Pyser Testing

Lockdown

Nightclubs and Bars May Sue the Government to Prevent Delay to Covid Restrictions

Following the news that the June 21st reopening is likely to be delayed by at least four weeks, reports have emerged that nightclubs and bars are considering suing the Government to prevent the extension of lockdown. The Guardian has the story.

The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) is understood to be weighing up legal action on behalf of venues such as nightclubs that have spent money to be ready to welcome guests after a year of enforced closure.

According to the trade body, 54% of businesses have ordered stock, 73% have called in staff and 60% have sold tickets.

Hospitality bosses said they were increasingly resigned to the prospect that rules such as social distancing and compulsory mask-wearing will not be relaxed, potentially until July.

“It was almost in touching distance and now feels like it’s slipping away,” said Chris Jowsey, the head of the 1,000-strong pub chain Admiral Taverns.

“We need people in the pubs to trade profitably. People might say it’s only a fortnight or four weeks, but [publicans] are hanging on by their fingertips.”

Many pubs and restaurants opened when restrictions eased in April and May under the first two stages of Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown. But nightclubs and smaller venues, where social distancing is impossible, have been shut for either six months or in many cases since the onset of the pandemic.

“If this gets pushed down the line, they’ve used their last cash resource to get to the point where they can open the doors,” said NTIA’s Chief Executive, Michael Kill. “They’ve committed money to preparing, to stocking, staff training. There’s talk about two weeks [delay], four weeks and the uncertainty is killing them.”

He said the anxiety was exacerbated by a lack of any solution to a looming rent crunch. A Government-imposed moratorium that prevents commercial landlords from demanding late rent payments comes to an end on July 1st.

“We’ve got people who have compromised themselves financially who don’t know if they’ll get out of debt,” said Kill. “The anxiety levels associated with commercial debt, which still doesn’t have a solution with two weeks left, is exceptional.”

Richard Nattriss, a nightclub owner who runs Raw in Whitby, North Yorkshire, said: “Our building is owned by a pension fund, like a lot of places, and there’s been no concession on rents. We’ve paid full rent through the entire thing and the grants haven’t covered that, so we’re desperate to open to get the cashflow.”

Nattriss said he had already spent money on stocking up, amid shortage of supply of some drinks, but did not believe nightclubs would be able to open until July 5th at the earliest.

“Even though they say the restrictions are lifting, we know in our heart of hearts they’re not going to do that,” he said.

Worth reading in full.

Deaths in England and Wales Have Been Below the Five-Year Average for 11 of the Past 12 Weeks

On Tuesday the ONS announced that there were 9,628 deaths in England and Wales in the week ending 28th May 2021. This is 232 fewer than the previous week, and 3.1% below the five-year average. Here’s the chart from the ONS:

Deaths in England and Wales have now been below the five-year average for 11 of the past 12 weeks. Over that time, there were 8,212 fewer deaths than you’d expect based on the average of the last five years. And note that, due to population ageing, the five-year average understates the expected number of deaths. So the true level of “negative excess mortality” is even higher.

The number of deaths registered in the week ending May 28th was below the five-year average in seven out of nine English regions. (Only the North East and North West saw positive excess deaths.) Compared to the five-year average, weekly deaths were 7.5% lower in the East of England, and 8.1% lower in the South West.

As I’ve noted before, the most likely explanation for persistent “negative excess mortality” in England and Wales is that deaths were “brought forward” by the pandemic.

Given these figures, and the fact that around 80% of adults now have COVID antibodies, it is difficult to see what possible grounds there could be to delay the full reopening. Indeed, the costs of remaining lockdown measures must be so vastly disproportionate to the benefits that the Government’s dithering – as Daniel Hannan has noted – is surely a function of status-quo bias. 

“The NHS is Going to be Smashed in Weeks”, Cummings’s Data Geek Told Boris – on the Day Infections Peaked in London

Lockdown Sceptics‘ readers have had their fill of Dominic Cummings stories in the last 24 hours. However, his claim, repeated yesterday in front of MPs, that without a lockdown last March “the NHS is going to be smashed in weeks” cannot go unanswered.

These are the words that, according to Cummings, data analyst Ben Warner said to Boris Johnson when he confronted him with “evidence” on Friday March 13th 2020 that a lockdown was necessary to prevent the NHS being imminently overwhelmed.

March 12th and 13th 2020 are notable for being the days when various Government advisers did the media rounds to sell to the public the idea of “building up some kind of herd immunity“, as Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance put it on Radio 4’s Today programme. Prior to this, the Government had been sticking to the script of their action plan and pandemic preparedness strategy that did not talk about herd immunity (even if it implied it) but about mitigation of the impact of the disease.

