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Don’t They Know Lockdown isn’t Over?

Primrose Hill on Saturday afternoon

According to MailOnline, the police were out and about yesterday doing their best to stop people enjoying themselves in the sunshine.

Locked-down Britons ignored stay-at-home warnings and flocked to parks and beaches to bask in glorious sunshine today as the country’s Covid figures continue to plummet…

As the daily figures continue to drop and the vaccination numbers creep closer to the Government’s ambitious target, lockdown-weary revellers flocked to great outdoors in their droves today to enjoy Saturday’s balmy 59F (15C) temperatures

Police were out in numbers to urge revellers to follow lockdown guidelines – with Londoners claiming fines were issued for rule flouters.

As it stands, Britons are only permitted to leave their homes for essential reasons such as daily exercise with one member of another household.

And the warm weather is set to continue tomorrow, with temperatures hitting 57F (14C) in parts – before the mercury drops next week.

Officers yesterday warned the public that they would be on patrol this weekend to ensure people were still abiding by the restrictions after huge crowds ventured out last week, with Sussex Police tweeting: “Don’t stop now.'”

Journalist Tom Harwood shared footage of two police officers approaching him near to Tower Bridge in London today.

One asks “what are you doing here”, to which he replies ”I’m on a walk”.

The officer then asks if he lives locally.

Mr Harwood shared the clip to Twitter with the caption: “Really officious police presence by Tower Bridge. 

“A dozen policemen storming up to people who are simply sitting down. Issuing fines. 

“One demanded to know if I (walking by myself) lived locally to the area.”

A Met Police spokesman said: “Officers have been speaking to people in the area throughout the day, adopting the ‘Four E’s’ process of engaging, explaining, encouraging and then enforcing to take action against any rule breakers. 

“Right now the restrictions have not changed and we must all continue to follow the rules to save lives and protect the NHS.”

Worth reading in full.

The Bill Is How Much?!?

Getty Images

To date, the Government has spent more than £280 billion in Coronavirus relief, merrily funded by borrowing at ultra low interest rates and quantitative easing. A budget is due on Wednesday, however, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak used an interview with the Financial Times to “level with people” over the “enormous strains” that have been imposed on the public finances by the lockdown policy.

The Chancellor said there was an immediate need to spend more to protect jobs as the UK emerged from the COVID-19 threat, but he warned that Britain’s finances were now “exposed”. “There are some people who think you can ignore the problem. And, worse, there are some people who think there isn’t a problem at all. I don’t think that,” Sunak said.

The Treasury has been spooked by recent financial market turmoil, which has seen 10-year UK Government borrowing costs rise half a percentage point over the past month. The effect on the Government’s debt interest will not be included in next week’s forecasts because it has happened too recently, but that did not diminish the Chancellor’s concern.

Sunak said: “Because we now have far more debt than we used to and because interest rates . . .  at least a month or two ago were exceptionally low, that means we remain exposed to changes in those rates.”

He added that the UK’s exposure to a rise of 1 percentage point across all interest rates was £25 billion a year to the Government’s cost of servicing its debt. “That [is] why I talk about levelling with people about the public finances [challenges] and our plans to address them,” Sunak said.

He urged his Tory colleagues to support his tough message on public finances, seeking to create a clear dividing line with Labour at the next election.

“All of us as Conservative MPs, not just in this election, are elected by the British people because people trust us with the nation’s public finances, they trust us with their money, they trust us to run the economy responsibly,” Sunak said.

Worth reading in full.

Worth noting the recent warnings of Bank of England policy maker Andy Haldane, as reported in the Guardian.

Adding to market jitters about the resurgence of price pressures as the global economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, Andy Haldane said borrowing costs could need to go up sooner than the City expected to tame the inflationary threat.

Threadneedle Street’s Chief Economist – who has been the most optimistic of the nine members of the Bank’s rate-setting monetary policy committee – said the low-inflation era of the past few decades may be coming to an end.

Other MPC members believe rising unemployment and business failures will ensure that inflation remains close to its official 2% target in the coming years, but Haldane said a smaller workforce, the retreat from globalisation, the stimulus provided by central banks, and the boost to consumer spending generated by running down savings would combine to push up the cost of living.

What then can we expect on Budget day? Well, Rishi will have to keep borrowing and spending, given that much of the economy is in deep freeze. There will be further support for those who were forced to close their businesses – a £5 billion package for pubs, restaurants and high street shops – the Telegraph reports. It also carries a couple of hints of what may be in store further down the road.

Rishi Sunak is plotting a new tax on online deliveries next month and a raid on the self-employed later this year, the Telegraph can reveal.

The Chancellor will use Wednesday’s Budget to announce a £5 billion fund to help high street pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops that have remained closed as a result of the Covid lockdown.

On March 23rd – dubbed “tax day” in Whitehall – he will then unveil a series of consultations on further tax increases to start paying for the £300 billion cost of dealing with the virus crisis.

The Telegraph has learnt that this will include options to tax online retail more heavily, including the possibility of a new green tax on every internet delivery, alongside other online tax ideas. However, it is understood that he has turned his back on a mooted windfall tax on the “excess profits” of internet companies.

Mr Sunak is also planning to use a Budget in the autumn to increase National Insurance Contributions paid by Britain’s 4.5 million self-employed, arguing that they too benefited from state support in the pandemic.

A Treasury source said: “The idea of an online sales tax is being looked at as part of the business rates review. Responses to the consultation are being considered in the round, but the Chancellor is cognisant of the need to level up the playing field between the high street and online taxation”

Sources said Mr Sunak’s concerns about the different tax treatment of the employed and self-employed have not changed since his first Budget last March. He said then: “It is now much harder to justify the inconsistent contributions between people of different employment statuses. If we all want to benefit equally from state support, we must all ‘pay in’ equally in future.”

