Sunday, January 31, 2021

Lockdown lovely for Queen, but not for all seniors

Lockdown 'Is the Only Slight Rest' the Queen Has 'Had in Her Whole Life,' Says Source | People - Simon Perry: 

January 27, 2021 - "After decades of royal duty, Queen Elizabeth's schedule has slowed amid lockdown. The coronavirus pandemic has provided an unexpected reprieve for the 94-year-old monarch, an insider tells PEOPLE in one of this week's cover stories. 'In her twilight years, I'm sure it is quite lovely not to have the pressure' of a full calendar of public events, says the insider. 'It is possible this is the only slight rest she's ever had in her whole life,' adds a source close to the Queen. 'She is well. She's in good fettle.'

"Queen Elizabeth has spent most of past year isolating at Windsor Castle with her husband, Prince Philip, 99. It's a welcomed change for the couple of 73 years — ever since his retirement from royal duties in 2017, Prince Philip usually lives at Wood Farm near Sandringham while the Queen continues her work primarily in London. As they isolate, the couple have dinner together each night."
Read more:

LEVY: Loneliness and isolation from lockdowns immeasurable for seniors | Toronto Sun - Sue-Ann Levy: 

January 28, 2021 - "Judi Ritter’s heart just breaks for her 98-year-old aunt who has been pretty much isolated in her room for nearly 11 months in the Bathurst St.-Finch Ave. area home where she’s resided for 2 1/2 years. She told me Wednesday her aunt, Olga Havas, is a Holocaust survivor, nearly blind and needs help with her hearing aids. Ritter said she had a stroke a few years ago and can’t walk — leaving her either in her wheelchair or bedridden at Advent Valleyview Home.... A couple of days ago, Havas begged her daughter to get her out of there and to leave her out on the street 'to die,' said Ritter.

"If Ontario residents are distressed and frustrated by the latest lockdown, think of what a living hell it must be for seniors confined to their rooms in long-term care and retirement homes for now what is going into our 11th month of pandemic restrictions....

"Jim Stevens’ 90-year-old mom moved to a Revera retirement in Ottawa three years ago for the social activity and the meals. At 90, he said, Audrey is 'still pretty good,' but being deaf she has trouble understanding what he is saying when he tries to visit her near the front door in a mask. He said he hasn’t been 'past the front door in probably eight months'.... Stevens said his mom tells him that for the longest time they couldn’t go down to the dining room for meals, and they took away the chairs in common areas to keep people apart. Now they can go down to the dining room but have to sit one to a table far apart from the next table. 'She went there for entertainment … there’s been no social activities for months,' Stevens said....

"Elizabeth Bryce, Advent Valleyview’s administrator, said isolation to mitigate any spread is the direction they get from Toronto Public Health.... 'We’re not blaming the people who work there … it’s the system,' Ritter responds. But she said her aunt and all the others who are suffering these inhumane times, deserve better. 'They worked hard all their lives, brought up their families, paid their taxes and contributed to society,' Ritter said. 'They all deserve better than this.'"
Read more:

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Science and scepticism

Scepticism – the only intelligent option | The Conservative Woman - David Seedhouse:

January 29, 2021 - "Of the countless attacks on freedom of thought we have endured this past year, the concerted assault on scepticism by journalists and politicians is the most disturbing.... Hostility toward anyone who questions the scientific orthodoxy, even if they are scientists themselves, has become the norm. According to mainstream media, sceptics recklessly deny ‘irrefutable facts’ (Emily Maitlis, BBC Newsnight). They are ‘dangerous’ (Neil O’Brien, Tory MP for Harborough). They are the ‘anti-lockdown brigade’ (Piers Morgan) bent on sabotaging the sacrifices of others. According to the Guardian, which recently took wanton bias to a new low, sceptics are no better than a ‘robot zombie army’. 

"Whether they doubt government health policy, human-caused climate change, vaccine safety or news-media motives, sceptics are charged with disseminating ‘unwarranted doubt that contradicts the scientific consensus’ (Wikipedia). To their critics their motives are ... designed to ‘foment public distrust of official advice and encourage dangerous risk-taking’ (Guardian).....

"It is hard to explain how horribly distorted this outbreak of condemnation has become. Quite contrary to the name-blackening from people and organisations who really should know better, scepticism IS science. Scepticism is a thoughtful, open-minded approach to life. It does not deny truth, it seeks it. It categorically refuses to accept handed-down authority, no matter how powerful the authority and no matter how personally dangerous it might be to question its validity.... It is faith in the importance of thinking for oneself, of coming to one’s own conclusions about the evidence, as a free person.

  • It looks as if the Earth is flat. But a sceptic needs to know if it really is. In the tenth century, Abū Rayḥān Al-Bīrūnī, a pioneering Muslim scientist, used the sun at noon, shadows, sticks and trigonometry to calculate the circumference of the Earth to within 200 miles.
  • It looks as if the sun orbits the Earth. But a sceptic needs to know if it really does. Hoping to explain an increasing list of anomalies, ... Copernicus (1473-1543) postulated that if the sun is assumed to be at rest and Earth to be in motion, the remaining planets fall into an orderly relationship.... Consequently in 1616 the Catholic Church placed Copernicus’s case for a heliocentric universe, De Revolutionibus, on its index of banned books. 
  • It looks as if the world is composed of solid, permanent objects. But a sceptic is driven to look beyond human senses, to question appearances. This is so fundamental to scientific investigation that Rene Descartes founded the entire scientific method on doubt, advocating a systematic process of scepticism about every belief.
  • It looks as if ‘causation’ is as real as rock. It looks as if value-judgments are facts. But both David Hume and Sir Francis Bacon disproved the apparently obvious, advocating scepticism as a means of avoiding biases of perception and other human predispositions. 
  • In school textbooks it looks as if scientists conduct experiments to verify their theories in perpetuity. But Sir Karl Popper showed how this assumption relies upon unprovable induction, arguing that open-minded scientists should embrace scepticism by trying to falsify rather than prove their theories.  

"Not only is scepticism the basis of all scientific exploration, it is the token of thoughtful human inquiry in general. In criminal trials, when buying a car, when interviewing job candidates, caveat emptor is the motto of the wise. We must establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt, we must test drive, we must seek references – we cannot take matters at face value. Those who are currently turning their venom against scepticism not only show an astonishing lack of erudition, but they are not brave enough to question what they are told, preferring the refuge of conformity to the freedom of disruptive doubt.... 

"Experts disagree. Policies change repeatedly. Data are open to different interpretations. The number of children admitted to hospital for mental health reasons in the pandemic outstrips those with physical conditions. The government won’t say when restrictions will be lifted because it is unsure of their effectiveness, but at the same time it insists they work. It makes no sense. In the face of such a shambles, scepticism is the only intelligent option. 

"We need dissenting voices. We need sceptical data analysis. We need to question and question, and then question again. We need diversity, controversial ideas, insights, new possibilities – we need open, scientific, social and ethical debate. And when we act, we need to do so conservatively, never with such sweeping disdain for civil liberties.... We can no longer accept narrow judgments from a cabal of experts who refuse to engage in sceptical discussion."

Read more:

Friday, January 29, 2021

Some countries allow ivermectin use to treat Covid

Use of parasite medication to treat coronavirus patients approved in Slovakia | Slovak Spectator

January 27, 2021 - "Ivermectin, a medication used to treat many types of parasite infestations, can now be used to treat coronavirus patients in hospitals and obtained from pharmacies with a prescription. The Health Ministry approved the therapeutic use of this medication for six months. It will be used with other treatments, its spokesperson Zuzana Eliášová said, as reported by the TASR newswire.

"The medication can be legally imported to Slovakia and given to patients. With such a step, the ministry fulfilled the request of the association of Slovak anaesthetists, the Denník N daily reported. Until now, Ivermectin was officially approved to be used only for animals, which is why people generally buy it abroad."

Read more:

South Africa Allows Use of Parasite Drug in Covid Patients | Bloomberg - Janice Kew:

January 27, 2021 - "South African authorities approved the use of a drug used to control parasites in humans and livestock to treat coronavirus patients. The medicine, known as ivermectin, will be allowed for use on compassionate grounds in a controlled-access program, the head of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority said Wednesday. Medical practitioners who apply to the regulator to use the drug will be considered on a case-by-case basis, Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela said.

"Ivermectin has been used for decades to treat livestock infested with parasitic worms, while in humans it’s used as a topical ointment for diseases including skin infections and inflammation. The World Health Organization has suggested the drug has encouraging effects on coronavirus, though like other regulators it’s also said the medication hasn’t been properly evaluated. The drug won’t be limited to patients with known Covid-19 co-morbidities, Semete-Makokotlela said.

"The regulator is already seeing widespread use of ivermectin in an emerging black market, as South Africa grapples with a second wave of coronavirus infections that’s resulted in hospital admissions soaring and a shortage of critical-care beds. Allowing controlled use of the drug will help the regulator monitor its use and enable the body to collect much-needed safety data."

Read more:

Zimbabwe OKs use of Ivermectin after officials' deaths | Anadolu Agency - John Cassim:

January 28, 2021 - "Zimbabwe has approved the use and import of the anti-parasite drug Ivermectin to treat COVID-19 patients. 

"'In these difficult times of COVID-19 treatment, we have to be careful to protect patients as well as not to deny them effective treatment regimes,” said a statement by the Health Ministry addressed to the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ). 'It is in this regard, the authority is hereby granted for you to proceed to allow importation and use of these medicines under the supervision and guidance you outlined. Ivermectin can be evaluated for both treatment and prophylaxis,' the ministry said.

