Be sure you watch this before you vaccine your children, or receive booster vaccines. Do not miss this critical breakdown of the science behind natural antibody immunity, covid vaccines, and the consequences of unscientific policies.
This is the article referenced in the closing segment of the episode.
Till We Have Faces
An Analysis of COVID-19 and Public Policy
Bruce Hindmarsh, DPhil (Oxon)
© Bruce Hindmarsh, 2021
Version, 22 November 2021
(621 days since the declaration by the WHO of a pandemic)
Foreword by Dr. Steven Pelech
There is little doubt that we are currently living in the midst of a transformative time of global upheaval
that historians will be critically analyzing for decades to come. The terrorist events of 911 at the
beginning of this century sparked dramatic increases in security concerns and responses that we are
still reeling from today more than two decades later. However, the threat from a tiny virus identified
as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has produced even greater impacts
on our societies on a global scale. It has infected over 250 million people, and over 5 million deaths
have already been directly attributed to the disease cause by SARS-CoV-2, which has been designated
coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19). Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, our own country
Canada has been plagued with 4 successive major waves of assault with this virus that have garnered
even greater restrictive measures imposed by our health authorities and federal and provincial
governments than ever before.
Vaccines using novel approaches have been rapidly developed and brought to bear against the
SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has continued to undergo mutations to produce even more infectious
variants. A concerted world-wide effort to confront and control the virus has revealed much about
this virus and those that are most susceptible to its destructive effects. On the one hand, there has
been tremendous, unified research efforts to rapidly learn and disseminate information about all things
related to COVID-19. This has included the open access in scientific journals that normally have pay
walls to freely view the latest scientific discoveries on the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the strategies that
have emerged to confront it. On the other hand, the measures taken to combat the SARS-CoV-2
virus have divided countries, provinces and states, cities, friends and even families. Strangers and nonstrangers
alike are perceived as potential sources of sickness and death. A state of mass psychosis has
gripped our societies that has been fueled by mainstream media that thrives when viewers and readers
are driven to their platforms by fear and concerns about the virus and its consequences. Politicians
have responded to the frightened masses by taking drastic actions that at first blush might seem
effective, but are not necessarily supported by sound science and the evidence.
In a time of further enlightenment into the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, we have seen
a new kind of discrimination emerge that has distinguished the vaccinated from the unvaccinated,
which has created a medical apartheid. Freedoms that we took for granted just two years ago are now
special privileges where submission to vaccination provides a temporary passport for unrestricted
access. No one really knows where the COVID-19 pandemic will take our societies in terms of its
lasting effects. No doubt, the SARS-CoV-2 virus will no longer be a health threat due to natural and
vaccine-induced immunity, and the increasing availabilities of new therapies to reduce its morbidity
and mortality. The real question is how effective have our existing regulatory and health authority
systems and news outlets been in taking on the threat of a highly infectious and deadly virus. Have
the responses of societies to the COVID-19 challenge caused more harm to our populations
physiologically, psychologically and economically than can be directly attributed to the virus itself? To
address these questions, it is important to critically evaluate the course of events over the past two
The scholarly and comprehensive essay that follows has been painstakingly researched and written
by Dr. Bruce Hindmarsh, who is a professor of spiritual theology and a historian at Regent College in
Vancouver, B.C. The esoteric science and highly technical terminology typically associated with
COVID-19 research makes it exceedingly challenging for laypersons to follow. However, Dr.
Hindmarsh has done a remarkable job in making this information accessible, and he accurately tracks
the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences of how societies have reacted to this
threat so far. In this regard, it is probably better that a non-scientist has crafted such a document.
Nevertheless, several members of the Canadian Covid Care Alliance’s Scientific and Medical Advisory
Committee have carefully vetted this essay to ensure its scientific accuracy and have offered
suggestions. Personally, I have found this to be one of the most balanced and informative treatise on
this subject that rivals anything that I have seen in scientific books and journals. It seems that much
more is yet to be written on this matter as countries are becoming even more receptive to mandatory
vaccinations, vaccine passports, terminations of employment, lockdowns, curfews, censorship, and
other restrictions of draconian measures that most of us have not seen before in our lifetimes. This
essay should serve as a sombre warning of how our human rights and freedoms actually are so fragile
in these turbulent times.
Dr. Steven Pelech, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia
President and Chief Scientific Officer, Kinexus Bioinformatics Corporation
Chair, Scientific and Medical Advisory Committee, Canadian Covid Care Alliance
Read the PDF document here, or continue on to read the webpage. You may also download the file to your computer.
The following is my very personal attempt to understand COVID-19 and the unprecedented public
policy response in Canada and Western nations.#1 The issues involved are complex, fast changing, and
touch on questions of science (in multiple fields), ethics and politics, and, ultimately, philosophy and
theology. I have set myself the task of analysing the issues as honestly and carefully as I can. This may
be beyond me in certain respects, but as a historian, I am accustomed to evaluating the quality of
evidence, the soundness of arguments, and the judiciousness by which these are presented. Although
I don’t work with p-values and confidence intervals, I know how important it is to indicate whether
claims are certain, probable, possible, or merely speculative. I work mostly in the humanities and
chiefly with written texts. I have written a little about Christianity and the history of contagious disease
in light of the pandemic.#2 I have done some research and writing in the history of medicine and in
social science, but I am very aware that I have no expertise in medical science, statistics, epidemiology,
virology, immunology, and other relevant fields.
I turned to analyse the COVID-19 crisis in more detail in part because of a crisis of authority.
Whereas there is much that we all normally take on authority, deferring to expertise, this way of
operating is disrupted when leading authorities disagree. It became apparent to me in the spring of
2021 that doctors and medical scientists of highest repute disagreed about many reported “facts”
about the coronavirus, including the messaging of public health authorities.
I have learned a great deal in the past months in reading scientific papers and have grown in respect
for the way such research is conducted, evaluated, and presented.#3 I have learned about the
epidemiologist Archibald Cochrane (1909-88) and the origins of evidence-based medicine.#4 I have
learned to look for large, representative samples and to distinguish randomized controlled trials from
observational studies, preclinical trials, and other kinds of reports or expert opinion. I have learned
about systematic reviews and meta-analyses, and I know to look for peer-reviewed studies wherever
possible and to take note where a study is a preprint, report, or editorial commentary. I have learned
to use PubMed, Cochrane, and other databases. I have learned the value of the evidence hierarchy
pyramid, but also come to recognize that it introduces its own problems if it privileges only expensive
industry-funded trials with narrow protocols. There is also a danger in this scheme that abstract data
analysis can lose touch with expert clinician-based experience. Sometimes experienced critical care
doctors can see patterns long before these can be validated at the level of expensive randomized
So, I have learned much. Yet I know that I may still be missing pieces or making amateur
judgements without realizing it. I have benefited from critical feedback from experts to challenge my
arguments or contest evidence or point out where I may be reading statistics incorrectly. I continue
to welcome such criticism. And the research continues to expand. The sheer quantity of research on
COVID-19 has been astonishing. As of August 1, 2021, there were 720,801 unique authors who had
published scientific papers in all 174 scientific subfields (including Automotive Design and
Engineering).#5 So, even as I have looked for findings on discrete subjects, it is impossible to be
comprehensive. One must remain open to new evidence and better research that may appear
tomorrow. In addition, my analysis has taken me into areas where I have needed to engage not only
with scientific writing, but also with journalism and opinion—of which there is also much. Where I
have encountered non-specialist data analysis or hyper-partisan sources, I have tried to be cautious
and sceptical. A crooked stick can still sometimes draw a straight line. More often than not, I have
used these sources simply to mine other data. As I have found in years of thesis examination, even a
bad dissertation often has a good bibliography.#6
Notwithstanding my respect for science, I want to take into account a sociology of knowledge that
operates in science as elsewhere in such a way that, to put it crudely, large numbers of people can be
wrong together. One only has to recall the Thalidomide tragedy in the early 1960s and the severe birth
defects in thousands of children that resulted from the use of this “completely safe” drug prescribed
to treat morning sickness in pregnant women.#7 Something similar happened in the 1960s with
chloramphenicol, developed to treat typhoid, but prescribed to some four million people per year for
minor conditions and that caused hundreds of deaths from aplastic anemia.#8 There is a danger when
we assume that our current state of scientific knowledge is final and complete. Not only does science
operate by the development of dominant paradigms that are elaborated, criticized, and then often
disrupted fundamentally, but it is possible that “an entire academic discipline can succumb to
groupthink, and create professional consensus with a strong tendency to reinforce itself, reject results
that question its foundations, and dismiss dissenters,” and this “political groupthink particularly affects
those fields with obvious policy implications.”#9 Moreover, scientists operate as human beings with moral
intentions, and the distinction between absolute fact (scientific) and relative value (cultural) is a
chimera.#10 The collusion of scientists, medical professionals, and politicians in eugenics policies in the
early twentieth century, including the Sexual Sterilization Acts in Alberta (1928) and British Columbia
(1933), reminds us how naïve and dangerous is the myth of self-evident science.#11
For all these reasons, the analysis of the pandemic calls for great care and vigilance, sorting through
the issues, questioning consensus, assessing the evidence, and evaluating public policy critically. This
is what I set out to do in the chapters that follow.#12
1 I am grateful for the feedback and criticism of numbers of scientists and other academics, medical doctors and colleagues, but the opinions expressed here are my own. Likewise, I speak for myself and not for the institutions with which I am affiliated.
