Boris Johnson

“Social” Distancing Could Be Scrapped from June 21st, but Masks Will Remain and Numbers at Large Events Will Be Capped

Last week, Boris Johnson said there was a “very good chance” all Covid restrictions would come to an end on June 21st, yet the latest reports suggest that mask-wearing and caps on numbers attending large events could stay in place past the “end” of lockdown. The Government is said to have already told football’s UEFA that crowd sizes at upcoming events will be limited to 45,000. So when will restrictions actually come to an end? The Times has more.

The “one metre-plus” social distancing rule will be scrapped from June 21st under plans to ensure that all restaurants, pubs, theatres and cinemas can reopen fully, the Times understands.

Masks will have to be worn in some cases to mitigate the risks but it will mean venues can reopen at full capacity for the first time in 15 months.

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, confirmed yesterday that some coronavirus restrictions would remain beyond June 21st, causing concern in hospitality…

The Times understands this means theatre and cinema audiences must wear face coverings during performances and there will be strict guidance on ventilation and staggered entry.

Pubs and restaurants may keep one-way systems, screens and a requirement to wear masks while moving around but, crucially, there will be no restrictions on customer numbers.

The Prime Minister is expected to be presented with the recommendations as part of an interim report looking at the success of recent trials, including events held without social distancing. Removing the one metre-plus rule would be a lifeline for thousands of businesses that warned they faced bankruptcy if the Government kept social-distancing rules this summer.

However, the biggest events will still have a cap on numbers beyond June 21st, meaning Wembley Stadium will be half empty for the European Championship final on July 11st. The Government is said to have told UEFA, European football’s governing body, that crowd sizes will be limited to 45,000.

Government sources added that fears of “pinch points” on public transport and at bars around the stadium would prevent a full crowd of 90,000 fans. A source said: “If you’ve got 90,000 people in a stadium, it’s going to be very difficult. It was always quite ambitious to go to 50% but we’ve told UEFA we’re working on a 50% basis.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: MailOnline columnist Dan Wooton says enough is enough. We must make sure June 21st is the day we get our old lives back and if we aren’t we should just take them back.

Stop Press 2: Just one Covid death was reported in the whole of Britain today, leading to further calls for the “roadmap” out of lockdown to be sped up – and for all restrictions to come to an end thereafter.

Boris is the Great Appeaser Who Caves in to the “Experts” at the Expense of Ordinary People

There follows a guest post by Dr Timothy Bradshaw, a retired Oxford Theological Lecturer.

Allegra Stratton, Boris’s replacement for Lee Cain as policy communicator in No.10, has gone, to the BBC as an eco-analyst, after a short spell of announcing nothing, maybe she offended Carrie too? And that communications room, fitted out for a couple of million, won’t be used. So that “reset” of No 10 has itself been reset, maintaining that sense of fairground chaos so beloved of our leader.

But his utterances are, as Janet Daley has shown in her Telegraph column, less and less convincing and being taken as incoherent by a growing number of intelligent people, not just “conspiracy theorists”. He bizarrely proclaimed that the successful lowering of Covid cases and deaths in the UK was not caused by the vaccination programme but by… the lockdowns, which therefore must remain the chief weapon against the epidemic – if the epidemic should return. Hence the shutting of the Nightingale hospitals and no plan for future epidemics being developed. As Daley said, this statement was surely plain wrong, and also politically a gaffe as it portrayed his one massive success as an irrelevance. It also would discourage the population from offering to be vaccinated, a Macronic blunder. Why this idiocy from our leader?    

“Save lockdowning” is the only credible answer, combined with the fact of Boris being, apparently willingly like Patty Hearst, held hostage by that strange and frightening gang of “experts”. Boris is in effect their glove puppet. Their latest utterance through him is that “a third wave is definitely coming” – “hurricane Boris” is building up in India and will soon be blowing us away. Really, or is this just more “precautionary” weather forecasting to get us to board up the economy again, more fear-inducing talk?

At present we can hardly be said to be in an epidemic, but the “experts” are very keen to keep finding Covid wherever they can, and so “save lockdowning”, as if hoping to keep this phenomenon going to maintain their grip on the population. 