There is likely to be an increase in capital gains tax, which is paid on shares and company assets, from 28% to 40% to align the rates with income tax, but the timing remains unclear. Mr Sunak is also considering freezing personal income tax allowances in a move that could bring in up to £6 billion by 2024-25.

The Tory party’s 2019 manifesto committed to no increases in VAT, inheritance tax and National Insurance but left the door open for rises in capital gains tax and corporation tax.

If polling is to be believed, the public accepts the need for tax increases. According to Opinium:

Ahead of the budget next week, 31% of the public think that taxes on corporations should be higher. An even higher percentage, 40%, think taxes on top earners should be higher. Over half (53%) support the specific policy of rise in corporation tax by 6% to help fund Government spending, including 50% of Conservative voters. Almost half of voters, (46%), would support a new tax specifically to pay for the NHS.

Domestic issues and healthcare continue to be a priority. When it comes to Government spending, the public want more money to go to the NHS and social care and less to go on international aid. 62% want money to go to the NHS (62%) and social care (24%) compared to only 4% who want it to go on international aid.

It’s just as well holidays overseas are banned at the moment and will be difficult in future. We won’t have any money left to go on foreign holidays after we’ve paid all those taxes.

Stop Press: Liam Halligan has written a piece in the Telegraph arguing that the Budget must deal with two big issues: rising unemployment and the fact that the Bank of England will soon own half of the UK Government’s outstanding gilts stock.

The post that follows is by Dr David McGrogan, Associate Professor of Law, Northumbria University, and Dr John Fanning, Senior Lecturer in Tort law at the University of Liverpool. Both are regular contributors to Lockdown Sceptics.

This week’s news that schools in England will reopen on Monday March 8th is welcome. The return to school is the first phase of the prime minister’s “cautious but irreversible” lockdown exit plan, which should culminate in the restoration of our freedoms on June 21st. What may be less welcome is the news that secondary school pupils will be “strongly encouraged” to undergo multiple asymptomatic COVID-19 tests as part of their return to the classroom. Pupils who test negative can return to face-to-face education; those who test positive must self-isolate in accordance with current public health rules. For families keen to return to normal, the risk that a false-positive result might ground them for a further 10 days might dissuade school pupils from taking a test. This raises an interesting question about whether schools can compel pupils to undergo COVID-19 testing as a condition of their return to the classroom.

According to the Department for Education’s COVID-19 Operational Guidance, secondary schools should offer three on-site asymptomatic tests, at a rate of one test every three to five days, from Monday March 8th. In addition, staff and pupils will receive take-home Lateral Flow Devices with which to test themselves twice a week. The guidance suggests that secondary school pupils should undergo as many as seven COVID-19 tests within the first two weeks of their return. Some may wonder with all this testing whether there will be any time left over for educational purposes.

The key message is that testing “remains voluntary but strongly encouraged”. In other words, pupils can refuse to take a COVID-19 test and schools have no powers to override that refusal or refuse their admittance. The guidance expressly states that pupils not undergoing testing should still attend school, so their return to the classroom will not be contingent upon a negative swab result. Schedule 21 to the Coronavirus Act 2020 does contain compulsory testing powers relating to potentially infectious persons – including children – but they remain unused in this crisis. The Government clearly prefers the principle of “testing by consent”, rather than resorting to more coercive interventions.

The Department for Education expects independent schools will follow the same guidance. Yet by their nature, independent schools are free to set their own priorities as part of their contractual relationship with their fee-payers. There is nothing to stop an independent school from going even further than the Department for Education’s guidance, e.g. by making a pupil’s return to school conditional on a mandatory COVID-19 test. This would likely be a controversial move, not least because it would go beyond the Government’s guidance without any apparent justification. Generally speaking, laws that protect the health and safety of school pupils apply regardless of the type of school they attend. And the courts have shown a willingness in recent years to harmonise rules so that state and independent school pupils enjoy the same legal protections (see Woodland v Essex County Council [2013] UKSC 66). This is not to say that an independent school cannot insist on a higher standard – of course they can – but this would buck recent trends and risk creating disparities where none need exist.

Anyone concerned about the legalities of a school’s testing policy should speak to a solicitor.

Stop Press: Professor Russell Viner, an expert in adolescent health at University College London and a scientific adviser to the Government, has said that school closures risk permanent scarring, the Telegraph reports.

The question of when it is ‘safe’ to reopen schools has focused on the risk that having children back in school will raise COVID-19 infection rates, putting us back where we were in December. Yet when we focus on infection risk we forget the potential for harm that can occur when schools are closed. 

“We know that closing schools harms children’s education. Our research provides clear evidence for the first time that school closures and lockdown also bring a wide range of serious harms to children’s health and well-being.

Stop Press 2: Once open, schools must stay open for good, says year 12 student Qais Hussain in an excellent article for Schools Week.

The Prime Minister’s announcement that I and my peers can return to school on March 8th is perhaps the best news I have received throughout this pandemic – better even than my GCSE results.

Truth be told, I have been struggling. If schools were closed for much longer, I don’t know if some of my cohort would have coped. In fact, I and many others wish the announcement had come earlier. While schools have looked after the most vulnerable admirably, the pandemic response has created new vulnerabilities. If I’d been born to key worker parents, my lot would have been so different.

