No Minister

Posts Tagged ‘Europe

“It is too early to say”

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Zhou Enlai’s famous quote, made during Nixon’s groundbreaking visit to China in 1972, in response to a question about French revolts, was actually not referring to the French Revolution of 1789 but the revolts of 1968.

I was reminded of this while watching the following scenes of people fleeing Paris just the other day before the commencement of a new curfew and lockdown process in response to a second wave of Chinese Lung Rot cases and deaths.

The reason is contained in this graph.

That chart is more than a month old and things have not improved since then for France, or the rest of Europe for that matter. Well – with one notable exception:

Sweden is also experiencing the expected increase in cases, but thanks to their previously despised herd immunity strategy these new cases are not translating into deaths, which is why Sweden is not hitting the panic button and locking themselves into their homes. It’s also why this chart is so painful to look at.

The real tell will come in early January 2021 when the final figures for all deaths in Sweden are confirmed and the excess deaths are seen. If that number is low or statistically insignificant then we’ll know that the Swedish people who died from Chinese Sinus AIDS were the people who would have died from influenza and pneumonia, diseases so similar to Covid-19 that the CDC in the USA has, from the start, tracked daily deaths as “PIC” (Pneumonia, Influenza, Covid-19), knowing how hard it is for post-mortem analysis to confirm the culprit.

Still, even the Europeans must be grateful they’re not run like the US Democrat states of New York and New Jersey.

Incidently, the Zhou link contains probably the best explanation of the reason for the common misinterpretation of Zhou’s comment on France, and also perhaps the perfect explanation for the lockdowns.

“I cannot explain the confusion about Zhou’s comment except in terms of the extent to which it conveniently bolstered a stereotype (as usual with all stereotypes, partly perceptive) about Chinese statesmen as far-sighted individuals who think in longer terms than their Western counterparts,” Freeman said in a follow-up email. “It was what people wanted to hear and believe, so it took” hold.


Written by Tom Hunter

October 31, 2020 at 10:01 am

Lockdowns don’t work. What does?

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It seems appropriate to put this out at the end of our Level 4 lockdown, especially since the regime we’re now entering is not much below it.

This article analysing the effectiveness of lockdowns was published on April 21 so has been able to look at some solid data from the COVID-19 outbreak from Italy, Spain and France where lockdowns happened in early-mid March.

If strict lockdowns actually saved lives, I would be all for them, even if they had large economic costs. But, put simply, the scientific and medical case for strict lockdowns is paper-thin.

At this point, the question I usually get is, “What’s your evidence that lockdowns don’t work?”

It’s a strange question. Why should I have to prove that lockdowns don’t work? The burden of proof is to show that they do work! If you’re going to essentially cancel the civil liberties of the entire population for a few weeks, you should probably have evidence that the strategy will work.

First off though, a lockdown has to be defined:

  1. People are ordered to stay at home or required to provide a reason for movement outside of home. 
  2. Assemblies are limited to a very small (usually single-digit) threshold. 
  3. Many businesses and activities are forced to close, even if they do not technically constitute assemblies and would like to stay open.

Without those three features, it’s not a lockdown, and that list certainly fits New Zealand’s.

First the article looks at the history of lockdowns.

There are very few documented cases of lockdowns being used to fight epidemic diseases in the past. One example where lockdowns were used was to fight Ebola in West Africa. However, it’s hard to study these lockdowns, since they also included a door-to-door campaign delivering information and supplies to almost 70 percent of the impacted areas.

Nor does the 1918 influenza pandemic provide much help to lockdown advocates. The most severe restrictions during that pandemic, which dramatically reduced deaths, were in St. Louis. 

Restrictions – but it wasn’t a lockdown:

St. Louis’s measures included closures of specific assemblies like churches, closure of all “amusements,” restricted business hours, mask orders, school cancellations, and centralized quarantine procedures. St. Louis never issued a stay-at-home order, and only imposed a complete cancellation of business for about forty-eight hours.

Moving to the current situation takes into account the specific data about COVID-19:

At this point, enough research has been done that it’s possible to say with some confidence how long it takes to die of COVID. Across numerous medical studies, COVID has reliably been found to take anywhere from two to ten days to incubate (but most usually four to six days), and from twelve to twenty-four days to kill a person after incubation. Across all studies, these estimate places typical death time at about twenty to twenty-five days after first exposure.

And that time of twenty-twenty five days is important when assessing the effect of a lockdown:

As such, practically speaking, lockdowns should not create an appreciable decline in deaths earlier than twenty days after a lockdown. If deaths begin to decline very rapidly after a policy measure is put in place, it suggests the real force reducing deaths occurred much earlier.

