It's been interesting watching the evolution of Iain Macwhirter's views over the last few days about the UK's "herd immunity" strategy - which defies the wishes of the WHO by deliberately allowing the virus to spread and infect 60%+ of the population, in order to avoid a hypothetical "second wave" later on. When I first spoke to Iain about this, I think he hadn't quite grasped the scale of what was being talked about - he thought that only a limited proportion of people would have to be infected to generate herd immunity. A couple of days later, the penny seemed to have dropped and he started wondering aloud whether it was the UK or the rest of the world that was making the huge mistake (a useful rule of thumb when you ask that sort of question is that the answer is most likely to be the UK). But now he's come full circle, and has penned a column today praising Nicola Sturgeon to the skies for ignoring 'people on Twitter' and listening to the UK scientific advisers instead. The point he neglects to make is the one he made himself only the other night - ie. that first and foremost it's the experts of the rest of the world she's ignoring, not just 'people on Twitter'. I don't doubt for a moment how difficult it would be for her to depart from the advice she's receiving directly, but when there is such a huge difference of view between the UK advisers and the leading experts of the World Health Organization, there comes a point where it's necessary to consider the strong possibility that the WHO are right and that the UK advisers are wrong.
Iain said to me a few minutes ago that Nicola Sturgeon would be guilty of dereliction of duty if she ignored the UK advice and people died as a result. But that point is completely upside down. The UK advisers want deaths to occur on a mass scale over the next few weeks and months to avoid the hypothetical second wave. The WHO say the opposite - that the most stringent measures should be taken over the next few weeks and months to keep people alive. Given that the second wave is an untested, unproven theory, the precautionary principle dictates that you keep people alive for now and then solve the hypothetical problem when and if you actually face it. I strongly recommend this article in the Guardian by an epidemiologist (who thought the herd immunity strategy was "satire" when he first heard about it). About the second wave, he says -
"Let me be clear. Second waves are real things, and we have seen them in flu pandemics. This is not a flu pandemic. Flu rules do not apply. There might well be a second wave, I honestly don’t know. But vulnerable people should not be exposed to a virus right now in the service of a hypothetical future."
Incidentally, you may have heard that community testing is being rolled out in Scotland to monitor the spread of the virus. That's better than nothing, but it's important to be clear that it doesn't come even close to bringing us into line with the recommendation of the WHO, who want every suspected case to be tested, with close contacts traced (if the test is positive) to interrupt the spread of the virus. We still won't be doing that. Community surveillance mainly seems to be a passive exercise to help us "predict the peak".