Follow the evidence

Ann Widdicombe was trending on Twitter yesterday. She’s one of those people whose name you see trending on Twitter, and when you take a look there’s a mild feeling of disappointment when you discover that she’s not dead. Was that a cruel and heartless thing to say? Why yes, yes it was. But then Ann Widdicombe has made a living out of cruelty and heartlessness for her entire political career, so it counts as fair comment. Ann Widdicombe is not dead. She was just saying something dumb, cruel, stupid, and grossly offensive – again.

Ann opined the other day that the coronavirus epidemic will turn out to be not such a big deal after all, like, ahem, the AIDS epidemic. She did actually make that comparison in a column in the Express newspaper. Well, I say ‘newspaper’. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between the Express and an English language version of the Völkischer Beobachter. Only with RANDOMLY capitalised headlines and listicles.

The woman who once advocated chaining up female prisoners who were actually giving birth said that we need a sense of proportion in dealing with this crisis, because it’s leading to “the financial markets going into meltdown, aeroplanes being grounded, and shops shutting their doors”. In other words, what she’s really worried about is the potential effect upon the economy, not the effect upon human lives.

In her column, Ann said that the coronavirus will turn out to be like AIDS in that it will “not be as devastating as feared”. You know, that AIDS epidemic that has killed 32 million people. But then the majority of people who died when they developed an immune disorder after contracting an HIV infection were gay, or black, or poor, or drug users. They weren’t people like Ann, so they don’t really count. The poor and members of marginalised communities are invisible to comfortably off conservatives.

A former lover of mine died of AIDS in the 80s. Like many he was treated like a pariah, and subjected to hate and rejection because callous Conservative politicians like Ann who couldn’t even find the word compassion in a dictionary were encouraging and empowering those who were demonising people with HIV in particular and members of the gay community in general. So spare me the sanctimony Ann. You’re the last person who would realise how devastating AIDS was, and the last to take any responsibility for it even if you did.

Meanwhile other Conservative commentators are spending their time attacking those who question or criticise the strategy of Boris Johnson’s government in dealing with the epidemic. Despite the fact that the UK is adopting tactics for dealing with this crisis which no other country is adopting, the UK is right, Johnny Foreigner is wrong, and you’re not merely unpatriotic for questioning the Tories, you’re also a danger to national security.

In the Telegraph today, there’s an editorial entitled “Those questioning the government’s coronavirus strategy are not merely wrong, they’re a danger to the rest of us.” Thankfully the article is self-isolated behind a paywall. However it appears on the face of the headline to be arguing that those of us who are not willing to wilfully spread this infection more quickly are a danger to the rest of the population. Oh. Kay. Tories are all in favour of free speech, unless it’s the public criticising their rule. They are a bawhair away from calling us traitors. I have yet to hear Toby Champion of Free Speech Young condemning this by the way. But then Toby’s another right wing Tory.

There’s every reason to want to question the UK’s government’s strategy. As we all know, no other government anywhere in the world is adopting the UK’s model of so-called herd immunity. We are told that the UK government is following scientific opinion, but it’s legitimate to ask why the scientific opinion that the UK government is listening to differs so much from the equally scientific opinion being listened to by governments elsewhere in Europe.

There are other serious questions to be asked, such as for example is it effective to seek herd immunity when we don’t know how long a natural immunity to the virus will last? We’re told that the purpose of the government’s strategy is to avoid a renewed outbreak once any restrictions on movement are lifted. However we don’t know what the likelihood is of the virus mutating into a slightly different strain against which existing antibodies will have no effect – such as is the case with the flu. This virus may behave more like the flu than say, chickenpox or measles. If it is the plan to allow a natural immunity to spread amongst the population, then why are more stringent steps not being taken to isolate those groups within the population which seem to suffer a higher mortality rate while simultaneously pursuing a strategy of herd immunity amongst those population groups with a far lower mortality risk?

The reaction of the Conservative media is an indicator of what would happen should the Scottish government pursue a radically different strategy in dealing with the epidemic from the British government. There are limits to what the Scottish government can do, because it does not possess the full powers that Boris Johnson does. So for example it’s harder for the Scottish Government to advise people not to go into work because while sick pay is devolved, Holyrood doesn’t have control over all the compensatory measures for businesses or workers who would be affected and lacks the ability to borrow or to raise funds in order to provide compensation in the same way that Westminster does. It doesn’t have the powers to authorise a full public lock down in the Italian fashion. The problem is that even comparatively minor divergences from UK government policy would see Holyrood accused of undermining the British government, of being a public danger, of scaremongering, and of trying to use the epidemic to leverage support for independence.

This doesn’t mean that Holyrood shouldn’t diverge from the UK government in those policy areas where it can and where the scientific evidence suggests it should, but any such divergence would need to be carefully and fully explained to the public. Full justification would need to be given. The evidential basis would need to be fully detailed. Unlike other governments, the Scottish government needs to justify why it’s following a different strategy from the UK government. Ireland or Germany don’t have that problem. The risk would be that a Scotland specific policy would be rubbished and traduced by a UK Conservative press which still has considerable traction in Scotland, and that would reduce and undermine the policy’s potential effectiveness. Within the UK Scotland is not merely constrained by the limited powers allowed to Holyrood by the devolution settlement, we are also being held hostage to the prejudices of the Conservative right and the British nationalist media.

