Thursday, May 13, 2021

Coronavirus 52 The Reckoning

The UK Government has announced there will be an inquiry into its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, but not for another year.

Lord make me good, but not just yet.

Meanwhile, never mind the Prime Minister's Covid Inquiry, kicked down the road and into the long grass, let's start here: The Independent Panel for Preparedness and Response, have been holding the inquiry ordered by the World Health Organisation last summer, and have now published their report, Covid-19 Make it the Last Pandemic.

The British media have largely ignored the launch of this report*. It is, or at least should be, deeply embarrassing to the UK, and other, governments.

For those reluctant to read the lengthy report, here is an excellent video introduction to the Inquiry and a summary of its findings and recommendations, presented by the leaders of the Panel.

As a follow-up to that introduction, here is the Press Conference of the report launch.

The report not only explores what happened and what should have happened, but makes urgent demands for what should be done, now, to halt the current pandemic, and in the future to ensure that this is the last pandemic.

That's all you need from me so watch, listen, read and tell the world about what The Independent Panel tells us.

*The Guardian (other newspapers are available) has a couple of pieces:

Sarah Boseley's report.

Helen Clark and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's summary of their report. 

As I write this, there is no mention of the report on the BBC News website's 'Coronavirus' page, and I have heard no mention on the Radio 4 news bulletins.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Elections 2021.

The abused voted to support their abuser.

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological response whereby abuse victims bond with their abusers. This psychological connection develops over the course of years of abuse. A large part of the English population have developed the condition.

A classic abuser tactic is to create external enemies that explain away any bad experience, and from which the abuser protects the abused, thus reinforcing the dependency.

Over many years the EU was held to be the source of many of our woes, the politicians' lies repeated by their compliant media. Xenophobia was stoked with threats of immigration; leave voters gave succour and support to the racists.

By the time of the referendum the fishermen, farmers, and business folk dependent on foreign trade, had been locked into their Stockholm syndrome state, impervious to rational argument, convinced by what they read in their newspapers that the politicians had their best interests at heart.

Covid provided the coup de grace.

The pandemic was entirely avoidable but the British public were told that the government would protect them. Unlike the experience of several 
Eastern Hemisphere countries, diverse in geography and politics, where a zero covid policy was enacted from the start, resulting in few deaths, the UK Government's approach resulted in some 150,000 deaths and immeasurable suffering.

Just in time for the May 6th elections, the Government delivered what the people wanted to hear: a promise of freedom. Covid restrictions were being lifted and some semblance of normality was being restored. This, they were told, was the gift of good governance. The vaccination programme was another gift, but even this was not the triumph it was portrayed as. The vaccine was no 'miracle' but just what scientists do when given the resources to do their work, and the roll out was not exactly rocket-science. (Bhutan vaccinated it's entire adult population in one week.)

All the while the government were able to transmit what was effectively a Party Political Broadcast every day it wanted under the guise of the 'covid briefing', to leave no doubt who was the protector and benefactor. 

The parallel between the behaviour described by psychiatrists of abuse victims and the condition of the English public was exemplified by the Hartlepool resident who said he voted Tory because there were now nine food banks but under Labour there were none. Rationality is dispensed with, the victim defends the abuser.

The abused English public dutifully trooped to the ballot box (or, more often than not, didn't bother to vote at all).

And all the while around the world the pandemic rages more than ever, each new case an opportunity for viral mutation, and the UK's decision to leave the EU the source of bemusement and ridicule by all who retain their sanity.

Sunday, March 28, 2021


Warning: controversial ideas to make one think.

All sorts of people are up in arms (metaphorically, at least for now) about the treatment of the Uyghurs by the Chinese government.

Of course there is a lot of history, several thousand years’ worth, and if you want an introduction Wikipedia is as good place to start at as any. It’s complicated. But what is clear today is that the Peoples Republic of China regards the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region as very much part of China and anybody who calls for independence, such as The Turkistan Islamic Party, is regarded as a ‘terrorist’ and ‘separatist’. (The UN Security Council has also listed them as a terrorist organisation.)

A great deal has been written, by Western commentators and politicians, about the wrongs that the Chinese government has been doing to the Uyghurs. Some have used the word ‘genocide’ to describe the actions. We should be cautious in that respect. It would be unfortunate if the G-word were to become devalued. Genocide is what some German Christians did to many German Jews and events in Cambodia and Ruanda may also fit the bill. The current situation is not so clear and certainly nobody is alleging that thousands of people have been killed. The UN definition does include some features that might, arguably, apply.

But let’s look from another viewpoint. The Chinese government like to stress their desire for a harmonious society, with everybody working for the common good. This, of course, is an attitude deeply embedded in Chinese culture going back millennia to Confucius and before, not an invention of the communists. Troublesome Islamists exploding bombs to further their cause of setting up an Islamic state does not fit easily with the notion of harmony in the Peoples Republic.

