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Letter: Claims Made On Lockdown Are Inaccurate

Published on: 29 May, 2020
Updated on: 29 May, 2020

From George Potter

Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham

In response to: Lockdown is Trashing the Younger Generation’s Future

John Perkins is not, to my knowledge, an epidemiologist, scientist or public health expert. Despite this, he makes some very bold, and categorical claims in his letter. But he does not provide any evidence of these claims and several of them are simply untrue and inaccurate.

Since journalism at The Dragon does not apparently extend to fact-checking reader’s letters, I have attempted to do the job by going through the letter to correct the most obvious inaccuracies.

1. “the absence of any real information [about lockdown]”

This is demonstrably false. Whilst it is indeed the case that parts of government scientific advice reports are redacted there is still a wealth of real information in reports released by the government, in reports from the Independent SAGE, from the WHO and from the governments of most countries in the developed world.

There are also multiple fact-checking organisations which have collated, analysed and given a verdict on most of the important claims and advice being issued about lockdown.

2. “There are reports that nearly half of the population is now ignoring the rules”

A citation for this claim is badly needed. I am someone who follows this topic very closely and I have not seen (and nor can I find) any study, poll or report indicating that this is the case. Not only is it not the case that “nearly half the population is now ignoring the rules”, it also appears to be the case that there aren’t even any news or tabloid reports of the same.

3. “It appears that people were frightened into accepting a situation which is unarguably destroying the economy whilst nobody knows if it offers much, or any, protection from the virus.”

This is patently untrue. Not only do infection rates in countries around the world, before and after lockdowns were imposed, demonstrate the impact that lockdowns have in reducing spread, there is also a wealth of scientific and public health information, evidence, modelling and research saying exactly the same thing.

There is also the claim that the lockdown is “unarguably” destroying the economy when, if anything, there is a substantial body of evidence suggesting that without a lockdown many people would still have started isolating themselves and avoiding non-essential shopping, socialising and work which would have had an immense economic impact regardless of whether a lockdown was imposed or not.

In fact, retailers report that footfall and sales dropped dramatically (by around 80%+) in the two weeks prior to lockdown being announced.

4. “If the risk at one metre is low then that at two is infinitesimal. Out of doors, the risk at one metre is practically zero.”

Once again these are some very definitive claims without a shred of evidence being provided. In reality, the WHO recommends at least one metre’s distance based on a 1930s study of the spread of spray droplets from flu. The UK and US health authorities, meanwhile, recommend at least two metres distance on the basis of a study of the spread of SARS in 2003 which found that one metre was insufficient to prevent spread.

Germany, meanwhile, recommends a distance 1.5 metres when standing still and talking, but recommends two metres if walking and even greater distances if undertaking activities like running or cycling because of the difference in breathing and the spread of particles through the air.

As such there is no evidence whatsoever to say “the risk at one metre is practically zero” out of doors.

There has been no research published on the specific spread of Covid-19 yet but, based on previous diseases, there is clear evidence suggesting that one metre reduces risk but may not eliminate it entirely if dealing with a disease like SARS. Therefore it is quite reasonable for different authorities to have opted for different recommended minimum distances, but despite that, there is no reputable health authority suggesting that one metre, or even two metres, reduces the risk to zero or even “practically” zero.

5. “…there is a lot more information now and there can be no excuse for persisting with old policies”

What is this new information? Where does it come from?

I haven’t seen, and cannot find, any scientific information suggesting that lockdowns and isolation are now obsolete (as the letter appears to be suggesting) and no such evidence is provided within the letter itself.

To make such a bold claim the onus is on the person making the claim to provide substantiation for what they are saying and none has been provided.

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test 3 Responses to Letter: Claims Made On Lockdown Are Inaccurate

  1. John Ferns Reply

    May 29, 2020 at 7:23 pm

    In response to one small point George Potter raises in his admirable analysis of John Perkins letter, “In fact, retailers report that footfall and sales dropped dramatically (by around 80%+) in the two weeks prior to lockdown being announced.” I would question this assertion.