2 Bruce Hindmarsh, “Coronavirus and the Communion of the Saints,” The Regent World, sec. Leading Ideas, 31 March 2020,
3 The CG Research Team, “How to Read a Scientific Paper,” Collateral Global (blog), accessed 25 May 2021,
4 A. Stavrou, D. Challoumas, and G. Dimitrakakis, “Archibald Cochrane (1909-1988): The Father of Evidence-Based Medicine,” Interactive CardioVascular and Thoracic Surgery 18, no. 1 (1 January 2014): 121–24, https://doi.org/10.1093/icvts/ivt451.
5 John P.A. Ioannidis et al., “The Rapid, Massive Growth of COVID-19 Authors in the Scientific Literature,” preprint (Scientific Communication and Education, 16 December 2020), https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.15.422900.
6 Wherever possible, I have provided a digital object identifier (DOI) or other hyperlink to my sources for the reader to follow up. Where these links are no longer live, one may always search the internet archive: https://web.archive.org/.
7 James H. Kim and Anthony R. Scialli, “Thalidomide: The Tragedy of Birth Defects and the Effective Treatment of Disease,” Toxicological Sciences 122, no. 1 (July 2011): 1–6, https://doi.org/10.1093/toxsci/kfr088.
8 Ivan Illich, Limits to Medicine: Medical Nemesis—The Expropriation of Health (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976), 65-66.
9 The classic work on scientific paradigms is Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). The quotation above is David Randall and Christopher Wesler, “The Irreproducibility Crisis of Modern Science,” National Association of Scholars, accessed 31 May 2021,
https://www.nas.org/reports/theirreproducibility-crisis-of-modern-science/full-report. The italics are mine.
10 See further, Jens Zimmerman, “Corona Hermeneutics 1: Follow the Science?” Stead (blog), 9 January 2021,
11 These are not remote or far-fetched examples. The US Supreme Court based its precedent-setting compulsory sterilization decision in Buck v. Bell (1927) upon the precedent of prior provision for mandatory vaccination. Nathalie Antonios and Christina Raup, “Buck v. Bell (1927),” The Embryo Project Encyclopedia, 1 January 2012,
12 Nothing in this paper should, of course, be taken as medical advice, and any medical decisions should be made by an individual with his or her doctor on the basis of informed consent.
The Making of the Pandemic
In December 2019, a number of individuals connected to a seafood and poultry market in Wuhan,
China, became ill, and by the end of the month authorities reported that they were treating dozens of
cases of a pneumonia-like illness. Soon afterward, a new coronavirus was identified by researchers—
only the seventh in the coronavirus family to infect humans—and on January 11, 2020, the Chinese
media reported the first death. Confirmed cases outside mainland China appeared in January in Japan,
Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States.#13 The first presumptive case in Canada was a
man who returned to Toronto from Wuhan on January 25.#14
The origins of what became known as the SARS-CoV-2 virus are still being investigated, but “as
far back as late November , U.S. intelligence officials were warning that a contagion was
sweeping through China’s Wuhan region.”#15 Phylogenetic and taxonomic research (a kind of reverse
engineering of the evolution of the virus) points to this same period for the emergence of a distinct
strain of a SARS-like coronavirus.#16 The theory that the virus escaped from experimental work on
coronaviruses being conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (“lab leak hypothesis”) was initially
discounted by authorities, but in May 2021 the Wall Street Journal reported that in November 2019
three researchers from the Wuhan lab were hospitalized with symptoms consistent with COVID-19,
and later investigation by U.S. intelligence agencies, though inconclusive, regarded the theory as
13 Derrick Bryson Taylor, “A Timeline of the Coronavirus Pandemic,” The New York Times, 17 March 2021, sec. World, https://www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-timeline.html.
14 Xavier Marchand-Senécal et al., “Diagnosis and Management of First Case of COVID-19 in Canada: Lessons Applied From SARS-CoV-1,” Clinical Infectious Diseases 71, no. 16 (19 November 2020): 2207–10, https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciaa227.
15 Josh Margolin and James Gordon Meek, “Intelligence Report Warned of Coronavirus Crisis as Early as November: Sources,” ABC News, 8 April 2020, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/intelligence-report-warned-coronavirus-crisisearly-november-sources/story?id=70031273. See also Robert Mendick, “Covid “Was Spreading Virulently in Wuhan” as Early as Summer 2019, Report Suggests,” The Telegraph, 4 October 2021, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/worldnews/2021/10/04/covid-spreading-virulently-wuhan-summer-2019-claims-report/.
16 Trevor Bedford et al., “Genomic Analysis of NCoV Spread. Situation Report 2020-01-30,” Narrative: Genomic analysis of nCoV spread., 30 January 2020, https://nextstrain.org/narratives/ncov/sit-rep/2020-01-30. Huihui Wang et al., “The Genetic Sequence, Origin, and Diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2,” European Journal of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases 39, no. 9 (September 2020): 1629–35, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10096-020-03899-4.
17 Michael R. Gordon Hinshaw Warren P. Strobel and Drew, “WSJ News Exclusive | Intelligence on Sick Staff at Wuhan Lab Fuels Debate on COVID-19 Origin,” Wall Street Journal, 23 May 2021, sec. World, https://www.wsj.com/articles/intelligence-on-sick-staff-at-wuhan-lab-fuels-debate-on-COVID-19-origin-11621796228; Natasha Bertrand et al., “Senior Biden Officials Finding That Covid Lab Leak Theory as Credible as Natural Origins Explanation,” CNN, 16 July 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/16/politics/biden-intel-review-covid-origins/index.html; Michael R. Gordon and Warren P. Strobel, “New U.S. Intelligence Report Doesn’t Provide Definitive Conclusion on COVID-19 Origins,” Wall Street Journal, 25 August 2021, sec. Politics, https://www.wsj.com/articles/biden-to-receive-report-on-coronavirusorigins-but-challenges-persist-in-how-to-deal-with-china-11629825758. See also Sarah Knapton, “Wuhan Scientists Planned to Release Coronavirus Particles into Cave Bats, Leaked Papers Reveal,” The Telegraph, 21 September 2021,
TILL WE HAVE FACES: AN ANALYSIS OF COVID-19 AND PUBLIC POLICY
Public attention to the virus increased in January 2020. On January 23, Wuhan was sealed off and
shut down by Chinese authorities, and a week later the WHO declared a “public health emergency of
international concern.”#18 Soon, the whole world was looking at frightening headlines from China and
videos of panic in the streets. The Sun newspaper in Britain showed footage that went viral (an ironic
phrase) and led with the headline, “Disaster Zone: Wuhan a ‘zombieland’ with people collapsing in
streets and medics patrolling in hazmat suits.”#19
In mid-February the disease caused by the virus was named COVID-19, and by the end of the
month, attention shifted to the first major outbreak in Europe as reported cases mounted in Italy and
towns were shut down in Lombardy. Again, as with Wuhan, images from Bergamo in Italy were
terrifying: army trucks brought in to transport dead bodies were seen around the world.#20 Iran also
saw an outbreak, and there were aerial photographs of mass burial sites.#21 On March 11, the WHO
declared a pandemic. Soon, nations worldwide began tracking and reporting case numbers, closing
their borders, and imposing various emergency measures.
