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Has the Evidence of Asymptomatic Spread of COVID-19 been Significantly Overstated?

by Dr Clare Craig FRCPath and Jonathan Engler MBChB LLB

Abstract

Evidence of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from patients who remain asymptomatic (as opposed to pre-symptomatic) is found in a body of numerous meta-analyses. Evidence of asymptomatic transmission has been based on only a handful of instances which themselves are questionable. The existence of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from asymptomatic individuals has become an accepted truth but the evidence for this phenomenon being anything other than mistaken interpretation of false positive test results is weak. Examination of the underlying data from the most frequently-cited such meta-analyses reveals that the conclusions are based on a surprisingly small number of cases (six in total globally) and, moreover, the possibility that they are all coincidental contacts with false positive results cannot be ruled out. Transmission which is pre-symptomatic is rare and represents a negligible risk to the population. It is questionable therefore whether any of the extensive testing, tracing, isolation and lockdown policies have delivered any worthwhile benefit over and above strategies which seek to advise symptomatic individuals to self-isolate.

Introduction

Many of the world’s economies have been seriously damaged on the basis of alleged evidence that people with no symptoms can spread SARS-CoV-2. It is essential that all such claimed evidence is carefully scrutinised because of the immense and ongoing impact of that claim on public policy making. Much of the early evidence of asymptomatic transmission came from China. Chinese publications appear to be major outliers in the scientific discussion and their contributions are, it is suggested, seriously distorting the available evidence in this area.

Scientific papers from reputable institutions which attempt to summarise the evidence have taken certain Chinese papers at face value. This has arguably resulted in the establishment of a dangerous assumption. The assumption is that there is compelling evidence that people who never have symptoms are capable of spreading SARS-CoV-2 to others.

This paper reviews the evidence that people who are asymptomatic (defined in this paper as not only having no symptoms but also never developing symptoms) are capable of carrying SARS-CoV-2 and infecting others. This must be clearly distinguished from pre-symptomatic – there is evidence that some patients can be infectious for a brief period before developing symptoms.

To the extent that pre-symptomatic cases exist the evidence suggests that they must only account for a very small proportion of transmission and therefore they present a low overall risk. In fact, in one study of 243 cases in total, the maximum transmission from pre-symptomatic individuals was estimated to account for less than 7%1 of transmissions. The secondary attack rate from pre-symptomatic transmission was estimated to be only 0.7% to household contacts in a large meta-analysis of 77,758 traced participants.2 Transmission which is pre-symptomatic is rare and represents a negligible risk to the population. The evidence that asymptomatic transmission exists at all is tissue thin. It is questionable therefore whether any of the extensive testing, tracing, isolation and lockdown policies have delivered any worthwhile benefit over and above strategies which seek to advise symptomatic individuals to self-isolate.

The evidence of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 comes largely from case reports where specific groups of infected individuals have been traced in an outbreak and the transmission routes are then reported. Deducing transmission from outbreak data is not straightforward and assumptions need to be made about which of the contacts caused transmission. This is not an exact science.

Reports of instances of transmission are important and interesting enough to publish but on their own they are merely anecdotal. Anecdotal evidence alone is no basis on which to formulate public policy. To draw conclusions about transmission it is necessary to gather multiple instances, ideally all, of such anecdotes and weigh them all up as evidence reaching a conclusion based on all the anecdotes together, i.e. in a formal meta-analysis. However, meta-analyses suffer from the flaw that they can be hugely skewed by larger data sets.

There have been numerous meta-analyses attempting to answer the question of whether SARS-CoV-2 can be spread by people who are asymptomatic. These have been published by distinguished scientists from a range of respected institutions. To reach a conclusion, the evidence from all the papers included in a meta-analysis is summarised. However, only by going back to the underlying data can we understand what the real risk of asymptomatic transmission is. We identified the most frequently-cited such published papers and examined the data underlying their conclusions. The bulk of the Chinese literature on asymptomatic spread were excluded by these meta-analyses because they did not meet the quality criteria specified by the authors.

Results

Across the studies reviewed, a total of seven instances suggestive of asymptomatic transmission were identified, these being:

  • In Italy, two asymptomatic cases allegedly passing the virus onto two others.
  • In Brunei, two asymptomatic cases allegedly passing the virus onto three others.
  • In China, two asymptomatic cases allegedly passing the virus onto two others

Notwithstanding the small numbers, these case reports, given undue prominence in papers written by respected authorities, appear to have played a major role in the evolution of lockdown and test and trace strategies adopted by most countries over the past nine months.

Findings from each of the four papers examined:

  1. Yanes-Lane et al, from McGill University in Quebec,3 found 6,137 studies examining the issue of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 transmission and rejected all but 28 of them (due to small size, or inadequate methodology). Only 5 included reports of asymptomatic transmission and were listed in table 5 (figure1). As it happened, these were all reports of pre-symptomatic transmission. The study by Park et al. included four asymptomatic cases and four pre-symptomatic cases (hence these were listed separately in the table reproduced below) and there was no evidence of transmission from any of them.

Despite the only evidence of asymptomatic transmission (all of which were pre-symptomatic) being from China, an average was taken, concluding:

Among five transmission studies, 18 of 96 (18.8%) close contacts exposed to asymptomatic index patients were COVID-19 positive.

That sounds high until you consider that the sample size is just 13 index cases, all of which were pre-symptomatic cases, transmitting to 18 people across five studies, none of which were outside of China.

Figure 1: Table 5 of the Yanes-Lane et al paper. The two references to the study by Park et al. were from South Korea and the remainder from China

  1. Buitrago-Garcia et al., from the University of Bern,4 found 688 studies on asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic COVID-19 and 5 which commented on transmission. Rather than draw conclusions on the likelihood of asymptomatic transmission they compared the risk from asymptomatic with that from symptomatic transmission. Included were three studies showing asymptomatic transmission, one from Brunei and two from China and two showing no transmission from Taiwan and South Korea.

As regards the Brunei study, which will be discussed further below, it is not clear how the numbers in this table were derived from the paper which reported on 71 patients and 1755 total contacts. Of these there were four instances of pre-symptomatic transmission and two incidences of true asymptomatic transmission, accounting for 11 and 3 cases respectively.

The two Chinese papers each only claimed a single patient had contracted COVID-19 from an asymptomatic person. Luo et al. studied 4950 people up until March 6th 2020 who were quarantined in Guangzhou.5 They had up to 6 PCR tests each with a mean of 2.4. From all this testing they only claim to have found eight asymptomatic individuals. They report on a single asymptomatic individual spreading SARS-CoV-2 but do not make it clear whether they were pre-symptomatic nor what symptoms the secondary case had. Nevertheless this has been interpreted as evidence of asymptomatic spread.

Zhang et al.6 also reported from Guangzhou and two of the authors on this paper are the same as the Luo paper. Given the shared authorship, the possibility that this single case of probable pre-symptomatic transmission was the same individual reported in the Luo paper cannot be ruled out. This paper reported on the first 359 COVID-19 diagnoses and their 369 contacts up to 15th March 2020. Importantly, the single case of asymptomatic transmission was from a man to a male colleague who also remained asymptomatic (i.e. tested positive only, without symptoms). Given that the person said to have contracted COVID-19 had no symptoms this cannot be regarded as adequate evidence for transmission of disease.

Every test has a risk of producing an erroneous positive result, a false positive. A false positive rate of 1% would be very respectable for PCR testing and it is hard to find reports of false positives for PCR at lower rates than this. The UK Government’s own estimate for false positive results, based on other PCR tests for other viruses in non-pandemic situations is a median of 2.3% (range 0.8-4.0%),7 so a rate of 1% might be regarded as improbable given the speed of roll out of the test and other observations.

It is not clear how many of the people tested remained asymptomatic throughout, however, when testing 369 contacts a reasonable false positive rate of 1% would result in three to four false positive diagnoses. Given that all the contacts were tested because they had relationships with those that tested positive, any false positives found would by definition have been a contact with a case.

It is worth pointing out at this early stage that studies based on single figures such as this are no proper basis for policies affecting hundreds of millions of lives predicated on the questionable assumption that true asymptomatic transmission can regularly occur. It must be repeated that both studies so far contained a bare handful of alleged transmission without symptoms.

Figure 2: Figure 3 of the Buitrago-Garcia paper. The publications originated from: Luo and Zhang – China; Park – South Korea; Cheng – Taiwan; Chaw – Brunei. The first column shows the fraction of contacts contracting COVID-19 from an asymptomatic / pre-symptomatic individual and the second column shows the fraction contracting from symptomatic individuals in the same study.

  1. Wee Chian Koh et al.8 also put great weight on the Brunei study but use different numbers for the same work. It is not clear why. No other cases of asymptomatic transmission were included in this analysis.

Figure 3: Figure 4 of the Wee Chian Koh paper. The columns labelled SAR shows the fraction of contacts that contracted COVID-19 in each study.

  1. The Lancet pre-published a meta-analysis by Byambasuren et al.9 who found five studies from 571 met their minimum methodological criteria, two of which reported asymptomatic transmission. The first was a study of 4,950 contacts in Guangzhou5 who were quarantined.

The second study quoted was a Nature paper10 on an Italian study that did not actually report on asymptomatic transmission. Instead they extrapolated from the results of PCR testing to deduce how much virus was present and assumed that high viral loads on testing equated to a higher risk of transmission.

The Italian study reports on numerous asymptomatic ‘cases’ and goes on to propose lines of ‘transmission’ concluding that two asymptomatic people were infected by two other asymptomatic people, out of 2,812 tested initially and then 2,343 tested again two weeks later. In the first round of testing, 29 of the 73 positives were asymptomatic. A respectable false positive rate for the testing performed would be 1%, therefore, it is reasonable to expect at least 28 false positive results when testing 2,812 people. It is therefore fair to conclude that all the 29 asymptomatic positives in the first round were most likely false positives.

In the second round of testing at the beginning of March, there were 18 asymptomatic people who tested positive out of 2,343 people tested. Likewise, these were most likely false positive results. Deducing chains of transmission based on a high risk of material numbers of false positive results is bad science.

Brunei study

Due to the prominence afforded to it by those justifying policy choices on the basis of asymptomatic transmission, it is worth focusing particularly on the study by Chaw et al.,11 from Brunei, which reported on a large outbreak which started with people who attended a religious festival and subsequently developed COVID-19. There were apparently six people who had no symptoms initially (of which, crucially for our purposes, two were asymptomatic throughout), but who allegedly spread SARS-CoV-2 from this outbreak to other people who did not attend.

There are two aspects of this paper that weaken this evidence:

  1. Weak definition of a case (it appears any symptom of any severity was adequate)
  2. High possibility of false positive test results

The same group published a further paper12 where they describe two of the incidences of asymptomatic spread in more detail. First there was a 13 year old who attended the festival who is said to have spread SARS-CoV-2 to their teacher. The basis for this conclusion was that the teacher “had a mild cough for one day” along with a positive test.

The second was a father who remained asymptomatic but whose wife briefly had a runny nose and whose baby had a mild cough on one day.

In both these papers no details are given as to the testing protocols. A final paper13 reports on the first 135 cases to be diagnosed in Brunei. Thirteen of these first cases were asymptomatic. Without knowing the false positive rate of the testing and the numbers tested it is not possible to establish the significance of these asymptomatic ‘cases’.

Dr Chaw, the lead author of the Brunei transmission paper, was initially very helpful in correspondence with the authors. Thorough testing (with whole genome sequencing) was carried out for the first few cases but otherwise, as in the rest of the world, a positive PCR was considered sufficient. She was unaware (as are almost all doctors diagnosing COVID-19) of the criteria used in their laboratory to declare a test positive and has not responded to a request for further clarifications.

It is therefore at least arguable that the asymptomatic diagnoses in spring were all due to false positive test results. No testing system is perfect. Failure to acknowledge this and misinterpretation of positive results in patients with no symptoms has been hugely damaging. What is undoubtedly true is that the policy-making of governments responsible for the lives of billions of people around the world may in part be influenced by the dangerous assumption that there is persuasive evidence of asymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2. It is far too soon to make that assumption and the evidence underpinning it is, at best, circumstantial.

Chinese Publications

During the early stages of the pandemic, many papers were published from China suggesting the frequency of asymptomatic transmission and its importance in SARS-CoV-2 spread. Notwithstanding that most of these were excluded by authors of the meta-analyses examined herein, their frequency, and the prominence afforded to these studies laid the foundations for this phenomenon being given undue salience in the scientific literature. This is despite asymptomatic transmission never having been a feature of previous respiratory pandemics and despite large studies showing no evidence of asymptomatic transmission outside of China. The reader will no doubt readily understand the challenges of relying heavily on the output of a highly controlled regime with an active interest in destabilising the economies and political systems of other countries.

It is notable in fact, that in what would seem to represent an abrupt volte face by the CCP, a further (presumably Government-approved) study from China was recently published14 which entirely contradicts the earlier conclusions regarding the phenomenon of asymptomatic transmission, which had been driven by Chinese data in particular, early in the pandemic.

Some might conclude that that study lacks the credibility one might expect for a paper published in Nature; it is claimed, for example, that they PCR tested 92% of Wuhan’s population (~10m individuals) over a 19-day period at the end of May, and found just 300 positive PCR tests, implying a false positive rate of no greater than 0.003%. Further, it is claimed that while 100% of the 300 PCR positive cases were asymptomatic, there were zero symptomatic PCR positive cases out of ~10m tested during a period only a few weeks after the epidemic had peaked in Wuhan.

If this seems incredible, then surely that has serious implications for the way in which earlier studies from China – data from which formed a significant part of the worldwide evidence base for asymptomatic transmission – should be regarded.

We do not claim to have included every meta-analysis that has been written on this subject, however the studies quoted here do represent the ones most frequently cited in support of the phenomenon of asymptomatic transmission. It is clear that these meta-analyses consist of highly questionable studies taken at face value.

What is an asymptomatic ‘case’?

Attempts to understand the phenomenon of asymptomatic COVID-19 have resulted in reports of asymptomatic cases accounting for between 4%15 and 76%16 of COVID-19 cases. An implausibly wide range such as this is evidence of an attempt to measure a phenomenon that is not a characteristic of the disease, in contrast to features such as symptoms.17

For completeness, it should be acknowledged that SARS-CoV-2 can be detected in asymptomatic people. They can test positive for SARS-CoV-2 virus and viable virus can be cultured from these individuals. In the past, this scenario of having virus onboard in the absence of symptoms would have been referred to as ‘immunity’ or else been attributed to a testing error. Someone with immunity cannot prevent virus entering their respiratory tract, however, when that occurs, their immune system invariably deals with the attack and they remain oblivious and have no symptoms.

It is for the above reasons that whereas reports of high numbers of asymptomatic cases, for example in cruise ship outbreaks,18 are cited as evidence of asymptomatic transmission, we contend that a more plausible explanation for most of these observations is in fact prior immunity. Several prominent papers made unsupported claims of asymptomatic transmission simply because they had found asymptomatic individuals who had tested positive during an outbreak.19 Asymptomatic transmission can only be proven by clear evidence that a patient has been infected by SARS-CoV-2 from a person who was asymptomatic. Finding positive test results in asymptomatic individuals is not evidence of transmission.

Normally, someone who is immune would not be considered to have a disease or to be a ‘case’ in an epidemic. It is only in the current crisis that mass testing of asymptomatic individuals has resulted in the detection of virus in asymptomatic individuals. Considerable further work would be required before it could be confidently stated that asymptomatic positives could ever transmit infection.

There is certainly no evidence of immune individuals (as historically defined) transmitting other respiratory viruses. Viral replication and shedding20 is a prerequisite for viral spread and in immune individuals virus is prevented from growing exponentially so the viral numbers remain low. Attempts to deduce viral numbers present from the quality of the test results (viral load on PCR) is overinterpretation. However, no assumptions have been made here. The evidence as to whether immune individuals can transmit SARS-CoV-2 virus must come from actual studies that show, or do not show, real world transmission.

Aside from reported studies of transmission, those leading on the contact tracing response might have useful experience on the likelihood of transmission. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the World Health Organization’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit21 stated at the beginning of June:

Countries doing very detailed contact tracing …[are]…following asymptomatic cases and following contacts and they’re not finding secondary transmission onwards. It’s very rare. Much of that is not published in the literature.

It is worth noting that an early frequently-cited claim22 of pre-symptomatic transmission has been discredited23 after it was revealed that the authors did not interview the patient accused of spreading infection who was in fact symptomatic at the time of transmission. This has not been retracted.

Conclusion

Medical evidence can be difficult to summarise. The medical literature is huge and constantly growing and it is impossible to say with confidence that everything of relevance has been read. This in itself can cause problems: it is difficult to say confidently that there is zero evidence for something. That is why this paper has been careful only to claim that it is a dangerous assumption to believe that there is persuasive, scientific evidence of asymptomatic transmission.

It could be argued that adherence to ‘precautionary principle’ demands that public policy assumes the existence of significant asymptomatic transmission, in order to be ‘better safe than sorry’. However, given the increasing evidence of the harms caused by such policy, at some point the burden of proof must surely shift onto those advocating extreme measures. There is increasing evidence of harm from interventions, for example: there are over 100 excess deaths at home per day in England; accident and emergency attendances are well below normal levels; excess mortality in the under 60s is significant; prescriptions for heart medications are well below normal and there are excess deaths resulting from heart disease.

The Chinese Communist Party24 has mandated that all scientific literature on COVID-19 must first be approved by the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology or Ministry of Education before publication. This political interference means that all Chinese scientific publications should be regarded as suspect.

Additionally, there is an unknown but real risk of publication bias because studies, such as the many early Chinese ones showing asymptomatic transmission may find a quicker route to publication, whereas an article reporting the opposite may risk not having commensurate perceived salience when the editors of a journal are choosing papers for publication. It is important to note that much of the evidence relating to modes of transmission was shared via pre-prints prior to publication, and decisions had to be taken based on evidence that had not been peer reviewed, as is inevitable in a pandemic situation.

A claim is not being made that every meta-analysis has been included here and this article may be updated in due course with more data as it becomes available.

However, after examination of the most frequently-cited papers in this area available to date, we are struck by the paucity of persuasive evidence of anything but the most minor of symptoms resulting from supposed asymptomatic spread; most or all of which could be misdiagnoses and in any event are at no more than anecdotal level. There is no evidence, outside of China, that anyone has developed even moderate COVID-19 based on true asymptomatic spread, as opposed to pre-symptomatic spread.

I/we have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: None

1 Wei WE, Li Z, Chiew CJ, et al. Presymptomatic Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 – Singapore, January 23-March 16, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:411–5.

2 Madewell ZJ, Yang Y, Longini IM Jr, et al. Household Transmission of SARS-CoV-2: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Netw Open 2020;3:e2031756.

3 Yanes-Lane M, Winters N, Fregonese F, et al. Proportion of asymptomatic infection among COVID-19 positive persons and their transmission potential: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One 2020;15:e0241536.

4 Buitrago-Garcia D, Egli-Gany D, Counotte MJ, et al. Occurrence and transmission potential of asymptomatic and presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections: A living systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS Med 2020;17:e1003346.

5 Luo L, Liu D, Liao X-L, et al. Modes of Contact and Risk of Transmission in COVID-19: A Prospective Cohort Study 4950 Close Contact Persons in Guangzhou of China. papers.ssrn.com › sol3 › paperspapers.ssrn.com › sol3 › papers. 2020. doi:10.2139/ssrn.3566149

6 Zhang W, Cheng W, Luo L, et al. Secondary Transmission of Coronavirus Disease from Presymptomatic Persons, China. Emerg Infect Dis 2020;26:1924–6.

7 Mayers Carl And. Impact of false-positives and false-negatives in the UK’s COVID-19 RT-PCR testing programme. 2020.

8 Koh WC, Naing L, Chaw L, et al. What do we know about SARS-CoV-2 transmission? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the secondary attack rate and associated risk factors. PLoS One 2020;15:e0240205.

9 Byambasuren O, Cardona M, Bell K, et al. Estimating the extent of asymptomatic COVID-19 and its potential for community transmission: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Official Journal of the Association of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Disease Canada 2020;:e20200030.

10 Lavezzo E, Franchin E, Ciavarella C, et al. Suppression of a SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in the Italian municipality of Vo’. Nature 2020;584:425–9.

11 Chaw L, Koh WC, Jamaludin SA, et al. Analysis of SARS-CoV-2 Transmission in Different Settings, Brunei. Emerg Infect Dis 2020;26:2598–606.

12 Wong J, Jamaludin SA, Alikhan MF, et al. Asymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and implications for mass gatherings. Influenza Other Respi Viruses 2020;14:596–8.

13 Wong J, Chaw L, Koh WC, et al. Epidemiological Investigation of the First 135 COVID-19 Cases in Brunei: Implications for Surveillance, Control, and Travel Restrictions. Am J Trop Med Hyg 2020;103:1608–13.

14 Cao S, Gan Y, Wang C, et al. Post-lockdown SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid screening in nearly ten million residents of Wuhan, China. Nat Commun 2020;11:5917.

15 Zhou X, Li Y, Li T, et al. Follow-up of asymptomatic patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection. Clin Microbiol Infect 2020;26:957–9.

16 Petersen I, Phillips A. Three Quarters of People with SARS-CoV-2 Infection are Asymptomatic: Analysis of English Household Survey Data. CLEP 2020;12:1039–43.

17 Arons MM, Hatfield KM, Reddy SC, et al. Presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 Infections and Transmission in a Skilled Nursing Facility. N Engl J Med 2020;382:2081–90.

