The importance of perception

#BorisTheButcher is trending on social media. All politians are vain, you have to have a bit of an ego to want to subject yourself to the kind of scrutiny that politicians come under. Boris Johnson has more of an ego than the rest of them put together. He wants to be remembered in the history books as the great leader who took the UK out of the EU and into the sunlit uplands of Empire 2.0. Instead he’ll be remembered as the bumbling buffoon who presided over a government which many claim has callously risked the lives of millions of British citizens in order to protect the financial interests of the wealthy while it stumbled its way through a crisis.

Despite the Boris the Butcher hashtag, the Conservatives are not delibately seeking to kill off tens of thousands of people. It’s a sign of how low public trust has sunk that the statement even has to be made. The perception has arisen that they have other priorities and seem prepared to accept a degree of collateral damage. That collateral damage would be your elderly relatives, your neighbour with a respiratory problem, and your friend with a compromised immune system. There is now a widespread belief that the British government is risking lives in the hope that enough people will contract the coronavirus so that immunity will build up within the population, acting as a natural brake on the spread of the disease. Unfortunately that appears to mean that even though for the vast majority the illness will be relatively minor, for a significant minority the symptoms will be serious, and for some it will be fatal.  That perception has arisen because the British government has been so poor in communicating with the public during this crisis.

The problem in countering this perception is that the British government is basing its strategy more on a hope than on solid science, and is drip feeding information via unattributable “sources” speaking to a favoured few journalists. Other government plans are trialled out behind paywalls in the Telegraph newspaper. Scientific bodies and institutions such as the British Society of Immunology have publicly called upon the government for greater transparency and to release its data. It matters a lot that the British government’s communications strategy has been so poor. It needs to change, and it needs to change immediately.

A government which is releasing information in this way is not a government which is doing a good impression of one which is open, honest, and transparent. The British government tells us that it is relying upon science, but it only creates doubt and confusion amongst the public when scientific experts tell us something very different from what the British government does. It is unfortunately a scientific fact that we don’t actually know for certain whether it’s possible to build up natural immunity to the coronavirus within a population, the key plank of the government’s strategy. There is evidence which suggests otherwise.

The immune system works because your body is able to recognise an infective agent such as a virus or bacterium which it has encountered before, and to rapidly deploy antibodies which will attack and destroy it by latching onto the precise chemical structure of its surface. You get an initial infection, and then you experience an illness during which time your body is learning to recognise the infective agent and to develop antibodies against it. When you recover from the illness it’s because your immune system has learned how to produce antibodies which attack and destroy the infective agent. You then have immunity against the infective agent.

Immunity doesn’t mean that you don’t get infected ever again, it means that when you do get reinfected the immune system is able to remember the infective agent and is prompted to produce antibodies which destroy it before you develop any symptoms and before you develop enough of the infective agent in your system that you can pass it on to others. However the coronavirus belongs to a family of viruses which is highly prone to mutating rapidly, developing subtly different strains which the antibodies of the immune system may not always recognise. These different strains can have surfaces which are different in key ways from those which existing antibodies can recognise, so the antibodies can’t latch onto them and destroy them.

More research into how the Covid-19 virus interacts with the human immune system is needed, yet time is of the essence. That’s why it’s so important to slow down the progress of the disease within the population. Delay gives scientists more time to study the virus and discover an effective treatment against it, without the health service being overwhelmed. Delay gives the health service more time to prepare itself for an influx of patients.

The difference in the way in which the UK government is handling this outbreak and way other governments are handling it is striking. In New Zealand there is a daily briefing from the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Director General of Health. In Ireland there is a daily press briefing by senior medical staff and has been for the past two weeks or so. Every evening the head of the Irish health service holds a press conference with updates of cases, locations of those cases and advice. Leading politicians are constantly visible and are constantly repeating the same simple messages: wash your hands, reduce exposure to those who are at high risk, self-isolate. There are TV programmes talking about self-isolation and the best strategies for managing it, answering many of the questions that people have. How do you self-isolate if you live in a flat and you have a dog? What do you do if an elderly or disabled relative depends on you to shop for them? How do I get my prescription for a pre-existing condition?

[The answers are: 1. Try to get a friend or relative to walk the dog for you. Leave the dog and its lead in the hallway so that you don’t have to come face to face with your friend. They must ensure that they wash their hands thoroughly after walking your dog. 2. Ask someone else to take over shopping duties or use an online shopping service if possible. 3. Regular prescriptions can be collected by someone else on your behalf and dropped through your letterbox, but do talk to your GP about your specific needs.]

That’s the key to a successful public health campaign, the constant repetition of simple messages that are easy to understand and ensuring that people with questions can have those questions answered accurately and easily. Otherwise people turn to social media and its morass of misinformation, misunderstanding, and conspiracy theorising.

