Wednesday, March 31, 2021

50% have Covid antibodies in UK

Covid: Half of UK has antibodies from vaccination or infection | BBC News - Rachel Schraer:

March 30, 2021 - "Roughly half of people in the UK now have antibodies against Covid, either through infection or vaccination, tests conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show. Most of this will be through vaccination - with 30 million people having received at least one dose. Antibodies are proteins in the blood which recognise specific infections and fight them off.

"Among the oldest who are most at risk, levels are even higher. But there has been a small decline in detectable antibodies in that group since the peak of infections in January. The ONS speculates this might be people who received the vaccine earliest having had their first dose but not their second - but they stress this is not evidence that these people have less immunity.

"Once someone has had an infection, antibodies help your body to be ready if it encounters it again. Vaccines provide a safe way to develop antibodies without risking getting ill.

"The tests used in the ONS study give a yes/no result based on whether the amount of antibodies in your blood cross a certain threshold. But people can be protected by lower levels of antibodies. And there are other element of your immune system like T-cells which are not being measured here. There is some evidence to suggest protective T-cells might be detectable for longer than antibodies....

"The study is conducted by taking blood from a representative sample of people around the UK to estimate what proportion of the whole population has antibodies. By 14 March, an estimated 55% of people in England had antibodies, 51% in Wales, 49% in Northern Ireland and 43% in Scotland. But among the over-65s, who are most likely to have been vaccinated, roughly 90% had antibodies.

"The figures mark a rapid rise in people in the population having protection against Covid - up from roughly a third of people testing positive when levels were measured at the start of March.

"Other data published today shows the number of deaths seen across the UK has remained below what is expected at this time of year, having dipped under average last week. There were 11,666 deaths registered in the week ending 19 March - 8% below the five-year average for this week."

Read more:

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Blowing the whistle on the Florida whistleblower

 Rebekah Jones, The Narrative, and the truth | Human Events - Christina Pushaw:

February 2, 2021 - "At first glance, the story of Rebekah Jones — a brave 'COVID-19 scientist' standing up to a corrupt right-wing machine — looks like a bombshell. When the Florida Department of Health (DoH) fired her last May, Jones claimed she had been terminated for refusing to falsify case numbers to support Governor Ron DeSantis’ plans to reopen the economy. Overnight, she became a heroine. She launched her own COVID-19 dashboard, raised half a million dollars, and gathered a Twitter army of 378,000.

"Jones shot to stardom because she lent a fresh face to a 'Narrative'. According to The Narrative, ... the idea that DeSantis could handle COVID-19 better than mask-mandating lockdown enthusiasts like Andrew Cuomo or Gavin Newsom was unthinkable. But ... Per capita, New York has nearly double Florida’s COVID-19 fatalities — and unlike New York, Florida has been open for months. For journalists struggling to explain this deviation from The Narrative, Jones’ tale was irresistible. She confirmed their unspoken suspicions: Florida’s relative success in fighting COVID-19 was an illusion crafted by a mendacious Trumpian governor and his flunkies, who fudged statistics to justify their homicidal reopening drive. DeSantis’ categorical rejection of Jones’ allegations only gave them momentum.

"Eight months later, ... Jones is ... facing a felony charge for breaching a government computer system.... Jones casts herself as the target of a vast right-wing conspiracy orchestrated by the governor, his loyalist judges, and his 'Gestapo,' the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The media continues lauding her. Fortune named her to its 40 Under 40. Forbes awarded her 'Technology Person of the Year'.... 

"NPR describes Jones as a 'top scientist' leading Florida’s pandemic response. In fact, Jones has held three jobs in her field; all three have ended in her being terminated and criminally charged. She has a Master’s in geography from Louisiana State University, where she worked until she was fired. She was arrested in 2016 while, reportedly, trespassing on campus and attempting to steal computer equipment from her former workplace. She then lectured at Florida State University (FSU) and began researching tropical storms for a dissertation, but never earned a Ph.D. as she was suspended and fired in 2018 after her former student accused her of sexual cyberharassment. Before her termination from the DoH, she was a geographic information systems manager, overseeing the COVID-19 web portal. Florida’s top Democratic official calls her 'Dr. Rebekah Jones,' but Jones is no doctor. Nor is she an epidemiologist, virologist, statistician, or public health professional.... 

"After she was fired from the DoH for a pattern of insubordination, Jones claimed that Deputy Secretary for Health Shamarial Roberson had asked her to 'manipulate data to mislead the public' about the safety of reopening rural counties. According to Dr. Roberson, this is 'patently false.' Emails show a state epidemiologist told Jones to temporarily disable data export from the dashboard to verify dates against other official sources. The data was aggregated from local public health authorities in 67 counties; it couldn’t be falsified or hidden.... Jones is now accusing Dr. Roberson of trying to conceal fatalities. 'The woman who told me to delete cases and deaths is now blaming DOCTORS for the death backlog,' Jones wrote in a recent social media post accompanying an article about Dr. Roberson. 'She’s the most corrupt, lying, incompetent and ignorant person that could be ever be put in charge.'

"Since her termination from the DoH, Jones has doubled down on her criticism of prominent epidemiologists — and in doing so, she has revealed serious gaps in her own knowledge of COVID-19. In July, Jones asserted that false negative antibody tests are 'worrisome' because 'you’re not aware that you have and can spread the virus.' Dr. Natalie Dean, an infectious disease expert, explained that false negative antibody tests carry no public health risk, but false negative antigen tests do. (Antibody tests show past infection, while antigen tests detect active infections that can be spread). Instead of admitting her mistake, Jones blocked Dr. Dean and contacted the epidemiologist’s employer to complain....

"Today, Jones awaits trial at her new home in an upmarket DC suburb. She invested part of her crowdfunding proceeds in a for-profit corporation, Florida COVID Action LLC.... Jones vows to campaign for DeSantis’ 2022 Democratic challenger.... She says she’s using donors’ funds 'to fight DeSantis, and anything else he throws at me'.... 

"Those desperate to see DeSantis fail, and Florida become America’s cautionary COVID-19 tale, want to believe Jones. This includes mainstream media acolytes.... The left sees Jones as the eye of a perfect storm: the GOP’s war on science, a corrupt Trumpian governor, the foolhardiness of any COVID-19 policy short of Chairman Xi-style lockdowns — and a telegenic 'whistleblower' to reinforce these tropes. Reality never stood a chance."

Read more:

Monday, March 29, 2021

PA Amish community may have herd immunity

Amish community may have reached COVID ‘herd immunity,’ health official says | New York Post - Jackie Salo:

March 28, 2021 - "An Amish community in Pennsylvania may have become the first group in the US to achieve herd immunity, a local health official claims. The administrator of a medical center in the heart of Lancaster County’s New Holland Borough, which is known for its Amish and Mennonite communities, estimates that as many as 90 percent of the religious families have had at least one family member infected with the virus. 

"'So, you would think if COVID was as contagious as they say, it would go through like a tsunami; and it did,' said Allen Hoover, an administrator of the Parochial Medical Center, which caters to the religious community and has 33,000 patients.

"The Amish and Mennonite groups initially complied with stay-at-home orders at the beginning of the pandemic — shuttering schoolhouses and canceling church services. But by late April, they had resumed worship services, where they shared communion cups and holy kisses, a church greeting among believers. 

"Soon after, the virus tore throughout the religious enclave.... In late April and early May, the county’s positivity rate for COVID-19 tests exceeded 20 percent, according to nonprofit Covid Act Now. But Hoover said that it’s impossible to know the full extent of the virus outbreak since he estimates that fewer than 10 percent of patients displaying symptoms consented to being tested. 

"The medical center saw on average nearly a dozen infections a day, or around 15 percent of the patients it serves daily, Hoover said.

"While infections ebbed through the summer, before picking up again in the fall, Hoover said new cases are now far and few in between. The center hasn’t had a patient present with virus symptoms in roughly six weeks, Hoover said.

But some experts are more skeptical that a large outbreak has led to widespread immunity in the community. Eric Lofgren, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Washington State University, said herd immunity is possible but rare. 'The key is that there is not necessarily a magic number,' said David Dowdy, a professor in the epidemiology department at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"Previous infections also might not be enough to protect against new variants of the virus, some experts have warned."

Read more:

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Scottish church ban unconstitutional, judge rules

Victory for Scottish church leaders as judge rules government acted unconstitutionally when criminalising gathered worship |Christian Concern (press release):

March 24, 2021 - "In an historic judgment, today a judge has ruled that the Scottish Ministers’ decision to ban and criminalise gathered church worship during the current lockdown was unconstitutional and a disproportionate interference of Article 9 ECHR [European Convention on Human Rights].... The ruling is believed to be the first successful legal case against covid regulations in the UK.