There are certain anti-independence commentators famous for their SNPbaddery who are telling us that this epidemic makes independence less likely as it removes it from the top of the political agenda. They’re wrong. All of us are looking at the way in which the British government is handling this crisis, and once the immediacy of this crisis has passed, there will be a political reckoning. When we follow the evidence the only political lesson from coronavirus is that it’s literally a matter of life and death for Scotland to have governments which can be held to account. There’s only one way for Scotland to achieve that, independence.

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67 thoughts on “Follow the evidence

  1. This Tory eugenics experiment has been rumbled big time and the compliant media knows it , folk aren’t stupid , they are aren’t as dumb as Johnston and his family believe , having heard a few utterances from his dear old dad defending his offspring you can tell where the entitled one gets his influence and ideas from , Christ I thought these dinosaurs had disappeared , just as we had hoped Widamonster had , Compassion in their eyes is a sign of weakness .

    Right now Bawjaws government are spending millions on a media onslaught to backup very dubious Tory government actions , actions that don’t follow WHO recommendations, but Bawjaws government knows better than the rest of the world my isn’t that bloody comforting and reassuring.

    This afternoon on LBC radio the resident clown stepped up to the mark by regurgitating the pish Bawjaws is promoting if I had been near a phone I would have told him he’s talking pish by following the Tory line , isn’t it amazing how easy money can make some people behave like a cheap hooker ,

    I urge people to have a long look at previous governments actions during a crisis , any crisis , my first memory was what to do in the event of a Nuclear strike , God hide under a table, all the following have the same formula at their heart bloody stupidity it’s imbedded in Westminster governments , AIDS – Foot and mouth – Salmonella in eggs – Chernobyl every one a abject failure by the class of brain dead arswipes as we have just now , Trust them I wouldn’t piss on them .
    Rant Ends.

  2. I think we need to be much more proactive and I, for one, have signed the petition on the UK government’s web site for a total lock down.
    In the teeth of questionable epidemiology, to carry on with the ‘herd’ strategy is criminal, especially when we have hard evidence that more direct methods have met success elsewhere.
    If we lock down there is a fighting, but diminishing, chance that we can really slow down the rate of infection allowing the NHS to build up capacity and ensure that everyone who contracts this illness seriously has a chance of survival- including the ecomically inactive! – and more time to get a working vaccine developed and dispersed
    It makes me so furious that the old, vulnerable and/or disabled may be sacrificed for the unproven benefit of the herd.
    I don’t know what Nicola Sturgeon may think or believe and I know her powers are limited, but she owes it to us to come out and tell us what she is going to do and what she wishes she could do (but can’t due to Westminster) all based on sound evidence. If that sound evidence is the ‘herd’, OK but let’s hear it from her.
    I personally find it impossible to agree with the ‘herd’ strategy – it is unproven at best – and it would appear judging by the actons of organisations and individuals that a large number of us don’t agree with this either.

    • Good comment but just one thing, there is almost no one who is ‘economically inactive’. Everyone pays VAT, the poor tend to pay more for goods because they can’t buy expensive long lasting items, and those dependant on so called benefits spend their pittance from the DWP on food, bills, and clothes if they can, they pay VAT, they keep local economies going as they tend not to drive miles out of their own area to do their shopping etc…which in fact costs more too, local shops tend to charge more for foods because they can.

      Possibly people in prison could be seen as ‘economically inactive’ but even then, the fact they are there is keeping people in jobs, and private security firms making a profit etc…

      The UKGov are acting criminally and putting everyone at risk including those outside of the UK in fact, the rEU must be raging at the neglect and refusal to engage in sensible, planned, intelligent shared strategies, to try to contain this dreadful pandemic. Hell mend the selfish gits at WM who are happy to let people die, just hope Karma exists.

  3. Paul, not often you get angry but it is a normal human response to the current situation. People dying unnecessarily because Johnson and Trump put money before people – idiots with no moral compass – a very dangerous combination.

    This herd nonsense stuff is the sort of thing you read about being presented as science by the Nazis nearly a century ago. Humanity really does progress at a very slow rate.

  4. I very much agree with what you’ve written about this virus, Paul. From what I’ve read in the last few days, there is much academic debate regarding the source, including whether its progression is characteristic of natural evolutionary factors – it’s extremely complex and unlike any other coronavirus – or whether its been genetically engineered and released – accidentally or otherwise. Security and safety at labs is woefully negligent – including our own Porton Down.

    Whatever the source, it’s extremely contagious and will prove lethal for many. Best advice as you suggest – stay at home unless you are a key worker. Go for walks in wide open spaces and keep your distance from everyone. The evidence from Asia suggests that secondary infections are increasing, so immunity may not be possible after all. If that is the case, the UK’s strategy of herd immunity will result in many thousands of unnecessary deaths.

    As I wrote in the previous post, government will need to act quickly this week and provide money for everyone to see them through the coming months. If they don’t – those who have nothing will be most at risk and once they become infected, this whole business turns into a Stephen King novel.