Every day, my motivation has been decreasing. Every day, I have witnessed my friends getting stressed out about falling behind on their schoolwork or failing their exams. People who were unassailably confident in school before the pandemic have been reduced to tears by this pandemic.

Stop Press 3: In other parts of the world, such as Los Angeles, a negative test is a condition of being allowed to return to the classroom, as this helpful video makes clear.

What Level of Covid Deaths Will Necessitate a Fourth Lockdown?

“We cannot escape the fact that lifting lockdown will result in more cases, more hospitalisations and sadly more deaths,” said Boris as he mapped out the route out of lockdown in the House of Commons. “There is therefore no credible route to a Zero Covid Britain or indeed a Zero Covid World.” That was good, but what was left unclear was how much Covid death he’d be prepared to tolerate before, with a heavy heart, he thinks we should lock down again. Businessman Keith Anderson thinks this figure should be made clear for the reasons he sets out in this letter to Lockdown Spartan Sir Desmond Swayne.

Dear Sir Desmond,

Firstly, I’d like to thank you for championing civil liberty of late (a subject most of your fellow members seem uninterested in) and for bringing some common sense to the Covid ‘debate’ (if that term can be used in regard to a monotropic Parliament!)

On this subject, as you know, on Monday the Government at last unveiled a Road map to lead the country out of the chaos incurred by its ham-fisted response to Covid, albeit the route seems closer to a footpath than any kind of highway, in respect of the pedestrian pace it’s set for the lifting of crippling restrictions (there being no great urgency, it seems, to restore national kilter, despite the fact that [a la the ONS*] one to two thousand deaths a week are brought on by lockdown measures – an estimate substantiated by last year’s mortality figures**– while countless lives and livelihoods are blighted with every passing day).

What however seems odd for a supposedly rational plan is that the dates it contains are in no real way linked to death rates or hospitalisations (perhaps these figure little in Government thinking?). Nevertheless, I don’t doubt for a moment that if the death rate suddenly surged then the Government would hastily re-date its plan for lifting restrictions… yet should not the converse be the case then? Viz., if death and hospitalisation rates quickly dwindle to a trickle, should not the said dates be brought forward (infection rates being irrelevant, after all, if all infection causes is a little sickness)?

The fact of the matter of course is that, akin to the previous assurances it has given, the dates the Government has set have as much substance as coloured bubbles, for if the political landscape changes, then these will shift; if public opinion shifts, they will change; if SAGE changes its mind, they will shift; if a shifty new hysteria trends on the internet… I think you get the picture.

Still, it was positive to hear Bojo say that, going forward, we will have to accept a certain amount of Covid deaths per annum, as we do with flu and other bugs.

What he failed to say, however, and what must be clearly stated, is what level of Covid death the Government will accept before it once more removes civil liberties, suspends education, coshes the economy, and so on – measures which killed 50,000** people at least in 2020 alone, and will go on to kill 500,000*** in the decades that follow. It is vital that this figure is known, both in respect of the present epidemic and, more importantly, for when the next one besets us – these events coming every five to 10 years it seems, though, somewhat like buses, they could easily come in threes.

To this end, a precedent of sorts has been set by pneumonia, which in recent years has killed c.40,000 per annum, albeit these deaths went unnoticed by the public, press and the Government (these deaths, is seems, being un-newsworthy). What level would pneumonia deaths have to hit before the Government sought to paralyse society in an attempt to check its inexorable spread?

Or should the figure be based on lockdown cost? To wit if, as per the ONS, 200,000 will be killed by the lockdowns we’ve imposed in the last 12 months, surely, in light of the collateral damage, 300,000 at least should die within a given year before such preventative measures are seriously considered, especially when they have been shown to be ultimately futile anyway (at best postponing the inevitable – and even this benefit is contestable****).

Yet whatever measure is set, and however it is arrived at, what is undeniable is that such a metric is necessary, for until this is established then everyone in the UK remains imperilled, and cannot sleep easy, regardless of the virility of Covid, or any other disease.

Please can you therefore petition the Government to set a Bearable Death Level.

Thank you for any assistance you can give,
Regards,
Keith Anderson

*It’s been estimated that through lockdowns and non-pharmaceutical anti-Covid measures the UK Government will kill 200,000 UK citizens of all ages in the medium to long-term, due to missed medical diagnoses, missed treatments, loss of jobs, loss of tax revenue (which means less money to spend on the NHS and social care), and economic damage in general (with disadvantaged people suffering the most).

**In line with these dire estimations, the 2020 death statistics (as tallied by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries) indicate that of the 71,200 excess deaths recorded since the pandemic begun, 46,721 of these must be attributed to lockdown measures – a rate of over 1000 people a week – which is nearly double the 24,479 people who died during the same period due to COVID-19 (NB: though 73,512 people died in 2020 with COVID-19, as was admitted by Professor Neil Ferguson before the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on 25th March, 66% of people who died of coronavirus in 2020 would have died from other causes that year and thus would not figure in the 71,200 excess death figure for that year).

***A Professor at Bristol University has forecast that the Government’s response to COVID-19 (to November 2020) will ultimately kill 560,000 UK citizens. Many other studies have supported such predictions and, consequently, the WHO has advised that lockdown policies should not be adopted.

****NB FYI please note the graph below. As you will see, the states that didn’t impose a winter lockdown faired better than those that did.

