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Coronavirus doesn’t care about politics Government plans have always been one step behind the virus — test and trace won't change that

The Nightingale hospital that was never needed. Credit: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

The Nightingale hospital that was never needed. Credit: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images


May 29, 2020   6 mins

“Whose fault is that?” the TV news presenter kept asking a floundering Tory MP yesterday morning. The UK death toll from coronavirus is high — by some measures higher than any other country in the world. “So: Whose. Fault. Is. That?”

This, in a nutshell, is the difference between the political and the scientific ways of thinking. Over the past eight weeks, on Lockdown TV, I have interviewed scientists and experts who sometimes disagree sharply with each other, but there’s a humility in their answers that is entirely absent from politics. Generally speaking, they accept that there’s much that they don’t know; very few things in science are anyone’s “fault”; instead scientists use odd words like “stochasticity”, referring to the fundamentally unpredictable aspect of nature.

The very different effects Covid-19 is having in different parts of the world are still not well understood, except as part of a complex context including pre-existing immunities and resistances, underlying health levels, demography, community and transport structures, perhaps even ethnicity and climate. Nobody really understands why it has not really taken off in sub-Saharan Africa, or why despite fears for Florida’s older population that state has not yet been badly hit, or why Japan has fared so well, despite its half-hearted government interventions.

What we do know is that the virus started in China, that it was exported by air travel, that there was already community transmission in Europe and probably America as early as December. London and New York are the two busiest global travel hubs in the world — Heathrow alone had over 20 million passengers pass through it in December, January and February — so knowing nothing else you would expect these two places to be among the worst affected. In one of very few predictable outcomes, they have indeed suffered the world’s two worst outbreaks.

The political argument has zeroed in on the idea that the UK and the US should have acted earlier within the month of March, by 10 days or two weeks. Through a combination of shutting their borders, locking down earlier and ramping up testing and tracing, everything could have been different, or so the argument goes. We’ll never know for sure, but it seems oddly credulous to think that that short period was a silver bullet that would have changed everything — countries that did ban flights from China early, such as Italy and the US, were hardly spared.

Analysis
Coronavirus doesn't care about politics

By Tom Chivers

Back in March, the UK Government was still following its longstanding plan, endorsed by its scientific advisors — it is not spoken about much these days, but it is still there on the website if you fancy looking it up. It was based on the now-heretical principle that there would come a point when containment (with its testing and tracing) would no longer be viable, at which moment we would move to simply  ‘delay’ as much as possible and then ‘mitigate’. That is why contact tracing and community testing were dropped: it was always the plan. Some scientists still think this original approach was the sensible one, but faced with the alarming projections from Imperial College on March 16, the Government understandably ditched it.

To those who say that they should have seen what was happening in Italy, there remains the awkward fact that Neil Ferguson’s projections, based almost entirely on what was happening in Italy, didn’t materialise either. The revised Government plan was precisely designed to avoid becoming like Italy, with its horrible images of overflowing hospitals and triages in car parks — and that meant two urgent things: acquiring ventilators and increasing hospital capacity.

Off Matt Hancock went, brimming with rather more energy then than he has today, trying to succeed in his two big goals. But while the epidemic arrived, and with it a tragic number of deaths, it didn’t behave as expected. Remember the great ventilator race? As many ventilators as our good British companies could make, the Government would buy! Dyson, Rolls Royce and dozens of less glamorous and probably more relevant factories started frantically “re-tooling” for what the Prime Minister grimly dubbed “Operation Last Gasp”.

Turns out, they weren’t needed. Not only did the advertised wave of Covid patients never arrive in the promised number, it became clear that ventilation wasn’t the universally effective treatment everyone had thought. Reports emerged from New York that 88% of patients put on ventilators were dying; for many patients it turned out to be better to simply lie them on their front without ventilation. So the official number of extra ventilators the Government needed dwindled from 30,000, to 18,000, to 12,000 and then, quietly, to zero. James Dyson was sent back to his vacuum cleaners.

As for all those additional hospital beds that the situation in Italy implied we would need — the virus once again had other plans. In a huge Government-led effort, routine procedures were suspended, people were urged to avoid hospital, and existing patients were cleared out of wards. The Nightingale Hospital in East London was opened on time with its 4,000 additional beds, and thousands of further additional beds were created around the country in other Nightingale facilities.