    I think there is a real risk of civil unrest, especially in the deprived areas and cities – and if that happens, it will make the outbreak worse.

    I’ve created a petition asking government to establish an emergency public relief fund of £200 billion to be distributed immediately and equally to everyone so they can make adequate preparations this week. Will post a link to it here once it becomes “live”. Dr Whittford will be asking the government win Monday if they would expedite the fund as soon as possible.

    Please sign and share – even if you don’t need it. Most us will.

    • My daughter likens this time to the zombie apocalypse. She was meaning the emptiness of food shops but if folk have no money…!

      • This was from another forum – from someone called Adam K in Poland. Worth a read..

        “The real problem is far more serious.

        It is the question what is more important – the human life or the so-called economy, defined in a certain way.

        It is stated in Hebrew Bible that human life is more important than anything else. The Romans built their civilisation on the opposite assumption. A lot of lower-grade humans, called “slaves” were treated as “speaking tools”, owned by higher-grade humans called “persons” (Roman citizens).

        Unfortunately for us, the neoliberal version of the Western civilisation is yet another incarnation of “Rome” and the foundation of our legal system can be found in Roman law, especially in regards to the definition of private property (minus the right to own serfs, abolished in the 1860s in the US and Russia). Even worse, the target function in our economy is the maximisation of profits of private enterprises and the value of their shares. We no longer have the concept of “legal personhood” linked with being born as a free Roman citizen but we have superhuman legal persons in the form of corporations.

        Let me contrast 3 views on human life
        View 1 “Anyone who destroys a human life is considered as if he had destroyed an entire world, and anyone who preserves a human life is considered to have preserved an entire world.” (Talmud), the same view is expressed in Christian New Testament and in the Quran.

        View 2 ‘In the days when Stalin was Commissar of Munitions, a meeting was held of the highest ranking Commissars, and the principal matter for discussion was the famine then prevalent in the Ukraine. One official arose and made a speech about this tragedy — the tragedy of having millions of people dying of hunger. He began to enumerate death figures … Stalin interrupted him to say: “If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.” ‘ (The Washington Post, 1947)

        View 3 We can watch on youtube “Milton Friedman justifies not recalling the ford pinto”.
        Milton Friedman may not have agreed with the Stalinist vision of “homo sovieticus” but his own version of “homo economicus”, always free to choose products on the free market, is in my view equally inhumane and limited, leaving no room for analysing cases when the life of a group of people depends on the activities of another group of individuals.

        I know that for Friedman it was an individual choice to pay extra 13 dollars to decrease the chance of dying in a faulty car but what would Friedman have said if it was someone else deciding to spend or not to spend $13 to increase his chance of survival? (This was the original question but Friedman managed to reframe it, I am just putting it back where it was). When Peter Dutton sent corona virus infected people to Christmas Island it was OK but he himself decided not to enjoy time there when he got infected, despite the balmy tropical climate. How surprising it was!

        Unfortunately this is where we are now. The good news is that as we can see in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea, it is possible to control the spread of virus and suppress the epidemic using radical (and sometimes draconian) methods. The bad news (in the short-term) is that this comes at a significant economic cost of shutting down whole parts of the economy. Because of this, people in power here and there, inspired by neoliberal thinking, have decided to postpone the action, maybe only just “flatten the curve” a little bit, maybe ignore the problem for now, maybe do a little bit on Monday and then “reconsider the situation”.

        Is the economy for humans or are humans just existing to feed the beast of the “economy” (either in the Stalinist or Milton Friedman’s sense)?

        There is no possibility of making free personal choice if someone is 80 years old and living in a nursing home. It is impossible for him / her to spend or not spend $13 or even $50000 (what is considered by insurers to be fair value of extending someone’s life by one year, source: Wikipedia) buying an extension on a free market of medical services. It is a choice for the authorities to either go full steam ahead and implement draconian measures or relax and only worry about the falling stock market.

        I have to admit that in my view the Polish government (which I am not a fan of) is doing the right thing. The border controls have been reintroduced and no foreigners can enter, only citizens and residents. If I return to Poland (as I have a passport) I will either go to a quarantine or straight to the hospital if I am suspected of having symptoms. What is really significant, only 50 people can congregate in a church (or anywhere else) at a time. All pubs, restaurants, malls are closed (one can only order food from a restaurant for home delivery). Obviously schools and universities are closed, too. Air traffic has been halted except for charter planes evacuating citizens back to Poland. Foreigners are free to leave but not come back. The restrictions are similar to the Martial Law of 1981 (except for political freedoms, of course). And both parties in the parliament approved them. Such is the gravity of situation.

        The number of infected people in the whole Poland is far lower than in Sydney but this time they acted before the tragedy struck, not after. Because they know that the spread can be suppressed until the vaccine is developed and the Iranian/Italian scenario can be avoided. Old cold-war Civil Defence procedures are still well remembered – they worked in 1963 (against smallpox) they will work again now. They also know that the economy is something they can worry about later, especially when people hear heartbreaking stories from Northern Italy. Again – the EU rules are kind of important but when there is real emergency, nobody within the ruling political group in Poland will think about garbage budget rules and what Mrs Merkel would say. Poland is a sovereign country with a functioning government which took responsibility for the situation and Polish farmers can feed everyone in the country (and a few more). This is all what matters. On the other hand, the social destabilisation caused by an epidemic of the scale of the Spanish flu of 1918/19 (which was actually relatively mild in Poland) could well cause far worse supply-side slump than shutting down some parts of the economy for a few months.

