On December 8, 2020, a government task force of health experts in Britain (SAGE) held their regular weekly meeting to discuss the virus.
One of the most important people at that meeting was Dr. Erik Volz, an “epidemiologist” who is a Senior Lecturer and a professor from the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College.
During the meeting, Dr. Volz showed the group a chart outlining the latest data, and it was noted that Kent in the southeast was showing a significant increase in positive PCR tests.
Dr. Volz then showed the group a “phylogenetic” tree of the virus in Britain, identifying which mutations were responsible for which cases.
The group was surprised when they saw the second chart because it clearly showed that just a single variant was responsible for the majority of the positive PCR test results in Kent.
After the meeting, the group then prepared a report for Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
On December 20, Boris Johnson held an evening press conference where he announced both the presence of the new variant in Britain for the first time and that the southeast part of the country (including Kent and London) was retreating further into lockdown.
Immediately, everybody in London got the fuck out of town as quickly as possible.
Forty countries, including Romania and Moldova, then imposed a ban on flights from Britain, stranding untold thousands of people abroad just days before Christmas.
All because of Dr. Erik Volz and his Chart of Doom.
Let’s Meet Dr. Erik Volz
To begin with, and I apologize in advance in case his family ever reads this, Erik Volz looks and acts exactly like a zombie.
Despite the fact that he’s not even 40 years old, his face is drawn and gaunt, his skin is pale and bloodless, and he talks in a dry monotone utterly without any emotion.
You can see his zombie act in this YouTube video from February 20, 2020, in which he appears alongside his then-boss at Imperial College, Neil Ferguson.
In the video, Volz confidently predicts that, based on his forecasting models, the number of infections in Britain will double every 10 days.
Which, of course, never came even close to becoming true.
Epidemiologist in Name Only
For your edification, here is Erik Volz’s own description of what he does for a living (slightly edited by me to correct some grammar issues):
I study the interaction of epidemiological dynamics and the evolution of pathogens. The aim of this work is to improve the surveillance of infectious diseases by using genetic data. Applications include outbreak detection, forensics, and forecasting epidemic trends.
I also study mathematical models for infectious disease dynamics, especially network models, and develop statistical methodologies for fitting epidemic models to the genomic data.
In other words, he never interacts with a patient, and he never examines any viruses under the microscope.
He purely works in the mathematical world. He is a “mathematical” epidemiologist who spends all day inventing algorithms that can supposedly model how disease outbreaks occur.
Just for funzers, I decided to look at some of Volz’s published academic work.
One jolly paper that I read from 2018 describes how Volz and a colleague devised a new mathematical model to retroactively fit the existing data for prior disease outbreaks. Once that was accomplished, the new model was then predicted to be awesome at forecasting how future outbreaks will unfold.
Unfortunately, the 2018 model was just as useless as the 2019 one.
Just this year, in February, Volz chipped in on an article about a collaborative effort to “fix” the prediction model once again so that it would be able to match the real data about Covid-19 that was coming in.
The Panic Room
Imperial College, remember, is supposed to be a world leader in applying mathematics to predict disease outbreaks (and identify which countermeasures to take). That’s what China pays them to do, after all.
And it’s the self-same Imperial College that issued a report (PDF) about SARS-CoV-2 on March 16, 2020, that was based on their new, “fixed” predictive model and one hell of a lot of assumptions:
We assumed an incubation period of 5.1 days…
Infectiousness is assumed to occur from 12 hours prior to the onset of symptoms for those that are symptomatic…
On recovery from infection, individuals are assumed to be immune to re-infection in the short term.
Infection was assumed to be seeded in each country at an exponentially growing rate (with a doubling time of 5 days) from early January 2020…
We, therefore, assume that two-thirds of cases are sufficiently symptomatic to self-isolate (if required by policy) within 1 day of symptom onset, and a mean delay from onset of symptoms to hospitalization of 5 days.
We assume that 30% of those that are hospitalized will require critical care (invasive mechanical ventilation…
We assume that 50% of those in critical care will die, and an age-dependent proportion of those that do not require critical care, will also die.
