Tuesday 16 June 2020

Lockdowns must never be repeated

It seems that Covid-19, fortunately, is not a very dangerous infection, though it can cause a very unpleasant death and possibly (we don't know) lasting harm to the lungs of patients.

We must not end up with a new normal but return quickly to the old normal. Whatever happens, the lockdown must never be repeated, even for a much more dangerous infection, in the future. 

Former British Foreign Secretary, Conservative Party Leader and destroyer of Libya William Hague agrees with me, but he spoils it by agreeing with Tony Blair on the efficacy of testing, which quite a few epidemiologists argue persuasively are pointless.

The top American epidemiologist Dr Anthony Fauci seemed impressive when he entered the stage, though perhaps his Jesuit education should have made me doubt him. He lost all credibility in my eyes when he suggested that mankind would have to stop shaking hands. 

I say this because the remark is obviously bonkers. Shaking hands is not something we Englishmen like doing. I do it a lot, but that is because I live in Romania where all men shake hands all the time except when they kiss each other. (Men used to air kiss women's hands but that seems to have entirely died out.)

Unfortunately lockdowns got entangled in politics, even though epidemics have nothing much to do with political philosophies, though admittedly the idea for lockdowns comes from the Chinese Communists. 

To quote the late Denis Healey, we were out of our tiny Chinese minds to close down the world economy. 

If we stop now things might be saved. I do not know but I know that we are on the brink of a catastrophe. 

The economic disaster caused by lockdowns, along with the BLM riots, does make it look like Western civilisation is in grave trouble - but there were already many other reasons to think this. The French left are gripped by the ideas of 'collapsology' and the French right by 'the great replacement'. 

Politicians must not shirk their responsibilities by delegating them to or hiding behind scientists, though I understand why they did. 

Politicians are in general cowards. They find safety in crowds and
groupthink. This is why they suck up to the Black Lives Matter crowds. They also find safety in doing what experts say. 

This is why it is important that an intellectual consensus is firmly established that lockdowns were a mistake. However, I think this will happen as people stop being scared of the virus and become scared about economic consequences.

There are reasons to think that masks are pretty useless but the Mayor of London, a fatuous and malign figure, as recent events in London have shown once more, says Londoners must wear them for a year, as if he is in a position to make a useful judgment.

The anonymous but very informative site called Swiss Doctor on Covid-19 has after a long pause been updated. Worth reading. Here is an excerpt.
Stanford professor John Ioannidis published an overview of Covid-19 antibody studies. According to his analysis, the lethality of Covid19 (IFR) is below 0.16% in most countries and regions. Ioannidis found an upper limit of 0.40% for three hotspots. 

In its latest report, the US health authority CDC reduced the Covid19 lethality (IFR) to 0.26% (best estimate). Even this value may still be seen as an upper limit, since the CDC conservatively assumes 35% asymptomatic cases, while most studies indicate 50 to 80% asymptomatic cases.

At the end of May, however, Swiss immunologists led by Professor Onur Boyman published what is probably the most important study on Covid19 lethality to date. This preprint study comes to the conclusion that the usual antibody tests that measure antibodies in the blood (IgG and IgM) can recognize at most one fifth of all Covid19 infections.

The reason for this discrepancy is that in most people the new coronavirus is already neutralized by antibodies on the mucous membrane (IgA) or by cellular immunity (T-cells). In most of these cases, no symptoms or only mild symptoms develop.
This means that the new coronavirus is probably much more common than previously thought and the lethality per infection is up to five times lower than previously assumed. The real lethality could thus be well below 0.1% and hence in the range of strong seasonal influenza.

In fact, several studies have now shown that up to 60% of all people already have a certain cellular immunity to Covid-19, which was acquired through contact with previous coronaviruses (common cold viruses). Children in particular often come into contact with such coronaviruses, which could help explain their insensitivity to Covid19.

The new Swiss study may also explain why antibody studies even in hotspots like New York or Madrid found infection rates of at most about 20%, as this would correspond to an actual rate of nearly 100%. In many regions, the actual prevalence might already be well over 50% and thus in the range of ​​herd immunity.

Should the Swiss study be confirmed, the assessment of Oxford epidemiologist Prof. Sunetra Gupta would apply, who predicted early on that Covid-19 is very widespread and its lethality below 0.1%.

Despite the comparatively low lethality of Covid-19 (deaths per infection), the mortality (deaths per population) can still be increased regionally and in the short term if the virus spreads rapidly and reaches high risk groups, especially patients in nursing homes, as indeed happened in several hotspots (see below).

Due to its rather low lethality, Covid-19 falls at most into level 2 of the five-level pandemic plan developed by the US health authorities. For this level, only the “voluntary isolation of sick people” is to be applied, while further measures such as face masks, school closings, distance rules, contact tracing, vaccinations and lockdowns of entire societies are not recommended.

Regarding contact tracing, a WHO study on influenza pandemics from 2019 also came to the conclusion that from a medical point of view this is “under no circumstances recommended”, since it is not expedient for easily communicable and generally mild respiratory diseases.

It is sometimes argued that the rather low lethality was not known at the beginning of the pandemic. This is not entirely true, as data from South Korea, the cruise ships and even from Italy already showed in March that the risk to the general population is rather low.

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