I have never been someone who has stuck to convention and blindly followed accepted normal practices, either in my work or, indeed, in my private life. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t break laws, but I am prepared to ‘think outside the box’ and look at things in a different way, if something doesn’t feel right. And I am not alone, as many of the great inventions and medical/scientific breakthroughs have happened because someone dared to look at things differently from the general population and the peers in their field.
And I find myself in a similar situation today regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the methods being chosen by many countries, including Scotland and the rest of the UK, for dealing with it.
Although recent progress towards a vaccine is welcome, until it becomes readily available –which may realistically not happen for several months — the public is having to deal with the Government’s handling of the virus.
One issue of particular concern is their constant depiction of COVID as a “terrible disease“, a “killer virus“ and a “huge threat“ to public health throughout the world. Now, I’m not suggesting that the disease is harmless to everyone, or that every death does not have its own tragic circumstances, but such pronouncements would lead one to conclude that it is horribly affecting and killing a large proportion of the world’s population.
That is far from the truth, however, as the total number of people who have been reported as dying around the world from (or with) COVID-19 is just over one million, which sounds high, but is actually around 1 in 7000 people. Even allowing for omissions in the numbers in some countries, it is a long way short of even 1 in 1000.
It is far from devastating for a global pandemic, especially when you consider that these numbers include many countries where the virus has “ripped through“ great swathes of the population, because the Governments have been unable (or even unwilling) to shield people from it, and where the medical facilities have been significantly less extensive and capable than those in developed countries.
There are many more statistics available that confirm that the disease is almost innocuous for healthy people. The following figures are up until the end of October and relate to the UK, but similar figures apply to many of the world’s populations:
- Only a handful of children under age 18 (roughly one in a million) have died of COVID, and all of them had serious underlying health conditions
- The COVID death rate for people under age 65 was about 1 in 9,000
- About 75% of COVID deaths relate to people over 75. This still represents only about 0.5% of the over 75s in the UK and, of these deaths, about 90% had serious underlying conditions
- About 80% of all people who test positive are symptom free and only 5% develop worse than moderate symptoms
- COVID is not even in the top 10 most frequent underlying causes of death in the UK and, in October, accounted for only about 7% of total deaths.
And yet, despite all of the above statistics, the UK Governments, their advisers and the media continue to instil fear about the disease, and act as if it is having (and will continue to have) a “disastrous” effect on everyone within the country..
Now, I recognise that things have got worse since the end of October, but they are still nowhere near to the type of devastating levels portrayed, and do not justify locking down entire regions or cities containing millions of people if they have more than 100 positive cases (not deaths which are much lower) per 100,000 people (i.e. 0.1% of the local population).
Indeed, the recognised UK alert threshold for ‘regular’ acute respiratory infections is normally 400 cases per 100,000, and there are also serious doubts about the accuracy of the tests, with many picking up virus traces long after an infection has gone.
It would therefore be a real step forward in generating trust and understanding, if the Governments would be much more open with the public why they are taking such drastic action, instead of just imposing the restrictions and saying they are “following the science”. At a minimum, both they, and their advisers, should outline the models they have used and the assumptions they have made in reaching their decisions, so that other experts (like myself) could review these and work out if they are reasonable and appropriate. I, like many others, cannot see how an infection rate of 0.1% justifies locking down millions of people.
Indeed, using lockdowns to control the spread of the virus is like using a giant wrecking ball to crack a nut. Lockdowns cause more damage to communities than the issues they resolve, as they actually worsen public health by adding mental, physical and emotional stresses, causing the curtailment of operations for other more serious diseases and bringing about disastrous effects on people’s finances, jobs and the economy.
Lockdowns also instill suspicion and fear of our fellow citizens and destroy the well-being that comes from normal living, theatres, crowds, holidays etc. In Scotland, we have seen Nicola Sturgeon’s daily briefings and arbitrary tiers, all of which seem unecessarily compex at best, and appear to be designed simply to create as much division with the UK as possible.
In addition, they prevent immunity building up and merely delay the spread of the virus, rather than stopping it. And as soon as the conditions are relaxed, the number of cases goes up and the whole miserable process starts again.
Now I acknowledge that we need to ensure that the NHS is not stretched and that we should not just abandon restrictions altogether, but there are alternative strategies to lockdowns that are likely to achieve better outcomes at much reduced physical and financial costs. In particular, the Great Barrington Declaration outlines an alternative strategy that would minimise the dangers for people at high and at low risk of mortality from Covid.
For example, higher-risk people (mainly older people over 70) would be protected by devoting overwhelming resources and ingenuity to the cause of preventing exposure to infected Covid patients. And the health and well-being of lower risk people would be greatly improved by permitting them to resume their normal lives.
Given the eminent people who proposed the Declaration and those who have subsequently signed it, I find it both strange and unfair that there has been such hostility from many quarters to the idea of even debating the proposals.
The Declaration is not perfect, but, it is much better than the endless lockdown measures that have been used, and continue to be used – largely unsuccessfully – by the UK and many other governments. At the very least it should be properly and fairly debated and compared with lockdowns, incorporating both the health and economic implications. The public should then be allowed to choose if they think it provides a better solution for getting our lives back again and living with the disease, in the same way as we already do with flu, cancer, heart and other respiratory diseases.
Andy Scott is a qualified actuary and an expert on statistics, particularly mortality statistics.
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