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Did anyone predict coronavirus? Hindsight makes it easy to blame the Government for listening to the wrong people, not the right ones

We should have been better prepared. Credit: GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images

We should have been better prepared. Credit: GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images


December 28, 2020   9 mins

How much of all this should we have seen coming? How much did we see coming? When? What should we have done about it?

A major Sunday Times Insight piece had a stab at answering some of those questions at the weekend, specifically talking about the Government. Some of its points seem fair; others less so. But one key implication was that the Government should have realised earlier what was coming, and acted accordingly. 

The Government, naturally, was displeased and issued a response: it was a lengthy and fairly detailed document pointing out various things that it said the Insight team had got wrong. One point that particularly intrigued me was about scientific consensus. 

The Sunday Times piece stated that a Lancet study came out on 24 January comparing the outbreak with the 1918 “Spanish flu” influenza epidemic, and implied that it should have spurred the Government to swifter action. The Government response says that the World Health Organisation hadn’t declared it a “public health emergency of international concern” by that stage, and that indeed on the same day the Lancet’s own editor, Richard Horton, was warning on Twitter of media overreaction and saying “from what we currently know, 2019-nCoV has moderate transmissibility and relatively low pathogenicity”. (For the record, Horton himself now says that the government is “rewriting history” by using his tweet in this context.)

So who’s right? Did anyone see this coming? Should it have been obvious that it was going to be terrible? And what should the Government (and the media) have been doing about it?

I want to argue two things. One, predictions are amazingly hard. It doesn’t feel that way after the fact — we assume that whatever happened was always obviously going to happen, a phenomenon called hindsight bias. But actually it was not obvious in January or February that the outbreak in Wuhan would end up like this. Some people were saying it would; some that it wouldn’t. Suggesting in hindsight that the Government should have listened to the right people and not the wrong people isn’t much use. 

But two, I want to argue that this shouldn’t let the Government off the hook — and, actually, it shouldn’t let the media off the hook, either. Just because you can’t foresee some outcomes doesn’t mean you shouldn’t act to avoid them.

So here goes. First: as mentioned, predictions are hard. Philip Tetlock, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, has spent a career trying to understand forecasting. He watched pundits in the Cold War arguing over whether to be more or less confrontational with Russia, and then whenever something happened, saying that it proved they were right all along. 

So he asked a bunch of them to make hard, falsifiable predictions — will the dollar be higher or lower than it is now against the yen in one month’s time? Will a war on the Korean peninsula kill more than 100 people in the next 18 months? — with their degree of confidence: 60%, 40%, 83%, whatever. 

To do well, your 60% confident predictions should come in 60% of the time, your 30% ones 30%, and so on, and you get bonus marks for being confident and right (and you get punished extra hard for being confident and wrong). If someone’s probability estimates are accurate over hundreds of guesses, then they’re almost certainly genuinely good at it. 

The average pundit — and remember, these were experts in geopolitics, advisers to the government, well-known journalists and academics — was not good at it. In fact, the average pundit was about as good as “a dart-throwing chimpanzee”, in Tetlock’s memorable phrase.

But a few were more impressive; they were able to predict the future better than chance. The top 2% of performers in Tetlock’s studies or his spin-off Good Judgment Project are known as “superforecasters”. I’ve written about them at some length here. 

I spoke to a couple of the most highly rated superforecasters in the world, Mike Story and Tom Liptay (you can read their essay about forecasting Covid here), formerly of the Good Judgment Project but now of their own company, Maby. And they say that experts’ predictions about the progression of Covid-19 seem to have struggled just as much as anyone else’s. It’s hard to be sure, because not many people are actually making these really strict, falsifiable predictions. But one place, admirably, is.

The University of Massachusetts is running a really good, worthwhile programme in which they do the sort of forecast Tetlock would recognise; they had 18 experts (virologists, epidemiologists) make explicit predictions about various things, and then compared them to reality.

The first such set of forecasts was taken on 16-17 March, and included a prediction of how many confirmed cases there would be in the US by 29 March. The average guess was 20,000; the correct answer was rather higher, 122,653. Only three experts even included that number in their worst-case-scenario estimates.

This isn’t meant to criticise those experts. As I said: no one else was even making the falsifiable predictions. They had the courage to put their money where their mouth was (and their later forecasts have been much less wide of the mark). But the point is that these sorts of forecasts are amazingly difficult, the situation has moved astonishingly fast, and even the top researchers in relevant fields are getting the spread of Covid-19 wrong.

