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.
All too often, study results were used by experts who dipped into the pandemic – who have now dipped out – to back up positions of certainty. Such dogma led to the breakdown of constructive discussion. Consequently, destructive policies went largely unchallenged.
So we have one more casualty of the Covid 19 pandemic: science. This is based on free, civilised discussion and recognition of the presence and role of uncertainty – the vital ingredients for its progress. Following “the science” was not a potent force for effective policymaking when so much of the “science” was flawed.
It has been one of the most enduring Covid conspiracy theories: that the ‘gold standard’ PCR tests used to diagnose the virus were picking up people who weren’t actually infected.
Some even suggested the swabs, which have been carried out more than 200 million times in the UK alone, may mistake common colds and flu for corona.
If either, or both, were true, it would mean many of these cases should never have been counted in the daily tally – that the ominous and all-too-familiar figure, which was used to inform decisions on lockdowns and other pandemic measures, was an over-count.
And many of those who were ‘pinged’ and forced to isolate as a contact of someone who tested positive – causing a huge strain on the economy – did so unnecessarily.
Such statements, it must be said, have been roundly dismissed by top experts. And those scientists willing to give credence such concerns have been shouted down on social media, accused of being ‘Covid-deniers’, and even sidelined by colleagues.
But could they have been right all along?
Scientists did not have accurate Covid case numbers, and were unsure of hospitalisation and death rates when they published models suggesting that more than 500,000 people could die if Britain took no action in the first wave of the pandemic, it has emerged.
On March 16 2020, Imperial College published its “Report 9” paper suggesting that failing to take action could overwhelm the NHS within weeks and result in hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Before the paper, the UK coronavirus strategy was to flatten the peak rather than suppress the wave, but after the modelling was made public, the Government made a rapid u-turn, which eventually led to lockdown on March 23.
However SPI-M (Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling) minutes released to the Telegraph under a Freedom of Information request show that by March 16, modellers were still “uncertain” of case numbers “due to data limitations”.
The minutes show that members were waiting for comprehensive mortality data from Public Health England (PHE) and said that current best estimates for the infection fatality rate, hospitalisation rates, and the number of people needing intensive care were still uncertain.
They also believed that modelling only showed “proof of concept” that lockdowns could help, and warned that “further work would be required”.
Up to a third of people who tested positive for coronavirus by Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests were not contagious and did not need to self-isolate, a new study suggests.
Research led by academics from the University of Oxford found that many laboratories are setting the positivity bar very low, meaning they are picking up people who are “a danger to no one”.
…However, Freedom of Information requests made by members of the public and compiled by the University of Oxford show that NHS trusts are using vastly different cut-off thresholds, with little regulation from the Government. Some are as low as 25, while others are as high as 45.
The figures also show that between 23 and 37 per cent of people who were told they were positive had a cycle threshold value above 30. For one in 20, it was higher than 40.
The PCR verdict cannot tell these individuals whether they need to self-isolate or whether they might need treatment – the things that really matter to them and society.
n some cases, for example, viral RNA might be present in such very low quantities that an individual is not at all infectious and poses zero danger. In other cases, the swabs might pick up RNA which is so old it is completely dead, as people continue shedding material from the virus up to 80 days after the initial infection.
I believe these people are testing positive time and time again.
In the end, there was no statistically significant difference between those who wore masks and those who did not when it came to being infected by Covid-19. 1.8 per cent of those wearing masks caught Covid, compared to 2.1 per cent of the control group. As a result, it seems that any effect masks have on preventing the spread of the disease in the community is small.
…there is a troubling lack of robust evidence on face masks and Covid-19…The only studies which have shown masks to be effective at stopping airborne diseases have been ‘observational’…But observational studies are prone to recall bias: in the heat of a pandemic, not very many people will recall if and when they used masks and at what distance they kept from others.
- ‘Circuit break’ may be a grave error with terrible consequences for the health of the British people and for the health of the country.
- The Government is once again in the grip of doom-mongering scientific modellers who specialise in causing panic.
- The latest reliable data from Spain (up to September 3) which does not indicate any sort of upward curve in infections, let alone one coming to get us here in Britain.
- Anyone with clinical experience of dealing with respiratory viruses knows that the only certainty is uncertainty itself.
- Making comparisons between countries using different national data with different definitions is no more useful than trying to compare apples and pears.
- Latest study shows that nearly a third of all Covid-19 deaths recorded in July and August might have actually been the result of other causes –cancer, for example, or road traffic accidents.
- Sweden has probably suppressed Covid-19 to the same level as Great Britain but without draconian measures.
- Anyone going down with a new respiratory illness is likely to be suffering from a cold – not Covid.
Covid-19 accounts for an average of 11 of the 1,687 deaths in Britain every day, according to official statistics.
|Cause||UK deaths per day|
|Flu and pneumonia||124|
|Accidents at home||16|
‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,’ wrote the Bard. He was referring to a rose which is a rose, instantly recognised by its fragrance and its appearance. But a case of Covid-19 does not fit the metaphor, because it differs wherever you look.
