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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

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

Social Media Accounts

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

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, 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.

Latest News

Steve Baker Demands Boris Publish a Freedom Plan

Steve Baker said the PM's leadership was under threat

Steve Baker, the Deputy Chair of the anti-lockdown Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Conservative MPs, has issued a rallying cry to the group’s members. The Sun has the story.

In an explosive rallying call to fellow members of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, the ex-minister blasted: “People are telling me they are losing faith in our Conservative Party leadership.”

The group represents dozens of Tory backbenchers who are worried about the side effects of long lockdowns.

Mr Baker urged those colleagues to make their concerns directly to Mr Johnson’s Commons enforcer, Chief Whip Mark Spencer.

In a bombshell note to MPs seen by the Sun, Mr Baker writes: “I am sorry to have to say this again and as bluntly as this: it is imperative you equip the Chief Whip today with your opinion that debate will become about the PM’s leadership if the Government does not set out a clear plan for when our full freedoms will be restored.”

He told them to demand “a guarantee that this strategy will not be used again next winter”.

The major intervention reads: “Government has adopted a strategy devoid of any commitment to liberty without any clarification about when our most basic freedoms will be restored and with no guarantee that they will never be taken away again.”

The action appears to have been triggered by key Government advisers going public with their view that lockdowns must continue well into 2021.

Mr Baker broke cover after Government scientist Jonathan Van Tam told this newspaper yesterday that lockdown measures could be in force until late spring.

And today controversial scientist Neil Ferguson said we could still be facing restrictions in the autumn.

Mr Baker raged: “Certain Government scientists have said that the current lockdown could last until late spring. There is no reason to think there will be any real resistance in Cabinet to the argument for greater and longer and more draconian restrictions on the public.

“This could be a disaster. Nothing seems more certain to break the public than giving hope before taking it away, and doing it repeatedly.”

And he signs off with a barely concealed warning shot: “I am sorry to be blunt but if we do not act now, events will become inevitable. For the good of the country please contact the Chief Whip.”

Katy Balls in the Spectator notes that Baker has diluted the implied threat to Johnson since the story broke. She thinks the intervention is more of a warning shot at this point than a full-blown threat.

Since the comments came to light, he has also tried to water down his comments – insisting Johnson still remains the only man for the job.

So, is Johnson’s leadership under threat? No. That seems premature. The third lockdown was overwhelmingly passed by MPs – with a comparatively small Tory rebellion compared to previous votes. The number of MPs willing to oppose the government on its lockdown strategy has in the short-term decreased. With the death toll on Wednesday alone at over 1,500, many lockdown sceptics plan to keep their powder dry for the time being. Rather than oppose immediate lockdown measures, they are turning their attention to the debate on how many need to be vaccinated before restrictions can be lifted.

Here Baker’s concerns are a sign of things to come. While the bulk of Tory MPs support the government’s approach for now – and are relieved there is finally a good news story to tell in the vaccination programme – the bulk are keen for restrictions to be lifted as soon as possible. Boris Johnson insists this is his wish too. 

However, MPs worry that Johnson will be pushed by his scientific advisers and some cabinet ministers to keep restrictions in place for much longer than they believe is reasonable. In the parliamentary party, many see the point by which the vulnerable have been vaccinated as when restrictions go. They see spring as the point when many restrictions ought to be lifted and the summer the point by which there ought to be no restrictions in place. So far, Johnson has been reluctant to give a specific timeline. That position is going to become much harder to maintain as the weeks go on and discontent grows. 

Stop Press: Sherelle Jacobs has a thoughtful piece in the Telegraph, arguing that there’s going to be a lot of moral and emotional pressure to go for Zero Covid over the coming months and lockdown sceptics need to be ready for the battle.

But what the lockdown-sceptics haven’t quite articulated is that, once again, the public has been persuaded into a lockdown based on a delusion. The myth of the first lockdown was that it would only have to last three weeks. The myth of this lockdown is that life can resume in spring. But restrictions are unlikely to be lifted until the summer at the earliest for a simple reason: it is not deaths but media headlines about overwhelmed ICUs that strike fear into the hearts of ministers. A cynic might argue we have just sacrificed half a year of freedom on the NHS altar to save the skin of the Tories. 

Even with the vaccine rollout at full throttle, the risk of an overwhelmed NHS will not abate until the over-50s are vaccinated, ideally by May. Although the over-75s present the greatest mortality risk, Covid patients in intensive care have a median age of just 62, and under a third are aged over 70. So vaccinating those who might die from Covid will not end pressure on the health service. Paradoxically, a big bang reopening of society when the virus is still circulating may increase it. 

But there is a prospect even worse than another six months of lockdown: another year of lockdown in an attempt to eliminate the virus entirely. 

It is not difficult to see how a terrified population that has been fed guff about “defeating” the virus might be swayed by the Zero Covid argument. Particularly once they realise that “learning to live” with the disease once priority groups have been vaccinated still means accepting heightened vulnerability to mutations and Long Covid, with the endemic virus returning each year. It is also not hard to see how the Tories might see Zero Covid as the path of least resistance. Hyperparanoia about being booted out of office for letting the NHS fall over will increase the temptation to stamp out an unpredictable disease. 

Worth reading in full.

A Senior Doctor Writes…

There follows a guest post by the senior doctor who contributes weekly updates on the state of the NHS to Lockdown Sceptics.

Yesterday the NHS Hospital Statistics Website released a large data packet summarising Covid related activity for the preceding month. Once again, Lockdown Sceptics has kindly asked me for an opinion about what we can deduce from the information provided. There is a lot of useful information in this packet – I apologise to readers if some of the following is a bit dense, technical and difficult to follow, but the devil is often buried in the detail – sometimes he is hidden there deliberately.

Before looking at the monthly summary, I will comment on the daily updates. These are less detailed but more up to date than the monthly figures.

Graph 1 shows the daily admission figures from the community for English regions expressed as a three-day moving average to smooth out the curves. It is clear that for the last week, admissions from the community in London, East England and the South East have been falling – very encouraging.

However, there have been recent uptrends in the Midlands and the North West. The falling rate in London and the South East is consistent with the ZOE app data which showed a downtrend in symptomatic people from about December 31st. Readers should note that the current lockdown began on January 6th. By that point admissions had peaked and were already on the downward slope. The effect (if any) of lockdown on hospital admissions will not be observable until at least January 16th. Nevertheless, the reduction in hospital admissions is being reported in the mainstream media as being a consequence of lockdown – I don’t think that view is supported by the evidence.

Next, the overall inpatient situation on Graph 2. Despite falling admissions from the community, the overall number of Covid patients in London remains flat. How can this be? I will explain later with data from the monthly summary packet.

Finally, on the daily figures, the ICU bed occupancy data in Graph 3. This is the graphic of most concern in my opinion. ICU occupancy tends to lag inpatient admission by two to three days – this is the length of time for a patient to become ill enough to require intensive care according to the ICNARC ICU audit. Hence falling admissions do not immediately translate into falling ICU numbers. The angle of slope in London in particular is still on an upward trend. Some of this may be because London Hospitals are soaking up ICU admissions from the South East region, where local hospital capacity has been exceeded. ICU patients tend to stay a long time, so these numbers take a while to subside when the peak is reached. As far as ICU numbers are concerned the peak does not look like it has arrived yet in any English region. In particular the ICU numbers are still on an upward trend.

The monthly data packet contains a lot of information which I will comment on in the next few days. It has been illuminating in shedding light on several questions which were troubling me. I propose to address just two this evening.

Firstly, the issue of discharging Covid patients from Hospital. Discharging elderly patients in winter is an annual problem. Patients who cannot be discharged are unkindly referred to as “bed blockers”. The usual reasons are that they are too frail to be sent home alone if there is no-one to look after them, or not well enough to be accepted back by a care home. This problem is worsened by care homes being reluctant to accept Covid patients in view of what happened in the spring, when large numbers of patients with Covid were discharged into care homes causing several outbreaks of infection. An article in the Financial Times recently highlighted that insurers of care homes were reluctant to cover them for outbreaks of COVID-19 and that this was delaying hospital discharges.

Graph 4 shows the effect that delayed discharge has on total bed occupancy. This is a complicated compound graph with two separate Y axes, so I will explain what it means. First, consider the first part of the X axis Dec 1st to Dec 9th. During this time, the combined daily admissions and hospital Covid diagnoses depicted in the vertical bars was roughly equal to the daily discharges on the blue line (left hand Y axis). Hence the total number of Covid inpatients on the yellow line was roughly stable.

From December 10th onwards, daily admissions started to exceed discharges and this trend has worsened as the graph proceeds through December into January. As a consequence, the total number of inpatients on the yellow line (right hand Y axis) continues to rise. Readers should note that the monthly figures are only presented up to January 6th, so as of this data packet the admissions downturn on January 7th is not yet visible.

This is clearly a major problem. Although admissions may be falling, the total number of inpatients is still rising because of failure to discharge. In London, the Nightingale hospital has reopened for ‘step down’ patients (not ICU patients as in the spring). It remains to be seen how successful that will be, bearing in mind that shortage of staff (not bed capacity) was the rate-limiting problem in the spring. Elsewhere, some imaginative and intelligent steps have been taken such as utilising spare hotel capacity to place convalescent patients – an affordable and practical solution, often used in the United States.

Now here is one devil. We know hospital discharge is always a problem in the winter. It was entirely predictable that this would be an issue in a ‘second surge’ of COVID-19. A predictable risk, with no plan to deal with it. I wonder why there was no plan? And who is taking the responsibility for the lack of one?

Next, I turn to the issue of age stratification of Covid patients. A few days ago, I saw an article on the BBC news by the reporter Hugh Pym. He visited Croydon University Hospital and reported that there were “many more younger patients” affected by Covid in the winter than in the spring. The monthly data packet does contain age stratified figures for hospital admissions. I thought I should examine these.

First, I looked at the data for England as a whole. It is recorded that 37% of the Covid patients admitted from March 20th to April 30th were aged between 18 and 64. Between November 27th and Jan 6th, 39% of patients were in this younger age bracket – a very modest increase and certainly not “many more” younger patients.

The age bracket 18-64 is quite wide and it could be possible that the distribution is skewed to the younger part of that group. Therefore, I looked at the reported death statistics across the spring and the winter up to Jan 1st 2021, which are much more clearly age stratified. Between March and May 2020 there were 45,511 reported deaths from Covid, of which 3,020 were aged between 0 and 59 years (6.64%). In the period November to January 1st, there were 20,370 deaths of which 1,073 were registered as COVID deaths – 5.26%. So, in fact there were proportionally fewer Covid deaths in the younger age group in the winter than in the spring reported up to January 1st.

Bearing in mind that death registration can lag date of death by up to two weeks, I looked at the ICNARC ICU audit data comparing cohorts of patients admitted up to August 31st and after September 1st till January 6th. Age at admission to ICU was actually older in winter than spring: Mean average 60.2 years in the winter, median 62 years, compared to a mean of 57.8 and a median 59 of years in the spring.

How can we explain this discrepancy? There do not appear to be “many more” younger patients suffering from Covid in hospital this winter. In fact, the official figures suggest that there are proportionally fewer very sick younger patients and fewer deaths in this age group than in the spring. If that is correct, why did Hugh Pym report precisely the opposite on the national news?

Perhaps someone from the BBC could contact Lockdown Sceptics to explain what I’m missing in this data? Surely, the lavishly taxpayer funded BBC, with hordes of researchers, fact checkers and expensive journalists, must be more accurate in its interpretation of the data than one private individual with a laptop and an internet connection. Maybe they have access to more up to date information than I can see. I would be most grateful to be shown the errors in my calculations and will be happy to be corrected if I have misinterpreted the figures.

Finally, having looked at the recent past (monthly data summary) and the present (or as close to it as we are permitted to see by the daily figures), I will turn to the future.

The drop off in community symptoms reported on the ZOE app and reflected in the drop in hospital admissions in London, the South East and East of England is certainly welcome. However, it begs the question of why further lockdown restrictions were necessary on January 6th when the community transmission appeared already to have peaked.

On the other hand, the rise in admissions in the Midlands and the North West is of concern. In particular, the rising trend in ICU admissions is worrying. These are likely to continue to rise for several days at least. An issue that may not be obvious to the non-medical reader is that there are substantial differences between the hospital geography of London and the rest of the UK. A densely populated metropolis like London has several large hospitals in close proximity to each other, all with substantial surge capacity to deal with peaks of excessive demand. Mutual support between hospitals is relatively easy to arrange and co-ordinate, so patients can be transferred between hospitals to manage areas of high stress.

Other regions of England are not so fortunate. Even the larger urban areas of the Midlands and Greater Manchester have fewer large hospitals than London. Transfer of patients between hospitals is more problematic. ICU capacity in particular is not rapidly expandable as it is in the capital and surge resilience, particularly in more rural areas, is lower. This could be a serious problem in the coming days. I hope NHS England has a workable plan in place, but I smell sulphur.

What’s Behind the Pressure on Hospitals?

The guys at AdapNation have put together a handy infographic using the information they’ve gathered from NHS insiders and other sources. They explain:

This explains the discordance between the lower-than-normal bed use and ambulance stats vs the NHS alarm bells.

 I had the insightful opportunity to interview an NHS employee involved in the logistics of a busy England hospital today.

 The message was clear – they are insanely busy. It’s a pressure cooker environment beyond the high pressure they experience every winter.

However, the reason is not a single headline. It doesn’t marry with the raw hospital data. And it certainly is not due to an abnormal excess of acute respiratory infections.

Check out the image [above] that summarises the issues NHS Hospitals are currently facing.

This matches the experience and insights we have received directly from Dr. Malcolm KendrickDr, Clare Craig, various anonymous NHS Hospital workers and a couple of GP staff too.

Worth checking out.

Stop Press: Lockdown Sceptics contributor Jonathan Engler has summarised much of the same data in a Twitter thread.

https://twitter.com/jengleruk/status/1349779887238819840?s=20

Government Quietly Admits PCR False Positive Problem

There has been understandable concern about the plans, leaked to the Telegraph, to discharge care home residents from hospitals again without a negative PCR test. But is this in fact a belated admission from the Government that PCR tests keep on giving positive results long after the patient ceases to be unwell or contagious? From the Telegraph:

Coronavirus hospital patients can be discharged into care homes without being tested under draft Government guidelines leaked to the the Telegraph.

Care providers have said they are “deeply worried” about the latest proposed rules, which advise clinicians to release patients without requiring them to have a test 48 hours before discharge if they have no new virus symptoms and have isolated in hospital.

For the first time, the Government appears to acknowledge that people could test positive for Covid but not be infectious, suggesting “it will be appropriate for them to move directly to a care home from hospital… because we now know they do not pose an infection risk to other residents in a care home”.

It describes this sub-group as “immunocompetent and with no new symptoms” even if they are within 90 days of their initial symptoms or positive test result.

The top-rated comment under the Telegraph article, from Stephen Jackson, spotted the significance:

The story is misleading.

The real reason for this policy is that PCR tests will continue returning a positive result for several weeks after a person has recovered from Covid and is no longer infectious. This is because PCR analysis will trigger a positive result even if tiny fragments of dead virus are still present/shedding in the nose or throat. If you have a policy of not discharging patients until they’ve tested negative it traps perfectly well and non-infectious people in hospital for weeks on end. This was well documented in South Korea in April-May.

The NHS has to free up beds without risking a care home debacle but I suspect nobody in the health profession wants to admit that PCR tests give so many false positives. That would obviously undermine public confidence in Covid test results and compliance with self-isolation orders. So they’ve had to come up with an alternative policy involving a two-week isolation period before being discharged and perhaps with a deliberate but hushed-up decision not to re-test the patient at that point (knowing it might give a false positive, trapping the patient in hospital again). 

PHE Study Confirms Infection Gives Immunity

A new study from Public Health England has confirmed that infection with SARS-CoV-2 confers strong immunity to the virus. The Times has the details.

The PHE findings are the result of the most comprehensive study into reinfection rates so far. Previous illness provided about 85% protection against both asymptomatic and symptomatic reinfection, researchers said after following thousands of people who caught the virus in the spring.

Although they found that a small number among the group did get infected twice, typically they suffered a milder form of the disease.

With an estimated one in five having been infected, the findings, based on a study of 21,000 UK healthcare workers, suggested that herd immunity could already be slowing the course of the pandemic. However, scientists warned that they still did not know how long immunity lasted.

“What that’s saying to us is that prior infection looks as good as the vaccine, at least at this time interval, which is very good news for the population,” said Susan Hopkins, Deputy Director of the National Infections Service at PHE. “It will help alongside the vaccine to give a level of immunity and protection that will start to reduce transmission.”

The research by PHE followed 6,600 clinical staff infected in the first wave, along with 14,000 who had remained healthy, regularly testing them to see whether they were subsequently positive.

By late November there were 318 infections among the 14,000 and at most 44 reinfections among the 6,600. Most of those cases were mild and showed no symptoms.

There was some uncertainty about the reinfection number, which may have been even lower. The scientists said they could not exclude the possibility that in some cases they were picking up evidence of the first infection.

Although the Pfizer vaccine has a headline efficacy rate of 95%, that figure is based on symptomatic infections alone, so the mildest cases were ignored.

Professor Hopkins said the best way to think of it was that immunity from infection was as good as, or better than, a vaccine.

“The immunity gives you similar effects to the Pfizer vaccine, and much better effects than the AstraZeneca vaccine, and that is reassuring for people,” she said. Two doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine offer 62% protection.

However, she said it was not a licence to ignore social distancing. “It does seem that new infections can come. You can definitely get reinfected after primary infection,” she said Even in some of those with asymptomatic infections, they found they were shedding a lot of live virus — implying they were infectious without knowing it. But, she, added: “The risk of severe disease is extremely low… even if you are infectious, it is likely to be for a very short period of time.”

“Overall I think this is good news, it allows people to feel that their prior infection will protect them from future infections, but at the same time it is not complete protection and therefore they still need to be careful when they’re out and about,” she added. “I am strongly encouraged that people have immunity that is lasting much more than the few months that was speculated before the summer.”

Frustratingly, PHE has not yet published the study so we cannot look at the details of how infection was diagnosed and what symptoms they had, though the indications in the reports that reinfections were mild or even false positives (picking up fragments from the previous infection) is in line with other evidence to date.

Stop Press: A Lockdown Sceptics reader emailed PHE to ask some questions and find out where the study was published. They quickly got back to him to say: “The paper will be uploaded to a preprint server and made public in the next day or so. You will be able to find a detailed explanation of the methodology there. Apologies for the delay.”

Toby Replies to Neil O’Brien MP

Everyone’s favourite Lockdown Sceptics pin cushion

There follows a guest post by Toby.

Yesterday, I was attacked on Twitter again by the Conservative MP Neil O’Brien – it’s becoming a daily occurrence. This one involved an obsessive degree of offence archaeology. He even listened to last week’s London Calling podcast, carefully noting down any deviations from Covid orthodoxy. Julia Hartley-Brewer had the temerity to ask him why he was trolling people on Twitter instead of looking after his constituents, at which point he immediately started attacking her. All, it seems, to demonstrate his unwavering loyalty to Tory High Command and their forever lockdown policy. As one regular contributor to Lockdown Sceptics observed:

Whatever the era, whatever the epoch, it seems that the Neil O’Brien’s of this world are forever destined to be the first sent into battle. Stolid, inert, expendable; the mediocre soldier, sacrificed in order that the strength of the enemy’s defences might be tested. If he’d have been at Ypres in 1914 you’d have put money on him being the private who’d have been ordered to stick his head up above the trench line just so the commanding officer could get a sense of where the enemy fire was going to come from. He’d have done it eagerly, too, with real patriotic fervour (“How high, Sir! How high!!”).

I decided to respond with a long Twitter thread of my own. For those of you not on Twitter – and who can blame you? – I’ve reproduced it below.

Attacks on Lockdown sceptics – and me in particular – have ratcheted up recently, with one of the most aggressive critics being the Conservative MP @NeilDotObrien. I thought it was time to compose a reply.

On Monday he wrote a piece for @ConHome entitled “Trumpism in Britain. It’s time to call out those in the media who cynically feed the cranks, rioters and conspiracists” in which he compared lockdown sceptics to QAnon conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers.

He compared lockdown sceptics to QAnon conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers and urged media companies “to practice some basic hygiene about whose views they are promoting”, i.e. no-platform the sceptics.

But arguing that lockdowns cause more harm than they prevent is not comparable to arguing that the US government is run by a cabal of Satan-worshipping paedophiles or that vaccines contain microchips inserted by Bill Gates to control our minds.

In fact, there is a growing body of research showing that quarantining whole populations, the healthy as well as the sick, is a sub-optimal policy response to this pandemic. @AIER published a round up of some of the best here

Yesterday, @the_brumby linked to “30 published papers finding that lockdowns had little or no efficacy (despite unconscionable harms)”

The problem with arguing that lockdown sceptics have “blood on their hands” – an increasingly popular trope – is that it takes it for granted that lockdowns are effective at reducing overall mortality and that is precisely the issue being debated.

This is an important public debate to have, both because it helps us assess the present government’s management of the pandemic and because it will help us prepare better for the next one.

A Conservative MP should not be urging media companies to suppress one side in that debate, particularly as the 2019 Conservative manifesto reaffirmed the party’s commitment to free speech.

In his latest Twitter thread, @NeilDotObrien accuses me of having deleted all my tweets from last year because I’m embarrassed about having got so many things wrong about the virus.

In fact, I installed an app last week that deletes all tweets more than a week old. This was in response to Twitter’s increasing intolerance of people who challenge liberal orthodoxies, including Covid orthodoxy. I would advice other dissenters to do the same.

The app won’t protect you from Twitter’s internal offence archaeologists, but it will make it harder for censorious, left-wing activists to bombard the company with vexatious complaints in the hope of getting you banned. The app is here.

@NeilDotObrien also selectively quoted from various posts I’ve done for the @Telegraph. For instance, he quoted me saying this: “we were told… the number of infected people was on the rise again… the rise was due to a combination of increased testing and false positives.”

Here are the two paragraphs he got that quote from. See what he did there?

Of course, I’ve got some things wrong about the virus, such as predicting there wouldn’t be a resurgence of infections this winter. I put my hands up to that on @Newsnight when @maitlis asked me about it.

But I don’t think lockdown sceptics have been consistently more wrong about the virus than lockdown advocates. For instance, the @WHO initially estimated the IFR of COVID-19 was 3.4%. We now believe it’s ~.25%.

A study by researchers at UCLA and IHME compared the accuracy of various models predicting COVID-19 mortality and the models produced by Imperial were judged to have far higher rates of error than the others — always erring on the side of being too high.

After the government unveiled its “graph of doom” showing deaths could climb to 4,000 a day absent more restrictions, it was reprimanded by the @UKStatsAuth.

And how much trust can you place in the advice of public health authorities to wear masks when the initial advice was that they were ineffective outside healthcare settings?

Yes, lockdown sceptics have got some things wrong, too, but I think we’ve provided an important counterweight to the largely one-sided reporting of the broadcast media, particularly the BBC.

The daily sceptical blog I put together with a team of other, like-minded journalists has published some important stories, such as this one by a Lighthouse Lab whistleblower.

And this one by a disillusioned worker at a pop-up testing facility in Salisbury.

And this review of the code powering Neil Ferguson’s epidemiological model by Mike Hearn, formerly a senior software engineer at @Google.

It’s also published some terrific pieces of writing, such as this piece on conspiracy theories by Sinéad Murphy, a philosophy lecturer at Newcastle.

And this “Postcard From Argentina” by a social science professor.

And this tribute to all those who’ve been laid low by the collateral damage caused by the lockdowns by Freddie Attenborough, a sociology lecturer.

Lockdown Sceptics will continue to publish these dissenting voices and continue to challenge the official narrative being pumped out by the government and the BBC. I don’t think that’s “dangerous”; I think politicians trying to smear and silence dissenting voices is dangerous.

Blaming the high daily death tolls on lockdown sceptics is a variant of blaming the public. If only ordinary people had been more compliant, we wouldn’t be in this pickle. But thanks to lockdown sceptics like @toadmeister, @allisonpearson, @ClarkeMicah, @JuliaHB1 and @LozzaFox…

Nothing to do with the lack of PPE, failure to create dedicated hospitals for Covid patients, spunking tens of billions of pounds on a not-fit-for-purpose Test and Trace programme, building the Nightingales but not recruiting or training enough healthcare workers to staff them…

…decommissioning the Nightingales, failing to eliminate in-hospital infections and the ongoing scandal of secondary transmission in care homes… no. It’s all the fault of the general public and the “conspiracy theorists” who’ve led them astray.

Time to take the mote out of your eye @NeilDotObrien and take a look at the politicians you’re so eager to curry favour with. Lockdown sceptics won’t be your scapegoats. //Ends

Stop Press: Julia H-B did a bit of offence archaeology of her own and discovered that Neil O’Brien wasn’t that keen on lockdown restrictions himself back in July. Fancy that!

https://twitter.com/BellTrend/status/1349820996258291717?s=20

Norway Says Very Frail People Should Not Receive Covid Vaccine: “Side Effects May Have Led to Deaths”

Norwegian Medicines Agency Chief Physician Sigurd Hortemo

Norway has determined that vaccinations may be contributing to deaths in the very frail elderly and changed its advice. Trondheim24 has the story (via Google translate, H/T Alex Berenson).

More than 25,000 Norwegians have been vaccinated with the first dose of the coronary vaccine from Pfizer and Biontech since Christmas. On Friday, the first dose of the new Moderna vaccine will be given.

So far, the Norwegian Medicines Agency has assessed 29 adverse reaction reports after the COVID-19 vaccination. 13 of these had a fatal outcome, shows a new report from the Norwegian Medicines Agency.

A total of 23 deaths have been reported in connection with vaccination, but so far only 13 of these have been assessed. The other deaths are under treatment. Common side effects may have contributed to a serious course in frail elderly people, the Norwegian Medicines Agency reports.

All the deaths have occurred in frail, old patients in nursing homes. All are over 80 years old and some of them over 90, according to NRK.

The reports may indicate that common side effects from mRNA vaccines, such as fever and nausea, may have led to deaths in some frail patients, says chief physician Sigurd Hortemo in the Norwegian Medicines Agency.

As a result, both the National Institute of Public Health and the Norwegian Medicines Agency have changed the corona vaccination guide with new advice for this group.

If you are very frail, you should probably not be vaccinated, said subject director Steinar Madsen in the Norwegian Medicines Agency at a webinar on coronary vaccine for journalists on Thursday.

He emphasises that these cases are rare, and that many thousands of frail people have been vaccinated without a fatal outcome.

This side-effect of possible hastening of death among the very frail is not welcome news when the Government is relying on vaccination to reduce the death toll from the virus, which is concentrated amongst the frail elderly. It will be interesting to see whether any other health agencies come to similar conclusions and their governments follow suit.

Stop Press: Initial data from vaccination frontrunner Israel suggests that the Pfizer vaccine reduces infections by around 50% 14 days after the first shot. The Times of Israel has more.

Initial data from Israel’s vaccination campaign shows that Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine curbs infections by some 50% 14 days after the first of two shots is administered, a top Health Ministry official said Tuesday, as the country’s serious COVID-19 cases, daily infections and total active cases all reach all-time peaks.

Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of the Health Ministry’s Public Health Department, told Channel 12 News that the data was preliminary, and based on the results of coronavirus tests among both those who’ve received the vaccine and those who haven’t.

Other, somewhat contrary data was released by Israeli health maintenance organizations Tuesday evening. Channel 13 News said that according to figures released by Clalit, Israel’s largest health provider, the chance of a person being infected with the coronavirus dropped by 33% 14 days after they were vaccinated. Separate figures recorded by the Maccabi health provider and aired by Channel 12 showed the vaccine caused a 60% drop in the chances for infection 14 days after taking the first shot.

Each of the HMOs compiled the data from some 400,000 patients they treated (800,000 in total).

The cause for the discrepancy between the studies was not immediately clear.

With Pfizer’s phase 3 trials only checking some 40,000 people, and given Israel’s world-leading vaccination campaign, the data could be some of the best on-the-ground indication yet of the vaccine’s efficacy.

Stop Press 2: The Guardian reports that Pimlico Plumbers, a large London plumbing firm, plans to rewrite all of its workers’ contracts to require them to be vaccinated against coronavirus. There may be legal issues, some lawyers have said.

Can Rogue Covid Police Officers be Sued?

Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore, who were accosted by police and fined £200 for walking five miles from home, have had their penalties cancelled

Our legal eagle, Dr John Fanning, Senior Lecturer in Tort Law at the University of Liverpool, answers a Covid legal question posed by a reader.

The myriad incidents of what might charitably be described as ‘police overreach’ are among the most unedifying spectacles of the COVID-19 crisis. The chief constable who threatened to deploy police officers to search people’s shopping trolleys to check that they were purchasing only ‘essential’ items. The man with a legitimate exemption from the requirement to wear a face mask escorted under threat of arrest out of a supermarket in Oldbury. And most recently, Derbyshire Police’s heavy-handed treatment of Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore as they enjoyed a socially-distanced stroll and a cup of tea. A year ago, these incidents would have been the workings of dystopian fantasy or the conceit of black comedy. No longer, it seems. As Lord Sumption pointed out in a recent lecture, the police have, at various points in this crisis, “substantially exceeded even the vast powers that they have received”.

