Where’s the Evidence for the Drastic Measures Against COVID-19?
Written by Rosemary Frei MSc (molecular biologist)
As many national economies are continuing to remain shut down to tackle the COVID19 pandemic scientists with relevant expertise in this field are asking whether the ‘treatment’ is becoming worse than the disease. Rosemary Frei MSc (molecular biologist) offers her take:
- Death rates in China, Italy, South Korea from COVID are in the range of only 0.002% to 0.025% of the population.
- Data being gathered about numbers of cases and deaths are severely lacking in quantity and quality. In addition the numbers that are available appear to be inflated by influential groups and websites, and then echoed by media.
- The draconian measures being put in place for reducing COVID spread such as stringent ‘social distancing’ requirements combined with fines up to $100,000 for people who violate them, and also lock-downs in place for billions of people, are not evidence-based.
- The societal and economic costs of these measures vastly outweigh their benefits to the population.
Once an old, wise man was sitting under a tree when the epidemic god came along. The wise man asked him, “Where are you going?” The god of epidemic replied, “I’m going to the city and I’m going to kill a hundred people there.” On his return journey, the god of epidemic came back to the wise man. The wise man said to him, “You told me that you wanted to kill a hundred people. But travellers told me that ten thousand had died.” The epidemic god said, “I only killed a hundred. The others were killed by their own fear.”
– Zen Buddhist allegory
In very quick succession countries around the world have been closing for business and billions of people’s lives severely disrupted, all because of fear of COVID-19.
Governments are spending trillions of dollars to try and restore their economies. Yet in Canada, at least, financial institutions — which are receiving the lion’s share of this emergency funding — aren’t required in return by the federal government to temporarily forgive payments from the hundreds of thousands if not millions of mortgage holders and small- and medium-sized businesses needing immediate relief. Instead banks only are offering payment deferment. Canadian banks also are not required to drop interest rates on their credit cards.
And renters must still pay their rent on time.
Making the overall situation even worse is a dizzying array of inaccurate information – and it’s coming from health authorities and politicians. (And also from scientists: for example, the March 16 Imperial College of London paper lauded by politicians and the mainstream press as proving that ‘suppression’ – i.e., extreme social distancing measures such as lock-downs – is effective in significantly reducing COVID mortality rate and may have to remain in effect for 18 months – and which convinced U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson to proceed with the lock-down of the entire U.K. — is patently biased. Here is one of several searing critiques of it.)
That inaccurate information includes very weak evidence for the effectiveness of the most stringent measures being used in the war on COVID, such as social distancing. Yet politicians and public-health professionals claim such distancing is highly effective and evidence-based (without offering any proof of this) and impose heavy fines for not maintaining it.
Dr. Joel Kettner, a former Manitoba Chief Provincial Public Health Officer, called CBC Radio’s Cross-Country Checkup on March 22 to express his alarm over the situation.
“In thirty years of public-health medicine I have never seen anything … anywhere near like this. And I’m not talking about the pandemic, because I’ve seen 30 of them, one every year — it’s called influenza and other respiratory-illness viruses that we don’t always know what they are. But I’ve never seen this reaction. And I’m trying to understand why,” said Dr. Kettner, associate professor of Community Health Sciences and Surgery at the University of Manitoba, former Chief Provincial Public Health Officer for Manitoba and former Medical Director of the International Centre for Infectious Diseases.
He said sequestering vast portions of the population, a measure with severe mental- and physical-health effects, is an extreme measure to take when there’s so little proof it works.
“We actually do not have that much good evidence for these social-distancing methods,” said Dr. Kettner. “It was just a couple of reviews in the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s] Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, which showed that although some of them might work, we don’t really know to what degree, and the evidence is pretty weak.”
He pointed also to the striking lack of solid data about such things as: how contagious COVID is; verified numbers of cases and deaths from COVID; and whether each death attributed to the virus is actually caused by the virus or instead by a serious disease the person had before contracting COVID.
(An example I discovered of inaccurate numbers is stats on deaths to date in Italy: the Italian COVID research group — which is the on-the-ground group in Italy directly collecting information about COVID in their country — recorded 5,542 total deaths in Italy to March 24, while the European CDC has the tally to March 24 as 6,077 and Wikipedia records it as 6,820. And the gap keeps growing: as of March 26 the Italian group reported 6,801 total deaths, the European CDC 7,505 and Wikipedia 8,165.)
