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Following on from my post of last week, below is a continued timeline about herd immunity and the coronavirus crisis in Britain.

Old news, perhaps, but it will be interesting to see how much of this, if any, is mentioned at the Government’s hearing, scheduled for 2022.

May 2020

On May 17, 2020, journalist Robert Peston tweeted about a conference in Edinburgh that could have been a super-spreader event:

One of Peston’s readers said that he was partly to blame, because, in March, he wrote an article for The Spectator‘”Herd immunity” will be vital to stopping coronavirus’.

It begins with this (emphases mine):

The key phrase we all need to understand is ‘herd immunity’ – which is what happens to a group of people or animals when they develop sufficient antibodies to be resistant to a disease.

The strategy of the British government in minimising the impact of Covid-19 is to allow the virus to pass through the entire population so that we acquire herd immunity, but at a much delayed speed so that those who suffer the most acute symptoms are able to receive the medical support they need, and such that the health service is not overwhelmed and crushed by the sheer number of cases it has to treat at any one time.

Infection figures were starting to recede in May. This could partly be explained by a month of glorious weather, apart from two days. It was one of the warmest and sunniest on record. I fantasised that I was in Cannes.

On May 18, Freddie Sayers of UnHerd interviewed Prof Karl Sikora, the Founding Dean and Professor of Medicine at the University of Buckingham Medical School and an ex-director of the WHO Cancer Programme:

Prof Sikora said:

The serology results around the world (and forthcoming in Britain) don’t necessarily reveal the percentage of people who have had the disease.

He estimates 25-30% of the UK population has had Covid-19, and higher in the group that is most susceptible.

Pockets of herd immunity help *already* explain the downturn.

Sweden’s end result will not be different to ours – lockdown versus no lockdown.

On May 10, Nic Lewis wrote a post about the UK and Sweden for Climate Etc.: ‘Why herd immunity to COVID-19 is reached much earlier than thought’.

It says, in part:

A study published in March by the COVID-19 Response Team from Imperial College (Ferguson20[1]) appears to have been largely responsible for driving government actions in the UK and, to a fair extent, in the US and some other countries. Until that report came out, the strategy of the UK government, at least, seems to have been to rely on the build up of ‘herd immunity’ to slow the growth of the epidemic and eventually cause it to peter out.

The ‘herd immunity threshold’ (HIT) can be estimated from the basic reproduction rate of the epidemic, R0 – a measure of how many people, on average, each infected individual infects. Standard simple compartmental models of epidemic growth imply that the HIT equals {1 – 1/R0}. Once the HIT is passed, the rate of new infections starts to decline, which should ensure that health systems will not thereafter be overwhelmed and makes it more practicable to take steps to eliminate the disease.

However, the Ferguson20 report estimated that relying on herd immunity would result in 81% of the UK and US populations becoming infected during the epidemic, mainly over a two-month period, based on an R0 estimate of 2.4. These figures imply that the HIT is between 50% and 60%.[2] Their report implied that health systems would be overwhelmed, resulting in far more deaths. It claimed that only draconian government interventions could prevent this occurring. Such interventions were rapidly implemented in the UK, in most states of the US, and in various other countries, via highly disruptive and restrictive enforced ‘lockdowns’.

A notable exception was Sweden, which has continued to pursue a herd immunity-based strategy, relying on relatively modest social distancing policies. The Imperial College team estimated that, after those policies were introduced in mid-March, R0 in Sweden was 2.5, with only a 2.5% probability that it was under 1.5.[3] The rapid spread of COVID-19 in the country in the second half of March suggests that R0 is unlikely to have been significantly under 2.0.[4]

Very sensibly, the Swedish public health authority has surveyed the prevalence of infections by the SARS-COV-2 virus in Stockholm County, the earliest in Sweden hit by COVID-19. They thereby estimated that 17% of the population would have been infected by 11 April, rising to 25% by 1 May 2020.[5] Yet recorded new cases had stopped increasing by 11 April (Figure 1), as had net hospital admissions,[6] and both measures have fallen significantly since. That pattern indicates that the HIT had been reached by 11 April, at which point only 17% of the population appear to have been infected.

