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Are we heading for another winter lockdown? If Covid deaths continue to rise we could be in trouble by November

So many happy memories (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

So many happy memories (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)


September 14, 2021   6 mins

On my 40th birthday late last year, during the autumn restrictions, I was allowed to meet one person, outside. I sat on a park bench on my 40th, drinking cans of beer with an old friend. That whole period feels like a strange dream.

By contrast, on Sunday I spent eight hours in a central London bar playing nerdy wargames in a tournament. When you’re surrounded by about 30 increasingly stressed men, on a warm day in a smallish, un-air-conditioned room, you become intensely aware of the limits of social distancing. I’ll find out whether I caught Covid soon enough, but the fact that it was possible to do it shows how different life is now.

There’s something worth noting, though. The current seven-day rolling average of deaths is at about 120. For context, that’s about what it was in the middle of October last year, two weeks before we went into that second lockdown. It’s about eight times what it was this time last year. As this thread from the Bristol University mathematician Oliver Johnson points out, in September 2020 the prediction that we would reach 200 deaths a day in November was met with horror and, in some cases, disbelief. But at the present rate of growth, we’ll be at 200 a day by November again, and no one seems to be all that concerned. 

Crucially, too, at that rate of growth we could end up at 2,000 hospitalisations a day — about half the January 2021 peak. If that were to happen, we probably won’t see hospitals running out of oxygen, like we did during the first two waves. But we might see it getting harder to access routine care. I spoke to one ophthalmologist earlier this year, and he said that quite a few patients suffered avoidable, but irreversible, sight loss because the sheer weight of Covid cases meant their treatment had to be delayed. That’s a microcosm of the health service in general: for comparison, 2017/18, the worst winter for excess deaths in the last half-century, saw a peak of about 1,000 hospitalisations and about 50 deaths a day, and that led to tens of thousands of hospital appointments being cancelled.

Maybe I’m misremembering, but my sense is that we were a lot more anxious last year than we are now. I don’t think there were many wargaming tournaments taking place, for one thing. Thousands of people cheered Emma Raducanu on as she won the US Open at the weekend; in 2020, it was played in front of empty stadiums.

We’re heading into winter again, and things will probably get worse — Boris Johnson is announcing plans for the coming months today — yet there remains a relatively carefree air. So why aren’t we more worried? And should we be?

There’s one obvious reason why we’re not all freaking out, and that is that we’re tired and bored and aren’t really paying attention. The news isn’t really reporting the numbers any more. 

But there are also real differences between now and last year,  mainly driven by immunity, particularly vaccines. Adam Kucharski, a mathematical epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told me that while “normalisation” has been part of it — “numbers that were massive don’t feel so massive” — there are also other things at work.

Some of it is pretty obvious. “The pool of susceptibility is very different,” he says. At the start of the pandemic, and in the second wave, there was the potential for a huge amount of devastation — “hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of hospitalisations”. We “hit the pause button” with lockdowns and other restrictions, but that was just pushing them into the future; the potential was still there.

Now, that pool of susceptibility is much smaller. Around 90% of all over-16s in the UK are vaccinated, and about seven million people have had Covid. Those people are much less likely to die than they were a year ago. Even if we completely let Covid rip through the population, it couldn’t do as much damage. 

This is because the vaccines work, really quite well. If you look at how deaths are distributed (p33), around 16% of Covid fatalities among the over-80s are in not-fully-vaccinated people, despite around 95% of that age group being vaccinated: having the vaccine makes you much less likely to get very ill. 

Also, the shape of the curve is very different this time around. We’re at 120 deaths a day, but the growth rate is about 7% a week. There’s this neat trick for working out compound growth: if you divide 70 by the percentage weekly growth, you get the (rough) doubling time. So it will take about 10 weeks for deaths to double. By comparison, deaths were going up 50% a week for periods in autumn and winter, doubling about every 10 days. 

