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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.

Flu-Like Illnesses

by Dr Clare Craig FRCPath

How many people with ‘flu-like’ illnesses are being mislabelled as Covid?

Cases of Covid appear to have surged recently. Hospital admissions for Covid are now also starting to rise. To question how much of this rise is genuinely the result of Covid is to challenge the prevailing narrative, but as a scientist it is essential to ask hard questions. It is critical that we understand when someone is ill, but it is not Covid. We have limited resources for ‘Track and Trace’ and it is important that they are used wisely, especially when real outbreaks occur.

Scientists are grappling with what the rate of false positive results are with the current Covid test. The risk of a false positive result comes not only from aspects of the testing process itself but may vary from one population to another. It may even vary over time.

Every country has systems of external quality control for their laboratories. A summary has been published of attempts by these bodies to establish the risk of false positive Covid testing from other coronaviruses (one of the causes of the common cold). They tested against two strains of non-Covid coronaviruses. These showed between 0.58% and 0.96% were false positive with Covid testing. With large numbers of tests each day, this level of false positive cross reactivity could easily mean that screening testing across the UK, and indeed the world, has a high risk of misdiagnoses.

Co-infections are a genuine possibility with respiratory infections and are commonly seen with, say, influenza. A co-infection is where a patient is simultaneously infected with multiple viruses which may or may not include Covid. However, with low levels of Covid, when false positive test results are a real risk, then the possibility of a misdiagnosis of Covid must be considered rather than potentially diagnosing two different viral causes to explain the same symptoms.

Numerous other respiratory infections have been diagnosed in Covid positive patients. We do not know the risk of these infections causing a false positive Covid result. The majority of viruses that cause flu-like illnesses show a pattern of contagion and, sadly, result in hospital admissions, ITU admissions and deaths. Almost all are more common than Covid at this time of year. There is a real risk of the UK mislabelling these other respiratory infections as Covid and thereby exaggerating the Covid problem – this has not received sufficient scientific attention.

This paper suggests one simple policy takeaway.

Given the risk of false positive results for Covid testing, an outbreak should not be diagnosed in a low prevalence area in the absence of one of two Covid specific indicators: loss of smell or characteristic chest CT findings. Having accurately established outbreaks, it is safe to switch to more sensitive testing of direct contacts.

Identifying every case should not be the aim in areas with low disease prevalence because of the problem of false positive results. Instead, the focus should be on accurate identification of every outbreak of Covid. Loss of smell is seen in around 65% of genuine Covid cases but statistically loss of smell would be seen in 96% of genuine outbreaks with three people or more. Where there is new onset loss of smell (or chest CT evidence) combined with positive testing, the chances of misdiagnosis are vanishingly small.

Covid in young adults

Why are we seeing alleged excess Covid-like cases in people in their 20s. The narrative is the same across Europe: that a new surge in Covid cases is being driven by young adults. This is despite the fact that during the spring epidemic, symptomatic outbreaks were focused on nursing homes and hospitals. Large numbers of symptomatic young people were not observed in the spring. Why are they being seen now? Why would the impact of the virus at a population level be so different now to what it was in the spring?

Real Covid cases lead, after a time, to rising antibody levels. The percentage of 20-29 year olds with antibodies to Covid has not risen between June and 6th September. It has actually fallen, as it has for the rest of the population. There is a serious inconsistency with the widely accepted hypothesis that the recent surge of flu-like illness must be Covid and the steady continued drop in Covid antibody levels throughout the population. The latter is scientifically provable, the former remains only a hypothesis.

Epidemics spread fast and cluster geographically. Where recent epidemic outbreaks of actual Covid have been mapped, such as in Florida and Marseille, the spread from young adults to other age groups happened within a week and within two weeks Covid was detected in every age group. Given that the time from diagnosis to death is approximately 20 days then a rise in deaths was seen approximately 27 days after new cases in young adults.

The UK data demonstrates that the rise in alleged-Covid cases in young people from the beginning of August did not reach other age groups for a full month. Also, the data since mid Sept has not shown the expected consequent increase in deaths in the UK from the August surge. It seems the outcomes from the UK surge in flu-like illnesses in August does not appear to match that seen in recent genuine Covid outbreaks. This is puzzling, and must make us more cautious.

Some might argue that vulnerable groups have been successfully shielded in the UK and this could explain the lack of deaths now in the UK. Are we better at shielding than Florida and Marseille. Have we successfully hermetically sealed 15-25 year olds from vulnerable groups? It is not obvious that we have shielded any more successfully than other countries. If we have not shielded more successfully, then why has our death rate not increase. like other countries? Death rates should have already increased if this outbreak is Covid rather than other flu-like viruses.

The percentage of young people testing positive for Covid remains low, at a few percent of those tested. Although the false positive rate for Covid testing has not been definitively established, the rate we are observing in the young in the UK is low enough that we cannot exclude the possibility that they are almost all Covid false positives. To differentiate real Covid from false positives requires careful thought and more thorough assessment and testing of those cases. It is essential that loss of smell and Chest CT confirmation is used to confirm where there are genuine outbreaks.

Glandular fever: a case study

This short paper suggests that the global focus on Covid may have skewed our diagnostic capabilities. There are many flu-like illnesses that cause similar symptoms. Let us consider one of them, purely as a case study, and explore how difficult it remains for those who are charged with addressing these issues to track what is really going on. I have chosen a common but fairly serious flu-like illness with which many readers will be familiar: glandular fever.

As it happens, the August data in the UK can be read as consistent with an outbreak of glandular fever, although it is far too soon to be remotely definitive. What is striking about the age distribution is that 2-10 yr olds and 15-25 yr olds were being affected at a higher rate than 10-15 year olds. This is a very unusual distribution, but it is the exact same distribution as seen for glandular fever, which is caused by another virus: EBV.

EBV infection is spread by saliva. It affects drooling toddlers sharing their toys. It also spreads by 15 to 25 year olds kissing. Thereafter, the virus can still be detected in the tonsils of older adults but it is kept under control by an active immune system. In those with a compromised immune system, the virus can reactivate and even be lethal.

The symptoms of glandular fever are fatigue, fever, sore throat, nausea and loss of appetite and a dry cough. Enlarged lymph nodes and spleen are also common findings and these distinguishing signs have not been reported in Covid. If the correct diagnosis is EBV, there would be no loss of smell and no characteristic CT chest findings seen in Covid patients. Unfortunately, there is no sign that the outbreaks of patients testing positive for Covid are being consistently cross-checked with loss of smell and CT chest scans across the UK, or indeed globally. Thus, this outbreak could be EBV, it could be some other virus that causes flu-like illness, or it could be Covid. No one knows whilst the risk of false positive testing in the presence of these viruses is still so unexplored.

Importantly, the frequency of glandular fever cases starts increasing in August as it is a seasonal virus. Searches on Google for “Glandular fever” over a number of years show a clear seasonality but fell to a new low in April 2020 since when it seems as though every fever has been considered by the general public searching Google to be Covid unless proven otherwise.

Could EBV cause a positive Covid test?

It is one thing to contemplate the possibility that EBV infections, or other viruses that cause flu-like infections, are being misdiagnosed as Covid because of the similarity of physical symptoms. It is quite another to go further and consider whether EBV, itself, or other viruses, could cause false positive Covid tests.

When a new test is brought to market it has to undergo quality control to ensure it is safe. For Covid, there was huge urgency to make a test available and, through massive effort, a test was worked up and approved rapidly. Manufacturers checked that samples of other non-Covid viruses and bacteria could not produce a positive test. Cross reactivity like this is a known cause of false positive test results and must be eliminated for effective testing. Samples of as many different viruses and bacteria as possible were tested and none gave a false positive result. The efforts of those involved in this work should not be underestimated and testing was invaluable in the early stages of the epidemic to reduce spread.

Having passed the manufacturer’s checks, the laboratories undertaking testing would have repeated this work with their own samples. Again, the aim was to find a range of different samples to check for cross-reactivity. In every case, the Covid test was cross-checked against only one sample of each type of virus or bacteria. In May, the Royal College of Pathologists published guidelines recommending that 30-40 samples of other viruses should be tested by manufacturers to validate the test and 10-20 for the laboratories to verify safety. That is single samples of up to 20 different virus types. If every EBV sample, for example, resulted in a positive Covid test then the test would have to be altered to prevent that risk.

However, the same test is now being used in a totally different way. Rather than testing symptomatic patients at a time of exponential spread, we are screening large swathes of the population who have self-selected based on a huge range of sometimes very mild symptoms. The checks required for mass population screening have been totally bypassed. The crucial point to note is that just because a single sample of EBV does not trigger a false positive result, that does not mean that the EBV virus never triggers a false positive result. An EBV-generated false-positive could happen 5% of the time, 1% of the time or 0.01% of the time. When testing small numbers of symptomatic people this does not matter. When testing 200,000 people every day for Covid, the risk of EBV-generated false positives (or other false positives from other viruses) potentially start to matter a very great deal.

The UK has now done 20 million tests and continues to test over 200,000 a day. It is not known whether there are other viruses that can mistakenly generate a positive Covid test result on rare occasions. When testing at the rate we are, even a 5% chance of producing false positives from other viruses in this way becomes highly significant, especially if there are co-infections. Recall that the EQA studies found 0.6-1% false positives with related coronaviruses. Checking a few samples of EBV when devising a new Covid test only provides reassurance that mistakes will not happen with every case of EBV.

But when you have a national screening programme that tests every cough, splutter or sneeze we need to know what percentage of those cases may test (falsely) positive for Covid. For example, in order to demonstrate that 5% of EBV cases will produce a false positive Covid test, hundreds of EBV samples would need to be checked. If 0.5% of EBV cases cause a false positive Covid result then thousands of samples, not tens of samples, would need to be tested. The original testing was on tens of samples. This is not a criticism of the original testing which was urgent and completed with admirable speed.

Because this work has not been done, we cannot know whether there is a problem with potential EBV false positives (or other viruses circulating in the population) or not. It would be a huge challenge to find adequate numbers of EBV samples in order to check – especially as samples would need to have been taken before Covid to avoid any suggestion that a positive result was in fact a genuine Covid case.

Is there any evidence at all that EBV cases are being wrongly diagnosed as Covid cases? There have been several publications of Covid and EBV ‘co-infections’. These often describe features of EBV infection in young people with no diagnostically specific features of Covid infection but a positive Covid test result is treated as being definitive. (Examples: here, here and here). A study in Wuhan of 67 patients with Covid in January, when disease prevalence was relatively low, found more than half had antibodies demonstrating a recent EBV infection.

Given the difficulty of testing hundreds of EBV samples with the Covid test, we must instead test the EBV-generated false positive hypothesis by examining the patients themselves more closely. Centralised testing results should not prevent doctors from trying to correctly diagnose the patient in front of them. How many of the current population testing Covid positive are also EBV positive? How many have enlarged lymph nodes and spleen characteristic of EBV infection rather than Covid? What proportion of them have lost their sense of smell or have characteristic chest CT findings. How many of them, given time, have detectable antibodies to Covid?

EBV is an easy-to-understand example of an infective agent that could cause false positive results. I must emphasise that the discussion of EBV in this paper is just one example of the type of complicated viral universe in which Covid is operating and making life very difficult for scientists. The UK now has a national screening programme testing every case of glandular fever, every high temperature, every cough, with no understanding of what proportion of these cases will, in the absence of Covid, be a false positive Covid result. When testing more than 200,000 mostly symptomatic patients a day, even a miniscule proportion of EBV or other flu-like illnesses causing a false positive Covid test result could be a very serious problem.

Conclusion

Diagnosis needs to be more specific. During periods of low Covid prevalence, a positive Covid test result should not be enough to diagnose a genuine Covid outbreak unless it is accompanied by loss of smell and/or distinctive Chest CT results in the original patient and at least one of their direct contacts. Using loss of smell as a gateway to testing will free up capacity for intensive Test and Trace work where there are real outbreaks of Covid.

Latest News

“High Chance” of Lockdown 3 in New Year

Bob’s cartoon from the Telegraph ahead of Lockdown II

With full-on panic setting in within Government over the new “mutant super-strain” of coronavirus, sources have been briefing that new lockdowns are coming to the UK. The Telegraph has the details.

A swathe of areas hit by surging coronavirus rates are likely to be placed into Tier 4 restrictions from Boxing Day, ministers will announce on Wednesday. 

Ministers are expected to sign off plans for tougher measures for many areas at a meeting of the Covid-O operations committee as concern grows about the virus mutation spreading from the South-East.

Government sources have warned that there is a “high chance” of a full national lockdown in the New Year.

On Tuesday, Britain recorded 691 Covid deaths – the second highest daily toll since last May and a jump of 20% in one week – while daily cases reached 36,804, the highest number recorded yet.

Under the Boxing Day measures, the worst-hit places will be plunged into Tier 4 – a “stay home” measure akin to lockdown that was introduced in London and much of the South-East earlier this week – and many areas in the lower tiers could be moved to Tier 3, forcing the closure of all pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops.

It’s not clear whether the reference to non-essential shops closing is an editorial mistake or a change in policy that’s been briefed out to the Telegraph, as non-essential shops are not currently closed in Tier 3.

Health officials have blamed the pre-Tier 4 exodus for the spread – odd as the “new” mutant strain has been found all over the country (and world) for several months.

Health officials are concerned that the exodus of large numbers of people from Tier 4 areas into the Midlands and the North has fuelled the spread. On Monday, Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, said cases were “everywhere” and signalled that restrictions are set to increase.

A Government source said: “Changes are expected, including in some areas that are currently on the margins and edges of Tier 4 areas. We’re concerned that some areas have had significant increases in case numbers as a result of the mutation.”

Whitehall sources said there was now “a high chance” that the country would be placed into a third lockdown after Christmas. One said: “The expectation now is that we can get through Christmas, but after that the chances of a full lockdown in the New Year look pretty high.”

The source added that while ministers were reluctant to announce such measures and would prefer to extend the use of Tier 4, “there comes a point where it doesn’t make much sense to stick with it”.

“If the new variant continues to bleed across the country, and we see more cases of it in the North, then there isn’t much of a case for keeping anyone out of Tier 4, so it amounts to a national lockdown, whether it is called it or not,” the source said.

“No decision has been taken, but the numbers look awful – everything is going the wrong way, and the numbers are worse than those that triggered the December lockdown.”

The Mail wonders why PHE only alerted Government scientists to the new variant in December when they had known about it since October, and why the scientists didn’t then pass the information on to ministers for several weeks.

Online records show the first case of the mutated strain was identified in mid-October at Public Health England’s laboratory in Milton Keynes, where experts are studying random samples from Covid-positive Brits to keep track of the virus as it evolves. 

The new variant – named VUI-202012/01 – was detected in a positive swab taken from a patient in Kent on September 20th, when the country was recording just 3,700 daily cases. 

Despite an explosion in infections in October, PHE did not alert the Government or its scientists to the mutated strain’s existence until December, by which point more than 1,100 people were confirmed to have had the new version of the virus. 

At the start of the month information about VUI-202012/01 was passed to the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Advisory Group (NERVTAG) committee, which advises England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty. The group first discussed the strain at a December 11th meeting and began modelling its severity on the UK’s epidemic.

Ministers were not made aware of the variant until last Monday, almost two months after its initial discovery, when they were told it was more infectious and probably behind the continued rise in cases in London and the South East. Even with that information, the Prime Minister insisted on Wednesday that lockdown loosening plans for Christmas would still go ahead, saying it would be “frankly inhuman” to scrap them just days before they came into effect. 

But on Friday, NERVTAG told Professor Whitty that the VUI 202012/01 strain was spreading more quickly and could be up to 70% more infectious than the normal version of the virus. The PM was then presented with the gloomy data the following morning, which led to the screeching Christmas U-turn on Saturday night.  

Independent scientists have also expressed criticisms about the 70% figure after minutes from NERVTAG’s meeting on Friday revealed the expert committee had in fact only “moderate confidence” that the new strain was more transmissible than other variants.   

The return of children to school particularly in Tier 4 areas is now in doubt, says the Times.

Boris Johnson acknowledged for the first time that there were doubts over the planned return of schools in the new term. Asked whether he could guarantee that pupils would go back next month, the Prime Minister said that a staggered return would take place “if we possibly can”. He cautioned that it was common sense to “follow the path of the epidemic” and said that the issue was under constant review.

It’s “too early” for any guarantees, reports the Mail.

Schools could be closed for all of January amid fears that the mutant coronavirus strain spreads more easily among children.

With cases surging in many parts of the country, Downing Street sources admitted yesterday that it was “too early” to guarantee all pupils would be back in their classrooms by January 11.

Officials told the Mail that the reopening of schools was now “all down to the science” surrounding the new strain’s behaviour and its infectiousness in young people.

Should We Be Worried About “Kent Covid”?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wC8ObD2W4Rk

Vincent Racaniello, who is Professor of Virology at Columbia University and co-author of the textbook Principles of Virology, explains in a new video why he is not worried about the new virus variant.

The Government’s evidence, he says, is all “circumstantial”, being based in poor epidemiological data rather than biological data, and beset with problems of relying on PCR testing, which “does not detect infectious virus”. The argument of NERVTAG is “completely flawed”, he thinks, and he sees no reason to think this mutation is any more concerning than any of the others that have been identified. “If anything this variant is going to cause less severe disease,” he says.

Well worth a watch.

Ross Clark in the Spectator has crunched the numbers and found there seems no reason to think the new variant is any more virulent (deadly).

If there were a dramatic difference between the death rate between the old and new strains, however, it would presumably start to show up in the regional data given that the variant strain is much more prevalent in London and the South East. Around 60% of new cases in London are now the new variant. So does London have a higher or lower death rate than other parts of the country? One way to get a rough idea is to compare the number of deaths in each region with the ONS data on the prevalence of COVID-19 two weeks earlier – two weeks being the typical delay between a positive test and death, where that occurs.

The results?

For every 1,000 cases in London in the week to November 25th, there were approximately 3.5 deaths in the week to December 11th. The corresponding figure for the South East was 5.3. In the North West, where the new variant was a lot less common, the figure was 3.9. It was 3.5 for the North East, 4.3 for Yorkshire and the Humber, 3.5 for the North East, 6.2 for the West Midlands and 5.1 for the East Midlands.

In other words, no sign of a swelling infection fatality rate. Just swelling panic and hype.

Stop Press: Listen to Professor Angus Dalgleish talking to Ian Collins on talkRADIO about the nonsense of worrying about a “new” variant that has been found all over the world. Prof Dalgleish says he agrees with Matt Ridley in the Telegraph that lockdowns may actually prevent a natural weakening of the disease.

Stop Press 2: David Bonsal of Oxford Viromics wrote a Twitter thread yesterday that essentially cast doubt on NERVTAG’s conclusion that the new variant is more infectious. His conclusion: “Further work is needed to investigate any potential causal link between infection with this new variant and higher viral loads, and whether this results in higher transmissibility, severity of infection, or affects relative rates of symptomatic and asymptomatic infection.”

The bottom line is that the alleged higher transmissibility of the new variant is an inference from Neil Ferguson’s epidemiological modelling and not based on any biological data. It’s just one theory among many as to why cases are increasing in London’s outer boroughs and Kent and far from the most plausible.