18 Ing AJ, Cocks C, Green JP. COVID-19: in the footsteps of Ernest Shackleton. Thorax 2020;75:693–4.

19 Oran DP, Topol EJ. Prevalence of Asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 Infection : A Narrative Review. Ann Intern Med 2020;173:362–7.

20 Kutter JS, Spronken MI, Fraaij PL, et al. Transmission routes of respiratory viruses among humans. Curr Opin Virol 2018;28:142–51.

21 WHO Says Covid-19 Asymptomatic Transmission Is ‘Very Rare’. 2020

22 Rothe C, Schunk M, Sothmann P, et al. Transmission of 2019-nCoV Infection from an Asymptomatic Contact in Germany. N Engl J Med 2020;382:970–1.

23 Study claiming new coronavirus can be transmitted by people without symptoms was flawed. 2020

24 Silver A, Cyranoski D. China is tightening its grip on coronavirus research. Nature 2020;580:439–40.

Latest News

Have yourself a Merry Little Lockdown

Christian Adam’s cartoon in the Evening Standard

The Prime Minister warned yesterday that he could not rule out a new lockdown and we do appear to be heading that way. The Telegraph has more.

Boris Johnson has put the country on notice that a third lockdown could be on its way in January as several Government scientific advisers warned restrictions could need to be tougher than before. While the Prime Minister said he hoped to avoid joining Wales and Northern Ireland in imposing new lockdowns after Christmas, he warned that “the reality is that the rates of infection have increased very much in the last few weeks”. 

Speaking on a trip to Bolton, he also signalled that decisions on COVID-19 restrictions in the new year would depend on how people approach the five-day window when social distancing rules are relaxed…

It came as new estimates released by Sage showed the R number has risen from 0.9-1.0 to between 1.1 and 1.2, suggesting the virus is at risk of growing exponentially again.

In a statement, the Sage sub-committee SPI-M also warned that modelling suggesting that “additional mixing” during the Christmas period may have a “large impact on post-Christmas prevalence”, including a “slight shift towards a higher proportion of cases in older and more vulnerable age groups.”

One idea for avoiding Lockdown 3 appears to be calling it something else, the Daily Mail reports:

Shops could be shut and commuters ordered to work from home under a draconian Tier 4 regime. The plans are being drawn up as a way of avoiding a third national lockdown – but would contain curbs as tough as those seen in previous shutdowns.

A Government source last night told the Mail the proposal was back on the table. “The Department of Health is pulling out the folder marked Tier Four,” the insider said. “We are not there yet but we are clearly in a worrying situation. It probably starts with closing non-essential retail and strengthening the work from home message.

But there are lots of things you could add to that, it’s still early days.” Other sectors likely to be considered for closure in Tier Four include gyms, swimming pools and hairdressers.

Yesterday evening, it was reported in the Telegraph that London and Kent may not be in Tier 3 for very long – although it’s not good news.

An emergency toughening of COVID-19 restrictions could be announced as soon as Saturday after Boris Johnson was handed alarming new evidence of the transmissibility of a mutant strain of the virus.

The Prime Minister called an unscheduled meeting of senior ministers on Friday night to discuss how to contain the new variant, which has so far been largely confined to London and the South East.

Travel restrictions are among the measures under discussion, with one source suggesting the Government could even restrict travel between the South East and other parts of the country.

An alternative would be to ban commuters from travelling into London, after the mutant strain, which originated in Kent, spread rapidly to London and then the home counties.

Much of the South East was put into Tier 3 by the Government only on Thursday, but the new information about the transmissibility of the mutant strain was so worrying that ministers fear they may have to act immediately.

Government scientists at the Porton Down laboratory in Wiltshire have been conducting experiments on the new strain, and have confirmed ministers’ fears about it being far more infectious than the original strain of the virus.

One source in the scientific community said there were “concerns in Government” about the new strain after the evidence was presented to ministers on Friday afternoon.

“The evidence that the new strain of the virus more easily transmits from one person to another has hardened up,” said the source.

The meeting of ministers was expected to continue late into the night, with Whitehall sources refusing to rule out a press conference on Saturday to announce additional restrictions.

Mutant new strain? As Dr Mike Yeadon has pointed out, there are at least 10,000 variants of the dozens of respiratory viruses we refer to as the common cold. It’s completely normal for new variants of these sorts of viruses to emerge, dominate for a while, and then recede.

Meanwhile, the ONS produced a new report, which estimated that the virus surged by 86,000 in the week ending December 12th, suggesting the effect of Lockdown 2 wore off just days after it ended. MailOnline reports:

The Office for National Statistics today estimated that 567,300 people in England were infected with the virus by December 12th, up from 481,500 a week earlier.

The number marked the first time in a month that infections had risen after restrictions were tightened across the country to try and control the second wave. 

These rules worked for a while, with ONS figures showing that total infections plummeted by almost 200,000 in the space of a month from a peak of 654,000, but cases are now rising again in the run-up to Christmas. 

Tim Spector’s ZOE survey App, which counts symptomatic people testing positive, presents a less alarming picture, estimating that there 302,652 infected people in the whole of the UK on December 12th, representing 0.45% of the population.

The ZOE Covid survey

Tim Spector is unsure why this should be.

https://twitter.com/timspector/status/1339956094047797249

Stop Press: Dr Clare Craig has summed up the story of Lockdown 2 in a single tweet.

https://twitter.com/ClareCraigPath/status/1339951534566756356

Has the Evidence of Asymptomatic Spread been Overstated?

Dr Clare Craig, a pathologist and regular contributor to Lockdown Sceptics, and her colleague Dr Jonathan Engler have examined the research evidence behind the claim that COVID-19 can by transmitted by asymptomatic individuals. They have written an important paper on the subject which we are publishing today. They have summarised their findings as follows:

Harmful lockdown policies and mass testing have been justified on the assumption that asymptomatic transmission is a genuine risk. Given the harmful collateral effects of such policies, the precautionary principle should result in a very high evidential bar for asymptomatic transmission being set. However, the only word which can be used to describe the quality of evidence for this is woeful. A handful of questionable instances of spread have been massively amplified in the medical literature by repeatedly including them in meta-analyses that continue to be published, recycling the same evidence base.

There are three types of evidence for asymptomatic spread: studies showing people test positive while asymptomatic (the bulk of the work); studies measuring viral load and concluding from it that people with no symptoms can transmit virus; and studies showing actual transmission.

The first two are not proper evidence that spread can occur.

It is important to carefully distinguish purely asymptomatic (individuals who never develop any symptoms) from pre-symptomatic transmission (where individuals do eventually develop symptoms). To the extent that the latter phenomenon, which has in fact happened only very rarely, is deemed worthy of public health action, appropriate strategies to manage it (in the absence of significant asymptomatic transmission) would be entirely different and much less disruptive than those actually adopted.

Many early studies which purported to demonstrate the phenomenon of asymptomatic transmission were from China, yet the fact that Chinese studies are only published following Government approval must bring their reliability into question. Nevertheless, the high volume of these studies spawned significant salience of the issue within the medical community, and an assumption of the likelihood of asymptomatic transmission being an important contributory factor. There then followed a number of meta-analyses examining the issue of asymptomatic transmission which tended to aggregate and give equal weight to studies regardless of origin or quality. In this way, these meta-analyses, given undue credibility by their association with reputable universities, amplified minimal evidence of asymptomatic spread to an importance the data did not warrant. 

A review of the literature has been submitted to the BMJ and is included here as a preprint. In it the papers most frequently cited in support of the existence of asymptomatic transmission were examined. Despite our criticisms of the sources of the data above, we did in fact find only six case reports of viral transmission by people who throughout remained asymptomatic, and this was to a total of seven other individuals. However, all of these were in studies with questionable methodology. These were: In Italy, two asymptomatic cases allegedly passing the virus onto two others, in Brunei, two asymptomatic cases allegedly passing the virus onto three others, and in China, two asymptomatic cases allegedly passing the virus onto two others

In all these studies, confirmation of “cases” was made via PCR testing without regard to the possibility that any of the cases found might be false positives.  The case numbers found, are in any event extremely small and certainly not sufficient to conclusively determine that asymptomatic transmission is a major component of spread.

It is also notable that, in what would seem to represent an abrupt volte face by the CCP, a further (presumably Government-approved) study from China was recently published which entirely contradicts the earlier conclusions regarding the phenomenon of asymptomatic transmission, which had been driven by Chinese data in particular, early in the pandemic. 

Some might conclude that that study lacks the credibility one might expect for a paper published in Nature; it is claimed, for example, that they PCR-tested 92% of Wuhan’s population (~10m individuals) over a 19-day period at the end of May, and found just 300 positive PCR tests, implying a false positive rate of no greater than 0.003%. Further, it is claimed that while 100% of the 300 PCR positive cases were asymptomatic, there were zero symptomatic PCR positive cases out of ~10m tested during a period only a few weeks after the epidemic had peaked in Wuhan. 

If this seems incredible, then surely that has serious implications for the way in which earlier studies from China – data from which formed a significant part of the worldwide evidence base for asymptomatic transmission – should be regarded. 

You can read the paper here.

Children Should Not be Demonised

A drawing done by a teenager after his first day at a new school

Today we’re publishing a contribution by Arabella Hastie. As well as being a regular reader of Lockdown Sceptics, Arabella is member of the child and clinical psychology group in UsforThem, a group which has actively campaigned to keep schools open, functional and free of masks. She writes of the devastating impact social distancing rules can have on children.

“Don’t Kill Granny” was the eye-catching phrase used by Preston Council to scare young people into sticking to the regulations back in August. Young people knew that the risk to themselves was almost non-existent. They had complied with five months of lockdown – missing out on education, exams and social development to help flatten the curve – and now they wanted to see friends in the sun. The Council and then the Health Secretary used this phrase as a deliberate policy to scare and guilt-trip our children and young people into compliance. More frighteningly, it marked a moment in the pandemic when children and young people have become the scapegoats for any increase in transmission rates. The Government has admitted that increasing fear in the general public was central to their strategy to ensure compliance. Still, it is low when this is targeted directly at children in a way that could scar them for life.

The calling by unions and local councils to close schools early or restart them later increases the sense that children are to blame. Indeed, Sadiq Khan was explicitly saying “if the government isn’t careful, these children will pass on the virus to vulnerable people because the rules are relaxed”. If Granny dies or is not able to visit because you have to isolate – then it is all your fault.

Worth reading in full.

Sweden Tightens the Rules

ICU admission are declining in Sweden, despite not closing a single pub

There was sad news from Sweden yesterday, with the Government announcing its toughest COVID-19 restrictions yet. They remain, however, lighter than Tier 3 and notably light on enforcement. The Spectator‘s Fraser Nelson has more.

Big news in Sweden this afternoon where Stefan Löfven, the Prime Minister, has just tightened COVID-19 restrictions. Still no lockdown, but there’s now a rule of four for restaurants (it had previously been six) and an 8pm curfew on the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants (it had been 10pm). A cap is to be placed on numbers in shops, gyms and swimming pools: universities and sixth-forms will switch to remote learning until January 24th. But beyond that there are no new laws (or restrictions for private property). Löfven said he still has faith that Swedes will respond to his voluntary approach. “I hope and believe that everyone in Sweden understands the seriousness,” he said.

Anders Tegnell was notable by his absence at the press conference where the new rules were announced. The Prime Minister was joined instead by Johan Carlson, the chief of the Public Health Agency. There was new guidance on the use on masks:

From January 7th, face masks will be recommended on public transport, albeit only at certain times. Given Sweden’s status as pretty much the only country in the Western world not to recommend masks, this is quite a turnaround. In the press conference, journalists sought to tease out what Johan Carlson, director of the Public Health Agency, made of the u-turn. “There are no sanctions, just recommendations,” he said. He went on to restate his problem with masks: they can give a false sense of security and not much protection and discourage social distancing he said. Asked if he now believed there was scientific evidence for them, he said: in hospitals, yes. But outside of them, “we don’t think it will have a big effect. It might have a positive effect.” The problem, he said, is that wearing a face mask is easy; social distancing is hard. If you end up with more people travelling on crowded buses, feeling that the masks protect them, “then that’s not the outcome we want”.

Fraser Nelson’s article is worth reading in full.

Perhaps the King of Sweden has intervened behind the scenes. The Financial Times reported on Thursday that King Carl XVI Gustaf has branded the country’s COVID-19 approach a failure:

Sweden’s king has admitted that the Scandinavian country has failed with its coronavirus strategy, which has left it with a far higher death toll from the pandemic than its Nordic neighbours. Carl XVI Gustaf told Swedes in his annual Christmas address that the country had suffered “enormously in difficult conditions” and that it was “traumatic” that many relatives of the almost 8,000 people to die with COVID-19 had not been able to say goodbye to them. “I think we have failed. We have a large number who have died and that is terrible. It is something we all have to suffer with,” the king added, in comments released on Thursday and due to be broadcast in full on Monday.

The royal court later clarified that the king was not criticising Sweden’s coronavirus strategy but was referring “to the whole of Sweden and the whole society. He is showing empathy for all those affected.”

Anders Tegnell declined to comment on the King’s remarks, but did defend his approach.

Asked by the Financial Times if he should have done more to reduce the spread, Mr Tegnell said that many countries with strict lockdowns had had high infection rates, and that the situation was “very complicated”. He added: “In Sweden we do the same as all other countries: we do our best to keep the spread as low as possible. We can see countries using a lot of different measures, and we cannot see any clear correlation between measures and the stop of the spread.”

Worth reading in full.

Indeed. Where is the correlation between the severity of the restrictions imposed and the containment of the virus?

The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Panic

A few days ago, tagesschau reported that Austria’s mass-testing programme has failed to attract the masses.

The COVID-19 situation in Austria remains tough. In order to get the numbers under control, the Government has provided rapid testing, but there was limited uptake. The testing essentially came to an end in five of Austria’s nine federal states last Sunday, but participation fell short of expectations. In Vienna, just 14% of the population took part, in Salzburg around 20% and in lower Austria under 38%. The Government has expected 60% of the country to take part…

In response to the relatively low level of participation in rapid testing, the Government is considering incentives to encourage a greater participation in the next round. The Ministry for Health is considering an incentive system. Residents of Tyrol could have themselves tested free of charge from December 19th until the New Year, Governor Günther Platter has said. Upper Austria also wants to extend testing.

Yesterday, it was announced that Austria is to re-enter lockdown on Boxing Day, but with an eventual get-out-jail-free card. The Local.at has the story.

Austria announced on Friday it will enter its third coronavirus lockdown on December 26th, but those who take part in a planned series of mass testing programme in January will be allowed more freedoms. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced on Friday evening that Austria would enter a three-phase lockdown process in order to “return to normal”. 

“We have decided that we will spend Christmas as planned, but then tighten the measures again,” said Kurz. The goal is to likely to achieve a seven-day incidence of less than 100 cases per 100,000 residents and then keep the numbers low through mass tests, Kurz said. Currently, Austria’s seven-day incidence is at 205 per 100,000 residents. 

Austria relaxed lockdown measures somewhat on December 7th, but case numbers and fatalities have remained high. The measures were “the only possible way to re-open tourism, cultural life, restaurants and cafes during the pandemic and at the same time avoid numbers exploding again”, Kurz said.

Movement outside the home will once again be restricted to purposes such as buying food or taking exercise. The lockdown measures include distance learning in all schools when they return on January 7th, with face-to-face lessons again allowed from January 18th. The big request is, from December 26th on, don’t meet anyone again, said the Chancellor…

There will however be another round of mass tests from January 16th to 18th, with those who test negative allowed to go shopping and meet people again. “For all those who are not willing to be tested, the lockdown rules apply for a week longer,” said the Chancellor.

Hotels and cultural venues will be expected to check test results on arrival, while the police will carry out random checks in other areas, Kurz said…

Those who do not take part in the mass tests will also have to wear FFP 2 masks where otherwise a simpler face covering would suffice, for example while at work or buying food. Rules surrounding how and whether to allow outdoor sports, including skiing, will be left for local authorities to determine.

Worth reading in full.

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Five today: “Nowhere to Run” by Martha and the Vandellas, “The End” by the Doors, “Road to Nowhere” by the Talking Heads, “Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of The Screw” by Opera North and “Pointless“, the theme tune to the TV quiz show.

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.

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, from News 1130, the announcement of an all new and inclusive policy at the Provincial Court of British Columbia.

In an effort to be more inclusive of transgender people, the Provincial Court of British Columbia has created a new policy asking lawyers to provide pronouns when introducing themselves and their clients in court. While some lawyers have already started including pronouns in their introductions, the court will now expect everyone to share how they wish to be referred to.

In a press release, the provincial court provided an example of such an introduction: “My name is Ms Jane Lee, spelled L-E-E. I use she/her pronouns. I am the lawyer for Mx Joe Carter who uses they/them pronouns.”

The court said the policy change will improve the experiences of gender diverse people in the legal system and would help avoid confusion and the need for corrections when someone is misgendered.

“Using incorrect gendered language for a party or lawyer in court can cause uncomfortable tension and distract them from the proceedings that all participants should be free to concentrate on,” the press release said.

“I think it’s a fantastic development for the court system in B.C.,” said Lisa Nevens, a Vancouver-based civil litigator who is gender non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. Nevens said they already introduce themself with pronouns and the “Mx” title, but this new policy will take the onus off people who may be more likely to be misgendered.

Having a practice where everyone just does it, you don’t have to make assumptions, you don’t have to stand out in order to be properly addressed in court. It will make the system more inclusive for everyone and more accessible for lawyers and witnesses and other participants alike,” they said. They said the courts still have more work to do, including moving away from gendered titles for judges such as “my lord” and “my lady”.

Wednesday’s policy change is a step in the right direction, according to barbara findlay, a queer feminist lawyer with more than four decades of experience who does not capitalize her name. “Up until now, courts, like everybody else, have judged the gender of counsel either by how counsel looks or by the kind of name they have: a boy name or a girl name,” she said. “First of all, those judgments are often wrong – and second, male and female do not exhaust the categories.”

Findlay said she has seen judges misgender lawyers in court, creating a “difficult situation” in which the individual doesn’t want to contradict the judge but also doesn’t want the mistake to remain on the record uncorrected.

“So, really the only way for a court – or for anybody – to know what someone’s gender is, is to ask,” findlay said.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: On Thursday, Woman and Equalities Minister Liz Truss gave an address at the Centre of Policy studies to announce the Government’s new equality agenda. She tore into identity politics.

Today, I am outlining a new approach to equality in this country. This will be founded firmly on Conservative values. It will be about individual dignity and humanity… not quotas and targets, or equality of outcome. It will reject the approach taken by the Left … captured as they are by identity politics, loud lobby groups and the idea of “lived experience“. It will focus fiercely on fixing geographic inequality… addressing the real problems people face in their everyday lives… using evidence and data.

Study after study has shown that unconscious bias training does not improve equality, and in fact can backfire by reinforcing stereotypes and exacerbating biases. That’s why this week we announced we will no longer be using it in Government or civil service. Whether it’s “affirmative action”… forced training on “unconscious bias”… or lectures on “lived experience”… the Left are in thrall to ideas that undermine equality at every turn. The absurdity was summed up just this week by the Mayor of Paris being fined for employing so many female managers she had breached a quota.

Worth reading in full.

The speech got good reviews from Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph and Brendan O’Neil in the Spectator.

“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 masks in shops 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, and he’s even said he’ll donate half the money to Lockdown Sceptics, so everyone wins.

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.

Stop Press: There is a story in both the Irish Times and RTE of a man given two months in jail for failing to wear his mask properly while on public transport, shortly after it became mandatory in Ireland. LifeSite, meanwhile, says the individual concerned was convicted for failing to give his name and address to the police officer and an additional charge of using “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour” was considered.

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. 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 GDB 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.

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

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

First, there’s the Simon Dolan case. You can see all the latest updates and contribute to that cause here. Alas, he’s now reached the end of the road, with the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear his appeal. Dolan has no regrets. “We forced SAGE to produce its minutes, got the Government to concede it had not lawfully shut schools, and lit the fire on scrutinizing data and information,” he says. “We also believe our findings and evidence, while not considered properly by the judges, will be of use in the inevitable public inquires which will follow and will help history judge the PM, Matt Hancock and their advisers in the light that they deserve.”

Then there’s the Robin Tilbrook case. You can read about that and contribute here.

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

There’s the GoodLawProject’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.

The Night Time Industries Association has instructed lawyers to JR any further restrictions on restaurants, pubs and bars.

And last but not least there’s the Free Speech Union‘s challenge to Ofcom over its ‘coronavirus guidance’. A High Court judge refused permission for the FSU’s judicial review last week, but the FSU may appeal the decision. Check here for updates.

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.

Quotation Corner

We know they are lying. They know they are lying, They know that we know they are lying. We know that they know that we know they are lying. And still they continue to lie.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.

Mark Twain

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.

Charles Mackay

They who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin Franklin

To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law. Fortunately, it is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions…

Ideology – that is what gives the evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you never should trust experts. If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require to have their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.

Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury

Nothing would be more fatal than for the Government of States to get into the hands of experts. Expert knowledge is limited knowledge and the unlimited ignorance of the plain man, who knows where it hurts, is a safer guide than any rigorous direction of a specialist.

Sir Winston Churchill

If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science.

Richard Feynman

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

C.S. Lewis

The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants.

Albert Camus

We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.

Carl Sagan

Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

George Orwell

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.

Marcus Aurelius

Necessity is the plea for every restriction of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.

William Pitt the Younger

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.

Joseph Goebbels (attributed)

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.