"Handing down judgment, Lord Braid also ruled that online worship is not real Christian worship, stating that it is not for the Scottish Ministers to: 'dictate to the petitioners or to the additional party, that, henceforth, or even for the duration of the pandemic, worship is to be conducted on-line. That might be an alternative to worship but it is not worship. At very best for the respondents, in modern parlance, it is worship-lite.'

"Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, 27 Scottish church leaders, from a range of Christian denominations, had brought the legal action stating that the unprecedented closures were unlawful and breached Human Rights law and the Scottish constitution.... Their claim came in response to the restrictions outlined by First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on Friday 8 January 2021, which made it a criminal offence for churches in the highest tiers, to hold in person services and, for example, to conduct baptisms.

"At a full judicial review hearing at the Court of Session in Edinburgh earlier in March, the leaders had sought a declarator (a declaration order) that the restrictions on churches were unlawful and a declarator which would allow people to attend church, should the tier system be reintroduced.

"There has been no attempt to close churches in Scotland since the persecution of the Presbyterian church, instituted by the Stuart kings, in the 17th century....

"During the judicial review on the 11 and 12 March, Janys Scott QC, representing the 27 Scottish church leaders, argued that the pandemic had highlighted an 'irreconcilable conflict' for church leaders between obeying the state and God.... 'The Scottish ministers have presented these 27 church leaders and very many more ministers, church elders and ordinary members of congregation with a deep crisis. As Christians their primary obedience is to God and not to the state and there is a fundamental obedience in regular communal public worship.... And to be absolutely clear this is not about buildings — it’s about assembly of congregations; the sacraments of communion and baptism and the ministry between members of a church are integral aspects of expression on what it is to be a Christian and to belong to a Christian church'....

"Scott argued that the closure of churches is unlawful, criminalises public worship and goes against centuries old practice that churches in Scotland have authority over their own affairs free from state interference. She accused John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister of holding a 'condescending and inaccurate' attitude towards public worship, by treating churches as if they are a 'matter of personal welfare or comfort'.... She also said the European Convention on Human Rights did not allow the Scottish Ministers to take the action of stopping public worship.

"'It’s not for the government to question the legitimacy of beliefs or the manner in which they are expressed,' she said. 'The petitioners say that public corporate worship is essential to the church — it is of the essence, of the being of the church and that is a matter for them.'"

Read more:

Saturday, March 27, 2021

German gov't pulls U-turn on Easter lockdown

In Reversal, Merkel Drops Plan For Lockdown In Germany Ahead Of Easter | NPR - Bill Chappell: 

March 24, 2021 - "German Chancellor Angela Merkel is revoking her own plan for a tight national lockdown ahead of the long Easter holiday. The abrupt move comes one day after Merkel announced the lockdown, warning that because of rising infection rates and new coronavirus variants, Germany is facing 'a new pandemic.'

Merkel called the plan 'a mistake' on Wednesday, and she took the blame for the decision in a statement posted by her Christian Democratic Union party. The idea to lock down from April 1 to April 5 was a good one, Merkel said, but it couldn't be implemented well in the short period before it was to take effect. She added that there were too many unresolved questions about lost wages at shops and companies.

"The enhanced lockdown would have restricted Germans from gathering in large groups, including at churches. It would have discouraged domestic travel and forced many businesses to close around the long Easter weekend — a normally bustling time. But the decision immediately prompted a backlash from churches as well as from travel and hospitality industries, where many companies are teetering on the brink of insolvency.

"Merkel announced the lockdown plan after a marathon session with the leaders of Germany's 16 states that began Monday afternoon. After 12 hours, they agreed to pull the "emergency brake" on restrictions across all of Germany during the Easter weekend. And more broadly, they opted to reinstate lockdown restrictions in areas with high infection rates, according to Deutsche Welle. But one day later, Merkel dropped her plan after speaking to the group of state leaders again."

Read more:

Friday, March 26, 2021

Redfield backs lab origin theory of coronavirus

Former CDC director Robert Redfield says he believes COVID-19 'escaped' from a lab in Wuhan and started spreading as early as September 2019 | Daily Mail - Emily Crane: 

March 26, 2021 - "The former director of the CDC, Robert Redfield, says he believes COVID-19 'escaped' from [a] Wuhan lab in China and may have been circling as early as September 2019. Redfield made the admission in a CNN interview on Friday but stressed it was his 'opinion'. It is the first time Redfield, who was appointed CDC director by President Trump, has stated publicly that he believes COVID-19 originated in a lab.... 

"I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory ... escaped. Other people don't believe that, that's fine. Science will eventually figure it out,' he said. 'It's not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in laboratories to infect the laboratory worker. That's not implying any intentionality. It's my opinion, right? But I am a virologist. I have spent my life in virology.' 

"Researchers have said the global pandemic is believed to have started when COVID-19 jumped from a bat to a human or through an intermediary species at a wet market in Wuhan. Redfield, however, says that explanation doesn't make 'biological sense' to him.  

"'I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to a human and at that moment in time ... became one of the most infectious viruses that we know in humanity for human-to-human transmission,' he said. 'Normally, when a pathogen goes from a zoonot to human, it takes a while for it to figure out how to become more and more efficient.' He believes it started in a lab that was already studying the virus, which would mean COVID-19 was being exposed to human cell cultures....  

"The debate about the origins [of] COVID-19 has been ongoing for the past year and has resulted in rising tensions between the US and China.  US investigators have been blocked from going to China in a bid to investigate the virus and its origins. China has long resisted pressure for a full investigation and has touted theories that the virus might not have originated in Wuhan. The World Health Organization has previously said the lab theory was 'extremely unlikely' but a team of its scientists that were finally allowed into Wuhan have still not been able to determine the origin of the virus more than a year into the pandemic." 

Read more: 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Over 40% of UK youth ignoring lockdown rules

Young people are sick of lockdown | Spiked

March 24, 2021 - "Two in five young people are regularly disobeying the government’s Covid advice, according to a new poll. Data from Savanta / ComRes reveal that 42 per cent of 16- to 34-year-olds only follow government Covid guidance ‘sometimes or less’. This is a rise of seven percentage points since January.... 

"This is hardly surprising. Young people are among the least at risk from Covid-19, but have been some of the hardest hit by lockdowns. For most of the pandemic, they have been unable to attend school or university in person. And they are also more likely to be in the kind of precarious jobs crushed by lockdown. They can hardly be blamed for getting fed up with it all.

"And they aren’t the only ones in revolt. Grannies have been joining in, too. Four in 10 over-80s broke lockdown rules after being vaccinated, it was reported in March.... 

"[O]ver 25 million people in the UK have been given their jabs – including nearly every vulnerable person. Deaths and hospitalisations have collapsed. We can’t expect young people – or anyone – to wait around for the government’s glacially slow plan for reopening society. It’s time to end the restrictions and get back to normal."

Read more:

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

German lockdown fails, gov't locks down harder

Germany imposes strict lockdown over Easter | Deutsche Welle

Germany is extending the current lockdown through to April 18, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced early Tuesday. The country will enter an even stricter lockdown from April 1 to April 5 over the Easter holiday period, when shops, including grocery stores, will largely have to close.... [Covid-19] Case numbers have reached levels that authorities say will overburden intensive care units.

"Tuesday's announcement marks a reversal from earlier this month when state leaders agreed to begin a cautious reopening process. Talks between leaders of Germany's 16 federal states and Merkel lasted until the early hours of the morning....

"As well as prolonging existing measures such as the closure of cultural, leisure and sporting facilities, tougher restrictions will apply over the Easter period.

  • Churches will be asked to hold services marking the Christian festival online.
  • No more than five adults from two households will be able to meet over the five-day period.
  • Testing and vaccination centers can remain open.
  • Public gatherings will be prohibited.
  • Almost all shops will be shut during the five days. Only grocery stores may open on Saturday, April 3.
  • Anyone from Germany holidaying abroad will have to be tested before boarding a flight back to Germany.

"This 'emergency brake' will halt further reopenings and will apply to areas exceeding 100 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants over a seven-day period. If an area has an incidence rate of over 100 for three consecutive days, harsher lockdown measures will once again apply."

Read more:

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

My Great Barrington Declaration article is online

I am happy to say that my response to the COVID-19 FAQ's OTT attack on the Great Barrington Declaration is now online at the Lockdown Sceptics site. LS both put the article on its site, and gave me a mention in its newsfeed (below).