One group that has done better, for the record, is superforecasters. Liptay and Story have started to get involved with the UMass project; it’s early days, but their forecasts seem to be doing better at this stage. (They’d only done three questions when I spoke to them. “It’s important to stress that there’s very little signal in three questions,” says Liptay, modestly. “It’s mainly statistical noise. I’m not crowing yet; let’s see if I’m still doing well after 20 questions.”) But a lot of how they’ve done better, I think it’s fair to say, is by acknowledging the uncertainty more: admitting that they can’t be sure, and giving wide uncertainty intervals as a result.

“I think [early in the outbreak] you should have had an extremely wide range of outcomes,” says Liptay, “from very little death [in the US] to millions of dead.” His own forecasts on Twitter follow this rule: on March 25, when the US announced its 1,000th death, his 80%-likely prediction for the number of deaths in the US on April 13 was a very wide spread, between 3,000 and 50,000 with a best estimate of 12,000. The correct answer was 22,108.

So I don’t blame the Government (or the media) for not saying in January “This will probably be a global pandemic,” or “there will be 16,060 confirmed deaths in the UK by April 19th,” or whatever. I think it would have been impossible to say that. 

But this is where we get to my second point. They might not have been able to say with confidence that it was coming. But they should have been able to say with confidence that it might.

Sure, you might think it’s 90% sure that we’re not going to see a global pandemic. But that means you think there’s a 10% chance that there will be! We don’t play Russian roulette, even though there’s an 83% chance we’d be fine: a small-but-not-that-small chance of a terrible outcome is a serious thing that needs to be taken seriously.

“I think if I was in the government,” says Liptay, “I’d say ‘you don’t prepare for your 50% outcome, you prepare for the 95% outcome in the hope of avoiding it’. It’s not that they should have seen it coming, it’s that they should have taken action on it anyway.”

Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex wrote a piece on exactly this topic the other day, a damning critique of the media headlined “A failure, but not of prediction”, and it’s really had me thinking about my own work. Again: you should take small chances of terrible outcomes very seriously. The simple equation is: likelihood multiplied by impact. A 10% chance of 10 deaths is as worrying as a 100% chance of one death.

I don’t know whether, inside Whitehall and Downing Street, people were doing this sort of calculation. That will hopefully come out in the inevitable public inquiries that will follow the pandemic. But I can look at the media’s role, since that was more public; and I can look at my own. 

You can see a whole array of people writing things in January and February like “don’t worry about coronavirus, worry about the flu”; see Alexander’s piece, or this Real Clear Politics roundup, for a list. But I don’t want to single anyone else out; instead, I want to look at my own work. 

The first piece I wrote about Covid-19 was a January post headlined “China’s coronavirus will not be the next Black Death”. While I’m pretty sure that headline claim will turn out to be true (it’s hardly a bold prediction: “will be less terrible than the worst plague in history”), and I think the piece itself largely stands up to scrutiny, it’s not as if I was far-sightedly warning of what was to come.

Did I believe, back then, that there was a real, non-negligible chance of the sort of outcome we’re seeing now? If so, why wasn’t I saying “it won’t be the next Black Death BUT BY GOD WE OUGHT TO BE STOCKING UP ON PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT”?

Part of the trouble — and I blame myself as much as any other member of the media; more, because I’ve written a book about this stuff and should know better — is that most of the time, when we write things like this, we are not actually committing to anything.

“Will not be the next Black Death,” well, sure: I guess if Covid-19 kills 30% of the world population you can say that I was off the mark, but other than that, I didn’t actually say anything which could make me right or wrong. Articles saying “Don’t panic — yet” or “be alert, not afraid” are the same. It’s what Tetlock calls “vague verbiage”: writing that avoids pinning yourself to a specific likelihood of any particular outcome.

So who did get it right? Who did make the case that we don’t know if things will be bad, but that we should prepare for it as though they will be? As I say, I don’t know if people in the government did. But some people who definitely did are the sort of nerdy Bay Area tech-rationalist people I follow online and who I talk about in my book.

Blogs like Put A Num On It and Slate Star Codex were saying things like “it’s OK to stockpile” and “maybe masks are a good idea” weeks before the rest of us. The biotech entrepreneur Balaji Srivanasan was calling out the media for downplaying it in early February (even as Vox and others mocked tech workers for saying “no handshakes please”). 

