Sunday, 24 May 2020

Two more professors think lockdowns have been useless or worse

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"I think the epidemic has largely come and is on its way out in this country, so I think [the infection fatality rate] would definitely be less than 1 in 1,000 (0.1%) and probably closer to 1 in 10,000 (0.01%)." 
So said Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford about the virus in the United Kingdom. She thinks the lockdown was unwise to start with and should now be abandoned immediately.
"The Government's defence is that [Professor Neal Ferguson's projected number of deaths] was a plausible worst case scenario. I agree it was a plausible – or at least a possible – worst case scenario. The question is, should we act on a possible worst case scenario, given the costs of lockdown? It seems to me that, given that the costs of lockdown are mounting, that case is becoming more and more fragile.

"I would say that it is more likely that the pathogen arrived earlier than we think it did, that it had already spread substantially through the population by the time lockdown was put in place. I think there's a chance we might have done better by doing nothing at all."
The British papers have reported Professor Ferguson's old enemy Professor Gupta throughout the crisis, but suddenly they also report Nobel Prize winning chemist Professor Michael Levitt of Stanford University, who correctly predicted the initial trajectory of the pandemic. 

He said on March 14 that Professor Ferguson had over-estimated the potential death toll by "10 or 12 times", which started a "panic virus", and that Covid-19 would cause around an extra month of excess deaths this year in Europe. 
"I think lockdown saved no lives. I think it may have cost lives. It will have saved a few road accident lives - things like that - but social damage - domestic abuse, divorces, alcoholism - has been extreme. And then you have those who were not treated for other conditions."
"...In Europe, I don't think that anything actually stopped the virus other than some kind of burnout. There's a huge number of people who are asymptomatic so I would seriously imagine that by the time lockdown was finally introduced in the UK the virus was already widely spread. They could have just stayed open like Sweden by that stage and nothing would have happened."
"...When I saw the briefing (from Prof Ferguson) I was shocked. I had a run-in with him when I actually saw that Ferguson's death rate was a year's worth - doubling the normal death rate. I saw that and said immediately that's completely wrong. I think Ferguson over-estimated 10 or 12 times. We should have seen from China that a virus never grows exponentially. From the very first case you see, exponential growth actually slows down very dramatically.
"The problem with epidemiologists is that they feel their job is to frighten people into lockdown, social distancing. So you say 'there's going to be a million deaths' and when there are only 25,000 you say 'it's good you listened to my advice'. This happened with Ebola and bird flu. It's just part of the madness."
Dr. Knut Wittkowski was kept out of the mainstream media until he was interviewed on Fox News on Monday, when he said
“What we see in Europe is among all the different countries, with the exception of Britain where it took a bit longer for the virus to get in, all the other countries in Europe, the course is more or less the same and it doesn’t
really matter whether they restricted the freedom of the people, when they did it and when they released it. In those who released early like Denmark and in part Germany there is no rebound so there is no evidence that the shutdown actually had any effect.”
Knut Wittkowski certainly greatly underestimated the numbers of deaths from the virus in the USA. It looks as though he may be right about respiratory infections having a life expectancy and ebbing away of their own accord. He now seems right too about lockdowns being a mistake. 

The 'legacy media' are largely to blame and the fact that the virus first appeared in China, where the communist dictatorship imposed the same authoritarian solution it used in 2003 to contain SARS. 


Meanwhile the WHO, which seems to function in some ways as China's PR agency (I quote British China expert James Palmer), was an uncritical admirer of the Chinese reaction and alarmed the world by saying the virus had a 3% infection fatality rate. Do you remember Donald Trump being jeered at in the press for responding that his hunch was that the rate was less than 1%?


Then came alarming scenes in Lombardy, fears of the virus exponentially spreading to kill millions and then one country after another imposed lockdowns under media pressure, like a row of dominoes. 

Almost alone in Europe, Boris Johnson had the instinct to resist and to try to avoid a lockdown, but the combination of Professor Ferguson and the media was too powerful. For example, the Times leader opined
“Johnson’s response has not been to lock down entire cities or even the whole country as China, South Korea and Italy have done. He has not ordered the closure of schools, as Ireland and Denmark did yesterday. Nor has he ordered the cancellation of large public events, as France and even Scotland has done” 

Faced with press like that, Boris bottled it.

