Call for data on Covid-19 health impacts

22 October 2020

New Zealand has not released any analysis about the negative health impacts of the Covid-19 elimination and lockdown policy.

This is highlighted by studies released in the UK this week which indicates that their lockdowns are responsible for thousands of deaths and new illnesses, principally as a result of delayed cancer diagnoses (see note below).

The only known study of lockdown health impacts in New Zealand was of a Dunedin primary health clinic, where referrals and tests had dropped 100% and 99% respectively. Anecdotal evidence provided to the Covid Plan B group is that referrals and tests may be down across the country by two thirds. Auckland District Health Board is also investigating after four women died during and after pregnancy this year, with three dying since alert level 3 was instituted in late March. Expected numbers of deaths are between 0 and one from previous years.

Evidence provided from affected individuals indicate illnesses and health prognosis have worsened due to delayed tests and treatment. Whether these cases represent a wider problem is not known.

Dr Simon Thornley, spokesman for Covid Plan B, said the Government’s elimination and lockdown policy was based on hope, because little analysis of the downsides of the policy has been carried out.

“If you base your rationale on discredited models and you don’t count impacts, this is not a policy based on evidence.

“This is a policy based on an assumption that the low Covid-19 impact is the result of the lockdown policy. There is no proof of that, and international studies indicate it is unlikely.

“This is also a policy continued on the assumption that there are no negative effects. But firsthand testimony in New Zealand and overseas statistics suggest this is not true. Economic analysis from the government and independent sources indicate that lockdowns are a disproportionate response to Covid-19. The effect on unemployment is now clear, with a 38% rise in adults on the jobseeker benefit since late March. Now, the impact of delayed diagnosis and under treatment of other conditions must be considered.

“We are not even trying to count what the other effects have been on health. We do not know how many people have died, had conditions or prognosis worsen because of the ways lockdown and fear have affected healthcare.

“We call on the Ministry of Health to undertake the same studies we’ve seen in the UK, and to weigh those costs against what they imagine, or count, are the benefits of the elimination strategy,” Simon Thornley says.

– ends

Will NZ follow WHO lead to ‘living with virus’?

12 October 2020

Media Release

The Covid Plan B group is reassured by the shift of international policy and science consensus toward what had been a dissenting position six months ago; learning to live with the virus.

Over the weekend, the WHO’s David Nabarro said that lockdowns caused more harm than good, a position advocated by Covid Plan B back in April 2020.

But early in the Covid-19 crisis, the World Health Organisation supported lockdowns to contain ‘intense transmission’ of the virus, listing six conditions that must be met to lift such measures.

In a remarkable turnaround, Dr David Nabarro has stated that “Lockdowns just have one consequence that you must never ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer”.

He also commended the Great Barrington Declaration, an internationally supported statement against lockdowns, which instead calls for a change in government policy toward focused protection of the elderly and those who are vulnerable to the virus from pre-existing medical conditions, while letting the rest of the population return to normal life.

Dr Simon Thornley, spokesman for Covid Plan B, welcomed Nabarro’s statement as “a major change from the World Health Organisation”.

“We have drawn attention to the severe and disproportionate financial costs of lockdown policies in New Zealand.

“The virus is not as deadly as first claimed, so we must adjust our policies accordingly.

“The latest estimates for the infection fatality ratio, a measure of the severity of the virus, are between 0.15 to 0.2 0%, which is concordant with the range of figures for past influenza epidemics.

“Crippling our economies and sacrificing our children’s education can no longer be justified, since the harm from these policies outweighs any benefits.

“Our health system has largely avoided severe outbreaks in hospitals and nursing homes, and this is where the focus of our response to the virus should be.”

Contact: Simon Thornley, 021 299 1752

Covid19 serious questions being asked internationally

8 October 2020

Media Release

Six months after the panicked reaction to Covid-19, dissenting scientists and the public are gaining ground internationally, coalescing this week in a show of force behind the Great Barrington Declaration, a statement for protecting the vulnerable but otherwise returning to normal.

