19 patients in hospital, UK

As the three eminent scientists, Paul Kirkham, Mike Yeadon and Barry Thomas wrote on Lockdown Sceptics yesterday: “Daily deaths from and with COVID-19 have almost ceased, having fallen over 99% from peak. All the numbers monitored carefully fall like this, too: the numbers being hospitalised, numbers in hospital, number in intensive care – all are falling in synchrony from the April peak… The evidence we’ve presented leads us to believe there is unlikely to be a second wave.”

Global daily COVID-19 deaths in sustained decline (Worldometer)

The COVID-19 epidemic is over in the UK. Any further local outbreaks are very likely to be well within health service capacity. COVID-19 was never a peculiarly deadly disease and we have anyway become much better at treating its more serious forms. Now is not the time to increase restrictions. It is time to declare the epidemic at an end and return to normality. Happily, more and more MPs appear to agree.

That Damned Elusive RNA

The Covid Pimpernel: They seek it here, they seek it there, those testers seek it everywhere. Is it in Leicester, or in Torbay, that damned elusive RNA.

We’ve published an original piece today by Dr Clare Craig about the guidance issued by the Government on September 7th that introduced a new PCR testing paradigm designed to reduce the number of false positives. Understanding the change requires some mastery of cutting edge molecular genetics, but the short version is that the more amplification cycles a lab runs when searching for Covid RNA in a swab sample, the more likely the virus is to be detected, regardless of whether it’s present in a sufficiently concentrated form to indicate the person is infectious or even, in some cases, if they’ve had the disease at all. So the more cycles a lab runs, the greater the risk of false positives – and if the number climbs as high as 34 cycles, the result will always be positive, irrespective of whether the sample contains microscopic fragments of Covid RNA or none at all. The Government hasn’t ordered its testing labs to keep the cycles below a certain number, but it has said that if the virus is only detected after 30 amplification cycles the lab has to retest to confirm that the subject in question is actually positive.

This guidance was almost certainly issued in response to this paper by Carl Heneghan and his colleagues at Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine that was published on Friday drawing attention to the over-sensitivity of the test, whereby someone who’s had COVID-19 and recovered could still have fragments of the virus in their system, causing them to test positive. Heneghan et al also point to the wide variation in the number of cycles the labs typically run, meaning the same subject could test positive in one location but negative in another. (It’s also possible the change was partly prompted by the paper that Lockdown Sceptics published on September 7th by three eminent scientists, highlighting the same problem).

Clare is a Consultant Pathologist who’s been writing about the pandemic on her blog called “Logic in the Time of Covid“. She’s written some excellent pieces, including this one in which she makes the point that a ‘zero-Covid’ strategy is fatally flawed because the PCR test will always throw up some false positives. Carl Heneghan linked to that post on Twitter on Monday, saying it was “worth a read”.

Clare thinks the new guidance is a step in the right direction, but doesn’t completely solve the problem.

The causes of false positives are myriad. From other viruses, to contaminant human DNA as well as cross contamination between cases and residual RNA fragments in patients who have cleared the virus. The risk of these can never be completely mitigated. Changing the cycle threshold does not fully address the potential for contamination or sub-optimal test performance in general. So more work needs to be done than just setting an albeit sensible number of amplification cycles.

By addressing the cycle threshold, PHE will eliminate some false positives. The cases that needed more than 30 cycles will be examined further to decide which are real. This ought to include input from the doctors caring for those patients and a repeat PCR test is likely to be carried out too. The numbers will rise again once this additional data is available. We will have to wait and see how low the new baseline is.

That is not the end of the problem with false positives. Other false positive test results look like true positive test results. If this were not the case we would not mistake them for true positive results. And for some false positives the cause will still be there when a second confirmatory PCR is attempted. We desperately need a robust definition of a ‘COVID-19 case’ with criteria beyond a single positive PCR result.

This is an excellent post by a top scientist. Clare worked for Imperial College Healthcare Trust as a cytopathologist and then became the day-to-day pathology lead for the cancer arm of the 100,000 Genomes Project.

