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On Monday, February 28, 2022, The Telegraph released the findings of their Freedom of Information request concerning modelling that SAGE and other scientists in the UK used to promote the case for 2020’s initial lockdown.

The Telegraph reported (emphases mine):

Scientists did not have accurate Covid case numbers, and were unsure of hospitalisation and death rates when they published models suggesting that more than 500,000 people could die if Britain took no action in the first wave of the pandemic, it has emerged.

On March 16 2020, Imperial College published its “Report 9” paper suggesting that failing to take action could overwhelm the NHS within weeks and result in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Before the paper, the UK coronavirus strategy was to flatten the peak rather than suppress the wave, but after the modelling was made public, the Government made a rapid u-turn, which eventually led to lockdown on March 23.

However SPI-M (Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling) minutes released to the Telegraph under a Freedom of Information request show that by March 16, modellers were still “uncertain” of case numbers “due to data limitations”.

The minutes show that members were waiting for comprehensive mortality data from Public Health England (PHE) and said that current best estimates for the infection fatality rate, hospitalisation rates, and the number of people needing intensive care were still uncertain.

They also believed that modelling only showed “proof of concept” that lockdowns could help, and warned that “further work would be required”.

The team was also encouraged to look for collaborators and resources outside of the infectious diseases network.

Well, that never happened. They stayed within their closely knit group and never ventured outside of it for data sources from other scientists and clinicians.

For the millions of us around the world who had been looking at the data from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Asia and thinking that coronavirus was no big deal, it was a shock to find that those data had not been considered in the Government’s strategy.

Those waiting for a certain hapless modeller’s name to appear need wait no longer:

Imperial College held a press briefing about its model on the afternoon of March 16, and on the same day, Boris Johnson ordered the public to avoid pubs, restaurants and non-essential contact and work from home if possible.

At the briefing, Prof Ferguson told journalists that the new conclusions had been reached because “the last few days” had provided “refinements” in the estimates of intensive care demand and hospital surge capacity.

But the minutes now show that SPI-M did not believe the data were complete

Minutes from the following day, March 17, also show that the Department of Health wanted to know whether Prof Neil Ferguson had referenced other papers in the Imperial model.

And both Imperial and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) were asked to renew modelling ahead of a Sage meeting on March 18 which would “include reviewing the commonality of assumptions” and look specifically at a London lockdown, where cases were rising more quickly.

All of Neil Ferguson’s predictions, going back to the Millennium, have been wildly wrong. How the Government could not have questioned these figures is beyond me. To make matters worse, the modelling went around the world, including to the US and to Sweden.

Good grief. What a global shambles.

Furthermore, Ferguson couldn’t even keep to the rules himself, having visited his mistress who lived on the other side of London to him and his wife.

These modelling inaccuracies went on through 2021. The article has more, but, in short, the minutes recorded that blame for incomplete data belonged to NHS Test and Trace on one occasion, to NHS England on another and Public Health England (PHE) on a third.

Last year, the Government planned to lift the post-Christmas lockdown on June 21 but waited another month. Modellers:

did not use the most up-to-date figures, which was criticised by MPs at the Science and Technology Select Committee.

That means that June 21’s Freedom Day could have gone ahead! Instead, we had to wait until July.

Two scientists who have never been invited to share their views on coronavirus with SAGE or the modellers told The Telegraph what they thought. Prof Carl Heneghan and Dr Tom Jefferson are colleagues at the University of Oxford:

Prof Carl Heneghan, the director of the centre for evidence based medicine (CEBM) at the University of Oxford, said: “This has always concerned me about the modelling. Throughout the two years there has been systematic error, consistent over-estimation and a tendency to go directly to the media with conclusions, without validation or peer review.

“It’s clear from the SPI-M minutes there were issues with the data, it wasn’t robust. And it shows that they should have been looking for additional outside expertise.

“What concerns me is if we don’t fix these problems we will end up being bounced back into restrictions or end up spending money in ways that detracts from the healthcare problems at hand.”

Dr Tom Jefferson of the CEBM at Oxford branded the early pandemic modelling “irresponsible”.

“They should have said ‘I’m sorry, we do not have the data,” he said. “Any forecast based on limited data is just a guess, it’s unethical and reckless, and we can now see the consequences of this behaviour with people dying because of the destruction of our services.”

One of the people just as upset, if not more so, with Neil Ferguson and the other modellers is the MP for the Isle of Wight, Bob Seely.

He has been sounding off on this in Parliament for a few months now. My guess is that he wants modelling to be included in the UK’s coronavirus inquiry.

He told The Telegraph:

The arguments for and against lockdown are complex, but what is becoming clear is that the evidence that the Government saw was incomplete and potentially inaccurate.

This is a national scandal. No question about it. The data that petrified politicians was inaccurate.

The Daily Mail also covered this story. The blue sidebar discusses Ferguson’s modelling:

The scientific paper published by Professor Ferguson and his colleagues on the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team was credited for persuading Boris Johnson’s Government to ramp up their response to the coronavirus.

The paper, released on March 17, and titled Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand, predicted that the Government’s original plan to ‘mitigate’ the outbreak instead of trying to stop it could have led to a quarter of a million people dying.

Using data from Italy and China, the scientists predicted how different Government measures would have different impacts on the outbreaks. 

If no action at all had been taken against the coronavirus it would have claimed 510,000 lives, the team’s report saidHad the Government stuck with their strategy of trying to ‘mitigate’ the spread – allowing it to continue but attempting to slow it down – with limited measures such as home isolation for those with symptoms this number would be roughly halved to 260,000

If the strictest possible measures are introduced, the number of deaths over a two-year period will fall below 20,000, the scientists said.

Even reading those numbers in a newspaper report is dumbfounding. They do not make sense.

Returning to Bob Seely, he first started mentioning Ferguson’s modelling on December 14, 2021, when MPs were asked to vote on a few new coronavirus measures, including a Christmas lockdown in England because of Omicron, already known to be mild. Fortunately, 101 Conservative rebels voted against the lockdown. As news was emerging about Boris’s Christmas party during the previous year’s seasonal lockdown and the fact that the Conservatives were tanking in the polls, another year of Yuletide misery would not have gone down well with the public.

This is what Bob Seely said on December 14, 2021, when Health Secretary Savid Javid was at the despatch box during the debate:

I strongly support getting vaccinated. I had my booster jab two weeks ago. I thank all Islanders who are engaged in the vaccination process in my constituency. I congratulate the Government on an ambitious booster programme. When it comes to the vote tonight, I will accept and trust what they say on face masks and on the daily tests, which seem infinitely more sensible than locking people down in hotels. I will not support them on passports or mandatory jabs. Threatening the jobs of 73,000 NHS staff seems an odd way to support the NHS.

I want to raise a wider issue with those on the Front Bench, which has somewhat coloured my judgment. I have heard nothing to reassure me on the following points. I am fed up with dubious forecasts and ridiculous extrapolations the kind of which many hon. Members have talked about. Academics—I am not quoting myself—have talked about Imperial College London’s forecast being “hysterical”, “inflated”, “consistently over-confident”, “lurid”, “flawed” and “spectacularly wrong”. What do the Government have to say about the incredibly questionable extrapolations that they have used?

I am tired of all the leaks. It was leaked that omicron could kill 75,000. It could, but it may not. All these doomsday forecasts, leaked at critical moments, erode public trust.

Thirdly, we are told we have to follow the science. Of course we have to follow the science, but it is a misleading statement as science is shaped by the inputs and by the desired outcome. For example, we had 70 pages of evidence from Scotland on vaccine passports, but there was no evidence to support their value for uptake, so why are we introducing them? We are doing so because of the precautionary principle. That is not science.

One of the most disturbing things is the lack of context for the statistics that have been used. Was that to increase knowledge or to increase fear? My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) said that between 500 and 1,000 people die each day in this country, and people die of flu all the time. It is about putting this information in context, and I fear that the result of too much of this has been to scare people, especially the old and now the young. They are petrified of covid without taking account of more genuine and potentially more damaging threats such as the appalling impact on education.

I will vote against the Government on two of the motions tonight, but my decision to do so has been coloured by the past 18 months of policy, which we need to improve.

On January 5, 2022, Boris Johnson gave Parliament an update on the Omicron variant’s effect on health in England.

Seely said:

I congratulate the Prime Minister on his balanced approach, unlike that of others in this House. There is increasing concern among epidemiologists, modellers, oncologists and scientists about the use of modelling and forecasts. Among the comments are that the forecasts we may have been using over the past two years are “almost hysterical,” “lurid,” “spectacularly wrong,” “consistently overconfident” and “substantially inflated.” Those comments are from scientists, not journalists or politicians. Does the Prime Minister trust the modelling he is getting, and will the Government consider an inquiry into the use of modelling and forecasts, many of which have been found to be unrelated to reality?

Boris did not like that one bit. I saw the debate.

He replied:

It is important for everybody to understand the limitations of models; they are not forecasts, but mathematical projections based on the data the modellers currently have, particularly when it came to Omicron, about the severity of the disease. That is why, when we feed assumptions about severity that are excessive into the models, we get results that are excessive; that is what my hon. Friend is driving at. Some of the models or calculations are much closer to what is happening now, and models are useful and cannot be dispensed with as we need to have projections, and we in this House should not in any way try to undermine or attack the independent scientists, whose independence is absolutely vital for our ability to handle this disease.

Oh, please!

On January 18, Seely led a motion at a Select Committee chaired by Sir Edward Leigh MP:

I beg to move,

That this House has considered forecasting and modelling during covid-19.

This was a rather heated debate, not so much by Conservatives but by the left-wing MPs responding to Seely’s lead contribution.

Excerpts follow:

Thanks to some questionable modelling that was poorly presented and often misrepresented, never before has so much harm been done to so many by so few based on so little questionable and potentially flawed data.

I believe that the use of modelling is pretty much getting to be a national scandal. That is not just the fault of the modellers; it is how their work was interpreted by public health officials and the media—and yes, by politicians, including the Government, sadly. Modelling and forecasts were the ammunition that drove lockdown and created a climate of manipulated fear. I believe that that creation of fear was pretty despicable and unforgivable. I do not doubt that modelling is important or that there has been some good modelling, but too often it has been drowned out by hysterical forecasts. I am not, as Professor Ferguson implied, one of those with an “axe to grind”. I do, however, care about truth and believe that if someone influences policy, as the modellers and Imperial College London have done, they should be questioned. Frankly, they have not been questioned enough.

Above all, I want to understand why Government, parts of the media and the public health establishment became addicted to these doomsday scenarios, and then normalised them in our country with such depressing and upsetting consequences for many. I do not pretend to be an expert; I am not. I defended my own PhD at the end of last year, but it is not in epidemiology and I do not pretend to be particularly knowledgeable about that. But depending on time—I know others want to come in as well—I will quote from 13 academic papers and 22 articles authored by a total of approximately 100 academics.

Seely went into Neil Ferguson’s history of poor modelling over the past 20+ years, which had disastrous results for British farmers in earlier epidemics, then the greater populace during coronavirus:

This is a story of three scandals, and the first one took place 21 years ago. In 2001, we faced the foot and mouth emergency. We reacted drastically by slaughtering and burning millions of animals, and farmer suicides and bankruptcies followed. That policy was allegedly heavily influenced by Imperial College modelling and Professor Ferguson. Since foot and mouth, two peer-reviewed studies examined the method behind that particular madness. I quote from them now to show there are practical and ethical questions over modelling going back two decades.

In a 2006 paper, and I apologise for these wordy, long titles, titled “Use and abuse of mathematical models: an illustration from the 2001 foot and mouth disease epidemic in the United Kingdom”—they are not that catchy—the authors confirmed that Ferguson’s model

“probably had the most influence on early policy decisions”

and

“specifically, the introduction of the pre-emptive contiguous culling policy”.

That is the mass slaughter of animals near infected farms. The authors said that the consequences were “severe” and

“the models were not fit for the purpose of predicting the course of the epidemic”

—not a good start. They remain “unvalidated”. Their use was “imprudent” and amounted to

“the abuse of predictive models”.

Devastatingly, the authors wrote

“The UK experience provides a salutary warning of how models can be abused in the interests of scientific opportunism.”

It is difficult to find a more damning criticism of one group of scientists by another.

A 2011 paper, “Destructive tension: mathematics versus experience—the progress and control of the 2001 foot and mouth disease epidemic in Great Britain”—bit of a mouthful—by four academics said the models that supported the culling policy were “severely flawed” and based on flawed data with “highly improbable biological assumptions”. The models were

“at best, crude estimations that could not differentiate risk”.

That is not a very good “at best”. At worst, they were “inaccurate representations”.

Sadly, the paper said, impatience for results

“provided the opportunity for self-styled ‘experts’, including some veterinarians, biologists and mathematicians, to publicise unproven novel options.”

Some of the scientific work—some of it modelling, some of it not, with some modelling by Ferguson and some not—was cited as “unvalidated” and “severely flawed”, with inaccurate data on “highly improbable assumptions” leading to “scientific opportunism”. Is anybody reminded of anything more recent that would suggest the same?

I scroll forward 20 years. As with foot and mouth, with covid we had a nervous Government presented with doomsday scenarios by Imperial—the 500,000 dead prediction—that panicked them into a course of profound action with shocking outcomes. After the lockdown had gone ahead, Imperial publicised on 8 June a study by, I think, seven of them arguing the justification for lockdown. It claimed that non-pharmaceutical interventions saved more than 3 million lives in Europe. Effectively, Imperial marked its own homework and gave itself a big slap on the back.

That work is now being challenged. Because of time, I will quote only a small selection. In a paper entitled, “The effect of interventions on COVID-19”, 13 Swedish academics—Ferguson ain’t popular in Sweden, I can tell Members that much—said that the conclusions of the Imperial study were not justified and went beyond the data. Regensburg and Leibniz university academics directly refuted Imperial College in a paper entitled “The illusory effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19 in Europe”, which said that the authors of the Imperial study

“allege that non-pharmaceutical interventions imposed by 11 European countries saved millions of lives. We show that their methods involve circular reasoning. The purported effects are pure artefacts, which contradict the data. Moreover, we demonstrate that the United Kingdom’s lockdown was both superfluous and ineffective.”

I am not saying that this stuff is right; I am just saying that there is a growing body of work that is, frankly, taking apart Imperial’s. Remember, we spent £370 billion on lockdown that we will never get back. I could continue with other quotes, but I think Members get the flavour.

