Friday, August 07, 2020

Sweden suffers record economic plunge despite lighter lockdown

What is not mentioned below is that Sweden probably had both its stage 1 and stage 2 infection episodes all at once -- leaving very few people for the virus to infect.

Another way of saying that is that Sweden is probably pretty close to herd immunity -- meaning that almost all those who were significantly susceptible to the virus have had contact with it but not been infected. And because they were not infected they will not pass it on. So even the living remainder of those people who are seriously susceptible will not get it.

That puts them miles ahead of any other nation.. There is at the moment an element of speculation in that because many of the uninfected probably have a a strong natural immunity that leaves no trace of contact with the virus -- even though there was contact. Time will tell

Sweden’s light-touch lockdown failed to spare its economy from a historic plunge in GDP as Covid-19 triggered a collapse in exports and spending.

Output contracted by a record 8.6pc in the second quarter compared with the previous three months, but the Nordic nation suffered a much smaller hit than many other European economies.

Despite some of the most relaxed Covid-19 restrictions in the world, its exporters were hit by tumbling global demand and household spending slumped as the virus struck.

“The economic crunch over the first half of the year is in a different league entirely to the horror shows elsewhere in Europe,” said David Oxley at Capital Economics.

It is “still likely to be among the best of a bad bunch this year”, he said, pointing to signs of a rebound at the start of the third quarter.

While the hit to GDP was lower than the 12pc slump in the eurozone in the second quarter, Sweden's Nordic neighbours have managed to avoid both a health and economic crisis.

The figures come amid declining support in Sweden for the strategy not to use a mandatory strict lockdown to contain the virus. The controversial approach relied on voluntary social distancing, bans on large gatherings, care home restrictions and table service in bars and restaurants.

Sweden has recorded almost 6,000 Covid deaths compared with about 250 in Norway and just over 600 in Denmark, giving it one of the world's highest death rates.

Prime minister Stefan Löfven has launched an inquiry into the handling of the pandemic. “We have thousands of dead. Now the question is how Sweden should change, not if,” he admitted when announcing the probe in late June.

Torbjörn Isaksson, chief analyst at Nordea Markets, warned that it was “too early to evaluate how different strategies to deal with Covid-19 have affected the economies”.

“Swedish GDP contracted much less in the first half of the year than for instance in the euro area, while some of our Nordic neighbours probably fared better than Sweden,” he said.

The OECD has predicted that Sweden will suffer a 6.7pc plunge in GDP this year if there is only one significant Covid wave. Norway and Denmark expect a smaller 6pc and 5.8pc hit while also containing the virus.

There is also growing evidence that stemming the health crisis is the key to strong recoveries, with life returning to relative normality in countries that successfully stemmed outbreaks.

Households could slam the brakes on consumption if they fear the virus is surging. Worried consumers in the US, for example, have curbed spending as cases surge, while some states have been forced to roll back reopenings. The same could happen in Europe if fears of a second wave on the Continent are realised.

For now, however, the recovery in Sweden is taking shape. Neal Kilbane at Oxford Economics said the Swedish economy had bottomed out and was starting to recover.

“Private sector production ended four consecutive months of decline by expanding by 0.7pc month-on-month in June, while July’s composite PMI increased above 50 and into expansionary territory for the first time since February,” he said.

Sweden will avoid the collapse in output seen in much of Europe, but its Nordic neighbours have shown that containing the virus does not necessarily trigger economic collapse.



What We Know Now About Hydroxychloroquine to Treat COVID-19

Early in health officials’ response to the pandemic, one drug offered hope of a safe, widely available, and cheap therapeutic that would break the death grip that COVID-19 held on the world.

However, after its promised efficacy didn’t materialize in large, statistically significant numbers, enthusiasm for the drug, hydroxychloroquine, quickly waned. Why, then, has it made its way back into the headlines?

When it was first suggested that hydroxychloroquine may be an effective antiviral against the new coronavirus, which scientists call SARS-CoV-2, the U.S. government purchased and delivered the drug by the millions of doses even before research could prove its efficacy.

At the time, what scarce data was available suggested it would work, and waiting much longer would’ve been unethical. After all, the drug has a decadeslong history of use to treat malaria.

But with those millions of doses being administered, clinicians found only mixed results. Some, as in the early French trial, found tremendous success, while many others found no clinical benefit.

Thus, the buzz surrounding hydroxychloroquine began to die down and it nearly was forgotten in the news cycle, until early July when the results of 2,500-person study were published by the Henry Ford COVID-19 Task Force.

That study found that among those who received hydroxychloroquine, the mortality was 13.5%. This compares to those who received none of the studied drugs, among whom the mortality was 26.4%.

The group of patients who received hydroxychloroquine alone suffered about half the mortality of the baseline group. Note that this is different from saying hydroxychloroquine “was responsible for reducing mortality by half.”

The Ford study is a retrospective observational study, which means it looks back on cases that already have happened. These studies often can gather a large amount of data, but they tell only correlation rather than causation. Although it’s a positive study for the drug, it adds to a growing body of mixed results.

To tell definitively whether hydroxychloroquine is responsible for the reduction in mortality, what’s required is a randomized controlled trial. That is, a prospective study designed to test the direct effect of a drug or intervention.

One such randomized controlled trial was published in July in the New England Journal of Medicine, which also put hydroxychloroquine back in the news. The study, of 507 patients with confirmed COVID-19, found there was no significant difference in clinical outcome with the addition of hydroxychloroquine, either with or without azithromycin.

Patients included in this study were hospitalized but did not require more than four liters of supplemental oxygen. This means that the condition of the patients studied was of relatively low severity, and that treatment with hydroxychloroquine began earlier on in the course of the disease.

Therefore, this study was intended to test the conditions for which hydroxychloroquine has been proposed to be used and found it to have no clinical benefit over the “standard of care.”

But the researchers noted several limitations to their study. For instance, the study was not blinded, which could have skewed the results, and there was difficulty with adherence to the treatment regimen, which could have affected the outcomes.

Furthermore, hydroxychloroquine with or without azithromycin was compared to the “standard of care,” which at the time of the study, in March, was not very standard. Physicians were free to use other drugs such as steroids, immunomodulators, or other antibiotics.

So hydroxychloroquine in this study did no better than other drugs, but it is difficult to say that hydroxychloroquine had zero effect when its effect may have been matched or covered up by other drugs considered “standard of care” at the time.

As if it weren’t already confusing enough, few studies have included zinc as part of the treatment regimen along with hydroxychloroquine. Zinc is an essential mineral that is important for immune function, and may have some direct antiviral properties that some researchers propose would be amplified when used in conjunction with hydroxychloroquine.

Researchers at New York University Langone Health, a medical center, began adding zinc to their treatment plans for COVID-19 patients. In a study of 932 patient cases, the medical center found that the addition of zinc to hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin was associated with a decrease in mortality in patients who were not admitted to the intensive care unit.

Because this also was a retrospective study, it can tell only correlation and not causation.

That said, it’s a promising result that suggests hydroxychloroquine might need supplemental zinc to be fully effective. This warrants further investigation.

Few published results exist from studies that include zinc, and fewer if any results exist from a clinical trial of zinc with hydroxychloroquine. But several studies of this drug combination are in progress, some of which are expected to conclude as late as next year.

All of this is to say that the science is not yet settled. It is an open question as to whether hydroxychloroquine in combination with any number of other drugs may have a beneficial effect on the disease course of COVID-19.

A great deal of evidence says it doesn’t work, but enough evidence says hydroxychloroquine does work that it would be irresponsible to write it off completely at this time, especially in combination with other drugs. In fact, researchers around the world are conducting hundreds of trials with hydroxychloroquine.

Hydroxychloroquine is dominating the news again for many reasons, not the least of which is that results from several important studies recently have been released. But the angst, the controversy, and cynical politicking around the drug is completely unwarranted.