Thomas Paine

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…

As Christmas is likely to look a bit different this year, Spectator Life has published Santa’s guide to staying safe by Andy Shaw.

Letter to Santa

Due to age and obesity, Santa has been deemed ‘at risk’ and has been shielding with a support bubble of elves for most of the year. As part of his mission to save Christmas, Boris Johnson is rumoured to have let Saint Nick jump the queue for a vaccine.

Nevertheless, letters sent to Santa are screened for pathogens by elves retrained as Covid wardens. Non lick envelopes are requested wherever possible.

Santa has binned all requests for board games (SAGE stipulates that sharing dice and cards could be lethal). Likewise balls and equipment for team sports have been scrupulously crossed off lists. Father Christmas is keeping a close eye on the next round of government regulations in case they include a quota for the number of presents allowed per household.

Santa’s visit

Santa used to love visiting poorly children in hospital and old people in care homes. This year, he fears becoming known as Santa The Super Spreader, St. Nicholas of Covid or Father Christ-All-Mighty Keep Your Distance.

Santa may land his sleigh on your roof, but he won’t venture down your chimney. Touching stockings or consuming mince pies prepared by those outside his bubble is strictly forbidden. However, it is hoped that the elfish Matt Hancock is left out for Santa to take with him back to the North pole. He can make up for his appalling behaviour by packing presents for next year’s Christmas.

Very funny and worth reading in full

Latest News

Hotel Quarantine to Open on February 15th

The UK is set to follow Australia and New Zealand within the next two weeks in requiring all UK residents to put themselves up in guarded quarantine hotels when returning from abroad. The BBC has the details.

UK residents returning from coronavirus hotspots abroad will have to quarantine in hotels from February 15th, Government sources have told the BBC.

Owners will be asked to provide accommodation for more than 1,000 new people every day, documents suggest. Passengers will have to stay in their rooms for 10 nights, with security guards accompanying them outside.

Labour called the measures “too little, too late” to deal properly with new overseas strains of Covid. “It is beyond comprehension that these measures won’t even start until February 15th,” said Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds.

Speaking on BBC’s Question Time, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the Government was “aiming to see” February 15th as the date new hotel quarantine plans for arrivals into the UK will be introduced.

Asked why it had taken so long to implement he said: “We want to make sure that we get this right so that when people go to those hotels, the hotels are in place, the transport is in place.”

The airports thought to be under consideration as locations for quarantine hotels are Heathrow, Gatwick, London City, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

The rules are expected to apply to UK nationals and residents returning to the country from 30 “red list” COVID-19 hotspots, including several South American and African countries where new Covid variants have been detected in large numbers of people.

Travellers will have to foot the bill themselves, and they will be forcibly prevented from leaving by security personnel, who will accompany them on any periods outside of the room.

According to documents seen by the BBC, the Government wants quarantine hotels to be made “available on an exclusive basis”.

Guests will have three meals a day – hot or cold – in their rooms, with tea, coffee, fruit and water being available. Security will “accompany any of the arrived individuals to access outside space should they need to smoke or get fresh air”, one document says.

One hospitality industry source said the Government estimated the cost at about £80 per night per person. “If they are taking rooms for 1,425 passengers per night until March 31st, that is a bill of £55m,” they added.

Government sources confirmed to the BBC that travellers coming home will be expected to pay for the costs of their accommodation in quarantine hotels. Ministers are also likely to increase the fines for people who break the rules around quarantine.

No indication of an end point to these extraordinary measures, or what criteria will be used to decide when to lift them, has been given. If the Government has thought this through, they’re not letting on.

The Case Against Lockdown: A Reply to Christopher Snowdon

Bob Moran’s cartoon in the Telegraph on September 10th 2020

Toby has replied to Christopher Snowdon’s attack on lockdown sceptics. Like Snowdon’s piece, Toby’s article appears in Quillette, where Toby is employed as an Associate Editor. He doesn’t bother rebutting Snowdon’s detailed criticisms of Ivor Cummins and Dr Mike Yeadon because he doesn’t think the case against the lockdown policy stands or falls on whether their analysis is correct. I’ll let him explain.

We can quibble about the reliability of industrial-scale PCR testing, whether the “second wave” in Europe and America has been ameliorated by naturally acquired immunity and whether deaths due to other diseases have being wrongly classified as deaths due to novel coronavirus. But that is largely beside the point. Sceptics could concede all of Snowdon’s points—acknowledge that the threat posed by SARS-CoV-2 is every bit as grave as the most hard-line lockdowners say it is—without endangering the central limb of our argument. Our contention is that the whole panoply of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) that governments around the world have used to try and control the pandemic—closing schools and gyms, shutting non-essential shops, banning household mixing, restricting travel, telling people they can’t leave their homes without a reasonable excuse, etc.—have been largely ineffective.

Sure, there are some peer-reviewed studies published in reputable journals seeming to show that these measures reduce COVID-19 infections, hospital admissions, and deaths. (See here, for instance.) But most of these rely on epidemiological models that make unfalsifiable claims about how many people would have died if governments had just sat on their hands—and some of these models have been widely criticised. The evidence that lockdowns don’t work, by contrast, is not based on conjecture but on observing the effects of lockdowns in different countries. (You can review 30 of these studies here.) What these data seem to show is that the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic in each country rises and falls—and then rises and falls again, although less steeply as the virus moves towards endemic equilibrium—according to a similar pattern regardless of what NPIs governments impose.

The factors that affect a population’s vulnerability to the disease are things like distance from the equator, previous exposure to other coronaviruses, and genetics, not how nimble or smart their political leaders are. (Although the timely introduction of port-of-entry controls for visitors from China may have contributed to the low COVID mortality in some Asian and Oceanic countries.) If lockdowns work, you’d expect to see an inverse correlation between the severity of the NPIs a country puts in place and the number of COVID deaths per capita, but you don’t. On the contrary, deaths per million were actually lower in those US states that didn’t shut down than in those that did—at least in the first seven-and-a-half months of last year. Trying to explain away these inconvenient facts by factoring in any number of variables—average age, hours of sunlight, population density—doesn’t seem to help. There’s no signal in that noise.

Incidentally, Snowdon’s claim that the first British lockdown reduced COVID infections is easy to debunk. You just look at when deaths peaked in England and Wales—April 8th—go back three weeks, which is the estimated time from infection to death among the roughly one in 400 infected people who succumb to the disease, and you get to March 19th, indicating infections peaked five days before the lockdown was imposed. Even Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, acknowledged that the reproduction rate was falling before the first hammer came down.

By contrast, the evidence that the policy responses to the pandemic have caused—and will cause—catastrophic harm is pretty strong. Shutting schools causes significant harm to all children, but particularly to the least well-off. Telling people they’re not allowed to socialise—no restaurants, bars, or café, no festivals or sporting events—has contributed to a mental health crisis that has seen “deaths of despair” spike up. Closing non-essential businesses and ordering everyone to stay at home has caused jaw-dropping economic contractions—the UK economy shrunk by 20.8 percent in Q2 of 2020—that have sent unemployment soaring and triggered a global economic recession that the World Bank estimates pushed between 88–115 million people into extreme poverty last year, with the total expected to rise as high as 150 million in 2021. Governments across the world have mothballed huge swathes of their economies in a largely futile attempt to mitigate the impact of the virus, burdening future generations with unmanageable national debts.

Worth reading in full.

Inside the Zero Covid Cult

Piers Morgan, Devi Sridhar and Nicola Sturgeon

UnHerd‘s Freddie Sayers reports on the worrying growth in popularity and gathering strength of the Zero Covid cause.

As I discovered last week, the first rule of ZeroCovid Club is: do not talk about ZeroCovid Club. “ZeroCovid” is, after all, a term that elicits confusion and, sometimes, outright hostility. Perhaps that’s why, when leading members of the global ZeroCovid movement met for a three-day international conference last Wednesday, it had a far more innocuous title: the “Covid Community Action Summit”.

But even though this increasingly popular school of thought – which holds that we must not return to normal until the virus is completely eliminated within a country – wasn’t explicitly on the billing, its presence was made clear from the outset. In her introductory remarks, the moderator confirmed to the more than 600 registrants and speakers from across the world that “we are here to end Covid through ZeroCovid and CovidZero policies”. More often at the event, held over Zoom and organised by American scientist Yaneer Bar-Yam, speakers preferred to refer to ZeroCovid as an “elimination strategy”.

Yet the purpose of the event was clear: to share evidence and political advice to help campaigners lobby Western governments to abandon any notion of living alongside the virus, and instead to follow the lead of Asia-Pacific nations in aiming to eliminate the disease entirely within their borders. This group is crucially distinct from people who support ongoing lockdown measures to suppress the virus to a level where it is safe to reopen – for ZeroCovid believers, we cannot rest until that level is zero.

Extreme it may be, but it is no fringe movement.

Their advocates are among the most regular faces in broadcast media; Professor Devi Sridhar, one of its most outspoken advocates, has appeared on Channel 4 News 21 times during the pandemic – more than any other expert.

There’s a UK ZeroCovid chapter, which last month hosted its own well-attended online conference; the Scottish Government is committed to their campaign, alongside Independent SAGE, British trade unions and Labour MPs such as Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott. Meanwhile, influential Tory MPs like Jeremy Hunt advocate a strategy of “zero infections and elimination of the disease” and routinely refer to the Asian model. Google search results in the UK and US for “ZeroCovid” are at an all-time high. The campaign has momentum.

Sayers spies the fatal flaw for any country that values its freedom.

ZeroCovid is a totalitarian aim, best delivered by a totalitarian state. Even in Australia, last weekend there was panic buying in Perth as the city re-entered lockdown in response to a single positive test result. So far at least, British voters have not chosen to reject liberal democracy, no matter what the epidemiological allure of a ZeroCovid regime.

For now, the British Government has resisted the campaign’s logic, and the Prime Minister continues to make encouraging signals about easing restrictions and even summer holidays. But as the impact of the vaccine is felt and the number of cases continues to fall, the politically difficult question of what constitutes an acceptable level of infection will have to be addressed.

Whatever that level is, expect well-spoken ZeroCovid campaigners to say it is too high. At each hesitant step towards opening up society, expect it to be called irresponsible and short-termist. No doubt ZeroCoviders sincerely believe their campaign for a Covid-free world is a noble one. But how successful they are at influencing policy will affect the shape of our society for years to come.

Worth reading in full.

Does a Single Dose of the Oxford Vaccine Really Cut Transmission by Two-Thirds?

Earlier this week there were excited reports that a single dose of the Oxford vaccine had been shown in trials to prevent “two-thirds of Covid transmissions”. In itself, this result would not be surprising, once you remember that asymptomatic infection is not a major driver of transmission, and the vaccine has been shown to reduce symptomatic infection. However, the study drew this conclusion, not because it accepted that premise, but because it maintained the opposite, namely, that asymptomatic infection is a major driver of transmission, and thus it claims to have shown that the vaccine reduces the incidence of asymptomatic infections.

We asked pathologist and regular contributor Dr Clare Craig to take a closer look at this study and have published her findings on the right-hand side. She was not impressed.

On February 1st the Oxford Vaccine Group published their latest findings on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. While the findings are encouraging, the way they have been interpreted is questionable. The study is underpowered for the conclusions that are being drawn from it and there has been extensive data mining undertaken retrospectively in an attempt to draw more powerful conclusions.

They concluded that in the vaccinated group two thirds fewer people were infected. Despite admitting that they did not study transmission, they still commented on it. The conclusions reached were the overall percentage testing positive was 54% lower “indicating the potential for a reduction of transmission”. The 54% figure was deduced from positivity including asymptomatic positives. This is not a reasonable conclusion to draw on two counts. They have assumed that asymptomatic positives are a major source of transmission and there is minimal evidence to support that assertion; and they failed to account for false positive test results.

Asymptomatic positives were looked for only in the UK participants. They have not stated how often these people were tested, but it can be inferred that they were tested 10 times each on a weekly basis for follow up from day 22 to day 90. That is 82,070 tests. A remarkably low false positive rate of 0.16% would be enough to account for the asymptomatic positives that they found. Repeat testing will only exclude false positives if a negative result is used to overrule a previous positive result. The criteria for calling a positive were not disclosed in the paper and it is assumed that a single PCR positive test was considered significant.

Instead of realising this there has been over-interpretation of the results.

The problem is that the results are all over the place, leaving no confidence in the research group’s conclusions.

Note that the difference between the two control groups in the symptomatic positives is significant – 2.7% infected vs 3.6% infected. If there is potential for that much difference between the control arms, then the impact of the difference between the control and vaccine arm has to be called into question. There does appear to be an effect of vaccination in the symptomatic group, but the effect is not as dramatic when considering that one control arm had a 25% reduction in symptomatic positives by chance alone.

For the asymptomatic positives, again, the difference between the two control arms – 2.2% vs 1.5% – is of the same order of magnitude as the difference it is claimed was due to the vaccine in the low dose arm – 1.2% vs 2.2%. Furthermore, when two standard doses were given, no difference was observed at all – 1.5% were asymptomatic positives in both control and vaccine arms.

How can the vaccine be having an impact if it is possible to find the same impact by randomly assigning people to two different control groups?

Worth reading in full.

Is the UK Complying With WHO Guidance on PCR Testing?

A Lockdown Sceptics reader wrote to his MP to ask whether the UK was complying with new WHO guidance, published in January, about how to use PCR tests correctly for COVID-19.

The MP put his questions to the House of Commons Library. The answer that came back was basically no, or rather, we leave it up to the labs to decide what to do. Here it is in full.

An article in the journal Science explains the cycle threshold in the following way:

“Standard tests identify SARS-CoV-2 infections by isolating and amplifying viral RNA using a procedure known as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which relies on multiple cycles of amplification to produce a detectable amount of RNA. The CT value is the number of cycles necessary to spot the virus; PCR machines stop running at that point. If a positive signal isn’t seen after 37 to 40 cycles, the test is negative (see “One number could help reveal how infectious a COVID-19 patient is. Should test results include it?“, Science, September 29th 2020)

The cycle threshold (Ct) value can broadly tell you the concentration of “viral genetic material” in a patient sample following testing by RT-PCR. The Public Health England (PHE) publication on Understanding cycle threshold (Ct)  in SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR (October 2020) explains that:

low Ct indicates a high concentration of viral genetic material, which is typically associated with high risk of infectivity.

high Ct indicates a low concentration of viral genetic material which is typically associated with a lower risk of infectivity. In the context of an upper respiratory tract sample a high Ct may also represent scenarios where a higher risk of infection remains – for example, early infection, inadequately collected or degraded sample.

A single Ct value in the absence of clinical context cannot be relied upon for decision making about a person’s infectivity.

The Library is not in a position to know if the laboratories across the UK that are processing COVID-19 tests are providing information on Ct values to a central point (such as Departments of Health across the devolved administrations, Test and Trace in England); I cannot see that there is information publicly available detailing how each laboratory runs its PCR machines.

There is, however, more general information about Cycle Thresholds published by PHE. Its publication on Understanding cycle threshold (Ct) in SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR explains that there are “many different SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR assays/platforms in use across the UK” and that “each assay will have a slightly different limit of detection (LoD) – the lowest concentration of virus that can be reliably and consistently detected by the assay”.

The document goes on to caution against directly comparing cycle threshold values:

“Ct [cycle threshold] values cannot be directly compared between assays of different types due to variation in the sensitivity (limit of detection), chemistry of reagents, gene targets, cycle parameters, analytical interpretive methods, sample preparation and extraction techniques (p7). The same document states that ‘a typical RT-PCR assay will have a maximum of 40 thermal cycles’ (see p6). Further background on cycle threshold values can be found on pages 3 & 6 of the PHE document.

Separate guidance published by PHE states that “All laboratories should determine the threshold for a positive result at the limit of detection based on the in-use assay” (PHE, “Research and analysis: Assurance of SARS-CoV-2 RNA positive results during periods of low prevalence“, Updated October 16th 2020).

Wales

Regarding the situation in Wales, the Welsh Parliament Research Service has produced a briefing on PCR testing in response to a petition considered by the Petitions Committee on “Abandon the rt-PCR test for covid-19 testing as its unfit for purpose” (see Welsh Parliament Research Service “Testing for COVID-19 using the rt-PCR test“, December 15th 2020). This notes that:

The TAC report on the RT-PCR test confirmed (p.10) that multiple platforms (representing equipment from different manufacturers) were being used by Public Health Wales (PHW) to support the testing regime. In terms of the number of amplification cycles involved in RT-PCR, PHW responses to Freedom of Information requests (FOI 451 and FOI 461) indicate that: The real-time PCR assays in use in Wales for COVID-19 diagnostics all run for 45 cycles however, the cycle number where the sample is defined as RNA NOT DETECTED varies by platform and target gene detected by the system. This is defined by the manufacturer.

Asymptomatic testing

The constituent also asked if those who are asymptomatic and receive a positive COVID-19 result are retested. I cannot see anything suggesting that those who are asymptomatic, and are tested using the RT-PCR test, would be retested on receipt of a positive result. There is guidance, however, that those who are asymptomatic and receive a positive result after using a lateral flow test would be required/offered to have a PCR test to confirm the result (see, for example, Birmingham City Council, “Covid-19 lateral flow device (LFD) testing information“, not dated).

Tribute to a Father

Lockdown Sceptics reader Andy Smith has written to tell us the sad story of his dad’s death on Wednesday.

I gave these low grade politicians the benefit of the doubt with their initial three week lock down, in the face of “a new virus”, to “flatten the sombrero and save the NHS from being overrun”. In my mind, a stated incubation period of up to 14 days should have seen seen the methodology of a three week lockdown vindicated. As soon as Johnson and his henchmen continued the lockdown, without evidence to substantiate it, it became obvious to me that we were being governed by the equivalent of a bunch of double glazing salesmen, dating back to the 1970s (apologies to those guys) who refused to leave your home without a pressurised sale.

My dad: Herbert Bruce Smith –“Bruce” to everyone – was taken by ambulance from his home just outside Norwich to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital on January 11th with a suspected water infection (diagnosed by the ambulance crew). Upon being admitted to hospital we (my mum Janet, my sister Wendy and I) were horrified that he had been put in a Covid ward being suspected of having the virus. Two days later his test came back negative and he was moved out of the Covid ward into his own room.

He was expected to return home on January 21st but was refused as he had now tested positive for Covid – obviously caught in hospital. I would stress here that I do not blame the hospital. I blame Johnson and Hancock for the way they are governing the NHS and I hope I live long enough to see their day of reckoning when the world regains its common sense.

Bruce was subsequently transferred to Dereham hospital. I am in Costa Rica, Wendy is currently self-isolating in Norwich having tested positive for the virus and my mum was allowed access to my dad’s bedside. We had a family video conference call on the morning of February 2nd. It was harrowing because it is a memory of my dad that is not consistent with his life and it is one that my mum, Wendy and I will replace in our minds with much better ones over time.

Today, February 3rd, Bruce (husband of my mum for 68 years and our dad) died. What world are we living in where travel and quarantine restrictions do not allow me to return home and be together with my my mum and my sister to say goodbye to a wonderful man?

My initial observation is that my dad will have contributed to Hancock’s statistics twice, firstly testing positive in hospital and secondly his death certificate will, I am sure, record the virus as the cause of death.

Like many families, I do not want my father to become another Government statistic, so I hope you publish this as a tribute not only to “Bruce” but to all the other expendable casualties.

Spot the Pandemic Year

Source: FOI request supplied by a Lockdown Sceptics reader

Can the Government Force You to Be Tested?

There follows a guest post by Dr John Fanning, Senior Lecturer in Tort law at the University of Liverpool, addressing the worrying prospect of forced testing for COVID-19.

The Department of Health announced this week that it will deploy door-to-door “surge testing” in parts of England to “monitor and suppress” the spread of the South African variant of COVID-19. This “testing blitz” will apply in Bristol and Liverpool and in specified postcode areas in the East of England (EN10), London (W7, N17, CR4), the North West (PR9), the South East (ME15 and GU21) and the West Midlands (WS2). Residents over the age of 16 in these target areas will be asked to take a COVID test, regardless of whether they have symptoms. Liverpool’s return to the naughty step is particularly irksome: it is the second time in three months that the city has hosted a mass asymptomatic testing programme. Last time, the results cast doubt on claims that the city had a serious problem: of the 108,304 asymptomatic people tested in Liverpool between November 6th and 26th 2020, 703 tested positive for COVID-19 – or 0.6%. This time, health officials in Liverpool and in other “surge” areas will ask residents to take a test, perhaps even on their doorstep, to “come down hard” on the new variant.

All this raises an interesting question: if a health official knocks on your door, do you have to be tested? As things stand, it doesn’t appear so. In general, anyone who “inflicts” unlawful force on another person commits the tort of battery (Collins v Wilcock [1984] 1 WLR 1172), sometimes also known as a “trespass”. Any form of bodily contact exceeding the jostling of (normal) everyday life will qualify as a trespass; e.g. a punch in the face, an unwanted kiss, a swab forced up the nose, and so on. What makes the “infliction” of force lawful is the presence of the other person’s consent. This is why a doctor must be sure that she/he has a patient’s consent before beginning a medical examination or administering treatment – without it, she/he will be acting unlawfully. In spite of the Health Secretary’s gung-ho rhetoric and the impression cultivated by the media, the mass testing programme seems ultimately to rely on the consent of its participants: the Department of Health “strongly encourages” people in the target areas to participate and talks of tests being “offered” to those who must leave their homes for essential reasons. The Government evidently prefers the ‘carrot’ approach, perhaps fearing the optics of a scheme buttressed by compulsion. Mercifully, the prospect of being wrestled to the ground as a local authority functionary forces a swab down your throat remains – at least for now – the stuff of libertarian nightmares.