Importantly, and this is really my main point, the Chinese have seen how Islamists have been dealt with in other places. The Chechen Wars of the 1990s and early 2000s were disastrous for all concerned, Russians and indigenous people alike, and the resulting Islamic state must be an outcome the Chinese government are keen to avoid. The Western approach in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere must make any admonition by European and American politicians ring hollow. The tragedy of sub-Saharan Africa, from Somalia to Nigeria and now south to Mozambique, is a series of object lessons in how not to deal with the rise of Islamism. The seemingly never ending conflict between Jews and Muslims, with sporadic interventions of Christians down the centuries, is another reminder that allowing religion to get involved with governance does not always make for a harmonious society. 

Is it any wonder then, that the Chinese are attempting a different approach, which while it may involve dealing harshly with the more recalcitrant people, stops a long way short of dropping bombs from great heights, a tactic that has been used all too often by the UK and the USA?





Monday, March 08, 2021

Coronavirus 51 Optimism or Pessimism?

In January 2016, at Oxgangs Primary School, Edinburgh, several tons of masonry collapsed from a wall onto an area where children sometimes walked. Nobody was there at the time, nobody was hurt, but the failure caused quite a fuss and 17 other schools were closed until their safety was assured. We have a zero tolerance approach to children being killed or injured by school roofs and walls falling down.

Today, all English school children must return to their classrooms. Many will be kept in crowded rooms with limited ventilation. It is generally accepted that transmission of the virus will increase. That will inevitably lead to more deaths and many more cases of long covid, the long term consequences of which we are yet to learn. But we seem to have got used to that. I just heard someone on the radio saying the upward spike in cases will be 'tolerable'. We are doing what our prime minister, Mr Johnson, told us: we may have to "take it on the chin".

A year ago the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced a zero tolerance approach to deaths from SARS-CoV-2. Several other countries, particularly in the eastern hemisphere, with different political systems and geographical and social settings, adopted similar positions. The results have been clear.

Today, as children go back to school, our government embarks on a deadly experiment. In weeks and months to come we will be able to see who amongst us succumbed. Today we balance optimism with pessimism. And that thought is the theme of this important thread of tweets from Professor Christina Pagel, 

Christina Pagel is Director of Clinical Operational Research Unit at University College London, "applying operational research and mathematics to problems in health care". For much of the last year she has been presenting the pandemic data at the weekly briefings of Independent SAGE.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Coronavirus 50 Zero Covid

It's just over a year since I started writing this series of thoughts about the pandemic, a year during which the UK has suffered about 130,000 deaths, almost all of which would have been avoided had the government followed the advice of scientists (and me). Beyond the deaths and their associated tragic consequences, there is the as yet unknown consequence of Long Covid.

The failure to close borders in February 2020, to lockdown as soon as there was any community transmission, and the continuing failure to track, trace, find, isolate and support every case and their contacts ensured disaster.

There was a turning point last summer when the outbreak could have been suppressed but the first lockdown was ended too soon and the murderous 'eat out to help out' was introduced, producing a mindset amongst politicians and the public that ensured the inevitability of a second, more deadly wave. Again the advice of scientists were ignored and children and students were sent back to their schools and universities. 

And here we are, watching the government repeating the same mistakes all over again. Yesterday, Saturday 13th of February 2020, my day started with listening to David Davies MP talking on the radio saying that we must learn to live with Covid. During the day it transpired that this was not just the idle talk of a backbencher with little influence, as Health Secretary Mr Hancock and then Prime Minister Mr Johnson repeated the message. This was a coordinated effort to sell the new Government mantra 'Learn to Live with Covid'. And they repeated the long debunked notion that we could live with Covid "as we do with flu". This morning the top BBC News headline reads  "Covid: Remove all lockdown laws by May, Tory MP group demands".

If this way of thinking is not changed then, one day, Saturday 13th of February 2020 will be seen to be another turning point; a moment when the government had the opportunity to choose a strategy of suppression and elimination leading to Zero Covid, but instead chose the other path, the path of continuing catastrophe with untold death and disease through an indefinite future.

Having survived a year of mismanaging the pandemic without the public demanding their removal, the government perhaps thinks they can weather the third wave of disease, this being easier than standing up to the anti-science rhetoric coming from Tory backbenchers and some sections of the public that have been misled.

Prevalence of the virus is still high, lockdown is half-hearted, test-track-trace-find-isolate-support is ineffective, borders are leaky, partial vaccination of the population, while offering some protection to some, produces an environment that increases the selection pressure for mutation, adjusting vaccines to new variants will be a perpetual arms race with a time lag of months, and people are booking summer holidays.

SARS-CoV-2 is not like flu. It can be suppressed and eliminated. We chose not to 'live with' polio and small-pox. We can choose not to live with Covid. Measles is a better comparison than flu to keep in mind, suppressed with vigilance and vaccination, the occasional flare-ups dealt with so that it is no longer a mass killer to be feared. But the phrase 'nobody is safe till everybody is safe' is good. Vaccinating Africans is as important and urgent as vaccinating Europeans.

The whole world, not just countries in the eastern hemisphere where daily life continues almost as normal, needs a Zero Covid strategy. Those who oppose this approach are responsible for the avoidable deaths so far and will be responsible for future deaths.

Join the ZER0 COVID campaign.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Coronavirus 49 My MP 2

In my previous blog post here, I published my recent correspondence with my MP, Victoria Atkins, or at least with someone in her office. I have received a letter in the post, signed by Ms Atkins herself, including a letter from Nadhim Zahawi MP, Minister for Business and Industry and Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment.