From this unprecedented effort close to zero beds were ever used; these hospitals are perhaps the only example in history of a highly expensive and entirely unused government facility escaping any media criticism. As it turned out, the frantic preparing-for-Italy action plan may have only made things worse, as it led to additional avoidable deaths from other untreated conditions and accidentally seeded devastating secondary infections in care homes.

So, first the flu-like pandemic we had been initially well prepared for didn’t happen; then the Italy-style crisis that we subsequently prepared for with impressive speed didn’t happen either. All these well-intentioned government action plans, scrutinised by the political media, ended up struggling to be relevant amid a pandemic that defied prediction.

Fast forward to today and the big government action plan is now “test and trace” (they seem to have dropped the ‘track’ part, presumably because polling revealed people didn’t want to be tracked). Across the political divide, everyone is signed up to it — it seems modern and proactive and the “winning” countries have done it, so the only question apparently worth asking now is whether or not it will be well-enough implemented. But what are the chances that this plan, like all those earlier plans, ends up creating a lot of noise and finger-pointing but not making much difference to the trajectory of the disease?

I spoke to experts in South Korea and Hong Kong, the countries that pioneered the ‘test, track, trace’ method, and it seems clear that, even more than earlier initiatives, playing whack-a-mole with a virus in this way requires a coming together of surveillance, technology and buy-in from a biddable public. It also requires a manageable number of cases: it has worked in Asian countries as a way of keeping the virus out but it has never been tried in a scenario like the UK which has had millions of infections already and where the virus is now endemic.

Watch
Coronavirus doesn't care about politics

By UnHerd

Take South Korea, often held up as the example we should follow. Jerome Kim, Director General of the International Vaccine Institute based in Seoul, told me how on the back of a single individual infecting people in a nightclub the authorities ended up testing 65,000 people. They found 175 connected infections, some of them three or four ‘generations’ away from the original event. Yesterday, on day one of our equivalent scheme, we identified nearly 2,000 new separate infections nationwide, and the ONS estimated that 133,000 people are currently infected — to be as thorough as the Koreans, we would have to be testing the entire UK population every day.

Even in South Korea they are not finding it easy. In the Seoul nightclub example they had to allow people to come forward anonymously (it was a gay club) and then threaten police visitation if they didn’t — bear in mind this is a country which allows government surveillance of both mobile phone GPS data and credit card transactions to establish people’s whereabouts. In Hong Kong, which has also kept the virus at bay, the authorities send people to ‘quarantine camps’ for mandatory isolation.

The UK situation is not comparable. Even without our higher infection levels, we don’t have an all-powerful tech-enabled command-and-control government, and aside from some members of the cabinet, nobody wants one. Test and trace UK-style consists of thousands of hastily-trained agency workers asking infected people who they remember being with, then calling those people up and asking them politely to self-isolate for 14 days. No quarantine facilities, no app (yet), no police enforcement. It’s something to be getting on with, I suppose, but does anyone truly believe this will keep a highly contagious, already endemic virus, contained?

Much more likely, the virus will continue on its trajectory upwards or downwards and it won’t have much to do with government policy. If the estimates that only 7% of the population are immune are correct, and the virus is as contagious now as it ever was, we’ll soon know about it. As it is, with summer upon us, the virus seems to be in retreat everywhere across Europe. If the downward trajectory continues, it won’t be thanks to the ‘test and trace’ call centres.

Meanwhile, if Covid-19 does comes back with force later in the year, it will be because seasonal elements have combined to make it more contagious and effective, and our test and trace system, especially if it’s rusty by then after a long summer in abeyance, stands little chance of defending against it. We’ll soon be back to Plan A, focusing on providing medical care to the sick.

