X Close

It’s worth taking a risk over Covid-19 The language of fear is counterproductive: let's have a grown-up debate about safety

A police officer in a coronavirus-themed helmet speaks to a family on a motorbike in Chennai (Photo by ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

A police officer in a coronavirus-themed helmet speaks to a family on a motorbike in Chennai (Photo by ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images)


May 7, 2020   6 mins

Did you wake up on your last birthday and think: “Oh good, my risk of death just went up by 9%”? Probably not, though it is statistically true. Before Covid-19 filled our news feeds and our conversations with awful stories of bereavement, and stern warnings to stay indoors and save lives, we tended to think about our mortality only when something brought it starkly into view: a serious illness or accident, or the loss of a loved one.

For most of us, this is entirely sensible. In developed countries, healthy people are very unlikely to die before retirement age. If you’re under 60, the chance of somebody your age dying in the next year is less than one in a hundred, and that includes the skydivers, the trawlermen, and those with serious health conditions. For women, your cohort won’t hit the 1% mortality rate till your 70th birthday. In your twenties, the risk of not reaching another birthday is less than one in a thousand, even including the idiots who drive too fast, take illegal drugs, and fall off things while taking a final selfie.

But that was pre-Covid-19. Now, young nurses are dying horrible deaths, and daily briefings from the Government come adorned with hazard warning signs: Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives. The majority of Britons are not only happy to comply with lockdown rules, but are in favour of continuing them for the foreseeable future.

According to an Ipsos Mori opinion poll at the beginning of May, around two-thirds of UK residents would not feel comfortable using public transport or going to bars or restaurants, even if the government said they could. More than a third are not keen to send their children back to school, and nearly a third don’t want to go back to work. It’s not easy to go from existential terror to a balanced approach to personal risk.

There’s still too much we don’t know about coronavirus. But we now have enough UK, as well as international, data to see some patterns emerge. For example, the general rule that average risk of death doubles every eight years after childhood is mirrored by the danger to people who catch Covid-19. Your chance of dying if infected also doubles every eight years.

Professor David Spiegelhalter, of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, describes catching Covid-19 as “packing what amounts to your current annual risk into a few weeks”: whatever your risk of dying in the next 12 months, you add the same risk again as a one-off event.

You could think of this in the same way as going skydiving, which brings a 1 in 100,000 chance of dying with every jump. A woman in her twenties could double her annual risk with three jumps. For a man in his forties, it’s 20-odd jumps. If you land safely every time, the risk is over and you are back to your normal, underlying risk levels.

“This is an additional risk, of course,” says Spiegelhalter, “and certainly does not mean that these deaths would have occurred anyway in the following year (although some would have).”

If you were not worried about the prospect of your own death as you cut your last birthday cake, because life experience or familiarity with statistics told you that few people like you would die before you got to do this again, you should also view Covid-19 as a minor risk to you, personally. If you are not in a higher risk category, doubling a very small chance still gives you a very small chance.

But there is much more to risk than mathematics. We play roulette, but not Russian Roulette, because the stakes are infinitely higher. Existential, in fact.

We wear seat belts, though we hope we’ll never need one to save our life. We observe speed limits while driving, more or less, because we know that breaking them could endanger unknown others more than ourselves. We view the morality of taking risks that affect others, like unwittingly hitting a frailer person with a Volvo or a virus, more severely than taking risks on our own behalf.

Personal willingness to accept risks varies. As a motorcyclist, I am not happy to say that an average 100 mile journey gives me a 12 in a million risk of dying. Though I comfort myself by thinking that as I am neither an under-experienced moped rider approaching a junction, nor an over-confident middle-aged man taking a powerful sports bike around a left-hand bend, I have avoided the two riskiest situations. In a car, I would be 100 times safer. Nevertheless, I continue to ride a motorcycle.

You may be more of a Volvo driver than a motorcyclist, willing to forego pleasure, freedom and opportunity in return for enhanced safety. To you, one Covid-19 bullet in a chamber of 1,000 holes may still sound too many. Comfort yourself by comparing that risk to others you take all the time without worrying. Like riding a motorcycle for 10,000 miles, doing 100 skydiving jumps, or living another year.

It’s also true that in a pandemic we are often acting to reduce risks to others more than to ourselves. By staying at home we have been slowing the rate of infection, and keeping demand for medical treatment below a threshold the NHS could manage. Just as we adhere to 20mph speed limits for the benefit of children and cyclists, we have (mostly) been willing to endure lockdown to help our more susceptible neighbours and relatives avoid serious illness.

But we don’t impose 20mph speed limits on motorways. Reducing all transport speed that drastically would save more lives, but impose vast costs in human time, spent on motorways instead of doing all the things that make life worthwhile. As a consequence, economic costs would make anything involving road transport far more expensive; congestion and pollution would rise as vehicles crawled along; civilisation itself would slow down.

