The latest medical and political coronavirus developments.
Lockdowns in retrospect
A recent preprint meta-analysis by researchers from Denmark (Center for Political Studies), Sweden (Lund University) and the US (Johns Hopkins University) found that lockdowns in the spring of 2020 had no significant impact on mortality. Moreover, the authors highlight that the many “simulation studies” that claimed otherwise essentially presupposed that the entire decline in infections had been due to “measures”, when in reality the decline had been a natural phenomenon.
Meanwhile, the World Bank confirmed that it was lockdowns, not the pandemic itself, that caused an “historically unprecedented increase in global poverty” of close to 100 million people (!), especially in developing countries: “When the pandemic broke out, many developing countries responded in ways similar to high-income countries; by locking down major parts of their economy. These lockdowns decreased incomes and employment, causing an increase in extreme poverty. In 2021, the appetite for lockdowns has been smaller.”
Lockdowns and school closures have also had a devastating and entirely unnecessary impact on school children. In Uganda, for instance, schools remained closed for a full 80 weeks. According to a government report, this has led to about 50% of children stop learning altogether, and about 30% of children are projected to not return to school anymore due to “teenage pregnancies, early marriages, and child labour”; two academic years were lost and over 4,000 schools closed down due to “financial distress”.
Meanwhile, The Economist has published a ranking of how well 23 advanced economies have performed throughout the pandemic, based on five measures that include GDP, household income, share prices, investments, and public debt to GDP. No-lockdown Sweden came out third, whereas lockdown bastions Germany, Austria and Spain, but also stop-and-go Britain and (interestingly) Japan, came out last. First is Denmark (a kind of European Singapore) and second (interestingly) Slovenia.
Preemptive lockdowns in support of sustained border controls may have made sense in some places (e.g. in Iceland, Australia and New Zealand), but to understand what a “zero covid” strategy in a large country really looks like, one has to study the situation in China, which continues to lock down entire megacities upon first confirmed infections and send tens of thousands of people into makeshift quarantine camps (see the eye-opening Twitter video channel of “Songpinganq”).
Figure: Chinese quarantine camp in Shijiazhuang for 4,000 people (2021)
Face masks: facing reality
Face masks may have protected some people in some situations, but at the epidemiological level, they have made absolutely no difference. This is not surprising: in September 2019, just a few months prior to the outbreak of the covid pandemic, the WHO published a review of ten randomized controlled trials of face masks against influenza-like illness, none of which found any significant benefit.
Furthermore, data from Germany and Austria has shown that even N95/FFP2 masks have had absolutely no impact on infections. This may seem counter-intuitive to some, but it is probably due to the key role played by ubiquitous indoor aerosols.
The US CDC recently published yet another bogus “follow the politics” study claiming to show face masks are effective, but it got debunked within hours. Back in December, three US statisticians carefully re-analyzed the notorious “Bangladesh study” and found that it, too, showed no benefit of face masks.
Furthermore, mass PCR testing and “contact tracing” have also largely been in vain (as was to be expected based on prior epidemiological knowledge), with the partial exception of some high-risk locations and border controls. Without PCR tests, an old-style two-weeks general quarantine for incoming travelers would probably have applied.
In sum, the enormous amounts of money that have been spent on largely ineffective and often traumatizing “control measures” should have been invested in clinical infrastructure, personnel and treatments (including early treatment) to actually help real patients.
Figure: FFP2/N95 masks in German states: no difference
Coronavirus origins: made in China or made in USA?
By now it is broadly accepted that the novel coronavirus very likely emerged from virological research (SPR estimate: >95% likelihood), as SPR readers have of course known since late spring of 2020 (based on research by DRASTIC and others).
Within the lab scenario, however, there are still two major possibilities: a simple lab leak in Wuhan (current SPR estimate: 60%), or some type of involvement of the US (e.g. a leak from a US lab or a targeted release disguised as a Chinese leak; current SPR estimate: 40%).