"This ministry’s decision comes a few days after the deaths of three cabinet ministers and several top government officials from COVID-19 in a short period of time. Owing to the fact that Ivermectin was not registered for use in Zimbabwe, COVID-19 patients ended up using the Ivermectin product meant for animals....

"Two weeks ago, the medicines control body threatened to arrest anyone found to be administering Ivermectin to humans."

Read more:

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Ontario church, pastor fined for indoor service

Doug Ford issues warning to Woolwich church: ‘there will be consequences’ | Global News - Kevin Nielsen:

January 25, 2021 - "Ontario Premier Doug Ford warned leaders of a church in Waterloo Region that they will face the 'consequences' if they hold more services. 'Please don’t continue doing this. There will be consequences,' Ford said Monday as he urged the church leaders to lead by example.

"On Sunday, two services were held at the Trinity Bible Chapel despite a court order which was filed on Friday in an attempt to prevent them from happening. Ford was asked about Sunday’s services and chastised the leaders for hosting them..., 'I think it’s careless and irresponsible for them to host this, especially when we are in the situation we are in right now,' he said....

"Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin says there will be a plan in place to prevent any more gatherings at the church.... In December, police issued summons to six church elders after services were held at the church in defiance of the Reopening Ontario Act. The region said nine charges were laid by its bylaw officers including six people and the church corporation itself for hosting the event. Two other people were charged for attending the gathering. The church had moved to holding drive-in services but announced last week it would hold services inside on Sunday....

The government of Ontario declared a state of emergency and imposed a stay-at-home order on Jan. 12, banning indoor gatherings and activities including religious services. Some religious services, such as weddings and funerals, are permitted provided they include no more than 10 people and physical distancing can be maintained. The rules apply to the entire province and will remain in effect until at least Feb. 11."

Read more:

Woolwich pastor faces fine of up to $100,000 for Sunday service ignoring COVID-19 lockdown | Global News - Kevin Nielsen:

January 28, 2021 - "Waterloo Region issued nine tickets to members of the Trinity Bible Chapel in Woolwich, Ont., for holding services on Sunday in spite of the COVID-19 lockdown, according to Waterloo Region. Waterloo Region spokesperson TJ Miller told Global News in an email that five elders, pastor Jacob Reaume and the Trinity Bible Chapel corporation have all been charged under the Reopening Ontario Act.

"The church has been in the news previously — and has even attracted comment from Ontario Premier Doug Ford. As for the region, it took things to a different level this time as it attempts to get Trinity Bible Chapel to follow an Ontario order that hundreds of other religious institutions across the province have been able to keep.

"'The Region of Waterloo has also charged the pastor and one elder under Ontario Regulation 82/20 for attending a gathering of more than 10, Miller said. If convicted of hosting or organizing an in-person gathering of more than 10 people, the pastor and the elder each face a fine of between $10,000 and $100,000....

"A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office confirmed that an injunction was issued last Friday restraining the Trinity Bible Chapel from holding gatherings of more than 10 people. 'Church services were held at Trinity Bible Chapel on Sunday, January 24, 2021, despite the injunction order,' the spokesperson told Global News in an email. 'On January 27, 2021, the motion for contempt proceeded. The Court made findings of contempt against all Respondents, with reasons to follow.'

"Sentencing for the matter will take place in February."

Read more:

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Dutch youth riot to protest Covid curfew

Rioting Dutch youths torch Covid testing center | Joy Online - Source: DW:  

24 January 2021 - "Youths torched a Covid-19 testing center and threw fireworks at police in the central Dutch fishing village of Urk overnight into Sunday. They were protesting a nationwide curfew that went into effect on Saturday in a bid to rein in the coronavirus pandemic. The curfew runs from 9:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. local time (2030 to 0330 UTC/GMT) and will remain in place until February 9.... Exceptions to the curfew include medical emergencies, people performing essential jobs and people walking their dogs. Violators can be fined €95 ($115).

"Across the Netherlands, police said they arrested a total of 25 people and handed out 3,600 fines for violations of the curfew from Saturday into Sunday. Last Sunday, Covid lockdown sceptics clashed with riot police on horseback in a central square in Amsterdam. A total of 143 people were detained. Another protest against the new measures is planned for Sunday afternoon in the same square. Mayor Femke Halsema designated the area as a “high-risk zone” to give police the power to frisk people for weapons."

Read more:

Dutch streets relatively calm as police out in force following days of anti-lockdown riots | CBC News - Thomson Reuters:

January 26, 2021 - "With shops boarded up and riot police out in force, it was relatively calm in Dutch cities on Tuesday night after three days of violence during which around 500 people were detained. In several cities, including the capital Amsterdam, some businesses closed early and emergency ordinances were in place to give law enforcement greater powers to respond to the rioting, which was prompted by a nighttime curfew to curb the spread of the coronavirus. On Tuesday when the 9 p.m. curfew went into effect, rowdy crowds of youths gathered in Amsterdam and Hilversum, but were broken up without incident. In Rotterdam, 33 people were detained for violating physical distancing regulations and vandalism.

"That was in stark contrast to Monday night, when rioting rocked cities across the country and more than 180 people were arrested for burning vehicles, stone throwing and widespread looting.... National Police chief Willem Woelders told Dutch public television[:] 'We did not need to use the riot police or other forces.' But he cautioned that one night of quiet did not mean they could let down their guard....

"The Netherlands' first curfew since the Second World War was imposed on Saturday despite weeks of falling infections, after the National Institute for Health (RIVM) expressed concern over the presence of a faster-spreading variant first found in England.

"A hospital in Rotterdam had warned visitors of patients to stay away, after reports that rioters tried to attack hospitals in various cities. A countrywide appeal issued by law enforcement authorities Tuesday called on parents to keep teenagers indoors, warning they could end up with a criminal record and forced to pay for damage to cars, shops and public property.

"In Amsterdam on Monday, groups of youths threw fireworks, broke store windows and attacked a police truck, but were broken up by a massive police presence. Ten police officers were injured in Rotterdam, where 60 people were detained overnight after widespread looting and destruction in the city centre, a police spokesperson said. Supermarkets in the port city were emptied, while rubbish bins and vehicles were set ablaze. Two photographers were hurt after being targeted by rock-throwing gangs, one in Amsterdam and another in the nearby town of Haarlem, police said.

"Coronavirus infections have been falling in recent weeks, with the number of new cases down by eight per cent over the past week.... Schools and non-essential shops across the Netherlands have been shut since mid-December. Bars and restaurants were closed two months earlier."

Read more:

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

German court strikes down personal contact ban

German District Court declares Corona Ordinance Unconstitutional UK Human Rights Blog - Rosalind English:

25 January 2021 -"In a landmark judgement on January 11, a district court judge in Weimar declared the prohibition on social contact unlawful as contrary to the German Basic Law (Gründgesetz). Its order at the time had been unconstitutional because the Infection Protection Act was not a sufficient legal basis for such a far-reaching regulation as a contact ban, the ruling said. The order of the contact ban had violated human dignity and had not been proportionate. (Reported in MDR Thüringen on 22 January 2021). In this case a citizen of Weimar had been prosecuted and was to be fined €200 for celebrating his birthday together with seven other people in the courtyard of a house at the end of April 2020, thus violating the contact requirements in force at the time. This only allowed members of two households to be together.... 

"This is the first time a judge has dealt in detail with the medical facts, the economic consequences and the effects of the specific policy brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic... With Germany having a federal legal system, there is no uniform case law yet on this point....

"Part of the rule of law is the requirement that laws be definite. Laws may not simply make blanket decrees and thus encourage overenthusiastic interpretation by the authorities leading to arbitrariness. According to the Infection Protection Act, the 'competent authority shall take the necessary protective measures'. In the normal course of events, this means that infected people or those suspected of infection can be isolated or contaminated premises closed. The Infection Protection Act does not provide for a general ban on contact that also covers healthy persons. However, as has been argued by many administrative courts to date, an overstepping of the regulatory circle of the Infection Protection Act beyond the normal course of events can be justified if it is an 'unprecedented event' that is so new that the legislature could not possibly have made the necessary regulations beforehand.

"The judge did not accept this exception to the rule of law. As early as 2013, the Bundestag prepared a risk analysis of a pandemic caused by a 'virus Modi-SARS' with the cooperation of the Robert Koch Institute, in which a scenario with 7.5 million deaths in Germany in a period of three years was described.... In view of such an event, which was considered at least 'conditionally probable' ... the legislator could therefore have examined the regulations of the Infection Protection Act and adapted them if necessary. This policy failure, as a result of which Germany had run into the epidemic virtually unprepared – without legal precautions to combat it, without stocks of masks, protective clothing and medical equipment, could not now lead to politicians being allowed to close any regulatory gap as they saw fit....

"The judge’s conclusion: there were no 'unjustifiable gaps in protection' that would have justified resorting to general clauses. These measures would have violated human dignity, which is 'inviolably guaranteed' in Article 1, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law'.... 

It is one of the fundamental freedoms of people in a free society to be able to determine for themselves with which people (assuming they are willing) and under what circumstances they enter into contact. The free encounter of people with each other for the most diverse purposes is at the same time the elementary basis of society. The state has to refrain from any purposeful regulating and restricting intervention. The question of how many people a citizen invites to his home or with how many people a citizen meets in public space to go for a walk, to do sports, to go shopping or to sit on a park bench is of no fundamental interest to the state....