Professor Lockdown strikes again!

https://twitter.com/OxfordViromics/status/1341491766915198980

40,000 Retailers On Brink Even Before Latest Lockdown

Almost 40,000 retail companies in the UK were in “significant financial distress” even before the latest measures in London and the South East forced non-essential shops to shut once again. The Guardian reports.

Research by the insolvency specialist Begbies Traynor found that 39,232 retailers – both online and bricks and mortar operations – were experiencing severe financial problems in the three months to December 9th. This was up 11% on the previous three months and 24% higher than the same period a year earlier.

Julie Palmer, a partner at Begbies Traynor, said the retail sector had been shaken to its foundations and she expected more chains to follow Arcadia Group and Debenhams into administration. “Without doubt this has been one of the toughest years ever experienced in the retail sector,” she said.

The research found that while the worst of the problems have focused on the high street, almost 11,500 online-only retailers were also facing financial difficulties.

Palmer said: “While many industries have been hit hard, retail, which was already suffering a crisis of confidence, has been shaken to its foundations. High-profile administrations such as Arcadia Group and Debenhams not only threaten thousands of jobs, they also raise questions over the future of the high street as we know it, and I expect there to be more as we enter the new year.”

Pubs, restaurants and other hospitality businesses are also struggling to keep going through the rolling coronavirus lockdowns. The research found that more than 7,500 such businesses were in significant distress, a rise of 34% on this time last year and up 20% on the previous quarter of 2020.

Industry leaders sounded the alarm and called on the Government to provide more support as the pound slid and the stock market tumbled over fears over a double dip recession. The Times has more.

The economic support being offered by the government to businesses is “simply not enough” to save thousands from collapse this Christmas in the face of tough new COVID-19 restrictions and disruption at ports, industry leaders have warned.

Sterling endured its steepest daily fall in more than three months yesterday and the FTSE 100 fell 1.73% as dozens of nations shut their borders to Britain after it revealed a mutated strain of COVID-19. Economists warned that the country faces a double-dip recession because of new lockdowns and deadlocked Brexit talks.

In a letter to the prime minister last night, Baroness McGregor-Smith, the president of the British Chambers of Commerce, cautioned that many businesses were “on their knees” and criticised the “constantly shifting goalposts” they are having to navigate as the government changes COVID-19 rules.

She called on Downing Street to offer greater cash grants to businesses hit by restrictions, expand business rates relief across the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, extend VAT referrals and fill a “huge hole” in support which has left owner-directors, freelancers and others without financial support.

Update from the Senior Doctor…

Barts Health NHS Trust

What follows is a guest post from our doctor friend and regular contributor who used to be a senior NHS panjandrum.

As the COVID miasma thickens and national speculation becomes ever more shrill, Toby has kindly asked me to write an update about what we can actually measure and see in relation to COVID Hospital cases with particular reference to London and the tightening Tier 4 restrictions.

Firstly, the published figures.

Graph 1 shows Covid inpatients in London Hospitals on the brown line and Covid ICU patients in the blue columns. There is a clear long period of stability with an inflexion point upwards, on or around December 13th, which appears to be accelerating into Christmas week.

Graph 1

The pan London figures conceal important regional variations. The North East sector and to a lesser extent the South East have seen relatively greater rises than most other areas. This has been consistent for several weeks. Graph 2 shows the figures for two hospitals in the North East (Barts Health and Barking) and two in the South East (Guys and St Thomas’s and Lewisham and Greenwich). Again, there seems to be an inflexion point around December 13th – 15th. The ICU bed numbers in Graph 3 mirror the increase in patients from the North East with a lag in the South East curves.

Graph 2
Graph 3

Since these figures were published, I’m told that Covid admissions in North East and South East London have continued to increase, particularly in the last 48 hrs, to the point where several hospitals are now implementing plans to stop elective work and redeploy staff to Covid wards. Arrangements for ‘mutual aid’ between hospitals are also being discussed.

This all sounds alarming and reminiscent of Michael Gove’s apocalyptic warnings in the Sunday Times recently. Does it mean the NHS will collapse and dead bodies will pile up in the streets if the entire population does not immediately hide under the bed until next Christmas and Britain turns the clock back to the 14th century?

No, it does not. There is no doubt that pressure on London Hospitals has increased in the last week and that a substantial proportion of that pressure is due to increased Covid admissions from the community. I suspect the next two or three weeks are going to be pretty intense for the NHS in London. Elective work will probably have to stop and patients may need to be moved around the capital to areas of less intense activity. Some staff will need to work outside their comfort zones, which is always stressful. Specialist staff will be spread more thinly than usual and have to shoulder more responsibility than normal. Hospitals will need to pool resources, help each other out and everyone is going to have an uncomfortable time – but the system will not collapse.

The big difference between this year and previous winter ‘crises’ is that Hospital staff are now being repeatedly tested for Covid, regardless of whether they’re symptomatic. I understand that approximately 5% of asymptomatic staff are picked up as positive and then sent home from work. Added to the absence of staff who do have symptoms, or who have been told to self-isolate because some other close contact has tested positive, and this creates a major workforce problem. If we routinely tested staff for influenza or any other common seasonal respiratory disease, we would probably end up with the same problem every year. Under normal circumstances of course we do not test asymptomatic staff for coughs and colds – leaving it up to their own judgement to decide whether they are well enough to come to work. The staff testing programme has been implemented for a perfectly sound reason – to reduce the incidence of in-hospital infections. However, in addressing one risk, the NHS has created another, arguably just as serious. I will return to this point later.

The second big difference between 2020 and previous years is the segregation of patients into colour coded cohorts within the hospital and the overall reduction in available beds due to increased spacing for social distancing – in some hospitals this has reduced bed numbers by up to 9%.

Green Beds are routine patients who have self-isolated prior to admission and have negative tests. Amber are patients awaiting swab results and Red are patients with positive Covid tests. On the face of it, this system sounds quite sensible. In practice, it creates immense organisational friction. For example, a hospital may have plenty of Green beds, but have Amber patients queuing up in A&E, who cannot be placed in any of them. Patients may move from Amber to Red if they become Covid positive, but when they are fit to be discharged, they may occupy an acute Covid bed for days as there is no ‘home’ to send them to. Care homes are particularly reluctant to accept discharged patients after Covid care because of their experience in the spring. Discharge delays happen every year with influenza too, but the problem is worse this winter. As a result, the same burden of clinical care becomes proportionately harder to manage.

So, what has caused the increase in Covid patient numbers? The straight answer is I don’t know. It could be as simple as a change in the weather. Covid is a temperature dependent virus – it dropped off rapidly in late spring. During the summer there were localised outbreaks in isolated cold places, such as meat packing plants (and the first cases have just been detected in Antarctica) so it is not surprising that as the temperature falls we are likely to see more outbreaks and more transmission as people congregate inside and spend less time outdoors.

The burning question in the light of the revelations about the ‘new variant’ VUI-202012/01 is what role, if any, does this play in the observed tightening situation? Hard to say. It’s certainly possible that a new variant could spread with greater speed. In itself that doesn’t matter very much as long as the disease it causes is at least no worse than the old type – in general evolutionary biology one would expect a faster spreading variant to cause a milder illness. If the new variant is spreading significantly faster, the medical problem would not be a greater severity of disease but a more concentrated spike of hospitalisations.

The NERVTAG meeting notes of December 18th which seem to have sparked off the latest panic are relatively cautious about the transmissibility of the new variant, but do record:”It was noted that VUI-202012/01 has demonstrated exponential growth during a period when national lockdown measures were in place.”

This brings me to my key point: the illusion of control. In the spring, the rationale for lockdown was to “flatten the sombrero” – a temporary measure to delay viral transmission and prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed by a sudden surge in cases. Since the autumn, that message has mutated to a new variant – the Government and its associated advisers have become obsessed with the need to “control the virus” – yet the evidence shows that they have about as much chance of controlling the weather. Far too many “experts” have invested their entire professional credibility on the premise that more stringent lockdowns are the only way to “beat the virus” and to achieve “zero Covid”. Yet both of these goals are manifestly unattainable.

The Covid admissions curves in London have steepened despite increasing societal restrictions. If it is true that VUI-202012/01 has demonstrated exponential growth during this time, why are we doubling down on a failed strategy?

Stop Press: Dr Mike Yeadon is, not surprisingly, sceptical about the “mutant” strain being responsible for the NHS’s capacity problems.

It is my personal opinion that the only way to rescue UK quickly and in one step is to turn off the un-inspected, un-audited, non-accredited, private Lighthouse Labs, now conducting 90% of UK PCR tests. They are producing deficient product: untrustworthy results from PCR mass testing.

I learned earlier today from an impeccable source within the NHS that:

“Management has become totally frustrated by the unmanageable impact of staff falsely told to self isolate following Pillar 2 testing via Lighthouse Labs. Fully 10% of NHS staff are missing. They’re not ill. But having had a positive PCR test they’ve been told to “self isolate” (another made up phrase from the school of misinformation). As from eight days ago, they’ve cut over to self screening using lateral flow tests for viral proteins. Staff have been sent 200 each. If they’re positive they come into to an NHS facility, get swabbed for confirmatory tests by in-house PCR, run in NHS path Labs. Management expects self isolation absence to halve in January”.

If confirmed, that kills confidence of the public in relation to Lighthouse Labs screening stone dead.

Watch the ‘self-isolation’ absence statistics closely over the next four to six weeks.

Stop Press 2: The NHS whistleblower who leaked the slides from an internal Power Point Presentation given to senior managers has provided a snippet of info that corroborates our doctor’s analysis.

Hospital transmission is a major problem and asymptomatic testing has reduced the number of staff available to work. Perhaps we should test for other respiratory viruses? Bath RUH has 233 staff isolating due to Covid. A FOI request for information on the number of staff number isolating across the NHS should be available.

Hospital bed numbers have reduced by 9% to help introduce social distancing. Some new build facilities, e.g North Bristol Trust have reduced bed numbers more than Trusts, e.g. UHB&W, with older hospitals.

Nightingale hospitals are of little value. They need clinical and other support services, e.g. X-ray, blood bank, kitchen – and staff. Would have made more sense to increase capacity at existing hospital sites. For example, portacabin wards in hospital car parks.

No Qualifications or Safeguarding Required for Testing Children

A Lockdown Sceptics reader was alarmed by a letter she received from a recruiting agency this week. She explains why.

I would like to draw your attention to the following matter. I am qualified teacher (MA.Ed) with some 26 years experience in the state, independent and international sectors. I now work wth vulnerable young people who do not attend school. I received the email below from one of the agencies I am registered with. I am deeply concerned about this, both as a teacher and as a mother of teenagers. This suggests that ‘anyone’ can apply for the post of tester. Most professionals would not accept £10 – £12 an hour as pay (teachers regularly get between £25 – £30 from an agency per hour). I am also very concerned about the training, as there are other sources suggesting this will be online. There were also quotes (attached) saying DBS checks will not be required for these people who will perform intrusive, potentially dangerous tests on children (also without social distancing).

There seems to be no safeguarding and I am appalled. I imagine if people refuse to allow ‘anyone’ to test their child, the child will not be able to attend school.

The letter reads:

Apologies if you are not looking for work however I wanted to email in case you were or knew of anyone who was who would be interested in the below in order to help with the new requirements for Covid testing in schools.

As I am sure you are aware, schools and colleges are to start offering testing to all staff and students after the Christmas break. In order to facilitate this, they require assistance in administering these tests and also process some of the administrative work.

The pay for this is £10 – 12 per hour. The hours may vary depending on the school however they will not be less than four hours per day and usually will be more. Training will be arranged as per Government guidance so anyone can apply, if you have a Health and Social Care background or experience in such roles this is advantageous but not compulsory.

Is this something you would be interested in? If so, please reply to this email in the first instance to express your interest and state what experience you have, why you feel you will be good at this type of work, as well as your availability for work from 4th January to carry out these assignments.

If you know of anyone else looking for work who would be interested please ask them to email me.

Another similar letter says recruits will receive “online training” followed by an “on site walk through” on the first day before starting work.

What could go wrong?

Dr Clare Craig with Mark Dolan on talkRADIO

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlxLwS1sqw8

A Lockdown Sceptics reader kindly transcribed Dr Clare Craig’s appearance on talk RADIO on Sunday. Here it is.

Mark Dolan: What’s your view about the suggestion this new strain of COVID-19 – and we know that viruses mutate, that’s what they do, multiple times – do you think it’s possible that it’s 70% more transmissible?

Dr Clare Craig: No, I don’t think it is. I think we have to wait for more evidence. So, there are over 3,000 different strains that we’ve seen since the beginning, and people have been working really hard trying to see if any of these differences are meaningful; and what they’ve actually found now is that there’s a strain that’s been around since September, actually, and they’ve started to see an increase in positivity in the lab for this strain but what they reported recently… So they’ve got this new committee called NERVTAG who are looking into it and NERVTAG have said that the positive samples for this new strain are weak positives, are hard to sequence, and have a much lower death rate. Actually the death figures are quite small, so it’s not reliable, but you’d have expected to have seen 20 deaths and they’ve only seen four. So what that looks like to me is they’ve got a problem in the labs. That’s the kind of scenario you would see if one of the lab techs had Covid and was accidentally shedding RNA into the samples that they were testing.

Dolan: Might that explain for the isolated nature of this new outbreak and that it hasn’t manifested globally?

Dr Craig: It would explain that. It would also explain the situation you were just talking about with Grant Shapps, of weddings where there’s an apparent outbreak but nobody has any symptoms.

Dolan: It does seem a little absurd too that Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, yesterday said that we should go around pretending we’ve got the virus. We’ve reached a new level of sort of, what can you call it? Sort of surreal theatre now around this pandemic.

Dr Craig: Yes. I mean, the crazy situation seems to be that: they have one hypothesis about what’s causing all the test positivity, and it’s the most obvious hypothesis, you know, that we still have some Covid out there; but they don’t seem to have the imagination to think about every other possibility and to check it. And they had one strategy, which was lockdown.  Now these people are meant to be scientists, and when you do a lockdown – and it’s the first time that we’ve ever done this – it’s essentially an experiment. So having done it, you have to take a look at the results, and I don’t think any of these scientists have been looking at the results; they just keep repeating the experiment. And we’ve seen, again and again, that these lockdowns do not have the impact that they’re meant to be having. So I think in the very first lockdown – and I would say actually that I wasn’t a lockdown sceptic for the first one; I think I probably should have been, but I was wrong, and I learned from what we found in the first lockdown: which was that the virus kept spreading; that it was weeks later, four or five weeks later, before we had the last peaks and deaths in certain pockets of the country. And it was those pockets of the country that peaked last and had the least deaths that did see a bit of an autumn outbreak of Covid, so it was like the tail end of the first wave, what you saw in the autumn.

We’ve had lockdowns in Wales, we’ve had the lockdowns in the north-west, and every time there’s a lockdown, the case rates increased, and there’s nobody seems to be able to put an answer to that, except for the fact that, when you have a lockdown, you maximise the testing, and, when there’s a testing problem, you’re going to get the maximum error rates from maximum testing.

Dolan: I must say that, you know, I’ve been a stuck record about the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any focus on the human impact of these Covid measures. The debate around the science of lockdowns is certainly a vigorous one to be had, but what we can say, and we can be definitive about this, is that businesses are closing, lives are being ruined, for a population that, by-and-large, are not under any kind of mortal threat from COVID-19; the death rate from this awful virus is mercifully low. However, something of a slam-dunk argument is surely the notion of overflowing hospitals. What is the answer to that, because it does seem like an ace card to be played by the Government?

Dr Craig: I would agree; however, the data does not back that up. So, while we have seen increased numbers of people labelled with Covid in the hospitals, the number of people in the hospital in total isn’t changing, and that’s what you see when you’ve got a labelling problem. You can increase and increase the number of Covid patients, but if that isn’t affecting the total number of patients, then it looks like you’re just misdiagnosing the people that would be in hospital anyway, and that does seem to be the situation we’re in.

But I will say that I think a lot of doctors have got themselves… not just doctors, actually, people who work in hospitals – some of them are coming away fearful that they’re being overwhelmed, and that kind of fear comes from a situation where the flow of the hospital breaks.

So, when you’re trying to keep people separate because they’re Covid positive, or Covid negative and vulnerable or whatever, you stop the bed management being smooth, and that means you can’t get people from A&E into a bed. So A&E can back up, and it can look like the hospital is being overwhelmed, when actually the data shows that it isn’t; it’s just a management problem, because we’re testing all of these people. And, added to it, we’re testing all the staff, and we have mass staff absences from all the testing which obviously does overwhelm the NHS. That’s a real problem.

And we have to get this testing right, because people will die if you don’t staff the hospitals properly. And if you’re sending asymptomatic people home who should be staffing the hospitals on the basis of a potentially wrong test result then, you know, we’re going to end up killing people.

And that’s just a UK problem. I think it’s really important to emphasise that, although the government predicted two hundred thousand deaths from the first lockdown alone in this country, so, absolutely, there are massive, massive implications of all of the interventions we’ve had, even the small interventions; but, on a global scale, what’s happening is horrific. The World Bank reckon there’ll be 150 million in new, extreme poverty. The World Food Programme reckon 217 million people will be starving. And that is because we’re not showing the proper leadership. Our country used to show world leadership and, now, we’re just behaving like a sheep, like all of the other countries, instead of trying to sort this problem out properly.

Poll Positioning

A reader has had a bright idea how lockdown sceptics can make their voices heard a little bit louder: by taking part in opinion polls.

Since the YouGov polls are always showing the public support measures, lockdown sceptics could complete each new poll. I have signed up to YouGov chat polls and get new polls related to Covid into my inbox each week and sometimes multiple times each week. If all of us filled them in, it could have an effect.

Lockdown Sceptics: A Cure For What Ails You

Or just read Lockdown Sceptics

A reader was given an unusual prescription by her GP and wrote in to tell us about it.

Earlier this year I was diagnosed with Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. My GP suggested that I stop listening to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme over breakfast and read your website instead. It worked. The symptoms have eased and what I was hitherto spending on Gaviscon, I’m now more than happy to donate to Lockdown Sceptics. Thank you.

Round-up

https://twitter.com/simondolan/status/1341306917076021248?s=21

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Three today: “Long Way To The Light” by Mike Scott, “On My Own (Les Misérables)” by Lea Salonga, and “They Don’t Care About Us” by Michael Jackson.

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

Ming the Merciless, from the Planet Mongo, not China

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, it’s the news that the British Board of Film Classification has declared Ming the Merciless, the archvillain in Flash Gordon, to be a “discriminatory stereotype” and slapped a warning on the 1980 film that the casting of a white actor in the role could be considered “dubious if not outright offensive”. So it’s better if “discriminatory stereotypes” are played by actors of the right background? The Telegraph has the story.

To the generation that grew up watching Flash Gordon, Max von Sydow as Ming the Merciless was one of the great screen villains.

He was also a “discriminatory stereotype”, according to the British Board of Film Classification. The censor has added the warning to its rating for Flash Gordon, saying the casting of a white actor in the role could be considered “dubious if not outright offensive”.

Ming hailed from the Planet Mongo but, the BBFC said, was clearly of East Asian origin.