Moreover, a substantial number of other papers now question not Imperial per se but the worth generally of lockdowns. A pre-print article by four authors, “Effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19: A Tale of Three Models”, said:

“Claimed benefits of lockdown appear grossly exaggerated.”

In another paper, three authors found no clear, significant benefit of lockdowns on case growth in any country. Other papers continue that theme. I will quote one more, on adults living with kids. Remember: we shut schools because we were scared that kids would come home and infect older people, who would then die. This paper, in The BMJ, found

“no evidence of an increased risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes.”

We shut down society and schools just in case, doing extraordinary harm to people’s lives, especially young people. I am not a lockdown sceptic, as Ferguson casually describes some of his critics, but I am becoming so. Do you know why, Sir Edward? Because I read the evidence, and there is a growing body of it. In fact, there is one quote that I did not read out. There was a study of lots of countries that had lockdowns and lots that did not, and the data was inconclusive.

The third element of the scandal is the recent modelling. Swedish epidemiologists looked at Imperial’s work and compared it with their own experience. Chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said of Imperial’s work that

“the variables…were quite extreme…We were always quite doubtful”.

Former chief epidemiologist Johan Giesecke said Ferguson’s model was “almost hysterical”. In the House of Lords, Viscount Ridley talked of a huge discrepancy and flaws in the model and the modelling. John Ioannidis from Stanford University said that the “assumptions and estimates” seemed “substantially inflated”.

There was a second example last summer. In July 2021, the good Professor Ferguson predicted that hitting 100,000 cases was “almost inevitable”. He told the BBC that the real question was whether we got to double that or even higher. That is where the crystal ball starts to fail: we got nowhere near 200,000, and we got nowhere near 100,000. There was nothing inevitable about Professor Ferguson’s inevitability, and his crystal ball must have gone missing from the start. In The Times, he blamed the Euros for messing up his modelling because—shock horror—people went to pubs a lot to watch the games during the competition. When the tournament finished—shock horror—they did not. That seems to be the fundamental problem: where reality comes up against models, reality steamrollers them because models cannot cope with the complexity of real life. To pretend that they can and even that they are useful, when so many of them have proved not to be, is concerning.

Ferguson is only one of many people in Independent SAGE especially, but also SAGE, who did not cover themselves in glory. Raghib Ali—a friend of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), who I am delighted is present—is one of the heroes of covid. He noted that many left-wing SAGE members

“repeatedly made inaccurate forecasts overestimating infections”.

Very often, they were falsely described on the BBC.

After a brief intervention of thanks from another Conservative MP, Seely continued, mentioning another member of SAGE who seemed to appear regularly on the BBC:

Just for the record, the communist Susan Michie, who is quoted quite often by the BBC, is not a medical doctor, a virologist or an epidemiologist. She is a health psychologist, so why on earth is she talking about epidemiology?

The third scandal took place this winter. Imperial, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and others—I think they included Warwick—predicted 5,000 daily covid deaths, with 3,000 daily deaths as the best-case scenario. They were hopelessly inaccurate, and at this point the tide really begins to turn. Dr Clive Dix, a former vaccine taskforce head, said:

“It’s bad science, and I think they’re being irresponsible. They have a duty to reflect the true risks, but this just headline grabbing.”

As I say, the tide is turning. Oncology professor Angus Dalgleish describes Ferguson’s modelling as “lurid predictions” and “spectacularly wrong”. The great Carl Heneghan, another scientist who has emerged with great credit for his honesty and fairness of comment, says:

“it’s becoming clearer all that ministers see is the worst-case scenario”.

Professor Brendan Wren says:

“Dodgy data and flawed forecasts have become the hallmarks of much of the scientific establishment”

what a damning quote!—

“which has traded almost exclusively in worst-case scenarios…this must stop now.”

I agree.

I will wind up in the next two to three minutes—I will speak for no longer than 15 minutes because other people wish to get in, and I am always mindful of that. What is the result of all this? The result, as UCL’s Professor Francois Balloux notes, is a

“loss of trust in government and public institutions for crying wolf.”

That is just it. We have had hysterical forecasts, models taken out of context, and worst-case scenarios normalised.

In the Army, there is something called the most dangerous course of action, and there is something called the most likely course of action. To sum up in one sentence how we got this wrong, we have effectively taken the most dangerous course of action and collectively—the politicians, media, scientists and health professionals—presented that as the most likely course of action, but it was not. Why did politicians say, “Follow the science” as a way of shutting down debate, when we know that science is complex and that our outputs are dependent on our inputs? It was down to public-health types, whose defensive decision making would only ever cost other people’s jobs, other people’s health, other people’s sanity, other people’s education and other people’s life chances.

We know that the Opposition supported lockdown from the word go, but a little more opposing might have been helpful. The BBC and the Guardian have been salivating at state control and doomsday scenarios. Against this tsunami of hysteria and fear, thank God for The Spectator, The Telegraph and, yes, the Daily Mail for keeping alive freedom of speech and putting forward an alternative, which is now being increasingly scientifically vindicated. I accept that lockdown was understandable at first—I get that—but I believe the continuation of lockdown after that first summer was an increasingly flawed decision.

In wrapping up, I have some questions. To Professor Ferguson and the doomsday modellers: why are so many of your fellow academics disputing your work and your findings? To the BBC, as our state broadcaster: why did you so rarely challenge Ferguson, SAGE or Independent SAGE? Why did we misrepresent experts, and why did the BBC allow itself to become the propaganda arm of the lockdown state? To the Government: how could we have been so blinkered that we thought that following the science meant shutting down scientific debate? Why did we never use other datasets in contexts with the British people, or even in contexts in which these profound and enormous decisions were made? Why did we think that it was in our nation’s interests to create a grotesque sense of fear to manipulate behaviour? SAGE and Independent SAGE kept on getting it wrong. To the public health types, I quote from Professor Angus Dalgleish again:

“Flailing around, wallowing in hysteria, adopting impractical policies and subverting democracy, the Chief Medical Officer is out of his depth. He has to go if we are ever to escape this nightmare.”

He is not a journalist; he is an oncologist—a senior oncologist.

Twice in 20 years, we have made some pretty profound and significant errors of judgment, using modelling as a sort of glorified guesswork. I suggest respectfully to the Government that, after foot and mouth and covid, never again should they rely on dubious modelling, regardless of the source and regardless of the best intent. I am sure that Imperial and all these other people do the best that they can, and am very happy to state that publicly. However, why has so much of their work been described—and I will use the words of other academics—as “unvalidated”, “flawed”, “not fit for purpose”, “improbable”, “almost hysterical”, “overconfident”, “lurid”, “inflated”, “pessimistic”, “spectacularly wrong”, “fraudulent” and as “scientific opportunism”?

On January 26, the Daily Mail published his speech as an article, which was a great idea. Only political geeks, myself included, watch Parliament in action. This is information the public need to know.

I read the comments following the article. This one caught my eye:

The only accurate data analysis of Covid19 remains the Diamond Princess incident where an entire population were analysed and it showed that Covid19 was not the severe threat to all population that it was made out to be and even more interesting now is that if you rerun the incident again yet pressure that cruise ship population was vaccinated, you get statistically the same results.

Hmm.

To think that millions of ‘ordinary’ people knew about the Diamond Princess early in 2020, yet very few ‘important’ people ever brought it up in the media — or in political settings.

It’s no wonder that many of us think that we were severely taken advantage of over the past two years.

England had a relatively better coronavirus Christmas season than Wales or Scotland.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided against moving from the current Plan B restrictions, in place until January 26, 2022, to Plan C, which would have resembled the approach our socialist mainland neighbours have imposed on their residents.

As such, a number of Scots visited Newcastle and Carlisle to celebrate Hogmanay, the last day of the old year: New Year’s Eve. The Scots celebrate through to January 2, an annual bank holiday there. Edinburgh has the best Hogmanay celebrations, but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cancelled them this year.

The Welsh also journeyed across the border to England to ring in the New Year.

We were happy to have both nations share in our fun.

On January 2, The Sunday Times reported (emphases mine):

Several hours before the famous new year countdown in Times Square, New York, young Scottish revellers were counting down the seconds to midnight at bars in Times Square, Newcastle.

Party-goers fled Scotland, where nightclubs were shut and tougher socialising restrictions were in place, desperate for a big blowout. In the west of England, a similar exodus of young people from Wales boosted the numbers of clubbers in Chester, Bristol and other towns and cities across the border.

In the late afternoon on New Year’s Eve, groups of friends spilled out of Newcastle station, dragging wheelie cases behind them, girls freshly spray-tanned, hair in rollers, and boys clutching plastic bags full of cans.

One, with his arms around the shoulders of a group of friends, declared they were here for “a party”. Hailing from towns and cities across Scotland, most were in their late teens and early twenties. Many had spent successive birthdays in lockdown and were not prepared to do the same for a second New Year’s Eve.

While the UK government had allowed new year celebrations to continue, Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, ordered nightclubs to shut for three weeks to limit the spread of the Omicron variant, and Edinburgh’s world-famous Hogmanay celebrations were cancelled.

“It’s boring in Scotland, all the nightclubs are shut — what are we going to do in Scotland?” said Brian, 25, from Edinburgh. Lily Owen, 19, a student from Edinburgh, was visiting Newcastle for the first time with a group of friends. “There’s clubs here, it’s open, it’s a no-brainer: we’re going to go,” she said.

Aimee Stuart, 22, had also come to England with friends, “because Nicola Sturgeon has banned us from going out”. They had paid about £200 each for the trip — and they were not worried about Covid. “I’ve just had it, so it’s fine,” Stuart said. “And we’re all double-vaccinated.”

It has been interesting to note how the media narrative is beginning to change from a pro-restriction one to a more Swedish-style one.

On January 2, news emerged that epidemiologist Prof Mark Woolhouse OBE from the University of Edinburgh once again advocated a Swedish-style approach, which he had done in September 2020.

The Guardian obtained excerpts from Woolhouse’s forthcoming book, The Year the World Went Mad: A Scientific Memoir, and published them:

Rather than imposing blanket lockdowns across the nation, the government should have adopted measures designed to make contacts safe, Woolhouse maintains. “You can see from the UK data that people were reducing their contacts with each other as cases rose and before lockdown was imposed. That, coupled with Covid-safe measures, such as masks and testing, would have been sufficient to control spread.”

Largely voluntary behaviour change worked in Sweden and it should have been allowed to progress in the UK, argues Woolhouse. Instead, we plumped for an enforced national lockdown, in part because, for the first time in history, we could. Enough business is now done online to allow large parts of society to function fairly well – through video conferences and online shopping. “But it was a lazy solution to a novel coronavirus epidemic, as well as a hugely damaging one,” he adds.

However, Woolhouse is at pains to reject the ideas of those who advocated the complete opening up of society, including academics who backed the Barrington Declaration which proposed the Covid-19 virus be allowed to circulate until enough people had been infected to achieve herd immunity.

“This would have led to an epidemic far larger than the one we eventually experienced in 2020,” says Woolhouse. “It also lacked a convincing plan for adequately protecting the more vulnerable members of society, the elderly and those who are immuno-compromised.”

Instead, the country should have put far more effort into protecting the vulnerable. Well over 30,000 people died of Covid-19 in Britain’s care homes. On average, each home got an extra £250,000 from the government to protect against the virus, he calculates. “Much more should have been spent on providing protection for care homes,” says Woolhouse, who also castigates the government for offering nothing more than a letter telling those shielding elderly parents and other vulnerable individuals in their own homes to take precautions.

The nation could have spent several thousand pounds per household on provision of routine testing and in helping to implement Covid-safe measures for those shielding others and that would still have amounted to a small fraction of the £300bn we eventually spent on our pandemic response, he argues. Indeed, Woolhouse is particularly disdainful of the neglect of “shielders”, such as care home workers and informal carers. “These people stood between the vulnerable and the virus but, for most of 2020, they got minimal recognition and received no help.”

Britain spent a fortune on suppressing the virus and will still be servicing the debt incurred for generations to come, he adds. “By contrast, we spent almost nothing on protecting the vulnerable in the community. We should and could have invested in both suppression and protection. We effectively chose just one.”

And Woolhouse is emphatic that further lockdowns are not the way to deal with future waves of Covid-19. “Lockdowns aren’t a public health policy. They signify a failure of public health policy,” he states.

Instead, the country needs, very quickly, not to be surprised by new variants and not to respond each one in an ad hoc fashion. “We should agree a sliding scale of interventions and trigger points for implementing them. With omicron it all feels a bit chaotic. We need better planning and preparation for when the next variant arrives, as it surely will.”

Woolhouse is having a poke at the Conservatives there. He would be better off posting that to Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford (Wales’s First Minister). They have maintained much more stringent restrictions than England from 2020 to the present.

Another piece about adopting a Swedish-style strategy appeared in The Guardian on January 2. Larry Elliott wrote about Boris’s new change of tack in an attempt to reduce his current hero to zero reputation.

Elliott writes:

Government policy towards Covid-19 has come full circle. For now, at least, England has returned to the Swedish way of dealing with the pandemic. Tough, officially imposed lockdowns are out. Trusting the people to do the sensible thing is back in.

Whether this approach will survive the expected surge in hospitalisations from Christmas and New Year revelries remains to be seen. Boris Johnson is the master of the screeching U-turn and with the number of infections hitting new records pressure on Downing Street to act is growing. We have been here before.

Back in the early days of the pandemic the prime minister was minded to copy Sweden, a country that imposed few restrictions and decided early on that it needed to learn to live with the virus.

The prime minister’s flirtation with the “Swedish experiment” was brief, and at the end of March 2020 a draconian lockdown was imposed. Ministers knew this would have a dire impact on the economy but felt the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed left them no choice.

A paper published in the online journal Scientific Reports last year examined what would have happened had Britain followed the Swedish approach. Even assuming the public here would have been as willing to adhere to non-mandatory recommendations as the Swedes (a pretty big assumption) the UK death rate would have at least doubled.

This time, the decision is a lot less clearcut, not least because vaccines are providing protection from the virus. The news from South Africa, one of the countries where Omicron first surfaced, has also been encouraging. While more transmissible, the new variant has resulted in fewer hospitalisations and deaths. Case numbers, after rising rapidly, have started to decline.

A degree of caution is needed when comparing the two countries, because South Africa has a much younger population than Britain, and it is summer rather than the middle of winter there. Even so, it is clear the government has set a high bar for imposing further restrictions.