Worth reading in full.

Neil Ferguson Defends his Model, Sue Denim Responds

Ferguson consults his “model” to see how many people will die from Covid if we don’t do exactly what he says

A couple of days ago, Neil Ferguson posted a comment on the GitHub thread that started when someone asked Imperial College to publish the original source code used to power the epidemiological model in Report 9. (Ooh, the cheek!) As readers will recall, this was Imperial’s March 16th paper warning the Government that if it didn’t replace its mitigation strategy with a suppression strategy, 250,000 people would die. Many people have raised doubts about that code, including the ex-Google software engineer known as “Sue Denim” who has posted several critiques on Lockdown Sceptics. (See the first six posts under “How Reliable is Imperial College’s Modelling?” on the right-hand menu). Rather unexpectedly, Ferguson jumped into the thread on Tuesday to defend his work.

Another academic group has independently exactly replicated the Report 9 results using the original code and input files as part of the Royal Society RAMP initiative. They are preparing a paper on their analysis which should be out in the next month or two.

For those who believe that discovering a fatal flaw in this code might bring the the scientific support for lockdown tumbling down, I’m sorry break it to you to that other (notably LSHTM) academic groups informing SAGE in March used completely different models to reach nearly identical conclusions to our Report 9 in March. The relevant documents are online in the SAGE archive. The key conclusion that severe social distancing measures were required to prevent health systems being overwhelmed hinged only on estimates of R0/doubling time, hospitalisation rates and IFR (mortality risk). Given those estimates, any epidemic model would give basically the same conclusions we reached.

We asked Sue Denim to respond.

Well. This comment by Ferguson demonstrates how epidemiology has become so corrupted.

As we’ve seen before in this paper, at some point epidemiologists started to define success for their predictions as “matches what other epidemiologists predict” instead of “matches reality”. This probably occurred because their theories are incomplete and produce predictions that deviate significantly from what really happens (see: BSE, Foot and Mouth Disease, Zika and COVID). But it seems nobody knows how to improve them. Dangerous virus outbreaks are rare and experiments can’t be conducted, so there are few opportunities to refine the theories. Rather than admit defeat and switch to doing something else until new ideas emerge, epidemiologists have developed a series of highly evolved (but wrong) arguments as to why they are doing useful work.

Ferguson states: “For those who believe that discovering a fatal flaw in this code might bring the the scientific support for lockdown tumbling down, I’m sorry break it to you to that other (notably LSHTM) academic groups informing SAGE in March used completely different models to reach nearly identical conclusions to our Report 9 in March.”

He’s probably referring to this paper. It says: “Interpretation: The characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 mean that extreme measures are likely required to bring the epidemic under control and to prevent very large numbers of deaths and an excess of demand on hospital beds, especially those in ICUs.”

That is indeed a nearly identical conclusion. Yet we know from counter-examples where “extreme measures” weren’t used that ICU capacity was never exceeded at all, and there was no “very large number of deaths”. So this paper is just as scientifically invalid as Ferguson’s was. It actually reinforces the point that there is no scientific support for lockdown, only pseudo-scientific support using non-validated models and theories – theories that were disproven over the summer. Actual scientists compare their predictions against the real world, and if the predictions are wrong they refine their theories. (As Richard Feynman said: “If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science.”) This last step is missing in epidemiology, where for decades academics have been declaring success regardless of observed outcomes, even though their theories/models are general and hardly altered for new viruses.

What of his claim that the LSHTM model is “completely different”? The code is different, and of somewhat higher quality. The assumptions it makes are not really different. It’s another minor elaboration of an age-stratified SEIR model. For example, it assumes a totally susceptible population, which appears not to be true. Indeed the idea that SARS-CoV-2 is “novel” seems to be at the root of many of the incorrect decisions to lockdown.

He finishes by saying, “The key conclusion… hinged only on estimates of R0/doubling time, hospitalisation rates and IFR (mortality risk). Given those estimates, any epidemic model would give basically the same conclusions we reached.”

