Forever lockdown: China edition

Like the song that never ends, it just goes on and on, my friends:

Some 108 million people in China’s northeast region are being plunged back under lockdown conditions as a new and growing cluster of infections causes a backslide in the nation’s return to normal.

In an abrupt reversal of the re-opening taking place across the nation, cities in Jilin province have cut off trains and buses, shut schools and quarantined tens of thousands of people. The strict measures have dismayed many residents who had thought the worst of the nation’s epidemic was over.

People “are feeling more cautious again,” said Fan Pai, who works at a trading company in Shenyang, a city in nearby Liaoning province that’s also facing renewed restrictions. “Children playing outside are wearing masks again” and health care workers are walking around in protective gear, she said. “It’s frustrating because you don’t know when it will end.”

It won’t end. The virus won’t simply go away no matter how antisocial a country is willing (or forced) to be. “Everyone will be exposed to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, and most people will become infected. COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire in all countries, but we do not see it,” wrote the former state epidemiologist of Sweden.

The promised vaccine is a long way off, but for the time being we can at least pretend to contain the virus by inflicting novel types of misery on our fellow human beings. China, always eager to make its mark as an innovation superpower, has certainly emerged as a global leader in the exciting field of Population Control and Mass Sadism:

Still, delivery services have been mostly halted and anti-fever medication is banned at drugstores to prevent people from hiding their symptoms.

China’s latest flare-up is well-timed, as complacent Americans and Europeans are beginning to venture carelessly out of their homes — and we just can’t have that. We are in a curious situation, where countries that barely notice the virus’s existence are considered to be losing the war against it, while those that shut themselves down like a hung computer are considered to be winning. The Japanese, for example, have their heads buried firmly in the sand regarding the virus, and accordingly have suffered a staggering 768 deaths. When will they wake up?! Inquiring minds want to know.

The specter of a second wave — a term that I suspect is not being used accurately by the non-scientists that write these articles — is again invoked to argue that we can never go back to normal, we can never let our guard down, even for a second. We are all Wuhan now. If you want a picture of the future, imagine an infrared thermometer pointed at a human forehead — forever:

While the cluster of 34 infections isn’t growing as quickly the outbreak in Wuhan which started the global pandemic last December, China’s swift and powerful reaction reflects its fear of a second wave after it curbed the virus’s spread at great economic and social cost. It’s also a sign of how fragile the re-opening process will be in China and elsewhere as even the slightest hint of a resurgence of infections could prompt a return to strict lockdown.

As I wrote back on April 4:

“There is no quick fix” is the message that is increasingly coming from our elites. They are preparing us for a long, miserable and ruinous battle against the microbe, one which our economy, society, and political order are not likely to survive. The forever wars weakened and demoralized America. The forever lockdown, if actualized, will finish us off. Buckle up!

Top Swedish epidemiologist explains why lockdowns are wrong

Watch:

His bio on the WHO site:

Johan Giesecke trained as an infectious disease clinician in Stockholm, Sweden during the 1980’s, and from his work with AIDS patients he became interested in the epidemiology of infectious diseases. He received an MSc in epidemiology from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 1992, and then worked as a Senior Lecturer at the school for a few years. After this he became State Epidemiologist for Sweden (1995 to 2005) and during a one-year sabbatical 1999-2000 he led the group working on the revision of the International Health Regulations at WHO HQ. From 2005 to 2014 he was the first Chief Scientist of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Professor Giesecke has written a textbook on infectious disease epidemiology, and now teaches on this subject as a professor emeritus at the Karolinska Institute Medical University in Stockholm.

It really is just the flu, bro

In this interview, veteran epidemiologist Knut Wittkowski succinctly explains why the Wuhan Flu is a normal respiratory virus, not fundamentally different from any other flu, and why social distancing and “lockdowns” don’t work:

You can read the full transcript here and I’ve pasted it below (hopefully freebirth.ca won’t mind):

Q: Who are you?

KW: My name is Knut Wittkowski, I was at the Rockefeller University for 20 years, I was the Head of the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design, and before that, I worked for 15 years with Klaus Dietz one of the leading epidemiologists in the world at the German town of Tuebingen at the Eberhard Karls University.

Q: You gave recommendations for how best to deal with Covid-19 [Paper titled “How to fight SARS/Covid-19”] can you talk about that?

KW: As with every respiratory disease we should protect the elderly and fragile, because when they get pneumonia, they have a high risk of dying of pneumonia. This is one of the key issues to keep in mind. On the other hand, children do very well with these diseases: they are evolutionarily designed to be exposed to all kinds of viruses in their lifetime, and they should keep going to school and infecting each other. That contributes to herd immunity, which means after about four weeks at the most, the elderly people could start joining their families because then the virus would have been extinguished.

Q: You mention you think that containment could prolong the life of the virus, can you talk about that?

KW: With all respiratory diseases, the only thing that stops the disease is herd immunity. About 80% of people have to have contact with the virus. The majority of them won’t even notice they were infected, or they’ll have very very mild symptoms, especially children. It’s very important to keep the schools open and mingling, to spread the virus to get herd immunity as fast as possible. The elderly people who should be separated and the nursing homes should be closed during that time. Then they should come back, and meet their children and grandchildren after four weeks when the virus has been exterminated.

Q: What do you make of the policy that was enacted in the US and England and most places throughout the world—this policy of containment & shelter in place. What is your opinion?

KW: People are trying to flatten the curve, but I don’t really know why. What happens when you flatten the curve is you also widen it, and it takes more time. I don’t see a good reason for a respiratory disease staying in the population for longer than necessary.

Q: What do you say to people who say that we just don’t know about the lethality of the virus and the smartest thing is to contain everyone because we don’t have the data?

KW: We have seen two other SARS viruses before—Coronaviruses. This is not the first coronavirus that has come out and it won’t be the last. For all respiratory diseases we have the same type of epidemic. If you leave it alone, It comes for two weeks, it goes for two weeks, and it’s gone.

Q: You were speaking to my producer the other day and you were saying the pandemic is over. What do you mean by that?

