breaking news from the world of ideas

by Freddie Sayers
Thursday, 21
May 2020

Banned by YouTube: Professor Karol Sikora discusses Covid-19

Note: this is the video that YouTube took down for “violating guidelines”. They rejected our appeal to have the video reinstated.

Judge for yourself if it is dangerous material…

We had a wide-ranging discussion, in which he said:

The virus is ‘getting tired’
– In the past two weeks, the virus is showing signs of petering out
– It’s as though the virus is ‘getting tired’
– It’s happening across the world at the same time

There is existing herd immunity
– The serology results around the world (and forthcoming in Britain) don’t necessarily reveal the percentage of people who have had the disease
– He estimates 25-30% of the UK population has had Covid-19, and higher in the group that is most susceptible
– Pockets of herd immunity help *already* explain the downturn
– Sweden’s end result will not be different to ours – lockdown versus no lockdown ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Friday, 15
May 2020

The post Covid blocs are beginning to emerge

We are beginning to see what a medium-term Covid world might look like. The ‘suppression’ strategy is winning out across the western and Asian world — country after country is opting to keep the virus completely at bay indefinitely, or until a vaccine.

The other side of this, of course, is that once you have almost no virus you have to shut your borders to preserve the purity of your virus-free kingdom: New Zealand is now completely closed to visitors; Hong Kong tests everyone on arrival.

One step further on from this will be pacts between neighbouring countries that share a common approach and similar levels of infection. In what has caused some understandable unease at a EU level, the young Chancellor of Austria has proposed a ‘travel corridor’ between Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic, that could even stretch as far as Greece, allowing the uninfected peoples of those countries to access the Mediterranean without fear of contamination. Are antibody-carrying persons with immunity passports going to be allowed into these special zones, I wonder? Britain is in discussions with France about a travel pact; the Baltic states have already agreed one...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Tuesday, 5
May 2020

German virologist: Covid-19 is less deadly than feared

The deadliness of Covid-19, measured by the “Infected Fatality Rate” or what percentage of infected people end up dying, has become an issue of global significance.

At UnHerd, we’ve spoken to experts at both ends of the range of estimates, from Neil Ferguson (who believes the IFR to be just under 1%, perhaps 0.8-0.9%) to Johan Giesecke who maintains that it is nearer 0.1%, or one in a thousand.

This may sound like splitting hairs — they are both under one percent after all — but in reality the difference between these estimates changes everything. At the lower end, a much more laissez-faire policy becomes possible, and at 30,000 deaths it starts to look like the UK has already been through the worst of it; at the higher end, a policy of continued ultra-caution is necessary because a more relaxed approach could mean hundreds of thousands of additional deaths. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Saturday, 2
May 2020

Nobel prize-winning scientist: the Covid-19 epidemic was never exponential

As he is careful to point out, Professor Michael Levitt is not an epidemiologist. He’s Professor of Structural Biology at the Stanford School of Medicine, and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for “the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.” He’s a numbers guy — as he told us in our interview, his wife says he loves numbers more than her — but then, much of modern science is really about statistics (as his detractors never tire of pointing out, Professor Neil Ferguson is a theoretical physicist by training).

With a purely statistical perspective, he has been playing close attention to the Covid-19 pandemic since January, when most of us were not even aware of it. He first spoke out in early February, when through analysing the numbers of cases and deaths in Hubei province he predicted with remarkable accuracy that the epidemic in that province would top out at around 3,250 deaths. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Wednesday, 29
April 2020
Seen Elsewhere

Johan Giesecke stands firm: death rates in Sweden will go down

Swedish Professor Johan Giesecke has given a follow-up interview to the main Swedish broadsheet, Svenska Dagbladet, in which he responds to Professor Neil Ferguson’s interview on UnHerd: “I know [Ferguson] a little and he is normally quite arrogant, but I have never seen him as tense and nervous as during that interview,” he said.

Giesecke stands by his fundamentally different assessment of the threat of the Covid-19 threat:

Ferguson modified quite a few of the straightforward statements [from his report], but still seems to think that the lethality is somewhere at just under one percent, while I think it is actually much lower, perhaps as low as 0.1%.
- Johan Giesecke

He flatly rejects Professor Ferguson’s prediction that deaths in Sweden will continue to rise.

No, on the contrary, I think the number will go down — although it may tick up slightly when we get an outbreak in West Götaland or Skåne [provinces of Sweden that have so far been less badly affected].
- Johan Giesecke

Challenged on the apparent success of New Zealand in eliminating the virus completely, with a highly interventionist approach, Professor Giesecke asked whether that will really look like success in the long term: ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Thursday, 23
April 2020

Meet Claire Ainsley, Keir Starmer’s intriguing new Head of Policy

Whatever his rhetoric during the leadership campaign, Keir Starmer — North London liberal, member of Corbyn’s top team, Remainer and technocrat — has seemed perfectly poised to continue the Labour Party’s shift from a party of the regional working class to a party for graduates and the metropolitan young.

By putting Lisa Nandy — the most ‘Leave-friendly’ of the leadership candidates — in the shadow Foreign Secretary job he has kept her away from her main agenda of towns and left-behind places. Sure enough her first move in post was to wade in on Israeli settlements in the West Bank (hardly the number one priority for the old ‘red wall’ seats Labour so desperately needs to get back). ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Friday, 17
April 2020

Swedish expert: why lockdowns are the wrong policy

That was one of the more extraordinary interviews we have done here at UnHerd.

Professor Johan Giesecke, one of the world’s most senior epidemiologists, advisor to the Swedish Government (he hired Anders Tegnell who is currently directing Swedish strategy), the first Chief Scientist of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and an advisor to the director general of the WHO, lays out with typically Swedish bluntness why he thinks:

  • UK policy on lockdown and other European countries are not evidence-based
  • The correct policy is to protect the old and the frail only
  • This will eventually lead to herd immunity as a “by-product”
  • The initial UK response, before the “180 degree U-turn”, was better
  • The Imperial College paper was “not very good” and he has never seen an unpublished paper have so much policy impact
  • The paper was very much too pessimistic
  • Any such models are a dubious basis for public policy anyway
  • The flattening of the curve is due to the most vulnerable dying first as much as the lockdown
  • The results will eventually be similar for all countries
  • Covid-19 is a “mild disease” and similar to the flu, and it was the novelty of the disease that scared people.
  • The actual fatality rate of Covid-19 is the region of 0.1%
  • At least 50% of the population of both the UK and Sweden will be shown to have already had the disease when mass antibody testing becomes available
  •  ...  Continue reading

    by Freddie Sayers
    Monday, 6
    April 2020

    To relieve our parks, open the golf courses

    Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said on Sky News this morning that, in his view, it was a mistake for parks in London such as Brockwell Park and Victoria Park to close. Of course it is — it must be possible to maintain order and disperse the minority of people who are failing to observe social distancing — so why doesn’t the Government simply force them to stay open? It’s not like they’ve been shy about taking sweeping centralised powers during this crisis.

    I suggested in an earlier post that parks could innovate to make social distancing easier (perhaps creating one-way circuits and booking slots to avoid overcrowding) but to shut their gates and force people onto streets and canals to get fresh air seems actively dangerous. ...  Continue reading

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