X Close

Will the BLM protests cause a Covid spike? Those hoping to save black lives should bear in mind how likely they are to spread the virus

Doing more harm than good?(Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

Doing more harm than good?(Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)


June 9, 2020   7 mins

I want to start this piece by saying that I’ve donated my fee for it to the Malaria Consortium. I’ll get into exactly why at the end.  

Over the last week or so, we’ve seen pictures from all over the world of people gathering in large crowds to protest the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In that time, the United States has seen its 100,000th death from Covid-19, and the UK has seen around a hundred new deaths announced each day.

The obvious question – to me, at least – is whether the risks of joining a protest are greater than the likely benefits. I thought that it might be useful for people to go through the risks as best I can. The key questions, it seems to me, are: how likely is it to spread in outdoor situations; and how many people are likely to have the virus in a large crowd.

First, it should be noted that the SARS-Cov2 virus seems to spread much less easily outside. Studies looking at superspreader events find far fewer such incidents outdoors than indoors — this one, in China in early April, looked at 318 different events where one person infected three or more, and found none happened outdoors. That said, Dr Babak Javid, an infectious disease specialist at Cambridge and Tshinghua universities, suggests that these studies were necessarily “severely biased, because the whole country had gone into some form of lockdown”, so there just weren’t many outdoor gatherings going on. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong, just that it needs to be treated with caution. Javid does say it seems very likely that being outdoors is of much lower risk.

Early in the UK outbreak, there were two big sporting events that went ahead despite widespread concerns — horseracing’s Cheltenham Festival, and the football match between Liverpool FC and Atletico Madrid, both in March. It struck me that they would be relatively useful parallels — large crowds, relatively tightly packed but outdoors — for the protests.

Unfortunately, there’s not a great deal that we know about them, despite media reports of extra deaths. As far as I can tell, there haven’t been any actual studies looking at them, apart from something by a consultancy firm called Edge Health. They claim a total of almost 13,000 infections and 78 deaths from the two events, but as far as I can tell they just compared the hospital nearest to the ground with another similar hospital in the region and saw whose deaths went up most. It seems extremely vulnerable to noise.

Dr Bharat Pankhania, a consultant in communicable diseases control at Exeter University, says that it’s an inherently difficult thing to study — people come to Cheltenham, and to Anfield, from all over the country, so any cases that developed from them will be recorded in their home NHS trust. “We didn’t have the mechanisms to collect data from the cases and ask them where they’d been,” he says. “So we haven’t been able to identify a common link to Cheltenham, which is a pity.” Good tracing of infected people’s movements wasn’t in place then, if it is in place now.

That said, he says it seems very likely that there was some infection and probably some deaths. Being outdoors is definitely a protection: “In an outdoor situation, there is a considerable dilution in virus particles.” You are just less exposed to it if the airborne water droplets are less concentrated.

But a large part of the benefit of being outdoors is the space. “Say you are out in the open at point A and I am sitting at point B three metres away, then it is highly unlikely that you are going to infect me,” says Dr Pankhania. “On the other hand if I am infectious at point A and I have somebody sitting by me within say a foot, cheek to jowl almost, then of course the situation is different.” 

Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London who heads their Covid symptom tracker app team, says that their data did show unusual spikes around Gloucestershire and Merseyside after those events. But there are differences between then and now which may make it less dangerous – partly behavioural, such as masks, and partly weather (viruses don’t like warm weather), but notably that there is simply less of the virus around. “Things that were spreading at the beginning of April would probably spread faster than they would now, when levels are low.” You’re simply less likely to come into contact with someone who has the virus now than you were at the peak of the infection.

That said, the levels aren’t that low. Dr Pankhania estimates that there are about 50,000 new cases — so roughly one person in every 1,000 in the UK — every week. And Prof Spector says his best guess for the prevalence of the disease in general is about one person in every 400, with wide variation — so perhaps one in every 200 in Manchester, and one in every 800 in the south-west.

Prof Spector used those numbers for some very quick thought experiments. Say you’re at a protest in an average city in the UK, and you come into prolonged close contact with 10 people during that time; there’d be about a one in 40 chance one of them would have the disease. We don’t know how likely you would be to catch it, but he suggested as a ballpark figure a 10 to 20% chance – let’s say 10%. That would suggest that your chance of getting the disease is about one in 400; higher in Manchester, lower in Bristol. Of course people vary in how likely they are to catch the disease, as well as how dangerous it is to them, but that’s the average.

I thought I’d take the thought experiment a little further. First, we’re interested in how likely you’d be to die, if you catch it; I think it’s probably pretty unlikely, since most people at the protests are probably young and healthy.

