Professor John Ioannidis, one of the world’s most cited medical researchers, published an article warning that the world was rushing into a series of panic-stricken responses to COVID-19 on the basis of data that was “utterly unreliable“. Time is now proving Professor Ioannidis correct.
On March 17th, eight days before New Zealand entered lockdown, Professor John Ioannidis, one of the world’s most cited medical researchers, published an article warning that the world was rushing into a series of panic-stricken responses to COVID-19 on the basis of data that was “utterly unreliable“.
Time is now proving Professor Ioannidis correct.
There has been an endless sea of New Zealand ‘experts’ on COVID-19, so it is worth establishing Professor Ioannidis’s credentials for the simple reason that he stands head and shoulders above those to whom the New Zealand government has been listening.
He is a medical doctor and a Professor of Epidemiology, Population Health and Biomedical Data Science at Stanford University, where he holds the Rehnborg Chair in Disease Prevention. In 2005, in one of the most widely cited and acclaimed research papers ever, he quite literally proved that “most claimed research findings are false.” The full list of his many achievements can be found here. In short, his credentials establish him as the world’s leading authority on data and epidemiology.
In March Professor Ioannidis repeatedly warned that:
The data collected so far on how many people are infected and how the epidemic is evolving are utterly unreliable. Given the limited testing to date, some deaths and probably the vast majority of infections due to SARS-CoV-2 are being missed. We don’t know if we are failing to capture infections by a factor of three or 300.
In particular, he pointed out that there was no evidence that lockdowns work:
In the absence of data, prepare-for-the-worst reasoning leads to extreme measures of social distancing and lockdowns. Unfortunately, we do not know if these measures work.
And worse still, governments had no idea of the unintended consequences of the “draconian countermeasures” being adopted:
we don’t know how long social distancing measures and lockdowns can be maintained without major consequences to the economy, society, and mental health… At a minimum, we need unbiased prevalence and incidence data for the evolving infectious load to guide decision-making.
Tragically for billions of people around the globe, governments almost universally ignored Professor Ioannidis and stripped their citizens of fundamental civil liberties, leading to a catastrophic collapse in economic activity and an astronomical surge in unemployment. Meanwhile, the government’s cheerleaders in the mainstream media have largely ignored contrary opinions and the courts have been cravenly complicit.
While all this was going on, Professor Ioannidis did what he does best – he gathered data. And that data now presents damning evidence against the government.
In separate studies conducted in California, Professor Ioannidis’s team found that the number of persons likely infected with COVID-19 was 28 to 55 times (those aren’t typos) higher that the official figures suggested. Most of these individuals were completely unaware that they had contracted COVID-19 due to the fact that (as has now been unequivocally established), in the vast majority of individuals COVID-19 has no or only very mild symptoms.
The implications of Professor Ioannidis’s findings are enormous. To prove this we turn to basic maths. If we have 10 deaths from a disease among 100 people infected then in simple terms the mortality rate (deaths from those with the disease) is 10% (10/100).
However, if that bottom number (the denominator for those that remember maths) expands by a factor of 50 then mortality rate collapses by (you guessed it) a factor of 50.
And this is precisely what Professor Ioannidis’s data demonstrates: the number of asymptotically or mildly infected is far, far higher than reported and accordingly the actual lethality of COVID-19 is far, far lower than breathless media and the government’s COVID-19 briefings suggest.
How low exactly? For under 65’s your chance of dying with COVID-19 is about the same as being killed on your daily commute to work. And even those over 65 years old who also live in global hotspots like New York or Italy death has been “remarkably uncommon.” This of course is not what sells newspapers or garners eyeballs, so regardless of the evidence the mainstream media continue to lead with ghoulish pictures of coffins and mass graves (despite the fact that, for example, mass graves on Hart Island in New York are relatively common even today for unclaimed bodies).
Critically, Professor Ioannidis’s data are not unique. In a study in Massachusetts nearly one-third of individuals who gave a drop of blood to researchers tested positive for antibodies linked to COVID-19; a number vastly higher than official figures would suggest. In a further study from Boston, of 397 individuals tested at a homeless shelter, 146 people tested positive (36%) and not a single one had any symptoms. It should be noted that this is despite the fact that the homeless frequently exhibit significant health issues and compromised immune systems. Dr. Jim O’Connell, president of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program stated:
“It was like a double knockout punch. The number of positives was shocking, but the fact that 100 percent of the positives had no symptoms was equally shocking.”