Thus, it was in March 2020, in this atmosphere of uncertainty and fear, that pre-existing,
conventional strategy for pandemic management was abandoned by governments in response to the
threat of COVID-19. Earlier, in October 2019, just months before a lockdown was first imposed in
Hubei, the WHO published a report recommending the best way to manage an influenza pandemic.
It included ventilating indoor spaces, limiting mass gatherings, and isolating symptomatic individuals.
But the general population of exposed individuals were not to be quarantined “in any circumstance,”
since “there is no obvious rationale for this measure.”#22 This was the accepted, worldwide public health
strategy prior to COVID-19. The “UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011,” for example,
thought it “a waste of public health resources and capacity” to try to halt the spread of a new pandemic
virus, even conceding that as many as 315,000 additional deaths over a 15-week period should be
expected and managed.#23 Initially, the British government attempted to follow this strategy. The plans
18 Taylor, “A Timeline.”
19 Mark Hodge, “Coronavirus Ground Zero ‘Is Now a Zombieland with Dead Lying in Streets,’” The Sun, 24 January 2020, https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/10808633/coronavirus-wuhan-zombieland/. See the analysis of this video in the second chapter of Laura Dodsworth, A State of Fear: How the UK Government Weaponised Fear during the COVID-19 Pandemic (London: Pinter & Martin, 2021). Dodsworth questions the veracity of these videos. A documented legal case has been made for Chinese government covert manipulation of the news and policy around the crisis as it unfolded. See Michael P. Senger et al., “Request for Expedited Federal Investigation Into Scientific Fraud in Public Health Policies,” 10 January 2021, https://ccpgloballockdownfraud.medium.com/the-chinese-communist-partys-global-lockdown-fraud-88e1a7286c2b.
20 Dodsworth, 24. As noted below, 70% of the undertakers were in quarantine and the army was called in for a onetime intervention to transport 60 coffins, but the image was frightening.
21 Ivana Kottasová and Paul P. Murphy, “Satellite Images Show Iran Building Burial Pits for Coronavirus Victims,” CNN, 13 March 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/13/middleeast/iran-coronavirus-mass-graves-intl/index.html.
22 World Health Organization, “Non-Pharmaceutical Public Health Measures for Mitigating the Risk and Impact of Epidemic and Pandemic Influenza,” Global Influenza Programme (World Health Organization, October 2019), 47, http://www.who.int/influenza/publications/public_health_measures/publication/en/.
23 “UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011,” (first published 10 November 2011), 17, 28. Published to Department of Health website, in electronic PDF format only: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/responding-to-auk-flu-pandemic. Thus: “Taking account of this, and the practicality of different levels of response, when planning for
excess deaths, local planners should prepare to extend capacity on a precautionary but reasonably practicable basis, and aim to cope with a population mortality rate of up to 210,000 – 315,000 additional deaths, possibly over as little as a 15 week period and perhaps half of these over three weeks at the height of the outbreak” (p. 17).
The Making of the Pandemic
were similar in the US and Australia.#24 Established planning documents such as these are why Jay
Bhattacharya could describe the ideal of focused protection of the vulnerable as something that was
formerly known simply as “standard public health practice.”#25 This was not, however, the path taken
by most nations around the world in response to the threat of COVID-19.#26
Assumptions about the Novel Coronavirus
The foundation upon which this standard policy was overturned in favour of more severe restrictions
for the population as a whole were three fundamental premises that emerged out of the initial narrative
of the pandemic: (1) the virus SARS-CoV-2 is a new, extremely deadly pathogen against which we
have no protection, and (2) the virus spreads rapidly and asymptomatically (invisibly). And, coming to
the fore a little later, in the winter of 2020-21: (3) the virus mutates into more transmissible and virulent
forms. Importantly, these three assumptions together established the narrative of SARS-CoV-2 as an
unprecedented danger to the human population worldwide.
The first premise was given authorization on March 11, 2020, by the WHO’s declaration of a
“pandemic” and by the alarming epidemiological model produced by Imperial College, London, five
days later, predicting 2.2 million deaths in America and more than half a million in the UK if there
were no intervention. And the second premise was publicized in a widely cited paper in the New
England Journal of Medicine that “seemed to confirm what public health experts feared: that someone
who has no symptoms . . . can still transmit it to others.”#27 These early reports were hurried and proved
in each case to be seriously flawed, but they were effective in establishing the first two key assumptions
24 Thomas V. Inglesby et al., “Disease Mitigation Measures in the Control of Pandemic Influenza,” Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science 4, no. 4 (1 December 2006): 366–75, https://doi.org/10.1089/bsp.2006.4.366. CDC, “Interim Pre-Pandemic Planning Guidance: Community Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Mitigation in the
United States: Early, Targeted, Layered Use of Nonpharmaceutical Interventions” (CDC, February 2007), 12, https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/pdf/community_mitigation-sm.pdf. Department of Health, “Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza” (Commonwealth of Australia, August 2019), 245-62, https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/519F9392797E2DDCCA257D47001B9948/$File/w-AHMPPI-2019.PDF.
25 Quoted in David Cayley, “Pandemic Revelations,” davidcayley.com (blog), 4 December 2020, https://www.davidcayley.com/blog/2020/12/3/pandemic-revelations-1. Cayley is a former documentary producer for the CBC radio program Ideas. Battacharya made this remark during an appearance with his two colleagues on Unherd: https://unherd.com/2020/10/COVID-experts-there-is-another-way. See also https://gbdeclaration.org/. The ideal of focused protection is described in Martin Kulldorff, Jay Bhattacharya, and Gupta, Sunetra, “We Should Focus on Protecting the Vulnerable from COVID Infection,” Newsweek, 30 October 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/weshould-focus-protecting-vulnerable-covid-infection-opinion-1543225.
26 See the opinion piece, reviewing this departure from “basic principles of public health,” by Martin Kulldorff and Jay Bhattacharya, “How Fauci Fooled America,” Newsweek, 1 November 2021, https://www.newsweek.com/how-faucifooled-america-opinion-1643839.
27 On the changing definition of “pandemic,” to remove the words, “with enormous numbers of deaths and illness,” see Ron Law, “WHO Changed Definition of Influenza Pandemic,” The British Medical Journal, 4 June 2010, https://www.bmj.com/rapid-response/2011/11/02/who-changed-definition-influenza-pandemic. The report from the Imperial College, London is Neal Ferguson et al., “Report 9: Impact of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) to Reduce COVID19 Mortality and Healthcare Demand” (16 March 2020), https://doi.org/10.25561/77482. See the criticism of this report below. The first widely noted concern for asymptomatic spread was Camilla Rothe et al., “Transmission of 2019-NCoV Infection from an Asymptomatic Contact in Germany,” New England Journal of Medicine 382, no. 10 (5 March 2020): 970–71, https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMc2001468. Note, however, Kai Kupferschmidt, “Study Claiming New Coronavirus Can Be Transmitted by People without Symptoms Was Flawed,” Science | AAAS, 3 February 2020, https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/02/paper-non-symptomaticpatient-transmitting-coronavirus-wrong.
TILL WE HAVE FACES: AN ANALYSIS OF COVID-19 AND PUBLIC POLICY
of the extreme lethality and hidden transmissibility of COVID-19. This was how the virus was
characterized from earliest reports.