        Make no mistake, we can all live without going to a restaurant / shopping mall / church, flying overseas or watching rugby / soccer as long as we don’t have that virus. I can say that I personally don’t care as I am relatively young and healthy but this would be totally wrong. What is in the end the meaning of life? I don’t know, maybe I will never learn, but it is certainly not hoarding wealth.

        We have a clear choice, either worry about the fate of restaurants, hotels, airlines and a few other corporations or kill thousands or millions of elderly people. If we choose the well-being of the so-called free market economy over the people we may still end up losing both.

        I am writing all of this as the majority of English-only speaking people may not be aware of what is really going on. Some of the facts I am talking about are not known or some conclusions not obvious. By shutting down schools, banning mass gatherings, other “social distancing” measures and introducing mass testing leading to quarantining it is possible to lower the expected value of infected people (per one already infected) from around 2.6 to below 1. The virus will linger in the society until a vaccine is developed and applied or until it evolves into something less harmful and it is decided to let it infect anyone without much harm.

        I strongly believe that in Poland there will be no repetition of what happened in Italy. On the other hand the epidemics bomb is to go off in the US and possibly here in Austraila, unless an immediate action is undertaken – “whatever it takes”. Just do the same what was implemented in Poland. If it is not enough, do the same what the Chinese did. It will work.

        I wasted a few hours to research and write this but I think this was my duty. There is no monetary value of human life and it is still not too late to save many. The economy is for us not the other way around. We are not slaves of a “free choice”.

  5. Wonderfully elucidated indeed, “…there will be a political reckoning…”, an understatement of monumental proportions..

  6. I agree with Paul. It’s time to start afresh: a new party, new ideas, a fresh invigorating route to Independence. Nicola and her coterie are passe. She is but the Ebert to the Streseman we await.

    • Where does Paul say that, ”it’s time to start afresh: a new party, new ideas, a fresh invigorating route to Independence”?

      Any idea how long it will take to form a new, more so credible, party? That’s what this all about though, isn’t it. Get rid of Nicola Sturgeon, destroy the SNP and say bye-bye to independence for evermore. Gotya!

        • I understand the fustration and youve been using swear words yourself paul so your ok to swear when fustrated but anyone else oh no you wont stand for that thats hypocrisy.

          • That bollocks Robert. It’s not about swearing. The reason your previous posts weren’t allowed was because you were posting misinformation. And the reason I’m telling Jack to behave is because I don’t want to have to spend my evening moderating a bad tempered argument between people who post here regularly.

  7. Have a strong feeling that considerably more folk are seeing the Tories with eyes wide open and not liking what they see.

    We knew that they never give two fecks for us ‘up here’ but many were pretending/blind/unaware of the Tory habit of disregarding how ordinary folk live. Well they ken noo…

    Aye, a reckoning is coming.

  8. I listened today to Prof John Ashworth who notably tore strips out of the Herd Immunity policy on Question Time and went further on CH4 News today by blaming Boris Johnson directly for the poor response from the Westminster government. His main point was that there has to be a community response rather than a top down response from 2 scientists and the PM. He made the point that a herd immunity strategy will only work in company with a vaccine which is absent in this case. He went on to emphasize that without a vaccine and a provable fact that the mortality rate is between 1%-3% that would mean with an 80% infection rate we would be looking at a minimum of 600,000 deaths. What Whitty and co are saying is that by allowing the natural spread of the disease in the community the NHS can concentrate on the people at most risk. As one of those people with a compromised immune system that doesn’t sound very attractive to me if it risks me being hospitalised.

    Finally Ashworth went on to call for the resignation of Johnson and his replacement with Rory Stewart.

  9. Anne Widdecombe, an example of the evil people who are for some bizarre reason able to live on, and on and on…

    I had a good friend and flat mate who died of AIDS in early 90’s he was just 40 years old, had been an inspirational full of life, lovely guy. Widdecombe is a disgrace to humanity and she is not alone in her bigotry and hatred. A nasty piece of work in the extreme.

    I think you are right Paul, this crisis will not make independence go away, no matter how the Britnats will be sitting by their beds at night in their mansions, praying for it.

    The whole situation surely confirms that Scotland is on a different path to her neighbour politically and therefore morally, even the majority of no voters of 2014 can see that, can’t they?

    Anyway, if we look at Hans Holbein’s ‘Dance of Death’, we see that the selfish rich are not immune to death eventually, no matter how many diamonds hang around their nasty necks.

    • I’m glad she’s old and post-menopausal. The thought of a reptilian bastard love-monster with Widdy/Farage genes is really too much to contemplate. Can you imagine?

      I don’t wish her dead, but kept alive in a specimen jar or zoo might be an option.

  10. “”This doesn’t mean that Holyrood shouldn’t diverge from the UK government in those policy areas where it can and where the scientific evidence suggests it should, but any such divergence would need to be carefully and fully explained to the public. Full justification would need to be given””

    This is exactly what Ms Sturgeon did when she announced the cancellation of gatherings of more than 500. Not only was this a move away from the UK Government it was also one that was clearly explained. It has been interesting watching the UK Gov following this lead and using almost word for word the same reasoning.