But of more concern is how likely you are to pass it on. Since the R value is hovering around 1 at the moment, that would imply that on average, you’ll pass it to one person. Of course it’s more complicated than that, and R in the community is different from R in care homes and hospitals, but let’s use it. We know that actually an R of 1 conceals wide variation — some people spread it to lots of people, most spread it to none — but again, let’s simplify.

That would imply that by attending a protest in an average UK city, you’d have about a one in 400 chance of getting the disease and passing it to another person. The infection fatality rate of the disease is hugely uncertain, but let’s take what I’d call a lower-end estimate of 0.5%. That would give us about a one in 80,000 chance of killing someone by attending a protest.

There are lots of uncertainties here; I’ve tried to err on the side of caution, but I could easily be off by an order of magnitude in either direction. And there are things people can do to reduce risk — wearing masks, obviously; definitely don’t go to any protests if you have any symptoms or have been in contact with a Covid-19 case. Dr Pankhania says “My advice to people who’ve been out protesting is that they sequester themselves, take themselves out of circulation, for 14 days.” 

It’s also worth noting that Dr Javid said that the impacts of the protests on a potential second wave would be real, but “less than what people will fear. The shouting and chanting may be bigger risks than the crowding”, and Prof Spector said that if a second wave does come, the protests will be just one small factor among several, such as the relaxation of lockdown. Dr Pankhania also emphasised that we shouldn’t “miss the woods for the trees” – he thinks the lifting of lockdown is premature, so “I wouldn’t want anyone to say the peak is only because of the protests”.

Still, it is absolutely the case that there is a risk. The question that everyone needs to answer for themselves is whether that risk is worth the potential benefit.

I can’t answer that for you. I can give you a number to work with – US police officers kill about 200 black people a year and some unknown number killed by other means. Last year, at least nine of these were unarmed. Hopefully the protests will prevent some percentage of them; you have to estimate what a realistic percentage is, and how likely it is that your attendance at a protest will make the difference. And, of course, hopefully it will have wider impacts on society, not just in the US, beyond just the deaths it prevents — although, of course, a new outbreak of coronavirus will have wider impacts as well, perhaps requiring a longer lockdown, greater economic hardship for the poor, and so on.

None of this is to say it’s not worth it. But I think it is vital to have a clear-eyed look at what the risks and benefits are likely to be. Having done that, it is entirely reasonable to conclude that the benefit is worth the risk, but you need to do that assessment first.

Now I’ll come back to what I said in the first paragraph. We all want to do good in the world. Right now, it seems almost impossible to know what the best way to do that is. Protesting racism is a good thing, but it could kill people; staying indoors to control the virus is a good thing, but you want to show solidarity with murdered black men.

I don’t know the right thing to do. When I plug my own assumptions in about my likely impact, I think the maths comes out pretty clearly that I’d be more likely to kill someone than save them, but your assumptions may be different.

But there are other ways to do good. Some of them are direct — Dr Pankhania suggests that we “bombard your MPs, your elected officials, your council representatives with emails”. But I suggest that, as well as that, if you can afford it, you donate what money you can to the charity that you think will do the most good.

There are plenty of excellent charities which work to combat racism in the UK – the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust and Runnymede are two which leap to mind. There are many equivalent ones in the US too.

Those are excellent choices, and I applaud them. But even though it may seem disconnected I’m going for something different. Charitable donation goes further in the developing world, so I’ve donated my fee for this column to the Malaria Consortium; it’s one of the charity evaluator GiveWell’s top charities, and it provides malaria prophylaxis and treatment to poor countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. If you want to save black lives, and you don’t mind that it’s not in the UK or USA, then that strikes me as the best way to go.

GiveWell estimates that the charity saves one life for every $2,300 (£1,800) donated. Think about that, in the context of the numbers we were talking about earlier: your attendance at a rally has perhaps a one in 80,000 chance of killing someone, and, I would think, a rather lower chance of saving someone. But if you donate £100 to the Malaria Consortium, that’s equivalent to a one in 18 chance of saving a child’s life. That strikes me as an incredibly powerful statement in the light of the horror of George Floyd’s death. You can’t solve the world, but you can help make it better.

I don’t know if this will help others, but it helped me; it is a horrible sensation, feeling conflicted and powerless, and doing this made me feel a bit less of both. I realise this is virtue signalling, but I hope that the signal will encourage others to do something similar. 

 

*This article now says that Dr Pankhania estimates 50,000 new infections a week. An earlier version misstated this figure.


Tom Chivers is a science writer. His second book, How to Read Numbers, is out now.

TomChivers

Join the discussion


Rejoignez des lecteurs partageant les mĂȘmes idĂ©es qui soutiennent notre journalisme en devenant abonnĂ©s payants.

Subscribe

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

53 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Chris Jayne
Chris Jayne
4 years ago

I think for me the hard part is not so much the risk of protest, which is probably quite low. And 1:80,000 is quite low if you think this is something very important to protest.