(And an example of lack of data comes from a question a reporter asked during the March 28, 2020, press conference for Ontario’s chief public-health officials [these are held daily, as are the press conferences for: the City of Toronto’s mayor, Toronto Medical Officer of Health and other city officials such as the fire chief and city manager; the premier; and the prime minister; similarly, local officials give press conferences across the country]. The reporter asked, “What is the recovery rate for people who go into ICU?” [i.e., what percentage of people who are in ICU for COVID recover from it?] Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams responded, “Good question. We know some have recovered from ICU and venting. Our number there is still small, but that would be a good one to collect or understand as we go forward.” In other words, they’re still not collecting that data.)
Dr. Kettner said pronouncements from the World Health Organization (WHO) that COVID is a very grave threat and that countries’ inaction is significantly increasing its danger put immense pressure on public-health physicians and politicians to impose extreme measures very rapidly.
As a result, there has been a rapid-fire series of laws around the world that constrict billions of people’s movements, violating their civil liberties in the process. This is despite the fact that death rates in China, Italy, South Korea and other countries from COVID are in the range of only 0.002% to 0.025% of the population (see the ‘Fact Check’ section below).
The vast majority of North Americans appear to be very willing to comply with these very strict new laws. They trust the WHO, politicians, local officials and media, virtually all of whom amplify the message that millions will die from COVID if these directives aren’t followed to the letter.
The High Toll From the War Against COVID
There’s a long list of devastating social, financial and mental- and physical-health effects of all of this.
All weddings have been cancelled and funerals are now being conducted without attendees. Recreational events of every size, from small concerts to NBA games, are postponed if not cancelled altogether. Even the Tokyo Olympics have been pushed back to next year.
Some hospitals are prohibiting partners of women who give birth to stay longer than two hours after the birth. Emergency departments are turning away people.
Dental clinics and hospitals are only doing emergency procedures. Even some cancer surgeries have been cancelled. All other cases including such things as organ transplants are being delayed. This is to free up ventilators and ICU space in case they’re needed for COVID cases.
There also is an increasingly severe lack of access to health-care professionals because of fear of spread of the virus, and also because many of them are in self-isolation after travelling or testing positive for the virus. In addition, blood banks across the continent have been experiencing severe shortages.
The economic collateral damage from the war against COVID also is unprecedented.
Canada’s Gross Domestic Product is projected to fall by 20% to 30% in the period from April to June. A Canadian Federation of Independent Business survey released March 24 found, among the more than 11,200 businesses that completed the survey, 55% are completely or partially shut down and of the remaining, almost all have laid off staff and/or reduced staff hours, and can’t survive this way much longer.
“We’ve never seen a shock of this magnitude,” Stefane Marion, the National Bank of Canada’s Chief Economist, remarked.
Yet Amazon is thriving. Loblaws and Metro, and American giants Costco and Walmart are also very busy. They are among the main companies people are flocking to for panic buying large quantities of groceries, staples, masks, gloves and cleaning supplies.
Many other very large enterprises also are poised to profit handsomely. For example, in a candid comment about his imminent opportunities to buy other companies, the CEO of Saputo, Canada’s biggest milk producer, said, “Coming into this crisis, some of our competitors were already on very thin ice. Perhaps this might just take them over the edge.”
Experts Speak Out
The starkness of the situation is pushing experts such as Dr. Kettner to go public about the fact that the dangerousness of COVID is being very overblown and that the response is vastly disproportionate.
One example is a March 19 interview of Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi, a high-profile microbiologist from Germany – which, like Canada, the U.S. and a rapidly growing number of other countries, has imposed unprecedented movement and civil-liberty restrictions. He highlighted data showing 99.5% of COVID infections result in either no or only mild symptoms. He called the emergency measures against COVID “grotesque, absurd and very dangerous” and said they “are leading to self-destruction and collective suicide because of nothing but a spook.”
In a March 20 commentary in the New York Times Dr. David Katz, founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Centre in New Haven, Connecticut, called for more-targeted measures to contain COVID.
On March 22 Dr. Kettner, who’s had a 30-year career in public medicine, resorted to calling Cross-Country Checkup. He told host Duncan McCue that public-health officials are receiving low-quality data.
