Saturday, July 11, 2020
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Norway leads the way out of lockdown

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NORWAY has become the first country to break ranks with the lockdown zealot consensus, releasing an official government report declaring lockdown to be unnecessary to end the coronavirus epidemic. Here’s a key excerpt:

‘It looks as if the effective reproduction rate had already dropped to around 1.1 when the most comprehensive measures were implemented on March 12, and that there would not be much to push it down below 1 . . . We have seen in retrospect that the infection was on its way down.’

The director of the country’s public health agency, Camilla Stoltenberg, has been admirably candid about what this means: ‘Our assessment now, and I find that there is a broad consensus in relation to the reopening, was that one could probably achieve the same effect – and avoid part of the unfortunate repercussions – by not closing. But, instead, staying open with precautions to stop the spread.’

She adds this is important so that lockdowns are not used in future if infections rise again or there is a second wave in the winter.

Fraser Nelson of the Spectator calls on the UK government to follow suit and ‘produce an estimate of the R number dating back to February or March’ using ‘observed data – rather than assumptions and models – to measure the lockdown effect’. 

The report is all the more remarkable because Norway has fared much better than neighbouring Sweden, which eschewed a hardline lockdown, and many had decided Sweden had got it wrong (despite Sweden doing better than Italy, Spain and the UK, all of which locked down). Yet here is Norway essentially admitting that Sweden took the better, more evidence-based route.

Regrettably, the report still recommends voluntary social distancing to control the virus. I have written before about how there is no evidence that social distancing makes any difference, but the report does not examine the evidence for this.

So here’s some more.

In mid-March, Stanford University professor of structural biology Michael Levitt analysed the trends in the data from China and correctly predicted the course of the virus first in China and then in the US. 

Here’s what he had to say on March 14: ‘By 30 January there were already 10,000 cases and 170 deaths in China and the number of cases and deaths was growing at 30 per cent a day. It seemed like a doomsday scenario. Looking closely showed that the rate of growth was not fixed as it would be for exponential growth, instead it was decreasing from 29 per cent to 25 per cent to 22 per cent for numbers of deaths on 30th, 31st January and 1st February . . . These decreasing numbers seemed to give hope as it is obvious that when the daily growth in deaths drops to 0 per cent, the infection is over . . .

‘The numbers behaved well: new cases in China peaked on 7th February and new deaths peaked on 16th February, nine days later. This allowed me to quite accurately predict the eventual number of cases in China as 80,000 and eventual number of deaths as 3,500 . . .

‘It is still unclear why the increase in cases and deaths got slower. It could be due to immunity of others who were sick and recovered or who were infected but never showed symptoms while still developing antibodies. It could be social distancing. It could be washing hands well and using a mask if sick. It could be all these things together. Key is that these factors reduced the number of
people a sick person infects from 2.2 to below 1.0, which will stop the exponential growth and the epidemic.’

So let’s see what happens when we apply Levitt’s analysis to Spain. I’ve taken the official death data and applied a rolling seven-day average to smooth it, then plotted the ratio between one day and the next to show the daily growth rate in deaths.

Source: Spanish government death data.

Notice that the daily growth rate is steadily declining until it is below 1 (when infections start to go down). Importantly, it is declining from before any social distancing begins, from at least March 20, which corresponds to March 4 for new infections (if infections are assumed to occur on average 16 days before death, as data from Italy indicates). Madrid, for example, began social distancing on March 11, when its public transport use began to plummet.

Thus Spain conforms to the pattern Levitt found in China and elsewhere, and in Spain’s case social distancing can be ruled out as a cause as it is declining too soon.

Yet more evidence, then, that not only are lockdowns not necessary to tame Covid, neither is social distancing. The epidemic dies down of its own accord as collective immunity is approached, much sooner than has been assumed. The lack of impact from social distancing may be because the virus primarily spreads in hospitals, care homes and private homes rather than in the community.

Norway is leading the way on changing the world’s mind on lockdown fanaticism. Who now will do the same on social distancing, so the ‘new normal’ can simply be a return to the old, and without further costly delay?

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Will Jones
Will Jones
Dr Will Jones is a maths graduate with a PhD in political philosophy and author of Evangelical Social Theology: Past and Present (Grove, 2017).He blogs at https://faith-and-politics.com/

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