The great 20th-century pandemics, comparable in so many ways to their 21st-century heir, accounted for myriad private tragedies. Yet, unlike this novel coronavirus, their public, political significance was negligible. They were treated as public-health challenges, problems for clinicians, virologists and epidemiologists. And there were arguments at the time that more should have been done to mitigate their harm. But there was no sense of a world ending. No talk of a new normal. No attempt, that is, to reorganise the entirety of societal life around the threat they posed.
Unlike previous epidemics, in addressing COVID-19 nearly all international health organizations and national health ministries have treated a single positive result from a PCR-based test as confirmation of infection, even in asymptomatic persons without any history of exposure. This is based on a widespread belief that positive results in these tests are highly reliable. However, data on PCR-based tests for similar viruses show that PCR-based testing produces enough false positive results to make positive results highly unreliable over a broad range of real-world scenarios. This has clinical and case management implications, and affects an array of epidemiological statistics, including the asymptomatic ratio, prevalence, and hospitalization and death rates. Steps should be taken to raise awareness of false positives, reduce their frequency, and mitigate their effects. In the interim, positive results in asymptomatic individuals that haven’t been confirmed by a second test should be considered suspect.
2:55 – Masks
• Tom Jefferson: “Aside from people who are exposed on the frontlines, there is no evidence that masks make any difference, but what’s even more extraordinary is the uncertainty: we don’t know if these things make any difference…. We should have done randomised control trials in February, March and April but not anymore because viral circulation is low and we will need huge number of enrolees to show whether there was any difference”.
• Carl Heneghan: “By all means people can wear masks but they can’t say it’s an evidence-based decision… there is a real separation between an evidence-based decision and the opaque term that ‘we are being led by the science’, which isn’t the evidence”.
9:26 – Pandemic life cycle
• CH: “One of the keys of the infection is to look at who’s been infected, which shows a crucial difference when comparing the pandemic theory to seasonal theory. In a pandemic you’d expect to see young people disproportionately affected, but in the UK we’ve only had six child deaths, which is far less than we’d normally see in a pandemic. The high number of deaths with over-75s fits with the seasonal theory”.
14:00 – Covid seasonality
• CH: “The stability of the virus is far less when the temperature goes up but humidity seems to be particularly important. The lower the humidity, the more stable the virus is in the atmosphere and on surfaces… It’s now winter in the southern hemisphere, which is why places like Australia are suddenly having outbreaks.”
20:37 – Lockdown
• CH: “Many people said that we should have locked down earlier, but 50% of care homes developed outbreaks during the lockdown period so there are issues within the transmission of this virus that are not clear… Lockdown is a blunt tool and there needs to be intelligent conversations about what mitigation strategies can keep society functioning while we keep the most vulnerable shielded”.
25:20 – Nightingale hospitals
• CH: “They are the wrong structure. What you need is fever hospitals which were here until around the 1980s or 90s. They were on single floors and had isolation within isolation. Theere were no lift shafts and staff were trained, which meant that everyone was protected from each other… It looks like at leats 20% of people got the infection while they were in hospital”
27:30 – Suppression strategy
• CH: “The benefits of the current strategy are outweighed by the harms…When it comes to suppression, only the virus will have a determination in that. If you follow the New Zealand policy of suppressing it to zero and locking down the country forever, then you’re going to have a problem… This virus is so out there now, I cannot see a strategy that makes suppression the viable option. The strategy right now should be how we learn to live with this virus”
32:45 – Response to the virus
• TJ: “I am a survivor of four pandemics and for the other three, I didn’t even realise they were going on. People died but nothing changed and none of the fabric of society was eroded like this response… Do I see steps being taken at a European level about learning from our mistakes and changing policies? The answer is no…
39:30 – Politics of the virus
• CH: “We as individuals are part of the problem because sensationalism drives people to click and read the information. So it’s a big circle because we’ve created the problem — if we put the worst case scenario out there, we will go and have a look. If you want a solution, you’ve got to get people to stop clicking on this sensationalist stuff”.
43:30 – IFR
• CH: “We will be down about where we were with the swine flu: around 0.1-0.3% which is much lower than what we think because at the moment we are seeing the case fatality”.