All this raises questions about police liability when they get things wrong. The problem is that successful claims for negligence depend on there being proof of damage, such as personal injury. In a recent Supreme Court decision, police officers who injured a passer-by while effecting the arrest of a suspect were liable for her injuries. In all of the examples given above, however, the police apologised for overstepping the mark and, where relevant, cancelled any fines issued under the Regulations. So, no harm done – or at least not enough to raise a question of negligence.

The most likely source of civil dispute against the police at present probably lies in the tort of false imprisonment. This entails a complete restriction of a person’s freedom of movement without any legal authorisation. To use the reported details of Ms Allen and Ms Moore’s case as an example (although I do so with caution because I am not privy to all the facts), it is arguable that the seven police officers who surrounded the two friends imposed a constraint on their freedom of movement at least for a short period of time. The question is whether they had legal authorisation to do so. According to paragraph 2 of Part 1 of Schedule 3A to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020/1374, a person is permitted to take exercise outside in a public outdoor place with one other person who is not a member of his/her household. By the letter of the law, it seems that Ms Allen and Ms Moore did nothing wrong and the police should have allowed them to continue their walk. 

The reason they did not, it seems, is because the two friends were five miles away from their respective homes (and therefore not “local”) and were each carrying a cup of peppermint tea (and were therefore having a “picnic”). Yet the requirement to “stay local” is mere guidance, not law – it is a product of “legislation-by-press-conference” which has become an enduring theme of this crisis. And the idea that ‘two teas make a picnic’ is worthy of a stage farce. It is true that going for a picnic in the conventional sense does not constitute a “reasonable excuse” to be outside the place where one lives. But there is nothing in the rules which prohibits the consumption of food or drink during the course of legitimate exercise. Presumably, as long as one is doing star jumps at the material time, one can lawfully eat sandwiches, crisps and pork pies in the park while someone who is not a member of the same household swigs lemonade between sit-ups. The problem is that there has been a troubling conflation of legal rules and generalised advice or recommendations in recent weeks which risks undermining the rule of law. Small wonder that police officers, who are not lawyers and must navigate tempestuous legal seas, are struggling at times to delineate the limits of their powers.

A reader of this blog has asked whether a police officer would be personally liable for any harm he/she causes a person to suffer (e.g. through negligence, false imprisonment, and so on) and therefore required to pay damages out of his/her own pocket. In practice, the answer is no: the chief constable of the relevant police force would normally be vicariously liable for the officer’s tortious conduct as his/her “employer”. Vicarious liability is a rule of responsibility by which employers answer and pay for the injury, loss or damage occasioned to third parties by their employees. It is true that the employer can later seek an indemnity from its employee but this rarely happens. The rationale for this is that employers have “deep(er) pockets” – that is, more resources – from which to pay compensation to injured parties. This is not to say that there are no ‘internal’ consequences for individual police officers (such as disciplinary action), nor does it rule out the possibility of prosecution for criminal offences.

Another Lockdown Tragedy

A reader has got in touch to tell us of how lockdown has affected someone they know:

I heard today that my cousin’s 50-something wife – whose chemo for breast cancer was halted during the first lockdown – was reassessed today with a view to starting up the treatment again. They told her that it’s now spread too far and she won’t have long, so there’s no point in restarting the chemo. Still, at least lots of 80-somethings will get a few more years…

What’s more, she felt that she couldn’t tell her mum in person because she didn’t want to get in trouble, so she phoned and I can’t imagine how that call went.

Why is this sort of thing happening? What is the end goal, do you think? Is it about control or to become a communist state? To hit CO2 targets? I just don’t understand how these rules have come to pass that are so ruinous to peoples lives. Why doesn’t anyone listen to what the evidence shows?

Round-up

https://twitter.com/ZNeveri/status/1349460356595376133?s=20

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Three today: “Freedom come, freedom go” by The Fortunes, “Behind the Mask” by Michael Jackson and “I’m So Tired Of It All” by Merle Haggard.

Love in the Time of Covid

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as Bonnie and Clyde

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

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

Social Media Accounts

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

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, Janice Turner in the Times contemplates what will become of Sex and the City by the time the activists have finished with it.

Last week, listlessly seeking distraction from doom, I found myself watching the first four episodes of Sex and the City back-to-back in a happy trance. Friends meeting for brunch! Cocktail hour, fancy shops, city streets full of purposeful people, frivolous frocks, dinner reservations, the casual exchange of bodily fluids.

SATC was never a feminist road map. It was a consumerist, hedonist fantasy reflecting the prelapsarian Nineties and its creator Darren Star, a gay man. And unlike women, gay men are enviably unapologetic about how they get their kicks.

Moreover, while straight male escapism like Entourage is seldom parsed for racial or heteronormative wrong-think, anything women love, from Lena Dunham’s Girls to Fifty Shades of Grey, must be dissected and diminished: if it does not somehow encompass every female experience it cannot speak for any women at all.

Now the remaining SATC “girls” are worse than rich, white and horny: they are middle-aged. I hope the new show And Just Like That conveys the filthy laughter in older women’s lives. But I fear, given US cultural mores, it would be better named The Three Karens: jokes will be only at their expense and they will be compelled to “check their privilege” as once they checked their coats.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Macaulay Culkin has thrown his support behind calls to have Donald Trump’s cameo edited out of “Home Alone 2”. Inevitably.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to obtain a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card – because wearing a mask causes them “severe distress”, for instance. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and the Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. And if you feel obliged to wear a mask but want to signal your disapproval of having to do so, you can get a “sexy world” mask with the Swedish flag on it here.

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.

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

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

Stop Press: A Lockdown Sceptics reader found that although Tesco does still allow exemptions in line with Government guidance, someone needs to tell the staff:

On Tuesday I went into our local Tesco Store without a mask as usual and, having completed my shopping and checked out at the self-service till, I was, for the first time ever, challenged by an employee about not wearing a mask. I told him I was exempt, and he then informed me that from that day (January 12th) Tesco would refuse entry to anyone not wearing a mask or a lanyard. In a polite exchange, I informed him that I had a lanyard but there was no legal requirement under the law for me to wear it or for him to ask me why I was exempt. He nevertheless insisted that I would be refused entry in future if I didn’t comply as that was the policy handed down from Head Office.

I emailed Tesco Head Office to clarify the position and received the following response which is contrary to the employee’s understanding:

“Thank you for your email.

“In line with Government guidelines, customers will need to wear a face covering in our stores. However, if a customer advises they are exempt from wearing a face covering, my store colleagues should not challenge you and not ask or imply you should be wearing a lanyard as this is not the guidance that our Head Office has given them.

“Thank you for your time.”

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

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

The Simon Dolan case has now reached the end of the road. The current lead case is the Robin Tilbrook case which challenges whether the Lockdown Regulations are constitutional. You can read about that and contribute here.

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

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

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…

Toby has a great piece in Die Weltwoche about the Big Tech free speech disaster that has unfolded over the last week or so.

Free speech isn’t having a good year. In the UK, we naively thought we’d won a significant victory on January 5th when Google reinstated the YouTube channel of a right-of-centre, anti-lockdown radio station it had banned 12 hours earlier. This was after a chorus of protest by free speech supporters. But any hope that Big Tech would rein itself in was short-lived. 

The riot in Washington, D.C. 24 hours later, when Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capital, was the excuse that Facebook and Twitter had been waiting for. Within days, the President of the United States had been suspended from both platforms – permanently in the case of Twitter – as had many of his most passionate supporters.

The rationale for this act of censorship was a familiar one. According to Twitter, Trump had posted two messages that could be “mobilized by different audiences… to incite violence”. 

So what had the President said? Had he called on his supporters to storm the Capital building again? Encouraged people to assassinate Joe Biden? No, the tweets which had incited violence were as follows:

“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”

“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

Not much incitement going on there. No, this was an act of censorship, following a demand issued by hundreds of Twitter employees. A private corporation had decided to silence a man to whom 74 million Americans had given their vote. 

But if you thought liberal-left civil rights defenders in the United States would be up in arms about this, you’d be mistaken. On the contrary, this reversal of the usual banana republic pattern, in which a populist President was “disappeared” by a cabal of left-wing agitators, was largely welcomed by the liberal elite and mainstream media. 

Worth reading in full.

What Does Endemic Covid Look Like?

by Dr Clare Craig FRCPath, Jonathan Engler MBChB LLB and Joel Smalley MBA

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.

Figure 1 Total deaths by date of occurrence shown in green line. Summer minimum (dotted black line) used to calculate winter excess deaths shown beneath in blue. Covid labelled deaths are coloured red.

Doctors have noticed that unlike in previous years, their patients have low white blood cell and platelet counts, sudden hypoxias and bilateral atypical pneumonias. These features can be seen in other pneumonias but are characteristic of Covid and are being seen in large numbers currently.

However, the numbers of patients presenting through Accident and Emergency with an acute respiratory infection (which includes those categorised as Covid-like) is well below normal levels. Also, the total number of patients in hospital remains the same or even lower than in previous years despite a third of patients being diagnosed with Covid in some areas.

Figure 2: Attendances at Accident and Emergency for an acute respiratory infection (which includes those categorised as Covid-like). Attendance levels at the end of December 2020 are lower than for 2019 (left of graph) for every age group.

How can all of the above be true?

1. Changing biology

The nasopharynx can be home to a number of viruses and bacteria which are either innocent bystanders or the source of illness. However, in the same way as an ecosystem can only sustain a certain number of predators, there is competition between these microorganisms.

Much has been made of the lack of influenza diagnoses this year and the reasons for that remain a puzzle. One possibility is that SARS-CoV-2 has out-competed influenza.

What is little understood is how often respiratory infections can be identified in hospitalised patients. This study, from Spain, showed that testing of the recently deceased elderly identified a respiratory virus in 47% of them and 7% of them had a positive coronavirus test. However, only 7% of these patients had been diagnosed as having a respiratory infection before death.

There are three ways that this could be interpreted:

  1. Respiratory viruses precipitated other problems e.g. myocardial infarctions that then led to death (and has previously been a massively underdiagnosed contributor to death that we have managed to live with)
  2. Patients who are very ill and dying are highly susceptible to respiratory infection
  3. Respiratory viruses are innocent bystanders present at death i.e. not contributing to the underlying cause of death

Because we have never routinely tested for respiratory viral infections in such volumes previously, we do not know what we would have found previously had we done so.

The significance of finding a respiratory virus in the dying is therefore uncertain and given the lack of excess deaths we should conclude that one or more of the three scenarios above must also apply to Covid.

If Covid has become the dominant respiratory virus this year, then identifying it in a significant number of deaths from other causes should not be a surprise to us. If it has no impact on excess mortality, with people dying this year who would otherwise have died, then placing the finger of blame on Covid is of little importance in terms of NHS and broader societal impact.

2. Misdiagnosis

There are two ways in which Covid cases and deaths have come to dominate this winter. As described above, a number of cases and deaths, which previously may have been associated with other viruses that were undiagnosed, are now being correctly diagnosed as associated with Covid. The second way is that our diagnosis of Covid has become dependent on faulty testing, and misdiagnosis is taking place. Evidence for the latter is clearest in the deaths data.

Figure 3 Spring excess Covid deaths were accompanied by excess non-Covid deaths as we restricted access to healthcare. However, every increase in autumn excess Covid deaths has been mirrored by a fall in non-Covid deaths.

The fact that the rise in Covid labelled deaths has been mirrored by a fall in non-Covid labelled deaths (figure 3) means that Covid appears to be behaving in a similar way to the viruses in the Spanish study, and if we were not testing for it, then deaths would have been attributed in the usual way.

3. Bed Management Crisis

Hospitals are in crisis at the moment. That is undeniable. However, the cause may not be what it seems. Total hospital occupancy is normal or even low for the time of year. However, the NHS undoubtedly faces crises every winter and the reduction in beds available for a growing and ageing population is the core underlying problem (figure 4) from 240,000 in 2000 to under 165,000 in 2019. The figure fell by a further 10,000 beds this year after a reduction in beds to allow for social distancing between patients in hospital.

Figure 4 Hospital beds total per 1,000 inhabitants 1999-2019. Data from OECD.

The capacity has not been exceeded even in regions where 30% of patients have a Covid label. Where have all the non-Covid patients gone? There has either been misdiagnosis or mass hospital-acquired infection.

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.

Conclusion

The NHS is facing a winter crisis which has more to do with bed management and broader policy decisions than Covid itself, although the latter will be contributing as well, because it is winter and we must now regard Covid as an endemic disease (like flu), hopefully to be mitigated to an extent by vaccination.

We may find that the mix of the predominant winter respiratory viruses has changed to have a different character and whether this is permanent remains to be seen. However, the overall impact on healthcare and on the number of lives lost is not, and will not be, that different.

Why then are we reacting in the way we are?

Latest News

Boris Cancels Christmas

Lord Protector Boris Johnson contemplates what other filthy frivolities might be putting the populace in harm’s way. (Image: The Week)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday announced his most humiliating U-turn to date, putting London and the South East into a new “Tier 4” (lockdown in all but name), cancelling the Christmas amnesty for those areas and reducing it to just Christmas Day for the rest of the country. The Telegraph has the details.

Boris Johnson was forced to introduce a new tier with tougher restrictions last night as he warned that a new variant of the virus was spreading “significantly more easily” among the population.

The Prime Minister told the nation: “When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our methods of defence.”

He placed 18 million people across London, the South East and East of England into new Tier 4 restrictions which closely resemble November’s lockdown.

It came after he received alarming new evidence that a variant strain of COVID-19 – called VUI2020/12/01 – was ripping through areas in Tier 3, where restrictions were failing to control the spread.

For the rest of the country, the five-day window to form a Christmas bubble has been scaled back to just one 24-hour period.

From Sunday, non-essential, gyms, cinemas, hairdressers and bowling alleys will be forced to close for two weeks in Tier 4 areas, with people restricted to meeting one other person from another household in an outdoor public space.

The draconian measures will apply to London, Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey, Gosport, Havan, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings, Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough, Hertfordshire and Essex.

People under the new highest tier will also be banned from leaving their areas, and will no longer be allowed to meet up in Christmas bubbles of up to three households. The tiers will be reviewed at the end of the month.

For people living in Tier 1, 2 and 3 areas, the five-day window has also been drastically cut back to just Christmas Day.

It means millions of people hoping to visit and stay with friends and family now face having to cancel train tickets, flights and other travel plans.

It comes after Mr Johnson held an emergency Cabinet meeting this morning to sign off the changes, after scientists confirmed that the new strain is spreading more quickly and could be driving the surge in cases in the South East. 

What a kick in the baubles, as the Sun says.

Yet even before the announcement yesterday afternoon scientists were pushing back against the Government’s “new mutant strain” scaremongering. Time For Recovery UK released a statement calling on Matt Hancock to release more details about the strain, which it turns out is not new at all but has been around since at least September.

On Tuesday December 15th, Professor Nick Loman of the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG UK) consortium, identified the new set of mutations as VUI – 202012/0. He confirmed that it is not new, as COG UK identified it in September, and there is no proof that it is more infectious. As Professor Sharon Peacock, COG Director, pointed out: “We are still dealing with very thin evidence at the moment about this variant.”

Dr Maria van Kerkhove, the technical lead of COVID-19 response and the Head of Emerging Diseases and Zoonosis Unit at WHO, has also confirmed that the strain involved has been circulating for many months, though she referred to it as N501Y.

Recovery is challenging Matt Hancock to answer these key questions:

Why did he announce this as a new strain on the eve of the tier review when it appears to have been circulating for several months (and may have existed for months more before it was identified)?
Why has he made headlines with the news that it’s more infectious when the experts who identified the strain say that we don’t have evidence for that yet?
Will he publish the evidence he has for that so his claims can be independently verified?
In the words of the Washington Post, “At a news conference Monday evening, neither Hancock nor England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, released enough data to help the public understand the significance of the new variant.” Does he now regret the way that this announcement was handled, given that it has attracted international criticism?
With millions of lives and livelihoods at stake, does he now consider that the statement he made to Parliament about the ‘new’ strain may have been misleading?
Does he retain confidence in the Government advisers who briefed him on it?
With even the experts at the WHO who are responsible for tackling the virus apparently confused by the information that the DHSC has provided over the details of the ‘new’ strain, will he remind his department to prioritise accuracy and the clear communication of the known facts over sensationalist language that makes headlines?

“There is a lot of trivial diversity in the spike protein. Over 20000 variants have been reported,” commented Professor David Livermore, Professor of Medical Microbiology at the University of East Anglia. “What is the hard evidence that this new variant really is so different against this background of great diversity? Apparently VUI202012/0 was first found in September. It’s not clear where it came from or how long it had existed previously. The delay before it expanded doesn’t fit with super-infectiousness. Any variant of SAR COV-19 might expand swiftly because it gets into a part of the country which has had a relatively low prior exposure to SARS-CoV2 – like  Kent or East Anglia – rather than because it has any particular biological advantage. As ever, talk of ‘exponential spread’ is misleading. We have now repeatedly seen that as exposure rises, spread slows.”

Jon Dobinson, Campaign Director of Recovery, commented, “The evidence suggests that Matt Hancock may have needlessly terrified millions of people by giving misleading information about a variant of the virus which has existed for months. With millions of lives and livelihoods at stake, it is imperative that the Government is seen to be carrying out a balanced and responsible public health campaign. This looks like irresponsible scaremongering. It increasingly seems as though Matt Hancock and his advisors are carrying out an all-out marketing campaign for harsh restrictions rather than taking a balanced and proportionate approach. It is now clear that he and the Government have been guilty of hugely damaging errors in tackling this virus. Are they trying to sustain the panic to avoid being held to account for the damage they have done? That would be criminally irresponsible, given the damage that their actions are causing. But it is increasingly hard to interpret their actions in any other way.”

The main evidence the variant transmits more easily appears to be the shape of the recent surge in London and the South East. But other parts of the country have had surges at other times. Why is it assumed this one must be due to a dangerous new variant? Worth recalling that December is always the busiest month for hospital admissions for respiratory disease and yet hospitals are currently quieter this year than last year.

Patrick O’Flynn in the Telegraph notes that the latest announcement fits a familiar pattern: “Isn’t it odd how these big, cataclysmic Covid U-turns always seem to get announced on a Saturday after the press-ganging of the PM by scientific advisers on a Friday?”

Paul Nuki brings, as ever, the voice of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation global health establishment, arguing, “Boris Johnson had no choice but to tighten restrictions” because “with the R rate above one, hospitals struggling, and a new strain spreading across the South East, the PM’s hands were tied”. Nonsense, of course. But towards the end he inadvertently blurts out a confession.

Almost every year British hospitals fill up in the weeks following Christmas threatening a crisis in the NHS. This is caused by a range of factors – including social care staffing issues – but a large part of it is dictated by Christmas itself and the rules of contagion.

Indeed. So are we going to do this every year now?

Leo McKinstry responds robustly to the latest round of scaremongering.

We have repeatedly heard such alarmist talk throughout the pandemic, and frequently the worst fears have not been realised.  In their notorious press conference in September, used to justify the second lockdown, the Chief Medical Officer Christ Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned that there could be 4,000 Covid deaths-a-day in the autumn. Nothing like that total was ever reached. Nor has there been any fulfilment of the continual forecasts about Covid swamping the NHS. In fact analysis published this morning of NHS data shows that hospitals are actually quieter than they were this time last year, while intensive care units have more room.  

It’s the latest in the Government’s spectacularly incompetent handling of the pandemic, says McKinstry.

The shambolic announcement is part of a pattern of inconsistency and incompetence. From the start of the outbreak, the Government’s approach has been riddled with epic contradictions, sudden reversals, gross mismanagement, spectacular waste and incoherent communications. In the autumn, Boris Johnson denounced Sir Keir Starmer for proposing the so-called “circuit-breaker”, then a fortnight later implement one himself. One week Ministers told us it is was our duty, for the sake of the economy, to get back to work. Soon afterwards they said that we should stay at home if possible. Similarly, Mr Johnson’s Government imposed a curfew on pubs, without providing any convincing evidence to support it, just as the bombast about a “world-beating” testing regime has proved shallow.   

So many of the Government’s restrictive policies – including lockdowns, tiers, and compulsory mask-wearing – do not seem to be working. The failure of Tier 3 is not the cue for an alternative, but its elevation into Tier 4. Yet the evidence for the collateral damage caused by these controls is overwhelming – in economic meltdown, poor mental health, chronic loneliness and social anxiety. Only last week, new figures revealed disturbing rises in both unemployment and domestic violence. 

Brendan O’Neill in spiked is similarly unimpressed.

The neo-Cromwellian edict has been issued. The thing that Boris Johnson said would be “inhuman” just a few days ago has now been done. For the first time in centuries people in vast swathes of England – London and the South East – will be forbidden by law from celebrating Christmas together. The Government’s promise of five days’ relief from the stifling, atomising, soul-destroying lockdown of everyday life has been snatched away from us. It’s too risky, the experts say; the disease will spread and cause great harm. You know what else will cause great harm? This cruel, disproportionate cancellation of Christmas; this decree against family festivities and human engagement.

But will people comply? Brendan doesn’t think so.

I’m hearing from so many people that they intend to go ahead with their Christmas plans. Political leaders and the miserabilist media will no doubt brand them “Covidiots”, thoughtless pricks who don’t care about others. On the contrary, it is precisely because they care for others – for their happiness, their social needs, their thirst for human connection – that they will defy this edict and celebrate Christmas. Our politicians may not understand that the purpose of life is to be with and around and there for other people, but millions of us still do. 

The Spectator‘s Isabel Hardman draws attention to the lack of Government accountability in these decisions and the effect this is having on Conservative MPs.

Johnson will not have to face Starmer before the new policy comes into force: the regulations will be published tonight and the Coronavirus Act means Parliament does not need to be recalled to approve them. This will enrage a number of Conservative MPs who are already furious at the way the Government is handling the pandemic and who feel ministers are getting addicted to governing without scrutiny. Mark Harper, Chair of the Covid Recovery Group, has demanded a recall of Parliament, issuing a statement saying: “More immediately, given the three-tier system and the initial Christmas household rules were expressly authorised by the House of Commons, these changes must also be put to a vote in the Commons at the earliest opportunity, even if that means a recall of the House.”

At Lockdown Sceptics we wish the CRG and other conscientious MPs every success in bringing this out-of-control Government to heel.

Stop Press: A reader points out that although Tier 4 is being reported as having become legally enforceable as of midnight last night (Sunday), in fact there is no sign anywhere of a legal instrument, and until that appears Tier 4 rules are wholly advisory and have no legal basis. (You can read the current legal basis for the three-tier system here and it makes no mention of a Tier 4.) This means if the police try to stop you getting on a train you should ask them to specify which law you are breaking.

UPDATE: The new regulations are now published, in effect as of 7am this morning.

Stop Press 2: Boris’s latest flip-flop isn’t playing well in the broadsheets. Camilla Tominey in the Telegraph says he’s been “left with egg nog on his face“, while Tim Shipman in the Sunday Times says “cavalier Boris is now a sad, sober roundhead“.

New “Kent Covid” Variant is Less Deadly, Data Suggest

What follows is a guest post by Anthony J. Brookes, Professor of Genetics at the University of Leicester.

This new variant is most likely just an “asymptomatic variant”, i.e., a strain that causes no or very mild illness. This is exactly what natural selection would throw up and what would have been given a massive advantage when trying to suppress the virus by lockdowns and Test and Trace.

As such, it is likely a good thing, as it will help us achieve herd immunity more quickly, with far less illness. Thereafter, the virus will go away all by itself.

All viruses naturally evolve towards strains that are more transmissible but which cause mild or no disease. By lockdown and Test and Trace we have accelerated that natural process dramatically. One third of detected examples of this strain (or rather its clade) are in Essex, one third in London, and one third elsewhere in the UK. That is not consistent with a new strain with massive transmission advantage arising in one place (such as Essex) and spreading out from there. Hence this first “scary” graph actually proves that the new variant is not the cause of the prevalence increase in the claimed “problem” regions. It had the same percentage representation in three very different regions in early November. Whereas, if it were a new variant with rapid spread advantage it would instead have been ahead in one region and spread to the other regions later on.

In short, the new strain is spreading everywhere, as a background variant that causes no or mild disease, enabled to recently increase its relative abundance on account of lockdown and Test and Trace.

Something else is causing the apparent increase in the claimed “problem” areas. The “surge” in these regions is instead largely an artefact of massively increased testing in those regions – combined with reporting the misleading case rate (i.e., a simple count of detected positives, which consequently doubles if you double the amount of testing undertaken). The proper metric to look at is positivity rate (i.e., the percentage of people tested that got a positive result). And here it all is for Havering, one of the main “problem” regions in London, showing cases increasing with testing, but the positivity rate heading in the opposite direction.   

This final Government “chart of doom”, showing new hospital admissions in the “problem” areas, simply reflects the fact that they have massively increased testing in those parts of the country over the last few weeks – so creating more positives. The “new hospital admissions” measure is simply a count of how many (not what fraction) of new admissions had a positive test within the last 14 days. So it is exactly the same artefact as the case rate artefact. You can see this by comparing the admission curve to the amount of testing done in Havering.

How Deadly is COVID-19?

Stockholm

A new study in the Lancet concludes that COVID-19 is around three times more deadly than flu. This is based on a comparison of in-hospital mortality in France between the 2018-19 flu season and the spring SARS-CoV-2 epidemic. It finds 16.9% (15,104 of 89,530) of Covid patients died vs 5.8% (2,640 of 45,819) of flu patients.

The authors, Professor Lionel Piroth and colleagues, claim the study “highlights the importance of all measures of physical prevention”. But is that so? A disease under three times more deadly than flu would not seem to warrant wrecking the economy for, or demolishing millions of people’s liberties and livelihoods.

And is Covid really three times more deadly than flu? Here are three compelling reasons for thinking the study overestimates the death rate.

First, the in-hospital mortality rate of Covid has already reduced considerably since the spring when there was more uncertainty about how to treat patients and a rush to use ventilators (which often made things worse). It’s also possible hospital admissions were more selective in spring over capacity fears, raising the average severity of Covid illness in hospital and hence the fatality rate. Oddly, Piroth et al do not allow that treatment has improved, claiming that “no treatment has been shown to be effective for the COVID-19 clinical course”. This is a bizarre claim given the large and growing clinical and scientific evidence for the effectiveness of Ivermectin, Vitamin D, HCQ and other treatments.

Second, the flu mortality rate in recent years has been reduced by the annual flu vaccination programme. Without widespread vaccination flu would kill many more, as can be seen from winter mortality before vaccination was common.

Third, and perhaps most tellingly, Sweden had no excess mortality between July 2019 and July 2020, as demonstrated by researchers at the University of Oslo. The excess deaths in the spring epidemic were cancelled out by the mild 2019-20 flu season to leave overall mortality no higher than normal. The only increase was a 1% rise in mortality among the over-80s. If COVID-19 is three times more deadly than flu, how can a country which took only mild precautionary measures end up with deaths no higher than normal? This suggests that the higher estimates for Covid mortality are a result of not taking into account the “dry tinder” or mortality displacement effect of a build-up of the frail elderly population after a mild winter, plus a misclassification of deaths as “due to” COVID-19 when some other cause is primarily responsible.

Sweden, like many other countries, is currently experiencing an autumn surge. However, as elsewhere, its scale is being exaggerated by excessive testing and attention, as Dr Sebastian Rushworth, who is based in Stockholm, explains.

Here in Stockholm, the number of people being treated in hospital for Covid has been stable since late November, with around 800 people being treated simultaneously for Covid in hospitals (in spring around 1,100 people were simultaneously being treated for Covid in Stockholm at the peak).

Since the total number of hospital beds in Stockholm is around 3,850, it should be plain to everyone that the healthcare system has never been close to being overwhelmed, in spite of claims to the contrary in the media. And while it is true that hospitals are currently at 100% capacity, it is false to claim that that situation is in any way unusual. Sweden has among the lowest number of hospital beds per 100,000 population in Europe, and the hospitals are always running at 100% capacity at this time of year.

Despite introducing only light measures compared to other countries, Covid ICU admissions in Sweden have been falling since the end of November.

Excess mortality also began to fall at the end of November – a full week before ICU admissions began to decline.

This scale of mortality hardly seems to warrant closing down a country, which itself causes immense harm. Sadly, as Lockdown Sceptics reported yesterday, the Swedish Government now seems to have decided otherwise and is imposing stronger measures, despite their own example suggesting this is unnecessary.

Sweden is in the odd position of having proved to the world, through its prudent management of the crisis in the spring, that lockdowns aren’t necessary, and has now failed to heed that lesson, along with the rest of the world.

