No Minister

Lockdowns: a nightmare of imagination

with 14 comments

After the Apollo 1 fire in January 1967, a rather large investigation to find out what had gone wrong was carried out inside NASA, but also via Congress.

The former wanted to fix the problems and get to the Moon, while the latter, paying the bills, wanted scalps. At least at the lower levels of Apollo Programme Manager and his counterpart at North American aviation, Congress did taste a little blood, as the men concerned were moved to other projects. But it was an Apollo astronaut, Frank Borman (later the commander of the first voyage to the Moon on Apollo 8) who summed up the problem concisely: “We had a failure of imagination”.

More than three decades later, that phrase would be invoked by US intelligence agency people to describe the basic problem that led to the 9/11 attacks, and they determined not to be caught out on that front again. In the months after the attack, various brains tried to imagine what form future terrorist attacks might take, and one of the obvious ones was biowarfare; the introduction of a lethal disease like Ebola. Even then they were a little behind, in that Tom Clancy had already played out that scenario in his 1996 book Executive Orders: it should be noted that the immediate previous book, Debt of Honor, had ended with a suicidal pilot crashing his 747 into Congress while it was in session.

One of the outcomes of this thinking was actually a pre-modern idea – the lockdown of the entire society.

Drs. Hatchett and Mecher were proposing instead that Americans in some places might have to turn back to an approach, self-isolation, first widely employed in the Middle Ages.

How that idea — born out of a request by President George W. Bush to ensure the nation was better prepared for the next contagious disease outbreak — became the heart of the national playbook for responding to a pandemic is one of the untold stories of the coronavirus crisis.

Mecher was an intensive care doctor with no previous expertise in pandemics and Hatchett an oncologist. You’ll love the help they got – from a 14 year old girl:

Laura, with some guidance from her dad, devised a computer simulation that showed how people – family members, co-workers, students in schools, people in social situations – interact. What she discovered was that school kids come in contact with about 140 people a day, more than any other group. Based on that finding, her program showed that in a hypothetical town of 10,000 people, 5,000 would be infected during a pandemic if no measures were taken, but only 500 would be infected if the schools were closed.

She got her name on the CDC 2006 paper, Targeted Social Distancing Designs for Pandemic Influenza, which is very cool, but the primary authors were not experts in immunology or epidemiology. Its conclusion was chilling:

Implementation of social distancing strategies is challenging. They likely must be imposed for the duration of the local epidemic and possibly until a strain-specific vaccine is developed and distributed. If compliance with the strategy is high over this period, an epidemic within a community can be averted. However, if neighboring communities do not also use these interventions, infected neighbors will continue to introduce influenza and prolong the local epidemic, albeit at a depressed level more easily accommodated by healthcare systems.

This was quickly followed by a 2007 CDC paper, Community Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Mitigation in the United States.

Actual epidemiologists were appalled. None more so than Donald Henderson, a US epidemiologist who had capped his career by training for two years at the Epidemic Intelligence Service of the Communicable Disease Center, before moving to Geneva to head the WHO’s smallpox division. In short, he was one of the world’s leading experts in this area. Together with co-authors  Thomas V.Inglesby, epidemiologist Jennifer B. Nuzzo, and physician Tara O’Toole he produced a paper: Disease Mitigation Measures in the Control of Pandemic Influenza. You can read the full version at the link, but here’s the key summary:

Experience has shown that communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social functioning of the community is least disrupted. Strong political and public health leadership to provide reassurance and to ensure that needed medical care services are provided are critical elements. If either is seen to be less than optimal, a manageable epidemic could move toward catastrophe.

Herewith a summary of specific points made by the paper against lockdowns:

  • It is difficult to identify circumstances in the past half-century when large-scale quarantine has been effectively used in the control of any disease… the negative consequences of large-scale quarantine are so extreme that this mitigation measure should be eliminated from serious consideration.
  • [Home quarantine] would also be particularly hard on and dangerous to people living in close quarters, where the risk of infection would be heightened.
  • Travel restrictions, such as closing airports and screening travelers at borders, have historically been ineffective. The World Health Organization Writing Group concluded that “screening and quarantining entering travelers at international borders did not substantially delay virus introduction in past pandemics . . . and will likely be even less effective in the modern era.” The societal costs involved in interrupting all air or train travel would be extreme.
  • During seasonal influenza epidemics, public events with an expected large attendance have sometimes been cancelled or postponed, the rationale being to decrease the number of contacts with those who might be contagious. There are, however, no certain indications that these actions have had any definitive effect on the severity or duration of an epidemicImplementing such measures would have seriously disruptive consequences
  • Schools are often closed for 1–2 weeks early in the development of seasonal community outbreaks of influenza primarily because of high absentee rates, especially in elementary schools, and because of illness among teachers. This would seem reasonable on practical grounds. However, to close schools for longer periods is not only impracticable but carries the possibility of a serious adverse outcome….