KW: There are no more new cases in China and South Korea. The number of new cases In Europe is already starting to decline. The virus came later to the US, and we see a bit of an incline, but a levelling off in a couple of days. If we see cases are not increasing dramatically, that means the number of new infections has already declined substantially and peaked about a week ago.

Q: Are the Chinese stats true?

KW: The epidemic has ended there, yes. Because otherwise we would see people emerging and even in China it’s very difficult to keep information under the hood. If there were lots of cases in hospitals, if the hospitals they built (the temporary hospitals) were still full, we would hear that. It could not be suppressed.

Q: During a press briefing yesterday, Fauci and the President and the rest of the people assembled were saying that if had they not done the containment strategy they had done, upwards of 2 million people would have died, what do you think?

KW: I’m not paid by the government, so I’m entitled to actually do science. If the government had not intervened the epidemic would have been over, like every other respiratory disease epidemic.

Q: How many in your estimation would have died? Would it have been that much?

KW: Realistic numbers in the US, we have about 25000 cases every day. Our hospital system would have to deal with 2500 patients every day, for a certain period of time (that could be 3-4 weeks), and then the number would dramatically decrease again, and the whole epidemic would be over.

Q: Of this hospitalized, how many would die?

KW: Two percent would die—of all cases. Of all symptomatic cases. Two percent of all symptomatic cases would die, that is two percent of the 25000 a day, that is 500 people a day, and that will happen over four weeks, so that could be as high as 10000 people. Now, that compares to the normal numbers of flus during the flu season and we have in the US about 35000 deaths every year during the flu season, so it would be part of the normal situation during the flu season.

Q: Are they reporting flu deaths this year?

KW: Yes there is a statistic for flu, it’s currently at 10000 or 12000, so together with Corona, it is the same as the regular flu.

Q: You’re basing your estimate on latest numbers?
KW: Yes.

Q: What accounts for current hospitals being overrun and world leaders and media going crazy?

KW: Funding for hospitals, as everyone knows, has not increased recently, so hospitals had to cut down, and therefore they now have to turn to their emergency plans, which is not terrible. That’s what they have been planning for, for decades, so if they have to put up some tents in Central Park, that’s not the end of the world. The tents are there, they have been maintained very well, for 3-4 weeks maybe, and then the crisis will be over.

This is not a situation no one has ever thought about.

Q: What about the major shortage of masks? PPE? All that? Why a shortage?

KW: People are getting crazy and it’s like the toilet paper.

Q: But…suddenly all masks and hand sanitizer was gone.

KW: It’s like the toilet paper. Shortages happen now and then all the time. If you have somebody reporting what’s happening at that day and that hospital, yes, it’s possible, Does it reflect the state of the whole hospital system in New York? Not necessarily.

Q: What about latest figure that they claim: that because of social distancing, we have saved ourselves from the two million dead, but we are probably looking at 150 to 200 thousand dead, though they’ve said it’s possible it can be lower if we are really good at social distancing.

KW: I don’t know where these numbers are coming from. They are totally unrealistic. There are no indications this flu is fundamentally different from any other flu. We know what happened to china, South Korea, Europe. There are no indications that anything is different from regular flu, although maybe it’s a bit worse than other flu, a little bit.

What happens with normal respiratory disease is that flu ends during spring, and people spend more time outdoors, because outdoors the viruses cannot easily spread. That is a form of containment—spending more time outdoors.

Q: We have been told to stay indoors.

KW: Yes. It keeps the virus healthy. Going outdoors is what stops every respiratory disease.

Q: People will say that the reason China came out of this ok in the end is that they went into such severe lockdown?

KW: They had an advantage. In the beginning, they didn’t know what they were dealing with. It took them a long time to start the containment of social distancing. For the epidemic, this was good, because it gave the virus enough time to reach herd immunity before the social distancing started.

Q: It’s interesting you say that, because at Imperial college, Neil Ferguson has change his estimate of number of dead in England from 500 000, to 20 000 or less, and he says that’s because of social distancing…We also know that the way social distancing was implemented in England was not severe or extreme or efficient, so after one day of lockdown he announced it would be 20 000 or less. Is there any way that number had changed because of social distancing?

KW: No. In fact we have data for that. I looked into a claim that people make that in China and South Korea the social distancing had successfully helped to control the epidemic. I looked at the dates when people actually started social distancing. In China, the epidemic peaked on February 1 to 5th—that period. But the schools were not closed until February 20th. That was two weeks later. In South Korea there was a similar pattern. In Daegu, where in the Shincheonji church you had the outbreak, the self-quarantine was ordered February 23rd, where the peak in that city happened. The national social distancing policy was not announced until Feb 9th, a week later, when the national peak happened. So both in China and South Korea, social distancing started long after the number of infections had already started to decline, and therefore had very little impact on the epidemic. That means they had already reached herd immunity, or were about to reach herd immunity. They were very close. But by installing the social distancing, they preventing it from getting to the final point, and this is why we are still seeing new cases in South Korea, several weeks after the peak.

Q: This is the sort of contagion that is airborne that you can’t deal with by doing tracing or social distancing. Explain why/

KW: Tracing an airborne disease is even more difficult than tracing a sexually transmitted disease, which is difficult enough, as we know from AIDS. Most people know who they had sexual contact with over the past two weeks. As a human travelling subway in New York and doing the other things we have to do in New York, I can’t tell you who the two, three, four, or 100 thousand people are, that I came in contact with over the past 2 weeks, so contact tracing for a respiratory disease is impossible.

Q: Why doesn’t containment work?

KW: You cannot stop the spread of a respiratory disease within a family. You can’t stop it with neighbours, with people who are delivering, physicians, anyone. People are social, and even in times of social distancing, they have contacts and any of those contacts will spread the disease. It will go slowly so it will not build up herd immunity, but it will happen, and it will go on forever, unless we let it go.

Q: You don’t feel this requires a vaccine?

