Public Health, England style

There are two alternative scientific “metanarratives” for the course of COVID-19 in Britain (both of which also apply in other western countries). The first is that Prof Ferguson’s modelling, which predicted 500,000 deaths unless drastic lockdown was instituted, was correct, and that Britain’s following of that policy, though a little belatedly, saved the day and resulted in, to date, a little shy of 50,000 deaths.

The other scenario is that, the decline in cases having started 10 days before lockdown, the virus was already rife, followed more or less its natural Gompertz curve, and therefore lockdown did nothing… except ruin the economy for generations and cause a currently estimated 75,000 extra non-COVID deaths over the next five years.

Over in America Jay Bhattacharya wonders at the lockdown policy, also pursued there, based on the same models, because:

“We’ve quarantined the healthy and we’ve exposed the vulnerable to the disease.”

His interviewer/interlocutor on the video quotes a similar conclusion:

“We’ve favored the rich who can survive this, the Zoomocracy, and we’ve punished the poor.”

However, another interesting video adds significant weight to the second interpretation of events.

As so often, the fly in the official ointment is Sweden. In essence the calculus is simple: Neil Ferguson’s model predicted 70,000 deaths for Sweden if they did not lock down. They did not do so, but their death count was in the event only 5,800. That is more than an order of magnitude error on Ferguson’s part, and in fact was 12 times too high.

If one applies exactly the same error factor of 12 to Ferguson’s projection for Britain, the actual number of COVID deaths, had we avoided lockdown, would have been 500,000/12 = 42,000 deaths. And that happens to be, to the nearest thousand, the number of deaths we did get. Lockdown, then, achieved nothing except the pain, the loss of liberty, the economic collapse and the excess deaths from other causes.

But our government, and our whole political establishment to judge from the grudging support for their latest disciplinary measures in Parliament, still appears to be wedded to the Ferguson model. The whole public health effort is directed at controlling the entire population by masks, self-isolation, draconian fines and all the rest of it.

Most of the money and sweat is being spent on “track and trace” testing. Ignoring the reliability or otherwise of the PCR test, which I’ve dealt with on a few occasions, those who have not had their memories reprogrammed will remember the originally stated basis of “track and trace.” That basis was that, now that lockdown had quelled the uncontrolled spread of the disease, the very low case numbers back in June meant that individual cases could now be successfully contact-traced, assuming the right infrastructure, in a way that was impossible with the previous high case-numbers. In this way, numbers of cases would stay low and the virus “beaten”.

But nobody in power seems to have noticed that case numbers, from testing, are now greater than at the height of the pandemic

Contact tracing is therefore a lost cause, according to their previous argument from the science, and by rights the track and trace project should be abandoned entirely, and funding diverted elsewhere. But where?

Well, under the second scenario, in which trying to stop a pandemic is seen as a futile Canute-like example of hubris, efforts are directed primarily to protecting the vulnerable, rather than controlling the overwhelming majority at low risk from the infection. Sweden, like Britain and most other countries it seems, failed in this respect by emptying the hospitals and infecting care homes, presumably through following some ill-judged international guidelines. The Swedes estimate that half of their deaths came from this mistake, and the figure may be similar for us, except that our experts have been less self-critical than Sweden’s in admitting the foolishness of the policy.

Yet Britain’s public health efforts are still, apparently, entirely directed at protecting nobody by punishing everybody; locking students into their halls of residence, keeping hospitals empty for future COVID patients whilst cancer treatment is postponed, preventing people singing in church (or playing in groups over six) and calling out the riot squad to shut down huge peaceful anti-lockdown rallies in London with their batons (while arresting doctors invited to England to speak, confiscating the sound equipment, and keeping the matter well out of the mainstream media).

Incidentally, the saddest interview I saw among these Trafalgar Square protestors, whom the socialist mayor of London called “selfish” for gathering and risking spreading the virus, was a lady with a huge ovarian cyst, which swells her abdomen to the size of a triplet pregnancy. Her hospital appointment has been cancelled every month since July, and she now has a telephone consultation promised for October. Many such cysts are malignant, but even benign ones of that size belong in Victorian medical textbooks, not London in 2020. And for you non-medics, you can’t remove ovarian cysts by telephone. Only in the most distorted universe is it selfish to protest at being left to die from a curable condition to protect purely hypothetical future COVID cases of whom a majority, even in the highest risk groups, will recover.