    Ms Sturgeon’s taking the lead in this matter may also have been a factor, however great or small, in the decisions of football associations and other groups cancelling their events. It gave them political cover to do so.

    Throughout its time in office the Scottish Gov has shown itself to be quite adept at adopting policies that circumvent the straightjacket of its limited powers. And that has been the case here.

    As far as the UK Government’s constant bleat about following the scientific advice yet not revealing the evidence underpinning the advice for ‘herd immunity’ has echoes of the austerity debacle. Two economists published a paper proposing austerity but no data. When they did eventually released the data it was immediately spotted, by a PhD student, that the data was flawed and did not support the austerity pathway so eagerly embraced by the Tories. That they continued with the policy showed it was a political decision. I suspect that is also the case here. Scientists have asked to see the data for the ‘Nudge Theory’ and ‘herd immunity’ but so far nothing.

    • As usual, you have that spot on. Nicola Sturgeon IS leading and is well ahead of the UK government in areas that she has authority. Notice too, that she advised against gatherings of 500 etc not banned or enforced.

      Some draconian measures may be coming down the road very very soon from No 10 via Dominic Cummings according to the likes of government mouthpieces like Robert Peston.

      We really shouldn’t be wishing for them, this response is not “measured” or “appropriate”. It all looks like media soundbites matter, followed by kneejerk reactions more than anything else.

    • Indeed, SG and Sturgeon shrewdly trod the line between not being seen to contradict #10 policy whilst promoting strategic change. Although politicians and media were quickly mustered to criticise the initiative, the “relieving pressure on our emergency services” justification cleverly left them no room for manoeuvre. Sports bodies following that lead has left Johnson’s policy marooned.

      The “herd-immunity” line was inevitably going to be slammed as irresponsible by experts, but growing public awareness that beneath the scientific veneer lies “the old are going to die – because, economics”, has only exposed Johnson’s Cummings plan as callous if not malicious.

  11. UK just wanting to make sure all the pensioners get the virus and hope most of them die off to save pensions, free up hospital and hospice beds – cruelty personified

  12. Paul you said “This virus may behave more like the flu than say, chickenpox or measles”, and there is very good reason to think that. Many of the viruses that have crossed from other species into humans recently, causing serious new infections are RNA viruses. This is true for HIV, Ebola, swine flu (and other pandemic flu viruses) as well as the serious coronaviruses SARS, MERS and SARS-CoV-2. It is a feature of RNA templated viruses that the enzymes they contain that copy their RNA (RNA replicases and reverse transcriptase in the case of HIV) tend to lack proof-reading domains and therefore tend to make a lot of mistakes, leading to high rates of mutation. It is precisely because RNA viruses mutate a lot that they tend to change enough to jump from other species into humans. And this tendency to mutate means that (like flu) they are more likely to evolve quickly to evade immune responses and result in many, perhaps annual strains which makes it difficult to acquire long term immunity against them.

    There is already evidence of reinfection with SARS-CoV-2 and a lack of evidence of long-term immunity to SARS or MERS. The available clinical evidence and likely genetic instability of SARS-CoV-2 means that expecting long-term immunity to emerge is unwise. Betting the lives of half a million people on it is criminally insane. Although that is not even what the UK government is proposing. They are proposing to ACCEPT the deaths of up to half a million people in the gamble that herd immunity MIGHT emerge (in the face of the evidence I outlined above). To my knowledge, herd immunity has never emerged without the use of a safe and effective vaccine.

    Today the head of the British Society for Immunology wrote to the UK government expressing the concern of my former professional body about the government’s policy. His letter was short and sweet and covers many of the points discussed in your threads yesterday and today. I was relieved the UK’s immunologists stood up and were counted today. You can read their letter here:

    • “The available clinical evidence and likely genetic instability of SARS-CoV-2 means that expecting long-term immunity to emerge is unwise. Betting the lives of half a million people on it is criminally insane. Although that is not even what the UK government is proposing. They are proposing to ACCEPT the deaths of up to half a million people in the gamble that herd immunity MIGHT emerge (in the face of the evidence I outlined above). To my knowledge, herd immunity has never emerged without the use of a safe and effective vaccine.”

      Absolutely correct.

      “Your house is on fire, and the people whom you have trusted with your care are not trying to put it out. Even though they knew it was coming, and could see what happened to the neighbours as they were overwhelmed with terrifying speed, the UK government has inexplicably chosen to encourage the flames, in the misguided notion that somehow they will be able to control them.

      When I first heard about this, I could not believe it. I research and teach the evolution and epidemiology of infectious disease at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health. My colleagues here in the US, even as they are reeling from the stumbling response of the Donald Trump administration to the crisis, assumed that reports of the UK policy were satire – an example of the wry humour for which the country is famed. But they are all too real.

