Deaths in England and Wales were below average as of June 19, according to the latest release from the Office of National Statistics. The same is true in the UK as a whole. The continued Covid-19 deaths each day need to be understood in that context, as does the ‘surge’ in Leicester.
It’s hard to believe that the Government still thinks that lockdowns are necessary and proportionate as a response to the risk from Covid-19.
Have ministers not learned anything about this virus and how it is not nearly so deadly as was once assumed? The fear of the second wave has now gripped governments and public around the world, with the media showing unseemly eagerness to report on post-lockdown ‘surges’.
What these reports rarely mention is that these ‘surges’ are typically linked to a ramp-up in testing and that the positive proportion of tests isn’t going up much, if at all. Where it is going up, it can largely be explained by the testing being focused on those with symptoms and those who have come into contact with them.
There may be some increase in transmission as lockdowns ease, but it will likely be focused in the community among low-risk individuals – not in hospitals and care homes, where those most at risk are located, but which were never protected by the lockdowns in the first place and where transmission and deaths continued to rise well into lockdown.
The surges are likely to be only small-scale and local now and there will be few deaths, since the collective immunity threshold in the country as a whole has been reached through a combination of natural resistance, cross-immunity and acquired immunity.
It’s well past time the Government and the country overcame their disproportionate fear of this virus, that has put our lives on hold for months and trashed our economy and many livelihoods.
The 59,187 excess deaths in England and Wales during the epidemic period are a real tragedy, but in the scheme of things they are of the same order as other similar epidemics in previous years. The figure is almost identical, for example, to the death toll of the 1999-2000 flu season, once adjusted for population.
Furthermore, there were around 12,000 non-Covid excess deaths during the height of the epidemic this year, most of which may be attributable to lockdown conditions. So 2020 may even have come out better than 1999-2000 had we not taken the unprecedented step of confining the population to their homes.
The age profile of those who die with Covid-19 is almost identical to natural mortality, meaning it remains to be seen how many excess deaths 2020 will have by the end of the year after a period of presumably below-average mortality.
Lockdown proponents, of course, will say it would have been much worse if we hadn’t done anything, just as they claim we can expect a deadly second wave since we are a long way from collective immunity.
However, there is no evidence that lockdowns and social distancing had any discernible impact on outcomes, with no relationship appearing in the data between the timing and strictness of measures adopted in different countries or states and the overall death toll or the shape of the curve.
There is, on the other hand, a lot of evidence that collective immunity thresholds have been reached owing to pre-existing resistance being much more widespread than most modellers and policymakers assumed.
A 2019 report from the World Health Organisation considered whether lockdowns should be used to combat pandemic influenza and concluded there was ‘little to no scientific evidence’ for the effectiveness of measures such as social distancing and lockdowns.
Despite this warning, 2020 was the year when the world decided to find this out for itself. Well, there’s evidence aplenty now, and the verdict is in. Lockdowns are a disaster, imposing restrictions far out of proportion to the threat faced from the virus and doing a great deal more harm than good.
By all means, protect the vulnerable in care homes and hospitals, including by opening up special ‘fever’ hospitals to prevent transmission to other patients. But don’t stop the general population from going about its business for months on end. Wouldn’t it be good if that was the lesson we all took from 2020?