Professor Neil Ferguson’s Technocratic Despotism

Last week, Lockdown Sceptics shared some email exchanges between our readers and Professor Neil Ferguson which were prompted by Derek Winton’s article criticising his infamous model. One reader, who has chosen to remain anonymous but who has a background in the social sciences and dozens of peer-reviewed publications to his name, has sent us a critique of the Professor’s comments. They represent, he tells us, a technocratic world view, dressed up to seem apolitical, but which is, of course, highly political. Here is an extract:

The political assumption is that ‘we’ as a society make decisions for the whole society (i.e., society is not an aggregate of individuals), that within this range of decisions, anything goes (the only criteria are quantitative), and that the decisions should be made based on expert data. These are highly contentious beliefs: they are not apolitical or scientific. I believe lockdowns are always wrong because people are autonomous beings with a need for freedom, and acts such as threatening violence if a person leaves their home are abusive regardless of circumstances (I don’t believe there is any significant moral difference between a Government, a terrorist group, or an individual abuser making such threats, and I don’t believe the ends justify the means). But I could also cite dozens of political theories which oppose the general model that the Government should do whatever it likes on behalf of the entire society based on expert guidance. Literally everything from right-libertarianism to the Marxist class model of society, from Kantian deontology to participatory and deliberative democracy, from conservatism to deep ecology to postcolonial theory, runs against this view. The closest philosophical forerunner is probably Hobbes: the idea that we need to submit to tyranny or our lives will be nasty, brutish and short – though I think the current version is a novel ideology which has developed out of cybernetic information theory and behaviourist psychology, and which reaches us mainly through the Third Way. There is also a background here in disaster management theory (e.g., Quarantelli): the idea that the main problem in disasters is the public response, and that this response should be managed through media and behavioural manipulation, with the goal of preventing the disaster – which by definition is already horrific for the human beings affected – from overwhelming the state’s ability to cope. In other words, it’s a strategy based on damage reduction, permitting or increasing human suffering so as to preserve state/Government stability (again clearly a contentious view, and again with Hobbesian and behaviourist roots). Yet Ferguson embeds this view of politics in such a way as to make it seem obvious, apolitical. It isn’t. It is a choice in favour of technocratic governance.

Ferguson’s desire not to ‘politicise’ science involves effectively making policy decisions based on the ‘expert’ conclusions arising from computer modelling. This kind of technocratic model is perfectly compatible with how countries like China are run. There is a current tendency to turn western democracies into electorally competitive technocracies in which changes in elected Government has little impact on the ‘evidence-based’ functioning of the policy machines – a narrowing in political space which dates back at least to the early 2000s. It is not a desirable trend, and it likely reflects the economic success of China and the resultant appeal of its model in the same period. I don’t think this requires secret conspiracies or Chinese manipulation; it might just be a matter of elites/experts seeing what works and copying it. But it means that, if we follow the path of ‘what works’, and China clearly works (or keeps up a good enough appearance of working), we will end up copying China. This happens both because China ‘works’ and because China has a model of governance based on experts applying ‘what works’.

Having decided to defer to ‘experts’ in making policy, there is then a second political decision as to which data counts. The choice to rely on computer modelling – and to treat it as if it were impartial, apolitical expertise – is itself a political choice. Different methods would have produced different outcomes. Suppose, for instance, that the response had been based on the knowledge provided by historians who have studied previous epidemics. The Government and public would have been told that non-medical interventions do no good, that even such an intuitive measure as closing borders between affected and unaffected regions only delays spread by a few weeks, and that one of the biggest dangers is public panic. Suppose the discussion was driven by virologists. The focus might have been on rapidly testing promising drugs and fast-tracking these into use with Covid patients. In this scenario, Remdesivir might have been confirmed effective back in March (say), instead of only in autumn, and lives might have been saved. Or suppose a decision had been taken early on to test virus transmission and impacts of interventions on small but substantial communities of volunteers from among the low-risk population. One would, within a month of the outbreak, have clear evidence on whether (for example) masks or distancing or Vitamin D have any effect. If the ‘experts’ were people working in sociology of health, likely they would have recommended avoidance of compulsion and encouragement of community support. The response might then have been more like Venezuela’s or Kerala’s. It’s also worth noting here that had scientists, including modellers, been consulted earlier, NHS beds per capita might be nearer to those of Sweden and Belarus, who never feared their health systems being overwhelmed. Ferguson suggests a novel pandemic was the Government’s number one priority risk, yet neither the current nor the previous Governments ensured there were enough ICU beds to handle a pandemic on the scale of the 1918 flu. If the central focus was preparedness, this failing would be at the centre of the public debate – and lockdowns could also cost lives if they incentivise future Governments to keep under-resourcing healthcare without accepting resultant risks.

Worth reading in full and filed under “How Reliable is the Modelling” on the right-hand side.

In This Covid Pandemic, We’ve Been Plagued by Craven Leaders

Yesterday, a terrific piece appeared in the Australian by Steve Waterson – unfortunately, we couldn’t link to it because it’s behind a paywall. Steve is a Senior Editor at the Australian and a former editor of TIME magazine’s Australian and New Zealand editions. He is a fan of Lockdown Sceptics and has given us permission to reprint his article in full.

Last August I made my first visit to the northern NSW town of Tweed Heads. Captivated by a dazzling stretch of beach at the end of a side street, I strolled towards it, only to discover I had strayed across the closed border into Coolangatta, in the People’s Democratic Republic of Palaszczuk.

Fearing a monumental fine, I slipped unseen back into NSW and retreated to the nearest pub to steady my nerves. A smiling old lady guarding the door asked where I was from.

“Sydney,” I said.

Her face clouded.

“Not from one of these hotspots,” she said, holding up a list of suburbs.

“No,” I said, showing her my driving licence. “Lane Cove. It’s not on there.”

“What about these ‘Eastern Suburbs’?” she said, pointing. “Are you sure it’s not one of those?”