We don’t close down the whole road transport network in order to save a few thousand lives every year. We recognise, as a society and as individuals, that the benefits of road transport are proportional to the risks. We try to make it safer, but we accept a degree of risk for ourselves and others whenever we travel by road.

Coronavirus has already claimed ten times as many lives as the roads do each year in Britain. If current measures work well, the total death toll may be similar to that of seasonal flu. If not, it may be closer to heart disease, still the leading cause of death in the UK, at one in ten of all deaths each year.

Nevertheless, we would have done better to talk about Covid-19 more like road accidents, as a risk that can’t be eliminated altogether, but can be mitigated. Instead, the Government invoked the language of existential threat, in the face of which no measure is too great. Now, weighing the risks of resuming more normal life against the risks of continuing in suspended animation, they are struggling to coax a fearful population out of lockdown.

It’s easy to turn on the tap of fear as a motivational force, and much harder to switch it off in the absence of concrete reassurance. But the Government could have foreseen that we would need to resume more normal activity before any medical breakthrough could reduce the risk of Covid-19 to zero. Why did they not use the language of risk to communicate their policies, and the thinking behind them?

Risk is a useful and much misused idea.

We tend to view it as a symptom of the terrifying uncertainty of the world, instead of as a way to analyse, even quantify, that uncertainty, in order to decide and act. It’s most often invoked against taking actions with unknown consequences, which in practice means any new or experimental action. We tend to see it as a state of existence beyond our control, something that happens to us rather than an action we decide to take — being At Risk, not taking a risk.

We would do better to see risk as an unavoidable aspect of life, often an opportunity to explore the unknown and find new possibilities. Without our forebears taking physical risks we would not have aeroplanes (now the safest way to travel), or vaccination (which we hope will be our way out of the coronavirus trap).

Instead of trying to frighten us all into staying at home, the Government should have harnessed our altruism, inviting us to join a grown-up conversation about risk. That would have left the door open to invite us all, now, to weigh the risk of Covid-19 against the lost opportunities of continuing to hide from the world.

For some, that will mean personally deciding to take risks in order to get society moving again. For most, those additional risks will be small, probably less than a daily bacon sandwich habit, or motorcycling to work to avoid the train.

For all of us, it means accepting that to be human is to live in a risky world, where we must act without perfect knowledge of the consequences of our actions. Mathematics can help us put our fears in perspective, but the only thing that will let us take control of risk is courage.

Human beings constantly take risks for causes beyond themselves, whether that’s protecting the weak or trying to achieve great things. We call those people heroes. Today, we urgently need to rediscover our appetite for heroism, for taking calculated risks, and for valuing something higher than staying safe.


Timandra Harkness presents the BBC Radio 4 series, FutureProofing and How To Disagree. Her book, Big Data: Does Size Matter? is published by Bloomsbury Sigma.

TimandraHarknes

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

55 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
4 years ago

Excellent article. I’m pretty sure that once the majority get back to work, they’ll begin to demand the things they enjoy in their spare time such as bars, restaurants, cinemas, access to national parks and beauty spots. In regard to the latter two things; insular locals, community groups and the authorities that support them who are demanding the right to decide when their areas are ‘reopened’ will have to reign in their sense of ownership. You may have bought your house and a bit of land around it, but you don’t have any say in who uses the countryside that surrounds you.

D Glover
D Glover
4 years ago

Good post.
But would you feel that your car was safe parked in a village where the locals were still fearful and hostile?
‘Ere, you’re not local, are you?’

Jonathan Weil
Jonathan Weil
4 years ago

*rein in
(I agree)

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
4 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

I thought that looked wrong when I typed it! Being the monarch of your sense of ownership would be odd 🙂

Martin Winlow
Martin Winlow
4 years ago

Yep, give it 6 months and we’ll have forgotten all about it and be back to being utterly fascinated by the bits of fluff on Meghan’s latest fashionable blouse.

andy young
andy young
4 years ago

My personal motto is that life is a dangerous business; you can die at any moment.

Also I’m getting the feeling among some sections of the population that it’s an outrage that people keep dying – surely any responsible government should have abolished death by now??

Saphié Ashtiany
Saphié Ashtiany
4 years ago
Reply to  andy young

I do actually think it’s deeply tragic and find myself outraged or at least enraged that so many people are dying trying to succour, treat, look after and help those who have fallen ill with covid. This is one of the unique features of this nasty disease.

gbauer
gbauer
4 years ago

Agree 100%. The pendulum has swung madly toward complete risk aversion. For me that’s no way to live.

davidbuckingham7
davidbuckingham7
4 years ago
Reply to  gbauer

Risk Facts. One .
droplets from coughs and sneezes. People with those should not be out. When did someone last sneeze on you? In company we instinctively cup our hands to catch it anyway. And you need to be close. The reality of being in a sneeze shower is very very small.
Two.
Physical contact. BC (Before Covid) we avoided physical contact anyway.Apart from family and Intimate friends, any flesh touching would have been unthinkable. Easy to stop the courtesy ones. it comes naturally to avoid physical touching.
Three
Contaminated surfaces. Gloves, good hygiene, hand washing, that is personal responsibility.