Swings and roundabouts. Professor Ferguson will now be made the scapegoat for British lockdown by the media, though the fault lies with the cabinet.

In Sweden the newspapers pushed the government to impose a lockdown but under Swedish law the State Epidemiologist is independent of the government and he refused to have one. Swedes have an immense deference towards experts and so Sweden, alone in Europe except for Iceland and Belarus, avoided a lockdown. 


What is very puzzling and always suggested that the virus was not nearly as infectious as was feared is that only 0.6% of foreigners deported from Wuhan and quarantined by their respective countries tested positive for the virus.


Professor Levitt, Knut Wittkowski and other people who questioned the need for lockdowns until now went unreported in the traditional media. Some of them, like Knut Wittkowski, were censored by YouTube and social media. This itself, regardless of whether they are right, is a scandal and affront. 

The WHO advised countries to have lockdowns (offering a large amount of money to Belarus, for example, to do so). YouTube's policy is not to afford a platform to anyone who disagrees with WHO policy on the Coronavirus. Unfortunately the WHO has been shown to be as unreliable and political as the rest of the United Nations. Which is to say very unreliable indeed.

How odd if President Lukashenko of Belarus and President Bolsonaro of Brazil prove in the end to have been right in refusing to accept WHO's guidance. But then, as Disraeli said, the unexpected always happens.

It is not surprising that people increasingly go to remoter parts of the internet for news, though search engines also censor news. When politicians talk about fake news some (quite a lot) of the news they are worried about is not fake and much of what the television and newspapers report is exactly that. 

28 comments:

  1. I guess Levitt is the one with a fair wind behind him now. What he says about “Ferguson’s death rate” is plausible, but not properly reasoned. Also, he his credibility takes a hit with prognostications like this...

    “ There's a huge number of people who are asymptomatic so I would seriously imagine that by the time lockdown was finally introduced in the UK the virus was already widely spread.”

    This is just woffle and is not supported by the programme of large-scale testing we have now seen. That “I would seriously imagine” is awfully revealing from a scientist, it sounds like some old windbag sounding off in a pub and it means he has not a scrap of evidence to base what he says on.

    Ferguson clearly went a little crazy, and not for the first time, he has form, so I hope he will end up as the fall guy. But he has had an easy ride from those who disagree with him, because none of them has had the research work they needed, and almost none of them has even pushed for it.

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    1. “I would seriously imagine” would be unsatisfactory coming from an epidemologist, but he is a chemist and statistician, an intelligent layman, using his intelligence to understand the statistics. He talks like a human being, not in what Romanians call 'language made of wood'.

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    2. How does this letter published in the Spectator on March 12, just before the balloon went up, look now?

      Sir: While precautionary advice regarding the coronavirus should be followed, Ross Clark is right (‘Feverish imaginations’, 29 February) to urge an open mind on the doomsday predictions which are edging us towards panic. In 1996 the then government’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Kenneth Calman, predicted that 500,000 people could die within a few years from the human form of BSE. Another official adviser, Professor Richard Lacey, described the disease as ‘the time bomb of the 20th century, equivalent to the bubonic plague’. In the event, the reported death toll was 177, while the scare cost the UK an estimated £7 billion.

      In 2005 the then government’s chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, warned that avian flu could kill 50,000 people in the UK. There is no public record of a single death. In July 2009 he told the NHS to plan for 19,000 to 65,000 deaths from ‘swine flu’ during that winter. The actual number of deaths was 457, and the government was left with 60 million doses of Tamiflu vaccine, which are said to have cost taxpayers around £500 million.
      Maritz Vandenberg, London SW15

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    3. I enjoyed Professor Gupta saying of Professor Ferguson's modelling "was a plausible – or at least a possible – worst case scenario".

      She had Professor Sir Roy Anderson, who had allegedly imputed inchastity to her, suspended by Oxford. He was eventually expelled. He went to UCL and Professor Ferguson is his protege. A bit like a C.P. Snow novel.