How can it be true that the HIT has been reached in Stockholm County with only about 17% of the population having been infected, while an R0 of 2.0 is normally taken to imply a HIT of 50%?

A recent paper (Gomes et al.[7]) provides the answer. It shows that variation between individuals in their susceptibility to infection and their propensity to infect others can cause the HIT to be much lower than it is in a homogeneous population. Standard simple compartmental epidemic models take no account of such variability. And the model used in the Ferguson20 study, while much more complex, appears only to take into account inhomogeneity arising from a very limited set of factors – notably geographic separation from other individuals and household size – with only a modest resulting impact on the growth of the epidemic.[8] Using a compartmental model modified to take such variability into account, with co-variability between susceptibility and infectivity arguably handled in a more realistic way than by Gomes et al., I confirm their finding that the HIT is indeed reached at a much lower level than when the population is homogeneous. That would explain why the HIT appears to have been passed in Stockholm by mid April. The same seems likely to be the case in other major cities and regions that have been badly affected by COVID-19.

On that topic, Prof Sunetra Gupta, one of the signatories to The Barrington Declaration which came out that summer, entered the picture. Prof Gupta is the Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at the University of Oxford. Freddie Sayers of UnHerd interviewed her on May 21:

The accompanying article says:

Her group at Oxford produced a rival model to Ferguson’s back in March which speculated that as much as 50% of the population may already have been infected and the true Infection Fatality Rate may be as low as 0.1%.

Since then, we have seen various antibody studies around the world indicating a disappointingly small percentage of seroprevalence — the percentage of the population has the anti-Covid-19 antibody. It was starting to seem like Ferguson’s view was the one closer to the truth.

But, in her first major interview since the Oxford study was published in March, Professor Gupta is only more convinced that her original opinion was correct.

As she sees it, the antibody studies, although useful, do not indicate the true level of exposure or level of immunity. First, many of the antibody tests are “extremely unreliable” and rely on hard-to-achieve representative groups. But more important, many people who have been exposed to the virus will have other kinds of immunity that don’t show up on antibody tests — either for genetic reasons or the result of pre-existing immunities to related coronaviruses such as the common cold.

The implications of this are profound – it means that when we hear results from antibody tests (such as a forthcoming official UK Government study) the percentage who test positive for antibodies is not necessarily equal to the percentage who have immunity or resistance to the virus. The true number could be much higher.

Observing the very similar patterns of the epidemic across countries around the world has convinced Professor Gupta that it is this hidden immunity, more than lockdowns or government interventions, that offers the best explanation of the Covid-19 progression:

“In almost every context we’ve seen the epidemic grow, turn around and die away — almost like clockwork. Different countries have had different lockdown policies, and yet what we’ve observed is almost a uniform pattern of behaviour which is highly consistent with the SIR model. To me that suggests that much of the driving force here was due to the build-up of immunity. I think that’s a more parsimonious explanation than one which requires in every country for lockdown (or various degrees of lockdown, including no lockdown) to have had the same effect.”

June 2020

On June 4, Freddie Sayers interviewed Prof Karl Friston, a computer modelling expert, world-renowned for his contributions to neuroscience. He had been applying his ‘dynamic causal modelling’ approach to the Covid-19 pandemic:

The accompanying article says that his Bayesian models were showing that up to 80% of the population might be naturally immune to coronavirus:

His models suggest that the stark difference between outcomes in the UK and Germany, for example, is not primarily an effect of different government actions (such as better testing and earlier lockdowns) but is better explained by intrinsic differences between the populations that make the “susceptible population” in Germany — the group that is vulnerable to Covid-19 — much smaller than in the UK.

As he told me in our interview, even within the UK, the numbers point to the same thing: that the “effective susceptible population” was never 100%, and was at most 50% and probably more like only 20% of the population. He emphasises that the analysis is not yet complete, but “I suspect, once this has been done, it will look like the effective non-susceptible portion of the population will be about 80%. I think that’s what’s going to happen.”

