We’re publishing an original piece today by Lockdown Sceptics regular Glen Bishop, a second year maths student at Nottingham University. Glen has read a paper released by the Warwick modelling team that is part of SAGE’s SPI-M group last May and uncovered some interesting facts. Not the least of these is that when the team modelled what the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration refer to as “Focused Protection”, i.e. protecting the elderly and allowing those who aren’t vulnerable to the disease to go about their lives taking sensible precautions, as they would during a normal flu season, the projected loss of life between March 2020 and May 2021 was 138,000, only 11,000 more than the 127,000 that have supposedly died from Covid already, with the Government embracing the suppression strategy endorsed by SPI-M. The modelling team also acknowledges that of all the alternatives to an indiscriminate lockdown, shielding those aged 60 and over would have resulted in the least loss of life as well as the least socio-economic disruption. Here’s the key paragraph from the Warwick paper:
A completely uncontrolled outbreak is predicted to lead to around 200,000 deaths, approximately 2 million QALY losses but no lockdown impacts. If the current controls are maintained until the end of 2020, then we predict 39,000 deaths this year , but a further 159,000 if controls were then completely removed. Regional switching and age-dependent strategies provide alternative exit strategies in the absence of pharmaceutical interventions. Of these, the age-dependent shielding of those age 60 or over generates the lowest mortality and also the lowest lockdown scale, thereby minimising socio-economic disruption. However, it is unclear if a protracted lockdown of this age-group would be practical, ethical or politically acceptable.
Lord Jonathan Sumption in the Telegraph delivers a blistering attack on SAGE’s “garbage Covid models” and the ever-changing position of the goalposts for exiting lockdown.
The modellers have been at it again. The modelling committee of SAGE (which goes by the unlovely name of SPI-M-O) has produced a report projecting the consequences of ending restrictions in accordance with the Government’s Covid Roadmap. The projection which has attracted the most attention, and was surely designed to, is that on “pessimistic but plausible” assumptions there will be a third wave in the summer if the restrictions are eased, leading to hospitalisations as bad as at the January peak.
Does that seem odd? It should. The January peak reflected the situation before vaccinations took effect. So we are being told that it is “plausible” to think that the vaccines may make little difference to hospitalisations.
When Imperial College produced its modelling report last March, which pushed the Government into the first lockdown, they pointed out that unless restrictions were kept in place until there was a vaccine, infections and associated hospitalisations and deaths would simply surge again once the restrictions were lifted.
The goalposts are now being shifted. We are being told that the restrictions may have to be kept in place even though there are now highly effective vaccines. Hospitalisations and deaths are at rock bottom. Almost all of the more vulnerable groups have been vaccinated. Even accounting for the MHRA’s changed advice regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine, a high proportion of the rest will have been inoculated by June. If the vaccine is not an exit route, then what is? The logic of the modellers’ more extreme projections is that the restrictions may have to stay in place indefinitely.
The Government’s “roadmap” out of lockdown could be sped up because of the success of Britain’s vaccine rollout, according to a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling (SPI-M) group. The Mailhas the story.
Britain’s roadmap out of lockdown could be sped up because the coronavirus vaccines are working so well, according to one of the Government scientists – despite doomsday modelling by SAGE suggesting lifting restrictions could trigger a surge in deaths.
Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick team that correctly predicted the UK’s second wave, said he was “really pleasantly surprised” that reopening schools did not cause a spike in infections.
The infectious disease modeller, who is also a member of the SPI-M group whose calculations feed into SAGE, told LBC Radio: “If these numbers keep going down over the next few weeks there certainly is an argument to say ‘well actually, we’re doing really well with the road map, it could be sped up’.”
This week, some of the modelling in documents released by SAGE suggested that lifting curbs fully in June could lead to more than a thousand deaths a day this summer and push the NHS to the brink again.
Dr Tildesley conceded “there may well be” a surge of cases across the country but probably not as high as some of the gloomy forecasts have predicted. The Government was this week accused of using “Project Fear” tactics to prolong coronavirus restrictions by stealth after releasing the tranche of SAGE papers.
The expert group included modelling from three different universities – Imperial College London, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Dr Tildesley’s team at Warwick University.
After reviewing all three papers, SAGE said social distancing, mask-wearing and Covid vaccine passports will need to remain in place for at least another year to keep the virus in check even when the most brutal curbs are lifted.
It added that while the vaccines prevent the vast majority of people from falling ill and dying from coronavirus, they “are not good enough” to see all curbs lifted “without a big epidemic”.
