Schools are not spreading Covid, according to an official study that has boosted hopes that the return to class will not trigger an autumn surge in infections.
Pupils sent home in class bubbles were highly unlikely to pass on the virus to their parents even when they did pick up it from a fellow pupil, the research found.
Modelling that helped persuade the Government to delay the June 21 reopening was overly pessimistic and the lockdown lifting should “possibly” have gone ahead on time, a government adviser has admitted.
Dr Mike Tildesley, an epidemiologist from Warwick University, said Britain had been in a “much better situation than we thought” when his group released models suggesting third wave deaths could hit 72,000.
As Sarah Knapton has revealed in these pages, the brutal postponement of Freedom Day coincided with the release of a bunch of alarmist models predicting a huge new wave of deaths. The most pessimistic, inevitably from Imperial College, forecast 203,824 deaths over the next year. It did so by assuming just a 77-87 per cent reduction in hospitalisations following two vaccinations, despite the fact that real world data shows two vaccinations to be between 92 per cent (AstraZeneca) and 96 per cent (Pfizer) effective in preventing hospitalisation. That would cut the Imperial forecast of deaths by a gob-smacking 90 per cent to 26,854.
This keeps happening. In April the modellers assumed a 30 per cent effectiveness for the vaccine at preventing the spread of the virus. This was described as “a pessimistic view – but it is plausible, it’s not extreme”, by Professor Graham Medley, chairman of the SPI-M sub-group of Sage. It turns out it was far from plausible. At the end of March the BBC’s favourite modeller, Imperial College’s Neil Ferguson, was forecasting that by June 21, even with “optimistic” assumptions, less than half of Britain would be protected against severe disease by vaccination. The true figure is over 80 per cent.
“When you create a state of confusion, people become ever more reliant on the messaging,” she says. “Instead of feeling confident about making decisions, they end up waiting for instructions from the Government.”
…This week’s chaotic and contradictory advice on travel is all part of the growing use of fear to control the public, she believes – a tactic which has been supercharged by the Covid pandemic.
…Less well known is the Home Office’s Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), which, according to Dodsworth, “attempts to covertly engineer the thoughts of people” by providing support to bodies seen by the public as “grassroots” organisations.
So, the third wave is officially no more. New modelling by SPI-M, the government’s committee on modelling for pandemics, has, at a stroke, eradicated the predicted surge in new infections, hospital admissions and deaths which it had pencilled in for the autumn or winter as a result of lockdown being eased.
…As Philip Thomas explained here on Sunday, Imperial College has also assumed strangely low estimates for the number of people in Britain carrying antibodies. If you are going to use assumptions that are far more pessimistic than real world data suggests, it is small wonder that SPI-M keeps predicting waves and surges that turn out to be wide of the mark. The question is: why are these modelling teams using such negative assumptions?
THE Government has been accused of over-relying on pandemic modelling and risking “catastrophe by computer”. Last week Boris Johnson published a cautious ‘roadmap‘ to normality after scientists warned him there could be 91,000 extra deaths if he scrapped curbs completely at the end of April.
These figures were based on Imperial College modelling that has since been challenged by Mark Harper, deputy chair of the Covid Recovery Group of MPs. He argued the model did not account for key factors shown to change the course of the pandemic such as the most up to date evidence on the protective effect of the vaccines as well as the “seasonal effect” as the country moves into summer. Modelling has driven much of the pandemic response. The initial reaction in the UK, the US and other European countries was shaped by the dramatic headlines in March last year, suggesting 550,000 deaths in the UK and 2.2 million in the US if mitigation measures were not put in place.
COVID-19 started registering with most of the British public around late February and early March. Many were concerned but not particularly afraid. Only weeks later people were terrified to leave their homes or go near other human beings. How did such a dramatic shift in public perception happen so quickly?
In early March 2020, The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) produced a document for the UK Government highlighting methods for rolling out new social distancing rules. There seemed to be some doubt as to whether the public would comply with the upcoming measures so SAGE outlined a methodology based on known psychological behavioural modification techniques.
SAGE, SPI-B and applied psychology
SAGE is an advisory group to the UK government responsible for making sure decision makers have access to scientific advice. We are told that the advice provided by SAGE does not represent official government policy.
SAGE also relies on expert sub-groups for COVID-19 specific advice. These sub-groups include:
- NERVTAG: New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group
- SPI-M: Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling
- SPI-B: Independent Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours
The identity of individual committee members themselves were initially kept secret, purportedly due to national security. Some names were eventually released, largely due to efforts by UK businessman Simon Dolan and his legal challenge campaign. Nevertheless, two members remain anonymous.
Psychological techniques for behavioural change
The document itself, titled Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures, was drafted by SPI-B, the behavioural science sub-group for SAGE.
SPI-B highlighted nine broad ways of achieving behavioural change in the public:
- Environmental restructuring
In the document, SPI-B focused on the methods most relevant to their stated goals and set out ten options that were evaluated on six criteria.
The six criteria, under the acronym APEASE, were:
- Spill-over effects
Government persuasion through fear
A key part of SPI-B’s behavioural change strategy that seems to have been adopted was to ‘persuade through fear.’ The Persuasion section of the document states:
A substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened.
Clearly, the psychologists felt that, as of late March, the public was still not afraid of COVID-19. It therefore suggested that the government increase the level of fear:
The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging.
Appendix B of the document lists ten options that can be used to increase social distancing in the public. Option 2 advises:
Use media to increase sense of personal threat.
In hindsight, this explains the tone of government sponsored social media and physical billboard advertising campaigns that started appearing around April.