We don’t know for certain if, and in what manner, hydroxychloroquine works. We should trust clinicians to review the data for themselves, and it would behoove the media, the politicians, and the public to let the science play out.



Here's What Happened When a Reporter Experimented with Mail-In Ballots

Because of the Wuhan coronavirus, many states are opting to vote by mail. The goal is to keep people from flocking to the polls and creating large crowds. Conservatives have frequently talked about the issue of voter fraud and the potential for votes to become lost or stolen.

A reporter from WRDW in Pennsylvania decided to conduct an experiment. The reporter's team set up a PO Box and mailed numerous sets of fake ballots all across Philadelphia. The idea was to simulate people returning ballots to the local election office. They initially mailed 100 mock ballots. Two days later, they mailed another 100 ballots. The PO box was checked a week later.

When the reporter opened up the PO box, there was a slip saying the box owner had to pick up the mail from behind the counter. When the reporter went to retrieve the mail, the postmaster told him there was nothing back there.

"I don't see anything there for you," the woman behind the counter said.

The reporter eventually talked to a manager, explained what they were doing and suddenly she found a box of mock ballots that were "somewhere else."

As the reporter went through the mail, it was discovered they obtained two pieces of someone else's mail, including a birthday card.

The worst part: 21 percent of all the mock ballots hadn't materialized after four days. The first batch, which had been sent out a week prior, also had some ballots missing.

"So out of our 100 ballots, 97 arrived, which sounds pretty good, unless you consider the fact that means that three people that tried to vote by mail in our mock election were, in fact, disenfranchised by mail," the reporter stated.

Three percent may not sound like a lot, but it can be pivotal, especially when elections are close.

The other issue: 24 states allow voters to request ballots less than a week before the election, meaning they're not going to make it back in time to be counted.

And when the reporter talked with people in the community, quite a few shared concerns about their ballots "getting lost in the mail."

This is proof that in-person voting must happen and the integrity of the election is at stake. Democrats say they want proof, here it is. There's not much more solid evidence than this experiment. If it's happening in one city, it's almost guaranteed to be happening in places across the nation.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Thursday, August 06, 2020

Did lockdowns work? evidence says no

With talk of ordering more widespread shutdowns to fight the resurgence of COVID-19 cases, it is worth taking note of a paper released over the weekend on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) by Prof. Christian Bjørnskov of Aarhus University in Denmark. The paper is “Did Lockdown Work? An Economist’s Cross-Country Comparison.”

The abstract is both direct and concise (a rarity in academic writing):

I explore the association between the severity of lockdown policies in the first half of 2020 and mortality rates. Using two indices from the Blavatnik Centre’s Covid 19 policy measures and comparing weekly mortality rates from 24 European countries in the first halves of 2017-2020, and addressing policy endogeneity in two different ways, I find no clear association between lockdown policies and mortality development.

The main text of the paper reviews a couple other recent studies that reach the same conclusion, but some of Prof. Bjørnskov’s language in his conclusion leads me to think not all Danes are as far gone as the cliches might lead us to suggest:

The lockdowns in most Western countries have thrown the world into the most severe recession since World War II and the most rapidly developing recession ever seen in mature market economies. They have also caused an erosion of fundamental rights and the separation of powers in large part of the world as both democratic and autocratic regimes have misused their emergency powers and ignored constitutional limits to policy-making. It is therefore important to evaluate whether and to which extent the lockdowns have worked as officially intended: to suppress the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and prevent deaths associated with it. Comparing weekly mortality in 24 European countries, the findings in this paper suggest that more severe lockdown policies have not been associated with lower mortality. In other words, the lockdowns have not worked as intended. . .

Although much has been claimed about Sweden’s relatively high mortality rate, compared to the other Nordic countries, the present data show that the country experienced 161 fewer deaths per million in the first ten weeks, and 464 more deaths in weeks 11-22. In total, Swedish mortality rates are 14 percent higher than in the preceding three years, which is slightly more than France, but considerably fewer than Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom that all implemented much stricter policies.

The problem at hand is therefore that evidence from Sweden as well as the evidence presented here does not suggest that lockdowns have significantly affected the development of mortality in Europe. It has nevertheless wreaked economic havoc in most societies and may lead to a substantial number of additional deaths for other reasons. A British government report from April for example assessed that a limited lockdown could cause 185,000 excess deaths over the next years (DHSC, 2020). Evaluated as a whole, at a first glance, the lockdown policies of the Spring of 2020 therefore appear to be substantial long-run government failures.

Like I say, I think I like this guy.



Why the coronavirus nightmare may soon be over/b>

Matt Ridley writes from Britain

Like the ancient mariner, the virus refuses to leave us alone. Resurging in Blackburn, Spain, and America, it is still going to be around here when the winter comes. As we head indoors, it will be back for a dreaded second wave, disguised among a host of colds and flus. Yet I am now optimistic that the nightmare will end this year or at least by the spring. Here are five reasons.

First, vaccine trials were promising. Having proved safe and capable of raising both a T-cell response and an antibody response, Oxford University’s vaccine, developed in collaboration with Astrazeneca, is now more likely to succeed than to fail, so long as its side effects are manageable in the elderly. And behind it comes a stream of other vaccines, some of which will surely work.

The second reason for hope is that, as Oxford University’s epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta has argued, herd immunity may be achieved more easily than we first thought. Indeed, from the way that infections have continued to dwindle despite lessening social distancing it seems probable that herd immunity has already been achieved in London at least. Half the population could be immune already because of recent exposure to coronavirus colds, while children seem to resist catching Covid-19, let alone passing it on. As the chief medical officer Chris Whitty has conceded, the epidemic was already in retreat before lockdown began. That is because the virus depends heavily on a few superspreaders, and pre-lockdown measures we were taking in March are remarkably effective: no handshakes, frequent hand washing, no large gatherings and so on.

So the third reason for optimism is that as long as we continue with these measures then this virus will struggle to keep spreading in the community. The one place where the virus did spread with horrible ease was in care homes and hospitals. Why was this? T-cell senescence is an issue, so old people’s immune systems are just not as good at coping with this kind of infection, and there were dreadful policy mistakes made, like stopping testing people, clearing patients out of hospitals to care homes without tests, and assuming no asymptomatic transmission. Healthcare and care home staff were not properly protected and were allowed to go from site to site. Many were infected and became carriers.

The fourth cause for cheer is therefore that now we know about asymptomatic transmission, we have more protective equipment and we have a better, if still imperfect, capacity to test, track and isolate cases, it is likely that the hospital-acquired epidemic of the spring will not be repeated.

My fifth excuse for being hopeful is that we now know better how to treat people who get seriously ill. Ventilation is not necessarily the answer, blood clotting is a real threat, making patients lie face down is helpful, dexamethasone can save lives and some antiviral drugs are showing promise.

These are reasons that even if a lot of people catch the virus this winter, fewer will die. Colds and flu viruses usually peak in mid winter when we are indoors. Viruses survive longer in colder and drier conditions, and centrally heated air dries out our protective mucus membranes. Covid-19 will certainly be hoping to peak then. But Australia offers a glimmer of reassurance. It’s winter there now, and this is proving to be the country’s weakest flu season on record. From January to the end of June, 21,000 Australians were diagnosed with flu. Last year more than 132,000 people were diagnosed in the same period. Social distancing is presumably the main reason. If that is repeated here, then not only will Covid have fewer flus and colds to hide behind, but it too will struggle to mount a seasonal peak. And fewer people will die from flu.

If we can beat this virus, then we can beat most respiratory ones. The ridiculous way in which we tolerate cold-spreaders, mocking them for taking a day off and praising them for trudging into work while feeling miserable, has to stop. It should be socially unacceptable to go to a party with a cold, let alone kiss the host on the cheek when you get there. Our children’s permanently runny noses need not be inevitable.