Theories abound as to which factors best explain the huge disparities between countries in the portion of the population that seems resistant or immune — everything from levels of vitamin D to ethnic-genetic and social and geographical differences may come into play — but Professor Friston makes clear that it does not primarily seem to be a function of government coronavirus policy. “Solving that — understanding that source of variation in terms of this non-susceptibility — is going to be the key to understanding the enormous variation between countries,” he said …

His explanation for the remarkably similar mortality outcomes in Sweden (no lockdown) and the UK (lockdown) is that “they weren’t actually any different. Because at the end of the day the actual processes that get into the epidemiological dynamics — the actual behaviours, the distancing, was evolutionarily specified by the way we behave when we have an infection.”

Most significantly, it would mean that the principal underlying assumption behind the global shutdowns, typified by the famous Imperial College forecasts — namely, that left unchecked this disease would rapidly pass through the entire population of every country and kill around 1% of those infected, leading to untold millions of deaths worldwide without draconian action — was wrong, out by a large factor. The largest co-ordinated government action in history, forcibly closing down most of the world’s societies with consequences that may last for generations, would have been based on faulty science.

When I put this to Professor Friston, he was the model of collegiate discretion. He said that the presumptions of Neil Ferguson’s models were all correct, “under the qualification that the population they were talking about is much smaller than you might imagine”. In other words, Ferguson was right that around 80% of susceptible people would rapidly become infected, and was right that of those between 0.5% and 1% would die — he just missed the fact that the relevant “susceptible population” was only ever a small portion of people in the UK, and an even smaller portion in countries like Germany and elsewhere. Which rather changes everything.

With such elegant formulations are scientific reputations saved. Practically, it makes not much difference whether, as per Sunetra Gupta, the 40,000 officially-counted coronavirus deaths in the UK are 0.1% of 40 million people infected, or, as per Karl Friston’s theory implies, they are more like 0.5% of 8 million people infected with the remaining 32 million shielded from infection by mysterious “immunological dark material”. If you are exposed to the virus and it is destroyed in your body by mucosal antibodies or T-cells or clever genes so that you never become fully infected and don’t even notice it, should that count as an infection? The effect is the same: 40,000 deaths, not 400,000.

However, on Sunday, June 7, SAGE member Prof John Edmunds was still backtracking on his earlier claims about herd immunity from March. He was all about lockdown and told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that the UK should have locked down sooner to prevent deaths:

Speaking of lockdown, Britons were increasingly angry about being told not to leave the house, especially when people were protesting with no social distancing:

June in the UK — Part 1: the angry, yet law abiding, silent majority (June 3)

June in the UK — Part 2: angry silent majority questions lockdown (June 5; masks; no arrests for destructive protestors, two for eccentric Piers Corbyn)

June in the UK — Part 3: the angry silent majority on lockdown (June 5)

June in the UK — Part 4: coronavirus and the public’s anger about health during lockdown (June 5)

June in the UK — Part 5: the hypocrisy surrounding coronavirus and social distancing (June 6, protests)

—————————————————————-

Writing a year later, I do wonder whether getting vaccinated is really worth it for most of us.

Unfortunately, we have to do it to have any semblance of normality.

I’m a big believer in natural herd immunity, less so the artificially engineered type.

More to follow on herd immunity next week.

Early in March 2020, my far better half and I were optimistic that Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his government and his advisers would not be too proscriptive about coronavirus restrictions.

In the end, they were, but the following timeline shows how quickly their thinking on herd immunity changed.

In light of Dominic Cummings’s testimony to the Science and Technology Select Committee on Wednesday, May 26, and his lengthy Twitter thread prepared beforehand (continuing afterwards), I offer a short and a long version of what happened.

Short version

The Government denies that natural herd immunity — catching the virus — was ever government policy.

Yet, here is Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, at a coronavirus briefing on Thursday, March 12, 2020:

It seems that Cummings might have advised the government to backtrack and deny it was policy, however briefly:

As Cummings said on Wednesday, once he received numbers from an NHS specialist/mathematician who extrapolated scenarios on what could happen, the Government changed tack:

Long version

I haven’t missed a single coronavirus briefing since they started in March 2020. As regular readers will know, I have been deep-diving into the pandemic since then.

