Omicron+Insanity

Who was it who said,Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’? We don’t actually know. It’s often attributed to Einstein but it almost certainly isn’t, its first recorded use appearing in 1981, 26 years after Einstein died. Whoever it was though talked a lot of sense, as well as contributing a memorable meme to the world.

If only those who presently control our lives would heed it. They wouldn’t then be re-introducing the same restrictions they tried in 2020 and again in 2021 to prevent the spread of Covid. In the UK, the government has just announced that when secondary students return to school today they must wear face masks all the time, because obviously this stopped Covid infections last time round and will do so again. Except it didn’t stop them last time. If face masks worked, we wouldn’t now be in the position we are, with the rapid spread of the ultra-infectious Omicron variant. Face coverings did not prevent or even slow the spread of the original virus, nor the Delta variant; they are certainly not going to have any effect against Omicron. We know this from the countries that have had strict mask mandates in place for the last year. France has twice had almost as many infections in one day as England has had in total. The rest of the European Union has as many or more cases of Omicron than England, when England hasn’t, for the most part, forced its populace to wear face coverings. It makes no sense to impose them now on English school children. The government’s own Education Select Committee has ‘concerns’ about the measure. My sister and mother are conscientious mask wearers, yet during the holidays both have had heavy colds. Their masks did not prevent them from contracting a cold virus, quite possibly a Coronavirus (20% of colds are caused by Coronaviruses, the rest by other viruses.)

Non-pharmaceutical measures do not appear to prevent Covid infections; masks are of limited effectiveness and lockdowns merely defer the problem. Only vaccines reduce the virus’s potency and, even then, not for as long as we originally hoped. (Get the booster!) We have to learn to live with it, as we do with colds, flu and pneumonia. It is estimated that around 25,000 people a year die of flu in England and Wales, year on year. Over the last decade alone this adds up to far more deaths from flu (250,000) than deaths from Covid-19 in the last 2+ years (a contested 136,000), and far fewer than will die of the milder Omicron.

Yet we do not lockdown or wear masks because of flu. Of course the numbers for the milder Omicron are more concentrated and the fear is that cases will overwhelm health services (the same services successive governments have failed to reform.) However, according to the BMJ, 84% of hospitalisations are of the unvaccinated. If anyone is overwhelming the NHS it is people who have chosen not to have the vaccine; it is not reasonable that as a consequence, those who are vaccinated or who like, school children, are less susceptible to the virus, must have restrictions placed on them.

Of course the vulnerable and elderly must be able to isolate themselves and anyone should be free to wear face coverings if it makes them feel more comfortable. The rest of us must learn to get on with our lives alongside Covid-19 and its variants, just as we do with other respiratory diseases. They’re part of being human, after all. It is futile making us adopt the same measures that failed last time and the time before that and the time before that.

Insanity indeed.

Oh my Cron! It’s Omicron!

NHS advert - All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate for ten dates regardless of their vaccination status

All contacts of suspected Omicron cases? They don’t have to be confirmed now? We are sleep walking into a police state.

How severe are the symptoms from the new Covid variant, Omicron? According to the doctor who first detected it in South Africa, its symptoms are ‘extremely mild’. She accuses the UK – and now, by extension, much of the rest of the world – of ‘panicking unnecessarily.’

At the time of writing, fourteen cases of the new variant have been detected in the UK out of population of 64 million. As a result of just three of these, England has been returned to mandatory mask wearing by a prime minster and health secretary, Sajid Javid. The pair promised back in July that the lifting of restrictions would be ‘irreversible’. There were no provisos on this promise – no ‘unless another variant appears’ get-out clause. We were fools for believing them, this government of panickers, flounderers and trashers of civil liberties.

This time round Boris Johnson is imposing mask wearing while travelling on public transport, in hairdressers and shops and in a variety of other locales. The virus, however, is apparently unable to penetrate restaurants, pubs, cafes, cinemas and theatres so mask wearing is not required there. And quite rightly too. It should not be mandatory anywhere. Politicians and the scientists who advise them are well aware of the extremely limited way that masks protect others from the droplets in your breath.

A doctor explores the efficacy of masks.

