But whatever the reason, mask mandates were a fool’s errand from the start. They may have created a false sense of safety — and thus permission to resume semi-normal life. They did almost nothing to advance safety itself. The Cochrane report ought to be the final nail in this particular coffin.
There’s a final lesson. The last justification for masks is that, even if they proved to be ineffective, they seemed like a relatively low-cost, intuitively effective way of doing something against the virus in the early days of the pandemic. But “do something” is not science, and it shouldn’t have been public policy. And the people who had the courage to say as much deserved to be listened to, not treated with contempt. They may not ever get the apology they deserve, but vindication ought to be enough.
Jefferson and his colleagues also looked at the evidence for social distancing, hand washing, and sanitising/sterilising surfaces — in total, 78 randomised trials with over 610,000 participants.
Jefferson doesn’t grant many interviews with journalists — he doesn’t trust the media. But since we worked together at Cochrane a few years ago, he decided to let his guard down with me.
Interestingly, 12 trials in the review, ten in the community and two among healthcare workers, found that wearing masks in the community probably makes little or no difference to influenza-like or Covid-19-like illness transmission. Equally, the review found that masks had no effect on laboratory-confirmed influenza or SARS-CoV-2 outcomes. Five other trials showed no difference between one type of mask over another.
There is uncertainty about the effects of face masks. The low to moderate certainty of evidence means our confidence in the effect estimate is limited, and that the true effect may be different from the observed estimate of the effect. The pooled results of RCTs did not show a clear reduction in respiratory viral infection with the use of medical/surgical masks. There were no clear differences between the use of medical/surgical masks compared with N95/P2 respirators in healthcare workers when used in routine care to reduce respiratory viral infection. Hand hygiene is likely to modestly reduce the burden of respiratory illness, and although this effect was also present when ILI and laboratory‐confirmed influenza were analysed separately, it was not found to be a significant difference for the latter two outcomes. Harms associated with physical interventions were under‐investigated.
The risk of myocarditis in this large cohort study was highest in young males after the second SARS-CoV-2 vaccine dose, and this risk should be balanced against the benefits of protecting against severe COVID-19 disease.
Speaking this week on The Mail on Sunday’s Medical Minefield podcast, Prof Woolhouse said: ‘I think that lockdown will be viewed by history as a monumental mistake on a global scale, for a number of reasons.
‘The obvious one is the immense harm the lockdown, more than any other measure, did in terms of the economy, mental health and on the wellbeing of society.
…[A study published in Science in February 2021] also found something intriguing: lockdowns could, in a worst-case scenario, actually increase transmission of the virus by up to five per cent.
…As Dr Ali puts it: ‘Some people say lockdowns were beneficial, others that they were really terrible.
‘The reality actually is much closer to the idea that it didn’t make much difference either way.’
For those who made painful sacrifices, that won’t be an easy truth to swallow.
It is more than a rebuke to Medley and the modellers though. This pandemic began, for many, with an announcement from Imperial College, whose study predicted 500,000 deaths if we did nothing. We locked down and never tested the prediction.
This time, in the face of what the public saw as dire predictions, we didn’t lock down and the apocalypse never came. The unspoken — and sometimes spoken — implication is clear: are we all fools?
Welcome to Denmark, where Covid is over – again. Yesterday, the Scandinavian nation became the first country in Europe to put an end to all coronavirus-related laws. In the eyes of the Danish government and, crucially, the vast majority of its 5.8m citizens, the virus is no longer deemed a “critical threat to society”. Cases remain high – very high – but the Danes have moved on. Even if you test positive, there is no longer a legal obligation to self-isolate.
In the capital, Copenhagen, there was an atmosphere of cautious relief on Tuesday morning as people crammed into the Metro, onto commuter trains and buses, and into shops without face masks for the first time since November.
The omicron epidemic is being driven by young, vaccinated people, according to mounting data from countries as diverse as the UK, Denmark and South Africa.
The new variant has now been detected in more than 60 countries, including 24 in Europe, with a similar pattern of infection and characteristics being reported across the globe.
…Data from Denmark – a world leader in genetic sequencing – shows that, of 3,437 omicron cases detected, just over 70 per cent have been among those younger than 40, according to the breakdown from the Statens Serum Institut published on Monday.
Some 75 per cent of these cases were in fully vaccinated individuals, the institute added, confirming that even the double jabbed can carry the virus.
Iceland on Friday suspended the Moderna anti-COVID vaccine, citing the slight increased risks of cardiac inflammation, going further than its Nordic neighbours which simply limited use of the jabs.
…This decision owed to “the increased incidence of myocarditis and pericarditis after vaccination with the Moderna vaccine, as well as with vaccination using Pfizer/BioNTech,” the chief epidemiologist said in a statement.
It’s amazing how often Sweden still crops up in conversations. It didn’t impose tough lockdown, kept primary schools and core economic activities functioning, issued clear guidelines and relied on voluntary social distancing and personal hygiene practices to manage the crisis. For harsh lockdowns to be justified elsewhere, Sweden had to be discredited. Hence the harsh criticisms of Sweden’s approach last year by the New York Times, Newsweek, USA Today, CBS News and others.
But with Sweden’s demonstrable success, goalposts have shifted. Every time it’s mentioned as a counter to Europe’s high Covid-toll lockdown countries, the response now is: ‘But their Nordic neighbours did much better. Look at Denmark’. Let’s ‘interrogate’ this argument.
Danish authorities have opted for a more cautious path, even though Reuters reported that excluding J&J’s shot could significantly delay the country’s vaccination efforts.
Danish drug officials last month abandoned the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, also citing the risk of blood clots. In March, Denmark became the first country in the world to temporarily suspend the AstraZeneca shot, but unlike its European neighbors, the country made that suspension permanent.
Meanwhile, the disconnect between what ordinary people can see with their own eyes and the Covid regulations only confirms the idea that Government pronouncements are no longer to be taken literally. The rules are starting to seem symbolic and removed, subject to broad reinterpretation. While the polling shows that people are content with the official pace of reopening, the mobility data (what people are actually doing) shows they have been quietly reopening their lives since January. Apple data now shows use of public transport in London up to nearly 70 per cent of normal from nearer 30 per cent at the start of this lockdown.
By plunging London into a Tier Three lockdown, the Government is going to do terrible harm to the city, the entire national economy, and to millions of lives.
No one can predict the number of people who will lose jobs, suffer poor mental health or who will have life-saving operations postponed until too late.
All we can say with any certainty is that all these things will happen, and not to a few isolated people. The harms caused by these new restrictions, like those caused by the previous over-reactions, will be immense.
- The Government is withholding much of the information we need to draw our own conclusions about better ways to handle the crisis.
- The weekly average number of Covid deaths in the capital is just over a tenth of what it was at its peak in April.
- Weekly average Covid admissions to London’s hospitals are a quarter of what were in the spring.
- The [UK Government’s] obsession with secrecy is not intended to hide the facts from enemy agents but from us, the general public.
- This disease is not like Spanish flu, or the plague. It does not sweep away young and old indiscriminately. In fact, many younger people – now more likely to catch Covid – will have it without even being aware. They will be infected but not affected.
- The average age of people dying with a Covid infection is 82 years and four months – 14 months more than the average life expectancy in Britain.
- In November the total number of deaths in London was very little different to the average over the past five years.
- Covid is a respiratory virus that spreads on the wind. Just look at the leaves blowing around – that’s what viral particles do when we walk past each other.
- Cloth or woven paper masks are no barrier to this tiny virus either, as shown by the world’s only controlled study, from Denmark, which found that they only made a small, ‘non-statistically-significant’ difference.