Friday, 3 April 2020

On the Late Massacre in Lombardy


In February 1957 a new influenza virus emerged in East Asia, which doctors named A (H2N2) and which was known to the world, in the days before political correctness, as Asian Flu.

It is estimated that Asian Flu killed 1.1 million people around the world and 116,000 in a United States, which then had a population just over half what it is today. 

Researchers estimate that about 25 percent of Americans were infected. The American liner the President Cleveland arrived in San Francisco from Japan with 96 of its passengers and crew either ill or convalescent(Not 96 percent, as stated in the recent Washington Post article to which I linked.) 

Nevertheless, in 1957 life in the USA and elsewhere went on pretty much as normal. 

There was no lockdown. Is a global lockdown necessary in the face of Covid-19?

If Covid-19 is the pandemic that governments have feared for decades, that can kill a large proportion of the world’s population unless checked, then the answer is yes, but is it?

There are some reasons to make me suspect that we have panicked unnecessarily but, on the other hand, why are the hospitals in Lombardy and Spain in chaos?

It might be partly because the winter was so very mild.

There’s an old saying in England,

‘A green winter makes a full churchyard.’
What that folk wisdom means is that germs that a severe winter kills off supposedly flourish in a mild winter and kill off lots of elderly people. 

This winter in Italy the flu was very mild because of the unusually warm weather and killed many fewer older Italians than average, according to a report by the Italian Ministry of Health. The report argued that old people with chronic diseases who  survived until February and March then became victims of Covid-19.

This partly explains why many people over 65 have suddenly died in Lombardy, but there are other factors.

Italy’s more than 12,000 deaths have happened mostly in Northern cities and towns, but there overall mortality among people age 65 and over was 6% below an average of previous years. In fact, total number of deaths throughout Europe in March 2020 is less than the total numbers in March 2019.

Large numbers of old and frail people, who were going to die anyway, will die of the Coronavirus, as well as a few younger and healthy people. Far more old and frail people will die in hospital with, not of, it and those deaths will also be added to the death toll in the media.

On the other hand, the deaths of many people who die with the virus at home or in nursing homes will go unreported.

In Bergamo and nearby towns deaths in March were several times more than March last year, which would strongly suggest that Covid-19 is responsible, but in fact most are not assigned to Covid-19.

What is going on?

The fear throughout Europe is that the breakdown in hospital care in Lombardy and in Spain will happen throughout Europe, especially in poor countries like Romania. 

What then is causing the disaster reported from Lombardy?

This message from an anonymous observer in Italy, suggests the deaths and health crisis in Lombardy are due to far more than just the virus.

"In recent weeks, most of the Eastern European nurses who worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week supporting people in need of care in Italy have left the country in a hurry. This is not least because of the panic-mongering and the curfews and border closures threatened by the „emergency governments“. As a result, old people in need of care and disabled people, some without relatives, were left helpless by their carers.

"Many of these abandoned people then ended up after a few days in the hospitals, which had been permanently overloaded for years, because they were dehydrated, among other things. Unfortunately, the hospitals lacked the personnel who had to look after the children locked up in their apartments because schools and kindergartens had been closed. This then led to the complete collapse of the care for the disabled and the elderly, especially in those areas where even harder „measures“ were ordered, and to chaotic conditions.

"The nursing emergency, which was caused by the panic, temporarily led to many deaths among those in need of care and increasingly among younger patients in the hospitals. These fatalities then served to cause even more panic among those in charge and the media, who reported, for example, „another 475 fatalities“, „The dead are being removed from hospitals by the army“, accompanied by pictures of coffins and army trucks lined up.

"However, this was the result of the funeral directors‘ fear of the „killer virus“, who therefore refused their services. Moreover, on the one hand there were too many deaths at once and on the other hand the government passed a law that the corpses carrying the coronavirus had to be cremated. In Catholic Italy, few cremations had been carried out in the past. Therefore there were only a few small crematoria, which very quickly reached their limits. Therefore the deceased had to be laid out in different churches.