KW: We don’t have a vaccine against the common cold, we have some vaccines against flu, but they are not that effective. Would it be nice to have a vaccine against SARS? Yes. It would be nice. It would help to create herd immunity a bit faster, because those who have the vaccine are immune, and those who are not just need to be exposed to become immunity.

Q: You can get this immunity naturally?

KW: For some reason we don’t understand, humankind has survived all sorts of respiratory disease. Nature has a way of making sure that we survive.

Q: It’s so much more contagious…is that [idea] ridiculous?

KW: I don’t know where that opinion comes from. The data that we have speaks against it.

Q: What data?

KW: Well, you can download the data from the European CDC. Every day, the data all over the world, you can analyze it, and that’s what I have done, and probably other people have also done.

Q: The numbers in Europe are not increasing any more—the numbers of cases. The deaths follow by about a week, and that’s normal because people die after they develop the disease, but the important thing is that the number of infections peaked around a week ago and is already on the decline. The European data includes the data in France where suddenly the number of cases doubled from one day to the next. This is someone finding a box of reports in an office and sending it in, and ‘oops,’ we forgot to report in the last moment. The epidemic in France is not increasing anymore, even though someone found a couple of reports in a shoebox.

Q: Won’t governments say it’s because we practised social distancing?

KW: I’m not a psychiatrist. I don’t know what other people think. I’m a scientist. We can see that in China, in Korea, the epidemic went down, and the epidemic did exactly what every other epidemic did, and it’s not that 400% of old people died. Maybe it’s three percent and not one percent. Maybe. But nothing is fundamentally different from the flus we’ve seen before. Every coupe of years there is a flu that is a bit different than the others, and it goes away. This one behaves exactly the same way. The epidemic has ended in China, it has ended in South Korea, in Europe it’s declining and will be ending anytime soon/ It could be a bit longer than typically, because of the containment that flattened and prolonged the epidemic, so that’s really good if we want to be infected by it as long as it gets, and in the US we are prolonging the epidemic to flatten the curve. But eventually it will end.

Q: In your paper, you said that in mid-march there was a change in the reporting system. What was that about?

KW: This was not the first time. On march 20th, Germany changed its reporting system and suddenly a lot of cases that had not been reported before, were reported. But this is not a sudden increase in cases. Overall, this had no impact on the dynamics of the German epidemic. It increased until about march 27th or so, and has been stable or declining since. The problem in this disease is that reporting and diagnosing are not separated, and recorded differently. In the AIDS epidemic, every case was reported with day of diagnosis, and day of reporting. For whatever reason, this standard developed during the AIDS epidemic is not being employed here, so we can not de-convolute this data.

In Italy there was a spike on one day, there was a spike on one day in Norway, but we have sen many of these spikes. They last for one day, then the numbers go back to where they were before, so we are not scared anymore when we see something changing very fast. Nature doesn’t jump. As people have known for a long time, the course of an epidemic is always smooth. There his never a ten-fold increase in cases from one day from another. There is nothing to be scared about. This is a flu epidemic like every other flu. Maybe a bit more severe, but nothing that is fundamentally different from the flus that we see in other years.

Q: What do you think accounts for the difference in the response this time, than say, swine flu in 2009. Why are we suddenly so much more panicked and having shut the world down? What is going on?

KW: I think at least one factor is the internet. People are using the internet now much more often, and so news, wrong or false, is spreading the globe within hours, if not minutes. And so, let’s say 50 years ago, we would read in the paper that about a week ago there was an epidemic of flu in the US or in China, or somewhere else, and at that time, it was already over. So, people would say, ‘ok, that happens all the time’. Now, what we read is ‘oh, there were 785 cases in the Vatican over 2 days!’ Huh. Maybe not. Even if it was a reporting error, these stories are circulating the world and contributing to chaos and people being afraid of things they shouldn’t be afraid of.

Q: What do you think are the possible health risks of the policies we are following now, shelter in place?

KW: Maybe we will see a total fewer number of cases, however, we will see more cases among the elderly because we have prevented the school children from creating herd immunity. In the end we will see more deaths, because the school children don’t die, it’s the elderly who die, so we will see more deaths because of social distancing.

Q: We keep hearing about the second wave coming in the fall, tell me your thoughts. It sounds like you think we will have a second wave because of social distancing.

KW: Yes. If we had herd immunity now, there couldn’t be a second wave in the autumn. Herd immunity lasts for a couple of years, typically, and that’s why the last SARS epidemic we had in 2003 lasted for 15 years, for enough people to become susceptible again, so a new epidemic could spread —a related virus. Typically, there is cross immunity, so if you are exposed to one SARS virus you are less likely to fall ill with another SARS virus. If we had herd immunity we wouldn’t have a second wave. However, if we are preventing herd immunity from developing, it is almost guaranteed we will have another wave as soon as we stop social distancing or the climate changes with winter coming or something like that.

Q: But because this is an airborne illness, it sounds like social distancing wouldn’t prevent people from getting it, because it’s already spread, it’s airborne, it lives on surfaces, it has already gotten around, right?

KW: Unfortunately it seems that in western countries where the story of China was already known, people started with social distancing, as imperfect as it is, before the epidemic could reach the level that is needed to develop herd immunity.

Q: To summarize, you are saying that is going to flatten and extend the epidemic and create that second wave we are being told to fear?

KW: Yes. The second wave is a direct consequence of social distancing.

We already know that social distancing has cost the US taxpayer 2 trillion dollars. In addition to everything else, it also has severe consequences for our social lives, and depression is definitely something that we will be seeing. I can say for myself that walking through New York City right now is depressing.

Q: What do you think? Should we tolerate this? Should we stand for staying in house arrest until April 30th? Is that what we ought to do, or should we perhaps be resisting?

KW: We should be resisting and we should *at least* hold our politicians responsible. We should have a discussion with our politicians. One thing we definitely need to do that would be safe and effective, is open the schools. Let the children spread the virus among themselves which is a necessity to get herd immunity. This is one of the most destructive actions the government has done. We should focus on the elderly and separating them from the population where the virus is circulating. We should NOT prevent the virus from circulating among school children which is the fastest way to create herd immunity.

