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.
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.