Wuhan clan: we finally know the identity of the scientists in the lab linked to Covid

That a pandemic caused by a bat coronavirus started in the city with the world’s largest programme of research into bat coronaviruses was always intriguing. That among the first people to get ill with allegedly Covid-like symptoms in the month the pandemic began were three scientists working in that lab was highly suspicious. Now that we know their names, we find one of them was collecting what turned out to be the closest cousins of Sars-CoV-2 at the time, and another was doing the very experiments that could have created the virus. These revelations make it almost a slam dunk for the coronavirus lab-leak hypothesis. These guys are not some

Covid and the politics of panic

It is 15 months since Sweden’s Coronavirus Commission presented its final report. The 770-page document analysed how the country handled the pandemic and came up with numerous suggestions for how things might have been done better. The initial response, it concluded, was too slow, but the report vindicated the decision to make social distancing measures voluntary rather than compulsory. Why, then, has it taken the UK’s own Covid inquiry so long even to get going? In two weeks’ time the chair of the inquiry, Baroness Hallett, will finally start to hear evidence for module one – which looks at Britain’s pandemic preparedness – but she has said that she expects

Much of the Covid consensus has been proved to be tripe

Three years ago this week marked my first misgivings about the government’s Covid lockdown. Sure, I was late to that particular party – my wife, for example, had been carping viciously for the previous two months. But my rational assessment of lockdown was perhaps tilted by the gentle, bucolic magic of the thing itself. I think I have never enjoyed a more pleasant time. The weather was beautiful, and out in the Kent countryside, where I then lived, one could enjoy it to its full. Wildlife was less shy than usual, perhaps a consequence of the state-imposed quietude. Occasionally city dwellers would infest our country lanes and I had great

How science became politicised

Here’s a paradox. Over the past two-and-a-half years, a cadre of senior politicians and their ‘expert’ advisers across the world have successfully promoted a series of controversial public policies by claiming they’re based on ‘the science’ rather than a particular moral or ideological vision. I’m thinking of lockdowns and net zero in particular. Yet at the same time, this group has engaged in behaviour that has undermined public confidence in science. Why appeal to the authority of science to win support for a series of politically contentious policies – and then diminish its authority? Take Anthony Fauci, for instance, who recently announced he’s stepping down as chief medical adviser to

Paradise lost: the decline and fall of Hampstead’s ladies’ pond

‘We’re surrounded by sociopaths,’ I whispered to my friend as I scanned the scene before me. We were sitting on a bench overlooking the meadow at Kenwood Ladies’ Pond on Hampstead Heath, and for the first time in my 20-odd years of visiting, I felt a sense of detachment: like I was an observer rather than a participant. A lot’s changed since the pandemic, but nowhere have I felt it more keenly than when I go for a swim at my beloved pond. This last, precious corner of paradise in our smog-filled city has been desecrated, and I am heartbroken. The ladies’ pond opened in 1925, and nearly 100 years

Portrait of the week: Hosepipe bans, England’s women win the Euros and a strike over dragons

Home BP reported quarterly profits of £6.9 billion, its biggest for 14 years, after oil and gas prices rose steeply. Typical domestic energy bills were forecast by the consultancy Cornwall Insight to go above £3,600 a year in the coming winter. Under the family scheme for visas, 31,300 Ukrainians had arrived in the United Kingdom, and 72,700 under the sponsorship scheme. British Airways suspended new ticket sales for short-haul flights from Heathrow until at least 15 August, to meet the airport’s limit on the number of passengers departing each day of 100,000. On 1 August, 696 migrants crossed the Channel in small boats; in July the total was 3,683, and

Has the lab leak theory really been disproved?

