So what's going on? I think it's professional arrogance - they're reluctantly going along with suppression for the time being, but still want to be proved right at a later date and so are refusing to modify their language or their objectives. It would be psychologically too difficult to admit to themselves that avoidable deaths will now inevitably occur because the disastrous herd immunity strategy led them to delay vital decisions on social distancing and the ramping up of testing. By continuing to gaslight us now, ie. by pretending that the WHO's recommendations on mass testing and contact tracing somehow don't apply to the UK, are they trying to put in place another self-fulfilling prophecy?
We all know there is a perfectly viable alternative exit strategy that doesn't involve a mass epidemic. It involves waiting until the lockdown reduces the number of infections to a low level, and then keeping them low by testing and contact tracing after the lockdown is lifted. Are Vallance and Whitty hellbent on leaving a mass epidemic as the only option by making sure sufficient testing capacity still won't be there when the moment arrives? If so, we mustn't let them get away with it.
The good news is that Whitty and Vallance aren't the only scientists advising the government. Professor Neil Ferguson set out a much saner way forward last week - he said that he had been told that testing capacity would soon improve markedly, and that this would allow us at some point to safely come out of lockdown while keeping the number of new infections at an acceptably low level. My guess is that Jeremy Hunt has been having private conversations with other experts on SAGE who are exasperated with the attitude of Whitty and Vallance, and that might explain why he's been doing his best to use his influence to steer the government in the correct direction.
The Whitty/Vallance plan no longer even makes sense on its own terms. One of Whitty's original excuses for herd immunity was the supposed impracticality of asking people to maintain social distancing over a very prolonged period. But part of the plan was always to "cocoon" the most vulnerable people during the "managed epidemic", and sure enough my elderly mum belatedly received a letter today telling her to avoid all face-to-face contact for 12 weeks. As things stand, that will probably mostly cover a period of lockdown and suppression. If Whitty and Vallance then get their hearts' desire of a slow-motion human tragedy of biblical proportions (you know, just to avoid losing face), will that mean vulnerable people actually have to avoid all social contact for 78 weeks until the carnage is finally over? An intelligent hamster could spot the flaw in that plan.
Once again, if you feel as strongly about this as I do, it might be a good idea to contact your MP or MSP (or both). Here are the most important points to make -
* The government must commit to mass testing and contact tracing as its strategy for eventually bringing lockdown to an end. If the testing capacity isn't there at the moment, they should be honest about that, and undertake to reach that capacity as soon as humanly possible. It should be an all-out effort with no more delays and no more excuses.
* A hazy promise of "more testing" is NOT sufficient. We're not just talking about testing health workers (although of course they should be first in the queue). We're not just talking about community surveillance. The WHO recommendation is absolutely explicit - all countries should test every suspected case. If the test is positive, that person should be quarantined and their close contacts should be traced and tested. Until a vaccine arrives, that is the only way to break the chains of transmission and avert a mass epidemic.
* Deliberately allowing 60%+ of the public to be infected is not an acceptable alternative exit strategy, and will not become acceptable under any circumstances whatsoever. It would cause an unimaginable number of deaths, and ironically might well fail to produce 'herd immunity' anyway. Many experts believe that people who recover from the virus might be susceptible to reinfection after a few months, or a year, or a couple of years. Not enough is known about the virus to be sure, and allowing huge numbers of people to die in the vague hope that it might possibly produce some speculative benefit at a later date is totally outrageous and downright immoral.
* Perhaps most importantly of all, there should be no question of lifting the lockdown until there is a commitment to mass testing and contact tracing, and until the ability is there to carry it out. Disturbingly, Scotland's Chief Medical Officer suggested the other day that suppression measures might be relaxed when the NHS has enough spare capacity to treat more patients. The idea that it's somehow OK to needlessly allow people to become seriously ill just because there's a hospital bed ready for them is, let's be honest, utter lunacy.
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I criticised Robert Peston earlier in this crisis for regurgitating government propaganda on herd immunity, but he's done a splendid job tonight of exposing government propaganda on the lack of testing...
"Michael Gove said just now that the difficulty in increasing number of #COVID19 tests was due to a shortage of the relevant "chemcial reagents". Well I've just talked to the Chemical Industries Association, which represents the UK's very substantial chemicals industry. It has contacted its members, and they've said there is no shortage of the relevant reagents. So the Association has now been in touch with Michael Gove's office to find out what he means, because it is stumped. The Association also points out there was an industry chat with a business minister today, who made no attempt to find out if there was a supply problem for the vital ingredients of Covid19 testing kits. So this question of why there aren't enough tests for the virus is an even bigger mystery. Also, if it turns out there is a shortage these manufacturers are more than happy to increase their production. But they need to be asked, which has not happened. PS It was Labour MP Bill Esterson who initially spotted this gap between what Gove said and what the industry believes to be true."
So there you have it - the failure to build up testing is not unavoidable, it's a choice. That choice must now be relentlessly challenged, and reversed.
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This is superb from Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand and someone who I know that Nicola Sturgeon admires greatly -
"There were some countries that initially talked about herd immunity as a strategy. In New Zealand we NEVER EVER considered that as a possibility EVER. Herd immunity would have meant tens of thousands of New Zealanders dying, and I simply would not tolerate that, and I don't think any New Zealander would."
New Zealand has of course got roughly the same population as Scotland (in fact it's marginally smaller), so we'd be looking at tens of thousands of deaths as well. And yet this is the outcome that the UK government's Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser are apparently still privately hankering after. And this is what the Scottish government are effectively still in lockstep with as part of the so-called "Four Nations" approach.
We've got to put a complete end to this madness once and for all.
"We never, *EVER* considered that as a possibility, *EVER*! Herd immunity would have meant tens of thousands of New Zealanders dying, and I simply would not tolerate that and I don't think any New Zealander would." - @jacindaardern pic.twitter.com/YsjBkidbXX— The Agitator (@UKDemockery) March 30, 2020