Compare and contrast the Irish communications approach with that of the UK. Boris Johnson is absent most of the time. Other senior cabinet ministers have scarcely been seen at all. The British government’s health minister, Matt Hancock, gave an interview to the Telegraph newspaper that sits behind a paywall. Professional and expert bodies have to call upon the British government to release the data behind its decision making. There’s an air of secrecy and an absence of leadership. No wonder people panic buy.

Scotland has been doing far better than the rest of the UK, but the Scottish government would do well to take a lesson from Ireland’s experience. In terms of the political fall out from a crisis, public perception is everything. At this time, above all, we need a government which leads, which reassures, and which is seen to be leading and providing the information that the public requires in order to avoid falling prey to panic. We’re not getting that from Boris Johnson. His failure in this crisis will have lasting consequences for the future of the UK.

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44 thoughts on “The importance of perception

  1. Pingback: The importance of perception | speymouth

  2. Of all the possible promoted idiots that are the product of the English upper class , the ones who are taught from an early age that they are special , the ones that the doors are always open to them by right , and we get lumbered with the prize one .

    I suppose it would be our own fault had we voted for this bumbling fool , ok we all make mistakes and by Christ the ones who trusted this proven Liar they are about to find out royally how misguided they were , even the Scottish Tory party kept their distance until they were undermined by their buddies in the south .

    Previous comments I have made I gave him till the end of the year , the end of the month looks a bit ambitious now , no wonder they are gagging him , even his minders must realise his gob can’t be controlled so it’s the safest way to avoid real panic , even he must have realised his premiership was doomed , tainted and guaranteed to end in failure , the biggest crises in living memory and we get this Clown aren’t we lucky , God help us all because Borris ain’t got a clue.

    Have a pleasant evening now and take care all I hope I have cheered you all up , Jesus starting to sound Rev I M Jolly apologies and best wishes to Ricky

  3. Pingback: Collateral damage would be your elderly relatives, your neighbour with a respiratory problem, and your friend with a compromised immune system. – New Scotland

  4. Breaking News.

    Trump has been tested for the virus and Americans are rejoicing at the News.

    I believe that we have underestimated the intelligence of this variant of the flu even it has standards and refused to soil itself by going near this fool ,maybe we will get lucky with Bawjaws and his cabinet.

    Eh might have exaggerated with the rejoicing bit , it might have got lost in translation, I took , Aw f/k to be a joyous reception to the News , oh well we get stuff mixed up now and again , I put it down to age and bewilderment at how gullible some voters have been . It will be ok Dominic and merry band of off the wall loons will save the world , he will have a APP to sort it all out , comforting eh .

  5. It is deeply baked into English conservatism. An inherent dislike of helping people in need. They have opted for a policy of doing nothing. Hoping it won’t be all that bad. Even if it is…only people of no value will be lost. Our parents. Our Grand parents. Our sick relatives and our very young.

    If you voted no in 2014. If you voted for Brexit. If you voted tory. You voted to be the toad in the fable of the toad and the scorpion. We all know how that worked out.

    Its in their nature.

  6. Daily briefing in New Zealand versus UK Government lack of communication.

    That’s what Jeanne Freeman was trying point out to Brewer today. Basically trying to say that they, Brewer / BBC for example, should be making this possible (on a daily basis for say Nicola Sturgeon). He did his usual and shut her up. Still following the Unionist line to the point of jeopardising lives.

  7. The idea of the FM and other relevant Scottish Government ministers holding a regular press conference or a daily broadcast briefing like the Irish is excellent, and would go a long way to reassuring the vulnerable and isolated, however would the BBC and ITV co-operate or would they put every obstacle in their way?

    What powers does the FM or SG have to force them to cooperate if they are not prepared to act decently?

  8. Johnson doing his best impression of the Invisible Man . while Matt Hancock does an impression of a rabbit in the headlights !
    This is how our world ends …not with a bang , not even a whimper , but a bumbling croak of ” well we haven’t reached that point – yet ”.

    • I’m afraid Petra that the minute you mention Cuba ….the American government and its friends will balk any recognition of this country that has done so much humanitarian work worldwide with no acknowledgement at all. Fingers crossed they are successful.

  9. Perception indeed. Not only Johnson has been near invisible but completely invisible have been the scientists giving the advice that Johnson and Whitty and co keep quoting as their reason for their policies/approaches in dealing with this.

    None have appeared for interview, none have been named and no research data published. Apparently the data will be published ‘in the next day or so’. Yet all those who have queried the approach by the Westminster Gov have been prepared to go public. Quite a contrast.