The BBC carried a story this week with the headline ‘Covid origin studies say evidence points to Wuhan market’. Bizarrely the paper in Science they are referring to, by Michael Worobey and colleagues, says no such thing. It says: ‘the observation that the preponderance of early cases were linked to the Huanan market does not establish that the pandemic originated there’. All three of the scientists quoted in the BBC story have been highly dismissive about even discussing the possibility that the pandemic began as an accident in a Wuhan laboratory. Their vested interest is clear: they worry that the reputation of their field of virology would be threatened by

Why I won’t have a Covid booster

In the news recently, we’ve heard from multiple Britons who’ve lost family members or sacrificed their own health to Covid’s not-really-vaccines. But anecdotes lack statistical heft. Sceptical viewers might too easily dismiss individual stories of the harms caused by the biggest inoculation rollout in history as freakish aberrations, mere coincidence (could relatives who happened to have been recently vaccinated really have died from something else?) or put it down to the cost of doing business at scale. An official UK government report recently said that more than 2,200 Britons may have been killed by vaccine-induced injuries, but there’s plenty more hard evidence in governmentally collected databases that these fatalities are

Portrait of the week: Scottish independence, striking lawyers and the end of Roe vs Wade

Home Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said that military spending had to increase. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, reacted to the loss of two by-elections by saying ‘I’ve got to listen to what people are saying’, but did not resign. Oliver Dowden said ‘Somebody must take responsibility’, and resigned as a co-chairman of the Conservative party. Later Mr Johnson joked to reporters in Kigali, Rwanda, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting: ‘I’m thinking actively about the third term.’ The Liberal Democrats won Tiverton and Honiton with a swing of 29.9 per cent from the Conservatives; the Conservative majority of 24,239 from the 2019 general election was the largest ever

Is there a new Covid wave – and do we need to worry?

Is Covid back on the rise? The ONS survey shows increasing prevalence in England and Northern Ireland, with ‘uncertain’ results in Wales and Scotland. Scotland’s prevalence (2.4 per cent have the virus, according to the ONS) is almost double anywhere else. Hospitalisations are rising too: up 17 per cent since last week – though two-thirds are incidental (ie in hospital for other reasons). So is this a new Covid wave? ‘Early signs that Covid may be rising’, says the BBC. But to those following the data closely, the uptick has been expected for some time – as the natural side-effect of a new variant. It is not, in and of

From snowball fights to delivering birthday cards: Britain’s 136,000 lockdown penalty charges

While Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer await the police’s judgment, there has been no end to the fines issued to others caught by their lockdown rules. At last count, some 136,000 fixed penalty notices had been issued in Britain. Durham police – a fairly easygoing force by Covid standards – have handed out just 1,090. Is it a bit mean to fine someone for having had a glass of wine or a beer at work? Perhaps. But no more so than the fines still being issued under the lockdown rules that Johnson and Starmer both voted through. A student in Leeds was fined £10,000 for organising a snowball fight. A

Matthew Parris

The truth about Britain’s Covid deaths

There has been a considerable hoo-hah in the press about the recent World Health Organisation report estimating Covid-related deaths internationally during the pandemic. The measurement chosen has been ‘excess deaths’ – the difference between the number who died during the pandemic and the number who, on average, died in the same place before the pandemic struck. This has enabled us to compare the British figures with excess deaths across the rest of Europe per 100,000 of the population; and it appears we’re not, after all, at the top of the death-league, but near the middle. Though its methodology has attracted serious criticism, I was struck by the report. But what

Are China’s censors losing control of Shanghai?

For weeks, Shanghai’s 25 million residents were assured that they would not be locked down. Then when the order came, the lockdown was supposed to last only seven days. It is now almost into its fourth week, and the government is struggling to suppress the chaos. Last week, 82-year-old Yu Wenming called his neighbourhood committee to say he had run out of medicine and food. Rather than reassure him, the local official despaired. ‘I am really helpless,’ he admitted. ‘I’m more sad than you are, because you are just one person. I see countless families…’ The elderly Mr Yu ended up comforting the worker. When a recording of their conversation

As Shanghai locks down, China is facing its greatest Covid crisis yet

The coronavirus is spreading through Hong Kong, Shenzhen and other cities in China like a bush fire; tens of millions of Chinese have been ordered to stay at home yet again. Shanghai, a city of 26 million souls, has been split in two. Those on the eastern side of the Huangpu River will be locked down until Friday, their west bank neighbours from the start of April.   It won’t work. Like a new Mercedes, the BA.2 model of the omicron variant of the Sars-CoV-2 virus is faster, quieter and 30 per cent more prolific. There is no chance of stopping it with lockdowns, mass testing or social distancing – even in Xi

Should we worry about the BA.2 Omicron variant?