This is a surprising assertion. Rephrased, his conclusions could have been worked out on the back of a napkin, as “any” model would give the same conclusions given just three variables. Therefore it didn’t require 15,000 lines of code or any particular expertise to do his job. Literally “any” model would agree. He also seems to be disclaiming responsibility for the correctness of the data he uses.

Still, the core point he’s trying to make is correct – replicability bugs in his code don’t change the overall conclusion he reached. But who claimed they did? Certainly not the analyses I’ve written for this site. The point here is a different one: computational epidemiologists pose as scientists. That means they are meant to follow the scientific method, which means making testable predictions that follow from their theories. If predictions don’t reliably follow from theories in a reproducible way, or if they never update theories in response to failed predictions, the work they are doing is not scientific and should not be treated by governments as such.

While it seems unlikely that governments will hold academics to account this year, by blowing off basic methodological failures in such a visible way the scientific community are setting themselves up for a major reckoning in future. Trust in scientists has fallen significantly over the summer. Future generations of politicians will start to ignore the claims of academics across an ever-wider set of fields, as has already occurred for economics and – in the USA – climatology (another field that relies heavily on modelling).

“I’ve Seen Enough Failure in Corporate Life Through Groupthink to Understand What’s Happened to Our Politicos.”

We got a message yesterday (and a donation) from an exasperated consultant. Many people will feel the same way.

Since the start of this, the interpretation of the data has been clear to me. It’s the job I’ve done for 30 years, albeit in consumer behavioural insight not virology. And I’ve seen enough massive failure in corporate life through groupthink to understand what’s happened to our politicos. I’ve spent most of my career trying to get well educated corporate executives to practice fact-based decision making, rather than the other way around. We’ve had months of evidence now (not bloody models) about the asymmetrical nature of the pathogen’s effects, veracity of data, metadata & testing regimes, scientists and medical experts brave enough to speak out. Like many others, I thought that the propaganda wouldn’t survive contact with the bright daylight of facts (and the v obvious shifting of Govt ‘strategy’). But here we still are, in Sept, threats of lockdowns, maskism, MSM still pumping out fear, claiming asymptomatic (poss. false) positive tests ‘cases’, no context etc etc. With the democratic process shut down (and/or locked in orthodoxy) and Govt ruling by capricious diktat, backed by the Police and prosecutors, our judiciary silent and anyone who asks reasonable questions about the proportionality of NPIs (let alone wants to protest) closed down, the big question I’d like answered (or at least discussed) by the assembled brains of the Sceptics is: “What can we actually do to stop/change the narrative and pressure the Handy Cocks of this world to switch their critical reasoning back on?” Despite all the evidence and growing numbers, ‘we’ Sceptics seem to just to be a flea bite on the elephant. I’m tired of feeling angry, frustrated and impotent. I’d love to hear some creative options for those without power or voice! (sorry; tried to avoid the rant but failed).

We’re All Corbynistas Now

At times of national crisis, unlikely heroes emerge. But who’s the bearded fellow on the right?

No, not an email from a supporter of Piers Corbyn – I think we’re all Corbynistas in that respect at least as far as lockdown is concerned – but from a supporter of his brother, Jeremy. Heartening as always to know that there are some on the Left who share our concerns about the collateral damage being done by the lockdowns.

My background is a postdoctoral molecular neuroscientist with 15 years experience looking and recording trends in scientific data. I have experience working with bacteria and viruses in the lab environment (I’d be more than happy for you to review my latest publications). I am a staunch socialist and fervent supporter of Jeremy Corbyn so would normally not share your ideas and values. Many of my colleagues in academia sit on the left and almost all have fallen for this utter nonsense and most all support condemning the Government for not locking down earlier. The very idea we had protocols for dealing with epidemic/pandemics is lost on them. I believe Bari Weiss and Melanie Phillips to be the worst of the worst, both in the cancel culture of anyone outspoken on Israeli apartheid and the continuation of the neoliberal agenda. I’m adamant that global society collapse is inevitable in the next few years (regardless of Covid) due to the Energy Cost of Energy conundrum, and there is no way GDP figures are anything more than a continual debt accumulation (essentially it’s impossible to have continued growth in a planet with finite resources, no amount of renewables is able to counter this). All this is aside from SARS-CoV-2.