On the basis of these fundamental premises, governments acted swiftly to impose extraordinary
emergency measures on entire populations, including travel restrictions, quarantine, mask mandates,
social distancing, and various forms of lockdown or shelter-in-place orders.#28 The universal sense of
panic seemed to demand this. And they implemented standard programs to “test, trace, and isolate”
the virus, using chiefly a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) molecular test that was based on nucleic
acid sequence data from specimens of the virus as provided by Chinese authorities#.29 With little time
for debate or consideration, but with a sense of immediate and unprecedented crisis, politicians took
action. The state of emergency represented by COVID-19 seemed to justify moving quickly, abridging
multiple constitutional rights including the right to freedom of mobility, association, peaceful
assembly, worship, privacy, free speech, and the right to pursue the gaining of a livelihood.#30 As
previously in history, the “state of fear” authorized a “state of exception.”#31 The expectation was that
this was temporary, initially two or three weeks to “flatten the curve.” These restrictions were instead
prolonged for a year or more in most jurisdictions and in many cases only increased in severity. We
will assess the efficacy of these public policies in Chapter 3 below. But it is important to note here
that the narrative of deadly fear as a justification for emergency political measures was established
early—in the spring of 2020. The sense of danger and uncertainty was widespread.
The third premise of dangerous mutation in the SARS-CoV-2 virus surfaced later in 2020 with the
work of virologists to distinguish the appearance and spread of a UK variant in September and South
African variant in October. In October 2020, there was news also of an Indian variant, and later, a
Brazilian variant. These variants were subsequently renamed with letters from the Greek alphabet, but
it was the variant in India that awakened the greatest fears worldwide of the possible dangers from
mutation. News from India of the spread of disease, overwhelming of the health system, and reports
of high numbers of deaths, with images of mass cremations—all this had a similar effect to the earlier
images of coffins from Bergamo in Italy in March.#32 Although the infection fatality rate in India was
no greater than elsewhere, the absolute numbers reported from the populous sub-continent were
alarming.#33 It was another reason to fear what looked like a deadly threat.
28 The precedent for lockdown was China. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) in the UK debated whether this could be done in Britain. As Neal Ferguson reported, “‘It’s a communist one-party state,’ we said. ‘We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought.’ . . . ‘And then Italy did it. And we realised we could.’” Tom Whipple, “Interview with Professor Neil Ferguson: People Don’t Agree with Lockdown and Try to Undermine the Scientists,” 25 December 2020, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/people-don-t-agree-with-lockdown-and-try-to-undermine-the-scientists-gnms7mp98.
29 Center for Devices and Radiological Health, “SARS-CoV-2 Reference Panel Comparative Data,” FDA, 12 July 2020, https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/coronavirus-COVID-19-and-medical-devices/sars-cov-2-reference-panelcomparative-data.
30 The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, §§2-15.
31 Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
32 Anuron Kumar Mitra and Devjvot Ghoshal, “India’s Coronavirus Death Toll Passes 100,000 with No Sign of an End,” Reuters, 3 October 2020, sec. Health, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-india-casesidINKBN26O03C; Sameer Yasir, “India’s COVID-19 Death Toll Passes 100,000,” The New York Times, 3 October 2020, sec. World, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/03/world/asia/india-coronavirus-deaths.html.
33 Soumik Purkayastha et al., “Estimating the Wave 1 and Wave 2 Infection Fatality Rates from SARS-CoV-2 in India,” BMC Research Notes 14 (8 July 2021): 262, https://doi.org/10.1186/s13104-021-05652-2.
The Making of the Pandemic
In sum, then, there were three premises established very early in the history of the pandemic: the
virus is lethal, the virus spreads, and the virus mutates. This was and has remained the dominant
narrative of the pandemic. And it has aroused very deep fears. As David Cayley observed, “A National
Post headline encapsulated the reaction: “PANIC,” it simply said, in a font so big and bold that it
occupied a good part of the front page.”#34
Fear and the New Health Security State
A new health security state arose from these premises, as governments responded to the threat of the
virus by declaring states of emergency and enacting extraordinary measures. The precise nature of the
articulated danger has varied over time and the goal of public policy has shifted, but the narrative of
a deadly, mutating threat that spreads silently has been sustained. Emergency measures were presented
as necessary temporarily until the curve of cases is flattened, until the (first, second, third, fourth . . .)
wave recedes, until a vaccination program can be implemented, until the population is fully vaccinated
(70%, 80% , 90%, 100% . . . children, pregnant women, etc.), until booster shots can revive immunity,
until it is proven that vaccines can control new “variants of concern,” until we can eradicate COVID-
19 within our borders, or until we can defeat COVID-19 worldwide (zero-Covid). Similarly, the goals
have shifted from protecting the health care system from overload (while accepting that the total
mortality from the virus would remain the same over time), to protecting the frail elderly and
vulnerable from infection arising from uncontrolled community transmission (until vaccines arrive),
to preventing illness and death from COVID-19 generally, to reducing the number of headline cases,
to ending the pandemic altogether through mass universal vaccination.
All told, the alarming reports in March 2020 brought enormous pressure to bear on politicians to
do something decisive to protect their people, and public opinion rewarded or punished them
accordingly for the perceived strength or weakness of their actions.#35 Significantly, once restrictive
measures were mandated as public policy, the narrative established to support those policies became
sacrosanct.#36 It could not be questioned. The metaphors were increasingly of war. On March 15, 2020,
the BBC announced the UK to be on a “war footing.”#37 On September 21, 2020, the Globe and Mail,
simply declared, “Canada is at war.”#38 In a war, there is little room for dissent, and opinions are
34 David Cayley, “The Prognosis,” Literary Review of Canada (Oct. 2020). Because of such reporting, people generally have vastly overestimated the risk of dying from COVID-19. See, for example, Gabriella Swerling, “UK Public ‘Believe Coronavirus Death Toll 100 Times Higher than It Really Is,’” The Telegraph, August 20, 2020, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/08/20/uk-public-believe-coronavirus-death-toll-100-times-higher-really/.
35 The psychiatrist David Eberhard argues that people feel less and less secure today despite arguably living in the safest period in human history, and that the pandemic has accelerated the de-risking of society generally. David Eberhard, The Security Junkie Syndrome; How Pausing the World Leads to Catastrophe, TEDx Talks, 1 May 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43J7hD9I0jY.
36 See further, Jens Zimmerman, “Corona Hermeneutics 2: Interpretive Frameworks,” Stead (blog), 2 April 2021, https://www.steadcenter.com/instead/corona-hermeneutics-2-interpretive-frameworks/.
37 “Newspaper Headlines: UK on ‘war Footing’ as Elderly Face Isolation,” BBC News, 15 March 2020, sec. The Papers, https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-the-papers-51893135.
38 Cayley, Pandemic Revelations.
TILL WE HAVE FACES: AN ANALYSIS OF COVID-19 AND PUBLIC POLICY
categorized simply as patriotic or traitorous. So also, with the war against this novel coronavirus.#39 The
enemy must be defeated, and all attention and every resource must be focused on this one concern.#40
Were we correct, however, in the assumptions we made about the virus? How effective have public
policy interventions been? It is surely important to open space to consider these questions. In what
follows, I seek first to look at the science and to examine carefully the premises identified above
concerning the nature and extent of the danger presented by SARS-CoV-2 (Chap. 2), before assessing
the efficacy of public policy interventions (Chaps. 3-4). Then, I turn to sum up and to analyse the
balance of harms and the larger ethical and political concerns that have been raised by our shared crisis
(Chaps. 5-6). This analysis is meant to build from science to ethics, from questions of “What do we
know?” to questions of “How should we think about what we know?” It is not possible or desirable
to separate these concerns entirely, for truth and goodness are always intertwined. Yet especially as
we turn to the first category of scientific questions, it is important to remind ourselves again that the
answers we assert today may need to be revised in light of evidence that may yet be discovered
39 See the empirical study, Maja Graso, Fan Xuan Chen, and Tania Reynolds, “Moralization of COVID-19 Health Response: Asymmetry in Tolerance for Human Costs,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 93 (March 2021): 104084, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2020.104084.