The organisation will conduct research in the New Year to establish if other old films contain racial stereotypes that need to be caveated for modern audiences.

In a newly-released podcast, the BBFC explained why the stereotype warning had been added.

Matt Tindall, senior policy officer, said: “Flash’s arch-nemesis, Ming the Merciless, is coded as an East Asian character due to his hair and make-up but he’s played by the Swedish actor, Max von Sydow, which I don’t think is something that would happen if this were a modern production and is something we’re also aware that viewers may find dubious, if not outright offensive.

“The character of Ming himself comes from the Flash Gordon comic strips of the 1930s and let’s just say that attitudes towards the acceptability of discriminatory racial stereotypes have moved on considerably since then, and rightly so, of course.

“While the presentation of Ming in Flash Gordon, the 1980s film, isn’t what we would consider a category-defining issue, we’re sensitive to the potential it has to cause offence. So we’ve highlighted it [to ensure] audiences are aware it’s there, and can make an informed decision about whether to watch the film themselves or to show it to their children.”

He added: “This is something we have bear in mind often when we see older films coming in for re-classification: films that might contain discriminatory depictions or stereotypes that are not acceptable to modern audiences, including films where discrimination wasn’t the work’s intent, just a reflection of the period in which it was made.

“This is an issue that we’re currently planning to explore more through research next year, speaking to the public to check that they’re happy with the ways that we’re classifying such films and the way that we classify each use of discrimination more generally.”

Nice to hear they’re thinking of checking with the public for a change, though are likely to regret it when they hear what the public actually thinks.

“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: Costco has announced it has removed the medical exemption from its mask policy. A reader has forwarded us the notice.

Face covering requirements with added face shield requirement for exempt members

Effective 23.12.20, we will require all members, guests and employees to wear a face covering (that covers the nose and mouth) at all Costco warehouse locations. Entry to Costco will only be granted to those wearing a face mask or a face shield. Children under the age of 11 are exempt. Please note that the additional requirement to wear a face shield for children over the age of 11 does not affect the requirement in Scotland for children age five and over to wear a face covering

Costco has had a face covering policy in effect since 24.04.20, but members who could not wear a face mask due to a medical condition were exempt. This is no longer the case. If a member/guest has a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask, they must instead wear a face shield. The use of a face covering should not be seen as a substitute for social distancing. Please continue to observe rules regarding appropriate distancing while on Costco premises.

Whilst this updated policy may seem inconvenient for some, we believe that the added safety is worth any inconvenience. Our goal is to continue to provide a safe shopping environment for our members and guests, and to provide a safe work environment
for our employees.

Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

Louie Silveira
Vice President and Country Manager
Costco UK & Iceland

Suffice to say a “face shield” is even less effective at preventing infection or transmission than a cloth mask, though it does at least have fewer drawbacks.

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 in December 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.

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

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And Finally…

https://youtu.be/bDz4FOmwctE

A Lockdown Sceptics reader has created a highly amusing X-Factor parody of The Fear Factor featuring Matt “Tiny Tears” Hancock and Bojo the Clown. Watch it here.

How Did a Disease With no Symptoms Take Over the World?

The WHO Says COVID-19 Asymptomatic Transmission Is “Very Rare”

There are two ways in which people are controlled: first of all frighten them, and then demoralise them. An educated healthy, and confident nation is harder to govern.

Tony Benn

Biologists tell each other stories. These stories might involve lots of acronyms and use strange and wonderful verbs and nouns but, unlike say mathematics, the mechanism by which biologists convey their science is at heart through the use of language. But unlike works of creative writing, the language used by biologists needs to be precise because bad English can lead to bad science. Which is why it jarred so much when I first read the following statement:

A third of people with COVID-19 have no symptoms.

The more technically correct statement (assuming that “a third” is accurate) is:

A third of people infected with [more correctly, testing positive for] the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus have no symptoms.

So why did the first statement raise my biological hackles so much when at first glance these two statements might appear to be essentially very similar? It is because from a biological perspective they are profoundly different. The first statement asserts the existence of a disease with no symptoms i.e., a sickness that is indistinguishable from being healthy, while the second statement asserts that a viral infection does not necessarily result in a disease. It is not a question of semantics but accuracy and mixing these two concepts up is the sort of thing that would have resulted in an ‘F’ if I were to have submitted it in an essay to one of my professors. Yet, this is exactly the inaccurate language that has been used throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and not by students learning their discipline, but by experienced senior scientists who, one assumes, are well aware of what they are saying.

One could argue that this is unimportant as surely the point is to convey the idea that you could be infectious with coronavirus and be unaware of it and the first statement is an easy way to do this for the layman. Not only does this assumption treat the public as if they were children unable to understand the nuances of infection and disease, but I’d argue that the second statement is just as easy to understand as the first. No, the reason to create a disease with no symptoms is based on a profound decision, one that I believe was made with the intention of ensuring compliance but has, since its inception, grown to dominate our entire response to COVID-19.

First, let’s see why defining having a disease based purely on the presence of a pathogen is a flawed concept. This is best illustrated by reference to another virus, Epstein-Barr Virus or EBV. You’ll be forgiven if you’ve never heard of this virus, but it could be argued to be one of the most successful human pathogens because almost everyone is infected by it. Most people are infected early in life and if this happens then EBV takes up residence in your B-cells (the cells in your immune system responsible for making antibodies) where it quietly persists throughout your life. Every now and then the virus goes into active replication and makes copies of itself which get shed into your mouth, a process that you are blissfully unaware is happening. The problems with EBV generally occur if you don’t get infected early in life but avoid infection until you’re much older. Now when you get infected with EBV, you can develop a disease called infectious mononucleosis or, more commonly, glandular fever. This often happens in young adults when they become interested in close physical contact with members of the opposite (or same) sex… which is why glandular fever is sometimes referred to as “the kissing disease”.

Now let’s apply the new asymptomatic COVID-19 orthodoxy to EBV where we define having a disease purely through the presence of a viral genome. So, according to this definition, almost everyone in the U.K. (and the world) is suffering from a new disease, asymptomatic glandular fever, and if we were to do a large-scale mass screening campaign we’d discover that there were millions of ‘cases’ of asymptomatic glandular fever in the U.K. alone!

Of course, this is complete nonsense. We aren’t all ‘suffering’ from asymptomatic glandular fever. Glandular fever requires infection by EBV, but EBV infection does not necessarily lead to glandular fever. The same is true of COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 and so the concept of asymptomatic COVID-19 as a disease is as ridiculous as that of asymptomatic glandular fever.

But as is the case with EBV, being infected with SARS-CoV-2 means that you can still pass it on even if you aren’t sick. However, it is a matter of degrees and the reason that people can be healthy carriers is simply because they have less viral replication and a lower viral load, which is why they aren’t sick. Of course, if the lower levels of SARS-CoV-2 in an asymptomatic individual were sufficient to mean such an individual was as infectious as someone with symptoms, then from an infectivity perspective the distinction between asymptomatic carriers and people with COVID-19 is unimportant and our statement would need to read:

A third of people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus have no symptoms but are just as infectious as those with COVID-19.

However, this situation would mean that the R number for SARS-CoV-2 would likely be much greater than it is, and that coronavirus infection and COVID-19 would have crashed through the population in one huge tsunami at the start of last year. This wasn’t the case, and all the evidence is that healthy, asymptomatic carriers (and pre-symptomatic sufferers) are much less infectious than those with symptoms and a disease (see Will Jones’s summary of COVID-19 facts for links to supporting evidence).

Given that this is all so blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever been near a biology textbook, the only reasonable conclusion we can draw about the creation of an asymptomatic disease is that it wasn’t done by a biologist but instead by individuals (probably on the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (SPI-B)) whose agenda is not to convey accurate information to the public but something different: fear and uncertainty.

The effect of the asymptomatic disease is to blur the lines between being healthy and being sick and means that people will consciously, or subconsciously, transfer some of their understanding of symptomatic COVID-19 and apply it to asymptomatic COVID-19. The implication being that the absence of symptoms is somehow not relevant and that just because you feel fine, you are in fact suffering from a deadly disease. This naturally creates fear, fear for oneself (what if I have it?) and fear of everyone else (they look O.K., but what if they have it?). This fear is useful if you now want to control the behaviour of people and drive compliance with policies designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, but the problem is that having created the asymptomatic monster as a mechanism to ensure compliance, it soon starts to consume everything because you now need to manage this disease with no symptoms.

The first thing asymptomatic disease needs is a way of identifying who has it. By definition, asymptomatic individuals have no symptoms and so in order to identify who is sick we need a test. Not only do we need a test, but because anyone who is healthy could be silently suffering from this illness, we will need a lot of tests. And because healthy people can become sick without any change in how they feel or look, then the testing needs to be endless. Also, because the disease is only defined by the presence of the virus, then positive screening results (real or false positives) naturally become ‘cases’, confirming the ongoing presence of the asymptomatic disease. Testing begets more testing.

The whole host of non-pharmaceutical interventions – including lockdowns – can also be seen as logical steps to take in fighting an asymptomatic disease. If sick people have no symptoms, then we need to employ strategies in everyday life to manage them. In effect, we have to treat the entire population as if it were ill and deploy measures across the whole of society with this in mind. This effectively leads to ‘reverse quarantine’ where we lock up the healthy to try and protect the few genuinely sick people.

Likewise, vaccine passports are also driven by the need to manage asymptomatic disease because it is only by proving that you’ve had a medical intervention that we can be sure that your lack of symptoms are not a cause of concern. But being immune doesn’t stop an individual from becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2, it just means their immune system more rapidly and effectively recognises and deals with this infection and as a result they may never develop symptoms. In other words, vaccination is no protection from asymptomatic COVID-19 and suitably sensitive screening will continue to detect asymptomatic ‘cases’ amongst the immune population. Proponents of vaccine passports acknowledge this and argue (correctly) that if immune individuals are infected with coronavirus, they will carry a lower viral burden and so are less infectious. However, they then go on to demonise unvaccinated, naïve healthy individuals because they might be asymptomatic carriers. In reality, healthy people are healthy and even if they are carriers are unlikely to infect other people in normal social situations regardless of vaccination status. In fact, if you support the notion of asymptomatic COVID-19 ‘sufferers’ being a significant source of infection, it could be argued that we need vaccination certificates to protect the non-vaccinated from the vaccinated!

Finally, there is the whole question of variants. Clearly, a new, virulent more deadly strain of coronavirus that evades current immunity is a very concerning thing as it would essentially reset the clock back to the start of the pandemic: in effect it is a new disease. But because we have blurred the distinction between infection and disease and our focus is on the presence (and sequence) of viral genomes, every new variant is now treated as if it actually were a new disease. This in turn drives the need to continue to monitor (picking up more and more new variants) and manage ‘the spread of cases’ irrespective of the severity of disease they cause or the prior immunity within the population. Again, testing begets more testing in an endless cycle that will never stop unless we decide to stop it.

What all this means in practice is that the management of asymptomatic COVID-19 has become the the focus of the Government’s coronavirus policy, but if we go back to the original (mis)statement about asymptomatic COVID-19 and swap it around we get:

Two thirds of people with COVID-19 have symptoms.

Of course, this should read “three thirds (all!) of people with COVID-19 have symptoms” but the point I’m making is that hiding in plain sight is the fact that most people infected with SARS-CoV-2 get ill to varying degrees. We also know that people with symptoms account for the majority of onward transmission of the infection (again see Will’s summary for evidence). So, if we were designing an effective policy to manage COVID-19 we would focus our efforts on the sick as this is where we’re going to get the most bang for the buck.

What would this mean in practice? First, we would only need diagnostic testing capacity for the minority of the population with symptoms, rather than the industrial-scale screening that we have had to deploy to deal with asymptomatic COVID-19. Second, restrictions would be focused on ill people, and this would be much easier, not only because these individuals are easier to find, but because sick people behave as if they were, well, sick and as such may not require much encouragement to prevent others getting ill. (“Don’t come too close, I’m not very well.”) They also probably wouldn’t want to go to work, or the gym, or the pub, or visit Granny. These restrictions would be time limited as they only apply to an individual while they are ill. We could use the billions of pounds saved on not destroying the economy in a futile attempt to quarantine the entire healthy population to ensure that these individuals were supported until they got better. We could invest in extra capacity in the healthcare system to manage any increase in hospitalisations and focus resources on improved treatments rather than testing and managing healthy people. The need for vaccination certification becomes irrelevant because healthy people are treated as healthy people and new variants only become of concern if they make individuals sicker. Essentially, we could stop treating COVID-19 as a special case with all the collateral damage this causes to non-COVID-19 related health and manage it as we would any other potentially serious infection. None of this is surprising as it is based on centuries of accumulated wisdom about how to manage infectious diseases. Unfortunately, the creation and focus on asymptomatic disease has drawn our eye away from the real illness and devoured huge amounts of time, effort, and money.

Being told that you are sick with a major illness can be a devastating piece of news, not just for the individual themselves but for those around them. Even if this news is couched in terms of positive treatment outcomes, it would be impossible to not be fearful and run hundreds of ‘what if’ scenarios through one’s mind. Regardless of how you feel today, the worries are all about progression and how you will feel tomorrow. Normally, clinicians would have a duty of care to their patients and spend time in discussing a diagnosis and helping their patients come to terms with this news. But for COVID-19, people receive the results of their diagnosis with no support. Worse through track-and-trace they might even receive this news completely unsolicited; imagine if a complete stranger phoned you to tell you that you might have cancer? Then, rather than offer support and comfort, we demand that individuals cut themselves off from others (self-isolate); you’re ill but on your own. All of this has consequences, especially for those who have bought into the concept of asymptomatic COVID-19, and so is it not surprising that some people want to cling to mask wearing, social distancing and lockdowns. In the end, it turns out that – ironically – asymptomatic COVID-19 might not be asymptomatic after all because for any number of vulnerable people the very existence of this asymptomatic disease has the potential to make them sick – sick with fear, worry and anxiety.

The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a senior research scientist at a pharmaceutical company.

How Did a Disease With no Symptoms Take Over the World?

We’re publishing an original essay today by a senior research scientist at a pharmaceutical company asking how managing an ‘asymptomatic disease’ became the main focus of Government policy in the U.K. and around the world, when the very concept of an ‘asymptomatic disease’ is nonsensical. Here’s an extract in which he tries to flesh out exactly why the concept makes so little sense.

First, let’s see why defining having a disease based purely on the presence of a pathogen is a flawed concept. This is best illustrated by reference to another virus, Epstein-Barr Virus or EBV. You’ll be forgiven if you’ve never heard of this virus, but it could be argued to be one of the most successful human pathogens because almost everyone is infected by it. Most people are infected early in life and if this happens then EBV takes up residence in your B-cells (the cells in your immune system responsible for making antibodies) where it quietly persists throughout your life. Every now and then the virus goes into active replication and makes copies of itself which get shed into your mouth, a process that you are blissfully unaware is happening. The problems with EBV generally occur if you don’t get infected early in life but avoid infection until you’re much older. Now when you get infected with EBV, you can develop a disease called infectious mononucleosis or, more commonly, glandular fever. This often happens in young adults when they become interested in close physical contact with members of the opposite (or same) sex… which is why glandular fever is sometimes referred to as “the kissing disease”.

Now let’s apply the new asymptomatic COVID-19 orthodoxy to EBV where we define having a disease purely through the presence of a viral genome. So, according to this definition, almost everyone in the U.K. (and the world) is suffering from a new disease, asymptomatic glandular fever, and if we were to do a large-scale mass screening campaign we’d discover that there were millions of ‘cases’ of asymptomatic glandular fever in the U.K. alone!

Of course, this is complete nonsense. We aren’t all ‘suffering’ from asymptomatic glandular fever. Glandular fever requires infection by EBV, but EBV infection does not necessarily lead to glandular fever. The same is true of COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 and so the concept of asymptomatic COVID-19 as a disease is as ridiculous as that of asymptomatic glandular fever.

Worth reading in full.

Latest News

A Defence of Lockdown Sceptics

Into the valley of death rode the 600

What follows is a guest post by Toby.

I was disappointed to read the Spectator article by Lockdown Sceptics contributor Alistair Haimes about his departure from our ranks. The brilliant data analyst has been a valuable ally and I hope he will return to the fold in due course. 

His argument boils down to this: “When the facts change, I change my mind.” But what facts have changed? He cites three. First, the health service is under severe stress and unless we can reduce virus transmission over the next few weeks it’s at serious risk of being overwhelmed. That wasn’t true when the second national lockdown was imposed in November, he says, but it is today. Second, we now have two approved Covid vaccines, with more to follow, so any new restrictions will be short-lived. Third, there is a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 which is around 50% more transmissible than the pre-existing variants.

I’ll take each of these in turn – although I may digress a bit.

First, I’m sceptical of the claim that we have X number of days to save the NHS – a familiar trope that I thought the Labour Party had flogged to death. Let’s not forget that a winter bed crisis in the NHS is an annual event, as you can see from this collection of Guardian headlines. According to PHE, there was no statistically significant excess all-cause mortality in England in the final week of 2020 and while excess winter deaths this season are above the five-year average, they are currently below the peaks reached in 2016/17 and 2017/18. We published a piece on Wednesday in Lockdown Sceptics by Dr Clare Craig on Emergency Department Syndromic Indicators that looked at various indexes of ill-health, such as hospital admissions for Acute Respiratory Infection, Influenza-like illness and Pneumonia, and those are all below the baseline for an English winter – or were until a week ago. These data suggest that some of the people currently in English hospitals with COVID-19 have either been misdiagnosed or would have been hospitalised with something else if they hadn’t been laid low with Covid. In some NHS regions, Critical care bed occupancy numbers are currently above what they were in December 2019 – an unusually mild flu season – but there was still some headroom on December 27th, as you can see from this bar chart.

PHE Graph showing excess mortality in the winter of 2020 is above baseline, but the peak was lower than in 16/17 and 17/18

But let’s allow that things have got worse by an order of magnitude in the past week or so and some NHS trusts really are on the cusp of being overwhelmed, which they may well be. (See today’s report from the senior doctor.) Will the lockdown Boris announced on Monday do anything to avert this catastrophe, as Alistair seems to think? The only difference between the new national lockdown and the Tier 4 restrictions that were already in place in 80% of England on January 1st is that restaurants and pubs can no longer serve alcohol to take away and schools will be closed. But schools had already closed when London went into Tier 4 on December 20th and there isn’t much evidence that those restrictions reduced the R number in the capital. As SAGE member Professor Andrew Hayward pointed out on Tuesday, nearly 10 million key workers are still travelling to and from work. In addition, people are still going to supermarkets, chemists and corner shops. The statistician William M. Briggs, co-author of The Price of Panic, argues that it’s misleading to think of lockdowns as quarantines. Rather, they just create a number of ‘concentration points’, herding people into a limited number of spaces, and in that way increase the rate of transmission. If masks worked this mobility might not matter, but the recent mask study in Denmark suggests they don’t.