“Quite sure,” I replied.

She looked close to tears. “It’s just that I’ve hardly ever been to Sydney,” she said, “so I don’t know where these places are.”

“Would it be easier,” I said, “if I just went somewhere else?”

Her face lit up. “Aah, would ya, darl?”

“No worries,” I said as I left. “We’re all in this together.”

I thought around that time that things couldn’t get more ridiculous, but how wrong I was. It was clear almost a year ago that COVID-19 was a serious respiratory infection, a bad flu-like virus, but that unlike the target-rich flu we’ve always lived with, its victims were the old, the infirm, the morbidly obese, people living with multiple deleterious conditions.

Even so, their average age at death was generally a couple of years above the average life expectancy.

In June I wrote in these pages that it would be interesting to see the true, unvarnished, unspun data on deaths, and now it’s beginning to come in.

As various countries assemble their annual mortality rates, the figures suggest we should be relieved, celebrating the fact this pandemic was nowhere near as lethal as some had feared.

Here in Australia, this week’s data from the Bureau of Statistics, covering January 1st to November 24th, 2020, registers 126,974 deaths, against an average of 127,872 over the past five years. Interestingly, influenza and pneumonia deaths in that 2020 period numbered 1952, against the five-year average of 3097.

Should we attribute that decline to the use of masks and social distancing, as we are encouraged to do; or is it faintly possible the missing 1000 people who would normally have died of flu and pneumonia are the ones who succumbed to COVID when it first arrived? Did the virus simply tip those teetering on the verge of death into an earlier quarter?

We, of course, cut ourselves off from the world, so perhaps our figures are artificially low. So let’s consider the “nightmare scenario” playing out in Britain.

Last month the UK’s Office of National Statistics added its provisional 2020 figures to a series that goes back almost 200 years. It shows a rate of 1043.5 deaths per 100,000 population, ahead of 2019’s number of 925.

I would describe that rise with the COVID-appropriate word “unprecedented”, except the rate has been higher before, most recently in 2008, when I don’t believe the world shut down. Oh yes, and it was higher in every single year before 2008, right back to 1838, when the records begin.

So if the impact of deaths from COVID (and I think we all know by now we should be saying “with”, not “from”) is not as bad as it first appeared, why are British hospitals reported to be almost overflowing, at or near 90% occupancy? Unprecedented again, until you note the country’s National Health Service has the entirely reasonable efficiency goal of having fewer than 15% of beds lying vacant at any time.

Or might the fact that in the past 30 years Britain has reduced the number of hospital beds from 300,000 to 140,000, while adding 10 million to its population, shed some light on the situation?

Sweden, poster nation for personal freedom during the pandemic, and whipping boy for lockdown enthusiasts, has recorded a 2020 death rate that has not been matched in its history since — drum roll, please — 2015.

But, the critics point out, even King Carl XVI Gustaf has said they handled the crisis badly. I’d never known being a king gave you medical expertise, but I’m no authority on Scandinavian monarchy.

None of this is meant to diminish the seriousness of the virus; witnessing my father’s struggle in the late stages of pulmonary fibrosis taught me that death from a respiratory disease is a singularly unpleasant way to go.

But there are many vile diseases out there that can kill you, and the price we have exacted from the healthy to protect the sick, uniquely from this ailment, is out of all proportion, and it need not have been so.

Instead of dancing in the streets at our narrow escape, we continue the brutal, self-destructive madness of lockdown, following the example of communist China, one of the last truly totalitarian states on Earth. Who saw the Chinese welders sealing citizens into their Wuhan apartments and thought “what a terrific idea?”. Our state leaders, clearly, and their moronic counterparts around the world.

Meanwhile, we have quietly acquiesced to the shutdown of our state borders on the most trivial grounds; and watched, without protest, as our international border was closed, and not just to incoming traffic.

Never mind the absurd and selfish obstacles presented to Australian citizens hoping to come home after study or work – or, God forbid, a holiday – overseas; you are currently forbidden, like a North Korean, to leave your country unless you apply for an exemption, to be assessed by some Border Force bureaucrat.

We are a nation of immigrants and dual citizens with ties that circle the globe; the gap-year wandering has long been a rite of passage. What possible impact can your departure have on the nation’s health? And if another country is happy to accommodate you, what business is it of the Government to prevent you leaving?

Again, these are the kind of restrictions conceived and imposed by some of the most wicked states in human history, and we should be embarrassed and disgusted to add our name to that list.

So the cost piles up, hundreds of billions of dollars now, with little but devastation and paranoia to show for it. Amid this vast ocean of incompetence and mindless disassembly of our economy, NSW’s handling of the crisis is widely acclaimed as an island of common sense. Which only goes to show how badly our other federal, state and territory leaders have performed.

A year ago the notion of shutting down the whole of Sydney’s northern beaches over Christmas because a couple of dozen people had tested positive for a flu-like virus in Avalon would have seemed beyond preposterous; an utter impossibility. Only because we are acclimatised to fantastically more ludicrous overreactions do we consider such an astonishing response “measured”.

And these were “cases”, remember, many of them completely asymptomatic. In the old days of common sense, you only knew if people had flu if they were ill enough to stay home from work and see a doctor. Now, if you walked through a shopping centre when someone who didn’t know they had the disease was buying their groceries, you’re ordered to have a test to see if you also don’t know you have it.

Perhaps there’s something super-tough about super-spreaders, but in my experience flu victims are tucked up in bed whimpering and mainlining Lemsip, not driving Ubers, strolling round the gardening aisles of Bunnings or choosing finger buns at Bakers Delight.

