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.

Despotic India

On March 24, when Modi ordered a complete lockdown of India’s population of 1.3 billion (“there will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes”), the country had 536 reported coronavirus cases and 10 deaths.

As of Sunday, with Modi having decided to extend the lockdown indefinitely, India had 9,204 total cases and 331 deaths.

India’s death rate in 2018 was 7.3/1000, meaning 9.9 million people died that year, or roughly 27,000 people per day.

Thus, the pandemic so far has (officially) killed about 1% of the number of people who die every day in India. Somehow, I find it hard to believe that this warrants the chaos that has been visited upon the population:

Mr. Modi announced the lockdown, which includes a ban on interstate travel, with just four hours’ notice on Tuesday, leaving the enormous migrant population stranded in big cities. Jobs lure at least 45 million people to cities from the countryside every year, according to government estimates.

Many of those migrants are fed and housed at the shops and construction sites where they work, and as businesses closed, hundreds of thousands — if not millions — were suddenly without their homes and a regular source of food. […]

Soup kitchens across Delhi are unable to cope with the demand, which aid workers estimate has tripled. Fights have been breaking out. The government has given the police no explicit policy for dealing with stranded migrants, and many officers have lashed out.

“In the absence of a clear policy, the migrants have been left to the whims of police. And there are instances where the police treat them inhumanely,” said Ashwin Parulkar, a senior researcher for the Center for Policy Research in Delhi who studies India’s homeless population.

Usually, the homeless are fed by India’s array of religious institutions: Hindu temples, Sikh gurdwaras and mosques. But now, everything is closed, and shelters are feeling the strain. […]

Mr. Kumar said most homeless people he encountered had known nothing about the coronavirus, and had awakened one day to find the police shooing them off the streets, ordering them to practice social distancing — a new catchword in India, as in most of the world.

“But where do the homeless go?” he asked.

The country’s entire train system has been shut down:

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 25, Indian Railways took the unprecedented move of suspending passenger trains across the country until April 14.

It was the first time in 167 years that Asia’s oldest rail network had been suspended.

Now the railway network has decided to convert as many as 20,000 old train carriages into isolation wards for patients as the virus spreads. […]

Normally, Indian Railways runs more than 20,000 passenger trains a day, on long-distance and suburban routes, from 7,349 stations across India.

The lockdown has put nearly 67,368 kilometers of track out of use — enough to circle the equator 1.5 times — and left thousands of passenger trains sitting idle. Freight trains, or goods trains as they are called in India, remain operational.

The global mass hysteria has triggered a panicked response from India’s politicians:

Just across the river from me in the hamlet of Penha de França, the Harvard Medical School professor Vikram Patel was caught up in the melee. Along with his neighbours, he was assaulted by the police while queueing to buy provisions. He spoke of “the constantly changing announcements on social restrictions, the abandonment of government responsibility to secure supply chains, the threatening of desperate people with military-style responses, and the crushing of small businesses which define rural life in Goa”. These were the decisions of panicked politicians. Planned and phased reactions, he told me, would have been much less disruptive and damaging.

The tumult in Goa was only a microcosm of the rest of the country. Just over 4,900 Covid-19 infections (and 137 deaths) have been registered since India’s first case on 30 January, but numbers pale in comparison to tuberculosis, which has killed hundreds of thousands of Indians every year for decades, without triggering any draconian curfews. Patel pointed out that this astonishing death toll had never occasioned any panic. In his view, the abrupt actions in this case “suggests that those advising our government have omitted the first lesson of public health, which is that context matters”.

Those singular circumstances look increasingly daunting, with no obvious solutions in sight. The majority of India’s workers, 85%, are in the informal economy. Their livelihoods have been ruinously disrupted, and prospects look increasingly bleak in the global recession the IMF has already called “a crisis like no other”.

To quote Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, it appears that Modi has rediscovered the 20th century’s “most radical vice: social engineering – the notion that human beings can be shoveled around like concrete.”