In March, the Government decided not to ease lockdown restrictions before Easter because of a warning from SAGE that this could lead to 55,000 more deaths. Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London, has criticised the Government’s scientific advisors for basing their forecasts on the most pessimistic assumptions.
They seem to be picking the most pessimistic of the assumptions each time in order to come up with the worst case scenario, perhaps to avoid complacency.
They might want to warn people that if we just relax our guard this is what could happen, that’s why a lot of language is written like that.
I’m certainly not arguing we should totally relax right now but I think the vaccine is doing better than they are saying… and they are just painting a much bleaker scenario than the reality.
The Government’s top scientific advisers have released papers today claiming social distancing and masks must remain in place for another year to avoid another wave of hospitalisations and deaths this summer at levels seen in January, despite the high vaccine take-up. The Mail has the details.
Social distancing will remain in place until next year even if Boris Johnson‘s roadmap out of lockdown goes to plan, the Government’s top scientific advisers warned today.
Senior SAGE sources said that while the vaccines prevent the vast majority of people from falling ill and dying from coronavirus, they “are not good enough” to see all curbs lifted “without a big epidemic”.
All legal limits on social contact were to be abolished by June 21st as part of the final stage of the Prime Minister’s four-step route out of the crisis. It was hoped that festivals, sports events and nightclubs would reopen and that families and friends could reunite in large numbers after that date for the first time since winter 2020.
However, No 10’s experts claimed today that “baseline measures”, including some form of social distancing and masks, would need to remain in place until this time next year. They said they are “reasonably confident” that Covid will be manageable by then.
The AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines reduce Covid deaths by about 90%, but there are fears high infection rates could see the virus spill into the small number of vulnerable people who haven’t been jabbed or for whom the vaccines don’t work.
Despite the pessimistic comments, Mr Johnson is set to announce the country is on track for the second stage of his lockdown easing plans on April 12th, which will see shops, gyms, hairdressers and beer gardens reopen again.
Cases and deaths are at their lowest levels in six months and more than half of the adult population has been vaccinated with at least one dose of the jabs.
Papers released by SAGE today show the expert group is confident next week’s lockdown-easing measures will not pile pressure on the NHS, even if there is a slight uptick in infections, because of the success of the jab rollout.
But the advisory panel is less optimistic about future stages of the roadmap, adding that it is “highly likely that there will be a further resurgence in hospitalisations and deaths”.
They said the reopening of pubs, cinemas and indoor hospitality – due to happen on May 17th – could be delayed if vaccine uptake in the under-50s dips below 85%.
Modelling by Warwick University, Imperial College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine (LSHTM) warned of a late summer surge after “freedom day” in June which could rival levels seen this January when hospitals were nearly overwhelmed.
It comes despite the models being relied on having been consistently wrong in hugely over-predicting deaths due to faulty assumptions about the deadliness of the virus, the susceptibility of the population, the effectiveness of interventions and the seasonality of the virus.
We’re publishing an original piece today by Dr James Moreton Wakeley, a former Parliamentary researcher, about the Government’s shameful use of behavioural science to terrify people into complying with its draconian lockdown edicts. James is involved in Time For Recovery, the group led by Jon Dobinson, which is launching a new campaign later this week to bring greater attention to the Government’s deliberate use of fear and the campaign’s disastrous consequences. One of these consequences is highlighted in HSJ today – NHS hospitals are unable to cope with the surge in admissions of children with mental health problems. Here’s an extract from James’s piece:
Manufacturing and stoking fear to influence behaviour is recognised as deeply unethical. The Covid campaign of fear flies in the face of the British Psychological Society’s Code of Ethics and Conduct, which is based in part on the values of respecting the patient and being honest with them. In January, 47 health professionals wrote to the British Psychological Society to express their concern at the way in which the Government has manipulated behavioural science to inculcate lockdown compliance. Other scientists and psychologists have written stinging polemics against the Government’s approach, grounded in the most cutting-edge research on the mind.
There is, however, tragically, now ample evidence of the impact of the campaign of fear that shows the concerns aren’t merely theoretical. The campaign of fear has caused nothing short of a wholly-avoidable physical and mental health crisis. In the first lockdown, over 6,000 people died at home from non-Covid diseases, being too scared to go to hospital. Visits to Accident & Emergency departments collapsed. Over 44,000 fewer people started cancer treatment than in the previous year, with 4.4 million fewer diagnostic tests being carried out: figures that cancer specialists like Professor Karol Sikora have linked to undue fear.