When examining mitigation strategies, we assume [that lockdown] policies are in force for 3 months, other than social distancing of those over the age of 70 which is assumed to remain in place for one month longer.
And what conclusion did Imperial College draw after making all of those assumptions and running them through their Super Duper High-Tech Disease Predicter?
Perhaps our most significant conclusion is that mitigation [saving some lives] is unlikely to be feasible without emergency surge capacity limits of the UK and US healthcare systems being exceeded many times over.
In the most effective mitigation strategy examined, which leads to a single, relatively short epidemic (case isolation, household quarantine, and social distancing of the elderly), the surge limits for both general ward and ICU beds would be exceeded by at least eight-fold under the more optimistic scenario for critical care requirements that we examined.
In addition, even if all patients were able to be treated, we predict there will still be in the order of 250,000 deaths in GB, and 1.1-1.2 million in the US.
Yes, that’s right.
Imperial College predicted that, even if the US and UK built a lot of emergency health care facilities and managed to treat every single person who got sick with Covid-19, a quarter of a million people would still die in the UK and over one million in the US.
Absolutely none of that came true, of course.
But that report led Prime Minister Boris Johnson to impose the first of many, many lockdowns in Britain on March 26.
Neil Ferguson had to resign earlier this year after being caught quite flagrantly breaking the selfsame lockdown rules for which he had so enthusiastically lobbied Boris Johnson to inflict upon the people of Britain, just so that he [Neil Ferguson] could squirt semen out of his penis onto another man’s wife.
Nonetheless, Professor Neil Ferguson the Disease Predicting Expert continues to have many defenders and remains a member of a prominent coronavirus advisory group.
Erik Volz, however, went up a notch in the pecking order at SAGE (the government’s premier coronavirus advisory group) after Ferguson resigned.
This is how, the week before Christmas, Volz singlehandedly became responsible for inducing a global panic over a new “variant” seen in a grand total of 550 cases in Kent.
But what is this new variant that Volz got so worked up about?
After all, there are literally hundreds of known variants of SARS-CoV-2, so finding one more is no big deal. In fact, usually, about two or three new variants are discovered every month.
The only thing truly unusual about the new variant (officially known as “B.1.1.7” inside Britain and by other names elsewhere) is that it seems to be pretty much the only kind of virus that was going around in Kent during the first week of December.
But so what? Different strains or variations predominate in different regions. It’s called the “founder effect,” which basically says that the first of anything to show up on a scene will dominate that scene.
Despite at least three previous new “dangerous” mutations being identified earlier this year that turned out to be no big deal, Volz took a look at the data from Kent and interpreted it to mean that something brand-new and scary was going on.
To draw this conclusion, Volz assumed that the new variant absolutely must have come from a person who had a weak immune system, was sick with Covid-19 a long time (at least two months!), and thus produced an “extra resilient” new variant of the virus.
Why did he assume that? Because a similar thing was reported once before in China.
Volz then convinced himself that the new, scary British variant from Kent (which already has 17 separate “sub-varieties” since it first appeared in September) has a specific gene sequence that might make it more adept at infecting people and that is probably why it is was predominating in Kent in late November and December.
Nonetheless, despite all of Volz’s concerns, not a single scientist in Britain or America or at the World Health Organization or anywhere else has been able to find anything especially deadly or vicious or infectious or transmissible or resilient about the B.1.1.7 variant at all.
Zip. Zilch. Nada.
There is no evidence whatsoever from real-world data to support any of Volz’s predictions or his concerns about the B.1.1.7 variant being dangerous.
A Fortunate Coincidence
But how did Volz even discover this new variant?
It turns out that one kind (but not the only kind) of PCR test used in Britain is set up to look for three specific gene sequences that are supposed to be unique to SARS-CoV-2.
In places such as Kent (but not exclusively), those PCR tests started finding positive cases in which only two of the virus’s signature “fingerprint” genetic sequences were seen. These cases, then, were automatically presumed to be the new B.1.1.7 variant because B.1.1.7 is missing that specific gene sequence that the PCR test can detect.