Actual tyranny

Inessential items (Source)

It’s here, and it’s intensifying, as the politicians grow accustomed to pushing Americans around in ever more pointless and humiliating ways.

If you don’t see it by now, I really can’t help you.

After Friday, Michigan residents will no longer be able to jump in the car — or cross the street — to visit friends and relatives inside the state, or to go to the cottage Up North, with limited exceptions.

That is one of the major changes in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “stay home” order, issued Thursday, which also extends the expiration of the order to May 1.

Until now, travel between two Michigan residences has been permitted.

Beginning Saturday morning, that will end, except for purposes such as caring for a relative, an elderly friend, or a pet, visiting a nursing home or similar facility, attending a funeral with no more than 10 people, or complying with a court order related to child custody.

“All public and private gatherings of any size are prohibited,” Whitmer said at a news conference. “People can still leave the house for outdoor activities,” and outdoor “recreational activities are still permitted as long as they’re taking place outside of six feet from anyone else.”

People will still be able to travel to other residences outside the state, but not to cottages or vacation rentals inside the state, the order says.

Exhibit B: Kentucky has found an imaginative way to harass churchgoers. Of course, Catholics won’t face this problem because their Church preemptively caved on “social distancing” guidelines without needing to be forced:

The state of Kentucky is taking new action to discourage individuals from participating in mass gatherings, such as church services, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Friday.

The state will be recording the license plates of those who show up to any mass gatherings and provide that information to the local health departments, who will in turn order those individuals to be quarantined for 14 days, according to Beshear.

Beshear said the state is down to less than seven churches state-wide that are still “thinking about” having an in-person service this weekend.

“Folks, we shouldn’t have to do this,” Beshear said. “I think it’s not a test of faith whether you’re going to an in-person service, it’s a test of faith that you’re willing to sacrifice to protect your fellow man, your fellow woman, your fellow Kentuckian, and your fellow American.”

Never go full commie

Matt Stoller has a disturbing thread on the new political order that is being born before our eyes. Perhaps this situation will be temporary and we will revert back to some semblance of a free economy when the present crisis blows over. But there is no particular reason to believe that the government, having gathered unprecedented powers unto itself, will easily let them go:

1. A thread on our new #PlannedEconomy.

One conceptual problem during this #coronavirus is understanding what is happening politically. Consider that Democrats are angry at Trump for not taking over private corporations. They demand he seize power and the means of production!

2. Hundreds of billions for families, $349B for small businesses, $150B for hospitals, and $4.5T in credit for banks and big business. That’s an inconceivable amount of money. It is in fact a takeover of our commerce by the government.

3. In other words what Congress passed was not just a series of bailouts. We just turned ourselves into a planned economy. Now Donald Trump will choose which businesses live and die.

4. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia will design the rules for unemployment, Fed Chair Jay Powell and Treasury chief Steve Mnuchin will hand out trillions, and SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza will decide if loans go to churches or businesses or private equity, and on what terms.

5. We have been here before. Every war is to some extent a planned economy. World War II was highly planned, and so was Korea. The Defense Production Act comes out of the Korean War era. But we are not used to what planning means. So here are a few pointers.

6. In a planned economy, political choices are everything. The private financial system is no longer in control. If a corporation that’s making masks needs a loan, its creditworthiness shouldn’t matter—the government should make sure it gets that money.

7. Similarly, the various private equity funds licking their chops at the prospect of buying distressed assets – well the answer should be hell no. Money spent to buy private jets for financiers is money not spent on ventilators. We can see this in Philly.

8. Keeping an eye on corruption is essential. There is nothing more demoralizing than lobbying for private favors in a time which demands shared sacrifice. Price gouging, profiteering, etc. We must have no tolerance.