A Defence of the Great Barrington Declaration | Lockdown Sceptics - Toby Young:

March 22, 2021 - "Today we’re publishing a point-by-point rebuttal of the criticisms of the Great Barrington Declaration set out in Anti-Virus: The COVID-19 FAQ, Neil O’Brien’s website devoted to attacking “Covid sceptics”. It’s by George Dance, a former chairman of the Ontario Libertarian Party. Here are the first three paragraphs:

The Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), under which thousands of scientists and medical practitioners have called for a end to lockdown policies, was drawn up last October 1st-4th, was announced on October 5th, and was already being denounced on October 6th. Over the next month, the GBD and its message were virtually buried beneath an “avalanche of scathing criticism condemning it as ‘very dangerous, unscientific, unethical, total nonsense, dangerously flawed, conspiratorial and grotesque’. Among the critics were prominent role-players such as World Health Organization director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, British chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance, and US infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci”. Defenders of the lockdown consensus released a counter-manifesto, the John Snow Memorandum, ironically named for epidemiology’s most famous dissenter from a scientific consensus.

At the time I read everything I could on the topic and made copious notes, hoping to write my own perspective on the GBD. Long before I was in a position to do that, though, the debate had moved on, and I never had an opportunity to revisit the subject.

Fortunately, there is a new FAQ in town: Anti-Virus: The COVID-19 FAQ. This new FAQ may not be the best place to go for scientific advice about the disease; the ‘doctors’ behind it seem to mainly have doctorates in economics and psychology (though I have read that there is an anonymous scientist involved), and some of their claims, such as “Covid still has a high fatality rate among younger people”, seem supported more by semantics than by science. (“Younger” in context turns out to be “younger than 65”). But at least the FAQ has revived the Declaration and assembled a ‘best of’ the criticisms levelled against it, making it worthwhile to revisit the debate.

"This is an excellent, very thorough demolition job. Worth reading in full."

Read article here:

Monday, March 22, 2021

Lockdown protests throughout Europe

Anti-lockdown protests break out in Europe amid new COVID wave | Al Jazeera:

March 21, 2021 - "Protesters in Germany clashed with police on Saturday over coronavirus measures, with officers using water cannon, pepper spray and batons against people trying to break through police barriers. Protests against government measures to rein in the pandemic also were reported in several other countries across Europe, including Austria, the UK, Finland, Romania and Switzerland.

"More than 20,000 people participated in the protest in the central German city of Kassel, despite a court ban, where there were also confrontations between demonstrators and counter-protesters. Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday that Germany will have to apply an “emergency brake” and reverse some recent relaxations of restrictions as coronavirus infections accelerate.... [P]rotesters say the measures such as the closure of non-essential shops, hotels, restaurants and gyms are a threat to their freedom.

"In London, demonstrators opposing the UK’s months-long lockdown defied police who warned of potential fines and arrest for violating prohibitions on group meetings.

"In Finland, police estimated that about 400 people without masks, packed tightly together, gathered in the capital Helsinki to protest government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions.

"In Austria, about 1,000 protesters participated in a demonstration against the government’s virus measures near Vienna’s central train station.

"In Switzerland, more than 5,000 protesters met for a silent march in the community of Liestal 15km (9 miles) southeast of the city of Basel, local media reported.

"More than 1,000 anti-vaccination protesters took to the streets in Romania’s capital of Bucharest amid a surge of COVID-19 infections there. The largely mask-less crowd honked horns, waved national flags, and chanted messages such as “Block vaccination,” and “Freedom.” One placard read: “Parents, protect your children! Stop the fear!”

Read more: 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Lockdowns and free speech

F\ebruary 5, 2021 - "In December, the weather changed. When lockdown was re-imposed in England, cold winds blew for public figures who questioned the government’s handling of Covid-19. These figures were ... established commentators who understood that Covid-19 is potentially dangerous and that practical measures (including vaccines) were reasonable responses. These critics pointed out the apparent ineffectiveness of mass lockdowns, the increased toll of missed diagnoses and deferred/cancelled treatments, impact of school closures, rising mental-health problems and astronomical public debt.

"For presenting reasonable grounds for concern, sceptical journalists and broadcasters such as Maajid Nawaz, Peter Hitchens, Allison Pearson, Toby Young and Julia Hartley-Brewer – as well as respected health specialists and scientists Professor Sunetra Gupta, Professor Carl Heneghan and others – faced public execration. Prominent figures who accused them of not taking Covid-19 seriously included Piers Morgan, Neil O’Brien MP, journalists Paul Mason and Dan Hodges, Dr Hilary Jones and others, not mentioning officials and cabinet ministers. They appeared to disagree less with the lockdown sceptics’ points of view, and more the fact that they were allowed to dissent in the first place....

"Where were the unequivocal statements defending press freedom and willingness to scrutinise government action? There was near silence. Lockdown has exposed many free-expression supporters as fair-weather friends of open discussion.

"Regardless of whether or not the actions were justified, the greatest withdrawal of civil liberties in peace-time – perhaps ever in modern Western history – deserved of the commentariat more than a collective shrug. Vocal defenders of dissident writers in distant lands have nothing to say about peaceful protestors in their own country being detained, fined and cautioned. Feminist writers, who made careers out of lamenting the burden of domesticity upon women, have no public reaction to the plight of single mothers made unemployed and effectively housebound while also home-schooling multiple children simultaneously....

"Doubtless the silence has multiple causes. It is not only hypocrisy, although that certainly is a factor. A web of social conformity, career preservation, misdirected compassion and timidity also play a part. Data hardly comes into it, regrettably. People react emotionally and follow personal impulses, using factual evidence to support their outlooks.

"The division seems to be not a right-left one, although the political left does seem to break in support of lockdowns more strongly than the right does. The division is dictated by our moral compasses and our innate responses to authoritarianism and liberty. (Jonathan Haidt lucidly explains this in the book The Righteous Mind.) We have all seen cancel culture run rampant. Being tarred and feathered as an anti-vaxxer is threat enough to silence most supporters of free speech. Indeed, on the political left, free speech is now a 'white supremacist dog-whistle' – free speech is merely cover deployed for spreading hate speech.

"As has ever been the case, tyrants justify new encroachments on freedom as A) due to extraordinary circumstances, B) temporary, C) for the greater good and D) to protect the vulnerable. They portray dissent as dangerous, irresponsible and contrary to the facts. This is apparent in even the most cursory reading of history, yet today there are historians who cannot see retraction of our liberties as at all familiar. Or rather, they can see it, and rationalise their compliance as reasonable in the light of exceptional conditions. What today’s situation shows is exactly how courageous dissenters in religious and political tyrannies are. Sitting at home, on furlough, with no threat of arrest, advocates of civil liberties will not even issue mild support for the right to question government policy.

"Any individual who holds prominence in public life by defending civil liberties and who has remained silent on the widespread pillorying of lockdown sceptics has forfeited the right to be treated with seriousness and respect. It does not matter whether or not one supports the sceptical position. What matters is that people defend the right to question the efficacy of lockdowns in curbing the impact of an endemic virus.... Regardless of successes and failures of Covid-19 policy, individual intellectuals, journalists and academics – and the intelligentsia as a class – have failed in the most public way possible to defend free speech. It is a pitiful performance."

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Only ending lockdowns can stimulate economy

Only Ending Lockdowns Can Stimulate the Economy | American Institute for Economic Research - Thomas L. Hogan:

March 18, 2021 - "Last week, President Biden signed legislation that will increase fiscal spending by $1.9 trillion. While often referred to as a 'stimulus' bill, it might be better described as 'relief' (although in truth, most of the spending is neither for relief nor stimulus). The prior week, a strong employment report showed that the US economy added 379,000 jobs in February, bringing the national unemployment rate down to 6.2 percent....

"The labor market has mostly recovered from the major disruptions of a year ago. Unemployment has fallen to less than half of its 14.7 percent peak last April and is now very close to the US long-run average around 6 percent. Unfortunately, the national average of 6.2 percent is not a good representation of the current state of the US economy due to an unusually wide dispersion in state-level unemployment. 

"According to the most recent data available, as of January there were ten US states with very low unemployment rates of 4 percent or less. These rates are historically low. For example, only five times since the Great Depression has the US average reached as low as 4 percent. At the same time, however, six states plus the District of Columbia have very high unemployment rates above 8 percent. These too are historic highs, only seen three times nationally since the Great Depression. What is causing this unprecedented divergence between states? Government lockdowns and business restrictions....

"The table ... shows the six states and Washington, DC with unemployment rates above 8 percent and the ten with low rates of 4 percent or less, along with the rankings of their restrictions as of early January according to two sources. The WalletHub rank is a weighted average of '14 key metrics […] from whether restaurants are open to whether the state has required face masks in public and workplace temperature screenings.' The stringency index is from the database of US state level Covid-19 Policy Responses from the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (CGRT) based on '18 indicators such as school closures and travel restrictions.' In both measures, high numbers represent greater restrictions. 