That’s what makes COVID so insidiously deadly. You don’t know you have the virus, and you might pass it on to someone else who wouldn’t know they had it, and eventually it might make its way to someone it could really hurt: a very old person or someone with severe co-morbidities.

Logic might suggest the last person in that chain is the one who should be taking precautions, but not in the fevered fantasies of our governments.

As some have been saying since the start of the mass hysteria, we should have been looking after the vulnerable, who form a tiny proportion of the population.

They, and anyone else who fears the disease, could stay at home, shop and work online, keep in shape with some lounge room exercise, entertain no visitors, have food delivered to their door.

It’s exactly the same as living in Victoria, except people who don’t share your terror can get on with their own lives and businesses.

And now the vaccine is being rolled out, we’ll soon be protected. Which should mean we don’t have to fear people who aren’t. Once the vulnerable have had their shots we should return to normal, by which I mean the old normal, not some twisted “new” normal.

And then the country should be released immediately and completely from the multiple intrusions on our privacy and civil rights. There should be no more dehumanising masks. No anti-social distancing. No more testing. No QR codes. No track and trace. No hotel quarantine. Let’s stand elbow to elbow at the bar, and cheer lustily at the football. Let’s see if the constabulary can return to policing by consent and regain our respect.

This should never have been a disaster on the scale of a world war. Leaders worthy of the name would have calmed those prone to panic, and allayed the fears of the vulnerable and their families by working out how to protect them.

They would have accepted from the start that some would rather face the risk of infection, perhaps because, like my father, they knew their remaining time on Earth was short and wished to spend it with their families. Nimble minds would have come up with smart systems to accommodate the huge range of attitudes to this threat, in order to safeguard the people who needed and, more importantly, wanted protection.

But the modern politician’s career path of student politics to minister’s office to safe seat doesn’t encourage or reward mental agility; the years of business experience that might tell you that restaurants buy expensive, perishable stock before a fully booked holiday weekend is time wasted in the scramble to reach the trough of public money.

I don’t subscribe to the swirling conspiracy theories that say this is all an evil plan to destroy our economy and weaken Western civilisation to facilitate a new world order, although it might as well be.

I suspect the catastrophe is rather the consequence of years of hollowing out the political class, the relentless, self-perpetuating promotion of game-playing mediocrities who lack the wit and imagination to deal with a fluid, complex problem. They might have slick presentation skills and a glib facility with words, but would any of them command respect in any other field?

So no, self-congratulating leaders, you have not “kept us safe”.

You have destroyed thousands of businesses, families, lives and futures. You have cheated people of the highlights of human existence, the moments of shared joy and sorrow, the weddings, births, anniversaries, farewells and funerals that mark our journey through life.

You have placed unimaginable burdens of debt and despair on future generations, and crafted a dangerous template for all the idiots who follow you.

And to use your own arrogant formulation, I make no apology for saying that.

Postcard From the Alps

Our correspondent sent us a photo

We’ve had another postcard! This one comes from a Lockdown Sceptics reader who has managed to find himelf a legitimate work reason to cross the border and head for the relative freedom of the French Alps. Our correspondent has kindly written in to tell us how this feat was achieved and how life is looking on and around the pistes. Here is an extract:

So many essential workers put their lives on the line to keep the lights on for the rest of us that it occurred to me that I should show similar courage and do my part. With no real work at home, I decided that I was willing to step out into the virus-ravaged wastelands and risk it all. As we know, international travel is perhaps the most dangerous act of any, and so that would be how I tested my mettle. 

Ideas such as ‘chalet inspector’ or ‘independent fondue taster’ seem unnecessary these days; I’m sure people can manage to taste their own fondues during a pandemic. What, though, is the field that absolutely requires travelling in person? Transport, of course – whether that’s driving a coach, flying a plane or moving a lorry full of goods.

Readers will remember the chaos suffered by hauliers backed up along the motorway just before Christmas after Mr Hancock felt it opportune to popularise the now-foundational ‘mutant strain’ gimmick. After much hoo-ha, the poor, stranded souls were allowed to continue their journeys and the transport/haulage industry rolled on.

But, alas, I am not in possession of an 18-wheeler, and parking on my street would have been a little tight. A small van, though? Practical as well, for someone who even in normal times tends to carry more equipment than passengers. A suitable second-hand vehicle was acquired locally and the plan was set in motion.

Now I needed a job. It turns out that quite a number of UK nationals are marooned in ski resorts this season, having gone over in the more optimistic days of early December and found that there would be no work after all, but also no particular reason to return to our gloomy islands. Perhaps they required courier services of some kind?

As it happened, I was soon able to identify a prospective customer – with his stay in the mountains indefinitely extended he required more of his worldly goods bringing down to him. The house to collect from was coincidentally not too much of a detour from our route to Folkestone.

The correct paperwork was downloaded from the French Government portals. Boxes were ticked and signatures scrawled. For good measure, I made sure to include various other bits of paperwork evidencing the job at hand and the legitimacy of my newly formed courier company.

The van was loaded with a few essential bits of our own, and my colleague and I set off to make the collection. Several hours later we passed through border control at Folkestone with absolutely no trouble – UK side wished to see our passports and negative Covid test certificates (a pdf on one’s phone is sufficient). French control wanted the same, plus a very brief conversation about my reason for travel, which was of course easily explained. This was much to their satisfaction and onto the train we drove, along with 30 or so other vehicles.

Worth reading in full.

We’ve filed this along with the others in the “Around the World in Eighty Lockdowns” series on the right-hand side. This is postcard number 46, so do write to us here if you are anywhere interesting so we can complete the collection.