The Covid Plan B group, which originally opposed lockdowns and the elimination goal, is a co-signatory of the Declaration. The GB Declaration is headed by Jay Bhattacharya and Sunetra Gupta, who headlined Plan B’s international symposium on Covid-19 in August. The Declaration has been signed by over 1000 biological scientists and over 1500 medical practitioners.

Dissent is now being voiced within virtually every Western nation; specially organised groups of academics and professionals have taken their critique directly to the public (eg. lockdownsceptics.org, and the German Corona Investigative Committee); and as public protest on the streets and via passive or active civil disobedience.

Simon Thornley, group spokesperson, says dissent is rising because after six months of social and economic restrictions and six months of data about the virus, the truth is now readily apparent.

“This virus does not warrant this panic and these restrictions.

“The CDC (US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) currently says its best estimate is an average Infection Fatality Ratio of 0.65%, but for people 50 to 69 years old it’s 0.5% and for adults under 50 it’s 0.02 percent – less than the average IFR for seasonal flu.

“Yet in New Zealand, some epidemiologists still claim the IFR is closer to 1%. This figure led to predictions of 60,000 deaths in Sweden, which was wrong by a factor of ten. Yet these claims aren’t questioned and are still promoted. This bizarre situation reveals a dangerous intransigence of politicians, scientists, and commentators.”

Thornley says the first announcement of New Zealand’s next Government should be an undertaking not to go back to Level Three or Four lockdowns.

“The best approach are safe havens for those with vulnerable health conditions; ensuring good infection control in rest homes and hospitals, robust personal hygiene, and tracing, tracking and isolation of cases, including with serology tests.

Thornley said if elimination was removed as the goal, and lockdowns rejected, the group was prepared to support ‘flattening the curve’, and to enjoin the growing number of dissenters in New Zealand to adopt reasonable precautionary measures.

“The next Government just needs the courage to say ‘we all did our best, but we can’t afford to do it again’.”

/ends

Contact: Simon Thornley, 021 299 1752

COVID19 vaccine is a slim-chance strategy

27 August 2020

Media Release

New Zealand experts and officials are betting the nation’s health and wealth on the slim chance of eliminating a virus and getting a vaccine before the natural end to the pandemic. 

The Covid Plan B group says today’s announcement that the Government is putting aside more money to pay for making and distributing a vaccine, highlights the narrow margin for success of the Government’s policy.

Simon Thornley, group spokesperson, says while it makes absolute sense to try for a vaccine, the framing of announcements is giving people “false hope”.

“There’s only a very slim chance that a full safety-checked vaccine will be ready before the pandemic subsides, and even then, it most likely won’t be useful for the group most at risk – the elderly.

“A vaccine would be great to have, but these announcements have the effect of enticing people to back the strategy of elimination, and its lockdowns, while holding out for a vaccine.

“This strategy requires there are no community acquired cases of Covid-19 in NZ and no deaths forever, (ie. elimination), and dissemination of a vaccine against Covid-19 that achieves herd immunity.

Other international experts concur. Dr Mark Woolhouse (Professor of infectious disease epidemiology, UK) said in a recent interview, “I would not dignify waiting for a vaccine with the term ‘strategy’. That’s hope, not a strategy.”

“For elimination to be successful, we have to do that with no decline in quality of life or mortality for other illnesses, no reduction in social wellbeing, mobility or happiness measure, no increase in people living in poverty, no decline in economic measures or at least a decline less than observed in the rest of the world.” Simon Thornley says.

/ends

Vaccine backgrounder:

Politicians, media and commentators with time to learn more about vaccines research and practicalities of safety, manufacturing and dissemination, are recommended to check out the presentation of Byram Bridle, a Canadian researcher working on a coronavirus ‘plug and play’ vaccine, at a symposium about New Zealand’s plan. https://www.covidplanb.co.nz/videos/

Contact: Simon Thornley, 021 299 1752

Extended lockdown is elimination’s ‘own-goal’

25 August 2020

Media Release

The extension of Auckland’s lockdown shows the cost of the Government’s continued pursuit of elimination of Covid19 and intention to wait for a vaccine.

The Covid Plan B group says New Zealand is now one of the few countries pursuing elimination and “hiding” behind its border and lockdowns in hope of a vaccine.