Ten years from now, I predict that we will not only have defeated Covid-19, but made colds rarer too.

Our bigger challenge this winter will be to tackle the backlog of treating cancer and other medical problems delayed by Covid. And to unleash economic growth to help those who lost their jobs.



What's the risk of catching COVID-19 on public transportation?

The chances of catching COVID-19 on public transportation depend a lot on where you sit, with those closest to an infected person at the highest risk and those farther away at a relatively low risk, a new study suggests.

The study, which included thousands of passengers who traveled on China's high-speed trains, known as G trains, found that the rate of transmission to nearby passengers varied from near 0% to about 10%, with those who sat closest to infected passengers for the longest periods at the highest risk.

"Our study shows that although there is an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission on trains, a person's seat location and travel time in relation to an infectious person can make a big difference as to whether it is passed on," study lead author Dr. Shengjie Lai, a research fellow at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. "The findings suggest that during the COVID-19 epidemic it is important to reduce the density of passengers and promote personal hygiene measures, the use of face coverings and possibly carry out temperature checks before boarding."

Indeed, other recent studies from around the world suggest that when passengers wear masks and adhere to social-distancing guidelines, public transportation may pose a relatively low risk of infection.

For example, in Paris, public health officials found that of the 386 recent clusters of COVID-19 in the city between May and mid-July, none were linked with public transportation, according to The New York TImes. Similar findings were seen in both Tokyo and parts of Austria, the Times reported.

In the new study, published July 29 in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, researchers analyzed information from passengers who traveled on G trains between mid-December 2019 and late February 2020, which covers the period from before COVID-19 was identified to the peak of the outbreak in China.

The researchers identified more than 2,300 passengers known as "index patients" who developed COVID-19 within 14 days of their train trip, and more than 72,000 passengers who sat near these cases — within three rows (widthwise) and five columns (lengthwise) of the index patients.

Overall, 234 of the 72,000 nearby passengers developed a COVID-19 infection linked to their train ride. That means the average "attack rate" — or percent who tested positive out of the overall group — was about 0.32%.

Those who sat directly next to an infected person had the highest risk of contracting the infection, with an average attack rate of 3.5%.

For those sitting in the same row, but not necessarily adjacent to the infected person, the average attack rate was 1.5%. That's about 10 times higher than the attack rate for people sitting just one or two rows back from the infected person, the study found.

The amount of time a person traveled also affected their risk — on average, the attack rate increased 0.15% for every hour a person traveled with an infected passenger; and for those sitting next to an infected person, the attack rate increased 1.3% every hour.

But after an infected person disembarked the train, those who sat in the same seat seemed to be at a low risk of infection. Among the 1,342 people who sat in a seat previously occupied by an infected person, just one person later contracted the disease, an attack rate of just 0.075%, according to CTV News.

The researchers concluded that to prevent COVID-19 spread, passengers should be seated at least two seats apart within the same row, and limit travel time to 3 hours.

"We hope it can help to inform authorities globally about measures needed to guard against the virus and in turn help to reduce its spread," said study co-author Andy Tatem, a professor of spatial demography and epidemiology at the University of Southampton and director of WorldPop, a collaboration of scientists that works to provide data on human population distributions.

The authors noted that their study had limitations. For example, the researchers could not prove that the 234 passengers definitely contracted the virus on the train, although public health officials had determined that this was the most likely source of their infection, CTV News reported. In addition, the study did not have information on whether the passengers were wearing protective gear such as masks, the authors said.



President Trump Signs Executive Order Instructing Federal Agencies to 'Hire American'

President Trump signed an executive order that aims to prioritize American workers on Monday, hoping to promote “hiring American,” by barring federal agencies from replacing domestic workers with foreign contractors. The order targets job outsourcing within federal agencies that replaces American jobs with inexpensive foreign labor via H-1B visas.

“We believe jobs must be offered to American workers first,” the president said.

This executive order mirrors President Trump’s commitment to putting American workers first, especially given the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 that is felt by Americans in all job sectors.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Top WHO disease detective warns against return to national lockdowns

The World Health Organisation has urged countries not to reimpose national lockdowns in an attempt to stem the spread of Covid-19 due to the health, social and economic repercussions.

In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, who helps lead the WHO’s pandemic response team as the head of the emerging diseases unit, said that countries should instead adopt localised strategies.

By the end of March, as the coronavirus outbreak spiralled out of control across the globe, well over 100 countries had imposed a full or partial lockdown – affecting billions of people.

Dr Van Kerkhove described these measures as a “blunt, sheer force instrument” that bought countries time to build the public health infrastructure needed to tackle Covid-19.

But reflecting on events since the WHO declared a global health emergency six months ago – when fewer than 8,000 cases and 170 deaths had been reported – she added that the economic, health and social costs of lockdown have been “massive”.

“Lockdowns are not something that WHO recommended, but they needed to be used in a number of countries because the outbreaks were growing so quickly,” Dr Van Kerkhove said. “But we're hopeful that countries will not need to implement national lockdowns again.”

The 43-year-old, who has become a familiar face having appeared alongside WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at press briefings for months, added that countries should not rely on a jab as a silver bullet to bring the raging pandemic to a close.

“In the next six months we will not have a vaccine,” she said frankly. “I know there's a lot of work that's being accelerated in terms of having a safe and effective vaccine, but we cannot wait until next year for one to come around.”

Instead Dr Van Kerkhove urged countries to make use of the tools currently available to adopt a “tailored, specific, localised” approach to contain new clusters of infections.

“The speed of the science on this has been extraordinary… we have tools right now that can prevent transmission and save lives,” Dr Van Kerkhove said, referencing measures including contacting tracing, widespread testing, equipping health facilities, physical distancing and wearing face masks.

“It isn't one measure alone, all of the existing measures need to be used together. And it works. The reason we keep saying that it works is because we've seen this happen, we have seen countries bring these outbreaks under control,” she said.

It is now seven months since Dr Van Kerkhove – who has spent decades training as an epidemiologist, including stints at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Imperial College – received an email alert that a ‘pneumonia of unknown origin’ had been detected in Wuhan, China.

“I was on holiday for Christmas with my family in the US,” the mother of two told the Telegraph from her office at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. “I immediately sent a note back asking some questions, which I always do… we always push countries for more information, China is not unique to that.

“My initial feeling was that this could be localised, that this would be localised. But I’m trained to think that this is an emerging infectious disease… so I definitely knew it could get bigger, and planned for that.”

Since then the scenarios Dr Van Kerhove’s team prepared for but dreaded have been realised. The pandemic has spiralled out of control internationally, with infections surpassing 17.6 million and deaths 680,000, not to mention the devastating social and economic reverberations.

And the epidemiologist, used to working behind the scenes, has instead been thrown into the limelight, having fielded hundreds of questions from journalists and the public at regular virtual briefings. At points this role as the public face of the WHO, which was not one Dr Van Kerkhove “ever expected” to have, has landed her in hot water.

Though praised in January when she was one of the first WHO officials to raise the alarm about potential human-to-human transmission publicly, comments that appeared to suggest asymptomatic spread is rare provoked fierce criticism in June – though Dr Van Kerkhove maintains that much of the reporting misunderstood her words.

“I watched videos of myself making a statement, and then some newscaster saying, ‘WHO says asymptomatic transmission doesn't happen’, which I've never said, which WHO has never said,” she said. “It was a challenge – I had never been the brunt of such criticism.”

Dr Van Kerkhove added that her colleagues, husband and two children – aged nine and one – kept her going. “My nine year old drew rainbows for everybody at the office because he wanted everyone to know that we were doing a good job,” she said. “I’m inspired by acts of kindness.”

The epidemiologist is not the only member of the team to attract criticism during the pandemic. Most markedly, Donald Trump has consistently accused the WHO, particularly Dr Tedros, of being “China-centric” – a claim most public health experts have dismissed as “scapegoating”.