He casts a glance at the lockdown in the Wuhan province but concludes that the Chinese data can’t be trusted (there’s a lot of that going around recently). Instead he looks at the actual results of the lockdowns undertaken by Spain , France and the Lombardy region of Italy. In each case using Change In Daily Deaths vs. 1-Year Previously, to avoid the current issue of incorrectly coding deaths as COVID-19, a problem the Italians are already looking into and which has caused strange one-day spikes in NYC and France.

What we see in Spain’s case, however, is that the spike in deaths plateaued around March 25–30, just ten to fifteen days after the lockdown, and began to fall about eighteen days after the lockdown.

And that can also be seen with the worldometer graph for Spain:

Similarly for France:

France went into lockdown on March 16, but the spike in deaths appears to have more or less stabilized some time between March 25 and April 6—thus, again, before the lockdown could have saved lives by preventing infections.

… and the Lombardy region of Italy:

Again, the death spike in Lombardy had already plateaued or even begun to decline before the region-wide lockdown could have been responsible.

He’s also built models to look at the Netherlands and Sweden, which did not go the lockdown path, plus a county-based analysis of the USA. However, as interesting as that is I don’t think we need it to prove any further the main contention, and in any case it’s plunging down the rabbit-hole of models that got us into this mess in the first place.

It’s enough that comparing Lombardy-Italy, France, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands has shown that:

  • In the nations where lockdown occurred the drops in deaths began too early for the lockdown to have been the cause.
  • Sweden and the Netherland have suffered no worse, and have actually done better, than many lockdown nations despite the claims that refusing lockdown would mean the disease would rip through their nations unimpeded. If that was true they should be much worse off, and they’re not.

And now there is an article in the WSJ where others have crunched the numbers and come to the same conclusion, Do Lockdowns Save Many Lives? In Most Places, the Data Say No!:

To normalize for an unambiguous comparison of deaths between states at the midpoint of an epidemic, we counted deaths per million population for a fixed 21-day period, measured from when the death rate first hit 1 per million—e.g.,‒three deaths in Iowa or 19 in New York state. A state’s “days to shutdown” was the time after a state crossed the 1 per million threshold until it ordered businesses shut down. 

We ran a simple one-variable correlation of deaths per million and days to shutdown, which ranged from minus-10 days (some states shut down before any sign of Covid-19) to 35 days for South Dakota, one of seven states with limited or no shutdown. The correlation coefficient was 5.5%—so low that the engineers I used to employ would have summarized it as “no correlation” and moved on to find the real cause of the problem. (The trendline sloped downward—states that delayed more tended to have lower death rates—but that’s also a meaningless result due to the low correlation coefficient.) 

No conclusions can be drawn about the states that sheltered quickly, because their death rates ran the full gamut, from 20 per million in Oregon to 360 in New York.

Getting back to the first article, it’s not as if the author is recommending doing nothing, which is the straw man response and not true of Sweden or the Netherlands. In fact they are doing what has worked in past pandemics and which he finishes up with as the set of recommendations for dealing with future outbreaks like this one.

But ordering people to cower in their homes, harassing people for having playdates in the park, and ordering small businesses to close up shop regardless of their hygienic procedures simply has no demonstrated effectiveness. 

None of the actual examples of lockdowns around the world provides particularly compelling evidence that lockdowns actually work. We don’t need to have a national debate about whether the economic costs of lockdowns outweigh their public health benefits, because lockdowns do not provide public health benefits.

The actions that do have public health benefits and that have a history of supporting evidence are:

Large-scale centralized quarantine protocols – where individuals who test positive or have had contact with infected people are forced to be quarantined for seven, fourteen, or twenty-one days in hotels or special-purpose spaces – are an extremely effective way to fight infectious diseases, actively reducing their spread to a very low level.
Restrictions on long-distance travel to reduce the occurrence of new outbreaks.
Bans on large assemblies – more than 100 people – are an obvious policy with good support.
School cancellations are hugely important, and reliably show up as a key part of reducing the spread of infection.
Social distancing: empowering people to protect themselves and their neighbors during their everyday lives.
Masks, as were worn during the 1918 flu pandemic.

Written by Tom Hunter

April 28, 2020 at 12:01 pm

A Certain Idea of Europe

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With one deadline for Brexit approaching fast this Friday, March 29, and amidst the growing howling, I recently enjoyed a review of a new biography: De Gaulle, by Julian Jackson, and was struck by a number of passages in the review that seemed very pertinent to Brexit.
(UPDATE: now April 12 after the EU granted May a two week extension, H/T to commentator Count Eggbutt).

