Right wing proponents of coronavirus disinformation are putting lives at risk
CORRECTION 18:05 18 September 2021: The original article incorrectly stated that David Berens is co-director of TFR. This has now been removed.
Groups and individuals lobbying against coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions tend to specialise in disinformation. The political leanings of these groups and individuals can invariably be characterised as ultra-right, with some having direct links to the UK government.
Some promote herd immunity, a form of which, as previously noted by The Canary, is what the UK government appears to have adopted.
Several of these groups and individuals have been exposed by investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed and by freelance writer and trade unionist Karam Bales.
At the end of August, Bales published a series of tweets on:
Sending unvaxed children into poorly ventilated rooms. Ignoring North America’s warnings. Being told infection could be better than vaccination. Conspiracy theorists platformed by media.
Bales referred to a non-peer reviewed report published in March 2020. The report claimed incorrectly that there would be no coronavirus second wave for that year. Bales said “It wasn’t published by Oxford, it came out via Dropbox by a PR company”. The author of this ‘Oxford model’ report was Sunetra Gupta. She went on to be one of the signatories to the pro-herd immunity Great Barrington Declaration (GBD).
Bales also referred to an article by Ahmed that demonstrated a link between the ‘Oxford model’ and the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights Team (aka the ‘Nudge Unit’). In a December 2020 article, Ahmed pointed out that the author of the GBD was Alexander Caccia, who happens to be Gupta’s partner.
Moreover, Bales referred to individuals and groups opposed to clinical interventions. They include eugenics promoter Toby Young, whose Lockdown Skeptics website Bales regards as hosting “questionable” science. He also mentions the anti-lockdown group Law or Fiction, which launched the legal case: Stop masks in schools. Then there’s the World Doctors Alliance (WDA), set up by Dr Mohammed Adil who was suspended from the UK medical register. According to Bales, WDA’s role is to link up “anti vaxers and conspiracy theorists”.
In another article, published in January 2021, Ahmed showed how UsForThem (UFT) – a group that promoted the early reopening of schools – was supported by Ed Barker. Barker, Ahmed pointed out, served as a communications advisor to Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign. And he has “provided PR support to Home Secretary Priti Patel, the Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, and former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon”.
Ahmed further commented:
The Government’s flip-flop schools policy, and its failure to ensure COVID-19 safety measures in schools, has been criticised by Independent SAGE – the group of public health experts led by former government chief scientific advisor Sir David King – for prolonging the pandemic, escalating transmission leading to excess deaths, and necessitating the latest lockdown to avert an even worse crisis.
Ahmed claimed that UFT’s position was:
not simply that schools should stay open, but that they should jettison all pandemic safety measures such as social distancing, masks and ventilation.
He added how in June 2020, UFT’s website stated that a letter had been sent to the Department for Education “threatening legal action against school closures and social distancing in schools, while demanding the full and mandatory opening of all schools”.
Subsequently, UFT announced:
Three days later, on 25 June, Boris Johnson confirmed that the goal of the Government was for schools to open fully in September and that schooling would be placed on a full-time, mandatory footing once more
According to Ahmed, UFT claims it influenced the children’s commissioner’s decision “to come out in favour of removing social distancing for younger children”.
Brexit, Cambridge Analytica, and Tory links
In the same article, Ahmed claimed that Barker manages the PR for the COVID Recovery Group. The latter has been described by Byline Times as a “group of Conservative MPs that has repeatedly called for lockdown restrictions to be lifted”. It was set up by Conservative MPs Steve Baker and Mark Harper. Barker also provided PR support for Nigel Farage’s pro-Brexit group Leave Means Leave.
Furthermore, UFT partner Time for Recovery (TFR) is another anti-lockdown organisation with right wing links. It has “direct ties to Nigel Farage, pro-Donald Trump donors in the US and the Conservative Party”. Ahmed adds:
As Sam Bright reported in Byline Times, Time for Recovery involves a number of key figures previously involved in World4Brexit Ltd – a lobbying body set up by Nigel Farage.
In a separate thread, Bales tweeted that a psychologist with the now defunct data miners Cambridge Analytica (CA) criticised vaccination passports for being “manipulative”. This is ironic, given CA’s work with the Trump and Brexit campaigns, for example, was all about psychological manipulation.
Bales also refers to Tim Graboski from AggregateIQ (contracted by Johnson and Michael Gove to head their Brexit campaign) who promoted coronavirus infection parties for kids.
A thread by another Twitter user also provides information on these and other anti-lockdown groups that hope to influence government policy.
Disinformation case study
Misinformation or disinformation has seen the promotion of Ivermectin as a treatment for coronavirus, particularly in the US. The US Food & Drugs Administration (FDA) has not authorised Ivermectin as a treatment for coronavirus; rather it’s mainly used to treat animals. The FDA says bluntly, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”
A systematic review and meta-analysis found no evidence that Ivermectin could treat Covid-19.
However, there’s a tablet version of the drug for humans which is supposed to be used as:
treatment of some parasitic worms (intestinal strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis) and ivermectin topical formulations are approved for human use by prescription only for the treatment of external parasites such as headlice and for skin conditions such as rosacea.
Ivermectin side effects may include:
skin rash, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, facial or limb swelling, neurologic adverse events (dizziness, seizures, confusion), sudden drop in blood pressure, severe skin rash potentially requiring hospitalization and liver injury (hepatitis).
A preprint paper promoting Ivermectin as a treatment for coronavirus was withdrawn for “ethical concerns”. The paper concerned was subsequently found to contain numerous inaccuracies and discrepancies.
And a Twitter thread by Ben Collins explains more.
Despite all these warnings, conspiracist-in-chief Alex Jones attempts to persuade people to take the Ivermectin version for humans as treatment for coronavirus:
Alex Jones reveals that he and his family have been taking ivermectin, and takes some live on air to prove it. Two things: 1. I’ve froze this frame-by-frame like the Zapruder film, and I think I’m seeing slight of hand. 2. His behavior after shouldn’t make anyone want to take it! pic.twitter.com/kIV8GUJGJ3
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) September 4, 2021
Herd immunity in all but name?
The current regime across the UK has lifted many legal restrictions. Yet coronavirus cases are rising (and winter is on the way):
QUICK THREAD on UK covid situation…
Cases in the UK are going up. We've had high cases for several months now – over 2.7 million confirmed cases since Delta took over in mid May. And no sign of coming down any time soon. 1/9 pic.twitter.com/ZtHtzVQyZG
— Prof. Christina Pagel (@chrischirp) September 10, 2021
Indeed, we could be experiencing a version of herd immunity as promoted by some of the groups mentioned above:
Herd immunity rests on the notion that once you’ve been infected or vaccinated, you’re immune for life. This is not the case with Covid, which morphs and mutates and reinfects. Go figure.
— Trisha Greenhalgh (@trishgreenhalgh) July 11, 2021
So, if the Johnson-led government isn’t following conventional science, what – or who – is it following? The answer to that question affects us all. And political ideology should have no place in any of this.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/US Secretary of Defense
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