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Last Monday, I excerpted parts of Peter Hitchens’s column from the Mail on Sunday, March 22, 2020: ‘Is shutting down Britain REALLY the right answer?’.

Yesterday, March 29, he wrote another column, this one about the coronavirus shutdown one week after: ‘This Great Panic is foolish, yet our freedom is still broken and economy crippled’. His column has photos of what’s been going on over the past seven days, including one of Derbyshire police telling a couple walking their dog in the remote hills that what they are doing is ‘not essential’.

Emphases mine below.

He says he got a lot of verbal abuse for his March 22 column. Yet, he also received many messages of support.

That support comes from the silent majority whose voices are never heard on the news or even in their own communities. We must be quiet and follow the herd now.

He is right to say that things will get worse before they get better. On Monday evening, March 23, Boris announced an immediate lockdown. By Wednesday, March 25, the Coronavirus Bill passed the House of Lords.

Incidentally, I wrote this on Sunday, and a gale blew threw all day long. Temperatures took a dip. Although it was sunny, at least where I live, it was not good weather for walking around, even with restrictions. But I digress.

Hitchens predicts — probably rightly — that the government will have to tighten the screws just to reinforce its own misguided case:

I now suspect this dark season might get still worse before we see the clear, calm light of reason again. The greater the mistake we have made, the less willing we are to admit it or correct it. This is why I greatly fear worse developments in the coming few days.

When I predicted roadblocks in my column two weeks ago, which I did, I did so out of an instinct that we were entering on the craziest period of our lives since the death of Princess Diana. And now there are such roadblocks, officious, embarrassing blots on our national reputation.

But even I would not have dared to predict the mass house arrest under which we are all now confined.

He mentions a little known piece of legislation passed in 1984 (!) which he says was used to justify the lockdown:

I have found the origin of this bizarre Napoleonic decree – a few clauses in the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, which I confess I had not even heard of. It just goes to show how careful you have to be with the wording of the laws you pass.

Holy moly:

Perhaps we will emulate the French or Italian states, which have returned to their despotic origins and reduced their populations to a sort of cowering serfdom, barely able to step into the street.

I wonder whether there might also be restrictions on what can be said and published. I can see no necessary bar to this in the law involved.

Section 45 C (3) (c) of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 (appropriately enough) is the bit that does it. Once the Health Secretary believes there is a threat to public health, he has – or claims to have – limitless powers to do what he likes, ‘imposing or enabling the imposition of restrictions or requirements on or in relation to persons, things or premises in the event of, or in response to, a threat to public health’.

The former Supreme Court Judge Lord Sumption doubts that the Act can be used in this way and warns: ‘There is a difference between law and official instructions. It is the difference between a democracy and a police state. Liberty and the rule of law are surely worth something, even in the face of a pandemic.’

Lord Sumption is generally a liberal hero, and he was invited to deliver last year’s BBC Reith Lectures. But the Human Rights crowd have all melted away in the face of this outrage. So his warning was buried on Page 54 of The Times on Thursday, and Parliament, already supine, has slunk away after its craven acceptance of new attacks on liberty on Monday.

It will be interesting to see what our MPs have to say on April 22 when they reconvene in the House of Commons after Easter break.

Until then:

do not be surprised by anything. After last week, can we rule anything out?

The police are playing a bigger role in the North. Civilians are opting in to help, Hitchens says:

Humberside police are already advertising a ‘portal’ for citizens to inform on their neighbours for breaking the ‘social distancing’ rules.

If you think they won’t get any takers, think again. Northamptonshire police have revealed that their control room has had ‘dozens and dozens’ of calls about people ignoring the order.

They said: ‘We are getting calls from people who say, “I think my neighbour is going out on a second run – I want you to come and arrest them.”’

Others will have seen the films, taken by Derbyshire police drones, of lonely walkers on the remote, empty hills, publicly pillorying them for not obeying the regulations. It is genuinely hard to see what damage these walkers have done.

Meanwhile, in London, police are telling isolated sunbathers in search of natural Vitamin D — said to ward off coronavirus — not to lie on the grass in parks:

Most people will, by now, have viewed the online film of Metropolitan police officers bellowing officiously at sunbathers on Shepherd’s Bush Green in London, energetically stamping out the foul crime of lying on the grass (would they have paid so much attention, two weeks ago, to a gaggle of louts making an unpleasant noise, or to marijuana smokers?).

Hitchens says this reminds him of his time in the Soviet Union:

… as a former resident of the USSR, I can tell you that this sort of endless meddling by petty authority in the details of life, reinforced by narks, is normal in unfree societies – such as we have now become for an indefinite period. It is, by the way, also a seedbed for corruption.

He turns his attention to the economy, specifically the generous coronavirus bail out for 95% of people living in Britain. How can Chancellor Rishi Sunak recoup the money? Only through higher taxes in the years to come.

This is what scares me and, as sure as night follows day, this WILL happen:

He will get this back from us as soon as we are allowed out again. Just you wait till you get the bill, in increased taxes, inflation and devastated savings.

Hitchens discusses the evidence supporting his arguments during what he calls the Great Panic:

several powerful pieces of evidence have come to light, suggesting that the Great Panic is foolish and wrong.

… I do not claim to be an expert. But I refer to those who definitely are experts, who doubt the wisdom of what we are doing.

It is sad that far too little of this is being reported as prominently as it should be by our supposedly diverse and free media, especially the BBC, which has largely closed its mind and its airwaves to dissent. It is quite funny that a statue of George Orwell stands by the entrance to the BBC, bearing the inscription: ‘If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.’ …

Now, if you want a scientist who does not support Government policy, the most impressive of these is Prof Sucharit Bhakdi. If you desire experts, he is one.

He is an infectious medicine specialist, one of the most highly cited medical research scientists in Germany. He was head of the Institute for Medical Microbiology at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, one of Germany’s most distinguished seats of learning.

In a recent interview he had many uncomplimentary things to say about the shutdown policy being pursued by so many countries (there is a link on my blog to the interview, and a transcription).

But perhaps the most powerful was his reply to the suggestion that the closedown of society would save lives. He argued the contrary, saying this policy was ‘grotesque, absurd and very dangerous’.

He warned: ‘Our elderly citizens have every right to make efforts not to belong to the 2,200 [in Germany] who daily embark on their last journey. Social contacts and social events, theatre and music, travel and holiday recreation, sports and hobbies all help to prolong their stay on Earth. The life expectancy of millions is being shortened.’

He also gave this warning: ‘The horrifying impact on the world economy threatens the existence of countless people.

‘The consequences for medical care are profound. Already services to patients who are in need are reduced, operations cancelled, practices empty, hospital personnel dwindling.

‘All this will impact profoundly on our whole society.

‘I can only say that all these measures are leading to self-destruction and collective suicide because of nothing but a spook.’

Dr John Lee is another expert. He wrote an article for the Spectator on March 28 about the way Britain is handling coronavirus:

John Lee, a recently retired professor of pathology and a former NHS consultant pathologist, writes in The Spectator this weekend that by making Covid-19 a notifiable disease, the authorities may have distorted the figures.

‘In the current climate, anyone with a positive test for Covid-19 will certainly be known to clinical staff looking after them: if any of these patients dies, staff will have to record the Covid-19 designation on the death certificate – contrary to usual practice for most infections of this kind.

There is a big difference between Covid-19 causing death, and Covid-19 being found in someone who died of other causes.

Making Covid-19 notifiable might give the appearance of it causing increasing numbers of deaths, whether this is true or not. It might appear far more of a killer than flu, simply because of the way deaths are recorded.’

This, of course, explains why such an overwhelming number of Covid deaths, here and abroad, involve so-called ‘underlying conditions’, in fact serious, often fatal, diseases.

Take this into account whenever you hear official figures of coronavirus deaths.