Incidentally, antibodies have been sharply on the rise again in Stockholm, an indication of an active epidemic as immune systems encounter the pathogen and produce the antibodies either for the first time or from T-cell memory (antibodies tend to fade over time when not in use, but the immunity remains in memory T-cells). Dr Sebastian Rushworth again:

One thing that I think is very interesting that has received little mention in the media is that the proportion of people with antibodies has been rising by 2 – 3% every week. In Stockholm, 37% of those tested for antibodies in week 49 were positive (up from 20% six weeks earlier). That suggests that the level of immunity is rising very rapidly in the population, and makes it questionable whether the vaccine will arrive in time to have any meaningful impact on the course of COVID-19 in Sweden, even if people start to get vaccinated shortly after Christmas, as is currently planned.

Stop Press: A recent edition of Julia Hartley-Brewer’s TalkRADIO show was pulled from YouTube because she had claimed that, for healthy people under 70, COVID-19 is less deadly than seasonal influenza. At Lockdown Sceptics, we did a quick fact check and concluded that what Julia had said is true. The most reliable estimate of the Covid IFR for the under-70s appears in Professor John Ioannidis’s recent paper for the World Health Organisation. He looked at 61 studies from around the world that have tried to measure the true prevalence of COVID-19 through serological studies and used that data to calculate the IFR. His estimate is that the IFR for Covid for healthy under-70s is 0.05%, i.e., it kills one in every 2,000 people that catch it. The IFR for seasonal flu is harder to calculate, partly because “flu” is a broad term covering a number of viruses, and partly because its deadliness varies from season to season. But according to Ross Clark in the Spectator, the IFR of the 2016-17 seasonal flu epidemic in the US was between 0.1% and 0.2%.

One of the most comprehensive sources of data is the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the US. In the season 2016/17 (the last for which full figures are available, more recent figures being provisional) the CDC estimated 29 million cases of flu across the US, resulting in between 29,000 and 61,000 deaths. That gives an IFR of between 0.1% and 0.2%.

WHO Admits Problem With PCR False Positives

Cartoon in the Christmas issue of the Spectator

The World Health Organisation has issued a medical alert drawing attention to the limitations of PCR tests and reminding users that for clinical diagnosis an examination of symptoms is required.

The probability that a person who has a positive result (SARS-CoV-2 detected) is truly infected with SARS-CoV-2 decreases as positivity rate decreases, irrespective of the assay specificity. Therefore, healthcare providers are encouraged to take into consideration testing results along with clinical signs and symptoms, confirmed status of any contacts, etc.

Users of RT-PCR reagents should read the IFU carefully to determine if manual adjustment of the PCR positivity threshold is necessary to account for any background noise which may lead to a specimen with a high cycle threshold (Ct) value result being interpreted as a positive result.  The design principle of RT-PCR means that for patients with high levels of circulating virus (viral load), relatively few cycles will be needed to detect virus and so the Ct value will be low. Conversely, when specimens return a high Ct value, it means that many cycles were required to detect virus. In some circumstances, the distinction between background noise and actual presence of the target virus is difficult to ascertain. Thus, the IFU will state how to interpret specimens at or near the limit for PCR positivity. In some cases, the IFU will state that the cut-off should be manually adjusted to ensure that specimens with high Ct values are not incorrectly assigned SARS-CoV-2 detected due to background noise.

This is an important admission and shows the work of Dr Mike Yeadon, Dr Clare Craig and others is making an impact. John O’Sullivan in Principia Scientific International has done a good write-up of the statement. He comments:

The UN body is now clearly looking to distance itself from the fatally flawed test as a growing number of lawsuits are processing through the courts exposing the insanity of relying on a test that even the inventor, Professor Kary B. Mullis, said was never designed to diagnose diseases. 

Worth reading in full.

Will it make a difference to how the test is used? We’ll have to wait and see.

A Reminder of What Makes Us Human

A reader has written to tell us about how moved he was at a “Covid” funeral recently.

On Thursday this last week the funeral of a neighbour was held in our village. He was 60 and had battled with leukaemia for 18 months, leaving a wife and two children. The last straw for him was being infected with COVID-19 by another patient in his hospital ward. He discharged himself and came home to die in peace from the leukaemia which he did a few days later. Of course it went down as a Covid death. Why wouldn’t it?

The point is that although the normal 30 maximum only were allowed to the church our village was swamped from one end to the other with dozens and dozens of mourners who had turned up to pay their respects by lining the street. They had all dressed as if they had been allowed to enter the church for the service, many arriving an hour or more early to stand in the cold wind. I stood there with them.

It was a remarkable sight and an honourable pay-off to a popular man. It showed me that the powerful human need to participate in important cultural and social rituals is still there, especially those that sit at the heart of our society and community. That’s in spite of the Government’s misguided belief that we can be denied all these without destroying the essence of what we are and for the sake of one very narrow perception of what life amounts to. 

Lord Gumption Strikes Again

Lord Jonathan Sumption

Former Supreme Court Justice Lord Jonathan Sumption has written a searing piece in the Telegraph pointing out what should be obvious by now, but isn’t to our Government and its blinkered scientific advisers: that lockdowns don’t work.

Looking at Europe and North America, two things occur. The first is that the virus has become endemic. The consensus of epidemiologists is that the vaccine will mitigate its impact but will not suppress it. The second is that the progress of the virus once it becomes endemic is broadly the same in populous countries, regardless of the policies of their governments. There have been savage lockdowns, as in Spain, which put the army on the streets to stop people going out, even for exercise. There have been purely advisory regimes, like Sweden’s.

Between these extremes there has been every possible variant. Some people, like the British, are said to be temperamentally resistant to being told what to do while others, like the Swedes or the Germans, are thought to be naturally compliant. The common factor is that they have failed. The Prime Minister’s extravagant rhetoric (“wrestling the disease to the ground”, etc.) sounds increasingly ridiculous.

Even with a vaccine as our exit route, this ought to make us pause before we start calling for more of a policy that has so demonstrably failed. Logically, there are only two possible explanations for its failure.

One is that the virus is more potent than governments. It may be that even the minimum of human interaction is enough to defeat the policy. In London, infections actually went up in the second lockdown. The other is that, whatever we do, the basic instincts of humanity, which is fundamentally sociable, will reassert themselves.

Governments and laws operate in a human environment. A policy that only works by suppressing our humanity is unlikely to work at all. Life is risky. A policy that seeks to eliminate risk ends up trying to eliminate life. We have to re-examine the whole concept that governments can simply turn social existence on and off at will, treating us as passive instruments of state policy.

This is not just a practical problem. It is a moral problem. What moral right does the state have to expect us to forswear our humanity to achieve its objectives, however admirable?

The central problem is expecting the healthy and low-risk majority to sacrifice so much, in many cases even their lives through missed medical care or suicide, for a vulnerable minority who could, if they wished and with some assistance, shield themselves.

COVID-19 is a serious threat to life and health for certain people: those over 65 and/or with identifiable clinical vulnerabilities.

Encouraging the vulnerable to isolate themselves speaks to their instinct for self-preservation. It goes with the grain of human nature. It is also rational – the onus should surely be on those most at risk to modify their way of life so as to limit that risk.

Ordering the young and healthy to isolate so as to avoid infecting the vulnerable, when the great majority of the vulnerable can keep themselves out of harm’s way if they wish, is not rational, conflicts with every instinct of social animals and defies human nature. Worse than that, it is morally disreputable. If you doubt me, then pause to think about the damage all this is inflicting on the young.

They are at virtually no risk of dying or even becoming seriously ill. “Long Covid” affects a small number and is not mortal. Yet the young and economically active are bearing the brunt of the Government’s measures. They are seeing their careers and job prospects destroyed before their eyes. We will get over COVID-19 eventually. Many of them will never get over the long-term effects of the countermeasures.

Some call this approach selfish. But Lord Sumption is having none of it. “The real selfishness,” he says, “is the selfishness of those who are willing to inflict all of these disasters on other people in the hope of enhancing their own security.”

Worth reading in full.

Liars, Fakers, and the Seductive Texture Of Authoritarianism

Matt Hancock Pinocchio

We’re publishing an original article today by philosopher Sean Walsh who thinks the people running the show in the UK are worse than liars – they’re fakers. Here’s the opening section:

In 1986 the philosopher Harry Frankfurt wrote an article called ‘On Bullshit‘ in which he pointed out that there is an epistemological and therefore morally significant difference between lying and faking. When you lie, he argued, you inadvertently disclose that you have some concern for the truth. To fake, on the other hand, is to reach for whatever bullshit you can spout in service of your desired end.

This lack of concern for truth is what makes the chancer worse than the liar. The faker, having lost any interest in separating the true from the false, will inevitably end up deceiving himself. He has no skin in the game. The liar is at least theoretically capable of being brought to book; the faker is beyond help. His world is fundamentally distorted.

The histrionic response to COVID-19 has shown that we are presided over by a Lockdown Sanhedrin, the High Priests of which are all fakers. These are not dispassionate and objective observers of “the science”, because science, properly done, eschews fakery. They are people trapped in the addiction of authoritarianism. And self-deception is a driver of that pathology. There is a bewildering disparity between the ‘data’ they offer us and the homily they compose from it. When you acquire the habit of lying to yourself you end up not being able to spot when you look ridiculous to other people.

And this is what’s happened.

Worth reading in full.

Nominate Toby For the Contrarian Prize 2021!

The Contrarian Prize trophy

He didn’t ask me to write this. The Contrarian Prize 2021 will be awarded to a figure in British public life who has demonstrated independence, courage, sacrifice and whose ideas have challenged the status quo. Which has Toby Young written all over it. Nominations close on December 31st. Submit nominations (and find out more) here.

You can also watch the the Contrarian Prize lecture – this year an online conversation between Katharine Birbalsingh and Chairman of the judges panel Ali Miraj – here.

Round-up

https://twitter.com/StokeMatt_/status/1340349431334531074

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Seven today: “What a Difference a Day Makes” by Dinah Washington, “It’s Freaking Me Out” by Eli Parker, “Free The People” by the Dubliners, “Spreading the disease” by Queensrych, “Christmas is Cancelled” by The Long Blondes, “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” by Wizzard and “Lonely This Christmas” by Elvis Presley.

A reader commented: “Sadly, Elvis never recorded ‘When will this f**ing insanity end'”. On the plus side, you can listed to Media Bear singing ‘F@uci the Con-Man’ here.

Love in the Time of Covid

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. We have a team of moderators in place to remove spam and deal with the trolls, but sometimes it takes a little while so please bear with us. You have to register to use the Forums, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Sharing Stories

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

Social Media Accounts

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

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, it’s the turn of the Dalton School, an exclusive fee-paying establishment in New York which is being eaten by its own woke ideology and the activists it breeds. Scott Johnston on the Naked Dollar blog site has the exclusive. The immediate issue the school’s facing is that the staff have refused to reopen on the grounds that reopening during the pandemic is “racist” – something to do with the black and brown teachers having longer commutes than the white teachers and therefore being more likely to catch the virus. But the problems run much deeper than that.

Over one hundred faculty have taken the opportunity to issue a lengthy set of racially-based demands that are breathtaking in their wokeness. Black students have added their own demands. 

These demands, which have been obtained exclusively by the Naked Dollar, go on for eight pages, and have as their underlying assumption that Dalton is systemically racist. Dalton’s teachers are refusing to come back until they are met. Parents are in an uproar, some threatening to remove their children. Major donors are said to be balking. The board, filled with New York movers and shakers, is in turmoil. The Naked Dollar has learned they have contracted an outside consulting firm to advise on handling the crisis.

Here is a sample of the demands:

  • The hiring of twelve (!) full time diversity officers
  • An additional full time employee whose “entire role is to support Black students who come forward with complaints.”
  • Hiring of multiple psychologists with “specialization on the psychological issues affecting ethnic minority populations.”
  • Pay off student debt of incoming black faculty
  • Re-route 50% of all donations to NYC public schools
  • Elimination of AP courses if black students don’t score as high as white
  • Required courses on “Black liberation”
  • Reduced tuition for black students whose photographs appear in school promotional materials
  • Public “anti-racism” statements required from all employees
  • Mandatory “Community and Diversity Days” to be held “throughout the year”
  • Required anti-bias training to be conducted every year for all staff and parent volunteers
  • Mandatory minority representation in (otherwise elective) student leadership roles
  • Mandatory diversity plot lines in school plays
  • Overhaul of entire curriculum to reflect diversity narratives

These won’t come cheap.

The demands for additional staffers alone would add millions of dollars to Dalton’s annual budget. Siphoning off 50% of donations would dry up funding. Eliminating AP classes (referred to as “levelled courses”) would destroy college admissions. It’s not an exaggeration to say these demands, if implemented, would destroy Dalton altogether. According to insiders, much damage has already been done.

What you may not know is that Dalton has long been one of the most progressive schools in the country. They have actively encouraged the sort of thinking that is now biting them in the ass. And the obvious irony is that if Dalton is “systemically racist,” a belief they themselves promote, it is progressives who bear the responsibility.

Once again: go woke, go broke.

Worth reading in full.

“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 GDB have expanded the FAQs to deal with some of the arguments and smears that have been made against their proposal. Worth reading in full.

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

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

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

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samaritans

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

Quotation Corner

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

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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

Mark Twain

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

Charles Mackay

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

Benjamin Franklin

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

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

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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

Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury

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

Sir Winston Churchill

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

Richard Feynman

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

C.S. Lewis

The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants.

Albert Camus

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

Carl Sagan

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

George Orwell

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

Marcus Aurelius

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

William Pitt the Younger

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

Joseph Goebbels (attributed)

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

H.L. Mencken

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

Thomas Paine

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the past 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. Doing these daily updates is hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

https://youtu.be/tMkV4vYr_ik

A number of readers have told us they’re really enjoying Eric Clapton and Van Morrison’s new anti-lockdown song “Stand and Deliver”. Listen to it here. You can also hear Van Morrison’s other lockdown songs “No More Lockdown” here, “As I Walked Out” here and “Born To Be Free” here.

Latest News

Lockdown 3.0 – If at First You Don’t Succeed…

Boris Johnson gave a televised address to the nation yesterday in which he announced a new national lockdown, instructing the population yet again to “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives”. The Telegraph has the details:

Boris Johnson has plunged England into a third national lockdown to try to curb the rapid spread of coronavirus, as the country moved to Covid Alert Level 5.

The lockdown means people will only be able to leave their homes for limited reasons, with measures expected to stay in place until mid-February.

In an address to the nation, the Prime Minister said the new coronavirus variant – which is 50 to 70% more transmissible – was spreading in a “frustrating and alarming” manner.

“As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from Covid than at any time since the start of the pandemic,” he said.

The regulations are expected to be laid before Parliament on Tuesday, January 5th, with MPs retrospectively being given a vote after they are recalled early from the Christmas break on January 6th.

The third national lockdown, the strictest since last spring, begins immediately.

The new rules include:

  • Everyone living in England has been told to stay at home, and only to go out for specific reasons. Mr Johnson said: “You may only leave home for limited reasons permitted in law, such as to shop for essentials, to work if you absolutely cannot work from home, to exercise, to seek medical assistance such as getting a Covid test, or to escape domestic abuse.”
  • People who are clinically vulnerable and who were previously told to shield should stay at home and only leave for medical appointments and exercise
  • Primary and secondary schools will close immediately and move to online learning for all pupils except children of key workers and the most vulnerable. This will apply until at least mid-February and GCSE and A-level exams will be cancelled for the second year in a row.
  • University students will not be allowed to return to their institutions and will be expected to study from their current residence. 
  • Non-essential retailers will be shut in the whole of England, together with gyms, hairdressers, sports facilities, pubs and restaurants. Restaurants and other hospitality venues can continue delivery or takeaway services but will no longer be permitted to serve alcohol.

Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that nearly all of these restrictions already apply in Tier 4 areas, save for the fact that hospitality venues will no longer be allowed to sell takeaway alcohol. True, schools won’t reopen, but schools weren’t open in Tier 4 areas until yesterday – and in many Tier 4 areas not even then.

But if the existing restrictions haven’t been sufficient to contain the virus in Tier 4 areas like London, why does Boris think extending those restrictions to the rest of the country will “squash the sombrero”?

Needless to say, there were several references to the new mutant variant in Boris’s address:

The Prime Minister said that on December 29th “more than 80,000 people tested positive for Covid across the UK”, the number of deaths is up by 20% over the last week “and will sadly rise further”.

“It’s clear that we need to do more together to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out,” he said.

“In England we must therefore go into a national lockdown which is tough enough to contain this variant.”

Given that this is the same old solution, we are entitled to ask the same old questions.

First, infections. Any decline in daily cases will likely be credited to the lockdown, but Professor Tim Spector says that his ZOE app is already showing an interesting trend:

https://twitter.com/timspector/status/1346130213382610944

Then there’s the question of whether extending Tier 4 restrictions to the entire country will “protect the NHS”, given that it is supposedly on the point of being overwhelmed in London, which has been in Tier 4 since December 20th.

The Telegraph reports that the Joint Chief Medical Officers have placed the country in COVID-19 alert level 5, meaning that there is a “material risk of health care services being overwhelmed” and the Chief Medical Officers have issued a joint statement:

We are not confident that the NHS can handle a further sustained rise in cases and without further action there is a material risk of the NHS in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days.

Peter Hitchens, however, has a question:

https://twitter.com/ClarkeMicah/status/1346178091429879823

And Dr Clare Craig highlights some key points in a bit of data analysis done by Joel Smalley showing that, in fact, the level of hospital admissions is completely normal for this time of year, as is winter mortality.

https://twitter.com/ClareCraigPath/status/1346163799942901765

Boris set no specific end date for the lockdown, but he said schools wouldn’t return until at least mid-February – by which he means late February, since mid-February is when half-term is. He indicated that it depends on the successful rollout of the vaccines. Though close to being overwhelmed, the NHS hopes to offer a first dose to everyone in the top four priority groups, a total of 13,900,000 people according to vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi. If we manage to vaccinate 1.5 million/week, that will mean the third lockdown will last until mid-March.

Although that’s probably wildly optimistic. Only a few days ago, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam was eager to pour cold water on the notion that a vaccine can set you free, as the MailOnline records.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam was asked at Wednesday’s Downing Street press conference whether people who have had two doses of a vaccine would still have to follow strict rules such as not seeing their families.

The scientist defined the question as whether “it’s OK to behave with wild abandon and go off to the bingo halls and so forth”.

He said a lot was still unknown about whether jabs stopped people passing the disease to others and urged people to be “patient”. 

The official told reporters that the magic phrase was “transmission” and said scientists would know within a couple of months how effective the vaccines are at reducing the chances of “severe illness” from Covid. 

Boris said that people should follow the lockdown rules from now, that they would become law in the early hours of Wednesday, and that parliament would meet remotely later that day. Peter Hitchens says that it is time to write to MPs again and offers some suggested wording.

Stop Press: Several readers have got in touch to point out that the reason for the alarming case data Boris cited in his announcement – 80,000 on December 29th alone – is because the UK is testing more people than any other European country. One reader has calculated that we’re currently testing between six and 14 times more people every day than France, Italy and Germany. Another drew our attention to the number of “cases” in the UK for January 4th as recorded on Worldometers, which dwarfed that of France, Italy and Germany, even though the number of deaths is quite similar:

UK – 58,784 Cases/407 deaths

France – 4,022 Case/378 deaths

Italy – 10,800 Cases/348 deaths

Germany – 8,039 Cases/527 deaths

“Strange,” says the reader. “Over 10 times more cases than France with a similar number of deaths. Germany had over 100 more deaths, but 50,000 fewer cases.”

The explanation? Matt Hancock and his obsession with administering as many PCR tests each day as possible.

Stop Press 2: There is perhaps, as Professor Martin Kulldorff points out, a small crumb of comfort in the return to national lockdown. The fact that there’s another one shows that the sceptics were right: they don’t work.

https://twitter.com/MartinKulldorff/status/1345621393594064896

Notifiable Disease Data and the Case for the Epidemic Phase of COVID-19 being a Spring Phenomenon

A graph showing winter mortality in 2020 compared to the baseline. Bit odd if we’re in the midst of a “second wave” that is supposedly even more deadly than the spring wave and London is its epicentre.

Regular Lockdown Sceptics contributor Dr Clare Craig, and her colleagues Jonathan Engler and Joel Smalley, have taken a close look at the notifiable disease data together with other sources. Examined on a regional basis, they conclude that the autumn surge may be an artefact of enthusiastic reporting in the South West which would indicate that the epidemic phase of COVID-19 concluded with the end of the first surge in Spring. Their contention is that Covid is now endemic and we’re not in the midst of a genuine “surge” in infections and deaths, which is why the winter mortality data is normal.

When a notifiable disease, such as COVID-19, is recorded the location of the patient involved is also recorded. If notifiable disease data is a reliable measure of symptomatic COVID, then there is a striking South West predominance in the Autumn.

The latest data shows continuing decline in notified cases of COVID-19, with only 50 cases notified to Public Health England in the week ending 20th December and 85 cases in the week ending 27th December. Other datasets including, 111 triage data, 999 triage data, ambulance surveillance data, accident and emergency attendance data and excess death data all indicate a Spring epidemic which ended at the end of May or beginning of June, a regionalised Autumn second ripple, and then a return to baseline. This baseline will be a normal level for winter as COVID is now endemic. The only data that does not fit with the other measures is the data dependent on PCR testing.

The numbers of cases that have been notified are a very small percentage of PCR positive results, despite it being a statutory obligation for the treating doctor to notify even a suspicion of a case.

We have previously discussed why notifiable disease reports for COVID-19 may have been lower than expected…

However, closer inspection suggests that the Autumn “2nd peak” of Notifiable Covid may in fact be an artefact which does not represent the true picture nationally, since nearly all the deaths notified during Autumn were in fact from the South West region, with the peak in that area reaching numbers beyond those seen for other regions in Spring.

Very much worth reading in full.

Critical Care Beds Not Overwhelmed

Illustration by Henny Beaumont in the Guardian

A Lockdown Sceptics reader has crunched the numbers on NHS critical care bed occupancy and sent us his analysis.

The Sunday Times published the list of critical care beds by NHS trust region, without too much drilling down. I’ve taken the trouble to do that. It’s based on NHS numbers. I looked at it because the article was provocatively titled “Already Full” without data backing it up.

They base the data on 4,518 beds, which would be Adult Critical Care Beds approximating to the 4,119 shown below so the data is quite robust. The occupancy data includes the likes of Christie, a specialist cancer hospital, so I guess there will be some beds that aren’t available for COVID-19 patients.

The Sunday Times report quotes x beds at y% occupancy. I’ve converted each hospital’s data to show the weighted equivalent beds, and then aggregated them regionally. I then use  the weighted numbers in use with the total beds per region. I think that is a reasonable approach. National weighted utilisation is about 76% using this method

There are obviously some hospitals with critical situations, but no specific region is at 90% or more, with London the highest at 87%. I’ve looked at the categories of utilisation to see how many of the beds available are critically overloaded. I’ve identified 90-100% utilisation beds in amber and red below

Stop Press: The unavailability of critical care beds, then, is not yet a problem for the NHS, but a Spectator reader has a good idea what might be. He left a comment underneath an update from Katy Balls

We have enough critical care beds but not enough staff with 30 – 40% nurses off self isolating with a (probably false) positive PCR test. Instead of the usual couple of days off sick they now have 10 days minimum. Add to that the measures put in place to separate positive from negative patients and you have a self inflicted recipe for disaster. No one will ever now admit their earlier mistakes and will continue to double down on ineffective measures. The whole mass PCR testing and SAGE advice/affair is an economic catastrophe.

We now have recently vaccinated Drs off with a positive test but no symptoms.

Asymptomatic spread has now been shown to be a myth undermining the whole rationale for any lockdown.

You just have to ask why?

Letter From a Reader to His MP About Lockdown 3.0

Readers forward us so many letters that they’ve written to their MPs that we cannot publish all of them. But from time to time we’re sent a real humdinger. Below is one such, sent to Sir Iain Duncan Smith. If you’re thinking of taking up Peter Hitchens’s advice to write to your MP in advance of Wednesday’s vote, there are some good facts here you might be able to use.

Dear Sir Iain,

I hope you are keeping well. I have a couple of questions in respect of the government’s vaccination program/ongoing lockdown strategy (and its tragic impact) that I would be grateful if you could supply answers to.

Preamble: It has been scientifically established that COVID-19 is a low risk pathogen to most (group A), to such an extent that the majority who are infected suffer no symptoms, and that even for those who do suffer symptoms, they are generally mild/akin to flu.

It has also been scientifically established however that for a minority of primarily very elderly or unwell people (group B), COVID-19 presents a high risk pathogen that often proves fatal.

Question one: In the UK, group B consists of c.2.5M people, to which end why should some 30M or more people be vaccinated once the said 2.5M people have been?

Shelving questions of cost, necessity and disruption, it is important that people who don’t need vaccinations don’t have them as it enables their immune systems to develop a natural resistance to the pathogen in question, a resistance that may save them when its next variant inevitably besets them (such immunity preventing pandemics).

Moreover according to the ONS in the week to December 3rd alone 800,000 people in the UK were infected with COVID-19. Mindful of the fact that 70-90% of those infected with Covid show no symptoms, this would indicate that, even allowing for the well who got tested and whose infection was thus detected, some 4M+ of the UK population was infected in a given week, such that, allowing for the fact that the virus has been alive in our society now for an annum, surely it is only a matter of weeks before 30M people have either established a natural immunity to COVID-19 by dint of infection, or were always immune to it by way of past exposure to coronaviruses (last week 341,946 people were recorded by the ONS as having been infected, meaning, a la the same metric, a further 3M+ people were effectively immunised in just that seven day period).

Question two: In light of the fact that all of group B who wish it will be vaccinated by c. January 14th at the going rate, and that those not in this group have little to fear from COVID-19, and that tens of millions of people must already have had COVID-19 (or are immune to it by virtue of exposure to past corona viruses), why is it necessary to perpetuate lockdown measures beyond this date, measures that are both economically, socially and literally murderous? (Please see ref. below re the lockdown death toll).

This is not an idle question. As you are no doubt aware Bristol University, for one, has forecast that Parliament’s response to COVID-19 (as of early November, 2020) will ultimately kill 560,000 UK citizens, a figure more than twice that of the worst case Covid-death scenario of 250,000.

Similarly the ONS predicted earlier in 2020 year that Lockdowns and anti-Covid measures will kill 200,000 UK citizens of all ages in the medium to long term, due to missed medical diagnoses, missed treatments, loss of jobs, loss of tax revenue etcetera.

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

To conclude, setting aside human rights, civil liberties, Magna Carta and other, now apparently trivial issues (which two million British servicemen laid down their lives for), it can be safely taken that the unjust impositions placed upon the UK public, as well as ruining lives, livelihoods and the economy, are killing a thousand among our number a week at least, and thus must be lifted as a matter of urgency (and certainly not left in force until Easter, like some devilish Lent).

Thank you for your anticipated response.

Scotland Gets in First

from the Scottish Sun

The First Minister, as always, made sure she got her lockdown announcement in first, announcing it six hours before Boris announced his. The Scottish Sun has a summary:

The First Minister yesterday announced that the country would enter another full shut down.

There will be a legal stay-at-home order from 12am – just like last March – with £60 minimum fines for breaches.

She addressed Parliament yesterday and explained that the current situation was “extremely serious” – adding that the new variant of the virus was a “massive blow”.

Ms Sturgeon confirmed that vulnerable children and kids of key workers will still be able to go to school to ensure they are cared for.

She added that getting kids across the country back into classrooms will be a “priority” – and said that there will be a review later this month.

Churches and places of worship will be forced to shut, except for funerals and weddings.

A maximum of 20 people will be able to attend funeral services – with only five guests now allowed at weddings and civil partnerships.

She also confirmed that rules on non-essential businesses will be tightened further. Showrooms in retail outlets will be forced to close, while cosmetic and beauty outlets will not be able to operate.

Leisure venues such as ski centres which had been open until now will also have to shut in a bid to suppress the spread of the virus.

The SNP leader said government ministers would consult with businesses who have been hit by the latest wave of restrictions.

Worth reading in full.

As usual the Scottish lockdown is even more severe than the English one, closing both nurseries and churches which Boris has left open.

Stop Press: Police Scotland has unveiled a new online reporting tool so citizens can grass each other up for breaking lockdown rules without having to get up out of their armchairs.

Stop Press 2: Not wanting to be left out, Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster has announced that her stay-at-home message is to be made law. Apparently, too many people were leaving their homes without a reasonable excuse. The nation is in week two of a six week lockdown. Sky News has the story.

Do Children No Longer Matter?

Crime Scene tape prevents entry to Our Lady’s Catholic Primary School

Edinburghlive reports that Rod Grant, the headmaster of Clifton Hall School, has hit out at the decision to close schools, pointing out the impact it has on children who, he says, seem to be bottom of the Scottish Executive’s priorities. His comments are worth reproducing in full.