"In January 2020, hardly anyone in Germany could imagine that the state could forbid them from inviting their parents to their home under threat of a fine, unless they sent the other members of their family out of the house for the time they were there. Hardly anyone could imagine that three friends could be forbidden to sit together on a park bench. Never before has the state thought of resorting to such measures to combat an epidemic. Even in the [2013] risk analysis ... which after all described a scenario with 7.5 million deaths, a general ban on contact (as well as curfews and the extensive shutdown of public life) is not considered. Apart from quarantining contacts of infected persons and isolating infected persons, the only anti-epidemic measures mentioned are school closures, the cancellation of major events and hygiene recommendations (BT-Drs. 17/12051, p. 61f)....

"The district judge meticulously examined studies that show how ineffective the no-contact order is. He weighed the restrictions on freedom against the fact that protection has been neglected in old people’s homes, while the less vulnerable population is no longer allowed on the streets. At the same time, the judge dealt in detail with the collateral damage of the lockdown decisions, which is now becoming increasingly apparent.... 

Based on what has been said, there can be no doubt that the number of deaths attributable to the lockdown policy measures alone exceeds the number of deaths prevented by the lockdown many times over. For this reason alone, the standards to be assessed here do not satisfy the proportionality requirement. Added to this are the direct and indirect restrictions on freedom, the gigantic financial damage, the immense damage to health and the non-material damage. The word “disproportionate” is too colourless to even hint at the dimensions of what is happening. The lockdown policy pursued by the state government in the spring (and now again), of which the general ban on contact was (and is) an essential component, is a catastrophically wrong political decision with dramatic consequences for almost all areas of people’s lives, for society, for the state and for the countries of the Global South.

"However, this ruling is by no means the end of the story.... Thüringen’s equivalent of the DPP has already appealed the matter to the LandesGericht. Their judgment will definitely be available online, and I will report on that when it comes through."

Read more:

Monday, January 25, 2021

Indiana Libertarians build on 2020 breakthrough

Indiana Libertarians Working To Capitalize On Rainwater Momentum | Indiana Public Media - Mitch Legan:

January 22, 2021 - "Evan McMahon has been working toward this moment for a decade. He sits at a table in the Antelope Club in Indianapolis, donning a mask with his laptop and a stack of election data in front of him. 'This was a watershed moment for the Libertarian Party of Indiana,' he says.

"McMahon is the development director for the state's Libertarian Party. He got involved with the party back in 2010 and eventually started managing campaigns for candidates, including Rupert Boneham’s 2012 run for Indiana governor.... In 2020 he helped oversee the best statewide finish for a Libertarian in Hoosier history when Navy veteran Donald Rainwater received 11 percent of the vote in the November gubernatorial election. He came in second in 32 of the state’s 92 counties. Nationally, Rainwater’s campaign for governor was the second-best ever by a Libertarian....

"As the nation’s largest third party, Libertarians advocate for strict limitations on government power. Candidates generally poll in the low single-digits in national or statewide races. But the coronavirus pandemic provided an opportunity after many Hoosiers reacted negatively to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s emergency mandates.... Rainwater’s message of personal responsibility and individual liberties resonated in the solidly conservative state, and the party’s platform of limited government caught on with Hoosiers who thought the governor was overstepping his authority with his coronavirus emergency measures....

"That’s McMahon’s focus now – capitalizing on that groundswell of support and ensuring a vote for a Libertarian in 2020 wasn’t just an opportunity to chide the state government.

"'My first reaction was, "This is a response to the mask mandates and the closing of businesses,"' McMahon said. 'But the anger that they feel towards the establishment, who have continued to violate the things that they said they believed in, isn't going to go away just because they get the chance to appoint a new candidate in a couple years.'

"So he’s spending 14 hours a day making calls, pouring through election data and organizing party affiliates in counties that were previously lacking. And it seems to be paying off – there was so much interest in organizing that the party virtually held its first-ever 'affiliation day' back in December....

"Twenty-five of the state’s 92 counties have active Libertarian parties, and with McMahon’s work, things are trending toward affiliates in half of counties come February. In his perfect world, there will be active parties in every county by the end of the year. 'I think as long as we do that, as long as we maintain that engagement, we’ll be poised to make dramatic history in Indiana over the next four years,' McMahon said.

"That starts with the 2022 Secretary of State election. Party leadership feels a strong showing in ’22 could put Libertarians on county election boards across the state, which would go a long way in the effort to get a candidate in the legislature or a statewide office."

Read more:

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Lockdown recession could kill 890,000 in U.S.

Unemployment During the Pandemic Expected to Cause 900,000 US Deaths, New Economic Study Finds | Foundation for Economic Education - John Miltimore: 

January 19, 2021 - "The toll of the coronavirus has been severe. But a new study has found that the collective response to the virus may ultimately claim more lives than the virus itself. In a new National Bureau [of] Economic Research paper, researchers from Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, and Duke University concluded that a staggering 890,000 additional deaths may result over the next 15 years stemming from actions taken to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“'Our results suggest that the toll of lives claimed by the SARS-CoV-2 virus far exceeds those immediately related to the acute COVID-19 critical illness and that the recession caused by the pandemic can jeopardize population health for the next two decades,' the researchers said. Specifically, the researchers cite unemployment spikes from lockdowns and other government restrictions that were two to five times larger than typical unemployment shocks. The findings are, to say the least, disheartening.

"Yet, the findings should not be surprising. Rising unemployment has long been correlated with higher death rates. A 1979 study concluded that for every 10 percent increase in unemployment, mortality increased by 1.2 percent. For this reason, social scientists have long argued that employment and economic growth are essential components of a healthy society.

"'Economic growth is the single most important factor relating to length of life,' said Yale School of Medicine professor M. Harvey Brenner in 2002, following completion of a pivotal study exploring the relationship between unemployment and mortality. 'Employment is the essential element of social status and it establishes a person as a contributing member of society and also has very important implications for self-esteem.'

"The Yale study’s findings are not unique. A 2014 article in Harvard Public Health magazine points to an abundance of research that reaches a similar conclusion: employment disruptions come with severe costs to mental and physical health. The body of research includes a 2011 meta-analysis — published in Social Science & Medicine — that concluded the mortality risk was 63 percent higher for individuals who experienced unemployment than those who did not....

"There are a multitude of reasons mortality risk increases during periods of unemployment, but the primary reason appears to be that unemployment literally makes people sick. A 2009 study by sociologist Kate W. Strully in the journal Demography concluded that losing employment from a business closure increased by more than 80 percent the risk of new health conditions.... These conditions included stress-related ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, and arthritis, as well as various emotional and psychiatric conditions.

"There seems to be little debate that employment is not just a matter of cashing checks, but also of health and wellness. This is why last April I warned the historic surge in unemployment could have a profound impact on human health and lives. At the time, fear of the virus had gripped so many that the long-term consequences of lockdowns were rarely discussed, let alone acknowledged. This is a mistake, authors of the NBER paper say....

"This conversation is particularly important in the wake of new findings that show the steep costs of lockdowns may have had no clear benefits. A recently published study in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation evaluating global COVID-19 responses found that mandatory lockdowns failed to provide significantly more benefits than voluntary measures.... Numerous other studies reached similar conclusions. NBER researchers, however, accepted the premise that lockdowns work — albeit with deadly tradeoffs."

Read more:

Read study: Francesco Bianchi, Giada Bianchi, Dongho Song, "The Long-Term Impact of the COVID-19 Unemployment Shock on Life Expectancy and Mortality Rates." NBER Working Paper 28304.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Ontario's lockdown policy misguided, says province's former Chief Medical Officer

Ontario lockdown 'not supported by strong science,' says former chief medical officer of health | National Post - Jordan Fleguel:

January 20, 2021 - "A former chief medical officer of health in Ontario sent an open letter to Doug Ford on Monday, criticizing the province’s lockdown strategy and backing up ousted MPP Roman Baber. Dr. Richard Schabas held the senior position from 1987 to 1997 and served as chief of staff at York Central Hospital during the 2003 SARS crisis. 

"'Lockdown was never part of our planned pandemic response nor is it supported by strong science,' Schabas wrote. 

"Schabas says that the COVID-19 modelling the province is working with is faulty and that fatality rates have declined as doctors and scientists have learned more about the disease. 'Reasonable estimates of the infection fatality rate from Covid have been declining as we learn more,' he said. 'Models that predicted hundreds of thousands of deaths from Covid in Canada were badly wrong because they used incorrect, exaggerated inputs.'

"Schabas also voiced his support for the anti-lockdown letter that Baber sent to Ford last week — a letter that resulted in his expulsion from the PC caucus on Friday. 'MPP Roman Baber sent you a public letter calling on your government to change course on Covid,” said Schabas. “[He] made five key points and I believe he was correct on all five.' Baber’s letter called Ontario’s lockdown 'deadlier than Covid,' while claiming it’s caused '…an avalanche of suicides, bankruptcies, divorces, and takes an immense toll on our children.'

"Schabas’ letter goes on to say that the cost of lockdowns outweighs the benefits compared to more moderate public health measures.  '…there are significant costs to lockdowns – lost education, unemployment, social isolation, deteriorating mental health and compromised access to health care,” Schabas wrote. 'We will be paying for lockdown – in lives and dollars for decades to come.'"

Read the letter here:

Friday, January 22, 2021

Court dismisses CA county's anti-lockdown suit

San Bernardino County sues Gov. Newsom to stop coronavirus lockdown | San Bernardino Sun - Ryan Hagen: 

December 15, 2020 - "San Bernardino County is going to the California Supreme Court in an attempt to stop the stay-at-home order that went into effect in Southern California on Sunday, Dec. 6. In a lawsuit filed directly to the state’s top court late Monday night, Dec. 14, the county argues that Gov. Gavin Newsom had no authority to ban all gatherings except protests and religious services, close many businesses designated as nonessential, end in-person dining at restaurants and cap restaurant’s occupancy at 20%. It asks for a decision by Monday, Dec. 28, when the three-week stay-at-home order is set to either expire or be renewed.