For me it was the change in narrative from media / social media / political actors. It was jarring. It was so partisan. It was so hypocritical. At a personal level I had WhatsApp groups full of people who had spent 3 months vilifying others for lockdown breaches, weaponising the potential risk of the virus to attack / dismiss those concerned about the economic or social impact of the lockdown. To see them then dismissing or more commonly just ignoring the risk because a cause close to their heart arrived was very hard. And there some were others who had spent 3 months dismissing the potential harm of the virus who suddenly became suspiciously and vocally worried about a second wave.

You like to think your friends and family are above the base hypocrisy.

I’m rambling, but I think this is one of those events that “red pills” people, as it’s so transparent that the public health and safety concerns that have been used by certain institutions to prevent others doing things or castigate them for doing so then suddenly go out the window when there is a cause they find politically expedient.

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
4 years ago
Reply to  Chris Jayne

Sadly, ignoring inconvenient truths is something we all do. I think John Dewhirst is also right that joining a demo feels valuable in itself (though I think it is more to do with frustration – “any action better than none” – than virtue signalling). I’m sure those who toppled the statue left the scene with a feeling of achievement, but I imagine that was short lived when they realised that the injustice from which their anger stems was still just as prevalent.

One of the things that concerns me about the statue incident is that a lot of the conversation immediately shifted from the real problem of race discrimination to that of criminal damage. Personally, I don’t care much what happens to the statue of a slave trader. I don’t think many people do. However, by allowing the agenda to be hijacked by the “Law & Order” lobby I believe we forget two things: 1 ““ discrimination is also against the law, and 2 ““ protesters tried for decades to get the statue removed by going through lawful processes of persuasion, but to no avail whatsoever.

Some people (including white supremacists, but not only them) will say that’s just tough: they lost the argument and should accept it. Others, however, will point out that history is littered with examples of injustice which were not correct until the victims got militant. A good example is female suffrage. Law-abiding “suffragists” campaigned for a century and got nowhere. Militant suffragettes got the vote for women in a few years of civil disobedience, arson and criminal damage. It took a civil war to get rid of slavery in the USA.

We cannot address this issue in a civilised way without acknowledging the anger that many people feel at the injustices which are visited upon them. We don’t have to condone criminal damage, but we should understand it. We should also tackle the underlying problems before that anger widens to include more targets. Indeed, the attacks on war memorials suggest it is already starting to do that. Coronavirus or no coronavirus, we would be a healthier society if we acknowledged those underlying problems and started actually doing something about them, which would obviate the need for these demonstrations at all.

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
4 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

Your point about votes for women is not convincing. Women got the vote in 1918 because their contribution to the war effort made it impossible to resist, just as votes for all men over 21 was hard to resist because many younger men had fought in the war but were not automatically entitled to vote. The suffragettes made a lot of fuss, but it’s not obvious their violent protests changed many minds at the time – except for some revulsion against their methods which translated into not supporting their overriding goal. If you look at parliamentary support for votes for women just before the war, support for the idea fell after the suffragettes resumed violent activities – compare figures for the 1911 and 1912 Conciliation Bills. Maybe today’s BLM activists should think on that before doing things that clearly delight them and their followers, but may not play so well with the wider public.

Dr Paul Sadot
Dr Paul Sadot
4 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

The debate surrounding Suffragettes vs Suffragists is a complex one and depending on your personal belief (and understanding of history) and in the effectiveness of lobbying or writing to your MP as a means of change, you will come down on on either side. History illustrates very clearly that the ‘writing to your MP’ approach has certainly not been affective in the UK or the USA. Do you not remember Martin Luther King being assassinated for his non-violent approach and Malcolm X for his supposedly violent approach? In this very moment the government are attempting to deport British citizens who were invited to the UK under the auspices of Windrush, people have written to their MP, nothing has happened. “Clearly delights them and their followers”? It’s this sort of banal ‘Daily Mail’ rhetoric that is used to make lazy, uniformed comments. Though I’m sure that your engagement with Black History is exemplary, you seem to draw on none of it here. Also surprising is the fact that you know the BLM political activists and their followers personally, each and every one it would appear.

Terry Mushroom
Terry Mushroom
4 years ago
Reply to  Dr Paul Sadot

..”attempting to deport British citizens..” My understanding is that these people – for various reasons – hadn’t proof of their legal right to be here. Once Commonwealth citizens didn’t need visas or to establish their right to come. Then the rules changed. And colonies became independent countries.

Unfortunately, some here from childhood got caught up in a huge bureaucratic mess and couldn’t produce the right papers. I speak from experience as a Commonwealth born citizen and my own struggles with the system.

How some were treated is, of course, another judgement.

Jean Fothers
Jean Fothers
4 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

The American civil war was nothing to do with slavery. The North only took up that mantle when pressured later in the war by the British government of the time.