Poetry Corner

Today’s entry in Poetry Corner is by John Dunnit (a nom de plume).

The Seven Points of Resonance

(They do not know, nor do they understand…)

If they are stunned by what you just said
And debate for just a moment is dead;
Then carry on as is nothing is wrong,
You can sense that you have been misread

If they feel they cannot distil
what you said with honest goodwill
And prime their gainsaying with: “So what you are saying is…”
To imply you are mentally ill.

Although it is not what you meant
You are accused of nefarious intent.
Should you show contrition ’cos they couldn’t listen
And endeavoured to disorient?

If you find that the goal posts keep moving
In chaotic assays of disproving.
You answer each case, but they just pull a face
In a belligerent act of reproving.

They may even get angry and yell
At the logic you’re using so well
A real diplomat would have trouble with that
Temper’s a hard thing to quell.

They may even turn on your name
In an effort to hurt and defame
This is the cost when their arguments lost
Do not gloat ’cos it’s truly a shame!

In the end they may simply retreat
Without ever conceding defeat
And so a quiet chat has turned into a spat
Next time you should be more discreet.

If these seven verses have resonance
For discussions you’ve had in all innocence.
It wasn’t your fault they went on the assault.
They are suffering from cognitive dissonance

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Thirteen today: “Needle And The Damage Done” by Neil Young, “A Prisoner Of The Past” by Prefab Sprout, “The Art of Falling Apart” by Soft Cell, “So Low” by Ocean Colour Scene, “They Don’t Own Me” by Richard Ashcroft, “Solitaire” by The Carpenters, “When Tomorrow Comes” by Eurythmics, “I’m So Lonely” by Cast, “Free Me” by Cast, “Autonomy” by Buzzcocks, “Give More Power to the People” by the Chi-lites, “Nutted by Reality” by Nick Lowe and “Tired of Waiting” by the Kinks.

Love in the Time of Covid

Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell as the undercover spy couple in The Americans

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 as well as post comments below the line, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email Lockdown Sceptics here.

Sharing Stories

Some of you have asked how to link to particular stories on Lockdown Sceptics so you can share it. To do that, click on the headline of a particular story and a link symbol will appear on the right-hand side of the headline. Click on the link and the URL of your page will switch to the URL of that particular story. You can then copy that URL and either email it to your friends or post it on social media. Please do share the stories.

Social Media Accounts

You can follow Lockdown Sceptics on our social media accounts which are updated throughout the day. To follow us on Facebook, click here; to follow us on Twitter, click here; to follow us on Instagram, click here; to follow us on Parler, click here; and to follow us on MeWe, click here.

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, we bring you the newly enacted “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards” of the Illinois State Board of Education. The Foundation for Economic Education has the story:

Beginning in October, all Illinois teacher training programs must start to reflect the new standards that focus on “systems of oppression”, with teacher trainees required to “understand that there are systems in our society that create and reinforce inequities, thereby creating oppressive conditions”.

Under the new standards, all teachers-in-training are also expected to “explore their own intersecting identities”, “recognize how their identity… affects their perspectives and beliefs”, “emphasize and connect with students about their identities”, and become “aware of the effects of power and privilege and the need for social advocacy and social action to better empower diverse students and communities”.

Even the Chicago Tribune editorial board warned against the passage of these standards in the days preceding the legislative session, noting that “while the rule-writers removed the politically charged word ‘progressive’ from their proposal, there’s no doubt these are politically progressive concepts as we know them in our current national dialogue. If the rules were tilting more toward traditional concepts of teaching, if the word ‘conservative’ were peppered throughout the rules, you can imagine the uproar.”

The Tribune editors also acknowledged the “real concerns” critics have expressed toward these standards.

“Teachers could be evaluated on how sensitively they meet students’ needs, how engaged they become in political causes, rather than how much their students understand basic reading, writing and critical thinking – must-have skills to prepare any student for life,” wrote the editorial board on February 15th.

Two days later, a legislative committee approved the new standards.

The Illinois action is one example of an accelerating trend toward introducing and elevating critical theory ideology throughout US institutions, including Government schools.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Amazon has announced a new feature for the Kindle platform, reports the Babylon Bee. Kindle Bonfire will allow users to virtually participate in book burnings – that time-honoured tradition of tolerant, open societies – by burning digital books.

Stop Press 2: The Daily Star reports that 1970s TV series Porridge has been hit with a “discriminatory language” warning.

Stop Press 3: Students at Durham University have removed Margaret Thatcher from a list of inspirational women. The Mail on Sunday has the story.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to obtain a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card – because wearing a mask causes them “severe distress”, for instance. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and the Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. And 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.

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption. Another reader has created an Android app which displays “I am exempt from wearing a face mask” on your phone. Only 99p.

If you’re a shop owner and you want to let your customers know you will not be insisting on face masks or asking them what their reasons for exemption are, you can download a friendly sign to stick in your window here.

And here’s an excellent piece about the ineffectiveness of masks by a Roger W. Koops, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry. See also the Swiss Doctor’s thorough review of the scientific evidence here and Prof Carl Heneghan and Dr Tom Jefferson’s Spectator article about the Danish mask study here.

Stop Press: It is harder for shop staff to spot underage customers when they’re wearing face masks, Yorkshirelive reports, leading to an increase in underage sales of alcohol and fireworks.

Secret shoppers aged 16 volunteer to help the council find out which businesses are selling age-restricted products to underage customers – and the number caught selling alcohol increased significantly this year.

Matt Boxall, Head of Public Protect for York, said this is likely to be because customers are wearing face coverings.