Yet still they impose such a mandate, this time with a £200 fine for the first ‘offence’ of failing to wear a mask in the specified locations. If masks were effective, then Scotland, which unlike England did not dispense with them back in the summer, would have fewer cases of Covid than England. In fact, it has considerably more. Likewise Germany, which imposed the compulsory wearing of high standard FFP-2 surgical masks back in January. Meanwhile mask-free England (free that is until yesterday) has seen cases and hospitalisations falling.

Whenever I write about the pandemic – which some scientists now regard as coming to an end, despite the predictable winter increase in cases – I receive fewer likes than when I write about Christianity. That may be because I address the Covid situation primarily as it affects the UK. But it might also be because I question the received narrative; that we must panic, must wear masks to protect ourselves and others, must protect the health service that exists in reality to protect us. I’m no conspiracy theorist; as I’ve explained before, incompetence more readily explains governments’ actions this past two years. Crediting them with the intelligence and deviousness necessary to perpetrate a worldwide conspiracy is truly beyond them. But it is nonetheless alarming to see the extent to which they have deprived us of our civil liberties. Overnight, we can be imprisoned in our own homes if we are in contact with someone who suspects they may have Omicron and fined if we don’t, while not wearing a mask has become a crime. The police, having nothing better to do, say they will be hanging around England’s transport hubs and shopping centres to challenge and fine those not wearing face coverings.

Further indication that politicians really do not know what they are doing comes from their making available the booster vaccination to all over 18 year olds a mere three months after their second shot. Boris Johnson said yesterday that the booster will, while the second vaccination is supposedly still offering its own protection, ‘undoubtedly’ save them from Omicron (with its very mild symptoms).

Do we know this? We do not. Vaccine producers have begun tests to see if it so. Injecting all and sundry is merely more panic, not to mention a political ploy to make us think they’re actually doing something. They aren’t. Why are politicians surprised that the populace has lost all faith in them, does not believe a word they say and, when it’s not engaging in government and media induced panic, is ignoring their ever conflicting messages, empty rhetoric and false promises?

I have had my three shots, plus one for flu. The vaccine is demonstrably the most effective way of minimising Covid and the variants that have appeared so far. It may well be the only way. Nothing else we have done has held back the virus. Scotland now has what appears to be a home-grown version of Omicron, not one that came from outside the country (those masks really worked!) and even those countries that have undergone extreme lockdowns discover it’s among them once they re-open: Omicron has been found in the perpetually locked down Australia. Variants will be around for a long time to come. Governments cannot continue to impose sanctions every time a new one emerges. If they do, they and we will be playing this ridiculous circle game forever.

What Does The Evidence Tell Us… About Masks?

Masks: do they work?

Back at the start of the pandemic, England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Witty, and his US counterpart Anthony Fauci had this to say about wearing face coverings:

In terms of wearing a mask, our advice is clear: that wearing a mask if you don’t have an infection reduces the risk almost not at all. So we do not advise that. (Witty, February 2020)

There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask. (Fauci, March 2020)

The World Health Organisation was still saying in December 2020 that,

the use of a mask alone, even when correctly used, is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection for an uninfected individual or prevent onward transmission from an infected individual. (Google ‘Mask use in the context of COVID-19’.)

While in February this year, The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) concluded that,

Evidence for the effectiveness of non-medical face masks, face shields/visors and respirators in the community is scarce and of very low certainty.’

Why did experts like Witty and Fauci say initially that masks were inadequate, only later to change their minds? Because, I would venture to say that they were aware of the scientific studies, carried out prior to Covid-19, about masks’ effectiveness in preventing the passage of other SARS viruses, including influenza. At best, these concluded that even wearing surgical masks, as opposed to the supermarket varieties, has a limited effect on the transmission of either influenza or Covid. This is hardly surprising when the average distance between strands of fabric in a mask is between 5 – 200 micrometers, while the virus is 0.1 micrometers in diameter. In other words, the gaps in the fabric are between 500 and 2000 times larger than the virus. (Though this article argues that there is still a chance such masks can stop some transmission of the virus).

Other studies seem to bear out the limited nature of masks’ effectiveness. This one, by the University of Waterloo in Canada, concluded that masks filter only 10% of the airborne virus and that moderate ventilation offers better protection.