40 See also, Ioannidis, John P A, “How the Pandemic Is Changing Scientific Norms,” Tablet Magazine, 9 September 2021, https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/science/articles/pandemic-science.
The Nature and Extent of the Danger
The fundamental assumptions driving perception of the novel coronavirus and the threat it represents
can be seen clearly in the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control’s “communication tool,” which
came out in 2021 with the roll out of vaccines. It instructs health care professionals to stay on message
by acknowledging patient concerns, redirecting them to the correct risks, reinforcing the
trustworthiness of the health system, and making a strong recommendation of vaccination for the
patient and his or her children. In order to achieve these health policy goals the document begins with
“Key Messages for the Public.” It says, succinctly, “The virus is a villain!” and this is followed by bullet
points: “Easily spread (SPREAD). Potentially kills (KILLS). Can change and adapt (ADAPTS).”#41
This is accompanied by a cartoon image of the virus as an angry, frowning villain. Significantly, these
are the same three premises (in a different order) that I traced in the previous chapter as they emerged
in 2020. So, again, these three stark “messages” together form the dominant narrative of COVID-19,
and they have established an unprecedented level of fear in society. It is of great importance therefore
that these assumptions each be examined carefully and critically.
The first question is: To what extent is COVID-19 a new, extremely deadly threat against which we
are unprotected? What does the evidence tell us?
COVID-19 has not in fact proved anything like as deadly as first predicted in March 2020.#42 Early
ascertainment bias (data from people admitted to hospital, tested for active infection, or volunteers)
and worst-case scenario extrapolations led to exaggerated claims of an infection fatality rate (the
probability of death for a person infected with the virus) as high as 3.4%. Again, this was being
reported at the same time that those terrifying images were being broadcast around the world from
Northern Italy of army trucks transporting coffins from hospitals to mass burial sites.#43 People were
Although there is still some debate over infection fatality rates (IFRs), estimates from antibody
studies (seroprevalence data) indicate a typical infection fatality rate that is much less than originally
projected. A peer-reviewed study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization in October.
41 BC Centre for Disease Control and Immunize BC, “COVID-19 Immunization Communication Tool,” 2021, 3. http://www.bccdc.ca/resource-gallery/Documents/Guidelines%20and%20Forms/Guidelines%20and%20Manuals/Immunization/Vaccine%20Safety/bccdc-covid-addendum-screen.pdf.
42 Phillip W. Magness, “Imperial College Predicted Catastrophe in Every Country on Earth. Then the Models Failed,” American Institute for Economic Research, 5 May 2021. Magness notes that the Imperial College “forecast of 179,000 deaths in Taiwan, which never locked down, was off by 1,798,000%.” https://www.aier.org/article/imperial-college-predictedcatastrophe-in-every-country-on-earth-then-the-models-failed/.
43 “This would make you think that army trucks were needed because there were so many bodies. In fact, according to the Italian Funeral Industry Federation, 70% of undertakers had to stop work to quarantine at the start of the outbreak, so the army was drafted in for a one-off transport of 60 coffins.” Laura Dodsworth, A State of Fear: (London: Pinter &
Martin, 2021), 25.
TILL WE HAVE FACES: AN ANALYSIS OF COVID-19 AND PUBLIC POLICY
2020, based on examining 51 different locations, estimated an infection fatality rate of 0.23% or lower
worldwide, though hardest hit areas rose to as high as 1.63%.#44 In February 2021, a further review of
systematic evaluations gave a global IFR of 0.15%.#45 This is higher than the average seasonal influenza
infection fatality rate of 0.05% to 0.1%, but lower than the more serious influenza outbreaks in 1936,
1951, 1957, and 1968, where the rate was 0.30%.#46 According to this estimate, the “Spanish flu” in
1918 had a rate some ten times higher than COVID-19 (2.0%).#47 Infection fatality rates are not static,
however, and they change over time and from place to place, but even so, these averages and
comparisons are important for assessing the overall lethality of this virus. It allows us to compare its
dangers to others we know.
Crucially, for those under 70 years of age, the infection fatality rates are significantly lower yet for
COVID-19. The median infection fatality rate for COVID-19 drops to 0.05%, or 1 out of 2,000.#48
For those under 70, this rate is therefore comparable to the average seasonal influenza. This is not, of
course, to say that the symptoms, severity, and course of illness with COVID-19 are the same as with
a typical flu, especially for those unfortunate individuals for whom the disease progresses to its acute
pulmonary stage, or for those who suffer from long Covid.
At the higher end, a different peer-reviewed seroprevalence study, based on 45 countries and data
up to September 2020, estimated a higher population infection fatality rate of 0.79%.#49 (This would be
at least 8 times worse than a typical flu season.). However, the focus of this study was not on
calculating average IFR but principally on the age gradient for COVID-19. Like other studies, it found
a markedly consistent relationship worldwide between age and infection fatality rate on a logarithmic
scale. It is one of the crucial, defining features of this virus (noted by all these studies) that its lethality
varies with age. As another systematic review and meta-analysis in December 2020 found, it is harmless
to children (at age 10 an IFR of 0.002%) but increases exponentially in lethality in a regular pattern
with age until it becomes deadly to the elderly (at age 85 an IFR of 15%).#50
In sum, although there is a range of estimates of the infection fatality rate of COVID-19, the
lethality of the virus has proved to be both much less than predicted (by orders of magnitude) and
more limited in scope (varying by age and location). Again, as a review of studies published in May
44 John P A Ioannidis, “Infection Fatality Rate of COVID-19 Inferred from Seroprevalence Data,” Bulletin of the World Health Organization 99, no. 1 (1 January 2021): 19-33F, https://doi.org/10.2471/BLT.20.265892. See also Justin Fox, “The Great COVID-19 Versus Flu Comparison Revisited,” Bloomberg.com, 6 August 2020.
45 John P. A. Ioannidis, “Reconciling Estimates of Global Spread and Infection Fatality Rates of COVID-19: An Overview of Systematic Evaluations,” European Journal of Clinical Investigation 51, no. 5 (May 2021), https://doi.org/10.1111/eci.13554.
46 When comparing the IFR of COVID-19 for the unvaccinated population to the average seasonal influenza in the recent past, it is also important to remember that estimated fatality rates for influenza are based in populations where most of the elderly and those at greatest risks are already vaccinated seasonally. The fatality rates would be even higher for influenza otherwise.
47 “Studies on COVID-19 Lethality,” Swiss Policy Research, 11 May 2020, https://swprs.org/studies-on-COVID-19-lethality/.
48 Ioannidis, “Infection Fatality Rate.”
49 Megan O’Driscoll et al., “Age-Specific Mortality and Immunity Patterns of SARS-CoV-2,” Nature 590, no. 7844 (4 February 2021): 140–45, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2918-0. Another similar study, using different methods across 34 locations, has found a range of infection fatality rates from 0.5% (Geneva) to 1.0% (New York City) to 1.5% (Australia) to 2.7% (Italy). Andrew T. Levin et al., “Assessing the Age Specificity of Infection Fatality Rates for COVID-19: Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis, and Public Policy Implications,” European Journal of Epidemiology 35, no. 12 (December 2020): 1123–38, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10654-020-00698-1.