"Newsom’s press office did not respond to an email seeking a response to the lawsuit or the legal authority for the orders.

"Not only does the county think those closures lacked legal authority, it thinks they hurt businesses while only worsening the spread of the novel coronavirus, said Curt Hagman, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.

"'We feel that we in local government have a better feel for what would work in our communities,' Hagman said in an interview Tuesday. 'When you say people can’t go to restaurants, stores, churches, you’re basically forcing people indoors.' And indoors is where the virus spreads worst, especially if people aren’t wearing masks — which authorities can’t realistically force people to do inside their home, Hagman said.

"In announcing the stay-at-home order — which went into effect when a region has less than 15% of its intensive care unit capacity remaining and last at least three weeks — Newsom said it was necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The virus has spread rapidly since."

Read more:

California Supreme Court denies San Bernardino County’s lawsuit to overturn stay-at-home order | East Bay Times - Steve Scauzillo:

January 14, 2021 - "The California Supreme Court ruled against San Bernardino County on Wednesday, Jan. 13, denying its petition to overturn the state’s current stay-at-home order, court records show.... San Bernardino County filed a lawsuit Dec. 14 arguing the order — intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus by banning all gatherings except protests and religious services, closing many types of businesses and halting outdoor dining at restaurants — is illegal and an abuse of power.

"Reasons for not granting the county’s petition were not given. 'I am surprised we didn’t get some kind of legal opinion. I expected the Supreme Court would’ve put some thought behind the denial,' said county Supervisor Curt Hagman on Wednesday....

"In December and earlier this month, the county had received supportive court filings from Yucaipa and Chino Hills. The cities agreed with the county that business closures were hurting the livelihood of proprietors, causing joblessness and were not effective in slowing the spread of the virus. The court’s ruling came down a day after Rancho Cucamonga became the third city to join the lawsuit by filing an amicus curiae, or 'friend of the court,' brief on Tuesday, Jan. 12."

Read more:

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Death toll from UK's Lockdown1 could hit 185,000

Lockdown 'killed two people for every three who died of coronavirus' at peak of outbreak | The Telegraph - Sarah Knapton:

August 7, 2020  - "The UK lockdown killed two people for every three whose deaths had been caused by coronavirus by the beginning of May, new Government figures suggest. The estimates show that 16,000 people had died through missed medical care by May 1, while coronavirus killed 25,000 in the same period. 

"The figures include 6,000 people who did not attend A&E at the height of lockdown because of fears they might catch the virus and the feeling they should remain at home because of the 'Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives' message. Likewise, 10,000 people are thought to have died in care homes due to early discharge from hospital and not being able to access critical care. 

"The report also found that 2,500 lives may have been saved during lockdown because of healthier lifestyles, fewer infectious diseases in children, falls in air pollution and a decrease in road deaths.

"The new figures – presented to the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) in the middle of July – were calculated by the Department of Health, the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Government Actuary's Department and the Home Office.

"The paper also estimates that a further 26,000 people could die by next month because of the healthcare restrictions. In total, researchers predict that 81,500 people could lose their lives in the next 50 years through waiting longer for non-urgent elective care and the impact of the recession caused by the virus crisis. In the next five years, 1,400 people are also expected to die because they were diagnosed with cancer too late. 

"Although the medium to long-term deaths from delayed healthcare have not been quantified, an earlier report by the same team suggested they could be as high as 185,000....

"Charities and medical organisations have consistently warned of the long term dangers of focusing so much of the NHS on coronavirus. Professor Neil Mortensen, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, warned that the health service 'must never again be a coronavirus-only service'.".

Read more:

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Biden's shifting positions on a national lockdown

Joe Biden calls for a national lockdown to contain the coronavirus | Los Angeles Times - Michael Finnegan:

March 28, 2020 - "Former Vice President Joe Biden is calling for an immediate nationwide stay-at-home order to contain the spread of the coronavirus, saying the main mistake that leaders can make in a pandemic is 'going too slow.' The Democratic presidential candidate told CNN on Friday that he agreed with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates that the uneven patchwork of state and local lockdowns in effect in the United States will inevitably cost lives and prolong the economic catastrophe....President Trump has urged Americans to practice social distancing but has declined to issue a nationwide stay-at-home order.... 

"Biden said he’d watched Gates’ appearance on CNN on Thursday night and found him 'really insightful'.... Gates, a philanthropist whose family foundation has spent billions of dollars to curb the spread of malaria, AIDS and other diseases, told CNN on Thursday that the coronavirus will keep spreading out of control 'anywhere you don’t have a serious shutdown.'

'We’re entering into a tough period that, if we do it right, we’ll only have to do it once for six to 10 weeks,' [Gates] said. 'But we have to do it. It has to be the whole country.... It’s exponential growth if you’re not stopping it,' he said. 'The sooner you engage in the shutdown, the easier it is to get to that peak. We have not peaked. The parts of the country that aren’t shut down, in late April we should see the numbers peak there'"

Read more:

Biden says he'd lock down country if spread of coronavirus warranted it | Politico - Evan Semones:

August 21, 2020 - "Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said he would do 'whatever it takes" to combat the spread of coronavirus within the country — including locking down the U.S. if deemed necessary. 'I would shut it down; I would listen to the scientists,' Biden told ABC’s David Muir in a joint interview with his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, to air Sunday. 'We’re going to do whatever it takes to save lives....

"'We cannot get the country moving until we control the virus. That is the fundamental flaw of this administration’s thinking to begin with,' he said. 'In order to keep the country running and moving — and the economy growing and people employed — you have to fix the virus.'"

Read more:

Biden Says He Will Not Order National Lockdown to Fight Virus | Bloomberg - Justin Sink:

November 19, 2020 - "President-elect Joe Biden said Thursday that his administration would not impose a national lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"'I am not going to shut down the economy, period,” he said at a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware.... 'I’m going to shut down the virus, that’s what I’m going to shut down. I’ll say it again: No national shutdown. No national shutdown,' he repeated. 'Every region, every area, every community can be different. So there’s no circumstance that I can see which would require a total national shutdown.'"

Read more:

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Italians defy Covid business shutdowns

As officials talk of tighter lockdown, Italian restaurants open their doors in protest | RT:

January 16, 2020 - "Though much of Italy remains under strict coronavirus restrictions, restaurants and bars have opened their doors in protest. Customers drank, ate, sang, and in one viral video, apparently booted the police back out the door. 

"Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte extended the country’s three-tier coronavirus restrictions on Friday, imposing a nationwide 10pm to 5am curfew until March and forbidding travel between Italy’s 20 regions until February 15. These measures were originally implemented in [October], and were set to expire on Friday. The extended restrictions haven’t gone down well with bar owners and restaurateurs. Organizing on social media under the hashtag ‘#IoApro’ (I Open), owners threw their doors open on Friday in protest.

"The number of participants is unclear. Before Friday, the #IoApro organizers said that as many as 50,000 restaurateurs were expected to take part. However, reports in Italian media suggest that far fewer actually opened their doors. 

"In one video that went viral on Friday night, the footage apparently shows police attempting to enter a pub, before being bullied out the door by chanting customers.... In at least one restaurant in Florence, nine patrons were fined and the owner was forced to shut altogether for a week, despite Florence being in the ‘Yellow’ zone....

"While restaurant owners may be sick of the country’s tiered restrictions, an adviser to Health Minister Roberto Speranza told Bloomberg on Friday that a return to a strict national lockdown could be on the cards soon. 'We have to limit people’s movement, block everything except essential businesses for two months,' he said."

Read more:

Italy's South Tyrol again flouts Rome over virus closures | Associated Press - Coleen Barry:

January 17, 2021 -"The autonomous province of South Tyrol with its German-speaking majority is flouting Rome’s decision to put it under partial lockdown starting Sunday, with provincial authorities citing its autonomous status to allow stores and restaurants to remain open. Provincial officials are contesting the criteria that prompted the Rome government to designate South Tyrol a red zone, along with Lombardy and Sicily. The designations require authorities to close nonessential businesses and bars all indoor dining, permitting only takeout and delivery.

"Provincial Gov. Arno Kompatscher said he was 'surprised' by the designation. He has registered his disagreement with Italy’s health minister and is taking the province’s case to the technical committee in Rome. But he isn’t waiting for a response, instead allowing all stores to stay open and restaurants to serve until 10 p.m., defying Rome as he did in May when he invoked autonomy to reopen businesses earlier than in the rest of the country.

"Health officials argue that the high percentage of positives is due to additional screenings with antibody tests that are revealing more positives and claim that the technical committee in Rome didn’t take into account its decreasing rate of transmission. The province of 520,000 people has registered more than 800 deaths and nearly 33,000 positive cases.

"Lombardy governor Atilio Fontana also contests his region’s partial lockdown. He is taking his case to an administrative court this week in a bid to get it overturned, his only recourse."

Read more:

Monday, January 18, 2021

Follow science on vitamin D, experts tell gov'ts

Experts send Vitamin D and Covid-19 open letter to world's governments | - Nikki Hancocks: 

December 21, 2020 - "In an open letter being sent to world governments today (21st December), 120 health, science and medical experts from the UK, US, and Europe say there is clear scientific evidence that vitamin D reduces Covid-19 infections, hospitalisations, and deaths. In the letter (signed by 120 on Friday 18th but rapidly increasing) scientists are calling for immediate, widespread, increased vitamin D intake to 4,000 International Units (IU) per day (or at least 2,000) for healthy adults.

