Monday, November 30, 2020

Ontario MPP charged after lockdown protest

Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston MPP to lead anti-lockdown rally at Queen's Park | Ottawa Matters

November 26, 2020 - "Anger over the COVID-19 lockdown in Toronto and Peel Region is prompting a protest in downtown Toronto on Thursday morning. The ‘No More Lockdown’ rally will take place outside Queen’s Park at 10 a.m. Independent Member for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, MPP Randy Hillier says on twitter he will be ‘testing the law’ and leading the rally on the lawn of the Ontario legislature. Hillier is imploring others to join his protest.

"The independent MPP also praised Adam Skelly, the owner of Adamson BBQ, for defying provincial lockdown orders and offering dine-in services at his Etobicoke location. 'Today I recognized Adam Skelly of Adamson BBQ for his courage & conviction. He tested the law & I encourage others to do the same'.... 

Skelly has vowed to open his Etobicoke restaurant for the third straight day on Thursday ... despite being forced to shut down following orders from the city on Tuesday [and] being hit with provincial and local charges after opening up the location for a second time on Wednesday."

Read more:

Ontario MPP charged after lockdown protest | Global News - Bill Hutchins:

November 26, 2020 - "Randy Hillier, a Kingston, Ont.,-area MPP, has been charged under the Reopening Ontario Act after organizing an anti-COVID-19 lockdown rally outside Queen’s Park Thursday morning.

"Supporters banged pots and carried placards ... on the front lawn of the legislature. This is the second rally organized by Hillier in as many months to claim that the pandemic restrictions and lockdowns are unlawful and are causing more harm than good....

"During Toronto’s lockdown, only 10 people are allowed to gather outside. Hillier’s gathering far exceeded that limit.

"Hillier said in a phone interview on Thursday that he is looking forward to his day in court, so that he can challenge the constitutionality of Ontario’s COVID-19 restrictions."

Read more:

Sunday, November 29, 2020

15 signs you may be in an abusive relationship

Walmart thanks governors for economic leadership (satire)

Walmart Thanks Government For Completely Obliterating Their Small Business Competition | Babylon Bee:

November 23, 2020 - "In an open letter addressed to state officials, Walmart leadership expressed gratefulness to the government for inflating their sales and stock price while completely pulverizing their small business competition. 

"'Yeah, we know 2020 has been tough for the little people,' said one board member while shoveling piles of cash into his vault. 'But it's been super great for us! No longer do we have to worry about the baker down the street or the family-owned hardware store next door taking away some of our business. The government just blew them up! We didn't even ask them to! Can you believe it? What luck!'

"According to reports, Americans are really looking forward to giving all their business solely to giant mega-corporations like Walmart, Amazon, and McDonald's until all local culture has disappeared.

"'This is my dream come true!' said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. 'Within 10 years, everyone will be wearing the same identical futuristic grey jumpsuit and eating Amazon-issued food cubes, just like in the movies! That will be so cool.'

"Sources indicate most powerful corporations are advocating at least one more year of lockdowns to make sure small business competition stays dead. 'We have to make sure those uppity business owners never threaten us again,' said Bezos while sitting in a massive chair and stroking a white cat."

Read more:

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Backbench revolt against UK lockdown policy

Conservative lockdown sceptics launch Covid Recovery Group | Financial News - Emily Nicole:

November 12, 2020 - "A throng of Tory MPs have united to form a new steering group to fight future lockdown measures, after opposing the government on a second national lockdown earlier this month. Former chief whip Mark Harper is chairing the initiative, while former Brexit minister Steve Baker has taken on the role of deputy chair. Dozens of MPs have joined the group, including chair of the influential 1922 committee Sir Graham Brady, former trade minister Harriet Baldwin and Chris Green, who resigned his ministerial aide position in October in protest at the renewed lockdown rules.

"In its debut 11 November statement, the Covid Recovery Group argued that any further lockdown 'runs the risk of being worse than the disease'... It claimed new rules would cause missed NHS appointments and undiagnosed cancer treatments, as well as impacting job prospects and education. Baker said the purpose of the group was to avoid government policy being 'driven by panic', looking at the impact of restrictions from other perspectives besides health and the economy....

"The group echoed calls by the Treasury Committee for the government to undertake and publish a full cost-benefit analysis of restrictions on a regional basis, with the highest concern being on the number of non-coronavirus deaths caused by lack of treatment during lockdown periods. It also asked that expert groups be allowed to challenge the views of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), arguing that it should publish its data modelling so that the public can review the evidence behind its decisions."

Read more:

70 Tory MPs from ‘Covid recovery group’ send letter to PM threatening backbench revolt |The London Economic - Joe Mellor: 

November 22, 2020 - "Boris Johnson is facing the threat of a backbench revolt to his plans to move England into a tougher three-tiered system after the lockdown ends. Dozens of Conservative MPs have said they will not back such a move without extensive evidence.... Johnson will detail his 'winter Covid plan' to MPs on Monday, setting out the restrictions to replace the national lockdown on December 2 and how people can spend the festive period. Downing Street said more areas are expected to enter higher tiers next month and those tiers will be strengthened.... 

"On Saturday, the CRG [COVID Recovery Group] warned it 'cannot support' a tiered approach unless the Government produces a cost-benefit analysis showing the plans 'will save more lives than they cost'. The warning against measures inflicting 'huge health and economic costs' came in a letter to the Prime Minister, which sources close to the group said had been signed by 70 Conservative MPs...

"When the Commons voted on the current lockdown earlier this month, 32 Conservatives rebelled to oppose the measures and 17 more, including former prime minister Theresa May, abstained.

"Downing Street will hope an easing at Christmas, potential vaccines on the horizon and new scientific evidence will lessen the scale of a rebellion.... But the CRG letter said: 'We cannot live under such a series of damaging lockdowns and apparently arbitrary restrictions and expect our constituents to be grateful for being let out to enjoy the festive season only to have strict restrictions imposed on them afterwards that cause them health problems and destroy their livelihood.'

"Labour has so far been supportive of the need for restrictions to slow the spread of Covid-19 and a full-scale Commons defeat on the plan is unlikely."

Read more:

Friday, November 27, 2020

Danmask study "false information" says Facebook

The curious case of the Danish mask study | BMJ - Kamran Abbasi:

November 26, 2020 - "Danmask-19, the first trial of mask use during covid-19, was 'negative.' Masks didn’t work. We knew this before the trial was published because we were told so on social media. The authors were reported by the media to be struggling to find a major journal for their trial. Journals weren’t proving brave enough to publish the study, said the authors, and they didn’t make a preprint available.

"When the ... trial was finally published last week in the Annals of Internal Medicine we didn’t need to read it. We already knew its damning verdict on mask wearing. Social media told us as much. Eminent professors of evidence based medicine, Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson, confirmed this in an article for the Spectator.

"Except that if you read the published paper you find ... [t]he trial is inconclusive rather than negative, and ... it did not examine the wider potential benefit of reduced spread of infection to others.... 

"A disagreement among experts, especially about interpretation of a study, is a common occurrence. It is the usual business of science. Only, Facebook didn’t see it that way. The social media platform that allows statements about injecting bleach to prevent covid-19, as well as calls to behead the leading US expert on pandemics, decreed that Heneghan and Jefferson should be censured for misinformation after they reposted their Spectator article on the site.

"It is possible to disagree with Heneghan and Jefferson about the robustness and interpretation of the Danmask-19 trial ... and still believe it is wrong that their opinion of it was marked as 'false information.' It seems 2020 is Orwell’s 1984, where the boundaries of public discourse are governed by multibillion dollar corporations (in place of a totalitarian regime) and secret algorithms coded by unidentified employees. Where is Facebook’s accountability for the lies and damaging misinformation that it has peddled on controversial topics such as mental health and suicides, minorities, and vaccines?