Dr Lee adds, equally crucially: ‘We risk being convinced that we have averted something that was never really going to be as severe as we feared.’

As Hitchens says, there are important lessons to be learnt from the Great Panic, especially those regarding civil liberties and a broken economy.

The question remains: will we learn those lessons?

We are now in Lockdown Day No. 4, Friday, March 27, 2020.

Following on from my previous post on the UK, yesterday, Imperial College London changed their estimates of coronavirus deaths. They have now been adjusted to be much lower: 20,000 deaths instead of 200,000+/500,000+ (versions differ). To put that into perspective, 20,000 is the number for a bad flu/respiratory illness year. The latter figure is akin to the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919.

Here‘s the ‘horrific Imperial model’. You can read informed Twitter thread summaries from Jordan Schactel, Jeremy C Young and Sam Coates.

The possibility of collapsing the economy must have finally dawned on Dr Neil Ferguson:

Risk that the economic hit of long-term lockdown could harm health more than Covid-19 is “very valid consideration”, says Ferguson.

Guido Fawkes summarises Imperial’s changes and the reasons for them. The article from The Times is behind a paywall:

The Times’ Chris Smyth explains Ferguson’s findings, namely:

    • Peak demand on ICU is expected in 2.5-3 weeks, and will then decline
    • Imperial estimates post-lockdown fatalities to reach 20,000, though “it could be substantially lower than that”
    • Only “large scale testing and contact tracing” will bring an end to the lockdown

The NHS capacity prediction has been based on the recently-seen NHS ICU surge and Monday’s lockdown.

The British government and Houses of Parliament used the 200,000+ figure to bring in lockdown and emergency legislation, the likes of which Britons have never before seen in living memory. It seems to be an historic first.

My friends and I suspected Imperial’s extreme estimate when their numbers first appeared. We never changed our minds, despite media and government hype.

This lockdown and the Coronavirus Bill are entirely unnecessary.

By the end, though, it doesn’t matter. The government will come up with an escape clause strategy. Imperial’s experts now say:

fatalities to reach 20,000, though they could be substantially lower than that

Plan on them being the latter.

Guido Fawkes’s readers commented on this. Comments below come from this thread on Imperial’s new numbers. Guido’s new commenting system has no hyperlinks to individual comments.

The figure of 20,000 is far lower than the 30,000 for the Hong Kong Flu in 1968 (emphases mine below):

I remember the Hong Kong flu in 1968. We kept calm and carried on. But we didn’t have Piers Morgan on TV then. In fact, we did not have much, if any, daytime TV at all. Life was much better then in many other ways too.

Precisely. No one then would have even thought of a lockdown or emergency legislation, even a Labour government!

It gets stranger, as both Houses of Parliament — the Commons and the Lords — are now hiring their own coronavirus experts:

One of Guido’s readers responded on this thread, saying that we still have very few facts about this virus. Colour him sceptical, and rightly so:

On the subject of the science behind the covid 19 disease. People need to ask 3 questions:

1/ Is there an electron micrograph of the pure and fully characterised virus? 2/ What is the name of the primary peer reviewed paper which the virus is illustrated and its full genetic information described? 3/ What is the name of the primary publication that provides proof that a particular virus is the sole causes of a particular disease?

Unless these three questions are answered correctly, there is no ‘science’ behind the covid 19 virus theory. It is just beliefs. And these beliefs are conveniently sacrificing the small businesses of this country, our freedoms and our lives. For the benefit of big pharma, and big government in general

Which is why there is no proof to back up those outrageous claims…Just saying.

Let’s drill down a little more into what the Imperial experts, led by Dr Ferguson, are now saying:

50% of people who died with CV – not of CV, with – would have died this year. For that, we wrecked the country.

Ferguson said, today, that between half and two thirds of the people who died WITH CV, not of CV, would have died anyway this year. That takes the deaths so far down to a level normally caused by cushions in a bad year. It puts the overall deaths expected smack in the normal range for winter respiratory conditions

You think that is worthwhile? Explain why. Explain in terms that my neighbour, nursing the remains of a business it took him 20 years to build, will understand.

I know other small business owners in the same situation.

Here are a few other business problems occurring during shutdown:

The problem is and this is live experience right now, it is every man for themselves. Customers aren’t paying legitimate contracts which is creating huge problems, and I guarantee that’s happening across the economy. Some companies are taking advantage of the situation, some simply can’t pay and no one wants to catch a falling knife.

This is going to ruin lots of people’s lives. Either through the virus itself or through this cure which will cause untold economic damage.

And most importantly profit and cash are the sustainability of a business. Without them there isn’t any business. And there’s no cash at the moment.

The experts advising No. 10 sold Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his top guru Dominic Cummings a pup:

The virus itself? If you’ve got it, chances are that you’re just feeling “under the weather” just like having a bad dose of the flu, you still go to the pub, restaurant and you certainly don’t stop going to the gym or the supermarket.

Ergo, the economy continues and nobody’s life is “ruined”.

Now, lockdown the country so that pubs, restaurants and gyms are closed.

The economy now grinds to a halt and everyone’s life is “ruined”.

I have enormous respect for Boris (particularly his Brexit efforts) but he listened to the wrong people when he chose to change course……trashing your entire economy is massively worse than the disease.

Just as President Trump said a few days ago:

That said, on March 18, Business Insider reported that, allegedly, Ferguson’s numbers reached the White House and associated medical experts, too. The same article states that Ferguson said he caught COVID-19:

‘Developed a slight dry but persistent cough yesterday and self isolated even though I felt fine,’ he tweeted on Wednesday.

‘Then developed high fever at 4am today. There is a lot of COVID-19 in Westminster.’

Westminster is the beating heart of the nation. It is home to the eponymous abbey church, Parliament, Whitehall (government offices) and more.

I checked Ferguson’s tweet to see what sort of responses he received. Most were supportive. These two, however, were interesting. Portcullis House is a government building in Westminster:

However, as stated above, the UK government will announce success when this is over:

… whatever happens the Government will claim that they saved us all. If it turns out to be a damp squib, the Government will say that their distancing policy saved us all. If it turns out to be more, the Government will say that they were right to run their policy, and it should have been heeded better.

Returning to the economy, the government changed the wording about working:

Ben Goldsmith, environmentalist and son of the late financier Sir James Goldsmith, tweeted:

O’Brien below refers to a left-leaning talk radio host, James O’Brien:

However, the controversy about going into work has a basis in fact.

The morning of Lockdown Day, March 24, a number of photos circulated on social media showing packed Tube trains in London. Good Morning Britain‘s co-host Piers Morgan took issue with the number of construction workers at building sites that day, especially those within close proximity of each other.

Construction workers weren’t only in London. They were also in the countryside working on the new high-speed rail line, HS2. They were not keeping the appropriate social distancing, which, since the evening of March 23 has been extended from one metre to two metres:

In closing, returning to the number of coronavirus deaths, see if this does not come true (a comment from this Guido Fawkes post):

the mortality rate is nowhere near 1%, nowhere near. The death rate of those undertaking treatment – as a whole – might approach 1% overall. But that is a small fraction of the infected. The Oxford epidemiological study published yesterday is probably about right. It looks at end figures and maps them back onto comparable curves – that suggests 70% of us have already had it. Ferguson today poohpoohed that but also accepted one key prediction – that death rates attributable only to this bug would be minuscule. We are not going to have 240k dead just because of this bug. Nor 120k, nor even 20k. We *might* see something like 8-15k additional deaths in end-of-life patients this year, which would otherwise have occurred next year.

That’s it.

I full understand flattening the curve, I understand every teensy bit of the government strategy – but it’s redundant. This is not a big deal.

No, it isn’t a big deal. However, we have to wait several more weeks to be proven correct.

————————————————————–

UPDATE — Ferguson says he hasn’t retracted his original numbers:

No comment other than to say: let’s see how things develop in the next several weeks.

