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By Jason Michael
HISTORY WILL NOT look kindly on Britain’s response to the novel coronavirus, or its premeditated lack of response as the case may be. On Thursday 12 March, as this new and deadly virus – which had already infected over a hundred thousand people around the world and claimed the lives of thousands – continued to spread in the United Kingdom, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed a bemused public. Alarm bells began to ring when he stated that his listeners should prepare to ‘lose loved ones before their time.’ He was, of course, simply stating a fact. COVID-19 is an indiscriminate and merciless killer, killing somewhere between 0.5 and 5 percent – depending on the level of preparedness and response of the state and its health services. But there was something not quite right in his calm demeanour. Not to mention his choice of words: Prepare to lose loved ones before their time. Seriously, what kind of leader puts expected bereavements like this?
Johnson’s flippancy on this occasion stems, it would seem, from a press conference he gave on 3 March with Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, and Patrick Vallance, the British government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, where he stressed the point that for ‘the vast majority of the people of this country we should be going about our business as usual.’ While at this point the government was considering measures to protect the elderly and the most vulnerable, the overriding opinion of the ‘experts’ was that most people will be alright, that the mortality rate – even in a worst case scenario where 80 percent of the country was infected – would be no more than 1 percent overall, and that there would be some ‘benefit from the epidemic.’
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) March 10, 2020
There are some assumptions here we have to pick through, because assumptions are always dangerous. One is that the majority of those who are infected will recover and suffer no long-term adverse effects, another that only 1 percent of those who contract the virus will have ‘serious outcomes’ – death, and another that there would be some benefit from contracting the disease – the development of immunity. These assumptions are, naturally, based on past experiences with other epidemics, and the data relied on all comes from China (not Italy, California, or Iran). Why are these assumptions dangerous? Well, firstly, novel coronavirus (2019) is an entirely new virus the global medical and scientific community know very little about. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest it will behave life other epidemic-causing viruses we have encountered in the past. Admittedly, I am neither a medical expert nor a scientist, but in all branches of academia we know not to make such easy and potentially catastrophic assumptions. And it just so happens the frontline medical professionals in Italy and the United States – who have been battling the disease in the worst affected areas, the CDC, and the World Health Organization all agree with me on this point.
Yet, regardless of the international consensus on containment and tracking, established in China, Italy, and the US well before this London press conference, Boris Johnson took Britain down another path – one which sought some kind of benefit in the form of immunity. In a later interview on SKY News (13 March), Patrick Vallance explained exactly what the government meant:
We want to suppress it, not get rid of it completely – which you can’t do anyway, not suppress it so we get the second peak. And also allow enough of us who are going to get milder illness to become immune to this to help with the whole population response which would protect everybody.
Britain’s Chief Scientific Advisor – a ‘top expert’ – actually suggested that we would benefit from the new coronavirus (2019) by allowing the disease to spread sufficiently over the population of the UK in order for an immunity to develop for a virus for which there is no vaccine and no effective treatment; an illness which has been shown to kill between 0.5 and 5 percent of those who contract it. The Prime Minister was sold on this idea, and he made this clear when he said:
Our plan means we’re committed to doing everything possible based on the advice of our world-leading scientific experts to prepare for all eventualities. And let’s not forget, we already have a fantastic NHS, fantastic testing systems, and fantastic surveillance of the spread of the disease.
But events since 12 March have shown the UK does not have the best testing and surveillance of the spread of the disease. Currently the UK is only testing those admitted to hospital, meaning the official numbers are worse than useless for gaining any idea of the spread of the virus. But worse than this is the assumption that the NHS – anywhere in Britain – is a better health service for dealing with a global pandemic than China, Italy, or the United States. The NHS has about the same experience of dealing with a crisis of this magnitude as Italy and the US, and that is very little. All of the learning right now being done in the international medical and scientific community is in Lombardy and California. China is sharing precious little of its research.
What we are learning about the effect of COVID-19 on ill-prepared health services – like the NHS – is that once the rate of the spread of the disease becomes exponential, the hospitals are rapidly overwhelmed and the death rate, compounded by staffing limitations and the shortage of beds, ventilators, and other ICU equipment, quickly rises from China’s reported 1 percent to Washington State’s and Lombardy’s 5 percent and higher. Perhaps we should do some quick maths to put this into something more understandable.