Spokesperson Simon Thornley says “the Government, and the experts it is listening to, are hell-bent on elimination. The extension can’t be justified for any other reason.”

“They are betting the house on eliminating Covid-19 long term and finding a vaccine in that time. It’s like developing policy based on winning Lotto.”

“It is a brave call to defy the conclusion the rest of the world has come to; that we must learn to live with this virus. But they must take responsibility for the success or failure of their approach.”

In a webinar on Monday evening, Plan B clarified measurable goals whereby the success or failure of the government policy may be judged, since the government and its health advisors are now talking simultaneously of elimination, but say the country must also be prepared for further frequent community outbreaks of Covid-19. Here we clarify that these outcomes are mutually exclusive.

  • Success will see no community transmission of Covid-19 in NZ forever, (ie. elimination), and dissemination of an effective vaccine against Covid19 by the end of 2021 that achieves herd immunity. Such a policy must also result in: no decline in quality of life or mortality for other illnesses, no reduction in social wellbeing, mobility or happiness measure, no increase in people in poverty, no decline in economic measures or at least a decline less than comparable countries that opt for suppression of the virus. All cases that occur during this period must have a recent history of international travel.
  • Failure will be continued community transmission of Covid-19 into the future (ie. the virus is not eliminated), with no effective vaccine delivered by the end of 2021, with: an increase in mortality from other illnesses (except influenza), worse measurements of wellbeing, more poverty, and declines in standards of living, debt, GDP that are at least as bad as international levels.

“We also point out that there are several infectious diseases in New Zealand with effective vaccines or treatments that are yet to be eliminated from this country. These include: pertussis, syphilis, scabies, viral hepatitis, HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, meningococcal disease, pneumococcal disease and tuberculosis. The only successful globally eradicated viral infection is smallpox and this took thirty years to achieve.”

/ends

Contact: Simon Thornley, 021 299 1752

Covid19 death risk less than asteroid hitting earth

23 August 2020

Media Release

The risk of dying after being infected with Covid19 is 0.3%, less than the 0.41% chance estimated by NASA of asteroid 2018VP1 colliding with the earth

New data released in the UK (Howden, Oak, Heneghan) over the weekend shows the infection fatality rate (IFR) of Covid19 is 0.3%.

The UK scientists behind the new COVID19 IFR estimate that the falling fatality rate is due to better understanding of how to treat Covid patients, more testing diluting the number of severe and fatal cases, younger people are catching the virus, and the virus circulating at a much lower level.

One of the authors of the paper, Professor Carl Heneghan, has called on the UK Government to stop lockdowns immediately and reassure the public that the disease is turning out to not be the threat that was first claimed.

/ends

Contact: Simon Thornley, 021 299 1752

COVID19: It’s NZ vs the World

23 August 2020

Media Release

New Zealand experts and officials are now almost alone in the world in their advocacy for ongoing lockdowns and elimination of the Covid19 virus, and in believing this objective is worth the cost over other health impacts, social dislocation, and economic decline.

In a speech the WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has made two declarations that directly counter New Zealand’s policy of lockdowns, elimination and waiting for a vaccine.

Lockdowns: “… lockdowns are not a long-term solution for any country. We do not need to choose between lives and livelihoods, or between health and the economy. That’s a false choice.

Vaccine: “No country can just ride this out until we have a vaccine… there’s no guarantee that we will [have a vaccine], and even if we do have a vaccine, it won’t end this pandemic on its own.”

Underlining this point, the WHO’s special envoy on Covid19, David Nabarro recently said countries should do everything they can to avoid lockdowns.

To help New Zealanders understand the extent of the split between their country and the rest of the world, the Covid Plan B group has issued a sample of the many prestigious international experts that, along with the WHO, have critiqued lockdowns and the objective of elimination.