9. We must make things here again. Our borders and global supply chains are shut. The 30-year period of globalization, in which we consolidated and offshored production to lower costs, is over. Don’t fall for the endless bullshit from free traders. See:

10. Resilience is in, monopolies are out. This 2012 merger that killed a cheap fleet of ventilators is going to restructure antitrust thinking. Diversity and competition work, concentration creates fragility.

10. To restart our economy we must strengthen our public health infrastructure and social safety net to give workers the means to not infect others. Business requires social density. When we restart our economy, sick people need to know they will be fine if they don’t go to work.

11. That means a robust public health infrastructure and a social safety net, even if it’s only temporary.

12. Most importantly, we are now choosing what kind of world we will live in after this pandemic. Will it be, as @jimcramer fears, a world with just three retailers, Amazon, Costco, and Walmart?

13. Pay cuts and layoffs are rife across newspapers. Will an advertising depression combined with the monopolization of ad revenue in the hands of Facebook and Google end the free press? Or will we choose to restructure big tech and enable journalism?

14. These are the choices that Donald Trump and his cabinet will make. That is what Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, and every other member of Congress decided. We are in a planned economy, and Trump is the planner.

15. I realize this will be taken unpleasantly by many out there. Donald Trump is not the leader I would have chosen. But he is a politician, and he does respond to public sentiment. We do have power. We can expose what is working and what is not.

16. Nothing is inevitable. We can choose to order post-pandemic America so it is more resilient and democratic. Or we can consolidate power in unimaginable ways. It is up to a small group in Washington, DC, and up to us citizens who pay attention.

In other news:

The Federal Reserve unleashed a new series of moves Thursday to try to make loans available to states, localities and companies that have been hard hit by the coronavirus.

In doing so, the Fed will pump an additional $2.3 trillion into the U.S. economy. The central bank, in part, is drawing on money made available in Congress’ new economic relief package to buy municipal bonds as well as debt that did not previously qualify for federal backing.

The extraordinary rescue package comes on top of efforts the Fed has already made to bolster the economy, including cutting its benchmark interest rate to near zero and supplying more than $1 trillion to purchase Treasury and mortgage-backed securities to help keep credit flowing.

Fuzzy math

I don’t know exactly what happened in China, and neither do you, but I do know that the country’s official numbers just… don’t… make… sense. And AEI scholar Derek Scissors agrees:

Of the 3,309 reported deaths in China, Hubei has had 3,187 — or more than 95%.

“Cases in Hubei are nearly five times higher than outside Hubei province, which is where Wuhan is, even though the population outside Hubei is 22 times larger,” Scissors said.

“So magically, although hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of people left Hubei, although there was no quarantine for at least a month, China doesn’t have a COVID problem except in one province,” Scissors said.

“Magically” is the word for it. We are supposed to believe that China’s draconian “lockdown” of Hubei province and the enormous sacrifices of its people somehow stopped the virus in its tracks in a country of 1.4 billion, producing less than 15,000 cases outside of Hubei.

Look at it this way. 3,309 – 3,187 = 122 coronavirus deaths in ALL of China outside of Hubei province. In all the teeming mega-cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Chengdu, Tianjin, Nanjing, Xi’an… I could go on and on… each of them with many millions of people…

122 deaths. Right.

But China’s magical methods were so successful that the West is determined to replicate them here.

And don’t forget the international angle:

“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.

Compliance

So here’s the deal. Every time there is a new threat to life and limb – real, exaggerated or fictional – we are going to shut down the world.

Perhaps the next threat will be another novel virus, or a jihadist with a loose nuke, or a fake environmental emergency. Perhaps it will be Russia or China conspiring to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids.

Regardless of what it is, the threat will trigger the same flurry of demands and orders we are seeing now. Shut everything down. Don’t leave your house. No, you can’t get a haircut, celebrate Mass, or have a picnic in the park. These things are banned until further notice… until WE decide it’s safe.