Some lockdown enthusiasts pick out a handful of examples where lockdowns have coincided with a fall in Covid deaths but that’s not a scientific approach. Numerous research studies, published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals, have concluded that there’s no association between Covid mortality and the standard suite of non-pharmacuetical interventions, such as mandating masks in indoor settings, closing schools and universities, shutting non-essential shops, imposing curfews and banning domestic travel. You can adjust the lockdown variables all you like – timing, severity, etc. – but there’s no signal in the noise. The American Institute for Economic Research has collected some of the best of these studies here and we’ve created a compendium of the evidence that non-pharmaceutical interventions don’t work at Lockdown Sceptics. The epidemiological models that SAGE uses to persuade the Government to ratchet up the restrictions rely on counterfactuals – if you don’t do y, x number of people will die – that cannot be falsified because the Government always end up doing SAGE’s bidding, as Alistair Haimes has pointed out.

Professor Lockdown, as imagined by Miriam Elia, author of We Do Lockdown

On the other hand, it is incontestable that lockdowns cause harm. Lockdown sceptics are sometimes accused of putting profit before people, but I’m not just talking about economic harm – increased borrowing, businesses going bankrupt, growing unemployment. The negative impact of school closures on children has been flagged up by numerous educational organisations, including Ofsted, with the most disadvantaged paying the highest price. The Centre for Mental Health estimated in October that that up to 10 million people will need either new or additional mental health support, thanks to the trauma of enforced isolation, and reports of domestic abuse to the Metropolitan Police increased by 11% during the first lockdown compared to the same period last year. Drug overdoses in San Francisco killed more than three times the number of people last year than COVID-19. 

It’s also nonsense to imagine the economic damage caused by the lockdowns won’t have ruinous public health consequences – anything that hurts profits, hurts people. Professor Sunetra Gupta estimates that the global economic recession caused by the lockdowns will result in 130 million people starving to death and the United Nations predicts it will plunge as many as 420 million residents of the developing world into extreme poverty, with low-income countries seeing average incomes falling for the first time in 60 years. 

Even in the absence of the detailed cost-benefit analysis the Covid Recovery Group of MPs has repeatedly asked for, it seems overwhelmingly likely that the harms caused by lockdowns in the UK alone are greater than the harms they prevent. According to one study out of Bristol University, the ongoing restrictions will cause 560,000 deaths, 310,000 more than Professor Neil Ferguson and his team predicted would die absent a lockdown but with voluntary ‘mitigation’ measures in place. As the now disgraced President of the United States said, the cure is worse than the disease. That essential point hasn’t changed, so I see no reason why sceptics should change their minds about lockdowns now. Yes, the NHS may be in genuine peril, but that doesn’t mean we should set aside our well-founded doubts about the effectiveness of heavy-handed interventions. On the contrary, trying to quarantine people for a third time, given that the policy clearly hasn’t worked, seems like Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

What about the vaccines? True, some sceptics did argue that shutting people in their homes until a vaccine became available was impractical because it might take years to develop one. But that was never the central plank of our case (see above). On the contrary, our preferred alternative to locking down is ‘focused protection’, as set out in the Great Barrington Declaration, and vaccines make that strategy more attractive, not less.

Our starting point is that the number of people who died from COVID-19 in English hospitals in 2020 who were under 60 with no underlying health conditions was 388 and the virus is less deadly than seasonal flu for healthy people under 70. Note, we’re not claiming that SARS-CoV-2 is less deadly than the average bout of seasonal flu for the entire population – although that’s true of some flu seasons – only that it’s likely to kill fewer healthy people under-70, including children. Whenever we cite that 388 statistic, critics accuse us of being callous, as though we’re saying older people and those with chronic conditions don’t matter. Far from it. We think the Government should pull out all the stops to protect those who are vulnerable to this disease, including care home residents, who made up about 40% of those who died from COVID-19 in the first wave (and 50% of those who died in Scotland). Shielding for people in these groups should not be compulsory – we believe in trusting people to make their own risk assessments and adjust their behaviour accordingly. But it should be a viable option, with all the necessary support. Meanwhile, the rest of us should be permitted to go about our lives, taking the same precautions we would in a normal flu season.

The arguments for and against ‘focused protection’ have been well-rehearsed, but the vaccines deal with one of the best objections – that it would be inhumane to expect the vulnerable to shut themselves away until the rest of the population develops natural herd immunity. That would create a two-tier society. But now that we have a vaccine, those groups only need shield until they’ve been immunised, at which point they can re-enter society (something they can’t do at present, even after they’ve had the jab, because there’s no ‘society’ to re-enter). The Government is planning to vaccinate 13.9 million people by mid-February – although that number includes everyone who works in health and social care settings – and there are about 16 million who fall into the above vulnerable categories.

So, yes, the vaccines do make a difference – they strengthen the sceptics’ case by making ‘focused protection’ more palatable.

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya, authors of the Great Barrington Declaration

What about the new variant? I’m reserving judgment on whether it’s more transmissible. As Mike Hearn pointed out yesterday, ONS infection survey data released on December 23rd show that the percentage of the UK population testing positive for the new variant began to fall in November before taking off again, and in some areas it has already started to dip, as was clear from the plot presented by Chris Whitty on Tuesday. If it’s 50% more transmissible than pre-existing variants, why isn’t the percentage just constantly rising in all parts of England? 

But suppose the new variant is more infectious. What evidence is there that the new lockdown measures will interrupt transmission? If the first two lockdowns didn’t stop the original virus in its tracks, why will a third stop a turbo-charged version? 

I sympathise with Alistair Haimes. He believes the NHS is at risk of falling over and wants us to do something – anything – to protect it. Lockdown sceptics also don’t want to see the NHS fall over, but where I part company with Alistair is in believing that a third national lockdown is the right mitigation strategy. Wouldn’t it be better to offer robust protection to the vulnerable and make vaccinating them an absolute priority? Not only would that be more likely to ‘save the NHS’, it would save the rest of us from the harms caused by yet another lockdown. ‘Focused protection’ is sometimes dismissed as not scientifically credible, but the 700,000+ signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration include over 13,000 medical and public health scientists and nearly 40,000 medical practitioners.

Alistair thinks this lockdown is more palatable than the others because there’s light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to the vaccine. Within 100 days, he estimates, it can be dismantled, hopefully never to be seen again. I wish I shared his optimism. At Tuesday’s Downing Street briefing, Chris Whitty said restrictions might well be back next winter and some people have called for masks to remain mandatory indefinitely. 

The problem with allowing the state to suspend your civil liberties is that you may never get them back. I treat the Government’s claims that it will relinquish the powers it has arrogated to itself when the crisis is over with extreme scepticism, just as I do every official announcement about the virus. 

One final point. Over the past week or so, some of the most prominent lockdown sceptics have been vilified in the media, accused of encouraging members of the public to ignore social distancing guidelines and thereby causing people to die. These attacks may ratchet up over the next few days as the NHS comes under more and more pressure, although it’s hard to imagine them becoming even more hysterical. Paul Mason wrote a column in the New Statesman on Wednesday saying that Allison Pearson, Laurence Fox, Julia Hartley-Brewer, Peter Hitchens and me should be consigned to the seventh circle of hell. But the assumption underlying these criticisms is that lockdowns work, which is precisely the point under dispute. Is it reasonable to expect us to just take that on faith and keep any doubts we have to ourselves? After all, we don’t ask the Paul Masons of this world to take it on faith that lockdowns cause more harm than good and accuse them of killing people by advocating for tougher restrictions. We think history will prove us right, but we’re not so full of righteous certitude that we want to silence our opponents. 

One of the most unpleasant aspects of this crisis is that it has brought out an ugly, authoritarian streak in so many people, particularly those in positions of authority. Before March of last year, I believed that totalitarianism could never take root in British soil because we are such a Rabelaisian, freedom-loving people, fiercely proud of our independence. Now, I’m not so sure.

Stop Press: Claire Fox defended lockdown sceptics in a House of Lords debate yesterday.

https://twitter.com/Fox_Claire/status/1347260875384754177?s=20

London Hospitals Really Are in Crisis

What follows is the regular weekly update by our in-house senior doctor, based on the just-released NHS data. It makes for grim reading this week.

Toby has kindly asked me to have a look at the weekly data packet from the NHS hospital statistics website and draw some observations from what we can see in this information and from other data sources. Clearly it has been a busy week on the Covid front, with the closing of schools and a parliamentary vote on a further National lockdown. The media coverage of the issue becomes ever more shrill and disappointingly antagonistic. The usual caveats apply to the data – we can only see what the Government release and we take what is presented at face value.

The first thing I wish to look at is Covid inpatients in the English regions (Graph 1).

The steep rise of cases within London (the orange line) over the last two weeks is obvious, with increases in the South East, East of England and the Midlands. At the risk of sounding metro-centric, I am going to focus on the figures from the capital because I think London is going to be at a very critical point in the coming days. Since December 15th, cases have been rising remorselessly in London hospitals. Prior to mid-December, the numbers of patients did not look out of the normal range for the time of year, but they are well in excess of normal now. I commented last week that London hospitals were in for an extremely uncomfortable time over the next two to three weeks – that now looks like an understatement.

It is not entirely clear what has triggered the rise in cases, but applying Occam’s razor it is probable that the new more transmissible strain is responsible for the rapid increase. There is certainly something radically different between the beginning of December and the end of the month. In one major London hospital, the new variant accounted for 15% of cases admitted at the beginning of December. This week it accounted for 90% of cases. Graph 2 shows the Covid inpatients in London hospitals (orange bars) compared to the spring (blue bars). London hospitals now have substantially more Covid patients than at the spring peak and the trend is still upwards. (I’ve updated the figures below to Jan 5th, but wasn’t able to change the legend.)

Graph 3 shows the number of Covid patients in ICU in the English regions complete to January 7th. Again, the rise in cases in London is much faster than in the other regions and, with 961 cases as of January 7th, this is fast approaching the ICU spring peak with no sign of levelling off. This is an important graph because these are the sickest patients and use up a large number of resources. Further, ICU patients require the attention of the resource that is in critically short supply – intensive care trained nurses. I will return to this point later. Interestingly, the ICNARC data (intensive care audit) to December 31st shows that patients admitted since September 1st still have a survival advantage compared to the cohort to August 31st, but that this advantage has narrowed compared to earlier in 2020. There are multiple possible reasons for this – one of which is that as the volume of patients increases, the level of care may drop, particularly if nursing:patient ratios rise. The normal nursing ratio in ICU is one nurse per patient. This is now stretched to one to two in most hospitals and to as many as one to four in some places, which is really hard to sustain for long periods.

Graph 4 shows the comparison in London between the ICU occupancy in spring (blue) and in winter (orange) showing numbers in ICU approaching the spring peak and again the trend is still rising. (I’ve updated the figures below to Jan 5th, but wasn’t able to change the legend.)

Graph 5 shows the number of Covid positive patients admitted from the community every day. There is just a suggestion that the London admissions may be starting to level off, but there is still a significant upward trend which is higher than all the other regions.

So far the numbers look worrying. Is there any good news this week?

Possibly, from the ZOE app. For those that don’t know, this is a symptom tracker app run by Professor Tim Spector from King’s College Hospital. The data is uploaded by members of the public who have either tested positive for Covid or who have symptoms. Some people think it is a more reliable measure of the level of community infections than the officially released PCR test numbers – it has certainly proved useful so far in the pandemic. Graph 6 shows the data for London to December 31st. A rapid rise from mid-December followed by a slight tailing off, but the numbers remain much higher than in the earlier part of December, suggesting that there are substantial numbers of patients in the community who will present to London hospitals with symptoms in the coming days.

Analysing numbers can only get one so far. Talking to people on the ground is also necessary to get a better idea of what is going on. I have referred to the differences between the winter and the spring in previous posts – the critical problem now is staff absence due to illness or positive contacts. This can make interpretation of bed occupancy levels in comparison to previous years a bit misleading. For example, there has been a massive expansion of ICU beds in all hospitals and especially in London since the spring, but if there are not enough nurses to service those beds, they are of limited use. So even if bed occupancy on at 85%, a hospital may be at capacity because it can only staff 85% of the available beds. A few weeks ago, when we had sufficient nurses to staff the beds, bed occupancy rates were comparable with previous years. Now the nursing resource is so stretched, I’m not sure how much comfort we can take from those comparisons.

In previous posts I have noted the reduction in ward beds due to increased spacing requirements and the organisational friction caused by patient cohorting and constant use of fatiguing PPE. What is less measurable but more important is staff morale. Morale is difficult to quantify. It’s a bit like an elephant – hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. Low morale leads to increased absence with illness and stress. At a time of crisis, medical and nursing staff are often required to go the extra mile and encouraging a demoralised and tired workforce to do that is phenomenally difficult and subject to the law of diminishing returns. You get a harder ‘squeeze for juice’ ratio, until eventually there is no juice left. In that sense, the situation is worse than the spring when morale was very high. The responsibility for this rests squarely with senior NHS management for failing to prepare, train and rest critical workers for an anticipated winter surge which was a predictable and indeed predicted risk.

Further signs of stress in the system have become evident this week. Most London hospitals have now ceased all routine activity and several have ceased urgent work as well, particularly in the SE and NE sectors which are the most stressed. Graph 7 shows paired data for selected London trusts. This graphic can be a bit tricky to read, but one can see that Barts and Guys and St Thomas’s have had rapid rises in ICU patients to spring levels in the last week because they are increasing their bed numbers to offload peripheral hospitals. Their feeder hospitals of Lewisham and Barking are at capacity, the same as in the spring. There is still some spare capacity in the West of London at Imperial and St George’s, but numbers are rising there too.

Problems have arisen with oxygen supply at some hospitals – this is not due to lack of oxygen per se, but an engineering problem with the pipe pressure. Non-invasive ventilation with CPAP which most patients require needs a lot of oxygen and the requirement is more than the pipework can supply in some places. Some hospitals are unable to operate on surgical patients because all the operating theatres have been converted into temporary ICUs. Paediatric ICUs now have adult patients in them. Some outpatient facilities are being converted into temporary acute wards. Staff are being re-allocated from normal duties to support critical care and acute Covid wards. All these observations are as useful an indication of the stress in the system as the raw numbers.

So, what does all this mean?

Earlier this week, NHS England issued an Alert Level 5 – the definition of which is that there is a material risk of the NHS being overwhelmed and unable to cope with demand in several areas in the following 21 days.

Since September, NHSE has regularly been issuing exaggerated and hyperbolic statements about the risk of the service being overwhelmed that were not supported by the published data or the ‘ground truth’ – this has diminished trust and confidence with the public.

Unfortunately, they are not exaggerating now. The situation in London is the most serious I have seen in over 30 years as a doctor and it will probably get worse before it gets better. The deterioration in the last week has been incredibly fast and has taken people by surprise. The service is incredibly resilient but it is a finite resource and can be exceeded by demand in extreme circumstances.

The final question of course is will lockdown make any difference? I’m not convinced of the efficacy of lockdowns from experiences in 2020. It’s likely that community cases were already falling before the spring lockdown started. The multiple harms of lockdown have been well documented and many of these such as delayed treatment for cancer or heart disease will not become apparent for many months or years. On the other hand, faced with the current situation, there is literally no other intervention available. The current lockdown on this occasion fits the WHO definition of an intervention of last resort, which was not the case in the autumn. If the Prime Minister did not act, he would be subject to serious criticism should the London NHS be unable to cope in the coming weeks. Of course, that might happen anyway, but the Government have to be seen to act – so I don’t think there was any choice politically. Whether lockdown makes any practical difference to the number of cases presenting to hospital will not be known for several weeks and probably be the subject of intense debate.

The observation that the new variant was spreading rapidly even during the severe restrictions in December is worrying and suggests that there may be an ‘illusion of control’. One must hope that the ZOE app proves to be correct again and that cases have actually been falling in the community since the end of December. But even if that is true, hospital admissions will continue to rise at least for the next few days.

Eventually, we will get to the other side of this problem, but it will be a bumpy ride for the next few weeks with many difficult decisions to be taken.

Hancock: Freedom Will Be Restored Once Vulnerable Are Vaccinated

Health Secretary Matt Hancock

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has ruled out a “zero Covid” strategy and said restrictions will be lifted as soon as the vaccination of the vulnerable makes Covid a “manageable risk” – a target pencilled in for mid-February. Fraser Nelson and James Forsyth interviewed him for the Spectator.

It’s not yet clear what counts as a win in the game of Vaccine Monopoly. Hancock rules out eradication. “It is impossible for any country to deliver a zero-Covid strategy. No country in the world has delivered that, including the ones that have aimed at it,” he says. “Covid is going to be here, but it is going to be a manageable risk.” His focus is on fatalities and, he says, abolishing restrictions as soon as it is feasible.

When Covid hospital cases fall and pressure on the NHS is lifted, he says, “That is the point at which we can look to lift the restrictions.” So what about herd immunity, vaccinating so many people that the virus dies out? “The goal is not to ensure that we vaccinate the whole population before that point, it is to vaccinate those who are vulnerable. Then that’s the moment at which we can carefully start to lift the restrictions.” But at that point the majority would remain unprotected. Would he as Health Secretary – still say it’s time to abolish the restrictions? “Cry freedom,” he replies. “Covid is going to be here, but it is going to be a manageable risk.”

Freedom, we say, is not a word that many would associate with him. People associate him with lockdown. “No,” he replies, “they associate me with the vaccine.” Do they really? “Yes.” Even when the rules go, Hancock thinks that some changes to behaviour will remain. “The social norm may well become wearing a mask on public transport, for instance, in the same way that after SARS the social norm in many Asian countries became to wear masks in public. Essentially out of politeness.” But he stresses that these decisions will be a matter of “personal responsibility”, not government diktat. Nor does he see immunisation certificates being brought in. “It’s not an area that we’re looking at.”

It’s clear he’s a true believer in the Ferguson-Imperial modelling complete with its dubious assumptions of no pre-existing immunity, high death rate, and lockdowns saving lives.

The moment he most looks forward to? “When I have the duty to declare that the Coronavirus Act is no longer required, upon medical advice. That will be a great moment: when we repeal these draconian laws.” He says he’s mindful of the side effects: people dying who would otherwise have been treated by the NHS. The economic devastation and business closures. But without lockdown, he says, both the Covid deaths and the side effects would be far greater. “I think that’s one of the things we’ve learned all the way through this. The public have totally got that: I mean, they are more strongly supportive of lockdown now than they were at the start.”

Politically, he feels events have justified the decisions he made. “I hope that one of the consequences of this crisis is that it emboldens politicians to do the right thing even if it isn’t the immediately popular thing. Because that is what earns you respect.”

That’s what we’re worried about, Matt: politicians emboldened to impose lockdowns every winter regardless of the cries of protest.

Worth reading in full.

Vaccination Priority List Ignored As NHS Administrators Use Up Expiring Stock

An NHS administrator at work

A reader has emailed with an anecdote about how the vaccine priority list is getting skewed by who happens to be available at the time.

My wife logged on to her village club meeting this week, now on Zoom of course. One of the regulars, who lives across the road from us, announced to general incredulity that she has had two Pfizer jabs already. What? She’s about 60 and works as a part-time NHS administrator in a department in a Midlands hospital – and she’s been working from home throughout! How can this be? It transpires that since the Pfizer jabs have to be used up in double-quick time, the hospital staff are bombarded with emails to come and make the most of the day’s slack because the oldsters can’t be wheeled in fast enough. Needless to say, the frontline staff are too busy in an “I-haven’t-got-time-to-check-my-emails-or-be-vaccinated” sort of way, so they are frequently being missed out. How much more of this has been going on? Since their biggest beef is the risks they are taking, why aren’t they being frog-marched down to be vaccinated with the leftovers? Still, I suppose at least it means the NHS can make sure its pen-pushers keep the outfit going.