"Of the seven with unemployment rates of 8 percent or higher, five are in the top half of coronavirus restrictions according to both WalletHub and the Oxford CGRT. Washington, DC ranks 21st on each index, although the official number likely understates the true stringency due to its dependence on the federal government. The other exception is Nevada, which ranks 25 out of 51 according to WalletHub but just eighth by the Oxford CGRT. Google mobility data for Nevada have been very low, suggesting that activity has declined more in Nevada than in other states. Considering that Nevada––and Las Vegas in particular––is a major tourist destination, the decline potentially has as much more to do with government rules in other states, which require quarantining upon return, as it does with individuals to restrict activity on their own. 

"Nine of the ten states with unemployment rates of 4 percent or less are in the bottom half of both indexes of coronavirus restrictions. Vermont is the one exception. Google mobility data show active movement across the state that would position it in the middle range among all US states. Vermont may be closed according to the law, but it seems to be open in practice.

"While rates of unemployment have likely fallen since January, the state-level data reveal a consistent pattern. Unemployment rates are directly related to the strictness of coronavirus lockdowns and business restrictions. Closed states have high unemployment because it is illegal for businesses to employ people....

"The goal of fiscal policy is to draw unemployed people and resources into the economy.... But this cannot happen in states with strong lockdowns and legal restrictions that prevent businesses from operating.... Fiscal spending is also not helpful in states with low restrictions. Unemployment is already low in these states, so there are few unemployed workers to draw upon. More government spending will encourage wasteful production, as businesses invest in and workers are bid into pursuits that are less efficient and may be ultimately unsustainable."

Read more:

Friday, March 19, 2021

Alberta pastor remains in jail

GraceLife pastor to spend at least another weekend in jail | Edmonton Journal - Jonny Wakefield:

March 18, 2021 - "Alberta’s provincial court issued a news release Thursday contradicting a claim from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), which is representing the GraceLife Church pastor. The JCCF on Wednesday said it expected Coates to be released from jail this week after reaching an agreement with the Crown to withdraw one of the charges Coates faced for violating COVID-19 restrictions.

"The organization said it expected the case would be dealt with Friday, which would have allowed Coates to preach at GraceLife this Sunday. But on Thursday, Alberta’s provincial court said: ... 'there will be no court proceedings involving James Coates on March 19, 2021.'

"Hundreds of churchgoers defied Alberta government pandemic health restrictions and flocked to GraceLife Church, west of Edmonton, on Sunday March 14, 2021.

"The court confirmed the case is next in court Monday. JCCF president John Carpay said he did not expect the scheduling changes anything legally, but added it is 'unfortunate' Coates will remain locked up over the weekend.

"Coates faced two charges under the Public Health Act for holding in-person worship services that violated restrictions on occupancy and social distancing. He was also charged criminally for allegedly failing to comply with his bail conditions. Coates has been in the Edmonton Remand Centre since mid-February. At least one of the Public Health Act charges is expected to proceed to trial in Stony Plain this May."

Read more:

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Gov't Covid strategies killed 200,000 children in south Asia, UNICEF report estimates

Covid-19 disruptions killed 228,000 children in South Asia, says UN report | BBC News:

March 17, 2021 - "The disruption in healthcare services caused by Covid-19 may have led to an estimated 239,000 maternal and child deaths in South Asia, according to a new UN report. It's focused on Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, home to some 1.8 billion people. The report found that women, children and adolescents were the worst-hit....

"Many countries, including those in South Asia, responded to the pandemic with stringent lockdowns. While hospitals, pharmacies and grocers remained open, almost everything else shut down. The report - Direct and Indirect Effects of Covid-19 Pandemic and Response in South Asia - examines the effect of these government strategies on healthcare, social services, including schools, and the economy.

"It estimates that there have been 228,000 additional deaths of children under five in these six countries due to crucial services, ranging from nutrition benefits to immunisation, being halted. It says the number of children being treated for severe malnutrition fell by more than 80% in Bangladesh and Nepal, and immunisation among children dropped by 35% and 65% in India and Pakistan respectively.

"The report also says that child mortality rose the highest in India in 2020 - up by 15.4% - followed by Bangladesh at 13%. Sri Lanka saw the sharpest increase in maternal deaths - 21.5% followed by Pakistan's 21.3%....

"The full effect of the pandemic - and ensuing lockdowns - is just starting to become clear as countries take stock of their public health and education programmes. Experts in India already fear that malnutrition rates will be significantly worse across the country when the data pours in over the next few months....

"The interruption to health services also affected those suffering from other diseases - the report predicts an additional 5,943 deaths across the region among adolescents who couldn't get treated for tuberculosis, malaria, typhoid and HIV/Aids."

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Read report:

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

What happened in South Dakota?

What happened in South Dakota? | Substack - Noah Carl:

March 10, 2021 - "South Dakota provides an interesting case study of what happens when the authorities make practically no attempt to check the spread of COVID-19. The state’s governor, Kristi Noem, is a stalwart small-government conservative, who has ... argued that 'the people themselves are primarily responsible for their safety', and at one point claimed that a 'very prominent national reporter' had praised her for proving that lockdowns were “useless”.

"South Dakota’s epidemic began in the late summer of 2020.... Yet between 1 August 2020 and 28 February 2021 (212 days), there were only 64 days of mandatory school closures; 7 days of workplace closures; 7 days of bans on large events; zero days of bans on large gatherings; zero days of restrictions on public transport; zero days of mandatory stay-at-home orders; and zero days of restrictions on internal movement. In addition, Noem never issued a mandate on the wearing of face masks.... 

"South Dakota is ranked eighth highest among US states for the number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths per million people – so not the worst, but well above average..... However, my aim here is ... to examine the trajectory of its epidemic, and to consider what this tells us about the epidemiology of COVID-19 more broadly.

"The chart below plots the daily number of cases in South Dakota since 31 March 2020, alongside the Google mobility index for residential, and the Google mobility index for retail and recreation. Each of these indexes quantifies the change in people’s movement relative to the baseline, based on smartphone data. For example, the mobility index for residential tells us how much more or less time than usual people were spending at home (–20 means 20% less; +20 means 20% more). Each line represents a 7-day moving average, so as to make the chart easier to read. (The two troughs in the red line around 350 on the x-axis correspond to Thanksgiving and Christmas, respectively.)

"[C]ase numbers accelerated up to a peak in mid November, and then fell rapidly again afterward. But ... given the almost total lack of restrictions, what caused case numbers to fall? By the date of the peak, South Dakota had had about 65,000 cases, which equates to 7.3% of the total population. Even if, say, two thirds of those who’d been infected were not counted, that still only gets us to 22% of the population. And the herd immunity threshold for COVID-19 is thought to be around 66%, or even higher.

"Another possibility is that people changed their behaviour voluntarily or in response to local measures. While this almost certainly happened to some extent, the Google mobility data does not reveal any dramatic shifts around the peak in mid November. The retail mobility index fell substantially during August and September, but then decreased gradually over the next two months. There was no sharp drop that could explain the sudden decline in cases. Likewise, the residential mobility index was mostly flat over the months of October, November and December. I checked the other Google mobility indexes (e.g., for workplaces), and none of them showed a dramatic change in mid November.

"So, why did case numbers fall in South Dakota? I’m afraid I don’t have the answer. But here are a few possibilities. 

  • First, the herd immunity threshold is lower than 66%. This could be because the threshold has been overestimated in general, or because it is lower specifically in South Dakota, perhaps due to the state’s geography.
  • Second, the Google mobility index is a poor measure of the behaviours that drive transmission (as Philippe Lemoine has suggested).... Weighing against this interpretation is the fact that there were dramatic changes at the start of the pandemic. Notice the precipitous decline in the retail index, and concomitant rise in the residential index, on the left-hand side of the chart.
  • Third, the level of immunity at which cases start declining ... is much lower than 66%. This could be the case if there is substantial heterogeneity in the behaviours that drive transmission. Suppose that 80% of infections are caused by 20% of people. (Perhaps these 'super-spreaders' are particularly sociable, careless, or likely to interact with others by nature of their work.) Once a large enough share of the 20% has been infected, case numbers may begin falling rapidly....

"Under the governorship of Kristi Noem, South Dakota may have taken the least restrictive approach to COVID-19 of anywhere in the Western world. Although the state has racked up a high death count, its epidemic receded long before herd immunity was reached – despite almost no government restrictions, and little change in people’s overall mobility. This may be because the herd immunity threshold has been overestimated; the mobility data don’t capture changes in social distancing; or cases start declining as soon as enough 'super-spreaders' have been infected."

