Thursday, March 19, 2020

It's simply a fact that, until a few days ago, the UK government were pursuing a strategy that would have led to a large number of avoidable deaths

I've just had another exchange with Iain Macwhirter, who seems extremely muddled about the distinction between a 'herd immunity' strategy and a 'suppression' strategy - he thinks that herd immunity will somehow still be pursued during suppression.  That's not the case.  Although suppression doesn't wipe out the virus completely, it keeps the numbers so low that herd immunity is not achieved until a vaccine is available.

This tweet of mine seemed to particularly anger Iain -

"Herd immunity was a trade off. It did accept a number of deaths and severe illnesses as a price worth paying for getting back to normal more quickly. The only thing that has changed is that the numbers involved were far greater than the govt realised."

Iain replied that there was never any "callous calculation" in the herd immunity strategy that would have led to people dying needlessly.  He claimed it was "disgraceful scaremongering" to suggest otherwise.  But I'm afraid it's simply a fact that belatedly accepting that a suppression strategy is viable constitutes a tacit acknowledgement that the infections, illnesses and deaths associated with the herd immunity strategy had never actually been unavoidable.  Until a few days ago it was being pretended (not least in Jason Leitch's grand tour of the TV studios and in Iain's own Sunday column) that they somehow were unavoidable.

It's worth taking a look at this video from 11th March by Professor Neil Ferguson, the lead author of the Imperial College paper.  He sets out absolutely straightforwardly that the herd immunity (ie. "mitigation") and suppression strategies are binary choices, and that each option has its downside.  The downside of suppression is the length of time that social disruption will have to last, and the downside of herd immunity is the avoidable loss of life.  The politicians had to decide which was the lesser of the two evils, and until last week the government were plumping for the excess deaths.  Iain may or may not believe that was justified based on the known facts at the time, but to claim that the choice never even existed is deeply disingenuous (or delusional).

So what changed?  It's quite simple: a few days after he made that video, Professor Ferguson and his colleagues told the government in no uncertain terms that there was essentially no longer any choice at all, and that suppression was now the only game in town.  New modelling showed that pursuing herd immunity would have broken the NHS.


  1. I'll be honest, I'm more worried about the utter destruction of our civilisation than I am about the possibility of 0.5% of us dying.

    1. To be honest, you say
      That'll be a first for you, who's paying you?

  2. A key point is that the Govt presented a political choice as 'science' and those critical were called populist and science deniers.

  3. Big Eater From PerthMarch 19, 2020 at 10:05 AM

    When I received an email from Nicola Sturgeon ‘instructing’ me – a campaigner for independence of almost 60 years standing – to cease and desist, I was displeased. I was very displeased. I know a wee bit about communication, particularly in relation to political campaigns. And this was the wrong message.
    The chances of next year's Holyrood elections being postponed just increased dramatically. What concessions might Nicola Sturgeon make to the British to be allowed to stay in government - nominally?

    1. In truth, Peter hates the idea of Scotland democratically managing its own affairs and so instead wants Scotland governed in part by EU parliaments and governments that it wouldn't elect, that wouldn't be accountable to it, and that wouldn't put its interests first.

  4. Quelle surprise. So much for 'criminal, predatory behaviour' eh!

    Derek Mackay: 'No crime committed' by former finance secretary

    Police Scotland said it had concluded its inquiries and "there is nothing to suggest that an offence has been committed".

  5. Barnier has tested positive for Covid. Druncker thinks it would be better if he didn't breathe on anything.

  6. A hard brexit with an already wrecked economy will certainly aid the destruction of the UK ..

    McFarter the fence sitter .. will write any crap to fill his pockets.

    GWC ..

  7. Still waiting for the lockdown. Why the delay?

  8. Here's the piece I posted here on March 3, well before the herd immunity debate kicked off:

    “Ministers and officials are considering the trade-off between allowing an acute outbreak, from which the economy would rebound more quickly, and trying to save more lives by imposing restrictions on mass gatherings and transport.”

    "from which the economy would rebound more quickly" Mark those words.

    As I said at the time, this was NOT about weighing up suppression and mitigation and deciding which would save more lives. This was always, as we might expect, about preserving corporate profits.

    They may changed their minds now, but prioritising corporate profits over people's lives at the start of the month will end up having a colossal impact on the number of deaths and hospitalisations.

    Also, there seems to be something weird going on with Imperial College. In early February Neil Ferguson was talking about up to 60% of the British population being infected and up to 400k deaths. It was the interview that made me start taking this very seriously.

    Are we being told that IC then changed their modelling for a while in a way that justified herd immunity, then discovered this modelling was wrong, and have now switched back to the more pessimistic predictions (though now 'only' 200k deaths, for some reason)? Is that it? Or did the govt scientists change their modelling? Plus was the whole thing based on a decimal point error when they overestimated the number of Wuhan infections by 1000%? Even by the insane standards of this simulation, this final possibility seems too farfetched to believe.

    There now seems to be a weird assumption that because the UK govt and Scotgov have dropped herd immunity, the numbers of deaths is guaranteed to drop drastically immediately and over the longterm too. Well, let’s see about that. Of countries where we have detailed info (unlike say Indonesia) the UK’s response from politicians and scientists alike is seen worldwide as the most shambolic, callous and dishonest anywhere, cheered on by clueless media types like McWhirter way out of their depth. Assuming they’ve all now got their act together is highly presumptuous.

  9. MORI UK Westminster Scots subsample:
    47% SNP
    33% Con
    17% Lab
    1% Lib

    Looks fairly normal for of late. Usual caveats apply.

  10. Sturgeon is right Asda and the multinationals need immigrants to have nice low wages, we also need them to do jobs we wont do, like dig graves and bury the dead, OPEN THE BORDERS OR ITS A CATASTROPHE LIKE THE FIRST MINISTER SAID,3 WEEKS AGO,SHE IS CORRECT.

    1. superb comments as a nationalist I fully agree we need immigration to keep wages low and the rental market buoyant, the first minister is right we need refugees.

    2. The migrant numbers could help create herd immunity,bring in millions,as the solution not the problem.

    3. We need to learn from the migrants to get up earlier, work harder,lower wages and expectations for all.

  11. The UK govt’s performance so far:

    1. Adopt the herd immunity approach – hundreds of thousands of deaths among the people who fund politicians’ fantastic lifestyle, millions needing hospitalisation – at least partly to maintain corporate profits. Leak this to the Times to reassure their business friends.

    2. Go on TV and tell people you’ve rejected this approach, while in reality this simply isn’t true. All cheered on by the sociopathic right-wing media.

    3. Online uproar about herd immunity. (A small part in the story, but it has to be said that this has been James Kelly’s finest hour to date).

    4. Oh what’s this? Right at the *exact* moment of uproar “the science changes” and “new modelling” reveals how mistaken herd immunity is.

    5. Herd immunity dropped, with great fanfare from the same right-wing press that days previously was cheering it on.

    But the problem is, the delay may have made the herd immunity approach a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because of that delay the virus may now be too far spread to contain. It might be too late for that.

    And has herd immunity really been dropped? Compared to other countries with similar numbers of deaths, it doesn’t look so. Who in their right mind would trust this govt to tell the truth about any of this, considering the above?

    And I am very sorry to say, if Nicola went along with the above the way I fear she did, then not only is she finished, she’ll be lucky to eventually escape a jail sentence, as will Boris and Dom & co. In other times, times which 2020 is starting to resemble, people have been strung up from lamp-posts for less.

  12. Not a call to string anyone up, in case GCHQ are checking in.

    But it is a call for eventual jailings.