Another reader tells us that at a hospital where a friend works, “all staff were contacted yesterday to come and get vaccinated as their stock of the Pfizer vaccine was about to expire”.

This is a known problem. Yesterday the Telegraph reported on the concerns of the BMA.

The BMA criticised the way hospitals are distributing jabs – especially doses left over at the end of the day – amid concern that frontline staff have been losing out to administrative workers. It follows fears that some hospitals are inviting any staff, including non-clinicians, to use up doses after vaccine clinics close rather than prioritising those in patient-facing roles.

Under rules set by the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation, frontline healthcare workers come in the second category of priority, behind care home residents and staff, but a number of trusts have allowed staff from all groups to come forward when stocks are at risk of going unused.

Dr Simon Walsh, the Deputy Chairman of the BMA Consultants Committee, said hospitals should ensure that the highest-risk staff come first.

“The BMA is very concerned about why, when there was quite a long run-up, the Government has not ensured that the NHS delivers the vaccine in a way that prioritises healthcare staff most at risk from Covid,” he said. “It would seem obvious that you should use systems the trusts already have to see which staff are at the highest risk – by virtue of their role, or age, for example – and prioritise them.

“We are astonished that this is not in place. The problem with calling anyone for a jab is that those most in need are those least likely to be able drop everything to come and get one.”

One unmentioned problem might be a reticence among healthcare professionals to get the experimental vaccine.

What Does Endemic Covid Look Like?

We’re publishing a new piece today by Dr Clare Craig, Jonathan Engler and Joel Smalley that explains what is going on this winter and how it relates to the pandemic in the spring.

Viruses do not disappear. When a novel virus is introduced to a naive population there will be an epidemic. Spread will be exponential, some susceptible people will die but eventually we will reach a point where there is sufficient population immunity that spread is slowed and the virus stops spreading in an epidemic fashion. Thereafter, localised outbreaks can still occur and susceptible people can still die but there is no longer a risk of epidemic spread because every outbreak is contained by population immunity.

Coronaviruses are seasonal, so it is only now that we have had some winter weather that we can assess what endemic Covid will be like.

Figure 1 shows the sharp spike in excess deaths seen with epidemic Covid in spring. These deaths were in excess of the usual winter hump. Compared with previous years, this year’s winter excess deaths started earlier but the shape of the curve is consistent with previous years. However, we have now reached the bizarre situation where so many deaths are being labelled as caused by Covid that, for the first time ever, this winter there are fewer non-Covid deaths in winter weeks than there were in summer.

They look at what might be causing the current pressures on the NHS.

Normally, hospitals work very close to or at capacity in winter. The only way this can be sustained is by a carefully choreographed flow of patients from admission to the wards and then back out. This flow has broken:

1. Bed managers, who organise the flow, used to only be concerned with whether a patient was male or female or needed a side room to avoid spread of other infectious diseases. They now have to try and keep patients with a Covid diagnosis separate from those with a suspicion of Covid and those without. This is no small feat in a full hospital.

2. In some hospitals patients are not being discharged until their Covid test returns as negative. Clearly returning patients to care homes during the window of infectivity would be a bad idea. Beyond that this policy is not justifiable. Some patients continue to test PCR positive for 90 days after infection.

3. PCR testing has led to a staffing crisis as even asymptomatic staff are made to self-isolate for two weeks, with 12% of staff absent when it would normally be 4%.

4. Staff are having to work in PPE and change it between patients, adding a significant additional burden to an already heavy workload.

If patients are no longer moving smoothly from the Emergency Department to the wards, then the former will quickly fill up giving the impression that the hospital has been overwhelmed. It is easy to see how this could cause a backlog of ambulances unable to drop off their patients.

Worth reading in full.

How Sweden Confounds the World

Stockholm’s ICU Covid admissions in 2020. Source: Government of Sweden

Kathy Gyngell in Conservative Woman has written a handy summary of Ivor Cummins’ latest “Crucial Viral Update” where Cummins shows how despite not locking down Sweden’s death toll from the virus is neither catastrophic nor unexpected.

Taking a look back over the last 10 decades, he shows that Sweden’s COVID-19 outbreak is of a very similar order to many of the flu epidemics that the country has experienced, and is hundreds of times lower than the Spanish flu of 1918 which, unlike Covid, had a median mortality age possibly as low as 40 (certainly less than 60) and included many infants in its grim toll. Which is not the case with Covid, with an average mortality rate of over 80.

Nor, he shows, is Sweden’s mortality rate materially different from ours, a ‘result’ if you want to call it that which has been achieved without crashing the economy or closing schools or putting the population under house arrest. The slight resurgence this autumn that many zealots have gleefully latched on to to say the Swedish model doesn’t work has a different explanation, he explains. Seasons must be compared with like seasons. Winters with winters, summers with summers. A low mortality winter season one year is likely to be followed by higher mortality one the next year. Deaths invariably catch up, for the elderly especially. Sweden had just experienced two “soft” autumn/winter seasons. This late 2020 spike and outcome was inevitable.

Cummins reminds us, too, that at the start of the pandemic the World Health Organisation did not recommend quarantine and that since then 25 published papers have continued to support their initial advice. These studies show that lockdown has no efficacy; and for those zealots who think the reason is because we are not obeying them diligently enough and we should crack down harder, he has this message: comparison of the stringency of lockdown across 50 countries shows that more stringency has no more impact than less draconian lockdowns. That is it makes no more difference than lockdown itself.

Cummins, Kathy writes, suggests the Japanese success story can be put down to the “far higher rate of metabolic health of the Japanese elderly (Vitamin D levels in particular, which by contrast are strikingly low in Italy)” and “prior SARS immunity and the quick accretion of COVID-19 antibodies in the population”. The US, by contrast, is suffering because “good metabolic health is low overall”.

Florida also confounds the lockdowners since early on it followed “the advice of Professor Michael Levitt of Stanford University, a scientist who’s argued that restrictions would have no impacts”. Thus, “the State Governor dropped them all and has proved Professor Levitt quite right. It has had no negative impact on Florida’s mortality at all.”

Cummins draws attention to the latest pre-print study from Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, which shows “how futile the interventions of countries have been. Each country’s mortality rate could have been predicted before the Covid pandemic and no lockdown could ever have done anything about it.”

Worth reading (and watching) in full.

Stop Press: Photo-Journalist Sean Spencer and Claudia Adela Nye have released the fourth and final trailer for their lockdown film. It’s called “Schools Closures in the UK Again, while Sweden keeps their primary schools open…” and is worth a watch.

The Glitch that Stole Christmas

We’re publishing today a piece by James Ferguson, founding partner of research company MacroStrategy, which looks in-depth at the evidence around the new “super-contagious” Covid variant that was used as the justification for cancelling Christmas.

On December 20th the UK Government put 44% of the English population into Tier 4 lockdown, cancelling Christmas get-togethers for 24m people, following a recommendation from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG).

NERVTAG had identified a new variant of the novel coronavirus in the South East of the country, which was 70% more transmissible than its predecessor, carried a viral load up to 10,000x higher and which the primer on the widely used Thermo Fisher TaqPath PCR machines failed to pick up.

However, these conclusions are highly dependent on the interpretation of the data and logically (Occam’s Razor) none of the claims made at that time about the new variant’s increased transmissibility, higher viral load or ability to escape detection appear justified.

This is a thorough examination of the scientific data and evidence and is worth a read.

A Frontline GP Writes…

A GP consultation

A GP has written a fantastic post on one of our forums entitled: “Why Lockdown Cannot be the Preferred Response to Coronavirus – The View of a Frontline GP.” He wonders how it is that lockdowns have suddenly become standard policy in response to a virus very similar to the ones that circulate each year.

It is true, that COVID-19 seems to be more transmissible than seasonal flu and, initially, there was no effective vaccine, meaning that peaks of infection and, therefore, peaks in admissions and deaths had the potential to be higher, though it is still not clear why ‘lockdown’ was considered to be the most appropriate response to these factors. Bearing in mind that the main risk factors for a poor outcome from COVID-19 infection can be reasonably easily identified (advancing age, chronic lung conditions, diabetes, obesity to name a few), surely it would make more sense for these people to stay at home with appropriate physical and financial support, whilst the rest of the fit and healthy population live their lives, go about their business and keep the economy afloat. Bearing in mind that a very large proportion of the at-risk group are already beyond retirement age, the removal of the remainder from the standing workforce could be anticipated to have a minimal effect on the overall economy.

Looking at a specific area of society, schools, raises even more questions about the appropriateness of ‘lockdown’. It is widely accepted that children and young adults are extremely unlikely to suffer significant morbidity or mortality from COVID-19 without significant underlying medical conditions, in fact, recent statements by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) suggest that children are not affected by the new variant of Covid at all – schools are full of children and, on the whole young adult teachers, the parents of these pupils will generally also be young adults – so how can we justify closing all the schools and cancelling all exams? This makes no sense whatsoever.

Whilst we consider the subject of ‘saving lives’, the current ‘lockdown’ response to the COVID-19 threat is entirely at odds with the government’s usual response to circumstances and conditions which are known to cause significant morbidity and mortality amongst the UK population. Data published by the NHS tells us that in 2019, 78,000 deaths and 490,000 hospital admissions were related to smoking, the ONS have published data which identifies alcohol consumption as the cause of 7,500 deaths in 2018 and the Diabetes UK website informs us that diabetes (the major cause of type 2 diabetes in the UK being obesity) treatment uses 10% of the annual NHS budget and is responsible for 24,000 early deaths every year. This being the case, why are the government not banning smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and over-eating? I imagine that to do so would be considered an infringement of human rights and an attack on personal freedom (which it would). This being the case, how can we now justify effective house-arrest for the entire population of the UK with no right of appeal, fines for those who disobey, no right to protest and no clear end-point in sight?

Far from saving lives, it is reasonable to believe that the significant curtailments to ‘normal life’ in the UK is storing up a great deal of trouble for the future. We already know that patients with signs and symptoms of cancer are not presenting to their GP surgeries at anything like the predicted rates, often due to fear of exposure to COVID-19 or the belief that normal GP services are not available – these patients still have cancer and will, eventually, present to the NHS but probably too late to be effectively treated resulting in early and potentially preventable deaths. Poverty is on the increase due to growing unemployment – poverty leads to poorer health and poor health outcomes – in brief, a poorer society is more unhealthy than a rich society, with more chronically unwell citizens and more early deaths – a greater burden on the NHS. Every week I meet patients with known mental health problems who are declining due to lack of contact with their usual social supports, lack of access to mental health services and anxiety caused by scare-mongering reports in the media – eventually these patients will present to mental health services and threaten to overwhelm them due to the sheer number of cases. Every week I meet elderly people who were previously active and independent, now too scared to leave their homes, many of whom will never join mainstream society ever again – these people will need care at home, a further unnecessary burden on their families and the social care budget.

What of the NHS which we are trying to protect? It seems to me that we would not need to be going to the extraordinary lengths discussed above to ‘protect’ our health service, if the health service had been properly managed and properly funded prior to COVID-19 arriving in the UK. Every year whilst I have worked for the NHS, I have received emails in October warning me of upcoming ‘winter-pressures’ and how we must all take care with referrals to hospitals and how services may be negatively impacted in the coming six months. These so-called ‘winter-pressures’ are entirely predictable well in advance, so why do they occur at all? The obvious answer is that the NHS does not, and in recent history has never had, enough clinical capacity to deal with predictable peaks in infection rates. If we recognise this fact, it was obvious that the NHS was always going to struggle with a new virus which blind-sided us as COVID-19 appears to have done. Surely, when designing a health service, we should plan for the peaks and not the troughs, we should build in flexibility, we should stock more of every medicine and piece of equipment than we will need in the next few days. If we had had an NHS which was already equipped to deal with ‘winter-pressures’, we would have been very well placed, strategically, to take COVID-19 in our stride. This may sound like wishful thinking but actually there are a few simple steps which I have been keen to see implemented in the NHS for many years which, I believe, would transform our ability to respond to threats such as that posed by COVID-19.

He offers some ways the NHS could improve its preparedness for pandemics, before going on to consider the use of state scaremongering and the importance of personal freedom.

Worth reading in full.

Call For Evidence on Lockdowns

The deadline for the call for evidence on the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights is fast approaching on January 11th. The committee explains:

In order to seek to control the impact of COVID-19, the Government has introduced successive restrictive measures, with varying degrees of severity, both nationally and locally. The impact of these measures has been widely felt, and some groups have been more affected than others.

As part of the ongoing work into the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Joint Committee on Human Rights is examining the impact of lockdown restrictions on human rights and whether those measures only interfere with human rights to the extent that is necessary and proportionate.

More details here.

A reader asks:

If basic care is to be curtailed to promote vaccination programmes, can I sue the GP practice if my elderly mum doesn’t get the care she needs and then goes on to be hospitalised unnecessarily?

Answers to the Lockdown Sceptics email address.

Suggestion For the Researchers

Could research into teams like this answer key questions about COVID-19?

A Lockdown Sceptics reader had a brainwave about how some hard data on the impact of Covid could be gleaned.

Having worked in business intelligence and data analysis for some years, I wanted to draw Lockdown Sceptics’ attention to a potential aspect of Covid analysis which – to my knowledge – I have not seen suggested or discussed elsewhere.

The idea crystallised after having seen Brendan O’Neill, Editor of Spiked, interviewed recently on the New Culture Forum’s YouTube channel (other video sharing platforms are available…) During Mr O’Neill’s very perceptive commentary around the Coronavirus pandemic he made the point that, irrespective of any epidemiological arguments, this has only ever really been “half a lockdown”, cleft largely along legacy social class lines. Although knowledge workers and laptop users, mostly middle-class, have been dutifully locked down at home, substantial sections of the workforce, predominantly working-class, have had to continue to work in the “meat-world” very much as usual: supermarket workers, delivery drivers, water and sewage workers, electricity grid workers, refuse collectors, care and support service providers, transport staff and so on.

In these workers, we have, therefore, a massive statistical sample (n=potential +/- ten million). Since many will be working for large organisations with concomitantly large and efficient HR departments / modern electronic data record systems, it would be entirely possible to collate and examine their data in order to see who developed coronavirus, for what length of time they became ill, and what any medical and health outcomes of all this were. 

Supermarket workers in particular have been in close proximity to the general public day-in day-out throughout the entire duration of the crisis. The chains for which they work are both extensive geographically, and are visited by tens if not hundreds of thousands of people every day. All of these large supermarket chains, for example Tescos, will have staff data showing [1] who their staff are [2] where they are [3] their demographic information and [4] their sickness information. What better way might there be to assess the actual dangers of proximity, transmissibility and severity than to study this data?

Given how flexible and adaptable these organisations have proved themselves to be over the past 10 months – and given the gravity of our current situation – it would surely not be impossible for these data sets to be anonymised and made available for analysis. Rather than relying exclusively on the highly questionable, if not downright inaccurate, ‘predictive models’ used by Imperial College and their ilk, we could perform additional analysis on this real-world operational data. What percentage of staff were falling ill due to the coronavirus? How long did their illnesses last? Were they fatal? How many employees suffered from “long Covid” symptoms?

Few organisations or businesses would rely on predictive analytics alone to draw-up or support their business plans, they would almost always analyse past data in order to show baseline figures and patterns around performance, sales, failure demand, customer numbers, complaints and so on.

It seems that in this case, however, when parts of our very society are hanging by a thread, we are relying solely on predictive analytics, and neglecting almost 10 months of actual, real-world data which might potentially yield some hugely important insights.

Round-up

https://twitter.com/talkRADIO/status/1347130354356916225?s=2

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Three today: “Misery and Gin” by Merle Haggard, “No Face, No Name, No Number” by Traffic and “Virus is Over (If You Want It)” by Unknown Rebel.

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

Sharing Stories

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Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, Will Knowland in the Spectator describes the Eton kangaroo court that sealed his summary dismissal for transgressing the sacred precepts of wokery.

It was the boys themselves who suggested and named the YouTube channel Knowland Knows, which has since got me summarily dismissed. The axe fell swiftly after I asked why a video entitled “The Patriarchy Paradox” (originally intended as half of a debate on the new gender orthodoxies at the College, which never saw the light of day) should be deleted from this public platform. The reason given was the presence of an Eton disclaimer on the channel, originally added at the College’s own request.

I’ve since been called everything from a free-speech martyr to a misogynist. While the video has received views equivalent to more than 100 times the size of the Eton student body, it was the boys themselves who first came to my defence, with a compelling open letter saying they felt “morally bound not to be bystanders in what appears to be an instance of institutional bullying”. They boldly claimed that “young men and their views are formed in the meeting and conflict of ideas”, and correctly pinpointed free speech as the principle at stake – otherwise why was it so essential the video should come down? My disciplinary process was only the latest in a series of lustrations turning Eton into a monoculture

They had already sensed the need to resist a drastic narrowing of debate in the schoolroom, which has reportedly led them to set up private debating groups to test viewpoints forbidden in class. Their wit seems to have inoculated them against being wholly ventriloquised by the new regime blighting the school. “But sir” deadpan again “I thought the College was meant to be diverse?”

The charges kept changing, but in the end it was the college’s “approach to equality and diversity” that was deemed to have been transgressed.

At my hearing, two of the three “senior teachers” specified as disciplinary panellists by the College’s constitution were the headmaster’s new appointments to his inner circle, and the third was his own deputy. The College had lawyers present (at one point attempting to replace a Fellow with an external QC) while I did not. A colleague’s character witness statement was significantly altered, being restored to its original only after she protested in writing. Only in response to pressure did the school provide an external note-taker.

“A lie,” as James Callaghan said, “can be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.” And so it was that the Provost once described as “apt to mislead” in the pages of the Scott Inquiry tried to quell the public outpouring of disquiet around my case by suggesting the video had breached the Equality Act. But neither the College’s initial legal advice nor my dismissal letter claimed anything of the sort.

It was not new legislation I’d transgressed, just a new religion with an old-time zeal to suppress dissent and punish heresy. The College’s “approach to equality and diversity” which it finally claimed I had breached has never been explained to staff, making it impossible to follow. 

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Ofcom is trying to “no platform” trans-sceptics, writes Neil Davenport in Spiked.

Speaking before Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sports committee in December, Melanie Dawes, chief executive of broadcast regulator Ofcom, said it was “extremely inappropriate” for broadcasters to seek to “balance” the views of transgender people by also giving airtime to the views of “anti-trans pressure groups”. Ofcom has now followed through on Dawes’ comments by expanding its definition of hate speech to include intolerance of transgender issues and “political or any other opinion”. As a result we can now expect many critics of trans ideas, from feminists to gay-rights campaigners, to be denied airtime.

“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.

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. But the cause has been taken up by PCR Claims. Check out their website here.

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.