“We’re getting very crude numbers of cases and deaths, very little information about testing rates, contagious analysis, severity rates, who’s being hospitalised, who is in intensive care, who is dying, what are the definitions to decide if someone died of the coronavirus or just died with the coronavirus. There is so much important data that is very hard to get, to guide the decisions about how serious a threat is this.”
He also said that public-health doctors and public-health leaders are under “immense pressure” to implement extreme measures very rapidly.
“That pressure’s coming from various places. The first place it came from was the Director-General of the World Health Organization, when he said this [COVID] is a grave threat and public-health enemy number one. I’ve never heard a Director-General of the WHO use terms like that. Then at the announcement of the pandemic, he said he’s doing it because of a grave, alarming, quick spread of the disease, and an alarming amount of inaction around the world.
“That puts a huge pressure on public-health doctors and leaders and advisors, and a huge pressure on governments,” Dr. Kettner emphasized. “And then you get this what seems like a cascade of decision-making that really puts pressure on the countries and governments – provincial, state – to sort of keep up with this action … which is an over-reaction. I don’t know what’s an appropriate action, but I do know that I’m having trouble figuring this out!”
(Dr. Kettner’s reference to the WHO being an extremely powerful player in the war against COVID is easy to corroborate: for example, on March 23 a WHO official called for aggressive action in India against COVID, and just one day later Prime Minister Nordenra Modi ordered a 21-day lock-down of all of India. There were only 482 cases and 10 deaths attributed to COVID as of March 24 in that country, which has 1.4 billion residents.)
McCue challenged Dr. Kettner over another assertion of his (shown at the beginning of this article), that there’s only very slim evidence for the effectiveness of social distancing.
“I understand that there’s probably quite a bit of literature about studying this, but what’s the basis of your concern then: if the social distancing is debatable, in your mind, what do you worry about [regarding] that?” McCue asked.
Dr. Kettner responded by citing some of the most serious consequences, from massive loss of jobs and shortages of healthcare professionals, to people being afraid of physical contact with each other.
He then explained that the risk of death from COVID is very low.
“In … the [Chinese] province of Hubei — where there’s been the most number of cases and deaths, by far [because the city of Wuhan, where the first COVID cases were reported, is in Hubei] — the actual rate of cases reported is one per thousand people. And the actual rate of deaths reported is one per 20,000 people. So maybe that would help people put things in perspective as to the actual rates and risks of this condition, because it’s a lot lower in every other part of the world, including Italy, and certainly in Canada and the United States.”
Another expert pushing back is Dr. John Ionnidis, a physician-scientist at Stanford (who became prominent in 2005 because of his scientific paper proving that most published medical research is false). In a March 17 commentary he cried foul over the lack of a solid evidence base for the drastic measures being taken against COVID spread.
Dr. Ionnidis also urged, in an extract from a Munk-Debate podcast posted March 27 on the National Post website, that it is imperative to very rapidly gather unbiased data. He said this should cause countries to change how they’re dealing with the virus.
“It could be that we need to continue with lock-downs, but it’s very likely that we would quickly need to abandon blind lock-downs and focus instead on protecting the lives of those who are susceptible, such as the elderly and those with severe underlying diseases,” he said. “At the same time, we would be able to allow people who are very low-risk or have already been infected to return back to normal life and not destroy our planet and civilization.”
However, such unbiased data are rare.
Indeed, Globe and Mail health reporter André Picard noted parenthetically in a March 21 article about a CDC COVID study that, “We can’t yet do this kind of detailed analysis in Canada because provincial officials have a strange allergy to transparency and data sharing: in two-thirds of 800-plus cases, we don’t even know the age of the person infected.”
That’s propelled individuals from the general public such as Jutta Mason of Toronto’s Centre for Local Research into Public Space to compile these statistics themselves. Mason is also trying but failing to pry more data out of Ontario’s health officials. For example, officials still aren’t disclosing which hospitalized cases are moderate and which are severe, nor which non-hospitalized cases are asymptomatic, mild or more serious. They also haven’t started tracking the number of patients who recover after being treated in the ICU, as noted earlier in this article.
This all means critical questions are going unanswered. For example, is the fall in death rate in each area – which, like any other infectious-disease outbreak, usually starts within a few weeks of infections first being detected – the result of the virus completing its natural passage through that community or from the mass isolation of the population? We may never know.
Read the full article at: torontoniansfortransparency.wordpress.com
About the author: Rosemary Frei, MSc, molecular biology; medical journalist for 22 years and now an investigative journalist
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