• TJ: “If you look at the whole narrative, it was distorted from the very beginning by the obsession with influenza which was just one or two agents and nothing else existed. We’re no different now”.
The coronavirus pandemic was probably already in retreat before the full lockdown was imposed, the chief medical officer for England said as he insisted that there was no “huge delay” in government action.
Chris Whitty said that “many of the problems we had came out of lack of testing capacity”. He blamed a failure to build up public health infrastructure in previous years for leaving Britain unprepared.
Chris Whitty blames poor planning for lockdown in bad-tempered health committee – The Times, 22 July 2020
Discussion around vaccinations can be very contentious. There’s great nuance in this area and a short post will not do justice to the complex issues surrounding the usefulness and safety of vaccines. Nevertheless, while vaccines may have their role in protecting target populations from disease, not all have been proven safe to an acceptable level as shown in the resources below.
The UK government’s Vaccine Damage Payment scheme is probably the strongest proof that vaccines can be unsafe. Under the Vaccine Damage Payment scheme, people who have been severely disabled as a result of a vaccination against certain diseases can be eligible for a one-off tax-free payment of £120,000.
Conspiracy theorists are putting lives at risk?
Despite this objective fact that a compensation scheme exists for hose who have been damaged by vaccines, Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed that conspiracy theorists are putting lives at risk:
“Those who promulgate lies about dangers of vaccines that are safe and have been approved–they are threatening lives…”Source: The Independent, 20 July 2020
Clearly, concerns about the safely of vaccines cannot be lies if there is a vaccine damage compensation scheme in place.
Eligibility changed in 2015
Eligibility requirements for vaccines covering certain diseases are listed and change over time. Interestingly, sometime around 2015, damage from vaccines for influenza caused by pandemics are explicitly listed as not eligible.
We do not know how the government compiles is eligibility criteria or why this change was made. However, it would be worthwhile to keep an eye on this list to see if the status of the upcoming COVID-19 vaccines.
AstraZeneca protected from vaccine liability
Update 1 August 2020: On 30 July 2020, Reuters reported that AstraZeneca, the UK government’s partner for developing its COVID-19 vaccine, will be exempt from coronavirus vaccine liability claims in most countries. The countries have not been named but Ruud Dobber, a member of Astra’s senior executive team, commented:
“This is a unique situation where we as a company simply cannot take the risk if in … four years the vaccine is showing side effects.
In the contracts we have in place, we are asking for indemnification. For most countries it is acceptable to take that risk on their shoulders because it is in their national interest.”
- UK Government Vaccine Damage Payment (gov.uk)
- Ministers lose fight to stop payouts over swine flu jab narcolepsy cases (The Guardian)
- Dengue vaccine fiasco leads to criminal charges for researcher in the Philippines (Science Magazine)
- Polio outbreaks in Africa caused by mutation of strain in vaccine
- The Vaccination Debate (The Guardian)
- AstraZeneca to be exempt from coronavirus vaccine liability claims in most countries (Reuters)
In reality many of the people who died from Covid-19 were likely to die this year anyway, so in one respect this estimate is likely to be too high. In another respect it’s likely to be too low, as it will not include ‘lockdown deaths’, that is, the deaths from delayed cancer and heart treatments, and so on, but as I was interested in the effect of Covid-19 I didn’t want those in my graph anyway. (Another complication is that not everyone who is classed as a Covid-19 death actually died from it, but I decided to ignore this.)
The five year average for 2015-19 is 531,355 deaths per year. As of writing this there were 42,462 Covid-19 deaths in the UK. There are likely to be a few more deaths in the next few weeks, but not many more, as the disease is (barring an unlikely second wave in winter), on its way out. Besides, the number we are adding on here is for the whole of the UK, not just England and Wales, so if anything this number is inflated. That gives us 573,817 deaths for 2020. Then I got hold of the historical population figures for England and Wales, and calculated the death rates per 1000 from it, so that population increases are taken account of. Here is the result:
Interview notes and charts
- The difference between what the government was telling us and what their information was telling us was so extreme and outrageous.
