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‘Experts’ Claim Lockdowns & Face Masks “Unequivocally” Cut Covid Infections

These people are not going to give up. According to a major new evidence review from the prestigious Royal Society, lockdowns, the wearing of face masks and other non-pharmaceutical interventions were “unequivocally” effective in cutting Covid-19 transmission.

The Daily Sceptic reports: Is such a confident conclusion warranted? Of course not. But then, much of the work was carried out in China and Professor Neil Ferguson was one of the peer-reviewers, so what would you expect?

Released this morning, the report had the desired impact in the media. ‘Lockdowns and the ‘Rule of Six’ did slow the spread of Covid‘ declares the Mail.

‘Lockdowns and masks helped reduce transmission,’ announces the BMJ. “Non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) were ‘unequivocally’ effective when rolled out in tandem during the Covid pandemic and led to ‘powerful, effective and prolonged reductions in viral transmission’, says a report by a team of experts brought together by the Royal Society,” it adds.

The Times‘s Tom Whipple writes that the reduction from lockdowns was found to be “about 50%”:

The report involving more than 50 scientists from around the world, found that the strongest impact on coronavirus infections came from a full lockdown. Of 151 studies they considered that estimated an effect of stay at home orders, 119 found a substantial benefit, corresponding to a reduction in the ‘R number’ — the rate of spread of the virus — by about 50%.

And what about the harms, now widely accepted to be exceptionally high? That’s for others to look at, the report says. Why is it always someone else’s job to consider the harms? That was the excuse of SAGE and the Government advisers in 2020 and it’s the same excuse now from the Royal Society. To Whipple’s credit, he goes to Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Statistics at the Open University to make this point. “They seem to be saying, simply, that this kind of assessment is out of scope [for] this piece of work. If not the Royal Society, who is actually going to do it?”

Prof. McConway also criticises the lack of higher quality studies, which he says should lead to some soul searching among scientists as it “shows up the work of scientists on NPIs during the pandemic in a rather unfavourable light”.

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Indeed it does. Three and a half years after the advent of lockdowns and mask mandates, where are the properly designed and controlled studies to test the effectiveness and safety of these extreme interventions? Few and far between. Instead we just keep being served up the same low quality observational and modelling studies, which now the Royal Society bizarrely claims demonstrate an “unequivocal” reduction in the infection rate – reported by the Times to be in the region of 50%. This is the kind of spin and misinformation that we’ve all become tiresomely accustomed to since 2020, but don’t imagine the Trusted News Initiative and BBC Verify will jump into action any time soon. Misinformation is only a problem when it contradicts the official narrative, as we know.

Here’s how the report summarises its own conclusions, which is what most of the media reports are quoting:

In summary, evidence about the effectiveness of NPIs applied to reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 shows unequivocally that, when implemented in packages that combine a number of NPIs with complementary effects, these can provide powerful, effective and prolonged reductions in viral transmission.

The report draws on six peer-reviewed evidence reviews commissioned by the Royal Society and published in a special edition of its in-house journal Philosophical Transactions A, which cover:

  • Masks and face coverings
  • Social distancing and lockdowns
  • Test, trace and isolate
  • Travel restrictions and controls across international borders
  • Environmental controls
  • Communication of NPIs in the U.K.

A closer look at the claims about face masks in particular gives a taste of the deep problems that beset this absurdly over-confident report.

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Dr. Gary Sidley, in the Daily Sceptic earlier today, gave a good summary of the real state of evidence on face masks: “It is a long-established conclusion from the scientific world that face masks achieve no appreciable reduction in viral transmission.”

We knew this in 2015-16 with regard to surgeons and their patients (here and here). We knew this in 2020 from a gold-standard Cochrane review, an analysis of 14 studies on influenza and a healthcare investigation that concluded that masks “may paradoxically lead to more transmissions”. We knew this in 2021 based on the Danish mask study and two comprehensive evidence reviews (here and here). We knew this in 2022 in relation to primary schools and universities, and a debunking of premature pro-mask conclusions drawn from the Bangladesh study. And – as if more evidence was needed – at the start of 2023 we had the latest Cochrane review, yet again concluding that covering our faces with cloth and plastic does not significantly reduce the likelihood of contracting respiratory viral infections.

So what do the Royal Society researchers present to counter this wealth of high quality evidence? A whole pile of poor quality observational studies – the same ones that keep being recycled over and over as though mere repetition can polish the turd.

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