The grotesque plan is to keep perfectly healthy and non-vulnerable people taking two home tests per week, followed up by a PCR test for positive results, and these go to a central lab. These tests are for the Covid “genome sequencing” programme and can hardly be defended as a sensible use of the health budget. It is predicated on scanning for and locking down any tiny group of people infected with a new variant, and not on getting a medically based plan for treating future SARS viruses. It is clearly in line with keeping the lockdown hammer available, permanently. 

Is the Government Levelling With Us About the Vaccines?

In an unfortunate piece of timing for the Prime Minister, who on Tuesday told the nation that vaccines aren’t helping cut infections (which is a funny way of encouraging people to get one), on Wednesday a new study appeared from NHS England and the University of Manchester that reassuringly confirmed the vaccines do in fact appear to be highly effective. The Telegraph summarised the findings.

New research from NHS England and the University of Manchester showed the stark difference in cases, admissions and deaths for elderly people who had been vaccinated compared to those who had not.

In a large study involving more than 170,000 people, researchers had scrupulously case-matched participants to make sure the results were not skewed by underlying conditions, sex or geographical location.

The results show that far from having little impact, the rate of Covid-related hospital admissions fell by 75% in vaccinated 80 to 83 year-olds within 35 to 41 days of their first dose of the Pfizer jab. The rate of people getting Covid dropped by 70%, with the number of positive tests falling from 15.3 per 100,000 people to 4.6. …

The figures also suggest the link between infections and admissions has also been broken by the vaccine programme.

While nearly 40% of unvaccinated people who were infected ended up in hospital, only 32% of the vaccinated cohort did.

This is encouraging, and with antibody levels in the country running at 55% at the end of March, and levels highest in older people, it is not surprising to hear this is having an impact on infections.

However, what I find frustrating about studies like this one is that there are some glaring problems that most people, including the authors, seem content just to gloss over. Look at those graphs above. Isn’t there something obviously wrong with them? Look at the left hand side. The lines don’t start from the same place. The unvaccinated control group starts (on day 4) with much higher incidence, even though that is way before the vaccine is supposed to have any effect (the researchers agree on this point – they keep vaccinated people in the unvaccinated control group until 14 days after the jab).

The researchers say they have checked that the two groups do not have different levels of exposure risk (and include a graph to prove it). But why then at the start do the unvaccinated appear to have twice the rate of positive cases? If we were to normalise both curves to start at the same point, the size of the “vaccine effect” would be considerably reduced. There is also the oddity of the vaccinated group appearing to be starting an upturn in cases after day 40.

A second noteworthy point is that there is a spike in Covid infections in the two weeks following the first jab. So pronounced is it in the hospitalisations graph that for several days the vaccinated are hospitalised at a greater rate than the unvaccinated, even though they start at a lower rate. This post-vaccination infection spike has been observed in almost all of the vaccine studies to date, particularly with the Pfizer vaccine, as Dr Clare Craig has noted in the BMJ. One unanswered question in this study is how this spike may have affected the incidence in the control group if people were being kept in that group until 14 days after being vaccinated – was it elevating it?

This is not the only recent study to have issues like these. Another one (which also shows the vaccines being highly effective) is the large population study in Israel that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine at the end of February. This one provides its full data tables so we can see exactly how Covid incidence changed over the study period. Below is the incidence of symptomatic Covid infections per 100,000 people by days since Pfizer vaccination (note that by the last few days of the study very few were left in it owing to most of the people in the control group having been vaccinated, making the data noisy).

Boris Is Wrong: The Lockdown Has Not Been “Overwhelmingly Important”

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that the reduction in cases, hospitalisations and deaths “has not been achieved by the vaccination programme”. Rather, he claimed, “it’s the lockdown that has been overwhelmingly important in delivering this improvement in the pandemic and in the figures that we’re seeing”. While the lockdown may have had some impact on the epidemic’s trajectory, we should be very sceptical of the Prime Minister’s claim.

First, as Will Jones pointed out yesterday in Lockdown Sceptics, there are several US states where numbers fell dramatically in the absence of any lockdown: Florida, Texas, Georgia, South Dakota, South Carolina and Mississippi. And to this list, one could add Sweden. As shown below, the trajectory of deaths per million in Sweden is strikingly similar to that in the UK, even though the country has never gone into lockdown. (It should be noted, of course, that measures not based on age-adjusted excess mortality can be misleading.)

