Sunday, 3 May 2020

Saving what we can from the wreckage

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In the confusion and alarms of the Coronavirus panic some things start to emerge. 

Common sense would seem to say that, whether lockdowns are necessary or not, preventing people meeting must have slowed the rate of infections. But common sense would be wrong, because it seems clear that the slowdown in infections preceded the lockdowns.


Professor Carl Heneghan of Oxford has shown that the peak of the UK’s infections came a full week before Boris Johnson initiated lockdown on March 23rd.

According to Professor Heneghan, draconian measures were not necessary, as the data clearly showed how infection rates had already halved after March 16th.


Lyman Stone, Chief Information Officer at a firm that analyses demographic trends, thinks social distancing, closing school and wearing masks are effective but not lockdowns. He argues his case persuasively.

He thinks that social distancing before lockdowns must be the reason infections fell. Social distancing was probably a contributing factor but it is pretty clear that what terrified people, the thought that the infections would grow exponentially with the same logic as compound interest, was not happening. 


Professor Michael Levitt is not an epidemiologist but Professor of Structural Biology at the Stanford School of Medicine, and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. In an interview with Unherd, he points out that in every country a similar mathematical pattern is observable regardless of government interventions. In China, South Korea, Iran and Italy, 


“the beginning of the epidemics showed a slowing down and it was very hard for me to believe that those three countries could practise social distancing as well as China.” 

Neil Ferguson's paper which scared the UK into lockdown assumed exponential growth of 15% for six days. Professor Levitt comments

"Now I had looked at China and had never seen exponential growth that wasn’t decaying rapidly.”

Instead of exponential growth, the total number of deaths in places as diverse as New York City, parts of England, parts of France and Northern Italy, all seem to level out at a very similar fraction of the total population. The same thing has occurred to most of us.

He goes on to say:

I think the policy of herd immunity is the right policy. I think Britain was on exactly the right track before they were fed wrong numbers. And they made a huge mistake. I see the standout winners as Germany and Sweden. They didn’t practise too much lockdown and they got enough people sick to get some herd immunity. I see the standout losers as countries like Austria, Australia and Israel that had very strict lockdown but didn’t have many cases. They have damaged their economies, caused massive social damage, damaged the educational year of their children, but not obtained any herd immunity.



“There is no doubt in my mind, that when we come to look back on this, the damage done by lockdown will exceed any saving of lives by a huge factor."


"...I think the policy of herd immunity is the right policy. I think Britain was on exactly the right track before they were fed wrong numbers. And they made a huge mistake. I see the standout winners as Germany and Sweden. They didn’t practise too much lockdown and they got enough people sick to get some herd immunity. I see the standout losers as countries like Austria, Australia and Israel that had very strict lockdown but didn’t have many cases. They have damaged their economies, caused massive social damage, damaged the educational year of their children, but not obtained any herd immunity.


“There is no doubt in my mind, that when we come to look back on this, the damage done by lockdown will exceed any saving of lives by a huge factor."
"...I think this is another foul-up on the part of the baby boomers."
Then he mentions pollution, global warming and overpopulation. I can think of even worse things the baby boomers did.

Epidemiologist Dr Knut Wittkowski, about whom I blogged in one of my most read posts, has returned to the fray in another interview. He thinks that even social isolation does no good, but thinks it a small price to pay for ending lockdowns.

Dr Wittkowski: So, three weeks ago, I was sitting here and had already published the manuscript showing that the epidemic would be over soon, that this was just a regular flu, and no reason—that there was no reason whatsoever to close schools, and in particular, not to run the whole economy against the wall. The damage that was done to the economy is immense. And even if there had been a few more deaths than in a regular flu, which it wasn’t, but even then, the huge damage done to the economy could not be justified by whatever was known, even at the time when people started with the so-called social distancing or the second prohibition, exactly 100 years after the first prohibition, and we already knew how effective the first prohibition was.


Interviewer: So, tell us about some of the numbers. What have you seen that bolsters your view?


Dr Wittkowski: It is simply that the number of cases, even with a very liberal definition of what constitutes a case, is now dropping all over the world: in Europe and, well, it’s over in China; it is over in Korea, and in most countries in Europe, it’s also dropping; in others it’s leveling, and will be dropping soon. It is dropping in the United States, so there is no indication anywhere this would get worse than a flu during the flu season. It happens that flus are during the flu season.

People took fright based on what seemed to be happening in Italy and in the age of social media popular pressure is much more powerful than in the 1990s. Personally I am enjoying the lockdown, have plenty of work and find I love solitude, but the harm it may cause is incalculable.

I am however always an optimist and hope that if the lockdowns end now we can have V-shaped depression and save a great deal from the wreckage. 

What is at stake is Western civilisation.




3 comments:

  1. 'People say to me: “So you are saying 100,000 people should die so that one day your son can play rugby, you can sing in a choir, and some other folk can have a New Year’s Eve party?” Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying. And the truth is that many reading this will know, deep down, that I’m right.' https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/05/01/cant-let-social-distancing-go-years-even-cost-many-lives/

    100,000 deaths would be between 0.1 and 0.2% of the British population, which is probably about the fatality rate of the virus and compares with 58,000 people who died from respiratory illness two years ago without anyone noticing.

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  2. A useful summary. https://off-guardian.org/2020/04/17/8-more-experts-questioning-the-coronavirus-panic/

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  3. 'King, of course, was the clown who led us to believe that we would all to live in Antarctica by the end of the century because of global warming.

    'At the same Environmental Select Committee in 2004, he also made some other equally ridiculous claims:

    'Ice at the South Pole is now 40% as thick as it used to be.
    The Gulf Stream could turn off, leading Europe into a mini ice age
    Hydrogen powered cars would see massive penetration in the market within 10 and 15 years.

    'And in front of another Select Committee in 2014, he made the incredible claim that Hurricane Sandy was the first hurricane to hit so far north in America, a schoolboy error which a 2-minute google would have told him was absurd.



    'Heaven help us all if this old fool has any say in the matter.'

    https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2020/05/03/sir-david-king-to-set-up-rival-to-sage/

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