Jean Fothers
Jean Fothers
4 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

“any action better than none” and “vitue signalling” both make the assumption that those people on the “peaceful protests” (as BBC call them) are able to think for themselves. Most are clearly not able to do that.

John Dewhirst
John Dewhirst
4 years ago

The big difference of course is that to participate in the protests is a form of virtue signalling for which many now ascribe a value in itself. It represents a new upper tier in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that an anonymous donation to charity will not reach.

Jonathan da Silva
Jonathan da Silva
4 years ago
Reply to  John Dewhirst

Got any source on that or just your feeling/preference? You hierarchy of need to believe that?

John Dewhirst
John Dewhirst
4 years ago

Your virtue signalling response more like.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
4 years ago

I think that’s pretty obvious. Many acquaintances of mine were openly condemning those breaking lockdown rules – particularly the protesters in Michigan who were keen for businesses to reopen. While there was no violence done on their part, they were much maligned by the press who judged their actions to be a health hazard.

These same acquaintances are now posting black squares on their social media feeds and condemning those who won’t break lockdown rules to protest their anger over the unfortunate death of a criminal held in police custody. Somehow their abject fear of catching the virus has virtually disappeared overnight. The worst of it is their dire warnings to those who don’t share their political views. Now everyone who doesn’t march lock-step with them is a racist bigot. No matter how noble the cause, I will not be coerced into joining it.

I’ve also been amazed at these corporations that have attached their names to Black Lives Matter, while silencing or firing those that have spoken up for the protestors in Hong Kong. This is virtue-signaling at its most hypocritical.

john.wols
john.wols
4 years ago

Well, given the enormous amount of scientific data on police killings in the US can it be anything other than virtue signalling? If the police are killing enormous numbers unjustly (of course the scientific evidence is absolutely clear that they are not) then how did this latest killing tip the balance? Were so many brits right on the edge about police killings in the US thinking “If it just happens one more time I’ll have to demonstrate”? I don’t know of anyone that was.

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
4 years ago
Reply to  john.wols

There is violent rioting in France and US as well. Virtue signalling may have something to do with it but there are times in history when it just all erupts and sweeps round the world like a virus. No one talks of David Dorn. The Floyd incident was particularly inflammatory because it was not a knee jerk self protective gun firing, but quite deliberate. I wonder if the US policy of gun ownership kills more people than it saves. It certainly has a brutalising effect on the police there (although there are thousands of decent cops). They are taught in their training they must be prepared to kill.

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
4 years ago

The need to have the approval of your peers. It does exist.

Peter KE
Peter KE
4 years ago

Interesting but I am struggling with the failure to address the poor behaviour at these protests. They protest seem to be an opportunity for people to behave as thugs and criminals justified by supposedly supporting anti-racism. Maybe they are just another woke group like extinction rebellion just wanting to obstruct normal citizen and democratic processes causing injury to police and damage to property. I believe many British citizens and nationals are proud of our history and how that is the basis for the many and mainly very good aspects of our society.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
4 years ago
Reply to  Peter KE

I have a bad feeling that there are powerful players doing their utmost to sow discord among us and then, when things are at their worst, they will come in and save us by imposing mass surveillance and other draconian measures.

Jeffrey Shaw
Jeffrey Shaw
4 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

That appears to be the plan.

Dr Paul Sadot
Dr Paul Sadot
4 years ago
Reply to  Peter KE

I think you would probably class The French Revolution (a major protest) as ‘poor behaviour too. Interesting, seemingly media derived/informed analysis. It’s almost as if some of these comments are coming from a time when we only had three channels on television: rather than the opportunity to read and research beyond binary dogma and share thoughtful, researched, informed analysis. I have enjoyed some of the articles by UnHerd, but this one is just not good or actually critically informed. Hence many of the non-informed comments that merely echo the ill informed rhetoric the article proposes.

michael harris
michael harris
4 years ago
Reply to  Dr Paul Sadot

The French Revolution . Just ‘poor behaviour’? It kicked off 20 years of war in Europe with large-scale killing. It put into power in France a new elite, as showy and arrogant as the old regime.It did nothing more for the people of France that steady reform did for Britain.
As for the long term consequences? Too early to say (pace Chou-en-Lai). But cetainly the romanticisation of violence and street action.

Dave Coulson
Dave Coulson
4 years ago

Some of the quoted numbers seem to be materially incorrect:

“That said, the levels aren’t that low. Dr Pankhania estimates that there are about 50,000 new cases ” so roughly one person in every 1,000 in the UK ” every day. And Prof Spector says his best guess for the prevalence of the disease in general is about one person in every 400, with wide variation ” so perhaps one in every 200 in Manchester, and one in every 800 in the south-west.”