Q: Explain one more time as clearly as you can, what is the concept with natural herd immunity? What happens to the virus when it has gone through the population in the way you’re describing?

KW: If 80% of people have had contact with the virus they are therefore immune. Typically, that contact is just a form of immunization. So there is no disease, there is nothing happening, and still, there is immunity. If 80% of people are immune and somebody has a virus and is infectious, it will be very difficult for that infectious person to find someone who is still susceptible—not immune. And this person will not infect anyone else, and we won’t have the disease spreading. That is herd immunity.

Q: What happens to the virus at tha tpoint?

KW: Viruses don’t “live”, technically, but the virus will be destroyed. Right now, my dry cleaner closed down because of Covid, so I can’t get my clothes cleaned. So if there are viruses on my clothes which is possible, I cannot get them cleaned at the dry cleaner, because the dry cleaner is a non-essential service and has closed down. We are experiencing all sorts of counterproductive consequences of not-well-thought-through policy.

Q: Should there be a major testing regime in place? So the whole population is tested? Should that be a prerequisite for coming out [of quarantine]?

KW: No.

Q: Describe why testing is not productive.

KW: Testing doesn’t stop anything by itself…If we do antibody testing (not testing for the virus), but if we do antibody testing, we can tell how close we are to herd immunity, and that could be useful. But testing for people who are not infectious, if they have probably already been in their infectious period for two or three days, but now they’re being tested positive, so what are they supposed to do? We are already having social distancing, they can’t do much more than they’re already doing. Testing for respiratory disease is neither necessary nor effective.

Q: You mentioned earlier you have asthma, and I’m guessing you’re over 40, are you nervous?

KW: No. We don’t die of the virus. We die of pneumonia. So if we have a viral respiratory disease, once the body has created antibodies, the immune system has created antibodies, the immune system is killing all infected cells, which destroy much of the mucosa. Bacteria can settle on the destroyed mucosa and cause pneumonia. It is pnenumonia that is killing people if it is not treated. I had a virus three weeks ago—maybe Covid, who knows? My physician gave me the antibiotics I should take if the disease gets better and then gets worse, because that its a sign of pneumonia and we have to treat pneumonia.

Pneumonia is what is treated with antibiotics, not the viruses.

Q: So you feb you may have already had Covid-19?

KW: At the end of that experience (which reminds me of Camus’ plague— if you ever read it, you would see lots of parallels unfortunately). So no, I am not scared. I may have had it. Like many other people who had a mild flu like I had, or had no symptoms whatsoever, that is the normal thing that happens to 70% of the people in the end, even 75%, and it is the remaining who get ill and need treatment. They should seek treatment as early as possible, you shouldn’t wait, and it’s definitely helpful if you have health insurance.

The problem in cities like New York is that there are too many people who don’t have health insurance, and if you don’t have health insurance you are hesitant to see the doctor and if you are hesitant you see the doctor too late, and if pneumonia has already progressed, it’s too late for the antibiotics to do anything, and you may die.

The best thing is isolate if you are old and fragile, and if you get the disease see your doctor as soon as possible.

Q: You say 75% won’t get symptoms, even 80% or is it more? Do we know?

KW: We don’t know what it is right now. For that we would have to do very wide antibody testing. However, we already see the epidemic declining. And that is a sign that we have at least a substantial proportion of people who are immune. It may not be enough for herd immunity, we may not have reached the 80% we need, but we may have 50%.

Q: What do we do at this point? Is it too late?

KW: It’s difficult to tell. It may be too late, it may not be too late, the problem is that if we are artificially keeping number of infections low among low-risk people like school children and their parents. We may not have reached herd immunity yet, so if we are stopping, we may not have an increase in new infections. This is the downside of containment. We shouldn’t believe we are smarter than Mother Nature was when we were evolving. Mother Nature is pretty good at making sure we are a good match for the diseases we see each year.

Q: Is this a pandemic?

KW: It’s a pandemic like it’s a pandemic every year.

Q: Is there anything else you want to say? What has been aggravating you the most, what would you like people to know?

KW: I think people in the US and maybe in other countries as well, are more docile than they should be. People should talk with their politicians. Question them. Ask them to explain. If people don’t stand up for their rights, their rights will be forgotten.

I was at the Rockefeller University, I have been an epidemiologist for 35 years, I’ve been modelling epidemics for 35 years. It’s a pleasure to have the ability to help people understand, but it’s a struggle to get heard.

* * *

Here is Wittkowski’s paper posted April 7.

“Unconscionable”

My sense is that the establishment is beginning to retreat from the insane policy of putting America under house arrest over a microbe. One sign of this is the abandonment of the grave warnings that millions will die from this modern Black Death. It’s notable that the CDC director is now saying that “you’re seeing the numbers [of deaths] are going to be much, much, much, much lower than would have been predicted by the models.”

Also interesting is Bloomberg’s decision to devote a lengthy article to Michael Burry’s powerful denunciation of the current policy. Burry is the Aspergery investor played by Christian Bale in The Big Short. Here is what he says:

“Universal stay-at-home is the most devastating economic force in modern history,” Burry wrote in an email to Bloomberg News. “And it is man-made. It very suddenly reverses the gains of underprivileged groups, kills and creates drug addicts, beats and terrorizes women and children in violent now-jobless households, and more. It bleeds deep anguish and suicide.” […]

He said he began speaking out because of how people were suffering from measures taken to contain the pandemic. “Unconscionable,” is how he described job losses in the U.S., which have caused a once-unthinkable 10 million people to apply for unemployment benefits in the past two weeks. […]

“This is a new form of coronavirus that emanated from a country, China, that unfortunately covered it up. That was the original sin. It transmits very easily, and within the first month it was likely all over the world. Very poor testing infrastructure created an information vacuum as cases ramped, ventilator shortages were projected. Politicians panicked and media filled the space with their own ignorance and greed. It was a toxic mix that led to the shutdown of the U.S., and hence much of the world economy.”