So exaggerated avoidance amongst people is a measure of the Fear factor which has become pervasive, and does not bear any relationship to the reality, and is causing unnecessary restrictions in our lives

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago

Well, yes, and many of us have been saying this for six weeks. That said, I have been shocked by just how many friends I believed to be intelligent (although not necessarily informed) fell for the whole lockdown scam. Sadly, it is this chronic failure to be informed that leads to such terrible people coming to power, seemingly always and everywhere at all levels of governance.

Dave Watts
Dave Watts
4 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Unless I’ve completely misunderstood it I don’t think this article could be characterised as saying that lock-down was a scam.

mike otter
mike otter
4 years ago
Reply to  Dave Watts

its a scam in as much as police, nhs and imperial college “statisticians” do not have to follow the same rules as everyone else as they dance on youtube and clap on bridges. Countries who have trusted their public to behave as grown ups- Sweden, Slovakia/Czech and Germany have a lower CFR rate than UK at this point

Daniel Smallwood
Daniel Smallwood
4 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I agree. I am 62, I ride a motorcycle, I am cycling most days for exercise, and I bet there’s a greater risk to me from cycling down a hill than from Coronavirus (famous last words!). We should all be having this conversation with ourselves, and others, and taking suitable precautions. Now that the immediate threat to the health service appears to be over, things should be opening again, and people should be in a position to make a judgement about their own degree of need for protection.

Paul Dobbs
Paul Dobbs
4 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Lockdowns are obviously not the longterm answer, but meanwhile, during this period where the first surge is still reverberating, still threatening, lockdowns have bought time for certain countries and enabled the avoidance of overloading their hospitals. If only for the sake of doctors, nurses, and all other health-care staff, working under outrageous pressure in barely tenable circumstances, I will do almost anything reasonable to avoid having patients die on gurneys in the hallways of overwhelmed hospitals. Have you read the testimonies and interviews of healthcare workers under this stress? Have you looked at the photographs and videos of what is happening in the hospitals? That is information to which I suspect you have failed to attend. I remain proud to be “falling for the lockdown scam.”

Martin Winlow
Martin Winlow
4 years ago
Reply to  Paul Dobbs

Except that the NHS isn’t overloaded (at least, not anymore or any more than it usually is) according to the stats for the last week or 2. All the temporary ‘Nightingale’ hospitals stand empty (whose collective ICU beds total ~6k compared to roughly the same number of ‘normal’ ICU capacity before C-19 arrived). A&E facilities are hugely under-occupied, too. If this isn’t a indirect call for an easing of lock-down, I don’t know what is (or will be).

Ian Manning
Ian Manning
4 years ago
Reply to  Paul Dobbs

I think the point Timandra was making (very effectively, I thought) was that this lockdown should have been explained in a much more rational, proportionate way as a necessary short term action to mitigate stress on the National Health Service*. What she was questioning was the depiction of it by the British Government as an existential threat to the country to which the response has been close to blind panic. (*For any American contributors [I saw the word ‘gurneys’ above], the UK NHS is a democratically supported health service funded by all for the benefit of all: it is not the diktat of a quasi – Communist police state!)

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
4 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

We must ask how our supposedly intelligent Cabinet fell for this Ferguson inspired Doomsday nonsense?
The ‘Elephant in the room’ is the slavish, obsequious attitude to the difficult world of Science. Is it heretical to think that perhaps Dominic (Dumbo) Cummings is the man behind this sad yet terrifying blunder?
Christ spent 40 days in the wilderness, my Springer Spaniel 42.
Enough is enough!

mike otter
mike otter
4 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Granted these buffoons could not run a sweet shop let alone the response to a big SARS Cov outbreak. More scrutiny shows this may not be as bad as we might imagine. For any leader, Boris included, SARS Cov2 as a series of events is a lose/lose. By sticking to the “following the scientists advice” mantra it will be their judgement that gets the most attention in
the coming media autopsy. I can hear Boris “dash it all chaps, I’m the PM, a classicist, a political showman. Only option i had was to hand this over to the boffins on hand to sort it out. How was i to know they were a bunch of fanatical trots?” As far as “police state” is concerned that’s clearly what these leftists want, but see sweet shop analogy above. I’d wait
before starting local civil militias in readiness. I think it was a master stroke to set the beeb/grauniad etc onto the Cummings red herring , thereby lifting the lid on the quacks and fakers in SAGE and for that matter the very great majority of UK academia. Unless this was a happy accident someone in No10 has been reading Sun Tsu.

Martin Winlow
Martin Winlow
4 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Woof!