- Exponential means a “constant rate of growth.” The government data in March was clearly showing that the COVID-19 was declining, not growing exponentially. This was the same in all countries you could see the data. [See chart 1]
- A constantly declining growth rate will make a bell curve. The government were standing in front of bell curve graphs during their briefings yet they were telling us we were in the middle of the epidemic.
- It was very clear that we were heading to a peak sometime around early to mid-April.
- You don’t have to be complicated mathematics to see that COVID-19 was running out of steam almost from day one.
- The conclusion from the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine seems to be that it’s impossible to predict if there will be a second wave.
- Sweden’s epidemic looks identical to the UK’s but they did not lockdown. Their datapoint indicates there won’t be a second wave. There has been no spike in Denmark either. [See chart 2]
- Unknowns: has summer affected COVID-19 and will there be a mutation?
- Will illnesses during the autumn and winter be mis-attributed to COVID-19? Poor media coverage means that we can’t be sure.
- Symptoms of COVID-19 are very similar to the flu. Something could look like a second wave but will we really know?
- The lockdown is costing a Brexit bill a week.
- The government response seems to have been skewed by Neil Ferguson’s modelling data. The make-up of government advisors seems to be a recipe for groupthink, which is very dangerous.
- Epidemiology (the way a disease spreads through the population) is not complicated science. The government could have had lots of people who were very good at this but they didn’t.
- We should have cocooned the vulnerable, make sure the NHS has capacity and “let it rip” through the population.
- We should never have had an open-ended lockdown.
- The ‘R number’ is just the difference of in the number of people infected after each generation of a disease. Britain crossed the ‘magical R of 1’ line a few days before lockdown and the same day as Sweden. Whatever interventions have been done doesn’t seem to have had any effect. [See chart 3]
- COVID-19 is mostly a care home and hospital disease. This was obvious very early on. Old people should not have been moved from hospitals into care homes. It seems as if we knowingly seeded the most vulnerable environment with the disease.
- 37% of our deaths are care home residents but they are only 0.5% of our population. Of them are dementia sufferers.
- Over 20% of the infections were picked up in the hospitals. COVID-19 seems more like MRSA than influenza in that it’s an infection control problem.
- COVID-19 is much more comparable to flu for the rest of the population.
- 1968 flu killed 80,000 people in the UK.
- This last winter was a low flu winter. It’s quite possible that the people who died of COVID-19 are those who didn’t die.
- If you overlay COVID-19 deaths with the 2000 flu season, they look very similar. [See chart 4]
- 95% of deaths have had another serious disease. Most people have almost no chance of dying from COVID-19.
- If you are under 40, you have more chance of being struck by lightning that dying of COVID-19.
- If you are under 60, you have more chance of drowning.
- At any age, you have more chance of dying on the roads than dying of COVID-19.
- Lead indicators of 111 and 999 calls with COVID-19 symptoms show there was no spike after VE Day celebrations or BLM protests. In fact, it was even coming down at lockdown. That lockdown was big change for COVID-19 is invisible in the data. [See chart 5]
Chart 1: COVID-19 was declining in Europe as of march. It was not growing exponentially
Chart 2: Sweden’s epidemic looks similar to the UK’s but they did not lock down.
Chart 3: Britain crossed the ‘magical R of 1’ line a few days before lockdown
Chart 4: COVID-19 deaths overlayed with the 2000 flu season
Chart 5: No spike after BLM protests
Most Flu Is Asymptomatic
On average, roughly 20% of the unvaccinated had serologic evidence of influenza infection, but up to three quarters of the infected were asymptomatic. The proportions did not vary significantly between seasonal and pandemic influenzas. The pandemic H1N1 strain was associated with less severe symptoms than the seasonal H3N2 strain.NEJM Journal Watch, 17 March 2014
THERE IS a growing body of evidence which, if it is ever proved true and it may well be when our present nightmare is over, would leave the Government’s policy over the past 20 months in discredited tatters.
Trying to predict the future is the oldest delusion known to Man. It has never worked, save exceptionally by a fluke. This time we were told “Follow the science”.
What’s truly surprising is just how recent the theory behind lockdown and forced distancing actually is. So far as anyone can tell, the intellectual machinery that made this mess was invented 14 years ago, and not by epidemiologists but by computer-simulation modelers. It was adopted not by experienced doctors – they warned ferociously against it – but by politicians.
