Believing in impossible things – and COVID19

6th March 2021

“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

1: ‘The Concept of Coronavirus Herd Immunity Is Deadly and Dangerous’ https://www.self.com/story/coronavirus-herd-immunity

Since COVID19 first hurtled over the horizon, before landing upon us all with great force, I find that I have been asked to believe in many impossible things. First, I was told that attempting to create herd immunity was not achievable. It would also be extremely dangerous and would inevitably result in many hundreds of thousands of excess deaths.

Then the vaccines arrived at fantastical speed and I was told that mass vaccination, by creating herd immunity, would be the factor that would allow us to conquer COVID19 and return to normal life. I am not entirely sure which of these things is impossible, but one of them must be.

2: ‘Vaccines, on the other hand, are believed to induce stronger and longer lasting immunity.’ https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/does-the-vaccine-give-better-protection-than-having-fought-off-the-virus_uk_601c0663c5b62bf30754c563

I was then told the vaccine would provide greater immunity than being infected with COVID19. Which was interesting. I am not sure if this is actually impossible, but it seemed unlikely that anyone could make such statements after about three hundred people had actually been studied, and just two months had passed.

At the time I was aware of two people proven to have been re-infected with COVID19, out of about ten million cases. So, getting infected certainly seemed to provide a pretty good degree of immunity. A re-infection rate of 0.00005%

I also know that vaccinations can only ever really create an attenuated response. Whereas a full-blown infection triggers a full-blown immune response. So, I think it is pretty close to impossible that vaccination can provide greater protection than that from getting the actual disease. Which is why I think it is utterly bonkers we are actually vaccinating people who have circulating antibodies in their blood.

3: ‘Universal mask use could save 130,000 U.S. lives by the end of February, new study estimates.’ https://www.statnews.com/2020/10/23/universal-mask-use-could-save-130000-lives-by-the-end-of-february-new-modeling-study-says/

I am also being asked to believe that face masks are essential to stop the spread of COVID19 and prevent millions of deaths worldwide. The use of masks to prevent viral spread is something I actually researched in depth before COVID19 arrived (for various reasons), as did the WHO. They looked at non-pharmaceutical interventions for prevention of influenza, and produced a hefty report, which covered the use of masks.

Yes, I agree, influenza is not exactly the same as COVID19. But it is pretty much the same size of virus, and it is thought to spread in much the same way. Anyway, the WHO reported their views on masks in 2019, using data from randomised controlled trials (RCTs) – the gold standard.

‘Ten RCTs were included in the meta-analysis, and there was no evidence that facemasks are effective in reducing transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza.’ https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/329438/9789241516839-eng.pdf?ua=1

Since then, there has only been one RCT done on COVID19 transmission, in Denmark. It did not find any significant benefit from masks in reducing spread. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33205991/

Never has a trial been subjected to such immediate and hostile reporting. Fact-checkers (whoever exactly they might be, or what understanding they have of medical research) immediately attacked it. One such, called PolitiFact, made the following judgement, which amused me.

“Social media posts claim, “The first randomized controlled trial of more than 6,000 individuals to assess the effectiveness of surgical face masks against SARS-CoV-2 infection found masks did not statistically significantly reduce the incidence of infection.”

The study concluded that wearing masks did not offer a very high level of personal protection to mask wearers in communities where wearing masks was not common practice. The study noted, however, that the data suggested masks provided some degree of self-protection.

We rate this claim Mostly Falsehttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33205991/

So, according to PolitiFact, masks provided self-protection, but not personal protection. An interesting concept. Note to self, try to find out the difference between these two things.

In fact, this was just one of hundreds of critical articles, with self-anointed fact checkers clearly desperate to pull it to pieces. Yes, we have now entered a world when political fact checkers feel free to attack and contradict the findings of scientific papers, using such scientific terms as ‘Mostly false.’ Maybe they should have called it ‘very unique’ at the same time. Or, like the curate’s egg, that was good in parts.