The intensifying restrictions on life in dozens of countries are thus a kind of worldwide experiment in compliance. We (both institutions and individuals) are being tested to see how easily we will roll over in the face of official demands that we change our behavior and surrender our liberties – temporarily, of course, and for our own good.

The test has been performed and the results are in.

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!

Questions for Merkel

Stamford, Connecticut is a ghost town, with virtually everything closed after 9:30pm and only a few furtive-looking people roaming the streets. Identical green signs on restaurant windows advise that they are open for takeout. However, the convenience stores and big chains (McDonald’s, Subway) are the only establishments that aren’t closed and locked at this time of night. My favorite restaurants are all shuttered, two of them possibly forever. Quiet, dark and nearly deserted, the city center feels post-apocalyptic.

Thus, with 401 laboratory-confirmed coronavirus “cases” (is that the right term for infections, which may not manifest symptoms?), a city of 130,000 people has been effectively shut down. How long will this last? It’s not clear.

The public may be under the impression that there a consensus among the experts about the wisdom of this approach. There is not. In Germany, a distinguished medical research scientist had some pointed questions for Angela Merkel a few days after the Chancellor announced a nationwide “contact ban,” and I am posting the full text of this important document here:

Open Letter from Professor Sucharit Bhakdi to German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel

An Open Letter from Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi, Professor Emeritus of Medical Microbiology at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, to the German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel. Professor Bhakdi calls for an urgent reassessment of the response to Covid-19 and asks the Chancellor five crucial questions. The let­ter is dated March 26. This is an inofficial translation; see the original letter in German as a PDF.
Open Letter

Dear Chancellor,

As Emeritus of the Johannes-Gutenberg-University in Mainz and longtime director of the Institute for Medical Microbiology, I feel obliged to critically question the far-reaching restrictions on public life that we are currently taking on ourselves in order to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

It is expressly not my intention to play down the dangers of the virus or to spread a political message. However, I feel it is my duty to make a scientific contribution to putting the current data and facts into perspective – and, in addition, to ask questions that are in danger of being lost in the heated debate.

The reason for my concern lies above all in the truly unforeseeable socio-economic consequences of the drastic containment measures which are currently being applied in large parts of Europe and which are also already being practiced on a large scale in Germany.

My wish is to discuss critically – and with the necessary foresight – the advantages and disadvantages of restricting public life and the resulting long-term effects.

To this end, I am confronted with five questions which have not been answered sufficiently so far, but which are indispensable for a balanced analysis.

I would like to ask you to comment quickly and, at the same time, appeal to the Federal Government to develop strategies that effectively protect risk groups without restricting public life across the board and sow the seeds for an even more intensive polarization of society than is already taking place.

With the utmost respect,

Prof. em. Dr. med. Sucharit Bhakdi

1. Statistics

In infectiology – founded by Robert Koch himself – a traditional distinction is made between infection and disease. An illness requires a clinical manifestation. [1] Therefore, only patients with symptoms such as fever or cough should be included in the statistics as new cases.

In other words, a new infection – as measured by the COVID-19 test – does not necessarily mean that we are dealing with a newly ill patient who needs a hospital bed. However, it is currently assumed that five percent of all infected people become seriously ill and require ventilation. Projections based on this estimate suggest that the healthcare system could be overburdened.

My question: Did the projections make a distinction between symptom-free infected people and actual, sick patients – i.e. people who develop symptoms?

2. Dangerousness

A number of coronaviruses have been circulating for a long time – largely unnoticed by the media. [2] If it should turn out that the COVID-19 virus should not be ascribed a significantly higher risk potential than the already circulating corona viruses, all countermeasures would obviously become unnecessary.