Lillian Fry
Lillian Fry
4 years ago

Judging risks requires accurate information. In the US any respiratory distress death is counted as a Covid death. It has only recently come to light that half or more of Covid deaths occurred in nursing home residents. For perspective, approximately 2 million Americans 65 and over die every year. That is about 150,000 per month. We are 3 months into CV and we have maybe 70,000 Covid deaths in the US. If about 450,000 old people would have died anyway during the same period, how threatening is this?

Martin Winlow
Martin Winlow
4 years ago
Reply to  Lillian Fry

“In the US any respiratory distress death is counted as a Covid death” Do you have any links to substantiate this? How different is this in any other country? If someone dies having tested +ve for C-19, do they bother to test for any other disease that may have contributed to the victim’s demise?

Barry Unwin
Barry Unwin
4 years ago

This article started well with lots of nice rhetoric about relative risk, and then lost all credibility in my eyes because of your daft comparison to flu. You can’t compare the Covid-19 death toll to flu because we don’t do a lockdown to avoid flu. Covid-19 has killed approx 250k people in a locked down worldwide in 4 months. The WHO estimates a bad flu year kills 250-500k worldwide without any lockdown. To make an argument about relative risk without factoring inj the risk factors, really undermines the rest of your argument.

anntellgren
anntellgren
4 years ago
Reply to  Barry Unwin

There is usually a vaccine for the seasonal flu. Old People are encouraged to take it (at least in Sweden where I live). Still it kills 250-500k in the world every year, so maby the comparison is not that irrelevant. Only time will tell.

donlindsay8
donlindsay8
4 years ago
Reply to  Barry Unwin

Yeah Barry but what we don’t know whether a lock down would have substantially reduced normal flu-death numbers. Anecdotally, it might seem obvious that lockdown would have reduced such deaths but we don’t know, do we?

Martin Winlow
Martin Winlow
4 years ago
Reply to  donlindsay8

Except that, of course, we now have the stats from places like Sweden for comparison. In my eyes, these *clearly* show that our lock-down policy was an almost complete waste of time, money and angst. Even the argument that LD would ‘level the curve’ and give time for the NHS to prepare has turned out to be false given that our hospitals have, currently, never been quieter and that all the temporary Nightingale hospitals stand empty. Oh, and that the UK C-19-related deaths are also significantly dropping off.

No mention of UnHerd’s interview with Sweden’s Prof. Johan Giesecke on C-19 in the comments yet: https://www.youtube.com/wat

If you haven’t watched it, do so!

cromreturns
cromreturns
4 years ago
Reply to  Barry Unwin

She’s a social Darwinist. She thinks liquidating elderly and infer populations is somehow acceptable. Pathetic.

Charlie Brown
Charlie Brown
4 years ago

I am sure like most people I have seen a whole range of responses and behavioural changes by friends and colleagues. But the ones that of course stick in the mind are the extremes and namely those who seem to have descended into some form of mass hysteria.

One friend recently shared a photo of himself “popping out to the shops and taking all the necessary precautions”. This being him wearing a mask and then over the top of that a full on visor helmet. Naturally I assumed this was all being done for a giggle but as soon as I responded with the appropriate emoji marvelling at his dedication to the comedic cause, I received a very frosty response. “I would have hoped that you of all people would understand why it’s important to keep ourselves and others safe…”

Well that was me told. But here’s the thing…for all I know maybe that is the only way we can be sure that we are safe. In the same way that during the AIDS crisis there were people who ended up only doing voyeur sex as they reasoned it was the only guaranteed risk free form of sex.

But just as if that’s all that sex could ever be then why bother; I ended up asking myself whether I can be bothered to even try living in a world where life means dressing up like some reject from a S&M club. If that’s life then to be honest I might as well give up. Or as the author rightly says, take the risk. And yes I get that it’s also about risks to others but when I read as I did another friend’s comment the other day saying “We will just have to get used to never touching another person again” then my instant response is that as that means we will no longer be human beings then what would be the point of going on?

Perhaps an extreme way of thinking but there comes a point when as pointed out throughout this article, we have to balance our risks against the rewards of life. And I am sorry but if the virus is so powerful that I need to treat all of life and everything in it as if its harbingers of death then “come lovely and soothing death”….

Martin Winlow
Martin Winlow
4 years ago
Reply to  Charlie Brown

I am a traditionalist (kinda) and find the handshake a very valuable tool in life for all sorts of reasons, especially on fist meeting someone. What the Dickens are those of us who share this cultural habit going to do post-lockdown? Offer our hand and accept that some will refuse to take it purely because they either think they may be infectious or that I might be? What extra effect will the outcome have on our new relationship? All very profound…

cromreturns
cromreturns
4 years ago
Reply to  Martin Winlow

Stop being a whiner.

Dr Leah Remeika-Dugan
Dr Leah Remeika-Dugan
3 years ago
Reply to  Charlie Brown

Thanks for bringing up some important points, Charlie Brown.

David Bell
David Bell
4 years ago

Life involves risk, even sitting in the house doing nothing has a certain amount of risk involved in it.