Lockdown was not even a real-world epidemiological idea in the first place and showed no actual knowledge of viruses and disease mitigation. It was originally the combination of Bush-era security experts and a high-school computer-based model that had nothing at all to do with real life, real science, or real medicine. So how is that people like Henderson and other highly trained and experienced experts on epidemics did not prevail in the argument. Back to the NYT:

The [Bush] administration ultimately sided with the proponents of social distancing and shutdowns — though their victory was little noticed outside of public health circles. Their policy would become the basis for government planning and would be used extensively in simulations used to prepare for pandemics, and in a limited way in 2009 during an outbreak of the influenza called H1N1. Then the coronavirus came, and the plan was put to work across the country for the first time.

Some years later, a reporter would track down one of the authors of the 2007 paper, Rajeev Venkayya, who made the incredible response that, “lockdowns and shelter-in-place were not part of the recommendations.”

Henderson died in 2016, but given his influence it should hardly be a surprise that during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa, none other than the infamous Dr Fauci said he was opposed to “draconian” quarantines that could have “unintended consequences”. Admittedly he’s no longer trustworthy, thanks to his bureaucratic, CYA flip-flops, but that was his thinking back then.

Even in 2020, there was fightback from expert epidemiologists, starting with John Ioannidis at Stanford Medical School, who published an article, “A Fiasco in the Making? As the Coronavirus Pandemic Takes Hold, We Are Making Decisions Without Reliable Data.”, in which he argued that while a short-term lockdown might make sense, extended lockdowns could prove worse than the disease, and scientists needed to do more intensive testing to determine the risk.

Another Stanford expert, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, joined with Ioannidis on research and papers and in March this year said that:

“I stand behind my comment that the lockdowns are the single worst public health mistake in the last 100 years. We will be counting the catastrophic health and psychological harms, imposed on nearly every poor person on the face of the earth, for a generation… At the same time, they have not served to control the epidemic in the places where they have been most vigorously imposed. In the US, they have – at best – protected the “non-essential” class from COVID, while exposing the essential working class to the disease. The lockdowns are trickle down epidemiology.”

But incredibly these experts were no longer just overruled. They were viciously attacked, as were many others, as this article notes:

[The Ioannidis 2020] article offered common-sense advice from one of the world’s most frequently cited authorities on the credibility of medical research, but it provoked a furious backlash on Twitter from scientists and journalists.

“Scientists whom I respect started acting like warriors who had to subvert the enemy,” he says. “Every paper I’ve written has errors—I’m a scientist, not the pope—but the main conclusions of this one were correct and have withstood the criticism.”

Two veteran science writers, Jeanne Lenzer and Shannon Brownlee, published an article in Scientific American decrying the politicization of Covid research. They defended the integrity and methodology of the Stanford researchers, noting that some subsequent studies had found similar rates of fatality among the infected… Lenzer and Brownlee lamented that the unjust criticism and ad hominem vitriol had suppressed a legitimate debate by intimidating the scientific community. Their editors then proceeded to prove their point. Responding to more online fury, Scientific American repented by publishing an editor’s note that essentially repudiated its own article. The editors printed BuzzFeed’s accusations as the final word on the matter, refusing to publish a rebuttal from the article’s authors or a supporting letter from Jeffrey Flier, former dean of Harvard Medical School.

Buzzfeed defeats Scientific American. That’s how low we have sunk. But wait, there’s more:

Stefan Baral, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins with 350 publications to his name, submitted a critique of lockdowns to more than ten journals and finally gave up—“the first time in my career that I could not get a piece placed anywhere,”

Martin Kulldorff, an epidemiologist at Harvard, had a similar experience with his article, early in the pandemic, arguing that resources should be focused on protecting the elderly…. It was a tragically accurate prophecy from one of the leading experts on infectious disease, but Kulldorff couldn’t find a scientific journal or media outlet to accept the article, so he ended up posting it on his own LinkedIn page. “There’s always a certain amount of herd thinking in science,” Kulldorff says, “but I’ve never seen it reach this level. Most of the epidemiologists and other scientists I’ve spoken to in private are against lockdowns, but they’re afraid to speak up.”