      Let me take the arguments on their merits. The stated aim has been to achieve “herd immunity” in order to manage the outbreak and prevent a catastrophic “second wave” next winter – even if Matt Hancock has tried to put that particular genie back in the bottle this weekend. A large proportion of the population is at lower risk of developing severe disease: roughly speaking anyone up to the age of 40. So the reasoning goes that even though in a perfect world we’d not want anyone to take the risk of infection, generating immunity in younger people is a way of protecting the population as a whole.

      We talk about vaccines generating herd immunity, so why is this different? Because this is not a vaccine. This is an actual pandemic that will make a very large number of people sick, and some of them will die. Even though the mortality rate is likely quite low, a small fraction of a very large number is still a large number. And the mortality rate will climb when the NHS is overwhelmed. This would be expected to happen, even if we make the generous assumption that the government were entirely successful in restricting the virus to the low-risk population, at the peak of the outbreak the numbers requiring critical care would be greater than the number of beds available. This is made worse by the fact that people who are badly ill tend to remain so for a long time, which increases the burden.

      And of course you can’t restrict it to this age group. Think of all the people aged between 20 and 40 who work in healthcare, or old people’s homes. You don’t need many introductions into settings like these for what we might coyly call “severe outcomes”. In Washington State, nearly all the deaths reported so far have been associated with nursing homes. Is everyone in a high-risk group supposed to withdraw themselves from society for six months until they can emerge once the (so far entirely imaginary) second wave has been averted?

      About that second wave: let me be clear. Second waves are real things, and we have seen them in flu pandemics. This is not a flu pandemic. Flu rules do not apply. There might well be a second wave, I honestly don’t know. But vulnerable people should not be exposed to a virus right now in the service of a hypothetical future.

      Keeping people safe means self-isolation if you develop symptoms, but the official advice here is also misleading. While it is of paramount importance that sick people stay at home to avoid infecting others, it is increasingly clear that transmission can occur before symptoms develop. We know this is true from modelling and observational studies. I have seen it happen myself. We do not know how often it occurs or how important it is in the epidemiology, but it definitely does happen.

      However, arguments about the case fatality rate, the transmission parameters and presymptomatic transmission all miss the point. This virus is capable of shutting down countries. You should not want to be the next after Wuhan, Iran, Italy or Spain. In those places, the healthcare systems have broken down. In Italy, the choices of whom to save and whom to allow to die are real. You should instead look to the example of South Korea, which, through a combination of intense surveillance and social distancing, appears to have gained some semblance of control over the virus. We can learn from South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, all of which have so far done a good job mitigating the worst outcomes despite having reported cases early in the pandemic, and in the case of South Korea, suffering a substantial outbreak.

      The UK should not be trying to create herd immunity, that will take care of itself. Policy should be directed at slowing the outbreak to a (more) manageable rate. What this looks like is strong social distancing. Anyone who can work from home, should. People who do not yet work from home should be encouraged to do so. Employers should guarantee sick pay, including for contacts of known cases, and do everything they can to discourage the practice of “presenteeism”. You should not shake hands. Not with anyone. You should wash your hands for 20 seconds several times a day and whenever you enter your home (or someone else’s home). Call a halt to large gatherings. Educate people about masks and how they should be reserved for the medical professionals who need them. All this and more should have started weeks ago.

      Deciding whether to close schools is hard; they do so much more than just education. But this is a pandemic, and so you should expect they will be shut sooner or later. In Hong Kong, they have been shut for weeks. If you hear any talking head on TV explain that kids don’t get sick, remember that doesn’t mean kids cannot be infected and transmit. It’s probably a good idea to hold off on visits to Nana and Grandpa.

      The most fundamental function of a government is to keep its people safe. It is from this that it derives its authority, the confidence of the people and its legitimacy. Nobody should be under the illusion that this is something that can be dodged through somehow manipulating a virus that we are only beginning to understand. This will not pass you by; this is not a tornado, it is a hurricane.

      Don’t panic, but do prepare. If your government won’t help you, do it yourself.”

      • Dr William Hanage is a professor of the evolution and epidemiology of infectious disease at Harvard

  13. From Aljazeera website on Europe and specifically the UK on the proposed legislation to come into effect :
    ” Ministers believe the virus will eventually infect the majority of the population and the law is intended to stay in place for two years to alleviate pressure on health services, according to The Times.

    The emergency measures include allowing authorities to detain people “for a limited period” if they are suspected to be infected with the coronavirus, the newspaper said.

    Authorities will also be able to close ports if there is not enough staff to control border security.

    The government will be able to order schools to stay open if they are deemed to be unnecessarily closed and to close them during pandemic peaks, The Times reported.

    According to the newspaper, seniors in care homes could receive less care and support due to staff shortages.

    Local authorities will be able to offer reduced levels of care to people in their homes or in care homes as long as it does not cause “serious neglect or harm”.

    Kicking the population when it’s down. What the actual xxxx is going on in this cesspit of a Union? Hitler would have been so proud of the above. What are the Polis going to do with those “infected” that they round up? Gas them? Line them up and shoot them? Bulldoze the dead into mass burial pits and bury them? Seriously folks this shit is getting real and they know we won’t be able to do F’all about it.

    Better Together eh?

    • …”Kicking the population when it’s down. What the actual xxxx is going on in this cesspit of a Union? Hitler would have been so proud of the above.”..