Neither her nor his letter addresses, at all, the point I raised: the breaking of a contract implied by the signing of a vaccination consent form by a member of my family last December. 

It's worth reading the whole correspondence to understand and make sense (if sense there be) of the process. The important thing to note is that my letter was not concerned with the question of whether the spacing of doses should be three weeks or six from a public health benefit point of view. It was just about the legality, or otherwise, of changing the procedure that had been agreed with my relative and the rather small number of other people who were in a similar situation when the policy changed.

The content of my letter has been totally ignored, both by Ms Atkins and Mr Zahawi. They both addressed a different matter. I had asked that Ms Atkins took my concern to Mr Hancock, the Secretary of State, and, as you will have seen from my correspondence, she eventually promised so to do. But it appears that she didn't. Hence the letter from Mr Zahawi instead.

The question arises did Ms Atkins deliberately avoid the issue I raised, and divert to an easier topic in the hope that I would go away and stop irritating her, or did she, her staff and Mr Zahawi, all just not read my letter, glancing at the content and jumping to the wrong conclusion as to what it was about. Was it conspiracy or cock-up?

Either way, it begs the question what is the point of writing to one's MP, or even having a constituency MP at all.

Anyway, here are the letters from Ms Atkins and Mr Zahawi and then my reply to Ms Atkins and her office staff person, Mr Reid:

Dear Ms Atkins and Mr Reid,

Thank you for your letter of the 29th January.

When I wrote to you, Ms Atkins, on the 1st of January I described the position of a family member, a doctor. I wrote “When a consent form is signed, a legal contract is entered. This contract has now been broken, unilaterally, by the Government.”

I asked you to “Please represent my concern to the Minister, Mr Hancock, today and do your best to ensure that the Government honours its contract.”

At no point did I raise the question of the wisdom of the interval between Covid vaccination doses; my concern was restricted to the breaking of a contract.

In our ensuing correspondence, Mr Reid, I repeated that my concern was on the narrow point concerning the contract, and was therefore a matter for Mr Hancock. On the 15th of January you wrote to me assuring that … ”As requested Victoria will also write to the Secretary of State about this matter”.

I was therefore disappointed by the content of your letter, Ms Atkins, as it made no reference to the matter about which I had written to you.

On the 22nd January, Mr Reid, you wrote “As soon as we do get a response, Victoria will pass this on to you.” No response from Mr Hancock has been forthcoming.

Instead you have forwarded to me a letter from Mr Zahawi, who wrote “I understand Mr Vernon’s concerns”. 

There is no evidence that Mr Zahawi has even been informed of my concerns, let alone understands them, since there is no reference within his lengthy letter to my concerns. His letter is entirely about a different, if tangential, subject.

Let us, therefore start again, with the matter that I wrote to you, urgently, on the 1st of January. My family member, a hospital doctor wrote:

"I received my first dose yesterday, booster (was?) booked in ~3 weeks. Didn’t count on being thrown into an unregistered trial without evidence or medical oversight. Nor did I consent to receiving an off-label drug with no evidence of benefit from one dose. Of course the government were going to cock this up, predictable delays/lost data etc...but I didn’t expect them to overrule the license for political expediency."

Let me emphasise yet again, my concern is not over the public health benefits of different vaccination intervals, but only about the narrow issue of consent to a medical procedure being a contract between the patient and the provider, in this case my relative and the NHS, and that this contract was broken at the behest of the Secretary of State.

I asked “Please represent my concern to the Minister, Mr Hancock, today and do your best to ensure that the Government honours its contract.”

The contract was broken. Your delay in representing my concern and the consequent lack of action from the Secretary of State have seen to that. Will you now ask Mr Hancock to acknowledge that he broke a contract with my relative and provide us with assurance that government contracts will in future be honoured rather than broken.

Trust in one's constituency MP is built upon, amongst other things, their ability and willingness to read the contents of a constituent's letter and act on its contents, rather than address some other matter.

Trust in government is a precious thing, easily destroyed and hard to rebuild.

Yours sincerely

Biff Vernon

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Coronavirus 48 My MP

I started the year writing to my MP:

Friday 1 January 2021

Dear Victoria Atkins,

I write to you on a matter of extreme urgency and would appreciate an immediate response.

Last night a member of my family, wrote to me thus:

"I received my first dose yesterday, booster (was?) booked in ~3 weeks.
Didn’t count on being thrown in to an unregistered trial without
evidence or medical oversight. Nor did I consent to receiving an
off-label drug with no evidence of benefit from one dose.
Of course the government were going to cock this up, predictable
delays/lost data etc...but I didn’t expect them to overrule the license
for political expediency."

He is a hospital doctor, an anaesthetist, who works in intensive care.
His work is keeping covid patients alive. His responsibility is to
keep himself informed of the medical science that relates to his work.

When a consent form is signed, a legal contract is entered. This
contract has now been broken, unilaterally, by the Government.

Please represent my concern to the Minister, Mr Hancock, today and do
your best to ensure that the Government honours its contract.