February 2020

Lessons From The Crisis has an excellent article on how the herd immunity plan unfolded and changed. ‘It’s bizarre that this needs saying, but *of course* the UK had a Herd Immunity plan’ is well worth reading.

It includes a capture of SAGE minutes from February 4, 2020, advocating that policies for influenza be followed. The article summarises this as follows (emphases in the original):

On the 4th of February, at the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies’s fourth Covid meeting, influenza planning, with its assertions that spread was “inevitable”and halting the virus “a waste of resources” was adopted as the official recommendation- tragically this was about ten days before Chinese covid cases peaked, never return to their early 2020 levels …

The scientific consensus presented to ministers was: mass infection of the population was inevitable, a vaccine would not be available in time, so the only choices were about how to manage the mass infection of the population until the country had accumulated enough cases to get to herd immunity

The alternative being attempted by governments elsewhere, trying to stop the disease from infecting the population, was regarded as folly; the UK government’s scientific advisors were certain that countries attempting suppression would fail …

March 2020

In his testimony on Wednesday, Cummings claimed he broke rank with the Government on Wednesday, March 11:

Publicly, however, he was still on board with the Government plan:

Vallance gave his aforementioned briefing on herd immunity on March 12. This is what appeared afterwards:

This is a summary of an interview Vallance gave to Sky News the next day (full video here):

The Independent quoted a BBC interview with him on March 13:

Sir Patrick told the BBC that the advice the government is following for tackling coronavirus is not looking to “suppress” the disease entirely but to help create a “herd immunity in the UK” while protecting the most vulnerable from it.

Asked if there is a fear that clamping down too hard on its spread could see it return, Sir Patrick said: “That is exactly the risk you would expect from previous epidemics.

“If you suppress something very, very hard, when you release those measures it bounces back and it bounces back at the wrong time.

“Our aim is to try and reduce the peak, broaden the peak, not suppress it completely; also, because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission, at the same time we protect those who are most vulnerable to it.

“Those are the key things we need to do.”

That same day, SAGE’s Professor John Edmunds also advocated natural herd immunity in this Channel 4 interview:

Nigel Farage was outraged by the policy:

The Lessons From The Crisis article says that the turning point happened almost immediately:

Partly in response to this outrage, the government changed course; Boris Johnson swapped strategies and began locking down the country just 3 days after the herd immunity plan became public, with new priorities built around suppressing the virus with blunt instruments such as lockdowns to buy time for building countermeasures- testing and tracing capacity, vaccines, treatments.

That is not to give Nigel Farage single-handed credit. The media also helped a lot, especially with frequent footage of what was happening in northern Italy at the time.

On Monday, March 16, Prof Neil Ferguson released his (spurious) numbers from Imperial College London, which changed the Government’s policy. 

UnHerd reported on it the following day — ‘Why the Government changed tack on Covid-19’:

The Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and the government’s science adviser Dr David Halpern indicated that the government’s strategy was to allow the virus to pass through the population, to allow individuals to “acquire herd immunity” at a delayed speed, while vulnerable groups were “cocooned.” This strategy, however, was subsequently contradicted by health secretary Matt Hancock, who insisted that “herd immunity is not our goal or policy”.

The quick reversals did not end there, as a ban was announced on mass gatherings just a day after the government’s initial claims that it was not the right time for such measures. On Saturday, the government briefed select journalists on “wartime measures” to quarantine the elderly at home or in care homes, away from any contact with the rest of the population; earlier than such measures were expected to be announced.

Finally, it was revealed yesterday afternoon that the Prime Minister had decided to dramatically step up countermeasures, and switch entirely to a strategy of containment as a result of advice from an expert response team at Imperial College London, which concluded that the strategy of delay would likely cause “hundreds of thousands” of avoidable deaths.

The initial plans — to establish herd immunity based on research on social fatigue and assumptions that effective vaccines would not be developed — contradicted the guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the wealth of evidence in the fields of epidemiology, behavioural science and immunology, so it is unsurprising that countless experts have already questioned and criticised the strategy, including epidemiologists, immunologists, and behavioural scientists.