That’s, again, because of vaccinations. We’re living amazingly open lives at the moment — bars and theatres open, schools open, masks not compulsory — but the numbers of cases, and hospitalisations, and deaths, have crept up rather than shot up. “It’s been at a plateau for a long time,” says Kucharski. “Last year it was a firehose; you start to open up and cases go up.” Vaccines work against infection as well, so even though we’re pretty much wide open, vaccination is keeping growth slow.

After a few months of this, we now have a sense of what living with Covid feels like. Before, there weren’t “flat” periods. Either Covid numbers were going up, as they were in spring 2020 and autumn and winter, or we’d locked down and they were declining again. There was never stability. Now, even in our quite open society, even with full football stadiums and shops, numbers are going up only slowly, because we’re less likely to get infected and less likely to get ill if we do.

The question, of course, is what to do next. Because while the numbers may be rising slowly, they are still going up. 

Maybe that doesn’t matter and we don’t need to stop them. “The optimistic reading is that we now have so much immunity that it’ll peak on its own,” says Oliver Johnson. And there are hints that case numbers have begun to come down. But if it doesn’t, if it carries on as it is, then we’ll have 250 or so deaths a day by the middle of November, and the NHS under severe pressure. 

The three things we should have learnt about Covid by now are, one, that it is quite hard to predict but that looking at percentage growth rates and extrapolating them into the future is a good start; two, that you need to prepare for the tail risks; and three, that doing things earlier rather than later is often a good idea.

Luckily, things are still moving relatively slowly. “If it’s a car crash,” says Johnson, “it’s a very very slow-motion car crash. There are opportunities to turn it around.” 

And we probably won’t need the stringent restrictions we used in the last two waves to turn it around, because the immunity in the population has made it harder for the disease to spread. “We have different levers we can pull now,” says Kucharski. “We can keep testing, we can use vaccine certification, we can reintroduce masks or ask people to work from home.” Given the slow growth, a combination of things like those — and vaccinations for the under-16s, announced this week, and booster jabs for the elderly, which are expected to be announced soon – might be enough to slow the growth to zero, to a truly flat epidemic.

But whatever we do, we’ll probably need to do it sooner rather than later: the Government’s bloody silly “irreversible” comment notwithstanding, introducing less stringent measures now could avoid us having to do more stringent ones later. “If hospitalisations creep up and creep up,” says Kucharski, “then if we tighten up, it could leave us with a flat epidemic at a higher plateau.” If the numbers have already doubled once or twice from where they are, that “would not leave us somewhere where we want the NHS to be over the winter”. The growth has been slower than it was, but in absolute terms, we are at a much higher level than we were this time last year, meaning that we have “less wiggle room” ahead of the winter surge in pressure on the NHS. 

Going out to restaurants, meeting people, sending my kids to school or to their gymnastics class and football — all that stuff of life is great and important. I want to have as much of it as possible over the winter. So we need to start talking about some relatively minor adjustments – stuff like bringing back masks in shops, encouraging working from home where possible, backing proper vaccination certificates. I prefer the world where I can play silly nerdy games in sweaty rooms, even if I lose all my games and come dead last, to the world where I sit on a park bench in the cold for two birthdays in a row.

 


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

TomChivers

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Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago

“So we need to start talking about some relatively minor adjustments – stuff like bringing back masks in shops, encouraging working from home where possible, backing proper vaccination certificates.”

So that’s a minor adjustment?

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

There is no worse idea than vaccine passports. They divide a society and create a dangereous precedent. Worse, they fail even on first principles: For if the vaccines are effective, the vaccinated should not fear the unvaccinated, ergo no need for vaccine passports. If the vaccines are not effective, then there is no need for vaccine passports.
Ditto for face masks – still no evidence they work to slow transmission, and a mountain of RCTs that fail to show a positive result. As regards teleworking, that is a matter for private businesses.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

End the tyranny of driving licenses and compulsory insurance now! It discriminates against the unlicensed and uninsured. As for driving on the same side of the road…

P Lewington
P Lewington
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

A driving licence isn’t for a medical procedure.

Last edited 2 years ago by P Lewington
mattpope145
mattpope145
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Re first principles:
The longer a virus sticks around the more likely it is to mutate. Unvaccinated going to areas where they are likely to spread the virus to other unvaccinated is a danger to everyone in the long-run. Preventing this would be the point of the vaccine passports.