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…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_8S74YRXL0&feature=emb_logo

Watch Dr Clare Craig talk to Julia Hartley-Brewer about the significance of the data from her recent Lockdown Sceptics piece on the strange alternative reality that appears when PCR tests aren’t involved.

Style Guide

Very Basic Style Guide (version 1). Updates will be issued.

The main house style is direct and conversational, aimed at a mainly educated and informed readership. Informal vocabulary – “kids”, “info” – is welcomed, though office-speak – “going forward”, “stakeholders”, etc is banned. Be succinct and lively.

Punctuation, including colons and semicolons, (now discouraged in some newspapers) is encouraged on the site. Use it to make the sense clearer.

Apply the following to house copy and to reprinted copy, though never in a way which alters the meaning of copy from other outlets.

Use Covid or COVID-19 but no other variant, so not COVID or Covid-19. Use SARS-CoV-2.

Write Government (capital G) not government when referring to the Government of a country or state.

Epidemic when referring to a viral outbreak in one country, pandemic when referring to the global outbreak.

Figures: spell out numbers up to nine. Use figures for 10 and up. 12 million, not 12m, 12 billion, not 12bn. And when writing large numbers, separate out the units of 1,000 with a comma, like that, not like this 1000.

Use %, not per cent.

Use – (option, dash) rather than – (dash).

Dates: use full out months, September 22nd, October 21st. Not September 22, not 22 September. Don’t abbreviate months, so not Sept.

Ages: use this format, 49 year-old rather than 49-year-old.

Ellipsis: use this… format rather than this … format.

Initials: use initials and put a fullstops after them. So not Jeffrey Tucker but Jeffrey A. Tucker.

Titles of publications: italicise, but don’t italicise or capitalise the “the”, e.g. the Telegraph, the Mail, Bloomberg, UnHerd, the Financial Times (can be the FT at second mention). Make sure to source Mail stories properly. So they’re either from the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday or MailOnline. It usually says which in header of the piece on the paper’s site.

As a general rule, try and link to newspaper and magazine stories that aren’t behind paywalls – so the Mail and the Sun rather than the Times or the Telegraph. Although that’s not a hard and fast rule.

e.g. shouldn’t have a comma after it, but i.e., should.

Book titles: italicise.

Song titles: “In Double Inverted Commas and Big Words Italicised”.

Article titles, including academics papers, in double inverted commas.

People: very well known figures may simply be called e.g. Boris. Dominic Cummings may be called Dom at second mention in house copy.

Job Titles: Capitalise job titles, so not Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology, but Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology. Ditto, Lee Cain, Chief of Staff (or ex-Chief of Staff).

Names well known to our readers, such as Matt Hancock, Steve Baker, etc. (which should be written like that with a fullstop after the “c”) need not be followed by a job description. However, less well-known figures take a description after their names: Sarah Knapton, the Telegraph’s Science Editor.

Academic titles relevant to the debate: use Professor Melinda Mills at first mention. Prof Mills can be used at second mention. Dr Clare Craig, then Dr Craig. But familiar friends of the site may become Clare in house copy at second mention.

Where an author of a piece is being introduced, an academic title may be used followed by qualifications to show their area and level of knowledge. Dr Clare Craig, FRCPath.

For those without relevant jobs or titles, use full names at first mention. The Christian name or surname may be used at second mention. Mr, Mrs etc. are never used.

Initialisation and acronyms: very familiar initialisations and acronyms – SAGE, ONS, DNA – need no explanation. Those less familiar are given in full at first mention with the acronym in brackets afterwards – the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) – and then CRG at second mention.

Phrases in other languages: italicise – et al. Only translate if likely to be unfamiliar to a reasonably educated audience.

Trademarks: capitalise, e.g. Google, Apple, Microsoft. And if they’ve got a capital letter in the middle of the trademark – UnHerd – use it.

Hyphens: A level as a noun, but hyphenate when adjectival, A-level results.

But both anti-vaxx movement and anti-vaxxers. Watch for that tricky spelling.

English spellings throughout, not American spellings, so people of colour, not people of color. If quoting from a chunk of American text, change to English spelling. Ditto English v American syntax, so fullstops and commas generally occurs outside quotations, unless the passage being quoted is being quoted in full and starts with a capital letter, in which case it should be preceded by a comma or a colon. If you’re just quoting from a bit of what some has said, mid-sentence, put the fullstops outside the double inverted commas, not inside.

If you’re quoting inside a quote bracketed by double inverted commas use single inverted commas, never double.

Round-up style. Bullet point list. “Headline of piece in quotation marks with hyperlink, cut any excess from link (e.g. source info), don’t include the quotation marks in the hyperlink” – option-dash, then short description of piece, mention the outlet and for opinion pieces the writer, no full stop at the end. The headline should confirm with house style, so if “Covid-19” is referred to in the headline cap it up to COVID-19.

Headings: Capitalise Each Word Except Minor Words (of, and etc)

Landscape images only, centred and made the same size.

Use Stop Press: (emboldened like that) to add links to related stories.

Use “Heading” for headlines, but sub-heads should just be in the standard “Paragraph” style, but in bold. Only the first letter of a sub-head should be capitalised.

Pictures

Don’t worry about copyright – just drag pictures off newspaper stories on to your desktop then drag them on to the page you’re creating. Or Google the image you’re after and do likewise. Ditto cartoons. Where the picture has a credit, reproduce that credit in in the photo caption. If the cartoon is by a cartoonist you know, say who it’s by and where it appeared, e.g. “Bob’s cartoon in today’s Telegraph“.

Sometimes you can put funny captions under the pictures, sometimes not. Play it by ear. If it’s not clear who is in the photo or what it refers to – if it’s a graph, for instance – caption it, explaining what’s in it.

YouTube Videos and Tweets

When you first publish a daily update, use screen grabs of tweets and YouTube videos; don’t try and embed them in the page. Then send to the email newsletter subscribers. Then, once it’s been sent to them, go back into the page and replace the screen grabs with embedded tweets and YouTube videos. Reason is, embedded tweets and YouTube videos don’t show up properly in emails.

Most Common Mistakes

  • Not checking to make sure text quoted from other sources conforms with the house style.
  • Not putting a comma after i.e. (although there shouldn’t be a comma after e.g.).
  • Using dashes – instead of en dashes –.
  • Using double inverted commas for quoted speech, not single inverted commas.
  • Not sticking to the Telegraph inverted commas rule which is: If you open inverted commas after a comma or a colon, then the full stop should appear before the close inverted commas. If you don’t, the the full stop or comma should come after the close inverted commas. If you quote text from a US publication (and some UK publications) the full stop or comma is often before the close inverted commas when it shouldn’t be.
  • When it comes to ellipses, if you’re cutting off a sentence you should put three dots with no space before the dots begin, but a space after the third dot; if the sentence has ended and you want to indicate that you’re cutting out some text, then you should put in the full stop, then a space, then three dots, then a space.
  • People’s professional or official titles should have a capital letter, so Chief Medical Officer and Professor of Medicine, not chief medical officer and professor of medicine.
  • Dates should be written like this June 26th, not like this 26 June, 26th June or June 26.

Latest News

No Household Mixing After Lockdown Ends

People from different households won’t be allowed to mix in indoor spaces from December 3rd-24th, at which point the rule will be relaxed for five days before being reimposed, according to some of today’s papers. The Government is trying to spin this as the only way to “save Christmas” – and the Sun has bought that line – but that does beg the question, why prioritise saving Christmas over saving jobs? The Telegraph has more.

Boris Johnson has repeatedly promised that the national lockdown will be replaced with a “regional tiered approach” when it ends on December 2nd.

But Government sources say default restrictions across the country are likely to include a ban on mixing with other households until close to Christmas.

Ministers intend to announce an “end of lockdown package” next week, including a schedule for Britain’s vaccination programme and an expansion of mass testing, which they hope will soften the blow of further restrictions.

The plans aim to allow a loosening of restrictions for Christmas, with scientists suggesting a number of households might be allowed to “bubble” together for a short period. Christmas bubbles could last for five days.

Members of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG), the 70-strong collection of sceptical backbench Conservative MPs, aren’t happy about this, with one member of the group describing it as a continuation of lockdown by other means. Given that any restrictions imposed following the official end of lockdown on December 2nd will have to be approved by the House of Commons, the Government is facing a rebellion.

Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, added fuel to fire on BBC Breakfast yesterday when he indicated a return to a “tiered structure” was planned for after December 2nd and said the Tier 3 restrictions – previously regarded as the most severe level – were just a “baseline”.

“We are reviewing the tiers so that when the national measures come to an end on December 2nd, we’re able to move the country, we hope, back into the tiered structure.

“We will be looking at whether the measures that we had in the old tiers were effective. Remember, they varied quite a bit in different parts of the country because in Tier 3 there was a baseline of measures, which the chief medical officer and others have always said was only the beginning.”

Asked about the introduction of a stricter Tier 4, Mr Jenrick said: “We haven’t come to a decision on that, but the Tier 3 that we had before was just considered a baseline.”

The Government has not yet made clear what Tier 4 might involve, but in Scotland the “level four” restrictions – reserved for areas with “stubbornly high” Covid rates – resemble England’s national lockdown restrictions, with measures including the closure of pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops.

Such measures are unlikely to be supported by the CRG, according to the Telegraph.

Former chief whip Mark Harper, the leader of the newly formed Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of around 70 Tory lockdown sceptics warned that any Tier 4 proposal was unlikely to win the support of Conservative MPs.

If all CRG members opposed the plans it would be enough to overhaul the Government’s working majority of 85, taking into account Sinn Fein MPs, who do not vote, the Speaker and the deputy Speaker.

Boris Johnson was forced to give MPs a say on future lockdowns after Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, threatened a rebellion over new coronavirus powers in September.

Mr Harper said: “If the attempt is to put most of England into a Tier 4 that will be seen as lockdown by another name, then I don’t think Conservative MPs will support it.

“The PM has been very clear that the current lockdown will end on December 2nd. Any attempt by Government to effectively continue the lockdown by another means will be very badly received by backbenchers.”

This will be the first real test for the CRG. I hope the MPs won’t compromise and vote for the reintroduction of the “tiered structure” on the condition it doesn’t include a fourth tier. The problem is, once a regionally varied structure has been put in place – even if the most severe restrictions are limited to Tier 3 – the Government won’t need the consent of the House of Commons before imposing new restrictions provided they aren’t imposed nationally. In effect, the CRG has just one bullet. Let’s hope it uses it wisely.

What Was That About Twice as Many Deaths, Sir Patrick?

At the hastily-convened Downing Street press briefing on October 31st, where Boris and his two closest scientific advisors set out the rationale for Lockdown II, Sir Patrick Vallance said: “In terms of deaths over the winter, there’s the potential for this to be twice as bad or more compared to the first wave.”

So how’s that prediction working out for you, Sir Patrick?

The ONS data released yesterday for the w/e November 6th suggests not terribly well. 1,124 people died with Coronavirus in England and Wales on April 8th, the peak of the first wave (1,445 in the whole of the UK), whereas the worst day in this latest data set was November 3rd in which there were 298 deaths in England and Wales. Far from being “twice as bad or more”, that’s roughly 25%.

True, yesterday’s Covid death toll for the whole of the UK was 598 according to PHE, but that’s still only about half of the April peak, and the 7-day moving average is much lower at 425.

The rationale for maintaining the lockdown beyond December 2nd, or putting any regions under Tier 4 restrictions, is looking more and more threadbare.

Stop Press: If you look at the moving seven-day average for cases from October 26th to November 12th, there’s not much sign of the “exponential growth” we heard about on October 31st, either. Chris Whitty’s 50,000 cases a day and 1,000 deaths a day – or was it 4,000? – now look even more embarrassing than Sir Patrick Vallance’s scaremongering.

The Covid Ward

Yesterday, the Times ran a story about Stephen Lavin, a teacher, who caught Covid while awaiting an operation at Glasgow Royal Infirmary as the virus spread through his ward. This caught my eye because Stephen had already reached out to me on Twitter, urging me to tell his story. Consequently, I asked Sandra Barwick, a former Telegraph journalist, to write up his story.

Life was already tough for Stephen Lavin on the Friday afternoon after Bonfire Night, when he was admitted to Glasgow Royal Infirmary to have a surgical wound assessed. He and his wife, Bernadette, had been self-isolating together since July last year, after his operation for advanced colorectal cancer and chemotherapy – isolation which turned to full shielding when news of Covid broke.

His mood wasn’t helped when, just as he was going into hospital, he heard that his cousin had caught Covid in the Royal Liverpool Hospital and had subsequently died. On Saturday, because it was then clear that 56 year old Stephen needed an operation, he himself was given a Covid test. Those were only given, he was told, to those over 70, or due for surgery, or showing or admitting to symptoms.

While he waited overnight, a drunk man was admitted at 2am from A&E, without being tested for Covid, although he was coughing and refusing to wear a mask. At one stage he tried to hug Stephen, and even went out to smoke a cigarette, unaccompanied, and then returned and demanded that a relative come and take him away because “these bastards won’t let me out for a fag”. The trained teacher’s anxiety during all this had, not surprisingly, rocketed to a point where he was now thinking of discharging himself too.

The next day Stephen’s Covid test came back negative, and the surgery went ahead. As he lay in a new ward on Tuesday, still worried by the lack of infection control in the hospital and by the implications of the testing regime, a patient from the original ward was admitted. He, it turned out, had had a Covid test on November 5th – being over 70 – but it was not until Wednesday, six days later, that a nurse came onto Stephen’s ward to announce that everyone in it must be also be tested – immediately. Apparently, the new arrival’s test had come back positive.

According to Bernadette, Stephen’s wife, who talked to him on his phone, he was, unsurprisingly, now shaking with anxiety. But his sense of urgency did not seem to be felt within the hospital. On Thursday morning he was told that the test results were not a priority: he must wait in the queue. By 10.20am Stephen’s temperature was raised, whether from his infected wound or Covid he hardly knew. By lunchtime, the staff were in enhanced PPE, taking the ward curtains away in bin bags and washing all surfaces. In the afternoon, two senior managers came and apologised about the situation but insisted that everything was being done to ensure the wards were Covid-free. At 6.22pm the results came back. Every patient in the ward was positive.

By Friday, Stephen’s temperature was 38.5C, and others around him were sweating and coughing. Student nurses and doctors appeared to be filling in for staff who were off. Some staff confided that they were not tested when they displayed symptoms. Rather, they were simply told to go home and isolate. They’re not even tested after dealing with Covid patients. On Saturday, he finally spoke with the Head Nurse, who faithfully promised to raise his many – by then very many – concerns with senior management.

“Due to their protocols, I have gone from being Covid free on Saturday night to Covid positive on Wednesday,” says Stephen. “Their protocols are nonsensical.”

While he waits to hear back from senior management, Bernadette, alone at home, has another, much greater worry. “I haven’t been able to see him since November 6th,” she says. “And I can’t be sure if I will see him again.”

Stephen’s main concern is that he believes the vast majority of people in Glasgow, and indeed the UK, assume that everyone entering hospitals is screened and tested. But sadly, this is not the case. He hopes that this story will, at least, encourage debate about existing testing protocols in order to reduce the amount of in-hospital infections.

Stop Press: A reader has alerted me to the fact that her hospital made her visit conditional upon getting a Covid test, the test result being negative and then agreeing to isolate for five days. I fear this is now the norm in English hospitals.

Today I was referred by my consultant for an endoscopy and a flexible sigmoidoscopy. On arriving home I was telephoned by a hospital appointments clerk and offered an appointment on Saturday for the procedures. After telling me what would happen and where to go she then said that I would have to have a test at their drive through centre the next day and self isolate until Saturday. Sensing my reluctance she asked if that was a problem and I said it was. I then asked if I would be refused the procedures if I didn’t have the test and she said I would be refused them.

Since I will not give in to blackmail I shall be forgoing the investigations.

£18 Billion PPE Scandal

Today’s front pages are dominated by what looks to be a growing scandal: the slipshod manner in which £18 billion worth of PPE contracts were awarded by the Government at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. The hook for the story is a National Audit Office report on the affair, published today. The Daily Mail has more.

Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings were both drawn into the debacle after the spending watchdog said officials failed to consider potential conflicts of interests involving companies linked to them.

The National Audit Office revealed that officials had signed contracts for hundreds of thousands of facemasks which turned out to be unusable – wasting hundreds of millions of pounds.

The bombshell report found:

* Two of the companies named in the report have links to the Prime Minister’s former chief adviser;

* More than 1,300 contracts worth £10.5 billion were awarded by the Government with no competition whatsoever – increasing the chance of money being wasted;

* Ministers set up a separate VIP procurement route which allowed some companies to be fast-tracked for a decision – as long as they had the right connections;

* One in 10 suppliers processed through this high-priority lane (47 out of 493) obtained contracts compared with less than one in 100 suppliers that came through the ordinary lane (104 out of 14,892).

Rachel Reeves, Labour’s Cabinet Office spokesman, said: “The country deserves to have confidence their money is being spent effectively by the Government – and to know without doubt that friends and donors to the Conservative Party aren’t profiting from this pandemic.”

These were worth £18 billion, of which £17.3 billion were new contracts rather than contract extensions. Most of the money, £12.3 billion, went on PPE, with the remainder going on other equipment and virus testing.

Ministers, MPs and civil servants could refer businesses to a ‘high-priority’ lane and firms which were granted this VIP access were more than 10 times as likely to be awarded a contract as those in the ordinary lane.

Leads came into a dedicated mailbox, but officials only recorded the sources in half of cases, although many were from ministerial offices following tip-offs from MPs about firms in their constituencies.

This will be grist to the mill of the conspiracy theorists, but it looks more a cock-up to me. Nevertheless, this does appear to be an example of “convergent opportunism” (© Mike Yeadon).

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Mail‘s David Rose has described this scandal as “cynical and brazen cronyism“.

Stop Press 2: A Spanish “go between” who brokered a deal between the Government and an American jewellery designer to supply PPE has pocketed £21 million of taxpayers’ money, according to the BBC.

Police Temporarily Stopped From Imposing £10,000 Fines

There’s good news and bad news in the Guardian. The paper reveals that an emergency order was imposed last Friday, preventing police officers from handing out £10,000 fines – that’s the good news. But the order has now been lifted and the police are back to their old tricks – that’s the bad news.

Police forces can resume handing out £10,000 fines for breaches of coronavirus regulations, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) has said following discussions with the Government.

It comes after an emergency order was made to stop officers handing out the fines to Covid rule-breakers, amid concerns the government’s flagship deterrent is unfair.

Officials are scrambling to stop the crackdown on large gatherings in England and Wales, which was announced by the Prime Minister this summer, from imploding after serious problems emerged.

Scores of £10,000 on-the-spot fines have been issued for those organising anti-lockdown protests, student parties, raves and large weddings. The fines are part of measures to enforce rushed-through Covid legislation banning gatherings of more than 30 people.

But many of those who challenged the penalties in court had the penalties reduced to hundreds of pounds instead after judges decided the level of fine should be determined by an individual’s ability to pay, according to a source with knowledge of police discussions.

On Tuesday evening police issued a new statement saying the issue had been resolved after forces had the option of issuing a £10,000 fines again, but would have to explain that people could fight it in court. The NPCC said: “People found to be in breach of the regulations relating to gatherings of over 30 people will be made fully aware of their options when faced with a £10,000 FPN (fixed penalty notice), to ensure fairness.”