The problem is that the Government does have a “big stick” at its disposal in the form of the Coronavirus Act 2020. Schedule 21 to that Act contains powers that the state can deploy against “potentially infectious persons”; i.e., those who are, or may be, infected or contaminated with coronavirus and who might therefore infect or contaminate others – which, during a global pandemic, could be just about anyone. Where a public health officer or a police constable considers it “necessary and proportionate” in the interests of the person, for the protection of others, or for the maintenance of public health, she/he can deploy the powers under Schedule 21. These include the power to remove a potentially infectious person to a place for “suitable screening and assessment” (para.6), to hold that person at that place for up to 48 hours (if held by a public health officer) (para.9) or for renewable 24-hour periods (if held by a police constable) (para.13), to require that person to provide a biological sample (para.10), and, in the event of a positive test result, to detain that person for up to 14 days (paras. 14 and 15). A failure to comply without reasonable excuse with these requirements will constitute a criminal offence (para. 23).

As far as I can tell, none of these Schedule 21 powers has been invoked in England – they are, if you like, “plugged in” but the Health Secretary is yet to switch them on. If they were engaged, however, a person who refused to submit to a doorstep test could potentially be arrested, taken to a suitable facility, and required by law to undergo COVID-19 testing. The imagery this evokes is utterly chilling; the Coronavirus Act is like a dystopian fantasy in statutory form. There are few laws on the books that can rival it. I suspect only the Mental Health Act 1983 – which allows doctors to detain persons with mental disorders and forcibly treat them in hospital – could be said, pound for pound, to be more coercive. This raises an interesting question about why the Government believed that such a high degree of coercion was necessary in the first place. The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, enacted with outbreaks of “notifiable” diseases like anthrax, plague and smallpox in mind, makes its powers to remove, isolate and detain infectious people contingent upon a magistrate’s warrant. What is it about COVID-19 that justified a more robust legislative response than that afforded to smallpox? Why are the liberties of a person suffering from a disease with a 30% mortality rate afforded greater protection by the law than those of a person with an illness that kills only around 1% of the people it infects? Schedule 21 reveals much about the government’s bizarre calculus as it butted the Coronavirus Bill through Parliament in those mad March days.

Sceptics Under Fire

Spectator Editor Fraser Nelson – himself a lockdown supporter – has come to the defence of sceptics in their struggle against Witch-Finder General Neil O’Brien MP in his Telegraph column this week.

Covid is distinguished by how little we still know about it, how even the greatest experts can be confounded. This time last year, experts on the SAGE committee were unanimous in advising against a Wuhan-style lockdown. China had been foolish, said its memo: it was “a near certainty” that a second peak would strike once it unlocked. This did not happen. Jonathan Van-Tam and others rubbished the need for face masks, which are now mandatory. This is not to question any of their credentials: it was a new and fast-moving situation that wrong-footed everyone. Myself very much included.

But rather than emphasise the need to be open-minded, and consider all new angles, we somehow reached a situation where faith in lockdown is complete – and those who question its efficacy are disparaged. This shift is embodied by the behaviour of Neil O’Brien, a think tank chief turned Tory MP, who over the summer started using social media to highlight claims made by critics of lockdown. He applied his forensic mind to the pursuit of errors, and started to acquire quite a following.

But this all mutated into a targeting of academics who had been effectively – and accurately – criticising aspects of lockdown. With some like-minded others, O’Brien created a website listing the offenders and their wrongthink. A new label was applied to the bloggers, journalists and professors: “Covid sceptics”.

One is Carl Heneghan, Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University, who balances his academic work with weekend work as an urgent care NHS doctor. When Heneghan spotted flaws in calculating Covid deaths, it led to a change in Government policy. Yet this world-class academic, who in his spare time sees elderly patients suffering from Covid, has found himself denounced.

A few months ago, Heneghan was being consulted by the Prime Minister – who wanted him to test the arguments of the (many) lockdown advocates in Government. Also invited was Sunetra Gupta, a Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at Oxford and an energetic critic of lockdown. She now joins Prof Heneghan on the official list of heretics, pilloried on a website whose various sponsors include a well-regarded Tory MP tipped for promotion. It’s all very odd.

Ministers don’t appear to mind the heretic-hunting one bit. When O’Brien’s efforts were hailed as “fantastic” by Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the Commons, it started to look like a semi-authorised campaign against Government critics. It can even claim to be an effective campaign, insofar as the academics in its sights do seem to have taken a lower profile.

The professors might be talking the most appalling rot – or they might come to be completely vindicated. But what matters, and what we’re losing, is the upholding of rigorous debate. The point of Parliament is to talk, hence the name. But when parliamentarians seek to close down discussion (O’Brien has said he won’t debate Heneghan so as not to give him “the publicity”), then it marks a deeply worrying turn.

Worth reading in full.

Round-up

https://twitter.com/joshuastokesitv/status/1356975403173371904?s=21

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Three today: “Boy in a bubble” by Paul Simon, “Let Us Out” by Marble Statues and “What the world is waiting for” by the Stone Roses.

Love in the Time of Covid

Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell 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 story of Jess Krug, the white professor who posed as black for years, until she came clean last autumn. The Washingtonian has the story.

“I am a coward.” Jessica Krug’s confession started ricocheting across screens one brutally muggy afternoon in late-summer Washington. “For the better part of my adult life,” it began, “every move I’ve made, every relationship I’ve formed, has been rooted in the napalm toxic soil of lies.” Krug, a faculty member at George Washington University, had taken to Medium, the online forum, to reveal a stunning fabrication. Throughout her entire career in academia, the professor of African history – a white woman – had been posing as Black and Latina.

“I have thought about ending these lies many times over many years, but my cowardice was always more powerful than my ethics. I know right from wrong. I know history. I know power. I am a coward,” she wrote. “You should absolutely cancel me, and I absolutely cancel myself.”

The statement, posted September 3rd, 2020, went viral immediately, unleashing a tidal wave of Oh, my Gods across the text chains of Krug’s GW colleagues and other academics. “We were all blindsided,” says GW history-department chair Daniel Schwartz. Distraught emails from Krug’s students – less than a week into a virtual semester already upended by the coronavirus pandemic – began piling up in faculty in-boxes. Meanwhile, an online mob went to work churning up old photos of Krug and tanking the Amazon ratings of her book. By the end of the day, a now-infamous video of Krug calling herself “Jess La Bombalera” and speaking in a D-list imitation Bronx accent was all over the internet.

The next morning, Schwartz convened an emergency staff meeting on Zoom. The initial shock of their colleague’s revelation had quickly given way to anger, and now the GW professors who logged on were unanimous: The department should demand Krug’s resignation right away. If she refused, they’d call for the university to rescind her tenure and fire her. That afternoon, they issued their ultimatum in a public statement. Five days later, Krug quit.

It was a dizzyingly fast fall for a woman who’d been among the most promising young scholars in her field. The 38-year-old had a PhD from one of the nation’s most prestigious African-history programs. She’d been a fellow at New York’s famed Schomburg Center, done research on three continents, and garnered wide praise for her book. She’d achieved all of it, as far as her GW colleagues knew, despite an upbringing that was nothing short of tragic. As Krug told it, she’d been raised in the Bronx, in “the hood.” Her Puerto Rican mother was a drug addict and abusive.

The tale was just the latest version of one Krug had been evolving for more than 15 years, swapping varied, gruesome particulars into the made-up backstory (a rape, a paternal abandonment) for different audiences. It was a heart-tugger – and, it turns out, incredibly flimsy. Minimal online sleuthing would have unravelled any of the lies in minutes—something Krug, who was still an undergrad when Facebook debuted, surely knew. But she’d also learned that the harrowing history she’d crafted was a useful line of defence against the kind of probing that could have easily exposed her. After all, who wanted to pry into such a delicate situation?

“To everyone who trusted me, who fought for me, who vouched for me, who loved me, who is feeling shock and betrayal and rage and bone marrow deep hurt and confusion, violation in this world and beyond: I beg you, please, do not question your own judgment or doubt yourself,” Krug wrote in her confession. “You were not naive. I was audaciously deceptive.”

Worth reading in full.

“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.

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. 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.

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. You can read about that and contribute here.

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 have also submitted a retraction request. UPDATE: The retraction request was rejected yesterday.

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 his Spectator column this week, Toby suspects he might not be first in line for a peerage from Boris, despite a promising start.

Watching Lord Hannan of Kingsclere being introduced in the House of Lords on Monday was a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, I’m delighted for Dan. He is one of the heroes of Brexit, and his impromptu speech about Margaret Thatcher in the pub following her memorial service brought a tear to my eye (you can find his speech on YouTube). But on the other, I can’t help thinking: where’s my bloody peerage? I’ve edited this and that, co-founded four free schools, served on the boards of numerous charities and set up the Free Speech Union. I was the chief exec of a high-profile charity, for Christ’s sake, and my immediate predecessor got a CBE. I haven’t even got a lousy MBE. All the more surprising given that I must be one of the few potential recipients who wouldn’t denounce the British Empire as soon as he pocketed the gong.

I thought my elevation to the Lords might happen when Boris became Prime Minister. Up until that point, I’d given him more tobacco enemas than any other journalist in Fleet Street. (Blown smoke up his arse.) I even wrote a 5,000-word hagiography for an Australian magazine entitled “Cometh the hour, cometh the man“. Indeed, I laid on the oil so thick in that piece I’m now worried that when I’m standing in front of St Peter at the Pearly Gates he’s going to bring it up: “You did plenty of good works, you’ve been a decent husband and father and you always gave money to beggars. But on the other hand, you did write that 5,000-word piece about Boris in which you compared him to Nietzsche’s Übermensch. Sorry mate, it’s down you go.”

It was Boris who got my hopes up. In September of 2011, when he was Mayor of London, he opened the first free school I helped set up. He made quite a good joke as he cut the ribbon. ‘The Secretary of State for Education has given a new word to the English language,’ he said, referring to our mutual friend. “We give, they gave, he Gove – he Gove us this school.”

Afterwards, as he was getting into his chauffeur-driven car, he asked me if I’d like to be in the House of Lords. “We need more people like you,” he said.

“Don’t I have to give a million quid to the Tory party first?”

“Leave it with me,” he said, touching his nose.

Problem is, then came Covid.

Given how critical I’ve been of Boris since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, I’ve now abandoned all hope. Bloody typical of me. I’ve been a massive Boris backer since I campaigned for him to become president of the Oxford Union in 1985; then, 35 years later, when he’s finally in a position to reward his loyal supporters, I start attacking him in the press.

It was the same story with David Cameron. We were at Brasenose together and when he was still prime minister I told him about the shock I’d received when I returned for a college reunion and Dave Ramsden – a contemporary of ours and now deputy governor of the Bank of England – let slip he’d been given a knighthood. “Come on, Prime Minister,” I said. “You’ve got to stick me in the Lords so I can one-up him at the next Brase-nose gaudy.” He laughed, but I told him I was in deadly earnest. I thought there might be a sliver of a chance until we ended up on different sides during the EU referendum. Another bridge burnt.

Worth reading in full.

Latest News

Lockdown 2.0 to End in Tiers

Boris is expected to announce his post-lockdown Covid plans on Monday. The Telegraph has the details.

England’s national lockdown will end on Dec 2nd but be replaced by a new harsher three-tier system, Boris Johnson will announce on Monday.

More areas will be placed into the higher tiers than before the lockdown after warnings from SAGE scientists that the previous levels of restrictions were not strong enough and a tougher regional approach was needed.

The Telegraph can also reveal that everywhere from factories and offices to towns and cities will be blitzed with mass testing if cases start to rise, under plans to be set out this week.

The Prime Minister’s “Covid winter plan” is expected to place more areas into the higher tiers to ensure further restrictions are not needed.

While some local measures will be similar to those in the previous system, some tiers will be strengthened to safeguard the gains made during the national lockdown.

Last night it emerged that the 10pm curfew for restaurants and pubs – which has been severely criticised by Tory MPs – is likely to be extended to 11pm when the tiers are published on Monday.   

Final details will be signed off at a meeting of the Cabinet today. Details of the new tougher tiers system, which comes into force on Dec 3rd, will be announced on Monday, with the final decision on which areas are in which tiers on Thursday. The plan will set out how people will be able to spend their Christmas, but ministers have made clear that the ­festive season will be different to ­normal, with some restrictions expected to remain in place.

This is sad news indeed, not least as it suggests the lockdown logic of the likes of Professor Ferguson is still dominating Downing Street thinking, with small relief to be taken from the curfew on bars being moved to 11pm. Happily it looks like Boris can expect stiff resistance from the Conservative back benches.

Boris Johnson’s plans for a new toughened three-tiered system to replace the national lockdown next week is under threat after 70 Conservative MPs threatened to veto the plans in Parliament. The Tory MPs on Saturday wrote to the Prime Minister saying they could not support further new restrictions if the Government does not publish an economic analysis of the impact of the restrictions… The number of signatories to the letter is more than enough than the 43 Tory MPs to defeat the Government’s 85-strong working majority in the Commons if Labour votes against the plans when they are put to MPs next week.

Referring to the previous tiered system of restrictions, which were not as onerous as the ones set to be proposed this week, the Conservative MPs told Mr Johnson: “The tiered restrictions approach in principle attempts to link virus prevalence with measures to tackle it, but it’s vital we remember always that even the tiered system of restrictions infringes deeply upon people’s lives with huge health and economic costs.”

It is also worth listening to the Planet Normal podcast interview with Steve Baker, Vice-Char of the Covid Recovery group, on the prospects of a back bench rebellion.

Stop Press: A Telegraph survey has found that one in four will break the rules at Christmas.

There is No Asymptomatic Spread

A new paper in Nature has struck a blow against the Covid orthodoxy of asymptomatic spread. Following the lockdown, the city government of Wuhan conducted a city-wide nucleic acid screening for SARS-CoV-2. It was carried out on an impressive scale:

There were 10,652,513 eligible people aged ≥6 years in Wuhan (94.1% of the total population). The nucleic acid screening was completed in 19 days (from May 14th, 2020 to Jun 1st, 2020), and tested a total of 9,899,828 persons from the 10,652,513 eligible people (participation rate, 92.9%). Of the 9899,828 participants, 9,865,404 had no previous diagnosis of COVID-19, and 34,424 were recovered COVID-19 patients.

The results make good reading for lockdown sceptics.

The detection rate of asymptomatic positive cases was very low, and there was no evidence of transmission from asymptomatic positive persons to traced close contacts. There were no asymptomatic positive cases in 96.4% of the residential communities.

Previous studies have shown that asymptomatic individuals infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus were infectious, and might subsequently become symptomatic. Compared with symptomatic patients, asymptomatic infected persons generally have low quantity of viral loads and a short duration of viral shedding, which decrease the transmission risk of SARS-CoV-2. In the present study, virus culture was carried out on samples from asymptomatic positive cases, and found no viable SARS-CoV-2 virus. All close contacts of the asymptomatic positive cases tested negative, indicating that the asymptomatic positive cases detected in this study were unlikely to be infectious.

The report in Nature is a bit technical, but very much worth reading in full.

Lockdown Sceptics readers will recall that Dr Maria van Kerkhove, the technical lead of COVID-19 response and the head of the emerging diseases and zoonosis unit at the World Health Organisation, said the same thing about asymptomatic transmission at a WHO press conference on June 8th:

Question: It’s a question about asymptomatic transmission, if I may. I know the WHO’s previously said there are no documented cases of this. We had a story out of Singapore saying that at least half of the new cases they are seeing have no symptoms and I’m wondering whether its possible this has a bigger role than the WHO initially thought in propagating the pandemic.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove: We have a number of reports from countries who are doing very detailed contact tracing. They are following asymptomatic cases, they are following contacts and they are not finding secondary transmission onward. It’s very rare and much of that is not published in the literature.

The comment drew sharp criticism at the time, and the WHO swiftly explained that there had been a “misunderstanding”. We will look out for a further update.

Stop Press: The Centre for Disease Control might also want to take a look at these results. They have just released new guidance saying that “Most SARS-CoV-2 infections are spread by people without symptoms“. Not in Wuhan they weren’t.

Covid Immunity is for the Long Haul

Another good news study. This time on the long-term immune responses to Covid. Details in Nature:

The immune system’s memory of the new coronavirus lingers for at least six months in most people. Sporadic accounts of coronavirus reinfection and reports of rapidly declining antibody levels have raised concerns that immunity to SARS-CoV-2 could dwindle within weeks of recovery from infection. Shane Crotty at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California and his colleagues analysed markers of the immune response in blood samples from 185 people who had a range of COVID-19 symptoms; 41 study participants were followed for at least 6 months. The team found that participants’ immune responses varied widely. But several components of immune memory of SARS-CoV-2 tended to persist for at least 6 months. 

The study has not been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal but it is the most comprehensive long-range study on immune memory to the coronavirus to date. The New York Times has further details.

Eight months after infection, most people who have recovered still have enough immune cells to fend off the virus and prevent illness, the new data show. A slow rate of decline in the short term suggests, happily, that these cells may persist in the body for a very, very long time to come.

“That amount of memory would likely prevent the vast majority of people from getting hospitalized disease, severe disease, for many years,” said Shane Crotty, a virologist at the La Jolla Institute of Immunology who co-led the new study.

The research squares with findings from elsewhere.

The findings are consistent with encouraging evidence emerging from other labs. Researchers at the University of Washington, led by the immunologist Marion Pepper, had earlier shown that certain “memory” cells that were produced following infection with the coronavirus persist for at least three months in the body.

A study published last week also found that people who have recovered from COVID-19 have powerful and protective killer immune cells even when antibodies are not detectable.

This is happy news, but it came as no surprise to Dr Yeadon, commenting on the NYT article:

Genuinely good news, but not a surprise. Per the article, those recovered from SARS still have vigorous T-cell responses 17y later. Humans are good at becoming immune to this virus. That’s great. That’s why vaccines work yet will be needed by so few.

Twitter, @MichaelYeadon3 17 Nov 8.47 pm

The NYT article is worth reading in full.

You can read the study here.

Protests Spreading Faster than the Virus

A protestor holds aloft a quote from Dr Mike Yeadon at a rally in Bournemouth

Hundreds came out to march against the lockdown yesterday in Bournemouth, Liverpool, Basildon and Hyde Park. The Daily Mail has a full report.

At least 22 people have today been arrested after anti-lockdown protesters clashed with police when hundreds took to the streets in an ongoing fight against coronavirus restrictions.   

Rallies were held in Bournemouth, London and Liverpool, where a growing crowd chanted “freedom” as they marched through the city centre in the rain this afternoon.

The group in Merseyside were shepherded by police, who later moved in to make arrests, with some demonstrators seen being pepper sprayed as they grappled with officers on the ground. It is thought that the protest began at 1pm and started with around 100 people gathered on Church Street before the group grew significantly in size.

At least 13 people were arrested during the demonstration in Liverpool, Merseyside Police confirmed. Among those detained was a 36 year-old man from Kirkby, who was arrested on suspicion of assault of an emergency worker after an officer was pushed to the chest on Church Street.   

Rallies were also held in London, where the Metropolitan Police confirmed four were arrested for breach of COVID-19 regulations after gathering at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park.

Officers confirmed those detained remained in custody this afternoon while the “remainder of the crowd have been dispersed”.     

Michael Walsh, of the Central West Command Unit, said: “We take reports of breaches of COVID-19 restrictions seriously. We are still in a pandemic and it is extremely selfish of a small minority of people to carry on without regard for the regulations.”

There were similar scenes on the south coast, with social distancing nowhere to be seen as activists marched through the seaside town of Bournemouth, holding placards reading “freedom” and “the pandemic is over”.

As street protests are repeatedly being met with arrests and dispersal orders, here’s an idea from a reader, previously posted in the comments, but worth flagging here following yesterday’s item.

Shall we set in motion “unarrestable” protests?

Say, on 1/12/20, i.e. before they renew lockdown from December 2nd, an en masse sit in in cars outside of parliament hooting horns.

Or in the queues caused by extra London cycle lanes.

Or on motorways (a go-slow, like when they tried to increase fuel duty).

Or even everyone, everywhere in the country wherever they are but at a given time (will have to be co-ordinated) all hooting their horns.

A bit like the gilets jaune protests but no-one is breaking the law

On the subject of protests, another reader has asked an interesting question.

Just curious in light of all the news about retailers going into administration. Why do you think they are not taking out full-page adverts in the major newspapers to complain about the lockdown?

Locally, various retail-park retailers including the Range, Poundland and B&M are still open and crammed to the gunwales with COVID-19-transmitting (ahem) people bringing their kids for a trip out, while TK Maxx, Debenhams and Ikea are closed.

Why have clothes and shoes shops been closed? Are they not selling essential items? All it’s done is force people who need ‘essential’ coats and shoes into the food retailers. It feels like the major non-food retailers are somehow benefitting from the enforced lockdown. How? Why? And why are the other retailers not complaining loudly?

Your comments welcomed! Sending this to my MP who will ignore it.

If anyone has thoughts on this, and feels like stepping in for the MP, do please get in touch here.

Round-Up

https://twitter.com/lbc/status/1330170991272734720?s=21

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Just one song today: “Don’t fence me in” by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters.

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.

Sharing stories: 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.

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today we’re flagging up an item from the Society books section of the Guardian: “How ‘woke’ became the word of our era.”