I started reading your posts in late April, and, like you, I thought this over-reaction would soon self-correct. By summer this will die down as mother nature will have flattened the curve. I agreed lockdown would be catastrophic, but accepted that the Government wanted to be seen to be doing something and would go on to explain that the virus wasn’t as dangerous as first feared. Sanity would soon return, maybe with increased alertness about things like personal hygiene and a commitment to look after the vulnerable population, etc. How wrong I was. I too was expecting the Left to have a voice, a message challenging every step the Government had taken. Even my political hero Corbyn has been flagrantly useless. And yet here we are, months later, about to witness the collapse of many Western economies and plunge millions in this country alone into relative poverty and allow hundreds of millions to succumb to starvation and medical abandonment in the developing world. I do wonder why the Left has just allowed this nonsense to grip when this was known to be the inevitable outcome back in April. One didn’t have to be a socialist soothsayer to see that. Of course, I had a strong feeling collapse was inevitable very soon, but under the guise of this virus? Never in a million years.

My fear now is the impending authoritarian future and biosecurity state – to ‘stay safe’ – and I might just take up base jumping. However this plays out, I don’t see any answer but a closely monitored population. I’m not sure if my values are outdated and I’m not seeing something obvious? I do hope I’m wrong.

Stop Press: Left-wing advocacy group Liberty are also opposing the lockdown as a violation of human rights and unwarranted stripping away of civil liberties. About bloody time!

Protect the NHS, Go Private?

A reader writes to say that his annual private health premium is up “by an eye-watering 53% this year”. Why? Because, he is informed by his insurance provider, “so many people are using private services due to the inaccessibility of the amazing NHS”. (Er, why’s it so “amazing” then?) Maybe this could inspire a new Government slogan: Protect the NHS, go private.

Did a South Dakota Bike Rally Really Cause 260,000 Cases?

In America, studies show that only Trump supporters spread COVID-19

Toby asked yesterday for a riposte to the story going round that a motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota was responsible for 260,000 cases of COVID-19. A reader in America has looked into it and explains why it’s fake news. In short: dodgy modelling again.

A new study estimates that the bike rally increased the case rate in South Dakota by between 3.6 and 3.9 per 1,000 people – or a total of more than 3,000 cases across the state as a whole.

In a press briefing, the South Dakota Department of Health cast doubt on these numbers, noting that just 124 state residents who tested positive for COVID-19 had reported attending the rally. “The results do not align with what we know of the impacts of the rally among attendees in the state of South Dakota,” state epidemiologist Joshua Clayton said when asked about the new study.

Friedson said that self-reports like those used by the state’s Health Department are unreliable because people may not report accurately. Such reports also don’t account for other people attendees may have infected. “You cannot rely on these types of reports to tell you the number of cases,” he told BuzzFeed News

Instead of looking at contact tracing and trying to identify specific people who had the disease and passed it on to others, the San Diego researchers behind the 260,000 figure looked at the areas that sent the most people to the rally and how case trends changed after the event. In other words, one big guesstimate.

The researchers looked at county-level data on new confirmed COVID-19 cases, as well as anonymised cellphone tracking data released by the company SafeGraph. This included the recorded home location for each phone, allowing the researchers to determine how many attendees came from each county across the nation. They then compared the trajectory of cases in counties with many Sturgis attendees, such as Clark County, Nevada, and Maricopa County, Arizona, to those with previously similar case trajectories that had few residents who travelled to Sturgis. This allowed the researchers to estimate the number of new cases resulting from exposure to the coronavirus during the rally – including cases caused by secondary transmission after attendees returned home. Extrapolating to rallygoers nationwide gives the figure of more than 260,000 new coronavirus cases caused by the Sturgis gathering.

