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.


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