The review is by Peter Hitchens and if you’re familiar with Christopher’s religious brother then you’ll already guess that the “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of Christianity from Britain feeds his sad, mournful paens to his dead and dying past.
Of course there are similar pasts to this on the European continent as well, and Hitchens uses this opportunity to repeat the same maudlin attitude, in his review: A Certain Idea of France.
Not that he’s going to let Jackson or his subject off the hook entirely, kicking off the review with this:

Using pick handles and rifle butts, the police force of one of the world’s most civilized countries surrounded and savagely beat hundreds of dark-skinned men. They then threw them into the beautiful river that flows through a city celebrated for its cultural and artistic wonders. Those who were still alive after the beatings were left to drown. 

This was Paris, City of Lights, on the night of October 17, 1961. To this day, nobody knows how many peaceful Algerian protesters died in this episode, concealed for years by menacing state power and a ­compliant press. Most estimates are in the hundreds.

I confess I’d never heard of this event, not being much of a follower of France, its post-WWII history or its politics. Not only that but De Gaulle struck me, long after his death, as a pompous, arrogant figure who just could not accept France’s diminished status in the world. Winston Churchill fought the same fight in the 1920’s, but by the end of WWII had recognised the inevitable.
De Gaulle never did, to the end of his days. Naturally enough Hitchens finds that admirable, and perhaps in terms of stoic courage it is. The biography sounds superb and given that it’s not a history I follow, I think I’ll get it.
But the parts of the review that I thought relevant to today was where he talks about De Gaulle in relation to both the USA and the so-called European Community. While he personalised his fights, De Gaulle knew he was fighting something a lot bigger than one US President.

De Gaulle’s quarrel with ­Roosevelt was based on real loathing. Washington’s vision for postwar Europe, in which the old nations would be diminished and homogenized, was directly opposed to de Gaulle’s idea of a French resurrection in glory and might. Washington loved and promoted the idea of a Europe dominated by supranational bodies, and would later use Marshall aid and the CIA to spread the idea of a European union.

In the hard and non-satirical world, the U.S. also worked ceaselessly to bring an end to the European empires of Britain and France, a cause born out of dogmatic anti-­colonialism. In an American-­dominated world, those empires, including French Algeria, viewed by Frenchmen as part of their country, were doomed.

That’s quite a different viewpoint from the common wisdom served up in my lifetime, where the USA was the aider and abetter of these old colonial powers and their 3rd World machinations. Then there’s Europe, where the same personal/political fights existed for De Gaulle:

In May 1962, de Gaulle would oppose to this his assertion that Europe could not be real “without France and her Frenchmen, Germany and her Germans, Italy and her Italians.” He said (a recording of the performance still exists) that Dante, Goethe, and Chateaubriand “belong to Europe,” precisely because they spoke and wrote as Italians, Germans, or Frenchmen. They would not, he jeered, have served Europe much if they had been stateless and had written in some form of ­Esperanto or Volapük.

Shades of the joke about an EU soccer team. But he turned these arguements into actions too:

Where he could, he continued to act as if he led a sovereign country. He marched France out of the NATO military command. He took Common Market money but acted as if that body had no power over him at all. He particularly despised efforts to form a European Army, and ruthlessly excluded Germany from nuclear weapons research. He spent billions on nuclear weapons which, one must suspect, were targeted as much on Germany as on the U.S.S.R. In his final few months in power, in February 1969, he astonished the British ambassador to Paris, Christopher Soames, with a plan to dilute the Treaty of Rome and put a stop to the European Community’s ambitions for a continental superstate.

In the end of course, he lost. Not just in being booted from power in the midst of the huge French protests of 1968 – which ultimately were very much against him and what he represented – but in seeing his ideas ignored by his successors, particularly François Mitterrand, his old rival.

[Mitterrand] wholly rejected the general’s belief in an enduring, sovereign France. ­Mitterrand had been decorated by Pétain’s collaborationist Vichy government, and like many intelligent Frenchmen, saw 1940 as a moment of truth that France could not thereafter ignore.

De Gaulle’s certain idea of France was replaced by the EU, and it would seem that the Brexiters are fated to go the same way. Hitchens suffers from too much pathos, but the final paragraph should very much strike a chord in the heart of any Brexit voter:

In his fall, many others fell. It was the last brave attempt to raise an ancient banner.

Written by Tom Hunter

March 24, 2019 at 8:07 pm

Posted in New Zealand

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