I await your prompt action and look forward to your response.

Now I know there is debate about whether changing the vaccination protocol from 3 to 12 weeks for the 2nd dose is a good idea in terms of lives saved, but that is not the subject of my letter. My concern was here limited to the narrow issue of the contract between patient and the NHS created by the consent form. Anyway, on the 4th of January I received this reply to my 'urgent' email of the 1st, not from Ms Atkins but from one Christopher Reid, who signs himself 'Senior Caseworker, Office of Victoria Atkins'

Christopher Reid <>
Jan 4, 2021, 11:39 AM

Dear Mr Vernon,
Thank you for taking the time to contact Victoria Atkins MP about the coronavirus vaccine.
With your permission, could we instead suggest that Victoria contact Nadhim Zahawi MP, Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment, on your behalf, and ask them to look into this for you.
To assist with this, could we ask if we could please share your email with them?
We look forward to hearing from you.
Yours Sincerely,
Christopher Reid


I replied the same day thus:

Dear Mr Reid,
You may share my e-mail address with whosoever you see fit, but since my question was essentially legal in nature, concerning a broken contract, I did expect Ms Atkins would have the competency to deal with the matter herself, directly.
I look forward to hearing from her..


And he replied:
Dear Mr Vernon,
Thank you for your response.
Apologies but I meant the contents of your email rather than the email address, is that still okay?
MPs are unable to give legal advice, so Victoria would not really be able to comment on the legal validity of a contract.
As soon as we hear back from the Minister we will of course let you know.

I replied again:

Dear Mr Reid
Yes, you may share the contents too. There wouldn't be much point in just sharing the address!
No, I was not looking for legal advice. As I wrote, my question was essentially legal in nature, concerning a broken contract, and therefore within the competence of Ms Atkins to act upon. I am sure that she can see that a contract exists between anyone giving consent to a particular medical procedure, in this case my family member, and the Health Service acting on behalf of the Government.
Last Friday I wrote: Please represent my concern to the Minister, Mr Hancock, today and do your best to ensure that the Government honours its contract.
That request still stands and I look forward to hearing from Ms Atkins whether she has managed to obtain the assurance of the Minister that the contract will be honoured, rather than broken.


He replied the next morning, the 5th of January:

Dear Mr Vernon,
Thank you for your response.
Just to clarify, we were suggesting Victoria raise this with the Minister responsible for the vaccine rollout, Nadhim Zahawi, rather than the Secretary of State as the likelihood is all that would do would be delay getting a response, as it would have to be passed to the responsible minister anyway.
As soon as we hear back, we will of course let you know.
Yours Sincerely,
Christopher Reid

Dear Mr Reid,

It has been 10 days since you wrote "...  we will of course let you know"  but I have not heard from you. I remind you that it was on the 1st of January that I wrote to Ms Atkins, "on a matter of extreme urgency". I asked her to  "represent my concern to the Minister, Mr Hancock, today and do your best to ensure that the Government honours its contract."

I am disappointed that Ms Atkins appears not to have done this and that she and you appear to have misconstrued my request and decided to approach a different minister. The lack of adequate response calls into question the work of an MP in their relationship with a constituent.

You will, no doubt, be aware that Joan Bakewell, the former government appointed 'Voice of Older People', has instructed her lawyers to write to Mr Hancock. Her concern is the same as mine. Her letter outlines three potential grounds for a judicial review into the vaccination policy, which she sets out thus:

"Breach of the conditions of authorisation: the NHS Letter instructed health care professionals to act in a manner that appears to be contrary to the instructions for use that had been agreed between the MHRA and Pfizer.
Unlawful to depart from MHRA’s assessment: the evidence in granting temporary approval to the vaccine was sufficient in establishing effectiveness for 21 days (or at most 28 days). The MHRA is the body designated by law to determine such issues and it does not appear there was a proper or lawful basis for the government to depart from its assessment.  
Breach of legitimate expectations: it was clear from published documents and publicly made statements that the second dose would be administered 21 days after the first dose. Patients consented to a course of medical treatment on that understanding. The instruction contained in the NHS Letter breached these expectations and undermined their informed consent to the first dose."

I repeat what I wrote two weeks ago:  "Please represent my concern to the Minister, Mr Hancock, today and do your best to ensure that the Government honours its contract." Unfortunately, since it is two weeks since I raised the matter, there is now no possibility that the contract will be honoured, but at least the failure so to do can be mitigated by prompt action now.

I await your prompt action and look forward to your response.  

Of course if and when I hear back from 'The office of Victoria Atkins' I will post more.

Meanwhile, people may like to support Joan Bakewell:

Article from Independent.

Update, a few hours after sharing on the social media:

15/01/2021 9.09:AM
Dear Mr Vernon, 

Thank you for your response. 

We have not yet heard back from the Minister about this matter, however we know the Department is receiving a lot of correspondence at the moment so please understand it will be a matter of weeks rather than days before they respond. 

As requested Victoria will also write to the Secretary of State about this matter. 

