Don’t fall for the virus ‘second wave’ narrative

The second wave is here! In Catalonia in Spain and in a few states in the southern United States the doomsayers have found what they were looking for: proof that all this continued social distancing and now enforced mask-wearing is worth it. The narrative has been sealed by swift and decisive UK government action to quarantine all entering from Spain, leaving anyone on holiday facing an unexpected 14-day isolation and those with breaks booked the prospect of having to cancel without refund.

Spain does not agree with the UK’s assessment. ‘Spain is safe, it is safe for Spaniards, it is safe for tourists,’ Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said on Sunday.

This isn’t just wishful thinking. While there has in the past month been a surge in cases, mainly in Catalonia, there has been no corresponding surge in deaths nor in serious cases, which remain notably flat, indicating a surge so far either among the low risk or in the number of tests only.

Source: https://www.catalannews.com/society-science/item/coronavirus-in-catalonia-daily-figures-explained-in-graphs

In the southern US, the surge in cases – which is not really a second wave as it is in states that never peaked in the spring – is matched by a rise in deaths, but these appear already to be plateauing, and at well below the levels of hotspots such as New York and London.

If this is the second wave, it seems we have little to worry about.

This isn’t the message you’ll hear from the mainstream media or their favoured scientists such as Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London (ICL). The American Institute for Economic Research has taken a close look at what the ICL team were predicting for the post-lockdown reopening in five American states, and they are deeply unimpressed. They call it ‘an embarrassing scientific failure’:

‘The ICL model severely overstated the projected mortality associated with reopening in all five states. Actual data do not map on to any of their scenarios, including the broadest of the three predictions for reopening. States that peaked back in March and April show no signs of a resurgence, let alone the predicted resurgence that would surpass the first wave. And states that are undergoing later surges are still well below the ICL team’s predictions – so far below that they barely even register on the graphs.’

This isn’t just true of the US but in Europe too. The reason we’re all talking about a surge in Spain that involves no additional deaths and a surge in Florida that appears already to have peaked is because everywhere else that has been reopening for the past two to three months has not seen any surge beyond small localised outbreaks.

This hasn’t stopped politicians from ratcheting up the panic. Michael Kretschmer, the premier of Saxony in Germany, claimed on Saturday that ‘the second wave of coronavirus is already here. It is already taking place every day. We have new clusters of infections every day which could become very high numbers’. In fact, German daily new cases remain at the same level as mid-May.

Why are there no surges as lockdowns lift? It can only be because, as Professor Sunetra Gupta and her team have suggested, a considerable measure of collective immunity has already been achieved, based not only on antibodies but also on T-cell cross-immunity from other coronaviruses.

New figures from Public Health England (PHE) show that the antibody level across England is 6.5 per cent, rising to 9.9 per cent in London, the worst affected region. This is significantly below the earlier figure given for London of 17 per cent, now that all the data is in.

It has been suggested that this deals a blow to the feasibility of collective immunity preventing a second wave. While the new figure is considerably below the 20 per cent antibody level that Sunetra Gupta’s modelling suggests is necessary for herd immunity, other similar modelling has found the threshold could lie anywhere between 7 and 24 per cent depending on factors such as population density and connectivity. Given that antibody surveys have found (in order of increasing population density) rates of 7.3 per cent in Stockholm, 9.9 per cent in London, 19.9 per cent in New York and 23.5 per cent in Delhi, this seems like well-tuned modelling.

The suggestion that antibody rates like these are a blow to achieving herd immunity reveals a misunderstanding, in that herd immunity is a fact that obtains when an epidemic goes into decline of its own accord, as it did in Stockholm, which was never locked down, New York and London, which peaked before lockdown, and Delhi, which peaked after lockdown was lifted. If the antibody levels in such cases are discovered to be lower than theory dictates then it is the theory that is wrong and must change. Such antibody levels are not a blow to hopes for herd immunity but a blow to the theories which suppose herd immunity must require a higher figure. The failure of scientists, politicians and journalists to grasp this basic point perhaps sums up everything that is wrong with how the mainstream narrative is being handled.