We need to manage the risk. The problem I have with lock down is it is not reducing the risk of death from Covid 19, only deferring it. Sometime we need to go out in the world and start living again and the chances are Covid 19 will still be out there.

Scott Allan
Scott Allan
4 years ago

I think the debate is over all that needs to be said about the Neo-Marixst Doomsday Cult of Imperial Collage was said loudly when Neil Ferguson was exposed as a bloody hypocrite.

Now we should all, with best practices for mitigation of hygiene, return to work and life.

Doomsday acolytes and scardy cats remain snug under your beds and leave the rest of us to our business.

David Bardell
David Bardell
4 years ago

I enjoyed this piece as I do many unherd articles.
However I do think it became a little confused over risk to oneself and the risk one may present to others.
The author may live in an area where people genuinely do keep to a 20 mph limit to reduce the risk to children but in my limited experience as a pedestrian, cyclist and motorcyclist, drivers of four wheeled vehicles seem quite happy to risk my life.
I agree that fear is not the best way rationally to motivate people but I’m not sure that relying on altruism is an option we can rely on as we try to establish some practicable forms of social, wok and economic life.

chris41
chris41
4 years ago

Brilliant piece, the maths and statistics plus the amount of opposing science to lock down make it very clear that it was an unnecessary knee jerk reaction to modelling by Ferguson that is full of poor assumptions and holes. Stepping in, based on his advice, was a lot lot easier than stepping out is going to be

Marco Federighi
Marco Federighi
4 years ago

Judging risk isn’t easy – and the author gives a very good example by comparing the death rate for Covid-19 WITH lockdown to the death rate for flu WITHOUT lockdown. That’s meaningless.

My other comment would be that the author overestimates the importance of what the government tells us to do or not do. Many people went into lockdown themselves and the government followed – bnot the other way round.

plynamno1
plynamno1
4 years ago

It was indeed very much quieter in the days before the announced general social isolation and social distancing, in usually busy areas of London. Likewise now some weeks later, and after a fortnight or so of ever more snark about the shutdown from hostile media representing whichever employer and political interests they speak for.

Those given that media platform have come up against the general mass who have adhered to the political lead from Boris & Co. Distinguish too that apart from the 80% of the British public polled as thinking that way, is another percentage who say they are ‘undecided’ even before you get to the small percentage that include the resentful, inconvenienced and finally the 5% or so who are ‘opposed’. It is indeed the vast majority that will decide how and at what pace the re-opening develops.

Paul R. Maulden
Paul R. Maulden
4 years ago

With due respect, the statement that “If current measures work well, the total death toll may be that of seasonal flue” is astonishing. Does Ms.Harkness have a passing acquaintance with
epidemiology ? If this piece had been written two months ago, there may have been a serious case for a watch-and-see approach, but now ? I urge the reader to go to real science sources for an assessment of this threat — the Lancet journals, Johns Hopkins University, etc. Just
observing the relentless upward grind of deaths documented in graph form in nearly every
“open” society is chilling to anyone who understands unchecked exponential growth. To compare it to the seasonal flu is, with what we know now, simply preposterous.

Mark St Giles
Mark St Giles
4 years ago

The lockdown has been needed to buy time because public health services were so irresponsibly unprepared for the outbreak and left assessment of its seriousness too late. Now they are scrambling to catch up. All intelligent assessment indicates that extensive testing is the way to control it. That is not yet in place, so without the data that would become available an unselective lockdown will have to continue till it is. The terrible price for those public policy errors will be paid by those least able to bear the cost, not on the serried ranks of, experts, professors and modellers, and not even on the individuals who have made heroic efforts in hospitals. When it is all over, God willing, they will all still have secure, well paid jobs and good pensions. People who are self employed, or in small businesses and workers in the gig economy will not.

David Utzschneider
David Utzschneider
4 years ago

Excellent article. Most of my social circle really doesn’t see a way out of perpetual lockdown unless someone from the government tells them it is safe to have their neighbors over for dinner. This is a good article to share with all of them. Thanks for writing this.

Jonathan Bagley
Jonathan Bagley
4 years ago

Examples such as motorbiking and skydiving are, I believe, the best way of getting the message over. It is easy to visualise a revolver with 1000 chambers and one bullet.” All of this, and I am in your camp, might illustrate the irrationality of fear for your own safety. However, there’s no getting away from a doubling of annual risk resulting in a doubling of annual deaths, that is, an extra 500,000 (somewhat less as many victims would have died of something else during the year), were everyone to catch it during the next year. Herd immunity would kick in before then, but deaths would probably still be in the hundreds of thousands; and that wouldn’t be acceptable to the public or the Government and the NHS would be overwhelmed.

Two thirds of those who die are over 80, but is it feasible to keep over 80s locked away, and would they want that? There are 450,000 old people in nursing homes. Practically, they would have to be looked after by immune staff.