"This comes just days after the UK government's health bodies SACN [Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition] and NICE [National Institute for Health and Care Excellence], denied there is enough evidence to support increasing vitamin D intake for COVID-19 specifically​. ​

"The scientists involved in the open letter say that global patterns and risk factors for the Covid-19 pandemic and Vitamin D deficiency match 'precisely' due to the impact on immune function​. They ... are calling for immediate, widespread, increased vitamin D intakes.... They say new mechanisms specific to SARS-Cov-2 are now very well-understood, with ... ​more than 70 studies showing higher vitamin D levels are associated with lower rates of infection and lower risk of hospitalisation, ICU, or death​, as well as early causal inference studies confirmed by recently published randomised controlled trials​ (RCTs) and quasi-experimental studies.

"The campaign’s main organisers are Dr Karl Pfleger​ (USA) and Dr Gareth Davies​ (UK) - both have backgrounds in Artificial Intelligence and Data Science, as well as Medicine. The letter has a growing list of 120 signatories. More than one hundred are medical doctors or PhDs, or both, and more than 60 are professors. Two British MPs - David Davis and Rupa Huq - have also signed the letter. 

"Martin Hewison, Professor of Molecular Endocrinology at Birmingham University and one of the world’s leading authorities on Vitamin D, has signed the letter after he strongly criticised SACN and NICE, calling their reports 'disappointing'​.  He reacted to the latest NICE report​, stating: 'NICE, SACN and PHE [Public Health England] continue to promote the idea of vitamin D "toxicity", despite no evidence of this in trials where up to 4,000 IU/day vitamin D were used. This obsession has become a major hurdle to better vitamin D health in the UK. Many vitamin D researchers have worked tirelessly over the summer to provide a framework in which vitamin D supplementation could be incorporated into the general strategies being used to defeat COVID-19. NICE, SACN and PHE have rejected this, and their new recommendations provide little or no help at all for the UK public.'

"MP David Davis has been a vocal supporter of vitamin D throughout the pandemic. He says, 'The evidence from several dozen studies show that vitamin D deficiency/insufficiency is implicated in compromising the body’s immune response to respiratory diseases in general and COVID-19 in particular.... In the unlikely event that all this evidence is an artefact, the costs and health risks are minimal. ​In the much more likely event that the multiple sources of observational evidence, and the evidence from the growing number of RCTs, show a real causal role of vitamin D in activating and modulating the immune system, it would be irresponsible not to give vitamin D to all the groups who are at risk from COVID-19. It will save lives, improve population immunity, and help reduce the medical and economic impact whilst we await the universal roll out of vaccines. 

"​Furthermore, if it is to have any material effect the dosage has to be sufficient to correct the existing deficiency, which means up to ten times the UK recommended daily intake.'

"Signatory Dr David S Grimes, a retired gastroenterologist, has campaigned to get vitamin D taken more seriously for years. He says: '[NICE and SACN] have ignored past and current research and instead assert "there is not adequate evidence to support the use of vitamin D". They have denied the NHS the use of calcifediol, a rapid-acting form of vitamin D, in the treatment of Covid-19 pneumonia, despite it being shown in one clinical trial to have 96% efficacy. The UK has had 25,000 COVID-19 deaths since this study was published, yet NICE continues to claim "not enough evidence". They have so much to answer for. They’re a national disgrace.”​

Read more:

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Scientists now think Covid immunity lasts for years

Covid-19 immunity likely lasts for years | MIT Technology Review - Neel V. Patel:

January 6, 2021 - "Covid-19 patients who recovered from the disease still have robust immunity from the coronavirus eight months after infection, according to a new study. The result is an encouraging sign that the authors interpret to mean immunity to the virus probably lasts for many years, and it should alleviate fears that the covid-19 vaccine would require repeated booster shots to protect against the disease and finally get the pandemic under control....

"The study, published January 6 in Science, contrasts with earlier findings that suggested covid-19 immunity could be short-lived, putting millions who’ve already recovered at risk of reinfection.... But the new study suggests reinfection should only be a problem for a very small percentage of people who’ve developed immunity — whether through an initial infection or by vaccination. 

"In fact, the new study does show that a small number of recovered people do not have long-lasting immunity. But vaccination ought to offset that problem by ensuring herd immunity in the larger population. 

"The new paper studied blood samples from 185 men and women who had recovered from covid-19 — most from a mild infection, although 7% were hospitalized. Each person provided at least one blood sample between six days and eight months after their initial symptoms, and 43 of the samples were taken after six months. The team that ran the investigation measured the levels of several immunological agents that work together to prevent reinfection: antibodies (which tag a pathogen for destruction by the immune system or neutralize its activity), B cells (which make antibodies), and T cells (which kill infected cells). 

"The researchers found that antibodies in the body declined moderately after eight months, although levels varied wildly between individuals. But T-cell numbers declined only modestly, and B-cell numbers held steady and sometimes inexplicably grew. That means that despite decreases in free-flowing antibodies, the components that can restart antibody production and coordinate an attack against the coronavirus stick around at pretty high levels. Crotty adds that the same mechanisms that lead to immune memory after infection also form the basis for immunity after vaccination, so the same trends ought to hold for vaccinated people as well. 

"And ... it’s worth looking at what happens in people who recovered from SARS, a close cousin of the virus that causes covid-19. A study published in August showed that T cells specific to SARS can remain in the blood for at least 17 years, bolstering hopes that covid-19 immunity could last for decades.

"The new study isn’t perfect. It would have been better to collect multiple blood samples from every participant. 'Immunity varies from person to person, and uncommon individuals with weak immune memory still may be susceptible to reinfection,' Crotty cautions. And we can’t make any firm conclusions about covid-19 immunity until years have passed.... Nonetheless, this latest result is a good indication that if the vaccination rollout goes well (a big if), we might soon be able to put the pandemic behind us."

Read more:

Read study: Jennifer M. Dan1, Jose Mateus1, Yu Kato1, Kathryn M. Hastie1, Esther Dawen Yu1, Caterina E. Faliti1, Alba Grifoni1, Sydney I. Ramirez1, Sonya Haupt, April Frazier, Catherine Nakao1, Vamseedhar Rayaprolu1, Stephen A. Rawlings, Bjoern Peters1, Florian Krammer, Viviana Simon4, Erica Ollmann Saphire, Davey M. Smith, Daniela Weiskopf, Alessandro Sette, and Shane Crotty, "Immunological memory to SARS-CoV-2 assessed for up to 8 months after infection," Science, 06 Jan 2021:eabf4063 
DOI: 10.1126/science.abf4063

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Study finds no clear benefit from Covid lockdowns

COVID Lockdowns May Have No Clear Benefit vs Other Voluntary Measures, International Study Shows | Newsweek - Nataile Colarossi:

January 14, 2021 - "A study evaluating COVID-19 responses around the world found that mandatory lockdown orders early in the pandemic may not provide significantly more benefits to slowing the spread of the disease than ... voluntary measures, such as social distancing or travel reduction. The peer reviewed study was published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation on January 5, and analyzed coronavirus case growth in 10 countries in early 2020.

"The study compared cases in England, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and the U.S. – all countries that implemented mandatory lockdown orders and business closures – to South Korea and Sweden, which instituted less severe, voluntary responses. It aimed to analyze the effect that less restrictive or more restrictive measures had on changing individual behavior and curbing the transmission of the virus. The researchers used a mathematical model to compare countries that did and did not enact more restrictive lockdown orders, and determined that there was 'no clear, significant beneficial effect of [more restrictive measures] on case growth in any country.'

"'We do not question the role of all public health interventions, or of coordinated communications about the epidemic, but we fail to find an additional benefit of stay-at-home orders and business closures,' the research said. However, the researchers also acknowledged that the study had limitations, and noted that 'cross-country comparisons are difficult,' since nations may have different rules, cultures, and relationships between their government and citizenry.

"The study was conducted by researchers affiliated with Stanford University, and was co-authored by Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine and economics who has been a vocal opponent of coronavirus lockdowns since March. Bhattacharya was also among a group of scientists who wrote The Great Barrington Declaration, a controversial statement that encouraged governments to lift lockdown restrictions to achieve herd immunity among young and healthy people, while focusing protections on the elderly.

"For additional context, other studies have oppositely determined that lockdown orders have effectively saved millions of lives. A study published in the journal Nature by researchers at Imperial College London in June [concluded] that some 3.1 million deaths had been averted due to lockdowns across Europe early on in the pandemic....

"Mandatory lockdown orders have also been a highly politicized issue across the U.S. Some Republican leaders, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, have vehemently opposed state or nationwide closures to curb the spread of COVID-19. In Democratic states, including New York and California, lockdown orders have been a consistent part of the coronavirus response since March.

"According to a poll released by Vox and Data for Progress on December 24, more than half of Americans said they would support a nationwide lockdown for one month. But President-elect Joe Biden [who called for a nationwide lockdown in March - gd] said in an interview in November that he had no intention of implementing a national shutdown when he takes office on January 20.

"'I'm not going to shut down the economy. I'm going to shut down the virus,' Biden said. 'There is no circumstance which I can see that would require a total national shutdown. I think that would be counterproductive'....

"Newsweek reached out to an author of the Stanford study for comment, but did not hear back in time for publication."

Read more:

Read study: Erin Bendavid, Christopher Oh, Jay Bhattacharya, John Ioannidis, "Assessing Mandatory Stay‐at‐Home and Business Closure Effects on the Spread of COVID‐19," European Journal of Clinical Investigation," Jan. 5, 2021. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

PCs expel Ontario MPP for criticizing lockdowns

Ontario MPP kicked out of Ford’s caucus after letter claims ‘lockdowns are deadlier than COVID’ | Global News - Gabby Rodriguez:

January 15, 2021 - "The Ontario government has kicked out one of its own members after an MPP wrote a letter to Doug Ford calling for the end to the lockdown measures implemented due to a surge in coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations. 'The lockdowns are deadlier than COVID,' wrote Roman Baber, MPP for Toronto’s York-Centre riding, as the title of his letter to the premier posted on social media Friday morning. Baber had been elected as a Progressive Conservative MPP in the 2018 provincial election.