The fallout, which began in early April when the US President announced he was temporarily suspending funding to the UN health agency because it “failed in its basic duty” to respond to Covid-19, came to a head earlier this month when Trump’s administration formally withdrew from the WHO.

As a “proud American” Dr Van Kerkhove said she was “disappointed” by the decision, but insisted that the worsening situation in the US, where more than 66,000 new cases have been reported every day in the last fortnight, could still be rectified.

“I think even countries that haven't done as well still can turn it around, and I believe that the United States can and the United States will,” she said.

But her biggest fear is complacency, which could undermine efforts to control this pandemic – and the next one.

“This is a wake up call about pandemics and we must do more to be ready,” Dr Van Kerkhove warned. “It isn't a matter of if, it's a matter of when something like this will happen again.

“It’s quite traumatic what everyone is going through at the moment – we need to use this as a way to accelerate the change that is necessary.”



These ‘Inconvenient’ Data Patterns Destroy the Established Coronavirus Narrative

If I’m being told I shouldn’t or can’t go out and that I’m not allowed to breathe free air when I do, the evidence on the ground should damn-well comport with the “logic” they are giving us to justify their extreme measures. But they aren’t, not in any observable, logical way.

Let’s start with Sweden, that quasi-socialist winter wonderland of woke snowflakes that somehow decided to go against the grain on COVID and consequently went seemingly overnight from the world’s darling to the world’s next Khmer Rouge. Not only did Sweden NOT implement draconian lockdowns when this whole thing started, they never even mandated mask-wearing (oh, the horror!). According to nearly all the “experts,” Sweden was supposed to be something like a scene out of the Book of Revelation by now, complete with rivers of blood and bodies piled up to horses’ bridles. Hospitals were going to be overrun. People were going to be dying in the streets. There was going to be carnage unlike nothing anyone had ever seen...

Except, none of that happened. Not even close. Absent an early Cuomo-style failure to adequately protect nursing homes that hurt their numbers early on, that country’s strategy was a tremendous success. Sweden implemented a few sustainable, common-sense measures, bent toward the storm, and rode it through. And now, they are reaping the rewards. Last week, Bloomberg reported on the country’s “‘Promising’ Covid-19 Data as New Cases Plunge.” State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell and the Health Agency of Sweden report declining cases since a late June peak and a death rate that has plunged right along with it. “That Sweden has come down to these levels is very promising,” said Tegnell. “The curves are going down and the curves for the seriously ill are beginning to approach zero.”

Everyone from the lamestream media to President Trump himself disparaged Sweden’s approach, and they were all ridiculously, cartoonishly wrong. Now that Sweden has obtained some degree of herd immunity and is back to some sense of relative normalcy, where do they go to get their apology?

Other inconvenient patterns exist closer to home. Consider South Dakota, where its courageous leader and (hopefully) future presidential candidate, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, steadfastly refused to shut down her state nor require masks. Aside from a bad outbreak in a meat-packing plant early on, the infection and death rate in that admittedly less population-dense state has remained consistently low.

Want a more populous state? How about Georgia, where Brian Kemp was supposedly conducting an “experiment in human sacrifice” by reopening his state too soon and not mandating masks at the state level. Cases did rise (but haven’t spiked) nearly TWO MONTHS after their lockdown ended, but deaths are still below 4,000 statewide and are nowhere near any sort of drastic spike. Now, it even looks like hospitalizations have peaked and are trending down.

For those who insisted we needed New York-style lockdowns in the Sunbelt states of Arizona, Texas, and Florida to fight those surges, consider this data pattern from former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson: “AZ/FL/TX: 60 million people, no lockdowns (now), 23,000 peak hospitalizations, 500ish (hopefully) peak daily deaths. New York: 20 million people, hard lockdown, 18,000 peak hospitalizations, 1000 peak daily deaths. Let’s lockdown forever!” Indeed.

Other narrative-inconvenient data patterns exist in the places that supposedly did things “right.” Japan and even Hong Kong are seeing small case spikes - but big trend changes - despite militaresque adherence to universal masking the entire duration of the pandemic. And then there’s California, land of fruits and nuts, whose governor implemented a statewide mask mandate on June 18. Two weeks later, cases were three times what they were before the mandate and have continued to roll along at around the 10,000 mark every day since. (Have you noticed that leftists who criticize surging red states for not doing “enough” mysteriously leave California out?) Globally, Brazil, India, and Mexico have all experienced significant spikes in cases case and death rates lately despite early masking requirements on significant portions of their populations. So apparently, those who told us coronavirus would be pretty much eliminated if we would just wear masks for a few weeks were either ignorant or lying or both.

All of the above, along with plenty of other data patterns I didn’t have room to mention, raise the following questions: If lockdowns are the answer, why did Georgia cases rise two months after theirs ended? Why did Sweden never get overwhelmed? If they just work while they’re being implemented, what is to stop the virus when people do come out? If masks work, why is the virus surging in places that implement and strictly enforce their use? Why are places that never masked doing fine?

These data patterns don’t suggest that COVID-19 isn’t dangerous or deadly to some people, but they do suggest that viruses are pretty good at doing what they do and there’s not a lot that humans can do – especially through lockdowns or face coverings – to stop them. Like it or not, the likely only way out is going to be some form of herd immunity. Fortunately, especially with T cells and the fact that many more have had it than the actual case count, we could be much farther along than we think.



Doctors Are Getting Better at Treating Covid-19

When the new coronavirus swept into northern Italy in late February, doctors were so in the dark about how to treat the disease ravaging their patients they asked friends in China to translate clinical guidelines from Mandarin they had found online. “There was everything in there, including traditional Chinese medicine,” recalls Marco Rizzi, the head of the infectious-diseases ward at Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital in Bergamo, a city at the center of Italy’s outbreak. “Now we have more cards to play.” Doctors in Europe say progress in treating people with Covid-19 is helping to reduce fatalities among the sickest patients, a hopeful sign as the region grapples with sporadic flare-ups as it heads through the tourist season and into fall and winter.

Daily clinical experience in hard-hit areas such as Italy and the U.K. as well as rapid scientific research have combined to produce the outline of a treatment strategy—which includes a mix of anti-inflammatory drugs and blood thinners—that doctors in Europe say is saving lives among those hospitalized and the smaller number who need intensive care. “We are doing better,” said Tim Cook, an anesthesiology consultant and honorary professor at the University of Bristol. “But it’s a horrible disease.”

Most cases of Covid-19 are mild and can be treated at home with rest, fluids and common painkillers. But in Europe, around a third of known cases end up in a hospital, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control estimates.

An analysis of multiple studies world-wide by Mr. Cook and colleagues found the proportion of those dying from Covid-19 in intensive care declined to 42% by late May from around 60% in March. Mortality rates are similar for Europe, Asia and North America. Better treatment is important but not the only factor driving that improvement, doctors say. Far fewer people are getting infected than at the peak of the crisis, and more of those who are infected are younger. Health systems are also better prepared and less stressed. Recent days have seen fresh bursts of infection in parts of Spain and Eastern Europe. Should a second wave sweep through the continent, doctors say they are better prepared to treat patients who will need hospital care. Crucially, doctors now know that Covid-19 isn’t just a respiratory disease but can potentially affect the cardiovascular and nervous systems.

The emerging approach focuses on treating a handful of frequently observed symptoms of severe Covid-19. First is delivering enough oxygen. Second is reducing the risk of blood clots. Third is tackling inflammation of the organs and tissues caused by a runaway immune response. Doctors say some patients also need treatment for kidney failure. The range of symptoms in severe cases, and the lingering damage suffered by many who recover, distinguishes Covid-19 from comparable respiratory illnesses, said Daniele Bryden, a senior intensive-care physician in the U.K. and vice dean of Britain’s Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine. “It’s very strange, this disease,” she said. While mechanical ventilation was standard practice among severely sick patients early on, doctors say they have learned to avoid it unless absolutely necessary.