To get the latest facts on the first possibility, read Thunder out of China, the latest piece by DRASTIC co-founder Yuri Deigin, who shows, down to specific research projects and researchers in Wuhan, how SARS-CoV-2 might have emerged there. Such a lab leak in Wuhan might certainly explain the cover-up both in China and in the US, as US institutions and researchers were closely collaborating with the Chinese.
To explore the second possibility, read Is Wuhan a Red Herring? by anonymous investigator The Requestor, who reviews the mysterious shut-down of Fort Detrick in June 2019, the mysterious respiratory disease outbreaks in nearby nursing homes in July 2019, the subsequent and still mysterious supposed “vaping” lung disease epidemic in the US, and genetic evidence indicating that the coronavirus may not have originated in Wuhan.
Blaming a chemical or biological agent on a geopolitical adversary is nothing new: in 2001, the US tried to blame the anthrax letters on Iraq (it was a US or Israeli operation); in 2013, the US tried to blame a sarin gas attack near Damascus on the Syrian government, even referring to the exact chemical composition of the gas. It later turned out that the gas attack was run by US-supported Islamist militias, while the scientist who had developed the Syrian sarin program was a long-time CIA asset.
Figure: Coronavirus made in China?
Vaccines: safe and effective?
Covid vaccines strongly reduced covid hospitalization and death rates in 2021, but they did not stop coronavirus transmission, and even protection against severe disease decreased to about 50% within six to nine months, especially in senior citizens.
While some vaccine skeptics have denied vaccine protection altogether, some vaccine promoters and even some health authorities have exaggerated it and continue to do so.
Classic tricks to exaggerate vaccine protection include: counting the first two weeks after vaccination as “unvaccinated” (or single vaccinated); counting hospitalized patients without vaccination status (up to 80% in some places) as “unvaccinated”; counting PCR-positive pregnant women as “unvaccinated covid patients” (up to 30% of “covid patients” in some places); performing dubious age-adjustments; or using outdated population estimates.
Vaccine effectiveness against omicron (which has a 90% lower death rate anyway) remains somewhat uncertain. The CDC claimed 80%-90% protection against hospitalization, but this doesn’t seem plausible. Independent analyses found zero protection with two doses and 50% to 80% (short-term) protection with three doses.
In terms of long-term immunity, previously infected people continue to show by far the best protection against both (re-)infection and severe disease, as even the US CDC recently acknowledged. Thus, any attempt to discriminate against “unvaccinated” people has no medical or epidemiological justification whatsoever.
A fascinating study on natural immunity by the German Paul Ehrlich Institute found a stable level of antibodies beyond 14 months even after mild infection. The study also found eight-fold differences in sensitivity of antibody test devices (e.g. 100% with Roche vs. 12% with Abbott after 14 months), a very important issue noted by SPR already back in June 2020.
In terms of vaccine safety, SPR first highlighted an excess mortality signal in the wake of the Israeli vaccination campaign in late March 2021, in parallel to a “murky wave of heart attacks” confirmed by local Israeli doctors. Since then, a similar unexplained non-covid excess mortality during or immediately after vaccination or (especially) booster campaigns has been observed in numerous countries, both in senior citizens and in young people (especially young males).
Such unexplained non-covid excess mortality has been seen in British data and especially in British male teens (who face the highest risk of myocarditis); in many other European countries (including Nordic countries); in Germany and in Switzerland; in Iceland; and even in New Zealand (see this report and this video analysis). In the USA, excess mortality is out of control anyway (record drug overdoses, homicides etc.).
There are a few alternative explanations, such as old people not having died in 2020 (due to an absence of the flu) dying in 2021, but overall the situation really looks somewhat concerning in terms of vaccine and booster safety (see our updated overview).
