UPDATE 11. October 2020: COVID Shocker: WHO Does Policy U-Turn, Condemns Use of Lockdowns
Nobel prize winning scientist Prof Michael Levitt: lockdown is a “huge mistake”
"The Covid-19 epidemic was never exponential"
BY FREDDIE SAYERS - 02. May 2020
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.
Nobel prize winning scientist Prof Michael Levitt: lockdown is a “huge mistake”
•May 2, 2020
In this interview with Freddie Sayers, Executive Editor of UnHerd, Professor Levitt explains why he thinks indiscriminate lockdown measures as “a huge mistake,” and advocates a “smart lockdown” policy, focused on more effective measures, focused on protecting elderly people.
His observation is a simple one: that in outbreak after outbreak of this disease, a similar mathematical pattern is observable regardless of government interventions. After around a two week exponential growth of cases (and, subsequently, deaths) some kind of break kicks in, and growth starts slowing down. The curve quickly becomes “sub-exponential”.
This may seem like a technical distinction, but its implications are profound. The ‘unmitigated’ scenarios modelled by (among others) Imperial College, and which tilted governments across the world into drastic action, relied on a presumption of continued exponential growth — that with a consistent R number of significantly above 1 and a consistent death rate, very quickly the majority of the population would be infected and huge numbers of deaths would be recorded. But Professor Levitt’s point is that that hasn’t actually happened anywhere, even in countries that have been relatively lax in their responses.
He takes specific issue with the Neil Ferguson paper. “In a footnote to a table it said, assuming exponential growth of 15% for six days. Now I had looked at China and had never seen exponential growth that wasn’t decaying rapidly.”
The explanation for this flattening that we are used to is that social distancing and lockdowns have slowed the curve, but he is unconvinced. As he put it to me, in the subsequent examples to China of South Korea, Iran and Italy, “the beginning of the epidemics showed a slowing down and it was very hard for me to believe that those three countries could practise social distancing as well as China.” He believes that both some degree of prior immunity and large numbers of asymptomatic cases are important factors.
He also observes that the total number of deaths we are seeing, in places as diverse as New York City, parts of England, parts of France and Northern Italy, all seem to level out at a very similar fraction of the total population. “Are they all practising equally good social distancing? I don’t think so.” He disagrees with Sir David Spiegelhalter’s calculations that the totem is around one additional year of excess deaths, while (by adjusting to match the effects seen on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship) he calculates that it is more like one month of excess death that is need before the virus peters out.
More generally, he complains that epidemiologists only seem to be called wrong if they underestimate deaths, and so there is an intrinsic bias towards caution. “They see their role as scaring people into doing something, and I understand that… but in my work, if I say a number is too small and I’m wrong, or too big and I’m wrong, both of those errors are the same.”
He believes the much-discussed R0 is a faulty number, as it is meaningless without the time infectious alongside.
He describes indiscriminate lockdown measures as “a huge mistake,” and advocates a “smart lockdown” policy, focused on more effective measures, focused on protecting elderly people.
I think the policy of herd immunity is the right policy. I think Britain was on exactly the right track before they were fed wrong numbers. And they made a huge mistake. I see the standout winners as Germany and Sweden. They didn’t practise too much lockdown and they got enough people sick to get some herd immunity. I see the standout losers as countries like Austria, Australia and Israel that had very strict lockdown but didn’t have many cases. They have damaged their economies, caused massive social damage, damaged the educational year of their children, but not obtained any herd immunity.
There is no doubt in my mind, that when we come to look back on this, the damage done by lockdown will exceed any saving of lives by a huge factor. - PROFESSOR MICHAEL LEVITT
He is philosophical about the future and sees this as a generational mistake:
I think this is another foul-up on the part of the baby boomers. I am a real baby boomer — I was born in 1947, I am almost 73 years old — but I think we’ve really screwed up. We’ve caused pollution, we’ve allowed the world’s population to increase threefold in my lifetime, we’ve caused the problems of global warming and now we’ve left your generation with a real mess in order to save a relatively small number of very old people. - PROFESSOR MICHAEL LEVITT
It’s a view that doesn’t fit the narrative, but which we felt deserved to be heard.
Please forgive quality issues on the video: Prof Levitt was joining us down the line from Tel Aviv and we had intermittent bandwidth issues which have done our best to edit out.
COVID Shocker: WHO Does Policy U-Turn, Condemns Use of Lockdowns
By 21CNEWS WIRE - 11. October 2020
This latest policy u-turn by the World Health Organization (WHO) could make life awkward for fanatical lockdown governments in the UK, Australia and Spain, as well as in states like New York.
Yesterday, WHO lead official Dr. David Nabarro appealed to world leaders to stop “using lockdowns as your primary control method” of suppressing COVID-19.
“Lockdowns just have one consequence that you must never ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer,” said Dr. Nabarro.
He went on to warn western governments that draconian lockdown policies are only achieving one thing – unnecessary poverty and suffering.
At no point did he state that medieval-style lockdown measures have ‘saved lives.’
This goes directly against repeated statements by WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has advocating for lockdowns all along, saying that, “[L]ockdowns enabled many countries to suppress transmission and take the pressure off their health systems.”
It still remains to be seen whether this change in envoy Dr Nabarro’s own stance will be reflected in the WHO’s overall global policy recommendations on COVID.
Increased economic and social devastation from previous WHO policy recommendations have already triggered a wave of dissent across the world as more people begin to realise that lockdowns never really worked to begin with.
During a recent interview with British magazine, The Spectator, Dr Nabarro said, “We in the World Health Organisation do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus.”
The intention of his statement was clear, as he categorically rebuked the use of lockdowns by authoritarian governments in the UK and elsewhere:
“The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganise, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we’d rather not do it.”
He also blamed reckless lockdown policies and obsessive travel restrictions as being responsible for decimating delicate economies which rely on tourism to survive, as well as strangling small farmers in poorer regions:
“Just look at what’s happened to the tourism industry in the Caribbean, for example, or in the Pacific because people aren’t taking their holidays.”
“Look what’s happened to smallholder farmers all over the world. … Look what’s happening to poverty levels. It seems that we may well have a doubling of world poverty by next year. We may well have at least a doubling of child malnutrition.”
Dr Nabarro is instead advocating for practical and science-based approach to dealing with the risk of Coronavirus:
“And so, we really do appeal to all world leaders: stop using lockdown as your primary control method. Develop better systems for doing it. Work together and learn from each other.”
Dr Nabarro’s message has come just a week after the release of the Great Barrington Declaration drafted by a group of the world’s top epidemiologists including Dr. Sunetra Gupta of the University of Oxford, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University, and Dr. Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University – which has declared lockdowns as doing “irreparable damage” to economies and societies.
“As infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists, we have grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies, and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection…. Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health,” reads the declaration now signed by thousands of scientists, health officials and concerned citizens.
It now remains to be seen if lockdown states will heed the advice of the same WHO which helped lead them into this debacle to begin with.