So here we are, contemplating a future of permanent social distancing where contagious diseases akin to the seasonal flu are deemed sufficient grounds for severely and indefinitely curtailing basic liberties and economic life. What many who go along with these restrictions for the sake of public health seem not to appreciate is that even if a vaccine comes within the next 12 months there will be other epidemics, other seasonal viruses, and the same bunker mentality to ‘protect the weak’ by all of us keeping our distance from one another will still be there. In fact, we will never be able to escape from it, until we have leaders who understand, and who impress upon the public, that the cure is worse than the disease.

First published on Conservative Woman.

2 thoughts on “Don’t fall for the virus ‘second wave’ narrative

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  1. Very helpful article, Mr Jones. Thank you. How our society needs to seek the face of the God in whose providence pandemics occur. A nation with no understanding of providence just cannot cope, and fear tends to take over.

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  2. Thanks, Will, for the data and links you have been regularly offering along with calm analysis.

    We have been told that, in common with other respiratory viral infections, Covid-19 is easily spread by droplet infection and surface contact. It has an incubation period, often symptomless, of up to 14 days. Its current manifestations (it may of course mutate) cause anything from no symptoms at all (mostly in younger people) to death (mostly in elderly or otherwise vulnerable people).

    Given those characteristics, it would seem that once such a virus has become established in a densely populated country such as the UK (and where there is a lot of internal travel) that eradication is an unrealistic goal. As with the common cold and with the successive strains of flu that pop up each year (and claim a variable number of victims from year to year), it is partly the relatively mild nature (overall) of the virus that will probably make it impossible to eradicate.

    And we know from experience, usually in the winter months, that respiratory diseases come and go in localised epidemics and at random times. On an individual basis most of us get one ‘cold’ a year; we catch flu (the real flu) much less frequently. And, boy, do we know when we’ve got real flu – it is not a great experience, and it can leave us low for a while afterwards. These experiences probably approximate to how things will settle down with the new Coronavirus. We all hope that treatments will improve and enable doctors and nurses to reduce the death toll of those relatively few people who are seriously affected; a vaccine may play a part in prevention, but the experience with flu is that this is a constantly changing battle from one year to the next.

    Now none of this is information that anyone of normal life experience and reasonable intelligence should have any difficulty in accepting. I hope I’ve roughly got it right. Regarding Covid-19 it could be summarised as: ‘Sooner or later the great majority of people will have been infected with this virus, most will survive perfectly well, a few will suffer rather badly, and some will inevitably die.’

    I have heard plenty of well informed scientists who now roughly agree on this. So what is it about our government, and its medical and scientific advisors, that makes them think their aim should be to stop spread in its tracks no matter what the collateral damage to quality of life, individual freedom, individual responsibility, and the national economy?

    Yes they should certainly offer good advice about how best to build up one’s immunity and recognise and treat symptoms if one catches the virus. But beyond that they should be putting maximum effort into resumption of normal life at full speed while reducing the numbers of deaths to a minimum – as has always been the case with colds and flu.

    Covid-19 may be a greater challenge at this point because it is new, not yet fully understood, and we don’t have a vaccine available. But the principle of how to deal with it is the same. Numbers of infections are not a problem over which we can exert much control short of reducing our individual and national life to rubble; but finding treatments and cures for the very small minority of people whose infections threaten either death or long lasting health problems offers endless possibilities, some of which will work and others not. Already we know a lot more than we did a few months ago. This puts the focus on science and medical services, both of which need to be able to rely on widespread and reliable testing. Has this not always been the case from day one?

    Perhaps we could sum all this up by saying that science is about facts while politics is about narrative. The whole mess of our government’s (and its scientific and medical advisor’s) handling of Covid-19 has been its
    determination to stick to a narrative (of eliminating infection spread) which is unrealistic; it doesn’t fit with the facts of the situation. It has talked its way up a cul-de-sac. It now needs to look at facts, convey them honestly to the people, and concentrate on the science of prevention and cure as a medical issue. The totalitarian nightmare of its attempt to eliminate this particular virus by centralised command and control of everybody’s life needs to end. And then we have to work out how to undo the damage which this awful self imposed nightmare has caused.

    With apologies for such a long comment!

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