Instead, many patients are given oxygen at high pressure using sophisticated plastic hoods. They are also laid on their stomachs, a technique that boosts lung function. “We learned to make the most of the tools we had,” said Camillo Rossi, who oversees the medical staff at Spedali Civili, a hospital in Lombardy’s city of Brescia that has treated some 3,000 Covid-19 patients. Doctors at European hospitals learned early on about the benefits of dexamethasone, a cheap steroid now widely used on Covid-19 patients with serious respiratory problems.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Sociology professor calls for a ‘sense of proportion’ as he brands Covid-19 a ‘nasty infection’ that ‘simply brought deaths forward by a few weeks’

A leading sociology professor has today called for calm over Covid-19, as he branded the virus a 'nasty infection' that 'simply brought deaths forward be a few weeks'.

Robert Dingwall, professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University, says there needs to be a 'sense of proportion' over coronavirus.

The killer respiratory virus is thought to contributed to the deaths of more than 45,000 people in the UK and 685,000 worldwide.

But Professor Dingwall says figures show around 80 per cent of victims in the UK already had life-limiting medical condition.

Writing a column in the Daily Express today, he said: 'Covid-19 has been linked to about 50,000 deaths in the first 16 weeks of the UK pandemic - but about 1,000 people normally die every week.

'In the past five weeks, fewer than usual have died. Covid-19 simply bought deaths forward by a few weeks or months.'

He added: 'Six months into this pandemic, we have learnt that it will not wipe out human life on this planet. It is a nasty infection and every death represents a person loved by someone. But it is time for a sense of proportion.

'While some people become seriously ill, and a few die, most shrug it off.'

Professor Dingwall, who previously accused the government of 'terrorising' the UK population with its coronavirus message, also took aim at government scientists in his column. 

Describing them as a 'narrow minded scientific elite', he hit out at the government's lockdown laws, saying they risked 'eradicating' the country's industry, as well as liberty and privacy.

Professor Dingwall was one of the scientists who called for the government to change its two metre-social distancing rules earlier this year in a bid to get the economy moving again.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph in May he was also heavily critical about the government's coronavirus message.

He said: 'We have this very strong message which has effectively terrorised the population into believing that this is a disease that is going to kill you. And mostly it isn't...

'....We have completely lost sight of that in the obsession with deaths.'

It comes as it has today been reported that millions of over 50s could be given orders to stay at home as part of Boris Johnson's 'nuclear plans' to avoid another national lockdown.

The Prime Minister was forced to announce a slow down of the lockdown easing on Friday, with planned relaxations for the leisure and beauty sectors delayed after a rise in Covid-19 cases.

It comes just days after around 4.5million people in Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and West Yorkshire were hit with fresh lockdown restrictions last week.

The PM is thought to have held a 'war game' session with Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Wednesday to run through possible options for averting another nationwide lockdown that could put the brakes on a potential economic recovery.

Under the proposals, a greater number of people would be asked to take part in the shielding programme, based on their age or particular risk factors that have been identified since March, said the Telegraph.

It could even see those aged between 50 and 70 given 'personalised risk ratings', said the Times, in a move that would add to the 2.2 million who were deemed most vulnerable and asked to shield themselves from society during the spring peak.

The plans could prove controversial as the factors under which the elderly could be asked to self-isolate might be more heavily influenced by age than clinical vulnerabilities.

Also being considered under the proposals is a city-wide lockdown in London which would include restricting travel beyond the M25, as reported by The Sunday Times.

Any 'close contact' services, such as going to the hairdresser, would also be stopped if the capital sees a sudden surge in cases.

The advice for shielding was only lifted on Saturday for those in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and remains in place until August 16 for those shielding in Wales.



Are Lockdowns Necessary? What Data From 10 Countries Show

A new Heritage Foundation special report analyzes the COVID-19 responses of 10 countries, with varying levels of economic freedom, to better understand which policies might have been more effective than others.

Here’s what the report found.

The 10 countries we studied have taken vastly different approaches to handling COVID-19 with varying degrees of success.

The evidence suggests that full lockdowns, such as those implemented in Italy and Norway, are not as effective as the more targeted approaches taken in other countries, such as in South Korea and Iceland.

In fact, as we discuss, those two countries have fared considerably better than the United States has in handling COVID-19 without shutting down their economies.

Another key finding is that Australia and New Zealand, two neighboring countries with similar climates, have had similar outcomes regarding COVID-19, even though they took very different approaches to dealing with the virus.

In particular, New Zealand virtually locked down the entire country in the spring, while Australia took a less restrictive approach.

Yet, both countries have contained the virus at similar levels.

Specifically, Australia had 13,595 COVID-19 cases (0.0534% of its population) and 139 deaths (0.000546% of its population), while New Zealand had 1,556 cases (0.0323% of its population) and 22 deaths (0.000457% of its population). However, New Zealand’s unemployment level is forecast to increase to 9.2% by December, while Australia’s is expected to increase to 7.6% over this same time period.

From a public health perspective, strict lockdowns can cause additional problems. 

As 80% of COVID cases do not require hospitalization, when people isolate at home upon contracting COVID-19, they may infect their family members, including those who are at risk.

In fact, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Broward County, Florida, Mayor Dale Holness have both noticed this phenomenon. Cuomo was, in fact, quite surprised, noting: “If you notice, 18% of the people came from nursing homes, less than 1% came from jail or prison, 2% came from the homeless population, 2% from other congregate facilities, but 66% of the people were at home, which is shocking to us.”

Two additional countries that took very different approaches to dealing with COVID-19—and experienced very different outcomes—are South Korea and Italy.

South Korea permitted much of its economy to remain open, choosing instead to engage in aggressive testing and isolating the infected, either via hospitals or isolation centers. South Korea also engages in extensive digital contact tracing to notify people when they have come in contact with others having COVID-19.

As of July 22, South Korea (population of more than 51 million) has had 13,979 cases and 298 deaths (0.0272% and 0.000579% of its population, respectively.)

Italy, on the other hand, pursued a strict lockdown policy when the virus was spreading heavily in the spring. The country has a population of 60 million, comparable to South Korea. As of July 22, however, Italy has had 245,590 cases and 35,097 deaths (0.406% and 0.058% of its population, respectively), orders of magnitude higher than South Korea.

Maintaining a strong economy and protecting public health are not mutually exclusive. And although many states here in the U.S. have pursued strict stay-at-home orders, our country has not done well from either perspective, currently having more than 4 million cases (1.26% of the population) and 148,490 COVID-19-related deaths (0.0449% of the population).

Thus, although it is impossible to control for all of the differences between countries, these figures rank the United States—despite having instituted stay-at-home orders—behind many of the other developed nations we examined.

Moreover, as of July 27, with a first quarter gross domestic product loss of 5%, and a June unemployment rate of 11%, the U.S. should develop a better approach.

For instance, maximum effort here in the U.S. should be concentrated on protecting those at risk, as well as the livelihoods of American families. Among the many countries we examined, our study notes that there are aspects of the South Korean approach that lawmakers can learn from.

When recently asked about the status of the battle with COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, “We are certainly not at the end of the game, I’m not even sure we’re halfway through.”

As Heritage Foundation research has discussed, focusing on hot spots, protecting the elderly and most vulnerable, utilizing isolation centers to prevent the virus from spreading, taking advantage of contact tracing, and engaging in appropriate testing are policies lawmakers should consider in the coming months.

With these and other recommendations also suggested by The Heritage Foundation’s National Coronavirus Recovery Commission, we can be well-equipped to win the fight against this very dangerous enemy.