Yours Sincerely,
Christopher Reid
Senior Caseworker
Office of Victoria Atkins 
Member of Parliament for Louth & Horncastle
Parliamentary Under Secretary for Safeguarding 
Update 2, a week later. 10.26pm 21/01/2021
Dear Mr Reid
Another week has gone by and I have heard nothing from you or from Ms Atkins.
Why is this?  
You wrote "Victoria will also write to the Secretary of State about this matter."
Has Mr Hancock replied to her?

9:10 AM 22/01/2021
Dear Mr Vernon, 

Thank you for your response. 

Yes, Victoria wrote to the Secretary of State on Friday. 

As we said before, the Department is receiving a lot of correspondence at the moment so please understand it will be a matter of weeks rather than days before they respond. 

As soon as we do get a response, Victoria will pass this on to you.

Yours Sincerely,
Christopher Reid
So I wrote back again....  7.47pm 22/01/2021

Dear Mr Reid.

That the Department for Health receives a lot of correspondence is hardly surprising but is not my concern. Doubtless the Secretary of State has the power to hire sufficient staff to deal with his department's workload.
That the Secretary of State will not deal promptly with urgent correspondence from a minister at the Home Office is something that is beyond my understanding.
I remind you that I made my urgent request to Ms Atkins on the 1st of January. It is now the 22nd. I expect better.

Yours sincerely

My correspondence with my MP, or at least with someone in her office, has focussed on the narrow point of the breaking of a contract created when a member of my family signed a consent form for a medical treatment that involved two injections three weeks apart.
It is, however, interesting to note the increasing attention being given to doctors' misgivings.
Here are three pieces in this morning's news:
World Health Organisation
BBC News

Friday, January 01, 2021

Coronavirus 47 New Pandemic

 "A patch of lily pads is growing in a pond and it doubles in size every day. After thirty days, lily pads cover the pond entirely. On what day do they cover half the pond?"

"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to truly appreciate the exponential function."

2021 does not start well. We have two, related, issues.

The UK government has decided to delay the second dose of vaccine from the promised three weeks after the first to twelve weeks. Consent from those who got the first dose of the vaccine is a contract, now broken by the Government. They have now been thrown into an unregistered trial without medical oversight or evidence of benefit from one dose, receiving an off-label drug. Government has overruled the license for political expediency.

Despite many months of opportunity to plan and build the production capacity, logistics and infrastructure for a rapid rollout of a vaccination programme, ready for when a vaccine might become available, that time was squandered and we now face a shortage. The solution, in the Government's eye, is to delay the second dose.

Manufactures and doctors are appalled. It reduces the efficacy of the programme by an unknown amount. It trashes the statistical analysis that might have been done on the efficacy of the vaccination roll-out. It can no longer be used as a trial. It is a non-randomised, non-controlled, non-trial on some of our most vulnerable people. The implications are, literally, immeasurable.

If the proposed vaccination regime provides a weakened level of population immunity it risks an enhanced selection pressure for the vaccine to mutate further. It could turn out to be worse than useless; we do not and cannot at this stage know.

And here lies the second issue. The emerging B117 SARS-CoV-2 lineage spreads faster than its predecessors. It continued to grow during the November lockdown in which other lineages shrank. R was greater than 1. That spells disaster for 2021. We have to regard the new variant as a whole new pandemic, which spreads more rapidly than the original version. We know that the Tier System and the partial 'Lockdown' that keeps education and much commerce and manufacturing open, does not send R below 1.

The government intends to send children to school on Monday 4th January and expects people to travel to work. If they have half an ear open to scientific opinion they will know that these policies will lead to a greater mortality and morbidity through 2021 than we experienced in 2020.

For what purpose?

Further reading:

Eric Voltz et al. Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 LineageB.1.1.7 in England: Insights from linkingepidemiological and genetic data  

Harald Vöhringer et al. Lineage-specific growth of SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 during the English national lockdown 


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Coronavirus 46 #LockdownNow

Which way to Birmingham?

I wouldn't start from here.

We saw in the spring that lockdown pushes R below 1. We saw from Wuhan that a thorough lockdown combined with effective isolation and support suppresses the virus to the point of elimination. China's covid death rate per million population is just 3. In the UK that figure in now over 1000 and rising. Excess deaths will have passed 100,000 before January is over, 12 months since the virus arrived and was allowed to spread.

Now would be the ideal moment for proper national lockdown. Many households are well stocked with food; for years we have got into the habit of shopping till we drop in the days before Christmas in the, normally false, supposition that shops won't open for ages. Schools and universities are closed for their holidays. A lot of people take a lengthy break from work and many industries all but shut down between Christmas and New Year. The next couple of weeks are the least disruptive time in the year for all but the most essential workers to stay at home.

This time we must do it right. The objective must be 'Zero-Covid', suppression and elimination. The 'protect the NHS' was the wrong philosophy. The NHS is to protect the people, not vice versa. Last summer Sir David King advised that education facilities should not reopen until prevalence was such that new cases were below 1 per day per million population. That's three orders of magnitude lower than the government's policy which has demonstrably failed. Online education with appropriate and effective support must be universal. Testing is, at last, happening on an appropriate scale, but testing on it's own is worthless without appropriate follow up action. While tracing is improving we are still not isolating effectively and there is not the adequate support that allows isolation to be effective.

