The UK had another big weekend of news, which, as I said last week, is unusual, given that Christmas is just around the corner.

One of the big scoops was The Spectator‘s revelation as to why every SAGE scenario is based on a worst-case outcome.

Fraser Nelson, the magazine’s editor, had an online exchange with Graham Medley from SAGE, which can be seen in his article, ‘My Twitter conversation with the chairman of the Sage Covid modelling committee’, which is a must-read.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Medley is a professor at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). Last week, LSHTM published another alarming set of figures for the Omicron variant that, naturally, make the case for more lockdowns.

By contrast, JP Morgan came up with a different conclusion after looking at LSHTM’s data:

JP Morgan had a close look at this study and spotted something big: all the way through, LSHTM assumes that the Omicron variant is just as deadly as Delta. ‘But evidence from South Africa suggests that Omicron infections are milder,’ JP Morgan pointed out in a note to clients.

JP Morgan concluded:

Bed occupancy by Covid-19 patients at the end of January would be 33% of the peak seen in January 2021. This would be manageable without further restrictions.

Fraser Nelson says:

So JP Morgan had shown that, if you tweak one assumption (on severity) then – suddenly – no need for lockdown.

Nelson went online to find out why LSHTM didn’t do the same thing:

Medley seems to imply that the Government wants the worst case scenario:

Nelson says:

Note how careful he is to stay vague on whether any of the various scenarios in the Sage document are likely or even plausible. What happened to the original system of presenting a ‘reasonable worse-case scenario’ together with a central scenario? And what’s the point of modelling if it doesn’t say how likely any these scenarios are?

From what Prof Medley says, it’s unclear that the most-likely scenario is even being presented to ministers this time around. So how are they supposed to make good decisions? I highly doubt that Sajid Javid is only asking to churn out models that make the case for lockdown. That instruction, if it is being issued, will have come from somewhere else.

He concludes that there is an ethical issue with SAGE’s pronouncements:

Prof. Robert Dingwall, until recently a JCVI [Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation] expert, has said that Medley’s candour reveals “a fundamental problem of scientific ethics in Sage” – ie, a hardwired negativity bias.  “The unquestioning response to the brief is very like that of SPI-B’s behavioural scientists,” he says and suggests that the Covid inquiry looks into all this.

At a time when we have just been given a new set of ‘scenarios’ for a new year lockdown it might be good if someone – if not Prof Medley – would clear up what assumptions lie behind the new 6,000-a-day-dead scenario, and if emerging information from South Africa about Omicron and its virulence have been taken into account. And how probable it is that a double-jabbed and increasingly boosted nation (with 95 per cent antibody coverage) could see this worst-case scenario come to pass.

In my view, this raises serious questions not just about Sage but about the quality of the advice used to make UK lockdown decisions. And the lack of transparency and scrutiny of that advice. The lives of millions of people rests on the quality of decisions, so the calibre of information supplied matters rather a lot – to all of us.

Too right.

I haven’t believed SAGE at all, from the beginning. I am also still angry about how much taxpayers’ money has been pumped in for a pandemic that needed a common sense solution in March 2020, such as, ‘There are a lot of unknowns here. We will provide updates. However, we advise that anyone who feels sick to get a test then isolate at home for 10 days. Keep your distance from those outside your household. Keep your hands clean. Above all: use the same precautions you would in any potentially contagious environment.’

That’s it in a nutshell. Not a lot more needed to be said.

But no.

We plebs couldn’t have that. We cannot be trusted.

Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty implied that we do not know what we are talking about.

This video is from Whitty’s appearance before a parliamentary Select Committee on Thursday, December 16. Dean Russell MP (Conservative) asked him whether the NHS risks prioritising the virus over cancer. While it might not be Dean Russell’s view, this is a prevailing opinion among many members of the public.

Whitty wasted no time in shooting that down, saying that we do not understand ‘health’ and insisting that lockdowns helped to save the NHS, which would have collapsed otherwise. Along with Prof Gordon Wishart, I also beg to differ, but here is the exchange:

People are frustrated:

General practitioners are wrapped up in this, too:

Coronavirus has overtaken their surgeries. It was already nearly impossible to get an online appointment, never mind one in person. As of last week, GPs’ priority from the Government is to dispense boosters:

No, pandemics are not a regular occurrence, but the NHS should be prepared to deal with one.

On Monday, December 20, Boris convened the Cabinet for a two-hour meeting to discuss the possibility of imposing a Christmas lockdown in England. Sir Patrick Vallance presented a doom-and-gloom scenario.

Bear in mind that Boris is skating on thin ice at the moment politically. A lockdown might have caused some of them to resign their Cabinet positions.