When the Omicron variant (now categorised as BA.1) swept across the world at the end of last year it was seen by optimists as the final chapter in the Covid story – it was so contagious it would infect essentially anyone, but would be far less likely to cause serious illness. Now a new wave of Omicron – the BA.2 variant – is becoming dominant in many parts of the world. In the UK, cases are again on the rise. Genomic surveys show that BA.2 made up 76 per cent of new cases in England as of 5 March. The below is from the Sanger Institute: So what’s going on? Firstly, both

Covid is rising again. Should we worry?

For some time now, Covid has been rising in Scotland – there are now more Scots in hospital with Covid than at any time throughout the winter. A freak, or a sign of what’s to come nationally? The ONS survey answers that question today, confirming that Covid cases are rising nationally: some 4 per cent of England’s population, it says, would test positive. In Northern Ireland it’s closer to 8 per cent and in Scotland 5.7 per cent. Have waning vaccines created space for another wave – and do we need to worry? Just as Gauteng and South Africa then Lambeth and London were the early warning signs for Omicron’s rise

Why C.S. Lewis was right about war

Well, at least Covid is over. No sooner had Vladimir Putin’s tanks rolled into Ukraine than the UK’s Covid advisory group Sage disbanded. The same effect was felt in the US, where the outbreak of war in Europe led to the immediate, unlamented disappearance of Dr Anthony Fauci. After two years on primetime, suddenly the good doctor was nowhere to be seen. Covid already seems so very last season. The ‘climate emergency’ likewise seems to have drifted away. For years, whenever the world was facing no more proximate emergency, every politician from the Scottish parliament upwards insisted that we were all doomed and heading to hellfire. Such thinking captured most

Sage admits its models were ‘at variance to reality’. But why?

The Sage committee was set up as a pool of experts on tap to advise government. During the pandemic, it mutated into something different: a group whose advice ended up advocating long lockdowns. Its regular meetings have now been discontinued, with questions being asked in No. 10 about whether it’s time to disband Sage and set up a new structure – in the same way that Public Health England was reformed and became the UK Health Security Agency. There will be plenty of lessons to learn. But we might not have much time to learn them: a new variant or (given the growth of genomic sequencing) a new pathogen could come along at any

The return of Actual Badness

In the spring of 2020, I advanced an abnormally hopeful proposition: that one blessing that might arise from a pandemic with otherwise few redeeming features was a cultural sobering-up. Maybe we’d regain a sense of perspective about the trivial non-problems of identity politics once finally faced with a proper problem. Boy, was I wrong. Instead, what proved a relatively mild disease, in the big, smallpoxian picture, fostered an even greater frenzy of ineffectual pettiness – park benches wrapped with police tape, government edicts about Scotch eggs, fisticuffs in supermarkets over thin, gap-prone facial napkins. Rather than reveal the content of the culture wars as meeting the textbook definition of neurosis

The tyranny of Trudeau

Early in the corona era the historian David Starkey gave some thoughts on Covid. ‘We’ve got a Chinese virus,’ he said, ‘and we’ll finish up with a Chinese society.’ I remember at the time thinking the phrase neat, but doubtful. Fast forward a couple of years and the doubts have eroded. Although Britain seems to have avoided becoming a permanent Covid state (and is indeed one of the first societies to try leaping out of the Covid age), other parts of the West certainly do seem to be trying to meet the CCP more than halfway. Foremost among them is Justin Trudeau’s Canada. There is no shortage of things going