On Saturday, March 21, Alex Wickham from Buzzfeed summarised a tense and confused week inside No. 10, and the road to lockdown (emphases mine):

While the scientific debate was raging last week between experts, officials, and ministers in face-to-face meetings and over emails and text messages, Johnson’s government was publicly insisting that the scientific advice showed the UK did not yet have to bring in more stringent measures to fight the virus.

Political aides tacitly criticised other countries who had taken more dramatic steps, claiming Britain was being “guided by the science” rather than politics.

Towards the end of last week, some ministers and political aides at the top of the government were still arguing that the original strategy of home isolation of suspect cases — but no real restrictions on wider society — was correct, despite almost every other European country taking a much tougher approach, and increasing alarm among SAGE experts.

The thought of months or even a year of social distancing was simply not feasible, some in Johnson’s team still thought at that point. They continued to privately defend the controversial “herd immunity” approach outlined to the media by Vallance, even as other aides scrambled to claim the UK had never considered it to be policy.

And there was fury behind the scenes among members of Johnson’s team at the likes of Rory Stewart and Jeremy Hunt, who had been publicly saying the government had got it wrong.

But data from Italy — presented to the government before it was published by experts at Imperial College on Monday — changed all that. Their report confirmed the earlier fears of the epidemiologists who had been calling for more drastic action.

On Monday, March 23 — the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson took away every Briton’s civil liberties in five minutes by announcing the first lockdown — Byline Times posted a must-read article, ‘COVID-19 SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Part Three — Behavioural Scientists told Government to use “Herd Immunity” to Justify Business-As-Usual’.

SPI-B is our behavioural, or ‘nudge’, unit and is part of SAGE. Dr David Halpern, a SAGE member, runs the unit. This was allegedly their role in the herd immunity discussions:

A SPI-B document dated 4 March, which rejected the need for school closures, went on to refer to the medical concept of immunity. In a discussion about how the public might be confused about the disparity between the Government’s approach of “not applying widescale social isolation at the same time as recommending isolation to at-risk groups”, the document acknowledges disagreement within the SPI-B.

The document explains: “One view is that explaining that members of the community are building some immunity will make this acceptable. Another view is that recommending isolation to only one section of society risks causing discontent.”

The idea of immunity does not come up elsewhere in the SAGE corpus. But, Professor Chris Whitty, the Government’s Chief Medical Advisor, claimed that 20% of the population of Wuhan, China, had contracted the Coronavirus and acquired herd immunity. He believed that this explained why new cases had begun to fall in China

This flatly contradicted data from China showing that, by end of January, after the crisis had peaked, just under 95% of the Wuhan population remained uninfected by the virus. This was, therefore, nothing to do with herd immunity, but a result of China’s emergency containment response. 

The UK Government, it seemed, had made a gamble: one that Dr Brian Ferguson, Director of Immunology at Cambridge University, described as “not scientifically based and irresponsible” because typically “Coronaviruses don’t make long-lasting antibody responses”.

Whether or not it was a specific goal of the Government, its network of behavioural science advisors had fielded herd immunity as a way of justifying to the public why the Government was not taking early action – despite having no scientific evidence behind the idea

Social media discussions on herd immunity began to appear:

On Tuesday, March 24, Byline Times posted another must-read article, ‘The Coronavirus Crisis: Oxford Model Touting “Herd Immunity” was Promoted by PR Agency Tied to Ministry of Defence and Nudge Unit’.

Excerpts follow:

On 24 March, the Financial Times claimed that as much as half of the British population may have already been infected by the novel Coronavirus, according to a new model by Oxford University’s Evolutionary Ecology of Infectious Disease group

The conclusion, according to the FT’s science editor Clive Cookson, suggested that the country “had already acquired substantial herd immunity through the unrecognised spread of COVID-19 over more than two months”. If true, this would vindicate the Government’s “unofficial herd immunity strategy – allowing controlled spread of infection,” he stated.

Although numerous epidemiologists and scientists had questioned the validity of the Oxford model – which had not been peer-reviewed – it was promoted to the press by a PR agency with ties to the Government, raising questions about how and why this model was published and disseminated at this time.