The unknown is whether hand washing, masks, self isolation after testing, growing immunity and a modicum of social distancing is enough to keep deaths bumbling along at an acceptable 200 or so a week until a vaccine is produced. Sweden is consistently lowering the death rate, but even without a lockdown, life is not normal – no large gatherings, pubs and cafes pretty empty and a lot of home working.

I’m interested to hear people’s proposals for a way out of this.

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
4 years ago

Good article but the reality is that politics has long over taken the science on this issue.

Publics whose governments shut down early are delighted, somehow thinking they have defeated the virus; oblivious to the fact that baring a medical break through or an unprecedentedly rapid vaccination development, lockdown is unsustainable and even prolonged social distancing will wreck the economy for a generation.

All the talk of avoiding a second peak is ludicrous. Unless you can eradicate the virus at its very start, it will run its course, as all virus do and those who are susceptible to it will sadly perish.

This is unavoidable. The collateral damaged we are inflicting upon ourselves and the increased none COVID deaths that are occurring, those were all avoidable.

Bill Bolwell
Bill Bolwell
4 years ago

SARS2 death rate is 3 deaths /1000 victims. That is about the same as the normal flu. Much less than car accidents and heart attacks. This is a “big brother” psyop.

Saphié Ashtiany
Saphié Ashtiany
4 years ago

Before I cut my last birthday cake I knew I had a lung condition that made me susceptible to infections and I knew I was creeping towards my 70s. Neither gave me pause for thought: the former because the doctors were relaxed and confident what was likely to happen – nothing v serious and I have a constant supply of antibiotics; the latter because I was otherwise fit, well, engaged and contributing to society in all sorts of meaningful ways. Oh and I am- ugly phrase- a member of the BAME community. For people like me covid is life changing. Doctors have no real treatments and remain quite in the dark, while putting themselves at heroic risk. My ethnicity may put me at extra risk and my capacity to join in to contribute to containing/eradicating this disease is minimal. So for some of us it’s not just about a year’s risk brought forward. I completely agree that we need to think better collectively but we also really need to recognise that for some of us the risks just got unimaginably greater.

William Cameron
William Cameron
4 years ago

There are two personal risks. The risk of catching it and the risk of dying from it. The risk of dying from it is pretty clear. If you are ill enough to do to hospital about a third of you will die -you are also likely to be old and or with comobitities.
Which leaves two subsets of risk . How likely are you to be ill enough to go to hospital. If you are over 70 that is one in four. Secondly how likely are you to catch it ? That last one is the big unknown . But right now we know around 3m have had it out of 67 m . So those odds look like 20 to one- obviously hugely affected by circumstances.

So if you are over 70 and being careful you probably have a 25 to one chance of catching it , A 100 to one chance of being hospitalised and a 300 to one chance of dying from it . This is a considerable level of risk.

Simon James
Simon James
4 years ago

Very good piece. Recommend Gerd Gigerenzer’s ‘Reckoning With Risk’ to anyone who wants more of the same in more depth. For all those dismayed at how many smart people have ‘fallen for’ the arguments of the lockdown, it might be reassuring, maybe not, to read Gerd’s examples of how many doctors can’t properly explain risk to patients.

Michael Baldwin
Michael Baldwin
4 years ago

Refreshingly, the lady BBC journalist and article author here admits that covid-19 may not cause any more deaths than an average or bad year of seasonal flu.

The debate continues however (including below the line here) as to whether this is due to the lockdown or rather despite the lockdown.

So let’s have some official statistics which very strongly suggest the lockdown had no effect whatsoever on mortality rates.

Latest UK figures show total deaths 30,146 out of a population of 65 million = approximately 1 in 2156 deaths = 0.05% mortality rate

Sweden figures show total deaths 2941 out of a total population of 10.2 million = approximately 1 in 3468 deaths = 0.03% morality rate (actually 0.028 to 3 d.p.).

https://corona.help/

So these figures are saying Sweden has done nearly twice as well as us in “preventing deaths”, with a weak or hardly existent lockdown, instead of a much stricter one such as we had.

Which in fact rather suggests that neither lockdown had much effect, and the differential in deaths is probably due to completely different issues, potentially too numerous and difficult to know.

Ssuch as national geography, climate and demographics and health care provisions, and in my view, especially the fact that the Swedish government did not go into a knee-jerk reaction panic, and terrify the public with fears of Biblical plague levels of death and Draconian measures backed up with police brutality like happened in the UK.

Because in fact, there is an in my view very strong argument, which has apparently got a lot of scientific research behind it.

That the extreme fear created by the media and government propaganda and deeply shocking lockdown measures (including police brutality to defend the lockdown) telling everybody basically that they were “1.99m away from near certain death” may have in itself been responsible for not only any excess deaths, but more deaths than average.

For just picture the state of an old or even younger person who believes they have covid-19 and may be dead within days, as they are taken into an ICU believing they are not likely to ever come out again, due to the “Death, death, death” relentless outpourings of almost all of the mainstream media.