So as you read, in coming weeks, furious news stories about technical incompetence, citizen non-compliance, threats of stricter enforcement and blame in all directions — as if everything was hanging on the latest government policy — remember the humility of scientists instead of the solipsism of the political class. Yes, the Government action plan will most likely be ineffective, but politicians were never in charge of this anyway. It’s bigger than they are — the best they could ever hope to do is tinker around the edges. Coronavirus is nobody’s ‘fault’.


is the Editor-in-Chief & CEO of UnHerd. He was previously Editor-in-Chief of YouGov, and founder of PoliticsHome.

freddiesayers

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Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
3 years ago

To engage my interest don’t start by quoting a question from one of the sanctimonious, obnoxious, hectoring reporters whose sole purpose seems to be to belittle any and all politicians and prove them wrong.
It hardly needs to be repeated that nobody knew anything about the virus, how it would behave or how many might be infected or die.
The politicians, doctors and scientists were all working in the dark, trying to calculate risk and learn from other countries. So they got it wrong sometimes and when they did, they worked hard to put it right.
What would YOU have done? I have stopped watching or listening to the news because I cannot stand any more of the bullying media.

Lou Campbell
Lou Campbell
3 years ago
Reply to  Giulia Khawaja

I totally agree with your point re media Qs…but starting the article like that was making the same point as you…with less adjectives!

Lee Johnson
Lee Johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  Lou Campbell

Yes, but it was just a cover for yet another ‘bash the politicos’ from someone with nothing new to contribute.

It might (but didn’t) point out that the high mortality in the UK was linked to our openness and Heathrow. I wonder why ?

Andrew Maw
Andrew Maw
3 years ago
Reply to  Lee Johnson

It did:
“Heathrow alone had over 20 million passengers pass through it in December, January and February ” so knowing nothing else you would expect these two places to be among the worst affected. In one of very few predictable outcomes, they have indeed suffered the world’s two worst outbreaks.”

naillik48
naillik48
3 years ago
Reply to  Giulia Khawaja

My first action ,Giulia , would be
to draw up a list of advisors with good track records of analysis and
prediction. This would therefore have excluded the Imperial College team.

John Dee
John Dee
3 years ago
Reply to  Giulia Khawaja

Unfortunately, most of those in the various governments throughout the UK have probably never passed even the most basic science exam, yet here they are, trying to understand such complexities as make even experts disagree, and to come up with a workable (and socially acceptable) way of dealing with it.
On the one hand, it’s hard not to be sympathetic; on the other, isn’t it time we had a percentage of MPs who understood some of this stuff?

mccaffc
mccaffc
3 years ago
Reply to  John Dee

There is no need for qualifications in science. What is required is much more basic, just an ordinary ability to think and ask questions.

Vem Dalen
Vem Dalen
3 years ago
Reply to  Giulia Khawaja

I’m thoroughly sick of the media’s part in this crisis. They’ve pushed for an end to lockdown, spread fear about schools reopening, harangued for greater freedom and then sat back and marveled at the chaos and division they’ve caused. More headlines tomorrow about packed beaches and the carefree irresponsibility of the British public.
For the record, I can’t abide BJ and I am no supporter of the Government’s inaction and ill-conceived policy changes.
But the media must stop generating division and allow decisions to be made within a working space that people can see is supported by science, not media pressure.

martinvt1
martinvt1
3 years ago
Reply to  Vem Dalen

Wow, I missed that. I have only heard them push for more, earlier or longer lockdown!

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

‘Nobody really understands why it has not really taken off in sub-Saharan Africa, or why despite fears for Florida’s older population that state has not yet been badly hit,..’

Well, we do know that Florida’s older population was not badly hit at least partly because people infected with C-19 were not allowed into nursing homes. This is in direct contrast with New York, where Cuomo signed an order to say that nursing homes would not be permitted to refuse people infected with C-19. We now learn that Cuomo took a million dollars in campaign funding from the owners of nursing homes in return for granting them immunity from prosecution. Sicker and sicker…

Paul Harries
Paul Harries
3 years ago

Bless you Freddie. A voice of reason in a world apparently gone mad. UnHerd is an oasis in a desert of bitterness and recrimination.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Harries

Yes, UnHerd has been the only place to visit for any rational discussion of C-19.

Warren Alexander
Warren Alexander
3 years ago

I remember the late Sir Keith Joseph once telling his audience that whenever the government gets involved in something it will inevitably make a mess of it.

Graham Veale
Graham Veale
3 years ago

That’s a good line, worth quoting!