These examples do not show that lockdowns have no impact on the epidemic’s trajectory. But they do show that lockdowns are not necessary for case and death numbers to decline. Hence it is wrong to assume that, if numbers decline after a lockdown is introduced, it must have been the lockdown that caused the decline. (It might have been, but this cannot simply be assumed.)

Second, the most convincing study of the UK’s lockdowns of which I am aware (now published in Biometrics) concludes that each one was introduced only after the corresponding peak of fatal infections.

In particular, the statistician Simon Wood sought to reconstruct the actual time course of infections in England, based on available data. He notes that reported case numbers are subject to various forms of bias (e.g. non-representative samples, changes in the amount and type of testing) and that “under normal circumstances” statisticians would not “recommend attempting to estimate the effective reproduction number of the pathogen from such data”.

As an alternative, Wood used hospital death numbers (which, though imperfect, are less comprised than case numbers). In order to reconstruct the time course of infections, he combined these with the distribution of fatal disease durations (i.e., the number of days between infection and death), which he derived from the published literature.

His results are shown in the chart below. The grey dots are hospital deaths; the black line is inferred fatal infections; and the red lines are the lockdowns. As you can see, the peak of fatal infections occurs before the corresponding lockdown in each of the three cases. This finding casts serious doubt on the Prime Minister’s claim that the third lockdown has been “overwhelmingly important”.

Wood’s findings are consistent with those of economist David Paton, who notes that seven separate indicators all appear to show infections declining before the start of January’s lockdown. (Though it should be noted that parts of England were already under quite heavy restrictions when the lockdown began, and these may have contributed to the epidemic’s retreat.)

There is a large amount of evidence that lockdowns are neither necessary nor, in every case, sufficient to bring case and death numbers under control. This does not mean they have no impact on the epidemic’s trajectory, but it does mean that claims of “overwhelming” efficacy should be met with skepticism. And the best available evidence for England suggests that the infections were already declining when the third national lockdown was imposed.

Stop Press: Simon Wood, the author of the Biometrics study mentioned above, has written a piece for the Spectator responding to the Prime Minister’s comments, as well as the claim made by Imperial College that infections were surging right up until the first lockdown was imposed in March 2020.

Boris Johnson Says Lockdown Not Vaccines Responsible for Drop in Covid Cases and Deaths

Has Boris lost his faith in the vaccines? That’s certainly the impression you’d get from what he has said this morning. Speaking in 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister said:

The numbers are down of infections and hospitalisations and deaths. But it is very, very important for everybody to understand that the reduction in these numbers in hospitalisations and in deaths and infections has not been achieved by the vaccination programme. People don’t, I think, appreciate that it’s the lockdown that has been overwhelmingly important in delivering this improvement in the pandemic and in the figures that we’re seeing. And so, yes of course the vaccination programme has helped, but the bulk of the work in reducing the disease has been done by the lockdown. So, as we unlock, the result will inevitably be that we will see more infection, sadly we will see more hospitalisation and deaths, and people have just got to understand that.

Notice that he didn’t say it’s a matter of waiting for the vaccines to take effect. It now appears that, regardless of vaccinations operating at full power, the Prime Minister thinks “inevitably” we will see more infection, hospitalisation and death.

The PM added that “at the moment” he couldn’t see “any reason” to change his roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions.

At Lockdown Sceptics, of course, we can give him several reasons for getting a move on. Florida, Texas, Georgia, South Dakota, South Carolina and Mississippi for starters. These states all currently have no restrictions at all, whether because they never had them (South Dakota), because they removed them after the first wave in the spring (Georgia and South Carolina) or in the autumn (Florida), or because they lifted them in the last few weeks (Mississippi and Texas). If lockdown is what brings infections down, what has brought them down in these states?

The claim that lockdowns “control” the coronavirus has no basis in the data or in the evidence-based (as opposed to model-based) scientific literature. No evidence-based study has found a statistically significant relationship between the severity or timing of interventions and Covid cases or death counts. It is “fake news”, to use the current parlance, and scientists and politicians need to stop repeating it as though doing so can make it true.