The ONS testing survey (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peop
estimates, as at last 2 weeks in May, that the prevalence is 1 in a 1000, not the daily new infection rate. This means that all the numbers quoted are overstated by c150% (1/1000 compared to 1/400 above).

Also, why are you calling the lower end of the IFR 0.5% when even the WHO/CDC are calculating it as 0.24%? Given the age of the protesters, it is likely to be at least an order of magnitude lower than that.

Grade: F

Up your game Chivers

Nicholas Rynn
Nicholas Rynn
4 years ago

Tom, you did something positive, donating your fee. That was far more than signalling your virtue. An example to be followed.

James Thompson
James Thompson
4 years ago

Thank you for this careful set of calculations, and also for showing how charitable contributions to other poorer countries can have very big effects. Thank you also for reminding people that writing to MPs is important, and is the usual way to bring about new laws. A minor point: US police making arrests shoot some members of all races, apparently at 4 per 10,000 for whites compared to 3 per 10,000 for blacks, so although the protesters are talking about black lives only, when writing to an MP it would be best to give deaths in custody for all UK citizens, whatever their race.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
4 years ago

I live in Ottawa and the June 5 anti-racism protest there was truly bizarre. The world’s most infamous blackface hobbyist, Justin Trudeau was there, wearing a solid black face mask, the face mask acknowledging the COVID-19 epidemic, the colour presumably the Black Lives Matter theme. Our mayor, Jim Watson, was also part of the protest. My wife and son had gone to the neighbourhood civic park earlier in the week to use the basketball court, and had been scared off by the signs marking it closed and warning violators of fines. Yet it was OK to hold a public demonstration involving thousands of people, most of them tightly packed and not observing physical distancing. Trudeau and his Chief Public Health Officer, Doctor Theresa Tam, have both been boringly repetitive public scolds, telling us to go home and stay home and avoid public gatherings. Now all of a sudden, all the rules were out the window. Even the relatively slack Swedish lockdown prohibited gatherings of more than 50 people.
Undeterred, the ever flexible Doctor Tam, instead of denouncing the protests, simply warned against yelling slogans: “”Shouting, and that type of behavior can potentially project more droplets.” Tell me about it! The former blackface singer of “The Banana Boat Song” was surrounded by protesters spraying at him “Stand Up to Trump!” A worse environment to protect against propagation of COVID-19 would be hard to imagine. And if someone did catch the coronavirus at one of those protests, how could one trace the disease to the person or persons they got it from, given that they potentially came in contact with a hundred or more strangers? We must improve our contract-and-trace capabilities has been like a mantra lately in Ontario, but suddenly it was all out the window.
The hollowness of the “following the science” rhetoric of our so-called leaders has become brutally clear since these demonstrations started. I thought the lockdown in Canada went too far, but such large demonstrations, as Tom makes clear, really do put lives at risk. For Trudeau, though, it was all worthwhile. He treasures his status as global leader of the anti-Trump resistance army and if cementing his position means someone dies of COVID-19, it is a price he is willing to pay.

jill dowling
jill dowling
4 years ago

I doubt whether many of those white middle class young people gave it a second thought. I hope they don’t pass it on to their grandparents who have been sheltering stoically all this time, apparently for no good reason.

P C
P C
4 years ago

Far too much logic and analysis involved; nobody pays much attention to such things now. The boredom of lockdown and the absence of favourite substances seem to have gripped the participants of these looting expeditions more than the reality that they are likely to infect their parents, who may die from the effects. The parents are probably black pensioners who have worked to bring some economic blessing to their children, or white pensioners who have indulged their offspring a little too much. In either case, they will be the statistics on the evening news.

Dave Smith
Dave Smith
4 years ago

I am afraid the flaws are obvious in your analysis. Firstly the vast majority are very young on the demonstrations and like all the young feel invulnerable . Next they are not capable of that reflection that comes with age and responsibilities. To children and to aged parents.
We simply do not know how this virus will pan out but as for now we do know that it is incredibly infectious and that more people will be asymptomatic than show symptoms. This means that the demonstrators are far more likely to infect others rather than fall ill themselves. Then it means that to attend is to risk the lives of others. Not that they seem to care .
As to Cheltenham which as a racing fan I strongly opposed talking place nothing can be learned as the crowd came from the entire Uk and Ireland. Any infected would simply have been absorbed into the pool of infection.
There is no justification for the demonstrations that pass muster. If we knew exactly what this virus is then maybe we can evaluate risk but we don’t.
If we learnt anything from what happened it Italy it is that there appears to be a steady growing pool of infected persons and that suddenly the virus seems to explode in any given population. The risks of permitting gatherings would seem to be obvious.
Society encompasses us all and the young demonstrators are showing a lack of concern for it.
There is another factor. In the USA where looting has been endemic in the cities it simply means further flight by those who can and the marginalisation of those that remain. The country is vast and can cope with the effective loss of a few cities. If those US companies that exported their production to China and then signalled their support for BLM actually brought back the jobs then maybe it would be a better thing to do.
Here the demonstrations veer always on the edge of riot. That will have a corrosive effect on the future viability of our cities. Not remarked upon is the continued white flight and flight by wealthier BMEs from the cities here. After every riot people leave who can.