As is true in other countries, the British government and media narrative is that we must have a lockdown to suppress the ‘sombrero effect’ — the rise in people needing medical care for coronavirus.

In the UK, these are health service statistics (emphases mine):

Total number of GP’s = 35,000 (approximately)
Total c-19 cases at this date = 5,500

So we have over 6 GP’s per person infected.

Total hospital beds = 145,000 (approximately)
C-19 cases that require hospitalization (20% estimate) = 1100

And we have 131 hospital beds per C-19 hospitalization case or over 2000 per actual case.

Most coronavirus patients visiting hospital are given the usual advice (isolation, bed rest) and are sent home.

I know of a hospital that has diagnosed 21 cases of coronavirus: 19 patients were sent home, two were hospitalised and one of those patients, sadly, died. This hospital has 124 ICU (Intensive Care Unit) beds. After the first coronavirus victim died, only one of those beds was occupied (by the other coronavirus sufferer). The other 123 beds were still vacant. That was earlier this week.

Outside of London and Birmingham, there is no reason for panic.

The UK coronavirus death total as of March 24 is 422. The total UK population is approximately 65,000,000.

Therefore, the need for a) lockdown and b) emergency legislation remains dubious.

On Monday, March 23, Prime Minister Boris Johnson put us in lockdown at 8:30 p.m. while MPs were debating emergency legislation, the Coronavirus Bill, sent to the House of Lords that evening:

Boris’s five-minute address attracted at least 27m viewers on the main television channels — around a third of the population:

This is a likely outcome of both:

… We are now a totalitarian state.

This is how it works:

1. Minor breaches of draconian rules will result in further draconian rules.
2. Government will move to enforce their totalitarian authority with force.

Look for facial recognition and phone tracking to enforce breaches of the fear-warriors authoritarian state.

And in a year’s time look for the lack of accountability of those who have permanently damaged our economy

I hope that person and I are wrong.

However, we are not alone in our view. A prominent Conservative MP and Leaver, Steve Baker, voiced similar concern in his Coronavirus Bill debate speech. He believes that this could pave the way for a ‘dystopian society’:

Guido Fawkes posted a transcript of Steve Baker’s speech in full. Excerpts follow:

I will pay particular attention to amendments 1 and 6 and Government new clause 19, which relate to the expiry of these powers. When I got into politics, it was with the purpose of enlarging liberty under parliamentary democracy and the rule of law. When I look at this Pandora’s box of enlargement, discretion and extensions of power, I can only say what a dreadful, dreadful thing it is to have had to sit here in silence and nod it through because it is the right thing to do.

My goodness, between this and the Prime Minister’s announcement tonight, what have we ushered in? I am not a good enough historian to put into context the scale of the infringement of our liberties that has been implemented today through the Prime Minister’s announcement and this enormously complicated Bill, which we are enacting with only two hours to think about amendments

Let me be the first to say that tonight, through this Bill, we are implementing at least a dystopian society. Some will call it totalitarian, which is not quite fair, but it is at least dystopian. The Bill implements a command society under the imperative of saving hundreds of thousands of lives and millions of jobs, and it is worth doing.

By God, I hope the Prime Minister has a clear conscience tonight and sleeps with a good heart, because he deserves to do so. Libertarian though I may be, this is the right thing to do but, my goodness, we ought not to allow this situation to endure one moment longer than is absolutely necessary to save lives and preserve jobs.

Although I welcome new clause 19 to give us a six-month review, I urge upon my hon. and right hon. Friends and the Prime Minister the sunsetting of this Act, as it will no doubt become, at one year, because there is time to bring forward further primary legislation. If, come the late autumn, it is clear that this epidemic, this pandemic, continues—God help us if that is true, because I fear for the economy and the currencythere certainly will be time to bring forward further primary legislation and to properly scrutinise provisions to carry forward this enormous range of powers.

Every time I dip into the Bill, I find some objectionable power. There is not enough time to scrutinise the Bill, but I can glance at it—I am doing it now—and see objectionable powers. There would be time to have several days of scrutiny on a proper piece of legislation easily in time for March or April 2021.

I implore my right hon. Friend, for goodness’ sake, let us not allow this dystopia to endure one moment longer than is strictly necessary.

As I write on Wednesday, I am listening to Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament. Boris Johnson has assured us that the provisions of the Coronavirus Bill will be reviewed at three-month intervals, rather than six months. Having listened to the Lords’ debate on the legislation, I can state that the Lords came up with the three-month review — a positive development I had not expected.

On the first Lockdown Day — Tuesday, March 24 — Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in the government’s daily update that a temporary hospital with 4,000 beds is being built. This is said to be at the Excel Centre in east London, near Canary Wharf:

His department is also seeking 250,000 voluntary workers to help with home deliveries to the 1.5 million persons receiving NHS letters this week telling them that they must stay indoors for 12 weeks. These individuals have chronic health conditions: e.g. cancer, organ transplants, certain heart conditions.

This update was also the first remote videoconference that the government has conducted from No. 10.

However, there might be good news ahead. While most Britons are at home until April 8, at least, an article in the Financial Times (paywall) says that many of us might already have acquired herd immunity. A Guido Fawkes reader on this thread kindly posted the link and a brief excerpt from the FT:

The new coronavirus may already have infected far more people in the UK than scientists had previously estimatedperhaps as much as half the populationaccording to modelling by researchers at the University of Oxford. If the results are confirmed, they imply that fewer than one in a thousand of those infected with Covid-19 become ill enough to need hospital treatment, said Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology, who led the study. The vast majority develop very mild symptoms or none at all.

But the Oxford results would mean the country had already acquired substantial herd immunity through the unrecognised spread of Covid-19 over more than two months. If the findings are confirmed by testing, then the current restrictions could be removed much sooner than ministers have indicated. Although some experts have shed doubt on the strength and length of the human immune response to the virus, Prof Gupta said the emerging evidence made her confident that humanity would build up herd immunity against Covid-19.

I certainly hope so. I fully supported the Prime Minister’s original measures of regular hand washing and self-isolation.

I do hope that Professor Gupta is correct and that the Oxford herd immunity results can be confirmed so that we can live once again as a free people.

Milton Friedman once said:

Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.

Britain needs to be free to circulate, not stuck at home with minimal forays outdoors — or subject to historic draconian laws: a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

On Friday, March 20, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in his daily coronavirus update at 5 p.m. that all pubs, clubs, cinemas, restaurants, gyms and theatres would have to close effective immediately.

He also asked that people buy groceries ‘considerately’.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a number of government measures he was implementing to keep companies and workers afloat.

Although the Chancellor presented his spending proposals brilliantly, it scared me to hear the vast scale of them.

The economy will crash. Not only ours, but those all over the world.

Remember, whatever you hear or read in the media, 98% of coronavirus sufferers recover.

On March 5, an emergency room physician, Dr James Phillips, gave Fox News’s Ed Henry the same figure (emphases mine below):

“Most of us are going to get this virus. It’s undeniable. You won’t find a single expert out there who is saying that this is going to be contained,” said Phillips, who serves as the George Washington University School of Medicine’s operational medicine fellowship director.

“And, the more we learn about it, the more we see that the spread is going to be global and, for the most part, that’s OK because the data we know from China shows that roughly 98 to 99 percent of us are going to do very, very, well,” he told Henry at the time.

In the Mail on Sunday, on March 22, Peter Hitchens had an excellent editorial on the draconian measures implemented in the fight against coronavirus thus far: ‘Is shutting down Britain REALLY the right answer?’

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Hitchens began with a personal anecdote about a medical ailment he had which two doctors said required an operation. A third physician told him to cancel the operation and take a different antibiotic instead. He was correct. Hitchens writes:

Heaven knows what would have happened if Providence had not brought that third doctor into the room. I still shudder slightly to think of it. But the point was this. A mere title, a white coat, a smooth manner, a winning way with long words and technical jargon, will never again be enough for me.