Perhaps all these people are fringe nutters? Kulldorff would eventually join with Bhattacharya and Sunetra Gupta of Oxford to produce the Great Barrington Declaration. In it they urged officials to shield the elderly by doing more tests of the staff at nursing homes and hospitals, while reopening business and schools for younger people, which would ultimately protect the vulnerable as herd immunity grew among the low-risk population.

They managed to attract attention but not the kind they hoped for. Though tens of thousands of other scientists and doctors went on to sign the declaration, the press caricatured it as a deadly “let it rip” strategy and an “ethical nightmare” from “Covid deniers” and “agents of misinformation.” Google initially shadow-banned it so that the first page of search results for “Great Barrington Declaration” showed only criticism of it (like an article calling it “the work of a climate denial network”) but not the declaration itself. Facebook shut down the scientists’ page for a week for violating unspecified “community standards.”

That sounds familiar, and here I thought it was just a Social Media phenomena. Scott Atlas, a medical doctor and health-policy analyst at Stanford, got the worst of it, probably because he joined the Trump Administration to make the same arguments. I love the article’s note that Bill Gates derided him as “this Stanford guy with no background” promoting “crackpot theories.” Sheesh, Gates can’t even produce decent stuff in his area of expertise.

The traditional strategy for dealing with pandemics was to isolate the infected and protect the most vulnerable, just as Atlas and the Great Barrington scientists recommended. The CDC’s pre-pandemic planning scenarios didn’t recommend extended school closures or any shutdown of businesses even during a plague as deadly as the 1918 Spanish flu. Yet Fauci dismissed the focused-protection strategy as “total nonsense” to “anybody who has any experience in epidemiology and infectious diseases,” and his verdict became “the science” to leaders in America and elsewhere.

Fauci should be forcibly retired, with a reduced pension. It should have happened after his AIDS fuckup in the 1980’s, when he was only 40 years old. At a minimum it should have happened after the revelations of the stunts he pulled to get funding to the Wuhan lab studying coronaviruses.

You can read an extensive list of studies on the failure of lockdowns around the world as of April 21, 2021, here. The Spiked site has a list of nations, lockdowns and their failures. New Zealand is not there yet, but as recent decisions have shown, what happened here in 2020 with the L4 lockdown reducing cases to zero, can only be described as a fluke, and it has failed at its second attempt, just like everywhere else.

As the pandemic fades and the years pass, the arguments over lockdowns will be lengthy and intense, as they should be. But this method should never be used again.

Written by Tom Hunter

October 6, 2021 at 5:00 am

14 Responses

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  1. A very illuminating and we’ll written post. I sometimes wonder if Tom was a professional writer in a past life.


    October 6, 2021 at 6:31 am

  2. JSB

    October 6, 2021 at 6:33 am

  3. This is why “conspiracy theories™” take root.

    The whole dystopian nightmare we find ourselves living through is so out of step with common sense that and reality there has to be something else behind it

    I saw sane Epidemiologists being shut out of the debate while hysterics like Shaun (80,000 dead ) Hendy, not an epidemiologist, not even a medical doctor given the bullhorn

    We are queuing to get into the supermarket struggling to breath through masks which as anybody with functioning brain cells know are totally worthless and unhealthy besides – it has to be to condition us into obedience to the diktats of the all wise oracles of Central Big Government as we surrender ever more of our personal autonomy and freedoms

    It has to be a giant psyop – we have given up every damn thing that actually makes life worth living over the past 19 months to “keep ourselves safe”

    To “keep ourselves safe” from something that isn’t even particularly dangerous to the vast majority of us

    Our kindy teacher Prime minister was on my TV yesterday saying that people who want to attend music festivals this summer will have to get their jabs NOW! And people who don’t wont be allowed in

    So we need to get the permission of this ghastly woman to go to a music festival or the pub and this will only be granted if we subject ourselves to injections of her mandated snake oil?

    And nobody is saying what should be said to her which is “Fuck Off”


    October 6, 2021 at 7:27 am

    • Today’s proclamations by the PM is tomorrows fish and chip wrapping. The narrative changes every other day. As for shops, festivals, etc that demand a vaccine certificate, they can get stuffed and won’t see any revenue from me.


      October 6, 2021 at 9:04 am

    • As for shops, festivals, etc that demand a vaccine certificate, they can get stuffed and won’t see any revenue from me.

      The problem is Uncoffined the initial proscriptions on those without up to date “vaccine passports” are just the foot in the door.

