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From Tragedy to Farce: Boris Forgets His Own Rules

Boris wonders what happened to his hammer as he’s spotted another nut he needs to crack

Several million people in the North-East had yet more Byzantine regulations inflicted on them yesterday by a Government that seems never to see a nut that doesn’t put it in mind of a hammer. Yet hours later, the Prime Minister himself was unable accurately to explain the new rules. Ross Clark in the Telegraph has more.

The Prime Minister has never exactly been a details man, but even so his failure accurately to recall the rules he had imposed on several million people in the North-East only hours before marks a new low in the Government’s handling of COVID-19. To come up with this myriad of rules, change them every few days, and to impose massive fines for failing to remember them, is a form of arbitrary rule which would have shamed one of the Tsars, let alone a democratically-elected UK Government.

The PM’s gaffe comes on the same day that ‘Skills Minister’ Gillian Keegan was asked on the Today programme whether the new restrictions announced for the North-East would allow two households to meet outdoors, and she said she had no idea.

Such embarrassments expose the mess which the Government has created in its fondness for local lockdowns. If members of the Government can’t keep up, what hope the rest of the population?

It’s not as if local lockdowns work, points out Ross:

Just what is the point of local lockdowns anyway? In dreaming up ever more bizarre regulations and huge fines to go with them, the Government has overlooked evidence that is staring it in the face: local lockdowns don’t work. Take Bolton. In the week before local restrictions were imposed on Greater Manchester boroughs at the end of July, 3,886 cases of COVID-19 had been recorded in Bolton. In spite of its residents have since been deprived of freedoms which most of the rest of the country enjoyed through the summer, the number of cases there has since mushroomed to a cumulative 9,274.   

Perhaps someone should tell Angela Merkel, as she readies Germany for local lockdowns to counter their “second wave”.

Is Madrid The “Capital of Europe’s Second Wave”?

The Telegraph has run another scare article about how bad things are in Spain. I have to say it’s very disorienting reading the Telegraph at the moment. Almost all the comment is of an outspoken, sceptical flavour but the news section seems to be colonised by lockdown zealots. It makes it feel like they come from two parallel universes, one where COVID-19 is an overrated virus to which we’re all overreacting and the other in which we’re all doomed.

Anyhow, here’s what one news reporter has to say about Madrid, which he has dubbed “the capital of Europe’s second wave” .

The Madrid region, dominated by the city and its large suburbs to the south, has a cumulative caseload of 722 positives per 100,000 inhabitants in a two-week period – 2.5 times the average for Spain as a whole. In Paris, that number is just 204, despite France having daily case numbers to rival those of Spain. 

The hurried reopening is just one example of carelessness on the part of local government, critics say, which extends to currently underestimating the strain on hospitals and failing to establish a working test and trace system.  

Spain’s Government is threatening to intervene once more and ramp up what it sees as limited measures put in place by Madrid, which last week placed one million people in 45 of 286 districts under local lockdown, meaning they can only leave their home areas for essential reasons.

Sounds frightening, right? But here’s what they don’t tell you. The epidemic in Spain peaked weeks ago. According to the Carlos III Public Health Institute new cases by date of symptom onset peaked and plateaued by the end of August. Here’s the graph, courtesy of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine:

Source: CEBM. Note: data beyond the 14 day cut-off will be revised upwards.

What’s happening in the hospitals right now? Here are the graphs for Spain and Madrid:

In other words, no growth for over a week. This represents around 10% capacity nationally and 25% in Madrid. Here’s the graph of deaths:

Deaths appear to have peaked on September 17th, though are yet to enter sustained decline (these figures are by date of death so the most recent figures will likely be revised upwards in coming days).

So the “second wave” in Spain, far from exhibiting exponential growth towards the catastrophic levels predicted here (and recall that Spain was one of the cautionary tales highlighted by Witless and Unbalanced at their press conference last week), stopped growing over a month ago and is nowhere near overwhelming the healthcare system.

Is this because the new restrictions imposed on the population were successful at “controlling” the virus? Nope. Madrid has been resisting imposing new restrictions, only doing so in certain parts of the city last week. Some lighter restrictions, such as lowering limits on venue capacity and gatherings, were imposed citywide on September 7th. All of these measures came well after the epidemic peaked and plateaued near the end of August.

The lesson: yet again a COVID-19 epidemic goes into spontaneous decline before lockdowns or other interventions could possibly have made a difference. Why? Almost certainly due to the further development of collective immunity – in this case presumably making up for delay caused by the strict lockdown in the spring. Spontaneous decline is a pattern seen in Sweden, in Belarus (where the excess deaths as reported to the United Nations suggest a Covid death toll about the same as Sweden’s), and in South Dakota, all of which refused to lock down and none of which saw more than 0.06% of their populations die, most of them very elderly. All had a lower death toll per million than the UK.