The public has already demonstrated its willingness to go along with martial law-like restrictions on a thin pretext, so perhaps the next step will be to push the envelope further, for example by banning outdoor jogging during the day. Or the lockdowns may simply be maintained for the next 18-plus months, as Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel has proposed, causing the complete collapse of the United States.

On the other hand, it’s obvious that the lockdowns have already inflicted profound damage on the economy, and if not ended soon, could bring about the kind of widespread immiseration seen in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union – to say nothing of mass civil unrest. Perhaps that is the goal. But if it’s not, then the people running our country may be preparing to loosen the lease a bit – for now.

Forever lockdowns

Open for takeoutCoronavirus appears to be forcing some US troops out of Iraq, a sign that America’s “forever war” in that country may be winding down after just 17 years of destructive and pointless conflict. Ironically, though, SARS 2.0 has inspired the launch of a new type of forever war: the indefinite suspension of society and commerce in the name of defeating a microbe. Call it the forever lockdown.

As with America’s misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is no clear end date for this gargantuan effort because the victory conditions are vague. On the one hand, we are told that the goal is to “flatten the curve.” But then Dr. Fauci, the immunologist who apparently believes he has been placed in charge of the United States, informs us that “social distancing” must continue until the virus is no more – which presumably means well into 2021 at the earliest:

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that the novel coronavirus “might keep coming back” year after year. Speaking to the White House press corps on Wednesday, he said that the ultimate hope is a vaccine. That, Fauci added, may not be ready for a year to a year and a half, although other experts say even that timeline is optimistic.

“I was on the weekly conference call with the WHO-sponsored group of all the health leaders in the world who are dealing with this, and we all came to the agreement that we may have cycling with another season,” Fauci told the press conference. “We’ll be much better prepared. We’ll likely have interventions, but the ultimate game changer in this will be a vaccine.”

“If we get to the part of the curve where it goes down to essentially no new cases, no deaths for a period of time, I think it makes sense that you have to relax social distancing,” he added. “The one thing we hope to have in place, and I believe we will have in place, is a much more robust system to be able to identify someone who is infected, isolate them, and then do contact tracing.”

Fauci called for a national lockdown in a CNN interview:

Dr Anthony Fauci, the chief infectious disease expert leading the US response, echoed Mr Gates’s claims and said he doesn’t understand why states aren’t working together to tackle the virus.

Dr Fauci told CNN: “You know, the tension between federally mandated versus states’ rights to do what they want is something I don’t want to get into … But if you look at what’s going on in this country, I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that.”

Did someone mention Bill Gates? America’s wealthiest man, like Fauci, is calling for a complete national lockdown in almost comical language:

First, we need a consistent nationwide approach to shutting down. Despite urging from public health experts, some states and counties haven’t shut down completely. In some states, beaches are still open; in others, restaurants still serve sit-down meals.

This is a recipe for disaster. Because people can travel freely across state lines, so can the virus. The country’s leaders need to be clear: Shutdown anywhere means shutdown everywhere. Until the case numbers start to go down across America — which could take 10 weeks or more — no one can continue business as usual or relax the shutdown. Any confusion about this point will only extend the economic pain, raise the odds that the virus will return, and cause more deaths.

Gates is more generous with the expected timeline in an interview with the Khan Academy guy:

Even then, there will have to be limits. “It’s not normal. They don’t do sports events or big gatherings. That will wait until [we have] the vaccine, but we’d like — if things go well, and the numbers will drive it — we’d like to see that ability to open up somewhat by ideally early summer,” Gates said.

Large gatherings might have to be put on hold for as much as a year longer, to give time for adequate testing of a vaccine that can be administered worldwide. “It’ll take a while to get back into the ‘let’s go take a vacation, let’s go buy a new house’ type of mode,” Gates said.

Presumably, “large gatherings” include religious services, which have been banned in a number of states. Gates takes it for granted that the US will simply do what he is urging. We’ll see about that. In any case, he is smart enough to recognize and acknowledge what this would mean for American prosperity:

That more cautious mindset seems likely to lead to “the biggest shrinkage of GDP in any of our lifetimes,” Gates said. “We are in uncharted territory. … Eventually the economy will be bigger than it was before we got into this, but the shrinkage we’re seeing in these few months is completely unprecedented, and there are human lives behind that,” he said.

The federal government plans to maintain social distancing guidelines until the end of April. But some states are going beyond that: Virginia’s stay-at-home order extends until June 10, while similar edicts in California and Maryland are indefinite.

Abroad, Australia’s PM is talking about extending the country’s lockdown for at least six months:

Mr Morrison has previously said such measures could be in place for six months, but he admitted that the restrictions could last much longer.

‘I said at least six months, it could be longer,’ he said.

‘What I am trying to do is make it very clear to those who think this can all be done in a couple of weeks, with the lockdown, as they call it, that that is not true.

‘I am the only leader in the world at the moment talking about a much longer time frame.

‘I am trying to get Australians to understand there is no quick fix.

“There is no quick fix” is the message that is increasingly coming from our elites. They are preparing us for a long, miserable and ruinous battle against the microbe, one which our economy, society, and political order are not likely to survive. The forever wars weakened and demoralized America. The forever lockdown, if actualized, will finish us off. Buckle up!

Another dissenting voice

Skepticism grows about the wisdom of locking down whole populations as the response to a disease outbreak, in particular when it comes to the neglected issue of the civil liberties that are being thrown in the trash thereby:

Politicians are there to take difficult decisions, by weighing up all the expert advice and choosing a policy with the least worst outcome depending on the options available. But in the current crisis over coronavirus, the damaging impact of drastic interference in our civil liberties has apparently barely been considered at all.

Since the nationwide lockdown was announced we have had no right of association, and so political parties, trade unions, businesses and every other form of organisation outside the state has been severely disrupted, if not destroyed. This has occurred with barely a whimper of protest from the political class.

Worse, it has been cheered on by most of the national media, with their shrill calls for lockdowns and punishments for people going about perfectly lawful activities. Thankfully, there are now some voices raised about particularly stupid examples of police harassment of dog owners, and the constables ignoring actual crimes while investing in drones to harass moorland walkers.