With this in mind, he expressed his doubts about the partial lockdown in place since Friday afternoon.

I thought that the emergency legislation had already been passed. Ugh. He says it is up for the vote today, Monday, March 23:

And so here I am, asking bluntly – is the closedown of the country the right answer to the coronavirus? I’ll be accused of undermining the NHS and threatening public health and all kinds of other conformist rubbish. But I ask you to join me, because if we have this wrong we have a great deal to lose.

I don’t just address this plea to my readers. I think my fellow journalists should ask the same questions. I think MPs of all parties should ask them when they are urged tomorrow to pass into law a frightening series of restrictions on ancient liberties and vast increases in police and state powers.

Perhaps this is why I thought these unprecedented measures had already become law:

Did you know that the Government and Opposition had originally agreed that there would not even be a vote on these measures? Even Vladimir Putin might hesitate before doing anything so blatant.

We are at a crucial crossroads:

If there is no serious rebellion against this plan in the Commons, then I think we can commemorate tomorrow, March 23, 2020, as the day Parliament died. Yet, as far as I can see, the population cares more about running out of lavatory paper. Praise must go to David Davis and Chris Bryant, two MPs who have bravely challenged this measure.

Chris Bryant (Labour, Rhondda) is an ordained Anglican priest, although he gave up that calling for politics, partly because of his personal circumstances.

As I have been saying here the past week, shutdown measures anywhere are killing not only treasured civil liberties but also the free-market economy. Those are the two pillars of Western society.

Hitchens rightly points out our upcoming economic disaster:

It may also be the day our economy perished. The incessant coverage of health scares and supermarket panics has obscured the dire news coming each hour from the stock markets and the money exchanges. The wealth that should pay our pensions is shrivelling as share values fade and fall. The pound sterling has lost a huge part of its value. Governments all over the world are resorting to risky, frantic measures which make Jeremy Corbyn’s magic money tree look like sober, sound finance. Much of this has been made far worse by the general shutdown of the planet on the pretext of the coronavirus scare. However bad this virus is (and I will come to that), the feverish panic on the world’s trading floors is at least as bad.

Now on to our treasured civil liberties, being eroded one by one:

At first, Mr Johnson was true to himself and resisted wild demands to close down the country. But bit by bit he gave in.

Yes, and I am furious about that:

The schools were to stay open. Now they are shutting, with miserable consequences for this year’s A-level cohort. Cafes and pubs were to be allowed to stay open, but now that is over. On this logic, shops and supermarkets must be next, with everyone forced to rely on overstrained delivery vans. And that will presumably be followed by hairdressers, dry cleaners and shoe repairers.

How long before we need passes to go out in the streets, as in any other banana republic? As for the grotesque, bullying powers to be created on Monday, I can only tell you that you will hate them like poison by the time they are imposed on you.

I am sure my fellow Britons are aware that during the coronavirus scare, in France, you must carry a document — available online — that states your one destination on any particular day. There you are allowed to leave the house only once a day! And, yes, police DO check (source: RMC’s Les Grandes Gueules, all last week).

Is that what Britons want?

What about this?

Imagine, police officers forcing you to be screened for a disease, and locking you up for 48 hours if you object. Is this China or Britain? Think how this power could be used against, literally, anybody.

The Bill also gives Ministers the authority to ban mass gatherings. It will enable police and public health workers to place restrictions on a person’s ‘movements and travel’, ‘activities’ and ‘contact with others’.

Many court cases will now take place via video-link, and if a coroner suspects someone has died of coronavirus there will be no inquest. They say this is temporary. They always do.

If you doubt Hitchens or me, look at America’s Patriot Act — still going strong long since 2001! It’s nearly 19 years old!

Hitchens returns to the theme of trusting experts, medical or otherwise:

There is a document from a team at Imperial College in London which is being used to justify it. It warns of vast numbers of deaths if the country is not subjected to a medieval curfew.

But this is all speculation. It claims, in my view quite wrongly, that the coronavirus has ‘comparable lethality’ to the Spanish flu of 1918, which killed at least 17 million people and mainly attacked the young.

What can one say to this? In a pungent letter to The Times last week, a leading vet, Dick Sibley, cast doubt on the brilliance of the Imperial College scientists, saying that his heart sank when he learned they were advising the Government. Calling them a ‘team of doom-mongers’, he said their advice on the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak ‘led to what I believe to be the unnecessary slaughter of millions of healthy cattle and sheep’ until they were overruled by the then Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King.

He added: ‘I hope that Boris Johnson, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance show similar wisdom. They must ensure that measures are proportionate, balanced and practical.’

I fully agree. But all wisdom seems to have been thrown out the window now.

How I wish we could go back to Thursday, March 12, when we were given only the sensible advice on hygiene and social distancing: common sense measures.

Hitchens then goes into the stats for England’s annual flu/respiratory ailment deaths, which are far more in number than coronavirus deaths, even worldwide.

England’s population, by the way, is approximately 55 million:

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) tells me that the number of flu cases and deaths due to flu-related complications in England alone averages 17,000 a year. This varies greatly each winter, ranging from 1,692 deaths last season (2018/19) to 28,330 deaths in 2014/15.

The DHSC notes that many of those who die from these diseases have underlying health conditions, as do almost all the victims of coronavirus so far, here and elsewhere. As the experienced and knowledgeable doctor who writes under the pseudonym ‘MD’ in the Left-wing magazine Private Eye wrote at the start of the panic: ‘In the winter of 2017-18, more than 50,000 excess deaths occurred in England and Wales, largely unnoticed.’

There are other deaths every year, far more numerous than those from flu:

In the Government’s table of ‘deaths considered avoidable’, it lists 31,307 deaths from cardiovascular diseases in England and Wales for 2013, the last year for which they could give me figures.

This, largely the toll of unhealthy lifestyles, was out of a total of 114,740 ‘avoidable’ deaths in that year. To put all these figures in perspective, please note that every human being in the United Kingdom suffers from a fatal condition – being alive.

About 1,600 people die every day in the UK for one reason or another. A similar figure applies in Italy and a much larger one in China. The coronavirus deaths, while distressing and shocking, are not so numerous as to require the civilised world to shut down transport and commerce, nor to surrender centuries-old liberties in an afternoon.

AGREE!

Hitchens goes on to quote Dr John Ioannidis, a professor of medicine, epidemiology and population health, of biomedical data science, and of statistics at Stanford University in California:

He says the data are utterly unreliable because so many cases are going unrecorded.

He warns: ‘This evidence fiasco creates tremendous uncertainty about the risk of dying from Covid-19. Reported case fatality rates, like the official 3.4 per cent rate from the World Health Organisation, cause horror and are meaningless.’ In only one place – aboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess – has an entire closed community been available for study. And the death rate there – just one per cent – is distorted because so many of those aboard were elderly. The real rate, adjusted for a wide age range, could be as low as 0.05 per cent and as high as one per cent.

As Prof Ioannidis says: ‘That huge range markedly affects how severe the pandemic is and what should be done. A population-wide case fatality rate of 0.05 per cent is lower than seasonal influenza. If that is the true rate, locking down the world with potentially tremendous social and financial consequences may be totally irrational

Hitchens then looks at the projected inflated statistics — false — that have accompanied recent health scares:

The former editor of The Times, Sir Simon Jenkins, recently listed these unfulfilled scares: bird flu did not kill the predicted millions in 1997. In 1999 it was Mad Cow Disease and its human variant, vCJD, which was predicted to kill half a million. Fewer than 200 in fact died from it in the UK.

The first Sars outbreak of 2003 was reported as having ‘a 25 per cent chance of killing tens of millions’ and being ‘worse than Aids’. In 2006, another bout of bird flu was declared ‘the first pandemic of the 21st Century’.