"In principle, this development is the same in all countries. However, the quality of the health system has a considerable influence on the effects. Therefore, there are fewer problems in Germany, Austria or Switzerland than in Italy, Spain or the USA. However, as can be seen in the official figures, there is no significant increase in the mortality rate. Just a small mountain that came from this tragedy.“

So much is unclear, but one thing is clear. We need good data and we shall soon have it from reputable countries. 

The data will show whether, as indicated by the research of Dr Gupta of Oxford University, large proportions of populations have the virus without symptoms. 

If so, the stock markets of the word will rise, 'herd immunity' will be the goal of governments, lockdowns will be discontinued and the world will come out of a short V-shaped recession. Those people who said ‘It’s just a flu’ will feel vindicated, even though we know that Covid-19 is not a flu but an ILI (Influenza like illness) with some very nasty attributes.

If not, things look less cheerful, but we can still hope that drugs like hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin and zinc sulphate, all of which are in frequent use and whose side effects are well known, can protect the world while scientists try to find a vaccine.

Finally, here is a link to a story in Time, the American news magazine, headlined 

Hospitals Overwhelmed by Flu Patients Are Treating Them in Tents

It is dated January 18, 2018.


  1. Some world leaders have not given in to the panic - and the "mainstream" media have savagely attacked them. We live in a world where people believe that this life is all there is - and so it is easy for the media (and the education system that creates it) to use anything (anything at all - even the tragedy of a terrible disease) as a reason for a massive increase in government power. The magic words are "to save lives" - whether the extension of government power (crushing Civil Society) really saves lives or not.

  2. 'Colleagues in Germany feel sure that their numbers are nearer the truth than most, because they had plenty of testing capacity ready when the pandemic struck. Currently the death rate is 0.8 per cent in Germany. If we assume that about one third of the recorded deaths are due to Covid-19 and that they have managed to test a third of all cases in the country who actually have the disease (a generous assumption), then the death rate for Covid-19 would be 0.08 per cent. That might go up slightly, as a result of death lag. If we assume at present that this effect might be 25 per cent (which seems generous), that would give an overall, and probably upper limit, of death rate of 0.1 per cent, which is similar to seasonal flu.'

  3. Imperial College London modelling, used to inform government, has suggested 500,000 could have died by August in the UK if the virus was left to rip through the population.

    It also warned the government's previous strategy to slow the spread by asking those with symptoms to self-isolate and shield the most vulnerable could have led to 250,000 deaths.

    Now, it is hoped the lockdown will limit deaths to 20,000.

    But that does not mean 480,000 lives are being saved - many will die whether or not they get the virus.

    Every year, about 600,000 people in the UK die. And the frail and elderly are most at risk, just as they are if they have coronavirus.

    Nearly 10% of people aged over 80 will die in the next year, Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, at the University of Cambridge, points out, and the risk of them dying if infected with coronavirus is almost exactly the same.

  4. Essential reading - blog post & commentary above

  5. How to lie with statistics: another example of confused thinking from the Guardian. Apparently Covid patients in intensive care have a 50% fatality rate. Except ... when you read down, you see that this number applies to "patients whose outcomes are known." In other words, those who have either been discharged or died. A further number, fully twice the alleged "sample", remain in intensive care and aren't being counted..

    "The death rate of those admitted to intensive care with Covid-19 has topped 50%, according to the latest figures.

    The figures come from data compiled by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) based on a sample of 2,249 coronavirus patients.

    The data showed that 50.1% (346) of the 690 patients in the sample whose care outcomes were known, had died. The other 344 had been discharged.

    The remaining patients, 1,559, were reported still to be in critical care.

    By way of comparison, just 22.4% of patients admitted to intensive care with non-Covid-19 viral pneumonia between 2017 and 2019 died of the disease."