In this sixteenth episode, Knut Wittkowski shares his expert view that lockdowns were not necessary. That he can’t figure out a single justification for extending them. That there is no “second wave”. That there is no viable option other than herd immunity, and that by prolonging the pandemic, we are putting the vulnerable at greater risk.
Lee: This is a rather unexpected interview, and it was just less than an hour ago, I said, “Hey, would you like to be a podcast guest?” And you said “Yes, now.” So, I rushed the dinner out of the oven and ate it in a hasty manner and jumped to a PC. I don’t have the most ideal environment at the moment, so it may be a little noisier than it usually is for the podcast, since this was unplanned. The reason I’ve invited you on is because I believe that there is widespread misinformation. In fact, I would even say we’re being misled by media organizations in relation to the coronavirus epidemic.
Lee: I’ve been following yourself for some time, and I’ve been finding rationale in what you have been saying and I’m exploring it. I would like to talk with you for a little bit so that other people can also hear what you have to say, and also begin to evaluate it for themselves. I would like you to provide a little introduction to yourself. I have a sense that you have a more personal background you could give us that relates to coronavirus so that people can understand the context in which you come from.
Knut: I have been an epidemiologist for 35 years, serving in Germany, and then at the Rockefeller University. Many of the experiences that I have now are reminiscent of what I experienced in the early ’90s when HIV was around, and people were scared of HIV as they are now scared of SARS. The fear that HIV would enter the heterosexual population, and very early on in the early ’90s it was quite clear to epidemiologists that, that would never happen. But there were politicians, there were journalists, and there were also many religious groups who were pushing for spreading more fear.
Knut: In the end it was all without any basis. HIV didn’t spread in Europe among heterosexuals as I had predicted, and now we have the same thing. But it’s again, politicians, and media, and some physicians spreading fear about a virus that isn’t as dangerous as they want people to believe.
Lee: When you say HIV didn’t move to the heterosexual population, clearly many heterosexuals have contracted HIV and subsequently went onto AIDS. So, I’m assuming you’re meaning in some kind of numbers that were projected?
Knut: It’s really a difference between cultures, and I was talking in Germany, and in more general about Caucasians. And yes, some people have contracted HIV, but there are no chains of infections within the heterosexual population in Germany or by extension among Caucasians.
Lee: Okay, and is there anything else you would like to add in your background there?
Knut: I worked with the Eberhard Karls University in Germany in Tübingen with one of the leading European epidemiologists Klaus Dietz. And then about 25 years ago, I moved to the United States and spent about 20 years at the Rockefeller University as the Head of Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research.
Lee: I’m in Slovenia, my daughter lives in Austria, a neighboring country. Slovenia borders Northern Italy, and I was kept apart from my daughter at a critical period in her life for the longest period of her life, even though she’s just a three-hour drive away. She was taken out of school, has fallen obviously, behind in education, was very upset, unable to see me. And then after three months I was able to go see her. I was able to take her out for the day, but I wasn’t allowed to stay overnight in Austria.
Lee: I was able to drive around Austria all day with her and visit public places, but she couldn’t come back to Slovenia with me. Otherwise, she would face a quarantine on this side and a quarantine on returning her home. She was distraught at this. It’s caused great harm, and then finally she was able to come here after four months. Then I took her clothes shopping, and as you know, Slovenia is the first country in the EU to lift restrictions, but when she went into H&M, they’ve closed the changing room, and so she can’t try clothes on. So, then she has to take them to the public toilets, try them on and take them back. Because allegedly the public toilets, I guess, are safer than changing rooms. And then when she hands clothes back, the clothes are quarantined for a week. So, shops are running short on size 38 dresses.
Lee: And so, it began to seem striking that this isn’t science-based, and it’s micromanagement of our personal lives and our family lives. And in Slovenia, I couldn’t help, but notice the restrictions began to get eased in April, and yet I just saw a decline in cases by middle of May. It was, “Hey, the pandemic’s declared over.” And I watched all of May, the city center became crowded, restaurants filled up and by the end of May, nobody’s wearing masks, and I saw the cases falling. It was a sense of disreality, so then I began to investigate more, and that’s led me to paying attention to what you have been saying.
Knut: The epidemic in Slovenia looks very much like an epidemic that run its course, its natural course. So, it peaked in somewhere in late March and then declined. This is what happens with every respiratory disease epidemic. So, there is nothing remarkable about that epidemic running for Slovenia, taking its natural course, and apparently all the interventions have little if any effect.
Lee: So, you’re saying the lockdown in Slovenia, I think it’s 16th of March, was futile.
Knut: There is no evidence that it did do anything.
Lee: What solution do you see to coronavirus? What options do you think are available? Let me expand upon that. What I noticed was, we were told it was going to be a lockdown for a limited period so the hospitals were not overwhelmed. I understood this. I complied. And then it started getting reported back to me in Slovenia that people are bored at the hospital because they’re not seeing the patients. And then I noticed other people who had very important elective procedures and cancer follow-ups had been cancelled.
Lee: But if you said to anybody, “Hey, the people at the hospital are telling me they’re really bored.” You were told, “Oh, that’s because the lockdown has been so successful.” So, would you refute this? That the hospitals were emptied and staff never got the influx of the patients that they expected, because the lockdown was so successful? So, you categorically refute that?