There were similar warnings in 2009, that swine flu could kill 65,000. It did not. The Council of Europe described the hyping of the 2009 pandemic as ‘one of the great medical scandals of the century’.

The measures being taken right now are more lethal to Britain than coronavirus itself.

Hitchens says:

… while I see very little evidence of a pandemic, and much more of a PanicDemic, I can witness on my daily round the slow strangulation of dozens of small businesses near where I live and work, and the catastrophic collapse of a flourishing society, all these things brought on by a Government policy made out of fear and speculation rather than thought.

Much that is closing may never open again. The time lost to schoolchildren and university students – in debt for courses which have simply ceased to be taught – is irrecoverable, just as the jobs which are being wiped out will not reappear when the panic at last subsides.

He warns us about projections and extrapolations from notional experts. Will martial law stop the spread of coronavirus? Hmm, one wonders. Hitchens doubts it. So do I:

We are told that we must emulate Italy or China, but there is no evidence that the flailing, despotic measures taken in these countries reduced the incidence of coronavirus. The most basic error in science is to assume that because B happens after A, that B was caused by A.

He knows that his stance is unpopular, but feels it is necessary to speak up now:

There may, just, be time to reconsider. I know that many of you long for some sort of coherent opposition to be voiced. The people who are paid to be the Opposition do not seem to wish to earn their rations, so it is up to the rest of us. I despair that so many in the commentariat and politics obediently accept what they are being told. I have lived long enough, and travelled far enough, to know that authority is often wrong and cannot always be trusted.

I also know that dissent at this time will bring me abuse and perhaps worse. But I am not saying this for fun, or to be ‘contrarian’ –that stupid word which suggests that you are picking an argument for fun. This is not fun.

This is our future, and if I did not lift my voice to speak up for it now, even if I do it quite alone, I should consider that I was not worthy to call myself English or British, or a journalist, and that my parents’ generation had wasted their time saving the freedom and prosperity which they handed on to me after a long and cruel struggle whose privations and griefs we can barely imagine.

Of course, that was Sunday. Today is Monday.

I wrote this on Mothering Sunday. There were no church services yesterday. There were no synagogue services on Saturday.

The Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Britons not to visit their mothers yesterday:

While he advised Britons to stop stockpiling …

… he also warned of more restrictions to come:

Why not give the weekend’s restrictions time to percolate through the population? We’ve only had a few days.

I despair. What will happen when the next pandemic rolls along?

————————————————————————————-

Monday update: This will be brief, as Parliament adjourned around 10:45 p.m. I’d been watching the Coronavirus Bill debate and committee stage debate since 4:00 p.m. with a break for dinner.

While MPs debated, between 8:30 and 8:35 p.m., we watched Boris announce that we are now in a three-week lockdown, effective immediately:

You can read more here:

But don’t worry. As in France, building sites remain open for work:

These are Tuesday morning’s headlines:

A sparse and generally well-spaced group of MPs ended their day as follows, with the third reading of the Coronavirus Bill passing without a formal vote (division), just:

‘All in favour, say Aye.’

‘AYE.’

Admittedly, there were dozens of amendments that all passed.

We shall see what the near future brings over the course of the next three weeks.

The following are the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent — Laetare Sunday — March 22, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

This Sunday is Mothering Sunday in the United Kingdom. Centuries ago, people returned to the church they worshipped in as youngsters and visited their mothers afterwards.

There was an ancient tradition of ‘clipping’ the church on this particular day, whereby the congregation would gather outside, hold hands and create a huge circle around the building. It was not only a group hug for Mother Church but also a symbol of protection by the faithful.

This is a joyful Sunday in Lent. The traditional Introit for Laetare Sunday includes the words

“Laetare Jerusalem” (“O be joyful, Jerusalem”)

Traditionally, priests wore rose coloured vestments to denote that joy. Easter is nearing and we look forward to celebrating and worshipping the Risen Christ.

On the subject of roses, for over 1,000 years, the Catholic Church has commissioned expert goldsmiths to fashion a golden rose, which the Pope then gives to a distinguished Catholic of high social standing. I do not know what the present Pope does, but, in the past, some of these golden roses have been very elaborate; one was fashioned in the shape of a Jesse tree, which is appropriate, given today’s first reading.

You can read more about Laetare Sunday below:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

The splendid illustration of Lent in the following tweet must be British, as it includes Mothering Sunday. This comes from an Episcopal priest in the United States:

How sad that our churches are closed for public worship because of the coronavirus pandemic. Mothers will have a quiet day at home, as restaurants are also shut, except for takeaway service.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

This is the marvellous story of Samuel’s divinely directed visit to Jesse in search of a future king. Jesse was reluctant to produce David, his youngest, who was tending sheep at the time. Matthew Henry’s commentary says: ‘Thus small are the beginnings of that great man’. This is an early ‘type’ of Jesus and the humble Holy Family.

1 Samuel 16:1-13

16:1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”

16:2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’

16:3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.”

16:4 Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?”

16:5 He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

16:6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the LORD.”

16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.

16:8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”

16:9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”

16:10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.”

16:11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”

16:12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”

16:13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Psalm

This enduringly popular and comforting Psalm needs little introduction. David, a former shepherd, names God as his shepherd.

Psalm 23

23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.

23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Epistle

Paul encourages the Christians of Ephesus to seek the light of righteousness.

Ephesians 5:8-14

5:8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light

5:9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.

5:10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.

5:11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

5:12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly;

5:13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,

5:14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Gospel

This moving account from John’s Gospel tells the story of the blind man, whom Jesus cured. The Pharisees were angry that Jesus had mercy on this man during the Sabbath; some said He was not from God. They had blasphemed Him. Jesus told them that they were spiritually blind. Sadly, they remained that way until the bitter end.

John 9:1-41

9:1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.

9:2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

9:3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

9:4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

9:6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes,

9:7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

9:8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”

9:9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”

9:10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”

9:11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”

9:12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

9:13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.

9:14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

9:15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”

9:16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided.

9:17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

9:18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight

9:19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”

9:20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind;

9:21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”

9:22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.

9:23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

9:24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.”

9:25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

9:26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

9:27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

9:28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.

9:29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

9:30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.

9:31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.

9:32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.

9:33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

9:34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

9:35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

9:36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”

9:37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”

9:38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

9:39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

9:40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”

9:41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

What a powerful story.

Yet, who will hear a sermon today in this period of martial (France) or quasi-martial law (UK)? If you are among the deprived, Matthew Henry’s commentary on John 9 is excellent.

Only a week ago, life was so different in the United Kingdom.

Political pundits were analysing Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s first budget and Al Boum Photo won his second Cheltenham Gold Cup. Happy days:

That said, parts of supermarket shelves were empty for the second week running of toilet paper and pasta:

Last Friday — March 13 — Paul Waugh posted an article on BuzzFeed: ‘No, Boris Johnson Isn’t Behaving Like Donald Trump On Coronavirus’ (emphases in the original below, those in purple mine):

Central to the approach of chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance – and the entire team of advisers who sit on the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (whose acronym coincidentally suggests they are offering SAGE advice) – is the evidence that imposing drastic measures too early will simply mean inevitable ‘‘fatigue’ on the part of the public

One of the cruellest charges that some critics are making today is that the government is ‘putting the economy before lives’, that they are deploying a strategy to deliberately allow some people to die in order to get the overall numbers down. Their target is Johnson, but they should stop to think that they are also really targeting public servants like Vallance and [Dr Chris] Whitty.

After this crisis plays out, we will find out just whether the government’s approach has achieved the lower numbers of deaths it is aiming for. It’s essential that everything it does is scrutinised and when mistakes are made for them to be rectified. But right now, the worst thing would be to accuse scientists and their fellow public servants of anything like bad faith.