Sheryl Rhodes
Sheryl Rhodes
2 years ago
Reply to  mattpope145

This is definitely worth discussion and better understanding—I am not taking a position yet.
However, a full discussion must obviously include the situation we are in, where a non-sterilizing vaccine is being administered to a population that is in the midst of a pandemic. Those of us who are vaxxed are still getting Covid so the argument that allowing the un-vaxxed to run about is what’s causing the virus to linger seems incomplete.
I have to wonder if I should WANT to get the virus now that I have been vaxxed, in order to boost the efficacy of the vax with a more broad-based natural immunity.

Jerry Smith
Jerry Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Sheryl Rhodes

I’ve just recovered from a mild dose of Covid which, ironically, I almost certainly caught at the centre where I went to be vaccinated. I live in Sri Lanka, currently locked down, and haven’t been out except for vaccination for over a month now. This country is obsessed with masks (even outdoors is compulsory) and endless hand-washing, neither of any real effectiveness, yet completely fails to impose social distancing. At the vaccinat8on centre crowds were pushing hither and thither. The army was around and did nothing.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  mattpope145

*The longer the virus sticks around the more likely it is to mutate”, er I would quibble that it mutates pretty much at the same rate, but you are indeed more likely to get a dangerous mutation the longer it sticks around. But this is not ‘sticks around in the population at large’, but rather ‘sticks around inside one particular individual’. The greatest factor seems to be whether or not you treat the patient with convalescent plasma.
See this study of on patient in the UK.
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03291-y
(write-up for the general public https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/covid-variants-may-arise-in-people-with-compromised-immune-systems/ )
You get some asymptomatic people whose bodies just don’t clear the disease, producing variant after variant, but the people most likely to harbour the virus for a long time, and produce lots of variants are the people with compromised immune systems.

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
2 years ago
Reply to  mattpope145

True, but you could say the same about ‘flu mutating into dangerous new variants (which it does, and always has done, see 1918).
We can be human, a social species, with normal interactions and suffer the consequences in terms of disease. Or, we can remove human contact (or most of it) and be relatively safe for a while.
Downside though, without being constantly challenged our immune systems will eventually cease to work properly. This is why, after close to zero ‘flu last year, a very severe flu outbreak is predicted. Another winter of lockdown would make this even worse.

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
2 years ago
Reply to  mattpope145

I just tried Matt.

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago
Reply to  John Wilkes

You shouldn’t ignore eggshell and gloss though. Depends on the job.

David Slade
David Slade
2 years ago
Reply to  mattpope145

It seems to be an argument against living in general and doesn’t acknowledge the reality that we all have to live with these ever mutating viruses (including influenza) and our immune systems have to adapt whilst we do what we can for the vulnerable (vaccines or – even better – better anti viral drugs). The trouble with the ‘we need less stuff so less of it mutates’ argument is it comes across as quite a hysterical call for risk avoidance (which has devastating collateral consequences in this case), rather than risk management. Hence why I (though I haven’t) would down vote it.

Also, as I have said but admit could be argued either way, whilst anything that replicates can mutate, it’s the pressure from its external environment that creates selection pressures to favour significant changes. You could just as logically make a case that the actions of the hosts in trying to surpress the virus are creating more transmissible variants that flourish despite restrictions.

I don’t know this second point for a fact – anymore than those that take the opposite view can know theirs – but ambiguity should favour the least collateral damage and the quickest return to normality.

Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor
2 years ago
Reply to  David Slade

There are all manner of things we have to live with. One could call war an epidemic. It rises, sometimes unpredictably, is contagious locally and can spread more widely, eventually subsides unless fed from outside, and its innocent victims are selected by chance. And, yes, you could say the survivors have to live with it, at least until they become dead.