Whose idea it was to start talking about building up herd immunity by infection is not clear, and, despite pontificating for seven hours yesterday, Dominic Cummings did not enlighten us on that point. The move was, however, disastrous for Government public relations, as the concept jarred with the public. Worse, it was criticised by scientists and health care professionals, who argued that herd immunity through infection was not a sound policy aim even if it would be the inevitable result of the mitigation strategy. Dr Adam Kucharski from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine put the matter succinctly on Twitter:

A Response to Dominic Cummings’ Pro-Lockdown Twitter Thread

Dominic Cummings – director of the Vote Leave campaign and former chief adviser to Boris Johnson – has written a pro-lockdown Twitter thread. However, I don’t find his arguments very convincing. What follows is a point-by-point response.

1/ Covid… Summary evidence on lockdowns. For UK political pundits obsessed with spreading nonsense on Sweden/lockdowns, cf. SW econ did a bit WORSE than Denmark which locked down, AND far more deaths in Sweden:

Not all sources indicate that Sweden did worse than Denmark in terms of GDP growth last year. For example, the IMF gives Sweden’s growth as –2.8% and Denmark’s as –3.3%. In fact, according to the IMF, only a handful of European countries had higher growth than Sweden last year.

It’s true that Denmark has had fewer COVID-19 deaths. However, it’s unlikely that lockdowns account for this difference. During the first wave, Denmark had zero days of mandatory stay-at-home orders, and did not introduce mandatory business closures until March 18th. But the country did introduce border screening on March 4th, followed by a total border closure on March 14th. Hence its success during the first wave is more plausibly due to border controls.

During the second wave, Denmark had about the same level of restrictions as Sweden, and in any case saw a moderate number of deaths. 

More importantly, the argument that “we have to compare Sweden to its neighbours” isn’t very convincing. Sweden’s age-adjusted excess mortality up to week 51 of 2020 was just 1.7% – below the European average. 

The epidemic in Sweden was already more advanced by the time its neighbours locked down. And since lockdowns don’t have much impact unless case numbers are low, locking down probably wouldn’t have made a big difference. What’s more, the Baltics are similar to the Nordics in terms of climate and population density, and once you include them in the comparison, Sweden no longer stands out.

Cumming’s tweet also links to an article by the economist Noah Smith, which argues that “lockdowns were good”. However, Smith doesn’t discuss any of the evidence contradicting his thesis, of which there is plenty. See herehereherehereherehere and here.

One of the biggest misunderstandings, spread by political pundits even now, is the ‘tradeoff’ argument. Fact: evidence clear that fast hard effective action best policy for economy AND for reducing deaths/suffering

The argument that lockdowns are good for both public health and economic output – that there’s no trade-off – only works if locking down enables you to completely suppress the virus. 

Once complete suppression has been achieved, the lockdown must be combined with a well-functioning system of contact tracing, and a well-functioning system of border controls. In the absence of these measures, a new epidemic will almost certainly emerge once the lockdown is lifted.

There is strong evidence that the UK’s lockdowns were bad for the economy. Indeed, the UK had the second lowest GDP growth in 2020 out of all the major countries in Europe, and its worst recession for 300 years. 

One could argue that the UK should have locked down earlier, but this is a bit like arguing China should have acted earlier to contain the epidemic in Wuhan. In other words, that ship sailed a long time ago.

What’s more, it’s doubtful whether the UK – which is much denser and more connected than, say, Australia – would have been able to contain the virus through measures like contact tracing and border controls. 

Did Lockdown Shift the Burden of COVID-19 Onto the Working Class?

One of the claims put forward by the authors of The Great Barrington Declaration is that lockdowns unfairly shifted the burden of COVID-19 onto the working class. As Martin Kulldorff and Sunetra Gupta argued in a piece for the Toronto Sun last November:

Low-risk college students and young professionals are protected; such as lawyers, government employees, journalists, and scientists who can work from home; while older high-risk working-class people must work, risking their lives generating the population immunity that will eventually help protect everyone.

The same idea was captured in a viral tweet by the art critic J.J. Charlesworth:

To evaluate this claim, let’s begin by looking at some of the data from Britain. Last July, the ONS attempted to quantify the extent to which different jobs can be done from home. Unsurprisingly, they found that higher-paying jobs in the professional and managerial classes are much easier to do from home, whereas lower-paying jobs in the skilled and unskilled working class are much harder to do from home. (‘Front-line doctor’ is an exception.)

While “key workers” are drawn from all income deciles, a relatively large percentage are drawn from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th deciles – particularly in the food and necessary goods sector. And according to the ONS, 15% of such workers were at an increased risk of COVID-19 because of a pre-existing health condition.

In January of 2021, the ONS computed age-standardised mortality rates for COVID-19 in different occupations. They found that men in professional and managerial occupations were substantially less likely to die of COVID-19 than those in service and elementary occupations:

The pattern among women was similar, although somewhat less pronounced. (The highest age-standardised mortality rate was for women working as plant or machine operators.)

