The Lies are Killing Us

I don't know how you, but I have reached a point where I can't take the daily No. 10 briefings. There is no end to the half-truths, omissions and outright lies; it's the £350m red bus all over again.

Earlier this week much was made of the rate of hospital admissions becoming, for a couple of days, constant -- an indication that the Government is doing the right thing, that the rate of infections is slowing down. While a possible explanation, it is, as has been the Government's habit throughout, a case of the most optimistic interpretation possible.

There is, of course, another explanation, one that, given what we know about the state of the NHS in general, and what we are hearing from people on the cutting edge of things, seems quite likely: we might have reached the real NHS capacity.

This capacity is not simply the number of hospital beds, nor even the number of ventilators. It is also how much qualified nurses and doctors there are to man those beds, how many of them are well enough to work. It's how many ventilators the oxygen supplies in a hospital can cope with, the number of ambulances to bring sick people into hospitals, the number of paramedics to drive them, the space in the mortuaries, etc., etc.

At last night's briefing the question was asked whether by the time the peak comes there will be enough ventilators. Not to worry, we are no where near that limit. Really? How stupid do they take us for? By the Government's own figures, there are some 40,000 confirmed cases. Given that testing is pretty much limited to people who are serious enough to require hospital admission and the UK has some 8,000 ventilators, no computer model is needed to get the picture.

When Hancock declared that the peak is expected in a week's time, not even Nicola Sturgeon could fall in line (I really wish the Scottish Government had the guts to break away from the ideologically-driven English strategy). The curse of computer models.

As I said before, mathematical models are only as good as the data they are built from and that is fed into them, and the UK data quality is very poor. It is now emerging that even the numbers of deaths are not what they seem to be, e.g., the 159 deaths reported on 30 March have now been revised to over some 460, i.e., the curve we are seeing at the daily briefings, and that so much is being made of, is completely disconnected from reality -- this virus cannot, will not, be defeated by computer modelling.

Then there is the whole masks business. We are told masks don't work, the virus is not air born, plus most people don't put them on correctly anyway. That might be, but it's only half the story, the half where you wear a mask not to get infected. But here is the other half: wearing a mask makes it pretty hard to sneeze all over the apples in Tesco.

There is, of course, a more pragmatic reason why the general population shouldn't wear mask just now -- there aren't enough of them in the UK for the front line staff; I get that, and I imagine the majority of the UK population do as well, but why not be straight with us?

Every evening, again and again, much is being made of the drop in the number of people traveling, a sure sign the infection rate is slowing down. Again, there is an obvious problem with this. By the Government's own figures, which I imagine are, as has been the general trend, on the optimistic side of things, there are some 400,000 infected people in the community. That means that every day thousands of infected key workers go on spreading the virus (the NHS alone employs nearly 1% of the UK population). Folk on the cutting edge are reporting 25%, 30%, even more NHS staff being currently off ... this can only get worse.

Now, I do believe the lock down is the right thing to do, and no matter how frustrating you might find it, how angry and distrusting you are of the Government, please, please, stick with it. Not for them, but for mum, dad, granny, the old guy next door, the asthmatic pal.

But lock down is not going to save us; the way to get ahead of this is to follow the WHO protocol: test, contact trace, isolate; test, contact trace, isolate. And in spite of the inevitable u-turn on testing, the basis of the Government strategy is still the misguided idea of herd immunity.

But the biggest problem the Government is facing is the erosion of trust. I, for one, don't trust them as far as I could throw them, and if BoJo wants to turn this around, then here are the things that need to happen at the political end:

  1. Cummings (as the Government's chief strategist), Vallance and Whitty (as the two scientists ultimately responsible for the scientific advice), and Hancock (as the health minister on who's watch this mess came to be), need to be sacked, as does the posy of 'nudgers' and behavioural quacks. (This is not a question of whether they acted in good faith, I expect they did, but we can leave that for the Public Enquiry that is undoubtedly coming.)

  2. We need an experienced epidemiologist in charge, someone who is not so arrogant as to think the WHO advice is for third world countries only (as was actually said at one of the recent No. 10 briefings).

  3. The Government needs to start being straight with us. This is not the '40s, and we are not a nation of idiots.

Do I expect this to happen? Given the blame game has started already (and no, the UK situation is neither the fault of the Chinese, nor the Germans), I suspect not, but it's what it would take for me to give the Government some benefit of the doubt.

PS: The attentive reader has undoubtedly observed that all the links in this piece are from the Guardian. FWIW, I am not a Guardian reader, and I take an issue with lots of its politics. But as far as COVID-19 journalism goes, I am finding theirs to be the most comprehensive coverage of any of the UK media outlets.