But what is ‘woke’? Most online dictionaries define it as a perceived awareness of inequality and other forms of injustice that are normally racial in nature. A few describe the term as characterising people who are merely ‘with it’– as in, every cool kid you knew at uni. And increasingly, these days, many use it as a pejorative term to describe someone who is a slave to identity politics. How can all three possibly be the same? It’s a sensibility, a quality, a state of being, a feeling backed up by a set of actions, sometimes all these things at once.

I can’t think of a word that reflects the era as well as ‘woke’ does. There is its relative newness (it was born and grew up alongside social media), its popularity as a hashtag and its political implications and activist leanings. There’s also its journey from black culture to the internet and mainstream news. All theses qualities are extremely particular to this moment.

Confession: I dislike the word (especially since 2016, when MTV declared the term the new “on fleek”.) Ironic, considering I am textbook woke. I identified with what it was but cringe at what it has come to mean, and bristle at the way the word is now weaponised. The disparity compels me to interrogate the term and its evolution. As Susan Sontag writes in Notes on ‘Camp’, which inspired this essay, “no one who wholeheartedly shares in a given sensibility can analyse it; he can only, whatever his intention, exhibit it. To name a sensibility, to draw its contours and to recount its history, requires a deep sympathy modified by revulsion.” So let’s consider what woke is, and what it isn’t…

If woke gobbledegook is the sort of thing you enjoy, this article is most definitely worth reading in full.

Alternatively, read John Redwood’s latest post on his blog: “Politically correct speaking.”

Stop Press: Another literary giant has fallen foul of woke standards. This time its Ted Hughes. The British Library has flagged the poet as implicated in the slave trade thanks to the actions of a distant ancestor.

“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 masks in shops here.

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

If you’re a shop owner and you want to let your customers know you want 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.

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 last month 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. 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 approaching 700,000 signatures.

Update: The authors of the GDB 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”.

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

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

First, there’s the Simon Dolan case. You can see all the latest updates and contribute to that cause here.

Then there’s the Robin Tilbrook case. You can read about that and contribute here.

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

There’s the GoodLawProject’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.

The Night Time Industries Association has instructed lawyers to JR any further restrictions on restaurants, pubs and bars.

Christian Concern and over 100 church leaders are JR-ing the Government over its insistence on closing churches during the lockdowns. Read about it here.

And last but not least there’s the Free Speech Union‘s challenge to Ofcom over its ‘coronavirus guidance’. You can read about that and make a donation here.

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.

Quotation Corner

It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.

Mark Twain

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.

Charles Mackay

They who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin Franklin

To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law. Fortunately, it is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions…

Ideology – that is what gives the evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you never should trust experts. If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require to have their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.

Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury

Nothing would be more fatal than for the Government of States to get into the hands of experts. Expert knowledge is limited knowledge and the unlimited ignorance of the plain man, who knows where it hurts, is a safer guide than any rigorous direction of a specialist.

Sir Winston Churchill

If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science.

Richard Feynman

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

C.S. Lewis

The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants.

Albert Camus

We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.

Carl Sagan

Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

George Orwell

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.

Marcus Aurelius

Necessity is the plea for every restriction of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.

William Pitt the Younger, House of Commons 18 November 1783

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…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzlD3EwxGXk&feature=emb_logo

Check out this bit from Simon Evans’s set at Comedy Unleashed. He performed the same set at the Free Speech Union’s comedy night, but this was the following day – on November 4th, our last day of freedom. Should raise a smile.

Risk of Asymptomatic Spread Minimal. Variants Over-Hyped. Masks Pointless. An Interview With Professor Jay Bhattacharya

by Oliver May

New variants are of no concern. There is no need to cancel summer holidays. Millions vaccinated, coupled with immunity from millions of prior infections means we can surf on the crest of the third wave, rather than being remotely concerned about it. In fact, the UK should open now. And vaccine passports, certificates, or whatever name they are being given, will do nothing to improve the health of the population – all headlines we have read and heard over the past week or so.

Except, we haven’t. We have heard and read the opposite. And we are instilled with fear from TV and radio adverts, complete with ‘that scary voice’ all too eager to give listeners nightmares, be it your impressionable primary-school-aged daughter, or a frail older lady now terrified into wearing a mask outside while waiting for a bus with no one within a 50-metre radius. But the reality is that the above headlines could have been written – and all based on science. Jayanta Bhattacharya is a Professor of Medicine at Stanford University and one of the co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, the report that called for the focused protection of the vulnerable and no lockdowns, signed by almost 14,000 medical and public health scientists, nearly 42,000 medical practitioners and close to 765,000 concerned citizens.

I interviewed him by email and he remains a staunch lockdown sceptic.

Why have the media, politicians and many scientists sought to panic the populace about SARS-CoV-2 far beyond what the evidence would warrant? The incentives include financial motives, political goals, the desire to protect professional reputations and many other factors.

The virus is seasonal and late fall/winter is its season. It is very unlikely, given that this is the case, that the virus will spread very widely during the summer months. It is also the case that a large fraction of the UK population has already been infected or vaccinated and is immune, which will greatly reduce hospitalisation and mortality from the virus in coming months.

There are tens of thousands of mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They mutate because the replication mechanisms they induce involve very little error checking. Most of the mutations either do not change the virulence of the virus, or weaken it. There are a few mutations that provide the virus with a selective advantage in infectivity and may increase its lethality very slightly, though the evidence on this latter point is not solid.

We should not be particularly concerned about the variants that have arisen to date. First, prior infection with the wild type virus and vaccination provide protection against severe outcomes arising from reinfection with the mutated virus. Second, though the mutants have taken over the few remaining cases, their rise has coincided with a sharp drop in cases and deaths, even in countries where they have come to dominate. Their selective infectivity advantage has not been enough to cause a resurgence in cases. Third, the age gradient in mortality is the same for the mutant and wild-type virus. Thus a focused protection policy is still warranted. If lockdowns could not stop the less infectious wild type virus, why would we expect them to stop the more infectious mutant virus?

According to the three authors of the Great Barrington Declaration which, other than Dr Bhattacharya, include Dr Martin Kulldorff, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Dr Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, the UK Government is creating unfounded hysteria around SARS-CoV-2. Dr Bhattacharya said:

According to a meta-analysis by Dr John Ioannidis [Professor of Medicine at Stanford University] of every seroprevalence study conducted to date of publication with a supporting scientific paper (74 estimates from 61 studies and 51 different localities around the world), the median infection survival rate from COVID-19 infection is 99.77 per cent. For COVID-19 patients under 70, the meta-analysis finds an infection survival rate of 99.95 per cent.

The CDC’s [Centres for Disease Control] and Prevention] best estimate of infection fatality rate for people ages 70 plus years is 5.4 per cent, meaning seniors have a 94.6 per cent survivability rate. For children and people in their 20s/30s, it poses less risk of mortality than the flu. For people in their 60s and above, it is much more dangerous than the flu.

Even so, this hardly warrants a new Government drive urging families to carry out tests on their children twice a week in the hope of unearthing asymptomatic cases. Especially, as the vulnerable have already been vaccinated.

The scientific evidence now strongly suggests that COVID-19 infected individuals who are asymptomatic are more than an order of magnitude less likely to spread the disease to even close contacts than symptomatic COVID-19 patients. A meta-analysis of 54 studies from around the world found that within households – where none of the safeguards that restaurants are required to apply are typically applied – symptomatic patients passed on the disease to household members in 18 per cent of instances, while asymptomatic patients passed on the disease to household members in 0.7 per cent of instances. A separate, smaller meta-analysis similarly found that asymptomatic patients are much less likely to infect others than symptomatic patients.

Asymptomatic individuals are an order of magnitude less likely to infect others than symptomatic individuals, even in intimate settings such as people living in the same household where people are much less likely to follow social distancing and masking practices that they follow outside the household. Spread of the disease in less intimate settings by asymptomatic individuals – including religious services, in-person restaurant visits, gyms, and other public settings – are likely to be even less likely than in the household.

What about mask mandates?

The evidence that mask mandates work to slow the spread of the disease is very weak. The only randomised evaluation of mask efficacy in preventing Covid infection found very small, statistically insignificant effects [Danish mask study]. And masks are deleterious to the social and educational development of children, especially young children. They are not needed to address the epidemic. In Sweden, for instance, children have been in school maskless almost the whole of the epidemic, with no child Covid deaths and teachers contracting Covid at rates that are lower than the average of other workers.

In light of this, what conclusion can we draw from the fact that the UK Government wants the entire adult population to be injected against the virus, instead of just the vulnerable? And the possibility that we’ll need to produce vaccine certificates to access hospitality and sports venues or travel overseas?

Vaccine passports are a terrible idea that will diminish trust in public health and do nothing to improve the health of the population. Vaccine certificates are not needed as a public health measure. The Government had it right previously. The country should open up now that the older, vulnerable population has been vaccinated. The rest of the population is at much greater health risk from the lockdown than they are from the virus.

The author is a staff journalist at a national newspaper group. Oliver May is a pseudonym.

Latest News

Handy Cock’s Brilliant Solution to Ending the Covid Crisis – Even More Tests!

Matt Hancock’s plans for ramped-up COVID-19 testing were soon underway at a brand new world-class facility with members of the public jubilantly lining up

In a move that will surprise no one, Matt Hancock has announced that the Government will carry out even more tests in an attempt to better understand how prevalent the virus is. The BBC has the story.

The Office for National Statistics’ Infection Survey will test 150,000 people a fortnight in England by October, up from 28,000 now.

The survey is separate from the mass testing programme of people with symptoms to diagnose cases.

For the survey, a random sample of the general population is tested.

That means it can provide estimates for the true spread of the virus.

The diagnostic testing programme, which provides daily totals, largely relies on people with symptoms coming forward.

Some people do not display symptoms when they are infected so the daily totals are an underestimate of the amount of infection that is around.
As part of the expansion of the programme, data will also be gathered in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the survey was the “single most important tool” the government had for making policy decisions around coronavirus because it helped it understand how the disease was spreading.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Hancock said expanding the ONS survey would allow the government to be “more accurate and more localised” in its response.

He added that it would help the government with its “biggest challenge”, which was finding people who were asymptomatic but could still pass the virus on.

Finding people who are asymptomatic but who can nonetheless pass the virus on may well be a “challenge”. Let’s not forget that at a World Health Organisation (WHO) press conference on June 8th, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the pandemic, said the following:

We have a number of reports from countries who are doing very detailed contact tracing. They’re following asymptomatic cases, they’re following contacts and they’re not finding secondary transmission onward. It’s very rare and much of that is not published in the literature.

From the papers that are published there’s one that came out from Singapore looking at a long-term care facility. There are some household transmission studies where you follow individuals over time and you look at the proportion of those that transmit onwards.

We are constantly looking at this data and we’re trying to get more information from countries to truly answer this question. It still appears to be rare that an asymptomatic individual actually transmits onward.

The WHO immediately attempted to “clarify” Dr Van Kerkhove’s comments, saying it simply didn’t know whether asymptomatic people are infectious because not enough studies have been done (even though those that have been done show there’s little or no secondary transmission). And here’s some new evidence – a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on August 13th.

In this study, a team of Chinese researchers looked at 3,410 close contacts between infected and uninfected people that mainly took place in Guangzhou. That is, they looked at the contact that 391 infected people (some symptomatic, some asymptomatic) had had with 3,410 other people. They found that of these 3,410, 127 became infected. But here’s the kicker: 126 of them were infected by symptomatic people and only one by an asymptomatic person. And to infect that one person, the asymptomatic group had to have close contact with 305 other people. So that’s a secondary transmission rate for asymptomatic people of 1:305.

The researchers conclude:

Our results showed that patients with COVID-19 who had more severe symptoms had a higher transmission capacity, whereas transmission capacity from asymptomatic cases was limited. This supports the view of the World Health Organization that asymptomatic cases were not the major drivers of the overall epidemic dynamics.

Limited! That’s one way of putting it. Hat tip to Phil Kerpen, who flagged up this study on Twitter yesterday.

Incidentally, one of the researchers’ findings, duplicated numerous times in other studies, is that the secondary attack rate was highest in household settings. Does this mean that locking people down in their homes, making transmission within households much more likely, may not have been such a good idea? Who would’ve thunk it!

New Zealand Lockdown Unlawful

The Toothy Tyrant wipes away a tear after losing in the High Court to a plucky lockdown sceptic

Congratulations are due to Andrew Borrowdale, a Kiwi lawyer who brought a Judicial Review against the New Zealand Government alleging, among other things, that the restrictions introduced by the Director-General of Health on March 26th were unlawful. The High Court released its judgment today and found that, on that point at least, Borrowdale is correct. Here is the relevant paragraph:

By various public and widely publicised announcements made between March 26th and April 3rd 2020 in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, members of the executive branch of the New Zealand Government stated or implied that, for that nine-day period, subject to limited exceptions, all New Zealanders were required by law to stay at home and in their “bubbles” when there was no such requirement. Those announcements had the effect of limiting certain rights and freedoms affirmed by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 including, in particular, the rights to freedom of movement, peaceful assembly and association. While there is no question that the requirement was a necessary, reasonable and proportionate response to the COVID-19 crisis at that time, the requirement was not prescribed by law and was therefore contrary to s 5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

I like that final sentence – no question indeed! Needless to say, the NZ Government has since passed a law prescribing the draconian rules so any attempt to JR the present restrictions would probably fail. Nonetheless, Borrowdale has scored a significant victory, showing that – for nine days at least – Saint Jacinda was in breach of the NZ Bill of Rights.

Andrew Borrowdale is my Sceptic of the Week.

Ship of Fools

There’s a good piece by the Telegraph’s Jeremy Warner on the hapless fools running the country.

In Plato’s The Republic, Socrates describes a ship on which the sailors mutiny and try to pilot the vessel with no knowledge of “the year and seasons and sky and stars and winds, and whatever else belongs to his [a pilot’s] art”. Success on this “Ship of Fools” is defined not by having the skills to navigate the vessel but only by the ability to persuade others that such skills aren’t actually necessary and that the job can be done regardless.

The story is intended as an allegory on the downsides of democracy, of the danger that in such a system of government, ignorant fools elect persuasive fools and are then led to ruin. After the Government’s latest shambolic, Covid-related failing, it seems an appropriate description of today’s political leadership.

I’ve used it before, admittedly, but make no apology for repetition; each day brings further confirmation of its legitimacy. No doubt much of the blame for the myriad misjudgments lies with the incompetence of the public sector and its accompanying quangocracy, the latter seemingly deliberately created to absolve the politicians from responsibility for day-to-day management. However, the fish rots from the head. Buck-passing is itself a symptom of poor leadership.

After giving numerous examples of the Government’s financial incontinence and warning of the dire reckoning to come, Warner says we shouldn’t expect a policy shift any time soon.

Ministers cannot bring themselves to admit they got the Covid response wrong. Too many egos, too many careers are now fully invested in the strategy adopted. Rudderless, the ship of fools sails on.

Warner’s piece reminded me of the verdict a reader sent in yesterday, summing up why the Government, its most senior officials and their advisors have made so many mistakes:

It’s what’s to be expected when you place incompetent people in positions where they have authority, but no real responsibility, where there are no sanctions for poor performance and where people do their best rather than doing what they’re best at.

If you think that doesn’t apply to senior civil servants, think again. Today I’ve published a piece by an anonymous senior civil servant on how Whitehall has mismanaged the crisis. Here’s an extract:

There are few among our political elite and the supporting Senior Civil Service who have STEM degrees and the consequence of this narrow pool is a failure to understand basic concepts, e.g. they believe “the science is settled” when it comes to climate change, and that they’re “following the science” regarding COVID-19. What they fail to appreciate is that science is rarely settled. By its nature, it is about investigating and challenging assumptions, collecting and evaluating evidence to test hypotheses, and seeking to avoid bias and misrepresentation of results. The current narrative regarding testing and ‘cases’ is a classic example of this lack of numeracy and statistical knowledge. If you test more you are likely to find more occurrences and they may be actual positives or false positives.

Worth reading in full if you want to understand why the Government has made such a complete hash of everything.

Ireland Introduces More Pointless “Containment” Measures

“Yes, this is the Taoiseach. I’m here with my Keystone Kabinet. How can I help?”

The Government of Ireland has announced another raft of measures prompted by an uptick in the number of cases – 533 last week, up from a low of 61.

The measures include:

  • All outdoor events limited to 15 people, down from 200
  • Indoor events limited to six people, reduced from 50
  • All visits to homes limited to six people from no more than three households, whether indoors or outdoors
  • Football matches and other sporting fixtures can only take place behind closed doors
  • Restaurants and bars can remain open, but must close by 11.30pm

Needless to say, the rise in cases is almost certainly due to a rise in the number of PCR tests being done. In the week from August 10th to 16th, more than 50,000 tests were carried out, a significant increase.

As of Noon today, the total number of cases in Ireland is 27,499 and the total number of deaths 1,775.

Stop Press: I suggest the Taoiseach and his Keystone Kabinet read this piece in the Conversation entitled “Seven Ways to Manage Your Coronaphobia“.

Supermarket Sales Decline, Thanks to Mandatory Face Nappies

Colour me shocked. According to Kantar, there were two million fewer supermarket visits after mandatory face coverings were introduced in England and Scotland. The Guardian has the story.

Supermarket sales have begun to slow in Great Britain since the easing of lockdown restrictions, as the introduction of compulsory face coverings in stores in England and Scotland initially deterred some shoppers.

Growth in total take-home grocery sales slowed to 14.4% year-on-year in the three months to August 9th, from 17% in the three months to July 12th. Supermarkets felt the impact as more shops and hospitality venues reopened, making consumers less reliant on food retailers, according to the data analysis firm Kantar, which examined shopping trends in England, Scotland and Wales.

Kantar said there were two million fewer supermarket visits in the week after the face-covering rule was introduced in England than otherwise have been expected.

Meanwhile, online shopping continues its upward trajectory, with a record 13.5% of all grocery sales ordered through the internet.

The online delivery firm Ocado, which will start a new contract supplying Marks & Spencer food instead of Waitrose products from September 1st, has been a significant beneficiary of the switch to online food shopping, according to Kantar.

Ocado had a 1.8% share of the grocery market in the 12 weeks to August 9th, up from 1.4% a year earlier. Its sales were up 45.5%, compared with the same period last year.

False Positives in Care Homes

A reader has made an interesting observation about his mother’s care home.

I want to tell you about the care home my mother lives in. As you know, residents are effectively imprisoned in these for the foreseeable future. The residents undergo Covid tests and my mother was recently tested positive and placed in isolation for 14 days as per PHE’s rules, I am told. She has no symptoms, has not been outside the home, and if she has Covid it can only be through transmission from a member of staff. Under these circumstances one would expect to see a widespread outbreak in that home. There is not.

There have been similar occurrences there recently and the care home has admitted that there has been no Covid outbreak and confessed to a number of false positive test results. It would seem from my simple analysis that at this home the number of positive test results that are actually false positives is 100%, because no one testing positive has had any symptoms of COVID-19.

If this is applied to community testing, what does this say about the apparent increased number of infections (cases)?

The reader may be on to something. I’ve published a piece on false positives today by a Professor of Genetics who believes that about 0.17% of tests yield false positives, almost certainly due to contamination in the PCR testing labs. Here’s his conclusion:

A hidden/ignored contamination positive rate of 0.17% would lead to authorities declaring (on average) a minimum of 170’cases’ per 100,000 tests. Curiously, this is exactly the kind of rate that is being declared in many regions, and is very close to the level at which travel quarantines kick in.

Worth reading in full.

Give Yourselves a Smoked Salmon Treat

I’ve never done this before, but I’m going to give my readers a food tip: A side of smoked salmon from Bleiker’s, a family business established in 1993 by Jürg Bleiker, a Swiss chef who settled in the Yorkshire Dales. I ordered a side of the Yorkshire peat-smoked salmon a couple of months ago and it was so good I’ve just ordered it again. Postage and packing is free. Place your order here. Highly recommended.

Postcard From the Algarve

A reader has sent me a short postcard from the Algarve. Sounds heavenly.

We are very lucky to have a property in the Algarve but sadly had to make the decision to come on holiday for the summer without the children and grandchildren as Portugal is still on the naughty list and they are unable to quarantine due to not being able to work from home.

All the cafes, restaurants, shops and beaches are open and dare I say it it but life is so lovely and normal here. People do not jump six feet in the air when you walk past them but are more than happy to pass the time of day.

Sitting down at a cafe you are not presented with a sheet of paper with all the new government restrictions and asked for your name and mobile number. You’re presented with a menu.

The only negative is that you have to pop a mask on in the shops and if you go into a restaurant to pay the bill. But even we have decided that it’s a small price to pay to be treated like a human being again and to have our sanity back.

Round-Up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Two today: “Lousy Reputation” by We Are Scientists and “No More Waves” by Nigel.

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 of them are at risk of having to close again). Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet – particularly if they’re not insisting on face masks! Don’t worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

A reader has made a good suggestion.

I was wondering if your map of businesses who have opened could be expanded to businesses who display “No mask? We won’t ask” sign? That would allow us mask-refusers to know where we are safe to visit without risking a drama with a Covid loon, and also reward those plucky businesses with our custom. It’s been interesting to see how the Covid terror only seems to last as long as financial necessity allows (note previously hysterical pub landlords get much less worried when they are allowed to re-open) so I’d be interested to see if a line of mask free customers outside one shop tempted its neighbours to risk the plague.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

I’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 3rd to Oct 13th). 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 £3.99 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 29,500).