Austrian pharmacology professor Dr. Hartmut Glossmann, one of the most cited Austrian scientists in the world, has proposed the following vaccination exclusion criteria:
- All persons below 40 years of age (myocarditis risk)
- Persons who have recovered (robust immunity, myocarditis risk)
- Persons with heart failure, cardiac issues, myocardial infarction, hypertension
- Long Covid (spikes in monocytes, risk of “post-vaccination syndrome”)
- “Post-vaccination syndrome” (risk of prolongation)
- Persons with previous thromboembolic events, TIA or stroke
- Individuals with factor V Leiden thrombophilia (a clotting disorder)
Finally, there has been some discussion about “toxic vaccine lots” that supposedly are responsible for a large part of vaccine adverse events, but a subsequent analysis found that this was not the case (it was a statistical and reporting artifact). This is not surprising since it’s really the vaccine itself (spike proteins, nano lipids, adenovector) that is potentially hazardous.
Figure: Covid hospitalization rate: unvaccinated (blue), vaccinated (dashed blue), recovered (dashed light blue), vaccinated and recovered (dashed black). (CDC)
Figure: New Zealand: Vaccination and all-cause deaths, 60+ (mid-2021)
Figure: Non-covid deaths in British male teens (15-19), 2021 vs. previous years.
Omicron and beyond
The arrival of the first (partial) immune-escape variant of the coronavirus, in early December 2021, was a critical moment of the pandemic: if omicron had had the same virulence as previous variants such as delta, the entire global vaccination program, which was based on a virus variant from two years ago, would have crashed.
Fortunately, despite unprecedented infectiousness, it turned out that hospitalization, ICU and death rates of omicron were 50%, 75% and 90% lower compared to the delta variant, according to a recent Kaiser Permanente study.
From a genetic perspective, it is almost certain that omicron once again emerged not naturally, but from lab research, possibly from vaccine-related research in a South African lab, as a German biomedical researcher shows in a concise analysis (“Today, a completely synthetic virus that can kill 20 million people can be made in a week. For a few hundred dollars.”) Stories about some mouse in the African desert or some immuno-compromised “HIV patient” cannot explain the many peculiar genetic properties of omicron.
There has been much talk about pandemic viruses “getting milder over time”, but such claims have no factual basis: the viruses normally maintain their virulence (and may increase infectiousness), but populations develop widespread immunity, making infections appear milder. If anything, the novel coronavirus increased virulence from Wuhan and Alpha to Delta, and Omicron is no exception to this rule, because it clearly is a synthetic variant.
Thus, the future of the novel coronavirus remains uncertain: only time will tell if mild omicron-type variants or more virulent delta-type variants will dominate, or if they will take turns (similar to influenza virus A and B), and how well vaccines will protect against them.
In terms of immunity, people who got infected by one of the original variants (Wuhan to Delta) may likely enjoy the strongest protection, whereas the long-term protection of vaccinated people (and people infected only by omicron) remains somewhat uncertain.
Figure: Omicron combining all previously observed or published (!) mutations.
Covid early treatment
Two top viral drug experts have warned, in Science no less, against the use of Merck’s covid pill Molnupiravir (due to its known mutagenicity).
Israeli researchers once more found a strong correlation between vitamin D status and covid severity: patients with vitamin D deficiency were 14 times more likely to develop severe or critical covid compared to patients with normal vitamin D levels, irrespective of age and other known risk factors.
Concerning Ivermectin, three high-quality randomized trials are still ongoing (CovidOut and Activ6 in the US and Oxford PRINICPLE in the UK). If these trials should find a non-significant small benefit of ivermectin – as did TOGETHER and some other trials – it is quite possible that a meta-analysis of high-quality RCTs would find a small but significant benefit (about 10% to 30%). If so, the professional early use of ivermectin could have saved millions of lives. But ivermectin may also turn out to show zero effectiveness, and the trials may now be impacted by the much milder omicron variant.
See also: Covid early treatment protocol
Figure: Ivermectin – will the horse strike back?
Coronavirus human challenge study
The long-awaited live coronavirus human challenge study by Imperial College London was published in early February.
Unfortunately, of the 36 volunteers, 34 died and 2 are still in ICU. Well, not quite.