chris.cauwood
chris.cauwood
4 years ago

People forget the Arab Spring. Lots of rioting students assisted by taxi drivers followed by new more corrupt leaders. N.Africa and the Middle East now? Libya and Syria? Iraq and Iran? Shining examples of the product of revolution. New Boss? Worse than the old Boss…#nolivesmatternow

Alex Mitchell
Alex Mitchell
4 years ago

Especially when you consider the prevalence of ‘covid impacts minorities hardest’ articles over the last few weeks. It’s almost like journalism isn’t about objectivity at all. Nothing is easier to spot than hypocrisy. No doubt many of the protesters were also vocal in their condemnation of Dominic Cummings. Looking from overseas I don’t have the detailed knowledge to comment on the circumstances but the idea that ‘my reason justifies xyz but your reason doesn’t’ is an ever more popular and dangerous philosophy.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
4 years ago

”…and, I would think, a rather lower chance of saving someone.” — nice, polite, tactful, diplomatic euphemism there…

Michael Yeadon
Michael Yeadon
4 years ago

When in 3 weeks it’s clear that there isn’t a spike, can we all accept that Gupta is correct & it’s time to lift all remaining restrictions?

P C
P C
4 years ago

One of the unfortunate and possibly unforseen consequences of all this is that the other residents of Britain – English, Scots, Welsh, Northern Irish, and those of all other ethnic and religious backgrounds such as Hindu and Sikh, will have any latent doubts about the ability of black people to successfully integrate and advance in society decided. Cementing old prejudices is not a step forward; perhaps that’s part of the plan?

Jeffrey Shaw
Jeffrey Shaw
4 years ago

We can only hope that this will be the case, but since the virus itself is and ever was- absurdly weak, only those with compromised immune systems will be at risk. It is the case in every variety of Corona virus.
For those who missed it, here is the official autopsy report on George Floyd:
https://www.independentsent
He pretty much typifies the presence of blacks in American society; a 5-year ex-con for attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon, then murdered himself, while being loaded with three illegal drugs in his system.

anon6484
anon6484
4 years ago

Eight days without café au lait will suffice to break the Parisian bourgeoisie.~ Bismark

Jonathan da Silva
Jonathan da Silva
4 years ago

Also Cheltenham many people would attend for 2 to 4 days so crowd size. There will never be accurate figures cos people get on trains and stay in hotels even for a 1 day visit.

Mairi MacThomais
Mairi MacThomais
4 years ago

There seemed to be a lot of words without a concise conclusion or maybe it’s just me not following the winding narrative?

Kate H. Armstrong
Kate H. Armstrong
4 years ago

I think the point Tom was proposing (and for me successfully), was that there are other ways to support ‘Black Lives’ mattering. At the same time to point out that Free Will and reasoned thinking is (still) possible in UK.

Ergo, he strove in a courteous and ‘friendly’ way (using examples of ‘expert’ thinking available) to express an ‘opinion’, whilst careful to stress that Others may think differently.

mj.brown
mj.brown
4 years ago

“200 deaths a year at the hands of US police”..for 400 years?! Plus the rest!

Stephen Leech
Stephen Leech
4 years ago

Although not answering directly the specific question posed by the title to this article, here are a three relevant observations from the U.S., where BLM originated. First, we are currently seeing a spike in cases of COVID-19 in AR, AZ, CA, MA,NC, NH, NV, OK, SC, TN, UT, and WA. FL saw the most cases in one day this week. Second, the vast majority of BLM protesters this week have been shown wearing masks. By contrast, the folks screaming at police in the Michigan state Capitol ” and attendees at a pool party in Lake of the Ozarks ” went out of their way not to wear them.Third, although the article states that “being outdoors is definitely a protection”, at least 12 new COVID-19 cases reported by Bucks County, PA over the weekend are connected to recent multiple house gatherings at the Jersey Shore. I shall therefore continue in lockdown, now in its third month, only going out when absolutely necessary, at which time I shall practise social distancing and wear a face mask.