Knut: Well, the lockdown was also successful in preventing the sky from falling down. And the proof of that is that the sky didn’t fall down.
Lee: If the lockdown didn’t happen, do you think the hospitals would have been fuller of COVID-19 patients?
Knut: No. There’s no indication that, that would have made any difference.
Lee: Why do you think governments made this choice?
Knut: Because they’re scared because what they had seen in Italy, was that many people died. And initially it wasn’t quite obvious that those was who died were people who were very old, with many comorbidities in nursing homes that were not well managed. And so, it appeared that this would be a flu that is more dangerous than other flus, much more dangerous, and in the meantime, we have learned it is not. Yes, it’s more dangerous for those who are older and have several comorbidities, but otherwise, especially for the younger, for the healthy, for the children, it seems actually to be milder than most other flus have been in the recent past.
Lee: So, would you please separate the infection fatality rate from case fatality rate, just so we can set a background right at the beginning here.
Knut: These rates are highly overvalued with respect to what they actually tell you. Because it is very difficult to identify how many people have actually been infected. Most infections are non-symptomatic, and you haven’t yet collected the data from antibody tests and from other tests to actually found out how many people have been infected. We don’t know, and so, we cannot really calculate a fatality rate. And also, with cases, it’s very difficult to do because the definition of cases varies over time and between countries.
Knut: Here in the United States, initially it was, you got a case and died. If you died of the virus, then you were a case if you died with the virus. And then you were a case if you died while knowing somebody with the virus, and I’m not joking. So, the definitions change all the time, and therefore these rates don’t really make that much sense.
Lee: As I am just looking for a quotation of yours, I ran into something on Twitter. It’s a Judy Brandt and she’s a SNF nurse. She has two tweets and they should be concatenated, and it reads, “I don’t know who needs to hear this today by SNF nurse here. Our resident residents have been isolated for three months. They’re dying of sadness. The ones with dementia can’t understand why they have been abandoned. The ones without it, have lost hope. They deserve the choice of dying alone or dying of COVID with their loved ones. Many would pick option two, i.e. to die with their loved ones.” Do you have a comment upon that?
Knut: It’s one of these sad things that happened with all that flattening of the curve. But the isolation of those with comorbidities who are at high risk has to be prolonged. If you let the epidemic run its natural course it’s only a short period of time. But if you flatten the curve, then those who are elderly or have dementia with other comorbidities, they need to be isolated for a prolonged period of times, and that makes it very difficult for them. And it also puts them at risk because many do not get isolated for that long, and then they become infected and die.
Lee: There’s a couple of questions there. So, then we have the issue of, I’ll call it the morality. That people, they should be given a choice to die with COVID-19 with their loved ones, don’t you think?
Knut: I think that aspect has been totally ignored in all of the discussions. People have not been given the choice to decide how much they want to expose themselves. And as an epidemiologist, it has long been a practice in epidemiology, that those who are infectious to be quarantined, and those who are vulnerable have to be isolated. But those who are neither, who are healthy, they’re left alone and live their life.
Knut: This has now been turned upside down. Those who are isolated are those who are the healthy, and that has several negative effects, including that those who are vulnerable need to be isolated much longer because the virus cannot spread and create herd immunity among the healthy.
It’s again, politicians, and media, and some physicians spreading fear about a virus that isn’t as dangerous as they want people to believe.
Knut M. Wittkowski
Lee: Okay. So, the crux of everything, or the linchpin of everything that you have been saying is the only viable option is herd immunity.
Knut: There is no other way to stop a respiratory disease epidemic than herd immunity.
Lee: You’re not of the opinion that the reason the lockdowns are being extended and extended is to wait upon a vaccine?
Knut: That is not feasible. We cannot keep the lockdown going for a year or something like that. Not even knowing whether a vaccine could ever be developed because vaccines against flus are not that effective in the first place, and sometimes it’s impossible the development. And we have seen with corona viruses the vaccines that we make, make the situation worse. And so, to wait for a vaccine is plain stupid. It’s unnecessary.
Lee: Why do you think the internet is littered in vaccine information, headlines, social media? Why do you think vaccines have become the number one topic? In fact, Bill Gates two weeks ago made the statement that he expects a vaccine by the end of the year, and even newborns would be vaccinated. So, 7 billion, approximately people, healthy people would be treated. Do you have any commentary upon that?
Knut: I don’t see, first, that this vaccine is coming. The second bit is that we don’t really need it. It’s nice to have one because it shortens the period that is needed to get herd immunity, those who are vaccinated contribute to that herd immunity. But other than that, it doesn’t make much of a difference.
Lee: I see when it’s proposed that we need to reach herd immunity, then people call it a cull. Can you respond to that?
Knut: I did not get that. A cull?
There is no other way to stop a respiratory disease epidemic than herd immunity.
Knut M. Wittkowski
Lee: A cull. So, you sacrifice the elderly and the vulnerable to reach immunity. Those are the first response people give when you suggest herd immunity. They say then you’re putting the economy first, and you’re putting everybody else over the vulnerable. So, you’re having a cull of the population. You’re taking out the vulnerable to achieve your selfish ends.
Knut: Okay. The only thing that social distancing or other interventions do is to prolong the epidemic to make sure that at no point in time, the hospitals get overwhelmed. It does not reduce the number of people who get infected and the number of people who recover, the number of people who die. It is just spread out over a longer period of time. Now, during all that time, those who are vulnerable need to be isolated.