We have to get the whole test, trace, isolate and support system working or the enormous effort and cost of a thorough lockdown will again be wasted.

We have to constantly remind ourselves that the virus spreads when people meet and if people do not meet then the pandemic will be over in just a few weeks. Waiting for the vaccines to save us is a disastrous approach. It won't provide herd immunity until at least next summer. While rolling out the vaccine as fast as possible, for now we must behave as if there is no vaccine.

Now is the moment. Now is our best opportunity to end the pandemic and prevent a second hundred thousand avoidable deaths during 2021. The government must give the leadership and the support to allow the people to stop the virus spreading.

#LockdownNow should be announced today.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Coronavirus 45 Tragedy of Commons

Some sums in the head. Maybe one in a hundred people out there have covid. You'd have to be out and about, shopping, travelling or whatever, for quite a while before meeting a hundred people. But say you do meet someone who is infectious. If the reproduction number, R, is between 1 and 2, that infectious person will, on average, infect one or maybe two others, but they may, like you, have been out and about and met a hundred people, not just you. And you are sensible, you wear a mask, you keep your distance. You wonder what the chance of catching the virus will be if you go out and about. You know you have to multiply probabilities and though you don't have accurate numbers you know the probability of catching the thing if you go out is pretty low. One in thousands. A lower probability of harm than other things you do, skiing, horse-riding, smoking cannabis. Yes, on a personal level, going out is safe enough.

But you are thinking about yourself, not society. A one in a thousand chance sounds low but if one in a thousand people die from covid in a population of 67 million then 67,000 die. Tonight's government figure for UK death is 67,401. (The excess death number is about 80k and the second wave has a long way to go yet.)

There's another thing, if you do catch it, and with R>1, it doesn't stop there. You pass it on to others and they... until hundreds of thousands die. That's the inevitable outcome if R stays above 1. The arithmetic demands it.

And this is the new variant of the Tragedy of the Commons. Your behaviour may feel like a personal advantage, you get to go out and about, at least for a while, but when you, and everybody else who makes a similar judgement, behaves this way, disaster results. For everybody.

When deciding what to do we sensibly consider the personal short term risks and benefits. Big mistake. It is the commons that counts, the risks to society as a whole if everyone acts as you wish to.

Picture credit: Royal College of General Practitioners.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

David Fleming 10 Years On

On the 29th of November 2010, my best friend, David Fleming, died.

Today, ten years on, we mark the day. We celebrate his life with a day of discussions, talks, and a showing of the film, The Sequel, which is based on David Fleming's life and his ideas.

Details here at Dark Optimism

The event starts at noon GMT on YouTube. Please join in.

David Fleming's great work, Lean Logic, which speaks directly to our times and the future we face, is now available in its entirety at Lean Logic Online.

In these troubled times Fleming's words are more important than ever. Of course he didn't predict what would happen in 2020 but he did foresee the inevitability of deep change over the coming decades and, in Lean Logic, his deep insights into social history provide us with the tools to help us survive the future.

David died in Amsterdam, his funeral held just a couple of days later. Jean and I went there, travelling on the ferry from Hull, but it was a the day of a big snowfall and airports were closed so. (We've not had such a snowfall since.) Friends and relations who tried to fly, found they couldn't. Only Lawrence Woodward made it from England to join the people David had been staying with and a couple of other Dutch friends. A small but beautiful funeral.

We returned with the memory stick that held the last version of David's life-work, Lean Logic, which, through the unstinting work of Shaun Chamberlin and many others, is now available to billions of people around the planet.

Ten years ago David's enormous an illustrious circle of friends wanted to come together to celebrate his life. A memorial service was held in Hampstead parish church, the building filled, standing room only.

I've dug out the eulogy that I gave to that congregation of lovely people:

A Service of Celebration of the Life of David Fleming.

How was it we became friends?  He looked so out of place, grey suit, tie, cuff-links, short hair, certainly the odd one out at that first Ecology Party conference at Birmingham.

He must have had something worth saying, to take the trouble to say it to the motley bunch that made up his audience.  Yes, here was someone who looked ordinary saying the extraordinary.  I can’t remember just what he said but it made an impression, made good use of words, made sense.  I needed to hear more form this extraordinary man.

But later, when we sat together, he seemed more interested in listening to me, telling me that something I had said was brilliant.  “No, no, that’s all wrong”, I thought.  “You’re the one with brilliant things to say, I’m just chipping in with the odd scrap to keep the conversation going.”  And that’s about how it’s been for over thirty years; David explaining to me a whole philosophy, a complete toolkit for our existence, while I just throw in the odd throwaway line to keep the conversation going.  And then he tells me what a brilliant thing I’ve just said and how he’ll have to re-write the whole of that chapter or some such ridiculous hyperbolic exaggeration.

I’m quite certain he treated everybody like that.  It just came naturally to him to treat others with the most enormous respect and politeness, making them feel important.  Of course, he didn’t let any of that get in the way of promoting his own ideas and dismissing any opposition with arguments of cutting logic and certitude.  Pantone 361 was the colour that had to be used for Ecology Party literature.  David fixed the exact shade of the Green Movement.  Changing the name to Green Party came much later.