50 Levin, et al., “Assessing the Age Specificity,” 1123.
The Nature and Extent of the Danger
2021 indicates, “SARS-CoV-2 is widely spread and has lower average IFR than originally feared, and
substantial global and local heterogeneity.”#51 It has varied, that is, by time and place in lethality, but it
did not turn out to spread like a scythe, cutting down three or four people out of every hundred
everywhere it went.#52 This is not the public perception. In July 2020 in the UK, researchers found that
the public believed the death toll to be one hundred times higher than it really is.#53 Polls have reported
the same misperception, by orders of magnitude, in the US.#54
Data on excess deaths from all causes during the period of the pandemic, when compared with
medium and long-term averages, offers another picture of overall lethality for COVID-19 to compare
with seroprevalence data. This data, however, is very sensitive to the time frame selected, can mask
other causes of death in a given year (including from lockdowns), and must also be adjusted for
changes in population. Ideally, one would also use “influenza years” rather than calendar years.#55 One
needs to consider falling mortality rates over time too, and the increase or decrease of the average age
of the population.#56 But all-cause mortality indicates excess deaths in England and Wales, to take one
example, were 10.2 per thousand in 2020, compared with 8.9 per thousand in 2019. Although we do
not know how many of these deaths were “from COVID-19” in 2020, the excess death rate certainly
spiked in March–April, above average, and rose again with the second wave in December. This is a
51 John P. A. Ioannidis, “Reconciling Estimates of Global Spread and Infection Fatality Rates of COVID-19: An Overview of Systematic Evaluations,” European Journal of Clinical Investigation 51, no. 5 (May 2021), https://doi.org/10.1111/eci.13554.
52 In many cases the hospital system was clearly not overloaded either. In Saskatchewan in 2020-21, there were fewer ICU visits each month and in aggregate, compared with 2019-20. “Annual Report to the Legislature, 2020-21” (Saskatchewan Health Authority, 31 March 2021), 15, https://www.saskhealthauthority.ca/sites/default/files/2021-07/2021-07-28-CEC-20-21SHAAnnualReport-vFinal.pdf.
53 Gabriella Swerling, “UK Public ‘Believe Coronavirus Death Toll 100 Times Higher than It Really Is,’” The Telegraph, August 20, 2020, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/08/20/uk-public-believe-coronavirus-death-toll-100-timeshigher-really/.
54 The Gallup-Franklin Templeton poll, for example. See Jordan Davidson, “Study: Majority Of Americans Grossly Overestimated COVID Hospitalization,” The Federalist, 22 March 2021, https://thefederalist.com/2021/03/22/studymajority-of-americans-grossly-overestimated-COVID-19-hospitalization-rates/: “The current hospitalization rate for COVID-related illness in the United States hovers between 1 and 5 percent, but 41 percent of Democrats, 28 percent of Republicans, and 35 percent of independents or members of other political parties said there is a 50-plus percent chance that someone with the Wuhan virus will need to be treated at a hospital.” See also Jonathan Rothwell and Sonai Desal, “How Misinformation Is Distorting COVID Policies and Behaviors,” Brookings (blog), 22 December 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/research/how-misinformation-is-distorting-covid-policies-and-behaviors/. The University of Southern California tracked American perceptions of COVID-19 risks, and for those under 40 years of age, the average estimate of the chance of dying if you catch COVID-19 was about 10-14%. The chance of getting infected was perceived to be about 20%. (The accurate global IFR estimate is 0.15 – 0.23%.) The chart is available here: “Average Perceived Chance of Getting or Dying from the Coronavirus (under 40),” USC Dornsife – Understanding Coronavirus in America | Understanding America Study, 26 September 2021, https://covid19pulse.usc.edu/. See also, Thiemo Fetzer et al., “Coronavirus Perceptions And Economic Anxiety,” ArXiv:2003.03848 [Econ, q-Fin], 4 July 2020, 5-6, http://arxiv.org/abs/2003.03848.
55 So writes the epidemiologist Eyal Shahar, “Not a Shred of Doubt: Sweden Was Right,” Medium, 27 May 2021, https://shahar-26393.medium.com/not-a-shred-of-doubt-sweden-was-right-32e6dab1f47a.
56 For a series of analyses and charts for the UK, see John Appleby, “UK Deaths in 2020: How Do They Compare with Previous Years?,” BMJ 373 (13 April 2021): n896, https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n896. Also, Ed Conway, “COVID-19: How Mortality Rates in 2020 Compare with Past Decades and Centuries,” Sky News, 12 January 2021, https://news.sky.com/story/COVID-19-how-mortality-rates-in-2020-compare-with-past-decades-and-centuries-12185275.
TILL WE HAVE FACES: AN ANALYSIS OF COVID-19 AND PUBLIC POLICY
signal that something was taking more lives than usual.#57 In comparison with the 5-year average, the
age-adjusted mortality rate in the UK as a whole was 7.2% higher than normal.#58 In absolute terms,
however, “the average risk of death to every person in England was actually higher in 2008 and every
year preceding it,” when compared to 2020. And there were many weeks during the year when the
mortality rate dropped. For the week ending April 18, 2021, the UK mortality rate was 12% lower
than normal levels.#59 So, again, as with serological surveys, the data is lumpy. It varies by time, as also
by place: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, and Norway experienced fewer deaths in 2020 than
expected, based on 4–5-year averages; others, such as Poland and Chile, were higher than the UK.#60
A sophisticated analysis of the Canadian mortality data shows the annual and weekly mortality
pattern in 2020 to be in line with overall trends, notwithstanding the same spring and winter curves
as in England.#61 Another full review of the data from 2010 to 2021 concludes similarly that within this
larger context “there is no extraordinary surge in yearly or seasonal mortality in Canada, which can be
ascribed to a COVID-19 pandemic.”#62
Data on excess deaths is challenging to interpret. How many of these excess deaths were from
COVID-19, and how many from the conditions of lockdown and other measures? In England and
Wales 48% of excess deaths in the summer of 2021 were non-COVID related, including an increase
in excess death registrations for heart disease and stroke.#63 In Canada, there has been an increase in
57 See above, and Ufuk Parildar, Rafael Perara, and Jason Oke, “Excess Mortality across Countries in 2020,” The Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, 3 March 2021, https://www.cebm.net/COVID-19/excess-mortality-across-countries-in-2020/. England and Wales in 2020 compared to the five year average is charted here: https://excessmortality.shinyapps.io/multi-page-stmf/. See also the commentary on excess deaths by the pathologist John Lee, “Unlocked,” documentary video, posted on YouTube, 6 May 2021. The Scottish doctor and writer Malcom Kendrick has all but given up tracking the contradictory studies of COVID-19 that have been appearing with such rapidity, but he is willing to look at raw numbers of deaths, since these numbers are more reliable: someone is dead, or they are not. He displays a graph for England and reports, “As you can see, a spike in overall mortality in Spring 2020, A spike in Winter 2020/21. Currently, no excess mortality at all. So, if COVID19 is infecting hundreds of thousands of people each week, it is not showing up as any excess deaths… at all.” Dr Malcolm Kendrick, “I Have Not Been Silenced,” Dr. Malcolm Kendrick (blog), 3 September 2021, https://drmalcolmkendrick.org/2021/09/03/i-have-not-been-silenced/.
58 “Comparisons of All-Cause Mortality between European Countries and Regions” (Office for National Statistics, 19 March 2021), 19. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/articles/comparisonsofallcausemortalitybetweeneuropeancountriesandregions/2020#relative-age-standardised-mortality-rates-ineuropean-countries.
59 “COVID-19 Quiz,” 5 May 2021, HART: Health Advisory and Recovery Team, accessed 22 May 2021, https://www.hartgroup.org/quiz/COVID-19-quiz/.
60 Parildar, et al., “Excess Mortality.” On variations by place and time in Europe, see the report, noted above, from the Office of Statistics in the UK, “Comparisons of All-Cause Mortality between European Countries.”
61 Claus Rinner, “Every Death Counts, Not Just COVID Deaths – GIS2 at Ryerson,” 20 May 2021, https://gis.blog.ryerson.ca/2021/05/20/every-death-counts-not-just-covid-deaths/.
62 Rancourt, Denis, Marine Baudin, and Jérémie Mercier, “2021-08-06 Analysis of All-Cause Mortality by Week in Canada 2010-2021 by Province Age and Sex,” 6 August 2021, https://denisrancourt.ca/entries.php?id=104&name=2021_08_06_analysis_of_all_cause_mortality_by_week_in_canada_2010_2021_by_province_age_and_sex_there_was_no_covid_19_pandemic_and_there_is_strong_evidence_of_response_caused_deaths_in_the_most_elderly_and_in_young_males. Note, however, Statistics Canada reported (provisionally) 5.2% more deaths than would be expected, were there no pandemic, during the period from March 2020 to July 2021. See Government of Canada, “Provisional Death Counts and Excess Mortality, January 2020 to August 2021,” Statistics Canada: The Daily, 8 November 2021, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/211108/dq211108a-eng.htm.