The internationally recognized International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents will soon publish a paper that addresses exactly this question. Preliminary results of the study can already be seen today and lead to the conclusion that the new virus is NOT different from traditional corona viruses in terms of dangerousness. The authors express this in the title of their paper „SARS-CoV-2: Fear versus Data“. [3]

My question: How does the current workload of intensive care units with patients with diagnosed COVID-19 compare to other coronavirus infections, and to what extent will this data be taken into account in further decision-making by the federal government? In addition: Has the above study been taken into account in the planning so far? Here too, of course, „diagnosed“ means that the virus plays a decisive role in the patient’s state of illness, and not that previous illnesses play a greater role.

3. Dissemination

According to a report in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, not even the much-cited Robert Koch Institute knows exactly how much is tested for COVID-19. It is a fact, however, that a rapid increase in the number of cases has recently been observed in Germany as the volume of tests increases. [4]

It is therefore reasonable to suspect that the virus has already spread unnoticed in the healthy population. This would have two consequences: firstly, it would mean that the official death rate – on 26 March 2020, for example, there were 206 deaths from around 37,300 infections, or 0.55 percent [5] – is too high; and secondly, it would mean that it would hardly be possible to prevent the virus from spreading in the healthy population.

My question: Has there already been a random sample of the healthy general population to validate the real spread of the virus, or is this planned in the near future?

4. Mortality

The fear of a rise in the death rate in Germany (currently 0.55 percent) is currently the subject of particularly intense media attention. Many people are worried that it could shoot up like in Italy (10 percent) and Spain (7 percent) if action is not taken in time.

At the same time, the mistake is being made worldwide to report virus-related deaths as soon as it is established that the virus was present at the time of death – regardless of other factors. This violates a basic principle of infectiology: only when it is certain that an agent has played a significant role in the disease or death may a diagnosis be made. The Association of the Scientific Medical Societies of Germany expressly writes in its guidelines: „In addition to the cause of death, a causal chain must be stated, with the corresponding underlying disease in third place on the death certificate. Occasionally, four-linked causal chains must also be stated.“ [6]

At present there is no official information on whether, at least in retrospect, more critical analyses of medical records have been undertaken to determine how many deaths were actually caused by the virus.

My question: Has Germany simply followed this trend of a COVID-19 general suspicion? And: is it intended to continue this categorisation uncritically as in other countries? How, then, is a distinction to be made between genuine corona-related deaths and accidental virus presence at the time of death?

5. Comparability

The appalling situation in Italy is repeatedly used as a reference scenario. However, the true role of the virus in that country is completely unclear for many reasons – not only because points 3 and 4 above also apply here, but also because exceptional external factors exist which make these regions particularly vulnerable.

One of these factors is the increased air pollution in the north of Italy. According to WHO estimates, this situation, even without the virus, led to over 8,000 additional deaths per year in 2006 in the 13 largest cities in Italy alone. [7] The situation has not changed significantly since then. [8] Finally, it has also been shown that air pollution greatly increases the risk of viral lung diseases in very young and elderly people. [9]

Moreover, 27.4 percent of the particularly vulnerable population in this country live with young people, and in Spain as many as 33.5 percent. In Germany, the figure is only seven percent [10]. In addition, according to Prof. Dr. Reinhard Busse, head of the Department of Management in Health Care at the TU Berlin, Germany is significantly better equipped than Italy in terms of intensive care units – by a factor of about 2.5 [11].

My question: What efforts are being made to make the population aware of these elementary differences and to make people understand that scenarios like those in Italy or Spain are not realistic here?
References:

[1] Fachwörterbuch Infektionsschutz und Infektionsepidemiologie. Fachwörter – Definitionen – Interpretationen. Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin 2015. (abgerufen am 26.3.2020)

[2] Killerby et al., Human Coronavirus Circulation in the United States 2014–2017. J Clin Virol. 2018, 101, 52-56

[3] Roussel et al. SARS-CoV-2: Fear Versus Data. Int. J. Antimicrob. Agents 2020, 105947

[4] Charisius, H. Covid-19: Wie gut testet Deutschland? Süddeutsche Zeitung. (abgerufen am 27.3.2020)