Knut: So, what happens is, if you were doing that social distancing, you’re prolonging the time during which the elderly and then those with comorbidities need to be isolated. So, it becomes more difficult for them. And more of them in the end get infected and die.
Lee: So, would you have had any lockdown at all?
Knut: No, of course not.
Lee: Would the hospitals have been overwhelmed in that so called first wave?
Knut: No. But what we have seen is the lockdown came, at least in New York and other major centers of the epidemic, the lockdown came much too late. So, the majority of infections had already happened when the lockdown started. And so, the curve wasn’t flattened in the North East of the United States, or in most of Europe. What we have seen is what we would have seen without the lockdown. Although maybe the lockdown sharpened the curve a bit, because it fell down a bit faster than it otherwise would.
Knut: We see now, however, in the South and the West of the United States, we see the opposite. We see the lockdown being effective, because there the virus got later. And so, the lockdown actually prevented infection, flattened the curve. And now when they stop the lockdown, the infections that were delayed because herd immunity hasn’t been reached, and so now they see the second wave. Because the infections that need to come to do herd immunity, didn’t come in the first place. So, you still have to get to herd immunity, it just takes more time.
Lee: Why do you think the British government institute a lockdown?
It appeared that this would be a flu that is more dangerous than other flus, much more dangerous, and in the meantime, we have learned it is not.
Knut M. Wittkowski
Knut: Well, they had at least something that all governments should do. They had competing groups of epidemiologists giving them advice. One was Sunetra Gupta from Oxford and the other was Neil Ferguson from the Imperial College. And, unfortunately, Neil Ferguson was more assertive and therefore he won the debate that Sunetra Gupta was more careful, who was already at that time considering what we now know is the truth, that a substantial proportion of the population had immunity, cross-immunity from other Corona viruses, and so, was never at risk.
Lee: And Donald Trump back in February, while he was holding rallies, he said, “It’s just a flu.” But he did say there would only be 15 cases by April, and it would probably be gone by April. I should say, he said, “There’s 15 cases. It’ll probably be gone by April.” And he wasn’t going to let a ship dock, because he didn’t want to see those few numbers going up. So, is it the flu and why do you think Donald Trump said, “Hey, the 15 cases will be gone by April“?
Knut: I don’t remember saying 15 cases. If he said so, then he was grossly underestimating the risk. But still, it is only a flu.
Lee: People say it’s 10 to 20… People argue instantly and you know that, and they’ll say it’s 10 to 20 times more dangerous.
Knut: I don’t know where these numbers come from.
Lee: Would you say a case fatality rate was 0.2?
Knut: All these rates are very difficult to ascertain, because we don’t even know what the definition of the case is. Is it somebody who has a virus or somebody who may have the virus, or somebody who has symptoms that are indicative of having a virus? Everybody is using a different definition of what a case is. And as long as everybody is using a different definition, all of these rates are just numbers pulled out of thin air.
Lee: And you know next people will go to Northern Italy and say, “Hey, we don’t want to be another Bergamo.” So, why do you think there was such a disaster in Bergamo?
Knut: Because the elderly, and, in particular, the elderly with comorbidities were not isolated. They were not put into safe homes that were separated from the circulating virus. And that was a mistake that was also done in Sweden, and in the United States. In the United States it was even worse that some of the governments, because they were so afraid that the hospitals would be overwhelmed. They sent infectious, but stable elderly back into the nursing homes so that they could infect all the other elderly in the nursing homes.
Knut: And people have done exactly the opposite of what should be done. People they had done exactly the opposite of what should have been done. They have isolated the children and let the virus get into the nursing homes, rather than isolating the vulnerable and let the virus get into the school so that the children and young adults then build herd immunity usually without having any symptoms at all.
Lee: I know, for example, a Slovene epidemiologists would say, “Oh, but the children are in danger because there’s some threatening inflammatory syndrome associated with COVID.”
Knut: It’s not clear what that association is. It’s very rare and it was a Kawasaki-like syndrome. So, it’s similar to an autoimmune disease, and this is something that you would expect if you take children out of their usual environment and put them into a more sterile environment where the immune system doesn’t have the challenges that the immune system needs. And in most children, they will survive that. But for some children, the lack of the normal challenges for the immune system may turn the immune system against their own cells. So, I think it is associated, but it may well be caused by the lockdown rather than by the virus itself.
Lee: Okay. I’m a Scotsman in a two-million-person country, Slovenia. So, a few days ago I thought, “Okay, I’m going to try and get in contact with the top levels of government and ask.” And so, I saw the professor Bojana Beovic, the professor in University of Ljubljana, beside Slovene President [sic: Prime Minister]. So, I tried to reach out to her, immediately wasn’t successful, but on the way, I ran into a Kristina Nadrah, infectious disease and epidemiologist at the hospital [University Medical Centre Ljubljana].
Lee: And as soon as I questioned her, and I’ll quote, she said, “Well, the hospitals were not overwhelmed because we had a lockdown, otherwise we would have an American or Italian scenario.” She said, “Quite a number of people who were very sick were not 50 to 70. One was under 40 and in the ICU.” And I responded to her with some counter argument, I expected a discourse. I’m quite willing, I don’t have an axe to grind. And she ended the connection on LinkedIn.