Walter Lantz
Walter Lantz
4 years ago

Oh Puhleeze!
Covid is like – so overdone!
OK – so like maybe some – you know – old people get sick but we’re not falling for that anymore.
You know that the neo-Con care home operators and their Trumpazoid media friends are just so overdoing that so they can take more money that’s supposed to go to students and affordable housing.
Besides – people that tried to cover up Chernobyl and denounce Al Gore maybe deserve what they get.
It’s a well-established fact – just check Instagram – that this was all a Boomer plot to keep us locked away in our homes so we wouldn’t find out that many thousands of Black people are killed by the police every day – well – maybe not literally – but having your feelings hurt or being insulted is just like being murdered because it kills your self-esteem and causes self-loathing.
Well May is over – it’s June and we’re awake now so like just admit you’re racists already because we’ll never forgive what you did to Christopher Lloyd until at least July – maybe even August if the bars aren’t totally re-opened.

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
4 years ago
Reply to  Walter Lantz

Very good! And probably close to the truth.

Chris Taylor
Chris Taylor
4 years ago
Reply to  Walter Lantz

Nail on the head.

darranclem
darranclem
4 years ago

I do hope so. It also gives an indication of part of the reason why immigrants were harder hit, they are a constant problem because our nation was already divided, they’ve just added even more bad behaviour, divisive political, cultural and religious machinations and ripped us further apart for no good reason.

clarke.pitts
clarke.pitts
4 years ago

the likely benefits

That racism is deplorable is beyond doubt.
That racism remains a problem especially in the United States is not controversial either.

That participating in these marches will help in some meaningful way is more nebulous and I think stating that it is a ‘likely benefit’ does not sit well with me.

Perhaps you personally benefit from feeling that you are expressing your outrage or garnering some appreciation from others or both. That is likely.

That there are costs, environmental, policing costs, violence, criminal damage, litter, disgusting faeces and urine etc left behind as there are no facilities for large crowds is also completely clear. All this and the exacerbation of an epidemic possibly too.

Not “likely” at all then.

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
4 years ago

By and large the protests happened in UK because people felt like it. Most didn’t go to riot but their emotional intensity immunised them from logic or reason. Already imbued with leftish woke indoctrination by the teaching bodies they were a gift to the BLM organisation which swiftly steered them away from the death of Floyd to destroying any totems to capitalisation. Bursting with self-regarding youthfulness (who said Britain hasn’t left the campus), their jolly outing’s contribution to the rona spike will be lost in the inevitable one of lifting lockdown (whoever orchestrated that). Mr Chivers is right, it didn’t address their supposed cause and energy (o.k. and money) could be better spent in dealing with worse catastrophes in the world.

thejameslowe
thejameslowe
4 years ago

I appreciate the article and it’s emphasis on data. The protests – and the change in attitude they emphasize towards police – will very likely result in more deaths. But it will be through the ‘Ferguson Effect’, which Heather McDonald has published research on. Law enforcement polices less proactively in response to local animosity, and then the murder rate increases. https://quillette.com/2016/… These protests and riots will be doubly risking lives. And, as Corona virus and Ferguson effect research has shown, disproportionately black lives.

c no
c no
4 years ago

Hi Tom. Thought this article does a really good job of thinking through the factors you might consider when weighing up the costs/benefits of protesting but I wanted to comment on a couple of things that i feel you missed or didn’t give enough emphasis to that also worth thinking about.

Firstly I think this line undersells the potential benefits of the protests beyond preventing the police from murdering people.

And, of course, hopefully it will have wider impacts on society, not just in the US, beyond just the deaths it prevents ” although, of course, a new outbreak of coronavirus will have wider impacts as well, perhaps requiring a longer lockdown, greater economic hardship for the poor, and so on.

Aside from direct death racism in the police leads to disproportionate arrests and subsequent imprisonment of black people. This has huge direct and indirect consequences for black people in society, including directly and indirectly causing a lot of deaths. I don’t have the time or skill to look into the data properly but that’s something worth thinking, and only one of many further and less obvious ill effects of racism on people.

Secondly I think when discussing your choice of charity to give money to, I think it’s worth considering whether there’s a current time-limited multiplier effect on working on and donating to anti-racism causes. There’s currently a lot of attention on anti-racism movements in the global north and a real chance of significant policy changes that could prevent a lot of deaths for many years to come. But if protests stop and the news moves on then there is very little chance these difficult policy choices will get the time and energy they need from elected officials.If it wasn’t for these protests Minneapolis would never be looking at disband their effective and harmful police force to replace it with something not only better but also cheaper (say they can save 10% of costs, that’s $1,800,000, or 782 lives every year if donated to the Malaria Consortium)

The important thing about this second point is that it illustrates the thinking of a lot of protesters that maybe you and your readers don’t fully grasp: a lot of people think that these protests can create a lot of positive change but only if they happen now, that this is time to make a lasting impact on deaths caused due to police discrimination. And if we agree that eventually we want eliminate deaths from both malaria and police violence then right now is the most effective time to make an impact on the second for perhaps several decades which is a big multiplier. You might still have made the right call with your donation, but something to bare in mind and something GiveWell won’t measure.

ian0
ian0
4 years ago

I don’t understand how you can attempt to discuss statistics without considering the hugely different effects on different people.
If you are under 40, you have a vanishingly small chance dying or indeed of getting anything worse than a cold. So as long as you’re not going to pass it on to someone that is vulnerable the risk is irrelevant.
If you are vulnerable, and unwilling to isolate yourself, you’re the reason most people under 40 are locked down, and the economy is in a ditch.
Strong economies are much more able to support minorities.
So probably the best way to make black lives matter is for the vulnerable to isolate themselves and for the rest of us to go back to work.