What I’m a little worried about is that this witticism was turned into a creed; that in February and early March some key figures in government believed that they should interfere as little as possible, and the market would find a way through.

Government always had to be strong enough to carry out it’s essential roles effectively in Joseph’s philosophy (if I remember correctly).

Lee Johnson
Lee Johnson
3 years ago

and Sir Sheath was no exception with his involvement.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Well I think we all know that, certainly when it comes to British governments of any political colour.

Andrew Roman
Andrew Roman
3 years ago

When large populations are fearful of sickness and death they don’t want to hear scientists talking humbly about “stochasticity” or the difficulty in creating reasonably useful mathematical models. They want to hear “I have the answer, I’ll look after it for all of us” so they can feel safer. That’s why politicians feel pressured to deliver meaningless platitudes like “I have listened to the science” as if science had one voice, and that voice was always correct. And so the media report this, the public is somewhat reassured, and the political theatre continues.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago

If we have learned one thing in life it’s that nature is stronger than us. We can’t defeat a virus, we can only manage it. The original intention of Lockdown was to help manage it, now it has become an attempt to eradicate it. It will fail and when Covid 19 comes back we will be even less prepared because the economy has been trashed and government has used up all it’s resources in an unwinable fight.

Management is about protecting our resources and using them when they are need. Not wasting them when they are doing little good!

Davie Munro
Davie Munro
3 years ago

Definitely agree, I will try my best not to get annoyed at the Media or government policy on easing the lockdown, and just keep washing my hands and staying away from people who are unwell, and staying off work if I feel unwell.

Sheila Lisster
Sheila Lisster
3 years ago

Thank you for this and all the interviews you have done. You hold back so well in the interviews so it is great to read you going full-steam here.

Kenneth MacKillop
Kenneth MacKillop
3 years ago

In my own state of Massachusetts, which has had one of the worst per-capita death percentages (4th I think, after NY, NJ and CT which are all similar in makeup and nearby) in the country, infection rates appear to have peaked around the beginning of April. They climbed to that peak in less than a month. After that infection rates have steadily and inexorably declined to this day, and show no signs of not continuing to do so. Within six weeks of the peak, I estimate from data, the infection rates were already cut by a factor of three or four.

By some time in summer I would expect the infection rate to be indistinguishable from zero. There will likely be little localized outbreaks here and there, but these will be insignificant at total population scale.

And it has been the same in every region in the northern hemisphere worldwide. Mass. is just the same as everywhere else. Magnitudes of peaks do vary a lot depending upon specific regions, cities, etc. But the duration of time from beginning to peak and through substantial falloff has varied not a whit. That is because it is the human immune response, at the level of the broad population, that defines the time profile.

Our societies across the world vary vastly, but our basic immunology does not.

Why is this not obvious to all, with or without training in human biology?

Michael Yeadon
Michael Yeadon
3 years ago

I don’t know. I agree with your analysis & conclusion.

olivps
olivps
3 years ago

The virus is immune to politics. You can tweet or post all the ideological frustrations, but other than a cure and/or vaccine, things that can be dependant from political/government will, all the rest is pure illusion.

juliandodds
juliandodds
3 years ago

Thanks Freddie. Having listened to your tv series as well as reading widely I am currently(!) persuaded by those that beleive far more people have had the virus than the antibody tests suggest. I buy the idea that its so mild in so many that their bodies don’t even bother to produce antibodies. During the crisis I condcuted and paid for a quite detailed questionairre to ascertain how many people thought they had had the virus. There were 450 participant households nationally represented. I didn’t publish the results because it was in effect an excercise in trying to quantify hearsay but now that there is more credence to the idea that the virus has been here since late December I thought I might mention it here. I asked people to fill in the questionairre for their household and asked them to identify the symptoms and the date when they think each person started showing the symptoms. I also asked them to specify if they thought household members had ‘probably’ had it or ‘possibly’ had it. When I added up all the ‘probables’ and ‘possibles’ and included all those from December through to mid April then the number was 40% of the people represented amongst the households had either probably or possibly had it. When I restricted the sypmptoms to fever, persistent cough and loss of taste and smell and only if they had had the symptoms from March then the number was 5% probable and 7.5% possible. Like i say it’s trying to quantify hearsay but these people were clearly serious about their experiences and it chimes with those that believe it has progreseed more than the official line suggests. Certainly the current lossening hasn’t seen spikes in anywhere other than Western Super Mare (which I regard as a good thing as that area had had the least infections and deaths). Time will tell and the next loosening will be make or break I think.