Demand for mental health support has sky-rocketed. An additional 27,000 adults sought support last year and it is now understood that one in six of 5-16 year olds have a mental health condition. The continuing and wholly un-justified face mask mandate in schools is likely to compound this, as well as leading to additional physical ailments. Overall, the Centre for Mental Health has warned that 20% of all adults and 15% of all children will need help dealing with conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder over the coming years.
Stop Press: The illustration accompanying this story is a poster Recovery is using to promote its latest campaign, but said poster has been banned by JC Decaux, the world’s largest poster company, because it supposedly contains “political undertones”. Needless to say, JC Decaux hasn’t refused to run any of the Government’s pro-lockdown propaganda. Guido has the story.
Fear is our most powerful emotion. It triggers our deepest animal instincts and makes us act in irrational ways. We find ourselves fighting, fleeing, or hiding. We look only to our own safety, forget how to think, and become heedless of anything or anyone else. Fear is the ultimate master of the mind. Employing it as a form of influence, however softly, however subliminally, can profoundly change behaviour and cause lasting mental trauma. Enemies do it in times of war to undermine their foe’s morale and will to resist. It is the tactic used by totalitarian regimes throughout history to compel obedience.
And it is the tactic that the British government, for the past year, has consciously employed to turn us into the compliant subjects of lockdown.
Using such behavioural science to ‘nudge’ us into acting in certain ways is not new. As conceived by the Cameron government, harnessing ‘nudge theory’ to encourage people ‘to make better choices for themselves’ without resorting to the compulsion of law is not necessarily malign. Yet the ways in which behavioural science has been employed over the course of the past year demonstrates the deep truth of the old aphorism that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (SPI-B) is the sub-committee of SAGE tasked with providing advice to the Government on how best to encourage obedience to its lockdown measures. In a meeting held on March 22nd 2020, it identified a number of psychological techniques for the Government to employ that mark a transition from the traditional tendency of public information campaigns to supply clear facts – expecting a rational reaction to them – to the use of subliminal manipulation. Alleging that a “substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened”, the meeting concluded that “the perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging”. Appendix B to the meeting’s minutes lists a raft of specific methods to foster lockdown compliance, ranging from generating a sense of social approval for the Government’s measures, to using the media to promote a sense of personal threat and a responsibility for collective welfare.
The reach of this campaign has been unprecedented. In the wake of the announcement of the first lockdown, the Government became the largest advertiser in the country. It spent £184 million of taxpayers’ money in 2020 alone, launching visually-shocking poster campaigns alongside radio and television advertisements. The daily Downing Street briefings have also served to expose the British people to a daily threnody of doom, in which uncontextualised statistics and the recitation of messages of threat have served to amplify the effort to make the public feel afraid.
The Government is not the only prophet of fear. One of the most noticeable features of the Downing Street briefings has been the abject failure of journalists to interrogate the Government or its scientific advisers. Their ‘questions’ often seem to give ministers the chance to reiterate their call to abide by the lockdown measures rather than querying the need for them, or presenting ministers and state scientists with evidence that undermines their assessment of the situation. This wholly unusual degree of press subservience is not a coincidence.
Ofcom, the body responsible for setting broadcast standards, has all but compelled broadcasters to become conspirators in the campaign of fear. In guidance released on May 26th 2020, it asked broadcasters to “take particular care” when discussing “statements that seek to question or undermine the advice of public health bodies on the Coronavirus, or otherwise undermine people’s trust in the advice of mainstream sources of information about the disease”. Ofcom may have stated that it does not advocate the banning of divergent views from the airways, but, in its threat to take action against broadcasters who stray from the script, the risks to broadcast journalists and editors were nonetheless clear. In its rulings against broadcasters that have given voice to views that the body deemed potentially causative of “public harm”, it is apparent that Ofcom has become willing to expand its previous understanding of the concept, thereby creating a further disincentive against broadcasting Covid heterodoxy.
These implications seem to have been sensed, at least to an extent, by the policy’s architects in SPI-B. When suggesting the use of the media “to increase the sense of personal threat”, SPI-B notes that there could be “negative spill-over effects”. The committee is silent on what these effects could be. Other psychologists and behavioural scientists could easily have told them.
Fear, stimulated by the perception of threat, causes an alarm reaction in the part of the brain that controls the emotions, the amygdala. This reaction shuts down the neural pathway to our prefrontal cortex – responsible for rational reasoning – meaning that we act suddenly and intensively, without thinking things through. It makes evolutionary sense. It is far better to respond to a potential threat by running away, or shooting first, than it is to engage in a period of leisurely, dispassionate reflection on the actual nature of that threat.