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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Some making billions from Covid pandemic

Meet The 50 Doctors, Scientists And Healthcare Entrepreneurs Who Became Pandemic Billionaires In 2020 | Forbes - Giacomo Tognini:

December 23, 2020 - "Nearly a year after the first case of Covid-19 was reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, the world could be nearing the beginning of the end of a pandemic that has killed more than 1.7 million people. Vaccination for Covid-19 is underway in the United States and the United Kingdom, and promising antibody treatments could help doctors fight back against the disease more effectively. Tied to those breakthroughs: a host of new billionaires who have emerged in 2020, their fortunes propelled by a stock market surge as investors flocked to companies involved in the development of vaccines, treatments, medical devices and everything in between.

"Altogether, Forbes found 50 new billionaires in the healthcare sector in 2020. The most notable newcomers of the year are the scientists behind the two most successful vaccines for the coronavirus  — one developed by Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech, the other by Massachusetts-based Moderna — who have seen their net worths skyrocket since January: Uğur Şahin and Stéphane Bancel. Virtually unknown at the outset of 2020, both men are now billionaires several times over. BioNTech CEO Şahin, who cofounded the firm with Özlem Türeci, his wife and the firm’s chief medical officer — she owns no shares in the company — is now worth $4.2 billion; his French counterpart at Moderna, Stéphane Bancel, has a $4.1 billion fortune. Moderna’s meteoric rise also produced two more billionaires among its earliest investors, Harvard professor Timothy Springer and MIT scientist Robert Langer. Those vaccines will require billions of glass vials to safely transport them — enter Italy’s Sergio Stevanato, a new billionaire and the majority shareholder in the privately-owned Stevanato Group, which is making glass vials for several dozen vaccine efforts around the world.

"It’s not just vaccines: companies developing antibody treatments and drugs to help doctors fight the virus have also benefited from the market frenzy. Carl Hansen, the CEO of Canadian biotech outfit AbCellera, is now worth $2.9 billion after his company went public on December 11, fueled by the Food and Drug Administration’s approval last month of its antibody treatment developed with pharma giant Eli Lilly. Even the firms working behind the scenes to help larger companies test new drugs and devices have seen their stock prices reach new highs. August Troendle, the founder and CEO of Cincinnati-based contract research firm Medpace, is now worth $1.3 billion thanks to a nearly 70% jump in the company’s shares since the beginning of the year.

"The new moguls hail from 11 different countries, but the majority live in China, the early epicenter of Covid-19, which is now home to nearly three dozen new healthcare billionaires  — chief among them is Hu Kun, the chairman of medical device manufacturer Contec Medical Systems, which went public on the Shenzhen stock exchange in August. Contec’s shares have risen nearly 150% since the IPO on the back of strong overseas sales of products ranging from pulse oximeters to pulmonary devices used for checking lung conditions, all of which have become more necessary with the spread of Covid-19 throughout the globe."

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Monday, March 15, 2021

Italy put under 3rd lockdown

Italians start a widespread lockdown | New York Times - Gaia Pianigiani and Jennifer Jett:

March 14, 2021 - "Three-quarters of Italians entered a strict lockdown on Monday, as the government put in place restrictive measures to fight the rise in infections. A more contagious variant first identified in Britain, combined with a slow vaccine rollout, led to a 15 percent increase in cases in Italy last week, a worrisome picture for the government run by Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

“'I am aware that today’s measures will have an impact on children’s education, on the economy but also on the psychological state of us all,' Mr. Draghi said on Friday. 'But they are necessary to avoid a worsening that will make inevitable even more stringent measures.'

"Most regions in northern Italy, as well as Lazio and Marche in central Italy and Campania and Puglia in the south, have shut schools and barred residents from leaving their homes except for work, health or necessity. Among business activities, only supermarkets, pharmacies and a few other stores will stay open, but restaurants are closed.

"In the rest of the country, residents are not be allowed to leave their municipality without reason involving work, health or other necessities, but schools and many stores will stay open.... 

"Italy is one of the hardest-hit countries in the world: The coronavirus has killed more than 100,000 people there, and infected 3.2 million. The entire country will be on lockdown for the Easter weekend in early April to prevent the usual large family reunions. As with restrictions in place over Christmas, people will still be allowed to leave their homes once a day."

Read more:

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Scientists expect Sars-Cov-2 to become endemic

The coronavirus is here to stay — here’s what that means | Nature - Nicky Phillips: 

February 16, 2021 - "For much of the past year, life in Western Australia has been coronavirus-free.... The state maintained this enviable position only by placing heavy restrictions on travel and imposing lockdowns.... But the experience in Western Australia has provided a glimpse into a life free from the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. If other regions, aided by vaccines, aimed for a similar zero-COVID strategy, then could the world hope to rid itself of the virus?

"It’s a beautiful dream but most scientists think it’s improbable. In January, Nature asked more than 100 immunologists, infectious-disease researchers and virologists working on the coronavirus whether it could be eradicated. Almost 90% of respondents think that the coronavirus will become endemic — meaning that it will continue to circulate in pockets of the global population for years to come.... 'Eradicating this virus right now from the world is a lot like trying to plan the construction of a stepping-stone pathway to the Moon. It’s unrealistic,' says Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

"But failure to eradicate the virus does not mean that death, illness or social isolation will continue on the scales seen so far. The future will depend heavily on the type of immunity people acquire through infection or vaccination and how the virus evolves. Influenza and the four human coronaviruses that cause common colds are also endemic: but a combination of annual vaccines and acquired immunity means that societies tolerate the seasonal deaths and illnesses they bring without requiring lockdowns, masks and social distancing.....

"'The virus becoming endemic is likely, but the pattern that it will take is hard to predict,' says Angela Rasmussen, a virologist from Georgetown University, who is based in Seattle, Washington..... This is one scenario that scientists foresee for SARS-CoV-2[:] The virus sticks around, but once people develop some immunity to it — either through natural infection or vaccination — they won’t come down with severe symptoms. The virus would become a foe first encountered in early childhood, when it typically causes mild infection or none at all, says Jennie Lavine, an infectious-disease researcher at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

"Scientists consider this possible because that’s how the four endemic coronaviruses, called OC43, 229E, NL63 and HKU1, behave. At least three of these viruses have probably been circulating in human populations for hundreds of years; two of them are responsible for roughly 15% of respiratory infections. Using data from previous studies, Lavine and her colleagues developed a model that shows how most children first come down with these viruses before the age of 6 and develop immunity to them1. That defence wanes pretty quickly so it is not sufficient to block reinfection entirely, but it seems to protect adults from getting sick, says Lavine. Even in children, the first infection is relatively mild.

"Whether immunity to SARS-CoV-2 will behave in the same way is so far unclear. A large study of people who have had COVID-19 suggests that their levels of neutralizing antibodies — which help to block reinfection — start to decline after around six to eight months. But their bodies also make memory B cells, which can manufacture antibodies if a new infection arises, and T cells that can eliminate virus-infected cells, says Daniela Weiskopf, an immunologist at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California, who co-authored the study.... 

"The 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed more than 50 million people, is the yardstick by which all other pandemics are measured. It was sparked by a type of virus known as influenza A, which originated in birds. Almost all cases of influenza A since then, and all subsequent flu pandemics, have been caused by descendants of the 1918 virus. These descendants circulate the globe, infecting millions of people each year. Flu pandemics occur when populations are naive to a virus; by the time a pandemic virus becomes seasonal, much of the population has some immunity to it. Seasonal flu still has a significant toll globally, claiming roughly 650,000 lives per year. Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, thinks the coronavirus might follow a similar path ... and others say the virus could also settle into a seasonal pattern of annual winter outbreaks similar to flu.... 

"The future of SARS-CoV-2 will also depend on whether it establishes itself in a wild animal population. Several diseases brought under control persist because animal reservoirs, such as insects, provide chances for pathogens to spill back into people. These include yellow fever, Ebola and chikungunya virus. SARS-CoV-2 ... can readily infect many animals, including cats, rabbits and hamsters.... The virus has also passed between minks and people. If it became established in a wild-animal population and could spill back into people, it would be very difficult to control, says Osterholm. 'There is no disease in the history of humankind that has disappeared from the face of the Earth when zoonotic disease was such an important part of, or played a role in, the transmission,' he says."

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Saturday, March 13, 2021

Bhattacharya looks back on lockdowns

Jay Bhattacharya, Stanford Doctor, Calls Lockdowns the 'Biggest Public Health Mistake We've Ever Made' | Newsweek - Matthew Impelli:

March 8, 2021 - "Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor at Stanford University Medical School, recently said that COVID-19 lockdowns are the 'biggest public health mistake we've ever made...The harm to people is catastrophic'.... Bhattacharya, who made the comments during an interview with the Daily Clout, co-authored the Great Barrington Declaration, a petition that calls for the end of COVID-19 lockdowns, claiming that they are "producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health."