"'I wrote a respectful letter to Premier Ford, asking to end the Lockdown. Look at the data — the virus is real but the crisis is mostly in LTC (long-term care),' Baber said in his tweet. 'Let’s focus on LTC & hospital capacity, but ending the Lockdown is best for our health.' Baber attached a copy of the letter to his tweet and to his Facebook page. In the letter, he writes that 'the medicine is killing the patient' and 'Ontario’s hospital and ICU capacity are better than in the last three years.'

"'Effective immediately, Mr. Baber will no longer be sitting as a member of the PC Caucus and will not be permitted to seek re-election as a PC member,' said Ford in a statement, in response to Baber’s letter.... Ford said Baber’s comments are 'irresponsible' and by 'spreading misinformation he is undermining the tireless efforts of our frontline health care workers at this critical time, and he is putting people at risk. I will not jeopardize a single Ontarian’s life by ignoring public health advice.'

"In the letter, Baber said, 'the lockdown isn’t working,'  and says “it’s causing an avalanche of suicides, overdoses, bankruptcies, divorces and takes an immense toll on our children.' The letter goes against all of Ford’s policies on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and lists figures from a list of other diseases and illnesses such as cancer, overdose rates and mental health.

"'Covid is real, but the fear of Covid is exaggerated. While every death is tragic, after 10 months we learned that Covid is not nearly as deadly as first thought – it has a 99.98% infection survival rate,' said Baber in the letter....

"Baber responded shortly after Ford’s statement to being removed from the PC Party caucus and said: 'It’s a regretful decision since many colleagues agree with me … I don’t regret speaking out for millions of lives and livelihoods decimated by Public Health.'

"The Ontario government implemented a second state of emergency on Tuesday and a stay-at-home order came into effect on Thursday, previously the entire province had been put under lockdown on Boxing Day with some hotspot regions in lockdown since the end of November.

Read more:

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Twitter doxxes wrong man as DC cop-killer

Trolls Wrongly Accused Retired Firefighter Of Capitol Riot Murder | Patch - Mark Konkol: 

January 13, 2021 - "David Quintaville didn't do it. The retired Chicago firefighter from Mount Greenwood — whom social media trolls called a 'terrorist' and accused of fatally wielding a fire extinguisher that killed a cop as a mob of Trump-supporting insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 — was grocery shopping and celebrating his wife's birthday in Chicago, Patch has learned.

"Twitter exploded with unsubstantiated claims Tuesday that Quintavalle — who retired from the fire department in 2016 after 32 years — was the bearded '#extinguisherman' in a surveillance video wearing a 'CFD' stocking cap wanted for questioning and 'soon to be arrested' by the FBI regarding the fatal beating of U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick.

"Quintavalle, who shaved his beard before Christmas, told Patch that he wasn't in Washington, D.C., last week. He went grocery shopping at Aldi at 9 a.m. and made a home-cooked supper of filet mignon and lobster to celebrate his wife's birthday with their Chicago police officer son on the day rioters breached the Capitol. The next morning, Quintavalle made a trip to Home Depot. A self-proclaimed paperwork hoarder, Quintavalle says he has receipts to prove his whereabouts that his attorney presented with other evidence to the FBI on Wednesday to clear his name.

"Quintavalle, who doesn't have social media accounts, learned that he had been accused of being a cop-killing terrorist from a Twitter-savvy pal.... 'Some woman from British Columbia showed the [surveillance] picture of the guy wearing CFD stocking cap and a beard like I've had, and file footage when I was protesting the city inappropriately scoring the fire lieutenants exam, and said, "This is the guy." And the ball started rolling. Everybody started saying, "Here's the guy."'

"The unconfirmed reports quickly spread. Soon, social media filled with details about Quintavalle's personal life.... Unable to find Quintavalle's nonexistent social media feeds, someone dug up a 2017 post written by his estranged brother accusing the retired firefighter of being a 'bum' who fraudulently acquired their mother's home. By Tuesday night, Quintavalle began getting angry calls from people saying he's a 'f------ murderer' who belongs in jail. TV news reporters had staked out his house. Chicago police dispatched a patrol car to keep watch overnight, as well, his lawyer said.

"Some folks got ridiculed for tweeting that Quintavalle wasn't 'the guy' and his facial features don't match those of the man wanted for questioning by the FBI. One post claimed that tweets disputing Quintavalle's involvement in the U.S. Capitol insurrection were pushed by trolling Twitter 'bots with practically no followers coming out of the woodwork'.....

"Attorney John Nisivaco told Patch on Wednesday he's presented the FBI and U.S. Justice Department with evidence that Quintavalle isn't the person depicted in the video at the U.S. Capitol. 'I expect the federal government will soon shed light on this case of mistaken identity,' Nisivaco said. 'Social media has killed David Quintavalle. This has been an absolute disaster to him personally and his family. There's a cop car outside his house. It's over a picture that kind of looks like him because people sitting behind a keyboard with no proof or evidence are throwing out these tweets, and they're wrong. Holy smokes, it's eye-opening how terrifying social media can be when something like this happens."

Update: The Patch story has been updated with a paragraph at the end: "On Thursday, the FBI announced a Pennsylvania man was facing three felonies and was accused of throwing a fire extinguisher at a Capitol police officer. Robert Sanford, 55, formerly of the Chester Fire Department, was arrested Thursday morning."

Read more:

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Guess who wants to reopen his state?

Andrew Cuomo Makes an Infuriating Declaration for Those Living in His COVID-19 Dystopia | PJ Media - Stacey Lennox:

January 11, 2021 - "Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his annual State of the State address on Monday. He has overseen some of the most draconian COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions in the country. Some of his more chilling moves were threatening to close churches and synagogues, yanking the licenses of business owners who defied his ridiculous orders, and covering up his own culpability in forcing COVID-19-positive patients into nursing homes. More recently, he has led what might be the most botched vaccine rollout in the country. Originally he had set strict rules about who would have priority to receive the vaccine, and threatened to levy fines of up to $1 million if a healthcare provider gave it outside of his specified hierarchy. When doses, which have a short shelf life, expired, they were thrown in the trash.

"Meanwhile, businesses are dying in the state, especially in New York City. As of August, the New York Times reported that up to one-third of the state’s small businesses were closing for good. In-person schooling has been an on-and-off affair thanks to the teachers’ unions insisting on a ridiculous 3% positivity rate to trigger closings.... Supposedly, according to Cuomo and many others, the vaccine was going to save us all, and everyone could get back to normal when a sufficient number of people were vaccinated. That was before the Electoral College vote was certified.

"Today he said: 'We simply cannot stay closed until the vaccine hits critical mass. The cost is too high. We will have nothing left to open. We must reopen the economy, but we must do it smartly and safely'.... I predict he will be the first of many lockdown governors to say this.

"Here’s how I think things will go: Joe Biden will be inaugurated in nine days and make some proclamations about how he will defeat COVID-19 in the next 100 days. A national mask mandate and some other useless moves, like another “30 Days to Slow the Spread,” will be announced.

"During that time, the National Center for Health Statistics will change the way COVID-19 deaths are reported to mirror how influenza deaths are tracked. This will cause the death rate to fall. The cycle threshold on the PCR tests will be lowered to indicate active illness and the ability to transmit the disease. According to a New York Times analysis in August and a study by Jaafar et al., this means positive tests will gradually fall to about 10% of what we see now.

"I predict it will be underreported and ignored that states that ignore the national mandates, like Florida and South Dakota, will fare just as well, if not better. Governor Ron DeSantis has already said he will not lock Florida down again and Governor Kristi Noem has said she would not enforce any national COVID-19 mandate. Other governors whose states are open, like Georgia and Tennessee, will face backlash if they follow the mandates.

"Then Cuomo and the other governors — who did the Democrats’ bidding by crushing their economies and keeping people isolated and miserable and blaming it on President Trump — will get their due. Remember how Mitch McConnell and President Trump said they were not bailing out years of mismanagement in states like New York, California, and Illinois?.... With complete Democrat control in Washington, leaders in the state are looking for that bailout with renewed hope. In his speech, Cuomo said: 'Washington has savaged us for four years.... We expect basic fairness from Washington. Finally'....

"New York ... got the same resources from the federal government to manage the pandemic that are available to every state. Cuomo’s projected deficit comes from decreased tax revenue from business closures, people fleeing the state in record numbers, and unbridled spending. New York’s budget for 2020 was $177 billion. Florida, with a similar and slightly larger population, spent $93.2 billion.

"Cuomo is sure his deficit problems are solved now so he can 'safely' open. Meanwhile, the rest of the country will pay off New York’s debts with our tax dollars and higher inflation caused by the additional money we will print. That’s just  'fair,' according to Governor Cuomo. You have to wonder how the New York business owners and parents whose children have lost nearly a year of education will view it."

Read more:

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Ron Paul blocked from Facebook 'by mistake'

Ron Paul Says He's Been Locked out of Facebook | Reason - Eric Boehm:

"UPDATE: In an email on Monday night, a Facebook spokesperson told Reason that it had mistakenly locked former Rep. Ron Paul's page. 'While there were never any restrictions on Ron Paul's page, we restricted one admin's ability to post by mistake. We have corrected the error.'"

January 11, 2021 - "Shortly after reposting an article that criticized Twitter's decision to ban President Donald Trump, former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul says he was locked out of his own Facebook page. The page is still active and appears to be functioning normally for other users, but Paul claimed in a Twitter post that he'd been blocked from managing the page. Paul says that Facebook said he had 'repeatedly' violated 'community standards,' though he disputes that claim and says the social media site never identified an offending post.

"Paul had posted only one item to his Facebook page on Monday: a link to the congressman's weekly syndicated column, in which he criticized Twitter's decision to ban Trump. That move 'was shocking and chilling, particularly to those of us who value free expression and the free exchange of ideas,' wrote Paul. 'The justifications given for the silencing of wide swaths of public opinion made no sense and the process was anything but transparent.'

"Those are valid criticisms.... Twitter's decision to ban Trump is well within the private company's rights, but it does raise some not easily answered questions about how the site will handle other world leaders' accounts in the future....

"Needless to say, the social media giant's decision to lock Paul's page is not censorship. The most recent posts made to Paul's Facebook page are available on the institute's website and have been disseminated through Twitter, YouTube, and other online platforms. Indeed, both posts are still available on Paul's Facebook page. Without more information from Facebook, we can only speculate about why Paul has apparently been locked out of his page.

"And that's exactly the problem. Facebook does not owe anyone a platform—but if it is changing its standards for what content will be allowed, it ought to explain the new rules in terms that are easily understandable and equally applied. The same is true for other platforms. Those that don't may find that they've only made themselves irrelevant in an online world built around openness and free discussion.

"Social media sites can and should be criticized when they attempt to limit certain voices—particularly when they do so without providing clear and objective reasons for ruling certain content out of bounds. Twitter's decision to permanently ban Trump seems to have set off a purge across multiple social media sites with broad yet vague criteria (to the extent that any clear criteria even exist) for shutting down certain sorts of speech."

Read more:

Monday, January 11, 2021

Study: 80% of Covid patients Vitamin D deficient

Study: Vitamin D deficiency found in over 80% of COVID-19 patients | Atlanta Journal-Constitution - Kiersten Willis:

October 28, 2020 - "COVID-19 patients at a hospital in Spain were overwhelmingly found to be deficient in vitamin D, according to a new study. Researchers discovered 80% of 216 COVID-19 patients at the Hospital Universitario Marqués de Valdecilla had a vitamin D deficiency. Men had lower levels of vitamin D than women and COVID-19 patients with lower levels of vitamin D had increased serum levels of inflammatory markers such as ferritin, a blood protein containing iron, and D-dimer, a protein fragment made when a blood clot dissolves in the body. The latter is usually elevated in COVID-19 patients, according to a July study published in the Journal of Intensive Care.

"'One approach is to identify and treat vitamin D deficiency, especially in high-risk individuals such as the elderly, patients with comorbidities, and nursing home residents, who are the main target population for the COVID-19,' said the new study’s co-author Dr. José L. Hernández of the University of Cantabria in Santander, Spain. 'Vitamin D treatment should be recommended in COVID-19 patients with low levels of vitamin D circulating in the blood since this approach might have beneficial effects in both the musculoskeletal and the immune system.' The new findings were announced Tuesday by the Endocrine Society and published in the medical organization’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

"The kidneys produce the hormone vitamin D. It controls blood calcium concentration and affects the immune system. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a variety of health concerns, but research continues to examine why it affects other systems of the body. There are many studies that point out how beneficial vitamin D is on the immune system and how it offers protection against infections, in particular.

"Mayo Clinic infectious disease specialist Dr. William F. Marshall wrote that not enough data exists to recommend the use of vitamin D to stop the infection from the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, or to treat COVID-19, according to the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization. 

"Multiple studies have reviewed vitamin D’s impact on COVID-19, according to Mayo Clinic. A study of 489 people discovered those who were deficient in the hormone were more likely to test positive for the coronavirus than those who had normal vitamin D levels. A small, randomized study saw that only one of 50 people hospitalized with COVID-19 who were administered a high dose of a type of vitamin D, calcifediol, required treatment in the intensive care unit ... compared to the group of 26 people who were not given calcifediol in which 13 of them had to be treated in the intensive care unit.

"While vitamin D deficiency is common in the U.S., Black and Hispanic people are especially deficient in the hormone, according to a 2014 study. The two groups have also been disproportionately affected by COVID-19."

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Sunday, January 10, 2021

The importance of Sweden

The importance of Sweden

by George J. Dance

"One baffling feature of 2020," British Tory MP Neil O'Brien recently wrote in the New Statesman, "was that so much energy was wasted puffing up Sweden." Over at The Guardian, OpenDemocracy editor Peter Geoghegan echoed: "why, as the UK experienced one of the world’s worst Covid outbreaks, did so many prominent public figures spend so much of 2020 talking about Sweden?" 

I cannot say for sure why they talked about it (and I suspect neither writer wants an answer anyway), but I can explain why I keep writing about it. (Full disclosure: I have written seven articles on the country.) 

First, Sweden notoriously did not have a lockdown in 2020. Lockdowns were an unprecedented experiment in totalitarianism, justifiable only if they were the only way to prevent mass death. Whether lockdowns can be justified, then, depends on the factual question of whether they prevented mass death; which can only be answered by comparing real-world outcomes between countries that locked down and those that did not. Outlier nations like Sweden that remained open act as controls in the real-world lockdown experiment; the question to be asked about them being, how well did they do versus the closed societies? Without those real-world examples to give us real facts, we would have only guesses embodied in models. 

The original lockdowner prediction, from a model, was that Sweden's health care system would collapse, and it would suffer ~96,000 deaths by May. Contrary to an internet rumor, that modelling was not done by Neil Ferguson and Imperial College; it did, though, borrow its assumptions from Ferguson's infamous March 16 Imperial death model report, which forecast 200,000 British deaths under mitigation (also by May) versus just 20,000 with suppression. All three of the above forecasts were wildly wrong – one would say, comically wrong, if there were anything comical about human death – hence the need for real-world comparisons like the one Sweden offered to the locked-down countries of Europe. If every government had been pushed into locking down, there would be no factual basis for comparison, and we would have to rely on the guesswork of specialists. 

The British government opted in March for a Swedish-style mitigation strategy, but was forced to pull a U-Turn a week later in the face of widespread media and public criticism (including a nasty Twitter campaign accusing Boris Johnson of genocide). Britain was locked down on March 23; that very same day, a similar media campaign began against Sweden. The past 40 weeks since have seen a steady stream of articles – more than five every week – pronouncing the failure of the Swedish "experiment" [sic], like a stopped clock. (See my bibliography, "Sweden-bashing in the media".) The intent may be to convince the world that mass death has occurred in Sweden, or to panic the Swedes into their own U-Turn; either could be used as a victory for lockdowners in their propaganda war.

That brings me to my second reason for writing on the topic: many of those articles are pure propaganda, full of out-of-context claims, cherry-picked facts and outright misrepresentations that call out for rebuttal. On the other hand, even a stopped clock can be right; such articles should be checked not only for what may be wrong in them, but for what may be right.      

Admittedly, I sometimes get tired of writing in the genre. Over and over I find myself reading the same assertions I have already dealt with, and writing the same things in reply. This writing is not a creative act, but simple drudge work I sometimes wish someone else would do. Balancing that off, though, is my third reason for writing them: my articles have been somewhat popular, one getting a satisfactory 2,000 reads. So it is once more into the breach, to deal with these two latest examples. 

Geohegan's article is actually about a shadowy conspiracy involving "backbench Tory MPs, anonymously funded thinktanks and ubiquitous media commentators" that oppose lockdowns, so he deals with the alleged failure almost in passing: 

We now know with certainty what public health experts have long predicted: a light-touch coronavirus approach does not work. Sweden has recorded far higher death rates than its Nordic neighbours, while suffering a similar economic hit. Even the country’s king thinks it has 'failed'."

The first sentence is recycled claims I have dealt with before (and deal with again, later on), but the second is new. Geohegan seems to be implying that the King of Sweden was calling the country's 'light-touch' strategy a failure. Where did he get that idea? Probably from an earlier Guardian story, "King of Sweden blasts country's 'failed' coronavirus response," which declared in the subhead that the royal "Criticism of anti-lockdown stance comes as hospitals struggle to cope with surge in cases". Reading down, though, the story clarifies that that was not the king's message: 

The comments were initially taken as a criticism of Sweden’s controversial anti-lockdown strategy, but the royal court later said the king was referring 'to the whole of Sweden and the whole society. He is showing empathy for all those affected.' 

I am glad The Guardian clarified that point, though it is a pity that clarification did not make it into the headline. 'Tis a pity, as well, that Guardian reporters do not read the articles in their paper.

Sweden did have obvious failures, and the king deserves credit for acknowledging them. The most glaring were the failure early on to shield senior citizens (particularly those in care homes) and immigrants, two groups that suffered disproportionately. That has little if anything to do with lockdowns, though, as the same failures occurred in countries that did close down. So much for his majesty's comments. 

O'Brien's article, on the other hand, makes several criticisms that need a deeper dive. So let me turn to those, giving his points followed by my responses.  

Recent days have seen Sweden’s Nordic neighbours Finland and Norway offering emergency medical assistance as Stockholm’s hospitals have been overwhelmed, infections and deaths have spiked dramatically upward, and the King of Sweden has made an unprecedented criticism of the government’s bungled strategy.