The prime minister’s weakened political position is one reason the government has gone Swedish. The risk of causing serious damage to the economy when it is looking particularly vulnerable is another, because this is going to be a tough year for the British public. Inflation is rising, interest rates are going up, and energy bills are expected to rocket in the spring just as Rishi Sunak’s increase in national insurance contributions comes into force.

The cumulative effect is a whopping cut to living standards. According to the Resolution Foundation thinktank the average household is going to be £1,000 a year worse off. Those on the lowest incomes will be especially hard hit by soaring gas and electricity bills.

In the circumstances, it is easy to see why the government is reluctant to add to the economic pain by imposing tougher restrictions to slow the spread of the Omicron variant. Fresh curbs mean slower growth and a hit to the public finances. They would also test the resilience of the labour market.

Good news. I, like many others of a libertarian bent, foresaw these disasters nearly two years ago in March 2020.

Let Scotland and Wales continue mired in socialist control, which is doing little to alleviate coronavirus numbers.

Meanwhile, may England lead the way out of this pandemic.

In a few months’ time, we’ll find out which approach was the correct one. I suspect England’s, provided it turns out to be a more libertarian one, will have been proven the right thing to do.

I suspect that Omicron is providential. Whilst I would not advocate throwing drinks and nibbles parties, how many people have had it and not know it?

In that respect, it could be good for building up herd immunity the old fashioned way.

Last Friday’s post was about Matt Hancock’s fall from grace as Health Secretary as featured on the front page of The Sun.

The Queen had lost confidence in him before then, as my post explains, covered in another front page feature, in The Times.

Hancock’s final 48 hours as health secretary were pivotal, not only for his political but also his personal life.

Thursday, June 24

The Sun allegedly contacted Hancock to ask him if he had any comment before they published the compromising photo of him in a steamy embrace with a female aide.

Hancock went home that evening and dropped a life-changing bombshell on his wife and youngest child. 

On Sunday, the Mail reported (emphases mine):

Mother-of-three Martha was reportedly blissfully unaware of her husband’s infidelity until he broke the news to her on Thursday night when it became clear the footage would be published the next day.  

And he reportedly even woke up the couple’s youngest child, aged eight, to tell him he was leaving

How unspeakably cruel.

My commiserations to both — as well as to his two other children.

Apparently, Hancock is serious:

Friday, June 25

On Friday, YouGov and Savanta ComRes took snap polls to test public opinion on The Sun‘s revelations about Hancock.

It was clear that this representative portion of the public were deeply unhappy and thought he should resign.

These were YouGov’s results:

Savanta ComRes found that 46% of Conservative voters thought Hancock should resign:

The full video of Hancock’s illicit embrace became available online.

A number of newspaper columnists expressed their disgust with Hancock’s hypocrisy.

The Telegraph‘s Emily Hill wrote:

Four days after Freedom Day failed to dawn, what fun it is for the masses who must continue to abide by the Minister’s absurd rules to see this! Dancing inside at a wedding – verboten. Nightclubs – verboten. Standing at the bar in a pub talking to perfect strangers – verboten. It’s as if they don’t want the young and fit and healthy to mate anymore. Sex privileges, it seems, are reserved for middle-aged men in Westminster while the rest of us can only watch, helpless, wondering how much their cheating is costing the taxpayer.

But it is now the afternoon and Hancock has merely cancelled his appearance at a vaccine centre while Grant Shapps [Secretary of State for Transport] was sent out to inform us: “First of all, I think the actual issue is entirely personal for Matt Hancock.” Seconds later he stated: “whatever the rules are, the rules will have to be followed” in relation to the ministerial code. This makes hypocrites of much of the Government, not to mention every world leader who flouted social distancing rules so publicly at the G7 summit.

The Telegraph‘s Alison Pearson pointed out how much the British public has sacrificed in personal relationships over the past year and a bit because of Hancock’s restrictions:

Thousands of people posted reactions on social media. Some were bitterly mocking the official mantras: “Hands, Face, Back to My Place”. “Saving Lives, Shagging Wives”.

Others were simply devastating: “I wasn’t even allowed to kiss my dying father because of Hancock.”

The anger and disbelief were palpable. Was this really the minister who told us on the 17th May that, after fourteen months of physical and emotional self-denial, we were free to hug our loved ones, when, a fortnight earlier, he’d been giving mouth-to-mouth to some glamorous chum he’d put on the public payroll? Knowing Hancock, he’d call it First Aide.

We are all humble sinners and a man or woman’s private peccadillos shouldn’t disqualify them from doing their job. But no such understanding or humanity – not a sliver of mercy – has been shown by the Secretary of State or this Government to members of the public who have broken often cruel and arbitrary rules. Remember how we watched in horror as police arrested a retired nurse as she tried to drive her 97-year-old mother away from a care home. Hundreds of thousands of people have departed this life without a last touch or kiss from their best beloveds because the restrictions forbade it so relatives sobbed in the carpark because Matt Hancock said it must be so. Almost 30,000 children have been put on anti-depressants yet just one positive test (without any Covid symptoms) can still send an entire year group home to self-isolate for ten lonely days. Parents know this is insanity, but they must suck it up because that prating popinjay Hancock tells them it’s vital to keep us “safe”

If I had a gasket left to blow it would have exploded when Culture and Sports minister John Whittingdale explained this week how up to 3,000 Uefa officials will be allowed to arrive in the UK, without quarantine, for the Euro semis and finals. “We’ve always said that for some people who are important…”, said the hapless minister, accounting for the fact that normal people would be held to different standards.

“All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” I never ever thought George Orwell’s satirical take in Animal Farm on an arrogant, unaccountable elite patronising the masses would apply in our country. More fool me. We’re all in this together, eh, Matt?

Trust me, it’s not closed. There are millions of us, and we are raging now, and we will not allow it to be closed. If the Government permits one law for Hancock and “important people” and another for the rest of us then it is morally bankrupt. Boris must act this very day to restore the people’s faith, to prove that we haven’t been mugs.

Fraser Nelson, also writing for the Telegraph, pointed out how Hancock insisted on following his draconian rules, therefore, he should not expect privacy now:

Mr Hancock has always been one of the most emphatic for the rules. In internal government debates, he has invariably pushed for the toughest restrictions and wanted 10-year jail sentences as a penalty for trying to dodge draconian quarantine rules. “I make no apologies for the strength of these measures,” he said: they’d target a “minority who don’t want to follow the rules.” Who, presumably, he thinks, deserve everything coming their way. When two women were fined by police for walking together, Mr Hancock was unforgiving. “Every time you try to flex the rules,’ he said, “that could be fatal”

This is the irony in his request on Friday for “privacy for my family on this personal matter” now. There is no doubt his family deserves it. But a great many other families would have been grateful for more privacy over the last 15 months. Instead, the Tory Government decided to legislate for what people do in their own homes. And in so doing, set up a system where people came to worry that they’d be reported to the police – perhaps by their neighbours – if they stretched the rules by inviting children over to play in their back gardens. Greater Manchester Police issued a statement boasting that they had raided a family home to break up a child’s birthday party.

Sweden managed to fight back two Covid waves while respecting privacy and civil liberty. There are bans on mass gatherings, and a rule of eight for public places. But no rules would apply inside anyone’s property, where they had sovereignty. Government would not come through your front door: in Sweden, your home is your castle. It wasn’t so long ago when this respect for privacy summed up civic life in Britain.

When Mr Hancock started issuing advice on where we should hug (embracing outside, he said, was better than inside) alarm bells ought to have been ringing in Number 10. It was a sign that the Government machine had gone way out of control, losing any sense of its remit or boundaries. Number 10 should have stepped in, and perhaps asked for a study on the efficacy of the intrusions or work of Project Fear: the blood-curdling posters showing Covid victims on their deathbeds. If there was no proof that the campaign was making a difference, they could have been told to change tack …

Paul Waugh of HuffPost dug up a quote from April 2020 (and a 2021 photo), showing how dictatorial Hancock was:

Conservatives in Parliament began complaining about Hancock. Christopher Hope, writing for the Telegraph, reported:

Baroness Foster of Oxton, a Tory peer, accused Mr Hancock on Twitter of having “used emergency powers to impose these punitive restrictions leading to horrendous consequences across society without debate yet ignored them himself & at work!”

Backbench Conservative MPs contacted their whips about the Health Secretary. One texted: “You don’t need me to tell you what I think.” Another said that “children have missed out in so many ways” and that Mr Hancock’s behaviour was “so hypocritical”, while a third MP said the Government “is looking ridiculous now, I am sorry to say”.

Oddly, the Shadow (Opposition) Health Minister Jonathan Ashworth was silent.

The day ended with The Sun‘s Harry Cole appearing on the BBC’s Newsnight:

Saturday, June 26

The Telegraph had running live coverage of the Hancock debacle. Excerpts follow.

Coverage began at 9:01 a.m.:

Tory MPs urged Boris Johnson to “pull the plug” on Mr Hancock and expressed their frustration to party whips over the Health Secretary’s “hypocritical” behaviour …

A senior government source said public reaction was being monitored and could determine Mr Hancock’s fate.

At 9:30:

The Telegraph understands Mr Hancock had no idea the camera existed when it captured him kissing adviser Gina Coladangelo, and government sources said it was “unheard of” for cameras to be installed in ministers’ offices.

It raises the possibility that the camera was deliberately placed by someone with access to his office with the intention of catching the pair cheating on their spouses and breaking Covid rules. It is the first time a Cabinet minister has been filmed in their own office without their knowledge.

In a further twist, the Department of Health and Social Care’s offices use CCTV cameras made by the Chinese company Hikvision, which is banned in the US because of national security concerns.

At 10:20:

A healthcare company which employs as a senior director the brother of the aide Matt Hancock was pictured kissing has insisted it had never benefited from the connection to the Health Secretary.

Reports suggested Roberto Coladangelo, strategy director at Partnering Health Limited (PHL Group), was the brother of Gina Coladangelo, a familial connection later confirmed.

At 11:06:

The Health Secretary is under mounting political pressure this morning after a video was published of him hugging and embracing Gina Coladangelo, a non-executive director in his department, in early May.

At the time, hugging and socialising indoors with people outside one’s household was banned.

But according to The Sun, they have been “all over each other” again this week in the same ninth-floor office of the Department of Health and Social Care.

At 11:19:

Duncan Baker, Conservative MP for North Norfolk, has called for Matt Hancock to resign.

Mr Baker, who was elected in 2019, is believed to be the first Tory MP to openly call for Mr Hancock to go and told his local newspaper the Eastern Daily Press: “In my view people in high public office and great positions of responsibility should act with the appropriate morals and ethics that come with that role …

“I will not in any shape condone this behaviour and I have in the strongest possible terms told the Government what I think.”

Duncan Baker was not alone. Three other Conservative MPs spoke out against Hancock — Esther McVey, William Wragg and Sir Christopher Chope:

Sir Christopher told the Dorset paper, the Daily Echo:

“I think that he should resign rather than be sacked because this should actually be an issue for him and his conscience.

“One of the benefits of having been around for a long time is that I’ve seen this sort of thing before and the strength of feeling is such, within the party and outside,  that this will not simply go away. 

The sooner he resigns the better so we can have a new secretary for health who commands public respect.

Hancock is finished.

The sooner he goes the sooner he can be rehabilitated.”

That afternoon, Hancock and Prime Minister Boris Johnson had a conversation. Hancock wrote a letter of resignation. Boris responded with a written reply:

Around 6 p.m., Hancock announced his resignation via a personal video:

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said that Boris should have sacked Hancock:

However, given Boris’s philandering, that would have been hypocritical.

Also, Hancock will now return to the backbenches. Boris will want to keep him sweet. Even I can figure that out.

Around two hours later, it was announced that Sajid Javid would be Hancock’s replacement. Javid has been Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer, so he will be comfortable with another post in the Cabinet.

This means that Boris’s expected reshuffle will not now take place until perhaps later in the year. A smart move:

This thread summarises Javid’s career. He is the son of a bus driver. His teachers told him that he should pursue television set repair as a career. Were they ever wrong:

Dominic Cummings was quick to react, blaming Boris’s wife Carrie for the appointment. She had at one time worked for Javid. Cummings said he himself had ‘tricked’ Boris into firing Javid from Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT):

Sky News’s Beth Rigby appeared outside of No. 10 late on Saturday:

Beth has some nerve. She was suspended from Sky News for a few months for having revelled in a non-coronavirus-compliant way at her colleague Kay Burley’s 60th birthday party evening in central London:

Sunday, June 27

Newspaper editors must have been pulling out their hair in changing their front pages for Sunday.

The Sun went for a play on words (matt paint):

The Mirror had the same idea, adding that his aide has quit her job, too:

The Times had a front page article adding that Hancock used a personal Gmail account to conduct Department of Health business. Apparently it’s done now, but any of those emails are subject to FOIA requests with regard to Government business. It also means that the Government might not be able to get a trail of all of his activity with regard to contracts:

The Express said that Conservative donors threatened to stop contributions if Hancock stayed in office:

I will stop there for now.

The Sunday articles and news programmes had much more to explore.

For now, it looks as if Sajid Javid has a more libertarian approach to handling the virus and wants restrictions lifted as soon as practicable.

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.

December 13 is the feast day of St Lucy, virgin and martyr:

St Lucy led a short but courageous life. The story of her martrydom in the fourth century spread quickly throughout Europe, from her native Italy to England and Sweden.

Sweden still has the best commemorations and celebrations of this young martyr’s feast day. Before the Gregorian calendar was established, December 13 was the shortest day of the year. As the name Lucy comes from the Latin lux, or light, a young Swedish woman represents the saint and her symbolism by wearing a wreath of lit candles on her head:

This year, December 13 also happens to be Gaudete Sunday, the Advent Sunday of rejoicing at the prospect of Christ’s birth:

St Lucy’s story appears in the fifth century book, Acts of the Martyrs.

Lucy was born to nobility in 283 in Syracuse, Sicily. She died in 304.

Her father, a Roman, died when she was five years old. Her mother, Eutychia, was likely to have been Greek, given her name.

Eutychia never remarried after her husband died. She was also in poor health, suffering from a bleeding disorder.

Lucy devoted herself to the Lord and made a silent vow of chastity. Eutychia was unaware of this and, for her daughter’s future security, arranged for her to marry a pagan nobleman.

Meanwhile, Eutychia was urged to seek a cure at the shrine of St Agatha, who had been martyred five decades before. Her shrine was in Catania, 50 miles from Syracuse. Mother and daughter made the pilgrimage together.

While there, it is said that St Agatha appeared to Lucy in a dream. St Agatha told the young woman that her mother would be cured and that Lucy would be the glory of not only Syracuse but also Catania.

Once Eutychia was cured, Lucy encouraged her to give their wealth and possessions to the poor.

When Lucy’s betrothed discovered the news, he was furious. He went to Paschasius, the Governor of Syracuse, and denounced her.

Paschasius ordered Lucy to burn a sacrifice to the emperor’s image, but she refused.

Paschasius then ordered her to be defiled in a brothel.

When the guards came to take Lucy away, her body had miraculously become too heavy to move. The guards tried to burn her body by heaping wood on her and setting it alight. However, the wood would not ignite.

Lucy died only when a guard thrust a sword into her throat.

Lucy is often seen holding her eyes or with her eyes on a salver. This part of her story did not enter her biographical details until the 15th century. There are two versions of what happened to Lucy’s eyes. One says that she made various predictions to Paschasius about the Roman emperors that angered him such that he ordered that her eyes be gouged out. The other version says that Lucy gouged out her own eyes in order to discourage a persistent suitor who admired them.

Whether the story about the eyes is true, St Lucy is the patron saint of those suffering from eye disorders, especially the blind.

Her relics were sent throughout Europe and are resident in a few important churches. Most of these churches are in Italy, but others are in France, Germany and Sweden.

St Lucy is also the patron saint of Syracuse, of those with bleeding disorders or throat infections as well as of authors, cutlers, glaziers, laborers, martyrs, peasants, saddlers, salesmen, stained glass workers, and of Perugia, Italy.

Her feast day is commemorated not only in the Roman Catholic Church but also in the Anglican and Lutheran Churches.

Source: Wikipedia

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear tomorrow.

Once again, coronavirus measures featured strongly in this week’s debates in the House of Commons.

Yesterday’s post explained that a compromise was reached over the proposed Brady Amendment and covered the subsequent debate on the renewal of the Coronavirus Act 2020.

In the end, only a handful of MPs voted against the extension. Congratulations to them and to the Liberal Democrats, all of whom voted No:

The Labour MPs were Dawn Butler, Kevan Jones, Rebecca Long-Bailey, John Spellar, Graham Stringer and Derek Twigg. I do have a particular admiration for Graham Stringer who adds lucidity in every discussion in which he participates. I’ve seen him in Select Committee hearings and he’s brilliant.

Below is a review of coronavirus debates from the other days.

Monday, September 28

Steve Baker (Con) was in rebel mode on his way to the Commons that morning:

In the afternoon, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock appeared at the despatch box for a debate on COVID-19 measures.

He received several interventions (interruptions).

Sir Edward Leigh (Con) was the first. He also mentioned Sir Graham Brady of the eponymous amendment (emphases mine below):

If the first duty of Government is to keep people safe, will the Secretary of State remember that the first duty of Parliament is to hold Government to account? I know that he wants to take public opinion with him, but will he therefore reassure us that he is also determined to take Parliament with him? In that respect, may I urge him to meet with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) and come to a compromise to ensure that, if there are further national lockdowns, Parliament will be fully involved in the process?

He agreed, but note the ‘where possible’ in his reply:

We are looking at further ways to ensure that the House can be properly involved in the process—in advance, where possible. I hope to provide the House with further details soon. I will take up the invitation to a further meeting with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), whom I have already met to discuss this matter, to see what further progress can be made. I hope that that, for the time being, satisfies my right hon. Friend.

Mark Harper and Steve Baker, both Conservatives, hit the nail on the head.

Harper said:

To develop the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), I accept the points about scrutiny that the Secretary of State makes, but it is about not just scrutiny but the laws we are making. The laws that came in at midnight, for example, were 12 pages of laws, with lots of detail, criminal offences and duties not mentioned when they were set out in a statement last week. That includes duties on employers, directors and officers, with serious criminal penalties. We need to scrutinise the detail of the legislation before it comes into force and give our assent, and not, I am afraid, just allow the Secretary of State to put it into force by decree.

Hancock batted that away, as if it were nothing:

Of course, sometimes in this pandemic we have to move fast. Sometimes we have had to move fast, and we may need to do so again. The challenge we have in this House is how to ensure proper scrutiny while also being able, when necessary, to move fast in response to the virus. That is the challenge that collectively we all face.

Steve Baker dismissed that answer with facts but had to couch it, knowing how thin-skinned Hancock is:

I reassure my right hon. Friend that I am going to praise him later, but the Constitution Unit at University College London tweeted earlier about the regulations mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) that

this policy was briefed to the media 8 days ago. Was it really not possible to schedule proper, detailed parliamentary debate during that time, given the far-reaching consequences?”

It added:

“Given the current mood, it seems very likely MPs will ask this.”

Well, I am asking. Surely it was possible, in eight days, to have the debate that my right hon. Friend has called for.

Hancock replied that both he and Prime Minister Boris Johnson had made statements about the new laws the week before.

Labour’s John Spellar, who voted against the extension of the Coronavirus Act 2020, pressed Hancock on the issue:

It is nice to be informed, nice to be consulted and nice to be able to scrutinise, but in the end it is about who decides. Can the Secretary of State explain why he is so against Parliament’s making the decision, even if he argues for urgency and immediacy —within two days, for example—to either confirm or revoke those regulations? Why is he against Parliament’s being the one that finally decides on this? It is quite clear that this is not even being decided in Cabinet, but just by one or two Cabinet members. Let Parliament decide.

Hancock said he hoped to find a way forward.

Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Health Secretary, replied on behalf of Labour.

This was an excellent debate, one worth reading in full. A few more highlights follow.

John Spellar pointed out that a vaccine would give no guarantees:

There has been much mention of the success of a vaccine, but, first, it is unclear when that is likely to be and, secondly, surely even if we have a vaccine, it will not be 100% effective.

Sir Desmond Swayne (Con) gave the best speech of the debate — a must-watch at just under two minutes:

He took exception to Chief Medical Officer Dr Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance’s televised presentation the week before with a graph that strained credulity. They took no questions from the press. No government minister was present, either, even though they sat in front of a No. 10 backdrop.

Swayne rightly railed about it and them:

Less than a year ago, I celebrated what I thought was the election of a sceptical and liberal Conservative Administration. Now, I am left wondering if the Prime Minister has not been abducted by Dr Strangelove and reprogrammed by the SAGE over to the dark side.

The purpose of politicians is to impose a sense of proportion on science and not to be in thrall to it. I will make myself very unpopular, but I believe that the appearance of the chiefs last week should have been a sacking offence. When they presented that graph, it was with the caveat that it was not a prediction, but nevertheless it was clear that they presented it as a plausible scenario, with its 50,000 cases per day by mid-October based on the doubling of infections by the week. Not on one day since March have there been infections on a day that were double that of the same day of the week preceding—not once. Where did this doubling come from? What was their purpose in presenting such a graph? It was the purpose of the fat boy in “The Pickwick Papers”:

“I wants to make your flesh creep.”

It was “project fear”. It was an attempt to terrify the British people, as if they had not been terrified enough.

I have been banging on about this since March, and with every criticism I have made, I have been told that the Government were relying on the best possible science. So I was delighted by the letter one week ago today with the nuanced criticism of Professors Heneghan, Gupta and Sikora. I believe that the Government now have to answer that criticism. I am glad that the consensus in the scientific community is broken and the critics are speaking out.

I do not underestimate for one moment the horrible nature of this disease and its post-viral syndrome, but in terms of the United Kingdom’s killers, it is 24th in the league, accounting for only 1.4% of deaths. As a consequence, I believe the Government’s policy has been disproportionate. By decree, they have interfered in our private and family lives, telling us whom we may meet, when we may meet them and what we must wear when we meet them. We have the cruelty of elderly people in care homes being disoriented, unable to see the faces of their loved ones or to receive a hug. We have the tsunami of deaths that we may experience shortly as a consequence of undiagnosed cancers and heart disease, and the discontinuation of clinical trials.

He praised Sweden’s lack of lockdown and compared the Government’s warning about Christmas celebrations to Cromwell, who, as Lord Protector, also banned the holiday:

All sorts of criticisms are levelled against the Swedish Government that, on examination of the data and comparing like for like, are without foundation. I certainly hold up the Swedish model as an alternative.

We have seen the eye-watering costs that we must now all face for a generation, having closed down our economy for all those months as a consequence of the Government’s policy. We face the crushing of enterprises, the destruction of livelihoods, and unemployment among young people, all as a consequence of an overreaction. I understand that there is now some question as to whether students will be allowed to return from university at Christmas. I say most gently to the Minister that the last Administration that sought to restrain celebrations at Christmas was during the Commonwealth, when the Lord Protector was left musing in public whether, if he were to arm one in 10, that would be enough. How many marshals will be required?

I conclude by saying that the policy of the Government has been disproportionate in response to this threat. There may be a virus one day that threatens our very way of life, but this is not it, even if we are behaving as if it were.

In other news, people in England were deeply unhappy to discover that, while they are under 10 p.m. closing time for pubs and restaurants, Parliament’s bar and restaurant were allowed to stay open past that hour.

Guido Fawkes reported that a U-turn took place. The exemption was initially made because both are considered as a ‘workplace canteen’, as sittings in both the Commons and the Lords occasionally run into the night. Now, at least, alcohol will not be served after the witching hour:

Tuesday, September 29

The 10 p.m. closing time for bars and restaurants in England has rankled both proprietors and the public to the extent that the Mojo Bar in Manchester has banned all MPs until the curfew is cancelled:

Guido Fawkes had more details (emphasis in purple mine):

After five days of the disastrous mandatory 10 pm closing time policy for bars, pubs, and restaurants, Mojo Bar in Manchester is taking matters into its own hands. Clearly fuming at the counterproductive curfew order imposed this week, the bar took to social media to share pictures of all MPs – declaring none of them will be served until the curfew is cancelled. Clearly the management know which strings to pull to get the attention of MPs…

Managing Director Martin Greenhow tells Guido that the eye catching policy came about “from frustration and fear”. Before the curfew the bar had bounced back pretty strongly from lockdown, back up to 85% of normal turnover. After the curfew was imposed it’s down to just 20%.

Good grief! Stop the madness.

The coronavirus restrictions in England became so complicated that ministers, including Boris, could not keep them straight any more.

Gillian Keegan, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Apprenticeships and Skills, had a rough start in the morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today:

Guido had more (emphases in the original):

… she was unable to clarify the newly-imposed rules in the northeast on meeting other families, squirming “no, I’m sorry I can’t clarify that… no I don’t know the answer to that question”, claiming she couldn’t answer the ever-increasingly complex regulation question because she’s “not from the northeast”. Mishal Husain correctly pointed out Keegan, as a minister, couldn’t understand the new rules, what hope does the general population have of being able to stick to them…

Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, also appeared on BBC radio that morning. He took issue with their ‘gotcha’ tactics:

Boris, too, got tripped up around lunchtime. He was asked to clarify Gillian Keegan’s answer on Today:

Guido reported:

Responding to a Channel 5 question, Boris said:

“Outside the areas such as the North East where extra measures have been brought in, it’s six inside and six outside, in those areas such as the North East where extra tight measures have been brought in you should follow the guidance of local authorities, but it’s six in a home or in hospitality but as I understand it, not six outside. That’s the situation there.”

Which is precisely the opposite of what the new restrictions say, as the Government announced last night:

“Measures will be brought into law restricting inter-household mixing in indoor settings, including pubs and restaurants”

So in indoor settings no household mixing. Outdoor can see household mixing. Something the PM got 180 degrees the wrong way round…

He quickly issued an erratum early in the afternoon:

Wednesday, September 30

In the debate on extending the Coronavirus Act 2020, another highlight was Conservative MP Charles Walker’s speech. He was on fire:

He said:

I first thank the Secretary of State for everything he has done to get us to this stage tonight, but 90 minutes to debate the renewal of an Act that has fundamentally changed the nature of the relationship between the state and citizens is not good enough. If this is the portent of the promises to come, it is not good enough. I need, at some stage, more than three minutes to discuss the fundamental hardships that are going on in my constituency—the jobs that are being lost, the opportunities that are being lost, the young people struggling to find work, to get back to university and to come back from university. Ninety minutes is an utter, utter disgrace. It is actually disrespectful to this House and it is disrespectful to colleagues.

I am sorry, Secretary of State, if I sound—actually, I am not sorry that I am angry, because a lot of people in this place are angry. We want to see this virus beaten, of course we do, but it would be nice—just nice—if this House were shown some respect.

Charles Walker is the vice-Chairman of the 1922 Committee, which Sir Graham Brady chairs. It represents backbench Conservative MPs.

Walker’s righteous anger has been building since September 10:

I note that Steve Baker did not vote against the extension of the Coronavirus Act 2020, despite a bold interview days before on Sky News.

Despite that, he still has his eye on the ball. He retweeted this from Italy:

And he’s doing more interviews:

We really do need to reopen the economy in full — now.

Next week, I’ll have a wrap-up of the final debates of the Brexit-oriented Internal Market Bill.

There are two more increasingly popular Spectator TV videos to view, brilliantly presented by Andrew Neil.

Each of the episodes below is one hour long, but it is unlikely that those seeking real news and analysis will be bored.

As a supporter of President Trump, I was somewhat less impressed with Episode 3, from September 17, which downplayed his chances for re-election as well as his foreign policy, as many of us consider it a peacetime triumph:

Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was the first to be interviewed about his nation’s handling of coronavirus. As we know, they had no lockdown.

Tegnell regretted not having controlled the many deaths in care homes — similar to those in other Western nations. There were also other lives that could not be saved because of co-morbidities. He said that a lockdown would not have saved them.

The problem in the care homes related to their separation from a national health care system, again, not dissimilar to the tragic result seen in other nations, particularly the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

He indicated that Sweden wanted to ensure that care home fatalities were resolved going forward as well as those among minority populations. He said that an EU commission was looking into those challenges.

Neil asked why Sweden was one of the few countries that ignored the projections from Imperial College London earlier this year. Tegnell replied that Imperial’s models were ‘quite extreme’ and ‘doubtful’. He added that models are not made ‘for prognosis’ because ‘you don’t really know’ what is going to happen.

He said, ‘This is not a competition’ and expressed his desire for more international collaboration and discussion to find a common pathway towards fighting the a second wave of the pandemic as well as agreement on testing.

He said that Sweden had been conducting 80,000 tests a week with no recent deaths.

Good for Sweden. They did well considering they bucked all the odds.

In case the interview is difficult to listen to because Tegnell is on a train, here is another transmission:

Episode 4 of Spectator TV, from Thursday, September 24, covered a multitude of health, economic and political topics:

Kate Andrews talked about the broadcast that Dr Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance made about coronavirus last week. Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, gave a statement last week on a winter economic programme. It focussed on a change from furlough, which expires in October, to a jobs subsidy for viable employment. She said that there is no doubt that unemployment will rise in the UK in the coming months.

James Forsyth echoed that and said that Rishi Sunak’s plan is to retain as many current jobs as possible but also to create many more.

On that note, Katy Balls said that there is some tension between 10 and 11 Downing Street. Boris errs on the side of health and personal safety. Rishi is more focussed on the economic numbers in order to keep Britain afloat.

With regard to coronavirus, Dr Flavio Toxvaerd, an economic epidemiologist from Cambridge University, said that epidemiologists do not have a good estimation of human behaviour. He did not believe that we were likely to see the latest coronavirus predictions from Whitty and Vallance’s graphs come true. That said, there is a delicate balance to be struck between health and the economy in dealing with COVID-19. Both are critical at this time. Neither can be viewed in isolation.

With regard to his eponymous amendment anticipated to be brought before the House of Commons, Sir Graham Brady said he felt confident that any future coronavirus-related statutory instruments would have to be brought before the House of Commons for debate and a vote prior to implementation.

Questions have been raised as to Boris Johnson’s future as Prime Minister. Katy Balls and James Forsyth both thought that he would not be gone by the end of the year, as many have predicted over the past several days. Leaving the EU, they predicted, will put fuel in the tank for 2021, so to speak.

Turning to the upcoming US elections, Dominic Green said that a Biden administration would favour the EU more than the United Kingdom emerging from Brexit. Again, this assumes that Joe Biden will win the election. Green rightly warned that polls are unreliable. (We saw the same situation four years ago with the polls and the ‘Trump can’t win’ theme. We are seeing it again now.)

Thousands of us are grateful to the NatWest Group for sponsoring these useful broadcasts.

Last week proved to be another emotive and passionate one in the House of Commons with regard to coronavirus and Brexit.

This post concerns coronavirus.

On Monday, September 14, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Rule of Six, which he announced on September 9, came into effect. It sounds rather Chinese.

It means that people living in England cannot meet in groups of greater than six, indoors or outdoors. If we do, according to him, we ‘will be breaking the law’.

He also introduced a new platoon to keep us in line: COVID marshals, to remind us of existing coronavirus rules in England — ‘hands, face, space’.

Recall that Boris said after the December 2019 election that we now have the People’s Government. Hmm.

The UK government is copying a Belgian idea. The Rule of Six reduced their second spike.

Increasingly, Britons have been looking back at Sweden, which refused to lock down. Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. Chris Whitty is our Chief Medical Officer; in May, he said that coronavirus was harmless for most people and most of us would never get it:

Michael Gove MP, a Cabinet minister and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, made matters worse when he confirmed that under-12s were part of the Rule of Six, unlike in Scotland and Wales, where under-12s are not. With life getting back to normal as school has started again, this came as a blow to many families:

The Telegraph reported that the Cabinet was split on the proposals (emphases mine):

… one senior Tory source said that “half the Cabinet” had doubts about the so-called ‘rule of six’, and it was “pretty hard to find a Conservative member of Parliament who agrees with all of this”.

The COVID marshals are also a problem for police and local councils:

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson’s plan for coronavirus marshals to help enforce the six-person rule was unraveling as police derided them as “Covid Wombles” and councils said they were a “gimmick”.

Downing Street admitted councils would not be given any money to pay for the marshals, suggesting volunteers could do the job, and said it would be up to individual local authorities to decide whether they actually wanted them.

It got worse, as curfews were mooted:

The Government has discussed going even further with new lockdown restrictions, and has drawn up “a well-developed proposal” for a nationwide curfew which was discussed at ministerial level.

My head spun.

Then the ministerial snitch crowd appeared on weekend news programmes to say that people must tell on their neighbours if they are seen to be violating the Rule of Six:

Political journalist Isabel Oakeshott rightly responded:

I couldn’t agree more. This is supposed to be the People’s Government, isn’t it?

History will not look kindly on 2020 with regard to the measures taken to combat the virus:

I was wrong.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said that people should not even talk when they see friends in the street, even at a distance (audio here, thanks to Guido Fawkes, and there’s video, too):

Yebbut, if you DO report what appears to be criminal activity, allegedly, the police do not want to know. Here is a printscreen of a set of comments on a Guido Fawkes thread. I call your attention to the last two. Police would rather pick on mums and their children. Ironically, that was posted on the anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Go figure.

A mild-mannered man from Buckingham called talkRADIO to say he would not comply with the Rule of Six because the Government had gone too far.

So did a lady from Brighton, saying that the Rule of Six was about:

control. They’re trying to see how much they can get away with.

Another talkRADIO host, Julia Hartley-Brewer, had a go at Roy Lilley, former NHS Trust chairman. She said:

We are being scared into thinking we have to give up our civil liberties when that won’t save lives. Being sensible will save lives.

The Telegraph‘s Salley Vickers wrote of the restrictions on her and her loved ones:

I would rather risk dying and have the joy of their company than lose that vital contribution to my own happiness.

With the festive season only several weeks away, the Daily Mail‘s Peter Hitchens told talkRADIO’s Mike Graham that the Rule of Six has:

made Christmas an arrestable offence.

Another Daily Mail journalist, Bel Mooney, wrote an editorial for Conservative Woman saying that she was surprised at the amount of resistance she received when she wrote that she would be defying the Rule of Six at Christmas:

in response to Matt Hancock’s sudden, arbitrary and illogical ‘rule of six’ diktat, I wrote a strong opinion piece (at the request of my newspaper) headlined ‘NO, NO, NO! I’m having Christmas for 14 – and no puffed-up Covid marshal will stop me’.

As you might expect, there was a huge response. I never look online, and am not on Twitter (I expect there was a lot of poison swilling around out there). I am talking about emails to me and the newspaper. What interested me was the fact that, if I am to be honest, the antis outnumbered the prosI didn’t expect that from Mail readers.

You can never tell with Mail readers, though. They’re a tricky lot.

Oxford University’s Professor Carl Heneghan and honorary research fellow Tom Jefferson wrote an article for The Spectator against the Rule of Six, saying that Boris must bin it:

At Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, we have spent years trawling through the scientific evidence on the effects of measures such as distancing on respiratory viral spread. We are not aware of any study pointing to the number six. If it’s made up, why not five or seven?

Northern Ireland has taken a more measured approach and not announced any changes to how many people can meet. These disagreements in policy reveal how decisions are being made without evidence. It seems that somebody in government sat in a cabinet office room and said six is a good idea and nobody disagreed

The problems with policy stem from the current cabinet’s vast inexperience: the Health Secretary has been in post for just over two years now; the PM and the Chief Medical Officer a year. The Joint Biosecurity Centre is overseen by a senior spy who monitors the spread of coronavirus and suppresses new outbreaks. Add to this mix the new chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, who similarly has little or no background in healthcare. Our leaders amount to little more than a Dad’s Army of highly paid individuals with little or no experience of the job at hand.

This inexperience leads to rash decisions and arbitrary policies.

One example is that entire areas can be locked down if they have 50 cases per 100,000 people. Yet the recognised alert threshold for ‘regular’ acute respiratory infections is 400 cases per 100,000.

Lord Sumption, who has been speaking out against lockdown this year, said that the Rule of Six will be unenforceable. I hope he is right:

Tom Tugendhat (Tunbridge and Malling, Con) expressed his concerns about the new rule and rightly wanted MPs to vote on it and similar measures:

It’s unlikely that the House of Lords can help, either. They already have a full schedule. We should thank Lord Lamont for raising the issue of consulting the public, however. ‘SI’ means ‘statutory instrument’:

Monday, September 14

Behind the scenes and well outside of Parliament, an email emerged dated May 23, wherein Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance stated he had pushed the most for March’s lockdown:

Guido Fawkes has the full text of the email. I am not sure how Sir Patrick thinks that a vaccine will achieve herd immunity, though.

In the first of the debates on the Brexit-related Internal Market Bill, Charles Walker MP (Broxbourne, Con) prefaced his comments by expressing his dismay about the Rule of Six, the lack of consultation with Parliament and the fining of Jeremy Corbyn’s brother Piers at the anti-lockdown rally on Saturday, September 12.

Thank you, Charles Walker:

This is short and well worth watching:

Tuesday, September 15

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock poled up to make a statement to MPs about the Rule of Six and testing.

Excerpts follow:

There are signs that the number of cases in care homes and the number of hospitalisations is starting to rise again, so last week we acted quickly, putting in place new measures—the rule of six, which came into force yesterday. We do not do this lightly, but the cost of doing nothing is much greater.

Testing also has a vital part to play. Everyone in this House knows that we are doing more testing per head of population than almost any other major nation, and I can tell the House that we have now carried out over 20 million tests for coronavirus in this country. As we expand capacity further, we are working round the clock to make sure that everyone who needs a test can get a test. The vast majority of people who use our testing service get a test that is close to home, and the average distance travelled to a test site is now just 5.8 miles —down from 6.4 miles last week; but the whole House knows that there are operational challenges, and we are working hard to fix them.

We have seen a sharp rise in people coming forward for a test, including those who are not eligible.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South, Lab/Co-op), speaking for the opposition, said:

I am grateful for advance sight of the Secretary of State’s answer. That was decent of him.

Yesterday LBC revealed that there were no tests available in covid hotspots, including Rochdale, Pendle and Bradford. Over the weekend in Bolton, where infections are the highest in the country, a mobile testing centre failed to turn up. Meanwhile, in Bury hundreds queued for five hours for a test. In Walsall, a father with his sick child travelled 76 miles to an appointment in Wales, only to find on arrival that tests had run out. Increasing numbers of teachers and pupils are not in school. In hospitals, operations are cancelled while NHS staff are stuck in limbo, waiting for tests.

The Secretary of State blames increased demand, but when tracing consistently fails to reach 80% of contacts, when less than 20% of those with symptoms self-isolate properly and there is a lack of financial security, infections rise. When schools reopen and people return to workplaces and social distancing becomes harder, infections rise. Extra demand on the system was inevitable. Why did he not use the summer to significantly expand NHS lab capacity and fix contact tracing?

Just as demand is increasing, the ability to process tests is diminishing. Post-graduate students working in the Lighthouse labs are returning to university, so why did the Secretary of State not plan for the inevitable staff shortages in the Lighthouse labs? Those commercial pillar 2 labs, The Sunday Times revealed at the weekend, have a huge backlog of 185,000 tests. Thursday’s data revealed that 65,709 test results were not returned by the end of the week. Care home residents now wait an average of 83 hours for their result. The Prime Minister promised us a 24-hour turnaround for results, so what is going on? What is the current backlog and what is the timeframe for clearing it?

We were promised a world-beating system, so why are we sending tests to Germany and Italy for processing? But, most importantly, people want to know when they will get a test and when this mess will be fixed. Today there will be thousands of ill people trying to book a test, only to be told none is available. When will people be able to book a test online again, or has the online booking system been deliberately disabled? When will ill people no longer have to travel hundreds of miles for a test that should be available on their doorstep? When will pupils and teachers out of school get access to testing, so they can get back to school? When will NHS staff have access to regular testing, so they can focus on their patients and not be sitting at home?

We are at a perilous moment. Imperial College estimates the virus is doubling every seven to eight days. We all want to avoid further restrictions or another national lockdown, but when testing and contact tracing break down, the growth of the virus cannot be tracked. The Prime Minister promised us whack-a-mole, but instead his mallet is broken. The Secretary of State is losing control of the virus; he needs to fix testing now.

Many MPs — from both Opposition and Conservative benches — said that their constituents could not get tests.

Even the Speaker of the House tweeted that his constituents were having similar problems:

The testing situation is shocking — as Terry-Thomas used to say in the Boulting Brothers films: ‘An absolute shower!’

On the upside, the British coronavirus jobs situation is improving, thank goodness (more from Guido here):

Wednesday, September 16

Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) stood at the Opposition despatch box for Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), as Sir Keir Starmer was self-isolating:

She did a good job.

She began by saying:

Many people in the Chamber will think that the battle of Britain is today, but actually we marked the 80th anniversary of those veterans yesterday, and I want to put on record our thanks to all those who fought for our country in the past.

I want to start by reading to the Prime Minister a message that I have received from a man called Keir. Keir was not able to go to work today and his children could not go to school because his family had to wait for their coronavirus test results, despite the Prime Minister’s promise of results within 24 hours. Keir was able to do the right thing and self-isolate and work from home, but other people are not in this position, and many of them are the very people who were getting us through this crisis, such as the care workers, who I used to work alongside before I was elected to this House. The Prime Minister once earned £2,300 an hour; can he tell us the average hourly rate of a care worker in this country?

Boris was singularly unimpressed, although he had a neutral expression on his face, even when discussing Starmer:

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her elevation. She speaks of the constituent Keir, and I can tell her that—allegedly, apparently—he has had a negative test, and I do not know quite why he is not here. But 89% of those who have in-person tests get them the next day, and we are working very fast to turn around all the test requests that we get. I think that most people looking at the record of this country in delivering tests across the nation will see that that compares extremely well with any other European country. We have conducted more testing than any other European country, and that is why we are able to deliver tests and results in 80% of cases where we know the contacts.

The hon. Lady asks about care homes, and I can tell the House that today we are launching the winter care home action plan. She is right to raise the issue of care homes, and we are concerned about infection rates in care homes, but we will do everything we can to ensure that care homes and their workers are protected.

On the hon. Lady’s final point, I am proud that it is this Government who have instituted the national living wage to ensure that every worker in this country, including care home workers, is paid substantially more, thanks to the care and the work of the people of this country.

Boris listened attentively and responded sensitively to all the points that Angela Rayner raised until this point, which came several minutes in, when she said:

Infections are rising. The testing system is collapsing. When you are the Prime Minister, you cannot keep trying to blame other people for your own incompetence. We have the highest death toll in Europe, and we are on course for one of the worst recessions in the developed world. This winter, we are staring down the barrel of a second wave, with no plan for the looming crisis. People cannot say goodbye to their loved ones. Grandparents cannot see their grandchildren. Frontline staff cannot get the tests that they need. And what was the top priority for the covid war Cabinet this weekend? Restoring grouse shooting.

I suppose that is good news for people like the Prime Minister’s friend who paid for a luxury Christmas getaway to a Caribbean island and funded his leadership campaign, and just so happens to own two grouse moor estates. So Prime Minister, is this really your top priority?

The Prime Minister answered:

While the Labour Opposition have been consistently carping from the sidelines throughout this crisis and raising, frankly, issues that are tangential, if not scare stories about what is going on, we are getting on with delivering for the British public. We are not only massively ramping up. She has not contested any of my statistics today about the extent to which this country is now testing more than any other European country.

She has not disputed the massive acceleration in our programme. [Interruption.] I will answer the substance of her question, thank you very much. We are getting on with delivering on the priorities of the British people: getting us through this covid crisis; delivering on making our country safer, bringing forward measures to stop the early release of dangerous sexual and violent offenders, which I hope she will support; strengthening our Union, which in principle Opposition Front Benchers should support; and building more homes across this country and more affordable homes across this country, which she should support. That is in addition to recruiting more doctors and more nurses, and building more hospitals.

I do not think anybody is in any doubt that this Government are facing some of the most difficult dilemmas that any modern Government have had to face, but every day we are helping to solve them, thanks to the massive common sense of the British people, who are getting on with delivering our programme and our fight against coronavirus. It is with the common sense of the British people that we will succeed, and build back better and stronger than ever before.

If only.

That day, news of an upcoming curfew in London emerged.

Apparently, the British people don’t have much common sense, after all.

Currently, London has some of the fewest new coronavirus cases (i.e. positive tests, little hospitalisation):

Guido rightly wrote (emphases in the original here):

If this afternoon’s splash from the Evening Standard is true, it is a step too far. The London director of Public Health England (yes, the organisation is still limping on for now, despite the Health Secretary announcing its abolition back in August) has issued a “curfew alert” to the capital through the newspaper, saying residents could face a mandatory curfew if Covid cases continue to rise. A ridiculous suggestion that should be forcefully opposed.

Shutting pubs, bars, restaurants, and just about everything else at an arbitrary hour will obviously do nothing to stop the spread of coronavirus. If anything, the move will be counter-productive – compressing the same number of customers into a shorter time and making social distancing harder still. Or pushing social gatherings into homes not bars, which are thought to be more likely to spread the virus. This no doubt ineffective PHE [Public Health England] nannying should have been dumped when the organisation was. The government need to remember there is a limit to people’s compliance. This might just hit it.

As I write early on Tuesday, September 22, Boris is planning to bring in an England-wide curfew for pubs and restaurants on Thursday. As if the virus will know the difference between a 10 p.m. closing time versus the usual one of 11 p.m. The mind boggles.

Thursday, September 17

Matt Hancock appeared again with another update on coronavirus.

This time, it was about measures taken on lockdown in the North East of England. This includes strict adherence to household bubbles, table service only in hospitality venues and a curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.:

Once again, he was straining every sinew, an expression he has been using since March:

The battle against coronavirus is not over, and while we strain every sinew to spring free of its clutches, with winter on the horizon we must prepare, bolster our defences and come together once again against this common foe.

Then he announced upcoming plans to make everyone using A&E (Accident and Emergency) departments to make a booking! Good grief:

… we are working to get patients the right care in the right place, by expanding the role of NHS 111. During the peak of this pandemic, we saw millions of people using NHS 111, on the phone or online, to get the best possible advice on coronavirus, helping them to stay safe and, where possible, to stay out of hospital, where they could have unknowingly spread the virus. It is crucial that, ahead of winter, we use this window of opportunity to seek out what worked and build on it, so we provide a better service for patients and protect the NHS. Of course, no one will ever be turned away from our emergency departments in the most serious of cases; however, we have worked with the royal colleges, the NHS and others to develop a better, quicker and more clinically appropriate service for patients by using NHS 111 first.

This is how it works. We will invest £24 million to increase call-handling capacity and to make sure there are more clinicians on hand to provide expert advice and guidance, and we will build on our trials to make NHS 111 a gateway to the emergency care system, providing a first port of call for patients. In future, rather than having to queue in an emergency ward, we are testing that people should call NHS 111 first to book an appointment with whoever can give them the most appropriate care, whether it is a GP, a specialist consultant, a pharmacist, a nurse or community services. Of course if they need to go to the emergency department, NHS 111 will be able to book them into an appropriate time slot. We want to see this approach lead to shorter waiting times and better availability of appointments for patients. We will consult on how its performance is best measured, and, with successful pilots, we will roll out NHS 111 First to all trusts from December.

This is the bit that galled me the most:

The purpose of 111 First is to improve access, including in terms of inequalities in the NHS, by ensuring that people get the right treatment in the right place and easier access if they do need to go to an emergency department, because the emergency department will know that they are coming. It is commonplace now in almost every part of our life to let people know that we are coming. If we are going to do something as important as visit an emergency department, it will help both the patient seeking treatment and the NHS to let them know that they are coming first. That is the principle behind 111 First. It sits alongside 999, which anybody should call in a serious incident.

‘People’s government’, my eye.

Nor is the NHS the people’s health service.

If you have a serious injury, you or your loved ones could be losing life- or limb-saving time by calling 111 or 999.

Based on what I read during the March lockdown, calling 111 was life-threatening. Children calling on behalf of elderly parents were told, ‘If your relative is not turning blue, do the best you can.’

Calling the ambulance service on 999 generally produced this result: ‘We’re overloaded. If you can take your relative to hospital yourself, please do so.’

Over the past few months, I have heard NHS senior executives give testimony to Select Committees. They do not want patients coming in to a hospital, to a GP surgery — anywhere on NHS property.

An absolute shower!

Speaking of absolute showers, Baroness Harding — Dido Harding, a former jockey and failed business consultant/corporate director — gave testimony to a Select Committee, the Commons Science and Technology Committee, led by Greg Clark MP (Tunbridge Wells, Con).

Wow. It was car-crash television on BBC Parliament.

Baroness Harding is, inexplicably, the director of NHS Test and Trace programme.

Greg Clark is no slouch. He pressed and pressed the same question. Did she not anticipate the increase of demand for tests after lockdown lifted?

Finally, she gave the answer.

The Independent reported:

Demand for coronavirus tests is three to four times the number available, the director of NHS test and trace has admitted.

Baroness Dido Harding, who told MPs there was capacity to carry out 242,817 tests a day, said the “sizeable” rise in demand had been unexpected.

Boris Johnson has pledged to raise capacity to 500,000 by next month – but Baroness Harding’s estimates suggest that even that figure would not be enough to satisfy demand.

Even then:

despite images of queues outside Covid-19 drive-in centres, the testing tsar said: “I strongly refute that the system is failing.”

She put the blame on SAGE …

Baroness Harding insisted current capacity had been based on modelling provided by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and suggested that around a quarter of those seeking tests did not have symptoms.

… and the testing laboratories:

Quizzed by the committee chair and former Tory minister Greg Clark on the current issues in the system, she said that the “constraint” in the testing was in processing and laboratories.

On Friday, Sir Jeremy Farrar, a SAGE member and director of the Wellcome Trust, hit back.

The Telegraph reported:

Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust, who sits on the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said the body had given “clear advice” that a fully functioning test, track and trace system should be in place

Responding to her comments on social media, Sir Jeremy said he had personally warned that a growing testing crisis was looming.

“Interesting to be blaming Sage,” he wrote on Twitter. “Has been clear, and in the advice, that the UK faced an inevitable increase in community transmission and cases after the summer and needed a fully functional and trusted test, track and trace in place.”

Sir Jeremy posted his comments from a BBC interview with Andrew Marr in June, in which he warned of a “nasty rebound” if steps were not taken to improve testing. He also re-posted an article from May in which he warned that lifting restrictions was difficult even with a fully working testing programme in operation.

The testing crisis deepened on Friday when it emerged that children at four out of five schools are staying at home because they cannot get a test

This coronavirus business will only get worse. Watch and wait.

Part 2 concerns the Brexit-related Internal Market Bill.

For some time, I have suspected that China was behind the lockdowns in Western nations.

An American attorney and researcher, Michael P Senger, has been researching this topic for months.

On September 15, he reported his findings for Tablet: ‘China’s Global Lockdown Propaganda Campaign’. Please circulate the link amongst your family and friends.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

China’s lockdown in mid-January, Senger says, was in accordance with their national policy of fangkong:

the same hybrid of health and security policy that inspired the reeducation and “quarantine” of over 1 million Uighur Muslims “infected with extremism in Xinjiang. The World Health Organization’s representative in China noted that “trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science … The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history, so it is certainly not a recommendation the WHO has made.”

The CCP confined 57 million Hubei residents to their homes. At the time, human rights observers expressed concerns. As one expert told The New York Times, “the shutdown would almost certainly lead to human rights violations and would be patently unconstitutional in the United States.”

By the end of the month, Dr Tedros from the WHO praised China for its successful lockdown:

Yet only six days in, the lockdown—“unprecedented in public health history”—had produced no results, so Tedros was praising human rights abuses with nothing to show for them.

Then came the video clips on social media which went viral:

One video purportedly showed a SWAT team catching a man with a butterfly net for removing his mask. But in hindsight, this crisis theater is somewhat comical; in the infamous video, the “spontaneously collapsing” man extends his arms to catch himself.

The Chinese government also issued images showing they were on top of the coronavirus situation:

Official Chinese accounts widely shared an image of a hospital wing supposedly constructed in one day, but which actually showed an apartment 600 miles away.

Remember how China’s cases started declining in February?

Beginning in February, the CCP reported an exponential decline in coronavirus cases, until March 19 when they announced their lockdown had eliminated domestic cases entirely.

After that, there were no more Chinese data forthcoming.

Why anyone thought the Chinese were being truthful is astounding:

The CCP has shaped scientific narratives by consistently promoting the falsehood that “China controlled the virus.” Of course, “China controlled the virus” is a baldfaced lie. China expelled journalists in March and its infection data is manifestly forged; U.S. intelligence has confirmed China’s data is intentionally misrepresented.

Yet, from this, came the push for lockdowns worldwide — along with a campaign against hydroxychloroquine, which, if used early enough and combined with azithromycin or zinc, can alleviate the debilitating symptoms of the virus.

Richard Horton, the editor of The Lancet, even gave an interview to China Central Television:

In a May interview for China Central Television, Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the esteemed medical journal The Lancet, emphatically praised China’s lockdowns, saying: “It was not only the right thing to do, but it also showed other countries how they should respond in the face of such an acute threat. So, I think we have a great deal to thank China for …”

Horton’s praise is telling in light of the infamous retraction of a Lancet study on hydroxochloroquine and reports that promising journal articles on herd immunity have gone unpublished. In August, Horton doubled down in a full-throated piece that had surprisingly little to do with health:

The “century of humiliation,” when China was dominated by a colonially-minded west and Japan, only came to an end with the Communist victory in the civil war in 1949Every contemporary Chinese leader, including Xi Jinping, has seen their task as protecting the territorial security won by Mao and the economic security achieved by Deng.

Good grief. That explains a lot.

The WHO, not surprisingly, led the way for lockdowns, praising, in their words, the:

uncompromising and rigorous use of non-pharmaceutical measures to contain transmission of the COVID-19 virus in multiple settings

which, the organisation said:

provides vital lessons for the global response.

The New York Times, which, nearly a century ago, praised the Stalin regime, jumped on board the Chinese bandwagon:

China ‘took one of the most ancient strategies and rolled out one of the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease-containment efforts in history.’

China was ready to promote lockdown via bogus social media accounts:

Within China, the CCP has long paid hundreds of thousands of social media propagandists and also pays for posts on an a la carte basis, totaling hundreds of millions of propaganda comments each year. More recently, these activities have gone global and escalated dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic. Social media companies have proven somewhat unserious about the gravity of the problem. When the State Department provided a sample of 250,000 accounts likely involved in coronavirus disinformation, Twitter refused to take action. These activities affect countries with little say in social media governance; a recent study found thousands of inauthentic accounts still promoting Serbian-Chinese friendship after Twitter deleted thousands of others. A former Facebook employee wrote “I have blood on my hands” due to the company’s routinely discounting malicious political activity despite its “disproportionate impact.”

It should not come as a surprise that Italy was the first European nation to implement lockdown. The country has been a part of China’s expansive Belt and Road Initiative. Many Chinese work in the north making luxury goods, brand names we all know.

The Chinese travelled to Italy to advise:

Chinese experts arrived in Italy on March 12 and two days later advised a tighter lockdown: “There are still too many people and behaviors on the street to improve.” On March 19, they repeated that Italy’s lockdown was “not strict enough,” saying: “Here in Milan, the hardest hit area by COVID-19, there isn’t a very strict lockdown … We need every citizen to be involved in the fight of COVID-19 and follow this policy.”

During that time, China ran a social media propaganda campaign in Italy:

From March 11 to 23, roughly 46% of tweets with the hashtag #forzaCinaeItalia (Go China, go Italy) and 37% of those with the hashtag #grazieCina (thank you China) came from bots.

However, these were not automated bots, as Senger explains. They were fake accounts that were carefully managed:

Social media and analytics companies generally only detect obvious automated activity, while fake, personally managed accounts can be created with ease. This works out well for the CCP, which has always preferred the human touch.

He cites one account which was all about promoting lockdown until George Floyd’s death, at which point the account switched to promoting BLM:

On March 12, Twitter user @manisha_kataki posted a video showing Chinese workers disinfecting streets, apparently admiring China’s strategy: “At this rate, China will be back in action very soon, may be much faster than the world expects.” As The New York Times’ Paul Mozur noted, this tweet was not shocking, funny, or newsworthy, yet it was shared hundreds of thousands of times. This caught the attention of Israeli company Next Dim, which flagged the activity as likely state-sponsored.

Senger has a collage of the user’s tweets, which insulted countries that had not yet adopted lockdown.

That was not the only Twitter account. There were others, which, interestingly, also tweeted about racial division.

Hence, it was a natural progression to go from promoting lockdown to BLM:

Many of these same accounts also frequently discuss racial divisions. Later in 2020, they show strong support for Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, especially those surrounding the death of George Floyd. Racial justice is an issue of real concern to many citizens, both in America and throughout the world. But knowing that the CCP supported these protests, it’s worth pondering the likelihood that the frugal Xi would not be spending billions of dollars per year on foreign propaganda—and stepping up those activities—if he weren’t seeing results.

Although the aforementioned New York Times article by Paul Mozur caught the attention of Twitter, which suspended 170,000 accounts, Senger says that:

many of the suspect accounts are still active, and a search for hundreds of similar examples can be easily repeated with one click.

State and national leaders who were late to lock down, never did lock down or lifted their restrictions came under China’s Twitter fire via these accounts:

When South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem famously refused to issue a statewide lockdown, suspicious accounts began filling her Twitter feed with abuse and graphic language to pressure her to do so.

Kristi Noem stood her ground and never locked down South Dakota.

Georgia’s governor Brian Kemp was the first to lift a state lockdown. When Kemp honoured the late Rep John Lewis, he received a barrage of abuse on Twitter:

conspicuous, vulgar language that often invoked his anti-lockdown stance.

Senger alleges that Boris Johnson was a target of Chinese propaganda which ended up with him locking down the UK:

Initially, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also opted for herd immunity. But on March 13, suspicious accounts began storming his Twitter feed and likening his plan to genocide. This language almost never appears in Johnson’s feed before March 12, and several of the accounts were hardly active before then. Britain locked down on March 23.

I have wondered why Sweden took the wise decision not to implement a lockdown. It turns out there is a disagreement between Sweden and China:

Sweden’s skepticism toward the CCP predates COVID-19. In January, Beijing threatened Swedish trade ties over an award given to Gui Congyou, a Swedish publisher detained in China. Sweden did not back down and later refused to follow China’s lockdown model, opting for a herd immunity strategy. Thus, Sweden became a prime target of a Chinese campaign portraying it as weak against the COVID threat.

The account names and trending hashtags fit with the targeted nations to sound plausible. Italy had the aforementioned #forzaCinaeItalia. The United States had @AmerLiberal as one of the CCP-sponsored accounts:

@AmerLiberal, appears to be a model CCP propaganda account, showing strong support for China’s human rights abuses—including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong—and antipathy for China’s key rivals, India and the United States. The account strongly supports global lockdowns.

Conservative Americans have known for some time China has been funding certain US research programmes:

For decades, the CCP has co-opted scientists through its unparalleled overseas influence network, the United Front Work Department, which expanded dramatically under Xi. In June, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that 189 of its grantees had received undisclosed funding from foreign governments. In 93% of cases, including that of Charles Lieber, chair of Harvard’s chemistry department, the undisclosed funding came from China. Likewise, the National Science Foundation, a smaller organization, reported 16–20 cases of undisclosed foreign financial ties; all but two were with China.

Michael P Senger has a Twitter feed, which is also worth reading.

On the ties to China and related propaganda, here are tweets from an informative thread of his:

I had not seen that video until today. That said, in April or May, the BBC News channel ran regular reports from China around dinnertime in the UK. One young couple interviewed said, whilst smiling, that the lockdown, which had ended by then, showed that the Chinese government cared about its people and that the restrictions were for ‘health’ and the common good. Of course!

Here is a collage of CCP-sponsored tweets:

Many countries have them, including France.

Some might wonder about the severe lockdown in Victoria State, Australia, best known for the city of Melbourne. This tweet has a collage of Australian tweets thanking Victoria’s governor, Dan Andrews. Senger’s text reads:

Andrews’ long-time staffer attended a high-level CCP academy. An MP leading Andrews’ Belt & Road negotiations with Beijing lauded China’s handling of COVID.

That explains a lot, too.

Bill Gates also approves of strict lockdowns that violate civil liberties (see second tweet):

Oh. My. Word.

I rather liked this short exchange after the thread:

That means us.

So, please be sociable and circulate Michael P Senger’s links and tweets. Thank you.

This week was a bit of a barnstormer in the House of Commons: from Extinction Rebellion to coronavirus.

Last weekend, a man stabbed several people in Birmingham’s city centre, killing one. A stabbing also occurred in Lewisham (South London). On Monday morning, a shooting occurred in a small town in Suffolk.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) disrupted the distribution of most national newspapers’ weekend editions in England. They glued themselves to scaffolding outside some of the printing plants. Members of Extinction Rebellion also protested at a printing plant in Motherwell, Scotland. The Scottish protests were less severe.

Coronavirus testing has been problematic, with many people unable to find tests when they need them.

Big Christmas gatherings are likely to be cancelled because of new coronavirus legislation.

Grab yourself a cuppa and a sarnie. This week’s Parliamentary debates and reaction were compelling.

Monday, September 7

Kit Malthouse, the Minister for Crime and Policing, delivered a statement about the Birmingham stabbings and the Extinction Rebellion direct action. A debate followed.

An excerpt from Malthouse’s statement follows (emphases mine below):

On Friday night, Extinction Rebellion protesters used trucks and bamboo scaffolds to block roads outside the newsprinters works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire and Knowsley, near Liverpool. These presses print The Sun, The Times, The Sun on Sunday and The Sunday Times, as well as The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday and the London Evening Standard. The police reacted quickly on Friday night, arrested around 80 people nationally and worked throughout Saturday to clear the sites completely. In Broxbourne, approximately 100 protesters were reported in attendance. Assistance from neighbouring forces was required, with work long into the early hours to ease the disruption. Fifty one protesters were arrested for public nuisance and subsequently charged with obstruction of the highway. They were taken to three custody suites in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and London. Disruption concluded by midday on Saturday. All main roads remained open, including the nearby A10. However, there was disruption to the distribution of newspapers as well as for local businesses.

In Knowsley, a group of 30 protesters were reported in attendance alongside 10 observers, one legal adviser and one police liaison individual. Thirty protesters were arrested, with disruption concluding by 10.45 the next morning. These protesters were subsequently charged with aggravated trespass and bailed to appear before magistrates at a later date. Twenty four protesters also ​attended a print works in Motherwell, Lanarkshire in Scotland. In this instance there was no disruption caused and no arrests were made.

A free press is the cornerstone of a British society. The freedom to publish without fear or favour, to inform the public, to scrutinise our institutions and to stimulate debate on events that affect each and every one of us is indispensable. The actions of Extinction Rebellion were a direct challenge to this freedom and the values of liberty and tolerance that we hold dear. Extinction Rebellion claims to be an environmental campaign group, yet that worthy cause is undermined by its tactics. Its actions show that it is not interested in purely peaceful protest, dialogue and debate. Instead, it seeks to impose its view through this kind of direct action.

The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental tool of civic expression and will never be curtailed by the Government. Equally, it is unacceptable for groups such as XR to hide behind the guise of protest while committing criminal acts that prevent law-abiding citizens from going about their lives. All of us will remember the disruption caused last year as the group blocked roads and major transport routes. Police forces across the country were forced to divert resources away from tackling other crime in order to oversee those occupations. It is a terrible shame to see those counterproductive tactics revived in the midst of a pandemic, when we are only just recovering from the profound disruption of lockdown. Throughout the pandemic, our police officers have been on the streets every day working to keep the public safe and to stop the spread of coronavirus. In placing unnecessary pressure on our emergency services, the actions of the protesters are contemptuous not only of the police but of the public whom they seek to protect.

The irony is that the United Kingdom is already doing more to tackle climate change and decarbonise our economy than almost any other nation on earth. The UK is the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to climate change by 2050. Since 2000, we have decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 country. The Prime Minister has set up two Cabinet Committees focused on tackling climate change—one for strategy and another for implementation—discussing how Departments can go further and faster in meeting our legally binding 2050 net zero target. We are also hosting the next UN climate change conference, COP26, which will take place in November in Glasgow. It would be far more productive if, rather than plotting disruption and chaos, those behind Extinction Rebellion put their efforts into working with the Government to tackle climate change and build the green economy. While they persist in their current course, however, our message to those individuals is clear: if you plan to curtail our freedoms through criminal acts, be in no doubt that you will face the full force of the law. As a Government, we will not stand by and allow the livelihoods of hard-working people to be undermined by a minority using the pretence of tackling climate change to impose an extremist world view.

Extinction Rebellion’s actions have shown how the tactics of disruptive protests are changing. The Home Office has been engaging with police chiefs to understand the challenges they face and to assess how they can facilitate peaceful protest while not causing significant disruption and infringing on the rights of others with differing views. The Home Secretary and I are committed ​to learning the lessons of recent protests and ensuring that the police have the powers required to deal with the disruption caused by groups such as XR. I will keep the tools available to tackle this behaviour under constant review. As always, our thanks go to the police for their tireless efforts to respond to all manner of incidents, and particularly at this time when so many have worked so hard during the pandemic. I hope that the leaders of Extinction Rebellion will issue an apology to them for actions that have been roundly condemned by all mainstream opinion in our country.

By its actions this weekend, XR has done nothing to bolster the cause of fighting climate change. Rather, it has reminded us of the value of a free press and free expression and made us think about what more we may need to do to protect those freedoms. I commend this statement to the House.

Sarah Jones (Croydon Central), responding for Labour, gave an excellent speech. An excerpt follows:

all Members of the House will be deeply concerned about the wider rise in violent crime that we are seeing. As the former chair of the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime and violence reduction, I am all too aware of the seriousness of this issue. I know that West Midlands police, along with David Jamieson, the PCC, is taking this very seriously, and the violence reduction unit is doing some great preventive work in the west midlands. Does the Minister accept that over the past decade we have seen knife crime rise in every police force area in England and Wales, and ​that easing lockdown restrictions poses particular challenges? Does he further accept that rising violent crime must be urgently addressed?

Turning to the matter of Extinction Rebellion, I trust that the Minister will agree with me, rather than some members of his own party, in recognising that tackling climate change is the challenge of our generation. However, we also know that the free press is the cornerstone of democracy, and we must do all we can to protect it. As a result, actions that stop people being able to read what they choose are wrong. They will do nothing to tackle climate change. Those who break the law should be held to account. As the Leader of the Opposition said over the weekend, the actions of those who deliberately set out to break the law and stifle freedom of the press are completely unacceptable. Stopping people being able to buy the newspapers they choose and hitting small businesses in the process is hugely counterproductive. It does nothing to tackle the vital cause of tackling climate change. In fact, it sets it back.

On the policing response to the incidents, can the Minister confirm whether the authorities had any intelligence that these incidents might occur?

Today in the media, new laws have been mentioned by the Home Secretary. Can the Minister confirm what aspects of our current public order laws he believes are inadequate? Will he also confirm which aspects of the Coronavirus Act 2020 dealing with gatherings he believes leave gaps? Does he agree that we should not forget the many people who are concerned about climate change who wish to peacefully and lawfully protest, and that that right should be protected?

Malthouse did not answer her question about new legislation and said that the intelligence surrounding Extinction Rebellion’s actions at the printing plants was unclear.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham, Conservative) suggested giving the protesters fixed-penalty notices (fines). Malthouse said that, as those were new during the coronavirus pandemic, there aren’t enough data to measure their efficacy.

An SNP MP, Kenny MacAskill (East Lothian) downplayed the Extinction Rebellion incident. As SNP MPs always do, they think only of Scotland. If this doesn’t spell out the SNP’s sympathies with Marxism, I don’t know what does:

The … group perpetrated no violence—random or otherwise—nor is it a criminal gang, terrorist ​group or a deranged individual. Any attempt to portray those people as that is wrong and a dangerous precedent in a democracy. The actions carried out by Extinction Rebellion, both in Scotland and in England, were a peaceful protest. That should not be forgotten, and that remains legitimate. It is a group of young people, although not always entirely young, who care about the environment. That is a legitimate position to take. This action was not an attempt to close down free speech, and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous. All they were seeking to do was to disrupt the outgoing of print for a period of time. There was no cessation of the print being published. Indeed, it appeared online and at most delivery was delayed to some shops.

Malthouse replied:

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has positioned the SNP outside mainstream opinion. [Interruption.] Well, you’re all expressing consternation, and speaking, smiling and laughing. I do not know why me expressing concern is worthy of derision. In truth, the vast majority of people in this country, and all mainstream parties in this country, have expressed alarm at the tactics of Extinction Rebellion over the weekend and its stated aim of disrupting newspapers’ ability to distribute their views and opinions because they do not agree with them. One of the first things that happens in extremist states and takeovers is an attempt to grip the television station, the radio station or the newspapers. Control of information is key so we need to take care with these things. I hope he will agree with me in time.

Antony Higginbotham (Burnley, Conservative) expressed concern at the cost of the Extinction Rebellion protest:

The unacceptable actions of Extinction Rebellion show a consistent disregard for the lives and livelihoods that they disrupt. Does my hon. Friend believe we should hold Extinction Rebellion to account, not just for the significant public sector costs that rack up with the action it undertakes, but for the significant lost income that businesses across the country have suffered as a result?

Malthouse said:

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. He is right that these protests are not costless. Aside from the costs to the businesses affected, there is a large overtime bill to be covered. Of all the costs, the most profound and alarming is the opportunity cost; those police officers who are spending time ungluing protesters and dismantling scaffolding are not spending time preventing knife crime, murder, rape or domestic violence. There are other much more vital activities that could be performed in the communities they serve.

Anthony Browne (South Cambridgshire, Conservative) pointed out that freer countries have fewer environmental issues:

I am a journalist and an environmentalist. I used to be environment editor of The Observer and The Times. I am currently chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the environment, and I have seen around the world that those countries that have a free press are far better at tackling environmental problems than those countries without a free press. Will my hon. Friend join me in condemning Extinction Rebellion’s assault on the free press, and does he agree that such attacks on free speech will ultimately do more harm to the environmental cause than help it?

Malthouse responded:

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, the paradox, or even the tragedy, of the protests is that I understand that the edition of The Sun that was prevented from being distributed contained an op-ed from David Attenborough—no less—extolling the virtues of climate change action and urging Sun readers to do their bit on global warming. Ten years ago, nobody would have dreamt of that opinion appearing ​in that newspaper, and it shows how far the argument has been advanced by peaceful means. This protest runs the risk of setting the debate back rather than moving it forward.

Dr Julian Lewis, who is now Independent (having had the Conservative whip removed), pointed out the contradiction of fining anti-lockdown spokesman Piers Corbyn £10,000 when XR were free to glue themselves to scaffolding with no fine:

It is true that various brands of Corbynism are a little less popular these days, but does my hon. Friend agree that fining a climate change denier £10,000 for an anti-lockdown protest sets a benchmark which should equally apply to those who break the law in pursuit of more fashionable causes?

Malthouse replied:

As the right hon. Gentleman may know, a number of fixed penalty fines have been handed out over the past few days for all manner of contraventions of the coronavirus regulations. No doubt some may be disputed, but we shall see in the end where the courts decide.