Last edited 2 years ago by Nicholas Taylor
Saul D
Saul D
2 years ago
Reply to  mattpope145

The argument is more complex.
Mutation will happen, but mutations are in competition with other varieties. So long as other varieties are dominant (eg the original strain) the mutation will be suppressed due to mutual competition and fewer opportunities to flourish. If you suppress the dominant varieties (eg via vaccination or medicines) then the other mutations will emerge into the gap. Some mutations will be low risk, some high risk, but it’s luck of the draw.
This is then how antibiotic-resistant MRSI emerges because antibiotics poorly applied create the opportunity for new strains or quinine resistant forms of malaria develop, or flu emerges in new strains that get around anti-bodies due to earlier strains.
The unvaccinated remain as a reservoir of potential for the original strains. The vaccinated are a reservoir of potential who might be safe against current strains, but still be a nursery for other mutations. Really no-one knows what the risk is. The hope is that more virulent strains won’t emerge, and mutations will be less deadly. In reality this is the first time anything like this has been tried at this scale, so fingers crossed…

Helen Hughes
Helen Hughes
2 years ago
Reply to  mattpope145

As the vaccinated can “spread the virus” as much as those who have chosen not to have it or can’t have it, the passports make no sense, regardless of the ins and outs of variants and where they come from.

Jonathan Bagley
Jonathan Bagley
2 years ago
Reply to  Helen Hughes

You do not understand epidemics. The vaccine reduces the chance of getting the virus by 80%. If you don’t have it, you can’t spread it. Vaccination prevents spread only by preventing people catching the virus. Passports cut out the people who are 4 times as likely to have the virus, and therefore 4 times as likely to spread it.
A good start would be to let those who don’t take up the offer of the vaccine die on their sofas. It may concentrate their tiny minds.
The only way out of this is for 90% of the population to be immune, either by vaccination or infection. Otherwise there will be repeated periods of exponential growth and the consequent hospitalisations.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  mattpope145

The duration of the virus has been protracted due to lockdowns. Had we been more stoic about it and continued with business as normal, it would have subsided already.

Iris C
Iris C
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Exactly! And no one seems to remember that we did not wear masks up until June of last year and as soon as we started wearing them, the numbers increased. Illogical, I know, but restricting breathing through exhalations and putting on and off masks is, I believe, detrimental to health.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Sweden. Estonia, where lockdowns were never stridently imposed. Most of what was voluntary in Sweden was mandatory here, but there was not a major difference in approaches.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago
Reply to  mattpope145

The numbers don’t back up this position. If you take the 30 countries of Western Europe, comparing vaccination rates with number of new infections per 100k, you get a strong positive correlation.
This inconvenient fact is not consistent with a storyline of the virus spreading among the unvaccinated.
But it is consistent with a storyline of the vaccines encouraging new variants. This is because the vaccines are ‘leaky’, and rolling them out in the middle of a pandemic is a sure fire way of breeding vaccine resistant mutants. As Brett Weinstein put it: you are exerting huge evolutionary pressure on the virus to select strains that are not detected by the vaccine-induced antibodies.

Sheryl Rhodes
Sheryl Rhodes
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Yes! Weinstein predicted exactly what would happen. I was hoping that he would be wrong.

Steve Hoffman
Steve Hoffman
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

“Mountain of RCTs”? Where? When? I know of one:Denmark 2020, which, as you say, was inconclusive. All the mask “evidence” has been studies, small-scale lab experiments but never random controlled trials.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago

Einstein once said that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results”. Hasn’t Tom figured out yet that ALL the measures implemented by the UK government and other western government to date have had absolutely zero effect (this includes lockdowns and cloth/surgical mask wearing). They may broaden the curve a little but that just prolongs the agony as the area under the curve remains unchanged.

Peter MacDonagh
Peter MacDonagh
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

It is certainly hard to see clear evidence lockdowns worked. How do we even know the vaccines work? The illness would have been worse. Fine but how can you tell if you don’t know how bad it will be? Perhaps there is a clear difference as the systemic level that dean be measured and I am not aware of, I’m not sure.

When the earth is parched through drought and the shaman does the rain the dance until one day the clouds come and we have rain. We rejoice and claim the dance brought the rain.