As the quantum computing scientist Scott Aaronson says, in an impassioned post in which he blames himself for downplaying the risk to a friend, he was being sensible and listening to the CDC, when he should have been listening to “contrarian rationalist nerds and tech tycoons on Twitter”. They (not all of them, but more of them than the rest of us) did the sensible thing: not thinking “This is definitely going to happen”, but thinking “this probably won’t happen, but it might, and if it does, it will be terrible — so we should be prepared.” 

There’s an irony here. Dominic Cummings, the government adviser, is sometimes accused of pushing the Government towards the much-criticised “herd immunity” approach. He’s also linked to the Bay Area tech-rationalist people. If it turns out that the UK Government got it wrong, the problem may have been that Cummings didn’t listen hard enough to the nerds he admires so much.

Why did they get it right, then? It may be survivorship bias, to an extent; I’m just picking out people who got it right after the fact, and ignoring the ones who got it wrong. But I don’t think that’s the whole story. I was watching these arguments in real time.

Partly, I think it’s that (as Alexander says) these are people who are comfortable with cost-benefit analyses and probabilistic reasoning: not saying “this will happen” or “this won’t happen”, but multiplying likelihood by impact. 

But I think the main thing is that governments and the media are set up badly for these things. People in them have bosses to please and reputations to protect. If we go on about those 10% chances, then if we’re correct about the odds, nine times out of 10 nothing will happen, and we’ll look stupid. We’ll get slaughtered as the boys who cried wolf; so it’s in our interests to stay quiet, or say the sensible things that everyone else is saying. As the saying goes, no one ever got fired for buying IBM. But sometimes they should.

So maybe it’s unfair to say that anyone should have “seen this coming”, in that they should have known that it was going to be terrible. But they (and we) should have known that it could realistically be, and that the worst possible outcome was very bad indeed.

So the question is, instead, if they took the appropriate steps to avoid that worst outcome. I don’t think I did the best I could; I guess in a few years, when the inquiry reaches its conclusions, we’ll find out if the government did.

*

ADDENDUM: I want to do better in future. There are ways to improve your forecasting, some of which I discuss in my superforecasting piece. But the really crucial one, say Liptay and Story, is keeping score.

That means making falsifiable predictions. I’m going to make three, here. And I’m going to try to get in the habit of making them more often.

One: by April 1 2023, the best estimate for infection fatality rate (IFR) of Covid-19 (as recorded by the WHO) will be between 0.1% and 0.5%. Confidence: 65%.

Two: by April 1 2021, there will have been fewer than 50,000 confirmed Covid-19 deaths in the UK. Confidence: 65%.

Three: schools will reopen in the UK for the children of non-key workers before the start of the May half term (Monday 31 May). Confidence: 65%.

Let’s see how I do. Liptay tells me I ought to write down my reasoning and do a “pre-mortem” on why I might be wrong, but I think this piece is too long already.

This article first appeared on 22 April, 2020

 


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

TomChivers

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Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago

Danish COVID policy is an interesting example. In the beginning, the Danish departments of health were pretty much aligned with their Swedish colleagues. “It will never come to Scandinavia anyway”, “If it does, it will not be a big deal”, “We cannot stop it, realistically, so ‘herd immunity'”… These were not unreasonable ideas, but they ignored the risk that they might be wrong. It was the Danish politicians who insisted on drastic measures, whereas the Swedish let their public health experts take the decisions.

To me it shows (with great regret, I am in science myself) that scientists may not be the best people to decide. Scientists are trained to look for solid, proven understanding, and some of us may have chosen that career because we have a need for things to make sense. That would make them (us?) better on the facts, but also too used to wait for the eventual scientific consensus to settle the matter, and meanwhile to rely on their current understanding until proven wrong. Politicians might be more used to take real-world decisions under uncertainty. Of course it does require that the politicians are actually trying to solve the problem, rather than to get re-elected or protect their ego. But then scientists are not immune to ego-bolstering either.

Dodgy Geezer
Dodgy Geezer
3 years ago

Hmm.

Prediction 3 is at least fairly binary – though dependent on politics.

Predictions 1 and 2 are hugely dependent on how the stats are gathered and manipulated – which is politics again. And an IFR of 0.1 to 0.5 covers pretty much ALL the likely possibilities.