Team World

Prof. John Ioannidis, US

Prof. Sunetra Gupta, UK

Dr David Katz, US

MD and Prof. Jay Bhattacharya, US              

Prof. Michael Levitt, US

Asst Prof. Byram Bridle, Canada

Prof. Joel Hay, US

Assc Prof Eran Bendavid, US

Knut Wittkowski, US

MD and associate professor Soo Aleman, Stockholm

Prof. emeritus Johannes Giesecke, Stockholm                 

Tegnell Anders, Sweden

Prof. Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren, Sweden

Prof. Sucharit Bhakdi, Germany  

Prof. Hendrik Streeck, Germany

Honorary research fellow Tom Jefferson, UK

Prof. Carl Heneghan, UK

Assc Prof. Carlo Caduff, UK

Prof. Friston Karl, UK

Prof, Karol Sikora, UK

Prof.Emeritus Beda M Stadler, Bern

Dr. Gabriela Gomes, UK

Prof. James Allan, Aust

 

Team NZ

Prof. David Skegg

Prof. Michael Baker

Assc. Prof. Nick Wilson

Prof. Des Gorman

Prof. Rod Jackson

Assc. Prof. Siouxsie Wiles

Serology testing essential, but banned in NZ

The serology tests today being demanded by experts as necessary to track the mystery resurgence of COVID19 have been banned by the Ministry of Health.

Simon Thornley, epidemiologist with the Covid Plan B group, has criticised health commentators as hypocritical in calling for serology testing to track the source of the current outbreak and assess its prevalence in the community.

Thornley said the Covid Plan B group has been calling for serology testing back in April, but by the end of that month the Ministry of Health had specifically banned the importation and sale of serology tests.

In reply to an Official Information Request the Ministry of Health said serology testing would not be conducted because even that test would underestimate the level of virus prevalence. See: https://www.covidplanb.co.nz/epidemiology/nz-govt-confirms-it-wont-test-for-virus-prevalence/

“The one test that would really tell us how the virus is moving through the community has been banned in New Zealand. Companies selling the test were called and told to stop.”

“When we called for the testing, we were criticised by the Government-favoured health commentators. Five months later, these same people are suggesting tests, conveniently forgetting they initially said they weren’t necessary.”

Thornley said that now the Government’s own favoured experts were agreeing with Covid Plan B, it could no longer resist conducting serology tests.

He predicted that based on overseas tests, the number of people who had already contracted Covid-19 would be many times the number of tested cases.

ENDS

Contact: Simon Thornley, 021 299 1752

Covid-19 Science and Policy Symposium written summary

The Covid-19 Science and Policy Symposium was held on 17 August 2020. The event took place as a Zoom webinar, bringing together nine international and national experts to analyse the latest science and New Zealand’s response to the virus.

Watch the presentations here.

Dr David Katz, Medical Doctor and Preventative Medicine Specialist, New York.

  • New Zealand is taking the “hiding” option. If there is no exposure, there can be no immunity. Gain herd immunity in a controlled way using voluntary measures based on personal health indicators.

Dr Jay Bhattacharya, Medical Doctor and Professor of Medicine, Stanford University

  • Lockdowns only delay the impact. Flatten the curve was an approach that spread out over time the number of people infected. Strong economies improve health, and the reverse is also true. Estimates NZ lockdown set NZ back 7 years in economic value, equal to one life year (reducing life expectancy from 82 to 81). Covid will not be eradicated.

Dr Byram Bridle, Viral Immunologist, The University of Guelph.

  • Provided a short summary of how immune systems work. Scientists are making unrealistic promises, and in some cases what constitutes a “successful” vaccine is being redefined. It takes 10 years to make a safe vaccine and 4 years is the quickest on record. There is no shortcut to safety. Testing will be problematic as the epidemic abates. Vaccines don’t work well in the elderly. Bridle is working on a ‘plug and play’ vaccine for future coronaviruses, so we are not caught out again.

Prof. Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology, University of Oxford.

  • Addresses the three myths of covid19: She says we can’t keep it out, it’s nothing like the threat to each of that we first feared, and that we can get herd immunity and are close to it. There is natural resistance to Covid19 from previous infections. Costs of lockdowns are delayed but more costs Advocates a careful form of the Swedish model. Accuses developed world of abandoning its ‘social contract’ with the developing world, by closing down borders, trade and interaction.

