Sunday 17 May 2020

Covid's Metamorphoses


If the Covid-19 virus had not been identified would the deaths from it have passed unnoticed?

It's just an interesting and important question. I don't have an answer. I do know that few noticed the 40,000 excess deaths from respiratory disease in the UK two years ago. 

Dr Wolfgang Wodarg said that the deaths would have passed unnoticed had there not been a test for the virus, back at the start of all this. I thought he sounded very cranky indeed then, and he may well be, but people like him seem to have got a lot right and the experts whom governments follow may have been the cranks. Think Neil Ferguson's very cranky and indecipherable modelling, which scared Boris into locking down the UK. (Allegedly, Professor Ferguson then piled Pelion on Ossa by giving the virus to Boris, the Secretary of State for Health and the Cabinet Secretary.)

If the Covid-19 virus had not been identified, the doctors in Italy would not have panicked and dragged infected people unnecessarily into hospitals. Eastern European care workers would not have fled Italy leaving care homes short of staff. A crisis in geriatric care in Lombardy would still have happened and some thousands of old people would have died, but there was such a crisis two years ago when lots of old people died of a bad flu.

Dr Wodarg says the WHO is a very corrupt organisation and he is right about that. He says pharma companies are very corrupt and that is true, but I do not see how big pharma is to blame for the virus panic. Romanians like conspiracy theories and many tell me they think big pharma likes the virus scare in order to sell a vaccine. I certainly do not buy that. 

Dr Wodarg, however, says the virus will change before a vaccine is found. That sounds very likely.

Dr John Lee is a recently retired professor of pathology. His article in the Spectator on May 8, Ten reasons to end the lockdown now, is worth reading. Here are some nuggets. 

We don’t really know how many people die of flu each year, because the surveillance relies mainly on surrogate measures rather than actual testing, but the estimated number for 2014/15, the highest of recent years, was 28,330. So yes, Covid is a nasty new disease. But even if you assume 40,000 Covid deaths, its death toll is in the same ballpark as diseases we live with, not something so extraordinary as to justify the lockdown reaction. 
The majority of cases are asymptomatic. The most common symptoms are not fever, cough, headache and respiratory symptoms; they are no symptoms at all. The typical case does not suffer respiratory fibrosis; the disease leaves no mark. Somewhere around 99.9 per cent of those who catch the disease recover. Of those unlucky enough to die, over 90 per cent have pre-existing conditions and were anyway approaching the end of their lives. To say this is not being uncaring: it is simply a fact of life that older people are more likely to die in any event, and especially more likely to die from new types of infection.

Many counties with very different approaches to lockdown seem to have similar curves, in so far as their different testing and recording of the virus allows meaningful comparison. Are the curves a result of our actions or are they just a manifestation of the way this virus is coming into equilibrium with its new human hosts? The curves on ships affected by the virus seem similar to the population curves too. It’s easy to make plausible-sounding arguments that what we are doing 'must' be slowing the spread. But Sweden’s model of voluntary social distancing seems equally effective, but with much lower costs. 

The vast majority of people under 65, and almost everyone under 50, will be no more inconvenienced by this disease than by a cold.

An earlier article by Dr Lee pointed out how the purpose of lockdowns morphed from preventing a crisis in hospitals to preventing deaths and was published under a headline which was a glorious pun, Covid's Metamorphoses. I  nicked it. Plagiarism is not only committed by Romanian politicians.

Many people think we are all going to catch this virus - Knut Wittkowski for example. Frau Merkel said at the start of this strange historical event that 70 percent of people would get it and the British Chief Medical Officer seemed to expect something like that. 

Dr Lee says it was assumed that 80 per cent of the population would rapidly catch the disease, when in fact 15 per cent seems nearer the mark. He doesn't say whether he thinks somewhere around 15 percent will be the final figure, possibly for the good and sufficient reason that he does not know. It could be so.

My hunch is that the virus is receding for reasons we do not know and which might be because of warm weather. (Singapore near the equator has cases, yes I know.) 

If we end the lockdowns in Europe now things can still be saved. Europe takes two weeks off work at Christmas nowadays - this six week pause can be made up. 

But politicians must admit they got things wrong, no doubt for defensible reasons, and must set the people free now.


  1. Charles Moore writes an article headlined

    Lockdown is showing us the misery that Net Zero 2050 will demand
    Eco-politics succeeds only with voters who feel guilty about being rich. Covid-19 will put paid to that

  2. We've surpassed 90,000 deaths after a US administration prediction of 60,000 deaths. People have definitely noticed.

  3. I remember the President predicting 100,000 deaths. The Governor of New York is presiding over a huge number of deaths yet wins praise from Republican Facebook friends of mine. I wonder why.