Vem Dalen
Vem Dalen
3 years ago
Reply to  juliandodds

Weston-super-Mare is an exceptional situation. Asymptomatic transmission within hospital accommodation with staff working in the community and the hospital. Poor/complacent control of the infection in an NHS facility that hasn’t got a good recent record.
Your questionnaire research is very interesting. Accepting the proposition that the disease started in the UK in December, why did it remain undiagnosed when symptoms were known in early January as a result of the situation in Wuhan?
Is it also possible that people are retrospectively fitting another illness into the range of symptoms that Covid-19 can generate?
An answer, as happened in France, would be to revisit December deaths and if possible reanalyse laboratory samples. Proof of an early arrival in the UK would give a different context to patterns of infection from London outwards and give support to the idea of innate immunity.

Michael Yeadon
Michael Yeadon
3 years ago
Reply to  Vem Dalen

I believe that early on, when the numbers of covid19 deaths was a small fraction of the elevated Winter death rate then, given many covid19 deaths look like routine deaths, they’d be missed. Only in a few people are signs & symptoms so distinct from those caused by other (presumed) viral deaths, I think it’s entirely plausible they’d be missed.

Dave Smith
Dave Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Vem Dalen

Weston Super Mare. There was an outbreak of an unnamed virus in Highbridge which is just down the road in Mid December. KIng Alfred’s School was closed. Funny that . AS we are seeing the timelines are being pushed ever back into last year. In my part of the world there are reports of a number of cases of a serious viral illness in early and mid January. My own view is that we are in a second wave already. I myself had the worst illness of my life in mid January. All the symptoms except the coughing. Took 4 weeks to get over it and although I am older I am fit and strong.

Kenneth MacKillop
Kenneth MacKillop
3 years ago

What so few politicians and members of general populaces seem to understand is that there is one absolutely predominant factor in the course of all such epidemics. That is the pairing of a virus’s molecular characteristics and human immunology. For this virus the innate immune response plays a much larger role, and adaptive immune response (especially humoral) plays a smaller role, in stark comparison to flu for example.
Basic cellular health, in lung and vasculature particularly, is crucial. Those healthy in this regard will have little trouble from, and notice of, infection, and (only) those unhealthy are at high risk for complications and death.

There is absolutely nothing that governmental and medical responses can do but to tinker around the edges, especially in the short term (i.e. short of a successful, widely administered vaccine). The hubris and infantilization that has led to so much worse-than-useless handwringing is the frightening thing to me. Our modern societies have become catastrophically enfeebled.
Almost all of the money in the contemporary pharmaceuticals industry goes to drugs that do not address or improve ill health due to so-called “chronic” conditions. These are all characterized by a form of tissue-specific accelerated aging — that is, cellular degeneration outside of evolutionary context. At most, drugs may treat symptoms but not the underlying cellular problem. That is mostly a function of modern diet to which we are variously inadequately adapted.

The novel coronavirus, in terms of its threat to the (human) species is a triviality. And it will prove trivial epidemiologically in comparison to flu within two or three years I confidently expect — it is a considerably weaker pathogen. But it has exposed the soft underbelly of modern societies in urban settings. It is only the individual who has ultimate power in response to such an epidemic (in the long term), and societal institutions are worse than impotent and ill-suited.

Michael Yeadon
Michael Yeadon
3 years ago

Agreed. Furthermore, unless we set some rules by which we’ll seek to navigate the next couple of pandemics, quite soon, I fear we’ll find lockdown becoming more common and eventually, the default posit.

henk korbee
henk korbee
3 years ago

I read that in Italy the government’s proposal was/is to hire 60.000 people as a social guard to watch if people keep the measurement rules and fine them. Can’t believe but possible as under the covid19regimes anything is allowed to control everything. If a 2nd wave is possible there will be one, either created out of fear or real, and people will be forced to be lockedup.