What makes a friendship?  We certainly had a lot not in common. Age, appearance, dress sense, his need for blankets, my preference for a duvet, I hate porridge; he made a ritual of porridge, interrupted while he fetched the newspapers, porridge pan wrapped in a tea towel.  He bought the Times and Telegraph but bought me the Guardian, because he was my friend.  Our lives had moved 200 miles apart, a Hampstead flat, a Lincolnshire smallholding.  David read, and wrote, and listened, and talked.  I learnt to milk a cow.  His visits proved his love of gardening.  I gardened; he sat in the garden, reading and writing. In the evenings, we could listen and talk.

I don’t know what makes a friendship but once made it transcends the differences.  He may sometimes have voted Conservative.  Fine, it showed me that even Tories could be good people.  They can be one’s best friend.  Perhaps that gives hope for all relationships.  Differences need not divide if one works on the commonality.

We quietly put differences aside and concentrated on the common themes; a common appreciation of what is valuable in our culture, what is worth cherishing, worth defending; a common appreciation of the threats that must be defended against.  We enjoyed the strategic planning for that defence.  A Common Purpose.

It would start in The Wheatsheaf, a pub half way between the station and our house.  A pint of Tipsy Toad, a pint of tap water and a packet of peanuts and David would be set up for an hour’s discourse on his current theme, with me throwing in the odd line to keep the conversation going.

And, doubtless in common with many in this church today, I would gently chide him about when the book would be published, After Affluence, The Lean Economy, Lean Logic, it gradually morphed and edged towards being secured in reality.  “Good news, the snagging list is down to 98.”  Ah well, back up to 103 by the time the second pint of Tipsey Toad was drained.

But last time, last August, there really was a change in the air.  A scent of the autumn of life, harvest gathered in, job done.  Of course, we all so wish he had lived another 30 years and every year would have been wonderful, but we are where we are.  His funeral in Amsterdam at the Zorgflied Cemetery, a natural oasis in a bustling city, was a beautiful occasion, sad but beautiful, a plain coffin, his cap and glasses, notebook and pencils placed on it, the avenue of trees bending in the snow as he passed from our lives.

Our ferry slipped out of Europort and past the oil refineries.  They have come and will soon be gone, but David has left us with his philosophy, his toolkit for the future and we are grateful for the gift.  We must read it, learn it, understand it, talk about it, use and apply it to keep this beautiful world, precious, as David wanted it to be.  We are the lucky ones, fortunate to have known David.  Now we just have to do our part and ensure that his ideas live on.

Monday, November 02, 2020

Coronavirus 44 Lockdown2

Six weeks ago SAGE advised the UK Government to apply a 'circuit breaker' lockdown to get R back below 1 and slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2. The idea was widely supported by the scientific community. The Government ignored the advice.

Independent SAGE has produced a number of reports and statements over the recent months concerning opening of education. Sir David King gave his personal opinion that schools should not reopen until prevalence had reduced to one new case per million population per day. My blog about education is here

Recent data indicate that the 'second wave' is associated with transmission in education settings and many people are calling for schools to close, but both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Oppostion appear determined to ignore the advice.

Since the Government's abandonment of even the pretence of 'following the science' over recent weeks, it has become evident that a substantial number Conservative Party MPs and other influential people have brought pressure to bear on the Government to delay stronger measures to stop the pandemic.

The recent comments from Nadine Dorries about crystal balls and Iain Duncan-Smith, who accused the Prime Minister of "giving in to the scientific advisers", are egregious examples. We thought pre-enlightenment medievalism was a feature of certain Iranian clerics but it turns out to be rampant in British governance.

The news media, particularly BBC News, frequently give platforms to people who deny the consensus scientific position, very much akin to their handling of stories about climate change until recently, where truth must always be countered by a fringe view, just for balance.

We are today at a critical moment. We have already missed the opportunity taken by China, New Zealand, Taiwan, Vietnam and other predominantly East Asian countries to suppress and eliminate the virus before high numbers of casualties resulted. We are now ignoring the lesson from Melborne and Victoria, where the Australians have now successfully suppressed the disease.

Our proposed Lockdown 2 is a very partial affair, with schools and colleges remaining open and most people still going to work. The presentation of a trade-off between 'the economy' and death and disease would be laughable if it were not so tragically false.

Under the current arrangements the idea that all will be well again on the 2nd of December and that Christmas will be 'saved', is for the birds. We are facing the prospect of tens of thousands of more deaths and an order of magnitude greater number of people suffering disease, often for extended periods of time. Long covid will be a painful learning curve.

Responsibility for these deaths and disease lies squarely with the Prime Minister and his ministers who share collective Cabinet responsibility. But there is a wider spread of culpability. All those who have political influence, backbenchers, journalists and pundits, who have voiced their opinion against stronger measures are culpable. As are all the citizens who have opposed and even broken the rules, and also those who, while acting within the law have nevertheless behaved in a way that unnecessarily increases the risk of infection. Where governance fails, the people must themselve act for the common good.

In my blog of about ten weeks ago I set out ten simple points. I still think they are valid, and now more urgent, so here they are again:

1. It's good to avoid being judgemental of others' behaviour. Their circumstances will be unknown.

2. The virus will disappear if nobody meets anybody else.

3. #2 is not going to happen but it's a useful fact to build any decision making upon.