SPI-B recommendations to increase personal threat and use hard-hitting emotional messaging are on display with eerie imagery coupled with taglines such as:
- “Anyone can get it. Anyone can spread it.“
- “Don’t put your friends and family in danger.“
- “Stay home for your family. Don’t put their lives in danger.“
- “If you go out, you can spread it. People will die.“
Hysterical news headlines
The article compared hysterical BBC news headline from the first week of April 2020 with those from 2018, when mortality rates were peaking due to a bad flu season. It found no references to flu or excess mortality on the BBC home page during the 2018 peak. InProportion2 asked, “Do the headlines reflect the gravity of the situations in an equivalent way – or is additional fear being stirred up in 2020?“
Persuasion through shame and approval: Covidiots and heroes
SPI-B psychologists knew that fear on its own would not persuade everyone. Messaging needed to be tailored to take into account different ‘motivational levers.’
Some people will be more persuaded by appeals to play by the rules, some by duty to the community, and some to personal risk.
It therefore suggested using both social approval and disapproval, with compulsion (legislation) as a backup:
- Option 6: Use and promote social approval for desired behaviours
- Option 7: Consider enacting legislation to compel required behaviours
- Option 8: Consider use of social disapproval for failure to comply
We can see the obvious approval-disapproval dialectic with the ‘Heroes and Covidiots’ narrative that soon began to surface in the news. The term ‘Covidiot’ appeared around March with The Economist’s 1843 Magazine describing covidiots in this way:
Even in a pandemic, many of us are prone to judge others and find them wanting: the term “covidiot” describes any and every person behaving stupidly or irresponsibly as the epidemic spreads. Sometime in early March the word was born, and, almost as fast as the virus spread, so did instances of covidiotic behaviour.
Although it’s not clear how the term came about, it was quickly adopted in UK mainstream and social media. At the same time, we began seeing praise for heroes who ‘did the right thing’ by complying with the government measures.
The METRO article below shows all three options in play:
- Social approval: “These local heroes have been doing amazing things…”
- Social disapproval: “Lake District closed…because covidiots won’t stay away…”
- Compulsion: “Matt Hancock threatens to close beaches…”
An incentivised media
These psychological techniques would have been impossible to deploy on the public without a compliant media. How did the government convince the media to go along with the plan?
Increased UK government media spending
Digiday, a media and marketing industry publication, reported in April that the government is becoming UK news publishers’ most important client. In the 20 April 2020 article for Digiday, Lara O’Reilly wrote:
…the government is spending more than usual, judging by their bookings. The publishers also pointed out that the lack of activity from other advertisers in the current market means the government campaigns will have an outweighed share of voice compared with normal times.
During that period, the British public started seeing coverage across media outlets with the unified “In this together” messaging. O’Reilly pointed out that the campaign was worth £35 million over a three month period.
Last week, the government and newspaper industry launched a three-month advertising partnership dubbed “All in, all together.” The campaign — worth approximately £35 million ($44 million) for the full course, according to sources — kicked off on Apr. 17, with all the U.K.’s national and regional daily news brands running near-identical cover wraps and homepage takeovers, which carried the copy, “Stay at home for the NHS, your family, your neighbours, your nation the world and life itself.”
So, we ask again: how did the government convince the media to go along with the plan? The answer is simple and obvious: with lots of money.
Psychological techniques to change behaviour
We can see that the UK Government has a public document outlining psychological techniques to change the behaviour of the population. We see a unified mass-media campaign that falls in line with these techniques. We then see a dramatic shift in public perception and behaviour.
What else can we call this but ‘brainwashing’?
Despite the open nature of what has transpired, it seems to have gained little coverage in the media. This is of no surprise since it was clearly complicit in spreading fear in the public.
Download the document
The document is freely downloadable on the gov.uk website in a page titled, “Research and analysis – Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures, 22 March 2020“.
We encourage you to read the document, compare it with your observations about how the government and media has acted, then make up your own mind.
After seven months the mainstream media finally catches up. On 24th January 2021, The Express published the following article: Government accused of using Covid fear tactics to inflate anxiety levels of British public.
- Campaign, the world’s leading business media brand for the marketing and advertising, reported that the UK government spent more than £184m on Covid communications in 2020.
- It has emerged that German politicians, scientists and public health bureaucrats have also collaborated to induce panic to justify the first German lockdown. The source material is in German but a Twitter thread explaining the leaks in English has been archived. We will update here if an English source becomes available.
- On 18 March, the UK Government put out a tender for a £2m COVID Public Information Campaign for Northern Ireland. It is to last to years starting 1 April 2021.
- In an article for the Critic, A year of fear, Dr. Gary Sidley wrote about the role of SPI-B and The Behavioural Insights Team in bombarding the British public with fear-inducing information. Dr. Sidley is a member of the Health Advisory and Recovery Team.
- The mainstream media is now acknowledging the government’s psychological strategies to manipulate behaviour of the British public. On 2 April, The Telegraph published the article, State of fear: how ministers ‘used covert tactics’ to keep scared public at home.
- The UK Cabinet Office awarded £320,000,000 for COVID 19 – Media Buying Services in advertising, radio and television. The contract runs between 1st April 2021 to 31 March 2022. See our archive of UK Government COVID-19 media buying.
- Researcher Ian Davis reports about the ties between the UK Government and Omnicom, the New York-based corporate communications company the behind the phrases “flatten the curve”, “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives”, “rule of six” and “look into my eyes” campaigns. The UK Government has awarded Omnicom with £1.6 billion in media buy-in contracts since 2018.
- On 14th May 2020, The Telegraph published an article of SPI-B members admitting that the Use of fear to control behaviour in Covid crisis was ‘totalitarian’.
- Author, journalist, photographer and filmmaker Laura Dodsworth released her new book, A State of Fear: how the UK government weaponised fear during the Covid-19 pandemic, on 17th May 2021.
A State of Fear:
Laura Dodsworth talks about her book State of Fear on The James Delingpole Channel.