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    4. The Vandenberg letter reads very well now. I’m not convinced that Levitt is “using his intelligence to understand the statistics”, it’s all just windbaggery. But that doesn’t make him wrong. Ferguson has clearly been using terrible computer models and ought to have the humility to understand how bad they are. He has used them before and fallen on his face before. Wittkowski’s remark about not being paid by the government goes to the heart of the problem. Climate science is just the same, pseudo-science knowingly pushed by con-men who are having their pockets well lined by Guardian-reading politicians.

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    5. In those hardest hit states, we are now seeing that most of the deaths occurred in senior care facilities – after the governors ordered patients sick with COVID-19 to leave the hospitals and return to their facilities. There, they infected their fellow residents who were most likely to have the multiple co-morbidities and advanced age that turned the virus into a death sentence. Will these governors be made to answer for this callous disregard for life?

      Yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar admitted the obvious: “We are seeing that in places that are opening, we’re not seeing this spike in cases.” So why not open everything? Because these petty tyrants cannot stand the idea of losing the ability to push people around.

      www.ocregister.com/2020/05/18/listening-to-the-coronavirus-experts-has-led-to-death-and-despair-ron-paul/

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  2. Knut Wittkowski certainly greatly underestimated the numbers of deaths from the virus in the USA. It looks as though he may well be right about respiratory infections having a life expectancy and ebbing away of their own accord.

    'In the first interview with Wittkowski, published in early April, the scientist said: “I’m not paid by the government, so I’m entitled to actually do science.” He also suggested that, left unchecked, the virus could exact a death toll of 10,000 in the U.S. and disappear on its own.

    'Today, the official U.S. death count is above 90,000, with cases rising in much of the country. In a phone conversation and follow-up emails, Wittkowski defended his projections, arguing that, while specific predictions may not bear out, he was correct to question lockdowns, and that the current death count was dramatically overstated. (There is growing evidence that it is actually an underestimate.) He claimed that the course of the pandemic was as predictable as the effects of gravity. “‘Social distancing’ is a strategy for the government to reduce the democratic rights of the people,” he wrote.'
    https://undark.org/2020/05/24/in-online-covid-19-videos-a-mix-of-science-and-conjecture/

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    1. He also suggested that, left unchecked, the virus could exact a death toll of 10,000 in the U.S. and disappear on its own.

      It seems pretty clear that the "experts" - both the government-appointed ones and the self-appointed ones - were (and to a large extent still are) simply making wild guesses.

      At the time when hard decisions (one way or the other) had to be made I don't think governments realised the extent to which those decisions were gambles based on non-existent hard evidence. If they did nothing it was a huge gamble. If they took tough action it was a huge gamble.

      How much worse would things be if governments did nothing? The experts didn't actually know, and we still don't know. How much better would things be if they took tough action? The experts didn't actually know, and we still don't know.

      The problem is that today the government-appointed experts and the self-appointed experts are still making guesses. And both the pro- and anti-lockdown supporters are still pretty much plucking numbers out of the air. Even worse, they're plucking numbers out of the air based on ideological considerations.

      Is it now safe to ease the lockdowns substantially? Probably yes, but we can't be sure. Is it now safe to remove the lockdowns completely? My gut feeling is no. My gut feeling is that we should combine drastic easing of the lockdowns with much greater encouragement of mask-wearing as a backup precaution. But I might be wrong.

      I guess the good news is that I can't be as wrong as Neal Ferguson, who was wrong by an order of magnitude. And I can't be as wrong as Knut Wttkowski, who was wrong by an order of magnitude.

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    2. I see no evidence that any of these people were influenced by ideological considerations in their estimates or guesses. Social isolation and masks do not constitute a lockdown, which implies people staying at home unless they have very good reason to go out.

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    3. Based on comparisons between Sweden and Norway I think as a very rough rule of thumb that deaths with, not by any means necessarily of, the virus would have been three times higher without a lockdown, the average age of the decreased being eigbty. Forcing care home workers rigorously to isolate would have reduced the number considerably.