He said: “If the [secret shopper] is asked how old they are they must give their true age and if they’re asked for ID they must say they don’t have any.

“Obviously this year was slightly different in that the purchaser was wearing a face covering.”

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

The Great Barrington Declaration, a petition started by Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya calling for a strategy of “Focused Protection” (protect the elderly and the vulnerable and let everyone else get on with life), was launched in October and the lockdown zealots have been doing their best to discredit it ever since. If you googled it a week after launch, the top hits were three smear pieces from the Guardian, including: “Herd immunity letter signed by fake experts including ‘Dr Johnny Bananas’.” (Freddie Sayers at UnHerd warned us about this the day before it appeared.) On the bright side, Google UK has stopped shadow banning it, so the actual Declaration now tops the search results – and Toby’s Spectator piece about the attempt to suppress it is among the top hits – although discussion of it has been censored by Reddit. In February, Facebook deleted the GBD’s page because it “goes against our community standards”. The reason the zealots hate it, of course, is that it gives the lie to their claim that “the science” only supports their strategy. These three scientists are every bit as eminent – more eminent – than the pro-lockdown fanatics so expect no let up in the attacks. (Wikipedia has also done a smear job.)

You can find it here. Please sign it. Now over three quarters of a million signatures.

Update: The authors of the GBD have expanded the FAQs to deal with some of the arguments and smears that have been made against their proposal. Worth reading in full.

Update 2: Many of the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration are involved with new UK anti-lockdown campaign Recovery. Find out more and join here.

Update 3: You can watch Sunetra Gupta set out the case for “Focused Protection” here and Jay Bhattacharya make it here.

Update 4: The three GBD authors plus Prof Carl Heneghan of CEBM have launched a new website collateralglobal.org, “a global repository for research into the collateral effects of the COVID-19 lockdown measures”. Follow Collateral Global on Twitter here. Sign up to the newsletter here.

Stop Press: Responding to a letter in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, signatory Martin Kulldorf makes one or two things clear about the Great Barrington declaration and the approach it advocates:

With two other infectious disease epidemiologists, I co-authored the Great Barrington Declaration that calls for better protection of high-risk elderly while ending lockdowns, for example by opening schools and universities for in-person teaching.

Berkowitz’s claim that billionaire Charles Koch funded the Declaration is false. We received no money to write the Declaration. No organisation influenced its content. We have no ties to the Koch brothers. Ironically, the opposite is true, as the Koch funded Mercatus Center gave money to pro-lockdown modeller Neil Ferguson at Imperial College.

Lockdowns have been profitable for big business while throwing the working class under the bus, with inner-city working class being hardest hit. It is therefore understandable that many Pioneer Valley progressives question the wisdom of lockdowns, including teachers and the fine folks at blogs.umass.edu/covidbalance.

Berkowitz uses Sweden as an example of a failed pandemic strategy, but despite an older population, the reported COVID-19 mortality of 850/million is less than both Massachusetts (1,800/million) and the United States (1,020/million). Neighbouring Finland and Norway locked down less than Sweden and report even lower mortality.

Sweden received international criticism for keeping schools open for all children ages 1-15 throughout the height of the pandemic. This led to zero COVID-19 deaths among the 1.8 million Swedish children in this age group, while teachers had the same risk as the average of other professions.

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

There are now so many legal cases being brought against the Government and its ministers we thought we’d include them all in one place down here.

The Simon Dolan case has now reached the end of the road. The current lead case is the Robin Tilbrook case which challenges whether the Lockdown Regulations are constitutional, although that case, too, has been refused permission to proceed. There’s still one more thing that can be tried. You can read about that and contribute here.

The GoodLawProject and three MPs – Debbie Abrahams, Caroline Lucas and Layla Moran – brought a Judicial Review against Matt Hancock for failing to publish details of lucrative contracts awarded by his department and it was upheld. The Court ruled Hancock had acted unlawfully.

Then there’s John’s Campaign which is focused specifically on care homes. Find out more about that here.

There’s the GoodLawProject and Runnymede Trust’s Judicial Review of the Government’s award of lucrative PPE contracts to various private companies. You can find out more about that here and contribute to the crowdfunder here.

Scottish Church leaders from a range of Christian denominations have launched legal action, supported by the Christian Legal Centre against the Scottish Government’s attempt to close churches in Scotland  for the first time since the the Stuart kings in the 17th century. The church leaders emphasised it is a disproportionate step, and one which has serious implications for freedom of religion.”  Further information available here.

There’s the class action lawsuit being brought by Dr Reiner Fuellmich and his team in various countries against “the manufacturers and sellers of the defective product, PCR tests”. Dr Fuellmich explains the lawsuit in this video. Dr Fuellmich has also served cease and desist papers on Professor Christian Drosten, co-author of the Corman-Drosten paper which was the first and WHO-recommended PCR protocol for detection of SARS-CoV-2. That paper, which was pivotal to the roll out of mass PCR testing, was submitted to the journal Eurosurveillance on January 21st and accepted following peer review on January 22nd. The paper has been critically reviewed here by Pieter Borger and colleagues, who also submitted a retraction request, which was rejected in February.

And last but not least there was the Free Speech Union‘s challenge to Ofcom over its ‘coronavirus guidance’. A High Court judge refused permission for the FSU’s judicial review on December 9th and the FSU has decided not to appeal the decision because Ofcom has conceded most of the points it was making. Check here for details.

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. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

In case you missed it a couple of days ago, here it is again: Toby’s talkRADIO debate with Christopher Snowdon about the lockdown policy.