Even the PM himself ended up in intensive care, and was allegedly “at death’s door”, and he looked relatively young and healthy.

So what hope for the frail and old, such a one must have believed, as they were more or less locked down helpless to an ICU bed and had life support equipment attached to them.

And the mainstream media, which refused to report hardly any dissenting opinions like Peter Hitchens, who said he couldn’t get anywhere near the BBC with his dissenting views despite being a regular guest previously, were largely responsible for that state of that deep fear.

Probably rightly regarded as terror in many cases, especially in the case of the old and vulnerable, but genuine fear that most of the population have been placed in, that apparently according even to Daily Mail reported polls has 2/3 of the population still reluctant or even refusing to return to “normal life”, and go back to school and work.

Likewise, by this mass panic and propaganda, the media and the government announcements also of course, have created racism against Chinese people, which has caused at least one brutal attack on an innocent young Chinese person, who had his nose broken by a gang of “covid-19 empowered” thugs.

Just like Brexit also, this propaganda that covid-19 was and is some extraordinarily deadly disease, despite the fact it has not been shown to be fundamentally different from several other already in circulation pre-existing coronaviruses, has made the public not only into prisoners, but mutual enemies and suspects; afraid to give or receive from one another an invisible virus, which may well be an act of effective murder on their part.

When such a belief is prevalent amongst huge sections of the public, this is now almost certain to lead to all kinds of arguments and probably fights caused by the numerous less civilised and aggressive persons living amongst us, who have now been given an excuse to pick on absolutely anybody anywhere on the grounds they might be infecting them if they dare to cough or sneeze in public.

We’ve not even mentioned the economic catastrophe that the experts say is certain to follow, which may involve millions losing their jobs, businesses, and possibly even homes – many were already very close to the breadline, now rent or mortgage fees take up an enormous part of their income.

The lunatics who ordered this lockdown have thus opened a terrifying “Pandora’s Box” of horrors, let a genie out of a bottle, that now escaped may not be able to be “locked down” again, despite all the governmental horses and king’s men trying to put our country and world back together again.

And while we are talking statistics let’s have another one for good measure.

According to the ONS there were around 616,000 deaths from all causes in the UK in 2018, so no doubt there will be a similar number this year.

We can safely assume at least 500,000 of those are old people, and so that same number of old people are all going to die this year, robbed of their freedom, and placed into fear, spending the last few months or year of their lives in prison, unable and afraid to see their friends or family, and in fear of death at any time should they dare to go out and contract covid-19.

A risk that they were under every other year, but were not previously terrified to go out as they are now.

And many are forced do that, as most older people don’t have cars, and are faced with all the horrible social distancing measures in place in the streets and on public transport and in supermarkets.

Confused, vulnerable old people, forced to go out or starve (it apparently can take weeks to get an online delivery, and that’s assuming some old person has and is able to work a computer, neither of which is true in likely millions of cases), and having to compete with young and fit people just to try to get the basic necessities of life.

This is the greatest irony of this lockdown – because the people who are supposed to be most at risk, the ones who are supposed to being protected the most, the old and vulnerable people, are the ones who are actually being protected the least and damaged the most.

The government and media advice seems to the old and vulnerable appears to be to “stay home while there is risk”, which risk apparently cannot ever be said to be even mostly eliminated until a vaccine appears.

Which estimates of say may be a year or more, by which time another half a million or more of these people (and not only the old, a lot of younger people too) will have died alone, in prison, having committed no crime.

I expressed the view elsewhere on this site, that not only is this lockdown therefore not protecting the old, it seems to be a deliberate attack on the old.

And my suspicion was that it was at least partly a deliberate punishment on the old, due to the Brexit vote, as the same media that has been hyping this “covid-19 unprecedented killer” narrative, has for a long time also been blaming the older generation – frequently referred contemptuously as “the baby boomers” – for the Brexit vote, as well undoubtedly for the election of Boris Johnson in support of it.

(even an older generation Nobel Prize winning biologist Stanford University professor, Michael Levitt – who was interviewed on this website recently, disputing the lockdown measures – actually “apologised” to the younger generation during the interview for “the older generation’s mistakes”; so it is clear older people in the Western world generally are aware of the accusations of the younger generation against them)

So to my great surprise I actually received about 10 or more likes for this comment (and I often don’t get any, partly due to the average length of my comments alone) with people feeling so strongly some even saying “they agreed every word” in reply.

And today in the Daily Mail we seem to have indication that my “conspiracy theory” I have been floating on various sites here and there for the last several weeks is true.

My belief was that the left wing media and politicians were supporting the lockdown in an effort to get rid of Boris Johnson and stop Brexit – an otherwise unattainable goal bear in mind, as Mr Johnson is just at the start of a new term protected by the Fixed Term Parliament Act – by manipulating him into taking measures so unpopular and damaging of the economy that he would be forced to resign or call another election in which he’d lose to a pro-EU party, such as Labour under Keir Starmer.