On Friday, forces were told of the “urgent” problem in a letter from the NPCC and told to stop issuing the FPNs on those blamed for organising gatherings of more than 30 people.

The letter, seen by the Guardian, said: “With immediate effect we are asking all forces to cease issuing FPNs with a £10,000 fine of enforcement.” It said forces could instead issue court summonses or make arrests.

The letter from the NPCC to all chief constables and heads of criminal justice in England and Wales reveals behind-the-scenes concerns about flaws in the rushed measures.

A joint ethics committee of police, prosecutors and court officials had met and decided to order the halt, it said. “This arises from the issue of a significant inequitable position for those who elect to pay the fine, versus those who do not and progress to the courts and are subject to means-testing on conviction.”

As I revealed on Lockdown Sceptics last week, if you’re issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice for breaching one of the coronavirus regulations you should refuse to pay it and instead opt to go to court. If you do that, the charge will either be dropped or the penalty reduced – as confirmed by this story.

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

A member of the Lockdown Sceptics team – Rob Tyson – has heroically transcribed Dr Clare Craig’s recent interview with Alex McCarron on the Escape From Lockdown podcast. Here’s an extract:

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 scepticism 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.

Worth reading in full.

I’ve given it pride of place under “Testing: Do You Have the Disease?” on the right hand side.

Hancock’s Willing Executioners

Bob’s cartoon in the Telegraph on 25th June

I often receive emails from parents in despair at how their children’s schools have taken it upon themselves to uncritically regurgitate Number 10’s propaganda – and I’m publishing one of them below. There’s something rather odd about this, given that teachers are usually so suspicious of anything the Government says, particularly if they know something about the subject, e.g. education policy. Aren’t these the very people that pride themselves on equipping their students with critical thinking skills? Why the willingness to lap up everything they’re told about “the crisis” by politicians they wouldn’t dream of voting for?

One theory is that it’s an instance of Gell-Mann Amnesia – a phenomenon identified by the physicist Murray Gell-Mann – which his friend the novelist Michael Crichton described as follows:

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward – reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

No doubt there’s an element of this going on, but it doesn’t explain the zeal with which most teachers have taken up the authorities’ Covid narrative and appointed themselves enforcers of “safety” protocols, often going much further than required by their local councils or the Department for Education. And it isn’t just schools, obviously, but any person or institution that enjoys some power or authority – doctors, vicars, counsellors, civil servants, scientists, MPs of all stripes, journalists, broadcasters, etc. Look at Piers Morgan, a man I know and like and whose willingness to call out looney left nonsense I admire. He seems to have been driven quite mad by his desire to enforce Covid orthodoxy.

I’m not sure I understand the psychology here, but I imagine this behaviour – people in authority energetically promoting the narrative that has enabled a group of politicians to suspend civil liberties and assume dictatorial powers – is a common feature of all countries that sink into authoritarianism.

It’s a commonplace of left-wing intellectuals that the greatest danger to liberal democracy is posed by conservative ethno-nationalists – Trump, Orban, Bolsonaro. But even though there’s a right-wing populist in Downing Street and he certainly bears his share of the blame for the ugly turn our society has taken, it’s been the liberal left that has embraced the Covid narrative – and what it regards as the necessary suspension of our liberties – most enthusiastically. Witness the recent call by the Labour Party, along with the Royal Society and the British Academy, to criminalise anti-vaxxers. Who would have thought, prior to the pandemic, that it would be scientists demanding that a Tory Government be empowered to decide what can and can’t be said in the public square? Now that they have tasted the wine of power, they have forgotten themselves.

Which reminds me. I must read Hitler’s Willing Executioners.

Anyway, here is the piece by a concerned mum who, like the rest of us, cannot quite believe that the very same institutions that used to be hotbeds of opposition to Tory policies have become little outposts of Downing Street.

On arriving home from school yesterday, my youngest started with, “Now don’t get mad Mum and fire off loads of emails, but I need to tell you what happened in tutor time today.”

“Okay,” I said.

They had an assembly in which a teacher presented them with a data slide containing the number 51,540.

“What is THIS number children?” she asked.

The pupils dutifully provided the answer they knew was expected: “The number of Covid deaths, Miss.”

Teacher: “That means about a thousand people a week have died, which is about the size of our school! We are in a dangerous pandemic and it’s clearly getting worse!”

There then followed video footage of American doctors attending to critically ill patients at the height of the pandemic. Then another on the vital importance of wearing face masks, with strict instructions not to keep touching them.

At that very moment, according to my child, another teacher entered the classroom, approached the teacher giving the talk, and pushed his mask down to his chin before speaking.

Thankfully, my child was outraged by this blatant propaganda, but the scaremongering went on and on. What right do the staff have to peddle such unbalanced information? Are the teachers now paid to scare children, acting as henchmen for our dysfunctional Government? Are they unable to do their own “self-directed learning” – a cliché I’ve heard them utter so many times my eyes glaze over whenever I hear it? A quick bit of “independent inquiry” involving the websites of the ONS and the NHS would enable them to put those deaths in context – 51,540 is less than 10% of all-cause mortality in the UK in 2019.

Wouldn’t it have been better to encourage children to seek out information about the virus themselves and make up their own minds – a task that would include weighing up apparently contradictory claims made by scientists and doctors, crunching numbers, contextualising data, asking whether apparently objective information being presented by politicians to the public is being distorted to serve their own agendas, and so on? Aren’t these the “life skills” schools are supposed to be equipping children with?

But silly me. It’s been apparent since March that my child’s school is no longer interested in real education or in raising courageous and questioning adults. Instead, they have become willing co-conspirators in Project Fear. It’s all about helping the Government control the behaviour of our children – not just when they’re at school, but in every aspect of their lives. Shame on them.

Stop Press: Headteacher Stuart Lock has written a brilliant piece about why exams shouldn’t be cancelled next year.

Straight Talking by Professor Anthony Brookes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gaOobpwC7oM&feature=youtu.be

Anthony Brookes, Professor of Genetics at Leicester University, was on Julia Hartley Brewer’s talkRADIO show yesterday and one Lockdown Sceptics reader was so impressed she transcribed some of it for us.

Julia began by asking Prof Brooks about the vaccines.

Prof Brookes: There are still many unknowns about the vaccines and although it’s great the initial data is positive, all the data show is they reduce symptoms in people who are vaccinated. It’s being described as it protects you from disease but what it means is it reduces symptoms. We don’t know if the vaccines reduce your chances of being infected, whether it creates some immunity and whether it makes you less infectious.

He added that it would be a good thing if young people get infected and develop natural immunity because that helps increase herd immunity (4m 3s).

When it comes to vaccinating the elderly and the vulnerable, he thought, best-case scenario, it could be done by spring but he didn’t see it happening (5m 17s). So, what to do in the meantime? More lockdowns or do we switch to mass screening? He saw the “moonshot” as “a problematic concept”.

Prof Brookes: It’s not viable, it’s not effective, it’s not appropriate. It will create hundreds of thousands of false positives each day so people will be isolating unnecessarily. It will create hundreds of thousands of false reassurances each day, people told they’re negative when they’re actually positive… Cost will be the equivalent of about six times the cost of the whole UK police force and almost approaching the cost of the whole NHS. That approach, I think, needs to be paused and re-evaluated.

JHB: This whole idea that the vaccines aren’t a quick solution to this problem – the mass testing isn’t a quick solution to this problem – is this fundamentally because this is a political problem rather than a medical problem?

Prof Brookes: I can’t remember who it was, but someone said this has been a political pandemic, not a medical pandemic and I think there’s a lot of truth in that…

My favourite part of this brilliant interview was when JHB says we’re not seeing the supposed deadliness of this terribly infectious disease being played out in hospitals and in the mortality figures (8m 35s).

Prof Brookes: There’s too much fear around and let me state some very basic facts… I’ll give you the absolute numbers today and people can take that away and make their own decisions about how scared to be. So, in terms of people actually infected today, it’s probably around 1% in the population, but the vast majority of those will have no symptoms and if you’re under about 65 it’s less risk than regular flu. The number of people dying today is the same as it would be any other year in total. People are dying of respiratory diseases today, it’s about the same as it normally would be; the thing is they’d normally die of flu and pneumonia, those diseases are very much reduced this year and it’s been replaced with Covid. The Covid deaths, just predicting from the charts and all other considerations, will continue to go up from here; I actually agree with the Government that it could approach the levels of death we had in wave one, I don’t think it will, I think it’ll top out at about two-thirds of that level in a couple of weeks’ time. The hospitals have increased their capacity beyond normal years, so they are less full in emergency care units than they would normally be, so it’s normally about 90-95, they’re about 85% this year, that’s because they’ve increased the capacity, but they’re in no way struggling to cope… The fact is the prevalence of the virus in terms of people carrying it has plateaued and is now starting to at least run at a flat level, it looks like it may be going down as well… It exists, it’s real, we need to be careful, but we shouldn’t be thinking of this as a major player.

Why Can’t I See My Disabled Son?

20 year-old Charlie Gray

Today we’re publishing a heart-breaking piece by Vanessa Gray, the mother of a healthy but severely disabled 20 year-old who was deprived of contact with him throughout the first lockdown and, even now, is only allowed to visit him for an hour a week. Why are the rules that have been put in place to protect elderly care home residents being applied to residential facilities for healthy young adults with disabilities? There’s no rhyme or reason to it – it’s just another example of the lockdown sledgehammer being used indiscriminately, and to hell with the collateral damage.

I have a beautiful, gentle, handsome, fit 20 year-old son called Charlie, with severe mental disabilities, autism and an atypical form of epilepsy. He moved into a care home last July and attends a college locally for special needs autistic students. All was going very well and we used to have him home pretty much every weekend. Never could we have imagined at that time that within a few short months we would not be allowed to see him at all.

Then Lockdown comes in March – “Three weeks, to flatten the curve,” Boris said. Although I admit, despite the uncertainty at the time, the whole thing had a faint stench of bullshit about it, even back then. Information was already coming out from world leading scientists, based on a forensic study of available data, particularly Dr John Ioannidis and Professor Michael Levitt, that lockdowns were pointless and not the way to go. This whole lockdown business sent shivers down my spine because I knew it would have horrible implications for my son.

You see Charlie cannot speak, read or write. His cognitive age is about two-and-a-half. So how do you explain to him in any meaningful way that Mummy and Daddy are not coming to see you anymore and not bringing you home anymore – for what turned out to be months?

We have nightly face time calls organised by a carer – but there is no engagement from Charlie on an iPad. We engage with Charlie by holding his hand, sharing a piece of his favourite cake with him, reading him one of his favourite picture books or watching an episode of Fireman Sam together!

After over two long months, we were allowed to start bringing Charlie home again, as long as we filled out a mountain of paperwork declaring that no one had lost their sense of taste or smell, etc. – before we returned him. At least we could see him again – I wasn’t complaining.

Then along comes Tier two. We are allowed to take him out – but NOT bring him home. Restaurants were open so at least we could get out of the cold with him and go for a pub lunch.

Then five minutes later – Lockdown again! This time – ONE of us is allowed to take Charlie for a walk for ONE hour! So my husband and I tossed a coin as to which of us would be the one allowed to see him last weekend and take him out in the freezing cold. My husband won. I will go next weekend. It’s very silly because Charlie goes to college each day and his carers come and go from his home to their homes.

I don’t blame the care home for any of this. They have been as helpful as they could be and staff are fantastic. But rules are rules and obviously they can’t flout them. I blame the Government.

Worth reading in full.

“The Greatest Hoax Ever Perpetrated on an Unsuspecting Public”

This is glorious. Dr. Roger Hodkinson, ex-Chairman of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Examination Committee in General Pathology in Ottawa, former Assistant Professor and now the CEO of a biotech company that manufactures Covid tests, tells Government officials in Alberta (on the Community and Public Services Committee) that the current coronavirus crisis is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting public”. These remarks were secretly recorded by one of the people present and uploaded to YouTube, but in case they’re taken down they’ve also been uploaded to BitChute.

The jeremiad only lasts five minutes, but it’s a wonderfully succinct summary of the sceptical position, covering everything from the unreliability of the PCR test – “positive test results do not, underlined in neon, mean a clinical infection” – to the catastrophic consequences of the lockdowns. Here he is on masks:

Masks are utterly useless. There is no evidence base for their effectiveness whatsoever. Paper masks and fabric masks are simply virtue signalling. They’re not even worn effectively most of the time. It’s utterly ridiculous. Seeing these unfortunate, uneducated people – I’m not saying that in a pejorative sense – seeing these people walking around like lemmings obeying without any knowledge base to put the mask on their face.

This deserves the widest possible circulation.

See more on Dr Hodkinson’s credentials here.

Call to Arms

I received the following rallying cry from Geoff Cox, a lockdown sceptic and head of the Back to Normal group who has decided to see what he can do to raise people from their slumber. He’s got a plan and he wants you to be part of it.

Staggered by the falsification of Covid data? Enraged by Police bullying? Depressed by the loss of civil liberties? Frustrated that you can do little except rail and wail in your own bubble? Well, now you can do something – a little something, but something. Back to Normal is a well set up, grass roots organisation which has one goal – to wake up the public. This is a group that likes to get out there and talk to people. Although we have a MeWe page, a Facebook page and a website, these are really backups to support our project of getting to people who have bought into the Government’s message. So far, we have produced and delivered 20,000 postcards door to door or handed them out in the street. We are denting the confidence of those who only get their information from TV. We are edging sceptics towards our point of view and encouraging those who already think like us, but worry they are alone.

There is a proliferation of groups being set up in this country and all over the world to campaign against the current global madness. Back to Normal is just one of them and we understand that, at some point, these groups must come together. If you already have a group and would like to join forces with us or vice versa, we’d be happy to do so. What we need is one ‘Lockdown Sceptic’ to take on the role of coordinator in your area. Then deliver postcards, organise street activities, and get on social media where we don’t have a voice. The Government had first mover advantage, but the fight back has begun.

If you can help with the postcards, or could be a local coordinator, or if you have other skills, please get in touch.

Letter From a Labour Party Member to Jon Ashworth

A reader has sent me an excellent letter he’s written to Jon Ashworth, the Shadow Health Secretary, about why his efforts to censor anti-vaxxers are misguided. He’s given me permission to reprint it in full and attribute it to him by name. He’s called David J. Ferguson.

Dear Sir,

As a Labour Party member I am concerned about your proposal to urgently bring forward legislation that would include financial and criminal penalties for companies that fail to act to “stamp out dangerous anti-vaccine content”. I am not by any means opposed to vaccination, both my daughters, now in their twenties had the MMR jab and I remember clearly being asked if I had any objections and saying no. I am however concerned about the haste with which the various vaccines for covid-19 are being developed, and the way in which the normal safety protocols are being overruled in this case.

Since the start of the pandemic the government has sought to silence alternative views Ofcom have characterised these as: “Health claims related to the virus which may be harmful. • Medical advice which may be harmful. • Accuracy or material misleadingness in programmes in relation to the virus or public policy regarding it”. This sounds wise, no one wants false or inaccurate information to circulate, but it has led to suppression of alternative perspectives. For example the researchers at Imperial College based the modelling which led the first lockdown on the assumption of an infection fatality rate of 0.9% for COVID-19. They have since revised this to 0.7%. When, on the basis of sound scientific reasoning, the much respected Dr John Ioannidis suggested 0.9% was too high this was censored on YouTube. More recently, former BBC journalist Anna Brees has been told by FaceBook that there are certain issues she is not allowed to discuss on her page, issues relating to the vaccine. This kind of censorship serves no useful purpose. It stifles debate. You may be convinced that the people who raise concerns are wrong but as Noam Chomsky said, “Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.”

It may be said that this is a matter to be decided by the experts but as the philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend noted: “The objection that citizens do not have the expertise to judge scientific matters overlooks that important problems often lie across the boundaries of various sciences so that scientists within these sciences don’t have the needed expertise either. Moreover, doubtful cases always produce experts for the one side, experts for the other side, and experts in between. But the competence of the general public could be vastly improved by an education that exposes expert fallibility instead of acting as if it did not exist.”

In order to decide whether to take the vaccine people need to be able to make an informed choice and to balance the risks. No one can do that if any contrary views to those of the government are silenced. For some people, considered as individuals, the benefits will easily outweigh the risks; this would be the case with those who are older or more vulnerable. For others, the young and healthy, the risks to them as individuals may outweigh the benefits. However, it may still be that in order to achieve population immunity it would be better for those who are not personally at great risk to be immunised. This means that for the common good many people, not greatly at risk from the virus, are being asked to expose themselves to risk from a largely untested vaccine. If they are being asked to do that then people need to be able to assess the risk they are being asked to take for the sake of others.

There are different views among the experts on how many people would need to be vaccinated to give population immunity. To make a judgment on this we would need to know how many of the population already have immunity. Is it as low as 7% as the calculations made by SAGE often assume or is it as high as 70% as Dr Mike Yeadon has argued? Some weeks ago I watched you on Question Time in discussion with Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist who has been discussing this very issue for several months. It became clear that you had, at that time, a very limited understanding of this key issue, and the best defence of your position you could make was to say that some other (unnamed) epidemiologists might disagree with her. I strongly recommend her lecture, ‘The Uncanny Valley, How to Model a Pandemic’ which is available online. She explains that several different models, with different values for factors like IFR, prevalence and immunity can all fit the current data. If for example the virus arrived in the country earlier than is generally supposed, say in January, then it would have spread further before deaths began to rise significantly above the seasonal average in late March, and this in turn would imply a lower infection fatality rate; changing the estimate of one variable leads to changes in the others. Any cost/benefit analysis regarding how many people will need to take the vaccine to minimise risk for those taking it while achieving population immunity has to be based on an estimate of such factors and the associated modelling. In order to make these judgments there needs to be open discussion of all perspectives and models. Penalising discussion simply creates the impression that the government is trying to hide the risks involved. For these reasons I am very much opposed to your attempts to criminalise diversity of opinion. If there is a good case for your position why be afraid to make it and have it challenged?

As John Stuart Mill said: “The opinion which it is attempted to suppress by authority may possibly be true. Those who desire to suppress it, of course deny its truth; but they are not infallible. They have no authority to decide the question for all mankind, and exclude every other person from the means of judging. To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility”. It is dangerous for any government to act in this way, and it is dangerous for the opposition to encourage them to do so. As I have often pointed out to my students, if you want to hear the people you agree with, you have to defend the rights of the people you disagree with. This becomes a more important principle when there is as much at stake as there is at present. I believed you when you said on Question Time that you want to save lives, but you have to allow that people may have different views on the best way to do this, and alternative views, especially those of highly qualified experts, cannot and should not be silenced.

Your faithfully

David J Ferguson

Stop Press: A reader has pointed out that it’s not completely bonkers to have reservations about a new vaccine that’s been developed at breakneck speed and utilises a new, relatively untested technology.

Like everything, vaccine safety and efficacy is not black and white. To question this does not make one “anti-vaxx”. It shows legitimate (for now, until it’s censored/outlawed) concern for safety and desire for transparent and truthful information and is not unreasonable.