But the sound and fury of all the non-targeted “public health” activity tends to hide the fact that there seems to be remarkably little national effort to protect those vulnerable 80+ year-olds effectively. The money they’re spending on spying apps for rich i-Phone owners is money not being spent on strategies to make care homes maximally secure this winter. That includes the absence of much effort to mitigate the loneliness and confusion “social distancing” caused during the epidemic, which led to so many isolated and comfortless deaths. It seems easier to induce guilt in the young about killing granny than it is to allocate adequate resources to protecting granny herself, which would be more rational.

But that’s not all. The constant media furore also diverts attention from the fact that our public health authorities, devoted to restricting our freedoms to quench the virus (if only that were possible) has done very little to tell the people how they might protect themselves effectively.

As one example, I understand that “official sources” have endorsed the recent research showing that those with adequate Vitamin D levels are around 50% less likely to die from COVID-19. Vitamin D is cheap, easily available, and moreover is synthesized naturally in sunlight-exposed skin.

It would have taken SAGE 24 hours to get the government to order the students out of their cells and into the open-air campus, in what remains of the sunny September weather, to saturate the BBC news with official advice to get outside whenever you can, and to get free prescriptions for supplements to all the elderly and those with co-morbidities. Heck, if they insist on believing the disease is so dangerous, they could issue supplements to everybody.

The NHS cost of colecalciferol supplements is about £2 a month, or c.£150 million if every man, woman and child were given it. But a single PCR test is around £200, and 1/4 million a day are currently being done at a daily cost of £50 million, or £1.5 billion a month. They could cut the mortality in half for 10th of the present cost of testing. Far less, if they only targeted the vulnerable.

And God alone knows how much they’re spending on vaccines, which are unlikely to save any greater proportion of lives, and will certainly kill a good number even if serious complications are relatively rare.

Somehow I think that the UK’s public health policy is not giving the best value for money.

But in more cheerful news today, Boris Johnson is determined to make Britain as much a world leader in environmental concern as it is in Moonshots of world-beating test regimes, planning to spent lots more of the people’s money on green energy and on devoting more of our land to nature. That ought to help when the food supplies are failing and unemployment increases by millions.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Medicine, Politics and sociology, Science. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Public Health, England style

  1. Elizabeth B. says:


    It is very distressing to see what you all are being put through over there. It would seem that the majority of people would rise up and refuse to take this nonsense.

    And can they? What can people do to stop this insanity? Is it a matter of enough people taking to the streets to not only protest, but to do whatever it takes to remove the power away from these tyrants? I ask this in seriousness. What can be done once the political class refuses to do the best for its people?

    The French Revolution came about, in part, due to abuses by the upper classes and a fed up lower class. Probably there was more to it than that, and I’m sure there were some power-mongers who helped instigate and drive the revolt. It doesn’t seem to have been a good thing, even though the aristocrats needed to be taught a thing or two. Of course, in this country we have 1776 and all that. The American Revolution is portrayed as a movement of the common people in conjunction with the founding fathers, but I question that narrative. I think most colonists here just wanted to get on with life and survival. It seems that some of them were ginned up by people like Samuel Adams and others who were good at stirring up trouble whilst keeping themselves safe.

    In any case, what does it take to have a revolution in modern times? Is there a good revolution? Is it simply impossible to fight this kind of power?

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      It’s a while since we did revolutions and civil wars, and they weren’t pretty! There was a democratic revolt of significance in the Brexit vote, but with COVID, so far, the propaganda has been effective in persuading (so I believe from polling date) 60% of people that the government restrictions are necessary.

      However, every day prominent voices are added to the dissenters – yesterday a breakfast TV star added his voice, and the sheep appear to be starting to mill around wondering who their true shepherd is.

      But to give today’s example of how uncritical folk are, I received a risk assessment for re-starting an under 11 club at church this morning. There was a query about requiring face masks, because although the government says they are not required for out of school activities, the Baptist Union’s recommendations say they should be used, presumably “just to be on the safe side.”

      You would have thought that such responsible people would notice that we have destroyed the world economy and many lives “just to be on the safe side.” But they too hear the news that said today that 1 million people have died of COVID across the world – neglecting to mention that the annual death rate overall is around 60 million. (Edit – additional context – there are anything up to 650K flu deaths in an average year (WHO). So this still looks no worse than a bad year of a new flu strain).

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