4. Some of us are in a position to avoid meeting many other people. Such behaviour is part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

5. If the R is kept below 1 then the virus will disappear. The arithmetic dictates that.

6. It is wrong to think that the disease will be with us forever and cannot be eliminated. That becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy if it leads people to behave in a way that allows R to exceed 1.

7. Suppression and elimination should have been the preferred policy from January and, had it been vigorously pursued, we wouldn't be in the current mess, yet it remains the best policy option available. Best as in the one that ends with the fewest deaths and injuries. 

8. Any behaviour that risks increasing R, that is any behaviour which facilitates the virus jumping from one person to another, risks prolonging the pandemic, increasing the deaths and injuries, damaging the economy and increasing misery.

9. Keeping away from other people as much as one is able is one's civic duty.

10. But don't be judgemental about others, for you know not their circumstances.

A crystal ball is not a useful tool for pandemic policy making but John William Waterhouse gave us a fine paining.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Coronavirus 43 React

Today sees the publication of the latest Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT) Study from Imperial College.
And here is their Summary.
It doesn't make pleasant reading but neither should it come as a surprise to those who have read the previous 42 episodes of this Coronavirus Blog.
For some while now the government has given up the pretence of following the science. The advice for a 'circuit break' by SAGE in September was ignored. The Six-Week Plan from Independent SAGE was ignored. The Covid-Secure UK Plan from March fo Change was ignored. Links in my previous blog Coronavirus 40 A Plan.
Government, many politicians and signifacant sections of the popular news media have not learnt the lessons of the spring, still do not understand the true nature of exponential growth and continue to downplay the dangers of the pandemic.
Chris Giles, Economics Editor at the Financial Times yesterday produced his latest estimate of the excess deaths that have resulted for the disease: 67,500.
Scientists from University College London and elsewhere have launched a dashboard, updated in real time, that brings together covid related data, something that should have been created months ago by government. Data are the basis for information and an informed public is vital.
We will watch the death toll mount, with tens of thousands of further avoidable deaths over the coming weeks.

What to do? To minimise further deaths and suffering from long covid we need to stop the virus spreading. To do that people must stop moving about and stop meeting. We need a national lockdown even more stringent than that in the Spring. The idea of 'balancing' covid restrictions against harming the economy is nonsense. Dead people don't contribute to the economy, ill people are a drain on the economy. Those who fail to follow the scientists' advice bear a heavy responsibility for the death and suffering we will be witnessing.
It's up to each and every one of us.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Coronavirus 42 A Picture

Looking at covid is like seeing light from a distant star. What we're seeing now is the result of events a month ago. Almost all the people who are going to die from covid over the next month have already been infected. New UK reported infections are running at about 20,000 per day, the actual number of new infections may be three or four times as many. The numbers are doubling about every two weeks, implying exponential growth with the R in the region of 1.3. We still don't have an accurate figure for the infection fatality rate; it varies greatly with age, a lot less than 1% for the young but perhaps 10% for the over 80s. Something a little under 1% is a reasonable estimate of the average. You can do the arithmetic as well as I can to make a guess as to how many thousands will die over the next few weeks. And that's just those who are already infected, not counting those who will catch the disease in the coming days and weeks. The debilitations of long covid may affect perhaps ten times as many as die.

All this could have been avoided had the government acted promptly on the advice from the scientists. Further deaths could be avoided if the government acted on the advice now, but it is clear that they have little such intention, at least until other policies have been tried and have been shown, by the body count, to have failed.

Among the leaders of the scientific opinion is Sir David King. His frustration at seeing the government ignore the science early in the pandemic led him to convene Independent SAGE. This is a group of leading experts in their fields who work to parallel the government's own SAGE group, but do so in an open and transparent way, where ideas can be reviewed, challenged and improved upon in the true manner of science. They have published a seriies of reports making public their findings and have held weekly briefings that are publicly open and accessible. 

Disastrously, the work of IndieSAGE seems to have been completely ignored by the government. It has also been largely ignored by BBC News so a goodly proportion of the public are still unaware of its recommendations.

Sir David King, now in his 80s, has led a stellar scientific career and served as the government's Chief Scientific Adviser. But he will be the first to say that the work of Indie SAGE is the collaberation of a first class team of scientists who are working to mitigate the disaster we are facing. At last Friday's Indie SAGE briefing, Sir David, as he has done each week, ended the session with a few words of summary. This week I was particularly struck by a moment of deep sadness engraved on his face. Perhaps it was the realisation that his team had the answers, had developed a plan that would give the nation the best possible outcome, and yet the government would not listen; thousands more avoidable deaths would ensue.

What could I do, beyond staying at home, as I have done pretty much since March, so as to minimise the risk of contributing to the spread of the virus? I got my paints out and made this sketch, based on a screenshot from the YouTube feed,  to honour Sir David and draw attention to the work of his team. Thank you to all of Independent SAGE for attempting to be part of the solution.

Professor Sir David King FRS.
Chair of Independent SAGE
Oil on canvas 40 x 46 cm