CDC Chief Agrees There’s ‘Perverse’ Economic ‘Incentive’ for Hospitals to Inflate Coronavirus Deaths

United States hospitals have a “perverse” monetary “incentive” to increase their count of coronavirus fatalities, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s director Robert Redfield indicated under questioning from a Republican lawmaker during a House panel hearing on Friday.

Asked to comment on what Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) described as the “perverse incentive” during a hearing by the House Oversight and Reform Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Dr. Redfield responded:

"I think you’re correct in that we’ve seen this in other disease processes too, really in the HIV epidemic, somebody may have a heart attack, but also have HIV — the hospital would prefer the [classification] for HIV because there’s greater reimbursement.

So I do think there’s some reality to that. When it comes to death reporting, though, ultimately, it’s how the physician defines it in the death certificate and … we review all of those death certificates.

So I think, probably it is less operable in the cause of death, although I won’t say there are not some cases. I do think though [that] when it comes to hospital reimbursement issues or individuals that get discharged, there could be some play in that for sure."

According to Congressman Luetkemeyer, Adm. Brett Giroir from the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Department has conceded that there is an economic incentive for hospitals to inflate their coronavirus fatalities.

Giroir “acknowledged that the statistics he is getting from the states are over-inflated,” the Republican lawmakers said.

The admiral testified earlier during Friday’s hearing but was no longer present during Luetkemeyer’s questions about coronavirus deaths.

Across the United States, the seven-day average number of new infections had plateaued as of Thursday evening and even begun to come down in recent days. Meanwhile, new fatalities reported daily, and their seven-day average, continue to go up, but remain below peak levels.

There is a lag of about three weeks or more between infection and death.

As of mid-day Friday, COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) had infected nearly 4.5 million people and killed over 150,000, the Johns Hopkins University tracker revealed.




Commerce Department moves towards curtailing online giants' liability carveout — and not a moment too soon (The Federalist)

Chief of Staff Mark Meadows "not optimistic" on stimulus deal, as lawmakers debate unemployment boost (USA Today)

11,900 U.S. troops leaving Germany; 6,400 returning home (American Military News)

Beyond Russia: FBI director warns of China election interference (Axios)

FDA opens the door to rapid, at-home testing (USA Today)

Not the guinea pig: Majority of people say they won't take a vaccine within first year (New York Post)

Fed holds rates steady, says economic growth is "well below" pre-pandemic level (CNBC)

Seattle residents slam "defund the police" as "radical experiment" during city budget meeting (Fox News)

Policy: Trump administration shouldn't extend DACA amnesty (The Daily Signal)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Monday, August 03, 2020

The land with no face masks: Holland's top scientists say there's no solid evidence coverings work and warn they could even damage the fight against Covid-19

As I walked around the sun-dappled streets of Amsterdam, something felt strange in this world swept by fear and pandemic. There was laughter coming from barges sliding along the famous canals, clusters of cyclists clogged the streets, shoppers dipped into chic boutiques, the barber shops seemed busy and cafes served couples chatting over coffee.

I heard many voices of tourists in bars and restaurants, while even the seedier sides of this celebrated Dutch city had people strolling through them. It took me a moment to realise what was so weird. Then it struck me. It felt like I had stepped back in time, returning to the pre-pandemic normality of a bustling city filled with human beings whose faces were not covered by cloth.

For while 120 countries in the world, including much of Europe, have ordered citizens to wear masks in public places to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the Dutch are doing things differently.

The nation's top scientists, having examined key data and research, have declared there is no firm evidence to back the use of face coverings. Indeed, they argue that wearing the wretched things may actually hamper the fight against disease.

'Face masks in public places are not necessary, based on all the current evidence,' said Coen Berends, spokesman for the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. 'There is no benefit and there may even be negative impact.'

This is a bold but highly controversial stance – especially as fears grow of a second wave sweeping through Europe. Last week, Downing Street joined the global stampede to enforce face masks in public spaces such as shops, supermarkets and stations, following Scotland, Spain and France, along with Holland's neighbouring nations of Belgium and Germany.

'We think masks have a great deal of value,' said Boris Johnson. 'Scientific evaluation of face coverings and their importance in stopping aerosol droplets has been growing. People should wear them in shops.'

But the Dutch disagree – to the delight of all the citizens I spoke with in Amsterdam. 'I hate wearing them,' said Aicha Meziati, 29, in the hip fashion store Das Werk Haus. 'They are horrible. People look like they have nappies on their faces.'

Margriet, a 24-year-old sales assistant in a pop-up drink shop, said it was hard to read people's facial expressions when they wore masks. 'You make contact with people better without them and it is easier to talk to them in the store.'

Holland's position is based on assessments by the Outbreak Management Team, a group of experts advising the government. It first ruled against masks in May and has re-evaluated the evidence several times, including again last week.

It believes they detract from a clear three-pronged message that has kept deaths from coronavirus down to less than half the rate in Britain: wash hands regularly, maintain social distancing of 1.5 metres and stay at home if suffering any symptoms.

The one exception outside of the medical frontline has been on public transport, where masks are mandatory on the basis it is difficult to stay apart on crowded buses, ferries and trains. 'We have seen this approach works,' said Christian Hoebe, a professor of infectious diseases in Maastricht and member of the advisory team. 'Face masks should not be seen as a magic bullet that halts the spread.

'The evidence for them is contradictory. In general, we think you must be careful with face masks because they can give a false sense of security. People think they're immune from disease or stop social distancing. That is very negative.'

Hoebe, head of infectious disease control in Zuid-Limburg, the region hit hardest when the pandemic struck Holland, pointed to a Norwegian study showing 200,000 people must wear surgical masks for one week to stop a single Covid-19 case.

Yet few people have medical masks – in Britain they are rightly preserved for the NHS – while wearers routinely misuse or contaminate their coverings by fitting them incorrectly, failing to change them and touching their faces.

'I was in Belgium recently and saw many people putting them beneath their noses, upside down or under chins', says Hoebe. 'Others stuffed them in their pockets. The effectiveness also depends on the right fabric and the mask being worn very close to the nose.'

Studies by one membrane specialist at Eindhoven University found that while the coronavirus particles are caught by an electrostatic layer in medical masks, they can penetrate bigger pores found in cotton and even vacuum cleaner bags.

The World Health Organisation has also been sceptical, warning that 'widespread use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not yet supported by high-quality or direct scientific evidence'.

Although changing its advice in June to back the encouragement of mask wearing in some settings, the WHO lists 11 'potential harms' that range from discomfort through to self-contamination and lower compliance with more critical preventative measures.

As in some other European countries, Holland has seen an alarming recent rise in reported infections, which have almost doubled to 1,329 cases over the past two weeks, combined with marginally higher rates of hospitalisation and fatality.

Yet the cabinet's advisory team says this was driven by clusters of people infecting each other at family gatherings and parties, where they would not have worn masks regardless of any changes to rules about public spaces.

Another outbreak came from a bar in Hillegom, near Amsterdam, where the owners told customers they could sit close together, shake hands and hug since the virus was dormant. 'We know what we are doing,' they wrote on Facebook. They were quickly proved wrong, however, after 39 cases were traced to the bar. It has since been closed and the social media post removed.

Holland, a country of 17 million people, has seen 6,147 pandemic deaths after adopting what it called 'intelligent lockdown', which imposed significantly fewer restrictions than Britain and relied more on trusting citizens to behave sensibly.

Although two recent polls claim a majority backing use of face masks for indoor public spaces, I found people on Amsterdam's busy shopping streets supported their government's stand and seemed very aware of the simple rules.

'I like it when people can decide for themselves,' said Jesus Garcia, wielding the clippers in Barbershop Jordaan filled with mask-free staff and customers. 'You would have to really educate people how to use them properly for safety.'