Volz and his team described the ability for British PCR tests to distinguish between the two-gene and three-gene virus types as a “fortunate coincidence” because otherwise, the B.1.1.7 variant might not even have shown up in the data at all.
We could’ve had a snake in the grass and not even known it!
No One Expects the Spanish Variant
This all sounds good and rather convincing until you remember the case of the B.1.177 variant from just a couple of months ago.
The B.1.177 variant originated from Spain and appeared in the data a couple of months ago across Europe and was identified as a “highly infectious” and more “resilient” strain just like Volz described the new B.1.1.7 variant in Britain.
But then it turned out that the reason the Spanish variant was “dominating the charts” for a couple of weeks was that it had been acquired by tourists enjoying a holiday in Spain.
In other words, there was nothing particularly “infectious” about B.1.1.7. It just got passed around a wider geographical area than other variants did for a couple of weeks during the summer.
B.1.177, the strain from Spain, offers a cautionary lesson, says virologist Emma Hodcroft of the University of Basel.
UK scientists initially thought it had a 50% higher mortality rate, but that turned out to be “purely messy, biased data in the early days,” she says. “I think that is a very strong reminder that we always have to be really careful with early data.”
Those “UK scientists” predicting lots of death, of course, were from Imperial College, including Volz.
That’s not surprising because Erik Volz also issued dire warnings about the D614G variant back in February that, of course, never came true.
By my count, this is now Erik Volz’s third coronavirus variant freakout this year.
Walking the Plank
After Boris Johnson announced the presence of B.1.1.7, scientists have detected it in dozens of other countries, including many of those which still have a ban on travel to and from Britain.
Faced with a minor backlash for being wrong yet again, Volz did what Neil Ferguson trained him to do and walked back all of his scary predictions with a lot of waffling bullshit:
“It is really too early to tell… but from what we see so far it is growing very quickly, it is growing faster than [a previous variant] ever grew, but it is important to keep an eye on this.”
Meanwhile, people who actually use electron microscopes to work with viruses tried their best to tell everyone that Volz’s panic over the B.1.1.7 variant was unjustified were completely ignored.
A British professor of virology:
Previous reports of emerging variants, D614G, N439K, and the “mink” virus have not translated into a new “strain” so it is unlikely the [B.1.1.7] SE England variant will behave differently.
Ten million animals, at least, lost their lives because of that previous panic, by the way. Not only did the government murder them for no reason at all, they didn’t even bury them correctly.
But back to Erik Volz’s “dangerous” B.1.1.7 variant.
A gene expert at the UCL Genetics Institute:
It is important to remember that all SARS-CoV-2 in circulation are extremely genetically similar to one another and our prior should be that most mutations have no significant impact on the transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2.
Another professor of virology:
The emergence of different coronavirus strains a year after SARS-CoV-2 first jumped to humans is neither cause for panic nor unexpected. Mutations will accumulate and lead to new virus variants, pushed by our own immune system to change or perish.
And so on and so forth.
Therefore, not only has Volz been catastrophically, hilariously wrong many, many times before in the past, there is absolutely nothing to show that anything new or noteworthy has even taken place in southeastern England.
Volz just saw a tiny stochastic variation in the data and turned it into a full-blown panic even though his job is supposed to be understanding how disease outbreaks work mathematically.
Hell, even Volz’s former boss Neil Ferguson thinks that Volz is full of shit in regards to this new mutation:
[We] conclude that there is insufficient data to draw any conclusion on the underlying mechanism of increased transmissibility… or disease severity [of the new variant].
Nonetheless, of course, it was Vanz’s bullshit that Boris Johnson chose to amplify, thus throwing the holiday plans (and business arrangements) of tens of thousands of British citizens and other people (including thousands of European truck drivers) into complete chaos just four days before Christmas.
Looks like World War III is going to drag on for a long, long time, folks.
My New Year’s wish is that sanity starts becoming cool again in 2021! :)