In 31 years of teaching, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so despondent and so concerned at the same time. Our world is in the grip of a pandemic and governments across the globe have poured billions of pounds into fighting it and in trying to support the lockdown strategy. Makes me wonder why we couldn’t tackle other issues globally and so ferociously in terms of spend. What about the Climate Emergency? The obesity pandemic? The fact that in 2021 we still have people living on the street; that it takes an international footballer, Marcus Rashford, to shame the British Government into feeding children during school holidays. And what does that also tell us about the current levels of poverty in the UK? What about the 1,500 people that die every day in the UK from the big three: heart disease, strokes and cancer-related illnesses. Why haven’t we taken these issues as seriously as we have a virus which is likely to end up with a mortality rate of well below 1%, and which, according to the Office for National Statistics has an average age of death in the UK of 83. Meanwhile, in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, men have a life expectancy of 71.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist; I’m not some radical on the fringes of a fringe. I’m just a teacher and this is what I see:

In the last three months, in my school and in schools like it, I am witnessing mental health issues unlike anything I’ve seen in my career. This is not me trying to be dramatic or to overplay what lockdown actually does to children. I am seeing children being diagnosed with clinical depression, increasing rates of self-harm (even in Scotland, where we already had the highest rate of self-harm in 15 year-old girls anywhere in the world, bar one), suicidal ideation and, something I haven’t seen for at least 20 years, a resurgence of eating disorders. Add to this, those students who are displaying worrying levels of stress and anxiety; the same students that describe online learning as stress inducing. Anyone that has been involved in a Zoom meeting knows how stressful it can be and yet the great solution to our educational recovery is online learning. Well, I’m an educator and I think, at best, it’s a horribly poor substitute for in-school learning.

Right throughout this pandemic, the needs of our children seem to be at the bottom of every Government’s priority list. The cynic in me might suggest that it is because they can’t vote. Fortunately, I’m not cynical. To me, it’s actually just as worrying though to suggest that kids don’t really matter that much if they are not dying.

At the moment, there seems to be no alternative voice; no political party willing to stand up for children’s plight, no media criticism; merely, more nodding in agreement that lockdown is the only solution. Well, just remember in our attempts to suppress a virus and ‘to save the NHS’ that the price we pay is the downward spiral in the mental well-being of our children and a legacy of under-achievement as a result. Last summer, individual children were the lowest priority in Government as seen in the examination results fiasco. As of the 2nd January, there is not one single hospital bed available for any young person suffering from mental health issues anywhere in Scotland. The current waiting time for a mental health appointment with CAMHS in the Lothians is six months. Utterly disgraceful.

Children need to be with their friends. They need to play. They need to develop their social and academic skills. How dare we have created an environment where a 5 year-old can say, “I can’t play with Freddy because he’s not part of my bubble”. It is the stuff of nonsense and it is our children who will end up being this lockdown’s “collateral damage”.

Schools need to be open and they need to open now

Stop Press: Us For Them, the group of mums campaigning to keep schools open, have put out an urgent call to action, asking for like-minded members of the public to write to MPs and others about schools closures. Do support them.

Stop Press 2: John Dickens has totted up the number of U-turns the Government has performed in the past week over schools for Schools Week. He makes it five. Can anyone improve on that?

Catastrophe of Postponing Mocks in Scotland

A Scottish teacher has got in touch to point out that the closure of Scottish schools for the whole of January will make it nigh on impossible for schools to assess their pupils.

It may interest you to know that thanks to Sturgeon’s latest panic lockdown, schools in Scotland may find it almost impossible to provide meaningful assessment data to the SQA. (Scotland’s qualification awarding body.) I am a teacher and the exams officer in a Scottish secondary school, and I am amazed that no one reminded Sturgeon that almost all Scottish secondary schools sit their preliminary (mock) exams in January.

We were expecting these exams to provide the bulk of the evidence which would be used in forming assessment grades. Now that we are to return in February, schools will struggle to have prelim exams before February mid term holidays. Of course, it is also very unfair on the candidates. Most of them were getting to the point where they were ready to sit exams. Now that has to be put on hold for another month as teaching and learning continues remotely. However, remote learning is no substitute for classroom work and exam candidates will inevitably drift somewhat between now and February. I doubt they will be at their best for prelims, whenever they eventually happen.

Of course, the SQA has been forced several times to change its plans. The last change was just a few weeks ago. And here we go again: their plans and key dates will have to be altered again.

So, she may have found yesterday’s decision a difficult one to make, but once again she has decided to inflict misery on young learners in order to pursue her reckless policy of eliminating the virus. Perhaps it mutated because of lockdown? Make it harder to catch and it mutated to make the virus easier to spread?!

Anyway, I’d be grateful if you could keep my name out of this as the Scottish Government is not slow to punish those who speak up against it!

What Will Happen to Democracy if We Stop Educating Our Children?

We’re publishing another original piece today by Dr David McGrogan, an Associate Professor at Northumbria Law School. This time his subject is the long-term consequences of our neglect of education – which is the loss of freedom and, ultimately, the failure of our democracy. Here are the opening three paragraphs.

Of all the tragic, unnecessary and shameful consequences of the 2020 lockdowns, school closures may be the worst. A healthy society prioritises its young; we have sacrificed their life chances to ameliorate the terrors of the old. But the educational consequences of our collective reaction to this virus are more far-reaching than ‘just’ the closure of schools. Indeed, it is my fear that the death of liberal education is happening right in front of our eyes.

This is a strong statement and requires some explanation.

Thoughtful liberals have always recognised that education is the very foundation of liberalism itself. (And here, it is important to make clear that in using the word ‘liberalism’ I am not referring to the soft-left progressivism which is sometimes meant by that term. Rather, I am referring to classical liberalism – the political philosophy that, in a nutshell, considers it foundational that the power of the State ought to be legally constrained by a system of individual rights, such as those to property, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and so on.) This is because, contrary to how its adherents are often caricatured, they have long recognised that there is nothing inevitable about liberalism. Indeed, liberalism rather goes against the grain of innate human characteristics. It sits uncomfortably alongside democracy in particular, because human beings have the tendency to use democracy for illiberal ends. Occasionally, of course, this has manifested itself in outright fascism, as in the first half of the 20th century, but much more frequently those illiberal ends are ostensibly benevolent rather than racist or hateful. The danger is not that mass democracy will usher in dictatorship. It is that it will usher in what Kant called “the worst form of despotism” – an all-encompassing, paternalistic kindness that utterly smothers freedom.

Like Dr McGrogan’s previous piece, this one is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A reader sent us a response to Dr McGrogan’s last piece, as well as Guy de la Bédoyère reply.

I believe that the two articles by David McGrogan and Guy de la Bedoyere pretty much nail the issues. My only thought would be that fear is usually a big part of these collective hysterias historically. It’s the starting point for the irrationality; whether that be fear of witches in Salem, fear of other internal groups in Weimar Germany or fear of every other European country in the outbreak of WW1.

Most people are still affected by the images they saw on TV in February and March. We are now in a loop where a critical mass of the population has stayed afraid and, as is usual in history, has moralized their fear into certain religious rituals such as lock downs, masks and so forth that give assurance. Of course, nobody admits to be being afraid for themselves either; it is all about protecting others. It always is. Government is then just responding and is in a state of fear too that it will be blamed. Whether any of these things work or not is irrelevant to the debate. They are rituals that are needed as part of the collective assurance seeking. Just like the pointless offensives in World War One. They were part of trying to “do something”. Third Lockdown equals Third Battle of Ypres. Anyone who questions is then a heretic and an evil person. Owen Jones, Piers Morgan and Neil Ferguson are just updated witch doctors.

My belief is that there is very little that can be done now to alter this. It will have to play out. At some point, historians will look back and wonder why we lost our sanity. But it will take time. The General Melchetts of 1914-8 were actually very popular at the time. They even named the Earl Haig Fund after the prime one. It was only in the 1930s that the reaction set in.

What Ever Happened To The Flu?

Verywell/Brianna Gilmartin

One of the curiosities in the winter surge in Covid cases has been the drop in influenza cases, both in the UK and elsewhere. Often this is chalked up to the beneficial effects of masks and social distancing, but one maverick epidemiologist has an alternative theory as Just the News reports:

Where have all the flu cases gone?

Epidemiologist Knut Wittkowski thinks he can answer the riddle.

“Influenza has been renamed COVID-19 in large part,” said the former Head of Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research Design at Rockefeller University.

“There may be quite a number of influenza cases included in the ‘presumed COVID-19’ category of people who have COVID-19 symptoms (which Influenza symptoms can be mistaken for), but are not tested for SARS RNA,” Wittkowski told Just the News on Thursday. 

Those patients, he argued, “also may have some SARS RNA sitting in their nose while being infected with Influenza, in which case the influenza would be ‘confirmed’ to be COVID-19.”

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly influenza surveillance tracker reports that the cumulative positive influenza test rate from late September into the week of December 19th stands at 0.2% as measured by clinical labs. That’s compared to a cumulative 8.7% from a year before.

Other experts in the field offer a more conventional explanation:

Timothy Sly, an Epidemiology Professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, told Just the News that “the reduced incidence of seasonal influenza is almost certainly due to the protection that a large proportion of the population has been using for many months”. Those measures, he said, are “designed to be effective against any airborne respiratory virus”.

Holden Maecker, a Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University, echoed that assessment… Speculating on why COVID-19 levels have continued to soar if those measures have been so effective at stopping the flu, Maecker said: “I think it’s because (1) there is less pre-existing immunity to SARS-CoV-2 in the population, whereas most of us have had vaccines and/or previous bouts with flu; and (2) the SARS-CoV-2 virus seems to spread more easily than influenza, including more aerosol transmission and ‘super-spreader’ events.”

Wittkowski, though, is not convinced. He’s been a long-standing critic of COVID-19 mitigation measures and there is data to back him up:

“I think that these viruses are more similar than people want to acknowledge,” says Wittkowski. “People know everybody is wearing masks and distancing, and so people want to come up with things that are good about it.” 

Public health officials have at times struggled to explain why positive COVID-19 tests have surged upward in places, such as California, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, where policies such as social distancing and mask mandates have been in place for months. 

Data indicate that more than nine out of every 10 Americans in most states are wearing masks in public regularly; those numbers have been above 80% since the early fall. Yet average positive COVID-19 tests have multiplied by nearly seven times since the spring peak.

Worth reading in full.

Eternal Lockdown, Wooden Horses and Shiny Things

Jake Woodhouse, a bestselling novelist, has sent us an interesting reflection on the consequences of society’s love for Google, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The internet has brought us many great things, he says, but it has also brought us this year’s panic-driven, pro-lockdown hysteria.

On February 4th 2004 the technological equivalent of a Trojan Horse was quietly rolled onto the internet. There had been others of course, Google being the obvious example of a new kind of business which provided a service to customers for free, but none which have come to symbolize the new era as much as Facebook. Do we even remember a time before Facebook? Or any of the other companies such as Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube who have come to dominate our society, changed the way we interact, how we do business, how we live our lives?

And could we have predicated how this massive garnering of our attention has turned out? It seems not. At the beginning of 2021 it has now become alarmingly clear that we have given up our freedoms for a few shiny baubles. We have scrolled, clicked and liked our way into a trap so large and so dangerous, that our very liberty is now at stake. And yet, unbelievably, many of us have yet to pull back from the constant stream of notifications on our screens long enough to see it.

The Internet has given us many good things. It has facilitated the dissemination of ideas quicker and more widely than at any other time in history, it has given artists and musicians a platform, and it has allowed so much innovation which has made our day-to-day lives easier. There are bad sides too, terrorism, hate, and the rise of mega-businesses which have been able to quietly crush their small opposition.

All of this we know, but we accept it because times have to change, and when we order something from Amazon and it arrives that very same day part of us can’t suppress the glee that such easy wish fulfilment is possible. How lucky we are.

None of this is news to anyone. But what this last year has shown, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that there is something far, far darker lurking in this new hyper-connected world. 

Worth reading in full.

All the Lonely People

We’re publishing an original piece today by Jonny Peppiatt, the author of the poem we published yesterday about suicidal ideation. Today’s contribution is about loneliness and the well-established link between loneliness and depression. Here’s an extract:

Before we go any further, I think it would be a good idea to explain what loneliness is, because it isn’t as simple as not having friends or being alone. It is a process within the brain that has been designed by evolution that gives you a feeling as a result of believing you have limited or no connections that provide a sense of mutual aid and protection with other individuals.

Human beings began as a species on the savannahs of Africa but survived as a species because of cooperation and tribal support. If you were an individual who became separated from your tribe, no one would care for you should you fall sick, you would be unable to hunt effectively, and you would be vulnerable to predators; and it is because of this that the brain developed a way to send an urgent signal to reconnect with your tribe in the form of loneliness and a sense of insecurity.

In today’s world, however, the connection that we need is slightly different: mutuality remains a necessity, and aid and protection are still important, although these come as a by-product of simply caring for one another; but avoiding loneliness is also about sharing something that matters to both sides of the connection, which gives rise to an interesting facet of loneliness: it has varying degrees not just in intensity but also in breadth.

Take, for example, three things I care deeply about: writing; cricket; and the queer community. I have people I discuss literature with, and I have people with whom I swap articles and pieces of work with; I have friends I play cricket with, and I have friends waiting around the corner to go to cricket with; but I have no queer community. Somehow, I have ended up with no friends – who would really truly understand – with whom I can discuss the struggles our community faces internally and externally, or the wondrous strides that have been made, or anything else that can be ‘explained’ but cannot be genuinely understood by someone outside of the community, someone who hasn’t lived it, and, because of this, I often feel intensely lonely in this very important aspect of my life.

This one is worth reading in full, particularly the day after a third lockdown has been announced which, don’t forget, will mean a lot of single people being stranded by themselves.

Stop Press: A reader has spotted that the Government is currently carrying out a very timely consultation.

The Government is currently running a consultation on proposals to ban keeping primates as pets, on the grounds that their welfare often suffers from cramped conditions and limited social contact.

In fairness I should note that the bits about primates kept in “tiny cages” are entirely literal, but even so there are some choice lines about “hugely intelligent and socially complex animals” being “deprived of companions of their own kind”.

My favourite is: “‘Primate’ also includes humans but for the purposes of this consultation we are only concerned about non-human primates.”

Round-up

https://twitter.com/talkRADIO/status/1346017394507001856

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Six Today: “Here We Go Again” by John Lennon, “When Will I See You Again” by Three Degrees, “Jailhouse Rock” by the Blues Brothers, “I Want to Break Free” by Queen, “Good Times Gone” by Nickelback and “Let Me Live Again” by Charley Pride.

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

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

Social Media Accounts

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

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, the news that the UK Government stands accused of pursuing a white nationalist agenda. The Guardian has the story:

The head of a race equality think tank has accused the Government of pursuing a divisive “white nationalist” agenda, prioritising the white working class at the expense of ethnic minorities in an attempt to win votes.

In her first interview since being appointed director of the Runnymede Trust, Halima Begum said ministers had failed to respond meaningfully to the “seismic shifts” represented by Black Lives Matters (BLM) protests and the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on black and minority ethnic (BAME) Britons.

She said that while companies such as Penguin, Goldman Sachs and Apple had been approaching Runnymede to find out what they could do to tackle structural racism, and the public and even civil servants were engaging on the topic, the Government was denying its existence.

“I think the Government’s long-term plan is to work up white nationalism for the next elections,” said Begum. “What we should be saying is that working-class black and white communities have been left behind because they’ve seen industries demolished in the north of this country. We haven’t seen the economies built back, we haven’t seen investment in our education system for years so that our black, white and Asian working-class children will thrive.”

“What I see instead is the Conservatives pushing through [a narrative of] a white working-class that’s been left behind, which by the way is where Trump was at about six years ago.”

Worth reading in full if you have a taste for the absurd.

Over at Spiked, Rakib Ehsan has written a strong rebuttal. Concepts “such as ‘white culture’, ‘white oppression’ and ‘white privilege’, have set back race relations by years”, he says.

Begum’s intervention further confirms how the ‘anti-racism’ industry is being colonised by ideologues intent on keeping non-white people locked into a perpetual state of grievance and victimhood. The reality of the matter is that some of the most severely disadvantaged communities in the UK are predominantly white. These communities can be found in Britain’s long-abandoned post-industrial and coastal towns, which have suffered from long-term economic decline, and political and cultural exclusion, thanks to decades of free-market globalism and liberal cosmopolitanism. To suggest that devoting greater political attention to these neglected communities is a form of white nationalism is exactly the kind of hysterical identitarianism that undermines the broader anti-racist cause.

Begum is right that the BLM movement has caused seismic shifts in British society. But these shifts do not represent progress. A recent poll by Opinium found that a majority of people, 55%, believed that BLM has actually increased racial tensions. This view is also shared by a plurality of ethnic-minority Brits (44%). Labour voters were also notably more likely to agree than disagree with the view that BLM has heightened racial tensions in British society. These survey results show how BLM has undermined social cohesion and sown division and antagonism.

Yes, it is true that the pandemic has exposed very real socioeconomic disparities between the UK’s ethnic groups. But to ignore the myriad factors at play here – from geography and housing to occupation and lifestyle and blame such disparities on ‘structural racism’ is an especially crude and dangerous form of victimhood politics.

He is especially damning about the Begum’s accusation of white nationalism:

To be racially nationalist, as Begum claims the Government is, is to want to preserve the ‘racial purity’ of a nation by facilitating the repatriation of existing racial minorities and halting flows of inward migration of other races. In the British context, white nationalists attempt to root ‘Britishness’ in racial identity, so that one can only be considered British if one is white. This reflects one of the key pillars of white nationalism internationally, namely, the commitment to the idea of the ‘white ethno-state’.

The Government can be accused of many things, but it hardly makes sense to suggest it is committed to forging a white ethno-state. After all, this is an administration with an Indian-origin home secretary, who recently created an immigration route for millions of Hong Kong residents wishing to flee from Chinese state oppression and start a new life in the UK.

Yet despite this, the Guardian insists on carrying an interview claiming the Government is white nationalist. Too often, it seems, politically divisive and socially corrosive narratives surrounding race are presented as fact by an influential clique of culturally liberal activists. Let’s hope their racialist ideas are repudiated with vigour over the course of this year.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The BBC, in its wisdom, issued a health warning before broadcasting the film of Dad’s Army because of its use of “discriminatory language that some may found offensive”. MailOnline has the story.

Stop Press 2: Following the proposal by Democrats to eliminate gendered language from the House of Representatives, the 117th Congress has opened with a spectacularly woke prayer.

https://twitter.com/GReschenthaler/status/1345866081815187459

“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, 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?app=desktop&v=b89W4mijN4c

Take a moment to watch this powerful and somewhat eerie performance staged by a number of Swiss artists against Covid restrictions. In the words of one of the commentators below, it “beats NHS tick tock dances”.

Latest News

Harder, Stronger, Tighter

Bob Moran’s cartoon in the Telegraph on November 1st 2020. Still relevant.

Boris Johnson held a cabinet meeting yesterday, and the report in MailOnline makes for alarming reading:

Boris Johnson held a top-secret cabinet meeting to discuss an even-tougher lockdown with limits on exercise, compulsory mask-wearing outdoors and no more social bubbles all being floated by ministers, sources claim.

The Cabinet Office refused to deny that draconian new laws were incoming – and instead pointed to Matt Hancock’s vague statement earlier today. 

The Health Secretary refused to speculate when directly asked if harsher measures – including curfews and nursery closures – might be brought in, and instead said Britons should ‘follow the rules that we’ve got’.

One Whitehall source told MailOnline that the changes discussed today even included introducing a ban on people leaving their homes more than once a week.

Under current rules, Britons can exercise with one other person or with their household or support bubble.

But a Government source said the rule is “being used as an excuse for people to go for a coffee in the park with their friends” and could be tightened, the Daily Telegraph reports.  

The UK announced a further 573 coronavirus deaths yesterday in the highest Sunday rise since April, and the third-deadliest Sunday of the entire pandemic. 

Infections also continue to be high, with 54,940 announced on Sunday, the thirteenth day in a row they have been above the 50,000 mark.

They said the “rule is there for exercise, for people’s mental health, particularly for older people who are not going to be going for a run to see someone” but many are using their “imaginations” to make it what they want.

Their concerns came as hordes of people were seen flocking to beaches and town centres over the weekend, despite Boris Johnson’s pleas for families to stay at home and help control the mutant Covid variant spreading rapidly through the country. 

Officials are also set to encourage shops and workplaces to improve on their Covid social distancing measures.

Supermarkets will be a key focus of the Government’s latest push, with many worried that lax enforcement of the rules means shoppers are at risk.

Worth reading in full.

When Governments fail, they blame the governed. Clearly, their “imaginative” interpretation of lockdown restrictions is to blame for the high Covid death toll. Nothing to do with the lack of PPE, the failure to create dedicated hospitals for Covid patients, spunking tens of billions of pounds on a not-fit-for-purpose Test and Trace programme, building the Nightingales but not recruiting or training enough healthcare workers to staff them, decommissioning the Nightingales, failing to eliminate in-hospital infection and the ongoing scandal of secondary transmission in care homes… no. It’s all the fault of the disobedient general public.

The irony is that the public agrees with the Government. According to Opinium, 72% of Britons think the authorities have not acted fast enough and 64% say they want a Government that “quickly puts lockdown measures in place, even if that means that sometimes measures are put in place that didn’t need to be”, compared to 25% who want a Government that “tries the hardest they can to not put lockdown measures in place, even if that means sometimes decisions are made later than they would otherwise have been”.

In a recent article for the BMJ, Steve Reicher and John Drury point out that, actually, the British public has been remarkably compliant throughout.

The notion of behavioural fatigue associated with adherence to COVID-19 restrictions (so-called “pandemic fatigue”) has been a recurrent theme throughout the crisis.

Linked to the notion that people in general will find it hard to adhere due to shared human psychological frailties is the idea that when particular individuals break the rules, it is due to their particular psychological failings. They are either too weak, too stupid, or too immoral to do the right thing. Hence, terms like “covidiots” have become almost as familiar as “pandemic fatigue”. This feeds into a widespread narrative of blame whereby the spread of infections is explained in terms of individuals and groups who choose to break the rules, rather than failures of public health response.

The narrative of blame is exemplified in the language used by politicians… It is also exemplified in a media focus on particularly egregious examples of violations such as raves and large house parties. All in all, this narrative explains the worsening pandemic in terms of widespread non-adherence to rules which is a function of poor psychological motivations, which in turn are particularly prevalent in some people and some communities…

Adherence to stringent behavioural regulations has remained extremely high (over 90%), even though many people are suffering considerably, both financially and psychologically. Equally, despite anecdotal observations about growing violations and polling which shows that people report low levels of adherence in other people, both self-reported data and systematic observations of behaviour in public places suggest that adherence stayed high during the second lockdown. Some 90% of people or more adhere to hygiene measures, to spatial distancing, and to mask wearing most of the time. Moreover, people generally support regulations and, if anything, believe that they should be more stringent and introduced earlier. This pattern has been repeated in the last few days, with 85% of the public endorsing the January ‘lockdown’ and 77% thinking it should have happened sooner…

The problem, then, is that in psychologising and individualising the issue of adherence, one disregards the structural factors which underlie the spread of infection and the differential rates in different groups….

Additionally, one overlooks the fact that some of the rules and the messaging around them, may be the problem. It is particularly misleading and unfair to ask people to do things and then blame them for doing so.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Appearing on the Andrew Marr show, yesterday Keir Starmer demanded that Boris do more and suggested… closing nurseries. He is probably kicking himself now and wishing he had been more ambitious so he can then take the credit when a new set of draconian restrictions are announced today.

Don’t Panic, Chief Constable Mainwaring

Davey’s cartoon in today’s Telegraph

Like the rest of us, Cabinet Ministers are struggling to tell the difference between law and guidance. The Telegraph has the story.

Police were right to fine two women £200 each for driving five miles from their home for a walk, Matt Hancock has said, as he warned the public to follow the rules because “every flex can be fatal”.

The Health Secretary said he would “absolutely back the police” after Derbyshire Constabulary was criticised for overzealous enforcement of the coronavirus regulations on Friday.

Asked whether police were right to hand Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore a £200 fixed penalty notice for meeting up for a walk, Mr Hancock said: “I’m absolutely going to back the police because the challenge here is that every flex can be fatal.

“You might look at the rules and think, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter too much if I just do this or do that’.

“But these rules are not there as boundaries to be pushed, they are the limit to what people should be doing.”

MailOnline reports that the Home Secretary supports them too:

Priti Patel today defended police as they began strict application of Covid rules that includes £200 fines and less tolerance for rule-breakers. 

The Home Secretary warned that officers “will not hesitate” to take action because the increasing number of new COVID-19 cases proved there was a need for “strong enforcement” in cases where people were clearly breaking the rules.      

Police tactics have come in for scrutiny after Derbyshire Police handed out £200 fines to two women who drove separately to go for a walk at a remote beauty spot situated around five miles from their homes. 

The police, however, as the Telegraph says, admit the possibility that they might have got it wrong:

Derbyshire Police has since announced it will review its fines policy in light of new national guidance, following an outcry and accusations of overzealous policing of the lockdown rules.

The two women issued with a fixed penalty notice said police had told them their hot drinks “counted as a picnic”, after they were surrounded by police, read their rights and fined.

Perhaps they should listen to Peter Hitchens:

https://twitter.com/ClarkeMicah/status/1348334383539892225

The Chinese Communist Party’s Global Lockdown Fraud

Bob’s cartoon in the Telegraph on February 8th 2020

The FBI, and other security services around the world, will by now be in receipt of an open letter requesting an expedited investigation be opened into the role of the Chinese Community Party in promoting catastrophic public health policies across the West, i.e. lockdowns. The letter was written by a number of people, some of whom will be familiar to readers of Lockdown Sceptics:

Michael P. Senger, Attorney
Stacey A. Rudin, Attorney
Dr. Clare Craig, FRCPath
Retired Brig. Gen. Robert Spalding
Randy Hillier, MPP Lanark, Frontenac & Kingston
Francis Hoar, Barrister at Law
Sanjeev Sabhlok, PhD
Brian O’Shea
Maajid Nawaz
Simon Dolan

It begins:

We are writing this letter to request that a federal investigation be commenced and/or expedited regarding the scientific debate on major policy decisions during the COVID-19 crisis. In the course of our work, we have identified issues of a potentially criminal nature and believe this investigation necessary to ensure the interests of the public have been properly represented by those promoting certain pandemic policies.

During times of crisis, citizens naturally turn to the advice of those they perceive as experts. In early 2020, the public turned to the advice of scientific authorities when confronted with an apparent viral outbreak. Soon after, most nations followed the advice of prominent scientists and implemented restrictions commonly referred to as “lockdowns.” While the policies varied by jurisdiction, in general they involved restrictions on gatherings and movements and the closure of schools, businesses, and public places, inspired by those imposed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Hubei Province. The intervention of federal authorities with police power may be required to ensure that those who have promoted these lockdown policies have done so in good faith.

They set out an impressive array of evidence in support of their central contention, which is that the lockdown policy was aggressively promoted to Western governments by the CCP with the help of various “useful idiots”, e.g. public health scientists.

Lockdowns originated on the order Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and were propagated into global policy by the World Health Organisation with little analysis or logic

When the lockdown of Hubei province began, the World Health Organization (WHO)’s representative in China noted that “trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science… The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history…” Human rights observers also expressed concerns. But those concerns didn’t stop the WHO from effusively praising the CCP’s “unprecedented” response just days after the lockdown began, and long before it had produced any results… The WHO held a press conference during which Assistant Director-General Bruce Aylward – who later disconnected a live interview when asked to acknowledge Taiwan – told the press: “What China has demonstrated is, you have to do this. If you do it, you can save lives and prevent thousands of cases of what is a very difficult disease.” Two days later, in an interview for China Central Television (CCTV), Aylward put it bluntly: “Copy China’s response to COVID-19.”

The most influential institution for COVID-19 models, self-described as “China’s best academic partner in the West” has been by far the most alarmist and inaccurate COVID-19 modeler

In February 2020, a team from Imperial College London led by physicist Neil Ferguson ran a computer model that played an outsized role in justifying lockdowns in most countries. Imperial College forecast a number of potential outcomes, including that, by October 2020, more than 500,000 people in Great Britain and 2.2 million people in the U.S. would die as a result of COVID-19, and recommended months of strict social distancing measures to prevent this outcome. The model also predicted the United States could incur up to one million deaths even with “enhanced social distancing” guidelines, including “shielding the elderly”. In reality, by the end of October, according to the CDC and the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS), approximately 230,000 deaths in the United States and 37,000 deaths in the United Kingdom had been attributed to COVID-19…

A study by researchers at UCLA and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) compared the accuracy of various institutions’ models predicting COVID-19 mortality. Across all time periods, the models produced by Imperial College were measured to have far higher rates of error than the others, always erring on the side of being too high.

In March 2020, Imperial College produced a report titled “Evidence of initial success for China exiting COVID-19 social distancing policy after achieving containment,” concluding: For the first time since the outbreak began there have been no new confirmed cases caused by local transmission in China reported for five consecutive days up to March 23rd 2020. This is an indication that the social distancing measures enacted in China have led to control of COVID-19 in China… after very intense social distancing which resulted in containment, China has successfully exited their stringent social distancing policy to some degree.