He said he had worn masks during a trip to Spain. 'I did not feel it was really helping since people were wearing them all wrong, putting them in their pockets, placing them under their noses. It defeats the purpose.' One customer having a trim agreed. 'I find face masks absolutely awful. They're claustrophobic and don't work,' said Mark Casey, corporate finance partner at a major accountancy firm.

Coriem Warmenhoven, serving in a flower shop, said she was glad they did not have to wear masks. 'I'm afraid it will become necessary,' she said. 'We must deal with the virus but it is best to be intelligent and give people responsibility.'

She is right to be nervous. The mayors of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the nation's two biggest cities, have been pressing for more power to impose mask-wearing in crowded areas, which was granted last week. Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema, alarmed by throngs of tourists and young people making parts of her city too crowded, is insisting on compulsory masks for anyone aged over 13 in the Red Light District and two popular shopping streets.

Warmenhoven told me she was going to holiday in Holland after discussing with her husband where to go. 'He said he didn't want to go anywhere abroad that you have to wear masks,' she said. This bears out the hunch of the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions, which has commissioned research to find out if freedom from face masks gives their country an edge in the struggle to entice dwindling numbers of tourists.

Ben Coates, the author of Why The Dutch Are Different, who lives in central Holland, said the speed with which normal life had returned in the country was remarkable.

'When you walk around, you are hard-pressed to see much difference now,' he said. He added that while Dutch citizens tended to trust their governments, they also had strong libertarian instincts. 'People don't like being told what to do, so they will cycle without helmets and sleep with whom they want.'

The one family I found wandering along the canals clad in face masks turned out to be holidaying Italians from near Milan. 'We have been wearing them all the time for five months, so they don't feel uncomfortable any more,' said Michaele Muller. He added that they had been astonished when they arrived in Holland. 'We drove through Switzerland, where everyone has a mask, then in Germany, where it is also mandatory. Then we crossed the border and suddenly no one was wearing them.'

Later, I came across a British accent belonging to a scientist who had just moved from Milton Keynes to a new job in the city. 'It feels very different from the UK,' said Jenny White. 'It feels much more normal here. You can almost forget about the disease.'



2020's Swedish Surprise: Pandemic Fascism Isn't The Answer

2020 has been a year of firsts: the world faced its first (modern) pandemic, killing hundreds of thousands and shuttering vast swathes of the global economy. Along the way, the political world was turned upside down: for the first time in living memory, leftists found themselves castigating, rather than idolizing, socialist Sweden.

The reason? The Swedes, hard-headed contrarians that they are, had the temerity to buck the global fad for strict lockdowns and obsessive masking. They reasoned that such measures would be unsustainable, economically and socially, so instead of shutting businesses and schools, and harassing or fining anyone caught in public without a mask, they advised people to practice sensible social distancing and to avoid unnecessary outings and exposure.

At first, the mainstream media throughout the Western world gleefully reported the high death rate that Sweden's mild model of pandemic control produced, especially among the elderly and nursing home residents. Sweden's “experiment” with liberty (never a concept beloved of left-wingers) had failed, or so it seemed.

Now, though, Sweden's light touch with respect to coronavirus countermeasures is looking sounder and sounder. Sweden's numbers of new infections are low and trending lower. Daily deaths are approaching the vanishing point. There is speculation that, because the disease was allowed to spread more freely among those least vulnerable, Swedes may already benefit from a degree of herd immunity.

Sweden's successes don't end there, however. The toll of the pandemic, while it is often measured in raw numbers of "COVID deaths," stretches far beyond mortality. Among the worst aspects of the crisis has been the economic carnage it has visited on the worst affected countries. In the U.S., second-quarter GDP is down by almost 33 percent! Unemployment peaked at almost 15 percent. These are numbers generally associated with a depression, although economists expect that the downturn, sharp as it is, will be brief.

Sweden, meanwhile, was the only country in Europe in the first quarter of 2020 to see its GDP rise. Sweden's overall economic contraction in 2020 is expected to be modest, compared to the EU as a whole and to badly-hit countries like the U.K., Italy, and Spain. Swedish companies are also outperforming expectations, while Swedish unemployment is lower than ours: most recently, it stands at 9.2 percent.

Lest we forget, economic pain (and the limitation thereof) also correlates to many other factors that govern a country's degree of suffering during the pandemic. Poor economic performance can and usually does foster a rise in suicides, violent crime, drug use, alcohol abuse, domestic disputes, child abuse, as well as anxiety and depression. Moreover, long and rigid lockdowns, combined with scaremongering in the news media, can even produce more sickness and death, because many people in need of urgent medical care choose to defer it, assuming that it is too dangerous to leave their homes. We can safely assume that all of these problems are less pronounced in Sweden, given the tempered nature of its pandemic response, and the shallowness of its virus-related recession.

There are many ways to measure a country's performance in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but surely the simplest is this: has a given nation managed to minimize the “pain” (and death) afflicting its citizens while maximizing the “gain” they seek in terms of employment, economic activity, and the preservation of their freedoms and quality of life?

Sweden, it would appear, has struck this balance remarkably well. After a rocky start, especially in nursing homes, Swedish authorities have managed to wrestle the virus into submission, such that it is now almost unheard of for Swedes to die of COVID-19. Simultaneously, Swedes are going to work, going to school, visiting restaurants and businesses, and enjoying normal human interactions without the constant need to wear facemasks.

That sounds, to a mere layman, like a story of success, not failure. And, if the “socialist Swedes” have found a pandemic strategy that works, we have to ask: why are their “progressive” allies around the world afraid to admit it?



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Sunday, August 02, 2020

The Democrats' Jihad Against Hydroxychloroquine

The Democrats' holy jihad against any medical professional who suggests the safe, controlled application of Hydroxychloroquine could provide therapeutic benefit to certain patients who are experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus has reached a new level of insanity.

In recent days, the big tech, social media behemoths inserted their own medical opinion into the national conversation over the use of this long-approved prescription drug for COVID patients. They censored and removed a video with multiple medical professionals, including a professor at Yale's schools of medicine and epidemiology, providing a second opinion to the overwhelming media narrative that this drug is somehow dangerous despite the fact that malaria and lupus patients have safely used the drug for decades.

Democrats have lined up alongside their pals in the media to demonize the drug and any medical professional who dares to suggest it might... might prove beneficial. They've seen this drug as a political weapon to injure Donald Trump and anyone who supports him and they seem comfortable with the possibility that people could suffer and maybe even die if they are not able to take advantage of this therapy if their doctor happens to be one of the many who believe it could help.

So, what would the Democrats recommend to individuals suffering from the Chinese Wuhan pandemic crippling our economy and isolating our children, condemning them to mediocre remote classrooms with no healthy social interactions with their peers?

Apparently, they think y'all should just get high.

Friday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was asked about the various provisions set forth in her House "stimulus" bill that relate to cannabis policies and cannabis banking laws that appear to have nothing to do with the pandemic-related economic disaster the bill is supposed to address.

The speaker explained to the intrepid reporter that the cannabis laws are directly related to COVID. "I don't agree with you that cannabis is not related to this," Pelosi explained. "This is a therapy that has proven successful."

There you go.

A cursory search of various medical websites, the CDC, and even the corrupt WHO, provides no results on the medical efficacy of marijuana for patients suffering from COVID-19. In fact, one would assume that inhaling smoke into one's lungs while suffering from the devastating respiratory condition would be, at the very least, counterproductive. But Pelosi has spoken. Let them smoke pot.

Let's just be clear on where the Democrats are on the politics of COVID-19 pharmaceutical therapies (not that pharmaceutical therapies for a devastating virus should be politicized at all, but this is the world the Democrats and the media have created so let's play along).

If you are a medical professional, a doctor, an epidemiologist, or a professor of medicine at a prestigious university and you suggest some therapeutic benefit from a drug that President Trump has suggested might deserve some attention, you must be silenced and you must be condemned because Orange Man Bad.