When will our Government and its advisers open their eyes to the plain evidence that COVID-19 does not infect or kill anywhere near as many as they initially feared?

Boris is due to appear with Witless and Unbalanced for a press conference again today (this time with questions, it is rumoured). Will we see a change of heart and strategy? Not likely.

Stop Press: Yesterday the UK reported a record 7,143 new cases, to the unconfined joy of the doom-mongers. But note that this follows three consecutive days of sharp decline, and when plotted by date of specimen still doesn’t yet show any significant growth in the last week. They’re still clearing the backlog from the ramp-up in testing. Prof Carl Heneghan and the team at CEBM have started following the cases here to see how they compare with the graph of doom.

New Paper Blows Imperial’s Catastrophic Predictions Out The Water

A team of epidemiologists including Dr Gabriela Gomes published a new preprint yesterday with a model that they say fits the data better and makes better predictions. It is based on assuming greater variation in pre-existing immunity and susceptibility, and concludes that “most of the slowing and reversal of COVID-19 mortality is explained by the build-up of herd immunity”. Here’s the abstract:

The classic Susceptible-Infected-Recovered model formulated by Kermack and McKendrick assumes that all individuals in the population are equally susceptible to infection. From fitting such a model to the trajectory of mortality from COVID-19 in 11 European countries up to 4 May 2020 Flaxman et al. concluded that “major non-pharmaceutical interventions – and lockdowns in particular – have had a large effect on reducing transmission”. We show that relaxing the assumption of homogeneity to allow for individual variation in susceptibility or connectivity gives a model that has better fit to the data and more accurate 14-day forward prediction of mortality. Allowing for heterogeneity reduces the estimate of “counterfactual” deaths that would have occurred if there had been no interventions from 3.2 million to 262,000, implying that most of the slowing and reversal of COVID-19 mortality is explained by the build-up of herd immunity. The estimate of the herd immunity threshold depends on the value specified for the infection fatality ratio (IFR): a value of 0.3% for the IFR gives 15% for the average herd immunity threshold.

It’s written in technical language so not an easy read for non-specialists. But it’s an important scientific contribution to modelling this virus and is well worth a look for any armchair (or trained) epidemiologists. According to the researchers’ calculations, the Imperial College model overestimated the “counterfactual” deaths from COVID-19 – the number that would have died in the “do nothing” scenario in Professor Ferguson et al‘s infamous March 16th report – by a factor of 11.4. If you divide 510,000 by 11.4 you get 43,814, which is almost exactly the number that have died so far. In other words, the NHS was never in danger of being overwhelmed, the lockdown made zero difference and there will be no second wave.

Stop Press: Watch a new interview with Professor Sunetra Gupta on “Something that is becoming a scientific fact: Pre-existing resistance to COVID-19“. Can someone please tell Chris Whitty?

Curfew Chaos

As the new 10pm curfew on nightlife causes some of the biggest closing time chaos ever seen (leading Manchester mayor Andy Burnham to call for the curfew to be scrapped) a reader sends us the messages he received from his daughter who had been out in it.

“I went out on Saturday night in Manchester for the first time since March and the 10pm curfew was a bloody shambles! It was horrendous! It was worse than any normal kickout time I’ve ever seen in town! Throw into the mix that all the takeaways shut at the same time so no one could get post drink food, and it was bloody bedlam! The streets, taxi ranks, bus stops, trams were rammed way more than they would have been under normal circumstances. It’s put me off going out again. Bloody joke!”

She went on:

“I’ve never seen anything like it. I’d had a lovely evening and the bar I had been in had done loads to ensure it was a safe and pleasant experience and not too different to how it would have been prior to lockdown, in fact it was better, as the music was at a volume where we could still talk, it wasn’t packed and sweaty like normal and it was table service so there was no queuing at the bar etc and then we walked out into absolute chaos! I ended up spending more than I planned so I could get a taxi home rather than squeezing on to the tram”.

“Apparently that’s safer though than three children, who spend all day every day playing together and interacting at school together, having a sleepover in a safe, clean and supervised environment. Madness!”

She’s had to cancel our granddaughter’s (already greatly diminished) upcoming eighth birthday sleepover with four friends (she’d booked a company to come round and put up mini teepees in the lounge with fairy lights and all sorts) and now it’s just her and her step-sister, because they’ve received an email from their school ‘reminding’ them they should not be socializing between households.

Her WhatsApp message below illustrates the further madness and overlooked cruelty, not to mention the negative impact on local businesses such as the party entertainment company, that all these wholly unnecessary and unevidenced restrictions are having on just about everyone. Or in my daughter’s more succinct language – bulls**t.

“I didn’t have an issue with it and neither did the other parents, seeing as they are all in the same bubble at school all day but school sent out an email this morning saying that they’ve become aware of families socialising and having sleepovers etc, which puts the school at increased risk of an outbreak and possible closure, so they have said if they become aware of any more breaches, they will have no choice but to report them. I can’t expect my daughter and her friends not to talk about it and don’t want to tell them to keep secrets, so we’re going to organise something for once it’s all over. She was a little upset to start with but she handled it so well, I was so proud of her. She nearly made me cry because after she’d got over the initial upset, she thanked me for still organising it for her! She’s such a thoughtful child. I hate that she’s missing out on so much because of all this bs!!”

Snooping Neighbours: Police Crash Girl’s Tenth Birthday Party

Perhaps she was right to cancel the party, given the way the police behaved in Ayrshire, Scotland. The Mirror has the story.

Two police officers turned up at a 10-year-old girl’s birthday party after a neighbour reported the family for breaking Scotland’s strict Covid rules.

Mum Leanne Macdonald claims relatives had been “nipping in” to her house to hand little Myla her presents.

She said she “could not believe it” when two uniformed officers later entered her home warning her she was “on alert” and would be fined and charged if she broke the rules again.

Leanne told the Daily Record : “I could not believe it. They came to the door and told me I had been reported for having people in my house.

“I was shocked. The funny thing is, they actually came in to my house to tell me my home was ‘on alert’ and if I broke the rules again I would be fined and charged.

“So the police can come in my house, but my family can’t?”

She said she hadn’t been aware of a change in the rules and had arranged for family members to come at different times so they didn’t go over the limit. What an appalling state our liberties are in when a 10 year-old girl can’t have her relatives visit on her birthday.

Eric Clapton Joins Van Morrison’s Anti-Lockdown Campaign

Another wrinkly rocker with sense. Here’s the press release.

Van Morrison has thanked fans for their recent support – as Eric Clapton joins his campaign to Save Live Music.

Belfast musician Van played a series of three concerts at the London Palladium last week and also released the first of his three new anti-lockdown songs “Born To Be Free”.

Van has been calling for venues to reopen again at full capacity. Now Eric Clapton has come out in support of the campaign.

Eric Clapton said: “It is deeply upsetting to see how few gigs are going ahead because of the lockdown restrictions. There are many of us who support Van and his endeavours to save live music, he is an inspiration! We must stand up and be counted because we need to find a way out of this mess. The alternative is not worth thinking about. Live music might never recover.”

Van released “Born To Be Free” last Friday and it was made available for download and streaming on major music sites including Amazon Music, Apple Music and Deezer. The track has clearly resonated with many who share his frustrations.

Van Morrison said: “Thanks to everyone who came to the Palladium shows and who have supported the new single. The gigs were great and proved that live performance can operate safely. Now we need the Government to ease restrictions further and instil confidence that venues are safe and enjoyable places to be for everyone.”

If enough Lockdown Sceptics readers download “Born To Be Free” will it get to number one on iTunes? You can download it here.

18 Year-Old Writes To His MP

Lockdown Sceptics reader Gilbert Jackson is just 18 but he has wasted no time in writing to his MP to tell him what he thinks of how the Government is trashing his youth and education.

I did not think I would have to be writing to my local MP at the age of 18, but I feel compelled to do so as my civic duty. The restrictions are becoming increasingly absurd and restrictive yet again, with no evidence whatsoever that they are proportionate or necessary. They are taking an unjustified toll on the mental and physical health of the entire country, and they have to end now. This is why I am urging you to vote against the renewal of the Coronavirus emergency powers on Wednesday September 30th. Emergency powers are not justified for one day longer, and certainly not for two more years.

I would first like to make you aware of the damage that lockdown and continuing restrictions has had on my life. I did not see friends for three months from March, which significantly harmed my mental health, and still haven’t seen some. I was meant to be in university now, however I realised when I arrived that it was simply not what university should be. Masks everywhere, online teaching, threats of expulsion for partying, all for students who have a greater chance of being struck by lightning than killed by Covid. This is proved from the US: 48,000 positive tests in students so far, two hospitalisations and zero deaths. 305 people under 60 have died with Covid without pre-existing conditions here in the UK, in a population of 68 million.

Do you remember the initial three week lockdown to protect the NHS, flatten the curve and save lives? I was on board with that as was almost the whole country as it made sense due to the catastrophic predictions of hospitals being overrun. The three weeks ended, deaths had fallen dramatically, so had infections, and it was clear we were past the peak and hospitals had been nowhere near being overrun. Nightingale hospitals weren’t even needed (and are now being decommissioned at eye watering cost). Yet we were then told we needed to stay indoors for an additional 12 weeks. A big ask, but acceptable, we thought. Six months on from that and we are being told to expect an additional six months of restrictions. …

How can it be such a deadly disease that you need to be tested to know if you have it? The real data we have (not Imperial College’s imagined model outputs) suggests that age isn’t even the main risk factor, the presence of other serious medical conditions is (which do of course correlate with age). 95% of deaths had at least one comorbidity, and the average age of death is over 80. These are official figures from the ONS freely available to everyone. Also, the ONS figures have plainly shown that the pandemic has been over since May. Deaths have continued to trend downwards, now accounting for 1% of all weekly deaths. The data shows no spikes for any protests or mass gatherings that were talked up into a frenzy in the news. The Government, scientists on SAGE, at Imperial College London and elsewhere seem entirely ignorant of the real world data which time and again is not fitting with their models.

The smearing by the media and politicians of those who have sought to look at the data themselves and come to different conclusions than the Government scientists as conspiracy theorists has been despicable. Heavy-handed treatment of lockdown protestors is entirely unjust when they are simply standing up for basic freedoms which are now being withheld for an indeterminate length of time by the Government who give no indication of wanting to restore them any time soon. 

This is why the Coronavirus emergency powers need to be revoked in full, rather than the amendment proposed by Sir Graham Brady. With Parliament appearing almost entirely supportive of suppression regardless of cost until a vaccine, which will likely not come for years or be as effective as people profess, I simply do not trust that the amendment will have much of an effect in stopping the immense harm being done to the British public. Life can be normal again. It is only the irrational fear promoted as a policy of Government that is preventing it. 

I urge you to vote against the renewal of the Act, and that you and your colleagues look at all the available evidence and listen to all the viewpoints of eminent scientists such as Professor Carl Heneghan and Professor Sunetra Gupta. It is time to hold the Government to account for their arrogance, lies, and the vast amount of damage they are doing to the economy, livelihoods and mental and physical health.

Find Gilbert on Twitter at @youth_unheard.

Telegraph‘s Allison Pearson Censored on Twitter

Telegraph columnist and Planet Normal host Allison Pearson was suspended from Twitter for her “abusive” sceptical views. She writes:

I woke yesterday morning to find that I had been locked out of Twitter for “violating our rules against abuse and harassment”. I was dumbfounded. Which of my recent tweets had been abusive or harassed anyone? I glanced down the email to see something I had posted last week in response to yet another We’re All Doomed! report on the BBC news. “How hard is it for people to understand? We WANT students to get the virus. They will speed us towards community immunity. It may not be very far off.”

Whether you agree with my tweet or not, it accurately represents the opinion of a number of distinguished scientists, including Oxford’s Prof Sunetra Gupta (whom I interviewed for the Planet Normal podcast) and Prof Michael Levitt, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2013. Neither is a wacky Covid-denier. They just happen to agree that the worst-case scenario of 500,000 deaths arrived at back in March by Professor Neil Ferguson, which presumed (wrongly) that all age groups were equally susceptible to the virus, was possibly inflated by a factor of 10 or 12. They also reckon that the best strategy now is to shield the elderly and the vulnerable and allow the virus to infect the healthy population, notably the young, so we build up that terrific community immunity that seems to have served the Swedes so well.

She concludes:

The cure is now far worse than the disease, Prime Minister. There are people who would rather die than live in this theatre of the absurd. The risks your scientists frighten us with are vanishingly small. Even under Imperial’s worst case scenario of 500,000 deaths without lockdown, only 99.3% of the UK’s population would not have succumbed to the virus. Many will suffer with loneliness and some will lose the will to live. Many, many more will perish from other diseases. It’s quite simple; shield the vulnerable and let the rest of us get on with pulling this great country out of the mire.

You may get locked out of Twitter for saying it, but I won’t stop. Censorship be damned. The truth will out.

Worth reading in full.

Round-Up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Three today: “The College Student Blues” by Alchemeleon, “College & Prison” by Najje and “Germ-Free Adolescents” by X-Ray Spex.

Love in the Time of Covid

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. 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.

Update: Some of you have asked how to link to particular stories on Lockdown Sceptics. The answer used to be to first click on “Latest News”, then click on the links that came up beside the headline of each story. But we’ve changed that so the link now comes up beside the headline whether you’ve clicked on “Latest News” or you’re just on the Lockdown Sceptics home page. Please do share the stories with your friends and on social media.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop 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 (takes a while to arrive). 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. And, finally, if you feel obliged to wear a mask but want to signal your disapproval of having to do so, you can get a “sexy world” mask with the Swedish flag on it 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.

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

Samaritans

If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch. Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.

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 hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). 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.

And Finally…

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