460,000 people gathered without masks and without social distancing and they linked it to one death from Covid. Meanwhile, the Trump rally is also being painted as a virus-spreading event in the entire US media, yet all the rioting has yet to produce a single case of infection.

Stop Press: A solid rebuttal has also appeared in Reason. Well worth a read.

What Sort of Person Will Become a Covid Marshal?

The Government has announced that it will recruit an army of snoopers Covid Secure Marshals to enforce the draconian new lockdown rules. The Mail has collected some of the best memes mocking the ludicrous idea that are well worth a perusal.

Postcard From LA

A reader in Los Angeles has written to tell us about the unexpected success he had in introducing friends to lockdown scepticism. Might embolden some of us in bringing the subject up with our own brainwashed pals.

I am a conservative in what is, of course, a liberal city in a very liberal state. Even more of an anomaly for being a gay conservative.  Needless to say, I generally keep my opinions to myself when politics come up, even among close friends (90% of whom are liberal and think President Trump is akin to Hitler).  

Monday we had friends over for a Labour Day lunch. Three families with whom we have grown close through our son’s school. When they arrived, all of them were sporting masks. I wear a mask under mostly-quiet protest, and only when absolutely necessary to go shopping or get on a plane. I immediately told them that they only needed to wear a mask if they felt it necessary for their own safety, and that I would not be wearing one. In an instant masks were off, with a visible sigh of relief from all. We had a lovely lunch, crammed elbow to elbow around the table. For nearly all of them it was their first real social event since the madness began in March.

The subject of the virus reared its head throughout the afternoon and evening, as it will. At a point in the conversation I saw my opening and, perhaps emboldened by a couple glasses of wine, decided to stay silent no more and politely challenge their views of the virus, the use of masks, and the lockdowns. Given the authority of what I do for a living (I’m an attorney at a large healthcare organisation), they began to listen. I walked them through everything – the ineffectiveness of masks, the lack of science behind social distancing, the survival statistics even among the elderly, the falling CFR, etc. At first I got a lot of “yeah, but what about,” but I kept going. And to a one, it was the first time any of them had heard anything other than the left-party line (it’s sad that it seems mostly a left-right debate, but it is). By the time I was finished there were jaws on the floor and they were asking me to email links so they could read for themselves. As one of them said, “It’s hard to change your own mind.” But I think I may have begun to change a few. When they arrived, my friends who normally greet each other with hugs stood at arms-length. When they left there were hugs all around. I went to bed happy that night. I feel that if I can help my friends out of Plato’s cave – and it appears possible perhaps there is hope for the madness to end.

Round-Up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Today, themes for the successive phases of the Government’s Covid strategy: “Panic” by The Smiths, “Panic In The Streets” by Praying Mantis, “Panic In Detroit” by David Bowie, “Panic In The World” by Be Bop Deluxe and “Panic, Sheer Bloody Panic” by Hans Zimmer.

Love in the Time of Covid

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums that are now open, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. We’ve also just introduced a section where people can arrange to meet up for non-romantic purposes. We have a team of moderators in place to remove spam and deal with the trolls, but sometimes it takes a little while so please bear with us. You have to register to use the Forums, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Small Businesses That Have Re-Opened

A few 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 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 will have to close again on September 14th. 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! If they’ve made that clear to customers with a sign in the window or similar, so much the better. Don’t worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a 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 Oct 12th to Oct 22nd). 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 with lanyard for just £1.99 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 (now over 31,500).

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption.

And here’s a round-up of the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of mask (threadbare at best).

Stop Press: A video from Spain shows citizens preventing police arresting a woman for not wearing a face mask. The clip shows officers attempting to pull the older woman away from the crowd, but they manage to wrestle her away from the cops, while also removing their own masks in solidarity.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the past 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. Doing these daily updates is a lot of work. If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (If you want us to link to something, don’t forget to include a link).

And Finally…

HM Government’s new initiative is the only way to prevent millions dying in a second wave

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