The draft paper, which was originally posted to Dropbox, included a disclaimer noting that its content was “not final” and could be “updated any time”. The disclaimer also contained a contact point for journalists: “Contact for press enquiries: Cairbre Sugrue, cairbre@sugruecomms.com.”

Dr Lewis Mackenzie, a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Discovery Fellow, commented: “Why on earth has this been sent to the media via a third party PR company instead of the Oxford University press team? Seems very irresponsible to encourage reporting on this topic before the scientific community had a chance to comment and peer-review it.”

When asked why its own press team did not release the study, Oxford University said: “All Oxford academics have freedom of expression regarding their areas of specialism, including communication through the media. It is therefore not uncommon for academics to make their own arrangements for contacting the press. The university cannot comment on individual arrangements that it is not party to.”

Caibre Sugrue is the founding director of Sugrue Communications, a technology PR agency. He is also a non-executive advisory board member of 100%Open, an innovation consultancy – which has worked for several British Government agencies, including the UK Ministry of Defence’s Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and a leading charity which co-owns the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) or ‘nudge unit’.

This seems to be the first appearance of Prof Sunetra Gupta, later of The Barrington Declaration (a libertarian approach to coronavirus self-isolation), who works at Oxford University:

The original FT piece had claimed that, if substantial herd immunity had been achieved, restrictions could be removed sooner than expected. The article added: “Although some experts have shed doubt on the strength and length of the human immune response to the virus, Prof Gupta said the emerging evidence made her confident that humanity would build up herd immunity against COVID-19.

I contacted Professor Sun[e]tra Gupta, one of the co-authors of the study, to find out what this emerging evidence is. She did not respond to a request for comment. However, the model was reported worldwide and some commentators in both the US and UK used it to suggest that strong social distancing measures may be unnecessary

Scientists are divided on the prospects for achieving herd immunity, but most agree that, while achieving it may be possible at some point, it is not clear how long it would last. In any case, whether or not it is achievable, the immediate focus should be on minimising fatalities.

By the end of the month, confusion among journalists reigned:

April 2020

In April, it appeared that dealing with coronavirus was becoming highly complex. Author Ian Leslie tweeted a considered an explanation from a Financial Times reader:

May 2020

Two months later, Sir Patrick Vallance denied that natural herd immunity was ever a plan:

Prof John Edmunds gave Channel 4 another interview, wherein he appeared to backtrack on his previous claims about herd immunity. The first video is from his March interview and the second from May:

I’ll have more on the UK’s approach to herd immunity next week.

Below is Episode 5 of Spectator TV’s The Week in 60 Minutes, which aired on Thursday, October 1, 2020:

It was another hour of informative television, hosted by Andrew Neil.

Discussion points prove that a week is a long time not only in politics but also where coronavirus is concerned.

Although the first segment is now dated, as thousands of extra ‘cases’ (positive test results, for the most part) were discovered missing from English coronavirus stats last Friday, The Spectator‘s economics correspondent Kate Andrews reviewed Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance’s alarming graph from two weeks ago. The English stats were flat when Andrews gave her commentary.

This is a graph from October 6, showing actual data plotted against Vallance’s:

This is also worth noting, including the comparison of hospitalisations from earlier in the year:

Kate Andrews said that France and Spain are levelling out. Nearly one week on, that is continuing. Spain’s positive test numbers/cases are falling noticeably:

In any event, Andrews rightly pointed out that COVID deaths are still far fewer than flu or other causes. In fact, she said, 51% of Britons now worried about the economy, particularly in light of lockdowns across a growing swathe of England in the North and the Midlands.

Spectator editor Fraser Nelson thinks Boris has created some space to evaluate COVID measures, as he will now be meeting with Vallance and Chief Medical Officer Dr Chris Whitty once a week.

The magazine’s political editor, James Forsyth, said that the hotspots are more regional now and that Tory MPs from regions with lower positive test rates will ask for easing lockdown restrictions with more focus on improving the economy. That has happened in Parliament but not to a great enough extent to make a difference when it comes to voting on coronavirus restrictions. The Government won the vote on the Rule of Six hands down this week.

Kate Andrews says economists now think recovery will take longer because of new restrictions.