IFRs for flu are not even particularly well known. The WHO may make a pronouncement, but in a couple of years we will be well into the political blame defence game, and at that stage ANY figure might be a convenient one to promulgate.

The measurement of predictions rather depends on being able to find out an agreed truth at some point. I fear that the World is moving away from this Platonic ideal into the messy morass of state propaganda.

simon3
simon3
3 years ago

It’s quite misleading to have the date of this article appear as December 2020. It was published in April 2020.

Michael Cowling
Michael Cowling
3 years ago
Reply to  simon3

Yes, but that’s what Unherd do. You have to watch out for it.

Wilfrid Whattam
Wilfrid Whattam
3 years ago

Well I don’t believe you needed to consult any nerds to come up with a sensible plan of action. The product likelihood x impact has been used for decades, and the less technical ‘precautionary principle’ would also see you through. So the Government (and media) really should not be excused once a little knowledge of the Chinese situation was known. The Chinese themselves learned pretty quickly, but weren’t listened to.

Stan Glib
Stan Glib
3 years ago

You’d do well to ditch the superforcasting nonsense. Why this fetishization of certainty? It’s possible to act under uncertainty without making any predictions whatsoever. That’s how we live our lives. If you have no idea if it’s going to rain, do you go to all efforts to make a prediction or do you just pack an umbrella?

What the startup tech nerds you mention have in common isn’t predictive skills so much as the ability to not blow up – but how do they do it? Probably by not repeatedly exposing themseves to blowing up by making wild, impossible predictions using their degree from the Hogwarts School of Superforecasters & Other Lunatics.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
3 years ago

There hasn’t been a gobal pandemic. The world death statistics show that there has not been a statistically significant increase in deaths in 2020 compared to previous years. Most people have hardly had any ill effects from this virus and had to be tested to discover they had it, and even that is prone to considerable error.

We elect our representatives to parliament to keep the government in check and they are failing to fulfil their responsibility to us. It is reasonable to expect our representatives to research issues and understand them. First, we have the nonsense of human induced climate change. The is no known physics that supports this belief and physics proves the opposite, which is we are not capable of changing the climate. This insanity is akin to witches being accused of weather cooking and being burnt as a result. However, it is worse since we have science to give us the truth, but ignore it, with politicians taking the lead down the path in the abyss of ignorance. The coronavirus is no different. Both hide behind mathematical models which any fool can see are not even close to accurately predicting what they are claimed to do. The priests of ancient Rome could make better predictions by fiddling around in animal intestines. The human race seems to be increasingly insane.

Christiane Dauphinais
Christiane Dauphinais
3 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Well said.

Stan Glib
Stan Glib
3 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

There hasn’t been a gobal pandemic. The world death statistics show that there has not been a statistically significant increase in deaths in 2020 compared to previous years.

This is the equivalent to claiming a small fire currently spreading on the sofa isn’t a real fire because most of the rooms in the rest of the house are currently unscathed.

Most people have hardly had any ill effects from this virus and had to be tested to discover they had it

The fact that the virus spreads so quickly is precisely because of this; it being often asymptomatic means people can spread to several others before, or perhaps without ever realising they had it.

mathematical models which any fool can see are not even close to accurately predicting

Even a radical sceptic who didn’t trust any data whatsoever, when seeing how quickly hospitals in Italy (to take one example) were exceeding their capacity, would be able to see that if *something* is making people ill/die at a rate increasing that quickly, they would see that something had to be done, no? And that’s without any data except for direct observation.

The human race seems to be increasingly insane.

Does the human race really make decisions as if it were one agent? All there is is billions of people with conflicting opinions and countless governments (often internally conflicted) trying to navigate through their circumstances. Do you not think it more likely that you yourself are in denial, than that the entire human race has ‘gone insane’?

J J
J J
3 years ago

No one had any idea we would have a Pandemic on this scale, other than a few crackpots. Of course, just like the financial crisis, in retrospect we now pretend we all saw it coming.

No political party anywhere in the Western world ever stood on a manifesto of ‘we need to be better prepared for a Pandemic that will ruin the economy and kill millions’.

It’s interesting how many posters below claim the Pandemic could of been foreseen and is the result of globalisation instigated by the global elites. As in their posts on other articles about COVID they claim the Pandemic is largely a hoax committed by the ‘global elite’. Clearly both views are contradictory. It’s almost as if the see themselves as perpetual victims of some global conspiracy.