    Lockdown in the UK was March 24. In the fortnight before, on March 14, a state of emergency was declared in Spain (one of the most heavily affected European nations) and just three days earlier, on March 11 the Liverpool v Athletico Madrid Champions League match was allowed to be played at Anfield to a packed house of Spanish and English supporters.

    Furthermore, the international Cheltenham Festival of horse racing was allowed to go ahead between March 16-19 and to make matters worse, our television screens were filled with pictures of off-duty workers partying “as if there was no tomorrow” right up to the last minute (midnight March 23) in London & other city pubs.

    So, by and large, I question if there was an 80% downturn… I certainly was unable to get loo rolls, paracetamol and sanitizing jel (and I tried hard) in the 10 days before March 24.

    Am I nitpicking Mr Potter’s analytical and admirable critique? I hope not.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    May 30, 2020 at 5:36 am

    A decent analysis by George Potter, but rather spoiled, as he can’t resist having a pop at The Dragon’s journalism.

  3. John Perkins Reply

    May 31, 2020 at 10:44 am

    George Potter asserts that I am not “an epidemiologist, scientist or public health expert”. Quite so, though nor is he. We are all entitled to question the opinion of experts without having to study and pass exams first. In a situation where known facts are few and far between, claims to know the truth or otherwise should not be accorded much authority.

    In response to his other points and in support of my opinions:

    1. It’s the reports from SAGE which are redacted. We have to take its independence on trust, though for a long time its members were hidden from our eyes, but we can say it is (or perhaps was) unaccountable and secretive.

    2. No citation is needed, go look at the beaches and beauty spots. Count the number of police out harassing sunbathers and the number of fines they’ve issued. Two easily found references are: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-52587368 and http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2020/may/just-over-half-adults-strictly-sticking-lockdown-guidelines-confidence-government-falls.

    3. Infection rates do not demonstrate the impact of lockdowns. They are largely estimates of the actual situation and it is counterfactual to claim that they provide any insight into what might have happened otherwise.

    The huge drop in GDP and increase in unemployment is unarguable and it’s nonsense to claim that it would have happened anyway. Ask any restaurateur, publican, dentist or tradesman if they would have chosen to close their business.

    Data published by the House of Commons Library and provided by Springboard (https://www.spring-board.info/benchmarks) show an 80% drop in footfall between the week before and the week after the imposition of lockdown, not the “two weeks prior”.

    4. If, for the sake of argument, the risk of infection at one metre is 1% (10 times higher than that suggested by research), then the additional protection at two metres, according to the chief medical officer, is between 0.03% and 0.1%. It’s not unreasonable to describe that as negligible or practically zero.

    Maybe Mr Potter knows some facts that I don’t, in which case I’m willing to listen to them.

    There is a useful review of various studies here: first10em.com/droplets-spread-more-than-2-meters-a-systematic-review, which attempts to show how many virus particles are produced by various human activities and how far they travel. It states that 99.9% of virus particles are contained in large droplets, which fall to the ground within one metre in less than one second.

    It’s not known how many virus particles are required for infection to take hold, though it is known that infection from contact with contaminated droplets can be mitigated by not transferring them to the face. So it’s not possible to give a probability of the risk at any distance. My advice is: if someone spits on your shoes, don’t lick ’em clean.

    5. Is this an attempt to suggest that no new data has become available in the last three months?

    I didn’t say that lockdown is obsolete only that it was time to end this one. There comes a point when any benefit is outweighed by the harm done. Many people are suffering toothache because they cannot access a dentist and many are suffering backache because they can’t get to an osteopath or chiropractor.

    Worse, recently three people died in Cornwall because of lockdown; there were no lifeguards or equipment to warn of the danger or to help them when they got into difficulty.

    Statistics published by The Actuary (http://www.theactuary.com/2020/05/14/covid-19-results-around-60000-excess-deaths), based on ONS data, suggest that up to May 11 there were between 56,000 and 63,000 excess deaths in the UK compared with the previous five years.

    Only some 41,000 Covid-related deaths were recorded, up to May 15. If the deaths were recorded correctly, the conclusion must be that 15-22,000 excess deaths (up to a third) were caused by something else. Lockdown is most plausible as it’s the only other significant difference between now and those earlier years.

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