None of which is an argument for Sweden bungling into a lockdown strategy strategy instead. It would be if the European countries that locked down had managed to avoid a second wave, or at least had  less deaths from it; but neither of those are the case. Infections and deaths have been "spiking" since November all over Europe, and barring a vaccine miracle they will continue to do so until spring. In the process, one locked-down country after another has been recording a worse outcome, in terms of deaths per capita, than Sweden. None of which matters to O'Brien, who recycles just one cherry-picked comparison (that I last saw reused by Dominic Lawson in a recent Sunday Times): 

Unprecedented, but hardly surprising: Sweden has suffered a death rate that is roughly ten times that of neighbouring Norway and nine times that of Finland. 

As with Lawson, O'Brien makes no attempt to look for reasons to explain the difference; the reader is left to infer that those countries' lower death rates must be due to lockdowns (although neither Norway nor Finland had a fall lockdown, and Norway arguably had no spring lockdown, either). O'Brien also makes no attempt to deal with, explain, or even mention the larger European context.

At the beginning of autumn, Sweden had the fifth highest death rate per capita in Europe, behind only Belgium, Italy, the UK, and Spain; all of the last four had suffered more deaths while the country was locked down. By November, Sweden had fallen from #5 to #10, being passed in deaths per capita by France, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Montenegro, and Czechia. In the following months it has since slipped further to #15, being overtaken in the body count by Bulgaria, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, and Switzerland. Switzerland has lockdowns on the state level only; the other 13 have all relied on national lockdowns, most of them at least twice.    

Graph courtesy CTV News
A searing government report concluded the state had failed to protect the vulnerable. Mats Persson, a former UK government adviser, said of his home country: 'For a social model largely designed around the state levelling the odds and caring for the vulnerable, this will leave a very difficult moral legacy.'

Yes, Sweden's biggest failure came in care homes, which were locked down (just as they were in Britain and elsewhere) with disastrous results. Perhaps the UK government and its 'advisers' should take the beams out of their own eyes before preaching 'morality' to countries with less deaths. 

O'Brien does seem aware that Sweden has had less deaths than the UK, though he never mentions it, as he comes up with a couple of reasons why he thinks that should be. 

To understand the magnitude of what’s gone wrong, it’s worth noting that Sweden started the pandemic with several huge advantages. First, it’s a far less urban nation than the UK, for example, and the virus spreads much more rapidly in dense, built-up areas. While the UK has 273 people per square kilometre, Sweden has just 25.

Perhaps O'Brien is not being misleading, but has simply been misled from seeing that "25" figure (as I have) out of context on the internet. In any case the figure is misleading, as Sweden's population is not spread out more or less uniformly across the whole country but concentrated in a few urban areas.  Norrland, which covers more than half the country, is almost uninhabited, with less than 5 people per square kilometre. On the other hand, the population density in urban areas, where most of the people live, is more than 200 times greater. Wikipedia, the likely original source for O'Brien's "25" figure, puts it in context by noting that "87% of the population live in urban areas, which cover 1.5% of the entire land area." That works out to an urban density of just over 1,330 people per square kilometre; but Wikipedia gives an even higher figure for the whole settled area: "The average population density is just over 25 people per km2 (65 per square mile), with 1,437 persons per km2 in localities (continuous settlement with at least 200 inhabitants)." 

Second, Sweden has the highest rate of people living alone in the world: 42.5 per cent of households are single people, compared to just 29.9 per cent in the UK. Obviously, it’s much easier for the virus to spread within the home, and places with large, multigenerational households suffer most.

This statistic, that also appeared in Lawson, is not wrong but is not relevant either. The places in Sweden where infections occurred most were care homes, then hospitals, and then new immigrants' households (which tend to be larger and more intergenerational than the national average). None of those could conceivably have been prevented by closing restaurants and bookstores. Confining the non-essential to their households by lockdown might have even boosted household deaths among the last group. 

O'Brien then compares Britain with an imaginary Britain – another comparison used by Lawson, and a favorite one for lockdown aficionados – which he combines with his earlier comparison into a logical pretzel:    

To form an idea of the consequences that would have followed if the UK had followed the Swedish model, you would need to compare Sweden’s outcomes to its similar neighbours. Given the country’s death rate is ten times higher, imagine the chaos we’d have seen if we had multiplied the UK death rate by a factor of ten.

This is not a sound argument, but a non sequitur. I suppose the best way to show the non-sequitur is to substitute terms: 

"To form an idea of the consequences that would have followed if Sweden had followed the British model, you would need to compare the UK's outcomes to its neighbors. Given the UK’s death rate is more than 2.5 times that of its neighbor Ireland, more than 3 times that of its neighbors the Channel Islands, and 4 times that of its neighbor the Isle of Man, imagine the chaos the Swedes would have seen if they had multiplied their death rate by a factor of 2.5 to 4." 

Nor has there been an economic upside for Sweden: in fact, they saw a bigger hit to their economy than their neighbours, as well as much worse health outcomes. 

O'Brien is relying on economic data from August, not to mention from a notorious Sweden-bashing site. In October, Danske Bank forecast that Sweden's economy would fall 3.3% in 2020 (versus 3.6% for Norway, 4.5% for Finland, and 8.3% for the locked-down euro zone).   In November, SEB Bank estimated Sweden's GDP hit at 3.1% (versus 1.9% for Norway, 4.0% for Finland, and 7.6% for the euro zone). In any case, actually calculating economic damage will require more than just looking at short-term changes in GDP, but also looking at things like bankruptcies, unemployment, crime, and suicide. The countries that locked down will be totting up the damage for years. 

Swedish virologist Lena Einhorn concluded: “Sweden’s strategy has proven to be a dramatic failure.” This matters, not only because health and lives are in danger, but also because the Swedish experiment reveals the failures of the underlying theories of Covid-sceptics. 

The Swedish experiment of mitigation has to date resulted in less loss of life than the British experiment of continual interventions, roughly 20% less. Sweden has had more confirmed cases – over 4% of the population versus 3.5% – but it is unclear what that means in terms of health outcomes, other than a lower case fatality rate. Pace Dr. Einhorn, there is no actual evidence here of failure; cases that result in recoveries rather than deaths are not failures.  

Sweden’s controversial state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell predicted in the summer that because the country had a high rate of infection in the spring, it would have “a high level of immunity and the number of cases [in the winter] will probably be quite low”.

We now know he was disastrously wrong. But he wasn’t alone; his theory was exactly the same as that still relied upon by the UK’s Covid-sceptics.

Tegnell admitted he was wrong about that prediction a month ago. It is a stretch to call that wrong prediction a "failure" – it was not a failure of the theory, but a matter of not having adequate data – and jumping the shark to call it "disastrous." (If O'Brien's is implying that Sweden did not prepare for a second wave, that implication is false.) Sweden's consequences to date have been less "disastrous" than Britain's, or those of 14 other European countries that have had lockdowns. Of course, there are also European countries that have locked down and had less deaths as well; but the 14 counterexamples to date are reason enough to not attribute the latter countries' fewer deaths to their lockdowns.  

Sunetra Gupta, a lead author of the “Great Barrington Declaration”, promised in May that, in the UK, “the epidemic has largely come and is on its way out in this country… due to the build-up of immunity”. One leading Covid-sceptic, Michael Yeadon, wrote that thanks to “prior immunity”, “the pandemic is effectively over.”

It’s these same failed theories that still lead Covid-sceptics to argue it is safe to let the virus rip 

What exactly are "Covid-sceptics"? Does O'Brien mean "lockdown sceptics", as in his title, or "Covid deniers"? If the latter, he is attacking a strawman, and a rather dimwitted one at that: someone who doubted there was a virus would have a hard time believing that a person could develop antibodies specific to it. If the former, O'Brien is still wrong. The sceptic case against lockdowns is that their economic damage has been underestimated, while their value in saving lives has not been demonstrated. All that "immunity" adds to the discussion, for me, is the observation that the coronavirus does not "rip" (a word that sounds like what a Covid Cultist would say); on the contrary, community outbreaks can be expected to slow down with the buildup of immunity as people in the community catch it and recover. 

and attempt to shelter the old and vulnerable. 

Those are the groups that have taken the most casualties. Anyone who is serious about reducing deaths from Covid-19 should be concerned with trying to shield them; even politicians who locked down their states have paid lip service to the concept. I do not see any reason for that to be controversial at all.  

One baffling feature of 2020 was that so much energy was wasted puffing up Sweden, while countries such as Australia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand revealed to us genuinely successful models based on hard suppression of the virus with decisive action: all suffered a fraction of the European average rate of coronavirus cases.

Fine; let us briefly look those countries. All but Japan are effectively small, isolated islands (South Korea's only land border is impassable), which were able to eliminate the virus by using what I've called a 'NIMBY strategy': quarantining everyone entering the country and the relatively few cases found or traced in the community. Iceland (followed by Norway, and Finland) used the same strategy successfully in Europe. In no case was a lockdown needed (although Australia and New Zealand did have a couple, possibly for the political theatre). It is hard to see how that strategy could be made to work in the European Union. I do not think anyone has yet figured out exactly what Japan did, but we do know that it has not included wholesale lockdowns or business shutdowns either. 

There is, of course, no scope for triumphalism here. 

Of course not; nor any grounds for it, either. If Sweden does end up with far more deaths than any of the locked-down countries - say, the 66,000 that Imperial College estimated would have happened by May without NPIs - that would be something for lockdown champions to gloat about. But Sweden sitting in the middle of a pack of lockdown countries, the latter all markedly different in their mortality rates (by as much as 0.2% of the whole population) does not even indicate a correlation between locking down and reducing deaths. 

Things can always change. The pandemic looks likely to continue until spring; Sweden could always have an even greater winter surge, followed by overwhelmed hospitals and mass deaths. On the other hand, that can happen in any of the locked-down countries as well. One can only wait and see. I am sure this is not the last time I will be writing about the subject.