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.


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