Norman Powers
Norman Powers
2 years ago

I’m honestly getting a bit suspicious about these claims of severe disease being reduced too. I keep seeing comments of the form “I was double jabbed, got COVID, it knocked me out for a week. But it would obviously have been much worse if I wasn’t vaccinated!” Yet, that description sounds identical to what COVID was like before the vaccines. It’s not clear at all that it would have been worse without the vaccine.
Frankly, the vague nature of terms like “serious” and the semi-voluntary nature of hospitalization (you have to actually decide to go) is also making me wonder. It shouldn’t be grounds for suspicion really, but after the last two years of constant definitional game-playing I really wonder how many people should be going to hospital, or would have been taking themselves there a year ago, who are now toughing it out because they’re being told that since they’re vaccinated, their symptoms cannot be serious by definition. I’ve definitely heard stories like that e.g. someone who said they got COVID, had breathing difficulties despite being fully vaxxed, but they just stayed at home. I thought breathing difficulties were part of the definition of serious symptoms but apparently not?

Last edited 2 years ago by Norman Powers
Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

I’m in total agreement. Here in the US, the administration is all-in with the vaccine, mandating full vaccination for every employee working in a company of 100 people or more. (Now I have been doubly vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine back in Feb/March and I was pleased to get it at the time so I’m by no means anti-vaxx). Yet the logic behind the current ruling is bizarre and I suspect it has more to do with the obvious conflict of interest between the NIH and Moderna as the US public health officials simply can’t admit that the vaccines are not quite what they’ve been cracked up to be. The US administration says that the pandemic/epidemic is now that of the unvaccinated and that 99% of hospitalized patients for COVID are unvaccinated. If that’s truly the case, then the vaccine must be close to 100% effective, in which case why would the vaccinated care about who is or is not unvaccinated since the assumed risk of getting COVID in the unvaccinated would be purely on them. Yet it cannot be true because the US is not going to be any different from the UK or Israel or Iceland where the majority of current COVID hospitalized patients have been doubly vaccinated. Hardly a surprise given that the majority in these three countries have been vaccinated, and according to the Israelis the effectiveness of the vaccines wanes after 6 months down to the 40% level (hence the Israeli push for boosters which seems to me like a Hail Mary).
It’s the same for masks. cf Chivers’ last article on the Bangladeshi study. Here he goes again about needing to implement mask wearing ahead of the winter “flu” season. yet irrespective of design flaws in the Bangladeshi study comprising 350,000 people they only found a 9% overall effect of surgical/cloth masks on COVID transmission. With 350,000 people in the trial, of course the 9% was statistically significant but in practical terms it showed that the impact of masks in the community is insignificant and that masks are of no practical value, other than acting as a safety blanket and an opportunity for well-to-do elites to virtue signal. Even comparing counties in the US, it’s obvious masks have no impact: for example, in Montgomery County Maryland (where I live) a mask mandate has been reintroduced and is being followed strictly in all shops; in neighboring Frederick Country there are no mask mandates and nobody is wearing masks in shops. And guess what? There is absolutely no difference in the number of cases, hospitalizations or deaths due to COVID between the two counties. Similarly during the entire course of the pandemic there were mask mandates in North Dakota but none in South Dakota; the demographics and population density are identical, the two states are next door to each other, and surprise surprise, the curves for daily cases/million and daily deaths/million are quantitatively completely superimposable for the 2 states.
What is clear is that in the Anglosphere, at least, we are living in a crazy upside-down world where 2+2 is no longer 4 but 5!

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

The Bangladesh study was laughable. The compliance measurement was observational. Of 350,000 people that came down to what the researchers felt as they were walking around and a handful of interviews. Compare that to what these “scientists” say about ivermectin studies that show effectiveness. Japan is allowing ivermectin, sent a bunch of mrna vaccine back for metal contamination, and did this study! They don’t seem to trust our medical heroes of the West for some reason! https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.08.22.457114v1.full

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

We really do need to get more information from non-English speaking leading nations.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

Totally agree with you about the Bangladesh study. But if one takes it at face value in real practical terms the impact of masks is a nothing-burger.
And I suspect the Japanese may be a bit less rigid medically or less rigidly adherent to so-called “scientific” medicine than the medical establishment in the US/UK is.