      The list of venues and activities will grow, nightclubs today, churches tomorrow and supermarkets the day after,

      In addition the list of items that need to be kept current on your “vaccine passport “ can also be added to,

      And without whatever endorsements the Bureaucrats and Politicians of the future dream up in the name of “public safety” you ability to go about your daily business unimpeded can and will be curtailed

      The term “vaccine passport “ itself which is what is being mooted in public discourse has actually been implemented in Israel and the EU as the “Green Pass Certificate” which is a Covid vaccine passport for now

      But the name doesn’t mention either Covid or Vaccine it does however include a color name, a color that has political connotations, does it not?

      Literally we are being railroaded into the most tyrannical regime in the history of humanity here – and that is not hyperbole


      October 6, 2021 at 12:00 pm

      • I have a slightly different view on this. Shops owned by big corporates will follow along blindly because their employees at shop level will just do as they are told, regardless of whether they agree with it. Smaller private shops will be easier to deal with.
        The other problem that retail have, is getting customers back into shops. I’ve been shopping online via TradeMe, eBay etc all this time, so why would I stop?
        As regards to supermarkets, I simply shop online and get it delivered. There is also a small specialist supermarket nearby who are far more pragmatic to deal with, than Countdown or New World.


        October 6, 2021 at 1:09 pm

  4. Correct again Andrei (as usual)

    What gets me is the herd-like mentality that sees people now blithely accepting vaccine “passports” and never ending “boosters” as if that is just one last hoop to jump thru in order to get “back to normal”

    Porky Roebuck

    October 6, 2021 at 8:30 am

  5. As for Tony Fauci, he’s the J Edgar Hoover of medicine. He controls and eye watering amount of grant money and if he doesn’t like you (he’s a short man who automatically takes an instant dislike to taller people) or your line of research he has power of life and death over your career, research and reputation.

    His 10 year obsession with a singular, one shot cure for HIV was one of his biggest fuck ups.

    . . . but at least J Edgar Hoover despised communism, unlike many in the US government these days.

    Porky Roebuck

    October 6, 2021 at 9:41 am

    • I was told (so don’t take this as gospel because i havent independently verified it) that TF has overseen the hand out of 800BILLION through his career on research. Is it any surprise then that academics / researchers etc keep their mouths shut (out of fear of never getting a cent more).

      Michol Fisher

      October 6, 2021 at 1:49 pm

    • I highly doubt that figure of $800 billion, even over his forty seven year career as the head of NIAID (yes, really).

      NIAID’s 2021 budget was $6,069,619.

      Of course it may be that he’s had a hand in other research allocations in other parts of the government, but again, I still doubt that would come to such a total, even over such a timespan.

      Tom Hunter

      October 6, 2021 at 3:15 pm

  6. As the pandemic fades and the years pass, the arguments over lockdowns will be lengthy and intense, as they should be. But this method should never be used again.

    I don’t know, in that people can be self-justifying to a fault, so could potentially build up a mythology that entrenches their necessity in the consciousness of the every day person who cannot imagine any better scenario.

    Just talked to my youngest son this morning who believes the lockdowns were necessary. Older son is of the same mindset. Both think I’m a bit mad, lol. Have held off talking to them about all this stuff due to wanting them to find their own way. Man, it’s hard.

    I’m not sure if I convinced my youngest he has more chance of dying riding his motorcycle than dying from covid and that his chance of dying from covid is so miniscule, that he shouldn’t worry about it.

    Lucia Maria

    October 6, 2021 at 11:42 am

    • By contrast my kids are even harsher about all this than me. Having said that, they’re perfectly happy to be homebodies; like almost all of Gen-Z they live online lives so the lockdown never worried them at all.

      Tom Hunter

      October 6, 2021 at 11:53 am

    • I’ve found that schoolchildren are suffering from a lack of structure and certainty, which goes right against what any decent parent tries to give their children -stability, confidence, and a can do attitude.
      Attendance at ‘zoom’ meetings with school teachers is well under 50%, which shows the lack of motivation that kids have at the moment.
      People in their Twenties tend to be scared witless.


      October 6, 2021 at 4:04 pm

  7. It seems obvious that this over reaction to the flu is Cindy’s NZ communist party, local internationals, whom have slipped the bit, and are running rampant. It’s the driverless clattering train, out of control. Brexit, Trump, BLM, CRT, Covid communism is a symptom of loss of narrative. You get the feeling the scab is only just hanging on, and about to be ripped free.


    October 8, 2021 at 9:29 pm

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