In fact, one of the most significant things Vallance said today was this: “We should be prepared to change our minds as the evidence changes. We cannot go in with a fixed plan that is immutable.” He’s ready to change tack, as long as there is evidence to do so.‌

That day, Emeritus Professor Ian Donald from the University of Liverpool, posted a thread on Twitter:

Professor Donald did not have long to wait. On Monday afternoon, Prime Minister Boris Johnson began updating the public daily by instructing us not to visit shops unnecessarily. Not only that, he told us to avoid pubs, restaurants and the theatre.

Parliament is similarly affected:

How true.

Nadine Dorries MP and her 84-year-old mother are recovering well from coronavirus:

Her mother took care of her:

I agree with Ms Dorries’s mother as to what the fuss is about.

On Wednesday, Boris and Health Secretary Nick Hancock separately announced us that schools would be closed to all pupils and students on Friday afternoon March 20, except to children of ‘key workers’ and those who have a social worker assigned to them. Good grief.

Churches and synagogues are closed to public worship. This is the Church of England‘s statement:

Churches should be open where possible but with no public worship services taking place. Prayers can be said by clergy and ministers on behalf of everyone and churches should consider ways of sharing this with the wider community. See more below on digital resources that are under development and currently available.

For pity’s sake!

At least something Brexit-related got done this week:

Meanwhile, HuffPost UK was looking for more staff:

Because of hoarders, supermarkets still have empty shelves. This NHS worker cannot do her weekly shop. I feel for her. I had the same experience:

I fully agree. Even now, there are no limits on buying where I shop.

The following videos were taken at Tesco. Someone was bulk-buying bottled water. WHY?

The online supermarket, Ocado.com, shut down on Thursday. It is expected to return on Saturday. They should have limited the number of items per customer:

Access temporarily suspended to Ocado.com

Like all supermarkets, we are working round the clock to keep up with high demand and make sure all of our customers get what they need at this time – especially those more vulnerable and in isolation.

As a result, we have made a decision to temporarily suspend access to Ocado.com for a few days in order to make some changes to our service. This will allow us to better serve our customers, particularly the vulnerable and elderly.

We are fully booked and at full capacity, and will be delivering to over 170,000 households in the next four days. If you have a delivery booked for Thursday or Friday, cut-off times for editing these orders have already passed, but your driver will still arrive as expected.

We will soon contact customers with orders for delivery from Saturday onwards with details of how to edit their orders, and all customers will be able to access the website again from Saturday.

We are very sorry to cause any inconvenience. We’re managing a simply staggering amount of traffic to our website right now and more demand for products and deliveries than we can meet. Our first priority has to be to keep our service up and running and to play our part in feeding the nation.

I’d also like to take this chance to thank our amazing drivers and warehouse staff who are working tirelessly to deliver groceries to as many people as possible in these uncertain times. Their dedication and hard work is truly amazing.

Thank you for your patience and understanding at this unprecedented and challenging time.

Melanie Smith
CEO, Ocado Retail

Today — Friday, March 20 — the aforementioned Emeritus Professor Ian Donald tweeted:

The government decided some time ago not to invoke the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 and is pushing ahead with new, emergency legislation — our version of the dreadful Patriot Act:

What is the government thinking?

All Western governments are doing this, however.

That doesn’t make it acceptable, though.

This is the reality of the situation — even in Italy:

As for the West’s love affair with China, it’s got to stop:

Draconian measures — and France will probably extend theirs (source: RMC) — for coronavirus are like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Sign me DISGUSTED.

Last week did not afford me the time to write about the latest coronavirus news in Britain.

This is by no means comprehensive, just a few highlights.

Personal update – London

I had the pleasure of going up to London for lunch twice in the past fortnight, travelling by train and Tube.

I saw only two people in masks in total. On my first trip, it was a twenty-something woman in a designer mask in black that complemented her equally black ensemble beautifully but probably did nothing for her health.

On my second trip, last week, I saw a twenty-something woman wearing a white clinical mask.

Only one person seemed concerned (see below). No one seemed ill.

Both lunches were out of this world. Both dining rooms were full of people having a grand time.

Hand sanitiser was available at the bars in both establishments.

On the way back from London late last week, I overheard a telephone conversation between a train passenger and a relative of hers (dialogue paraphrased, ellipses indicate other person talking):

I have some good news. My manager said that my colleagues and I can work from home until next Tuesday …

Well, there’s someone in my department coughing up green goo, and I don’t want to get that …

Yes, I know that God loves us …

Yes, I know that God loves us, but we still have to be cautious.

Local update

Locally, things have been hit and miss in the shops over the past week.

The week before last, panic buying started. When I went to the shops that Thursday and Friday, there were no loo rolls left. In all the many years I have lived here, I have never seen half an aisle empty. Last week, there were cheapo own brand loo rolls.

Similarly, there has been no soap gel for hands during that time period.

Last week, the same shop had been entirely emptied out of pasta.

I overheard the following exchange between two customers. I don’t know where the man works, as I’d not seen him before:

Woman: So, how’s business these days?

Man: Bad. No one’s coming in.

Woman: That’s not good, is it?

If you’re healthy, please continue to patronise your local establishments. The coronavirus could be the economic death knell for some of them.

A friend of mine went to the local pharmacy, said there was a long queue of people stocking up on various items, with one woman clearly in a panic over the fact that there was no soap gel for hands, nor any paracetamol.

Now, if people had not panic bought, there would have been loo roll, soap gel, hand sanitiser and paracetamol — enough for everyone!

On Friday, my far better half and I went together to the butcher and the fishmonger.

The butcher said that people had been panic buying, but he wasn’t running out of anything. His displays were full.

The fishmonger reminded us that he also delivers, provided we ring 24 hours ahead of time with our order.

Nationwide update

On Wednesday, March 11, the British government announced that we were moving out of the Containment phase into the Delay phase.

It was probably the right time, given Good Morning Britain‘s co-presenter Piers Morgan’s rage earlier that day:

That evening, Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health & Social Care, said he was committed to keeping Parliament open for business. He also did not want restrictive conditions imposed on Britons for too long a period of time:

The victim who died before those two lived just outside of London. He was also elderly, aged 80, and had underlying health conditions.

Have you noticed this, though: we never get any names or details about the fatal coronavirus cases, especially among the elderly. What were they doing when they caught it? If they were at home or in a nursing facility, then a visiting health worker or one of the staff must have passed it along?

Anyway, back to Nick Hancock:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson posted an interview on behavioural psychology with the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries. I almost didn’t watch it — ‘nudge’ psychology — but it’s actually quite helpful:

The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, tweeted:

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, made an announcement:

That night, ITV’s political editor Robert Peston broadcast his weekly late night news programme, which was quite good. I’ve included the video below. Nadine Dorries is a Cabinet member:

Throughout all this, the Cheltenham Festival, a huge fixture in the National Hunt racing calendar, took place last week, ending on Friday, March 13, with Al Boum Photo winning two Gold Cups back to back. Cheltenham attracts around 250,000 people every year during the festival:

However, things were less sanguine a few hours away in London as Parliamentarians began to self-isolate and/or submit to testing (e.g. Nadine Dorries) for COVID-19:

It was up to 17 by Saturday.

Latest guidelines for Britain

There have been new developments with regard to football fixtures and travel:

However, there are problems in southern parts of Spain, too, with bars, beaches and other places being closed.

There are now plenty of other travel restrictions that other countries have imposed.

There will undoubtedly be more restrictions this week, as per ITV’s Saturday night news on March 14. These two news items were also reported. My condolences to family and friends of the deceased:

These are the latest health guidelines for Britain. Fortunately, for now, they are quite similar to the preceding ones:

If you are REALLY worried (not the worried well), do not go to hospital. Instead, dial 111 for advice:

This video from LBC (radio) is a fascinating moving graph that shows the development of COVID-19 in various European countries, including the UK, between mid-February and March 10. Italians went to hospital, which is why we mustn’t do likewise:

The following is also good advice. Know how and why we must WASH OUR HANDS:

I agree.