The population of the whole of the United Kingdom is 66,440,000 people. Let’s run with the British government’s worst case scenario where 80 percent of the population contract the coronavirus, that is some 53.152 million people – of which, with the numbers we’ve come to expect elsewhere outside China, we can expect a mortality rate of 5 percent – the death of 2,657,600 in the potential worst case scenario. In no reality does the NHS, anywhere in the United Kingdom, have the staff, the facilities, or the necessary equipment to deal with a catastrophe of this size. In such an event – without a better government response than a laissez-faire ‘herd immunity’ strategy – even more would die as a consequence of the predictable collapse of the system.
It is completely unnerving that the British government considered this approach in the first place, and we should have all been questioning the expertise of these gormless ‘experts’ the moment Whitty said the British public’s response to crisis was ‘extraordinary outbreaks of altruism,’ and when Vallance suggested, based on an expert sub-group, ‘that people don’t panic, they take what seems like logical decisions based on what they believe.’ One has to wonder if he too was franticly dashing around Tesco at two in the afternoon grabbing as much toilet roll as he could lay his hands on. Panic was a perfectly natural response. Irrational yes, but perfectly natural and expected. That he could not predict this should have cast enough doubt over his idiotic and dangerous belief that allowing millions to contract this virus in the slim-to-no hope of benefiting from a magical immunity would work.
We cannot rely on the lessons learnt in Wuhan and the rest of China. The People’s Republic of China is a quasi-Communist totalitarian state with as much familiarity with human rights as Boris Johnson has with a comb. China has experience of similar virus epidemics and how to ‘suppress’ them – let’s face it, it started most of them. With or without the conspiracy theories (which are never helpful) as to how the virus originated (it started in a wet market); China is a secretive state which few countries in the western hemisphere trust at the best of times. Trusting its figures and statistics now, considering it is still refusing to share research on this coronavirus, is naïve to the point of utter stupidity.
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) March 12, 2020
Thankfully, we are not now going to see this terrifying worst-case scenario, and nothing near it. In the past few days, the British government has realised the very limited expertise of its so-called experts and done a volte-face, conceding that this ill-conceived and reckless policy would ‘likely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths.’ In this instance we should be happy to give them their face-saving massive reduction in numbers from millions to hundreds of thousands. The alternative is, after all, unimaginable. It is interesting, however, that this change of thinking came about only after massive pressure from the WHO and other international bodies. We mustn’t forget that, even realising the projected death toll of this policy, Jeremy Warner was quite happy to write in The Telegraph – the Tory paper of choice:
Not to put to fine a point on it, from an entirely disinterested economic perspective, the COVID-19 might even prove mildly beneficial in the long term by disproportionately culling elderly dependents.
And by God, they were hellbent on having their way until the pressure became too much. Over the past few days, I have been somewhat hyperactive on social media, trying to raise awareness of the danger of ‘herd immunity.’ After an elderly friend in Scotland told me she was quite relieved the government had a plan that would make her immune, I knew I had to do something. But every time I tweeted on this subject I was either set upon by an army of government-paid troll accounts telling me they would rather trust ‘scientists’ than a journalist or Twitter locked my account, forcing me to prove I was not a robot, verify my phone number, and give the platform access to my Google search history. Why, I ask, do these platforms never lock down government accounts, forcing them to prove they are not run by murderous psychopathic social Darwinists? But yeah, the fake news engineers of Twitter and Facebook!
Alas, we can move on from here now, and Britain can begin to address the serious health emergency that is COVID-19 like a normal civilised state. But there is a slight problem. All this faffing about with models designed to thin the herd have wasted precious time. It is now clear we should not be ‘going about our business as usual,’ not allowing events like the Cheltenham Festival, and not allowing this virus to spread. The problem we face now is that this virus is in the community and spreading at an exponential rate. Due to the UK’s failure to test, we have no accurate picture of how extensive the outbreak is. So far 55 people have died and we have 1,543 recorded cases, indicating a mortality rate of 3.56 percent – significantly higher than the government’s idea of 1 percent. This mortality rate is likely to be considerably lower, given that not enough testing has been done. But, as we have seen in Italy and in the States, this will rise the more the disease spreads – as greater pressure is put on the healthcare system. Keeping this down demands every effort to reduce the peak; delaying the disease with the most drastic steps we can stomach. The lesson from Italy is clear: Act early and act aggressively.
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