Michael Yeadon
Michael Yeadon
3 years ago
Reply to  henk korbee

Or, much better and having an endpoint, surely you’d encourage the vulnerable to shield and let everyone else get on with their lives.
Lockdown provided no protection whatsoever to the most vulnerable. For pity’s sake do not encourage a repeat of the proven failed policy.
Oh, and thousands of avoidable, non-covid19 deaths are a consequence of lockdown related sole focus on covid19 in the NHS.

Graham Veale
Graham Veale
3 years ago

Generally, I think this is a very fair and balanced article and a very good basis for further discussion.

I’ve a few quibbles, raised by Lawrence Freeman’s “first draft” of a history.

Neil Ferguson didn’t make predictions. It was a projection presenting a “reasonable worst case scenario”. That qualifier is extremely important. (I assume it is the infamous 500000 dead Freddie is referring to.

I agree that we simply don’t know if an earlier lockdown would have been a magic bullet. We don’t know if people would have embraced such a lockdown in the first weeks of March. But why were other options- social distancing, closing schools, shielding care homes, sheltering the vulnerable- not tried? We can also ask if we abandoned test and trace too early.

Essentially: was the government philosophically and temperamentally disinclined to attempt robust interventions? That’s an interesting historical question. And it might still be relevant.

GV

Michael Yeadon
Michael Yeadon
3 years ago

Anyone who hadn’t yet had the intellectual pleasure of roaming through the datasets in EuroMOMO is recommended to do so.
My current favourite is the French data, in all the older age ranges, looking at variation from historically normal weekly deaths.
If you’re used to looking at data, I’m quite sure it’ll set your thoughts alight.

Silke David
Silke David
3 years ago

In this unprecedent time, the government has been found wanting. No surprise, as Freddie said, it is so unpredictable and has taken effect in such different ways in different regions of the world. People look to their elected politicians, that’s their job, to guide us and make policies to our benefit. The government relies on competent professionals with experience in their field for advise. Sometimes this advise is flawed. Why this government STILL insists on policies and scaremongering, when other countries have successfully proven that a different way is possible, that a faster ending of these silly restrictions does not lead to a second wave of deaths, baffles me. A great leader who can say “I made a mistake” is more likely to be re-elected than someone who flaunders around like BJ does. Sadly we still have a useless opposition, at the moment I would actually rather have Corbyn back.
And the media, foremeost the BBC, has been promoting government propaganda for too long and now asks the wrong questions. I have stopped paying attention to them and get my information from the Norddeutscher Rundfunk, which has been exemplary in broadcasting facts and asking questions since the start.

Lee Johnson
Lee Johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  Silke David

Yes, Germany and Germans are better at everything.
Especially fiddling emissions figures.

P B
P B
3 years ago

Freddie,

You refer to the idea of “winning countries” but don’t mention Denmark’s and Germany’s policies.

Are you suggesting that comparable European democracies were capable of implementing effective policies but the UK government was not?

Or are you suggesting that there will be no “winning” countries — or “smart” countries to quote Stanford’s Niall Ferguson in your interview with him — perhaps because Denmark’s and Germany’s policies, including testing/tracing, are not the reason why those countries are (for now at least) doing better than the UK in terms of excess deaths and economic costs?

Thanks for your insights.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
3 years ago
Reply to  P B

It is interesting that neither the Norwegian Head of Health nor the Danish Head of Health believe that the harder lockdown was responsible for the fact that there were fewer deaths and infections in Norway and Denmark compared with Sweden. see:

https://www.thelocal.no/20200522/norway-could-have-controlled-infection-without-lockdown-health-chief

https://www.thelocal.dk/20200522/danish-pm-falsely-claimed-health-agencies-backed-lockdown

https://www.thelocal.dk/20200529/leaked-emails-show-how-denmarks-pm-steam-rollered-her-own-health-agency

So what was the difference? According to Dr. Andrea Ammon, head of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)

the return of holidaymakers from Alpine skiing breaks in the first week
of March will be seen as a pivotal moment in the spread of Covid-19
into Europe

And here we find a particular Swedish institution that is not shared by Norway and Denmark. Every year the schools are closed for a week and everybody is encouraged to take ‘winter sports break’ and spend a week doing winter sports. The weeks are selected so different regions in Sweden have them at different times, to handle the load. This is big business for alpine ski resorts, and tour buses fill up with Swedes on a budget who are heading for the alps. This is in no way a vacation only for the well-off in Sweden.