      And that’s where we’re at now crabbitgits. The crew running the country from Westminster have the same mindset and ideological leanings as Hitler et al. Add to that we’ve had decades if not centuries of this crowd screwing it up (more so us) and using Scotland as its wee guinea pig, cash cow, colonial sporting estate, nuclear dumping ground and a retreat for the royals (heading our way right now) who don’t give a sh*t for us and never have. Queen of the Scots? Eh? Forget it.

      We’ve had the broken vows (over and over again), Brexit and now this. How much more will it take for people in Scotland to see the bl**dy light?

      On a positive note all of the folks, in particular the elderly, who rushed to Scotland to avoid the English (fascist) draconian measures (sh*t ENHS / social care provision, homelessness, 2 child benefit only, bedroom tax, rape clause, disabled attacks etc) and get their claws on the Sturgeon / SNP freebies, but still supported the Union, might be getting a wake up call right NOW.

      This coronavirus just floats across borders, like the grim reaper, however control of it, that is the person who ultimately decides who lives or dies, consequently lies with their great leader in London who is now putting THEIR lives at risk. Dearie me. Make up your mind time.

      ‘Coronavirus: UK Government to introduce emergency laws for outbreak.’

    • Quite right Jack. There are to many English people living in Scotland. I have spoken recently to English people living in the village where I am and they are encouraging their various relatives to move to Scotland where it is less densely populated and they may have a lesser chance of catching the virus. Of course they may be bringing the virus with them, this did not bother them at all.
      This applies to anyone wishing to bring in relatives friends etc etc to Scotland no matter where they originate.

    • Being very small? Having few visiting/returning people from affected areas? Lacking the resources/infrastructure to test & report reliably?

      England had zero cases before 31st Jan. Scotland had zero cases before 1st March – now 121, with over 1200 altogether in Scotland, England, Wales, NI. (Many commentators put the real figures much higher, as testing is now restricted to hospitalised patients.) So having no cases today doesn’t mean there won’t be hundreds/thousands in future.

      It’s hard (impossible?) to be sure what works & what doesn’t, but China took extreme lockdown measures & their new cases were down to 8 (yes eight, not a typo) on Friday.

      Holyrood’s approach seems to be closer to ‘what works’ than Westminster’s.

  14. And to cheer you all up on a Sunday morning.
    The fairly stories from the uk national press.
    The doris declares that we are to have the blitz spirit.
    He’s declared WAR on the virus.
    He’s ordered new hospital beds, by the thousands.
    Respirators by the millions, glad I kept the one from the last war.
    The over 70’s are to self isolate, no going for a wee walk.
    The army will be guarding the shops and the banks.
    Factories are to be modified to make all that is required.
    Oh, **** we don’t own the steel works or the factories any more.
    Quick tell them that the HERD will survive, just in reduced numbers.
    It is reported from trumpland that returning citizens are being held for hours in close contact while the authorities check the paperwork, where have you been?
    It gives me great confidence that the donkeys are in power to organise all our deaths.
    Strong and stable. Whit?

  15. Writing for the Sunday Telegraph, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that government, local authorities, charities, friends and neighbours “will need to be part of the national effort to support the shielded”.

    He also said the British public had “never been tested like this” since the Second World War and issued a “call to arms” to manufacturers, asking them to “transform their production lines” to make ventilators.

    “Everyone will be asked to make sacrifices, to protect themselves and others, especially those most vulnerable to this disease,” he said.

    National car parks will only charge you £24 a day to park your new NHS bed in their facilities.
    Make your own way to the concentration camps, Hi Di HI.

    They must have got a bad batch of the coke on Friday.
    More likely ‘What are they not telling us’

  16. Matt Hancock saying manufacturers will be asked to just switch production to ventilators is just a throwaway statement to look as if government is doing something.

    Ventilators are medical pieces of equipment which means that the manufacturer has to meet quality assurance rules on building them . This means testing of equipment by relevant body to assure that the new manufacturer meets the build quality standards for ventilators.

    Hancock appears to think that manufacturing companies can switch from making cars or electronic equipment to medical ventilators. When they have no experience or staff experienced in building these. If they do build them how do we know that they are safe for patients and will not kill patients?

    Over time maybe they could, but not in near future.

    And on bbc this morning, no journalist asks how this is possible. Or anywhere in the mainstream media is this statement being questioned.

    All that statement is, is platitudes to try and calm the population.

  17. Why does the SG not close down schools and stop all cultural and sporting activities in Scotland. That is within their power.

  18. All the extra beds to be made.
    Where are they going to put them? old hospitals?
    The over 70’s to be concentrated.
    Please make your way to Cultibraggan concentration camp in Scotland. It’s still there.
    Bring the gas mask your parents failed to return after the German war and IF you have it a spare bed.
    Yes straight out of Dad’s army, ‘Don’t Panic’.
    Pity Richard Attenborough is dead, he’d have done a sequel to ‘Oh it’s a lovely War’.
    Step this way, buy your ticket to the biggest show on earth.
    Yes hancock and doris are on the job, grayling has been appointed head of the intelligence unit.
    They are using the Herd Immunity theory in error to confuse the public, read this blog and see that the name of the game is misinformation.
    What are the people under 70 to do IF they have health concerns with their lungs?, no mention.
    They are causing panic by not being clear on their information.
    Have you ever thought about why the fermentation process stops in the wine making process, the enzymes drown in the alcohol they’re producing.
    Maybe the planet is getting rid of a troublesome animal that thinks it knows how to run a planet.