"As of Monday, the Great Barrington Declaration has received signatures from over 13,000 medical and public health scientists, more than 41,000 medical practitioners and at least 754,399 'concerned citizens.'

"During the interview last month, Bhattacharya said that the declaration comes from 'two basic facts.' '"One is that people who are older have a much higher risk from dying from COVID than people who are younger ... and that's a really important fact because we know who his most vulnerable, it's people that are older. So the first plank of the Great Barrington Declaration: let's protect the vulnerable,' Bhattacharya said. 'The other idea is that the lockdowns themselves impose great harm on people. Lockdowns are not a natural normal way to live'....

"In an email sent to Newsweek, Bhattacharya wrote:

I stand behind my comment that the lockdowns are the single worst public health mistake in the last 100 years. We will be counting the catastrophic health and psychological harms, imposed on nearly every poor person on the face of the earth, for a generation.

At the same time, they have not served to control the epidemic in the places where they have been most vigorously imposed. In the US, they have – at best – protected the "non-essential" class from COVID, while exposing the essential working class to the disease. The lockdowns are trickle down epidemiology.

"Last week, Republican Governors in Texas and Mississippi announced the end to their statewide mask mandates, as well as allowing a majority of businesses to reopen."

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Friday, March 12, 2021

Wyoming and Alabama to end mask mandates

Wyoming Becomes Latest GOP-Led State To Drop Mask Mandate | Forbes - Alison Durkee:

March 8, 2021 - "Wyoming will lift its statewide mask mandate on March 16 along with other restrictions on businesses including restaurants and bars, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Monday.... In addition to lifting the mask mandate, restaurants, bars, gyms and theaters will be allowed to resume 'normal operations,' Gordon said, with more details on the lifted orders to be announced later this week. Gordon’s office cited the state’s 'continually improving health metrics' as the reason behind the change, as well as the governor’s 'approach of balancing public health with protecting livelihoods.'

"The governor had previously lifted some restrictions in the state starting March 1, including on businesses like salons and barber shops, but the mask mandate stayed in effect. Wyoming imposed its mask mandate in December as Covid-19 cases in the state surged, and it requires people to wear masks indoors in businesses, government facilities, healthcare settings and on public transportation, with some exceptions. The state currently has social distancing guidelines in place for restaurants that do not restrict capacity, but directs tables to be spaced apart and requires people to be seated at tables or booths, among other social distancing recommendations....

"Wyoming follows Texas and Mississippi in dropping their mask mandates, which has sparked controversy and been decried by President Joe Biden as 'Neanderthal thinking.' Montana, Iowa and North Dakota have also lifted their mask orders in recent months. The rescinded guidance is part of a broader trend of states getting rid of various Covid-19 restrictions as cases have dropped following a holiday season surge and as more Americans get vaccinated. 

"The wave of reopenings, which public health officials have opposed, has been seen in both Republican and Democratic-led states: Connecticut’s Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont lifted the state’s capacity restrictions on businesses like restaurants and gyms last week, for instance, while New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday the state would raise capacity for indoor dining to 75% outside of New York City.

"Arkansas is poised to lift its mask mandate on March 31 if certain health metrics are met, and Alabama will follow April 9, after Gov. Kay Ivey extended her mask order last week for another month but said she will not extend it further. 

"A number of other Republican governors have been hesitant to follow suit and overturn their own mask mandates, however, with leaders in West Virginia, Utah, Ohio, Indiana, Maryland and Massachusetts all signaling last week they had no intention to immediately revoke their orders."

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Thursday, March 11, 2021

Finland has coped with Covid without lockdowns

Finland: The Covid Success Story No-One is Talking About - Lockdown Sceptics - Oliver Robinson:

March 8, 2021 - "Finland has not implemented a lockdown at any point during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, compared with its neighbour Sweden, which has been in the constant media spotlight for its lack of lockdowns, Finland’s avoidance of them has gone largely unacknowledged.

"The measures that Finland has imposed have not come close to the OECD definition of a lockdown (i.e., stay at home order plus school closures of non-essential business/venue closures). Finland has never implemented a stay-at-home order, or a limit on household mixing or any restriction on travel within the country, just non-binding guidance. So, what interventions did the Finnish Government make? From March to May 2020, schools were closed, public meetings were limited to 10 people, borders were shut and citizens returning from abroad were put into quarantine. Guidance was given to people with symptoms to stay at home, and over-70s were requested to avoid social contact unless essential (this last measure is notably similar to the Great Barrington Declaration’s proposed approach of ‘focused protection’). On June 1st, the number of people allowed to meet was increased to 50 and public indoor places were opened gradually. Since then, various selective international travel restrictions have been imposed.

"According to the Blavatnik School of Government’s COVID-19 Response Tracker, Finland’s response to COVID-19 was marginally stricter than Sweden from March to early April 2020, then the same level of strictness from April to May, then less strict than Sweden, something which remains true to this day. You can check for yourself here.

"So how has Finland done in terms of health outcomes during the pandemic? Exceptionally well. In terms of mortality, Finland has the second lowest Covid deaths per million in the whole of Europe. Its excess deaths statistics have never increased above ... the normal range.... 

"What’s the explanation? Is it down to low population density? Unlikely. Finland may be a large country with a small population, but over 85% of its population lives in towns and cities, where opportunity for viral transmission is the same as in more urban areas. Furthermore, somewhat surprisingly, research shows no relationship between Covid mortality rates and population density. How about obesity? Are Finns unusually thin? No. The obesity level is average for European countries at 22% (same as Belgium).

"One factor that helped Finland may be the early border closures and border quarantine for the first few months, which research shows can be effective in the early stages of this pandemic. But this is a long way from the Zero Covid approach of New Zealand or Australia. Finland’s borders have been open to the majority of countries since May 2020.

"Another factor could be Finland’s intensive focus on building public health into all aspects of Finnish life.For example, Vitamin D deficiency is a predictor of COVID-19 disease, and Finland has mandatory fortification of milk and margarine with Vitamin D. Or another more tenuous suggestion is that Finns are prolific users of saunas, and there’s some research evidence that saunas boost the immune function.

"Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure: Finland is an important case study in showing that success in managing the COVID-19 pandemic is NOT a function of strict lockdowns. Finland shows that if you manage your borders properly, keep people healthy, active and social connected, and give them clear information not panic-inducing propaganda, a pandemic need not turn into a catastrophe."

Dr Oliver Robinson is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Greenwich.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

YouTube removes Canadian doctors' Covid video

Concern mounts over censorship of Canadian doctors |  iPolitics - Rachel Emmanuel:

March 9, 2021 - "A video of Canadian doctors listing reasons not to be afraid of COVID-19 was censored within minutes of being posted to YouTube, says a group advocating to end government lockdowns. Liberty Coalition Canada posted the video to YouTube on Monday morning, and 20 minutes later, the video-sharing platform removed the post citing a violation of its policy....

"The move is indicative of the escalating censorship for anyone questioning the government’s approach to COVID-19, contended Independent MP Derek Sloan, a member of the End the Lockdowns National Caucus. 'What we’re seeing is: whatever the prevailing consensus is — if you run counter to that, then you’re silenced,' Sloan told iPolitics on Tuesday. 'But good science is all about consent and discussion, and we seem to be seeing the shutdown of that debate.'

"The video in question was created by The Canada Health Alliance, a group of medical doctors, nurses and other health practitioners with a goal to protect patients’ freedom of choice and autonomy through informed consent. Some professionals in the Canada Health Alliance are also part of the Liberty Coalition initiative Professionals Against Lockdowns. 

"The video, which was posted yesterday, and had been viewed on Rumble nearly 57,000 times at the time of iPolitics’ publication, begins with an introduction from B.C. medical doctor Stephen Malthouse. Malthouse lists a range of reasons not to be afraid of the novel coronavirus, including that: the vast majority of people with COVID-19 have few or no symptoms of being sick; there are less patients in the ICU than in the previous three years; and that yearly deaths since 2001 have remained relatively steady, other than a slight uptick in deaths in 2020, which he attributes to an aging population. He also says COVID deaths in children are so rare the death rate is statistically zero. Meanwhile, the survival rate for those under 50 is greater than 99.9 per cent, or 94.6 per cent for those over 70, before early treatment like Vitamin C or D.... 