Part 1: Exponential Growth is Terrifying
Part 2: Curve Fitting for Understanding
Part 3: COVID19 Never Grows Exponentially
- Professor Karol Sikora says that COVID-19 behaves like pandemics in the past.
- Society is scarred all over the world.
- The virus will go but the fear will do the damage.
Note: YouTube has taken down the video. Please go directly to UnHerd’s site:
Professor Karol Sikora has become something of a celebrity in the UK over the past months for his expert commentary on the pandemic, and his unusual tendency for optimism rather than pessimism.
Virus ‘getting tired’
– In the past two weeks, the virus is showing signs of petering out
– It’s as though the virus is ‘getting tired’, almost ‘getting bored’
– It’s happening across the world at the same time
Existing herd immunity
– The serology results around the world (and forthcoming in Britain) don’t necessarily reveal the percentage of people who have had the disease
– He estimates 25-30% of the UK population has had Covid-19, and higher in the group that is most susceptible
– Pockets of herd immunity help *already* explain the downturn
– Sweden’s end result will not be different to ours – lockdown versus no lockdown
Fear more deadly than the virus
– When the history books are written, the fear will have killed many more people than the virus, including large numbers of cancer and cardiological patients not being treated
– We should have got the machinery of the NHS for non-corona patients back open earlier
Masks and schools
– Evidence on masks is just not there either way so it should be an ‘individual decision’
– We should move to 1m social distancing which means restaurants and bars could reopen
– More schools should reopen in June as ‘children are not the transmitters of this virus’
– We should be getting back to the ‘old normal’ not a ‘new normal’
What is unique about this pandemic–apart from the fact that it’s rather small–is that the damage that it does is self-inflicted.
This is a very odd plague. It’s rather small in scale but it’s gigantic in consequences because we have chosen to inflict a form of economic suicide on ourselves.
This week on “So What You’re Saying Is…”: Dr. David Starkey argues that a calamitous series of events and decisions caused a panicked British government to recklessly abandon its sensible coronavirus plan for one that is likely to harm the nation far more than the virus itself.
Comparing this virus with historical pandemics Starkey believes the dire situation we are encountering today has a different cause. Earlier pandemics such as the Black Death eradicated up to half of the population of Europe. In contrast, although it is profoundly tragic on a personal level to the individuals and familiies it afflicts, coronavirus is nowhere near as devastating on a population-wide level as previous pandemics. Consequently, Starkey argues, the Conservative government was correct to follow a similar path to Sweden which was far more relaxed than elsewhere in Europe.
This approach suited Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s libertarian attitude and personality. But on a single weekend there was a calamitous confluence of events and decisions that caused the Tory government to panic (Northwick Park hospital overwhelmed, Imperial College modelling showing potential 500,00 deaths etc.) and enforce an extreme lockdown without any plan to deal with the epidemic. It was simply a goal to protect the NHS.
Protect the NHS: The Tory Government, says Dr. Starkey, was desperate not to be seen as responsible or the NHS being overwhelmed. Eager to prove to the traditional Labour “Red Wall” that the Conservative Party really was their natural home, the British government prioritised the NHS’s capacity to deal with Covid-19 over everything else– but disastrously this included its treatment of cancer patients etc. A bizarre and unprecdented abandoning of the Hippocratic oath that we have not seen in other countries, argues Starkey.
The COVID-19 epidemic curves are consistent and follow the Gompertz curve. Similar distributions have been reported for Influenza, such as the 1918/19 epidemic in Prussia.
The threat of an influenza pandemic has alarmed countries around the globe and given rise to an intense interest in disease mitigation measures. This article reviews what is known about the effectiveness and practical feasibility of a range of actions that might be taken in attempts to lessen the number of cases and deaths resulting from an influenza pandemic. The article also discusses potential adverse second- and third-order effects of mitigation actions that decision makers must take into account. Finally, the article summarizes the authors’ judgments of the likely effectiveness and likely adverse consequences of the range of disease mitigation measures and suggests priorities and practical actions to be taken.