Emergencies create vast opportunities for abuses of power, and reasons can always be found to strip away your liberties. The lockdowns being inflicted across the West are ostensibly temporary but with moveable and sometimes vague expiration dates. While the restrictions will (presumably) eventually be lifted, they can and therefore will be imposed again during another (real, imaginary or self-inflicted) crisis. We are told that staying at home and practicing social distancing makes everyone safer by flattening the curve, such that going outside to socialize with your friends or make an unnecessary trip to the store is selfish and even tantamount to murder. After all, computer simulations show that if you don’t cooperate, we’re all gonna die. But is that true? And even if it can be proven that surrendering our freedom of movement, property rights and freedom of association to the state, even temporarily, saves lives – is that cost worth it? Everybody seems to think so, but if everyone felt the same way in, say, 1776, would there be a United States?

A powerful rebuke

Jonathan Sumption, the former UK Supreme Court judge whom The Guardian has described as “the brain of Britain” and “the establishment personified,” has delivered a powerful rebuke to the country’s embrace of authoritarian methods in its war against the Microbe that Ended the World. I believe Lord Sumption’s reflections also apply to the incredible stay-at-home orders being imposed across the US in places like Maryland and Virginia. Peter Hitchens provides the transcript. Please read it:

The real problem is that when human societies lose their freedom, it’s not usually because tyrants have taken it away. It’s usually because people willingly surrender their freedom in return for protection against some external threat. And the threat is usually a real threat but usually exaggerated. That’s what I fear we are seeing now. The pressure on politicians has come from the public. They want action. They don’t pause to ask whether the action will work. They don’t ask themselves whether the cost will be worth paying. They want action anyway. And anyone who has studied history will recognise here the classic symptoms of collective hysteria.

Hysteria is infectious. We are working ourselves up into a lather in which we exaggerate the threat and stop asking ourselves whether the cure may be worse than the disease.

Q: At a time like this as you acknowledge, citizens do look to the state for protection, for assistance, we shouldn’t be surprised then if the state takes on new powers, that is what it has been asked to do, almost demanded of it.

A: Yes that is absolutely true. We should not be surprised. But we have to recognise that this is how societies become despotisms. And we also have to recognise this is a process which leads naturally to exaggeration. The symptoms of coronavirus are clearly serious for those with other significant medical conditions especially if they’re old. There are exceptional cases in which young people have been struck down, which have had a lot of publicity, but the numbers are pretty small. The Italian evidence for instance suggests that only 12% of deaths is it possible to say coronavirus was the main cause of death. So yes this is serious and yes it’s understandable that people cry out to the government. But the real question is: Is this serious enough to warrant putting most of our population into house imprisonment, wrecking our economy for an indefinite period, destroying businesses that honest and hardworking people have taken years to build up, saddling future generations with debt, depression, stress, heart attacks, suicides and unbelievable distress inflicted on millions of people who are not especially vulnerable and will suffer only mild symptoms or none at all, like the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister.

Q: The executive, the government, is all of a sudden really rather powerful and really rather unscrutinised. Parliament is in recess, it’s due to come back in late April, we’re not quite sure whether it will or not, the Prime Minister is closeted away, communicating via his phone, there is not a lot in the way of scrutiny is there?

A: No. Certainly there’s not a lot in the way of institutional scrutiny. The Press has engaged in a fair amount of scrutiny, there has been some good and challenging journalism, but mostly the Press has, I think, echoed and indeed amplified the general panic.

Q: The restrictions in movement have also changed the relationship between the police and those whose, in name, they serve. The police are naming and shaming citizens for travelling at what they see as the wrong time or driving to the wrong place. Does that set alarm bells ringing for you, as a former senior member of the judiciary?

A: Well, I have to say, it does. I mean, the tradition of policing in this country is that policemen are citizens in uniform. They are not members of a disciplined hierarchy operating just at the government’s command. Yet in some parts of the country the police have been trying to stop people from doing things like travelling to take exercise in the open country which are not contrary to the regulations, simply because ministers have said that they would prefer us not to. The police have no power to enforce ministers’ preferences, but only legal regulations which don’t go anything like as far as the government’s guidance. I have to say that the behaviour of the Derbyshire police in trying to shame people into using their undoubted right to take exercise in the country and wrecking beauty spots in the Fells so that people don’t want to go there, is frankly disgraceful.

This is what a police state is like. It’s a state in which the government can issue orders or express preferences with no legal authority and the police will enforce ministers’ wishes. I have to say that most police forces have behaved in a thoroughly sensible and moderate fashion. Derbyshire Police have shamed our policing traditions. There is a natural tendency of course, and a strong temptation for the police to lose sight of their real functions and turn themselves from citizens in uniform into glorified school prefects. I think it’s really sad that the Derbyshire Police have failed to resist that.

Q: There will be people listening who admire your legal wisdom but will also say, well, he’s not an epidemiologist, he doesn’t know how disease spreads, he doesn’t understand the risks to the health service if this thing gets out of control. What do you say to them?

A: What I say to them is I am not a scientist but it is the right and duty of every citizen to look and see what the scientists have said and to analyse it for themselves and to draw common sense conclusions. We are all perfectly capable of doing that and there’s no particular reason why the scientific nature of the problem should mean we have to resign our liberty into the hands of scientists. We all have critical faculties and it’s rather important, in a moment of national panic, that we should maintain them.

Flatten the economy

Mad MaxNearly three months after the WuFlu outbreak was first reported to the World Health Organization, the total official global death toll of this once-in-a-century pandemic remains modest – even trivial, on the scale of the human population – notwithstanding relentless wall-to-wall media coverage, social media hysterics, and deliberately scary-looking “trackers” like that sinister map from Johns Hopkins. Although the death toll will certainly rise a great deal in the coming months as the virus spreads, it is currently a tiny fraction of the ~1 million global deaths from each of the influenza pandemics of 1957-58 and 1968; neither of which brought society and commerce to a screeching halt.

