Tuesday, 17 March 2020

All the king's horses

Ain't no doubt about it. The government has bungled this on several levels. Schools are now closing due to absenteeism and heads are taking their own actions unilaterally. Moreover, to the casual observer, with the debate littered with incoherent, ambiguous terminology and glaring inconsistency, they've left themselves wipe open to all manner of accusations - some true, some malevolent fiction. The government has lost control of the message and people have clearly lost confidence in the government.

As to what is actually going, it's difficult to get any clear picture through the sheer volume of noise, with the media moving from one distraction to the next, unable to usefully hold the government to account. To Brexit watchers this will all sound familiar. Once more it has become a battle of the talking heads with each respective mob urging us to trust their preferred experts.
As it happens, entirely by accident, I stumbled upon a Facebook post by a Steve Hjioff, epidemiologist and a communicable disease physician, who remarks that "In the UK, the actual experts on this sort of thing are known as "Consultants in Communicable Disease Control". In other countries there are different arrangements. While others, such as intensive care specialists, microbiologists, virologist, mathematicians, journalists, acute physicians, behavioural psychologists have a contribution to make, they are not experts on disease spread in the community and should not be regarded (or present themselves) as such".

This is where the media should be able to make the distinctions but can't and doesn't, so anyone presenting as a medical professional is touted as an expert - with some even offering homicidal advice. Hjioff, though, confirms that the first course of action in any outbreak is containment, where you isolate cases and trace and test their contacts. Not an easy feat, especially on this scale. This, as I understand it is precisely what isn't happening. The government has abandoned track and trace but now reassures us that it is ramping up testing - which is not the same thing; a distinction the media has not yet picked up on. Consequently the media has the limited reassurance it demands and nobody is asking the right questions.

As I understand it, in order for containment to work you have to isolate the infection clusters, and if you aren't doing that early on then sooner to later, probably sooner, you are going to lose control. I rather suspect we already have in which case we need a maximum mobilisation of the state to meet the nutritional, logistical and medical needs of the country. And that's without even looking at the economics.

In respect of that, with the NHS already feeling the pinch and the UK being two weeks behind Italy on the curve, we have only a few days which simply isn't going to be enough. We simply have to wait out the posturing and the baloney and watch this horror show gradually unfold. The government dropped the ball and there's little we can do about it now.

At this point everything goes to hell in a handcart. For the time being the government is sticking to the line that we will leave the EU on schedule even though negotiations have been postponed, and we can only guess what comes next, but the one guarantee is that by next week, nobody is going to be talking about Brexit. Corona will have our absolute undivided attention.

Should Brexit come up for air Johnson will have to make a decision. Nobody sane would even contemplate disrupting supply chains at this point and one would hope this would occur even to the oaf Johnson. At the very least there will need to be an interim contingency deal. In the meantime Corona probably will require a bonfire of regulation on both sides of the Channel just to get things done. It might be difficult getting things back to normal.

A delay might well enrage the Brexiteers who are already grumbling on Twitter, but you'd now have to be extraordinarily thick not to realise why our trade relationship has to go substantially beyond an FTA (and why proximity matters). We need a delay if only to reevaluate our objectives.

When this blog warned of the dangers of no deal, much of what I outlined was dubbed "project fear" even though I am leaver, but the point then was that it takes so very little to cause major disruptions to normal life. If that is true of Brexit then it goes thrice for Corona. There is now a question mark over everything from airlines through to pizza delivery. Once things start imploding, putting Humpty back together again (in a shape even loosely resembling his fabled egg shape) may prove difficult. It will have spiralled beyond anyone's control and we can't move forward til we see what and who is left to pick up the pieces. 

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