The SNP’s Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) asked if XR would be reclassified as a criminal group:

Does the Minister understand the genuine concerns about any plans to reclassify Extinction Rebellion as a ​criminal group and the implications that this may have for peaceful protest, especially given that last year the Prime Minister’s own father addressed an Extinction Rebellion rally and said that he backed their methods?

Malthouse said that such groups are being watched and are under review.

Richard Burgon (Leeds East, Labour) claimed that direct action was part of democracy:

Direct action is a proud part of our history and democracy. Through it, the Chartists and suffragettes helped secure the right to vote and trade unions won the eight-hour working day and paid holidays, and it played a key part in securing legislation for gay rights and for women’s and racial equality. If pursued, would not the Home Secretary’s suggestion of defining Extinction Rebellion as a criminal gang be a betrayal of our proud tradition of civil liberties?

Malthouse said:

Direct action is not the same thing as a crime. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that there are certain crimes that he wishes to ignore, then I am afraid the Opposition are in a very difficult place. I am the Minister for policing and crime, and when, under our current law as approved through this House, somebody commits a crime, I have no choice other than to condemn it.

Lee Anderson (Ashfield, Conservative) would like for XR to be designated a criminal organisation:

The people of Ashfield see no benefit in protesters gluing their ears to the pavement, spraying red dye on our monuments or camping out in trees on Parliament Square. Extinction Rebellion is now public nuisance No. 1 because of the disruption it causes, as well as the massive cost to our emergency services when, frankly, they have better things to do. Does my hon. Friend agree that this group should be ​classified as a crime group and feel the full weight of the law if it continues to disrupt members of the public going about their daily business?

Malthouse repeated his earlier answer about such groups being under continuing review.

Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk, SNP) did not want to see XR labelled as a criminal organisation:

Whatever we think about Extinction Rebellion’s tactics, be they right or wrong, its actions were peaceful, and such civil disobedience methods have been used throughout history, so any branding of the activists as criminals is certainly not acceptable. Does not the Minister agree that two wrongs do not make a right?

Malthouse gave this wise reply:

Not all crimes are violent.

Only one MP dared to connect Marxism with XR — Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield, Conservative). Well done:

It is with regret that, since Extinction Rebellion’s inception, we have witnessed it adopt increasingly radical measures, which masquerade upon an environmentalist platform. In truth, it is a considered ruse to gain support for its ​Marxist agenda, which attacks British values predicated on freedom and pluralism. Blocking ambulances and seeking to constrain press freedom are but two examples from a plethora of behaviours that demonstrate its devious agenda.

Her Majesty’s Government were elected with a mighty mandate from the British people to restore their ancient rights and freedoms, whether threatened from Brussels or from the barricade. The fine people of my constituency of Wakefield expect us to deliver on that. Will the Minister outline what steps the Government will take to neutralise XR’s disruptive and dangerous tactics?

Malthouse replied:

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s stentorian support. He is quite right that people want to see a sense of order in this country, and that is exactly what we will put in place and what we are beavering away to make happen across the country—in his constituency and elsewhere.

I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, September 8

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, gave a statement updating MPs on coronavirus and the situation in Bolton. New laws, he said, would apply only to Bolton.

He was economical with the truth …

Wednesday, September 9

On Wednesday morning, Steve Baker (Wycombe, Conservative), tweeted:

No one raised this topic at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs).

Meanwhile, Matt Hancock gave a morning interview (more here):

What does that even mean?

He explained his change of advice on testing to Sky News:

More on this follows below.

It was National Farmers Day, and many MPs wore ears of British wheat tied together with British wool. Labour’s Angela Rayner wasn’t the slightest bit interested:

Most of PMQs was about testing. Prime Minister Boris Johnson made this startling statement about daily coronavirus testing at home:

Just after PMQs, as Boris hurriedly scuttled out of the chamber, Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West, Conservative) raised a point of order about the coronavirus legislation.

I wonder if Boris knew about it in advance and got out of there as quickly as he could:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Had the Secretary of State for Health given notice of the Government’s intention to further restrict our liberty to meet with one another in his statement yesterday, at least some of us would have been able to question him about it. What remedy is there for those of us who enthusiastically support the Prime Minister, but nevertheless want to restrain the Government’s ability to govern by order without debate?

Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle replied:

I thank the right hon. Member for giving me notice. I am very sympathetic to the main point he makes. I accept that decisions have been taken in a fast-moving situation, but timings for statements are known to Ministers. It is really not good enough for the Government to make decisions of this kind in a way that shows insufficient regard to the importance of major policy announcements being made first to this House and to Members of this House wherever possible. I have already sent a letter to the Secretary of State. I think the total disregard for this Chamber is not acceptable. I know that the Prime Minister is a Member of Parliament as well and that he will ensure that statements should be made here first, especially as this particular Secretary of State requests statements. To then ignore the major fact that he wanted to put to the country, and not put it before this House, is not acceptable and I hope he will apologise to Members.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South, Labour Co-op) had more information:

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Not only did we not get a convincing explanation yesterday from the Secretary of State on the ongoing testing fiasco, but in fact Mr Robert Peston of ITV wrote on Twitter, ahead of the Secretary of State’s statement, that the Government were planning to shift the regulations down from 30 people to six. There was no reason why the Secretary of State could not have told the House yesterday that that was the Government’s plan. Has the Secretary of State given you, Mr Speaker, notice that he is coming to the House to update MPs on that change in policy, or should we assume that Ministers do not know what they are doing from one day to the next?

Peston had tweeted this on Tuesday:

The Speaker was uncharacteristically incandescent:

What I would take on board is the fact that it was all over Twitter as this was going on. Obviously, somebody decided to tell the media rather than this House. What I would say is that I expect the Secretary of State to apologise to Members and make sure that this Chamber knows first. He was fully aware—fully aware—of what was going to be said later. Let me say that if this Minister wants to run this Chamber ragged, I can assure you now that I am sure an urgent question every day might just begin to run him ragged.

At 4 p.m., Boris gave a coronavirus press conference, announcing new coronavirus ‘marshals’ who will be appearing on our streets as of next week — so, not only in Bolton:

I agree 110% with this tweet:

Thursday, September 10

Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg was unable to deliver his customary business statement to the Commons. One of his children developed coronavirus symptoms. Stuart Andrew, the Acting Leader, stood in for him:

Matt Hancock showed up to make a statement on new coronavirus regulations. He was taken to task over his confusing advice about getting a test. Earlier this year, he encouraged people to get tested. Now, with the system overwhelmed, he’s backtracked:

Guido Fawkes has quotes from Hancock documenting his about-face on the matter and concludes (emphases in the original):

Was Hancock’s advice wrong then or is it wrong now? The public will be getting pretty sick of the Department of Health’s cock-ups being the responsibility of anyone other than Hancock.

UPDATE: A government source tells Guido “The guidance is clear. If you think you have symptoms you should get a test. Today’s message is no different to that.” Apparently people in doubt about whether they have symptoms should still get a test…

Simon Dolan, a businessman who is taking the Government to court over lockdown, tweeted:

The Speaker of the House introduced the debate:

Before I call the Secretary of State, I would like to say that he and I had a conversation in a meeting last night, and I think we have some new arrangements coming forward to help the House.

That means that Hancock will be obliged to show up to present these developments to the House for debate in future.

He’s so disingenuous:

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Just to concur with what you have said, I do regard it as incredibly important to come to the House as often as possible. Sometimes these are fast-moving situations, and I will ensure that I give the House my full attention and, as I try to do, answer as many questions as fully as I can.

Excerpts follow:

… As the chief medical officer said yesterday, we must learn from the recent experience of countries such as Belgium that have successfully put in place measures to combat a similar rise in infections. So today, I would like to update the House on a number of new measures that will help us to get this virus under control and to make the rules clearer, simpler and more enforceable.

First, we are putting in place new rules on social contact … In England, from Monday, we are introducing the rule of six. Nobody should meet socially in groups of more than six, and if they do, they will be breaking the law. This will apply in any setting—indoors or outdoors, at home or in the pub. It replaces both the existing ban on gatherings of more than 30 and the current guidance on allowing two households to meet indoors.

There will be some exemptions. For example, if a single household or support bubble is larger than six, they can still gather.

Guido Fawkes was no doubt relieved:

Hancock continued:

Places of education and work are unaffected. Covid-secure weddings, wedding receptions and funerals can go ahead up to a limit of 30 people. Organised sport and exercise is exempt.

These are not measures that we take lightly. I understand that for many they will mean changing long-awaited plans or missing out on precious moments with loved ones, but this sacrifice is vital to control the virus for the long term and save lives, and I vow that we will not keep these rules in place for any longer than we have to.

Secondly, we are putting in place stronger enforcement. Hospitality venues will be legally required to request the contact details of every party. They will have to record and retain those details for 21 days and provide them to NHS Test and Trace without delay when required. This system is working well voluntarily, with minimal friction, and it is very effective, but it is not in place in all venues. It is only fair that it is followed by all. We are supporting ​local authorities to make greater use of their powers to close venues that are breaking rules and pose a risk to public health, and fines will be levied against hospitality venues that fail to ensure their premises are covid-secure.

Our goal, as much as possible, is to protect keeping schools and businesses open, while controlling the virus …

Our ability to test and trace on a large scale is fundamental to controlling the virus, as we have discussed in the House many times. The latest data show that we are doing more testing per head than other European countries such as Germany and Spain, and we have record capacity. We have increased capacity by more than 10,000 tests a day over the last fortnight. While there have been challenges in access to tests, the vast majority of people get their tests rapidly and close to home. The average distance travelled to a test site is 6.4 miles, and 90% of people who book a test travel 22 miles or less. We already have more than 400 testing sites in operation. We added 19 last week and plan 17 more this week.

However, as capacity has increased, we have seen an even faster rise in demand, including a significant increase from people who do not have symptoms and are not eligible for a test. That takes tests away from people who need them. If you have symptoms of coronavirus or are asked by a clinician or local authority to get a test, please apply, but if you do not have symptoms and have not been asked, you are not eligible for a test.

At the same time, we are developing new types of test that are simple, quick and scalable. They use swabs or saliva and can be turned round in 90 minutes or even 20 minutes. So-called Operation Moonshot, to deploy mass testing, will allow people to lead more normal lives and reduce the need for social distancing. For instance, it could mean that theatres and sports venues could test audience members on the day and let in those with a negative result, workplaces could be opened up to all those who test negative that morning, and anyone isolating because they are a contact or quarantining after travelling abroad could be tested and released. We are piloting that approach right now and verifying the new technology, and then it can be rolled out nationwide. [Laughter.] …

This will not meet well with a great swathe of people living in England (see the replies):

Simon Dolan tweeted:

Incidentally, the wait until Monday is partly because the St Leger Festival is being run through this weekend:

As the debate progressed, MPs from both sides of the House said that their constitutents were told to drive hundreds of miles away for tests. Here are two examples:

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab)

Will the Secretary of State please explain the lack of availability of home testing kits, which has dropped dramatically in my area of West Lancashire? In the absence of home testing kits, very ill pensioners are being offered tests 80 or 100 miles away. The confusing message in the assurance that he is trying to give is that there are too many getting tested, but that, if in doubt, people should get tested. How does that deal with the asymptomatic carriers or spreaders? This is a huge hidden danger. In the light of the Secretary of State’s earlier comment, my constituents would genuinely love to get with the programme, get tested where necessary and stay safe—if only the Government’s words met their actual experience of the system.

Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and very much welcome the exciting progress on developing saliva testing. Outstanding progress has already been made on expanding testing capacity, and he deserves our thanks for his tireless work. Inevitably, this is not without its challenges. On Tuesday evening, hundreds of cars from across the country—and I do mean hundreds—descended on Telford’s testing site, as they were directed to do by the booking system. Tests quickly ran out, roads became blocked, people who had travelled from as far away as Cornwall, Stockport and London were turned away, and my constituents were no longer able to access tests in the area and so in turn were sent elsewhere. What assurances can he give that the error in the booking system that directed so many people to Telford has now been corrected, and does he agree that people should not be criss-crossing the country and travelling for many hours to secure a test?

Harriet Baldwin (West Worcestershire, Conservative) asked about the infringement on civil liberties and whether the Government were moving the goalposts. I won’t bother with Hancock’s response, because he did not answer her question. He merely repeated the same old waffle:

We accepted massive restrictions on our liberty in March because we wanted to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, and we achieved that—indeed, not all the capacity was used. We are now imposing more restrictions on people’s liberty. Does the Secretary of State’s strategic goal for England continue to be to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, or has he now gone further and is aiming for zero covid in England?

Friday, September 11

Unusually, the House of Commons convened on a Friday.

The Speaker of the House opened the session with this:

We meet today on the 19th anniversary of 9/11. We remember all those who lost their lives due to terrorism on that day and all those who were injured, as well as those who were bereaved.

Then, Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch, Conservative) spoke, concerned about the new coronavirus rules coming in on Monday, September 14:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have been looking at today’s Order Paper and particularly at the remaining orders, where I had expected to see the statutory instrument that the Government must lay for the draconian new rules they are bringing in on Monday to be lawful. It does not appear to have been laid, despite the Prime Minister making an announcement about it on Wednesday and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care having made a statement yesterday. I am very concerned about the lack of opportunity for the public to see the text of these new regulations and about the Government’s continuing reluctance to give any opportunity to Members to debate this. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) asked when we could have a debate on it, and he was told that he could apply for a Backbench Business debate. That hardly fits in with the sense of urgency about all this. When my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) then raised the matter with the Secretary of State yesterday, he was told that the Secretary of State would take it away and think about it. That is not satisfactory, as we are talking about the most draconian introduction of new restrictions on our liberty, with criminal sanctions. We need to be aware of what is happening and given the opportunity to debate it.

Mr Speaker replied:

May I say that I share your disappointment? I think that we should all be informed and the country should also know what is going on. The laying of this instrument is a matter for the Government, but I would say that you know and I know that other avenues could be taken on Monday to tickle this little item out, if required. So I will leave it with you to ponder what you want to do next. The Clerk has made a note, and we will come back with further information.

MPs debated the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies (Environmentally Sustainable Investment) Bill.

Earlier that morning, Steve Baker was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Today. He spoke his mind about the Government’s response to coronavirus:

Baker retweeted an item from Liberty’s feed:

Good. Finally. I hope this results in a solid Left-Right grouping of credible people speaking out against this bill, hastily rushed through the Commons and the Lords in March.

Meanwhile, in Sweden:

Sweden continues to operate fairly normally. The British Government, on the other hand, follows the rest of the Western lemmings.

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