We don’t know if the repressive measures that are being taken to “flatten the curve” in the West, such as turning Britain into an Orwellian dystopia where you are only permitted to walk your dog once a day, will be beneficial overall, given the speculative nature of the epidemiological models used to justify them and the (unaccounted-for) public health costs of putting hundreds of millions of people under de facto house arrest. But it seems obvious that if these mega-interventions continue for the duration that is apparently required for them to be effective, then they will trigger a violent collapse of the global economy, and with it, widespread immiseration, political chaos and a truly Biblical scale of human suffering and death.

Yet that crazy, nation-wrecking strategy is precisely what is being rolled out around the world. The US is extending its “social distancing” guidelines to April 30, while the UK government is signaling that social distancing measures will be in place for three to six months; while similar measures are being taken in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, India (which has imposed a total ban on leaving the home for 21 days)…

It would appear that the epidemiologists have staged a global coup d’état. The Anglo-American policies are heavily influenced by Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College London, whose March 16 study recommended the adoption of Chinese-style “suppression” measures:

We therefore conclude that epidemic suppression is the only viable strategy at the current time. The social and economic effects of the measures which are needed to achieve this policy goal will be profound. Many countries have adopted such measures already, but even those countries at an earlier stage of their epidemic (such as the UK) will need to do so imminently.

Our analysis informs the evaluation of both the nature of the measures required to suppress COVID-19 and the likely duration that these measures will need to be in place. Results in this paper have informed policymaking in the UK and other countries in the last weeks. However, we emphasise that is not at all certain that suppression will succeed long term; no public health intervention with such disruptive effects on society has been previously attempted for such a long duration of time. How populations and societies will respond remains unclear.

But for how long? Earlier, the study notes:

The main challenge of this approach is that NPIs [non-pharmaceutical interventions] (and drugs, if available) need to be maintained – at least intermittently – for as long as the virus is circulating in the human population, or until a vaccine becomes available. In the case of COVID-19, it will be at least a 12-18 months before a vaccine is available. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that initial vaccines will have high efficacy.

Elsewhere in the Discussion section, the authors write (emphasis mine):

However, there are very large uncertainties around the transmission of this virus, the likely effectiveness of different policies and the extent to which the population spontaneously adopts risk reducing behaviours. This means it is difficult to be definitive about the likely initial duration of measures which will be required, except that it will be several months. Future decisions on when and for how long to relax policies will need to be informed by ongoing surveillance.

The measures used to achieve suppression might also evolve over time. As case numbers fall, it becomes more feasible to adopt intensive testing, contact tracing and quarantine measures akin to the strategies being employed in South Korea today. Technology – such as mobile phone apps that track an individual’s interactions with other people in society – might allow such a policy to be more effective and scalable if the associated privacy concerns can be overcome. However, if intensive NPI packages aimed at suppression are not maintained, our analysis suggests that transmission will rapidly rebound, potentially producing an epidemic comparable in scale to what would have been seen had no interventions been adopted.

In his testimony last Wednesday, Ferguson seemed to offer another possibility:

Ferguson said the current strategy was intended to keep transmission of the virus at low levels until a vaccine was available. Experts say that could take 12 to 18 months and Ferguson acknowledged it was impractical to keep the UK in lockdown for so long, especially because of the impact on the economy. “We’ll be paying for this year for decades to come,” he said.

The UK government is aiming to relax restrictions on people’s movements only when the country has the ability to test more people for the virus, said Ferguson. Some have criticised the UK for not following the advice of the World Health Organization to “test, test, test”. But Ferguson said community testing and contact tracing wasn’t included as a possible strategy in the original modelling because not enough tests were available.

He said the UK should have the testing capacity “within a few weeks” to copy what South Korea has done and aggressively test and trace the general population.

But if the country’s deputy chief medical officer is to be believed, Britain is going to be on some form of lockdown for months. What most people don’t seem to understand is that the massively complex, interdependent nature of the world economy means that switching off large parts of it for an extended period of time is likely to bring the whole system crashing down. I don’t expect infectious disease experts to consider this, but then again, who put them in charge of the world?

The backpedaling begins

It’s going to be interesting to observe how the global establishment walks back its panic-mongering regarding the Wuhan Flu, if and when the expected mountains of corpses fail to materialize. Perhaps we will be told that the media-fueled mass hysteria and draconian controls imposed on hundreds of millions of Westerners actually worked at crushing the outbreak.

I’m not sure that explanation will fly, though, given that 1) we have also been told that Western governments acted too late in imposing “lockdowns” on their own citizens, thus practically guaranteeing Wuhan-like outcomes across the US and Europe; 2) the controls have not been nearly draconian enough, as evidenced by the photos of packed subway cars in New York and London and the outraged reports of people going surfing, playing basketball at the park, meeting their friends for board game nights, etc., in defiance of public health guidelines.

Most inconvenient of all is the example of Sweden, which has stubbornly refused to subject its own population to a Chinese-style “lockdown” despite suffering a staggering 77 WuFlu deaths to date:

While the UK has been placed under virtual lockdown, Swedes are enjoying life with the fewest restrictive measures so they can go where they want and do what they want without the threat of police action. Schools for children up to 16 remain open and commuter trains continue to be jam-packed with workers on a daily basis. Stockholm argues life must go on despite the worrying increases in the death toll as the global pandemic continues to spread.

Johan Carlson, head of Sweden’s public health agency, last week said the country “cannot take draconian measures that have a limited impact on the epidemic but knock out the functions of society”.

In any case, the tide may already be starting to turn:

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that his stay-at-home order for the entirety of New York State was “probably not the best public health strategy.”

In a press conference in Albany, Cuomo said the smartest way forward would be a public health strategy that complemented a “get-back-to-work strategy.”

“What we did was we closed everything down. That was our public health strategy. Just close everything, all businesses, old workers, young people, old people, short people, tall people,” said Cuomo. “Every school closed, everything.”

“If you rethought that or had time to analyze that public health strategy, I don’t know that you would say quarantine everyone,” Cuomo admitted. “I don’t even know that that was the best public health policy. Young people then quarantined with older people was probably not the best public health strategy because the younger people could have been exposing the older people to an infection. “

Cuomo stressed the need for both public health and economic growth. “We have to do both,” said the governor. “We’re working on it.”