    The suggestion above about the FM or Jeanne Freemen giving daily updates via a press conference is a good one. If the BBC/STV put up objections to broadcasting this then they could be bypassed by in-house filming of the daily update then putting it on the Scot Gov website. Then we do our bit by publicising this via our Facebook pages, Twitter and making sure it is mentioned on the BTL comments in online newspapers and of course on any other sites we can think of.

    • Agreed it is a good idea but given PQ’s tendency to “edit” I’d avoid then like the plague and pre-package the latest to STV exclusively… Petty perhaps, but given PQ’s previous, not without an abundance of justification

      • If the BBC downloaded the film from the Scot Gov web site and selectively edited it then you really have them by the short and curlies.

        If none of the broadcast or print media mentioned this update then once word got around about it people would be asking very serious questions especially of the BBC.

  10. Germany closing its borders and another wee tidbit. Well. Depth charge.


    Politicians anywhere using the Covid 19 pandemic for political gain will not be remembered fondly.

  11. As absent as Boris is – and that is probably because he’s scare of catching it, hiding so he’s less likey to, and doesn’t know what he should be doing about it as PM…. as much as that is probably the truth, they know enough not to let Anyone from the Scottish Government on TV, giving rational instructions/updates to Scotland, on a daily basis.

    Thank goodness the Scot Gov can do so via Facebook broadcasts, and Twitter. No excuse not to really, or will this be another open goal not even kicked for.

    As alway Paul, you lay out the facts very, very clearly.

  12. A wee problem for hancock getting his ventilators assembled in the UK.
    The parts come from China, 8 weeks to delivery AFTER they’re manufactured.
    The wee problem seems to be that China is in closed mode.
    Globalisation is China for manufacture.
    Trump’s government buying in billions of dollars worth of Bonds and Mortgages.
    The cat is out of the bag, you just print money, there’s plenty of it, austerity was a political decision.

    • Interesting that the Tories expect car manufacturers to not be making cars and be able to retool their assembly lines to produce ventilators.
      Just like that!
      Lucky for them that Brexit has allowed this situation to develop.
      What a bunch of mendacious chancers.

  13. Sad news tonight – 6 elderly residents in a north Lanarkshire care home have tested positive. Sad for them and their families. 🙁

    So how’s your herd solution working out then Boris?

    • The current distortion of the term ‘herd immunity’ is entirely down to the nascent eugenics relaxed brigade a la Cummings.

      Before covid 19 I only ever heard it in the context of vaccination levels. i.e. those virologists who bemoaned lack of uptake by the community for available vaccines. The annual flu virus for example or the MMR vaccine. They would say that the public were risking the population dropping below the herd immunity level.

      But that was with the presumption that such immunity would be there courtesy of a vaccination program.

      The neo-eugenisists plan does not even require a vaccine at all.

      Of course, at this juncture we do not even know if immunity can be built up at all. Not only have possible re-infections occurred but Covid 19 has already split into two strains (S and L) and at least one patient has demonstrated infection by both i.e. whichever one he got first did not stop him being infected by the second.

      • I should have added. Therefore clamp down eradication, however costly and disruptive, may, in a worse case scenario, turn out to be the only solution.

        Imagine a future where the rest of the World has gone through the pain of a clamp down eradication but the UK has adopted the natural immunity or bust approach. If the disease remains seasonal with minor variants so that it is still present here, what implications does that have for the UK’s relationship with the rWorld?

        My own hope, and belief, is that an effective vaccine and/or anti viral drug will be developed so this does not happen. Also, do not believe that the original Brit plan will live. Expect retractions and rewriting of history very soon.

    • That archive was for something else so I found the Grun article and is its archive.

      However, your article was very interesting, and if that was backed up by more research and corroboration could put a different complexion on things. Specially the bit about “most contagious BEFORE and during the first week of symptoms” (my capitals).

      I hate to be indelicate, but something I was thinking a day or two ago was that as well as the advice to “wash hands”, the advice should be “Don’t pick and flick or lick”. I kind of doubt we’ll see that though, but considering one function of a nose as a filter, it could help permanently if it caught on. Be afraid of your own nose, be very afraid!

      • Sorry about that. Tiredness is only excuse I have.

        Thank you for sorting it out.

        As to the article I did post. Yes it is interesting but on a small sample. However it is not unusual for infectious diseases, bacterial or viral, to be infectious before symptoms appear. One of the reasons contact tracking and checking is so important. Who did the person have contact with in the few days before the symptoms appeared as well as after. That is why the Chinese were so stringent in their contact testing and other countries.

  14. This blog is doing a better job of keeping people informed than the flipping government who have all the state resources and controls all the media. Well done Paul and all the BTL posters.

    Not been posting much as I have been too busy washing my hands😷😷😷😷

  15. “Despite the Boris the Butcher hashtag, the Conservatives are not deliberately seeking to kill off tens of thousands of people.”