[5] Johns Hopkins University, Coronavirus Resource Center. 2020. (abgerufen am 26.3.2020)

[6] S1-Leitlinie 054-001, Regeln zur Durchführung der ärztlichen Leichenschau. AWMF Online (abgerufen am 26.3.2020)

[7] Martuzzi et al. Health Impact of PM10 and Ozone in 13 Italian Cities. World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe. WHOLIS number E88700 2006

[8] European Environment Agency, Air Pollution Country Fact Sheets 2019, (abgerufen am 26.3.2020)

[9] Croft et al. The Association between Respiratory Infection and Air Pollution in the Setting of Air Quality Policy and Economic Change. Ann. Am. Thorac. Soc. 2019, 16, 321–330.

[10] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. Living Arrange­ments of Older Persons: A Report on an Expanded International Dataset (ST/ESA/SER.A/407). 2017

[11] Deutsches Ärzteblatt, Überlastung deutscher Krankenhäuser durch COVID-19 laut Experten unwahrscheinlich, (abgerufen am 26.3.2020)

Here is a widely watched video from two weeks ago in which Professor Bhakdi attempts to dispel the corona hysteria:

Germany has decided to keep the contact ban in place until April 20, at which point… well, again, it’s vague. Merkel said that restrictions can only be eased if new infections do not double within a 10-day period. On the other hand, her chief of staff is saying this:

“Should we be able to quantify the success of our measures in the coming days, we’ll work out a strategy for the time after April 20,” Braun said. A vaccine needs to be in place before the country can fully return to normal life, he said.

A vaccine will not be widely available for at least 12-18 months. The famous Imperial College London paper, which I cited previously, touches on the issue that lockdowns need to be maintained or the virus will come roaring back:

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. […]

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.

This basic problem, which seemingly everyone wants to dance around, may explain why China is again going into lockdown mode after having allegedly won its battle against the virus:

Henan province in central China has taken the drastic measure of putting a mid-sized county in total lockdown as authorities try to fend off a second coronavirus wave in the midst of a push to revive the economy.

Curfew-like measures came into effect on Tuesday in Jia county, near the city of Pingdingshan, with the area’s roughly 600,000 residents told to stay home, according to a notice on the country’s official microblog account.

Special approval was required for all movement outside the home, it said.

After months of restrictions to contain the spread of the coronavirus, China has reported a decline in domestic cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. On Wednesday, the National Health Commission reported 36 new infections – all but one imported cases.

China also recently ordered all cinemas to close again after re-opening 500 venues.

In the US, the experts are working on a plan that will involve more than a year of intermittent lockdowns combined with (enforced) social distancing until the vaccine arrives:

“It’s like a fire. If you don’t completely put it out, it will come back. You have to keep suppressing it,” Michael Osterholm, professor and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told The Daily Beast. […]

Repeated periods of social distancing might not be popular. But neither would “promoting an 18-month total lockdown of the country,” he told The Daily Beast. “So, how do you try to thread a rope through this needle?”

The article further supports my contention that “lockdowns” do not have a proven track record of success:

The authors of the paper, a preprint posted at medrxiv.org that hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed, determined that one long period of stringent social distancing could potentially backfire in a greater resurgence of infections come fall and winter, unless other interventions are put in place. The finding was consistent with the course of the 1918 influenza pandemic, during which cities that had low peaks during the first wave of infections—thanks in large part to social-distancing measures—were at a greater risk of a higher second wave after those interventions were lifted.

The issue is time. Obviously, if you lock everyone in their homes forever, the spread of an infection is more or less impossible. But that’s not a viable strategy. The question is whether a reasonably-brief lockdown is an effective approach, given the risk of a second wave of infections – to say nothing of the colossal economic damage and health costs of suspending social life and forcing people to stay home.

In related news, Bill Gates is calling for a full national lockdown of the US, Chinese-style, including beaches and sit-down restaurants from coast to coast.

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?