63 Sarah Knapton, “Thousands More People than Usual Are Dying … but It’s Not from Covid,” The Telegraph, 24 September 2021, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/09/24/analysis-thousands-usual-dying-not-covid/.
The Nature and Extent of the Danger
deaths from overdose and alcohol poisoning since the pandemic began.#64 The excess deaths among
young people in the US calls for explanation as well, since this is not where we would expect to find
deaths from COVID-19.#65
Indeed, in all this, it is important to emphasize that excess deaths during COVID-19 have been
mostly among the frail elderly and in congregant settings. This is what we would expect from the risk
stratification in seroprevalence data. In Western countries, the median age of death from COVID-19
is over 80 years of age, and half of deaths have been in long-term care homes. In Canada, for example,
67% of COVID-19 cases which proved fatal were in individuals over 80 years of age.#66 Because of this
mortality profile, life expectancy under COVID-19 has remained almost identical to what was pre-
COVID-19. For example, at the peak of the epidemic in the UK the risk of catching and dying (as
distinct from the fatality rate once infected) from COVID-19 was “equivalent to experiencing around
5 weeks extra ‘normal’ risk for those over 55, decreasing steadily with age, to just 2 extra days for
schoolchildren.”#67 Life expectancy was very little reduced. The same correlation (of COVID-19 deaths
by age and normal life-expectancy) has been demonstrated from the American data.#68 Again, it is the
frail elderly who have been most susceptible to death from COVID-19, just as they are to other
vulnerabilities. Statistically, most of those who died of COVID-19 in 2020 would not have lived much
longer even if there were no pandemic. Every human life and every day of life is unspeakably precious,
but it is important to see the lethality of COVID-19 in the context of normal human mortality.#69 One
reason for the excess deaths in 2020 in certain countries is the entirely expected epidemiological
phenomenon of the survival of the frail elderly through one or more mild flu seasons in immediately
prior years, resulting in a larger population of susceptible individuals when a more virulent virus
Although it is more difficult to obtain the location data for where infections originated, it appears
that a high percentage of the fatal cases of infection have been in custodial institutions: nosocomial
64 Statistics Canada Government of Canada, “The Daily — Provisional Death Counts and Excess Mortality, January 2020 to April 2021,” 12 July 2021, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/210712/dq210712b-eng.htm; Denette Wilford, ‘More Young Canadians Died from “unintentional Side Effects” of the Pandemic, Not COVID,” Toronto Sun, 13 July 2021, https://torontosun.com/news/more-young-canadians-died-from-unintentional-side-effects-of-the-pandemic-not-covid/.
65 Manfred Horst, “A Closer Look at US 2020 Mortality Data,” Brownstone Institute (blog), 2 September 2021, https://brownstone.org/articles/a-closer-look-at-the-us-2020-mortality-data/.
66 Public Health Agency of Canada, “COVID-19 Daily Epidemiology Update,” 7 May 2021, https://healthinfobase.canada.ca/COVID-19/epidemiological-summary-COVID-19-cases.html.
67 David Spiegelhalter, “Use of “Normal” Risk to Improve Understanding of Dangers of COVID-19,” BMJ, 9 September 2020, m3259, https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m3259.
68 Manfred Horst, “A Closer Look at US 2020 Mortality Data,” Brownstone Institute (blog), 2 September 2021, https://brownstone.org/articles/a-closer-look-at-the-us-2020-mortality-data/.
69 Also note the possibility that public policy measures may have increased the dangers to the elderly: “Epidemic theory dictates that a reduction in the force of infection by a pathogen is associated with an increase in the average age at which individuals are exposed. For those pathogens that cause more severe disease among hosts of an older age, interventions that limit transmission can paradoxically increase the burden of disease in a population.” Ted Cohen and Marc Lipsitch, “Too Little of a Good Thing: A Paradox of Moderate Infection Control,” Epidemiology 19, no. 4 (July 2008): 588–89, https://doi.org/10.1097/EDE.0b013e31817734ba.
70 This is the so-called “dry tinder” effect. See, on Canada, Claus Rinner, “Every Death Counts, Not Just COVID Deaths – GIS2 at Ryerson,” 20 May 2021, https://gis.blog.ryerson.ca/2021/05/20/every-death-counts-not-just-coviddeaths/. And on Sweden, Jonas Herby, “Working Paper: Exceptionally Many Vulnerable – “Dry Tinder” – in Sweden Prior to COVID-19,” SSRN Electronic Journal, 2020, https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3702595.
TILL WE HAVE FACES: AN ANALYSIS OF COVID-19 AND PUBLIC POLICY
(acquired in hospital or long-term care) or in prison, and not in the community.#71 Another way to put
this is to say that if the population were divided between those in government-controlled institutions
in Canada and the rest of the population, we would find that a high percentage of deadly cases of
COVID-19 originated in these institutional settings.#72 One is twenty times more likely to die from a
case of COVID-19 acquired in long-term care than in the community. It is not just that most
individuals died in nosocomial and government-controlled institutional settings: it appears that they
also in large numbers acquired the infection there. For example, data from Public Health Canada in
April 2021 indicates that where there have been local outbreaks (two or more confirmed cases in the
same location, epidemiologically linked), 18.5% of cases in long-term care and retirement homes were
fatal, and 7.6% in hospitals. This is where vulnerable people are congregated. In schools and childcare,
as in restaurants and retail, by comparison, 0.01% of cases were fatal.#73 This has important implications
for public policy that have not been adequately considered.
In estimating the lethality of COVID-19, a further serious problem has been the way numbers of
COVID-19 deaths are reported, since it has been common practice, as in Germany, to count “any
deceased person who was infected with coronavirus as a Covid19 death, whether or not it actually
caused death.”#74 Reports indicate that this is true also in Australia, the UK, and the U.S.#75 I presume
this is also true of provincial public health reporting in Canada. Some scientists have however
described COVID-19 not as a pandemic but as a “syndemic,” wherein a communicable disease
intersects with a noncommunicable disease. Describing COVID-19 as a “syndemic” signals that most
deaths have involved comorbidities.#76 In Canada, 90% of COVID-19-involved deaths between March
and July 2020 had at least one other cause, condition, or complication reported on the death
certificate.#77 In Scotland, between March and August 2021, there were pre-existing conditions
indicated for 9,877 COVID-19-involved deaths, and only 732 deaths without such conditions
71 The public data has been analysed in detail by Julius Ruechel, “The Lies Exposed by the Numbers: Fear, Misdirection, & Institutional Deaths (An Investigative Report),” 28 May 2021, https://www.juliusruechel.com/2021/05/the-liesexposed-by-numbers-fear.html. I have reviewed the public data myself (see note below).
72 See Table 6, “Canada COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiology Report: 18 April to 24 April 2021,” COVID-19 in Canada (Public Health Agency of Canada, 30 April 2021), 13. https://web.archive.org/web/20210501003054/ https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/phac-aspc/documents/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/survcovid19-weekly-epi-update-20210430-eng.pdf.
73 The data comes from Table 6, “Canada COVID-19 Weekly.”
74 Kit Knightly, “COVID19 Death Figures ‘A Substantial Over-Estimate,’” OffGuardian, 5 April 2020, https://offguardian.org/2020/04/05/covid19-death-figures-a-substantial-over-estimate/.