Humanity has been impacted by pandemics since it’s very beginning millions of years ago. COVID is nothing new. With improved sanitation, economic progress, medical progress and vaccines we thought we had pandemics licked. It turns out we didn’t.

The good news is that now we shall be prepared and be able to prevent the next big pandemic. Bio security will see every country constantly mass testing for pathogens with the ability to produce treatments and mass vaccines within weeks. We shall also have the ability to mitigate transmission through immediate NPI’s. The future is bright, another problem solved. Onwards and upwards.

Stan Glib
Stan Glib
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

One needn’t make predictions in order to act cautiously about what might happen in the future. Plenty of people have been well aware that one of the biggest threats to any species is (and will always be) pandemics. If you’re desperate for a prediction I can offer you the confident prediction that there will be more, worse pandemics.

Do you need to make a prediction about the likelihood of a fire before install sprinklers? No, you simply know that fires can start. Ought you then go on incessantly about how the sprinklers ruined the furniture purely to prevent a ‘small’ fire?

You acknowledge that covid is nothing new, so why your dismissal of those calling for caution as crackpots?

+ Regarding your own prediction about this bright future, can I ask, who the ‘we’ is?

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Stan Glib

We can all show contempt for our preparedness with the benefit of hindsight. A pandemic on this scale is a 1 in 100 year event. No political party and no populace was arguing for more preparedness.

By crackpot I simply meant there are many people telling us to prepare for highly unlikely events. They are almost always wrong, but a broken clock is right twice a day etc. It doesn’t make them right. Managing risk is all about balance. For example, you don’t run twice as many hospitals as you need for 100 years because 1 in 100 years you will need twice as many hospitals for a pandemic. The cost benefit does not work.

We had a detailed preparedness plan. But we essentially rewrote the rule book for this event. No epidemiologist or pandemic specialist had previously suggested national lockdowns were even a possibility to be considered. Neither did they think closing borders were a viable option as it would destroy the global economy. Essentially in this pandemic we all took our lead from the Chinese Communist Party. That in itself should give us pause for thought.

The ‘we’ is humanity. Just as we conquered polio, measles, TB etc. We have now conquered another virus and going forward will be better prepared for the next pandemic. Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

Stan Glib
Stan Glib
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

A pandemic on this scale is a 1 in 100 year event

An odd claim, given that there have been several in the last century, no? Pandemics are the rule, not the exception. The globalised world was extremely fragile, with the likelihood of outbreaks increasing at an exponential rate, as population and connectivity increases.

Economists also like to talk of ‘unprecedented’, ‘1 in 100 year’ disasters which seem to mysteriously keep happening every few years.

This ‘balance’ of risk you describe seems to only factor in the probabilities (which we can’t actually assign anyway) as opposed to the severity. Would you cross a stream if you’re told it’s one foot deep on average?

We had a detailed preparedness plan

Is this the same we as before? Or are you talking about the UK? Or Japan? Or Australia? Or Ghana?

we all took our lead from the Chinese Communist Party

Are you suggesting that lockdowns are a uniquely Chinese invention? And again who’s this ‘we’, humanity again?’ – all I can see is billions of individuals, thousands of governments and countries each responding to the situation in their own way. Where’s the global committee? Did I miss a meeting? The virus is showing a clearer ‘preparedness’ plan than any ‘humanity’ is.

Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger

This is all well and good except if you’re one of the dead ones.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Stan Glib

No pandemic on this scale since the Spanish Flu 100 years ago. Viral outbreaks are partly caused by absolute poverty, poor hygiene and limited health care. Most parts of the world no longer have any of these three attributes which is why global pandemics are rare.

The world has been globalised for a long time. Yes a virus will move much faster now, which kills faster. But the overall impact would of been the same 100 years ago, just slower. Globalisation cannot be put back in a box. People will not stop moving around the world, globally trading with each other or communicating. Its not happening. You don’t understand the human spirit if you think otherwise.

The ‘we’ is humanity, although I am based in the UK and talking from a UK perspective, to a point.

Viruses do not have plans. Neither do they have evil intent. They just want to replicate. The death or illness of their host is actually an unintended side effect. Viruses that kill all their hosts don’t last long, they would much rather we lived long and fruitful lives.

And yes, lockdowns are largely a Chinese invention.