"In what Sloan describes as the most controversial part of the video, Malthouse says PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are 'practically worthless,' with research now showing that only three per cent of people with a positive PCR actually have COVID-19. This is worth debating because Ottawa is basing most of its decisions off case-counts determined by PRC tests, said Sloan.

Read more:

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Covid model that 'keeps being wrong'

This coronavirus model keeps being wrong. Why are we still listening to it? Vox - Kelsey Piper: 

May 2, 2020 - "How many people are likely to die in the United States of Covid-19? How many hospital beds is the country going to need? When will case numbers peak? To answer those questions, many hospital planners, media outlets, and government bodies — including the White House — relied heavily on one particular model out of the many that have been published in the past two months: the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

"The model first estimated in late March that there’d be fewer than 161,000 deaths total in the US; in early April, it revised its projections to say the total death toll through August was projected to be 60,415 (though it acknowledged the range could be between 31,221 and 126,703). 

"The model has been cited often by the White House and has informed its policymaking. But it may have led the administration astray: The IHME has consistently forecast many fewer deaths than most other models, largely because the IHME model projects that deaths will decline rapidly after the peak — an assumption that has not been borne out.

"On Wednesday [April 29], the US death count passed the 60,000 mark that the IHME model had said was the likely total cumulative death toll. The IHME on April 29 released a new update raising its estimates for total deaths to 72,433, but that, too, looks likely to be proved an underestimate as soon as next week. Even its upper bound on deaths — now listed as 114,228 by August — is questionable, as some other models expect the US will hit that milestone by the end of May, and most project it will in June. [U.S. figures showed 110,000 deaths by June 1 - gd]

"One analysis of the IHME model found that its next-day death predictions for each state were outside its 95 percent confidence interval 70 percent of the time — meaning the actual death numbers fell outside the range it projected 70 percent of the time.... This track record has led some experts to criticize the model. 'It’s not a model that most of us in the infectious disease epidemiology field think is well suited' to making projections about Covid-19, Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch told reporters.... Yet it’s the IHME model that has generally guided policymakers, for the most part, in the direction of focusing on a return to normal....

"The criticism of the IHME model, and an emerging debate over epidemiology models more broadly, has brought to light important challenges in the fight against the coronavirus. Good planning requires good projections. Models are needed to help predict resurgences and spot a potential second wave. Dissecting what the IHME model got wrong, what other models got right, and how the public and policymakers read these models is essential work in order to create the best pandemic plans possible....

"Models usually lay out some foundational assumptions and offer projections based on those assumptions. The IHME model seeks to project death rates and hospitalization rates assuming widespread social distancing and strong measures to prevent the spread of the virus. But as the weeks have passed, it has become clear that the IHME’s projections have been too optimistic, and slow to adjust to reflect the fact that deaths have plateaued rather than rapidly decreasing to zero. The IHME has been regularly updating its model as new data comes in, but the updates have often been slow enough that the numbers are absurd by the time they’re changed in an update. For example, in late April the model still stated the expected total death toll was 60,000, even as the US was clearly only a few days from that milestone.

"[IHME researcher Ali Mokdad] Mokdad told me when we talked that a fix was in the works, and it went up a few days later: The model now projects 73,433 deaths by August. That, too, is probably an underestimate — most other models project that total will be reached next week." [U.S. figures showed over 188,000 deaths by August 30 - gd]

Read more:

Monday, March 8, 2021

Connecticut lifts some Covid restrictions

Connecticut dramatically rolls back COVID restrictions, allowing full indoor dining, increased entertainment and sports capacity; travel ban lifted | Hartford Courant - Emily Brindley, Eliza Fawcett, and Alex Putterman: 

March 4. 2021 - "Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday announced that he will roll back COVID-related restrictions in Connecticut starting March 19, including allowing restaurants to operate at full capacity, loosening rules on sports and entertainment venues and lifting the state’s travel ban. The state will maintain some key measures, including a mask mandate, social distancing rules, a curfew for restaurants and the closure of all bars. 

"Restaurants, retail stores, houses of worship and other businesses will be allowed to reopen at full capacity, within the confines of the remaining rules. Sports will be allowed to resume fully, with outdoor venues permitted up to 50% capacity, capped at 10,000 visitors, and indoor venues permitted up to 10% capacity. Travelers will still be recommended to quarantine after arriving in Connecticut, but they will not be required to do so....

"Lamont emphasized that Connecticut had not gone as far as Mississippi and Texas, states which drew sharp criticism from President Joe Biden after revoking their mask mandates.... Still, Connecticut’s new plan defies guidance from Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who recommended earlier this week that states move slowly in reopening.... Lamont said that he looked at other states’ reopening approaches. Massachusetts, for instance, recently announced a similar reopening plan, including lifting capacity caps at restaurants.....

  • "Beginning on March 19, Connecticut restaurants will be permitted to move from 50% capacity to 100% capacity, with social distancing and mask requirements still in place.... Restaurants will also have an 11 p.m. curfew for on-site dining, and tables will be limited to a maximum of eight patrons. Bars that only serve beverages will still not be permitted to open at all.... 
  • Retail stories, offices, houses of worship, gyms, libraries, person services such as nail and hair salons will all be allowed to reopen at full capacity on March 19. Masks and social distancing will be required....
  • Lamont’s reopening plan also significantly opens up the playing field for sports teams. According to Lamont’s plan, all sports teams will be allowed to fully practice and compete — including in tournaments — beginning on March 19.... As of April 2, indoor sports venues will be allowed to open at 10% capacity and outdoor event venues will be able to increase to 50% capacity, capped at 10,000 people.

"Lamont’s emergency powers are set to expire April 20, but the governor said Thursday some of his executive orders — such as masking — will likely need to be continued beyond April 20. The governor implied that he does not plan to extend his emergency powers but that he will work with the legislature on those issues."

Read more:

Sunday, March 7, 2021

How Covid became a cult

How Covid became a (very bad) religion | Twitter (via Tom Woods) - John Hayward: 

March 4, 2021 - "Every crisis becomes a religion if it lasts long enough. One factor in that transformation is the Beautiful Theory phenomenon: the power elite insists its remedies are logical and politically correct so they must work, even if the actual evidence shows they obviously don't. When Beautiful Theories crash into hard, cold reality and shatter, faith is the glue used by the elites to put their precious ideas back together. They need militant faith to get the job done: true believers eager to crush doubt and compel obedience by making war on the infidels.

"Some are swept into the faith because they desperately crave a sense of control over the crisis. They need to believe Something Can Be Done, and they'd rather invest their faith in debunked Beautiful Theories than have no faith at all..... Some crave social approval, and the purveyors of Beautiful Theories have immense political, economic, and cultural power to make their faith seem fashionable. Virtue signaling is such a plague in modern society because the signals are pre-packaged and made very easy to send.

"Some aren't even hoping they can assert control over a crisis by converting to its religion. They'll settle for just having some meaning, some simplicity, a sense that the righteous will fare better than the unbelievers, that virtue will be rewarded while sin is punished. That's a very common impulse with the Church of Covid, since the Beautiful Theories were so very obviously wrong. There isn't much left of the faith except the visceral communal satisfaction of hoping unbelievers will be punished for their blasphemies with sickness and death.

"That sort of thing happens with all of the crisis religions, although not usually as quickly and obviously as with the Church of Covid.... The last resort of every crisis religion, the last thing that puts asses in the pews, is that addiction to misery porn, the collective hope that unbelievers will suffer someday, and everyone will admit the True Faith was right all along as Judgment Day crashes down upon them.

"The elite will never have the humility to admit they were wrong, and they'll never give up on politically or financially profitable 'solutions' even when they obviously don't solve the problem. Founding a crisis religion means they never have to say they're sorry. That applies to some very longstanding crises, like the War on Poverty, whose nostrums long ago transformed into fantastically expensive articles of religious faith even as mountains of data accumulated that proved they were utter failures, and often made the problems worse.

"You can look for some telltale signs of a crisis transforming into a religion. The most obvious one is when the high priests tell you the 'war' you've been drafted into will never end. They become very angry when asked to define success or failure, or lay out exit strategies. Watch for the moment when you're told 'science' means not asking questions, defying dogma, or challenging 'consensus.' That is the literal definition of faith, not science. Always keep an eye out for Moving Goalposts, which are the signature miracle of crisis religions.... Crisis religions work very hard to make their faith unfalsifiable by constantly changing the standards of evidence. Check to see if certain people are accumulating huge amounts of money and power from a crisis. That's a pretty good sign it's turning into a religion. A crisis should be solved as quickly and efficiently as possible. Don't let it fester long enough to become a special interest. 

