Thursday, 12 March 2020

Britain left for dead

I am not allowed an opinion on Coronavirus because I am not a doctor or an epidemiologist. I am supposed to defer to the designated state experts and I am meant to trust the politicians who make the decisions based on their testimony.

But then these same politicians signed off on smart motorways which then killed thirty eight people. The government's military experts with shiny badges and grand titles said we could keep the peace in Iraq by using Northern Ireland tactics and soft skinned land rovers. They slammed critics as "armchair generals" as well as strenuously resisting attempts to introduce safer vehicles, arguing that the casualty level was "acceptable".

It seems to this non expert that if you trust government it will kill you. But people do trust the government. There is a disturbing deference to authority by too many people in this country, where they seem willing to accept the word of anyone with "prestige", even when it is quite obvious that they are wrong.

In this instance the dispute is over the expert advice given to government. It doesn't seem to be predicated on preventing people contracting the virus. Buses and trains are operating as normal and there are no serious measures to limit public assembly so an aerosol virus can run rampant. This is not a containment strategy. There is no coordinated advice beyond the mere recommendation that people work from home. While half a dozen countries are now initiating a lockdown, a great many Brits are carrying on as normal spreading the infection as they go. 

This may be acceptable to you, and acceptable to Number Ten, but it isn't acceptable to me. I don't want to get sick. I'm not sure that, as a former heavy smoker, I would recover quickly and it may do lasting damage. I also have close elder relatives at risk and their deaths are not an acceptable loss to me. Particularly my dad who is particularly useful to know right now what with a lifetime working in public health and an epidemiology related PhD. 

His view is that if Johnson and his advisors want to be trusted, then they must explain the basis of their control model (which they haven't) and explain why they are taking their current stance. There are other experts on the block, some who disagree. We are entitled to question their advice, their strategy and their priorities.

Ultimately epidemiologists can only present heir best guesses based on incomplete data and guesswork. There is a lot there that can be debated by the layman. But then expert medical opinion says (and has always said) that if you are exposed to a massively infectious virus you will get sick, and you are more likely to get sick the more you are exposed to it. I'm starting from there. 

Today I've been out to buy a stock of tinned goods, basic essentials, medicines and supplies in case I do get sick. I have zero intention of going anywhere near a population centre for the foreseeable future and my partner is making provisional arrangements to work from home. I don't know how long this can be sustained but we'll have to budget food for the interim to ensure it lasts as long as possible because, while the government is taking zero measures to prevent mass infection, the risk of infection is too high.

I'm told this is histrionics by various persons on Facebook and Twitter, but the data we're getting shows that we are on the same infection trajectory as Italy only two weeks behind, so it is reasonable to assume that whatever is happening there now is us in two weeks. And it doesn't look pretty. There's something like fifteen thousand reported infections -  and a thousand deaths and this is just the beginning.

Already Italy's hospitals are working on a grim triage system, even to the point of turning the elderly away. Worse still the majority of coronavirus infections may be spread by people who have recently caught the virus and have not yet begun to suffer symptoms. An analysis of infections in Singapore and Tianjin in China revealed that two-thirds and three-quarters of people respectively appear to have caught it from others who were incubating the virus but still symptom-free. The finding has dismayed infectious disease researchers as it means that isolating people once they start to feel ill will be far less effective at slowing the pandemic than had been hoped.

So then if the underlying assumption of the government's strategy is that the virus spreads through person-to-person contact when symptoms are most acute, then their strategy is just flat wrong. I simply cannot afford to believe otherwise. As much as I don't want to get sick, if I don't employ my own "social distancing strategy" then I could be the one infecting others and killing them. I have a basic citizen's obligation not to go around killing people. I wish the government thought the same.

As it happens I think whatever strategy the government is working to, massive incubators such as the tube system, railways and buses should be suspended, and also to slow the spread - if only as a plan B to their primary strategy. Being that we have probably left it too late, health services are going to be overwhelmed either way, everything must be done to find additional facilities and logistics - even if that means mobilising the army. The NHS is not equipped to handle an epidemic of this nature.

Since the government is not inclined to take any serious containment measures, instead betting the farm on dodgy data models, it looks like we are on our own. We have to look to each other to stop the spread because our prime minister is not going to lift a finger. To him, we are simply acceptable losses. 

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