"The problem is less that Facebook and other social media decide what is published on their platforms, just as The BMJ’s editors decide what is published on Sacha Baron Cohen and Carole Cadwalladr, among others, have argued that this is exactly what these tech giants should do. It is more that Facebook in particular purports to allow freedom of speech on its platform but acts selectively, seemingly without logic, consistency, or transparency. That is how control of facts and opinions furthers hidden agendas and manipulates the public."

Read more:

This article is made freely available for use in accordance with BMJ's website terms and conditions for the duration of the covid-19 pandemic or until otherwise determined by BMJ. You may use, download and print the article for any lawful, non-commercial purpose (including text and data mining) provided that all copyright notices and trade marks are retained.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

SCOTUS blocks NY religious restrictions

Supreme Court rules that Cuomo can’t limit attendance at New York religious services due to COVID-19 | Market Watch -Jess Bravin:

November 26, 2020 - "The Supreme Court blocked New York from imposing strict limits on attendance at religious services to combat Covid-19, with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett casting the pivotal vote to depart from past cases that deferred to state authorities on public-health measures.

"In orders issued shortly before midnight Wednesday, the court, in a 5-4 vote, set aside attendance limits that Gov. Andrew Cuomo imposed on houses of worship in areas most severely affected by the coronavirus: 10 people in red zones and 25 in orange zones. Chief Justice John Roberts and three liberal justices dissented.

"New York classifies places where coronavirus infections are of increasing severity as yellow, orange or red. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish organization, alleged that the limits violated their First Amendment rights of religious exercise.

"The Supreme Court’s unsigned opinion found that the religious plaintiffs were likely to prevail and, overruling federal courts in New York, suspended the governor’s orders while the litigation proceeds."

"An expanded version of this story appears on

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Churches going underground in Britain

‘Let us disobey’: Churches defy lockdown with secret meetings | The Guardian - Harriet Sherwood, The Observer:

November 22, 2020 - "Invitations are passed by word of mouth to trusted people. Minimal information – time, directions – is quietly given with pleas for discretion. Once everyone is assembled in a barn on a remote farm – 'away from prying eyes,' says the organiser – it begins. This is no rave, but an English church service under lockdown, and the organiser is a Protestant pastor. The Christians who will gather illegally in the west of England on Sunday morning – as they have for the past two Sundays – will pray, read from the scriptures, sing hymns and listen to a sermon.

"'We’ve been holding clandestine services since this lockdown began,' the pastor told the Observer, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It feels weird for us to act this way. People have said it feels more like an underground church in China'....

"According to church leaders the Observer has spoken to, an increasing number of congregations are breaking the law in order to worship together, an activity banned under current restrictions. Some are moving to different premises, others meeting covertly in regular church buildings.

"Last Sunday police intervened at the Angel evangelical church in Clerkenwell, north London, after its pastor publicly announced his intention to hold a service. In Gedling, Nottinghamshire, two arrests were made at the Mustard Seed Christian bookshop and cafe after a gathering of up to 50 people last weekend.

"'I never thought I’d say this in Britain, but churches are going underground. These are not isolated cases – and the longer it goes on, more churches will join the movement,' said Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, a conservative evangelical group, and a member of the Church of England’s ruling body, the general synod. Andrew, a minister at a London church, said: 'We’ve carried on as normal [during the current lockdown]. We’re holding a couple of services each Sunday, with about 160 people attending in total. We’ve asked people to be discreet. This is not a stunt we’re pulling, we’re not seeking publicity. It was a big decision – I’ve never practised civil disobedience before'

"The government had overreached itself, he added. 'I don’t believe the government has the authority to tell the church of Jesus Christ that it can’t gather for worship. They have provided no evidence, they just classed us as non-essential. But we believe worship is the most essential thing in life'.... 

"Regan King, the pastor of the Angel church, plans to hold further services with up to 15 people on Sunday despite police intervening to prevent a larger service last weekend. 'We’re not law breakers, we want to comply with the law as much as possible,' he said. But, he added, there was a 'greater law' than that made by the state....

"The ban on communal worship in England has been challenged by the leaders of the Church of England, the Catholic church and Orthodox Judaism, along with Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Pentecostal representatives. They wrote a joint letter to Boris Johnson saying there was 'no scientific justification for the wholesale suspension of public worship'." 

Read more:

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Alberta infectious disease expert promotes Great Barrington Declaration

David Staples: Lockdowns will cause 10 times more harm to human health than COVID-19 itself, says infectious disease expert | Edmonton Journal:

October 21, 2020 - "The harm caused by lockdowns is much worse than the disease of COVID-19. That’s the argument from numerous public health officials and economists around the world, including an Alberta expert in infectious disease and critical care, Dr. Ari Joffe of the Stollery Children’s Hospital and the University of Alberta.

"'I’m truly worried the (lockdown) approach is going to devastate economies and the future for our children and our grandchildren,” says Joffe, who has practised at the Stollery for 25 years and has now written a review paper on the impacts of the lockdown. The cost of lockdowns in Canada is at least 10 times higher than the benefit in terms of population health and well-being, he estimates, at least if you account for numerous variables such as economic recession, social isolation and impacts on life expectancy, education and the full gamut of health-care priorities. If you look at the issue worldwide, lockdowns will cause at least five times and, more likely, as much as 50 times more harm than benefit.

"Many public health experts continue to implement mandatory lockdowns, as seen recently in Ontario and Quebec. But Joffe no longer supports most such measures, which is an about-face from his position in March. In the early days of the pandemic, Joffe joined with 14 other leading Canadians with medical expertise in infectious disease and critical care to co-sign a National Post column pushing hard for public health measures, including stringent lockdowns of school, non-essential business and restaurants.... 

"Joffe says he supported lockdowns because at first it was feared that the highly-infectious disease would hit everyone hard, killing two or three of every 100 people infected. Joffe worried he might well be exposed to the disease at work and bring it home to his family. But the expected surge of child and young adult COVID-19 patients at the Stollery never came, he says, nor was there any major wave of ICU cases in Alberta.

"Medical experts, such as Stanford’s John Ioannidis, started to come out with information in the early summer showing that COVID-19 infection fatality rates were much lower than the numbers that had been used to justify the lockdowns. Instead of being as high as 3.0 per cent, it was likely around 0.25 per cent. Economists were largely silent on lockdowns at first, but some of them also started to speak out. Joffe dug into the work of Paul Frijters of the London School of Economics. Economists like Frijters attempted to quantify the harm that will be caused not just by COVID-19 infections, but by the isolation, unemployment, malnutrition and negative health outcomes brought on by worldwide lockdown.

"Joffe hopes for a vaccine but also realizes an effective one might not materialize. He worries we might have waves of damaging lockdowns for years. His preference to avoid aggressive lockdowns is also being pushed hard by numerous prominent scientists who have signed the anti-lockdown Great Barrington Declaration. In response, more pro-lockdown public health experts have put out the John Snow Memorandum.

"Joffe himself has signed the Great Barrington Declaration and says we should keep open schools, universities, stores and restaurants, but he’s not sure it’s right to open things up to extent of allowing large public crowds indoors. His focus is on spelling out in plain language the real risks to people. The risk to children from influenza each year is greater than the risk of COVID-19, he says. If an individual is less than 65 and has no co-morbidities their COVID risk is also low. The focus should be on protecting people over the age of 65, he says, while also respecting their right to live as they choose.

"In speaking out, Joffe will no doubt get some anxious and angry blowback, but he’s making a significant contribution. More facts, and less fear, will assist us in this debate. More focus on all the impacts of public health policies, not a myopic obsession with one single factor such as case counts, is also well advised. Joffe and others are leading us in that direction, which is the sanest way out of the COVID-19 crises."

Read more:

Monday, November 23, 2020

Nordic nations reject lockdown consensus

by George J. Dance

Good morning, Toronto and the world. Welcome to Monday, November 23, 2020: Another day and another week in the ongoing struggle between lockdowners and libertarians. On a grim note, I am locked down again as of today, as is the rest of my city. CBC News has the story: 

November 23, 2020 - "Toronto and Peel Region have officially moved into 'lockdown' as Ontario tries to curb the province's steep rise in COVID-19 cases. The shutdown will last a minimum of 28 days and could result in fines as high as $750 for people caught breaking public-health rules. Confused about what those rules are? This guide will help." 

Read more: 

Things look grim all over today. For the past two months the coronavirus has resurged in the northern hemisphere, with case rates soaring in both Europe and North America. The media panic has surged right in step, followed in turn by a new wave of lockdowns. At least 13 European nations have been locked down again. Here in Canada, Manitoba and Nunavut are closed, while regional lockdowns have been imposed on parts of Quebec, British Columbia, and Ontario. 

For a libertarian, it is hard to find any good news on this front. But there is good news out there, if one can only find it. Perhaps the best is that two Nordic countries, Finland and Norway, have rejected a second lockdown. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has that story: 

November 18, 2020 - "While the U.S. and Europe struggle to contain an autumn surge in coronavirus infections, two small nations are bucking the trend, keeping cases under control without stringent restrictions. In the north of Europe, Finland and Norway boast the West’s lowest rates of mortality linked to Covid-19 and a low incidence of coronavirus infections even though they have kept their economies and societies largely open while lockdowns returned to the continent.

"While Sweden has captured global attention with its refusal to adopt mandatory restrictions – a policy now being reversed in the face of spiraling infections and deaths – its two northern neighbors now stand out as the closest Western equivalents to Asian nations that have managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic. Their recipe: a brief, targeted lockdown in March, followed by tight border controls with mandatory testing and quarantine for all travelers."

Read more:

Denmark has had one regional lockdown this fall, thanks to a species jump by the virus to mink and back to humans, but there is no sign of a national lockdown there, either. There is a rumor that the Danish state had to withdraw a draconian Covid bill in the face of widespread public protests (more good news if true) but I have not been able to confirm any of that. Meanwhile, the other two Nordic nations – Iceland and Sweden – were never locked down at all. So it could be that the whole Nordic region has turned its back on the lockdown craze. 

To be clear, Norway and Finland have not decided to "be like Sweden." Instead, it looks like their plan is to be like Iceland and keep the virus out by quarantining everyone who enters the country, at least until the deus ex machina of a safe and effective vaccine arrives. Sweden, which has resigned itself to the coronavirus becoming endemic, is still the outlier on that point. However, that makes no difference to libertarians, who can live with either strategy and either end. What is important to us is their rejection of forcibly disrupting their own societies as a means.  

The Swiss government, too, has rejected a new national lockdown. Only the Financial Times, hidden behind its paywall, has carried that story that I can see, so I can give merely a headline and link: 

"Switzerland holds out against following its neighbours into new lockdown".  

Meanwhile, in the lockdown-loving media there has been a full-court press on Sweden, the non-lockdown state with the most fatalities. (Notice the snark in even the WSJ 's reporting.)  Cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have all increased sharply in Sweden this month: there may be 600 deaths there in November, as opposed to just 60 in October. Stories about the failure of "the Swedish experiment"  are ubiquitous on the web. Surely that failure is proof positive that lockdowns, and only lockdowns, can prevent mass death? Surely the country will lock down any day now? 

Surely not. For one thing, 600 deaths (while tragic) does not equate to mass death. For another, there is no reason to assume that a lockdown could have prevented any of those deaths. Whether lockdowns save lives is precisely the hypothesis in question in this experiment, in which Sweden (the only country to stick with traditional disease mitigation) is not the outlier but the control. The test is not how well Sweden does, but how well it is doing compared to the countries that locked down. And in some double-lockdown countries, the  death toll has been far higher. 

At the end of summer, Sweden had the fifth largest number of deaths with Covid per capita in Europe, behind only Belgium, Spain, Italy and the UK (not counting microstates with less than 100,000 people). Since then it has fallen from #5 to #10 in rank, being overtaken successively by France, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Czechia. All of #1 through #9 are in lockdown. All of them but North Macedonia have been locked down twice. And all of them are doing worse, per capita, than Sweden.  

Graph courtesy CTV News

In fairness, that is not the end of the story. At least four double-lockdown nations – Austria, Germany, Ireland, and Poland –  currently have less deaths per capita than Sweden. Deaths in those four countries are rising, though, just as they are rising in the Nordic nations and Switzerland. We need more data before judging the ability (essential to judging the need) of lockdowns to save lives.  

Sunday, November 22, 2020

There's nothing novel about pandemic hysteria

Fever pitch | The Guardian - David Aaronovitch [Note: This article is more than 17 years old]:

April 6, 2003 - "There are no poisonous snakes on Hampstead Heath.... So why, walking on the Heath last weekend, did I levitate at the sight of a twisted green stick across my path – I, who have never even seen a snake in the wild? It must, I reckoned, have been one of those rare appearances by the Old Animal inside, a sudden throwback to our hairy days of roaming the rift valley, alert to danger.

"I think something similar happens when – as last week – we hear about yet another deadly disease, which has killed someone in China. Boats or planes are, even now, carrying a new strain of pneumonia from the teeming Asian continent to the heart of Europe and the United States. The Old Animal, recalling past pandemics, sounds the alarm.... 

"Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) should not be confused with Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which was an African flu epidemic from last autumn and – frankly – is so last year (I presume that next year's epidemic will, because of this name inflation, have to be called something like Bloody Terrible Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.) A health website describes the main symptoms of Sars as being 'high fever, dry cough, shortness of breath or breathing difficulties. Sars may be associated with other symptoms, including headache, muscular stiffness, loss of appetite, malaise, confusion, rash and diarrhoea'. All of which, as I write this, I am currently suffering from, save lack of appetite. Oh, and a rash.

"If I have somehow picked up the coronavirus behind the disease, and am not just suffering from a spring cold,... [i]t would be about time. In 1997 I avoided the Hong Kong chicken virus, which killed six people when a strain of the virus somehow 'jumped the species barrier' for the first time. A million Chinese chickens were slaughtered, and the disease was stopped. Three years later I survived the emergence of the West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne infection that led to the whole of New York being sprayed with pesticide. Since then there have been 4,003 cases of West Nile virus and 263 deaths. Nothing, however, gives me as much relief as having been spared Ebola virus, which a few years back (and courtesy of Hollywood and Dustin Hoffman) was poised to sweep the world.

"Ever since we settled down in cities and communities, we have been open to the possibility of communicable disease. And, in our folk history, most of this arises in the East, a treacherous result of trade and modernity. The Black Death is supposed to have originated variously in the Gobi desert, in Manchuria, or (best of all) 'in the depths of Asia', reaching Dorset in August 1348. The cholera pandemic that swept across England in 1832 was supposed to have entered on a ship from Hamburg, but to have started in Bengal. Latterly Africa has been fixed upon as an alternative starting place for terrible diseases. Teeming Asia or the Heart of Darkness - take your pick of which most frightens you.

"This fear of epidemics and pandemics is interesting. In psychological terms it is a way of externalising evil and badness; the nastiness is placed outside us. And there are, of course, other outside threats to our continued survival, ranging from mega-tsunamis (tidal waves which will drown New York), the currently vogueish killer asteroids and - at an individual level - alien abduction.... But none of this sci-fi stuff has quite the power of an authentic health scare. It is many millions of years since we last struck by a huge asteroid, yet within the lifetime of a centenarian we have seen one pandemic and one epidemic; Spanish flu and Aids respectively. And, in any case, our own health and its susceptibility to external threat, is a very big part of our inner lives....

"For all kinds of reasons, we are living through a pessimistic moment, and we constantly expect to be assailed by external devils. So everyone is worried despite the fact that Sars appears to be less infectious than ordinary influenza, and that the World Health Organisation expects a treatment for Sars to be available in weeks rather than months. Even so there were mutterings this weekend about what would happen if the infection enters a country like Brazil, where the health system may not be able to cope. My guess, however, is that we will be talking about Sars in five years time in the same way that we now mention chicken flu. And yet, at some point in the next couple of years, there'll be another scare....

"We are consciously creating what one sociologist, Peter Berger, has described as a 'cultural climate of pervasive anxiety'. In this climate certain groups become over-sensitive to alarms about health and lifestyle, and end up trying to do things that actually contradict each other.

"It is hard not to think about the story of the boy who cried 'Wolf!' Every now and then an Aids epidemic or an established link (such as that between lung cancer and smoking) comes up and demands action. But by then we will have stayed at home because of virtually non-existent viruses, banned GM foods on the flimsiest of evidence and taken ill-advised exercise under the supervision of ignorant trainers - and so we won't believe what we are being told. This is, I fear, becoming a time when we are all scared of the wrong-shaped sticks."

Read more:

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Covid-19 pandemic is a crisis of democracy

A Crisis of Democracy

by George J. Dance

It is no exaggeration to call the coronavirus pandemic a crisis. While the virus itself has turned out to be less dangerous than Covid Cultists believe – not one country has experienced the "millions of deaths" they have been prophesying since March – governments' responses to it throughout the democratic world have spawned numerous other crises, from mass unemployment to civil unrest, that have been progressively tearing away at the social fabric. The very idea of a democratic state, as a viable form of government, is being called into serious question. 

"Democracy" (rule by all the people) has always been not one concept, but a bundle of coexisting ones. Two of those concepts of democracy have always been in conflict. The coronavirus crisis has exposed those hidden conflicts as never before.   

One vision of democracy, which we can call liberal or libertarian democracy, was summed up by economist (and armchair sociologist) Ludwig von Mises this way:

For the sake of domestic peace liberalism aims at democratic government. Democracy is therefore not a revolutionary institution. On the contrary; it is the very means of preventing revolutions and civil wars. It provides a method for the peaceful adjustment of government to the will of the majority. When the men in office and their policies no longer please the majority of the nation, they will – in the next election – be eliminated and replaced by other men espousing different policies. 

Democracy, in other words, served a libertarian end: as a means of eliminating force from politics, it was a major step toward the libertarian ideal of eliminating force from social relations. So it was good in itself. As well, as many libertarian ideas do, it brought other significant benefits. 

One benefit was to instantiate what sociologist Vilfredo Pareto called the "circulation of elites". Every human society of record has been divided into an elite, which lives the good life and calls the shots, and the riffraff underneath; perhaps, given how humans live in groups, that division is a necessary part of society. In precapitalist societies, that division was fixed: if you were born a lord you could expect to be a lord all your life; if you were born a peasant, you could expect to always be a peasant. The rise of capitalism, though, abolished that fixed order, making it possible for individuals to move into and out of the elite; the lowest floor sweeper in a factory could theoretically become the factory owner, and vice versa. Democracy extended the 'circulation' principle into government: in America any native-born child could grow up to be President. 

As a further benefit of adopting the 'circulation' principle, members of the governing elite now had to consider the point of view of the non-elite as well. A Prime Minister might be able to pile high taxes on the private citizens; but now he had to face the real possibility of becoming a private citizen and having to pay those taxes himself. That brought about a common interest, on the part of governors and citizens alike, in limiting what government could do to its citizens. Thus democracy led to the idea of limiting government power constitutionally, through formal checks and balances that restricted how governments could make law – the Rule of Law not men – and through bills of human rights, which limited what governments were allowed to make laws about. 

To libertarians, then, democracy was seen as a good because it was a means to achieving good ends. However, there were other democratic thinkers, to whom "pleas[ing] the majority of the nation" was not a means to an end, but the very end itself. In their view, a democratic government was the expression and will of the people – achieving the will of the people was the supreme political good –and therefore whatever a democratic government did (unless, of course, it were taken over by bad people) was always good. It followed that restrictions on government like bills of rights were bad things, encumbrances that prevented governments from doing as much good as possible.  

This second view can be called the totalitarian view of democracy. The word 'totalitarian' is no stretch; at the limit, it implies that government may do whatever it wants to any individual it wants, so long as a majority wants it to; in short, it contradicts the very idea of human rights. Novelist (and armchair philosopher) Ayn Rand called it:

a social system in which one’s work, one’s property, one’s mind, and one’s life are at the mercy of any gang that may muster the vote of a majority at any moment for any purpose.... 

If we discard morality and substitute for it the Collectivist doctrine of unlimited majority rule [Rand also wrote], if we accept the idea that a majority may do anything it pleases, and that anything done by a majority is right because it’s done by a majority (this being the only standard of right and wrong) – how are men to apply this in practice to their actual lives? Who is the majority? In relation to each particular man, all other men are potential members of that majority which may destroy him at its pleasure at any moment. Then each man and all men become enemies; each has to fear and suspect all; each must try to rob and murder first, before he is robbed and murdered.

Those two visions of democracy have always co-existed in precarious balance in democratic states; but the Covid pandemic has utterly destroyed that balance. 

Democratic governments' interventions in the pandemic have been paradigm examples of totalitarian democracy. Contrary to what some may believe, lockdowns (and their component  measures) are enormously popular. The Covid Cult that swept the world convinced millions that they were going to die of this new plague, and that only governments could save them. Since then, massive majorities throughout the world have been demanding that their governments save them, rewarding those who acted quickly to close down society, and punishing those who held back. It is wrong for libertarians to call the result 'tyranny,' for it is the very opposite: it is the government carrying out the popular will.

Meanwhile, the rights of the people are being trampled. People have seen their livelihoods taken away. They are routinely arrested, and even roughed up, by the police, just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are being arrested for their social media posts. They are being shot for breaking curfew. Life under lockdown is becoming a human rights nightmare. 

Even the Rule of Law has vanished; for this Covid totalitarianism has been happening, for the most part without any opposition, as if the constitution and the normal laws do not exist. Those have not been amended but are simply ignored, with the executive branch of government dictating whatever it wants done by executive order. Opposition parties, with their eyes on the same polls the government is reading, simply play along. A few courts have stood up for the Rule of Law by striking down some government actions; but those too have been demonized by the Covid Cult as "endanger[ing] thousands of lives," and in some cases their decisions have been ignored and the laws they struck down have still been enforced.  

In short, totalitarian democracy has become the official program of most democratic nations, while libertarian democracy has been discarded. This is an example of 'spontaneous order': No one planned for their country to become totalitarian; democratic governments have simply stumbled into totalitarianism, or been pushed into it by their citizens.

The silver lining to that cloud is that, while democratic majorities still support Covid totalitarianism, they have never approved of totalitarian democracy. As they gain experience of life in a totalitarian state, they cannot be counted on to support its continuance. Its tenets are being challenged by a growing number of scientists, philosophers, thinkers and even politicians. Official protests against Covid totalitarianism, though small and sporadic, are each week growing in number; while noncompliance (euphemistically referred to by governments as 'pandemic fatigue') is soaring, as the soaring case rates of Covid in America and Europe make clear. The liberal or libertarian ideal of people running their own lives, including assessing their own risks, may be down but it is certainly not out.  

I believe that in a straightforward conflict between totalitarian democracy versus liberal or libertarian democracy, the latter would win. However, that can and will happen only if enough people understand the nature of the underlying conflict.  

Friday, November 20, 2020

Fear and misunderstanding distort Covid policy

On My Mind: They Blinded us from Science | Franklin Templeton - Sonal Desai: 

July 29, 2020 - "The first round of our Franklin Templeton–Gallup Economics of Recovery Study has already yielded three powerful and surprising insights:

  1. Americans still misperceive the risks of death from COVID-19 for different age cohorts — to a shocking extent;
  2. The misperception is greater for those who identify as Democrats, and for those who rely more on social media for information; partisanship and misinformation, to misquote Thomas Dolby, are blinding us from science; and
  3. We find a sizable 'safety premium' that could become a significant driver of inflation as the recovery gets underway.

Misperceptions of risk 

Six months into this pandemic, Americans still dramatically misunderstand the risk of dying from COVID-19:

  1. On average, Americans believe that people aged 55 and older account for just over half of total COVID-19 deaths; the actual figure is 92%.
  2. Americans believe that people aged 44 and younger account for about 30% of total deaths; the actual figure is 2.7%.
  3. Americans overestimate the risk of death from COVID-19 for people aged 24 and younger by a factor of 50; and they think the risk for people aged 65 and older is half of what it actually is (40% vs 80%).

"These results are nothing short of stunning. Mortality data have shown from the very beginning that the COVID-19 virus age-discriminates, with deaths overwhelmingly concentrated in people who are older and suffer comorbidities. This is perhaps the only uncontroversial piece of evidence we have about this virus. Nearly all US fatalities have been among people older than 55; and yet a large number of Americans are still convinced that the risk to those younger than 55 is almost the same as to those who are older.... 

"This misperception translates directly into a degree of fear for one’s health that for most people vastly exceeds the actual risk.... for people aged 18–24, the share of those worried about serious health consequences is 400 times higher than the share of total COVID deaths; for those age 25–34 it is 90 times higher....

Partisanship and social media 

"For the last six months, we have all read and talked about nothing but COVID-19; how can there be still such a widespread, fundamental misunderstanding of the basic facts? Our poll results identify two major culprits: the quality of information and the extreme politicization of the COVID-19 debate:

  1. People who get their information predominantly from social media have the most erroneous and distorted perception of risk.
  2. Those who identify as Democrats tend to mistakenly overstate the risk of death from COVID-19 for younger people much more than Republicans.

"This, sadly, comes as no surprise. Fear and anger are the most reliable drivers of engagement; scary tales of young victims of the pandemic, intimating that we are all at risk of dying, quickly go viral; so do stories that blame everything on your political adversaries. Both social and traditional media have been churning out both types of narratives in order to generate more clicks and increase their audience.... 

"Stories that emphasize the dangers of the pandemic to all age cohorts and tie the risk to the Administration’s handling of the crisis likely tend to resonate much more with Democrats than Republicans. This might be a contributing factor to why, in our survey results, Democrats tend to overestimate the risk of dying from COVID-19 for different age cohorts to a greater extent than Republicans do....

"The policy decision of what activities to keep shut and for how long is a very difficult and consequential one. It requires balancing two opposite effects of uncertain scale: on the one hand the benefits in terms of slowing COVID-19 contagion, on the other hand the harm to the economy and to people’s long-term health and livelihoods. This decision is strongly influenced by public perceptions of dangers, not only because politicians are sensitive to the public’s concerns but also because politicians are people too, subject to some of the same biases. Our poll results suggest fundamental misperceptions of the risk of death or serious adverse health consequences from COVID-19 could be distorting these decisions."

Read more:

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Despite Covid, life goes on as normal in Belarus

Belarus: the land Covid forgot | Spiked - Daniel Hardaker:

November 16, 2020 - "Belarus, the spotlessly clean, neo-classical avenues of Minsk in particular, is in the grip of mass unrest. Balaclava-clad snatch-squads roam the streets in unmarked vans. Twitchy 18-year-old army conscripts, nervously clutching rusting AK74s, stand across from defiant and jubilant protesters. And the white-red-white tricolour of the opposition to President Lukashenko is hung from balconies and strung across tower-block windows.... However, my state of mind while witnessing all this — and, I wager, that of most lockdown-sceptical Western visitors — is one chiefly of relief....

"Belarus has not adopted any of the Covid measures embraced by the Western political bubble. There is nothing of the West’s panic, induced as it is by the rolling death tolls, hospital footage, campaigning scientists, and subsequently nodded through in a daze by parliamentary and legal power-checkers neglecting their responsibilities. Belarus is of course in crisis, but it is a different kind of crisis, one that has the effect of a turn towards life, not away from it.

"Despite Lukashenko’s opponents wanting an end to his 30-year reign and arbitrary decrees, there is a small but significant sense of mutual understanding between Lukashenko and the opposition regarding Covid, even if it is not often explicitly stated. When Lukashenko called Covid ‘yet another psychosis’, and declared ‘I’ve gone through many situations of psychosis together with you, and we know what the results were’, he echoed the sentiment of many in the former Eastern Bloc, particularly in what used to be East Germany, who have lived through periods of state-managed fear before....

"The clubs are open until 7 or 8am, and the after-parties go on longer.... It is not only young people, either. Families and the elderly are visible in cafes, restaurants, churches, shops, markets and on public transport. A few wear masks, but there is no requirement, and no glares should you enter an enclosed space without one.

"The biggest respite, though, is the total lack of the idea that proximity to other human beings brings forth mortal danger. No side-stepping on the pavement, no comments about social distancing, and no qualms about a little personal-space invasion on the packed metro....

"No section of Belarusian society appears preoccupied with Covid. There are some differences of opinion about what constitutes taking precautions, but it is clear to everyone that this is not the plague, and it does not require anywhere near the level of reaction seen elsewhere.

"I am sad to be leaving. I do not want to go back to the land of chin-warming masks, arbitrary business closures and avoidable cancer deaths. Hope was generated, however, by the surprise that the Covid measure-induced neuroses, like the wariness of standing too close to others, hesitating to offer a handshake, or the pressure to cover the face and nose, disappeared within a few days of arriving. The fear of these things becoming permanent has retreated a little."

Read more:

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Alberta MD condemns Covid "hysteria"

Dr. Roger Hodkinson says the virus is no worse than a “bad flu”, that masks are “useless”, and that lockdowns are driving suicides. | Western Standard:

November 17, 2020 - "A top Edmonton doctor in virology says Albertans 'are being led down the garden path” by government health officials in their efforts to stop the COVID-19 virus. Dr. Roger Hodkinson says the virus is no worse than a 'bad flu.'

"Hodkinson is the CEO of Western Medical Assessments, and has been the company’s medical director for over 20 years. He received his general medical degrees from Cambridge University in the U.K., and then became a Royal College certified pathologist in Canada (FRCPC) following a residency in Vancouver. He also taught at the University of Alberta and runs MutantDx, a molecular diagnostics company in North Carolina.

"'What I am going to say is lay language and blunt,' Hodkinson said during an Edmonton City Council Community and Public Services Committee meeting, audio of which is currently making the rounds on YouTube. 'There is utterly unfounded public hysteria driven by the media and politicians. It’s outrageous. This is the greatest hoax every perpetrated on an unsuspecting public.

"'There is absolutely nothing to be done to contain this virus other than protecting your more vulnerable people.... This is not Ebola. It’s not SARS. It’s politics playing medicine. And that’s a very dangerous game. Masks are utterly useless. There is no evidence based on their effectiveness whatsoever. Seeing these people walking around like lemmings obeying without any knowledge…putting the masks on.'

"Hodkinson said social distancing is also 'useless' because the virus can travel up to 30 m before landing. He said positive tests, which do not accurately reflect whether you have the virus, are driving 'public hysteria,' adding testing should stop unless you show up at a hospital with respiratory problems. He called for residents of long term care homes to be given daily doses of Vitamin D which can help battle the virus.

"Hodkinson said the risk of death from COVID-19 to Albertans under 65 is 1 in 300,000. He also blamed businesses closures for a spate of suicides and other social problems.

"'It’s just another bad flu, and you have to get your minds around that. You’re being led down the garden path by the chief medical officer of health (Dr. Deena Hinshaw) in this province.,' he said. 'I am absolutely outraged that it has reached this level.'"

Read more:

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Lockdowns and libertarianism (1)

by George J. Dance

In October, just as in March, a wave of coronavirus swept through Europe, followed predictably by a new wave of media and public panic leading to lockdowns. One by one, like dominoes, democratic governments in Europe – Ireland, CzechiaSpain, Poland, ItalyFrance, Germany, and finally the UK –fell to the latter wave, with only a few  (notably Norway and Sweden)  managing to resist being swept under by it. 

Unlike March, though, when the voice of panic was all that one heard, this time some dissenting voices managed to make themselves heard as well. This time, even the mainstream media has had to take note of: 

an increasingly heated [public] debate between two unlikely groupings of scientists, columnists, campaigners and politicians.
On one side there are the lockdowners. They think the only hope of triumphing over Covid-19 is shutdowns to bring numbers of cases back under control. Pubs and restaurants may have to close and households once again may be told not to mix.
On the other are the libertarians. They say we cannot return to those days because it would trigger an economic collapse and allow thousands of untreated cases of cancer, heart ailments and other diseases to mount. Tens of thousands might die, they say. (stress added).

"Each side points to different nations that have had greater success than Britain in fighting Covid-19, albeit with very different policies," the news story continues. "Each has attracted its own set of cheerleaders, politicians and journalists, as well as scientists who have also adopted strong contrasting stances." Some of the scientists have even produced duelling manifestos: for the libertarians, the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), which advocates for "allow[ing] those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally;" for the lockdowners the John Snow Memorandum, which calls that very idea "a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence." 

Some people dislike those terms. On the lockdowner side, for instance, economist Tyler Cowen insists that "the emphasis on lockdowns is a strawman," on the grounds that current U.S. lockdowns "are not severe," with relatively few activities on the prohibited list (though he quickly adds that "that list should be expanded"). On the libertarian side, epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta (a co-author of GBD) objects that her politics are Left-leaning, and that she disagrees with libertarians "about the distribution of wealth, about the importance of the Welfare State, about the need for publicly owned utilities and government investment in nationalised industries." 

Since Prof. Gupta has been vilified as a "right wing libertarian extremist" (and even a minion of Charles Koch), one must emphasize the point she is making. Many if not most lockdown opponents are not  libertarians on other issues, and philosophically many are not libertarians at all. (Perhaps 'Covid libertarians' would be a better term.) Still, the key recommendation of GBD – "Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal" while "People who are more at risk may participate if they wish" – is the libertarian position on lockdowns, and its supporters (like it or not) are libertarians on this particular issue. 

Libertarians believe in individual human rights, which limit what any person or group (including a government) may do to a person. Though 'liberty' gets most of the attention, those human rights include rights to life, liberty, and property. Calling those 'rights' simply means that harming another's life (by killing, maiming, or raping), liberty (by enslaving or confining) or property (by taking or vandalizing) is a wrongful act that should be prohibited. 

Lockdowns involve various measures to restrict people's movements and actions: by preventing them crossing a city or state boundary, or travelling only a few miles, or even leaving their own homes; from using the public streets or sidewalks; from working or shopping, by closing businesses; and from meeting with small groups of people (in the extreme case, from meeting with any people). All of those measures are compulsory mandates, enforced by coercion  – by the police power. They violate rights to property (ask the bankrupt businessmen) and liberty (our normal rights to work, travel, shop, dine out, visit friends)  – and, as GBD emphasizes, they do not respect our right to life, either. Lockdowns kill.

Libertarians cannot reject lockdowns merely because they are coercive, though, because libertarians do not reject coercion per se. Almost all libertarians (pacifists being the major exception) would allow coercion to prevent people from violating others' rights; which justifies some use of police power in a pandemic. As libertarian philosophy professor Jeffrey Huemer (quoted by Amitai Etzioni in the National Interest) puts it, "“Preventing the spread of infectious disease is within the legitimate functions of the minimal state, which most libertarians accept.” 

Some libertarians try to argue in good faith from that position to lockdowns. A typical argument goes like something like this: 

  1. Governments may use coercion to stop any person from violating another person's rights.
  2. For person A to give another person B a potentially deadly disease is a violation of person B's right to life. 
  3. Therefore, a government may use coercion to prevent person A from giving Covid-19 to person B.

The argument is sound. But it is not an argument for lockdowns. It is an argument for quarantining someone who is known to be (or at least can be reasonably suspected of) giving others Covid; that is, for quarantining the contagious. Quarantine is a power that can be misused; but as per the above argument a libertarian can accept that there is a police power to quarantine. Like all government powers, it should be used as a last resort, if consent cannot be procured, and the quarantined person should have full procedural rights (to testing and a medical examination, for instance). 

The argument's conclusion, though, cannot be stretched into an argument for 'quarantining' the entire 'non-essential' population, because most of that population is not contagious. As many as 90% of Americans have never had Covid-19. 60% of those who have had the disease no longer have it. And 90% of those who do test positive for it play virtually no role in spreading it. None of these people poses a danger to anyone's right to life. The comparative few who do pose a danger, on the other hand, can just as easily be among the 'essential,' still active in the community, as among the segregated 'non-essential.' As uses of the police power to quarantine, lockdowns are both overly broad – as they are used to coerce contagious and non-contagious, innocent and culpable, alike – and also not broad enough, as they fail to quarantine all the culpable. 

Another libertarian philosophy professor quoted by Etzioni, Dan Moller, argues that "What's weird about a pandemic is that our everyday behavior suddenly puts others at risk  – just showing up to work can have huge negative externalities. So libertarians see restrictions on individual liberty in a pandemic as akin to restrictions on pollution." It is instructive to examine the analogy. Governments can and will restrict a known polluter, if they have clear evidence that the company is polluting, and that the pollution is harming someone's health (and therefore violating that person's right to life). They have never claimed the power to shut down all the 'non-essential' businesses, on the grounds that some of them are polluting and they cannot tell which ones are and which ones are not. Yet that is the power being claimed to justify lockdowns.    

Etzioni also quotes the old libertarian chestnut, "My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins," variants of which he tells us were famously said by Abraham Lincoln, John Stuart Mill, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (The above quote is Lincoln's version.) That is indeed a good libertarian statement, which draws the boundary between competing rights quite well. But, once again, it is not a statement that justifies lockdowns. The latter would be something like: 

In order to save noses, everyone must be handcuffed in the back so they cannot swing their fists (except, of course, when we think it is essential that you be allowed to swing your fist). What, you don't want to wear the handcuffs? Why do you want to give your Granny a bloody nose?

Now, that sounds like what a lockdowner would say. As for me, though, I'll stick with how Lincoln and Mill put it. 

Also read: Lockdowns and libertarianism (2)

Monday, November 16, 2020

New lockdowns in US; Border closings in Australia

Oregon, New Mexico order lockdowns, other states consider options | Fox News - Peter Aitken:

November 15 - "Oregon and New Mexico governors issued orders for tighter measures in the face of spiking coronavirus cases, including near-lockdown conditions.

"New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham closed statewide in-person services for non-essential activities starting Nov. 16. It will last for two weeks, although that may be extended.

"Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued a similar order, called a 'Two-Week Freeze.' Starting Nov. 18., most indoor facilities, such as gyms and restaurants will close, and indoor capacity for essential services such as grocery stores and pharmacies will be limited. 'Since I announced a Two-Week Pause one week ago, we are seeing an alarming spike in both cases and hospitalizations,' said Brown. 'The virus is spreading in the community and, every day, it is infecting more and more Oregonians'.... 

"North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced a mask mandate that would take effect immediately and run through December.... Burgum ordered all bars and restaurants to limit capacity and suspend service between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo embraced the overnight curfew for dining services, a move the governor said aligns with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. 'We did that with New Jersey on bars and restaurants, with the closure of 10 p.m.,' Cuomo said during a Friday conference call with reporters.... Nevada Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak repeatedly argued that containing the virus is largely up to individuals." 

Read more:

Australia back on COVID-19 alert as cases jump in southern state | Al Jazeera:

November 16, 2020 - "The Australian state of South Australia has reported 14 new coronavirus cases, a dramatic increase from the previous day, prompting other states to tighten internal borders amid concerns of a new virus hot spot. South Australia ended a months-long streak of no COVID-19 infections on Sunday, reporting three locally-acquired coronavirus cases after a worker from a quarantine hotel infected family members, the authorities said....

"Since the neighbouring state of Victoria came out of a lengthy lockdown earlier this month, Australia has had several days of no new coronavirus infections. The country has only recorded near 28,000 coronavirus infections and just over 900 deaths due to strict measures such as international and state border closures, lockdowns, mandatory social distancing and widespread testing and tracing....

"Western Australia, which borders South Australia, ordered new arrivals from the state to undertake mandatory tests and self-quarantine for 14 days; the island state of Tasmania ordered immediate self-quarantine for people who had arrived from South Australia in the past week and the Northern Territory ordered people arriving from the state to enter supervised quarantine. Local media reported passengers arriving from South Australia being in tears when told they would have to go into 14-day quarantine when touching down in Western Australia on Monday morning."

Read more:

UPDATE: According to today's Guardian, the current South Australian outbreak was begun by a care worker who contacted the disease in a quarantine hotel and spread it in the community. Note that the other Australian states' response has been to start packing people, infected and non-infected indiscriminately, into their own quarantine hotels. Good luck with that strategy, Australia. - gd  

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The trolling of Professor Gupta

A contagion of hatred and hysteria: Oxford epidemiologist PROFESSOR SUNETRA GUPTA tells how she has been intimidated and shamed for backing shielding instead of lockdown | Daily Mail - Sunetra Gupta:

October 30, 2020 - "Lockdown is a blunt, indiscriminate policy that forces the poorest and most vulnerable people to bear the brunt of the fight against coronavirus. As an infectious diseases epidemiologist, I believe there has to be a better way. That is why, earlier this month, with two other international scientists, I co-authored a proposal for an alternative approach — one that shields those most at risk while enabling the rest of the population to resume their ordinary lives to some extent.

"I expected debate and disagreement about our ideas, published as the Great Barrington Declaration. As a scientist, I would welcome that. After all, science progresses through its ideas and counter-ideas. But I was utterly unprepared for the onslaught of insults, personal criticism, intimidation and threats that met our proposal. The level of vitriol and hostility, not just from members of the public online but from journalists and academics, has horrified me....

"I am not a politician.... I am first and foremost a scientist.... Of course, I do have deeply held political ideals — ones that I would describe as inherently Left-wing.... I have strong views about the distribution of wealth, about the importance of the Welfare State, about the need for publicly owned utilities and government investment in nationalised industries. But Covid-19 is not a political phenomenon. It is a public health issue — indeed, it is one so serious that the response to it has already led to a humanitarian crisis. So I have been aghast to see a political rift open up, with outright abuse meted out to those who, like me, question the orthodoxy.

"At the heart of our proposal is the recognition that mass lockdowns cause enormous damage. We are already seeing how current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. Such pitfalls of national lockdowns must not be ignored, especially when it is the working class and younger members of society who carry the heaviest burden. I was also deeply concerned that lockdowns only delay the inevitable spread of the virus. Indeed, we believe that a better way forward would be to target protective measures at specific vulnerable groups, such as the elderly in care homes....

"I am certainly not pretending I have all the answers, but these issues need to be discussed and thrashed out thoroughly. That is why I have found it so frustrating how, in recent weeks, proponents of lockdown policies have seemed intent on shutting down debate rather than promoting reasoned discussion....

"I was left stunned after being invited on to a mid-morning radio programme recently, only for a producer to warn me minutes before we went on air that I was not to mention the Great Barrington Declaration. The producer repeated the warning and indicated that this was an instruction from a senior broadcasting executive.... A few days later, another national radio station approached my office to set up an interview, then withdrew the invitation. They felt, on reflection, that giving airtime to me would ‘not be in the national interest’.....

"On social media, meanwhile, much of the discourse has lacked any decorum whatsoever. I have all but stopped using Twitter, but I am aware that a number of academics have taken to using it to make personal attacks on my character, while my work is dismissed as ‘pseudo- science’. Depressingly, our critics have also taken to ridiculing the Great Barrington Declaration as ‘fringe’ and ‘dangerous’. But ‘fringe’ is a ridiculous word, implying that only mainstream science matters. If that were the case, science would stagnate. And dismissing us as ‘dangerous’ is equally unhelpful, not least because it is an inflammatory, emotional term charged with implications of irresponsibility. When it is hurled around by people with influence, it becomes toxic. But this pandemic is an international crisis. To shut down the discussion with abuse and smears — that is truly dangerous.

"Yet of all the criticisms flung at us, the one I find most upsetting is the accusation that we are indulging in ‘policy-based evidence-making’ — in other words, drumming up facts to fit our ideological agenda. And that ideology, according to some, is one of Right-wing libertarian extremism. According to Wikipedia, for instance, the Great Barrington Declaration was funded by a Right-wing think-tank with links to climate-change deniers. It should be obvious to anyone that writing a short proposal and posting it on a website requires no great financing. But let me spell it out, since, apparently, I have to: I did not accept payment to co-author the Great Barrington Declaration....

"[T]he abuse continues to flood in, increasingly of a personal nature. [H]owever ... there is now a groundswell of movements — Us For Them, PanData19 and The Price of Panic, to name but three — seeking to give a voice to those, like me, who believe that the collateral damage of lockdown can be worse than the virus itself. On Thursday, a broad coalition was launched under the banner of Recovery. Drawing people from across the mainstream of political views, the movement is calling for balance and moderation in our response to Covid-19, backed by a proper public debate and a comprehensive public inquiry.

"I am delighted that it has received such a level of support. For, ultimately, lockdown is a luxury of the affluent; something that can be afforded only in wealthy countries — and even then, only by the better-off households in those countries. One way to go about shifting our perspective would be to catalogue all the ways in which lockdowns across the world are damaging societies. At present, I am collaborating with a number of colleagues to do just this, under the banner For the simple truth is that Covid-19 will not just go away if we continue to impose enough meaningless restrictions on ourselves. And the longer we fail to recognise this, the worse will be the permanent economic damage — the brunt of which, again, will be borne by the disadvantaged and the young."

Read more:

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The fallacies behind state Covid mandates

No ‘rule of six’, please, we’re British. We can make our own decisions | The Times - Jonathan Sumption:

September 13, 2020 - "The prime minister has declared that he will do 'whatever is necessary' to stop the spread of the coronavirus. One of the things that is necessary, apparently, is to stop us enjoying the company of our friends and family in numbers above six. There are at least three fallacies behind these bossy declarations. One is that the spread of an endemic virus is amenable to government control. The second is that legal coercion is a good way of doing it. The third is that stopping infections is all that matters, so that one does not have to count the human cost.

"If one thing has become clear over the past six months, it is that aggressive measures of social distancing make little difference in the long run. They buy time, but reduce deaths only if they last indefinitely. Even buying time comes at a heavy price in depression, mental illness and misery.... Spain took the most extreme and brutally enforced measures in Europe. Sweden had the mildest measures: no lockdown or school closures and only moderate measures of social distancing. Yet Spain now [i.e., September - gd] has the worst second spike on the Continent and Sweden none at all.

"There are many variables that affect the long-term progress of the disease, including the population’s state of health and age balance. But one thing that does not seem to affect it is government policy. The reason seems tolerably clear. People can spread Covid-19 before their symptoms appear — and even if they have no symptoms. So isolating known cases is always too late. Whatever distancing measures you take, short of shutting everyone indefinitely in a box and feeding them through a tube, the virus will still spread, but more slowly....

"Of all the ways of buying time, legal coercion is the most inefficient. Legal coercion is indiscriminate, whereas this virus discriminates. It attacks the old and clinically vulnerable. Across Europe and the UK, the upsurge of infections is heavily concentrated among healthy people under 50. 

"The increasingly absurd health secretary Matt Hancock gets cross about this being pointed out. But, with a handful of exceptions, the infected young will experience only mild symptoms or none. What matters is not infections but hospital admissions and deaths, which have increased relatively little, both here and in other European countries. This suggests that, while the young and healthy are getting on with their lives, the vulnerable are sheltering themselves. It is happening spontaneously.

"What is more, it is exactly what ought to be happening. People are making their own judgments, guided by their own vulnerabilities and their own tolerance of risk. The result is a far more discriminating approach than the government’s regulatory blunderbuss. Left to themselves, people can manage this virus better than Boris Johnson and Hancock because they can fine-tune their precautions to their own situation and that of the people around them. Taking the decisions out of their hands and imposing one-size-fits-all measures is despotic and ineffective....

"To justify their policies and command submission, ministers have to resort to fear, the classic tool of despotic regimes.... Will the public take it seriously?... Why should they? No one can respect laws made with no achievable objective or coherent plan. There is a limit to what people can be expected to put up with from a government that thinks hyperactivity is a substitute for thought, that seems incapable of matching the measures to the problem and has nothing but crocodile tears for the collateral damage to people’s lives."

Read more:

Friday, November 13, 2020

Province-wide lockdown in Manitoba

Manitoba moves into 'critical' COVID territory, imposes strict lockdowns to take effect on Thursday | National Post:

November 10, 2020: "Manitoba goes into lockdown Thursday, escalating from 'restricted' to 'critical' on its pandemic severity scale, as it bans social gatherings and restricts travel.... Schools will remain open, but religious services will be closed, and non-essential businesses will be restricted to curbside pick up or delivery. Essential services like grocery stores and pharmacies can operate only at 25 per cent capacity.

"Gyms, restaurants, sports facilities, libraries, casinos, museums and movie theatres will be shuttered in the lockdown that will be in place at least four weeks, or two incubation periods. Non-essential travel is discouraged and will be restricted in the north....

"'We are at a critical point in our fight against COVID-19, and we must do everything we can to protect our most vulnerable Manitobans and ensure our health-care system is there for Manitobans, when they need it,' said Premier Brian Pallister. 'This is a team effort, and we all have a role to play in protecting ourselves, our loved ones and our community. By taking these measures seriously, we are going to save lives'....

"Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said the new level of lockdown involves a “short, sharp set of restrictions.” Pallister called it a “circuit breaker.”

"The short, sharp lockdowns have been used in European countries to control surges of COVID and were proposed by a group of doctors in Alberta to control the virus in that province. British Columbia has also adopted a form of circuit-breaker lockdowns in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser health regions in recent days to control COVID surges. There, people may only socialize with those in their 'core bubble.'"

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Thursday, November 12, 2020

Scientists confirm cross-immunity to COVID-19

The Children Never Had the Coronavirus. So Why Did They Have Antibodies? | New York Times - Gina Kolada:

November 10, 2020 - "Why are children so much less likely than adults to become infected with the new coronavirus and, if infected, less likely to become ill? A possible reason may be that many children already have antibodies to other coronaviruses, according to researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London. About one in five of the colds that plague children are caused by viruses in this family. Antibodies to those viruses may also block SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus causing the pandemic. 

"In a study published Friday in Science, the group, led by George Kassiotis, who heads the Retroviral Immunology Laboratory at the institute, reports that on average only 5 percent of adults had these antibodies, but 43 percent of children did.... Stephen J. Elledge, a genetics professor at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, ... and others have found many people have antibodies to common colds caused by other coronaviruses; in laboratory studies, these antibodies also block the new coronavirus.

"In March, as the pandemic was just beginning, Dr. Kassiotis and his colleagues decided to develop a highly sensitive antibody test. To assess it, they examined blood samples taken before the pandemic from over 300 adults and 48 children and adolescents, comparing them with samples from more than 170 people who had been infected with the new coronavirus. The scientists expected samples taken before the pandemic to have no antibodies that attacked the new coronavirus. Those were to be the controls for the test the scientists were developing. 

"Instead, they found that many children, and some adults, carried one antibody in particular that can prevent coronaviruses, including the new one, from entering cells. This antibody attaches itself to a spike that pokes out of coronaviruses. While the tip of the spike is unique to the new coronavirus, the base is found in all coronaviruses, Dr. Kassiotis said. In lab tests, antibodies to the base of the spike prevented the new coronavirus from entering cells in order to reproduce.... After examining blood taken from 190 people before the pandemic emerged, Dr. Elledge and his colleagues concluded that many already had antibodies, including the one targeting the base of the spike — presumably from infections with related coronaviruses that cause colds.

"But while adults might get one or two colds a year, Dr. Elledge said, children may get up to a dozen. As a result, many develop floods of coronavirus antibodies that are present almost continuously; they may lessen cold symptoms, or even leave children with colds that are symptomless but still infectious.

"While adults may not have detectable coronavirus antibodies, many may be able to quickly make antibodies if they are infected with a coronavirus. In typical viral infections, the immune system pours out antibodies to fight the virus. When the infection is quelled, the antibodies, no longer needed, diminish in number. But the body is left with so-called memory cells that allow antibody production to soar rapidly if the virus tries to invade again.

Then why do we have a pandemic? Shouldn’t most of us be protected by memory cells left by other coronavirus infections? 'It is quite possible that you lose your memory over time,' Dr. Elledge said. He suspects that the new coronavirus may interfere with the activation of the memory cells able to respond to the infection.... If so, a very recent infection with a common cold coronavirus would be needed to protect against the new coronavirus, and even then the protection might last only for a limited time....

"Another possibility is that most adults actually are protected by memory cells from previous infections with the common cold. Although few have enough antibodies in their blood to protect them at any given time, they may be able to quickly make antibodies to lessen the impact of the new coronavirus. That might explain why many adults who are infected recover quickly. 'We focus on those who get really sick, but 95 to 98 percent of those who get the virus don’t have to go to the hospital,' Dr. Elledge said. 'There are a lot of people who do get better.'"

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Read study: Kevin W. Ng, Nikhil Faulkner, Georgina H. Cornish, Annachiara Rosa, Ruth Harvey, Saira Hussain, Rachel Ulferts, Christopher Earl, Antoni G. Wrobel, Donald J. Benton, Chloe Roustan, William Bolland, Rachael Thompson, Ana Agua-Doce, Philip Hobson, Judith Heaney. Hannah Rickman, Stavroula Paraskevopoulou, Catherine F. Houlihan, Kirsty Thomson, Emilie Sanchez, Gee Yen Shin, Moira J. Spyer, Dhira Joshi, Nicola O’Reilly, Philip A. Walker, Svend Kjaer, Andrew Riddell, Catherine Moore, Bethany R. Jebson, Meredyth Wilkinson, Lucy R. Marshall, Elizabeth C. Rosser, Anna Radziszewska, Hannah Peckham,Coziana Ciurtin, Lucy R. Wedderburn,Rupert Beale, Charles Swanton, Sonia Gandhi, Brigitta Stockinger, John McCauley, Steve J. Gamblin, Laura E. McCoy, Peter Cherepanov, Eleni Nastouli, and George Kassiotis, "Preexisting and de novo humoral immunity to SARS-CoV-2 in humans," Science 370:6522 (11 Dec 2020), 1339-1343 doi: 10.1126/science.abe1107