"Above all, look for the whiff of arrogance to develop around a crisis. Wise religions and effective crisis managers have ... a sense of humility. Crisis religions are militant faiths that quickly become arrogant, smug, and totalitarian. Dedicated people who truly want to solve a problem will look for evidence their analysis is wrong, or their policies aren't working, and make adjustments as quickly as possible, no matter the cost or embarrassment to themselves.... Crisis religions ... reject criticism, insist their Beautiful Theories must be right because they're ideologically pure... Their plans only fail because their commands were disobeyed or sabotaged. The high priests of a crisis religion see devils everywhere, leering at them from the rubble of every failure. Only sin can explain why their Beautiful Theories are tarnished. Failure is never their fault, so it must be yours."

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Saturday, March 6, 2021

Not much 'Covid Relief' in Biden bill

Senate Democrats eke out 50-49 COVID-19 relief bill victory | The Week - Tim O'Donnell:
March 6, 2021 - "President Biden is another step closer to signing his administration's COVID-19 relief bill into law. The Senate on Saturday passed the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan along party lines with a 50-49 vote."
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The 'COVID Relief Bill' Is Mostly an Expensive Bundle of Politically Motivated Giveaways |  Reason - Eric Boehm:
March 4, 2021 - "As the Senate prepares to take a final vote on President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, it's time to be honest about one thing. This isn't a COVID-19 relief bill. We should stop calling it that.... [T]he bill that the Senate is likely to pass this week is a larded-up bounty of mostly Democratic policy goals that will add $1.9 trillion to the federal budget deficit..... 

"Only about 5 percent of that total is funding public health efforts related to the pandemic, according to the nonpartisan number crunchers at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB). There are a few other things in the bill that could be counted as 'relief,' like the $7 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and another $40 billion in emergency loans for restaurants, bars, music venues, airlines, and other industries.... Beyond that, however....

"$500 billion, is a bailout of state and local governments that for the most part do not need one.... But it's not just a bailout; it's a bailout in which the funding is allocated based on the size of each state's unemployed population. In other words, states that imposed draconian and unnecessary economic lockdowns during the past year are going to get a larger share of the federal cash than states that managed to balance public health needs and the economy....

"Another $400 billion of the bill's spending would provide an additional round of stimulus checks to Americans who haven't lost their jobs or income due to the pandemic. The version of Biden's bill passed last month by the House would fund $1,400 in direct payments to individuals who earned up to $100,000 last year and couples who earned up to $200,000.... There is no reason for Congress to be sending checks to families that earn six-figure incomes and have experienced minimal financial losses.... If putting more money in Americans' pockets is a priority for Congress, it should accomplish that goal by reducing income taxes (and cutting an equal amount of future spending) on a permanent basis, not by engaging in deficit-hiking games merely because 'free' money from the government is politically popular.

"The bill spends $129 billion on K-12 education — money that you might assume is being used to reopen schools quickly and safely. Wrong. A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the bill found that 'the bulk' of those dollars wouldn't be spent until 'after 2021.' Some of it won't be distributed until 2024.

"$480 million in the bill will be spent on 'miscellaneous' educational matters like 'grants to fund activities related to the arts, humanities, libraries, and museums, and Native American language preservation and maintenance. Even if those are items that might be worth spending federal tax dollars to support, it's difficult to understand  how they are 'COVID-19 relief' by any meaningful definition of the terms. The same is true for the bill's funding of a new subway in San Jose, California, and the new bridge connecting New York state to Canada — top priorities of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.), naturally, but not anything that belongs in a pandemic relief bill....

[T]he bill also includes a $14 billion provision creating a new paid family leave program—one that applies only to employees of the federal government.... Note that this special giveaway to federal employees is being funded with twice as much money as the PPP.... The bill spends another $86 billion to bail out multi-employer pension funds, which are retirement accounts operated by private sector unions.... Many of these retirement accounts are deep in the red — but even if there is a good reason for federal taxpayers to pick up the tab, what does this have to do with the pandemic?...

"Using the waning pandemic as an excuse for a spending free-for-all when the country is $28 trillion in debt is beyond irresponsible. And trying to pass off this bloated list of politically motivated handouts as essential to America's public health is dishonest and cowardly."

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Friday, March 5, 2021

Cuomo's office altered care home deaths report

Cuomo Aides Rewrote Nursing Home Report to Hide Higher Death Toll | New York Times - J. David Goodman & Danny Hakim: 

March 4, 2021 - "Top aides to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo were alarmed: A report written by state health officials had just landed, and it included a count of how many nursing home residents in New York had died in the pandemic. The number — more than 9,000 by that point in June — was not public, and the governor’s most senior aides wanted to keep it that way. They rewrote the report to take it out, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The New York Times.

"The extraordinary intervention, which came just as Mr. Cuomo was starting to write a book on his pandemic achievements, was the earliest act yet known in what critics have called a monthslong effort by the governor and his aides to obscure the full scope of nursing home deaths.

"After the state attorney general revealed earlier this year that thousands of deaths of nursing home residents had been undercounted, Mr. Cuomo finally released the complete data, saying he had withheld it out of concern that the Trump administration might pursue a politically motivated inquiry into the state’s handling of the outbreak in nursing homes. But Mr. Cuomo and his aides actually began concealing the numbers months earlier, as his aides were battling their own top health officials, and well before requests for data arrived from federal authorities.... 

"The central role played by the governor’s top aides reflected the lengths to which Mr. Cuomo has gone in the middle of a deadly pandemic to control data, brush aside public health expertise and bolster his position as a national leader in the fight against the coronavirus.... The aides who were involved in changing the report included Melissa DeRosa, the governor’s top aide; Linda Lacewell, the head of the state’s Department of Financial Services; and Jim Malatras, a former top adviser to Mr. Cuomo brought back to work on the pandemic. None had public health expertise....

"The tension over the death count dated to the early weeks of the pandemic when Mr. Cuomo issued an order preventing nursing homes from turning away people discharged from the hospital after being treated for Covid-19. The order was similar to ones issued in other states aimed at preventing hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. But by late spring, Republicans were suggesting that the order had caused a deadly spread of the virus in nursing homes. Mr. Cuomo disputed that it had. Still, critics and others seized on the way the state was publicly reporting deaths: Unlike other states, New York excluded residents who had been transferred to hospitals and died there, effectively cloaking how many nursing home residents had died of Covid-19....

"Health officials, nursing home operators and even some of Mr. Cuomo’s aides expressed bafflement at the governor’s apparent insistence on delaying the release of the data for so long, as none of the information released so far has changed the overall number of Covid-19 deaths in New York — now more than 47,000, including more than 15,000 nursing home residents. 

"But the July report allowed Mr. Cuomo to treat the nursing home issue as resolved last year, paving the way for him to focus on touting New York’s success in controlling the virus. ''I am now thinking about writing a book about what we went through,' Mr. Cuomo said four days after the report’s release.... By that point, he was already seeking formal approval from a state ethics agency to earn outside income from book sales, according to a person with knowledge of his planning at the time."

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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Canadian MP calls for end to Ontario lockdowns

Ontario Conservative MP calls for end to lockdowns, wants entire province in green zone | CTV News - Katherine DeClerq:

March 3, 2021 - "An Ontario Conservative Member of Parliament has publicly come out in favour of ending the province’s lockdown measures and moving all regions into the least restrictive tier of the government’s COVID-19 shutdown framework. David Sweet, an MP representing Flamborough-Glanbrook in the Hamilton area, made the comments Wednesday alongside now Independent York Centre MPP Roman Baber, who was kicked out of Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative caucus for calling lockdowns 'deadlier than COVID'....

"Sweet added that the lockdown has crippled the province’s economy, forced restaurants to shutter and resulted in $135 million in debt for small businesses. 'Much of this debt was mandated by governments who wanted PPE, sanitization, Plexiglas barriers and the list goes on. It was assumed by businesses that these expenditures came with the promise that they could operate with these safety protocols in place. If they feel betrayed. I could surely sympathize with them.'

"Sweet emphasized that his perspective on lockdowns is not the same as that of his political party, but that he felt it was his responsibility to 'speak up and say enough is enough.'

"The Hamilton-area MP was one of numerous politicians who faced criticism after travelling abroad over the holiday season. In January, he resigned as chair of the House of Commons ethics committee after a trip to the United States. Sweet has also publicly said he will not be running for re-election....

"Speaking after Sweet, Baber thanked him for his 'courage' in coming out against the lockdowns in Ontario, adding that many conservative politicians are opposed to the restrictive measures in private.

"'People all over the province, are hurting, and they're reaching out to their elected representatives,' Baber said. 'Together, we're calling on Premier (Doug) Ford to move the entire province into the green zone. All measures such as distancing will remain in place, but there is no underestimating the psychological benefit his will make for all Ontarians.'"

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