Imperial College had no way of knowing if this was, in fact, true; failing to discover cases does not mean they do not exist, particularly with a virus that is fatal to hardly anyone except the most vulnerable, and a regime with a long history of fraud. Its conclusion directly contradicted that of the U.S. intelligence community around the same time that China had intentionally misrepresented its coronavirus numbers.

Deadly recommendations for early mechanical ventilation came from China

In early March 2020, the WHO released COVID-19 provider guidance documents to healthcare workers. The guidance recommended escalating quickly to mechanical ventilation as an early intervention for treating COVID-19 patients, a departure from past experience during respiratory-virus epidemics. In doing so, they cited the guidance being presented by Chinese journal articles, which published papers in January and February claiming that “Chinese expert consensus” called for “invasive mechanical ventilation” as the “first choice” for people with moderate to severe respiratory distress…

By May 2020, it was common knowledge in the medical community that early ventilator use was hurting, not helping, COVID-19 patients, and that less invasive measures were in fact very effective in assisting recoveries. A New York City study found a 97.2% mortality rate among those over age 65 who received mechanical ventilation. The “early action” ventilator guidance that the WHO distributed to the world killed thousands of innocent patients; the WHO obtained that guidance from China.

Predominant, excessive PCR testing protocols came from China

Based on guidance issued by the WHO citing three studies from China, laboratories and manufacturers across the United States and many other countries are using a PCR cycle threshold of 37 to 40 for COVID-19 PCR tests that were created using in silico genome sequences supplied by a laboratory in China, pursuant to which positive COVID-19 case counts have been inflated as much as ten- to thirty-fold.

Studies showing significant asymptomatic transmission, the only scientific basis for lockdowns of healthy individuals, came from China

Underpinning the policy of lockdown is the scientific concept of “asymptomatic spread”. According to the WHO, “Early data from China suggested that people without symptoms could infect others.”  This idea of asymptomatic spread was reflected in the WHO’s February report. According to this concept, healthy individuals, or “silent spreaders” might be responsible for a significant number of SARS-CoV-2 transmissions. The idea of setting out to stop asymptomatic spread was a significant departure from prevailing public health guidance and experience during prior respiratory-virus pandemics.

The concept of significant asymptomatic spread was believed to be a novel and unique feature of SARS-CoV-2 based on several studies performed in China. Multiple studies from other countries could not find any transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from asymptomatic individuals.

The CCP engaged in an early, broad, systematic, and global propaganda campaign

After concluding the CCP’s lockdowns had “reversed the escalating cases” in China, the WHO was not alone in imploring the world to “Copy China’s response to COVID-19.” Beginning the same day the CCP locked down Hubei province, leaked videos from Wuhan began flooding international social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, all of which are blocked in China, purporting to show the horrors of Wuhan’s epidemic and the seriousness of its lockdown, in scenes likened to Zombieland and The Walking Dead. Official Chinese accounts widely shared an image of a hospital wing supposedly constructed in one day, but which actually showed an apartment 600 miles away.

Then, beginning in March 2020, the entire world was bombarded with propaganda extolling the virtues of China’s heavy-handed approach. Chinese state media bought numerous Facebook ads advertising China’s pandemic response (all of which ran without Facebook’s required political disclaimer), and began erroneously describing “herd immunity”, the inevitable endpoint of every epidemic either by naturally-acquired immunity or vaccination as a “strategy” violating “human rights.”

The letter goes on to make numerous other points before finally concluding:

Throughout 2020, lockdown measures have been quite popular, but that popularity is deceptive. For the general public, the idea that anyone might accept some outside incentive to support such devastating policies while knowing them to be ineffective, needlessly bankrupting millions of families and depriving millions of children of education and food, is, quite simply, too dark. Thus, the public supports lockdowns because the alternative, that they might have been implemented without good cause, is a possibility too evil for most to contemplate. But those who know history know that others with superficially excellent credentials have done even worse for even less.

Furthermore, most of the public believes that if there were anything untoward about the science behind lockdowns, intelligence agencies would stop them. For obvious reasons, those who work at intelligence agencies do not have the luxury of such complacency. Given the gravity of the decisions being made, we cannot ignore the possibility that the entire science of COVID-19 lockdowns has been a fraud of unprecedented proportion, deliberately promulgated by the Chinese Communist Party and its collaborators to impoverish the nations who implemented it.

If you are in the FBI, this is very much worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A recent article in the New York Times sung the praises of China’s response to the pandemic and claimed that the freedom provided by the efficiently run Communist technocracy was more meaningful that the freedoms the West prides itself on upholding.

The pandemic has upended many perceptions, including ideas about freedom. Citizens of China don’t have freedom of speech, freedom of worship or freedom from fear — three of the four freedoms articulated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt — but they have the freedom to move around and lead a normal day-to-day life. In a pandemic year, many of the world’s people would envy this most basic form of freedom.

Stop Press 2: The above letter has come in for a lot of criticism on Twitter, with several people alleging its central hypothesis is a conspiracy theory. To date, no one has engaged with the arguments or the evidence as far as we can see. Rather, the debunking has consisted of pointing to some dubious things some of the authors have tweeted – Brian O’Shea tweeted this, for instance – and the links between some of them and conspiracy theorists. We’ve included one of the most comprehensive Twitter threads criticising the letter below – click on it to read the full charge sheet. It’s by Sunder Katwala, Director of a think tank called British Future. He thinks some of the letter’s content may be libellous in the UK courts and cautions against sharing it. If anyone would like to rebut the letter’s central hypothesis by challenging the evidence we’d be interested in publishing an article along those lines, hopefully kicking off a debate. Contact us here.

https://twitter.com/sundersays/status/1348412619858849792?s=20

Going All In On Vaccines

Davey’s cartoon in the Telegraph on January 1st 2021

The Observer reported yesterday the warnings of some “senior scientists” that a lack of long-term planning is leaving the country vulnerable to major outbreaks of the disease for at least another year. Vaccines, they say, are part of the solution, but not all of it. No, we need to keep restrictions in place for at least a year.

The rollout of vaccines currently under way would cut hospital admissions and deaths among the old and vulnerable, they said, but it would still leave many other people at risk of being infected and suffering from the long-term effects of the disease.

Even though millions of doses of vaccine are being administered, serious outbreaks of COVID-19 are likely to continue throughout the year and into next year. These issues should be the focus of careful planning now, the scientists warned.

“Having 20 million people vaccinated is likely to reduce numbers of cases but we must not forget that this is a highly transmissible virus and if we do not continue with social measures, it will soon whip round communities again and cause havoc,” said Liam Smeeth, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

“I can understand the short-term panic that is going on at present as hospital cases rise so quickly but I am amazed at the sheer lack of long-term strategy there has been for dealing with Covid,” he told the Observer. “I can see no signs of any thinking about it.”

This view was backed by Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Edinburgh University. “This epidemic would have unfolded very differently and in a much happier way if we had accepted, back in February, that we were in this for the long term,” he said. “However, the view that it was a short-term problem prevailed.

“It was thought we could completely suppress the virus, and that is why we are in the mess that we are in now.”

The idea that the virus could be eradicated was a costly mistake, said Martin Hibberd of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “We have to understand COVID-19 is going to become endemic. The virus will not disappear. We are not going to eradicate it. Even if every human on Earth was vaccinated, we would still be at risk of it coming back.”

Several other issues still have to be resolved, added Hibberd. These include concerns about how long vaccines provide protection and how new variants might evade vaccine protection. “We might be lucky and find the virus does not change very much and vaccine cover is not affected, causing the virus level to drop to low prevalence,” Hibberd said.

“However, the virus might turn out to be as good as influenza at changing its coat. In that case, we will end up having to make new vaccines and distribute them every year. We should be thinking about that problem now.”

Worth reading in full.

Meanwhile, an article by Helen Branswell in the Boston-based STAT News sets out how the UK’s vaccine rollout is exciting the interest of friends overseas.

In an extraordinary time, British health authorities are taking extraordinary measures to beat back COVID-19. But some experts say that, in doing so, they are also taking a serious gamble.

In recent days, the British have said they will stretch out the interval between the administration of the two doses required for COVID-19 vaccines already in use, potentially to as long as three months, instead of the recommended three or four weeks. And they have said they will permit the first dose and second dose for any one person to be from different vaccine manufacturers, if the matching vaccine is not available.

The moves are borne of a desire to begin vaccinating as many people as quickly as possible, particularly with Britain facing high levels of transmission of an apparently more infectious form of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

But they are also effectively turning that country into a living laboratory. The moves are based on small slices of evidence mined from “subsets of subsets” of participants in clinical trials, as one expert described it for STAT, and on general principles of vaccinology rather than on actual research into the specific vaccines being used. If the efforts succeed, the world will have learned a great deal. If they fail, the world will also have gained important information, though some fear it could come at a high cost…

While data from both suggest the vaccines start to protect about 10 or 12 days after the first dose, it’s not known how long that initial protection lasts. In clinical trials, levels of neutralizing antibodies, which are thought to play a critical role in protecting against infection, were not substantial after the first dose of vaccine for the Pfizer vaccine.

“While we think that single shot could give protection for more than four weeks, we just don’t know that. We don’t know when it’s going to drop off,” said John Mascola, director of NIAID’s Vaccine Research Centre. Mascola said Operation Warp Speed, the federal Government’s project to fast-track Covid vaccines, ruled out the possibility of altering vaccination schedules before Britain decided to do so.

Paul Bieniasz of Rockefeller University is one of those who is watching the evolving situation in Britain with dread. A retro-virologist who turned from HIV research to work on SARS-2, Bieniasz is studying how the virus acquires mutations that allow it to evade the protective antibodies people develop when they have contracted COVID-19, or when they have been vaccinated against it…

Bieniasz believes Britain is replicating in people the experiments he’s been doing in his lab, and could be fostering vaccine-resistant forms of the virus…

Not everyone agrees there is a disaster in the making. Some believe it makes sense, given Britain’s surge in cases and the rapid spread there of the B.1.1.7 variant, which studies suggest may be 50% more transmissible than the viruses it is quickly replacing.

“At the core of my being, I really wish that we could adhere to the original schedule of vaccines, because that’s the safest thing to do,” said Akiko Iwasaki, a virologist and immunologist at Yale University who tweeted about her support for the British approach. “But seeing what’s happening in the world and just sort of looking at the situation of poor rollout and distribution, I’m feeling frustrated that we need to come up with some other options.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Sebastian Rushworth MD has also produced a useful analysis of the three vaccines’ safety and efficacy.

Stop Press 2: A reader has spotted a Job Ad for the position of Covid Administrator working at a college in Greater Manchester. It appears to imply that vaccination will be be compulsory for students returning to this particular college.

Covid Administrator

Role: Administrator – COVID-19
Location: Greater Manchester
Type: Full time Temporary
Rate: £10 an hour

Eden Brown are currently looking for a strong administrator to work within an FE college in Greater Manchester.

This is a short term temporary position to start as soon as possible.

You will be expected to carry out all aspects of administration, in particular relating to the COVID-19 vaccination that all students will be required to have before returning to college.

To apply for the role you will have a business administration level 2 minimum and sufficient admin experience.

Stop Press 3: Jonathan Engler has written a helpful Twitter thread explaining the data on the efficacy of the the Pfizer vaccine.

https://twitter.com/jengleruk/status/1348024388822700044

And the Moderna vaccine (which looks impressive).

https://twitter.com/jengleruk/status/1348256843475406848

Another Reader Writes

We’ve been sent the following comment from a reader:

The vaccine can’t come fast enough for some vulnerable people in this country, but not necessarily because it might save them from Covid. Instead, it looks like it’s the only way they’re going to be saved from the Government’s fixation that the only risk any one of us faces is Covid. I’ve just received this from a very old friend to tell me about the experience of her chum: 

“She’s now in her late 40s. A few years ago she had breast cancer and after lots of invasive surgery and chemo she beat it. However, a few months ago, the cancer came back and this time it’s in spread into various other organs. In short, she’s now got terminal cancer but she has yet to have any treatment at all and the vast majority of her appointments have been over FaceTime. So the lives of very elderly people with Covid are being prioritised over the life of a relatively young woman with a teenage child who, with timely treatment, could possibly have her life expectancy extended by at least enough to see her child into adulthood? Instead she is being cast aside and left in a seemingly endless cycle of waiting for something – anything – to happen. Can you imagine how horribly frustrating this must be for her? It really makes me so angry.”

Call me a cynic, but are we slowly discovering that the real truth now is that it doesn’t matter what you die of, or when, just so long as it isn’t Covid? It also makes me wonder how many of the vulnerable people are actually going to die sooner than they might have done thanks to all the treatment they haven’t had for what made them vulnerable in the first place.

Stop Press: The Telegraph is reporting on the collapse of cancer treatment, with 10,000 fewer patients being treated for non-Covid issues today than in the middle of last month.

Has Covid Revealed the NHS’s New Clothes?

A critical care surgeon, who we are calling Dr Jonathan Snow (not his real name), tells us that COVID-19 has exposed the shortcomings of the NHS. It is frequently, he says, unable to deliver.

Many times during this pandemic we have been told that we must sacrifice our civil liberties, jobs, mental health and children’s education. Why? Because excess infections will lead to surge demand on the NHS that cannot flex capacity, leading to patients being denied the care they need.

Back in March the public and society was rightly sympathetic – there was very little time to plan for such a situation. But come Christmas, we are told that the NHS is still unable to cope with similar levels of demand, despite having had some nine months to make plans for a fairly predictable eventuality. Please don’t misunderstand me here – this is not in any way a critique of the fantastic clinicians and hospital workers who work tirelessly caring for patients at the coalface. Blame for the current situation has rightly been directed at the Government, but also, and rather unfortunately, at the public for not following the rules. But surely NHS and hospital leaders have some responsibility for not planning for this current wave – why are difficult questions not being directed at them? Of course, it isn’t possible to train more ICU nurses in nine months – ICU nursing is a highly specialised form of nursing that takes years to complete. But it is very possible to train other hospital nurses, whose departments will be largely underutilised in a pandemic situation, to ably support ICU nurses so that they can safely manage three or four times more patients than they usually would. Nine months is also a long time to secure additional intensive care hardware such as dialysis machines and ventilators. If this had happened, acute care and ICU capacity could have been flexed considerably this winter.

But perhaps a more fundamental question needs to be asked. The British people will pay a heavy price for lockdown in terms of non-Covid lives lost, mental health, relationships, livelihoods, children’s education and Government borrowing that will be paid by us and our children for generations. When lockdowns have been imposed in part due to the NHS’s inability to cope – why are we being asked to sacrifice so much to prop up a failing institution? The question therefore follows – is the NHS in its current form fit for purpose? As someone who has been in UK healthcare and the NHS for 20 years I have seen at first hand that NHS is frequently unable to deliver basic 21st century healthcare in normal times. Cancer care performs poorly in this country and services cannot cope with modern chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and obesity where excellent available therapies are frequently not offered or provided. Every winter routine surgery is cancelled as hospitals do not have enough beds due to accommodation of the very predictable respiratory illnesses that come through A+E. And we are all accustomed and worryingly apathetic towards the plethora of NHS services with long waiting lists that would be unthinkable in other countries – this is rationing of medical services although often not stated as such.

Worth reading in full.

Rethinking the Lockdown Groupthink

Corporate Finance Institute

The Toronto Sun has published a compelling interview with Dr Ari Joffe, a specialist in paediatric infectious diseases at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton and a Clinical Professor in the Department of Paediatrics at University of Alberta. He was initially a lockdown enthusiast, but he’s come round to our point of view. There is more rejoicing in heaven… etc., etc.

You were a strong proponent of lockdowns initially but have since changed your mind. Why is that?

There are a few reasons why I supported lockdowns at first.

First, initial data falsely suggested that the infection fatality rate was up to 2-3%, that over 80% of the population would be infected, and modelling suggested repeated lockdowns would be necessary. But emerging data showed that the median infection fatality rate is 0.23%, that the median infection fatality rate in people under 70 years old is 0.05%, and that the high-risk group is older people, especially those with severe co-morbidities. In addition, it is likely that in most situations only 20-40% of the population would need to be infected before ongoing transmission is limited 

Second, I am an infectious diseases and critical care physician, and am not trained to make public policy decisions. I was only considering the direct effects of COVID-19 and my knowledge of how to prevent these direct effects. I was not considering the immense effects of the response to COVID-19 (that is, lockdowns) on public health and wellbeing…

Third, a formal cost-benefit analysis of different responses to the pandemic was not done by Government or public health experts. Initially, I simply assumed that lockdowns to suppress the pandemic were the best approach. But policy decisions on public health should require a cost-benefit analysis. Since lockdowns are a public health intervention, aiming to improve the population wellbeing, we must consider both benefits of lockdowns, and costs of lockdowns on the population wellbeing. Once I became more informed, I realized that lockdowns cause far more harm than they prevent.

There has never been a full cost-benefit analysis of lockdowns done in Canada. What did you find when you did yours?

First, some background into the cost-benefit analysis. I discovered information I was not aware of before. First, framing decisions as between saving lives versus saving the economy is a false dichotomy. There is a strong long-run relationship between economic recession and public health. This makes sense, as Government spending on things like healthcare, education, roads, sanitation, housing, nutrition, vaccines, safety, social security nets, clean energy, and other services determines the population well-being and life-expectancy. If the Government is forced to spend less on these social determinants of health, there will be statistical lives lost, that is, people will die in the years to come. Second, I had underestimated the effects of loneliness and unemployment on public health. It turns out that loneliness and unemployment are known to be among the strongest risk factors for early mortality, reduced lifespan, and chronic diseases. Third, in making policy decisions there are trade-offs to consider, costs and benefits, and we have to choose between options that each have tragic outcomes in order to advocate for the least people to die as possible.

In the cost-benefit analysis I consider the benefits of lockdowns in preventing deaths from COVID-19, and the costs of lockdowns in terms of the effects of the recession, loneliness, and unemployment on population wellbeing and mortality. I did not consider all of the other so-called ‘collateral damage’ of lockdowns mentioned above. It turned out that the costs of lockdowns are at least 10 times higher than the benefits. That is, lockdowns cause far more harm to population wellbeing than COVID-19 can. It is important to note that I support a focused protection approach, where we aim to protect those truly at high-risk of COVID-19 mortality, including older people, especially those with severe co-morbidities and those in nursing homes and hospitals.

Worth reading in full.

Dr Ari Joffe has written a paper titled “COVID-19: Rethinking the Lockdown Groupthink” in which he describes how initial modelling predictions induced groupthink and how reality only started to impose itself as data began to emerge of the significant collateral damage done by lockdowns.

Why Haven’t Our Points Landed and What Lies Behind the Hysteria

Today we are publishing a new contribution to the ongoing debate on why Lockdown Sceptics have failed to convince, this one by A.R. Norman.

Why haven’t our points landed and who or what is behind the hysteria that grips us? Is it the Government, the media, scientists or SAGE or some other malign agency?

In his very persuasive essay, Dr David McGrogan claims that both the reason lockdown sceptics have failed to break through the hysteria surrounding COVID-19 and the source of the hysteria itself is the successful establishment of a ‘moral truth’ by the advocates of lockdown. In response, Guy de la Bedoyere argues that, against such truths, reason will never prevail – that emotion always has, does and will win the day.

There are, however, some other factors worth considering. The first is context. In 2016, something happened that was not meant to happen. Having being given a referendum, the British people defied their political masters and voted for Brexit. This, from the perspective of the Establishment – the political and professional classes, together with the media that represent them and the businesses that fund them – was an absolute catastrophe, a catastrophe compounded when Donald Trump came to power in America. This was a disaster for the same political and professional classes whose identity politics and global-capitalist economic project was threatened by his overt nationalism and the protectionist policies he promised.

Brexit and Trump were thus two enormous wins for populism, the revolt by broadly patriotic, socially conservative, anti-globalist parties which now form governments in much of Eastern Europe (and, let’s not forget, in Russia too) and which continue to gain support throughout the rest of Europe via the likes of National Rally in France, AfD in Germany, Lega Nord in Italy and Vox in Spain. From these gains – and the eruption of violence in America today reinforces the view – it became clear to those who people the entire western Establishment that unless they can do something drastic, they are in serious danger of losing control.

The Covid scare gives it – the Establishment – the perfect opportunity for a massive reassertion of its authority. When people are afraid, they cry out to their leaders for protection. As it turns out, these leaders have precisely nothing to offer so they do the only thing that is in their gift: they deprive the people of their liberty and make them pay for the privilege through the expenditure of blood (think here of all those missed hospital tests and treatments, think of all the suicides and of all those acts of violence in the home) and treasure (the, as yet uncounted, trillions of dollars worldwide). So it is that, under cover of fulfilling the people’s wishes for protection (and let us not forget how enthusiastically most have embraced lockdown), the Establishment has just pulled off a blinder. It has massively arrogated power to itself. By terrorising an already frightened populace, by bankrupting future generations and, crucially, by depriving a generation of young people of a significant proportion of their education, it looks like it has succeeded brilliantly in shoring up its position far into the future.

Worth reading in full.

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Five today: “Your Fault” by Stephen Sondheim, “Are the Good Times Really Over For Good” by Hank Williams Jr, “Putting Out Fire” by David Bowie, “Freedom Isn’t Free” by Team America, and “Stand Up! Speak Out!” by Peggo & Paul.

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

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

Social Media Accounts

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

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, we turn to the National Trust who have experienced a fresh backlash from their Colonial Countryside Project, a child-led history and writing initiative which it runs in conjunction with the Leicester University. The Express has the story:

National Trust bosses have come under fire after it emerged they drafted in schoolchildren to lecture staff and volunteers on the colonial and slave-trade links of some of the charity’s country houses.

So-called child advisory boards were brought in to deliver “reverse-mentoring” sessions at a number of historic properties as part of a scheme to ensure the impact of their background could be fully explained to visitors. Staff were lectured on imperial history by schoolchildren who have been taking part in the Trust’s Colonial Countryside project in conjunction with Leicester University academics. None of the Trust’s team was forced to take part.

The university said the four-year project looked at “a range of colonial links, including slave-produced sugar wealth, East India Company connections, black servants, Indian loot, Francis Drake and African circumnavigators, colonial business interests, holders of colonial office, Chinese wallpaper, Victorian plant hunters and imperial interior design”.

But the scheme has been criticised by anti-woke campaigners who claim important aspects of British history are being erased to satisfy a politically-correct agenda.

Tory MP Sir John Hayes said: “It is a source of sadness that the National Trust are out of touch with the reality of militancy that they are explicitly endorsing, out of tune with their increasingly disillusioned members and running out of time to put these wrongs right.”

A spokesman for the National Trust said: “Colonial Countryside is a project started in 2018 at 11 National Trust houses.

“The participation of the children, which has now concluded, has tested new ways of working with staff enabling us to hear and reflect the children’s responses.

“It was not a compulsory exercise for staff and volunteers.”

He said Trust chiefs hope the process would ensure “British imperial history is fully represented in the organisation’s country houses”.

Around 100 primary school children have visited 10 National Trust houses to craft fiction and short essays which are then presented to audiences.

A Leicester University spokesman said: “Children will participate in conferences and give public talks.

“Child advisory boards will reverse-mentor National Trust staff to ensure that British imperial history is fully represented in the organisation’s country houses.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Read why Nottingham Forest striker Lyle Taylor refuses to take the knee in SportBible.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to obtain a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card – because wearing a mask causes them “severe distress”, for instance. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and the Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. And if you feel obliged to wear a mask but want to signal your disapproval of having to do so, you can get a “sexy world” mask with the Swedish flag on it here.

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.

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

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

Stop Press: A number of readers have got in touch to back up our reader who debunked the idea that mask-wearing is endemic in Asia. Our thanks to them all.

I’m Asian and have family in Hong Kong, a place I’ve visited many times over the years. I’ve also been to many other South East Asian countries – Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea – and I can say your writer is correct. Only a very small number of people wear masks, mainly due to pollution.

It’s just not true to say mask wearing was common place in Asia prior to Covid. It is very hot and humid in these countries and the last thing anyone wants to do is put a piece of cloth over their face. Imagine how sweaty and dirty it’d be!

Hope this smashes the myth of mask wearing in Asia!

Another said:

I lived in Japan for many years and during that time saw only one person I knew wearing a mask. This was a nursery teacher in my son’s nursery school who had come down with a cold. Though you saw masked traffic policemen in Tokyo, that was to protect them from pollution. People did not in general wear masks. A polite greeting on parting was “Make sure you don’t catch cold”, but “Make sure you wear a mask” was never part of the advice. I haven’t been back to Japan since 2003 and things might have changed. However, I read the Japanese online news every day and can state hand on heart that until Covid started there were never any pictures of people in masks. 

And in Vietnam:

I have spent a fair bit of time in Vietnam travelling by motorbike, up to about 7000km cumulatively now. Fabric masks are commonplace there by day among motorcyclists (of which there are of course many!) to protect them from the relentless sun and the terrible dust and pollution on the roads. I’ve no experience of anyone in that particular Asian country wearing them when ill.

Masks are more common in South Korea in one reader’s more recent experience, but again, only to protect the wearer from pollution:

Definitely more of a cultural phenomenon in South Korea when I visited in 2019 (as well as in areas with high South Korean demographic in Sydney as I have lived there on and off for upwards of 20 years). From what a friend whose brother is married to a Japanese woman tells me, masks are very common in Japan as well but primarily to protect against fine dust/air pollution or as a polite measure when the wearer is sick. Also somewhat of a fashion trend in South Korea but definitely not in the sense that one is glared at if not wearing a mask. It was common, in my experience, but entirely discretionary.

Another offered his perspective, and asked a good question:

I lived in Japan from 1999 to 2001 and saw a few people in masks each day (maybe 1 in 100 people). I thought it was odd so plucked up the guts to ask someone once and he said he had a cold and didn’t want to pass it on. It was considered good manners then. I have not been there in the last year but acquaintances tell me that literally everyone wears one now, although I have not heard of anyone bring “shamed” for not wearing one. They are mandatory in most schools, though not by law.

This begs the question: Is it worse to have mandatory irrational mask rules, or the voluntary irrationality of mass mask-wearing without the rules? I’d like to think that if the mask rule is lifted in the UK we will all stop wearing them but perhaps we will do as the Japanese do and wear them anyway “just in case”.

And finally, a reader has an interesting suggestion:

Your reader’s experience of mask wearing tallies with mine. I travelled extensively throughout China in 2018 and don’t recall seeing masks being worn beyond the odd person even on pea souper days.

For fun, why not try entering “Beijing crowds 2018” into Google Images and play ‘Where’s Masked Wally?’ with any random result. Unless you luck out and pick a photo of a political rally or protest, it’s tougher than the original game. For advanced players, replace Beijing with any large East Asian city.

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

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

The Simon Dolan case has now reached the end of the road. The current lead case is the Robin Tilbrook case which challenges whether the Lockdown Regulations are constitutional. You can read about that and contribute here.

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

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

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…

Ben Jennings’s cartoon in today’s Guardian

Latest News

Government Agrees Plan to ‘Save Christmas’

Unpublished sketch by Telegraph cartoonist Bob Moran

At a COBR meeting yesterday afternoon chaired by Michael Gove, the UK Government agreed plans with the First Ministers of the devolved nations to allow up to three households to gather over the five-day period between the 23rd and 27th of December. People will be able to travel freely across all areas of the UK, with an extra day of leeway at either end afforded to anyone wishing to travel in and out of Northern Ireland, to allow for the added journey time. The announcement comes after days of speculation in the media about the fate of the Christmas festivities.

The temporary relaxation of restrictions came with several caveats, as the Times reports:

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, agreed the exemption with the First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at a COBR meeting this afternoon, saying the Christmas rules “will offer hope for families and friends who have made many sacrifices over this difficult year”.

Mr Gove conceded that “the Christmas period this year will not be normal” but said that “families and friends will now have the option to meet up in a limited and cautious way across the UK should they wish”.

Family meetings will be limited to private homes and outdoor spaces, with people still expected to be banned from seeing others in pubs and restaurants across most of England.

The move means that people will effectively be forming a temporary ‘support bubble’ in which social distancing is not required, meaning that relatives will legally be allowed to hug each other. The easing of measures does not extend to the New Year, a particular disappointment for residents of Scotland where Hogmanay can be a more significant celebration than Christmas.

The Guardian has more from the leaders of the four devolved nations:

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that there was a risk inherent in any relaxation of the restrictions and asked everyone to consider very carefully whether the opportunity to mix for a few days is necessary.

She said: “We know that for some, contact with friends and family is crucial during this time as isolation and loneliness can hit people especially hard over the Christmas period. The ‘bubble’ approach aims to reduce this impact.”

