Friday, March 27, 2020

The latest right-wing American conspiracy theory that could lead to millions of deaths if it goes unchallenged

As we all know, Imperial College published a paper ten days ago stating that if the UK persevered with its mitigation strategy (ie. the notorious 'herd immunity' strategy) the NHS would be overwhelmed and there would be a totally unacceptable number of deaths - at least quarter of a million.  However, if the government switched to a full-on suppression strategy with radical social distancing measures, deaths could be kept to a much lower figure of 20,000 or below.  

A day or two ago, the lead author of the Imperial paper, Professor Neil Ferguson, went before a parliamentary committee and reiterated the figures.  He noted that because Britain had now implemented the recommended social distancing measures, the lower maximum figure of 20,000 would now apply - as long as we stay the course, and that's the crucial caveat.  A three-week lockdown won't be enough to have that effect, it'll have to be extended, and extreme social distancing will have to go on for a very prolonged period.

Because journalists are unable or unwilling to read, Ferguson's comments to parliament were apparently misreported in some quarters as Imperial "walking back" on their estimate of quarter of a million deaths.  That led to Trump supporters in the US pushing the entirely bogus claim that Imperial were admitting they got their sums wildly wrong - when in fact all Ferguson had done was reiterate exactly what had been in the original paper.

Most disgraceful and sinister of all, though, was Dr Deborah Birx of Trump's task-force lying through her teeth at a White House press conference by claiming that Imperial had radically changed their projections, and that she was "trying to understand" how that could possibly have happened.  I simply don't believe she's that stupid - it's pure propaganda on behalf of Trump, intended to undermine the overwhelming scientific evidence that millions of Americans will die needlessly if social distancing is prematurely abandoned, as Trump apparently wants to happen.

The irony is that right-wing American conspiracy theorists are trashing Ferguson as if he's some sort of "liberal" hellbent on ruining the American economy, when the reality is that it was earlier Imperial modelling that had been partly responsible for leading Britain down the disastrous herd immunity path in the first place.  When new data came in from Italy and the UK, the modelling was updated and Ferguson's team concluded that a suppression strategy was the only viable option.  Trump supporters are shooting a messenger who originally told them what they wanted to hear, but who can no longer do so for the simple reason that the evidence in front of him no longer supports it.

It may be that nothing can save America from itself, but it's important that the Trump propaganda isn't allowed to take root in this country.  Professor Ferguson has put out a crystal-clear clarification which you can see below, so there shouldn't be a problem as long as people can read.  But here's the thing: can they read?

"I think it would be helpful if I cleared up some confusion that has emerged in recent days. Some have interpreted my evidence to a UK parliamentary committee as indicating we have substantially revised our assessments of the potential mortality impact of COVID-19.

This is not the case. Indeed, if anything, our latest estimates suggest that the virus is slightly more transmissible than we previously thought. Our lethality estimates remain unchanged.

My evidence to Parliament referred to the deaths we assess might occur in the UK in the presence of the very intensive social distancing and other public health interventions now in place. 

Without those controls, our assessment remains that the UK would see the scale of deaths reported in our study (namely, up to approximately 500 thousand)."


  1. Trump should be quarantined … and the key thrown away.

  2. Stuart Campbell has just written a beezer. It's his first original piece of material for the last four years.

    1. Stuart Campbell another populist like George Galloway

    2. Wings Internal PollingMarch 28, 2020 at 6:02 PM

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  3. Johnson, Hancock and Whitty all now with symptoms and self-isolating.

    So much for herd immunity!

    1. Herd immunity does not stop you catching it, the very idea is that you catch it. This will happen in a year or so down the line when a large proportion of the population infected by the virus (in a controlled manor) generating the herd immunity through the population

    2. No, the concept of herd immunity is based on immunising people with a vaccine to such level that those who have not been immunised won't catch it because most around them are immune.

      If you try herd immunity without a vaccine, you just kill loads of people, because nobody is immune at all. Estimate was hundreds of thousands dead for the UK with covid-19.

    3. Ma neighbour in the close hus herd immunity. She's a wee cow.

    4. Just caught a interview with Sadiq Khan saying that they are expecting the peak of infections in 5-7 weeks. Of course the key is going to be how high the peak is when it comes, thankfully there has been sign that the curve has been flattening in London over the last few days, hopefully the lock down will help this trend continuing and this flattening of the curve happens in other parts of the UK.

      Better news was that testing of NHS staff had started today in London, tying in from what is going to happen from tomorrow across England.

  4. You can win elections by being divisively poplulist but you can't govern once you've divided a country, Trump and Johnson one and the same

  5. James, I think you need to have a word with Facebook. I shared this article (and another one) on Facebook earlier this evening. When I now view the post on Facebook, your normal ScotGoesPop graphic is replaced by a box which says "This photo may show violent or graphic images". No idea why.

    1. That's happened to me as well. Facebook are notorious for making it pretty much impossible to get in touch with a real human being, so I doubt if there's much I can do about it.

  6. This is odd.

    This from two days ago seems inexplicable. Imperial college statisticians saying the UK will likely only see 5700 total deaths, and a peak of 260 deaths a day on April 5th? Today is 28th March and there were, coincidentally, 260 more deaths reported today.

    Could it be that they didn't take into account the NHS change in the way data was reported? Otherwise, how was such a low figure reached?

    As far as I can tell the UK is *still* on exactly the same track as Italy.

    At 15 days after death 10, the UK death toll stands at 1019.
    At 15 days after death 10, Italy's death toll stood at 1016.

    I don't see how 6 days of lock down is enough to expect the death rate to drop. Italy has been in lockdown for 2 weeks and they death rate still isn't dropping.

    I hope they're right. But it just looks so, so wrong.

    If we *are* still on the same track as Italy, then expect the UK death toll over the coming days to be something like 1200, 1400, 1800, 2100, 2500, and the daily deaths on April 5th to be closer to 400, rather than 260.

  7. A different anonymous

    When you say UK figures, which country do you mean
    Stating UK figures is as pointless as stating EU figures, the UK is not a country
    Each country in the Union has different figures just as Italy has different figures from the EU

    I really do wish people would learn to depropagandise Westminster's constant Englification of each of the four nations of the UK
    Nobody ever in the EU ever refers to individual countries without using the names of their countries

    1. Hi - I'm the original poster. I'm using the UK because the data is there and because it's identical to the virus progression in Italy. Obviously the virus doesn't know about different countries in the UK - it's just a landmass full of potential hosts (similar population sizes too).

      Of course, you're right to point out the different nations (since they have different govs and approaches) and to be wary of propaganda, which is very evident atm. However, the data isn't as complete for Scotland, Wales and NI at present because the virus is still relatively contained. In the weeks to come, it will become more apparent how the virus progression will go in Scotland, Wales and NI. In the meantime, Italy serves as a worrying glimpse into the future for the UK as a whole.

      Incidentally, it seems that the Imperial college figures of 5700 deaths were based on a projection in which the UK followed China's example of fighting the virus, which obviously hasn't happened. That wasn't reported by Jeremy Vine. So it's not poor figures to blame, but poor reporting of the facts.

  8. I'm self-defeating. Time to do a more more work on the estate.

    (How did I get that anyway? By licking something?)