Was a Passenger Train the First Victim of the Lockdown Policy?

A reader has emailed us the details of what might have been the first victim of lockdown: a passenger train.

This story of a somewhat unusual victim of lockdown may be of interest: a CrossCountry passenger train. A freight driver went to work shortly after Boris Johnson’s announcement of lockdown number one. Mr Johnson’s edict had placed him, like many others, in the very difficult position of trying to arrange childcare in order to continue his work. He became so distracted by trying to resolve the sudden predicament in which he found himself, via his mobile phone, that he drove his train into a buffer stop. The train derailed and partially blocked the adjacent passenger line.

Less than a minute later, a CrossCountry passenger train came hurtling by at 85mph and collided with the derailed vehicle, suffering extensive damage as a result. Was this the first victim of lockdown? The Rail Accident Investigation Branch has the full report.

Thankfully, no humans were injured, but with a modicum of imagination, it is easy to see how the event almost led to major tragedy. Sadly, the more than 13 year run without a passenger fatality in a U.K. train accident did come to an abrupt end just a couple of months later. The BBC were quick to blame climate change, but we await the findings of the official investigation report.

No Benefit of Social Distancing and Capacity Limits, Study Shows

A new study published this week adds to the evidence that social distancing rules like the two-metre, one-metre-plus and six-foot rules offer no additional protection against COVID-19.

Professors Martin Bazant and John Bush from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology use mathematical modelling to show that the risk of catching the virus is unaffected by keeping your distance from infected people when in the same room because of the way the virus spreads via aerosols in the air.

Prof Bazant told CNBC that the six-foot rule “really has no physical basis because the air a person is breathing while wearing a mask tends to rise and comes down elsewhere in the room so you’re more exposed to the average background than you are to a person at a distance”.

While distancing offers some protection against larger droplets, it offers none against aerosols, which are a very common mode of transmission.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, uses a model to calculate indoor exposure risk based on time spent inside, air filtration and circulation, immunisations, respiratory activity, variants and mask use. Their conclusion is that it’s not social distancing that reduces risk but primarily the amount of time people spend in an enclosed space. The authors advise in the paper:

To minimise risk of infection, one should avoid spending extended periods in highly populated areas. One is safer in rooms with large volume and high ventilation rates. One is at greater risk in rooms where people are exerting themselves in such a way as to increase their respiration rate and pathogen output, for example, by exercising, singing, or shouting. 

Prof Bazant explains in his CNBC interview that this means many venues that have been closed can reopen at full capacity without increasing exposure risk.

What our analysis continues to show is that many spaces that have been shut down in fact don’t need to be. Often times the space is large enough, the ventilation is good enough, the amount of time people spend together is such that those spaces can be safely operated even at full capacity and the scientific support for reduced capacity in those spaces is really not very good. I think if you run the numbers, even right now for many types of spaces you’d find that there is not a need for occupancy restrictions.

The authors suggest that instead of an exposed person being defined as someone who has been within six feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes (as per the current CDC definition), whole rooms should be considered to be exposed depending on whether or not they exceed their cumulative exposure time (CET) with the infected person.

This does seem to be a more scientifically credible definition of exposure, but it also invites the possibility of yet more public health tyranny. And indeed, the authors propose regular mass testing at a frequency regulated by the CET for the space in question – and they’ve helpfully provided an app to enable us to calculate that. They explain:

For a group sharing an indoor space intermittently, for example, office coworkers or classmates, regular testing should be done with a frequency that ensures that the CET between tests is less than the limit set by the guideline. 

The need for this mass testing arises because they assume in their model that asymptomatic infections are no less infectious than symptomatic infections, so that simply asking people to isolate when ill is not enough to prevent exposure. Yet it is well-established now that asymptomatic infection is considerably less infectious than symptomatic infection and contributes very little to spread.

It’s worth stressing, then, that this is very much a model, not a study of real world transmission data and patterns, so is highly dependent on the assumptions and parameters that go into it. Some of those assumptions are more sound than others.

The assumptions relating to masks, for instance, are highly dubious.

The model tells you that if a restaurant with 50 people in it includes one infected person then people should spend less than 40 minutes there to avoid being infected. But if they are all wearing masks then this would be 28 hours! How does it arrive at that incredible difference?

Chile Is No Reason Not to Lift Lockdown

The latest cautionary tale being held up to locked down Britons as the reason we can’t be released, including by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, is Chile, where an ambitious vaccination programme (albeit with China’s questionable Sinovac vaccine) has not prevented the country experiencing a new surge of coronavirus infections.

But as with other supposed cautionary tales like France and Brazil, are things really as bad as they’re being portrayed by our doom-addicted scientists, politicians and media?

Here’s the actual state of play. The positive rate did indeed start drifting upwards again in mid-Feb and since the end of March has accelerated – though since southern-hemisphere Chile is now in the middle of autumn, this is not wholly surprising.