Dr Simon Thornley, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology at the University of Auckland

  • The mean age of Covid-related deaths is similar to life expectancy – indicating Covid is affecting those who may have otherwise died from other illnesses. No research can find benefits from or a disease response to lockdowns. Estimates from other studies of the economic costs from lockdown compared to QALYs is that New Zealand is that costs outweighed benefits by 95:1. Switching from level 2 to level 4 had a very subtle effect on case numbers and probably saved one life in the very elderly population.

Prof Ananish Chaudhuri, Professor of Experimental Economics, The University of Auckland

  • The costs of lockdown are not being adequately counted or assessed. Borrowing will have very severe long-term consequences, especially for small nations and those enfeebled by the retardation of their economy. Capital flight will become a big problem if and when borrowed money need to be repaid. Inflationary impact will be destabilising. Tourism and education are big holes in our economy. Explains why people wedded to lockdown approach find it hard to change position.

Dr Grant Morris, Associate Professor of Law, Victoria University of Wellington

  • Ran through the various laws implicated in government regulation and actions in response to Covid19. Main theme was that although Government must justify its reasoning for decisions made under existing laws, or for new laws, it is sovereign – so can make any rule it decides. Calls for more considered and patient decision-making by Government so rights and freedoms are not abandoned.

Ben smith, PH.D – Data Scientist

  • Runs through a model designed to assess the infection risk posed by allowing people from other countries into New Zealand based on the covid19 status of the home country, and the rules they adhere to in NZ. Shows that NZ can allow people in from countries with zero infections, as the risk is about equal to that in New Zealand.

Dr Carlo Caduff, Associate Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine, Kings College London.

  • Covid statistics are very unreliable, and gathered on a different basis between countries – so not comparable. Yet countries appear to be competing for the best statistics, rather than sharing discoveries, or comparing on more humane values. Moralistic judgement and nationalism in interpreting statistics has also been evident.

Viral immunologist says a vaccine in NZ will be “late, limited and last”

Media Release

16 August 2020

A University of Guelph viral immunologist, commissioned by the Government of Ontario to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, says New Zealand could be in isolation for years if it sticks to its suppression strategy and waits for a vaccine.

“The race to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus is certainly on, but the timelines being reported by media, and hopeful virologists, have been greatly overstated,” said Dr Byram Bridle.

“The world record for a vaccine is four years from the start of a phase 1 clinical trial to safety-tested availability. This does not include the several years that are needed for the preceding discovery phase. Further, timelines for manufacturing, quality control-testing and distributing a vaccine could be very protracted. The promises being made of a vaccine within a year are very, very unlikely.”

Dr Bridle noted that it is troubling to see world governments re-define a successful COVID-19 vaccine as one that merely reduces the severity of Covid19 in an individual as opposed to preventing the spread of the disease.

“The quickest solutions, using a killed virus or parts of the virus as the base, probably won’t trigger the body’s proper immune response.”

The other challenges for New Zealand were getting access to any version of a vaccine ahead of rich or very poor countries ravaged by the disease, and public take-up.

Other countries have more money, and greater need, than New Zealand. All countries will be faced with the long time it takes to roll out a vaccine, and the large part of their population which will be reticent about the vaccine’s efficacy.

“New Zealand would be unwise to rely on elimination of the virus until a vaccine appears – because a vaccine will be late, and its availability will be limited. It’s arguable that by being free of the disease, New Zealand will be last in the queue for a vaccine,” he said.

Dr Bridle explained that given the challenges facing a vaccine, his team had decided to focus not on a specific vaccine for Covid19, but to adapt their existing work in cancer therapies to create a “plug and play” format for future coronaviruses.

“We can use live vectors to deliver the vaccine directly into cells to ensure an appropriate immune response. We’re trying to prove the viability of this approach so, unlike other “one-off” approaches, our platforms can be adapted to develop vaccines for future versions of a coronavirus. That means future vaccines might be made more quickly and cheaply.”

Dr Bridle is one of the international speakers at the COVID-19 Science and Science Symposium Webinar on Monday.

Joining the webinar, Dr Bridle will present on what a realistic vaccine development timeline looks like and briefly on his current research project to develop a versatile vaccine strategy that can be rapidly mobilised for the next major coronavirus outbreak.

ENDS