Putting a bionic cat among the catatonic pigeons, the much publicised only 17k deaths from covid figure has led to some of the most acrimonious splats Dr No has ever seen on squitter, the social media platform on which participants dump on each other from great heights. Joining the general opprobrium, Tim Harford used the first slot on this week’s More or Less programme on Radio 4 to apply ‘tireless debunkery’ to the claim, with more or less help from a molecular biologist who got her ONS numbers mixed up, claiming (at about 3:12) that the 17k deaths were covid–19 deaths where “no other health condition was mentioned on the death certificate”, which is not true: the actual number of deaths where no other condition was mentioned — that is, deaths where covid–19 was the only cause mentioned — is even smaller, at 6,183. The 17k figure, on the other hand, represents covid–19 deaths with no pre-existing conditions, or as ONS also calls them, deaths from covid-19 with no other underlying causes; but that is not to say there were no other causes mentioned. Other causes may have been present, but they were not deemed by ONS to be pre-existing, or underlying causes.
It has been a long time coming, as we enter the final stages of the rollout of the NHS (Self-Destruction) Regulations 2022. After a two year period unlike anything ever seen before in the NHS, with a seriously demoralised and depleted workforce, NHS managers are gearing up to fire many tens of thousands of NHS frontline staff. The managers and their staff are, of course, just following orders, following in the footsteps of others who, at times of moral darkness, just followed orders, and removed innocent undesirables from their midst. What makes the NHS managers so remarkable in their behaviour is that the undesirables aren’t innocent aliens, they are instead a significant part of the NHS frontline workforce. The generals, in effect, are gearing up to shoot their own troops, at a time when they need them the most.
As the stain of compulsory vaccination and its dystopian paperwork paraphernalia spreads across many European states, extinguishing the lights of individual freedom, and paving a way for a return to the dark days of totalitarianism, we in Britain, and particularly England, find ourselves standing alone in resisting the clamour for ever tighter controls. At his press conference earlier this week, Mr Johnson, the prime minister, may have had the appearance of new character in one of Mr Corbett’s glove puppets shows, but the content — no further restrictions — was pure gold. Had Johnson dipped into his Pocketbook of Memorable Churchillian Phrases, then he would not have gone far wrong with this from We Shall Fight on the Beaches: ‘I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone’. All it needs is but a single word substitution, covid in place of war.
Those familiar with the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will know that the number 42 is the ‘Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything’; it necessarily follows that it must also be the answer to today’s ultimate question, how to end the covid pandemic. Dr No has spent the New Year break trying to get to the bottom of this cryptic answer. Perhaps it means the pandemic will end once BoJo has done his 42nd presser? Or the Milk Curdler posts a twitter thread that is exactly 42 tweets long? The problem is that no one knows what question Deep Thought, the supercomputer in the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide, was programmed to answer, and without knowing the question, how can one hope to make sense of the answer? Let’s see what we can come up with.
Let us be clear from the start: the case, the whole case, and nothing but the case for the introduction covid vaccine passports rests on a single premise: that covid vaccination reduces the risk of onward transmission of covid–19 by vaccinated individuals. That is the alpha and the omega in the Empire of the Covid Passport Tsar. If folk, be they vaccinated or unvaccinated, are as likely the catch covid from a vaccinated individual as they to catch it from an unvaccinated individual, then there is no case for covid vaccine passport. The Covid Passport Tsar has no clothes, and more importantly, he has no evidence, and stands revealed as the model tyrant from Albert Camus’ 1950s observation: ‘Le bien-être du peuple en particulier a toujours été l’alibi des tyrans, et il offre de plus l’avantage de donner bonne conscience aux domestiques de la tyrannie‘ (The well-being of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants, and it offers the additional advantage of giving the servants of tyranny a good conscience).