Stan Glib
Stan Glib
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

the overall impact would of been the same 100 years ago

This just isn’t true. The world is vastly, vastly more connected than it was during the Spanish Flu. A single individual today could infect multiple people in multiple countries in the span of 24 hours without even knowing they were carrying anything. This simply wasn’t possible back then. It hasn’t just sped up a bit, it’s sped up by an order of magnitude.

People will not stop moving around the world, globally trading with each other or communicating.

Certainly, trading and communication will go on, especially via the internet and in virtual spaces, not much could stop that. But there will be (and there already are) serious restrictions on the mass mobility of people, so long as they have respiratory systems and (tend to) breath on each other. You don’t understand the human body if you think otherwise. Constant testing and face covering on public transport could well become the norm.

Viruses do not have plans. Neither do they have evil intent. They just want to replicate.

That was my point; even though the virus has not made a ‘plan’ it certainly has a clearer end goal (replicating) than ‘humanity’ which is no more than a modern myth.

And yes, lockdowns are largely a Chinese invention.

I think even you must know this claim is spurious. But nonetheless, your claim was that ‘we’, that collective group known as Humanity is ‘taking its lead’ from the Chinese Communist Party, which is even more spurious – especially given that the CCP is presumably part of Humanity.

Katie F
Katie F
3 years ago

The point about tech nerds predicting this is not necessarily that they’re any better at forecasting such things and therefore should be listened to – it’s that they were in a position to make some individual changes to prepare for a worst case scenario, at no major cost to themselves, so why not? It’s one thing for a wealthy tech worker to lay in some food, decide to work from home for a while, dose up on vitamin D and make sure sleep, diet and exercise are top notch just in case. It’s quite another for a government to trash millions of people’s civil liberties, educations and livelihoods on a hunch. There are certainly things the government could have done better through all this, but I’ve always said that reacting earlier isn’t really one of them.

Gwynneth Coan
Gwynneth Coan
3 years ago

Off topic here but, as I commented on The Conservative Woman, most of the comments are from men, so, doesn’t it show how the men are, in the main, smarter and more “thinking”. I applaud it and I’m female. Men are usually much more interesting!

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
3 years ago
Reply to  Gwynneth Coan

As far as I know, men have more outliers than women. So most of the world’s great geniuses are men, but so are most of the world’s most stupendous dumbasses. I guess you could say that that makes us more interesting, if you were so inclined.

Not sure I’d consider the Unherd comment section to be any sort of validation of manhood, though. Most men who comment here are very much of the “idiots convinced that they are geniuses” variety.

Steve Bouchard
Steve Bouchard
3 years ago

Covid-19 is a virus and like a hurricane, it’s going to run it’s course. You can prepare for a hurricane by boarding up and hunkering down. The only way to prepare for a virus that we are not hearing much about is boosting your immune system. Taking vitamin D, Zinc and other supplements may better prepare humans. I’ve seen reports that a majority of severe Covid-19 patients are vitamin D deficient. Can someone confirm?

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Steve Bouchard

Medical research has shown a strong correlation between Vitamin D deficiency and death from COVID. It explains a lot of the infection / fatality differences by country. Asian countries have high Vit D levels and the lowest death toll because of higher sun exposure and fish eating. African countries have lots of sun exposure. Scandinavian countries eat lots of fish even though they have limited sun. Germans take lots of Vit D supplements for reasons that are unclear. Spain, France and Italy have high levels of deficiency (I think they avoid the sun).

The UK has the highest levels of Vit D deficiency in the world due to a lack of sun exposure and limited fish eating. And brown / black skinned people have higher levels of deficiency.

Vit D deficiency explains more about this pandemic than any other factor (especially government action / competence, which I think is somewhat of a red hearing that is exaggerated for political and media purposes)

Vit D is so effective at tackling and preventing the disease, one study showed injecting massive levels of Vit D on hospital admission for COVID improved outcomes significantly.

John Alexander
John Alexander
3 years ago

In answer to the question, no body predicted it. Nobody belived that Event201 was a real plant. We were all fooled by the Davos billionairs in their quest for money and a world domination.

So we should now believe what they want Global Dominance, eradication of civilisation and tyranny.
Government were aware and they played along so they would be saved.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago

Overall a good piece, but that’s pretty much what I expect from you.

However, any time I hear/read “scientific consensus” I realise science has just left the room.