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: The BBC has flagged up a story of a mask exempt woman with an autistic child being harangued in a supermarket by a mask Nazi in Whitley Bay. She had a panic attack and had to leave the supermarket. The BBC’s advice, echoed by the National Autistic Society, Asthma UK and the Alzheimer’s Society, is to treat non-mask wearers with courtesy and understanding. Meanwhile, in Connecticut, the Governor has signed an order requiring non-mask wearers to get a note from their doctor to prove they should be exempt.

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 (although I have help from several people, including one indefatigable techie who doesn’t want to be named). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here.

And Finally…

No, Boris, You Didn’t Lock Down Too Late

The anniversary of the start of the pandemic has occasioned a rash of review pieces, replete with all the standard lockdowner myths that have become part of the Official Narrative in the past year. Not least of which is that lockdown came too late, as Boris has apparently now admitted according to Telegraph sources, which bodes ill for the future.

One of these review pieces, by Telegraph Associate Editor Gordon Rayner, takes a look back at the road to lockdown last March, and includes new insights from insiders, including several ministers.

It rehashes several myths, half-truths and clangers, which we will do our best to debunk.

By mid-March last year new Covid cases were running at an average of 271 per week, though the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) was estimating there were 5,000 to 10,000 cases nationally.

Questions over why Britain was not following other nations, such as Italy, into lockdown were rebuffed because government modelling suggested Mr Johnson’s “squash the sombrero” strategy of flattening the peak would prevent the NHS being overwhelmed.

Suddenly, on Friday, March 13th, everything changed. It was Gold Cup day at the now notorious 2020 Cheltenham Festival, which had been allowed to go ahead despite well-founded concerns that it would become a super-spreader event and SAGE realised it had underestimated the numbers.

Meeting in a conference room at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in Victoria Street, London, the scientists decided a 5-7-day lag in data provision meant the country was “further ahead on the epidemic curve” than they had thought, though SAGE did not at that stage recommend an immediate lockdown and warned that “measures seeking to completely suppress spread of COVID-19 will cause a second peak”.

Five hundred yards away in Downing St, Ben Warner, a young data specialist who had been No 10’s eyes and ears in SAGE meetings, conducted his own analysis of the numbers and concluded that the NHS would “fall over” in a matter of weeks because the virus was spreading exponentially.

Mr Warner took his findings to Mr Cummings, and at an emergency meeting in the Prime Minister’s Downing Street office the next morning, March 14th, Mr Cummings wrote Mr Warner’s projections on a whiteboard and said the course the Government was following would result in potentially tens of thousands of additional deaths.

“The PM was stunned,” said one source. “That was the key meeting in deciding we had to go into lockdown.”

“Our priority had always been to make sure the NHS could cope,” said another, “but the new analysis showed Covid wasn’t going to just pass that line on the graph, it was going to really smash through it.”

Reassuring to know the Government was being advised by a broad range of the best scientists in these crucial decisions, with Professor Cummings and Professor Warner drawing wobbly red lines on white boards…

Ambitious Interpretation of Results of the Oxford Vaccine Group’s Latest Paper

by Dr Clare Craig FRCPath

On February 1st the Oxford Vaccine Group published their latest findings on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. While the findings are encouraging, the way they have been interpreted is questionable. The study is underpowered for the conclusions that are being drawn from it and there has been extensive data mining undertaken retrospectively in an attempt to draw more powerful conclusions.

They concluded that in the vaccinated group two thirds fewer people were infected. Despite admitting that they did not study transmission, they still commented on it. The conclusions reached were the overall percentage testing positive was 54% lower “indicating the potential for a reduction of transmission”. The 54% figure was deduced from positivity including asymptomatic positives. This is not a reasonable conclusion to draw on two counts. They have assumed that asymptomatic positives are a major source of transmission and there is minimal evidence to support that assertion; and they failed to account for false positive test results.

Asymptomatic positives were looked for only in the UK participants. They have not stated how often these people were tested, but it can be inferred that they were tested 10 times each on a weekly basis for follow up from day 22 to day 90. That is 82,070 tests. A remarkably low false positive rate of 0.16% would be enough to account for the asymptomatic positives that they found. Repeat testing will only exclude false positives if a negative result is used to overrule a previous positive result. The criteria for calling a positive were not disclosed in the paper and it is assumed that a single PCR positive test was considered significant.

Instead of realising they had a false positive problem there has been over-interpretation of the results.

They note that there was no impact of vaccination with standard doses after 90 days on the number of asymptomatic positives. There is no reason to expect an impact when it is appreciated that these are false positive results.

Table 1 from paper Single dose administration, and the influence of the timing of the booster dose on immunogenicity and efficacy of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (AZD1222) vaccine (SD/SD means standard dose followed by standard dose; LD/SD means low dose followed by standard dose)

Note that the difference between the two control groups in the symptomatic positives (at the top of the table) is significant – 2.7% infected vs 3.6% infected. If there is potential for that much difference between the control arms, then the impact of the difference between the control and vaccine arm has to be called into question. There does appear to be an effect of vaccination in the symptomatic group, but the effect is not as dramatic when considering that one control arm had a 25% reduction in symptomatic positives by chance alone.

For the asymptomatic positives, again, the difference between the two control arms – 2.2% vs 1.5% – is of the same order of magnitude as the difference it is claimed was due to the vaccine in the low dose arm – 1.2% vs 2.2%. Furthermore, when two standard doses were given, no difference was observed at all – 1.5% were asymptomatic positives in both control and vaccine arms.

How can the vaccine be having an impact if it is possible to find the same impact by randomly assigning people to two different control groups?

Second part of table 1 from paper Single dose administration, and the influence of the timing of the booster dose on immunogenicity and efficacy of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (AZD1222) vaccine (SD/SD means standard dose followed by standard dose; LD/SD means low dose followed by standard dose)

Looking at the different dosing schedules it is clear that the highest number of asymptomatic positives were actually seen in the vaccine arm with a 6-8 week interval between doses. However, this cannot be over-interpreted. The message is that all of the results in the asymptomatic positives were background noise and should be ignored.

Finally, it is worth noting that although they include this sentence:

the analyses are presented here to provide a rigorous peer-reviewed interrogation of updated data.

There has been no peer review at this stage and we must hope that the peer reviewers take a dim view of their over-interpretation of this data.

Dr Clare Craig: “We Are In A False Positive Pseudo-Epidemic”

This is a lightly edited transcript of a recent interview with Dr Clare Craig on Alex McCarron’s latest Escape from Lockdown podcast.

Alex McCarron: Hello, and welcome to Escape from Lockdown, the show all about how we got into this madness and how we are going to get out of it. Now today I have another of the great pathologists. Very early on I interviewed Dr. John Lee, and his interview set the podcast on fire and set the whole lockdown escape community on fire, really. It had real crossover. And today I think is going to be no different or even better. I’m speaking to a very brilliant person who is doing some incredible work and really putting themselves out there, exposing some really terrifying conclusions that she’s come to, to all of us. It is of course the pathologist Dr. Clare Craig. Clare, how are you doing? Welcome to the show.

Dr Clare Craig: Thank you very much for having me.

Alex McCarron: Can you tell the listeners a little bit about your professional background and how you got to be where you are?

Dr Clare Craig: I’m a consultant pathologist. I’ve worked in the NHS as a consultant pathologist for many years, and I moved to work on the cancer arm of the 100,000 Genomes Project for a couple of years, and then I’ve moved into AI more recently. But, I’ve experience with laboratories, with testing, and understand what false positives mean in medicine.

Alex: So you knew what false positives were before they got big, basically.

Dr Craig: Yes, I would say that my professional career has been around those kinds of problems.

Alex: Can we sort of jump straight into the fact that everybody who’s sort of been looking at the data knows that there’s this thing called the casedemic, but your works shows that actually the problems with the casedemic are actually much more profound than people, even us, quite realize. So can you tell us what’s going on?

Dr Craig: I can try. I mean, a lot of people try to find some data point that they can trust because one by one these data points are being questioned. And so people put a lot of faith in COVID death counts. They think, “Well, they must be true because, you know, how on earth can you misdiagnose someone’s death?” But I’m afraid that even the death count, you have to have a bit of skeptical about because of how we are testing and how we are diagnosing. And there’s a phenomenon that’s worth considering when we’re looking at the situation that we’re living through at the moment, which is called a false positive pseudo epidemic.

There are a few key factors to understand about that, one of which is when you’re living through it, everybody involved believes they’re in an epidemic because the data looks like an epidemic, which is why it’s got that name. But there are a few things that start to show up in the data that you can unpick to figure out that actually this isn’t the case. What starts to happen is that because the data points are related to testing and not to each other, they start to do really funny things.

So one of the things that’s a relatively easy image to understand is looking at ITU admissions compared with deaths, and ICNARC which do ITU audits have just published on this. They show a graph with a familiar spike in the upturn of the ITU patients and then coming back down, followed after a period of time by a spike in deaths coming back down. That was in spring. And you see these two lines followed in parallel all the way through. And then they’ve superimposed what’s happening now on this graph, and you can see a much more shallow line of increased patients in ITU, and below that in parallel the increasing number of deaths.

But in the last couple of weeks that line of deaths has done a sharp upturn, and it looks like it’s going to overtake the line of the number of patients in ITU. And so there are other ways to look at the data that back this up as well, but the point is that we’ve got to a situation where the number of people dying per case diagnosed is on the rise compared with the summer, but the number of people with a severe case (being admitted to hospital, being on ITU) has fallen since summer, which is just slightly baffling, you know.

How can you get to a situation where the severity is reducing but the deaths are increasing? That is quite difficult to get your head around. I don’t think we need to go over it again, but there is this discrepancy that doesn’t make sense, and it especially doesn’t make sense when you realize that 80% of the COVID deaths at the moment are in hospital. So if they’re in hospital, they should be in the hospital admission data, they should be on ITU, and they’re not showing up in that data.

Alex: So basically, if I can put it in a way that is often ridiculed, the former secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld famously gave this speech where he talked about there are known knowns, and there are known unknowns, and there are unknown unknowns, the things that we don’t know that we don’t know. That was often widely mocked at the time, but I believe that’s the cleverest thing any politician has publicly said ever because it was a tacit admission of the way that knowledge works and the way that we find things out.

To me, you seem almost half scientist, half detective, almost like sort of forensically going through the data. And it seems to me we have these known knowns, which we established over the summer which was sort of time between infection and death, the kind of general makeup of the disease. But, are you saying that they’re not the same anymore? The data, you know, these things that we depend on are suddenly going crazy, and there’s no relation between what’s coming in and what we thought we knew?

Dr Craig: The way to look at it is to use percentages. You can see the percentage of deaths for people who were admitted 10 days before to hospital. You then look at all the hospital admissions and see 10 days later how many deaths there were, and those two figures should have a set relationship. But what we see is that in the beginning it was quite high, and that was partly because we were not diagnosing everybody, and it comes down, and it carries on coming down right the way until August. In August, if you were admitted to hospital, you had the best chances compared with earlier. And, you know, we’re being told that that’s because of better treatments and what have you.

But then since August, the percentage has started to rise, which is a worry. You worry that things have got worse. Has it come back? Have we been misdiagnosing in the summer but now it’s come back? That pattern is repeated in other data points. The number of deaths per occupied bed on ITU has started to rise, and the number of deaths per case diagnosed has started to rise. All of those data points, they look like things are getting worse. But the other data points of cases to admissions look like things are getting better.

Alex: So what’s going on here? Is it that, are we just in the middle of a kind of orgy of testing and it’s throwing up all this crazy data?

Dr Craig: The thing about testing is that at the beginning we had to get some tests out really quickly, and I really admire the work that was done to get that to happen. Manufacturers turned new tests around as fast as they could, and, you know, it was all about speed at the time. So the fact that they compromised on some of the checks that would normally have been there is entirely justifiable. And then the labs got set up and were scaling right from the beginning. They were scaling what they could do. And we got to a point in May where the UK labs were doing 50,000 tests a day, which is absolutely phenomenal, and at the time it was world-beating, and it was more than enough to get a grip on the situation that we had.

But we carried on with that strategy of volume and speed, volume and speed, and we ended up now we’re doing 200,000 tests a day and with a couple more labs, but it’s essentially the same labs. They’re just being scaled and scaled and scaled. And when you’ve got a laboratory, there are three things a laboratory can do, and they can only do two of them well. They could put through a huge number of tests per day- they can do volume. They can do speed and get the results out as quickly as they can. Or, they can do quality tests. But you have to pick which two you’re going to focus on. We’ve focused on volume and speed. And again, that’s totally justifiable at the start of an epidemic when you’re trying to stop spread, and a small percentage of mistakes along the way are just really irrelevant to the situation that you’re in.

But from a pathology point of view, epidemiology 101 is when you get to peak deaths, you switch your testing strategy. You start with high volume, fast, and as sensitive as possible because you want to find every possible case. At peak deaths you switch strategy to quality testing and being specific because you want your results to be accurate at that point. We haven’t switched strategy. And the only way to switch or to do that, to get quality results is not to put the labs under even more pressure and shout at them and get cross. The only way to get a quality result from a lab is to compromise either on the volume going through every day or in the speed at which they have to turn them around.

Alex: What sort of evidence do we have that the accuracy has been compromised? What blips are we seeing in that data that tell us that these tests aren’t quite what they say they are?

Dr Craig: There’s a beautiful piece of evidence that’s just been produced by a physicist in Scotland called Christine Padgham, who is a force of nature and has gone carefully through all of the Scottish data. Public Health Scotland have been much more open with the data that they’re publishing, and they include in their publications the daily positive numbers, the daily negative numbers, the total number of tests done, and so you can actually get a percentage of positive tests per day that’s accurate. And when you look at the percentage of positive tests per day in Scotland, the percentage of positives is twice as high at the weekends than it is on a Monday. Now that cannot be anything to do with the disease.

That’s to do with the laboratories being under extraordinary pressures. It’s to do with people. The PCR testing, which is the test that we use for COVID, can be an incredibly specific test with a low false positive rate, but it can also be incredibly difficult to actually do because the first step is to translate your RNA to DNA and then you double the amount of DNA in the sample. You double it, and you double it, and you double it until you’re at a billion or a trillion times the amount you began with. What that means is that even the tiniest, tiniest amount of cross-contamination from other things in the lab can mean that you get the wrong result.

Whenever you run a test, you’re going to definitely put a certain positive in that test so you can make sure that the test worked properly. Every time they run a test, a positive control sample is being used. And if a little bit of RNA from that sample gets onto a glove, and gets onto the fridge door or something else around the lab, then every person that touches that fridge door is going to get contaminated, and the samples that they touch will get contaminated. The difference between a weekend and a Monday in a lab is that at the weekend you’re short-staffed, and people are tired, and the labs had all the problems that built up over the week hanging over. On a Monday, people come in fresh-faced. They’ve had a rest over the weekend, and the lab is thoroughly cleaned, and then you get out new chemicals that are all brand new and clean, and you start again.

Alex: So basically people are just kind of turning up hung over on Saturdays and Sundays.

Dr Craig: Oh no, I think that’s really unfair. I think you have to appreciate that if you’ve increased testing to that degree, people have worked their socks off. They are working so, so hard. I don’t think they’ve had time to have a drink. So they’re exhausted.

Alex: I’m imposing my own fecklessness on doctors who I’m sure are doing a very good job. I’m sort of damaging my ability to get new work now. So there’s other data you brought up which was really interesting, which was there’s this correlation which you never see anywhere in biology which I think is…it relates to the number of tests performed and the number of infections that we’re getting. What was it?

Dr Craig: It was a period of time where the hospital tests done related to the number of hospital COVID deaths, and it was a really tight correlation. The hospital tests have ramped up much more gently than the community tests, but we’re still doing a lot. And we got to a point where every admission could be tested, which was great. And then we exceeded that point. So there was the ability to test people more than once. And understandably, if somebody comes in with a broken leg, you’ll test them once as protocol. We don’t normally test them again.

But if somebody is coming in coughing, you might use your spare test to test them again. If somebody is coming in in respiratory failure, they’re going to get more than one test. So there comes a point where the increased number of tests are no longer proportional to the increased number of people tested. You get to a critical mass, and then any further increased tests are used on people who are more sick. Then you start to see this relationship between the number of excess tests done in a hospital and the number of COVID related deaths in the hospital.

Alex: Wow. So basically the implication here is that…is nearly everything that we’re seeing a false positive test, even if it’s in hospital?

Dr Craig: I would hold back from saying that, but I would say that cannot be excluded. The reality is that we have a problem with false positives, and the only way to clear that problem up is to start to carry out confirmatory testing and to sort out the labs. We need to put gateways in and say we’re not going to test everybody, we’re not going to test asymptomatic people so that the volumes decrease so that the laboratories can get on top of it. But only once you’ve got on top of it and you’ve done your confirmatory testing you can actually see what’s real out there. Because at the moment, the numbers that aren’t real are overshadowing the real ones, if they’re there.

Alex: And when the false positive story kind of broke a month or two ago, I think Julia Hartley-Brewer famously questioned it on her radio show. The BBC and, I think, maybe the Huff Post as well. I think Tom Chivers wrote something on this. Basically the determination was rather to examine and delve further into potential, you know, corruption of the data was to poo-poo the notion of false positives being effective data at all, which tells us a lot about the journalistic priorities and the cognitive biases that people fall in.

You know, there’s a famous saying. It’s very difficult to make a man understand something if his job depends on not understanding it. And there’s just a real commitment to rubbish any of the questions, to shut down the questions rather than to investigate what they’re saying, I think at least. So one of the things that people often say is, “Oh, your false positive rates, they don’t really count if the people you’re testing are symptomatic,” you know, because that doesn’t [inaudible 00:19:11] with data as much. I would ask you, does it now?

Dr Craig: The trouble is with COVID that the definition of what it is was back to front. The way that you set up a diagnostic test is you define a disease based on symptoms and signs and what it looks like to a doctor, and then you find a test. You work out if the test is any good by seeing if it can pick up this picture. But in COVID it was back to front. We defined the test, and then the symptoms were worked out after we decided who was positive with the test.

So the list of symptoms is as long as your arm, and you’re allowed to be asymptomatic as well. Anyway, leaving that aside, there are a lot of symptoms that count. With that many symptoms you’ll find a lot of people have those symptoms. I mean, we know from the ONS survey data, when they published who was symptomatic and asymptomatic, that 11% of the people were symptomatic with some symptoms at any one time because, you know, they’re common symptoms. So if your rate in the asymptomatic population is lower than in your symptomatic population, that does still make it look like you found something, right?

But the way that the testing works is that you’re looking for the sequence of letters in the RNA that is unique to COVID, and it’s a great test when it’s done well, as I said before. But when it’s done badly, other sequences of letters can cause a positive. DNA binds certain letters very, very accurately. A binds to T, C binds to G, and they’re really tight binding. But there’s a certain amount of binding that can happen to the wrong letters, so if you’ve got a misspelling that’s a few letters out, it can still bind, and you can still get a positive result. That’s especially true if you’re doing all these extra cycles before deciding whether or not it’s positive.

What that means is that there could be other viruses out there that cross-react with COVID testing and produce a positive test in someone with symptoms when actually it’s a different virus causing the symptoms. And, you know, we know that this is a risk, so when you make a new test you check for that. And what we would normally do is check by getting virus samples and running the tests and seeing if any of them go positive.

But what’s mostly being done for COVID is people have checked DNA databases and have looked to see how many letters match or don’t match, and say, “No, we’re okay. We can run with this,” which as I said before is, you know, justifiable. And then the laboratories, before setting up their testing, they did do wet lab testing, so all of the labs individually will have tested against samples of other viruses. But they’re testing against a range of other viruses, and it’ll be one sample of each type of virus. And that’s fine when you’re testing a high provenance population and you’re testing people who are likely have it.

But when you move to doing mass population screening, which is what we’re doing, you have to have a different threshold for your accuracy. And the only way you can be certain that we’re not getting cross-reactions with other viruses is if you test hundreds of samples of each of those viruses because you’re only going to see that, say, five percent of, you know, a cold virus is going give you a positive if you’ve tested hundreds of those samples. We’ve tested tens.

Alex: Really?

Dr. Craig: Well, when I says tens, I mean, like, 10 or 20.

Alex: So effectively we’re just… I mean, we all knew false positives were an issue, but I didn’t realize it was this much of an issue. There was an article that came out, I think it was in “Full Fact” recently that was saying, “No, it doesn’t pick up the common cold. It doesn’t pick up coronavirus.” But it seems to me that they weren’t really asking, they weren’t really addressing the right question. They were saying the test isn’t meant to pick up other common colds or other viruses, but what you’re saying is basically, you know, the test just occasionally, unintentionally, and very rarely does.

Dr Craig: I think it can do. So let me tell you a story about a false positive pseudo epidemic. This is a lovely story. It’s my favourite one.

Alex: I was looking forward to this.

Dr Craig: It’s a hospital in New Hampshire, and one of the doctors had a cough. It was a really bad cough. It’s one of those coughs where you cough a lot, and then you have a sharp intake of breath at the end because you’ve, you know, been coughing for so long. They were at lunch with a doctor colleague who thought, “Oh, hang on a minute. That reminds me of whooping cough.” So whooping cough in children, the whoop is after a really, really long period of coughing where they’ve run out of air, and they gasp for air. That’s why it’s called whooping cough. Right? So they said, “This could be whooping cough. We ought to check.”

So they went off to the lab and did a PCR test to see if this doctor had whooping cough, and it came back positive. This set off this kind of panic, and they just decided they’d better start screening the hospital because they had vulnerable babies and vulnerable old people who might catch this horrible bacteria. Not a virus, but anyway. And they started to test members of the staff and patients who had symptoms, and they found some more positives. And then they tested more, and they found more positives. By the end, they had tested 1000 people. They had got 146 positives back, so a 14.6% positive rate.