75 Dr Malcolm Kendrick, “I Have Not Been Silenced,” Dr. Malcolm Kendrick (blog), 3 September 2021, https://drmalcolmkendrick.org/2021/09/03/i-have-not-been-silenced/; Courtney Hempton and Marc Trabsky, “‘Died from’ or ‘Died with’ COVID-19? We Need a Transparent Approach to Counting Coronavirus Deaths,” The Conversation, accessed 6 September 2021, http://theconversation.com/died-from-or-died-with-COVID-19-we-need-a-transparentapproach-to-counting-coronavirus-deaths-145438; Tim Harris, “Dr. Birx: Unlike Some Countries, ‘If Someone Dies With COVID-19 We Are Counting That As A COVID-19 Death,’” 8 April 2020, https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2020/04/08/dr_birx_unlike_some_countries_if_someone_dies_with_COVID-19_we_are_counting_that_as_a_COVID-19_death.html.
76 Richard Horton, “Offline: COVID-19 Is Not a Pandemic,” The Lancet 396, no. 10255 (26 September 2020): 874, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)32000-6; John P. A. Ioannidis, “Over- and Under-Estimation of COVID-19 Deaths,” European Journal of Epidemiology 36, no. 6 (2021): 581–88, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10654-021-00787-9.
77 Kathy O’Brien and et al., “COVID-19 Death Comorbidities in Canada,” Statistics Canada, 16 November 2020, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/45-28-0001/2020001/article/00087-eng.htm.
The Nature and Extent of the Danger
recorded.#78 In Ireland, every non-COVID-19 cause of death dropped in the 1st quarter of 2020,
compared to the previous year, and analysis shows this clearly to be a result of reclassification as
COVID-19 deaths.#79 The failure to distinguish death from COVID-19 and death with COVID-19, or
to reckon properly any serious co-morbidities, has exaggerated the lethality of the virus in reporting
to the public. If someone without symptoms tests positive for COVID-19 in the twenty-eight days
before dying in a car accident, his or her cause of death is still registered as COVID-19 in many
countries. This confusion leads to distortions in fatality rates and in public perception of lethality,
since “deaths from COVID-19” is one of the daily headline statistics regularly reported alongside
“cases,” and “hospitalizations.”#80
To recapitulate, seroprevalence studies, excess deaths data, the age risk-profile for COVID-19, the
location of acquired infection (chiefly nosocomial), and problems in cause-of-death reporting all alike
point to a relatively low risk for the general population of healthy individuals of catching and dying of
COVID-19, especially outside of hospitals and long-term care homes and under 70 years of age.
However, whether institutionalized or in the community, the frail elderly and other vulnerable
individuals (such as those with obesity, diabetes, and the immune-compromised) are more seriously
at risk of severe illness and death from this virus and in most need of protection.
The first premise in the dominant narrative—that COVID-19 is a new, unprecedented lethal
danger against which we have no protection—is in many ways the most important, for it is here that
fear is first awakened. The science presented in this initial section should allow us to reckon more
proportionately with the danger of COVID-19 by assessing its risks. We have compared the risk of
dying from a COVID-19 infection to the seasonal flu. Here is another context for comparison: The
odds in the United States in 2018 of dying from accidental injury in a motor vehicle accident, over the
course of an entire lifetime, was 1 in 106, or 0.94%.#81 If the average risk of dying from a case of
COVID-19 (once infected) is in the range of 0.15%, how fearful should we be? Moreover, if we know
the age-stratified risk profile for COVID-19, and if we know other specific risk factors, does this not
give us even more confidence and allow us to take appropriate, specific precautions for those most
The dominant narrative assumes that the virus is transmitted by people without visible symptoms and
at speed. This is frightening, since you never know in any social setting, among seemingly healthy
people, whether undetectable but deadly viral transmission might be taking place. Here too, we may
examine the evidence critically. To what extent does this new coronavirus spread rapidly and
asymptomatically (invisibly), unlike anything we have experienced before?
78 Stuart Allan, “COVID-19 Mortality Table, by Age Group and Pre-Existing Condition, Updated to Include August 2021 Data. Deaths without Pre-Existing Conditions in the under 25s, since the Start of the Pandemic, ZERO. https://T.Co/VH0gkmKTIA,” Tweet, @OutsideAllan (blog), 24 September 2021, https://twitter.com/OutsideAllan/status/1441435148143190016.
79 “Artificial Re-Attribution of Deaths to COVID-19,” Bring Back Normal, 31 August 2021, https://bringbacknormal.ie/artificial-covid-deaths/: “There is a 1 : 100 000 probability that Non-Covid deaths fell to 7,708 in Q1-2021 based on a statistical analysis of 2010 to 2021 deaths.”
80 Ioannidis, “Over- and under-Estimation.”
81 “Facts + Statistics: Mortality Risk | III,” accessed 6 September 2021, https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/factsstatistics-mortality-risk.
TILL WE HAVE FACES: AN ANALYSIS OF COVID-19 AND PUBLIC POLICY
Much of the evidence for asymptomatic spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was, at least initially,
uncertain. Governments acted on a precautionary principle, based not on certain evidence but on the
dangerous possibility of asymptomatic transmission suggested in various reports, especially from the
beginning of the outbreak.#82 It was not clear initially how soon and for how long someone incubating
the SARS-CoV-2 could shed virus. At some point it was agreed that the danger period was around 14
days, and this became the standard for quarantine in most countries. Thus, one summary of research
stated in September 2020: “Asymptomatic persons seem to account for approximately 40% to 45%
of SARS-CoV-2 infections, and they can transmit the virus to others for an extended period, perhaps
longer than 14 days.”#83 Public policy took this up as a basic assumption.
However, although the available studies indicate asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic patients can
test positive for the virus at rates ranging from 18% to 57%, it is not at all clear what a molecular PCR
test precisely indicates in terms of actual infection or infectiousness. As one article in the British Medical
Journal noted in December 2020: “Unusually in disease management, a positive test result is the sole
criterion for a COVID-19 case. Normally, a test is a support for clinical diagnosis, not a substitute.”
The absence of clinical oversight has implications. It means “we know very little about the proportions
of people with positive results who are truly asymptomatic throughout the course of their infection
and the proportions who are paucisymptomatic (subclinical), presymptomatic (go on to develop
symptoms later), or post-infection (with viral RNA fragments still detectable from an earlier
infection).”#84 There is also, of course, a significant percentage of false positives in the PCR test and
inconsistency in the cycle threshold used for amplifying trace RNA.
It remains uncertain therefore how much, how soon, and how long a non-symptomatic person
incubating SARS-CoV-2 sheds virus. In one small study of infector-infectee pairs, viral transmission
was estimated to occur two or three days prior to the onset of symptoms in about 44% of patients in
a pattern “more similar to seasonal influenza” than to the previous SARS outbreak.#85 But again,
quoting the earlier study, it is “unclear to what extent people with no symptoms transmit SARS-CoV2
The only test for live virus is viral culture. PCR and lateral flow tests do not distinguish live virus.
No test of infection or infectiousness is currently available for routine use. As things stand, a person
who tests positive with any kind of test may or may not have an active infection with live virus, and
may or may not be infectious.”#86 More importantly, based on detailed contact tracing, several other
careful peer-reviewed studies question whether asymptomatic individuals are really driving the spread
82 Early reports, as noted above, accentuated this fear. See, e.g., Kai Kupferschmidt and Jon Cohen, “‘This Beast Is Moving Very Fast.’ Will the New Coronavirus Be Contained—or Go Pandemic?,” Science | AAAS, 5 February 2020, https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/02/beast-moving-very-fast-will-new-coronavirus-be-contained-or-gopandemic.
83 Daniel P. Oran and Eric J. Topol, “Prevalence of Asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 Infection: A Narrative Review,” Annals of Internal Medicine 173, no. 5 (September 1, 2020): 362–67, https://doi.org/10.7326/M20-3012.
84 Allyson M Pollock and James Lancaster, “Asymptomatic Transmission of COVID-19,” BMJ, 21 December 2020, m4851, https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m4851.
85 Susan Lee et al., “Asymptomatic Carriage and Transmission of SARS-CoV-2: What Do We Know?” Canadian Journal of Anesthesia/Journal Canadien d’anesthésie 67, no. 10 (October 2020): 1424–30, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12630-020-01729-x.
86 Pollock and Lancaster, “Asymptomatic Transmission.”
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