Sturgeon’s comments seemed to tacitly admit of the mental health toll her restrictions had wrought. The Welsh Premier also remarked on the new plans:

The Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price, said the plans were “sensible”, adding: “However, it’s crucial we don’t lose the hard-gotten gains of the last few months for the sake of a few days. Flexibility shouldn’t mean a free for all. Sadly, this will not be Christmas as normal and people must know that any relaxation also comes with risks.”

Not exactly tidings of comfort and joy.

The announcement comes as the Prime Minister faces a significant rebellion from his back benchers over the new restrictions. The Telegraph has more:

Boris Johnson’s new “toughened” tier system risks reigniting the North-South divide, Tory MPs have warned, amid a mounting rebellion over the latest lockdown measures.

Conservative WhatsApp groups have been lighting up with “fury” and “anger” over the post-lockdown plan, according to one senior Tory who said: “The idea seems to be to move everybody up, Tier 2 becomes a shady Tier 3, Tier 3 is lockdown. Tier 1 is all but abolished. 

“There’s fury and anger at Boris Johnson on the backbenches about this. He doesn’t seem to care about the economic impact all of this is having. There’s going to be a major revolt.”

London MPs are pushing for the capital to be placed into Tier 1 because of the city’s economic significance but this risks angering Conservatives in “Red Wall” seats facing an “inevitable” return to Tier 2 and 3.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith was among those calling to spare the capital city the worst of the constraints, on account of the city’s huge economic importance.

Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith is calling for London to be placed in Tier 1 along with fellow London MPs including Bob Blackman. 

Sir Iain, the MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, said: “London is critical to the UK’s economy. Just the West End represents 4% of GDP and it is completely dead. 

“The cavalier way we are treating the capital city is astonishing.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Wall Street Journal details how other European countries are intending to navigate the Christmas minefield.

No End to Social Distancing Until Over-50s Get Jab

Boris Johnson volunteers to… pretend he’s getting vaccinated

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a joint session with the Health and Social Care Committee and the Science and Technology Committee yesterday that social distancing measures will not end until either everyone over 50 has been ‘offered’ a COVID-19 vaccination, or enough have taken it to bring the ‘R’ number below one, and predicted that normality might begin to resume by Easter. Laura Donnelly, Health Editor at The Telegraph has more:

The Health Secretary said he hoped the most damaging restrictions could be lifted by Easter, but said that depended on everyone on the first 10 groups of the vaccine priority list having been offered the jab by then.

He told a joint session of the Health and Social Care Committee and the Science and Technology Committee: “After Easter, we think we will be getting back to normal.

“But those damaging social distancing interventions that have down sides, whether economic or social in terms of our well-being. I should hope that we can lift those after Easter if these two vaccines are approved by the regulator, which of course is an independent decision for the MHRA [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency].”

While speculation has run rampant on social media about whether Covid vaccinations would be mandatory, whether explicitly or implicitly, and the implications of that for civil liberties, Hancock’s comments appeared to suggest he is charting another course:

The Health Secretary said there would be a shift to an emphasis on “personal responsibility” rather than social distancing after Easter once vaccines have reached the most vulnerable people.

He said the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised that this meant reaching point 10 on its 11 point list – which would mean everyone over 50 would have been offered the jab, and added: “Once you have protected, or given the opportunity to protect older people, then obviously the public health rationale, particularly for strict and damaging measures, is reduced.”

This subtle change in tone might prove a small consolation for ardent anti-vaxxers, though only those without travel ambitions. As we reported in yesterday’s Lockdown Sceptics, Qantas has already declared a vaccination certificate will be a necessary condition of international travel and other airlines will likely follow suit.

Another concern is that Matt Hancock also told the same Committee that he anticipated mass testing to remain in place after the pandemic’s over. The Mail has more.

He told MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee that he would like to see an “if in doubt, get a test” approach become the norm for anyone with flu-like symptoms.

For too long Britons’ natural instincts have been to ‘soldier on’ and go to the office even when they are unwell, which doesn’t happen in other countries, he suggested.

But Mr Hancock claimed the COVID-19 crisis had highlighted how problematic this behaviour can be for older, vulnerable employees, adding that it was “going to have to change”.

He said: “Why in Britain do we think it’s acceptable to soldier on and go into work if you have flu symptoms or a runny nose, thus making your colleagues ill? I think that’s something that is going to have to change.”

He added: “I want to have a change in the British way of doing things where “if in doubt, get a test” doesn’t just refer to coronavirus but refers to any illness that you might have.

“If you have, in future, flu-like symptoms, you should get a test for it and find out what’s wrong with you, and if you need to stay at home to protect others, then you should stay at home.”

Alarming.

Stop Press: Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed while speaking on LBC that Matt Hancock overruled officials and bought more than three times the planned number of doses of the Oxford AstraZenica vaccine. Could be embarrassing if it turns out to be a dud. Laura Donnelly in The Telegraph has more.

Stop Press 2: Parliamentary Sketchwriter Michael Deacon offers Matt Hancock a crumb of sympathy in The Telegraph, observing that the Health Secretary is beginning to show a few signs of wear and tear after having spent so long answering questions recently. The heart bleeds!

20 Questions to Ask Your MP

Regular Lockdown Sceptics contributor Dr Claire Craig FRCPath, along with Dr Jonathan Engler, has kindly written this list of killer questions for readers to send to their MPs:

  1. Why are SARS-CoV-2 antibody levels flat or dropping across all age groups since May if the pandemic is still going?
  2. What percentage of the population is assumed to have had prior immunity to SARS-CoV-2 in the SAGE forecasting models?
  3. Why do 50% of household members not catch SARS-CoV-2 from infected persons with whom they live? 
  4. Why have Japan and South Korea not had any serious outbreak if the human species has no prior immunity to SARS-CoV-2?
  5. What percentage of the population of the UK is assumed to be immune to COVID-19 (including prior immunity) as of this date?
  6. What percentage of those diagnosed with COVID-19 since July have developed antibodies to COVID-19, confirming the diagnosis? 
  7. If 90%+ (SAGE Minutes: 21/09/20) of the population is still susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, why did the virus case numbers and deaths not double every 3-4 days throughout June, July and August, and indeed throughout the Autumn?
  8. Why have positive test results rocketed while numbers of symptomatic patients in the community and NHS triage data show they have flatlined since mid-September?
  9. Why are acute respiratory admissions through Accident & Emergency significantly below the normal for the time of year if the pandemic is still raging?
  10. Why are total hospital admissions, ITU occupancy and hospital oxygen consumption at or below normal levels for the time of year? 
  11. What percentage of deaths labelled as being due to COVID-19 have had the diagnosis confirmed at post-mortem since July?
  12. Why are the regions of the country that have had excess deaths not the same regions that have supposed COVID-19 deaths, unlike in spring? 
  13. Why has Liverpool testing by the Army failed to find COVID-19 in the community when they are supposedly at the centre of the alleged “second wave”?
  14. How is a 0.22% rate of diagnosed infection in the public in Liverpool to be reconciled with the ONS prediction of 2.3% infection rates in Liverpool on 11th November based on PCR testing?
  15. Why are much quicker lateral flow tests not being prioritised for hospital admissions to prevent the standard 24-48 hour delay with PCR results and ensure that those who are positive can be isolated to prevent hospital spread?
  16. Why aren’t all staff being tested by the lateral flow test to prevent the staffing crisis being caused by false positive PCR results?
  17. Do positive PCR tests for asymptomatic and symptomatic NHS staff, or anyone else, which result in them being required to self-isolate have confirmatory re-tests performed?
  18. Why is the country in lockdown when there are no excess hospital admissions, no excess intensive care bed use and no excess death rates (by date of occurrence) in the midst of an allegedly out of control, raging pandemic?
  19. Why are we in lockdown when the Government’s own Operation Cygnus pandemic plan stated that lockdown could only delay deaths by a few weeks at most? 
  20. What evidence is there that lockdown has prevented more deaths than it has caused?

Dr Craig adds:

SAGE believes over 90% of the UK population are still susceptible to COVID-19 (Sage Minutes: September 21st). There is now a large body of evidence (eg BMJ: September 17th) that 30-50% of the population had prior immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus because of its similarities to some types of common cold.

Rishi Sunak’s New Deal

Rishi Sunak finds even more money down the back of the Treasury sofa.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is due to reveal a New Deal-like package later today worth an eye-watering total of £4.3 billion in an attempt to fend off predictions by the Office for Budget Responsibility of unemployment almost doubling by next summer. The OBR also suggests that by the end of the year the economy will have endured a 10% contraction, the worst in 300 years. The Telegraph reports:

Mr Sunak’s decision to find billions of pounds for jobs support in Wednesday’s Spending Review will be seen as an acknowledgement that the unemployment crisis has a long way to go.

The Chancellor will pledge to “create and support” hundreds of thousands of jobs through tens of billions of pounds of investment in infrastructure, including roads, houses, railways and cycle lanes.

A £2.9 billion Restart scheme will help the long-term unemployed to find jobs by giving them “intensive, tailored” support to meet their individual circumstances. Another £1.4 billion will be allocated to Job Centres, helping the short-term unemployed back into work.

Mr Sunak will also extend the apprenticeship hiring incentive — which pays employers £2,000 for every new apprentice they hire – to the end of March, when the new tier system of Covid restrictions will end. The jobs schemes will effectively replace the furlough scheme, which finishes on March 31st.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Douglas Murray has written a piece in The Daily Mail taking a very dim view of the Government’s reckless attitude to the public finances.

SAGE: PCR False Positive and Negative Rates Unknown in June

A reader has drawn our attention to a paper by the Government Office for Science (GOS), released by Minister for Social Care Helen Whately in response to a question on November 18th, entitled “Impact of false-positives and false-negatives in the UK’s COVID-19 RT-PCR testing programme” by Carl Mayers and Kate Baker on June 3rd. He writes:

It shows:
1. They didn’t know the false positive/negative rate on June 3rd.
2. Estimates from previous studies on similar tests put it at 0.8% to 4%.
3. Yet when they discuss tests on May 31st they use an assumed false positive rate of 0.4%. (Why should they assume half of the lowest figure on the previous study range?) Assuming a false positive rate of 0.8%, over half of the 1,570 tests on May 31st were false positives. If one assumes a median rate of 2.3% they may all have been
4. They recommend (reasonably) that external quality assessments be carried out – this begs a follow up question in Parliament as to what the results of these have been.

The paper is worth reading in full.

Part 2 of Dr Roger Hodkinson’s Analysis of the Crisis

Yesterday, we published the first part of Dr Roger Hodkinson’s coruscating analysis of the pandemic, entitled “Who Failed and Why?“. Today we’re publishing the second part, entitled “How to Prepare for the Next Big One“. Here’s an extract from the section called “the Experts”:

The current heads of the CDC, FDA, and NIAID should also be removed from office and replaced by non-partisan experts approved by the US Congress. Pragmatism should be the prime quality for the appointments, and there is still lots of that around. Academic/medical credentials are required of course, but should not be the only factor in the search.

Dr. Fauci in particular has vacillated on matters of substance with his nightly hand-wringing in the media. He also insisted on a formal double-blind trial for hydroxychloroquine (a drug with initial successes in France and an outstanding safety record) while thousands of people were dying! That opinion was classic for an academic, but in this crisis he was totally out of his league – or gone “wobbly” as Maggie Thatcher would have said. He also dressed up absurd modelling predictions by saying that they “could happen”, which of course the general public read as likely to happen – significantly ratcheting up public anxiety.

The FDA was similarly culpable for denying immediate use of hydroxychloroquine, actually intimidating very capable infectious disease specialists until they boldly decided to ignore the edict en masse.

Worth reading in full.

Conversation With a Nurse

A reader has written in to describe her recent experience in an English hospital. NHS staff are prohibited from speaking to the press or posting on social media so we’ve omitted mention of the location in case the staff member in question could be identified.

I got damaged by a horse late yesterday afternoon and had to be driven to A&E. I was wearing my mask-exempt hidden disabilities lanyard (which I am genuinely entitled to) but the receptionists asked if I wouldn’t like to wear a mask anyway to protect myself in the hospital environment. There were three receptionists in close proximity, no distance between their chairs and the middle one, who was talking to me, only had hers over her mouth not her nose.

In the waiting area, I was the only non-masked person. They seemed to be quite busy. There was a prisoner there, handcuffed and chained to an officer, both bearded with token efforts at mask wearing but neither were challenged about their ill-fitting efforts.

When I got to triage, I had a most interesting conversation with the nurse. She said they still were not particularly busy and she was very concerned about the increases in certain types of cases. Domestic abuse was the example she gave, and subsequently when I was waiting for X-ray, an extremely distressed and beaten-up woman appeared, who was telling the paramedic how frightened she was that the “guy who did this might have decided to finish the job” if the emergency services had not been so quick.

The triage nurse went on to tell me that the first lockdown had been “lovely from a work point of view, nothing to do and lots of free food”. Apparently, if they were on shift and rang for a pizza, the companies just delivered to the hospital for free. She particularly mentioned Domino’s. The nurse said that this region had never been in any danger of being overwhelmed, and was now beginning to worry that there would be a backlash against ‘Protecting the NHS’ when they could clearly cope and the lockdowns continue to lose people their jobs, etc.

This hospital did appear to be letting companions in to wait with elderly patients, which I believe is better than many other places.

Stop Press: Fiona Hamilton has a piece in The Times describing how the court system is so overwhelmed that domestic abuse victims are being advised to take civil action rather than make criminal prosecutions, while court delays are growing so long that some complainants are attempting suicide.

Have We Been Given a Day Off Lockdown by Mistake?

“Are you sure you mean December 2nd and not December 3rd? … Of course, I’m not questioning your numeracy, Health Secretary… Yes, I am aware you have a degree in Economics. I think you may have mentioned that before, Health Secretary.”

A retired statistician has written in to say that he thinks the Government may have got its sums wrong.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No 4) Regulations 2020 at paragraph 1(2) state: “These Regulations come into force on 5th November 2020” and the accompanying information box says “Reg. 1 in force at 5.11.2020.”

Paragraph 23 (1) says: “These Regulations expire at the end of the period of 28 days beginning with the day on which they come into force”, with the same accompanying information box.”

Now, you may recall that we were told at the time that the new lockdown came into force at 00.01 GMT on Thursday 5th November.

So one would therefore assume that the end of the period of 28 days would be midnight on Wednesday 2nd December so the new rules would come into force at 00.01 GMT on Thursday 3rd December after 28 complete days have elapsed.

Yet the guidance published on Gov.uk regarding the new “Tiers” system states: “The new rules will come into effect from the beginning of Wednesday 2nd December.” Boris Johnson’s statement to the House of Commons said the same thing.
So, either we are being given a day off for good behaviour or somebody in Whitehall can’t count!

Defiant Yorkshire Salon Racks Up £27k Fine

Sinead Quinn of Quinn Blakey hairdressers near Bradford.

An heroic hairdresser in Oakenshaw near Bradford in West Yorkshire – Sinead Quinn – has defied orders to close her salon by the local council and racked up a series of fines amounting to an eye-popping £27,000. BBC News has more.

Sinead Quinn was working at Quinn Blakey Hairdressers in Oakenshaw, Bradford, on Saturday when Kirklees Council officers issued a £4,000 fine.

The council found the salon open again on Monday and Tuesday and issued two further £10,000 fines. It had £1,000 and £2,000 fines for previous breaches.

Ms Quinn said on Instagram she did not consent to or accept the fines.

The salon owner posted videos on the social networking site which show her talking to council officials and police, saying she had not broken any laws.

On the video, she is heard saying: “I don’t consent to any fines, so it will just be returned to sender.”

She had also displayed a poster on the salon door which refers to Magna Carta, and says the shop is “under the jurisdiction of common law”.

At the time of writing we have not been able to locate a crowdfunding page for the freedom-loving Yorkshire woman, but we will link to one in a subsequent update if such a thing exists. If anyone knows of one, please contact us here.

Round-Up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Two today: “I Shall Be Released” by Bob Dylan and “Tiers [sic] of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles.

Love in the Time of Covid

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. We have a team of moderators in place to remove spam and deal with the trolls, but sometimes it takes a little while so please bear with us. You have to register to use the Forums, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Sharing Stories

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

Social Media Accounts

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

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today we have the news that staff at the publisher Penguin Random House held an “emotional” meeting to express their dismay at the decision of the company to publish Canadian Professor Jordan Peterson’s upcoming book Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.

VICE reports:

Four Penguin Random House Canada employees, who did not want to be named due to concerns over their employment, said the company held a town hall meeting about the book Monday, during which executives defended the decision to publish Peterson while employees cited their concerns about platforming someone who is popular in far-right circles. 

“He is an icon of hate speech and transphobia and the fact that he’s an icon of white supremacy, regardless of the content of his book, I’m not proud to work for a company that publishes him,” a junior employee who is a member of the LGBTQ community and who attended the town hall told VICE World News. 

Another employee said “people were crying in the meeting about how Jordan Peterson has affected their lives”. They said one co-worker discussed how Peterson had radicalized their father and another talked about how publishing the book will negatively affect their non-binary friend.

Douglas Murray took to Twitter and commented:

Any such ‘tearful’ staff should be fired immediately and their jobs advertised the next day. If you don’t understand free speech you’ve no right pretending to work in a publishing house. Penguin Random House Canada should “Reagan airport worker” the lot of them.

Worth reading in full.

“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.

Stop Press: The Welsh Government has instructed schoolchildren to wear masks at all times, even outdoors.

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 approaching 700,000 signatures.

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

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

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

Update 4: The three GBD authors plus Prof Carl Heneghan of CEBM have launched a new website collateralglobal.org, “a global repository for research into the collateral effects of the COVID-19 lockdown measures”.

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samaritans

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

Quotation Corner

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

Mark Twain

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

Charles Mackay

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

Benjamin Franklin

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

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

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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

Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury

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

Sir Winston Churchill

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

Richard Feynman

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

C.S. Lewis

The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants.

Albert Camus

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

Carl Sagan

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

George Orwell

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

Marcus Aurelius

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

William Pitt the Younger

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=eirm9mapQyY

Excellent YouTube video from the comedian and satirist WhatsHerFace. This one’s called: “Welcome to THE GREAT RESET.”

Latest News

Boris Keeps Schools in Limbo

Pressure has been increasing on the Prime Minister to tell children and their families when schools can reopen after officials at Public Health England (PHE) decided it would be safe to open primaries after February half term. The Times has more.

Primary schools can safely reopen after half-term if cases keep falling, government health advisers have concluded.

Public Health England (PHE) said that there was now a “strong case” for the return to class, adding more pressure on Boris Johnson to set out a timetable for primary schools to reopen.

Pupils in that age group are “resistant” to wider coronavirus trends and play a small role in spreading infection, a series of comprehensive studies has concluded.

Outbreaks were recorded in 3% of primary schools during the autumn term, with most cases among teachers rather than pupils, PHE found. “Everything we have learnt from the summer half-term and the recent autumn term indicates that they are safe to remain open,” Shamez Ladhani, its Chief Schools Investigator, said. Secondary schools were five times as likely to record outbreaks and much more closely reflect wider infection patterns, suggesting that a later, more phased opening might be necessary.

Mr Johnson promised yesterday to give a further indication on reopening schools “as soon as we can”. Several Tory MPs demanded clear plans for a return before Easter and Labour called for a guarantee that schools would be the first priority for lockdown easing.

Leading paediatricians warn in a letter to the Times today of the “calamitous” impact of closures and say that “anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts are at frightening levels”.

Pressure from backbench MPs, some of whom have endorsed the UsForThem campaign, is mounting, the Sun reports.

Boris Johnson must begin getting children back into classrooms next month, his own MPs and parents demanded last night.

The PM was warned that a swift return was vital to avoid risking “a lost generation” of kids from the country’s poorest families.

The calls came after Health Secretary Matt Hancock hinted teachers will be vaccinated as a priority – but not before Easter.

Tory MPs and parents warned Boris Johnson last night that children risk becoming the “forgotten victims” of the Covid pandemic.

Former Cabinet Minister Esther McVey said “We genuinely seem to have forgotten about schoolchildren. 

“They are the pandemic’s forgotten victims. We’ve got to start thinking about their prospects and futures.”

She added: “It’s time to get schools open, to safeguard children’s futures and to make sure we don’t let down an entire generation.”

More MPs spoke out about the ongoing and future harms:

The Essex MP [Robert Halfon] told the Sun: “Long after the coronavirus has gone, our younger children could be mired in a ditch of educational poverty, mental health crises and safeguarding hazards because of the damage of school closures.”

Mansfield MP Ben Bradley said: “Schools must reopen. Each day they’re out of the classroom, the most disadvantaged children are falling behind in their education, and their life chances are poorer as a result.”

Mark Harper, head of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said: “As the PM himself said last August, ‘Keeping our schools closed a moment longer than absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, ­economically unsustainable and morally indefensible.’”

The Telegraph also urged the Government to set out a timetable for schools reopening.

It is evident that the Government has no more idea when all children might return than anyone else. It is unclear what the official metric is for ending the lockdown and allowing schools to resume normal teaching. Is it the infection rate among teachers who, as Office for National Statistics figures showed yesterday, are no more at risk from Covid than many other walks of life? Is it the propensity of children to pass the virus on to older family members? If that is the case, that risk will persist because children are not to be vaccinated, certainly not for months, if at all. Moreover, if children are passing on the virus within their own families then vaccinating teachers will make little difference to the spread of Covid though it might help create the conditions to reopen schools.

Or is the date for reducing restrictions the point at which the most vulnerable have been vaccinated? This is expected to be mid-February, by which time 13 million vaccines should have been administered to the elderly and sick. Yet doubt is now being cast over this because it is not certain that the vaccine will give sufficient protection. Another metric is pressure on the NHS. Even if infection rates remain high, will controls be eased once it is evident that the vaccine has helped reduce hospitalisations?

We know none of the answers to these questions and Boris Johnson was unable to shed any light when asked yesterday to give an idea when the lockdown might be eased.

Stop Press: Ross Clark reports in the Spectator that the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has not found a conclusive link between schools and the winter resurgence.

Schools were the last institutions to close and can be expected to be the first to reopen. But just how big a part do schools play in the spread of COVID-19? The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has published a review of the evidence from 17 countries and concluded that the reopening of schools cannot be blamed for a resurgence in the virus.

Most countries closed their schools during the first wave of the epidemic in spring 2020. From April 15th, Denmark reopened schools – with social distancing – for two to 12 year olds. There was no increase in cases following this reopening, according to the ECDC. Similarly, South Korea’s phased reopening of schools between April and June was not found to be associated with any sudden rise in paediatric cases.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press 2: The Daily Mail has reported on a survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing that, amid much hand-wringing about the safety of teachers, they are far from the highest risk occupation.

Binmen, male lorry drivers and carers are among the groups most at risk of contracting coronavirus, official figures from the Office for National Statistics have revealed.

The report published today found that men in ‘elementary occupations’, including binmen, postmen, cleaners and security staff, had the highest number of deaths from the virus last year, with 699 deaths in this category – a rate of 66.3 deaths per 100,000 people.

They were followed by lorry and bus drivers and others working in transport, where 608 fatalities were recorded. 

The report found 139 teachers in primary schools, secondary schools and universities in England and Wales died last year after catching the virus.  

Protecting teachers earlier than other vulnerable Brits has been a subject of hot debate in recent weeks with ministers desperate to reopen schools, but the data showed their death risk was no higher than average.

Daily Mail graph showing relative deaths per occupation category

Lorry drivers and binmen faring worse than doctors, nurses, and care workers points towards more complex risk factors than just the sheer amount of human contact (lorry drivers in particular, experience practically none in their day-to-day work).

Stop Press 3: A schoolgirl in Keswick, Cumbria has been spotted in the town square staging a reverse Greta Thunberg-style protest:

The Anti-Greta

Does Charging Travellers for Enforced Hotel Stays Violate WHO Rules?

As the country awaits news later today of the final decision on Australia-style quarantine hotels in the UK, the policy seems likely to go ahead in some form, with the majority of the cabinet in favour of it. However, a reader has been perusing the WHO’s International Health Regulations and thinks that the policy might technically be against the rules if travellers are made to pay for their incarceration.

There have been numerous news reports that the UK may announce mandatory hotel-based isolation for international arrivals and that travellers will have to pay the cost. This would violate the UK’s international obligations, which the WHO describes as a legally binding.

The UK is party to international obligations by virture of its membership in the World Health Organisation and I have heard members of Government say that travellers would be required to pay for the cost of their isolation. This would breach these obligations.

Article 32 of the Regulations requires the state to provide or arrange for adequate food, water and accommodation for travellers who are quarantined or isolated for public health purposes. Article 40 prohibits the state charging for such provision.  

There is a limited exclusion from prohibition on charging for persons arriving in the UK to take up temporary or permanent residence. This exclusion would not apply to visitors to the UK nor to UK residents returning to the UK.  

WHO International Health Regulations: 

Article 32: Treatment of travellers

In implementing health measures under these Regulations, States Parties shall treat travellers with respect for their dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms and minimize any discomfort or distress associated with such measures, including by:

(a) treating all travellers with courtesy and respect;

(b) taking into consideration the gender, sociocultural, ethnic or religious concerns of travellers; and

(c) providing or arranging for adequate food and water, appropriate accommodation and clothing, protection for baggage and other possessions, appropriate medical treatment, means of necessary communication if possible in a language that they can understand and other appropriate assistance for travellers who are quarantined, isolated or subject to medical examinations or other procedures for public health purposes.

Article 40: Charges for health measures regarding travellers

1. Except for travellers seeking temporary or permanent residence, and subject to paragraph 2 of this Article,** no charge shall be made by a State Party pursuant to these Regulations for the following measures for the protection of public health:

(a) any medical examination provided for in these Regulations, or any supplementary examination which may be required by that State Party to ascertain the health status of the traveller examined;

(b) any vaccination or other prophylaxis provided to a traveller on arrival that is not a published requirement or is a requirement published less than 10 days prior to provision of the vaccination or other prophylaxis;

(c) appropriate isolation or quarantine requirements of travellers;

(d) any certificate issued to the traveller specifying the measures applied and the date of application; or

(e) any health measures applied to baggage accompanying the traveller. 

** Para 2 allows charging for medical services that are primarily for the benefit of the individual and not for public health reasons. It would not allow charging for isolation.

On the face of it, our contributor seems to have raised a problem the Government appears to be unaware of. But if there are any readers with the relevant legal expertise who think this is too good to be true, please let us know.

Stop Press: The Times reports that even if the policy is given the green light tomorrow, it could take three weeks for the many currently dormant hotels to become fully operational again, particularly with the extra staff and procedures they’ll need to put in place.

Boris Johnson is tomorrow expected to sign off plans to quarantine all travellers at a meeting of the Government’s coronavirus operations committee in an effort to stop the import of variants from abroad.

The Prime Minister said he wanted “maximum possible protection against reinfection from abroad” to prevent new variants from jeopardising the mass vaccination programme.

However, a hotel industry source told the Times that as many as a quarter of the 30-plus hotels around Heathrow were shut at present because of the collapse in passenger demand at Britain’s biggest airport. Some of the remaining hotels have undergone partial closures.

The number of travellers passing through Heathrow was down by 83% last month compared with a year ago.

The source said that it could take two or three weeks to reopen closed hotels – if they were needed – while vital safety procedures were carried out. This includes checks on the water supply to make sure it is free of potentially deadly bacteria and training staff in the latest COVID-19 compliance procedures.

The Price Some Families Will Pay if Britain Imprisons Travellers in ‘Quarantine Hotels’

A Norwegian fjord

We are publishing an original article today by Kathrine Jebsen Moore, a freelance writer in Edinburgh. She regularly contributes to Quillette, where she covered the culture wars in the knitting community, and has also written for the Spectator, spiked and New Discourses. It takes the form of a letter written to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, lamenting the move towards pulling up the drawbridge, and the consequences for her international family:

Dear Priti Patel,

I sympathise with your idea of looking to Australia and New Zealand for inspiration. They have managed to practically eliminate the virus by shutting themselves off from the rest of the world, only allowing natives to return, and when they do, imprisoning them in ‘quarantine hotels’. Britain looks set to achieve, finally, a pandemic success, rolling out the vaccine faster than any other European country. This is of course good news. For most Britons, pulling up the drawbridge is surely a logical next step as life gradually returns to normal. After all, holidays are all but illegal at the moment, so why shouldn’t those who do wish to return from abroad, or indeed venture here, be faced with an extra barrier? The number of visitors is currently around 10,000 a day and it’s hoped that the threat of an enforced quarantine in cheap hotels will get the numbers down. All arrivals are currently expected to quarantine, but with no real way of ensuring that everyone does. That means the risk of new strains of coronavirus arriving with them is still real.

But have a thought for those of us with families divided between different countries. This news feels like yet another blow to our plans to being able to see our family overseas this year. To explain: I arrived in the UK more than 20 years ago as a student. I’m from Norway, which is only a short flight across the North Sea. I’ve settled with my English husband in Scotland, and travelling to Oslo from here is just 20 minutes longer on a plane than flying to London. Pre-pandemic, all our holidays were spent in Norway. We own a house there, in a little town on the Oslo Fjord coast, where our four children have friends, see family, and immerse themselves in Norwegian life. This means skiing in the winter, and swimming and enjoying the warm weather in the summer. My parents have been very grateful that, despite us living abroad, they have seen their grandchildren almost as much as other grandparents whose children reside in the same country.

