Here’s my prediction for 2021. As vaccines are rolled out across the country, Canadians will be kept under severe restrictions for a while yet and the danger posed by Covid-19 will be emphasized every day with alarming new numbers of cases and deaths and ICU admissions. But a critical mass of vaccinations will be reached after a few months and this will coincide, rather conveniently, with two other events: the arrival of spring and a subtle change in the way mass testing is carried out. Then cases will fall, deaths will fall, ICU beds will be emptied, and politicians will talk about how the miracle vaccines saved us all. And people will believe it.
A brief recap of how we got here should cast some doubt on that narrative.
The last two winters were relatively light flu seasons. By the end of winter — week 12 — in each of the years 2019 and 2020, there were fewer than 800 influenza-related hospitalizations in all of Canada — contrast this with between 3491 and 6499 hospitalizations by the same date in each of the previous four years. This set up what is known as the dry tinder effect. Beginning in March 2020, the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 spread through the population and the unusually large number of susceptible people — the elderly and the severely ill — who were fortunate to survive the previous two flu seasons were its primary victims, many succumbing to the terrible symptoms of Covid-19. For about ten weeks in April and May, excess deaths in Canada were abnormally high. At its worst, according to Statistics Canada, there were 1325 excess deaths in the week ending April 25 (6853 instead of the expected 5528). The majority of the victims were residents of old age homes, where SARS-CoV-2 spread rapidly after some patients, who had contracted the virus while in hospital for unrelated reasons, were discharged prematurely and returned to their residences on the advice of the federal government. This was a disastrous move with deadly consequences.
Since then there have been virtually no excess deaths in Canada. Almost every week since May has been within the range of what would be expected for the time of year. But the scare of that initial spike of rapid exponential growth has led to a frenzy of testing. And more testing means more positive results. The gold standard, according to the Canadian government, is the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test. As many Canadians now know first hand, this test is conducted by taking a swab to someone’s nose and throat and amplifying the genetic material in a thermal cycler in order to detect a trace of the virus. Each amplification cycle doubles the material from the previous cycle making it more likely to find a viral fragment, but it is no secret that the test becomes unreliable after about 30-35 cycles. Since the cycles increase the material exponentially, the fact that some provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, routinely amplify up to 45 cycles — thousands of times too high — is shocking. Of all provinces, Newfoundland has the lowest cycle threshold at 33, which is still as much as eight times too high.
What this means is that a true positive result above 30-35 cycles is likely detecting a dead nucleotide from the virus that may have been present months ago. Even Dr. Fauci has admitted this. But even a true positive under 30 cycles might only find a fragment of RNA of a live virus — it doesn’t show infection or infectiousness. The near-universal practise of calling positive PCR test results “Covid cases” is just plain wrong.
Covid-19 is the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 in some but by no means all, infected people. A case of Covid must be diagnosed clinically based on symptoms in a hospitalized patient, as is standard practice for many diseases. PCR tests cannot show whether people have Covid-19 at all, despite what we’re told on a daily basis. In fact, the PCR test was never meant to be used on the general population of healthy people and it’s totally unfit for that purpose. It’s only useful as a confirmatory test after someone has presented with symptoms, to determine whether a particular virus is present.
But there’s also the false positive rate (FPR) which, as far as I can understand, is independent of the amplification cycle threshold. Every PCR test has one, and they range from 0.8 to four percent. It’s still unclear what the FPR of this particular test is but it’s been suggested that it’s at the lower end, around one percent. Importantly, this is one percent of all tests administered, not of all positive results. Based on the numbers as of the 30th of December, it means a quarter of all positive results in Canada are false right off the bat. If the FPR turned out to be two percent it would account for half. Add that to the absurd amplification cycle threshold, and it would appear that almost none of the positive results can be trusted at all.
This would change immediately if either the FPR were acknowledged and factored in and an amplification limit of 30 cycles imposed, or if the PCR test were replaced as the dominant form of testing by the Rapid Antigen test. This is a much cheaper and faster test which detects protein from the virus rather than RNA and therefore would give a better indication of how many actual infections there are. What we’d be likely to see then is what many scientists have long known — that SARS-CoV-2 is now one of dozens of endemic seasonal respiratory viruses that sadly claim a certain number of deaths every winter. Taking all these seasonal viruses as a whole, this winter is a completely normal respiratory virus season.
Usually, we call it “flu season”. But, according to Public Health Canada, “all indicators of influenza activity remain exceptionally low for this time of year”. Remarkable. Either Covid has almost completely replaced influenza as the dominant respiratory disease or we’re just calling everything Covid now. But whatever it is, there is no indication that the consequences in terms of both deaths and ICU admissions are outside of predictable and expected ranges. In spite of the frequent warnings that ICU beds are nearing full capacity, what’s seldom mentioned is that at this time of year that’s normal and predictable. Flu season is tough on the health care system every year, and if we mass tested for the flu virus or other seasonal respiratory viruses the way we’re testing for SARS-CoV-2 we’d find them everywhere every year.
The truth is that if we stopped looking for this virus we’d stop finding it. But our governments have committed themselves to an impossible task of eliminating an endemic virus and have doubled down on this folly so many times that few people can see the truth anymore. Our society is stuck in a sort of tunnel vision that can’t see anything but Covid, and our economy, the arts, small businesses, and even normal family life are being destroyed because of it.
If my prediction comes true it will allow the federal and provincial governments to claim victory and maintain the illusion of control without ever having to admit mistakes. False numbers will fall due to ending mass PCR testing (or perhaps just reducing the dependency on it and lowering the amplification cycle threshold), true numbers will fall due to the change in seasons, and even if the vaccines make little difference (which I’m not suggesting) the government will be able to hide behind them, and claim they saved us.
My prediction could be wrong, of course. There may be an unexpected delay in rolling out the vaccines, and the opportunity presented by the March equinox could be missed. Or our governments may just want to keep us locked down for years to come — but then we might have to start entertaining conspiracy theories. Whatever happens, we need to recognize the truth: there is no crisis. The pandemic ended back in June. Governments cannot control viruses, but they can destroy people’s lives. They must not be allowed to get away with it.