    I don’t have your optimistic view of the actions of the UK government. I think the very best interpretation that could be placed on their actions is that they really don’t give a toss about anyone other than themselves.

  16. I think that we see more sense here than we do in main stream media. Our host makes telling arguements. As Chicmac says above, epidemiological herd immunity pre-supposes that a vaccine is available, not that you surrender to the virus and let it do what it does.

    This Argentinian MD makes the telling case for vaccination, and consequent herd immunity. It’s worth a watch.

  17. Off topic again, first yes, communication from UK Gov is dire, fine article.

    Anyways, any chance of investigating foodbanks with this berserk shelf-emptying selfish hoarding mania? I suspect they’re being hit in Scotland, they are in England. No collections at sports events, rushing past points in supermarkets, and in some cases, nothing left to actually put in. Plus probably increased demand.

    Front page in The National would be a good idea, for Tuesday. “Your local Foodbank needs YOU”. And from a reply elsewhere I posted about it, it might need more volunteers as people fall ill or self-isolate. Plus I’d say they may beed masks and gloves plus gel. Maybe gov funding. Just some random thoughts.

    A wee spread of articles would do my heart wonders 🙂

    • Yeah, add to that, since it seems delivery slots are being filled weeks ahead in some places (letter in The National), people won’t be going there so much, so talking to the supermarkets would be a good idea, shame them into making foodbank contributions out of their delivery charges.

        • I was in my local supermarket this morning and passed the foodbank collection cage on my way in. It was empty. As I left I put in some tins of tuna and there they sat is splendid isolation – looking pathetic.
          I believe this particular collection point is emptied mid-week, so I don’t know if the cage stood empty for a couple of days, or if collection times have changed. I hope to goodness they have and it had just been emptied.
          It contrasted with a few shoppers who had trollies piled high.

  18. I have no idea where this came from, but it is beautiful.

    Sleep well friends.

    “And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

    “And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

    “And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”

    ~Kitty O’Meara

  19. “Despite the Boris the Butcher hashtag, the Conservatives are not delibately seeking to kill off tens of thousands of people.”
    Are you sure? Think of the money they would save. That’s not preception – that’s reading Dominic Cummings for the horror story that he is.

    • Have to agree Wee Chid, this reaction to the crisis is not driven by science but by economics, where is my next opportunity to make money – given the death rate this government is consigning a minimum of 600,000 to death, most of whom will be pensioners a £5bn saving to the public purse, followed by a reduction in care requirements, reduced hospital admissions and of course big pharma will have developed the vaccine by then and the affluent will be quids in with their shares. Yes am a cynic but the reaction of this government makes me sick when we see what is happening across the globe – react now before it is too effing late.

      BBC GMS disgraceful as usual, trying to insinuate that the Scottish Govt not interested in providing a daily update

  20. The Scottish Government & SNHS need to do more in support of GPs, there have been no clear guidelines for them to follow at present.

    So, we find them doing things differently. They all need to be on the same page.

    My wife, who is a GP, is completely stressed out and unsure of what the best course of action is.

  21. Don’t know for def if it’s true or not but apparently Trump tried to bribe a German vaccine co to relocate to the US and develop a covid vaccine for the US only. Nice man.

  22. Be prepared for Tory voters ( elderly ) middle class comfortably off turning on Bawjaws big time , his apparent missing in action act won’t be sorted out by off the wall invited to leave Russia Cummings , just as his opposite number who advised Labour was similarly encouraged to leave Australia , these professional Liars should be routed out and banned from any involvement in any Government ,
    I would include Holyrood in this because the Scottish Parliament won’t be immune to the shit these people peddle ,

    Just now these snake oil salesman are as welcome as a dose of something nasty

  23. Headline this morning is that there will be £1000 fines for those who refuse to self isolate, with prison for those who refuse to pay, and that prisoners may be released early from prisons.

    Way to go!

    Empty the prisons of criminals just to fill them up again with minimum wage earners desperately trying to feed themselves and their families.

  24. Yet again I feel I must comment on the Nationals online comment section,
    I know this was kind of addressed recently, not fixed addressed, people are commenting on items regarding this virus, and a lot giving information that they have managed to find out and are passing it on , Then as ever we get the same clowns disrupting any exchange of information, while I accept lack of staff making it difficult to monitor posts ,
    They managed to ban my posts for what reason baffles me , maybe it’s because I kept objecting to the same nut jobs being allowed to post total utter unionist tripe on a daily basis,
    So the reason given the inability to do something is utter tosh ,if you want to do something and then keep giving excuses to justify not doing so that just won’t wash that’s why I stopped my subscription , as it was becoming more like the Scotsman than the Scotsman .
    Yes they can change their name agreed , but they can’t change their IP Address or Service provider it can be done , but maybe it provides traffic and contributes to revenue .Who knows

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