This is despite the vaccination programme, which rivals the UK’s in speed of rollout, getting going at the start of February. Chris Whitty has backed the vaccinated-people-letting-their-guard-down theory, but in fact Google mobility data shows no sign of that, with a steep decline in mobility beginning in early March. Dr Clare Craig has written an excellent piece in the BMJ on other possible explanations beyond blaming people for letting their hair down (an explanation that hardly works for care homes).

But whatever the explanation, positive cases and deaths in the UK are now very low, suggesting Chile can hope for a similar outcome before long (though it will be interesting to see how its winter affects this).

Importantly, though, Chile is still significantly behind the UK in terms of total Covid deaths, so as a cautionary tale it is a strange one to pick.

Isolating People Won’t Protect Them From Pathogens in the Long Run

Today we’re publishing an original piece by John Tamny, a Vice President at FreedomWorks, editor of RealClearMarkets, and the author of the newly released book, When Politicians Panicked: The New Coronavirus, Expert Opinion, and a Tragic Lapse of Reason. In the following extract, he describes how the opposite of isolating people in their homes – opening the world up and making it easier for people to bump into each other – has helped reduce our vulnerability to disease.

Oxford professor Sunetra Gupta, one of the authors of The Great Barrington Declaration, has long argued that globalisation’s genius has been understated. It’s not just that the division of labour has enabled relentless specialisation among the world’s workers, it’s not just that people ‘bumping into each other’ have spread ideas and processes that have driven even greater economic advancement that has easily been the greatest foe of disease and death, globalisation has also fostered a great deal of physical, in-person interaction among productive, specialised people increasingly possessing the means to see the globe.

As a consequence they haven’t just seen the world. In a health sense, they’ve spread viruses around the world. With more and more of the world’s inhabitants moving around the globe, so have viruses. The spreading hasn’t weakened the global population, rather it’s strengthened it. Immunity is most notably achieved naturally, and it’s achieved much more quickly when people are constantly interacting with other people.

worth reading in full.

Imperial: “It Will Be Vital to Emphasise the Importance of Normalising and Ensuring Adherence to All Measures Even After ‘Full Lifting’ is Achieved”

There follows a guest post by Lockdown Sceptics regular and second-year maths student Glen Bishop.

I thought I would just write with a few points from the Imperial College paper for SAGE released today that might be useful. I haven’t been through the Warwick or LSHTM ones yet, but I am sure they are similar. It is the same bad modelling with dodgy and out-of-date assumptions.

They are using the same vaccine efficacy assumptions they used in their paper released on February 22nd for the original lockdown release plan. They were out of date and underestimates then and haven’t been updated. AstraZeneca efficacy against severe disease (and therefore death) is assumed to be 80% in the model. The EAVE study in Scotland put it at 94% and the latest AstraZeneca study in the U.S. put it at 100%. The difference on projections is obviously massive. Even if the real figure is only 90% and all vulnerable groups have had the vaccine, then projections will be over-predicting deaths in the vaccinated population two-fold and if it’s 95% then they will be over-predicting deaths four-fold. The difference between 80%, 90% and 95% seems small, but the implications for end results are enormous and this is just one of a dozen assumptions, with uncertainties that compound together to make the projections absolutely useless.

Even with their dodgy modelling and assumptions, the Imperial team predicts a worst-case scenario of 40,000 deaths between June 2021 and June 2022 with a central estimate of 15,700 deaths. Winter flu season in 2017-18 had 22,000 flu deaths, so this is well within normal tolerance for death from respiratory disease which everybody accepts with zero interventions except voluntary vaccination. Also, worth noting that a significant number of those Covid deaths would be people who chose not to have a vaccine.

More alarming is this part in their summary: “Whilst the impact of Test Trace Isolate (TTI), mask wearing, hand hygiene, and Covid security on R is difficult to quantify, it will be vital to emphasise the importance of normalising and ensuring adherence to all measures even after ‘full lifting’ is achieved.” In other words, they have no idea if masks, TTI and the Orwellian-named “COVID security” (which I assume is social distancing and all the niggly little rules that busybody managerial types love) actually have any effect, but they are going to insist they become part of everyday life anyway.

The models assume – and the Imperial group advocates – that masks, TTI and “COVID security” remain indefinitely after June. They mention no end date. They seem to want to make this a new normal that lasts forever. This is typical out-of-touch, irrational and neurotic behaviour from SAGE. As we know, if everything returns to real normal, SAGE members lose their celebrity status as advisers and all that comes with it. An advisor will always advise that you need more advice and keeping masks, TTI and “Covid security” allow them to do just that.

Boris and the ‘Conservatives’ are going to have to cut SAGE off at some point or they might as well go back to their country homes and hand SAGE the keys to No. 10.