I feel moved to write this article about Covid-19 in the UK and the government’s response, even though it falls outside of my blog’s primary topic of FIRE, simply because I believe it is so important and if it saves anyone’s life, it’s been worth it. I write because I want to educate people about the science behind combating the COVID-19 outbreak as our government has done such a terrible job of doing so. Ultimately, if we go back to a second lockdown, lives are going to be lost, it’s going to damage everyone’s progress to FIRE and the value of our investments, so it’s linked to that extent.
What prompted this article?
I have been taking an interest in the COVID -19 situation and conducting my own research. A data scientist contacted me after I came across his tweets sensible things about dealing with COVID-19. After asking a challenging question and a couple of days later, Albert got back to me via DM with a very detailed answer. Follow him here: https://twitter.com/70sBachchan
Albert Pinto is a data scientist who is working with Professor Xihong Lin from Harvard. They are looking at data and trends to work out the real causes of COVID-19 spread and what can be done to stop. Crucially, this will lead to identifying what has been successful in preventing the spread of the illness.
The tweet I first saw was a statement that the WHO (Pacific Region) had started advising the three ‘C’s. That is, COVID-19 can spread in three situations:
- Crowded situations;
- Close contact settings;
- Confined and enclosed settings.
You can see the document tweeted by WHO Western Pacific at 2.45 pm 2 July 2020.
Initially, I baulked at this as to me; this is not news. Anyone commuting on public transport which fits the description for all of these C’s, will already know it’s a prime place to pick up a cold, so why is this such a surprise to WHO for COVID-19?.
Even more bizarrely, why is this message not being communicated about COVID 19 in the UK?
Scientific information on COVID-19
The first important piece of information is the R-number which is the calculated number of people an infected person will infect. Generally, this should be below 1.0 to indicate the COVID 19 problem is lessening.
Essentially, the issue the Prof highlighted, and the issue that scientists in China realised, is that it was ‘easy’ to get the R-value down to 1 using lockdown. However, they realised that when quarantined at home with their family, the infected person was spreading the COVID-19 to their family members, preventing the R-value from going much lower, and crucially, keeping the illness spreading.
Spread through families is something which has not only been seen in China but in the USA.
The Chinese set up COVID-19 hostels where people with the illness would go and rest and get better. The difference between a hostel and a hospital is it was usually in a hotel where people who have the disease but are not sick enough to be hospitalised can go and rest. There, they were fed and looked after, but crucially, they were away from their homes and family members.
The spread was contained and stopped within six weeks.
More information about the COVID-19 spread in homes and the hostels is in this presentation by the Professor. If you only look at one external link in this article, please look at this one.
Such was the success that New York implemented this strategy, providing access to hotels for people unable to isolate effectively from family members.
Those staying in hotels were provided with:
- daily medical check-ins
- mental health support
New York was the epicentre of the US outbreak for some time but using the hostel strategy along with lockdown caused the cases to drop dramatically.
The UK response
In April 2020, the same scientist who advised New York advised the UK parliament. The records of which are here. So when the UK government says they are listening to the science, it’s presentations like this that they are referring to.
The crucial extract of this presentation is this:
You will see that the government was advised of the six pillars to reduce the R-value.
- Mask wearing
- Social distancing
- Contact tracing
- Isolating infected patients
- Treating infected patients.
I would say that the UK government did two out the six-well: social distancing and treating infected patients. Testing is now probably acceptable and we have set up a contract tracing system. Although the app we tried to develop was a disaster.
At the start of COVID-19, we tried to contain the virus, but that failed. Lockdown was the only option and mostly a sign of total failure of the containment phase. The same thing happened in China as authorities delayed lockdown due to Chinese new year and a reluctance to prevent people travelling. However, much like here, the Chinese government had to make the population of Wuhan and Hubei lockdown suddenly. Their lockdown appears to have been far stricter than in the UK.
It was undoubtedly much less strict in the US than in the UK.
The other major factor was that China didn’t reopen until two weeks after there were no cases. This seemed to kill off the virus completely, and they are now back to normal life.
What seemed like a draconian lockdown now seems like a good idea. Hindsight is 20/20, but we are sure to be in this situation again.
Why has the UK government not fully implemented this advice?
That’s anyone’s guess. We implemented social distancing, testing and treatment, but never the others in a fully committed manner.
If you got COVID-19 in the UK, you were to stay in your house for seven days, but if family members were there, they had to isolate for 14 days too. It was confusing, and I’m sure people didn’t do it properly as a result. Members would go out to go shopping no doubt spreading the illness to the community. COVID-19 hostels would have prevented this.