If you look at infection rates in Sweden broken down by county, you find that much of Southern Sweden has exactly the same sort of rate of infection as Denmark. This region had its sports week in February. Everybody was back home before the alps got sick the first week of March. The poor Stockholmers had sports week the first week of March, in time to get sick.

Now that we know that people can spread the disease before showing symptoms, and indeed without having any symptoms at all, it seems that ordering all people returning to Sweden to quarantine for 14 days, whether or not they had symptoms, there would have been fewer cases in Sweden. But hindsight is always an exact science. In early March we thought that only the symptomatic could spread the disease, and thus only calling for them to self-isolate seemed reasonable.

Swedish infections broken down by region https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/09f821667ce64bf7be6f9f87457ed9aa

But ‘if you start with more infected people you will have higher totals of infected people’ does not seem to sell newspapapers. I wonder if you might do an interview with Dr. Ammon?

ruthengreg
ruthengreg
3 years ago

About time we had a reason non aggressive article. Thank you clear concise thoroughly believable. No blame. To me this is what it is a natural occurrence, no answers on the shelf. Of scientists are going to disagree they always will. There’s limited facts mostly unknown! So it’s guess work. Stats are misleading they state what has happened not what will happen things are different obviously. Good read thank you.

Michael Yeadon
Michael Yeadon
3 years ago

The EuroMOMO link I failed to put in my most recent post. https://www.euromomo.eu/gra

Domingo Hormaeche
Domingo Hormaeche
3 years ago

Excellent article.

Gerry Fruin
Gerry Fruin
3 years ago

It’s amazing how many experts pop up when there is major crisis. It’s also mind blowing how many people can speak with unquestioned authority on any and every subject. Think BBC Today. I along with possibly millions of other despair in ever hearing anyone advancing warning prior to the event. Oh! many will claim I predicted this or that just think 2008! For once I’ll accept our politicians are doing their and best and stick by the rules. It gives me more confidence in this approach because of the sheer amount of vitriol and venom thrown at them by the media. Experience over a long time would indicate the very lowest orders in our society i.e. journalists come out baying and spraying their perverted bile at an easy target it’s time to switch off. Sadly today I have a bad feeling about covid 19. I hope I’m wrong.

Jean Redpath
Jean Redpath
3 years ago

Regarding sub-Saharan Africa, there seems to be a significant lag between a country first being “seeded” and resultant mortality being observed. In the case of the UK, first known case end January, first known death 6 March; deaths start to pick up, peak observed mid-end April.

Given that sub-Saharan Africa only had its first known case in early March and first known death at the end of March (in the southern late summer rather than winter, which may affect transmission) this would suggest additional deaths could be expected around about now / should have commenced.

This is indeed beginning to be detected in mortality data (which has a lag too) in the region around Cape Town and Port Elizabeth in South Africa. One of the strictest lockdowns in the world was imposed on the whole country on 26 March, before a single death had been recorded. The mortality does not yet exceed the normal range, but there is a clear rise in these two cities.

Additional mortality is not yet observable in data for the rest of the country. The rest of the country does usually slightly lag this more southern region in terms of higher winter mortality, by about two weeks.

Tomorrow (1 June) some (but not all) of the lockdown rules will be lifted, because the humanitarian/economic effects have become too dire for a full lockdown to persist. There have only been around 650 identified Covid-19 deaths thus far, but they are relatively younger than anticipated.

Politically, there is already “blame” for the divergent regional trends.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
3 years ago

Another part of the puzzle yet to be revealed by the scientific community is the optimal lockdown period. 8 weeks seems to be a good guess considering the high levels of lockdown fatigue I am encountering.

So the next question will be when was the best period to apply the optimal 8 week lockdown window.

martinvt1
MT
martinvt1
3 years ago

I’m reminded of the great words of Ronald Reagan, ‘The most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the Government, I’m here to help”’