In the end, they decided not to go for a lockdown in England, at least over Christmas weekend:

Well, five of them did, at least.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss had to leave early:

https://image.vuukle.com/72d3fbbd-8a54-4bac-865c-3fd342d8e2b7-0450edce-1519-43f8-8417-b493691b9f15

Guido Fawkes has more (red emphasis his, the purple one mine):

The Times and Telegraph have the most comprehensive write-ups, reporting Rishi, Steve Barclay and Grant Shapps were those leading the sceptics’ charge. The Times reports Jacob Rees-Mogg had a prolonged argument with Vallance about their modelling, telling Boris to trust the people rather than the scientists. Truss, Kwarteng, Alister Jack, Nadhim Zahawi and Nigel Adams are all also reportedly sceptical about the threat of Omicron…

On the other side of the divide backing restrictions, according to The Telegraphare (unsurprisingly) Javid and Gove; Nadine Dorries and Chief secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke. We can only presume the PM also errs towards this group. There’s set to be one more Cabinet before Christmas day that could still decide to recall MPs before New Year.

Katy Balls of The Spectator reports that this is the first time in ages that the Cabinet has been consulted on coronavirus policy:

So what happened in that meeting? ‘Boris did a great job and encouraged a proper discussion and respected other views,’ says one minister. ‘He had quite a lot humility’. Michael Gove was, as usual, leading the arguments for more lockdown. But this was based on Sage forecasts of what might happen which have lost some credibility in the eyes of Cabinet members who were — for the first time in a while — genuinely being consulted.

Boris knows he’s in trouble:

Several members of Johnson’s Cabinet are vocally opposed to new restrictions. They argue that there needs to be clearer data before any restrictions are brought in – with whispers of resignations if Johnson pressed on without this. These members of government hope that more time will offer clarity that could show omicron is milder than previous variants.

Behind the scenes, the Chancellor is understood to have played a key role warning against rushing into decisions that could cost billions. Other ministers keen to see more modelling include Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (“although it was never quite clear what he was saying,” I’m told.) Other ministers have been pressing on Johnson the idea of limiting any new measures to guidance.

But when Johnson emerged talking about the need to observe the data, and questions about Omicron’s severity, he was using the language of those who opposed lockdown. They argue, in effect, that Sage models cannot be trusted as they are composed of hypotheticals – and that we need to wait for real-world data. The next few days of hospital data, it’s argued, will tell us much about how severe Omicron is and if lockdown is needed. Data is emerging not just from South Africa (where cases now seem to be falling) but Denmark where Omicron has been found to be significantly less likely to put patients in hospital. At least some Sage modellers produced figures on the assumption that Omicron is no less likely to hospitalise or kill: one scenario talks about deaths peaking a day

Johnson faces a parliamentary party filled with MPs vehemently opposed to any new restrictions and who could question his ability to lead as a result. When the Whips office sent a note around this afternoon telling MPs that the parliamentary away day has been cancelled, one messaged me to say:

‘It’s probably for the best. If we were all in one place for a few days, we could work out a successor’

But there are Tory MPs who believe action is required. One senior Tory concludes:

‘This is a Prime Minister paralysed between science and his backbenchers. It’s depressing.’ 

The Times reports on Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg’s words of wisdom. He, too, read Fraser Nelson’s article. Good man:

Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the Commons, said the government should trust people to do the right thing rather than introduce further restrictions. He said many people had voluntarily changed their behaviour as the threat posed by Omicron became clear.

The prime minister said Rees-Mogg’s argument was interesting but asked how he would justify his approach at a press conference. He said that as prime minister he had to look after everyone’s health. Rees-Mogg is understood to have responded: “I would stand up and say I respect them for doing the right thing.” The prime minister is said to have suggested that this would not be enough if the NHS were at risk of being overwhelmed.

Rees-Mogg is also understood to have criticised official modelling suggesting that without further action 3,000 Omicron patients a day could need a hospital bed. He asked if Johnson had read an article by Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, questioning the assumptions behind the data.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, is said to have responded directly to Rees-Mogg that the modelling had included scenarios where the Omicron variant was deemed less severe than the Delta variant.

If so, why did Vallance not present those data?

Boris made a brief announcement after the Cabinet meeting, saying that he is still keeping all options open after Christmas:

On Wednesday, December 22, Health minister Gillian Keegan told LBC’s Nick Ferrari not make firm plans for New Year’s parties because of ongoing ‘uncertainty’:

As people have been cancelling dinner reservations and reneging on trips to the pub, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has had to come up with a £1bn compensation plan for the hospitality sector, which amounts to £6000 per business. A nightclub owner says it’s ‘insulting’. I agree with the person replying — just drop any remaining restrictions:

When is this going to end?

Oh, well. At least we’re not in the socialist nations of Scotland or Wales, where things have been far worse and continue so to be.