But one of the doctors was careful and clever enough to say, “Let’s have a backup and try to culture the bacteria from these samples as well.” So as well as testing for PCR, they tried to grow it in the lab and see if any of them would grow. None of them grew. None of them. All of that 14.6% were false positives, and it looked for all the world like an epidemic. After the news had broken that the testing was wrong, it took a long time before people could get their heads around what had happened because there was this collective delusion that they were all in. And, you know, I’m a bit scared when that happens here, actually, what the results will be.

Alex: Well, I think I can tell you. The results will be they bring in heavier and heavier restrictions. They ramp up testing even more, and it will throw up even more false positives. And when people try and question it, they’ll try and shut them up. It’s just a guess.

It’s worth talking about here, actually. So I just did a quick Google of whooping cough for false epidemic, and you got two articles come up straight away. One is in “The New York Times,” which have a wonderful title here called “Faith in Quick Tests Leads to Epidemic That Wasn’t.”

Dr Craig: Yeah, that’s the one. But there are others. There’s another whooping cough one where the false positive rate was 74%. The thing about this is that in retrospect people say, “Well how did it go so wrong?” And that 74% went so wrong because of very high cycle thresholds. But the 14.6%, I’m not sure exactly how it did go so wrong. People speculated that there was a problem with one of the reagents or there was some kind of cross-contamination issue, but they don’t actually for certain know exactly how it went so wrong. But the point is it can, and the only way to be sure that we’re getting the right test results is confirmatory testing.

Alex: Can they just test one PCR test against another done in a different lab?

Dr Craig: No, because if there’d been any problems up until the point where the swab reaches the lab, then that’s going to still be a false positive.

Alex: So how do you do a confirmatory test then?

Dr Craig: You have to have the confidence to say, “We’re not going to diagnose any patients until they’ve had two positive tests, separate days, separate positives.”

Alex: See, the thing is though, what you said was the way that they cracked this terrible problem of the fake whooping cough epidemic (and that is surprisingly difficult to say) is that the doctor decided to grow a lab culture, which to me sounds like very much like a gold standard test, because either it’s going to grow or it’s not. And it’s just 100% extremely accurate. COVID doesn’t have, as far as I know… Actually, I’m going to phrase this question differently. Does COVID have this alternative test we can test it against? Are we stuck with PCR?

Dr Craig: No, there is another test. You can also culture a virus. So what you do is you put the material in with some cells in a lab, and a virus will go into the cells and replicate, and then it will burst the cell open. So you just measure for the cells bursting open. And that has been done. That’s absolutely being done, but it gets done in, like, really kind of high tech, safe laboratories, and it’s hard to do. So you can’t do that at scale, but you can do that on a sample of positive tests and prove the point.

Alex: And do you know if that’s being done at all?

Dr Craig: I don’t know.

Alex: I mean, it probably isn’t.

Dr Craig: Actually, there’s one thing that is being done, which I think is why that’s not being done. The thing that is being done is that we’re doing whole genome sequencing on some of these samples. What that means is that instead of looking for just part of the RNA of COVID, the sample is amplified up in the same way, the doublings, and then you read the letters of every last bit of DNA in that sample so you can see what’s in there. When you do whole genome sequencing you can compare what’s going on, what mutations have happened over time, and you can fit it into the sort of family tree of COVID. If you’re getting samples through that have got positive whole genome sequencing results, it’s really convincing that it’s real. But, of course, if it’s cross-contamination from the false positive control, it’s still going to get a whole genome sequence.

Alex: Because you’d think, the thing that surprised me with this crisis, I don’t like calling it a pandemic because that suggests that we’re still in it, and I’m not sure that we are. But the thing that surprised me is with the £300 billion that we’ve already spent, surely they could set aside, you know, a measly sort of half a billion to sort through these confirmatory tests or to sort of test what they’re doing. It doesn’t seem to be a priority at all.

Dr Craig: No. I mean, if you look at the testing priorities, the priority continues to be to ramp it up and to aim for the moonshot and to have a million tests a day and have us all be tested every morning. It’s completely, like… they clearly have not had advice from somebody who understands this testing. And the people on SAGE that are giving advice are predominantly physicists, chemists, and mathematicians. And for physicists, chemists, and mathematicians, a false positive rate is the lowest positive you’ve ever had in your testing. The fact is the kind of work they do is on really, really accurate testing equipment, and they have really low false positive rates, and it’s a constant. And that’s not the situation in medicine.

Alex: And basically, and this data, these rates are potentially changing all the time. You said yourself they change from a Monday to a Saturday in Scotland.

Dr Craig: Yes.

Alex: How are we going to get out of this? I’m a little bit worried.

Dr Craig: Well I think, to be honest, I’m optimistic because…

Alex: Oh really?

Dr Craig: Yes. The data will start to do crazy things. It’s already started to do crazy things. So as well as the deaths being out of proportion to the severe cases, one of the other things that’s starting to happen is that the number of predicted cases is starting to be lower than the number of cases diagnosed. It’s not quite there yet, but that’s the trend that we’re headed in. When you really do have COVID, PCR testing is reliable for about 20 days. Obviously we’ve heard stories about it going on and on for months, but in most patients you have a 20 day window of it being picked up. And the number of predicted cases in the East Midlands is the sort of number of new cases per day that you would see over the course of a week.

And if you go and look at that week and say, well, how many cases did we diagnose? Assuming that you can have any be picked up in any one of those 20 days during the course of the illness, then we’re pretty much on par. So more crazy things will happen with the data that will be undeniable nonsense. And then, you know, once you get to that stage, people have to start thinking differently because you can’t make sense of these things. There was a lovely article in “The Daily Mail,” and I’m sure it was from the best of places, but it shows how crazy stuff has got where the news broke that the time to death had got worse. Right? It had been an average of two weeks between diagnosis and death in hospital, and it was one week. And they managed to say that this was because treatments had improved. Am I getting this the wrong way around? Let me have a think.

Alex: I think they probably got it the wrong way around.

Dr Craig: No, they said treatments had improved, right? Because patients who would have died after a while are now surviving because of these brilliant treatments…

Alex: Oh, so only the very ill ones that are dying.

Dr Craig: Yes. You’re like, that’s such convoluted thinking. It’s such convoluted thinking, and we’re going to hear more and more convoluted thinking like that because unless you realize the reason that it’s changed is because you’re diagnosing something else completely, then you have to have convoluted thinking to make sense of that kind of data.

Alex: I just find it everywhere. I find it constant, the convoluted thinking. Even the non-pharmaceutical interventions, i.e. the lockdowns, the circuit breakers, all of that stuff, it just results in convoluted thinking. You know, the Welsh thinking, “Yeah, we’re gonna ban books. That’ll do the trick.” And this phenomenon of long COVID as well, it’s as if they’ve kind of lost the battle on the infection fatality rates, and they’ve had to concede that it is lower than they thought it said. But now they’re saying, “Well, you know, this could cause, you know, long term disability.” You just have to say, well, A) no one has had it for more than six months anyway, so how could you possibly know that? And, B) I mean, you’re the pathologist. Don’t all viruses have this?

Dr Craig: Pneumonias are horrid. If you get a pneumonia, you’re going to be sick for six months no matter how old you are. It’s a really, really horrid thing to happen. It takes a long time to get better from. And I think you have to wait six months before assessing whether there’s anything more. And, yes, you know, this was a horrible illness. And actually I disagree with you about the infection fatality rates. I’m kind of an outlier in the community that have written on this. I think the infection fatality rate was higher than we now think it was.

Alex: Really?

Dr Craig: Because the calculation done more recently have been diluted with false positives.

Alex: Oh, right. Okay.

Dr Craig: When COVID hit in spring, it was a really horrid killer, and we’ve kind of forgotten quite how bad it was. If you go back and try and remember how we were feeling in March and how the news came out and how… So let me take you through the timeline, actually. The 21st of March, news broke that 21 year old Chloe Middleton, who was healthy, had died at home of COVID, which had us all slightly on edge, I think. And then on the 28th of March, Martin Egan, who was a bus driver, died. And the first NHS surgeon who was working had died. The next day was another death of a bus driver, and a 55 year old healthy NHS physician died. And by five days later, we were told five Transport for London bus drivers had died. The next day five NHS staff had died. It was really quick, and it was killing young people who should not have been dying, and it was worth being scared of in March and April.

Alex: Right.

Dr Craig: I think when we actually managed one day to filter out what was real and what was not real, we’ll see that it did have a significant infection fatality rate. It’s just that since then, what we’ve diagnosed is not it.

Alex: But then fundamentally though, the prevalence can’t have been as big, and it can’t ever have been as big because it’s largely passed through the population now. I mean, the big key metric here to look at is excess deaths, right?

Dr Craig: Right. Let’s come back to excess deaths though because the thing about prevalence is that I totally agree it passed through the whole country. Every part of the country had excess deaths in spring. Liverpool has the same 14% excess deaths this year as London. This kind of story we are told that it infected some areas more than others doesn’t really match with that data of excess deaths. But the way you calculate your infection fatality ratio is based on how many people were symptomatic. That’s what we mean by who had it. And, you know, we’re never going to know for sure because we weren’t testing, and so we don’t know for certain. We don’t have great antibody testing to know for certain.

But what it doesn’t measure when you’re calculating this is people who were immune already. And I think we had significant numbers of people who couldn’t catch it. And when it passed through the country, it wasn’t 100% of us that were susceptible. It just wasn’t. There’s prior immunity from other things that we’ve seen. Our immune systems are amazing, and they work for most of us. You can see that also in the data.

There was a nice match analysis published on household transmission. So people who had a positive COVID test, they went and looked in their households (this is around the world) and found out how many of the people they lived with caught it. And the range was huge. It was from 50% of household contacts catching it to 5%, which seems rather low, almost as if maybe you’re not testing correctly. But going back to the 50%, 50% of household contacts catching it, it means that the rest are immune. They must be immune, especially when we know how quickly this disease spread. It was a very contagious disease, there’s no question about that, and how quickly it went through our country. So it’s a contagious disease that not everybody catches.

Alex: Well famously there was the Diamond Princess, which is your kind of perfect petri dish to see how it affects, because I remember stories about this, infections coming out of cruise ships. You get these norovirus infections and stuff, and they would totally tear through the whole ship because if you want an environment where a disease could spread, a boat is pretty much as good as you’re going to get. But what was it, a huge proportion of people, I can’t remember, they just didn’t get it.

Dr Craig: No. They also at that point had the stories breaking about patients testing positive who had no symptoms, and some of those patients went on to get symptoms, which, you know, means that they probably had it, but others never had symptoms. There’s been so much confusion about this asymptomatic thing that, we’ve just gone into some other world which is different for any other disease. Yes, you can have a positive PCR test and be asymptomatic. Yes, you can even have a positive viral culture and be asymptomatic. So that means that there’s live virus that can get into cells, and people can have that in them and be asymptomatic.

But that does not mean that they’re infected. It doesn’t mean that they’re diseased in the way that we normally talk about disease because they have no symptoms. It means that they’re immune. That is what immunity is. Immunity is when a virus invades, it doesn’t bother you. The stories in the scientific literature about transmission, which is what we should worry about, say yes, these asymptomatic people can have the virus. But can they spread it? And that’s the critical question.

There are two schools of thought on that. So if you take all the scientific literature published about transmission you can put them into two piles: one that shows they do not transmit (you can’t spread it unless you’re coughing, which sort of makes biological sense) and the other that says it’s a serious problem. But if you look again at the pile of papers that say it’s a serious problem, they were all published in China, and I think we just have to have a little bit of skepticism about that when all the other literature contradicts it.

Alex: Well, regular listeners of my podcast will know that nothing coming out of China should be trusted related to this on anything. And as Michael Sanger, one of my former guests, showed, not everything that comes out of China is obviously coming from China. And that is a real danger. I think I said to you off air I don’t get conspiratorial about this. I do think we are in a storm of cognitive biases and motivated reasoning. And even the great reset stuff and all of that, it’s just the people who sort of spout on about this stuff and have been doing so for years, just seeing this as opportunity. It’s no different.

But if there is one bad actor that is certainly the Chinese Communist Party, and they have the motive and the reasoning to do that. Although, having said that, this podcast is more talking about scientific issues rather than politics, so I should try and keep them separate. So we didn’t actually quite go into a little bit, but what’s the thing that tells us that the epidemic has passed through the population? Is it those excess death figures? Which is quite a nasty little blip. It’s a good, you know, what, 20, 25 years since we’ve had something that bad kind of hit the population?

Dr Craig: Is your question really, how do we know it’s over?

Alex: Yes.

Dr Craig: The one thing to look at is when hospital deaths peaked around the country. You can look at by hospital trusts, you know, each of them have their own little Gompertz curve with a maximum. And you can say, “Well this is when peak deaths happened.” And the first peak was in Brighton on the 28th of March, way too soon for lockdown to have had an effect. And then it spread not in a kind of south to north way. It was all over. I think there were lots of different seeding events.

But the last places to spike have a death peak in their hospitals were Hull, Rotherham on the 24th of April, Bradford on the 26th of April, and West Suffolk on the 28th of April. And the thing about those places is that when you do pandemic modelling, they are the places that get the disease last. And they were getting it so long after Brighton that you can see that it was just spreading throughout lockdown. Lockdown didn’t have any effect at all. You can confirm that it’s come, gone, killed people, and then just disappeared because it hasn’t come back. That’s fundamentally the test of immunity. Is it coming back? It should’ve come back at the VE celebrations, or in the marches, or when the beaches were packed. You can’t keep saying, “Well, it’s going to come back tomorrow.” It didn’t come back because it’s gone.

Alex: It’s gone. But we’re still stuck in this situation.

Dr Craig: And it’s not gone forever, you can’t get rid of a virus forever. It’s not gone gone, but the epidemic part of it is gone. So after an epidemic has come and gone, then the population is no longer susceptible because either people have been killed or become immune. It’s just the reality of it, harsh though that is. And therefore, if the virus does, you know, have a winter prevalence, and in the winter there may very well be cases again through the winter, but it’s a different story. That’s just like flu every year. It’s a seasonal infection. It’ll come, but it’s not coming into a susceptible population anymore. It’s coming into a population that has a bit of immunity.

Alex: I suppose that’s the, how can I put it, the slander that the anti herd immunity advocates say is that herd immunity means the eradication of a disease whereas that’s not actually the case, is it? I think [inaudible 00:47:58] calls it the epidemic equilibrium where it just kind of sinks back into the background.

Dr Craig: Yes. The herd immunity deniers keep talking about measles saying, “Well, you know, we only got control of the measles because of vaccination.” And that’s kind of true. The thing with herd immunity is that the number of people who have to be immune depends on the R value, the R0 value. So how contagious is this disease? Measles is really, really contagious. It’s got an R value of eight, so you need 90% plus to have herd immunity. And the problem with measles is that there are babies arriving all the time, and they’re not immune, so in order to have herd immunity you have to keep that vaccination level up really high. But the R0 value for COVID, you know, it’s debatable. In fact, the range is quite massive for what people think it was, but there seems to be a reasonable guess, and three is how you get to the 60% immunity, herd immunity figure, which also seems reasonable. And so, no, you don’t have to have every single person in the community being immune.

Alex: Right. So we’ve spoken for quite a while. If there’s something that could, I’d like to ask you personally is, so I’ve been sort of kicking around in this lockdown skeptic world for I think probably since April. But you’re a real newcomer. It’s amazing. Your Twitter account has only been around since September, and you’ve already got, you know, quite a large following already, which to me sort of encourages me a lot because the podcast where I interview scientists always get really, really high views or listens, rather.

And, you know, your Twitter account has got a lot of information on it, and it shows there’s a real hunger for that. So it’s really one in the eye for these kind of media commentators who think everything has to be dumbed down, which I actually think is quite hopeful for the future. It shows there is appetite to sort of digest this stuff and to disseminate it. So why did you decide to speak out, and why did you speak out when you did?

Dr Craig: That’s a really reasonable question. I realize I’m the latecomer to the party, and a lot of people have been speaking out since…you know, they spotted it way earlier than I spotted it. Essentially, I have four children, and I was really, really busy. I was trying to homeschool four children. And we went through the summer holidays, and then finally September came, and they went back to school.

The kind of little questions I’d had niggling at the back of my mind about what was going on and were we just getting false positives through the summer when the positive rate was flat, you know, I suddenly had time to explore it. I started digging into the data and testing the data and saying, look, if these were false positives, what does that mean? Can we see in the data changes like when COVID deaths happen they were 60% male? And in the summer, the deaths labeled COVID were 50/50? That sort of is suspicious, and so I kept going at that, testing it, and concluded for myself that they were false positives over the summer. And then I wrote to Carl Heneghan, who I was at medical school with, who I haven’t spoken to for 20 years.

Alex: Really? Don’t just pass that. What was he like as a young man?

Dr Craig: In university?

Alex: Yeah.

Dr Craig: In his way, he was much cooler than me.

Alex: I bet, was he into, like, The Stone Roses and stuff like that?

Dr Craig: I wouldn’t comment on his musical tastes.

Alex: I bet he went to gigs. He must’ve done.

Dr Craig: Sure. He was a good guy.

Alex: Okay.

Dr Craig: Yes. So I wrote to him and I said, “Look. I think I found this. What should I do?” And he said, “Just get on Twitter, get it out there.” And so that’s when I joined Twitter. It was sort of mid-September, trying to spread the messages. And since then I’ve been digging and digging and digging through the data. I feel like actually I need to change tack. We need to. Now, well, there’s enough evidence now. There’s enough.

What matters is communicating it. I don’t think I’ve been terribly good at communicating it, even though you’ve said flattering things, because I communicate with graphs and with numbers. I communicate as a scientist, which isn’t accessible to everybody. And I think I need to just concentrate on making this…getting the message out in a way that everybody can understand because while we’ve… You know, my followers are physicists and mathematicians, and that’s not the only people. We need to get the message out to the powerful people.

Government Innumeracy

by James Ferguson

Matt Hancock and his closest advisors receive the latest modelling update from Prof Neil Ferguson

Are you positive you are ‘positive’?

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do sir?” – John Maynard Keynes

The UK has a big problem with the false positive rate (FPR) of its COVID-19 tests. The authorities acknowledge no FPR, so positive test results are not corrected for false positives and that is a big problem.

The standard COVID-19 RT-PCR test results have a consistent positive rate of ≤ 2% which also appears to be the likely false positive rate (FPR), rendering the number of official ‘cases’ virtually meaningless. The likely low virus prevalence (~0.02%) is consistent with as few as 1% of the 6,100+ Brits now testing positive each week in the wider community (pillar 2) tests actually having the disease.

We are now asked to believe that a random, probably asymptomatic member of the public is 5x more likely to test ‘positive’ than someone tested in hospital, which seems preposterous given that ~40% of diagnosed infections originated in hospitals.

The high amplification of PCR tests requires them to be subject to black box software algorithms, which the numbers suggest are preset at a 2% positive rate. If so, we will never get ‘cases’ down until and unless we reduce, or better yet cease altogether, randomized testing. Instead the government plans to ramp them up to 10m a day at a cost of £100bn, equivalent to the entire NHS budget.

Government interventions have seriously negative political, economic and health implications yet are entirely predicated on test results that are almost entirely false. Despite the prevalence of virus in the UK having fallen to about 2-in-10,000, the chances of testing ‘positive’ stubbornly remain ~100x higher than that.

First do no harm

It may surprise you to know that in medicine, a positive test result does not often, or even usually, mean that an asymptomatic patient has the disease. The lower the prevalence of a disease compared to the false positive rate (FPR) of the test, the more inaccurate the results of the test will be. Consequently, it is often advisable that random testing in the absence of corroborating symptoms, for certain types of cancer for example, is avoided and doubly so if the treatment has non-trivial negative side-effects. In Probabilistic Reasoning in Clinical Medicine (1982), edited by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and his long-time collaborator Amos Tversky, David Eddy provided physicians with the following diagnostic puzzle. Women age 40, participate in routine screening for breast cancer which has a prevalence of 1%. The mammogram test has a false negative rate of 20% and a false positive rate of 10%. What is the probability that a woman with a positive test actually has breast cancer? The correct answer in this case is 7.5% but 95/100 doctors in the study gave answers in the range 70-80%, i.e. their estimates were out by an order of magnitude. [The solution: in each batch of 100,000 tests, 800 (80% of the 1,000 women with breast cancer) will be picked up; but so too will 9,920 (10% FPR) of the 99,200 healthy women. Therefore, the chance of actually being positive (800) if tested positive (800 + 9,920 = 10,720) is only 7.46% (800/10,720).]