Looking just at the UK, it’s clear from the data that new daily infections peaked and began to fall before the lockdowns on all three occasions. Chris Whitty even admitted as much to MPs in July in relation to the first lockdown.

According to ONS data, new infections in the winter surge in England peaked in the week ending December 26th, nearly two weeks before the January lockdown and right in the middle of Christmas mingling that was predicted to cause a spike.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is England-ONS-new-infections.png

If lockdowns control the coronavirus then how can this be explained?

On one level it should be welcome that Boris is candidly admitting that the vaccines will not prevent all infections, hospitalisations and deaths. But then no one ever thought they would. The aim was just to make endemic Covid no worse than the usual pathogens we face, which many people believed requires effective vaccines. Now we have vaccines, there is no excuse not to lift restrictions, particularly seeing that places which have remained fully open even without vaccines have not seen catastrophic consequences, and often fared better than places with strict lockdowns.

COVID-19 outbreaks have consistently shown themselves to be self-limiting, regardless of what measures are or are not imposed. In some places the outbreaks are more severe, in some places less so. As with other similar seasonal respiratory pathogens this will be due to a combination of seasonality, the development of population immunity (including from vaccines, where available), the effectiveness of treatments, population density, and numerous other factors that might affect a population’s susceptibility to a particular pathogen. But on no occasion have the models attributing the differences to lockdowns been validated by empirical data.

As the Government appears to be preparing to pivot away from its vaccines-will-save-us narrative, the big danger is that what we get instead is not a freedom that accepts governments cannot prevent all evils, but a future of indefinite restrictions, periodically tightened and loosened, as the myth persists that only such measures are holding back the flood. If we are no longer to see the vaccines as our saviour, it is imperative that the Government shift to a zero restrictions approach, not a zero Covid one, and set us free without further delay.

Rishi Sunak Confirms His Split From Boris Johnson Over September “Circuit Breaker” Lockdown

Rishi Sunak has confirmed that he opposed the imposition of a “circuit breaker” lockdown in September due to the impact on people’s jobs and livelihoods, but that the “ultimate” decision was Boris Johnson’s. ITV News has the story.

In a wide-ranging interview with ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston, Mr Sunak said in Cabinet he made the case against a circuit-breaking lockdown due to the “impact” it would have on “people’s jobs and livelihoods”, and that he believed it would be “bad for the economy” and “long-term health as well”.

Despite Sage recommending a lockdown in a bid to stop Covid cases increasing, Mr Sunak said it was his “job” to “provide the Prime Minister with the best advice” in his “area of expertise”. 

“In the same way that you’d expect the Education Secretary to feed in about this –the impact on children’s education and learning – you’d expect me in my job to talk about the impact on people’s jobs and livelihoods and ultimately things that are bad for the economy are bad for our long term health as well and our ability to fund things like the NHS. 

“And those things have to go into the decision. 

“These are difficult decisions to make, and it’s why we weigh up all those factors.”

Mr Sunak insisted that “at the time it wasn’t a clear-cut case” and that one of the deputy chief medical officers said it would “not be appropriate… for a national intervention”.

He continued that there was a “varied epidemiological picture” across the country so a “national intervention… wasn’t considered one that wouldn’t necessarily make sense”.

“And actually, you know, Wales went down that route and it didn’t in the end stop what needed to happen.”

The 40-year-old continued that while he and other ministers provided “input” from their respective rolls, “ultimately” the decision was made by Boris Johnson who “has to weigh these things up”.

A little later, in November, the Treasury admitted that it produced no forecasts in the run up to the second lockdown. Kate Andrews reported the details in the Spectator.

The impact of the specific restrictions on the economy were not forecast or predicted by the Treasury before they came into force.

Clare Lombardelli, the Chief Economic Adviser to the Treasury, said in November:

As the Chancellor set out in Parliament last week, we haven’t done a specific prediction or forecast of the restrictions… what we do is ongoing policy that feeds into decisions ministers take, which they consider alongside the health impacts, the social impacts, and they also consider the economic impact.

As Kate Andrews commented: “That the institution did not produce any forecasts or predictions also raises serious questions about the extent to which the economic implications of such radical measures were considered before the Government brought them in.”

ITV News’ report is worth reading in full.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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