Worth reading in full.

Antibody Levels May Show Swedish Herd Immunity

Following on from our headline article by Will Jones a couple of days ago about Sweden’s deaths being in line with the European average, the Swedish doctor Sebastian Rushworth MD has published a piece on his site drawing attention to a graph showing the proportion of Swedes with antibodies. He concludes that it shows further evidence that Sweden’s much less draconian strategy was a success.

Here’s a graph that doesn’t get shown in the mass media, and that I’m sure all those who want you to stay fearful of Covid don’t want you to see. It shows the share of the tested population with antibodies to Covid in Sweden week by week, beginning in the 28th week of 2020 (the first week for which the Swedish Public Health Authority provides data on the share of tests coming back positive).

There is so much that is interesting about this graph. Like I said, it begins in Week 28, in other words in early July, which is around the time the first Swedish Covid wave was bottoming out. At the time, I personally thought this was due to enough of the population having developed immunity to covid, but we now know that was wrong. Rather, it was due to seasonality – in other words, summer caused covid to disappear.

The proportion testing positive for antibodies was 15% in early July. It remained stable for a few weeks, and then started to drop, as we would expect, given that the rate of new infections was very low at the time. Your body generally doesn’t keep producing antibodies forever after an infection, rather they wane. Of course, this doesn’t mean immunity is waning, as I discussed on this blog a while back. Although the actively antibody producing cells disappear, memory cells remain, ready to be activated at short notice if you get re-exposed to the pathogen.

After an initial reduction, the proportion with antibodies stabilized at around 10% in August, and stayed that way until October, when it started to rise, in line with the beginning of the second wave. And it’s literally kept rising by a percentage point or two, every week, all autumn and winter so far. In the second week of January 2021, 40% of those tested in Sweden had antibodies to Covid.

Funnily enough, mainstream media has so far shown relatively little interest in publicizing this astounding fact. I’ve been getting most of my statistics from SVT, the Swedish public broadcaster. They had been providing data on the share with antibodies in Stockholm up to a month or two back, when that information discretely disappeared from their website. I wonder why.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A reader has drawn our attention to a Swedish report on care home deaths in Stockholm, which Dr Rushworth also links to later on in his article. The original Swedish report is here, and our reader has kindly translated and summarised the findings:

A report from care homes in Stockholm with Covid deaths: only 17% died of Covid (dominating cause of death); for 75%, Covid could have been a contributory factor; and for 8% , there was another cause of death entirely. This is the same percentages found in a study of care homes in another part of Sweden published in 2020.

The interesting thing is the description of these three categories describing the types of frail patients in the group. It is highly likely that only the first group were Covid deaths.

The first group (17%), where Covid was the dominating cause of death, had the following features: before getting Covid they were in a stable condition and had few underlying diseases. The actual Covid disease was more often in two phases and the second phase was characterised by high fever and poor oxygen saturation.

In the second group (75%), where Covid was a contributory factor, the individuals where already sickly and frail. The time between the onset of symptoms and death was short, but without dramatic signs.

In the third group (8%), where there was another cause of death, the individuals had already caught Covid and recovered and then got another disease. They had a longer time between the recording of Covid infection and time of death.

Stop Press 2: Ross Clark’s short summary in the Spectator of a new study of how long immunity lasts after infection is also worth a read.

Covid Riots in the Netherlands

Police car on fire outside Eindhoven Centraal Station

The Netherlands adopted a relatively light-touch approach to restrictions last year, and enjoyed a relatively normal summer, but ramped up restrictions last October. In recent days, violent riots have broken out, with protestors objecting to a new curfew law. The Times has more.

Police have warned that the Netherlands could face weeks of rioting after a coronavirus curfew ended in the worst riots for 40 years as delays to vaccinations raised tensions across Europe.

There were over 240 arrests last night as police used tear gas and water cannon to break up demonstrations in Amsterdam and Eindhoven leading to rioting across the country.

Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, blamed the “criminal violence”, which “has nothing to do with fighting for freedom”, on a “one per cent” minority opposed to lockdown restrictions.

“We are fighting against the virus to regain freedom,” he said. “We are not taking these measures for fun. It is the virus that is depriving us of our freedom.”

The caretaker Prime Minister singled out attacks on a virus testing centre and a hospital for particular criticism after a weekend of violence following the curfew’s introduction on Saturday night.

“It is intolerable. Any normal person can only become aware of this with horror. What has got into these people?” he said to the NOS public broadcaster. “This has nothing to do with protest, this is criminal violence and we will treat it as such.”

Frustration at the curfew, from 9pm to 4.30am and the first such restriction since Nazi occupation, has flared because Dutch infections are down and the country’s vaccination rate is low.

Dutch vaccinations are at some 0.8% compared to an EU average of twice that, while the UK has passed 10%, holding the prospect of a prolonged lockdown.

John Jorritsma, the mayor of Eindhoven, warned the Netherlands could be “on the road to civil war” after what he described as enormous damage in his city.

“This was not a demonstration. This was excessive violence, boredom, idleness. Hooligans came from all over the country, meeting on social media,” he said. “You see that the riots in Eindhoven were imitated in other municipalities. If you set the country on fire in such a way, it looks like we are heading for civil war.”

Police are worried that the violence will continue for “days or weeks” after violence in Eindhoven and Amsterdam spread to other cities including the Hague, Tilburg, Venlo, Helmond, Breda, Arnhem and Apeldoorn.

“It was terrible,” said Hubert Bruls, the Chairman of the National Security Council of Cities and Regions. “This is not a demonstration, I would call this corona hooliganism.”

Rioting broke out on the curfew’s first night, with almost 3,000 fines of €95 and violence in the fishing town of Urk on Saturday where a street testing centre for coronavirus was set on fire.

Koen Simmers, the head of the Dutch police union, said it was the worst rioting since since the squatter protests of 1980 and predicted that the violence was here to stay. “I hope it was a one-off, but I’m afraid it is the harbinger for the coming days and weeks,” he said. “We haven’t seen so much violence in 40 years.”

Worth reading in full.

Any readers in the Netherlands witnessing what is happening on the ground are invited to email us and give us their accounts.

Stop Press: Watch footage of the Dutch riot police abusing protestors.

https://twitter.com/newsblogmedia/status/1353369028635537408?s=20

HART: Health Advisory and Recovery Team

Some of the members of HART

A new group of experts has been set up with the intention of raising the level of debate about lockdowns. They aren’t all lockdown sceptics, but they aim to put the existing measures in proportion and challenge some of the more extreme justifications for the current lockdown. Among their number are a few familiar faces such as Dr John Lee, Prof David Livermore, Joel Smalley, Dr Jonathan Engler, Dr Malcolm Kendrick, Prof David Patton and Prof Gordon Hughes. Their mission statement reads as follows:

HART is a group of highly qualified UK doctors, scientists, economists, psychologists and other academic experts. 

Our core aim is to find the common ground between the Government and groups that are concerned about COVID-19 restrictions. The ambition is to bring all sides together and to widen the debate in order to formulate an exit strategy that benefits everyone in society.

Our research has identified a need for public policy to reflect a broader and more balanced approach across a number of key areas, in particular:

– Impact of restrictions across the whole of the healthcare system and on wider society; 

– Cost vs benefit of school, college and university closures; 

– The mental health impact of the restrictive measures;

– Mass-testing procedures and associated data analysis; 

 – A full assessment of the psychological impact, on individuals and wider society, of COVID-19 communication policies;

– Safe and effective treatment and prevention/prophylaxis options, in addition to vaccination, to increase survival rates. 

Consultations from HART will be founded on scientific, evidence-based principles in the interests of public health. We want to encourage clear, calm and compassionate discussions.  

Our experts take a collaborative approach and invite contributions from all sectors and interested groups or communities, at all levels.

HART is a not-for-profit, unincorporated membership association and its consulting members collaborate on an entirely voluntary basis.

The group could be considered an alternative to Independent Sage – a sensible, non-partisan version.

We wish them the best of luck. You can find their site here.

Is Lockdown Scepticism Rational?

What follows is a guest post from a senior scientist.

I was reading Lockdown Sceptics today and how the rhetoric about us sceptics is being ramped up, it really got me questioning whether I am rational. What if they’re right? So I thought I’d write down my own personal reasons as to why I am a lockdown sceptic. I thought I’d share these with you just to check I’m not mad!

There are many reasons and rationales to be sceptical of lockdown as an approach. My own ones grew out of the fact that my working career as a scientist has been mainly spent in drug R&D and, so, I naturally view non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), such as lockdown, from this point of view. As a result, after the first lockdown, I found myself asking a very simple question: ‘is lockdown good medicine?’

 My own answer to this question is ‘no’, but this answer is not a fantastical one based on denying the existence of COVID-19 or any other such nonsense. It is a logical and entirely rational position which I will explain below. It is based on evidence and a bunch of assumptions, most of which are I believe are to a large extent uncontentious. 

These uncontentious assumptions are:

1. COVID-19 is a serious new human disease, caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, that can kill people. The disease ‘jumped species’ in Wuhan Province, China and spread globally from there. 

2. Doing nothing in the face of this new disease and the resulting pandemic was not an option because, despite some pre-existing immunity to the disease, in the UK a large proportion of the population was naïve to the infection and as a result even a modest infection fatality rate could have resulted in a significant number of deaths.

3. COVID-19 hits older and more vulnerable individuals harder than younger, fitter individuals. As a result, the majority of deaths and serious illness are in the older, sicker population. This doesn’t mean that some younger or otherwise apparently healthy people can’t die or have significant illness, it is just a lot less common in this group.

4. Our responses to COVID-19 breaks into three areas – a) treatments, b) vaccines c) non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs).

5. NPIs, including severe blanket societal restrictions such as lockdowns, aim to limit the spread of coronavirus by breaking chains of infection within the population. NPIs were deployed to help tackle the pandemic with the aim of reducing the burden of disease to healthcare systems and buying time to develop 4a and 4b. As such, as we develop new treatments and vaccines the need for NPIs should reduce.

6. NPIs require behavioural changes within the population and therefore always have consequences.

7.  NPIs vary in the severity of these consequences to individuals and society as a whole: at one end of the spectrum are things such as hand washing, in the middle things like banning large gatherings of people and at the other end, forcing individuals to stay home and closing schools and businesses (lockdowns).

8. National deployment of NPIs affects almost everyone in society regardless of age. Some NPIs affect younger people more than older people e.g. closing schools and universities.

9. More severe NPIs can cause damage to both mental and physical health and wellbeing (including deaths). They also produce proportionally greater economic damage. These harms can be, and will be, significant and long-lasting.

There is only one other additional assumption, and this is where my scepticism about lockdowns comes from:

10. There is only weak evidence to support the notion that more severe restrictions result in proportionally more effective disease control. This contention is based on the fact that there are many published papers suggesting little or no relationship between more stringent forms of NPIs (such as lockdowns) and better outcomes. A summary of some published papers can be found here.

I believe that this is probably a classic case of the law of diminishing returns, where more severe restrictions produce little additional benefit over less severe ones and so come with a disproportionally high cost, both to the economy and to the individual and society.

So, if you take onboard 8 and 9 and accept that 10 is to some extent true, then you have to be sceptical of lockdown as an effective intervention because you have to doubt that any gains from imposing more severe NPIs outweigh the harms and negative consequences they cause.

Note: this doesn’t mean that there are no benefits, just that they are marginal gains over less severe restrictions and come with huge costs and risks. In addition, from assumptions 3 and 8 we can further argue that by ignoring the demographics of the disease we don’t focus NPIs on those most likely to benefit from them and, in fact, we impose them on individuals who are very unlikely to benefit. Logically, if you accept assumption 10 to any degree, you are led to the conclusion that the harms and costs of lockdowns outstrip their benefits and that lockdowns are not a viable NPI with which to effectively manage COVID-19 (or any other similar infection). They are bad “medicine”.

Dr Gary Sidley, a former NHS Consultant Clinical Psychologist (and a member of HART), has drawn our attention to a piece he has published on his blog, posing a series of questions about the vaccine that should be considered before making an informed decision on the matter. Here is an excerpt:

In December 2020, accompanied by expressions of unbridled elation from politicians and the mainstream media, the UK began the roll out of a COVID-19 vaccine. This milestone closely followed the announcements of the initial results from three of the front-running drug companies in the vaccine race, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZenica, all reporting high levels of efficacy for their new vaccine. The Government’s intention is to offer the jab to the large majority of the UK population, starting with the most vulnerable groups – the elderly and those with underlying health problems.

But is it in everyone’s interest to take the vaccine when the opportunity arises?

Within a civilised society each of us retains the fundamental right to decide whether or not to accept a medical intervention, including the offer of a drug or vaccine. In order for an individual to make an educated and rational judgement, all relevant information – about both the likely benefits and disadvantages of the medicinal chemical – should be made available to the potential recipient. Only by careful consideration of this range of information can a person give ‘informed consent’ to accept the treatment. So with regards to the COVID-19 vaccines, what are the need-to-know facts?

It makes sense for each of us to assess the risks and benefits of accepting the vaccine, taking into account age and current health status. To aid this process, here are five questions to ask when deciding whether to say yay or nay, followed by my attempt to offer the relevant information.

1. If I become infected with SARS-COV-2 virus, what is the actual risk of becoming ill, or dying?

If you contract the SARS-COV-2 virus, there is about a 1-in-5 chance that you will suffer significant COVID-19 symptoms, the large majority of those testing positive showing either no or very mild signs of illness. Considering all age groups together, around 1-in-100 infected people will require hospital treatment and 1-in-750 will require intensive care. For older people (>70 years), the average risk of hospitalisation may be as high as 1-in-20.

Overall, the Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) of SARS-COV-2 is in the range 0.15 to 0.2%; in other words, for every 1,000 people who contract this virus no more than two people will die. The mortality risk is largely determined by age, the threat growing steadily with advancing years. The average age of those dying is 82 (slightly above normal life expectancy). The IFR for people below the age of 70 is between 0.03 and 0.04%; for every 10,000 people infected, 3 to 4 will die. About 95% of fatalities will have had serious underlying conditions.

For healthy people under the age of 35 the additional fatality risk of contracting SARS-COV-2 is almost zero. Meanwhile, children are as good as bullet proof, with seasonal influenza presenting a much greater risk of mortality to under-15-year-olds.

A useful rule of thumb for understanding age-related risk levels is to remember that contracting SARS-COV-2 virus is like packing a full year’s worth of death risk into a four-week period. Thus, on a child’s 10th birthday the chances of that child not reaching their 11th birthday is vanishingly small; this tiny probability is roughly equivalent to the risk of this 10-year-old dying from a SARS-COV-2 infection. In contrast, an 85-year-old person will typically have a 10% chance of not surviving until their next birthday, and around a 10% risk of dying within four weeks should they contract the virus.

In summary: For healthy people under 50, the risk of serious harm from SARS-COV-2 is vanishingly small, with other threats (for example, cancer and accidents) presenting a greater risk. The risk of the virus for old people is many-fold greater, but even a reasonably-healthy-90-year-old will have over 90% chance of survival.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Unexpected news out of Germany as Der Spiegel reports that Government sources are finding that the AstraZeneca vaccine is only proving 8% effective in the very elderly group which it’s supposed to benefit the most. (Translated from German):

The corona vaccine from the manufacturer AstraZeneca apparently has little effectiveness in older people. As the Handelsblatt reports, citing Government circles, the vaccine is only expected to be effective at 8% in those over 65 years of age. AstraZeneca rejected the reports as “completely inaccurate”, according to Reuters news agency.

The Bild newspaper, however, also citing Government circles, reports that the vaccine should only receive approval from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for people under 65 years of age. 

According to the Handelsblatt report, the Federal Ministry of Health is already checking whether the sequence of vaccinations, which is staggered according to age, needs to be adjusted. A statement by the ministry on the possible consequences of the low effectiveness on the Government’s vaccination plan is not available, according to Handelsblatt.

A final result on the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine is not yet possible, according to the newspaper. In the clinical studies of the pharmaceutical company, older people were apparently relatively poorly represented. The British approval authority MHRA had already noted that meaningful results on the effectiveness of the vaccine could not be determined in these studies.

AstraZeneca is already under pressure because it apparently cannot meet the contractually agreed delivery quantities of the vaccine to the EU. The British-Swedish group announced on Friday that after the approval of its vaccine – which is due to take place this week – it will only deliver 31 million doses instead of 80 million by the end of March.

UPDATE: It’s being reported that the German health ministry has said the 8% figure instead refers to the proportion of 56 to 69-year-olds in the vaccine trials. In a statement, the ministry said: “At first glance it seems that the reports have mixed up two things: about 8% of those tested in the AstraZeneca efficacy study were between 56 and 69… But one cannot deduce an efficacy of only 8% with older people from that.”

Another Patient ‘Disappears Into The System’

After reading the story of a stressful breakdown in communications between a reader and the hospital where his seriously ill mother was being treated that we published yesterday, another reader has got in touch with a similar account.

I have had the same experience as your reader. At the end of December, my 90 year-old sister was taken into hospital with a chest infection. It was extremely difficult to find out how she was or where she was. I too found calls not answered, calls forwarded to wards cut off, or again not answered at all, and numbers for direct lines to wards that were posted on the hospital website no longer in use. But the situation became worse when she recovered and was due to be discharged. As a routine, she was tested for Covid and was found to be positive – a hospital-acquired infection. 

The family expected to be kept informed and did not wish to distract busy ward staff, but when after three days we had heard nothing I rang the hospital. It took me two hours to find out where she was, but I was pleased, if surprised, to find they were trying to discharge her, possibly that day. That was a Thursday. We were promised an update. Having heard nothing, the following Monday I rang again and was told by the ward clerk that she was alert and chatty and taking her medicine. When I asked whether she had developed Covid symptoms the ward clerk couldn’t tell me. On Thursday I was again told she was to be discharged when they had heard that her care home was happy to take her back. A hospital social worker later rang me to say that all was well and she would be going back to her care home on Saturday, in two days’ time. On Monday I rang the ward again, to be told, again, that they wanted to discharge her but were waiting to hear from the care home. I rang the care home. Staff there said they were waiting to hear from the hospital. The care home then rang the hospital and I discovered the next day that they, the care home, had managed to get her back.

Three things to note: 

– I can confirm that patients do indeed disappear into the system. This was distressing, but my sister is a frail 90-year-old and we have come to terms with the fact that she might not be with us much longer. Imagine, though, if that was your husband or wife, son or daughter, that the ambulance had whisked away.

– Covid was acquired in hospital. Or was it? It was never clear to us whether she actually had Covid or not. What does this mean for official infection statistics?

– The discharge procedure was completely chaotic. This meant my sister was in hospital for five days, possibly even 12 days, longer than necessary. I do not need to point out the extra pressures and increased danger of infection caused by this incompetence.

This too was in Norfolk – the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, where my sister was herself a nurse for many years. Almost, but not quite, without exception, the many staff I spoke to were doing their very best to be as helpful as possible, and it’s true that hospitals have been under enormous pressure in the last month. However, when my sister was previously hospitalised, in August last year, it was almost as difficult to get information. For instance, every phone call to the switchboard was answered with an interminable message about visiting arrangements. 

It does seem to be the usual story of a cumbersome and inadequate bureaucracy and extremely poor communication systems working together to make the jobs of the frontline staff and the lives of concerned families as difficult and stressful as possible.

Sceptics Under Fire

We’ve continued to receive responses regarding the “Antivirus: The COVID-19 FAQ” website from readers.

One points out more double standards:

One of your readers very helpfully listed some of the errors made by the WHO, making the point that the Anti-Virus site applies an extraordinary double-standard when attacking the credibility of lockdown sceptics. It is not only the WHO that has escaped the notice of O’Brien et al.

The Q&A section on that site says:

Q. Why are you singling out specific individuals? Do you have some kind of grudge against them?

A. A few people, for whatever reason, have consistently made false claims and bad predictions throughout the Covid pandemic, and have refused to admit when they’ve got it wrong. Some of these people have been very prominent and influential during the pandemic. We try to use their own words to show that many of them are not reliable people to listen to.

But of course they haven’t named and shamed the most consistently false prophets in the debate. Were that the case, Neil Ferguson, Patrick Vallance, Chris Whitty, Anthony Fauci and many more would be included. Had the same standard (or even a lesser standard) been applied to advocates for authoritarian measures, those held up as “The Science” would be more deserving of the attentions of the fact-checkers on the site than the sceptics.

Far from being denounced for their authors’ inaccurate predictions, we see modelling studies by Imperial College presented as evidence against the lockdown sceptics, and described as one of a handful of “high-quality studies” showing that lockdowns “do save lives”.  Incidentally, the studies referred to also include an analysis in Nature, but Anti-Virus makes no mention of the fact that that analysis found that “less disruptive and costly NPIs can be as effective as more intrusive, drastic, ones (for example, a national lockdown)”.

We also received a more lengthy critique, taking each of the site’s claims in turn:

It has become noticeable in recent times (since the invention of social media?) that resolving contentious issues has become more about ‘winning’ the argument than about finding the best solution to a real-world problem. The Anti-Virus website is certainly in the former genre, being more about rubbishing the views of a perceived opponent than seriously engaging in discussion of the issues. 

Four argument techniques are primarily used by Anti-Virus:

– Straw Man (present opponent’s arguments escalated to absurdity)

– Rubbish opponent’s reputations rather than their arguments

– Categorise opponents with established ‘negative’ words

– Avoid considered debate of the issues when space/time is limited and just go for ‘knockabout’ denigration

Effects of Covid-19

Claim 1: “99.5% survive Covid – we’re overreacting”

Response: A statistical argument which depends on what data you select, its level of supposed accuracy and how you manipulate it. The whole Covid episode shows that opposing points of view (often honestly held) are often based on different ‘facts’. Pointless pursuing as there is no resolution in the discussion time frame as to which (if any) data is ‘true’.

Claim 2: “It’s only as deadly as the flu”

Response: More statistical manipulation! Regardless, the only issue for lockdown sceptics (note, NOT ‘covid sceptics’) is selecting a response to whatever threat level presents itself. This is entirely a matter of human judgement which can never be proved right or wrong as you can never re-run history to explore the alternatives.

Claim 3: “91% of Covid ‘cases’ are false positives”

Response: You can argue for ever on the actual figures. In the military, the key to a successful operation is correctly identifying your objective. The issue (which space here does not allow for development) is whether reducing ‘case’ numbers is a sensible objective. Clearly limiting hospitalisations and ‘excess’ deaths is a sensible objective, but the link to ‘cases’ in general is highly contentious.

Claim 4: “There are no excess deaths”

Response: More statistics! A reasonable participant in the argument would accept that even your opponents would prefer to see no excess deaths. If they are inevitable, calculating any changes are dependent on factors such as the definition of an ‘excess’ death, over what period should you measure it and what would have been the life expectancy for different categories of excess death. In the real world, all these factors are so ambiguous, and the excess death variance between the two positions so relatively small, that it is not an issue to spend too much time on.

Claim 5: “People are dying ‘with’ Covid but not ‘of’ Covid”

Response: Again, this is aimed at a non-existent opponent. Lockdown sceptics are certain there are many deaths ‘by, with or from’ Covid but where they fall in the death league table and how accurately they are classified is not going to have much effect on shaping pandemic policy.

Lockdown Scepticism

Claim 6: “Lockdowns cause more deaths than they prevent”

Response: A good example of Straw Man attack. Raises two issues, both of which cannot be answered with any certainty, but should be considered in a balanced discussion. Firstly, would there have been more or less deaths using a different strategy to lockdown? Cannot be answered unless you have a means of running history twice. You end up falling back on modelling and probabilities which a cynic would say are pseudonyms for guesswork.

Secondly, will the excess deaths caused by delays to non-Covid medical treatment exceed those of Covid? Cannot be answered for several years when its only value would be in shaping response to future pandemics. This is perhaps where all the investigation should be concentrated as we are clearly not going to change course this time round.

Claim 7: “Cases were falling anyway – lockdowns don’t work”

Response: Another Straw Man! Cases have been constantly going up and down throughout the last 11 months with innumerable analysts (journalists, academics, Government ministers) claiming correlation for their preferred factor(s). Correlation is not causation so innumerable mechanisms are cited to explain the connections. Factors that do not fit the required relationship are dismissed as irrelevant. Such is the world we live in, but it is wise to take it all with a pinch of salt, particularly when you consider that even trained statisticians must consider their future employment. 

All that can really be said is that no strategy has yet been demonstrated that enables humanity to control/eliminate the endemic virus that Covid has become. The specific examples of smallpox and a few other rare viruses seem unlikely to change that situation in any relevant timescale. What we can do is consider whether our level of self-imposed harm (which is real and measurable) is likely to be worse than the rather speculative guesswork on the nation’s future health. The handling of regular pandemics since WW2 would suggest that our unique experiment is going to be quietly overtaken by time-honoured resolution although it is unlikely that any of the actors will admit to that.

Claim 8: “The Great Barrington Declaration gives a good alternative to lockdown”

Response: Lots of Straw Men here! The Declaration has been expanded in a condemnatory manner to include numerous imagined scenarios which lead to hopeless outcomes. A year ago, proposing what we have done with Lockdown would have been condemned as hopeless. The barriers to implementing the Declaration which Anti-Virus objects to are trivial in comparison.

If anything, the Declaration looks more like the way we have handled pandemics since WW2 so at least has some support from actual evidence. Our present strategy is, at best, a monumental experiment with no prior evidence as to how it will progress or how it will end. Perhaps we imagine that our technological prowess is so great that we have the ability to keep nature under control. A rude awakening awaits any such arrogance!

Keep sending us your responses here, with the subject line “Antivirus”.

Stop Press: We’ve decided to regularly include some of the best pieces endorsing the Government’s lockdown strategy, inspired by J.S. Mill’s famous line: “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”

Today, we’re including this article by Alex Morton in CapX, making the most plausible case for the travel restrictions coming in at the moment:

Nothing would give me greater pleasure right now than a holiday somewhere warm. I suspect that this is true of many. But this option has to remain off the table for some time to come. At present, border controls are being discussed in the same breath as school reopening at half term or Easter, or when pubs could serve again. But this totally misses the point: if a vaccine resistant strain arises in the UK then this will undo every single hope of a return to normality – no schools, restaurants, pubs, family visits, offices or anything. We will be back to square one just with a crippled economy and compliance exhaustion.

The success or failure of this Government hinges on how fast the UK returns to normality, with people allowed to behave as usual and Covid deaths and serious cases remaining low. The UK’s success in rolling out vaccines could massively boost this country. But if lax border controls allow a new strain that is vaccine resistant to enter, or escape, there will be severe implications across a number of fronts:

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press 2: Niall McCrae at Unity News Network has written an entertaining piece entitled “The Progressive Death Cult and the Silencing of Lockdown Sceptics” on the virtue signalling of the “blood on their hands” brigade.

Lockdown sceptics have “blood on our hands”, according to the propagandists of Covid terror. The supposedly liberal intelligentsia, the same people who tried to defy democracy after the EU referendum, are now putting the plebs in their place. They must stay at home, muzzle themselves, and forego their leisure pursuits of football, shopping and the pub. Anyone failing to fully comply is recklessly spreading germs and contributing to the daily death toll. 

Yet the sceptic need not leave the house to be accused of endangering lives. Toby Young, for example, sits indoors at his computer all day long, but his Lockdown Sceptics website makes him a pariah figure. Lockdown zealots such as Observer writer Nick Cohen and Tory MP Neil O’Brien smear him as a Covid denier. 

Under fire last week was Lord Sumption, who got into a futile debate on the BBC television show The Big Questions. The value of life, he said, is not equal, but measured by rational criteria. Health economists use QALY (quality-adjusted life years) to assess the impact of services and treatments. The retired Supreme Court justice wasn’t saying anything radical: in a dilemma between saving a healthy young child and an octogenarian with a debilitating disease, who wouldn’t choose the former?   

But Lord Sumption was challenged by a woman with advanced cancer, who accused him of saying that her life is ‘worthless’. Against such raw emoting, no amount of sophisticated ethical reasoning could prevent him from being characterised as callous – thus a typical lockdown sceptic. 

Another illustration was in the Mayor of London’s question time on Thursday, when David Kurten probed Sadiq Khan on his promotion of Covid vaccines as safe. They have not been tested on pregnant women or children, Kurten said, but according to the mayor he was categorically wrong. Faced with further contrary facts, Khan resorted to virtuous grandstanding of no relevance to the question, suggesting that Kurten go to a NHS hospital to hear from staff about their heroics. Severe adverse events are likely to be either ignored or accepted as a collateral price worth paying. 