Ignoring the modern-day Spanish Inquisition, and their ill-informed criticisms, I will simply call this study. More evidence that face masks don’t work. Perhaps someone will come along with a study proving that face masks work. So far … nada. Another impossible thing.

4: As of the 2nd March 2021 there have been 122,953 deaths from COVID19 in the UK.

Unlike many people I have actually written COVID19 on death certificates. Mostly they have been educated guesses. On at least five of them, early last year, there had been no positive swab to go on. So, I was just going on probable symptoms. As were many other doctors at the time.

Which means that you can take five off that number for starters. Although, of course, once written, that is very much, that … when it comes to death certificates. In fact, early on in the pandemic, we were probably underdiagnosing as often as over diagnosing deaths from COVID19. Although no-one will ever know. With no positive swab – and few swabs were being done – and almost no post-mortems – you were simply guessing.

As for now … NOW we have the very strange concept that any death within twenty-eight days of a positive COVID19 swab is recorded as a COVID19 death. Simultaneously, I am told that if I have a positive test at work, and then take some time off work (I can never remember the latest guidance). I am not to have another swab for ninety days.

How so? Because it now seems (I actually knew this a long time ago), that swabs can remain positive for months after the infection has been and gone [or was maybe never there to begin with]. Or to put this another way, you can have a positive swab long after you have been infected – and recovered. There are just some bits of virus up your nose that can be magnified, through the wonders of the PCR test, into a positive result.

Which means that an elderly person, infected months ago, can be admitted to hospital for any reason whatsoever. The they can have a positive swab – everyone is swabbed. Then they can die, from whatever it was they were admitted for in the first place. Then, they will be recorded as a COVID19 death.

In truth, this is just the start of impossible things when it comes to the number of COVID19 deaths. Do not get me started on PCR cycle numbers, and false positives. We would be here all day.

Equally, how many people have truly died of COVID19, instead of simply with COVID19? If I painted a blue circle on your forehead, then you died, I would not say that you died of a blue circle painted on your forehead. I would say that you died with a blue circle painted on your forehead.

5: The Swedish COVID-19 Response Is a Disaster. It Shouldn’t Be a Model for the Rest of the World

This was actually the headline title from an article in TIME magazine. The article went on to state that ‘The Swedish way has yielded little but death and misery. And this situation has not been honestly portrayed to the Swedish people or to the rest of the world.’  https://time.com/5899432/sweden-coronovirus-disaster/

Death and misery. Hmmmm, I might make this the title of my next book. Bound to be a best seller.

Yes, Sweden has been attacked from all sides with terrific venom, for holding out against imposing severe lockdown. How dare they… follow the WHO’s initial advice. That everyone else ignored.

So, have they done well with regard to COVID19 deaths? Not particularly. Have they done badly?Not particularly. On Worldometer they rank twenty fourth highest for deaths per million of the population. Which is pretty much bang on average for Western Europe.

One reason why they might not have appeared to do better is that, in the year 2019, they had their lowest rate of death for at least ten years. Three and a half thousand less in total than in 2018 https://www.statista.com/statistics/525353/sweden-number-of-deaths/ . In Norway, a country  used to beat Sweden with, due to their very low COVID19 deaths there was no difference in death rate between 2018 and 2019. To be blunt, the elderly population in Sweden had some catching up to do.

Once you factor this in, the much-lauded difference in deaths, between Norway and Sweden, kind of disappears.

‘Our study shows that all-cause mortality was largely unchanged during the epidemic as compared to the previous four years in Norway and Sweden, two countries which employed very different strategies against the epidemic. Excess mortality from COVID-19 may be less pronounced than previously perceived in Sweden, and mortality displacement might explain part of the observed findings.’ https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.11.11.20229708v1.full

In absolute figures. Sweden had

  • 92,185 deaths in 2018
  • 88,766 deaths in 2019
  • 97,941 deaths in 2020

A drop, then a rebound. Perhaps another way to look at the figures is to compare 2020 with a bad Swedish year in the past. In 2012, 91,938 people died. However, the population was lower at 9.5 million vs 10.2 million. So:

  • The absolute death rate in 2012 was 0.957%.
  • The absolute death rate in 2020 was 0.969%.