I do have a minor problem with your prediction 2. You have given an end point but no start point, therefore, the interval is from the beginning of time until April 1st 2021, and from the published stats your predictiopn has already failed.

Final question. Governments should plan for the 10% chance. Fair enough. When do they stop the planning and spending?

akirkby57
akirkby57
3 years ago

The UK covid death toll is currently 55,000 so what do you mean by “confirmed” deaths of less than 50,000? Do you mean deaths directly caused by covid as opposed to anyone who died from anything who also at some point had covid?

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  akirkby57

70,000 deaths 97% have died of Underlying or undiagnosed illnesses like Cancer,Heart,Lung diseases …,SARS2 death toll is nearer 10,000 less than 85,000 which died in 1968/69 in UK flu epidemic &pandemic .100,000 in US..during woodstock festival &before.

blanes
blanes
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin Lambert

Theres a court case going on in Denver because its been found that 40% of Covid deaths in that state also had gun shot wounds. Yep, Covid done it. Hahaha

David Waring
David Waring
3 years ago

No one actually investigated The provenance of the video clips showing people dropping in the streets in Wuhan and the links to pro Trump web sites.
With the benefits of hind sight all is now explained.
1) The illiberal media hated Trump, hence they failed to alert the world.
2) The same illiberal media never challenged the insanity of free movement as it was a fundamental EU Shiboleth.

Jasper Carrot
Jasper Carrot
3 years ago

There are interesting factors raised in the article. In such matters as disasters, within which epidemics & certainly pandemics can be grouped; governments are generally poor at anticipating their inevitability – more so in democracies. It is rare for many politicians to have had former personal experience in responding to something where lives are at stake – there is a reliance upon others to guide them, leaving the choice of response to them. Altruism is not seemingly in a politician’s mindset. Experiences are real & need to be respected. Statistics & comparisons play a part but do not help the general public, merely adding friction or cranking up the fear threshold.
The likelihood of disease is real, the likelihood of a pandemic had been less likely – that may well change & some reasonable preparation adopted … for the next time. Needless & expensive inquiries, after events, rarely provide value & are less likely to breed lessons that will be learned & subsequent positive action taken.
There are some key & reasonably straight forward measures, in respect to disease prevention/minimisation, that can be taken but have been generally ignored. Basic but effective personal hygiene is still an absolute need, though hospitals (the NHS) are proving to be places of transmission – another subject that needs to be resolved. The thorough washing of hands before eating (one obvious example, of many), the use of handkerchiefs/tissues, not coughing towards others should be second nature to everyone. The mandatory mask wearing reduces the likelihood of transmission; you don’t need scientific evidence to prove that. National production of PPE is something that should be second nature to governments; so much money was scandalously wasted because of the complete lack of PPE stocks, or having an ability to self-produce by UK firms.
The media thrives on bad news – social media is a virus of other & much worse sorts. The fundamentals to respond to this pandemic were never in-place & only more recently have Public Advertisements become evident in respect to basic hygiene precautions. There are so many failures that have happened over decades, many of which could have been mitigated by sensible preparation & effective planning. Until we have a sufficiency of politicians, civil & public servants anticipating & preparing for emergency situations failures will be repeated.

David Waring
David Waring
3 years ago

But the EU would have saved us. Yeah Right!!

simon3
simon3
3 years ago
Reply to  David Waring

No but they would have enabled us to get the vaccine MUCH more cheaply.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  simon3

Really gates Wants 8 billion innoculated..loony as are Globalists on this thread..

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
3 years ago

I have tried repeatedly to get any newspaper to pay attention to this, but the Board meeting minutes for Public Health England are on the web, and last year (around October, if I recall) included a meeting where they satisfied themselves that their pandemic preparedness was solid.

If PHE is saying that, it was not unreasonable for Boris et al to believe them.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Blow

There was also an independent global report that ranked the UK as having the second best Pandemic preparedness in the world. “The 2019 Global Health Security Index, which ranks 195 countries on health security”. The problem is everyone was thinking ‘mass flu pandemic’ and no one was thinking mass lockdown or mass testing. Neither of these things had ever been used or expected to be used in a pandemic on the scale we are now using.

The WHO also said in 2011:

Dr Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General, Health Security and Environment, World Health Organization said:

“The UK remains amongst the leaders worldwide in preparing for a pandemic. The new UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy builds positively on the lessons learned from the H1N1 pandemic in setting the UK’s strategic approach to pandemic preparedness and response”.