It’s not often that Dr No’s flabber gets well and truly ghasted. An extraordinary exchange on twitter (scroll down a page or so to get to the start of the substance, and click here to see the above tweet) has revealed what many have long suspected: SAGE purposely cook the books in its modelling reports. Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at LSHTM, and chief pongo for the time being of SAGE’s modelling group SPI-M, defends the group’s practice of ‘giving the decision makers the information they ask for’. Read that again, and let it sink in. The scientists give the politicians the information they ask for. Being on twitter, the discussion quickly becomes scrambled into incoherent fragments, making it almost, but not entirely, impossible to get to the heart of the matter. The crux, however, is simple enough: is SAGE told, one way or another, what to tell the government — which, in effect, soon becomes here’s the policy, now where’s the evidence — or does it provide, as its name, the Scientific Advisory Group, might suggest, independent and impartial scientific advice?
There have been some crackles in recent days on twitter, as the Bangladeshi mask trial caught light again. The crackling started with the publication of a ‘short note‘ that provided a ‘simple analysis’ of the recently released raw data from the Bangladeshi trial that claimed that, given the new ‘simple analysis’, the trial failed to show any covid protection benefit from mask wearing. Not content with blowing holes in masks, the authors of the ‘simple note’ also report that they did nonetheless find some other highly significant differences between the intervention and control groups, including one that could introduce more than enough bias to explain the original trial report’s marginal benefit from wearing surgical masks. In the limp language of academic writing, the authors suggest their findings ‘urge caution’ (sic) in interpretation of small differences, and that ‘bias-susceptible endpoints…should be used with care’. Translating into plain English, the masks don’t work, and the mandates should go.
***Correction 0848 02/12/21: The 45-64 age band chart lost the 2020 line – Dr No apologises. Now corrected, and with marginally better colours. This styling will also be applied to other charts in due course. One phrase, ‘unlike the all ages and older ages charts’, removed from chart commentary*** ONS’s weekly mortality reports have rather gone off the rails for the last two weeks. A week ago, the familiar high profile double humped weekly deaths chart got disappeared, perhaps because the 2021 line was misbehaving. Earlier today, this week’s day late report opened with an estimate of homeless deaths in 2020. The reference has since disappeared, but while it was there, one naturally felt great pity for the homeless deaths, who even now must be wandering across the great plains, looking for somewhere to call home. Dr No suspects ONS might have meant deaths in homeless people. Perhaps next week it will be deaths in parachutists, which ONS will refer to as registered parachute deaths. Sooner or later it will no doubt be alcohol deaths, or rather alcohol related deaths, because in public health, one is never more than a short step away from the demon drink and its deadly toll. But Dr No’s attention is being led astray by ONS’s diversionary tactics. Once again, it is time to look at all cause mortality.
Munchausen’s syndrome is the popular name for the ICD (International Classification of Diseases) 10 diagnosis F68.1: Intentional production or feigning of symptoms or disabilities, either physical or psychological [factitious disorder]…with the aim of adopting the sick role. In rather less leaden language, a patient with Munchausen’s syndrome pretends to be ill to gain medical attention, which distinguishes the condition from malingering, in which an individual pretends to be ill to gain practical benefit, for example being excused from work. It takes it’s name from the protagonist in the 1785 novel Baron Munchausen’s Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia, in which the fictional Baron narrates a series of impossibly tall stories, based on exaggerated exploits of one Hieronymus Karl Friedrich Freiherr von Münchhausen, a real life German baron known more recently for a habit of adding extra lard to his porkies, though in life he appears to have had ridicule of the credulous more in mind.
What are the three most important things for human life? The first is fuel, an umbrella term for the food water and oxygen, without which we soon perish. Cut off the oxygen, and we are dead within minutes, cut off food and water, and we are dead within days or weeks. The second, Dr No suggests, is shelter. We are the naked ape, and without shelter, we soon find ourselves in harms way. Without shelter, we are at the mercy of the sun’s burning rays and winter’s icy blasts, and again, sooner or later, we will perish. We need shelter to sleep, and to recuperate from illness and injury. These two things, fuel and shelter, are tangible external things, that we get from our environment, and give us our physical health. The third most important thing could not be more different. It is, in its pure form, intangible and utterly abstract, and in this form, uniquely human, because we alone of all the species on earth have a name for it. It is called freedom.