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    4. Texas' 1st nursing home to treat COVID-19 with Hydroxychloroquine

      https://www.fox7austin.com/news/fox-26-gets-unprecedented-access-to-texas-1st-nursing-home-to-treat-covid-19-with-hydroxychloroquine

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    5. TEXAS CITY, Texas

      "Two of our residents had symptoms and that's when we tested everybody," said nursing home Executive Director Jan Piveral.

      56 residents and 33 staff members were COVID-19 positive.

      Armstrong's approach was to begin administering Hydroxychloroquine a Zpac and Zinc just as soon as a resident first started showing symptoms.

      The patients were being monitored daily.

      "We did EKGs on each of these patients to make sure they didn't have the cardiac side effects that everyone talks about," Armstrong said. "None of our patients did."

      Armstrong doesn't call the Hydroxychloroquine a cure and is aware of all the recent reports that say the drug shouldn't be used to treat COVID-19.

      But he points out only one of the nursing homes COVID-19 patients has died.

      https://www.fox7austin.com/news/fox-26-gets-unprecedented-access-to-texas-1st-nursing-home-to-treat-covid-19-with-hydroxychloroquine

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    6. I see no evidence that any of these people were influenced by ideological considerations in their estimates or guesses.

      I should have written that sentence more carefully. What I meant was that the lay pro- and anti-lockdown supporters, the ones that one encounters online, are increasingly motivated by ideological considerations. I wasn't referring to the scientists.

      Social isolation and masks do not constitute a lockdown, which implies people staying at home unless they have very good reason to go out.

      Out of curiosity, what's your position on masks?

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    7. "I guess the good news is that I can't be as wrong as Neal Ferguson, who was wrong by an order of magnitude. And I can't be as wrong as Knut Wttkowski, who was wrong by an order of magnitude." But, though KW underestimated the number of deaths by an order of magnitude, this does not matter if he is right that the lockdown did not save lives - and I cannot see how it could have done. Either it merely delayed deaths until the lockdown is lifted (the 'second spike') or, as KW thinks, the virus was going to go away of its own accord.

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    8. I am pretty sceptical about masks for reasons given by Dr John Lee below, but with the caveat that, though the virus is far far too small to be stopped by any masks, the globules on which the virus travels short distances are bigger. At this point my knowledge comes to an end and my utter ignorance begins.
      https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/face-masks-should-there-be-a-cover-up-

      I remember hearing Michael Stewart tell the House of Lords 'Something must be done, this is something, therefore this must be done.' This applies to masks - they make us remember the crisis is not over and to be careful - they also make us touch our faces more often than we otherwise would and give people an ungrounded sense that they are protected. Mass for Ascension Day was moved indoors against the law because the weather was very parky. When I questioned if singing in these days even at a distance of 2m was a terribly good idea I was told 'We have masks!'

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    9. In fact, as we now have much more data, it is becoming increasingly clear that the US states and the countries that locked down the tightest also suffered the highest death rates. Ultra locked-down Italy suffered 495 COVID-19 deaths per million while relatively non-locked down South Korea suffered only five deaths per million. The same is true in the U.S., where non lockdown states like South Dakota were relatively untouched by the virus while authoritarian-led Michigan, New York, and California have been hardest hit.

      In those hardest hit states, we are now seeing that most of the deaths occurred in senior care facilities – after the governors ordered patients sick with COVID-19 to leave the hospitals and return to their facilities. There, they infected their fellow residents who were most likely to have the multiple co-morbidities and advanced age that turned the virus into a death sentence. Will these governors be made to answer for this callous disregard for life?

      Yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar admitted the obvious: “We are seeing that in places that are opening, we’re not seeing this spike in cases.” So why not open everything? Because these petty tyrants cannot stand the idea of losing the ability to push people around.

      Ron Paul

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    10. this does not matter if he is right that the lockdown did not save lives - and I cannot see how it could have done. Either it merely delayed deaths until the lockdown is lifted (the 'second spike') or, as KW thinks, the virus was going to go away of its own accord.

      If the virus is going away of its own accord and there's not going to be a second wave then the lockdowns undoubtedly reduced the death toll from the first wave.

