Friday, June 14, 2024
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We are still flying blind


OH dear, Boris has fallen for the NHS/PHE/Establishment/Scientist/Modeller bullsh*t. He has bought the lockdown extension to avoid the ‘second wave’ and keep the ‘R rate’ (the mathematical rate of progression of the virus) under 1.

Here’s the thing: the R rate exists only in a mathematical model. It represents the rate at which an infection spreads through a herd: one infection leads to R new ones. Any idiot with a spreadsheet can build a model like this. But it is meaningless if you don’t know the number of people infected today. And the government doesn’t – in part due the NHS’s complete inability to test. Sure they have done some testing, but nowhere near enough. 

The one number they might have to work from is the number of deaths. Unfortunately it has proved hard to differentiate between ‘died with Covid’ and ‘died of Covid’ and thus the mortality rate is hard to establish, so back-calculation from that is a non-starter too.

Which means that the R number is b*ll*cks (military term for items of dubious quality) and running the country to match an R number target is insane. All that matters is that the NHS is not swamped with Covid cases (the justification for putting the country under house arrest), best delivered by monitoring the number of empty ICU beds – with which the NHS is now awash.

It might also be instructive to look at the data.  The chart below is from the Office of National Statistics (yes, it’s only to April 10, but that’s as fast as it can deliver).

Covid is a disease of the old. The chance of someone under the age of 44 dying of covid is less than 1 in 300,000 and less than one tenth that of dying in a car crash (1 in 20,000). Why is the government not telling us this? (For 45-to-65-year-olds, Covid and car crashes are about the same risk).

It also transpires from the ONS figures that good old flu/pneumonia has killed about three times as many people as Covid-19 in 2020. I don’t remember being locked down because of flu – or watching the economy falling off a cliff.

Yes, it’s great that Boris is back; he has the much-needed charisma that is missing in the cabinet (and for that matter, Westminster). He can lead the country, but he does need to head in the right direction.  Which is the second thing that worries me.

Boris suffers from the common governmental delusion that it runs the economy and can create growth. Hence his predilection for big projects: Boris Island Airport, the Garden Bridge, HS2. I fear that this is what he has in mind to stimulate growth – to enable us to pay for the extravagance that this panic has been. He does not run the economy: all he has to do is get the government out of the way and the private sector will do its thing – create wealth for the nation.

My advice to Boris:

1.    Fix a date for lifting the lockdown for all of working age. Next week would be good, the week after just about acceptable.

2.    Having incarcerated the population during a heatwave, suggest to the mayors, chief constables and assorted gauleiters that sunbathing is not a problem and that carparks for parks and green spaces should open as should remaining parks.

3.    Get a clear position on masks and the risks of transmission – which are less than flu.

4.    Change the message: the NHS is saved (mostly from itself). 

5.    Write to ministers, Tory MPs, senior civil servants and police chiefs reminding them that the United Kingdom is a liberal democracy, not a command economy or totalitarian state.

6.    Adopt Bill Clinton’s mantra: ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ But leave sorting it out to the private sector – it’s what we do.

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Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell is a former Army officer who has spent the last 30 years in commerce. He is the author of Net Zero: The Challenges, Costs and Consequences of the UK's Zero Emission Ambition. He has a substack here. He is the Reform Parliamentary Candidate for Swansea West.

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