Jane Butcher
Jane Butcher
4 years ago

I am a 54 year old white woman, born into a working class family who went to the local comprehensive where I think we had two black pupils out of about 900 kids. They were the children of a local Doctor. I have not met many people of colour throughout my life but consider myself a decent person who would not have any issue with a person based on their ethnicity, my only judgement would be if they were a nice person. This road we are taking with the virtue signalling is a dangerous one – it risks the rights of all to be treated fairly. We are very shortly going to face a huge recession where people of all ethnicities will lose their jobs and when jobs do come along, we’ll be in the situation where a white person who has the right qualifications is overlooked for a person of colour who doesn’t just to tick a diversity box. It is a fact that white working class boys have the worst educational outcomes, even over their black peers. I just think we are in danger of indoctrinating black children that they are oppressed and disadvantaged and that can do more damage than good.

robertbutterwick
robertbutterwick
4 years ago

My daughters best friend went to A BLM protest on Jun 6th. She developed symptoms on June 10th and was confirmed as having Covid 19 the day after.

Jos Vernon
Jos Vernon
3 years ago

With a little hindsight and the help of PHE data it seems that the answer is obvious. There was no spike.

Indeed there haven’t been any spikes from VE day or from anything. The ‘rona juggernaught carries on regardless of what we do, flattening all in its path.

Indeed you can see this in Sweden and Turkey too. Despite the lack of lockdown the excess deaths graphs look surprisingly simliar to everyone elses.

It’s almost as if lockdown didn’t actually make a difference. But how could that possibly be true after all we’ve invested in it?

Dr Paul Sadot
Dr Paul Sadot
4 years ago

Do you seriously think this is ‘only’ about the actual Police killings and not the wider issues that are clearly being deeply debated and very well articulated on many forums?

“I can’t answer that for you. I can give you a number to work with ““ US police officers kill about 200 black people a year and some unknown number killed by other means. Last year, at least nine of these were unarmed. Hopefully the protests will prevent some percentage of them; you have to estimate what a realistic percentage is, and how likely it is that your attendance at a protest will make the difference”

This part of your analysis and the argument it’s attempting to prop up is simplistic and erroneously reductionist and attempts to distract from the complexity of the underlying issues that those on the streets are protesting. You neglect to provide any historical context or analysis of the structural changes that the protesters are challenging. Yes, a lot of virtue signalling is taking place amongst individuals. However, if you do your research (evidential based) it’s mostly by large institutions and corporations who are doing it in an attempt to be seen as holding their hands up to structural racism. In reality, of course, they have been attempting to recover the cultural capital that they exploit for financial gain, they are feeling exposed: see Arts Council England, Unilever as examples.

Then of course some commentators below quoting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs etc and invoking other smoke screens, neglect to recognise that many protestors, black and white, have not had access to a standard of education, due to socio-economic discipling/marginalisation that allows them access to the intellectual/political discourse: that’s one of the reasons that they are on the streets, as it is there only means of protest.

With regard to virtue signalling, that is a permanent state of affairs in goverment is it not? I’m not going to ‘virtue signal’ my knowledge of Bourdieu, Foucault, Maslow, Davis, hooks etc..it would just obscure the core of the argument and make it inaccessible….

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
4 years ago
Reply to  Dr Paul Sadot

Why would “many protesters, black and white” NOT “have access to a reasonable standard of education?
All schools are examined and rated by Ofsted, London schools on particular have show an increase in standards, but there is no reason to suppose that all the protesters have been relegated to an inadequate standard of education.
What may be questionable is their commitment to learning.

Kate H. Armstrong
Kate H. Armstrong
4 years ago
Reply to  Giulia Khawaja

Well said. What is forgotten in all this is the damage done (particularly in England) to the Education curriculum by all Blair’s ‘Common Purpose’ brainwashing. Result: young people imbued with ‘correct’ thinking as per Common Purpose i.e. NO critical analysis, NO original thinking. They are instructed, repetitively in ‘good’ Globalist opinion. Social media fake ‘friendships’ insist on mass ‘agreement’; to be ‘unfriended’ or criticised by ‘Facebook’ or ‘Twitterer’ BFF (best friends forever!) is a death sentence. Sometimes literally.