So we have had in the last 24 hours the disclosure that Professor Neil Ferguson, whose claim of 500,000 deaths if lockdown did not occur almost certainly caused the government to adopt it, has been receiving visits from a married lover, named Antonia Staats, totally breaking his own lockdown rules, who is politically motivated to say the least.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk

Here is a sample of Ms Staats political activism for a group known as “Scientists for EU” as far back as 1 November 2016 (i.e. shortly after the referendum in June 2016).

“Hello! Antonia from Avaaz here. We’re looking for London-based young people who are unhappy with how the EU referendum turned out and might want to join an exciting stunt this Thursday lunchtime (12pm-1pm) to get young Americans out to vote. Know anyone? Let me and Fatima-Zahha Ibrahim know!
*must be eligible voters.”

https://twitter.com/GristoM

So please tell me how a woman of this kind, who is part of an activist group called “Scientists for EU”, could not possibly be putting undue influence upon her lover?

Please convince me a left wing EU supporting activist would not use this unique opportunity to try to get rid of Boris Johnson and stop Brexit thereby, by getting her lover to exaggerate the danger of covid-19 to convince him to do a lockdown, which is likely to have such damaging economic effects, it may well stop both Brexit and finish Mr Johnson’s premiership.

As the chaos that may be yet to come, according to the economic experts, may well lead to a premature general election and indeed 2nd referendum, that such activists then believe they can win.

David Uzzaman
David Uzzaman
4 years ago

It’s a well argued article that I largely agree with. Risk is something we all calculate on a daily basis often without being aware that we are doing it. When we are driving we risk harming not just outselves but other motorists and pedestrians. Occasionally it crosses our mind but the government has weaponised that care for others to the point where many people see a sitting on a park bench as akin to reckless driving. Some modification of social behaviour to prevent the spread of a nasty virus is justified but creating mass panic particularly amongst the already anxious is not. We are going to have to live in a more hazardous world for the foreseeable future. Our society and economy can adapt if its given the space to do so.

Liscarkat
Liscarkat
4 years ago

The news media revel in this hysteria that they are largely responsible for, the government reinforces it, and it sometimes appears that most of the public not only cheerfully go along, but are actually excited about wearing their useless little masks everywhere and hoarding spaghetti pasta and toilet paper. I’m beginning to feel we will never see normality again, and all for nothing.

Mike Hughes
Mike Hughes
4 years ago

The lockdown is indeed a scam.

One wonders why the government chose Five Failure Fergusson who is financed directly and indirectly by Bill (vaccines) Gates. We can be sure that Fergusson’s numbers were designed to scare everyone.

Someone ‘leaned on’ the scientists to pursue lockdown. (https://www.theguardian.com

The latest evidence points to a mortality rate of 0.2%, about the same as severe ‘flu. (https://swprs.org/a-swiss-d….

And there are plenty of hospital beds now. So a relatively quick end to lockdown should take place.

ryan.travers18
ryan.travers18
4 years ago

I really thought this article was well balanced and explained the risks clearly. It is time for the public to understand that the government cannot totally eliminate the risk of dying from Covid-19 and we should understand that the costs of the lockdown do need to be balanced. Any government wishing to govern well and act in the best interests of the public would want to appreciate that this is a cost-benefit analysis.

Robin Bury
Robin Bury
4 years ago

From what I have read 95% of people who die from covid 19 are over 60 and most are in care homes for the old. So why not stop the gross over reaction and let all under 60 go back to life as it was? Yes some will get ill but very few will die, less than die of heart problems. But none of the so-called experts are saying this. Instead they keep on scare mongering except in Sweden.

t.lewisstempel
t.lewisstempel
4 years ago

great article, and a frankly great analogy in terms of traffic / RTAs. of course, misses the exponential nature of virality, but any attempt to frame the discussion in less panic-inducing terms should be applauded…

William Cameron
William Cameron
4 years ago

And another thing. I think if this virus killed you painlessly that would be one thing- but no one wants to die gasping for breath in fear. Its the manner in which it kills that frightens folk.

Mike Hughes
Mike Hughes
4 years ago

The lockdown is indeed a scam.
One wonders why the government chose Five Failure Fergusson who is financed directly and indirectly by Bill (vaccines) Gates. We can be sure that Fergusson’s numbers were designed to scare everyone. Chris Whitty (CMO) was funded by Bill Gates for a project in Africa.

I read somewhere that scientists advising the government had been ‘leaned on’ to endorse lockdown. One might surmise that the vaccine peddler is waiting for the UK government to “find it necessary” to purchase some of his expensive and often dangerous wares. On vaccines, check out https://thewallwillfall.org

The latest evidence points to a mortality rate of 0.2%, about the same as severe ‘flu. (https://swprs.org/a-swiss-d…. And there are plenty of hospital beds now. So a relatively quick end to lockdown should take place.

cromreturns
cromreturns
4 years ago

You’re a terrible human being.