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press 3: Julia Hartley-Brewer mounted a spirited defence of lockdown scepticism on her talkRADIO show yesterday morning.

https://twitter.com/talkRADIO/status/1353603539063468032

Poetry Corner

We get all kinds of contributions sent in to us every day, often drawing our attention to practical matters like news items and new scientific studies, but also personal stories from people suffering all kinds of distress from lockdown’s collateral damage. In light of everything we’ve been publishing on the matter of children’s mental health recently, this one was a hard read:

My 14-year-old godson, whose name I’m going to leave out of this, told me he was barely hanging on a couple of weeks ago. He told me that he didn’t even miss his friends anymore because he’d come to terms with the fact that he’d never see them again. He told me that he’d come to terms with the fact that his life held no possible future worth. He told me that he’d been working on his ‘suicide note’ when he’d written a seven-line poem.

As you can imagine, I was a broken man by this point. In fact, I can barely see my screen as I write this my eyes are so watered.

He’s okay tonight. I know that for sure, because his mum is sleeping in his room, as she has been for the past couple of weeks now, since I told her what he told me. Which I had to do, even though he felt I betrayed his trust and didn’t talk to me for those couple of weeks. 

Tonight we had a long chat and he seems to be doing better. He’s forgiven me for talking to his mum. And he shared his poem with me.

It broke my heart all over again.

Once I’d read it, he said something that just epitomises exactly why he is such a formidable young man: “If you think that it will make the slightest bit of difference in one person’s life, knowing that that’s where I was, and that now I’m okay, then I want you to share it with whoever you can.”

So, here it is. (And yes, that is the title he gave it)

Meh

I’m really struggling with the point today,
With getting up, or finding a way.
I’m really struggling to lift myself up,
To smile, to laugh, even play with the pup.
I’m really struggling with all of my work,
Just lying here wondering if I can shirk.
I’m really struggling to see what’s the point.

Round-up

https://twitter.com/gavinnewsom/status/1353801758347149312?s=21

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Just two today: “You’re Driving Me Crazy” by The Temperance Seven and “Hotel Hell” by Eric Burdon and The Animals.

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

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.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to obtain a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card – because wearing a mask causes them “severe distress”, for instance. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and the Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. And if you feel obliged to wear a mask but want to signal your disapproval of having to do so, you can get a “sexy world” mask with the Swedish flag on it here.

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.

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

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

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

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

The Simon Dolan case has now reached the end of the road. The current lead case is the Robin Tilbrook case which challenges whether the Lockdown Regulations are constitutional. You can read about that and contribute here.

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

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

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…

On this week’s episode of ⁦‪London Calling‬⁩, ⁦‪James Delingpole‬ and Toby puzzle over why almost no one is tuning in to the DAVOS talks happening this week, which are all freely available online. Are they shadow-banning themselves so we don’t discover their plans for the Great Reset? Or are they just really really boring? 

You can listen to the podcast here and subscribe to it on iTunes here.

Latest News

Tories Rebel and Labour Abstains

Blower’s cartoon in today’s Telegraph

Parliament will vote today on the Government’s new tier system and Labour will abstain. The Independent has more.

Labour will abstain in a key vote on Boris Johnson’s new COVID-19 tiers. Speaking on Monday night, Sir Keir Starmer said his party was “acting in the national interest” by not opposing the regulations but he said that he had reservations about them. The move is significant because it represents the first time the opposition has failed to back the Government in a vote on COVID-19 regulations.

“Coronavirus remains a serious threat to the public’s health and that’s why Labour accept the need for continued restrictions. We will always act in the national interest, so we will not vote against these restrictions in Parliament tomorrow… However, I remain deeply concerned that Boris Johnson’s Government has failed to use this latest lockdown to put a credible health and economic plan in place. We still don’t have a functioning testing system, public health messaging is confused, and businesses across the country are crying out for more effective economic support to get them through the winter months. It is short-term Government incompetence that is causing long-term damage to the British economy.”

Don’t get too excited. With the Labour party abstaining, rather than voting no, the tier system will still pass. But with a prospect of up to 100 Tory MPs rebelling, the legitimacy of the new COVID-19 regime is shaky at best. How can you reasonably ask people to obey all the new draconian restrictions, particularly those that live in Tier 3 areas, if only a minority of MPs have voted for them?

In the hope of appeasing mutinous Tory backbenchers, Downing Street published a long-awaited ‘impact assessment’ yesterday, but it did little good. Details from the MailOnline:

The Government released its assessment of the economic and social effects of the pandemic and its response this evening. But the document made clear that it is not possible to say exactly how the tiers will hit local areas – a key demand of Conservative MPs. It also insisted there was no way of imposing looser curbs and instead merely argued that it would be “intolerable” to allow the NHS to be overwhelmed.

The assessment said it was “clear that restrictions to contain COVID-19 have had major impacts on the economy and public finances, even if it is not possible to forecast with confidence the precise impact of a specific change to a specific restriction”.

Tory rebel ringleader Mark Harper complained that the information was being released too late, just 24 hours before MPS are due to make their decision. “This information is what Ministers should have been insisting on before they make their decisions so it surely could have been made available earlier,” he said…

Mel Stride, the Tory Chairman of the Treasury Committee, criticised the documents, saying:

“On a number of occasions, I’ve requested from the Chancellor and Treasury officials that they publish an analysis of the economic impacts of the three tiers. With little over 24 hours until MPs vote on the new tiered system, this rehashed document offers very little further in economic terms other than that which the OBR published last week. It is frustrating that there is little here that sets out how the different tiers might impact on the specific sectors and regions across the country. Those looking for additional economic analysis of the new tiered system will struggle to find it in this document.”

Perhaps, in the rush, the Government did not give them the right file. The Times has discovered that the Government has in fact produced impact assessment that includes an analysis of the effect of various restrictions on different sectors of the economy. This gives the lie to the Government’s claim that such an analysis isn’t possible, due to the fiendish complexity of disentangling the effects of the restrictions from the effects of the pandemic. Couldn’t it just have released this internal assessment instead?

The Government has drawn up a secret dossier detailing the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, with a dozen sectors rated “red” and facing significant job cuts and revenue losses, the Times has been told.

The COVID-19 sectoral impacts dashboard, which is prepared by officials from across Whitehall and frequently updated, gives “granular” detail on the effect of coronavirus on nearly 40 areas of the economy.

Among the sectors with a red rating are aerospace, the automotive industry, retail, hospitality and tourism, arts and heritage, maritime, including ferries and cruises, and sport.

Worth reading in full.

At least MPs and decision makers are beginning to think about a cost-benefit analysis. Long-time readers may recall the COBR meeting of March 23rd, when Michael Gove, who was chairing, surprised those present by announcing the Government was planning the country into a national lockdown, effective immediately.

Only Jesse Norman, a Treasury minister, raised any doubts, asking whether there had been any cost-benefit analysis of the economic and health impacts of lockdown or consideration of less onerous alternatives. Around the room there were blank looks: the decision had been taken.

The absence of any such analysis was, notorious, confirmed by the last line of “the Lockdown Regulations”, a statutory instrument enacted at 1pm on March 26th by Matt Hancock:

No impact assessment has been prepared for these Regulations.

Stop Press: Christopher Snowden has done a good thread on the failings of the Government’s cost-benefit analysis document

The Astronomical Cost of Lockdown

For a much more robust assessment of the cost of the lockdown and associated restrictions, we recommend this new report by Tim Knox and Jim McConalogue for Civitas called The Cost of the Cure. The report is worth reading in full, but the short version is that the Government has spent a minimum of £96,000 for each QALY saved, which is over three times the figure that the NHS routinely uses of £30,000 when assessing whether a particular course of action is worthwhile.

Tim Knox has kindly written an 800-word article summarising the report for Lockdown Sceptics that you can read here. He is predictably scathing about the impact assessment published by the Government yesterday. Here is an extract.

If you wanted a chuckle, then imagine you had the job of the unfortunate civil servant who had been given the job of cobbling together this strange hotch-potch of information. The document is clearly a rushed job, published with the political aim of persuading the growing number of Conservative MPs who are sceptical about the need for tighter restrictions that they are, in fact, necessary. (There was once a time, not so long ago, when the Civil Service would have demurred from being involved in such a blatantly political operation.) A futile effort, for no self-respecting MP could be persuaded by such a flimsy document.

Take its estimates of additional deaths from other diseases. Table 9 of the report looks at the effect on morbidity and mortality of certain conditions – alcohol misuse, road injuries, depressive disorders, and the like. But instead of trying to estimate the actual numbers, the report simply uses up and down arrows to describe the general direction of change that social distancing measures might produce. Is that really the best that our Rolls Royce Civil Service can do?

Or take the report’s attempt to take a sectoral approach of the impact of lockdown on the economy. Here again in some cases, all the report does is provide a pre-COVID-19 assessment of Gross Value Added (GVA) output of each sector – it seems to be afraid of making any calculation of the likely impact. If estimates are made, they are drafted as general changes in GDP, not reported as actual costs on deeply impacted industries.

Very much worth reading in full.

Reviewing Michael Gove’s Dubious Lockdown Claims

Micheal Gove penned an essay in the Times over the weekend, seeking to win round Tory rebels. The Spectator‘s Steerpike has done a cracking fact-check:

Gove: The decision to implement the second lockdown was rushed.

Steerpike: Gove here confirms what has been reported elsewhere. On the Thursday, ministers had been told there might be a bit of tightening to the regime. Then, on Friday, they were blindsided by some supposedly terrifying new information suggesting that the virus was surging and lockdown was needed urgently. The Treasury later admitted it did not even have time to estimate the cost of the second lockdown that the scientific advisers were suddenly urging. So the decision to lockdown was rushed. Which makes it all the more important that scrutiny is applied now.

Gove: Infections were doubling fast. The number of days taken to see that increase was open to question. But the trend was not.

Steerpike: On the day Cabinet met to agree Lockdown 2.0 the seven-day average was just 2% higher week-on-week. It would not have been clear then but it’s hard to talk, now, about a ‘doubling’ rate.

Gove: Sweden, which has always places restrictions on its population, has found that even the battery of measures it adopted was not enough. Infections rose dramatically in October and early this month, and hospitalisations continue to rise as its government has, reluctantly but firmly, introduced new measures to keep households apart, restrict commerce, stop people visiting bars and restaurants and comprehensively reduce the social contact that spreads infection.

Steerpike: Yes, do let’s look at Sweden. Contrary to what Gove claims, it has placed hardly any “restrictions on its population”. The only law it “reluctantly but firmly” introduced was a rule of eight for public places and a 10 pm. limit on serving booze. No tiers. It has not “stopped people visiting bars and restaurants”. No “battery of measures,” just non-binding advice. Sweden believes that people, if treated like adults, tend to heed advice. Compulsion and lockdowns are not needed to control a virus in a mature democracy. Yes, Sweden has taken a similar COVID-19 hit to Britain. But its strategy always was to treat COVID-19 as a manageable risk while minimising collateral damage on society, personal liberty and the economy.

Worth reading in full.

The Mass Write-In

Many readers have taken up Peter Hitchens’s call to write to MPs. Herewith a small selection:

From James Delingpole to Chris Heaton Harris (Conservative):

Dear Chris,

I never imagined that I would have to write to my local Conservative MP politely asking him not to vote to destroy the economy, kill jobs and small businesses and impose unprecedented restrictions on liberty – all in the name of “defeating” a virus no deadlier than bad seasonal flu.

But this is where we are in 2020. Please don’t insult my intelligence by fobbing me off with the official Government line on coronavirus. We know it’s bunk. You’ll know it’s bunk too if, as I hope, you’ve done some rudimentary research on the work of Michael Yeadon, Carl Heneghan, Sunetra Gupta and the myriad other respected scientists around the world who are bemused and frustrated by the increasingly anti-science – and relentlessly anti-human and anti-prosperity – measures being pursued by your Government.

This is not why I voted Conservative. I hereby promise that if you vote for the tier system (Lockdown by any other name) I shall not vote for you in the next General Election. Nor will I vote Conservative on any other occasion. The policies being pursued by this Government are not remotely conservative.

If you believe in conservative values and the wellbeing and livelihoods of the people you represent, then this is the moment to take a principled stand.

Thanks for all the work you have done in the past as an excellent constituency MP.

All best,

 James

And from another reader to Tom Hunt (Conservative):

Just a “short, sharp” email to urge you to vote against these farcical tier restrictions tomorrow. 

Putting aside the monumental assault on our basic civil liberties, we now know that the number of lives lost as a direct result of these restrictions is far higher than the number of lives saved from dying “with” COVID-19.

I’m not going to even go into the absurdity of a Government pretending it can somehow control a sub-microscopic virus. It’s like the Government declaring that they can control the weather. Put simply, it’s pure science fiction. The data is in for all to see and there is no parallel that you can draw between the severity of a country’s lockdown and its overall death rate. None. So let’s stop it. Immediately.

I also hadn’t realised that being born a citizen of the UK meant that my fundamental freedoms are contingent on the smooth running of the NHS. We keep getting told that our freedoms have been removed to protect the NHS from becoming overwhelmed, as if it’s our national duty, and yet, the Government is spending billions on its “moonshot” testing program, enough to build 200 new hospitals. Surely, that would be a much better use of our money, and would prevent the hospitals getting overwhelmed, now and in the future?

And finally, sent to Angela Richardson (Conservative):

Thank you for your email in response to mine

I fully expect you to continue following the Government line and so in the spirit of the times I am moving you from Tier 1 (a candidate I could not possibly vote for) into Tier 2 (a candidate I shall actively campaign against).

Only Four English NHS Trusts Busier Now Than Last Winter

From MailOnline – Got to take your hat off to whoever is designing these graphs for the Mail

Given that protecting “our NHS” from being “overwhelmed” being one of the Government’s core justifications for continued restrictions, MailOnline has done an analysis showing that – contra Gove – only four hospitals in the whole of England are busier now than last winter:

NHS England figures show that there are thousands more hospital beds spare this year than last winter. On average, 77,942 out of 88,903 (87.7%) available beds were occupied across the country in the week ending November 22nd, which is the most recent snapshot. This figure does not take into account make-shift capacity at mothballed Nightingales, or the thousands of beds commandeered from the private sector.

For comparison, occupancy stood at 94.9%, on average, during the seven-day spell that ended December 8th in 2019, which is the most comparable data available for last winter, when around 91,733 out of all 96,675 available beds were full. 

Just four trusts – Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust (FT), University College London Hospitals FT, Calderdale and Huddersfield FT, and Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh FT – are busier now than they were a year ago. 

Dr Karol Sikora, a consultant oncologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Buckingham, said Downing Street was running a “brainwashing PR campaign” with “data that doesn’t stack up”. He told MailOnline: “We’ve gone back to how it started in March, with the Government claiming we need the measures to protect the NHS. The data you’ve shown me proves that it doesn’t need protecting. It’s dealing with COVID-19 very well indeed. 

“What the data shows is that hospitals are not working at full capacity and they’ve still got some spare beds for COVID-19 if necessary. The public is being misled, the data doesn’t stack up. Fear and scaremongering is being used to keep people out of hospital.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Read the story of the NHS call handler who quit claiming she did “f*** all” during the pandemic apart from filming “empty” A&Es in London. Again from MailOnline.

The Vaccine is Not Compulsory but…

AFP/Getty

Nadhim Zahawi, the Minister recently appointed to oversee deployment of COVID-19 vaccines, gave an interview yesterday to BBC Radio 4’s World at One. The Guardian has more:

Nadhim Zahawi said that while having the vaccine would not be compulsory, businesses such as pubs and restaurants might require proof that people have been vaccinated before allowing them in.

Asked whether those who have been inoculated would get would get an immunity passport, Zahawi said: “We are looking at the technology. And, of course, a way of people being able to inform their GP that they have been vaccinated. But, also, I think you’ll probably find that restaurants and bars and cinemas and other venues, sports venues, will probably also use that system, as they have done with the Test-and-Trace app. I think that in many ways, the pressure will come from both ways. From service providers who’ll say, ‘Look, demonstrate to us that you have been vaccinated.’ But also we will make the technology as easy and as accessible as possible.”

The Minister said people would have to “make a decision” on whether to get vaccinated, and said if they chose not to they could face severe restrictions.

His remarks were echoed later in the day by Matt Hancock who, in a Downing Street press conference, said:

Firstly, we do not plan to mandate the vaccine. We think that by encouraging the uptake of the vaccine, we will get a very high proportion of the people in this country to take up the vaccine, because of course it protects you but it also helps to protect your loved ones and your community.

Worth reading in full.

The question of mandatory vaccination, is, of course an old one, and it is worth noting that immunity passports are already used in some countries to see whether people have protection against yellow fever and polio. But politics and vaccinations do not mix well and these remarks will not sit well with the 36% of people who, according to research carried out by the British Academy, are either “uncertain” or “very unlikely” to be vaccinated against the virus.

The Guardian also carries a hint of the campaign that is in preparation to persuade people to take the jab.

Ministers and NHS England are drawing up a list of “very sensible” famous faces in the hope that their advice to get immunised would be widely trusted. Health chiefs are particularly worried about the number of people who are still undecided. “There will be a big national campaign,” said one source with knowledge of the plans. “NHS England are looking for famous faces, people who are known and loved. It could be celebrities who are very sensible and have done sensible stuff during the pandemic.”

NHS communications experts suggest privately that the footballer Marcus Rashford, who is widely admired for his child food poverty campaign… and members of the Royal Family. Politicians will not be used.

I wonder if Marcus Rashford and Prince William will go so far as to get vaccinated themselves and then let us monitor them for four weeks to see whether there are any ill effects?

Worth reading in full.

It may take an awful lot of “very sensible” celebrities to overcome some doubters’ uncertainties, and even more as kinks in the plans for the roll-out of the vaccines come to light. The appeal for vaccination volunteers who “under the supervision of healthcare professionals will be trained to deliver a vaccination to a patient” and who “will be ready to act if the patient has an adverse reaction”, prompted this reaction from Mike Yeadon on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/MichaelYeadon3/status/1332989416105775111

Stop Press: For more on the roll-out of vaccines, and the Government’s plans to quell vaccine dissent, watch Toby Young’s recent interview on TalkRADIO

Another Reader Arrested

Nick Harvey. Shutterstock

We’ve been sent another account by a reader who was arrested during Saturday’s protest:

I knew that there would be a lot of police at the anti-lockdown demonstration in London last Saturday, but I wasn’t prepared for the levels of chaos and heavy-handedness on display. It was a style of policing that seemed deliberately designed to create disorder.

The first thing I saw when I got to Marble Arch were about 20 dark blue police vans marked “Territorial Support Group”. Slightly intimidating. I then saw the marchers crossing the road further down Park Lane, so I hurried down there to join in at the back. The march was already pretty busy and full of energy, with people singing and chanting “Freedom.” I waved the placard my daughter and I had drawn in the morning, which said “Freedom. Remember That?” My partner turned up on his bike and we walked along together.

We got as far as Grosvenor Square. At this point, masses of police suddenly surrounded us, running alongside the edge of the marchers and trying to box us in. This was the first of many attempts by the police to split up and separate the group. Whenever the police tried this it led to chaotic scenes – with marchers running around, shouting, and trying to stay together. We managed to regroup and started marching again, but this time quickly reached another police block. More shouting; the crowd suddenly turned back on themselves and down a narrow side street. This was a dead-end, and we were all syphoned down a narrow alleyway – hundreds of us being funnelled down a tiny conduit barely wide enough for two people to walk down.

We marched along another side street, which led us out onto Oxford Street. My partner and I breathed a sigh of relief, and said to each other that this was a better, and safer, place to be. Out in the open, overlooked by other members of the public – there were quite a few families and tourists out walking around, window-shopping. We marched past Bond Street Station, and the atmosphere was calm – the police had seemingly left us alone, and it felt more like a “normal” march. I started to daydream and chat to my partner.

Suddenly a female police officer was standing right in front of me, looking straight at me. “Turn round and go home now, or you risk being arrested”, she said. This took me aback. “No, I don’t think I’m going to turn round, I’m allowed to walk along here”, I said. “Turn around now or I will arrest you”, she said again. And within a couple of seconds two other officers, one on either side of me, took my arms around my back and put me in handcuffs.

I have never been arrested before and the whole thing was pretty rushed and surprising. I guess I didn’t really believe it was happening. It’s uncomfortable being cuffed, and I just stood there dumbly while my partner asked, “Why are you arresting her?” A reasonable question. “Do you want to be arrested too?” was the reply, as if that was a perfectly reasonable response, and then, “She’s an adult, she’ll be allowed a phone-call home.”

I was led off back down Oxford Street, and me, my arresting officer and another policewoman stood around outside Body Shop waiting for a police van to come and pick us up. The van came after about 10 minutes and I got in and sat in the back with one other protestor and six police officers – not the greatest way to travel. We got to King Charles Street, which I’d heard the police describe on their radios as the “Processing Centre”. We were told it was “full”, and sat there in the van for a while, waiting to be let in.

Finally, we walked in. King Charles Street was completely enclosed with makeshift corrugated iron barriers at either end. I joined a long line of “prisoners” who stood at one side, each one guarded by their arresting officer. I stood there for about an hour-and-a-half, during which time I was searched twice. Every now and then, a more senior officer would come along with a clipboard, and check my details, and explain what was going to happen. I’d get to the front, my details would be logged in the computer, and I’d receive a fine. Probably £200, reduced to £100 if I paid quickly.

And that is what happened. I reached the front of the ‘queue’, and my arresting officer was cued to deliver her speech to me: “I’m reporting you for breach of Coronavirus Regulations. You will receive a Fixed Penalty Notice by post in a few working days.” And that was it. I was walked to the corrugated iron gate at the other end of King Charles Street and sent on my way. I’d been arrested for walking down Oxford Street carrying a homemade placard with “freedom” written on it in felt-tipped pen.

If you’re in any doubt that Britain in 2020 has changed beyond all recognition, then you haven’t been paying attention.

We have put her in touch with Richard Parry, Piers Corbyn’s solicitor. When it comes to heavy-handed policing and vexatious arrests, he’s probably the world’s leading expert.

Infection Fatality Rate in Norway: Slightly Worse Than Influenza

Reader Katherine Jebsen Moore – author of the brilliant knitting trilogy in Quillette – has drawn our attention to the latest data on the infection fatality rate in Norway. It is good news.

“The lethality rate for COVID-19 in Norway is 0.12%,” says Norway’s National Institute for Public Health, according to Nettavisen. In its latest report, the Institute has attempted to map Covid-related illness in Norway in the past six months. 73,000 Norwegians had the virus between June 1st and November 30th. 0.12% of those died, while 0.15% needed intensive care, and 1% were admitted to hospital, according to the report. In comparison, the death rate for influenza is around 0.1%, and around 1.5% of patients need hospitalisation. The numbers from Norway, which has a population of 5.4 million, are considerably lower than the best estimates in the rest of the world, which are around 0.4-1 %. So far, almost 90% of deaths have occurred in the over 70s. For people over 80, the illness has a lethality of more than 5%. The country has so far had only 332 deaths from the virus.

Has Lockdown Affected Your Mental Health?

King’s College London is seeking volunteers for online study of personality and mental health in the COVID-19 pandemic. Personality profile for all and £10 expenses if you complete the follow-up. Sign up here at measureyourpersonality.com. The study code is 57894876.

Round-up

https://twitter.com/UnmaskedDoco/status/1333542517539819528?s=20

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Four today: “Two Pints of Lager and A Packet Of Crisps Please” by Splodgenessabounds, “Rebel Rebel” by David Bowie, “I Won’t Back Down” by Johnny Cash and “Banned From The Pubs” by Peter and the Test Tube Babies.

Love in the Time of Covid

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. We have a team of moderators in place to remove spam and deal with the trolls, but sometimes it takes a little while so please bear with us. You have to register to use the Forums, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Sharing Stories

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

Social Media Accounts

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

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, from the Telegraph, the story of the students who want the adjective “black” expunged from textbooks and lectures:

University students have demanded the word “black” be banned from lectures and textbooks amid claims it symbolises “negative situations”. Undergraduates from the University of Manchester say the colour’s use as an adjective stems from our “colonial history”, which has become outdated in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Supporters are calling for commonly used phrases such as “black sheep” to be removed from lecture slides and books, while concerns have also been raised about “blackmail” and “black market” during an audit of racism concerns on campus.

The University said it is preparing to roll out new training and research in response to the unease in order to tackle “racist terminology” and “aggressions”.

In documents seen by the Telegraph, students called for: “The University to ban the use of these words listed above and any other use of the word ‘black’ as an adjective to express negative connotations”. This is because black is “linguistically and metaphorically associated with negative situations” and “used for bad and unsavoury situations or objects”.

This is part of an “accepted consciousness” of using colours as adjectives that is “situated in colonial history”, the student report stated.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The National Trust has hired strategic advisory firm Hanbury Strategy to help it de-woke-ify its image in the wake of the backlash which followed the report addressing its properties’ links with slavery and colonialism. The firm was co-founded by Paul Stephenson, who was formerly a Director of Vote Leave. MailOnline has the details.

“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 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.

Stop Press: Sometimes academic studies comes up with results that were obvious all along. Researchers from the University of Manchester have investigated the “Impacts of face coverings on communication: an indirect impact of COVID-19“. They conducted an online survey of 460 members of the public, oversampling people with hearing loss. The results, which were published in the International Journal of Audiology, are no great surprise:

With few exceptions, participants reported that face coverings negatively impact on hearing, understanding, engagement and feelings of connection with the speaker. Impacts were greatest when communicating in medical situations. People with hearing loss were significantly more impacted than those without hearing loss. Face coverings impacted communication content, interpersonal connectedness and willingness to engage in conversation. They increased anxiety and stress and made communication fatiguing, frustrating and embarrassing, both as a speaker wearing a face covering and when listening to someone else who is wearing one.

Their research is worth reading in full and the MailOnline has a report which is worth reading too.

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

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

You can find it here. Please sign it. Now over 700,000 signatures.

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

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

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

Update 4: The three GBD authors plus Prof Carl Heneghan of CEBM have launched a new website collateralglobal.org, “a global repository for research into the collateral effects of the COVID-19 lockdown measures”. 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.

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’. 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

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 Solschenizyn

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

Mark Twain

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

Charles Mackay

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

Benjamin Franklin

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

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

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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

Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury

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

Sir Winston Churchill

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

Richard Feynman

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

C.S. Lewis

The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants.

Albert Camus

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

Carl Sagan

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

George Orwell

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

Marcus Aurelius

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

William Pitt the Younger

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…

Listen to the latest episode of London Calling with Toby and James Delingpole here. This week, the two curmudgeons discuss today’s Parliamentary vote, the attack on free speech at Eton, James’s stubborn insistence that Trump won the US Presidential election, the latest Free Speech Union victory and whether Rogue One is better than the last three Star Wars movies (spoiler alert: yes).

Click here to listen and click here to subscribe on iTunes.

Latest News

Have yourself a Merry Little Lockdown

Christian Adam’s cartoon in the Evening Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ZOE Covid survey

Tim Spector is unsure why this should be.

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

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

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

Has the Evidence of Asymptomatic Spread been Overstated?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read the paper here.

Children Should Not be Demonised

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

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

Sweden Tightens the Rules

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

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

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

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

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

Fraser Nelson’s article is worth reading in full.

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

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

The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Panic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

Round-up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

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

Love in the Time of Covid

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. We have a team of moderators in place to remove spam and deal with the trolls, but sometimes it takes a little while so please bear with us. You have to register to use the Forums, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Sharing Stories

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

Social Media Accounts

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

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, from News 1130, the announcement of an all new and inclusive policy at the Provincial Court of British Columbia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

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

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

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

Worth reading in full.

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

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to buy (or make) a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and it has the advantage of not explicitly claiming you have a disability. But if you have no qualms about that (or you are disabled), you can buy a lanyard from Amazon saying you do have a disability/medical exemption here (takes a while to arrive). The Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. You can get a “Hidden Disability” tag from ebay here and an “exempt” card with lanyard for just £1.99 from Etsy here. And, finally, if you feel obliged to wear a mask but want to signal your disapproval of having to do so, you can get a “sexy world” mask with the Swedish flag on it here.

Don’t forget to sign the petition on the UK Government’s petitions website calling for an end to mandatory face masks in shops here.

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption. Another reader has created an Android app which displays “I am exempt from wearing a face mask” on your phone. Only 99p, and he’s even said he’ll donate half the money to Lockdown Sceptics, so everyone wins.

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

And here’s an excellent piece about the ineffectiveness of masks by a Roger W. Koops, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry. See also the Swiss Doctor’s thorough review of the scientific evidence here.

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

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samaritans

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

Quotation Corner

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

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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

Mark Twain

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

Charles Mackay

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

Benjamin Franklin

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

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

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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

Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury

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

Sir Winston Churchill

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

Richard Feynman

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

C.S. Lewis

The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants.

Albert Camus

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

Carl Sagan

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

George Orwell

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

Marcus Aurelius

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

William Pitt the Younger

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

Joseph Goebbels (attributed)

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

H.L. Mencken

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

Thomas Paine

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the past 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. Doing these daily updates is hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

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

Letter to Santa

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

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

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

Santa’s visit

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

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

Very funny and worth reading in full