Conditional probabilities

In the section on conditional probability in their new book Radical Uncertainty, Mervyn King and John Kay quote a similar study by psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer of the Max Planck Institute and author of Reckoning with Risk, who illustrated medical experts’ statistical innumeracy with the Haemoccult test for colorectal cancer, a disease with an incidence of 0.3%. The test had a false negative rate of 50% and a false positive rate of 3%. Gigerenzer and co-author Ulrich Hoffrage asked 48 experienced (average 14 years) doctors what the probability was that someone testing positive actually had colorectal cancer. The correct answer in this case is around 5%. However, about half the doctors estimated the probability at either 50% or 47%, i.e. the sensitivity (FNR) or the sensitivity less the specificity (FNR – FPR) respectively. [The solution: from 100,000 test subjects, the test would correctly identify only half of the 300 who had cancer but also falsely identify as positive 2,991 (3%) of the 99,700 healthy subjects. This time the chance of being positive if tested positive (150 + 2,991 = 3,141) is 4.78% (150/3,141).]As Gigerenzer concluded in a subsequent paper in 2003, “many doctors have trouble distinguishing between the sensitivity (FNR), the specificity (FPR), and the positive predictive value (probability that a positive test is a true positive) of test —three conditional probabilities.” Because doctors and patients alike are inclined to believe that almost all ‘positive’ tests indicate the presence of disease, Gigerenzer argues that randomised screening is far too poorly understood and too inaccurate in the case of low incidence diseases and can prove harmful where interventions have non-trivial, negative side-effects. Yet this straightforward lesson in medical statistics from the 1990s has been all but forgotten in the COVID-19 panic of 2020. Whilst false negatives might be the major concern if a disease is rife, when the incidence is low, as with the specific cancers above or COVID-19 PCR test, for example, the overriding problem is the false positive rate (FPR). There have been 17.6m cumulative RT-PCR (antigen) tests in the UK, 350k (2%) of which gave positive results. Westminster assumes this means the prevalence of COVID-19 is about 2% but that conclusion is predicated on the tests being 100% accurate which, as we will see below, is not the case at all.

Positives ≠ cases

One clue is that this 2% positive rate crops up worryingly consistently, even though the vast majority of those tested nowadays are not in hospital, unlike the early days. For example, from the 520k pillar 2 (community) tests in the fortnight around the end of May, there were 10.5k positives (2%), in the week ending June 24th there were 4k positives from 160k pillar 2 tests (2%) and last week about 6k of the 300k pillar 2 tests (2% again) were also ‘positive’. There are two big problems with this. First, medically speaking, a positive test result is not a ‘case’. A ‘case’ is by definition both symptomatic and must be diagnosed by a doctor but few of the pillar 2 positives report any symptoms at all and almost none are seen by doctors. Second, NHS diagnosis, hospital admission and death data have all declined consistently since the peak, by over 99% in the case of deaths, suggesting it is the ‘positive’ test data that have been corrupted. The challenge therefore is to deduce what proportion of the reported ‘positives’ actually have the disease (i.e. what is the FPR)? Bear in mind two things. First, the software that comes with the PCR testing machines states that these machines are not to be used for diagnostics (only screening). Second, the positive test rate can never be lower than the FPR.

Is UK prevalence now 0.02%?

The epidemiological rule-of-thumb for novel viruses is that medical cases can be assumed to be about 10x deaths and infections 10x cases. Note too that by medical cases what is meant is symptomatic hospitalisations not asymptomatic ‘positive’ RT-PCR test results. With no reported FPR to analyse and adjust reported test positives with, but with deaths now averaging 7 per day in the UK, we can backwardly estimate 70 daily symptomatic ‘cases’. This we can roughly corroborate with NHS diagnoses, which average 40 per day in England (let’s say 45 for the UK as a whole). The factor 10 rule-of-thumb therefore implies 450-700 new daily infections. UK government figures differ from the NHS and daily hospital admissions are now 84, after peaking in early April at 3,356 (-97.5%). Since the infection period lasts 22-23 days, the official death and diagnosis data indicate roughly 10-18k current active infections in the UK, 90% of whom feel just fine. Even the 2k daily pillar 1 (in hospital) tests only result in about 80 (0.4%) positives, 40 diagnoses and 20 admissions. Crucially, all these data are an order of magnitude lower than the positive test data and result in an inferred virus prevalence of 0.015%-0.025% (average 0.02%), which is far too low for randomized testing with anything less than a 100% perfect test; and the RT-PCR test is certainly less than 100% perfect.

Only 1% of ‘positives’ are positive

So, how do we reconcile an apparent prevalence of around 0.02% with a consistent positive PCR test rate of around 2%, which is some 100x higher? Because of the low prevalence of the disease, reported UK pillar 2 positives rate and the FPR are both about 2%, meaning almost all ‘positive’ test results are false with an overall error rate of 99:1 (99 errors for each correct answer). In other words, for each 100,000 people tested, we are picking up at least 24 of the 25 (98%) true positives but also falsely identifying 2,000 (2%) of the 99,975 healthy people as positives too. Not only do < 1.2% (24/2024) of pillar 2 ‘positives’ really have COVID-19, of which only 0.1% would be medically defined as symptomatic ‘cases’, but this 2% FPR rate also explains the ~2% (2.02% in this case) positive rate so consistently observed in the official UK data.

The priority now: FPR

This illustrates just how much the FPR matters and how seriously compromised the official data are without it. Carl Mayers, Technical Capability Leader at the Ministry of Defence Science and Technology Laborartory (Dstl) at Porton Down, is just one government scientist who is understandably worried about the undisclosed FPR. Mayers and his co-author Kate Baker submitted a paper at the start of June to the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) noting that the RT-PCR assays used for testing in the UK had been verified by Public Health England (PHE) “and show over 95% sensitivity and specificity” (i.e. a sub-5% false positive rate) in idealized laboratory conditions but that “we have been unable to find any data on the operational false positive rate” (their bold) and “this must be measured as a priority” (my bold). Yet SAGE minutes from the following day’s meeting reveal this paper was not even discussed.

False positives

According to Mayers, an establishment insider, PHE is aware the COVID-19 PCR test false positive rate (FPR) may be as high as 5%, even in idealized ‘analytical’ laboratory environments. Out in the real world though, ‘operational’ false positives are often at least twice as likely to occur: via contamination of equipment (poor manufacturing) or reagents (poor handling), during sampling (poor execution), ‘aerosolization’ during swab extraction (poor luck), cross-reaction with other genetic material during DNA amplification (poor design specification), and contamination of the DNA target (poor lab protocol), all of which are aggravating factors additional to any problems inherent in the analytic sensitivity of the test process itself, which is itself far less binary than the policymakers seem to believe. As if this wasn’t bad enough, over-amplification of viral samples (i.e. a cycle threshold ‘Ct’ > 30) causes old cases to test positive, at least 6 weeks after recovery when people are no longer infectious and the virus in their system is no longer remotely viable, leading Jason Leitch, Scotland’s National Clinical Director to call the current PCR test ‘a bit rubbish.’

Test…


The RT-PCR swab test looks for the existence of viral RNA in infected people. Reverse Transcription (RT) is where viral RNA is converted into DNA, which is then amplified (doubling each cycle) in a polymerase chain reaction (PCR). A primer is used to select the specific DNA and PCR works on the assumption that only the desired DNA will be duplicated and detected. Whilst each repeat cycle increases the likelihood of detecting viral DNA, it also increases the chances that broken bits of DNA, contaminating DNA or merely similar DNA may be duplicated as well, which increases the chances that any DNA match found is not from the Covid viral sequence. 

…and repeat


Amplification makes it easier to discover virus DNA but too much amplification makes it too easy. In Europe the amplification, or ‘cycle threshold’ (Ct), is limited to 30Ct, i.e. doubling 30x (2 to the power of 30 = 1 billion copies). It has been known since April, that even apparently heavy viral load cases “with Ct above 33-34 using our RT-PCR system are not contagious and can thus be discharged from hospital care or strict confinement for non-hospitalized patients.” A review of 25 related papers by Carl Heneghan at the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine (CEBM) also has concluded that any positive result above 30Ct is essentially non-viable even in lab cultures (i.e. in the absence of any functional immune system), let alone in humans. However, in the US, an amplification of 40Ct is common (1 trillion copies) and in the UK, COVID-19 RT-PCR tests are amplified by up to 42Ct. This is 2 to the power of 42 (i.e. 4.4 trillion copies), which is 4,400x the ‘safe’ screening limit. The higher the amplification, the more likely you are to get a ‘positive’ but the more likely it is that this positive will be false. True positives can be confirmed by genetic sequencing, for example at the Sanger Institute, but this check is not made, or at least if it is, the data is also unreported.

The sliding scale

Whatever else you may therefore have previously thought about the PCR COVID-19 test, it should be clear by now that it is far from either fully accurate, objective or binary. Positive results are not black or white but on a sliding scale of grey. This means labs are required to decide, somewhat subjectively, where to draw the line because ultimately, if you run enough cycles, every single sample would eventually turn positive due to amplification, viral breakdown and contamination. As Marianne Jakobsen of Odense University Hospital Denmark puts it on UgenTec’s website: “there is a real risk of errors if you simply accept cycler software calls at face value. You either need to add a time-consuming manual review step, or adopt intelligent software.”

Adjusting Ct test results

Most labs therefore run software to adjust positive results (i.e. decide the threshold) closer to some sort of ‘expected’ rate. However, as we have painfully discovered with Prof. Neil Ferguson’s spectacularly inaccurate epidemiological model (expected UK deaths 510,000; actual deaths 41,537) if the model disagrees with reality, some modelers prefer to adjust reality not their model. Software programming companies are no exception and one of them, diagnostics.ai, is taking another one UgenTec (which won the no-contest bid for setting and interpreting the Lighthouse Labs thresholds), to the High Court on September 23rd apparently claiming UgenTec had no track record, external quality assurance (EQA) or experience in this field. Whilst this case may prove no more than sour grapes on diagnostics.ai’s part, it does show that PCR test result interpretation, whether done by human or computer, is ultimately not only subjective but as such will always effectively bury the FPR.

Increase tests, increase ‘cases’

So, is it the software that is setting the UK positive case rate ≤ 2%? Because if it is, we will never get the positive rate below 2% until we cease testing asymptomatics. Last week (ending August 26th) there were just over 6,122 positives from 316,909 pillar 2 tests (1.93%), as with the week of July 22nd (1.9%). Pillar 2 tests deliver a (suspiciously) stable proportion of positive results, consistently averaging ≤ 2%. As Carl Heneghan at the CEBM in Oxford has explained, the increase in absolute number of pillar 2 positives is nothing more than a function of increased testing, not increased disease as erroneously reported in the media. Heneghan shows that whilst pillar 1 cases per 100,000 tests have been steadily declining for months, pillar 2 cases per 100,000 tests are “flatlining” (at around 2%).

30,000 under house arrest

In the week ending August 26th, there were 1.45m tests processed in the UK across all 4 pillars, though there seem to be no published results for the 1m of these tests that were pillar 3 (antibody tests) or pillar 4 “national surveillance” tests (NB. none of the UK numbers ever seem to match up). But as far as pillar 1 (hospital) cases are concerned, these have fallen by about 90% since the start of June, so almost all positive cases now reported in the UK (> 92% of the total) come from the largely asymptomatic pillar 2 tests in the wider community. Whilst pillar 2 tests were originally intended to be only for the symptomatic (doctor referral etc) the facilities have been swamped with asymptomatics wanting testing, and their numbers are only increasing (+25% over the last two weeks alone) perhaps because there are now very few symptomatics out there. The proportion of pillar 2 tests that that are taken by asymptomatics is yet another figure that is not published but there are 320k pillar 2 tests per week, whilst the weekly rate of COVID-19 diagnoses by NHS England is just 280. Assume that Brits are total hypochrondriacs and only 1% of those reporting respiratory symptoms to their doctor (who sends them out to get a pillar 2 test) end up diagnosed, that still means well over 90% of all pillar 2 tests are taken by the asymptomatic; and asymptomatics taking PCR tests when the FPR is higher than the prevalence (100x higher in this instance) results in a meaningless FPR (of 99% in this instance).Believing six impossible things before breakfast

Whilst the positive rate for pillar 2 is consistently ~2% (with that suspiciously low degree of variability), it is more than possible that the raw data FPR is 5-10% (consistent with the numbers that Carl Mayers referred to) and the only reason we don’t see such high numbers is that the software is adjusting the positive threshold back down to 2%. However, if that is the case, no matter what the true prevalence of the disease, the positive count will always and forever be stuck at ~2% of the number of tests. The only way to ‘eradicate’ COVID-19 in that case would be to cease randomized testing altogether, which Gerd Gigerenzer might tell you wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. Instead, lamentably, the UK government is reportedly doubling down with its ill-informed ‘Operation Moonshot’, an epically misguided plan to increase testing to 10m/day, which would obviously mean almost exclusively asymptomatics, and which we can therefore confidently expect to generate an apparent surge in positive ‘cases’ to 200,000 a day, equivalent to the FPR and proportionate to the increase in the number of tests.

Emperor’s new clothes

Interestingly, though not in a good way, the positive rate seems to differ markedly depending on whether we are talking about pillar 1 tests (mainly NHS labs) or pillar 2 tests, mainly managed by Deloitte (weird but true) which gave the software contract to UgenTec and which between them set the ~2% positive thresholds for the Lighthouse Lab network. This has had the quirky result that a gullible British public is now expected to believe that people in hospital are 4-5x less likely to test positive (0.45%) than fairly randomly selected, largely asymptomatic members of the general public (~2%), despite 40% of transmissions being nosocomial (at hospital). The positive rate, it seems, is not just suspiciously stable but subject to worrying lab-by-lab idiosyncrasies pre-set by management consultants, not doctors. It is little wonder no one is willing to reveal what the FPR is, since there’s a good chance nobody really knows any longer; but that is absolutely no excuse for implying it is zero.

Wave Two or wave goodbye?

The implications of the overt discrepancy between the trajectories of UK positive tests (up) and diagnoses, hospital admissions and deaths (all down) need to be explained. Positives bottomed below 550 per day on July 8th and have since gone up by a factor of three to 1500+ per day. Yet over the same period (shifted forward 12 days to reflect the lag between hospitalisation and death), daily deaths have dropped, also by a factor of three, from 22 to 7, as indeed have admissions, from 62 to 20 (compare the right-hand side of the upper and lower panels in the Chart below). Much more likely, positive but asymptomatic tests are false positives. The Vivaldi 1 study of all UK care home residents found that 81% of positives were asymptomatic, which for this most vulnerable cohort, probably means false positive.

Chart: UK daily & 7-day COVID-19 cases (top) and deaths (below)

This almost tenfold discrepancy between positive test results and the true incidence of the disease also shows up in the NHS data for 9th August (the most recent available), showing daily diagnoses (40) and hospital admissions (33) in England that are way below the Gov.UK positive ‘cases’ (1,351) and admissions (53) data for the same day. Wards are empty and admissions are so low that I know of at least one hospital (Taunton in Devon), for example, which discharged its last COVID-19 patient three weeks ago and hasn’t had a single admission since. Thus the most likely reason < 3% (40/1351) of positive ‘cases’ are confirmed by diagnosis is the ~2% FPR. Hence the FPR needs to be expressly reported and incorporated into an explicit adjustment of the positive data before even more harm is done.

Occam’s Razor

Oxford University’s Sunetra Gupta believes it is entirely possible that the effective herd immunity threshold (HIT) has already been reached, especially given that there hasn’t been a genuine second wave anywhere. The only measure suggesting higher prevalence than 0.025% is the positive test rate but this data is corrupted by the FPR. The very low prevalence of the disease means that the most rational explanation for almost all the positives (2%), at least in the wider community, is the 2% FPR. This benign conclusion is further supported by the ‘case’ fatality rate (CFR), which has declined 40-fold: from 19% of all ‘cases’ at the mid-April peak to just 0.45% of all ‘positives’ now. The official line is that we are getting better at treating the disease and/or it is only healthy young people getting it now; but surely the far simpler explanation is the mathematically supported one that we are wrongly assuming, against all the evidence, that the PCR test results are 100% accurate.

Fear and confusion

Deaths and hospitalizations have always provided a far truer, and harder to misrepresent, profile of the progress of the disease. Happily, hospital wards are empty and deaths had already all but disappeared off the bottom of the chart (lower panel, in the chart above) as long ago as mid/late July; implying the infection was all but gone as long ago as mid-June. So, why are UK businesses still facing restrictions and enduring localized lockdowns and 10pm curfews (Glasgow, Bury, Bolton and Caerphilly)? Why are Brits forced to wear masks, subjected to traveler quarantines and, if randomly tested positive, forced into self-isolation along with their friends and families? Why has the UK government listened to the histrionics of discredited self-publicists like Neil Ferguson (who vaingloriously and quite sickeningly claims to have ‘saved’ 3.1m lives) rather than the calm, quiet and sage interpretations offered by Oxford University’s Sunetra Gupta, Cambridge University’s Sir David Spiegelhalter, the CEBM’s Carl Heneghan or Porton Down’s Carl Mayers? Let’s be clear: it certainly has nothing to do with ‘the science’ (if by science we mean ‘math’); but it has a lot to do with a generally poor grasp of statistics in Westminster; and even more to do with political interference and overreach.

Bad Math II

As an important aside, it appears that the whole global lockdown fiasco might have been caused by another elementary mathematical mistake from the start. The case fatality rate (CFR) is not to be confused with the infection fatality rate (IFR), which is usually 10x smaller. This is epidemiology 101. The epidemiological rule-of-thumb mentioned above is that (mild and therefore unreported) infections can be initially assumed to be approximately 10x cases (hospital admissions) which are in turn about 10x deaths. The initial WHO and CDC guidance following Wuhan back in February was that COVID-19 could be expected to have the same 0.1% CFR as flu. The mistake was that 0.1% was flu’s IFR, not its CFR. Somehow, within days, Congress was then informed on March 11th that the estimated mortality for the novel coronavirus was 10x that of flu and days after that, the lockdowns started.

Neil Ferguson: Covid’s Matthew Hopkins

This slip-of-the-tongue error was, naturally enough, copied, compounded and legitimized by the notorious Prof. Neil Ferguson, who referenced a paper from March 13th he had co-authored with Verity et al. which took “the CFR in China of 1.38% (to) obtain an overall IFR estimate for China of 0.66%”. Not three days later his ICL team’s infamous March 16th paper further bumped up “the IFR estimates from Verity et al… to account for a non-uniform attack rate giving an overall IFR of 0.9%.” Just like magic, the IFR implied by his own CFR estimate of 1.38% had, without cause, justification or excuse, risen 6.5-fold from his peers’ rule-of-thumb of 0.14% to 0.9%, which incidentally meant his mortality forecast would also be similarly multiplied. Not satisfied with that, he then exaggerated terminal herd immunity.

Compounding errors

Because Ferguson’s model simplistically assumed no natural immunity (there is) and that all socialization is homogenous (it isn’t), his model doesn’t anticipate herd immunity until 81% of the population has been infected. All the evidence since as far back as February and the Diamond Princess indicated that effective herd immunity is occurring around a 20-25% infection rate; but the modelers have still not updated their models to any of the real world data yet and I don’t suppose they ever will. This is also why these models continue to report an R of ≥ 1.0 (growth) when the data, at least on hospital admissions and deaths, suggest the R has been 0.3-0.6 (steadily declining) since March. Compound all these errors and Ferguson’s expected UK death toll of 510k has proved to be 12x too high. His forecast of 2.2m US deaths has also, thankfully but no thanks to him, been 11x too high too. The residual problem is that the politicians still believe this is merely Armageddon postponed, not Armageddon averted. “A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once” (Shakespeare).

Quality control

It is wholly standard to insist on external quality assurance (EQA) for any test but none such has been provided here. Indeed all information is held back on a need-to-know rather than a free society basis. The UK carried out 1.45m tests last week but published the results for only 452k of them. No pillar 3 (antibody) test results have been published at all, which begs the question: why not (official reason – the data has been anonymized, as if that makes any sense)? The problem is that instead of addressing the FPR, the authorities act as if it is zero, and so assume relatively high virus prevalence. If however, the 2% positive rate is merely a reflection of the FPR, a likely explanation for why pillar 3 results remain unpublished might be that they counterintuitively show a decline in antibody positives. Yet this is only to be expected if the prevalence is both very low and declining. T-cells retain the information to make antibodies but if there is no call for them because people are no longer coming into contact with infections, antibodies present in the blood stream decline. Why there are no published data on pillar 4 (‘national surveillance’ PCR tests remains a mystery).

It’s not difficult

However, it is relatively straightforward to resolve the FPR issue. The Sanger Institute is gene sequencing positive results but will fail to achieve this with any false positives, so publishing the proportion of failed sequencing samples would go a long way to answering the FPR question. Alternatively, we could subject positive PCR tests to a protein test for confirmation. Lab contaminated and/or previously-infected-now-recovered samples would not be able to generate these proteins like a live virus would, so once again, the proportion of positive tests absent protein would give us a reliable indication of the FPR.

Scared to death

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has filtered four facts from the international COVID-19 experience and these are: that the growth in daily deaths declines to zero within 25-30 days, that they then decline, that this profile is ubiquitous and so much so that governmental non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) made little or no difference. The UK government needs to understand that neither assuming that ‘cases’ are growing, without at least first discounting the possibility that what is observed is merely a property of the FPR, nor ordering anti-liberal NPIs, is in any way ‘following the science’. Even a quite simple understanding of statistics indicates that positive test results must be parsed through the filter of the relevant FPR. Fortunately, we can estimate the FPR from what little raw data the government has given us but worryingly, this estimate suggests that ~99% of all positive tests are ‘false’. Meanwhile, increased deaths from drug and alcohol abuse during lockdowns, the inevitable increase in cases of depression and suicide once job losses after furlough, business and marriage failures post loan forbearance become manifest and, most seriously, the missed cancer diagnoses from the 2.1m screenings that have been delayed must be balanced against a government response to COVID-19 that looks increasingly out of all proportion to the hard evidence. The unacknowledged FPR is taking lives, so establishing the FPR, and therefore accurate numbers for the true community prevalence of the virus, is absolutely essential.

James Ferguson is the Founding Partner of MacroStrategy