Many years ago, in a different life, I worked for the Courts/Tribunals Service. Hidden away (deliberately!) amongst the myriad of Tribunals was the little known Vaccine Damage Court.

This pseudo-court hears cases for children (or adults) seriously injured or disabled by “perfectly safe and thoroughly tested” vaccines. I believe it is a very difficult process to go through with many obstacles put in place to be successful.

It is, of course, the taxpayer that pays damages given the multi-billion dollar Big Pharma industry is exempt from prosecution. The amounts paid for individual cases are not high when compared to the costs of lifelong physical and mental disability of once healthy people, but the total payout over the years amounts to many millions of pounds, and billions in the USA. The only time I recall seeing much media coverage of this was around 2009 with the Swine Flu vaccine, since withdrawn, which was proved to cause narcolepsy. Payouts are up to £60m so far on this one.

More Entries to the Devil’s Dictionary

More entries have come in for the Covid version of the Devil’s Dictionary. (You can see the first set here and the second set here.) This has the makings of a stocking filler.

Anti-vaxxer, n. Anyone who dies at any time in the next 200 years, having stubbornly refused to get vaccinated.

Collateral damage, n. A blockbuster Hollywood film starring a future governor of California. Also the direct result of irresponsible people catching non-Covid ailments for which the NHS is unable to offer any treatment.

Pandemic, n. A highly contagious variety of group think at government level. The side effects are hugely destructive, but only for the general public. Not to be confused with a viral outbreak.

Herd impunity, n. Going along with the crowd to avoid personal liability, even if you know the decisions being taken are wrong. (See Civil service.)

Covid window, n. (1) A transparent sheet of perspex that miraculously defies the laws of physics and common sense (see below) with regard to its ability to prevent invisible particles circumnavigating its four open sides.
(2) A financially benevolent period of time in which to board the Bisto Express.

Common sense, n. Arguably the most important of senses, much needed yet easily and effortlessly dampened with fear and by withholding, distorting and fabricating data. Currently facing extinction, although Sir David Attenborough is unconcerned.

Ambiguity, n. A job-saving lifeline consisting of words and numbers often delivered with a hint of bovine bouquet. A politician’s best friend.

Round-Up

https://twitter.com/robinmonotti/status/1326777941704007681?s=20

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Just one today: “We Are the Pigs” by Suede.

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, I’m bringing you the story of a Christian actress who was sacked from her role in the musical of The Color Purple for expressing her religious belief that homosexuality is wrong. The Times has more.

Seyi Omooba, described as a devout Christian, was fired from the adaptation of the Alice Walker novel last year after she was cast to play the lead character of Celie at the Curve in Leicester and Birmingham Hippodrome.

The production company dismissed her after Aaron Lee Lambert, an actor in Hamilton, shared a Facebook post she wrote in 2014, that said she did “not believe homosexuality is right”.

The character of Celie is normally read as having a gay relationship.

However, Omooba, 26, has denied that the character is a lesbian. She said last year that the theatre company and her agents told her to apologise but she refused, claiming that her Facebook comments merely quoted the Bible.

The actress launched legal actions against both the company and her agents. Her legal team claimed that she had been abused on social media since the row broke out, and had been “called a n***er for citing the Bible”.

Later this week, an employment appeal tribunal in London will consider the appeals against several decisions made at earlier hearings, including one to reject expert evidence on the grounds that it was irrelevant and potentially biased.

Lloyd Evans, the theatre critic for The Spectator, said that “it is not of any importance for an actor to agree with the ethical views or the feelings of a character in a play”. Evans said that “were that necessary, the art of drama would not exist, and many of the plays we regard as classics would be impossible to stage”.

In a witness statement, Evans cites Shakespeare’s Othello in which the lead character murders his faithful wife, Desdemona, after being tricked into believing she is an adulteress.

“It would take a superhuman effort,” Evans said, “to cast Othello in this play if the search were restricted to actors who sympathise with Othello’s jealous feelings and who believe that he is justified in murdering his wife.”

Top stuff from Lloyd Evans, whom I co-authored an award-winning play with called Who’s The Daddy? I’ll be rooting for Seyi when her case comes before the Employment Tribunal.

Stop Press: The Mail has more on Suzanne Moore’s departure from the Guardian. The headline says it all: “Comment is free (unless you’re a ‘transphobe’): Death of free speech at the Guardian as columnist Suzanne Moore quits after 300 staff sign petition against her claim that gender is more than a ‘feeling’.”

Stop Press 2: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men have all been banned from schools in California for being “racist”.

“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.

Mask Censorship: The Swiss Doctor has translated the article in a Danish newspaper about the suppressed Danish mask study. Largest RCT on the effectiveness of masks ever carried out. Rejected by three top scientific journals so far.

Stop Press: The rise of cases in Maine has been linked to face mask mandates, according to 21st Century Wire.

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 my 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 650,000 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 can give up essential liberty to obtain 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

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…

These anti-mask campaigners are a regular sight at Tokyo’s busiest intersection outside Shibuya Station

Latest News

Treasury Made No Forecast For Lockdown 2.0

SAGE say it’s not their job to take into account the economic impact of lockdown. It’s the Treasury’s job. Why then has the Treasury now admitted that it produced no forecasts in the run up to the second lockdown? Why did SAGE on September 21st claim they were in hand? These were the questions MPs put to Treasury officials on Wednesday. Kate Andrews in the Spectator has the details.

Chair of the Committee Mel Stride asked Clare Lombardelli, Chief Economic Adviser to the Treasury, to comment on specific economic analyses conducted around lockdown restrictions, ranging from the closure of pubs, gyms and restaurants to “circuit breakers” and working from home directives. It was quickly revealed that no analysis has been done.

Stride’s interest stemmed from SAGE meeting minutes dated September 21st, which referenced a “package of measures” that the Committee said “need to be adopted to reverse [the] exponential rise in cases”. These included some of the more radical measures implemented during the first lockdown, including changes to “working from home” rules, banning contact between households, the closure of hospitality and leisure sectors, and even the return of a (shorter) lockdown. In the minutes, SAGE states that the economic impact of these measures was being modelled by the Treasury: “Policy makers will need to consider analysis of economic impacts and the associated harms alongside this epidemiological assessment. This work is underway under the auspices of the Chief Economist.”

In yesterday’s session, Lombardelli revealed that no such work was ever underway. The impact of the specific restrictions on the economy were not forecast or predicted by the Treasury before they came into force: “As the Chancellor set out in Parliament last week, we haven’t done a specific prediction or forecast of the restrictions… what we do is ongoing policy that feeds into decisions ministers take, which they consider alongside the health impacts, the social impacts, and they also consider the economic impact.”

Without this analysis and these forecasts, what was the basis on which the Government was weighing up whether to shut down the country again?

The Treasury’s lack of forecasting does not mean Chancellor Rishi Sunak would have been without any data when in discussions with the Prime Minister and other senior Cabinet figures about lockdown. Lombardelli notes the Treasury has been compiling forecasts done by other bodies, including the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Bank of England.

But yesterday’s admission from the Chief Economist calls into question the priorities of the Treasury: the Sage minutes are dated over a month before England’s second lockdown was announced, giving the Treasury at least four weeks (though the minutes imply longer) to forecast the impact of specific lockdown measures on the economy. That the institution did not produce any forecasts or predictions also raises serious questions about the extent to which the economic implications of such radical measures were considered before the Government brought them in.

Worth reading in full.

Why Does Europe’s “Second Wave” Have Almost No Excess Deaths?

https://twitter.com/ClareCraigPath/status/1326994958226759680?s=20

Lockdown Sceptics regular Dr Clare Craig pointed out on Twitter last night that there’s a discrepancy in Europe between the number of “cases” (positive tests), the number of “Covid deaths” (validated with a positive test) and the number of excess deaths, i.e., there are plenty of the former two, but excess deaths in autumn 2020 are close to the five-year average.

“We are in a false positive pseudo epidemic,” she concludes.

Hard to disagree.

“Victoria in Lockdown Resembled 1970s East Germany More Than a Liberal Democracy”

A friend and life-long Melbournian writes of his despair at the state of his home state under the rule of Kim-Jong Dan.

I am increasingly sad about the prospects for Victoria in the next decade. The political leadership this year has highlighted a number of trends built up over some 20 years under Labour governments with characteristics to the left of their federal and interstate counterparts, and not dealt with by the few weak state coalition governments. It is now evident that Victoria in lockdown resembled 1970s East Germany more than a liberal democracy, and most Victorians seem happy with that. The public service seems stuffed at the top with overpaid and sinecured people whose values and principles are far from what public service should be. This is evident in all sorts of ways that line up with the current Government’s totalitarian agenda of emergency legislation removing basic liberties, bypassing Cabinet, largely side-lining Parliament, setting up a pathetically tame inquiry to investigate, ignoring human rights protections, destruction of the Country Fire Authority, destruction of the hardwood timber industry threatened, etc., not to mention meekly signing on to China’s Belt & Road influence. While the lockdown-induced anger may achieve a change of government in 2022, unravelling the mess is likely to be nearly impossible. At the least it will require the reinstitution of values of public sector independence and robust accountability mechanisms. There is not enough widespread pushback, and while there is critique across most of the media it is muted (Kevin Rudd is upset about Murdoch media influence – perhaps the others could raise their game).  

Postcard From East Fife

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is east-fife.jpg

Lockdown Sceptics reader Dean Fraser has sent us a postcard from north of the border and tells of a world that freedom has abandoned under the rule of Nic Sturge-On.

You could almost have been forgiven for thinking we weren’t living in a dystopian nightmare up here in the Kingdom of Fife. Because back in April and May this year you could not have witnessed anything more spectacularly bucolic. The picturesque, almost leafy country lanes. The tractors, ever so gently meandering and bobbing through partially ploughed fields. Hares darting, for what seemed like their lives, from still motionless ‘lies’ on the brown earth, or females fending off randy jacks (“not at the moment mate, thanks”). The birds, squirting into hedge rows, and then into trees – beaks full. And let’s not forget the farmhouses and cottages, releasing small wisps of smoke via the chimneys up into the blue still skies. My God, like something out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (the weather, all over the UK, was glorious, then).

We cycled along main roads, with virtually no traffic, having to pinch ourselves to properly recall what kind of hell this was.

Worth reading in full.

“COVID-19 is a Force Largely Beyond the State’s Control”

Lockdown Sceptics contributor Guy de la Bédoyère has a letter in the New Statesman this week on the conceit of the tyrannical efforts to “defeat” and “control” the virus.

When Simon Heffer quotes Enoch Powell – “the supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils” – he slightly misses the main point (“A crisis of statesmanship”, November 6th). Most human beings have always been prepared to sacrifice some of their autonomy in return for leadership that provides a buffer against disorder, famine and fear. This is, and always has been, the contract between the state and the people.

COVID-19 is a force largely beyond the state’s control; many governments, especially ours, have tried to convince us otherwise. They have used fear as a weapon and promised salvation in return for unprecedented losses of freedom. They have failed to deliver, mainly because they cannot rein in a natural phenomenon on this scale.

No government has found a permanent solution, even New Zealand. Their current virus-free state is no better than a mirage and has been bought at the price of isolation from the rest of the world. Our own Government has offered mainly time-buying slogans and glib promises. It has preferred to listen only to a small cabal of well-paid and securely employed scientists who seem incapable of contextualising the problem and the collateral effects of their solutions on the wider health and well-being of the population.

Perhaps this week’s exciting news about a vaccine will turn the tide at last, but it will be no thanks to governments and the games they have played, and the damage they have done to public trust.

Jailed By The Covid Stasi For Painting A Pub

A retired police officer and Lockdown Sceptics reader found himself thrown in jail when he dared engage in some lawful voluntary labour during the last lockdown.

At 5.30pm the police arrived. One constable and five PCSOs. They first entered the private accommodation of the landlord by saying they had power to enter under the Coronavirus Regulation.

(First mistake. No such power existed at the time.)

They then entered the pub, bodycams whirring. I don’t know what they were hoping to find but they must have been bitterly disappointed. There was no furniture in the place and there was no alcohol being consumed. It would have been obvious even to the chronically thick that the place was being renovated. People were working drills etc. in hand. The landlord was carted off to a separate room to be interrogated by the constable.

The PCSOs were deployed to take everyone’s name and address. Kate dutifully gave her name and address.

PCSO: “What’s your telephone number?”

Kate: “I’m not giving you that.”

PCSO: “What if we need to ring you?”

Kate: “Why on earth would I want you to ring me?”

We’ve given this one a permanent home on the right-hand side under “Are the Police Being Too Authoritarian?”. Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A couple in Yorkshire have been stripped of their pub licence under Covid lockdown laws for giving out free drinks on Remembrance Sunday to people paying their respects at the war memorials in the village. They told the Mail:

People going to or returning from the memorials were welcome to stop on the pavement and raise a glass, both to the fallen and indeed to the late landlord, Andrew Henstock [an ex-serviceman].

We never dreamt this might be against either the letter or the spirit of the law these were drinks we provided, not the pub. Some people took their drinks to the smoking shelter at the rear of the building when three vans of police turned up.

This severe response to a gesture of goodwill is in stark contrast to the soft treatment given to the highly disrespectful Extinction Rebellion protest at the Cenotaph. As Spiked say, Britain has become “a state where Covid means protesting is banned, unless it’s the right kind of protest, in which case the police will turn a blind eye or even endorse it”.

“The Only Thing Lockdowns Do Is Make Us All Poorer”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MThZGrWVV1s

Lockdown sceptic Sir Desmond Swayne MP, a member of the new Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Conservative MPs – now 70 strong – appeared on Julia Hartley Brewer’s show on talkRADIO yesterday morning. Watch him here. Also Lord Sumption here, and Dr Clare Craig here. A sceptical bonanza!

Stop Press: Sceptic legend Professor Sucharit Bhakdi appeared on the TRIGGERnometry podcast, asking: Are we being told the truth about COVID-19? Listen here.

“Cases” All Over the Place

UK positive tests

Imperial’s REACT study is now showing R fell below 1 before lockdown, bringing it into line with KCL’s ZOE app, which yesterday reported R at 0.9. On the other hand, yesterday saw a record number of “cases”: 33,470 reported, up by more than 10,000, or 46%, on the day before. Unusually, Stephen Powis, the NHS Medical Director speaking at the Downing Street briefing downplayed the rise, saying it is important to look at the seven-day average, which is about 22,000, rather than one day. Is Project Fear on pause for a moment? Worth noting that testing was also at record levels yesterday, which may be part of the explanation.

The positivity rate dropped last week for the first time since July. Meanwhile, acute respiratory infections are still trending well below the baseline according to the Emergency Department Syndromic Surveillance System (EDSSS) that monitors emergency hospital attendance. A pretty ordinary autumn so far – save for the totalitarian Government, of course.

https://twitter.com/dontbetyet/status/1326892281450860550

Round-Up

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, Toby in his latest Spectator column wonders whether under the proposed hate crime laws his children won’t turn on him, at least for blackmail purposes.

If Humza Yousaf has his way, there will be less free speech in Scotland than anywhere else in Europe – but not for long. The Law Commission of England and Wales has proposed that we pass a similar law. Actually, I say “similar” but in some respects the Commission’s proposals are even worse. Andrew Tettenborn, a law professor at Swansea University, describes the 533-page ‘consultation’ as “the Scottish Hate Crime Bill on steroids”. For instance, the Commission wants to make ‘sex and gender’ protected characteristics. It proposes that a vast array of groups and subcultures should be given similarly special status, including ‘migrants’, ‘asylum seekers’, ‘asexuals’, ‘non-binary people’, ‘cross-dressers’, ‘goths’, ‘punks’ and ‘sex workers’. And it wants to ban ‘inflammatory cartoons’, particularly ‘Islamophobic cartoons’. Talk about handing a victory to terrorism!

Like Humza Yousaf, the Law Commission wants to remove the ‘dwelling exemption’ from the Public Order Act 1986, meaning people could be prosecuted for stirring up hatred in their own homes. Toby recounts his efforts to explain the full horror of this to his four children.

“If this becomes law, one of you could call the police and have me arrested if I call your mother a whore,” I said. “Not that I would, obviously, but you get the point.”

They got the point all right. Suddenly, they began rubbing their hands with glee.

“So how much will you pay me not to tell the police what you’ve said about Black Lives Matter?” asked my 13-year-old son Freddie.

I began to explain that nothing I’d said about the unashamedly Marxist group which wants to defund the police came remotely close to an offence under the Public Order Act, when I was forced to reconsider. After all, if Darren Grimes can be investigated by the Met for ‘stirring up hatred’ against black people simply for publishing an interview with David Starkey, maybe the police would be interested if Freddie told them my views of BLM. That is, if the Law Commission gets its way and you can be charged with ‘hate speech’ for something you say in private and not just in public.

Funny as well as disturbing. Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Dr Radomir Tylecote, the Research Director of the Free Speech Union, has produced a briefing doc about the Law Commission’s proposals that you can find here.

“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.

And here’s an excellent piece about the ineffectiveness of masks by a Roger W. Koops, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry.

Mask Censorship: The Swiss Doctor has translated the article in a Danish newspaper about the suppressed Danish mask study. Largest RCT on the effectiveness of masks ever carried out. Rejected by three top scientific journals so far.

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Sunetra Gupta, Professor Martin Kulldorff 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 over 650,000 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.

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 is 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 can give up essential liberty to obtain 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

We’re Hiring

Lockdown Sceptics is looking to hire someone to help us write the daily update. This will involve producing a daily update yourself two or three times a week – so a page exactly like this one – under your own byline. The ideal candidate will have some journalistic background, be able to work quickly under pressure and know their way around WordPress. We can pay you £75 for each update. If you’re interested, email us here and put “Job Application” in the subject line.

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…

Bob in today’s Telegraph

Latest News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVID-19 patients in hospital, UK

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

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

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

That Damned Elusive RNA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

Neil Ferguson Defends his Model, Sue Denim Responds

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

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

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

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

We asked Sue Denim to respond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re All Corbynistas Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protect the NHS, Go Private?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Sort of Person Will Become a Covid Marshal?

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

Postcard From LA

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

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

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

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

Round-Up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

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

Love in the Time of Covid

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

Small Businesses That Have Re-Opened

A few months ago, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have re-opened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you.

Now that non-essential shops have re-opened – or most of them, anyway – we’re focusing on pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as other social venues. As of July 4th, many of them have re-opened too, but not all, and some will have to close again on September 14th. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet – particularly if they’re not insisting on face masks! If they’ve made that clear to customers with a sign in the window or similar, so much the better. Don’t worry if your entries don’t show up immediately – we need to approve them once you’ve entered the data.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a permanent slot down here for people who want to buy (or make) a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and it has the advantage of not explicitly claiming you have a disability. But if you have no qualms about that (or you are disabled), you can buy a lanyard from Amazon saying you do have a disability/medical exemption here (now showing it will arrive between Oct 12th to Oct 22nd). The Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. You can get a “Hidden Disability” tag from ebay here and an “exempt” card with lanyard for just £1.99 from Etsy here.

Don’t forget to sign the petition on the UK Government’s petitions website calling for an end to mandatory face nappies in shops here (now over 31,500).

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

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

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

Shameless Begging Bit

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

And Finally…

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