Wednesday 18 November 2020

A Doctor Writes (it's Toby Young)

"Day by day, the coronavirus edges ever closer to extinction. Time to get back to normal"

Yes folks, Toby Young, noted medic and epidemioligist, mathemetician of distinctiveness, has just tweeted another idiocy, made in a Daily Mail article (so I haven't read it).

The 0.1% is a repetition of a dubious claim made in a Telegraph article of 25th June 2020 where nork-loving Tobez told us that "It's becoming clear that the social distancing rules – even if the new one-metre rule – are unnecessary."

Mea culpa, I missed this at the time of publication - I really should follow the scruffy sherbet dab more closely - so here is the full article with all its wondrous analysis..

Across the United Kingdom, epidemiologists, public health officials and local bureaucrats are stamping their feet and gnashing their teeth. They're furious about the fact that daily deaths from Covid-19 are continuing to decline at a precipitous rate. Contrary to their dire warnings, the easing of lockdown restrictions hasn't led to an uptick in the rate of infection. The much ballyhooed 'second spike' has refused to materialise. The virus has all but disappeared.

The extent to which Covid-19 has vanished isn't immediately apparent from the figures. The death tolls announced each day refer to all those deaths involving coronavirus that have been 'registered' in the last 24 hours. That includes people who died weeks ago – sometimes months ago – but whose paperwork has only just been completed. If you look instead at the number of actual deaths in English hospitals in the last 24 hours, that gives a clearer picture. The number on June 23 was four – all in the north west. Fewer than 20 died in London hospitals in the past week. No one died on Tuesday.

The number of deaths involving coronavirus is a better yardstick than the number of infections, partly because more and more people are being tested each day, and partly because the test itself isn't very reliable. There is a gold-plated antibody test you can have done by a company called Pyser that employs ex-Army medics and operates out of the Honourable Artillery Company in the City of London. I took one last week and tested positive.

But the PCR test – which tells you whether you've got it, not whether you've had it – throws up a lot of false positives. To give you an idea of how unreliable it is, take this announcement by Norway's Institute of Public health last month. "Given today's contagion situation in Norway, health professionals must test around 12,000 random people to find one positive case of Covid-19," it said. "In such a selection, there will be about 15 positive test responses, but 14 of these will be false positives."

Government scientists try and factor this in when calculating the R number and, according to them, it's below one. That means that if 10 people have the virus, they'll pass it on to fewer than 10 people. That's quite remarkable when you consider that more than 300,000 people have been thronging the streets, protesting about racism, over the past few weeks. The average incubation period of the disease is about six days, so if the BLM demos were going to cause an uptick in the rate of infection we'd be seeing some evidence of that by now. But we're not.

It's becoming clear that the social distancing rules – k/">even the new one-metre rule – are unnecessary. Some alarmists will point to a rise in infections elsewhere as "evidence" that we're easing restrictions too soon. Last month, they leapt gleefully on Germany after the number of daily infections ticked up. But it turned out that was entirely due to an isolated incident in a meat-packing warehouse. To date, Germany has suffered around 9,000 Covid deaths, about a third of the total number that succumbed to seasonal flu in 2017-18, and daily deaths have dwindled away to almost nothing.

This month, these same Cassandras are pointing to the rising number of infections in American states like Florida, Arizona and Texas, which were among the first to reopen. But that's largely due to increased testing, particularly in care homes. In Florida, for instance, in the first two weeks of June the number of people being tested increased by 37 per cent, but the number of cases only increased by 28 per cent. And if you compare the 43 US states that did lock down with the seven that didn't (Utah, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, Wyoming and Iowa), the latter have suffered 11 per cent fewer Covid deaths per million than the former.

At the beginning of the crisis, we believed SARS-CoV-2 was a particularly deadly disease because some sufferers were asymptomatic – perhaps as many as 50 per cent. Indeed, part of the rationale for the lockdown was that it was no good just asking those with symptoms to self- isolate because the "silent spreaders" would still be at large, infecting those around them. But we now know that asymptomatic people are very rarely infectious, something confirmed at a WHO press conference on 6 June.

Another thing we've learnt about Covid-19 is that many people have a natural immunity to it, probably because they've already developed antibodies to similar viruses, such as the common cold. This is one reason why the estimated infection fatality rate has been falling steadily since January. Originally, the WHO put it at 3.4 per cent, but that was revised downwards by Imperial College in March to 0.9 per cent, then downwards again to 0.67 per cent, and now the CDC puts it at 0.26 per cent. It will probably settle at around 0.1 per cent, about the same as seasonal flu.

It's clear that the government's scientific advisors significantly overestimated the risk posed by the virus at the beginning of the crisis and that placing the entire country under lockdown was unnecessary. Why did they? In part because overstating the virulence and deadliness of a new disease poses less risk to their professional reputations than understating it, a point made by the Nobel laureate Michael Levitt.

Professor Neil Ferguson's modelling evidence has consistently exaggerated the danger of various pathogens by an order of magnitude, from foot and mouth disease to swine flu, but his reputation hasn't suffered one jot. Had he done the opposite, he probably wouldn't have been as influential as he has been during this pandemic. But I'm going to go out on a limb and predict there will be no "second spike" – not now, and not in the autumn either. The virus has melted into thin air. It's time to get back to normal.

Toby Young is the creator of


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