Boris and our medical experts will come out as winners in a few months’ time:

In closing:

KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON.

Medical experts from various governments around the world have told us that coronavirus is here to stay for the immediate future.

The UK, France and the US took additional steps this week to delay its spread.

I did not have time to write about those developments today, or my last two trips into London, so will delay those until next week.

For me — and for the government — the 2020 budget was the highlight of an otherwise rather grim week.

Budget speech

On Wednesday, March 11, Britain’s new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Patel, delivered his first budget and the first one that the UK has had since the autumn of 2018.

Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury Boris Johnson appointed Rishi only four weeks ago. He is our first Hindu Chancellor.

Rishi’s predecessor, Sajid Javid — the first Muslim Chancellor — has the sad distinction of having served the shortest period of time of any Chancellor in the past 50 years. He was asked to fire his special advisers, which he refused to do, so he resigned. Under normal circumstances, he would have delivered the 2019 budget last November 6; as an election was taking place on December 12, it was postponed to 2020. He came up with a budget, much of which Rishi Patel presented on Wednesday in the House of Commons.

Funds will go towards the work required after the ravages of the winter floods and, now, coronavirus:

On a subject that has been raging among left-wing women for the last few years in papers such as The Guardian, the Chancellor announced that tax on sanitary products will be abolished once the UK leaves the EU at the end of this year. Former Labour MP Paula Sherriff should be happy.

I watched the Chancellor’s presentation, which was excellent, every bit as good as Ken Clarke’s in the early 1990s and Dominic Lawson’s in the late 1980s:

He even worked in a joke or two. When he announced that he would be removing VAT from books, he quipped about the Shadow Chancellor’s — John McDonnell’s — ‘little-read’ (little red) book on economics. Even McDonnell had to laugh:

The Chancellor ended a ten-year-long period of austerity under the Conservatives, freezing almost all existing duties, except for tobacco, and pledged spending hikes. Labour should be happy:

Analysis

Political pundit Guido Fawkes gave his view of the budget, ‘Big State “One Nation Toryism” is Back’, which refers to the Prime Minister’s top adviser Dominic Cummings (emphasis in the original):

The headlines will focus on the £30 billion debt-fuelled stimulus package, “only” £12 billion of which is in response to the coronavirus. The coronavirus gives cover for the big state ‘One Nation Toryism’ that many in Downing Street have always wanted. Dominic Cummings is not a tax-cutting, free market loving, state shrinking, right-winger.

It appears that most voters who opted for Conservative candidates last December do not mind an increase in spending. David Jeffery, writing for UnHerd, examined the British Election Study which canvassed 32,177 participants who responded after last December’s election.

As Jeffery, a lecturer in British Politics at the University of Liverpool, says, voters are saying No to the post-Brexit aspiration of making the UK Singapore-on Thames. Last December saw a surprising number of Labour constituencies going Conservative. Those previously impenetrable constituencies are known as the Red Wall.

One would think that this study would show a stark difference between Red Wall and more conventional Conservative voters. Not so.

Both groups are rather close — with minimal percentage differences (from less than one point to four points) — with regard to self-identifying on the political spectrum, concern for the working classes, spending and national debt. Jeffery concludes (emphases mine):

For all the talk of the Red Wall budget, Red Wall Conservatives are not so different from other Tories. Although they are slightly more wary of environmental regulation and take a more favourable view of redistribution, Conservative voters as a whole think austerity has gone too far, want to see more money spent on key services and accept that this means fewer tax cuts and no budget deficit. This is not what we’re typically told Conservatives want, and with his first budget Sunak should show he’s listening.

The Chancellor got that memo loud and clear.

Paul Goodman, who heads the website Conservative Home, says that the Chancellor adopted much of what Labour wanted in the budget. That said, the main difference is this:

we’re not in hoc to a hateful ideology; are more pragmatic; more business-friendly; more sensible; better – at least as politicians …

A People’s Budget from a People’s Government,” the Chancellor perorated. There you have it. Not a Thatcherite one from a Conservative one – or even a plan that is recognisably Tory at all, at least by the standard of recent years. The voice was the voice of Sunak, but the hands were those of Vote Leave.

John Glen MP (Salisbury), also writing for Conservative Home, provided more details about the intended spending plans this year. He said they are achievable:

The ambitious capital budget announced yesterday by the Chancellor can be achieved with relatively modest increases to the deficit as a percentage of GDP. And at a time of record low interest rates with no sign of increases on the horizon, it is an appropriate moment to avail ourselves of this opportunity to upgrade the country’s infrastructure and to make the economy more productive.

We do not yet know what the full impact of coronavirus will be. But the Budget leaves us well prepared to tackle its short-term challenges as well as helps shape the long-term trajectory of the economy through capital investment and the reduction of regional imbalances.

And, finally, Robert Halfon MP (Harlow) wrote in his article for Conservative Home that we desperately need to start upgrading our ‘social infrastructure’:

The immediate goal? Aside from addressing the economic challenges presented by the coronavirus, there will be a commitment to ‘level up’ across the country. Manifesto pledges on rail, roads, energy, broadband and freeports; all are enormously welcome and will go some way to connecting left behind places to the opportunities that others routinely enjoy.

But, if this cash injection is to get the UK going again, we must also invest in ‘social infrastructure’. It is the people of the UK that will bind physical infrastructure to economic growth, not the other way around.

In its broadest sense, social infrastructure is investment in people. In its most transformative form, it allows disadvantaged individuals to overcome entrenched social challenges and turn their lives around.

I had no idea the UK had so many social problems until I started watching BBC Parliament on a regular basis. Even Conservative MPs agree that additional money must be given to various social programmes for retraining, improving education and fighting drug addiction. Of course, the NHS comes into this equation, too.

Additional information

You can read the Budget in full here. My fellow Britons might wish to check out the Budget 2020 calculator to find out how they will be affected.

In another historic moment, Dame Eleanor Laing, the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee and Senior Deputy Speaker, was the first woman to preside over the budget presentation. In this short and interesting video she explains her role and the purpose of the budget presentation:

Afterwards, in giving the response for the opposition, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, looking characteristically grumpy, read his poorly-written text which referred to Ms Laing as Mr Speaker instead of Madam Deputy Speaker. Sad.

More on the coronavirus developments next week.

On Thursday, February 27, 2020, the Government announced that a No Deal Brexit is still being considered.

It should be noted that the Government does not use the words ‘No Deal’ anymore. However, for the sake of simplicity, I will continue to do so.

Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, took questions in the Commons yesterday, principally on trade talks with the EU:

Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, was meeting with Robert Lighthizer, trade representative from the United States that day.

On February 26, an article in The Telegraph (paywall) said that the parameters of negotiations between the EU and the UK have been changing. The Guardian has an excerpt from the article, further excerpted below (emphases mine):

Earlier this month, Mr Johnson said “early progress” on agreements over financial services and personal data protection would be “a test of the constructive nature of the negotiating process”.

But pledges in the political declaration to reach an agreement on financial services by June 2020, and on data by the end of December, were dropped by Brussels when the EU’s negotiating mandate was published.

Government sources said that meant Mr Johnson was fully entitled to ignore elements of the political declaration. Britain will refuse to sign up to EU rules on state aid, and will not build any infrastructure to deal with customs declarations on goods crossing from the mainland to Northern Ireland despite EU demands that they must exist.

Yesterday (Thursday), Michael Gove announced the publication of a new, 30-page document, The Future Relationship with the EU: The UK’s Approach to Negotiations.

Left-leaning politicians and pundits are dismayed and critical, however, it appears to be consistent with what Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government have been saying since last year:

– Michael Gove confirmed that the UK will not be under the control of the EU Court of Justice when implementing state aid.