  19. Willie- talking tripe if you are the same one on WoS stop the anti immigrants bring infections to the home country. Who knows you may be a carrier of some disease since you spout a load of diarrhoea. Wash your hands.

    • Very good Hamish
      I have a 93 year old mother who has a history of chest infections, so if you don’t mind I will do my best to protect her.

  20. Closing schools is a difficult one. Do all GPs, Nurses, lab staff, cleaners, home care etc take holidays to watch their kids?

    Who will care for the teachers parents if ill. Personally a good home care worker should be paid more than a bbc newsreader.

    • I just read Macwhirter’s piece in the Brit Herald.
      He agrees with Johnson and his Medical experts.
      He must feel like a fool when he reads this declaration from 295 ‘experts’.

      He is morphing into a Born Again Blue Tory Unionist since the Heraald downsized or rightsized, and he got the Political Editor gig, hasn’t he?

      I note that the Blue Tories in Scotland have gone into hiding this week.
      I wonder why?
      Are they self isolating?

      • Oh jeez Jack, stand back for a minute, they are not self-isolating but self ignoring to blend in with scottish views. It would seem that “coming up to speed with the electorate” meant different things to different candidates… Some are still accelerating north after Sweden and Norway deftly moved left as the Loony-Dook mob took a right, A-Lister is reputedly looking to retire his horse, but doesn’t know how to break it to his wife, Dougie Ross bought a long lasting battery lantern so he can see teeth when crawling to Boris and flattened the battery, so they are not self-isolating despite all desires they do so, preferably in Antarctica…
        Johnson has already finished off any delusions independence is NOT coming, he’s that sort of twerp… what?

  21. BBC Radio 4 earlier today.

    World this Weekend with Mark Mardell and guests Stephanie Flanders (ex BBC Economics Editor now, Senior Executive Editor for Economics at Bloomberg and head of Bloomberg Economics) and Robert Peston ex-Political Editor BBC News, now Political Editor of ITV News).

    Quite the reunion of BBC types.

    10 minutes of ‘discussion’ between the three talking heads about the economic repercussions of Covid-19. Not a peep as to how it will affect the elderly and more vulnerable of our society.

    Nuff sed.

    • Aye get your priorities in the correct order,

      Protect the rich , I mean who else is better at exploiting the rest of the population we really can’t be without these robbing bas ****s I mean how would we cope .

      The rich are shit scared people might look at them and their lifestyle and question , why the f/k are that lot being attended to and looked after first , what makes them so bloody special , the gated communities that have constructed can only function with the assistance of eh ordinary people , Oh that’s a bugger eh .

  22. After wasting 15 minutes watching economist Hancock’s at on Marr on Sunday, self-isolation from Tory politicians would seem the more beneficial strategy for everything including Covid.
    “We’re spending x zillion more on…” doesn’t have gel when you’ve already screwed over the NHS and ostracised 40,000 nurses, and the nodding (I’m paying close attention and being serious) impersonation of the Churchill insurance dog is quite surreal, as realistic as the dog itself, including the jowels, the same old sales spiel of I’m on your side….
    Marr’s opening “ hyperbole, no panic, it’s a morning of close and patient attention to the facts…” thence introduced a costume drama about Belgravia, and the press review team including the Beeb’s James Gallagher who would go on to lavish praise on his pal Boris Johnson.
    What a very different world these people inhabit…

  23. The only thing missing from Brewers intensive interrogation of Jeane Freeman this morning was the obligatory cosh & the spotlight using Stasi methods .

    Jeane Freeman was asked more questions about questionable Tory government policy a policy that she or the Scottish government have no control over , but somehow his pressing and attempting to link the Scottish government with decisions made down south.

    Brewer should be moved south maybe he would get the answers the media are so far failing to pursue ,This shows the totality different interview approach reserved only for SNP ministers and representatives , AYE WE SEE YOU BBC , and the way you try to link our government with Westmonsters actions, very naughty .

    As for Andrew Marrs political broadcast on behalf of Borris, again not fooled BBC , Borris approval rating mentioned , I mean really the one who gave us that little gem was previously employed by wait for it , yep the Tory party , he obviously missed the National News just before saying more than 300 Scientists have criticised the Borris governments handling so far , these liars really believe we don’t see or listen to what is going on .

  24. US Man Stockpiles 17,700 Hand Sanitisers For Re-Sale – But now can’t re-sell them.

    Call me naïve – but why doesn’t the selfish twonk give them away to his more needy and vulnerable neighbours? (And why doesn’t the media ask him to do so?)

    Right, that’s me labelled as a commie or a socialist … but as the b—–d can’t sell them on (and, I guess there’s a bit of karma in that) wouldn’t you want to do something for your fellow humans?

    Yep, I was right first time: selfishness, self-interest and greed come first. (in similar vein you should see the bare shelves at Aldi and Sainsbury’s down here – in leafy Conservative Middle England …)

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