One of the least pleasant aspects of living in Covid Britain is having the parameters of one’s life so closely defined by the Prime Minister, as though we are living not in a modern liberal democracy but in a weird clone of North Korea. I tune in each day to find out what Boris Johnson is letting me do now, how many people I may meet while standing on my head breathing through a handkerchief, what new pleasures he is extending to me today.
The disturbingly personal nature of this power was on full display on Friday when the Prime Minister unexpectedly announced that all people should now go to work if they can, rather than stay at home. This abrupt change caught everyone by surprise, and it’s not clear when the actual guidance will catch up with Johnson’s latest decree. Furthermore, it appeared to be inspired not by any change in the official advice on the threat from the virus (‘the science’) but by the inexplicably sudden revelation to the Prime Minister that thousands of people providing food and other services to office workers were going to lose their jobs if everyone didn’t get back to the office with a little more haste.
What the new diktat didn’t take into account, though, is that many people are not going into work because their children are still stuck at home and need looking after and educating, due to the government’s failure to get schools back up to full capacity. They are also still operating under the Project Fear-the-Virus paradigm pushed by the government since mid-March to induce compliance, and still being peddled by the government’s chosen scientists and implied in every pedantic safety rule the government churns out. People are, in a word, terrified and genuinely believe they continue to be at serious risk from catching and spreading a deadly infection. The government is doing nothing at all to disabuse them of this erroneous notion, and continues to hold the threat of local lockdowns over their heads. Yet now, seemingly on the spur of the moment and apparently for political reasons, the government tells them they should be heading back to work. This will do the government’s reputation for handling this crisis, already on life-support, no favours at all.
What the government should be doing is levelling with people about the risk from this virus, making clear that it is not much more deadly than the usual seasonal epidemics, educating them about the collective immunity we now enjoy, and being honest that it’s never going to go away completely and that a vaccine may never come and anyway will never give perfect protection.
It may be that the government itself needs some convincing on these points – a likely result of continuing to listen to the wrong scientists. Scientists, we assume, who are not keeping up to date with the ‘Swiss doctor’, a site that has been providing fully referenced facts about the coronavirus since March, and his ever-helpful rundown of the latest research on Covid-19. Here, then, for the benefit of the government and its groupthinking scientists, is an excerpt from the latest update, explaining why Covid-19 is much less lethal than was initially assumed and how studies are revealing why herd immunity is already in sight:
‘Most antibody studies have shown a population-based Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) of 0.1 per cent to 0.3 per cent. The US health authority CDC published in May a still cautious “best estimate” of 0.26 per cent (based on 35 per cent asymptomatic cases).
‘At the end of May, however, an immunological study by the University of Zurich was published, which for the first time showed that the usual antibody tests that measure antibodies in the blood (IgG and IgM) can detect at most about one fifth of all coronavirus infections.
‘The reason for this is that in most people the new coronavirus is already neutralised by antibodies on the mucous membrane (IgA) or by cellular immunity (T cells) and no symptoms or only mild symptoms develop.
‘This means that the new coronavirus is probably much more widespread than previously assumed and the lethality per infection is around five times lower than previously estimated. The real lethality could therefore be significantly below 0.1 per cent and thus in the range of influenza.
‘At the same time, the Swiss study may explain why children usually develop no symptoms (due to frequent contact with previous corona cold viruses), and why even hotspots such as New York City found an antibody prevalence (IgG/IgM) of at most 20 per cent – as this already corresponds to herd immunity.’
It also links to an interview about how T cell immunity explains what’s going on in Sweden that is well worth a watch.
In a way this is all most of us need to know about the coronavirus, as it tells us the most important thing about it: that it is scarcely worse than the usual seasonal respiratory viruses that go round. It means we should treat it little differently to how we treat them, though with some additional protections for those most at risk, particularly when an epidemic is in full swing.
This is the message and the science that the government needs to be broadcasting loud and clear if it wants people to get back to work. It also needs to axe all the pettifogging rules that are keeping business tied up in red tape and preventing schools from doing their job. We don’t need social distancing any more to keep us safe, if we ever did.
Sweden, which suffered a lower death toll than the UK, is a case study in how lockdowns aren’t necessary to avert catastrophe because collective immunity arrives much quicker than expected. Some say Sweden fared much worse than its Scandinavian neighbours and this proves its approach was a failure – despite it not suffering anything close to the catastrophic death toll that was predicted and used elsewhere to justify locking down. However, a look at overall excess deaths for the year, rather than just Covid-19 deaths, reveals that in fact Finland has had more excess deaths so far this year than Sweden, while Denmark is little different from Sweden. So Sweden is not worse off after all.
If Boris Johnson is serious about getting the country back to work and keeping the job losses and long-term economic damage to a minimum, this is the message he needs to take on board and start proclaiming from the rooftops.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Chatham House