Problems, however, are caused when the amygdala is over-stimulated. It evolved to cope with sudden moments of extreme danger, not with a psychological campaign of previously unknown reach and technological sophistication, dedicated to exacerbating actual risk and spreading fear. When emotion keeps overriding reason, the brain is knocked off balance. Irrational and ultimately self-harming behaviour becomes a habit increasingly harder to kick. The perception of risk spreads, contaminating responses to scenarios beyond the alleged actual danger. We become neurotic, unreasonable, and over-reactive.
This can cause panic attacks, depression and anxiety, even post-traumatic stress disorder. It can inculcate new phobias or obsessive, compulsive behaviour. In short, an over-exposure to fear damages who we are, leading to deleterious consequences for mental health and everything that can mean for our relationships, careers, and basic zest for life. The effects of fear on the brain are exacerbated when our usual pattern of life is disturbed and we are forced into social isolation, a scenario well known to increase the risk of mortality alongside damaging mental health in and of itself. Children are most vulnerable to these effects. Over-exposure to fear in the early years can inhibit brain development and cause lasting emotional trauma.
The mind is not alone in suffering harm. There is a close link between mental health and physical health. Beyond the unfortunate tendency of people suffering from depression to avoid looking after themselves – or those too afraid to venture out into a world they have been told is riddled with a deadly plague to get help – over-exposure to fear can cause the body to neglect functions like immune responses and cell generation. This can cause premature ageing, cardiovascular problems, and can even affect fertility. Mental anxiety also increases gastrointestinal malfunction. Being told to “act like you have the virus”, moreover, can even prompt a “perverse kind of reverse placebo effect”, in the words of behavioural scientist Patrick Fagan, that stimulates the symptoms of disease.
Some truly shocking stories are to be found within statistics such as these. One grandmother from Gloucestershire took her own life, afraid that the minor cold she had contracted was Covid and fearful that she would give it to her family. I am sure that many of us have our own personal stories of friends and family who have become ever more anxious towards the world outside, or of once confident, go-getting colleagues for whom the world is now a much more forbidding place.
The campaign of fear must end now. This week, Recovery – a new movement founded to bring balance and reason to the lockdown debate – is launching a new campaign to bring greater attention to the Government’s deliberate use of fear and the campaign’s disastrous consequences. The British public deserve to know how dishonestly and abusively the Government has behaved. Those too scared to get treatment for conditions other than Covid, or scarred by a year of lockdown, need a voice. Once more people know how they have been manipulated, a more rational response to dealing with Covid may yet become possible, with more ears open to learning about the costs of lockdown and how there are other, better ways to deal with a pandemic.
As someone who stumbled across Recovery when trying to find ways to help end lockdown, I urge you to support the campaign. Please donate, share their message as widely as possible, and write to your Member of Parliament to get them to act now.
Let us be in no doubt about what the past year has seen. The Government has knowingly used fear to manipulate its people into behaving in a way it deems good for them. It is a policy suggested by advisers who seemed to have known what this could do to the brain, and who were also surely aware of the ethical questions such a policy raised. Assisted by a media that has been shaped into compliance, half-truths, exaggeration, and even lies have been deliberately employed to foster greater levels of obedience. This has had a deleterious impact on mental and physical health.
Of all of the tragedies of the past year, this has been the most avoidable. It asks questions not just of the ability of the state to deal with the pandemic in a measured, rational way, but also of the ethics of those responsible for it.
James Moreton Wakeley is a former parliamentary researcher with a PhD in History from Oxford.
The role of SAGE is likely to be reviewed when the pandemic is over. Some Government insiders have already admitted to having “bowed to” the advisory group too often over the past year. The Telegraph has the story.
A future independent inquiry into the handling of coronavirus is expected to scrutinise SAGE and consider whether such a monolithic body should hold so much power. Members of SAGE have themselves expressed concern that the group holds too much sway over ministerial thinking and prevents alternative views being given equal weight.
One possibility is that the Government sets up a so-called “red team” structure to challenge and check SAGE’s advice and the evidence behind it. Ministers could also demand more say over membership of the largely autonomous body, which changes with almost every meeting depending on who is invited by Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser.
Matt Hancock has made it clear during the pandemic that SAGE’s role is kept “under review”. Formed under the last Labour Government, SAGE had, until the Covid crisis, been a largely obscure committee of scientists that was convened a handful of times each year. It was first called into action to advise on the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic, and went on to advise the Government on the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the 2016 Zika Virus outbreak and the 2018 Salisbury poisonings.