David Waring
David Waring
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

But it wasn’t an influenza was it?

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  David Waring

No, something the entire world got wrong.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago

Nostradamus ..No one predicted the Globalist Reset &totalarianism advocated by UN Agenda 2030…..Lockdowns dont work..Isolation hospitals defeated ”Spanish flu” 1918-20 which killed 90-100 Million

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

But one key implication was that the Government should have realised earlier what was coming, and acted accordingly.
What happened when people tried to act? In Italy, there was a pushback against the connection between Wuhan and the sizable number of Chinese nationals flying back and forth. In the US, the travel ban was called xenophobic while Dems, including the House Speaker, tried to rally attendance for Chinese New Year events.

How should govts have made that realization? Early advice from the WHO questioned whether human transmission was possible and Dr Fauci, among others, said masks were to be avoided. It also didn’t help that China went into cover-up mode almost immediately.

The ‘key implication here is that, once more, the fallacy of the precautionary principle is on full display, that there is no means of preventing all bad outcomes and that perhaps people should not farm out risk assessment to an unaccountable third party. From the start, we were told the most vulnerable would be the elderly and people battling other health issues. On that score, the data support the prediction, yet we have the endless second-guessing combined with the expectation of infallibility among govt officials.

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
3 years ago

Whenever a new strain of influenza or coronavirus has appeared, there’s nearly always been some expert claiming it would be the next Black Death. The problem for governments is to identify the one in fifty occasions when they’re correct.

And the comparison with playing ‘Russian roulette’ is fatuous. The measures adopted in response to the pandemic aren’t exactly cost free, even in simple health terms and lives lost there’s a substantial cost to lockdowns.

Robert Pay
Robert Pay
3 years ago

this shouldn’t let the Government off the hook…by government, do you also mean the permanent health administrative state whose job is to warn and prepare for such events? I wonder how credible the WHO is now? It advised that the virus was not transmissible and criticized the ban on travel from China. What do our dozy Foreign Office officials do in Asia and China in particular. Ordinary citizens seemed to be better informed that health or diplomatic sources. Friends in Hong Kong know it was SARS 2 on January 1!

davella02
davella02
3 years ago

Nobody wanted to listen and learn from Bill Gates who prognosticated 5 years ago there would be a pandemic. Once we knew it has arrived typical of the UK ruling classes to arrogantly dismiss it as something which will hardly affect us.
‘You reap what you sow’ and by jingo haven’t we reaped by having the highest % of deaths per head of populatio in the Western world. Quite the extreme opposite of Taiwan and other Asian countries who we could have learned from but no ” we British know best old chap”.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  davella02

And what about the left wing socialist government of Spain whose country had the highest death toll per capita in the world? Pandemic infection and death rates have very little to do with political ideology / government competence and more to do underlying factors such as population demographics, vitamin D status, pollution levels, pre existing immunity.

Let us not forget the virus came out of a Communist state.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  davella02

What are Bill Gates’ credentials when it comes to making accurate predictions, though? This is the man who wrote a book about the future of IT in 1995 that dismissed the significance of the internet. Within a year he had to rewrite the book and add 20,000 words to it to conceal his farcical lack of foresight.

He’s not a seer or a visionary, he’s just a monopolist who has spent his life retarding technological progress for personal gain. How do you know when to pay attention to the stopped clock?

Denis Stone
Denis Stone
3 years ago

1. Anyone who thinks this wasn’t, or could not have been, predicted should watch this 8-minute talk given by Bill Gates in March 2015, 5 years before covid-19 became a global problem:- https://www.youtube.com/wat
He saw it coming, received polite applause from his elite audience and nothing happened.

2. Like the UN, the WHO is a political organisation, weakened by its craving for consensus and the avoidance of conflict with Eastern nations. It cannot be seen as a scientific advisory board. That the government should try to hide behind the WHO as an excuse for not having acted more strongly and sooner is banal.

David Waring
David Waring
3 years ago

The UK spent time and money preparing for a Pandemic which did not arrive planning was predicated on a new Flu arriving.
Unfortunately no one spotted the influence of wet markets and the Orientals love of exotic food stuffs.
In fact no one mentions the reports of the open sale of bush meat in Belgium’s very own wet markets.
The EU aided the spread with its very own Free Movement Rules which made no provision for public health.