Thursday, April 30, 2020

Coronavirus 24

In George Orwell's Animal Farm, small changes were made in statements that gradually, and without the masses noticing, changed the meaning utterly.

A couple of days ago we saw a small change in the wording of the Government's conditions for changing the lockdown.  Look particularly at the fifth condition in the two versions: 

5 > Confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelms the NHS.

And then they added: that overwhelms the NHS.
Now it may be that the extra clause was just to emphasise the importance of that last condition; nobody wants to see the NHS 'overwhelmed'.
There is, however, an alternative interpretation. It could mean that a second peak would be acceptable, just so long it does not overwhelm the NHS. That would be devastatingly disastrous. We have learnt all about 'smoothing the curve' but, given the now increased capacity of the NHS with its Nightingale hospitals, that is no longer (if it ever should have been) the point.
We are back in the realm of the (possibly mythical) 'herd immunity' in which most people catch the virus. If the infection fatality rate is around 1% (and there is still much uncertainty on that number) it means that of the order of half a million of the UK population dies. Smoothing the curve just means they don't all die at once. But we still die.
If the final UK death toll is to be kept to perhaps 50,000 rather than an order of magnitude higher, then the only goal has to be elimination of the virus and not merely the avoidance of a peak that overwhelms the NHS.
The only viable policy has always been elimination, a policy that the UK government has failed to enact. We have now seen from countries as diverse as Vietnam, Taiwan, New Zealand and South Korea, that, whatever the local geography, demography or political and economic structures, a determination to contain, suppress and eliminate SARS-CoV-2 means very few people die. The deaths in the UK were the consequence of Government decisions and avoidable. We must not allow past failure to be multiplied by future failure.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Coronavirus 23

I counted the countries on the Worldometers website, looking at the COVID-19 deaths column, today, 28th April 2020.

17 nations had had more than 1000 COVID19 deaths
34 have had 100 to 999
59 have had 10 to 99
61 have had 1 - 9
41 have had no deaths despite having has some cases.

Some countries are under-reporting. For the UK, for example, only hospital deaths are recorded and the true figure is much higher. 
Some countries, most likely poorer nations, may not have reliable testing or recording systems and so show a figure that is too low.
Some countries, such as Greenland, have small populations and are remote.

But bearing these and other factors in mind, it is noteworthy how unevenly distributed the pandemic has been.

Just five nations, USA, Italy, Spain, France and UK account for the bulk of deaths. They each have over 20,000 death while no other nation has reached 10,000. These five nations account for almost three quarters of all the world's COVID-19 related deaths.

Some countries have fared well: Vietnam has had zero deaths amongst its 95 million people, Taiwan 6 deaths in a population of 25 million and New Zealand has become the 'Western' text-book case of good governance with its 19 deaths.

The worst fears of major outbreaks with exponential spreading in poor, densely populated nations such as Nigeria have not (yet) come to pass. It is perhaps encouraging to see such low fatality numbers in so many of the poorer countries. Or, while all the talk is of easing of lockdowns, is the worst yet to come?

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Coronavirus 22

Vietnam 268 cases 0 deaths

There had been 16 cases during February but numbers slowly climbed through March, almost all of them people who had flown into Vietnam from other countries.

A massive public information campaign was launched in early January, stressing the danger of the disease and measures for protection. Incoming people by air and surface were health-checked and quarantined for 14 days, the whole population constantly health-checked with testing widely available using home manufactured kits, contact tracing and quarantine for for anyone in contact with a positive case. Strong travel restrictions have been enforced with complete lockdown in areas where cases have been found.

Testing. Containment, Suppression. Elimination.

Vietnam is a poor country of over 95 million people and with a nominal per capita GDP of under $3 000. It has, however, shown us a textbook case of how to deal with a pandemic, putting the health of its citizens above any other consideration.

By contrast the UK Government, defying the advice of the World Health Organisation and many scientists, and not learning from the experience of other nations, has chosen its own policy that has created the greatest of disasters, the final extent of which we are far from knowing.

The UK Government has not only got everything wrong, it has tried to hide the full extent of the catastrophe and where that is impossible, to blame others.  

We are now learning that the situation has been handled much better in many other nations and that the number of deaths in the UK is far higher, perhaps more than double, than the numbers announced by the Government.

Chris Giles, Economics Editor of 
The Financial Times writes: "The coronavirus pandemic has already caused as many as 41,000 deaths in the UK, according to a Financial Times analysis of the latest data from the Office for National Statistics."

While countries that have acted promptly and effectively are now contemplating an end to severe restrictions of freedom and economic activity, the UK will be stuck where we are until these criteria for relaxing lockdown within any geographical area: 
1. Satisfaction of health professionals that undetected community transmission is unlikely
2. Strong contact tracing capacity
3. Strength of the area's boundary controls
4. Health system’s ability to cope

Failure to satisfy them will inevitably result in a return to exponential spread of the disease, more death and longer lockdown.

While the people of Vietnam go about their ordinary business, the UK citizens will continue to suffer the consequences of their Government's failure for a long time to come.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Coronavirus 21

Yesterday, Sunday the 19th of April 2020, in the Downing Street Briefing, Dr. Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said:

"We had a containment phase and it was very successful."

I'm reminded of the apocryphal surgeon who reported that the operation was successful but the patient died.

But it got worse. Dr. Harries said: "German rates of disease are starting to rise now."

No, they are not. That was wrong. She was trying to play down the embarrassing comparison between the UK and Germany. She was suggesting that German performance was not so much better than the UK's. She was attempting to mislead the British public. It was a lie. 

Here are the key graphs for Germany from Worldometer updated: April 20, 2020, 05:27 GMT

Dr. Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said: "German rates of disease are starting to rise now."

That was a lie.

Now I am the sort of person who likes to give people I encounter the benefit of the doubt, to assume they are good, honest and truthful. But if I find that they lie, just once, I will never ever trust a word they say. And neither should anyone else. Telling the truth is non-negotiable. My mother persuaded me of that when I was a very small child.

Not being able to trust the word of the 
Deputy Chief Medical Officer brings us to a pretty pass.

A recording of th briefing is available from the BBC here.


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Coronavirus 20

I Painted this over twenty years ago.

6250 Small Triangles, Conway's Aperiodic Monotiling.
Acrylic on paper 40 x 75 cm

Each right-angled triangle has two sides of lengths in ratio 1:2:square root 5. The smaller angle is the tangent of 0.5. This is an irrational number so does not divide exactly into 360 degrees. The change from one size generation of triangle to the next involves a rotation about an angle of tan 0.5, which being irrational does not divide exactly into 360 or any multiple thereof. The pattern could be extended outwards to infinity in all directions but the regular rotations by an irrational angle ensures that the pattern can never repeat. It is an aperiodic tiling. It was first described by John Conway, an English mathematician.

John Conway died after contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. The pandemic could have been prevented by timely government preparedness and action but short term economic interests were placed ahead of national and global security and ahead of humanity.

John Conway lost his last round in the Game of Life, his opponents, those who disregarded science and mathematics.

There is an obituary on The Register.