Lee: We were first degree relations, and once I gave her counter argument quite politely, she ended. I emailed her at the University of Ljubljana, I didn’t get a response. So, I find that quite strange. Do you have any comments on why you think epidemiologist would go quiet after a few questions on ignore communications?
Knut: I can’t comment on that.
Lee: Okay. Comment on this, do you think the hospitals in Slovenia would have been overwhelmed without a lockdown?
Knut: Okay. So, she mentioned the United States. I live in New York, the epicenter of the epidemic in the United States. There was a hospital ship that came to provide additional ICU units. That hospital ship treated 180 patients and then left. They created an emergency hospital in the Javits Conference Center, which treated, I think about 1,000 patients basically of New York, is a drop in a bucket. So, even in the epicenter of the epidemic in New York, there was no real shortage, except maybe in one or two hospitals and some of the less well-supported parts of New York. But other than that, there was no problem. So, I don’t think that any country would have any problem.
Lee: I think Elmhurst claimed it was close to being overwhelmed.
If you died of the virus, then you were a case if you died with the virus. And then you were a case if you died while knowing somebody with the virus, and I’m not joking.
Knut M. Wittkowski
Knut: Yes, it’s a hospital in Queens, where most people going there are poor and don’t have health insurance, and hospitals in these poor neighborhoods tend to have problems all the time. And of course, they have problems in these situations.
Lee: I think what struck me most and everything I’ve heard you say, as I’ve been observing the past two weeks, and I’m going to quote you here, was this statement, “about 500 cases per 100,000 population seems to be indicating herd immunity. Therefore, lockdown preventing herd immunity from building approximately 500 cases per 100,000, this is for the US”. Could you explain that?
Knut: Well, first I want to say something about the accuracy. You can do exactly the same thing. This is just an observation. In the Northeast and other parts, whenever you have more than 500 or 600 cases, then this was the turning point where the number of new cases went down. In the states where you had less than 200 or 250 cases per 100,000 the epidemic was going up. And so, this is just the simple description. The only thing is that nobody looked at it before.
Knut: And now to the interpretation to 500 cases, means many more people were actually infected and are immune. So, if these 500 cases are 1%, just to make it easy to calculate. 1% of those who got infected originally, that means that we now have 100 times 500 meaning 50,000 people per 100,000 who are immune. That means 50% of the population are immune, and then we have herd immunity.
Lee: Unexpectedly, herd immunity is easier to reach because many people simply don’t catch the virus, even if they’re sleeping in the same bed as someone infected. And people are speculating it’s a cell-mediated immunity or cross-immunity with previous coronavirus. Can you help me out there with the distinctions? Because when you say herd immunity, people seem to mean it means you must have had to get SARS-CoV-2 and get over it. But I think your definition, or you include those with cross-immunity or some other type of innate immunity, which appears to be the case.
Knut: Of course, those with cross immunity, of there had been a virus, those who have been vaccinated. Everybody who is immune for whatever reason contributes to herd immunity.
Lee: And so, I would like to just emphasize this, because unless I’m misunderstanding something, this is critical. I don’t think two months ago, people realized that we had immunity to SARS-CoV-2, or a significant proportion of the population does without ever seeing the virus. Would you agree?
Knut: This was something that Sunetra Gupta had already incorporated in the models that she published the end of March.
Lee: Who incorporated?
If you let the epidemic run its natural course it’s only a short period of time. But if you flatten the curve, then those who are elderly or have dementia with other comorbidities, they need to be isolated for a prolonged period of times.
Knut M. Wittkowski
Knut: Sunetra Gupta, she was the epidemiologist at Oxford University.
Lee: And this is why the Oxford model, which came out after the Imperial model was so different.
Knut: They published it and presented it exactly the same time.
Lee: The way the media presented it, it came later, but-
Knut: No, it was just that Sunetra Gupta didn’t talk about it much earlier. She’s a very reserved person, and so, it took her a couple of weeks to talk about it. You can look at, it’s on med archive, her publication and Neil Ferguson’s publication, my publications are, and you can look into all these publications. They’re all there.
Lee: And so, what percentage of the population do you think has immunity other than having saw the virus and gotten over it?
Knut: Well, this is a very rough estimate, I’m just pulling that out of my head. But anyway, I would say it’s about 25%.
Lee: How many?
Knut: 25%, and then if you add the 25% of specific immunity that people have acquired, you’re ending up at about 50%. And this 50% is what we need for herd immunity to start in this type of epidemic.
Lee: People speak of 60 to 80 [percent] needed.
Knut: If you let the epidemic run, in the end you’ll have 60 to 80 [percent], but that’s not what we need for the number of new cases or the number of new infections to drop dramatically. So, you can have herd immunity that lasts for a couple of months, or you can have herd immunity that lasts for a couple of years. If you are just about 50%, it may not last very long. If you had 80%, it will last for 10 years. These numbers are just guesswork, just to explain the principle.
Lee: Unfortunately, people will first say, “There’s not even evidence that once you get over the virus, that you cannot get reinfected.”
Knut: We haven’t seen that at all. So, as long as we don’t see anything that’s contradicting what we would expect in similar situation, we don’t assume that this is wrong. I mean, if you were on the 10th floor somewhere, there is no evidence that proves that if you jump out of the window, you will die as soon as you reach the floor. But few people would challenge that, that is a reasonable perception.
Lee: Okay. So, to clarify here for listeners, you are saying that if we have a lockdown, we do flatten the curve, the cases underneath the curve remain the same. But you think that it introduces more danger because when you stretch out for one, people are less compliant, i.e. they want to see their loved ones in the care home, et cetera. So, you would say if you prolong it, you end up with more likely cases sneaking in. So, you think it’s safer to have something shorter. Is that correct?
Knut: That is correct.
Lee: When it comes to children, are you aware of evidence that children first transmit? And if they do, if they are seeing significant in transmission? Because from what I understand, it’s not even 100% clear if children do transmit. And if they do, it appears that they’re very low and it appears asymptomatics are also very low transmitters above that of children. Therefore, you begin to call into question schools closing. But then people will argue, the teachers are then at risk, not the children.
Knut: Of course, whether you would transmit the virus or not depends on the virus load. The people who are asymptomatic tend to have a lower viral load than people who are symptomatic. But that’s simply because if you have many viruses, then eventually the immune system acts very aggressively and congresses a causes a severe phenotype. If you have only few viruses, the immune system has less to do. It doesn’t destroy large areas of your mucosa, and therefore you have a very mild fever. It can be so mild that you don’t even recognize it.
Knut: So yes, if you have a mild fever, you’re less likely to spread. But then children get in very close contact and eventually they are expected to still spread. But again, it will be so mild that it’s very difficult to actually follow that, unless you test all children all the time.
Lee: There’s been staggering figures in prison population, in high 90s have shown presence of antibodies. How does it manage to ramp up so high in a prison population before herd immunity kicks in? How did we get to those high figures? It’s amazing that in the prison population four in 100 who had it, had symptoms, and 96% say, had none. But still, how did the virus manage to spread up to that 96% figure if what you say about herd immunity is true? I must be missing something.
Knut: Maybe before that, if you let it run, it could go up to 80% in certain populations. If you have a high basic reproduction number, so if people are very close together, then that level would be higher. So, that is not something out of the ordinary, that’s what you expect in those populations that are in close contact.
Lee: And so, that brings me on to the question of danger. The other day, I think maybe it was two weeks or I’m losing track of time, I decided to calculate my individual risk. I’m age 44, I think I’m healthy. I calculated that my risk if I became infected and developed COVID, was classified as COVID-19, that I had twice the chance of drowning than dying of COVID. And it was about equal statistics as choking to death on food over a lifetime, I might add. So, drowning over a lifetime or choking to death over food over a lifetime. And so, would you describe the disease as a danger?
It has long been a practice in epidemiology, that those who are infectious to be quarantined, and those who are vulnerable have to be isolated. But those who are neither, who are healthy, they’re left alone and live their life.
Knut M. Wittkowski
Knut: No. We are all at danger of dying. To my knowledge, there’s only one case where somebody didn’t die, and that was about 2000 years ago. We all die, and there are accidents. We’re all at risk of dying by an accident all the time. It’s called life. And this is just one of the many things that have a low risk of causing our death, and we have never before stopped living because of a low risk of dying.
Lee: Let me pull up the New York Times headlines in the last week. “You may have antibodies after Corona-”
Knut: The one of toilets spreading the virus?
Lee: Yeah. Flushing the toilet may fling coronavirus aerosols all over. Yeah, that was one New York Time article this week. So, should we begin-
Knut: They come up with all sorts of things.
Lee: Okay. They say, “Study finds one in five people worldwide at risk of severe COVID-19.” New York Times headline again.
Knut: What do they mean by severe COVID-19?
Lee: “Roughly 1.7 billion people have at least one of the underlying health conditions that worsen cases of coronavirus, analysis shows”. So, hey, one in five worldwide at risk of severe COVID-19.
Knut: So, if you say obesity is a risk, one in five people may be obese and also maybe add high blood pressure, it’s definitely one in five. But that doesn’t mean that just being some level of obese, whether really severely obese or being overweight and having high blood pressure, like our president, that this would mean that the risk is really extremely high. It may be a bit higher than normal.
Lee: And do you have any thoughts on excess mortality? Let me ask the question this way. If a PCR test had never been invented for SARS-CoV-2, would we be noticing something? Would we be saying, “Hey, flu season was 30% worse this year,” that type of thing? Let’s play a game, what do you think we would notice if we had never developed a PCR test for SARS-CoV-2?
Lee: Not even a spike in hospital admissions-
Knut: Well we had three spikes this year, or this season. There was one spike end of December, and that turned out to be influenza B. And there was one spike in early February and that turned out to be influenza A. And there was spike in mid-March, and that was COVID. And the COVID spike was actually lower than the other two spikes.
Lee: Let me read a quotation of yours, “What stopped the epidemic and saved lives among the vulnerable everywhere, irrespective of what people have done, was the spread of the virus among those who are at lowest risk so that they would become immune. There is no evidence that the various lockdowns have done anything positive, other than improve air quality. They may have prolonged the spread of the virus, so it would have more time to sneak into the nursing homes and let hospitals send infected, but stable people back to the nursing homes to infect more of the vulnerable.” It seems to me like you’re suggesting we should have done absolutely nothing?
Knut: That’s exactly right.
Lee: And what do you think is driving this then? Because surely governments don’t want a destroyedd the economy, especially not in [American] election year?
Knut: Frankly, this is something I do not understand. I understand that here in the United States, New York was a bit earlier. In mid-March, people were afraid. They had seen the disaster in Northern Italy and they were afraid. They forgot that there was no disaster whatsoever in South Korea because South Korea was very good, but isolated the residents. But anyway, I understand that there was fear. So, I understand, even though this has never been done before, that people were thinking of a lockdown, isolating the healthy. Every epidemiologist said, “Where does that idea even come from?”
Knut: But anyway, so I can understand that. At least here in the United States, April the 17th, the director of the CDC showed the data from the ILInet [influenza-like illnesses], the hospital emergency rooms report, how many people show up with influenza-like illness. And they had these three peaks that I was talking about, and the COVID peak was in mid-March. So, if people come to the nursing home in the emergency room in mid-March, they must have infected very early in March because it takes time.
Knut: And then two weeks later, the number of people showing up was down by more than 50%. And that means the number of infections was already declining rapidly before the shutdown started. Now, that was known in mid-April, and it was also known that the hospital ship and the additional beds in the Jacob Center [Jacob K. Javits Convention Center] had not been used. So, we knew the reason for the shutdown wasn’t there anymore. It wasn’t as bad as people viewed. It was more or less over, so we could open the economy on April the 18th. But it didn’t happen.
Knut: And that is a point I really don’t understand. I understand that people were scared, but once the evidence was in, that there was no risk the hospital system could be overrun. Why not just stop the whole thing? I have no clue.
Lee: It’s pretty horrible images coming from Brazil.
Knut: I have no information about the health system in Brazil. So, I could not assess the images, the quality of the care, the capacity of the hospitals. All of that is… I have no data, so I can’t really say much about it.
Lee: When I look in the BBC, as we talk, I see ‘Lockdowns in Europe Saved Millions of Lives’. Are you saying the BBC is wrong in its reporting?
Lee: Okay. We have the issue of politicians and you cannot figure out why they made choices they made. Why are the media organizations then doing reporting of this nature, backing these choices up?
Knut: So, I have been actually reported in the German police for asking the Deutsche Tagesschau news program to correct an obvious error. So, as a response, they didn’t correct the error. They reported me to the police and accused me of violating whatever paragraphs of the German law. Now, this was ignored, I do not know what the correct English word is, so they decided not to pursue this. But I find it interesting that the news are so aggressive against anybody who has a different opinion, that they are trying to engage the police to prevent people from engaging in the discussion.
Lee: I don’t know if you’re able to speculate and it would be pure speculation. Please tell me if you’re unable to, but do you think there’s commercial interest in the backdrop, e.g. on the vaccine front that may be driving this instead?
Knut: I could see that. I don’t fully understand what the motivation of Bill Gates is. Why he is funding and what he is expecting to get it back in return. I don’t know.
Lee: Do you think it is transmitted via clothes if we use changing rooms? We walk into H&M like my daughter, and she changes top and chooses a larger one and puts the medium one back on the rail. Do you think that’s a transmission route?
Knut: Respiratory diseases are transmitted by droplets. So, if you are shouting at somebody, sneezing at somebody, singing with somebody, kissing somebody, you may transmit the virus. Transmission via clothes is probably as unlikely as transmissions by the fumes from a toilet, whatever else you might come up.
Lee: The British government made it illegal to have sex with someone in a home other than your own. And then later on, after some time it was legal to have sex with someone from another home, as long as it was in the day time. Can you understand that level of state micro-control of the individual?
Knut: What we have seen in the media that it wasn’t very effective, because even Neil Ferguson was found to violate that rule. No, I don’t understand that.
Lee: It’s very perplexing-
Knut: And frankly, this would not be the major thing I’m holding Neil Ferguson on.
Lee: And the Dutch government and British government both suggested group masturbation for safety, rather than penetrative intercourse. Is that not rather striking to you?
Knut: So, you have to keep two meters distance?
Knut: You have to be two meters apart from the next?
Lee: Yes, and also, you have to be two meters apart dancing. Yes. Oh, okay. So, that’s the explanation. And so, it’s hard to do this with a straight face, it’s a serious topic. I’m now looking at the BBC, I see bookshops, including Waterstones, intend to put items in quarantine if browsed and not bought. So, if you pick up a book, you can’t put it back. The book must go into quarantine. Do you understand that?
Knut: This is absolutely absurd. There is no justification for doing anything like that. This is a flu. We have at least one flu every year, and often we have more than one. This year we had three, which is a bit unusual, but things happen. This is a flu. Even if it’s a bad flu for those with comorbidities, it is still a flu. Coronaviruses are nothing new. We have dozens, if not hundreds of coronaviruses and we have survived all of them. So, a couple of people die, yes, every year of the flu. But there is no reason to change our attitudes towards flus in general for this particular flu.
but once the evidence was in, that there was no risk the hospital system could be overrun. Why not just stop the whole thing? I have no clue.
Knut M. Wittkowski
Lee: A couple more questions, if I may. I don’t want to keep you too long. I realize we’ve been quite a while here and I know you’ve got a busy schedule. People will instantly show graphs and show that cases are going up, and also the media has been pushing this. So, you physically see bar graphs with cases going up in the US. And so, people say this… And the news, even today I was watching CNBC. It was saying coronavirus is getting worse. And it said that Donald Trump is saying it will disappear. That’s what CNBC was saying was, they were clear, “Donald Trump is an idiot. He says it’s going to disappear, but we see the cases going up.”
Lee: Now to make it clear, I’m apolitical. I’ve never voted in my life. I never plan to vote for reasons I’m happy to answer elsewhere, so I’m apolitical. Cases are going up, do you agree?
Lee: So, then people say it’s getting worse.
Knut: Now, let me finish my sentence. Yes, but hospital utilization is not going up, and deaths are not going up. And that can only be if the definition of cases changes again, so that now people called a case that wouldn’t have been called a case before. Because if the cases are going up now for several weeks, three weeks at least, and the number of hospitalizations is not going up, then something strange is happening. It means those who are cases are not really ill, because otherwise they would show up in the hospital.
Lee: There is talk the hospitals were encouraged to mix COVID positives in the US, like at Elmhurst, with COVID negatives. I mean staff were. It certainly is claimed that they didn’t separate them. I don’t know if that is true or you know this. Certainly, staff have claimed it’s true, and it’s claimed that there was great pressure within the hospital to classify people because I think there was financial incentives of the order of 11 or 13k if they did. And there was claims there was financial incentives to drive people onto vents instead of use CPAPs, which may have… Well, again, staff claim would have been more appropriate because the vents, they were getting a 29k reimbursement. Do you have any thoughts on this reimbursement incentives within hospitals in relation to SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19?
Knut: Not really, because I have no data to support any of that. Although I could see that happen, especially at hospitals that are struggling financially and Elmhurst is struggling.
Lee: Coming from your background, are you concerned that other diseases are on the rise because of the focus on coronavirus? Because mass immunization efforts worldwide have been halted?
Knut: Yes, I think that is a disaster that in the end might cause many more deaths than could have been prevented, even though they were prevented, could have prevented with this ill thought through intervention.
Lee: I’d like to just finish with a couple questions here, I’m very observant of the time. In terms of the second wave, which is all over the media at the moment, driving a fear narrative that I do not feel at this point is warranted. I’ll quote yourself, “There is no second wave of COVID-19 in the US. The second wave is merely experiencing the side effects of a well-intentioned lockdown preventing herd immunity from building.” Could you explain that there is no second wave, what you mean by that?
Knut: Once you have herd immunity it is over and it’s over for a couple of years. So, the whole concept of a second wave, there’s no justification for it. We haven’t seen it in a long time, and I want to go back to 1918, 1919, but that was a very exceptional situation. But in the 100 years since then, we have never seen a second wave. So why now?
Lee: I’ve seen in news media the protests against lockdown and also Black Lives Matter, but to a much lesser extent I might add, being criticized as irresponsible because they will spread the virus. But according to what you’re saying, they would actually be helping us get past the virus quicker. And in doing so protect the vulnerable, correct?
Knut: No respiratory disease virus could spread in the open. So, if you are protesting on the street, there is no risk for virus…
Lee: Surely some of these people… Are you saying that masks are pointless? Because the whole narrative there is, we don’t want droplets and droplets can go up to 25 feet and that’s what’s infecting us at the main root.
Knut: Okay. Anthony Fauci said masks are there as a sign to show that we’re willing to do what he wants us to do. So, it’s a sign of the willingness to comply. It is a modern version of the Gessler hat. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with-
Lee: No, please explain.
Knut: William Tell was this national hero who did not want to bow in front of the governor’s Gessler’s hat that was put on a pole. And then he was arrested for that and had to shoot or split an apple sitting on his son’s head.
Lee: The UK has now introduced a quarantine on people coming into the UK, and a 14-day quarantine at that. Do you have a comment there? It seems odd to introduce it in June.
Knut: No, it’s not odd. It’s absurd. So, now the UK enjoys, like all other European countries, a sufficient level of herd immunity, which is what’s driving down the number. Which is what’s causing the number of cases going down, because it was driving down the number of infections two or three weeks ago. So, to impose anything on people at a time where you already almost have herd immunity doesn’t make any sense.
Lee: Can you speculate on the percentage in Europe, UK, or the US that you think already have herd immunity?
Knut: I think I mentioned that before. I think that Sunetra Gupta was right that at least 25% of people had immunity from previous coronavirus infections. And another 25% has now acquired immunity from this coronavirus, so we are past the time there was a risk.
Lee: Okay. So, I just wondered if there was a great distinction between the US, Europe and the UK?
Knut: The virus came to the UK a bit later than to the continental Europe, and about the same time it got to the US, and it maybe that Sweden was also, for whatever reason, it stayed for some time [inaudible 01:01:57 XXX] later. We don’t know the details, only a few months and historians can go through all the data, but other than that, it’s pretty much the same.
This is a flu. Even if it’s a bad flu for those with comorbidities, it is still a flu. Coronaviruses are nothing new.
Knut M. Wittkowski
Lee: When I see images of lines drawn outside the shops in the UK… Or let’s take this as an example, my daughter in Austria, she was in a class of 20. They’ve split it into two classes of 10. 10 go Monday, Tuesday, 10 go Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. She tells me, but they all meet up after school. She also says the floor has markings on it to keep people a distance apart, but they’ll get squashed together anyway, when they come in, in the changing room. Do you have any comment upon splitting children up, so they only go to school two days per week? So, the class sizes are 10 instead of 20.
Knut: My sister is a principal in Berlin in Germany in a secondary school that prepares for university. And of course, these schools are never really closed because children have to do exams, otherwise they couldn’t go to university. So, they’ve got to have exams and the strict distancing rules that would mean that the main hall and the tables at a distance. And when the exam was over, they would meet in the hallway and hug each other.
Lee: Yeah. My daughter says she meets the people from the other 10 after school. In terms of China, in the news, I see at the moment on the ticker talking about a second wave in China. So, do you think China is having a second wave?
Knut: It’s not the second wave. China was very effective in quarantining Wuhan or Hubei. So, that prevented the virus from getting to other parts of the country, at least not in significant numbers. Now, if it gets somewhere [else] they might have an epidemic there, but it would not be a second wave. It would be the first wave in a different part of the country.
Lee: Do you agree with what went on in New Zealand? Because again, I see straight in front of me, praise for a female prime minister and again, praise for New Zealand, but the headlines say, “Stamped out coronavirus.”
Knut: Okay, wasn’t much different from Australia. Do we see the same praise in Australia?
Lee: I’m unsure. In fact, yeah, I’ve had two Australians contact me and say that it’s been successful.
Knut: So, both New Zealand and Australia were hit during what’s typically not the season for respiratory virus diseases because it was still in their summer. And so, they had pretty mild outbreaks which actually may have helped, because they may have added to the immunity already in the population, so that the virus was… They may be in a position they were never before. But I don’t think that there was anything substantially different from other countries.
Lee: So, where do you think herd immunity stands in New Zealand?
Knut: In New Zealand it’s summer, people spend much time outdoors. And if people spend more time outdoors, the basic reproduction number is low. And if the basic reproduction number is low, a low level of herd immunity is sufficient.
Lee: Okay. So, their R number is different there. As a final question. Do you have any predictions for this fall? Should we be living in fear of second waves? Or do you have any commentary upon this year? And is there anything else you wish to cover or say that I did not ask you?
Knut: I’m not afraid of the second wave because what we see now is that people are removing the restrictions and the virus is spreading. And so, now we get in those parts of the states and countries where it didn’t. And so eventually, you will have herd immunity everywhere. Other than that, I think we should prepare for spread, whether it’s the second wave or another wave. And one thing, and that is what the company I am heading now is working on, by coming up with treatments that reduce the severity of the initial infection. Planning infections into something as dangerous for vaccination, but more adaptive than vaccination.
Knut: In vaccination you have to give people a particular vaccine that is targeted to particular strain of the virus. And if another strain comes, then you hope for cross-immunity. And if there’s no cross-immunity, it wouldn’t work. If you reduce the severity of the initial infection, then it would work with any virus that circulated and you could give that to people, and protect them against the virus spreading, whatever that virus is.
There is no second wave of COVID-19 in the US. The second wave is merely experiencing the side effects of a well-intentioned lockdown preventing herd immunity from building.
Knut M. Wittkowski
Lee: Briefly provide some outlines to what you’re proposing?
Knut: Okay. Viruses need to be taken in by cells via the process called endocytosis. And endocytosis is governed, driven by something called the PI system that uses phosphoinositides, the PIs to regulate endocytosis. That system needs phospholipids, and if you’re reducing the amount of phospholipids that are available in blood as you would in fasting, you’re reducing the level of endocytosis, less viruses are being taken up. Also, reducing the levels of phospholipids that are needed to make new envelope for the virus.
Knut: So, you have a one-two punch against the production of new viruses. And if fewer viruses are being produced during the incubation period, then fewer cells need to be destroyed by the immune system. Then after the week, it takes to make antiobodies. And when fewer cells are being destroyed, you have a very mild fever, and this is exactly what you will have with the vaccine. You would have the benefit of the vaccine without having to develop a vaccine that is specific to the particular strain of the virus. So, something that would work much more broadly.
Lee: And so, do you have… Like instantly AZ combined with HCQ comes to mind for that scenario?
Knut: Yeah, it’s not entirely different. So, HCQ was expected to block the particular binding protein that must be on the cell for the ACE2 for the virus to bind. The problem with HCQ was that this binding protein is not only on the surface of cells, of these cells, but also on the surface of viral cells where it’s needed. And so, it can cause other of problems, and there are studies around that show that it might actually increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Knut: So, you may still use it as a treatment. If somebody has the disease you can give it to him for two weeks. But if you wanted to use it as preventative for people to take for two months or three months or even more, then it’s probably not a good idea. You don’t want to use something that is known to have severe side effects over a longer period.
Lee: So, I think that was clear. And I would like to thank you for your time. I greatly appreciate your expertise, greatly appreciate you trying to enlighten people. I’ve been following you, as I said, for some time. I haven’t found flaws in what you’re saying. I do invite anybody else into the conversation. So, if anybody else would like to appear on the show and counter what you have said or add to it, then they’re most welcome. What I’m interested in is public discourse because it doesn’t appear to be taking place. And yet it’s affecting our lives, already harmed many of our lives. Thank you, Knut, for your time.
Knut: Thank you, Lee, for having me.