In the course of our evidence gathering activities, we have gone through a few thousand papers reporting studies on all aspects of Covid-19 spread. We found that not very many defined a case of Covid, which is a sign of sloppiness when that is what you are looking for. Those that did, reported different definitions and ways of ascertaining what they meant by a ‘case’.
- The ‘rule of six’ has no scientific evidence to back it up, and may well end up having major social consequences.
- Increased activity at the end of summer leads to an increase in acute respiratory infections, as it does every year.
- Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine: no scientific evidence on the effects of measures such as distancing on respiratory viral spread. No study pointing to the number six. If it’s made up, why not five or seven?
- Admissions for Covid, critical care bed occupancies and deaths are now at an all-time low.
- There are currently 600 patients in hospital with Covid compared to over 17,000 at the height of the epidemic. An average of ten patients a day die with Covid registered on their death certificate, compared to over 1,000 at the peak.
- Shift in focus away from the impact of the disease is a worrying development.
- Severity of the pandemic was monitored by numbers of cases, numbers of admissions, and deaths. All three measures are open to misinterpretation if their definitions are not standardised.
- Cases are being over-diagnosed by a test that can pick up dead viral load.
- Hospital admissions are subjective decisions made by physicians which can vary from hospital to hospital.
- Even deaths have been misattributed.
- Cases will rise, as they will in winter for all acute respiratory pathogens, but this will not necessarily translate into excess deaths.
- Models ignore the vast expertise of our clinicians and public health experts who could provide a more robust approach based on their real-world healthcare experiences.
- The current Cabinet is inexperienced:
- the Health Secretary has been in post for just over two years now;
- the PM and the Chief Medical Officer a year;
- The Joint Biosecurity Centre is overseen by a senior spy who monitors the spread of coronavirus and suppresses new outbreaks;
- New chair of the National Institute for Health Protection who has little or no background in healthcare.
- The recognised alert threshold for ‘regular’ acute respiratory infections is 400 cases per 100,000.
- Britain’s mental health has deteriorated. During lockdown, a fifth of vulnerable people considered self-harming, routine healthcare came to a standstill, operations were cancelled, and cancer care put on hold.
- The most glaring initial blunder was not observing what was going on in other European nations and learning from their mistakes.
- Life should return to as close as possible to normality.
We get to grips with the unintended consequences of lockdown on the NHS & the health of the nation.
Martin Daubney interviews Ex-director of the WHO Cancer Programme Professor Karol Sikora.
Consultant Neurologist and MS specialist Dr Waqar Rashid
Dr Ellie Cannon NHS GP and Mail on Sunday Columnist
Dr Tom Jefferson Clinical Epidomilogist- University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine
Dr John Lee Former Clinical Professor of Pathology at Hull York Medical School and Consultant Histopathologist at Rotherham General Hospital & Director of Cancer Services at Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust.
This recent crop of trials added 9,112 participants to the total randomised denominator of 13,259 and showed that masks alone have no significant effect in interrupting the spread of ILI or influenza in the general population, nor in healthcare workers.
The small number of trials and lateness in the pandemic cycle is unlikely to give us reasonably clear answers and guide decision-makers. This abandonment of the scientific modus operandi and lack of foresight has left the field wide open for the play of opinions, radical views and political influence.
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”.
Writing for the Telegraph, Professors Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson, from the University of Oxford, said there is little evidence to support the restriction and called for an end to the “formalised rules”.
The University of Dundee also said there was no indication that distancing at two metres is safer than one metre.
It is remarkable how many deaths during this pandemic have occurred in care homes. According to the Office for National Statistics, nearly 50,000 care home deaths were registered in the 11 weeks up to 22 May in England and Wales — 25,000 more than you would expect at this time of the year. Two out of five care homes in England have had a coronavirus outbreak; in the north-east, it’s half.
Not all these deaths, however, have been attributed to Covid-19. Even when death certificates do mention it, it is not always clear that it is the disease that was the ultimate cause of death. The data refers to people who died with Covid-19 present in their bodies, whether or not it was the direct cause. This raises questions about whether there’s another reason for many of these deaths which has gone largely unnoticed while attention has been focused on Covid-19. This is not just a British phenomenon, but one seen across Europe.
Covid-19: four fifths of cases are asymptomatic, China figures indicate:
British epidemiologist Tom Jefferson tells the BMJ, “The sample [evidence from China] is small, and more data will become available. Also, it’s not clear exactly how these cases were identified. But let’s just say they are generalisable. And even if they are 10% out, then this suggests the virus is everywhere. If—and I stress, if—the results are representative, then we have to ask, ‘What the hell are we locking down for?”
Tom Jefferson, is an epidemiologist at the Cochrane Acute Respiratory Infections (ARI) Group and writes for thebmjopinion.