They are absolutely correct. A lot of businesses in the hospitality and entertainment sectors are likely to suffer during the winter months. Restaurant and banqueting venue owners do not know whether they should take bookings for Christmas parties. Businesses — their customers — are also loath to make large Christmas bookings. At the weekend, Boris predicted that the coming months would be ‘bumpy’ through Christmas ‘and possibly beyond’, perhaps ‘until Easter’. Boris and much of his Cabinet are banking on a vaccine appearing on the market by that time. Oh, dearie, dearie me.

The best part of the interview was the segment with Prof Sunetra Gupta, an infectious disease epidemiologist and a professor of theoretical epidemiology at the University of Oxford. Last weekend, Prof Gupta signed the Great Barrington Declaration in western Massachusetts, opposing the current form of Western lockdowns. Those who wish to watch that segment separately can tune in below:

She doubted the validity of Vallance’s graph which, she said, still applies to the first, rather than a second, wave. She said that what we are seeing is in line with the way viruses work in the autumn. She thinks that governments and scientists should move away from lockdowns because of other equally urgent issues involving human life. She also said that lockdowns serve only to delay more COVID-19 cases. She believes that we need to learn to live with the virus and added that it should settle down eventually, as with the flu. She says this is called endemic equilibrium. She told Neil that she recently met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Unfortunately, she said, Boris told her he disagrees with her scientifically reasoned request to return to normality.

That makes it even more obvious that Boris is all in for a vaccine, nothing less. How sad.

Talk turned to the appointment of a new chairman of the BBC. Charles Moore, a long-time conservative journalist and former Spectator editor, was thought to be the likely candidate last week. Andrew Neil interviewed Claire Fox from the Institute of Ideas, who spoke about Charles Moore and the BBC, which many Britons believe is biased against conservative ideas. Claire Fox said that we have to have a national discussion and ‘shake up’ about what we expect from the media, because people think there is a one-sided narrative and ‘groupthink at their core’.

Fraser Nelson said that conservatives don’t really play that game, to their detriment.

In the days that followed, Charles Moore indicated that he would not apply for the job at the BBC (more here from The Telegraph):

Andrew Neil discussed the US election debate, which had taken place earlier last week. Matt Purple of The American Conservative, probably the only anti-Trump journalist at that publication, said it was ‘a Chernobyl’, largely because Trump does not correct his errors. He said that Biden is ahead in the polls. Neil asked about the undecided voters watching the debate. Purple said that Trump’s ‘temperament’ is the issue. He also thinks that independent voters see Joe Biden as a ‘better package’. He added that incumbents have a record to defend and that Trump ‘burned the most’.

I find it incredible that Matt Purple thinks Trump is a bad president. I wonder why he works for The American Conservative, which Rod Dreher, a solid conservative, edits.

In any event, Purple’s words were music to Andrew Neil’s ears. Like most middle- and upper-class Britons, he loathes Trump, for whatever reason.

Neil asked Kate Andrews, an American, whom she preferred. She said that, although she is conservative, she was leaning towards Joe Biden. No surprise there.

Neil said that Trump is going to lose both the popular and Electoral College vote. He mentioned a plethora of court cases to be settled afterwards.

Looking into American history, Neil mentioned the controversy surrounding Rutherford Hayes’s election in 1876, which took four months to resolve. Purple agreed, predicting more violence in the streets.

Andrew Neil ended the hour by reading out questions from viewers.

John Prescott (not the retired politician) asked about coronavirus metrics. Gupta said that health officials need to look at deaths and the correct number of cases versus the number of tests then benchmark those data against other infections.

Roger Murphy asked about reversing lockdown. James Forsyth said that we will see in a fortnight, because this is the first time we have seen local pushback to lockdowns. Fraser Nelson said that Boris is missing the point. Lockdown, he added, will not help strengthen the Red Wall that the Conservatives won in the North last December. Locking down London is another possible sticking point.

No doubt this week’s Spectator TV broadcast, to be filmed on Thursday, will cover Boris’s speech at the Conservative Party conference and rebel Conservative MPs who want lockdown rules to be changed. I’ll post that video soon.

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