      If there's going to be a second wave then we're going to be better prepared, which means the death toll from the second wave will be lower, which means it was still worthwhile to reduce the death toll from the first wave.

      And in Australia we're seeing an unexpected side-effect - the lockdowns have drastically reduced flu deaths. So indirectly at least they have certainly saved lives.

      I don't like the lockdowns and I'm quite happy to see them ended to avoid economic catastrophe but I do think they probably saved many lives. The incredibly low death tolls in Australia and New Zealand would seem to be irrefutable evidence that the lockdowns did save lives. Whether it was worth the economic damage to save those lives is a question I can't answer. That's a complex moral question.

      I'm not sure that there is a right or wrong answer - whether countries went for the lockdown option or not there was going to b a price either way.

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    11. I am pretty sceptical about masks

      I'm sceptical also, but I think they have a positive psychological effect which may make it much easier to get the economy back to normal after the lockdowns.

      As Steve Sailer has pointed out the big problem is going to be restoring consumer confidence. Anything that helps to do that is probably worthwhile. Even if masks don't save a single life they may be a very useful way to encourage people to go back to work, to reopen their businesses, and to get out there and start buying things to get the economy moving.

      If the only way to restore public confidence is to equip people with masks, gloves and lots of hand sanitiser then I'm all for those things even if their only effect is psychological.

      In my view the most difficult long-term damage that will need to be repaired is the damage to public confidence.

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    12. 'If the virus is going away of its own accord and there's not going to be a second wave then the lockdowns undoubtedly reduced the death toll from the first wave.' KW and others argue it goes away because herd immunity is achieved and recent figures cast doubt if anywhere near enough people have the antibodies to make them immune. What others think is that immunity existed before this year and predates Covid-19. If it goes away of its own accord does the lockdown save lives or cause the virus to stay longer? I don't think we know. How many would have died in Australia without a lockdown? 102 people died with one which is very very few.

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    13. If my rule of thumb is a guide 300 would have died in Australia without a lockdown. Closing borders though is a very good idea and kept the virus out.

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    14. In Holland the number of people in the population who die of or with the virus only reaches 0.1% of the population when we get to those aged 70 or over.

      https://www.conservativereview.com/news/horowitz-one-chart-exposes-lie-behind-universal-lockdowns/

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    15. Closing borders though is a very good idea and kept the virus out.

      Yes. In Australia we have now established quite clearly that if we want to we can control our borders very effectively. We've established that all it takes is the political will to do it.

      So we now have options for the future.

      The big challenge will be finding ways to open the borders enough to allow trade and tourism to get back to normal whilst still keeping enough control to ensure that we have a high degree of permanent border security so that in future we need only allow into the country those people that we want entering our country. And we need to find ways to ensure that we can reopen the borders whilst still keeping the virus under control. If we can do that then we're in a pretty strong position going forward.

      But the important thing is that we've established that we're a sufficiently competent country to meet such challenges. Like New Zealand we've demonstrated that we're a Can Do Nation. And we've established the principle that our governments have both the right and the political will to control the borders.

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    16. I wrote above four days ago, " Based on comparisons between Sweden and Norway I think as a very rough rule of thumb that deaths with, not by any means necessarily of, the virus would have been three times higher without a lockdown, the average age of the decreased being eighty. Forcing care home workers rigorously to isolate would have reduced the number considerably."
      I came to this conclusion a month ago when Sweden registered about 1500 deaths but now Sweden has eight times more deaths per capita than Norway.

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  3. CAROLINE MACAFEE commented:
    Douglas Murray (I think it was) compared the lockdown to the broom in the Sorcerer's Apprentice - the ones who started it don't know how to stop it.

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  4. 'the first social media pandemic'

    Miscalculating Risk: Confusing Scary With Dangerous

    By Brian S. Wesbury & Strider Elass
    May 22, 2020
    https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2020/05/22/miscalculating_risk_confusing_scary_with_dangerous.html

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  5. 'The [first] Iraq War happened on television', somebody said - this pandemic happened on social media.

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  6. Studies by Stanford University in America show infection fatality rates between 0.05 and 0.5%. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.13.20101253v1.full.pdf

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