Professor Ioannidis’s findings are also consistent with the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine (CEBM) at the University of Oxford which found that the lethality of COVID-19 (IFR) is between 0.1% and 0.36% (in the range of a severe influenza). Even in people over 70 years of age with no serious preconditions, the mortality rate is expected to be less than 1%. Further, in stark contrast to influenza (and counter to the hysteria in New Zealand about sending children back to school), child mortality is effectively zero.
Professor Ioannidis was publicly giving these warnings prior to New Zealand entering lockdown and ever since then more and more data have emerged questioning the fundamental conjectures on which the government’s “COVID-19 strategy” is based. For an excellent collection of hundreds of articles on this topic see here.
The reason Professor Ioannidis’s and others’ findings are so important is that this government’s justification for the most significant erosion of civil and political liberties in our country’s history and the evisceration of the economy increasingly appears to rest on false assumptions.
The key point is that no one, anywhere, in any position of authority, ever should take a decision of the magnitude Ardern took, without double and triple checking the facts on which they are relying. Ardern and Director of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, must have been aware of this research (a simple Google search would have found it), and if they weren’t then they should have been. What we are witnessing is the single most damaging mistake in New Zealand’s history, costing tens of billions of dollars, tens of thousands of jobs and likely hundreds or thousands of preventable deaths due to the unintended consequences of the lockdown including suicide, increased poverty and delayed medical treatment.
One argument in the government’s defence is “that things were moving fast, we had to make a decision.” This is fallacious on two fronts. First COVID-19 publicly emerged in early January. The government first ignored it, then played it down, then dithered while obvious steps it might have taken (if it had been genuinely concerned), such as closing the border, were ignored. Ardern’s mantra then that the government acted “hard and early” is spurious at best.
Second, there were dozens of individuals such as Professor Ioannidis and closer to home Professors Grant Schofield and Dr Simon Thornley who issued warnings about an over-reaction to COVID-19 but who were almost universally ignored by local media.
Third, as more and more data have emerged, the government could if it chose to, change course and recognise the terrible mistake it has made. It could remove the lockdown, protect that portion of the population that is genuinely vulnerable (those over 70 with co-morbidities – remembering that every single person in New Zealand who has died thus far with COVID-19 is in this category) and allow the rest of the population to pick up the pieces, get on with their lives and generate the wealth required to protect our elderly. Ardern could even do this with relative political impunity as the rest of Parliament, including the feckless Simon Bridges, followed her lockstep into the lockdown.
My guess is Ardern won’t. She is captured by a clique of Wellington mandarins with no real-world exposure and a cabinet of ideologues with virtually no business experience. Further, from Ardern’s perspective politically, this is actually going well: she has what every politician craves, sky-high polls, a complete lock on the media and an (apparently) clear path to victory in November. To back out now would be to give all that up and to acknowledge the tissue-thin basis on which her decisions were made. And, even if she wanted to, her cabinet colleagues who depend on her for their positions would never allow it. As Richard Prebble, former Labour Minister, correctly observed:
Governments rarely acknowledge mistakes. Governments spend millions of dollars, good money after bad, to avoid admitting a mistake. Governments rarely go broke and so can go on trading in insolvency to the point where ministers, if they were directors, would be facing imprisonment
In this Ardern is not alone of course; she is no different from politicians around the world with some notable outliers in Iceland, Korea, and Sweden. But she is our Prime Minister and we deserve better, especially given the unique six-week advantage that New Zealand had on the rest of the world.
So what now? Expect continued selective reporting of the ‘facts’ from the government to try to maintain the public’s unjustified fear of COVID-19 while actively ignoring any evidence that the threat was never truly real to begin. However, New Zealand, in uniquely pursuing its “elimination” (whatever that word now means) strategy will be left behind as the rest of the world gradually develops immunity to COVID-19. We will be locked in our South Pacific prison for months or years to come. (For a full discussion of the problem of the elimination “strategy” see here).
Our economy and with it the wealth, health and well being of all New Zealanders will suffer a dramatic decline. As French author Albert Camus wrote in his 1947 novel The Plague “the only means to fight the plague is honesty.” It is a national tragedy that we have so little of it from this government.
For those interested, the full one hour interview with Professor Ioannidis can be found here.
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https://thebfd.co.nz/2020/04/28/ardern- ... -lockdown/