The difference between 2012 and 2020 is 0.012%. That is 120 extra deaths per million of the population, which is 1,224 people in population of 10.2 million. The statistics tell us that twelve thousand people died from COVID19 in Sweden. Maybe you can make all that add up. Frankly, I find it impossible.

6: Lockdowns have worked.

Before COVID19 came along, no country had ever attempted a lockdown – ever. So, no-one had any idea if such a thing could possibly work. There was no evidence, from anywhere, to support its use.

It was the Chinese who started it, and who claimed great success for their jackboot lockdown tactics. Well, they convinced me… not. Frankly, if I had to choose a country from which to obtain high quality, unbiased information, about anything, China would not feature in my top one hundred and ninety-four countries

But there you go, lockdown worked under the control of the kind and caring CCP. Hoorah, cheering all round, and the first person to stop cheering gets shot. Well, we don’t want any damned nay-sayers, do we? After that, according to almost everything I have read, everywhere, it worked for everyone else too. Remarkable.

Yes, it is certainly true you can find countries that locked down, closed their borders, and kept the rates low. That, however, is not proof of anything at all. The scientific method requires a little more rigour than this.

In fact, the main thing that scientific rigour requires is that you specifically do not go around looking for facts that support your hypothesis. Because that, I am afraid, is the exact opposite of science. What you need to do, instead, is to go around looking for facts that disprove your hypothesis. This is what Karl Popper called falsification.

For example, my hypothesis is that “all swans are white”. I seek, and find, only white swans. So, this makes my hypothesis is correct? No. What science requires you do is to hunt tirelessly for black swans. If you never find one, fine. However, you need to be aware that the moment you do, your hypothesis has just been disproven. In real life things are very rarely as simple as this, but that is the basic principle.

However, with lockdown (and I recognise that no two countries locked down in the same way) the hypothesis is that countries which did not lockdown will have higher rate of death for COVID19 than those that did.

So, let us look, first, at the countries with the highest rate of COVID19. Excluding very small countries e.g., San Marino, or Gibraltar, we have, in descending order of deaths per million of the population https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ .

  • Czechia
  • Belgium
  • Slovenia
  • UK
  • Italy
  • Montenegro
  • Portugal
  • USA
  • Hungary
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • North Macedonia
  • Bulgaria
  • Spain
  • Mexico
  • Peru
  • Croatia
  • Slovakia
  • Panama
  • France

Every single country in this list carried out fairly strict lockdowns. The UK, apparently, has the strictest lockdown in the world, this winter.

Four countries that have been roundly criticized for having far less restrictive lockdowns are: Sweden, Japan, Belarus and Nicaragua (Realistically there are others, in poorer countries, where lockdowns have not happened – because they can’t afford it)

In these four ‘non-lockdowns’ countries, the death rate is, on average 391 per million.

In the top twenty ‘lockdown’ countries, the death rate is, on average 1,520 per million.

The only non-lockdown country in the top ninety for death rates is Sweden. It comes just below France, at number twenty-four.

Now, if the difference between lockdown and non-lockdown countries were ten per cent, or even fifty per cent, I would fully accept that there are many other variables that could explain such finding away. Although, of course, we should really look at a higher rate in the non-lockdown countries, not a lower rate.

Yet although this evidence is out there, I am being asked to believe that lockdowns work. At least the WHO agrees with me on this impossible thing. As Dr David Nabarro, the WHO special envoy on COVID19 said:

“We really do appeal to all world leaders, stop using lockdown as your primary method of control,” he said.

“Lockdowns have just one consequence that you must never ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer.” https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-12/world-health-organization-coronavirus-lockdown-advice/12753688

Lockdowns, according to the WHO, in unguarded moments, have just one consequence. They make poor people an awful lot poorer.

‘Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four. If this is granted all else follows.’

Believing in impossible things – and COVID19

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