Of the 36 volunteers aged 18 to 30 years, 18 became infected (i.e. 50%), 16 of whom went on to develop “mild-to-moderate cold-like symptoms” (89%), while 2 remained asymptomatic (i.e. 11%; larger studies found about 35% asymptomatic infections). The study used “the lowest possible dose of virus found to cause infection”.
Thirteen infected volunteers (72%) reported temporarily losing their sense of smell, but this “returned to normal within 90 days in all but three participants” (16%) – the remainder “continue to show improvement after three months”. Note: three months without sense of smell is no trifle and would count as post-acute or long covid.
Among the 18 infected participants, the average incubation period (until first symptoms) was just 42 hours, significantly shorter than existing estimates (4-6 days). It’s possible that the young and healthy volunteers showed a particularly swift immune response. Viral loads peaked at around five days into infection on average, but high levels of infectious virus were still detected up to nine days after inoculation on average, and up to a maximum of 12 days for some.
Of note, the study found no correlation between viral loads and symptoms, with high viral loads even in asymptomatic infection (as was already known). According to the authors, this “clearly shows that SARS-CoV-2 viral shedding occurs at high levels irrespective of symptom severity, thus explaining the high transmissibility of this infection”.
Apparently none of these young volunteers developed covid pneumonia, either because of their good health, or because of the minimum-dose nasal inoculation. In the real world, there are situations in which a high dose of virus gets inhaled deep into the lungs.
In sum, such a medically supervised, minimum-dose live virus challenge might have been a viable option for young and healthy volunteers, including children and adolescents, to rapidly build up population immunity, protect risk groups and enable smooth education.
The most significant political development in recent weeks has been the large and still ongoing “Freedom Convoy” by thousands of Canadian truckers who have rolled into the Canadian capital city of Ottawa, protesting vaccine mandates and other restrictions. In response, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau first “fled” the capital city and then declared a national “state of emergency”, essentially invoking martial law, which in turn led to the resignation of the Ottawa police chief.
Canada is an interesting place for such a protest to occur, as World Economic Forum founder and pandemic strategist, Klaus Schwab, did indeed mention Canada as an example of how the WEF “penetrated the Cabinets” through their Young Leaders program (see video). In the meantime, the Canadian truckers have inspired several similar “Freedom Convoys” in other countries, such as in France, the Netherlands, Israel, and Australia.
To get a global overview of ongoing protests – largely ignored or vilified by WEF-compliant media – see the following high-quality video channels: BMedia (10k subscribers); Anonyme Citoyen (80k subscribers); Radio Genova (35k subscribers); Rise Melbourne (30k subscribers); Nicole Elisei (50k subscribers); Efrat Fenigson (30k subscribers).
From a historical perspective, protests have had very little political impact – think of the large international protests prior to the 2003 Iraq war or the months-long Yellow Wests protests in France – whereas general strikes or peaceful “color revolutions” have often had a major effect.
In Europe, several countries have recently decided to remove most or all pandemic restrictions (e.g. the UK, Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and Switzerland). On the other hand, Austria and Italy (50+) have introduced “temporary” general vaccination mandates, and in France, four million “unboosted” people are about to lose their “health pass”. Germany is also discussing a vaccination mandate, but the country is still seeing about 2000 weekly protests with up to half a million participants in total.
Nevertheless, from a strategic perspective, it is important to keep in mind that in many countries, the pandemic has been used to put in place the legal and technological framework for “contact tracing”, “vaccine passports” and vaccine mandates, a framework that, if not abolished, may easily be repurposed in the context of future epidemics, “terrorism prevention”, or a Chinese “social credit” population control system.
Indeed, the European Commission is currently planning to extend the EU digital covid certificate by another year. In an ongoing open consultation, the Commission has already received about 40,000 overwhelmingly negative replies by EU citizens. Digital identity and payment systems may or may not be “the future”, but the key question is about data governance and control.
Video: Ottawa Freedom Convoy (January 29)
Video: Global protests (January 22&23)
You have been reading: From Wuhan to Ottawa.
An analysis by Swiss Policy Research.