Similarly, The National Center of Biotechnology Information found that

There is uncertainty about the effects of face masks… The pooled results of randomised trials did not show a clear reduction in respiratory viral infection with the use of medical/surgical masks during seasonal influenza.’

The Influenza Journal, reviewing 17 studies on mask wearing, said,

None of the studies established a conclusive relationship between mask/respirator use and protection against influenza.

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) advised that healthcare workers,

should not use cloth masks as protection against respiratory infection. Cloth masks resulted in significantly higher rates of infection than medical masks, and also performed worse than the control…

(More studies are cited here.)

Specific to Covid is this study from Denmark which examined how far masks protect the wearer from infection (it did not seek to discover the extent to which they might prevent the spread of the virus to others.) It reported:

Infection with SARS-CoV-2 occurred in 42 participants (with) recommended masks (1.8%) and 53 non-mask wearing (2.1%). Although the difference observed was not statistically significant, the 95% CIs are compatible with a 46% reduction to a 23% increase in infection (my emphasis.)

The report suggested that social distancing was as likely to have caused the small reduction in infection rates.

While it is anecdotal, it was my experience that once mask wearing was mandated in the UK, people started to ignore social distancing measures, on the assumption, presumably, that everyone was safe behind their masks. Moreover, as the BMJ and others have pointed out, there is also evidence that mask wearing can be detrimental to one’s physical and mental health. And then there are all those discarded masks, infested with bacteria and virus particles that thoughtless numpties leave on the street for someone else to have to deal with.

So, why did the various experts and organisations change their minds about masks? Was it because more data became available about their efficacy? Unfortunately not. Instead, mask wearing became both politicised and polarised. As journalist Laura Dodsworth points out in A State Of Fear, face coverings became a means of social control and of giving us all a false sense of security (p113). It was and is wrong for politicians to mandate either the wearing or not wearing of masks. If people find some psychological reassurance from wearing them they should be able to do so. Those who don’t should not have to. In the UK, where indoor mask wearing was mandatory only up to July 19th, there has been a sharp decrease in mask wearing with only a small increase in hospitalisations due to Covid. (These admissions are not necessarily the result of less mask wearing; mass social events have returned during this period.) I have rarely worn a mask since July (only when asked, in fact) with no ill effect for myself or others. I’m trusting in the vaccine and other preventative measures. As the ECDC said in February:

the use of face masks in the community should complement and not replace other preventive measures such as physical distancing, staying home when ill, teleworking if possible, respiratory etiquette, meticulous hand hygiene and avoiding touching the face, nose, eyes and mouth.

It is these other measures that minimise the chances of contracting or spreading the infection, not face coverings. It is beggars belief that we had to be told, and taught how, to wash our hands once the virus took hold. That daintily expressed ‘respiratory etiquette’ is important too. I would advocate regular face washing followed by nose-blowing into a tissue; while I’ve no evidence for it, I feel sure these have prevented me from getting colds and flu for most of my life. Physical distancing remains an important measure, though large gatherings make it difficult to achieve; in such circumstances masks might compensate to a limited extent by providing some small degree of protection  

So, masks: do they work? It looks like they don’t, not to any significant degree anyway. Let me give the final word to a doctor whose letter was published in The Daily Telegraph last week:

SIR – A paper published in 2016 by the American National Institutes of Health reviewed previous clinical trials of the use of face masks in operating theatres. It concluded: “Wearing a face mask neither increases nor decreases the number of wound infections following surgical operations.”

A simple experiment will show why: if a lighted candle is held in front of a mask the flame cannot be extinguished, no matter how hard one blows. However, if the candle is held to the side of the mask it is easily extinguished.

Moreover, the obstruction of exhaled air by the mask increases its pressure and the distance it will travel.

Hence the wearing of a mask will increase the area in which the exhaled air is dispersed. In this context it is interesting that in one clinical trial a slight but not statistically significant increase in infections was associated with the wearing of masks.

There simply is no sound scientific evidence for the wearing of masks to prevent transmission of infections. On the other hand, a controlled trial is not required to show their dehumanising effect.

Dr Max Gammon

London SE16