– The Government could walk away from talks with the EU as early as June, if they are not productive. If so, at that point, the Government would focus on domestic arrangements to leave the EU in an orderly manner as possible.

– There is particular concentration on the part of the UK to avoid any alignment with or subjugation to the EU or EU institutions, especially the EU Court of Justice.

The last point is critical when it comes to the EU Arrest Warrant. The Guardian reported this exchange in Parliament (emphases in the original):

Gove was vague when discussing the forthcoming customs arrangements in Northern Ireland, so, no change there.

This was EU negotiator Michel Barnier’s response to the UK’s new document:

The Guardian reported that another EU official said that the planned June reassessment of talks is in line with the EU’s expectations (emphases in purple mine):

Responding to the government’s announcement that it may abandon trade talks with the EU if there is not enough progress by June, the European commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant told reporters at a briefing:

In relation to any timeline that was referred to by the UK side today, there is a mid-year rendezvous in June to assess where we are with the negotiations.

So this is probably a very fair timeline to take by the UK prime minister for a rendezvous in which we take stock of the future and chances for a deal, what type of deal.

Asked whether the EU was preparing for the failure to reach a deal, she said it would be “premature to speculate” about the result of those negotiations.

The following Twitter thread, excerpted, comes from the man who heads the Eurasia Group consultancy. He also teaches at the prestigious Sciences Po. His analyses have been quite reliable, so far. ‘Bxl’ means Brussels:

David GH Frost is one of Boris Johnson’s chief advisers:

As anticipated, there will not be enough time to negotiate specific, line-by-line agreements:

It is unclear at this time how damaging this will be to the future of the European Union:

He concludes that the UK will have to align with another nation.

We’ll see what happens.

Ultimately, the UK would like to finalise a deal by September 2020.

One week ago on Friday, January 31, 2020, millions of Britons celebrated Brexit Day.

David Kurten, Brexit Party member of the Greater London Assembly, tweeted:

James Higham of Orphans of Liberty called our attention to the fact, that despite our celebrations, little has changed. We’re merely in a transition period, not full Brexit. To those celebrating, he wrote:

That’s the majority view, everyone on our side so wants it to be true, when it quite palpably is not:

# Still in the Customs Union
# Still in the Single Market
# Still only a small percentage of our fishing waters
# Still in the EU Army and no plans to leave
# Still paying the EU billions to prop them up to keep fighting us …

Agree fully on all points!

Still, it was worth celebrating getting even this far against the Remainers in our own country and in the EU:

On the morning of January 31, Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) gave a press conference in which she restated both her opposition to Brexit and her goal of holding another referendum for Scottish independence. The last one was held in 2014.

I fully agree with becabob’s tweet below the Daily Record‘s front page and have often expressed the same thought to my friends:

EU leaders also made speeches to representatives from the media. David Sassoli, the Italian President of the EU Parliament, lamented the criticism heaped upon the European Union. He said that he was referring to people on the Continent — not the British — and said that could not understand it.

Sassoli went on to say that the EU ‘rules’ and ‘regulations’ were in place to prevent ‘the strong’ overtaking ‘the weak’.

I wonder. Outside of MEPs, voters in EU member states have no voice over senior EU bureaucrats appointed to their various positions. They’re an unelected elite who tell MEPs how to vote. The EU Parliament essentially rubber stamps whatever legislation they are told to approve.

Moving along, the EU removed the British flag from their premises in Brussels:

Hear the cheers in a British sports bar as it happened:

The EU’s Guy Verhofstadt, an arch-enemy of Brexit, posted a video from the Alliance Party in Europe:

Meanwhile, television broadcasters were upset that Boris had a No. 10 team film his exit statement to the nation. Normally, that would have been done by one of the main channels, with permission given to the others to air it. On January 30, The Express reported:

The BBC has warned it might not air the message, which is understood to be a fireside chat.

A spokesman said: “There is a long-established process for recording statements by the Prime Minister at significant times where one broadcaster records it and shares the footage.

“The BBC and the other broadcasters are well used to following this usual process, which respects our independence as broadcasters.

“If Number 10 wants to supply its own footage we will judge it on its news value when deciding whether to broadcast it, as we would with any footage supplied to us by third parties.”

Mr Johnson’s address is one of a number of celebrations to mark Brexit day.

Government buildings in Whitehall will be lit up in red, white and blue, while Parliament Square and Pall Mall will be decorated with British flags.

On a happier note, the Prime Minister’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds posted a photo of Dilyn, their rescue dog from Wales:

That evening, Russia Today was the only media outlet to film Brexit Night for four hours:

At 10 p.m. the BBC, Sky News and ITV broadcast news programmes which lasted until 11:15 p.m. I watched ITV, and I’m glad, because the BBC and Sky gave little coverage of Leavers and, instead, focussed on Remainers.

ITV showed Cabinet members approaching No. 10 for a quiet party that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was throwing for them, his staff and other friends of Brexit, e.g. former Labour Party MP Gisela Stuart.

Just as the newsreader was about to announce who was going in — around 10:06 p.m. — the television played up. It was time to retune the channels, which was aggravating, as we missed the next five minutes of coverage. This is an important detail, more about which below.

ITV showed us coverage of the big party at the rugby club in Morley, which is just outside of Leeds in West Yorkshire:

Happily, ITV showed the fireworks display on their rugby pitch. They were probably the only municipality to have one.

Andrea Jenkyns MP helped to organise the event, which was packed, and probably arranged for permission for the firework display. Fireworks are now officially banned for the year until November 5.

This was the scene in Morley earlier in the day (the Twitter thread has great tweets):

The BBC chose a different locale, Boston in Lincolnshire, for their coverage:

They sang Auld Lang Syne at 11 p.m.:

In the southeast — in Kent — this was the scene at 11:00 p.m. along the famous white cliffs of Dover. This is a lovely little video:

In Brussels, the buildings in the historic centre of the city were illuminated beautifully. Thank you:

In London’s Parliament Square, thousands gathered for the countdown, including former Labour MP for Vauxhall Kate Hoey, an ardent supporter of Brexit:

Earlier, Kate Hoey gave an interview to Sky News:

Returning to Parliament Square, the chap in the middle has been campaigning in Parliament Square for the past few years. As far as I know, he did it without pay and, unlike his Remainer counterpart Steve Bray, never brayed about Brexit, but greeted passers-by instead. Anyone who wanted to talk about Brexit with him could do so:

Steve Bray, who continually ruined many live broadcasts from No. 10, says he will continue braying. Shameful. He was paid £80 a day, he said, to shout all the time. It’s a wonder he has a voice box left:

Here’s a nice ‘pan’ of those in Parliament Square:

This was the big moment in Parliament Square. Thanks to America’s OANN for capturing the atmosphere in their video:

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage was on hand to address the crowd:

The Houses of Parliament looked stunning:

The Department for Exiting the EU formally closed:

Steve Barclay MP formally resigned his position in that department:

Now on to No. 10 Downing Street, the scene of Boris’s subdued party (click photo to read the full article):

Recall that, at the beginning of this post, I mentioned that the television required retuning. No one inside No. 10 was aware of that. Unfortunately, when the big moment came and Boris had intended for everyone to watch the countdown televisually, he had to make do with banging a small gong instead.

I don’t know if any of the nation’s broadcasters showed Boris’s address to the nation at 10 p.m. that night. I tuned in to ITV around 10:05.

Here it is in full:

He aptly and congenially explains that a) he understands that not everyone supports Brexit, b) outlines the next ‘act’ in this continuing ‘drama’ and c) tells us why leaving the EU is the ‘healthy and democratic’ thing to do, referring to the referendum result from 2016.

I am really looking forward to the months ahead. I believe that Boris, flawed though he is (aren’t we all?), will be making history in all the best ways for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

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