Was this because it was politically sensitive? The government claimed to be following the science, but it’s clear they ignored the science which other countries have implemented in this case.
I’m also sceptical of our media and what it reports, conveniently burying stories of success in South Korea to prevent public anger here, while saying that we shouldn’t trust the Chinese data. While I’m very sceptical of the Chinese authorities and mistrusting of Hauwei’s motives, this is hardly the same thing.
We should all be furious at the government’s response. Their line is ‘we didn’t know what we know now’. Well, this is untrue and the information was freely available to anyone online.
But the Chinese doctored their figures?
Firstly, if they did, the only people that will know are high up in the CCP. No one can prove it either way.
And secondly, the UK also engaged in making up figures as reported recently.
Concerns existed about the UK’s data for some time with the head of UK Statistics Authority raising his. The article above details how the government was compiling testing numbers using pen and paper.
The US President has called for testing to be ramped back, and in Florida, an official was fired for refusing to doctor figures. Everyone is at it.
Chinese figures in detail
At the time, China was the first place to have a major outbreak. Now lets be clear, I’m not defending the Chinese authorities, and it’s clear they did try to ignore and cover up the problem in the start, but to say they faked the data is absurd for several reasons. I realise they are an authoritarian regime with a questionable human right, but let’s look at the data.
Firstly, when you look at the overall death rate across the world, it is around 7%. In the US it is 4.1%, UK 15.5%. Chinas is 5.5%. There are widely varying results which indicate that no one has a grip on their figures. The US has the highest number of tests so their data may be the most accurate but who really can tell. We also know that the UK stopped testing during the peak of the crisis so has no clue how many have had COVID 19. We were only recording those who made it to the hospital.
Secondly, the assumption the Chinese made these figures up would mean they were fiddling the figures in real-time in an attempt to make it look better. If that was the case, they were doing this without being able to compare to another country. There was no way to know how a ‘good’ situation looked.
One thing that gives credibility to China’s figures is that China’s cases dropped after two weeks of lockdown, the same way; for example, as France’s did. They were the first country to lock down so dramatically so this would be difficult to fake.
The Chinese did cover-up at the start, but once the cat was out the bag, why fudge the numbers? It looks like they screwed up the stats, but so has the UK! The care home deaths were an example of underreporting.
In New York. There is evidence that 20% of the population got COVID-19. That is 1.6M people, but the reported number was 220k. Massive under-reporting.
Accuracy of the figures is not a reason to ignore the lessons that are there for us to see.
The battle against China was not won by an authoritarian regime crushing the virus and peoples rights in the process as the UK media would have you believe, but through community participation.
The population were educated about the danger and voluntarily participated in the measures to prevent the spread. Public goodwill is something which is on a knife-edge in the UK. We don’t want to end up like the US with people fighting not to wear masks.
We can only participate if we know what to join in. The government is now acting as if all is fine and people are going out and about as if it’s normal.
It’s not just China that did better than the UK. Countries such as Thailand, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan have barely any cases in relation to their population. They achieved this through proper contact tracing and quarantines.
How to eradicate COVID-19 in the UK
The UK has, at this point, implemened a contact tracing system. Tracing is the key to getting hold of people who are infected. The key flaw is that if the person is infected, they will remain in their home and potentially infect their household. Get a proper app system in place.
We need to set up COVID-19 hostels across the UK for people who can’t properly isolate. These must be free. We have loads of empty hotels at the moment so the government should requisition several in each town for this purpose. The owners will be glad of the business.
The guidance is: masks are optional. I believe the message needs to be they should be mandatory in shops and closed spaces (as they are on public transport). Instead, what is happening in the US is there is massive division, and it’s become something people will die in a ditch over. We can’t have this here, and the government needs to show more leadership rather than the wishy-washy we will rely on the common sense of the British public. The one truth about common sense is that it isn’t that common.
We need to implement the six pillars of the Coronavirus prevention so we can get back to as normal as possible, save lives, and businesses. It’s possible as other countries have proven.
The most important is proper leadership and working together with the NHS, scientist, councils, businesses and citizens to beat this awful illness.
I hope that the article on Covid-19 in the UK has been as enlightening for you as it was for me, and I hope that we can put pressure on the government to implement measures that have proven successful in other countries here. We must also take measures OURSELVES by following the guidance and making sure the spread stops. It’s not worth the damage to lives, livelihoods and the economy not to.