Funny, it was on Wednesday that I asked the following question:

Have mass “lockdowns” ever been demonstrated to successfully contain a viral epidemic, outside of Communist China, which has a track record of lying about the current outbreak?

Does the governor of New York read my blog? See, while it may seem “obvious” that confining people to their homes is an effective way of curbing an epidemic, the fact is that you don’t know that anything works until you try it in the real world. In this case, the observation that a virus spreads through human interaction does not mean that mass lockdowns will contain the outbreak, let alone produce a better public health outcome than a scalpel approach to identifying and isolating the sick. Cuomo, who has presumably discussed this issue with health officials, raises what seems like a very good point here.

In related news, a British scientist whose terrifying predictions were instrumental in shaping UK and US policy, has changed his tune a bit:

The UK should now be able to cope with the spread of the covid-19 virus, according to one of the epidemiologists advising the government.

Neil Ferguson at Imperial College London gave evidence today to the UK’s parliamentary select committee on science and technology as part of an inquiry into the nation’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

He said that expected increases in National Health Service capacity and ongoing restrictions to people’s movements make him “reasonably confident” the health service can cope when the predicted peak of the epidemic arrives in two or three weeks. UK deaths from the disease are now unlikely to exceed 20,000, he said, and could be much lower.

The need for intensive care beds will get very close to capacity in some areas, but won’t be breached at a national level, said Ferguson. The projections are based on computer simulations of the virus spreading, which take into account the properties of the virus, the reduced transmission between people asked to stay at home and the capacity of hospitals, particularly intensive care units.

Here is Ferguson’s explanation of why the simulations, which previously scared the shit out of Britain and the world by predicting up to 500,000 deaths in the UK, are now projecting less than 20,000 deaths. Judge it for yourself. I suspect we’re going to be seeing a lot more of these types of explanations and clarifications over the coming weeks.

UPDATE: Moving this section to the end of the post, as I thought this editorial co-authored by Anthony Fauci was new (March 26), but in reality it was originally published Feb 28. It is still of interest:

If one assumes that the number of asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic cases is several times as high as the number of reported cases, the case fatality rate may be considerably less than 1%. This suggests that the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza (which has a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%) or a pandemic influenza (similar to those in 1957 and 1968) rather than a disease similar to SARS or MERS, which have had case fatality rates of 9 to 10% and 36%, respectively.

A pandemic similar to the “Asian flu of 1957” and the “Hong Kong flu of 1968” – which killed an estimated 116,000 people and 100,000 people in the US, respectively – certainly sounds better than the doomsday virus that was supposed to kill millions of Americans. This of course raises the question of whether a relatively normal Asian viral pandemic is scary enough to justify the “emergency” imposition of martial law on whole states and countries, and the cascading economic failure and collapse that will surely accompany it.

House arrest

Now that politicians, health officials and their media mouthpieces have successfully terrified and demoralized the American public into accepting draconian curbs on their personal and economic freedom that were almost unthinkable two weeks ago, several questions come to mind.

1) What, precisely, do Western governments know about this virus and its characteristics that the public doesn’t know? When are we going to find out?

2) Is it possible that the actual coronavirus death toll in China is not <3,300, but in fact closer to 30,000, 300,000, or 3 million, and that China has successfully covered this up? If so, are Western governments aware of the truth about happened in China? If they are, why are they not informing the public? If they are not, why are they reacting to the virus as if the true death toll is orders of magnitude larger than it is reported to be?

3) What is the logical connection between a relatively normal respiratory virus, and the forced closure of thousands of businesses including restaurants, bars, beaches, parks, hair salons, etc. across roughly half of America? Why am I seemingly the only person who is unable to understand the justification for this no matter how many times it is explained to me?

4) Have mass “lockdowns” ever been demonstrated to successfully contain a viral epidemic, outside of Communist China, which has a track record of lying about the current outbreak?

5) Does the US have a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all inbound travelers, given the existential threat posed by the virus? If not, why not? Are any public figures calling for such a measure? Again: if not, why not?

6) Are there plans to distribute facemasks to urban residents and require them to be worn in public, given the existential threat posed by the virus? If not, why not? Are any public figures calling for such a measure? Again: if not, why not?

7) Will there be severe consequences for public figures who incited panic and hysteria by making frightening claims about the virus, if those predictions do not come to pass?

8) If the threat of coronavirus warrants mass business closures and stay-at-home orders affecting 100 million Americans, will this process of powering down large swaths of the nation by government edict be repeated every time a virus kills a thousand people? If so, how many times can this process be repeated before the US is reduced to a pre-industrial state?

9) What are the public health consequences of depriving senior citizens of social interactions and hobbies that make life worth living? Have these been considered by the authorities that have seized unprecedented powers over our daily lives?

10) Is the economy a public health issue? How will the US pay for its $3.6 trillion health care sector during a deep economic depression?

11) If it is true that “We will not put a dollar figure on human life” and “We will fight to save every life we can,” as the governor of New York put it, what possible justification can there be for allowing motor vehicles to kill some 37,000 people in the US each year? Is any public figure calling for a nationwide ban on cars? If not, why not?

For reference:

About half of U.S. states have imposed lockdown measures restricting gathering and social contact, disrupting the lives of more than 100 million people and suspending the operations of thousands of businesses.

No state has completely walled off their residents from the outside. Generally, people are free to leave their homes to obtain food, supplies and medical care or to get exercise or care for loved ones. The rapidly drafted executive orders also exempt millions of jobs and services deemed too essential to shut down.

Some measures were more drastic than others. California Gov. Gavin Newsom effectively made it a crime to socialize outside the home, while New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s measures are more advisory than mandatory.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s lockdown came closest to quarantining the elderly and sick populations. And some leaders like New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy wrote in broad protections for political and religious activity.

States have vowed to ensure compliance with the lockdowns, but it is unclear whether any of them can or will effectively enforce their mandates.