Instead, you should just grab your bong, head down to your recently-legalized pot dispensary in a Democrat-controlled city, and get high, my friend.

These people should not be allowed to be in a position of power.



Sweden tells staff to work from home for the rest of the year to make life safer for those going into the office a day after revealing it is seeing a 'very positive' drop in new covid cases

Sweden has today told staff to work from home for the rest of the year to manage crowding on public transport after revealing it is seeing a 'very positive' drop in new covid cases yesterday.

The recommendation, which is directed at those 'who have the possibility to work from home,' will remain in place until the New Year and is designed to make things easier for those who need to physically go to work.

It comes after the country's top epidemiologist announced yesterday that Sweden was witnessing a 'very positive' downward trend, with the lockdown free country recording 318 new cases today and serious cases in need of intensive care falling.

But the country has had 80,100 total cases of coronavirus, and one of the highest per capita death tolls in the world - well above Denmark, Norway and Finland which have each seen fewer than 1,000 deaths.

Public Health Agency noted that 'if our contacts go up again there is a considerable risk of a new spread during the autumn'. 

Sweden has been an outlier in its coronavirus response. It has kept schools for under-16s open and has not closed cafes, bars, restaurants and most businesses. Masks have been recommended only for healthcare personnel.

Its approach has been based on an attempt to gain herd immunity, but the World Health Organization has warned against pinning hopes on an immune response after contracting the virus.   

Nevertheless, Sweden now has a similar infection rate to the UK with a handful of people are now being admitted to intensive care per week, down from as many as 45 per day at the height of the crisis.

Deaths have also fallen, with 56 fatalities announced in the last week compared to 101 in the previous seven days.

Swedish officials have promised to launch an investigation into the country's coronavirus response.

The commission has a broad mandate to look at how the virus arrived in Sweden, how it spread, the government's response, and the effect on equality.

The commission will report on elderly care at the end of November, although its final conclusions are not due until 2022, ahead



1619 Project Founder Admits It's 'Not a History,' But a Fight to 'Control the National Narrative'

On Monday, Nikole Hannah-Jones, founder of The New York Times‘ “1619 Project,” admitted that her project is not a history and that the battle over it is about “memory” — a fight to “control the national narrative.” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has moved to defund schools that teach the project.

“The fight over the 1619 Project is not about history. It is about memory,” Hannah-Jones tweeted. “I’ve always said that the 1619 Project is not a history. It is a work of journalism that explicitly seeks to challenge the national narrative and, therefore, the national memory. The project has always been as much about the present as it is the past.”

She claimed the 1619 Project “never pretended to be a history,” but said it involves “using history and reporting to make an argument.”

“The fight here is about who gets to control the national narrative, and therefore, the nation’s shared memory of itself. One group has monopolized this for too long in order to create this myth of exceptionalism,” Hannah-Jones added. “If their version is true, what do they have to fear of 1619?”

The 1619 Project aims to redefine America’s past, claiming the country’s true founding occurred in 1619, with the arrival of the first black slaves to Jamestown, rather than in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence. Focusing on race, the project aims to deconstruct various aspects of American society as racist and oppressive.

Yet early on, the project met with criticism from real historians. Hannah-Jones had claimed that “one of the primary reasons” the colonists revolted against Britain in 1776 was to preserve the institution of slavery. Slavery was not one of the motivating factors of the revolution. In fact, the revolution disrupted slavery. The Times eventually had to post an embarrassing correction.

Not to worry, because the 1619 Project isn’t history, Hannah-Jones says. But she also encourages supplemental history curricula based on the project. She also insists that the project is true, even if it isn’t history but rather journalism and narrative.

The 1619 Project isn’t true

Yet the project is not an accurate reflection of American history. For one thing, there were black slaves, and black freedmen, in America for a century before 1619. Whoops!

The Smithsonian Magazine disputed the 1619 Project because the Spanish brought slaves to present-day South Carolina in 1526.

“In 1526, enslaved Africans were part of a Spanish expedition to establish an outpost on the North American coast in present-day South Carolina. Those Africans launched a rebellion in November of that year and effectively destroyed the Spanish settlers’ ability to sustain the settlement, which they abandoned a year later. Nearly 100 years before Jamestown, African actors enabled American colonies to survive, and they were equally able to destroy European colonial ventures,” the magazine reported.

Ignoring these and other pre-1619 slaves “effectively erases the memory of many more African peoples than it memorializes,” the Smithsonian Magazine article argued. Therefore, the New York Times project “silences the memory of the more than 500,000 African men, women, and children who had already crossed the Atlantic against their will, aided and abetted Europeans in their endeavors, provided expertise and guidance in a range of enterprises, suffered, died, and – most importantly – endured.”

Of course, the 1619 Project is also false in a much deeper sense. Its narrative delegitimizes the very real benefits of American freedom and prosperity by claiming that racist oppression is the central truth behind the country’s ideals, while in truth the country was founded in pursuit of freedom and equality but the Founders allowed slavery to persist, laying the groundwork to defeat it eventually.

The pernicious narrative of the 1619 Project also carries devastating effects. At its heart, the project aims to demonize America’s founding and heritage.

The 1619 Project uses Marxist critical theory to demonize America and inspire an unguided and destructive revolution. Portland activist Lilith Sinclair expressed a similar idea when she said, “There’s still a lot of work to undo the harm of colonized thought that has been pushed onto Black and indigenous communities.” As examples of “colonized thought,” she mentioned Christianity and the “gender binary.” She said she organizes for “the abolition of … the “United States as we know it.”

Marxist critical theory encourages people to deconstruct various aspects of society — such as capitalism, science the nuclear family, the Judeo-Christian tradition, even expectations of politeness (as the Smithsonian briefly taught) — as examples of white oppression. This inspires an aimless and destructive revolution.

When vandals toppled a statue of George Washington in Portland, they spray-painted “1619” on the statue. When Claremont’s Charles Kesler wrote in The New York Post “Call them the 1619 riots,” Hannah-Jones, responded (in a since-deleted tweet) that “it would be an honor” to claim responsibility for the destructive riots and the defamation of American Founding Fathers like George Washington.

In a November 9, 1995 op-ed, the 1619 Project founder condemned Christopher Columbus as “no different” from Adolf Hitler and demonized the “white race” as the true “savages” and “bloodsuckers.” She went on to describe “white America’s dream” as “colored America’s nightmare.” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) expressed a similar sentiment when she called for the “dismantling” of America’s “economy and political system,” in order to root out supposed racist oppression.

Yet the “1619 riots” have arguably oppressed black people far more than the U.S. supposedly does. The riots have destroyed black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments. At least 22 Americans have died in the riots, most of them black.

This narrative undermines the positive aspects of America and encourages hatred toward the very country that provides its citizens with an unprecedented degree of freedom and prosperity. It encourages violent riots in the name of racial justice, even though those riots make life concretely worse for black Americans.

The 1619 Project may bring forward the stories of black Americans who have been overlooked in the past, and that would be admirable. But Americans must reject its pernicious aim to twist the national narrative against the Founders, capitalism, and more.




Bill Clinton visited Jeffrey Epstein's private island, unsealed court documents suggest (Fox News)

ACLU sues Portland police to block them videotaping demonstrators (The Daily Wire)

"Peaceful protests": Twenty-four people have died since violence erupted following George Floyd's death (The Daily Caller)

NBA players protest the national anthem as league returns to action (Reuters)

Trader Joe's announces it will not pander to a petition calling product names "racist" (UK Daily Mail)

"Big Four" tech titans Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google add $250 billion to their combined market value (UK Daily Mail)

Grand jury indicts Tennessee Democrat state senator on theft charges (AP)

Chinese and Russian hackers are sanctioned by Europe for the first time (MIT Technology Review)

Policy: COVID eviction moratoriums are unnecessary, unfair, and economically harmful (The Daily Signal)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement