PANDA: ‘Asking questions is at the heart of science.’

Curiosity plays a fundamental role in journalism. The initial assumption that the imposition of stringent lockdown regulations was entirely necessary and justified by proper science was short-lived. Flip-flopping by experts such as Dr Fauci began to erode our conviction and belief in the official Covid-19 narrative. Blatant censorship of important questions and of organisations, such as PANDA (Pandemics- Data & analytics), further strengthened the inherent need to uncover the truth. PANDA has boldly challenged the official narrative since its inception – and been repeatedly silenced for doing so. This article, written by Abir Ballan – a member of the Executive Committee at PANDA – looks at the paramount importance of asking questions and how doing so sits at the heart of science. Ballan significantly notes that ‘Science has become politicised and that we need to decouple science from politics.’ With so much uncertainty and even more at stake, now is the time to question everything. – Nadya Swart

Question everything

By Abir Ballan, MPH*

“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge” Thomas Berger

Asking questions is at the heart of science. Science is not an institution and not an authority. Science is never settled. It is forever evolving through conjecture and criticism. Questions form the basis of all scientific inquiry and scientific progress. Without challenging existing concepts – usually held by a majority – there is no new knowledge creation. Censoring dissenting voices eliminates the mechanism of error correction and pushes humanity back into the dark ages. 

From the beginning lockdowns were a questionable public health tool, even described as ‘pro-contagion’ by Professor Ioannidis of Stanford University. As early as June 2020, papers showed that lockdowns and other NPIs had no effect on reducing deaths. We were all aware that lockdowns would have a terrible economic impact and a devastating human toll, especially in the developing world. We went along with this ‘cure’ because we were told it would save lives – it was necessary for 2 to 3 weeks to flatten the curve of infections and prevent healthcare system strain. Yet the goal posts kept shifting endlessly, moving towards a ZERO COVID world: a completely unrealistic and unachievable goal. Such an anti-science goal brings with it huge collateral damage: job losses, economic devastation, suicides, mental health crises and hurt to children and young people.  

 Is NOW the time to question absolutely everything?

The pandemic response was disproportionate. If infected, the average mortality with COVID is similar to the flu at 0.15%, globally. Why did the WHO, in March 2020, highlight the figure of 3.4% representing deaths among cases? Those cases included only high-risk individuals in hospitals with a far higher likelihood of mortality than the rest of the population. This figure did not take into account all infections that lead to mild disease or even no symptoms at all. It did not include individuals who are protected by past immunity. It certainly did not reflect that the elderly are several thousand times more likely to die with COVID than the young. Even Fauci predicted, in March 2020, “The consequences of COVID-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza”. Why then are we treating COVID as if it were Ebola? 

The common sense approach would have been to focus efforts and resources on protecting the high-risk group (people above 60, suffering from other health conditions), treating them early, and in turn reducing deaths. Telling people, “Don’t do anything until you are very sick and need to be hospitalised,” is deadly. There are cheap, generic, safe and effective treatments available, such as Ivermectin, that are saving lives. Why are treatments being ignored, suppressed and attacked? Why aren’t the media or public health officials informing the public about them?  

The CDC, the WHO and ‘experts’ have flip-flopped multiple times. In February 2020, Fauci said, “In all the history of respiratory-born viruses of any type, asymptomatic transmission has never been the driver of outbreaks. The driver of outbreaks is always a symptomatic person.” However, all the pandemic measures were based on the assumption that people who are healthy might be sick without knowing it. On June 8, 2020, Maria Van Kerkhove of the WHO stated  that asymptomatic spread of SARS-CoV-2 is very rare. The next day she walked back her comment saying that studies, based on computer modeling not real-life data, show that asymptomatic spread is cause for concern. A systematic review and meta-analysis paper, published in 2020, falsified this assumption. Asymptomatic spread is simply not the main driver of disease.  What should be of even less concern is transmission in the open air, likely to be below 0.1% of all transmissions. How can anyone catch the virus from just passing by healthy people on the streets? Unfortunately, the CDC overestimated outdoor spread, claiming that it represented 10% of transmissions. This exaggeration was used to justify futile outdoor mask mandates. They later admitted their error, too little, too late. Why are we still testing healthy people and locking populations indoors? 

The CDC and the WHO confused the public with their social media recommendations about masks: ‘Masks don’t work in the community. Everyone should wear masks in the community. Everyone should wear two masks. Even if you are vaccinated you should still wear a mask and finally, if you are vaccinated you can do without a mask.’ Behind the scenes, the CDC published a policy review in May 2020 stating, “We did not find evidence that surgical-type face masks are effective in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza transmission”. The WHO also published an Interim guidance in June 2020 stating “At present, there is no direct evidence on the effectiveness of universal masking of healthy people in the community” and Fauci’s leaked emails showed that he didn’t believe in the power of masks either. He said in February 2020 in his email to Sylvia Burwell, “The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through the material.” Why were masks mandated even when the data showed that they made no difference? 

The WHO flip-flopped on the definition of herd immunity, which is the point at which an infectious disease stops being a cause for concern because most of the population is immune to it. They removed natural immunity from the definition and limited herd immunity to that reached via vaccination only. After this meddling caused an uproar, they went back again and included both forms of immunity as contributing to herd immunity. Furthermore, they changed their recommendations about the PCR test, first allowing very high cycle thresholds of 45 (which is the number of times the genetic material of the virus is multiplied until it is detected) and recommending that cases are diagnosed based on a positive PCR test, regardless of symptoms – previously unheard of in medicine. Patients are usually diagnosed with a disease if they are sick. Later the WHO rectified their stance, clarifying that the diagnosis of cases requires clinical symptoms and that high cycle thresholds lead to false positives. Why did the WHO make recommendations contrary to established medical practice for infectious diseases? The PCR test was not designed to diagnose infectiousness. It merely detects viral genetic material, dead or alive. Studies indicate that 25 cycles are enough to detect an infectious virus. How much have the false positive results affected the number of cases and in turn the number of deaths? How many deaths were wrongly attributed to COVID instead of other diseases? 

Science doesn’t flip-flop like that. Politics does. Science has become politicised. We need to decouple science from politics. It is being manipulated to serve corporate and political agendas. Anyone criticising ‘The Science’ is silenced harshly. People are smart and if given accurate information they can make the right decisions for themselves and their communities. Unfortunately, people are being misinformed and fear-mongered with non-stop death reports, apparently vanishing immunity and the threat of new variants. Fear is not good for us. It’s not good for our immunity, our health or our ability to think rationally. To calm the fear, we need to know that cases are meaningless, deaths are overestimated and immunity – whether natural or vaccine-induced – is long-lasting and can protect us from future variants. Variants are not unique to COVID. All respiratory viruses mutate. The variants are so minutely different from each other that our immune system will recognise them and protect us. It’s like your friend wearing a cap. Can you still recognise him? In the same way, your immune system also recognizes the variants. How much longer should we let those variants haunt us? 

Did the COVID-19 response foster public health or public harm? Was the ‘cure’ worse than the disease? 

NOW is the time for error correction. Start at the beginning and question everything: lockdowns, asymptomatic transmission, mask mandates, claims about short-lived immunity and dreadful variants. NOW is the time for a better solution.

“The important thing is to never stop questioning” – Albert Einstein

  • Abir Ballan, MPH- has a background in public health, psychology, and education. She’s been a passionate advocate for the inclusion of students with learning difficulties in schools. She has also published 27 children’s books in Arabic. Abir is a member of the Executive Committee at PANDA (Pandemics- Data & analytics).

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