Ian Manning
Ian Manning
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

I think your comment – ‘UK or Israel or Iceland where the majority of current COVID hospitalised patients have been doubly vaccinated – might be on the back of an admitted mistaken comment by Sir Patrick Valance, the Govt’s Chief Scientific Advisor. I am unsure of the correct figure but it is clear that the majority of hospitalisations in the UK are NOT those who have been double jabbed.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

You should be ashamed to live inside the Beltway. OK, not really, but sort of….

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

You aren’t listening to the sage psychological nudging. Turn back on your TV and get your fill bad citizen.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago

https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.08.22.457114v1.full

They worked until the virus mutated. They areca failure

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago

Sure it can be measured. If the vaccine has run through the population and deaths are lower relative to cases then the vaccines are working.

Michael Richardson
Michael Richardson
2 years ago

Here is a fun party game. Produce a histogram of per-population mortality rates (eg., deaths per million) for, say, the years 2000 to 2020, but jumble the years up and label them A, B, … The aim is to pick 2020, which will obviously be easy, since 2020 was so much worse than the other years …. Oh! no it wasn’t, it is in the middle somewhere.
Put it more “scientifically”, the N-year excess mortality rate in 2020 was nothing to write home about. Really, Covid19 had little effect on mortality. Sure, people died of Covid19, but people didn’t die from other causes. Also, because the age-related mortality curve for Covid19 is pretty well the same as the all-cause age-related mortality rate, there is no exceptional change in lost life-years.
In that case, why would one expect a Covid19 vaccine to have any effect on overall mortality? Some people might not die of Covid19, but they will just die of something else.

Last edited 2 years ago by Michael Richardson
Andrew D
Andrew D
2 years ago

Have checked ONS statistics. They show UK crude mortality rate for 2020 as 1,016 per 100,000. This was higher than in the years between 2004 and 2019, but similar to the years between 1990 and 2004. So a mild blip, or a reversion to the norm, nothing major.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Given my understanding that the vaccines are non sterilising, given that mass vaccination during a pandemic is driving ever more infectious variants and given that natural immunity is better than that conferred by the ever lowering immunity conferred by vaccines, is it an idea to almost ‘seek’ infection now? I am mulling this over, because it is being increasingly mooted that we are all going to get it.
I agree that I have seen no evidence that masks and hard lockdowns work (barring the temporary success of some very authoritarian lockouts in certain isolated island states). I have often reported that South Africa’s second wave had no hard lockdown and the epidemic curve followed the usual timeless epidemic curve. Given that some countries are moving to declare the disease endemic – surely we should all be moving to more normal lives driven by personal decisions, not lives dictated by mandates from governments. Those who wish, may take extra precautions.
As for the NHS
. my understanding is that the NHS frequently runs close to capacity and has done for decades (I have witnessed this myself on one of my trips to the UK many years ago). It is very scary that regular health checks and treatment is being halted
 so what is the answer? Triage? Upping tax and improving the NHS?! Whatever the answer, countries will increasingly move into death spirals with hard lockdowns.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago

All very true. Towit, Denmark has lifted all restrictions (it has a similar vaxx rate to the UK).
The key for dealing with the inevitable winter surge is to downplay the panic, which is the real driver. We also have to be less vindictive in allowing those who proposed these measures to climb down without losing face.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

No it has a higher rate since 80% includes all over 12 yrs old

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

They belong in prison cells…at the least

Iris C
Iris C
2 years ago

It is because there are so many single elderly people in the population that the NHS is overstretched in the winter. Who can look after them if they are not in hospital?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Iris C

I wasn’t really seeking a reason, but yes, the NHS is always under strain the winter which is my point. The solution should be sought.

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Broadening the curve means that the NHS (and equivalent elsewhere) can cope with the numbers. That is what we were told a year and a half ago.
Otherwise we could have ended up like Sweden where 95% of the population died waiting to get into hospital. (I’m sure that must be right as the MSM wouldn’t keep quiet about a country having much lower death rates without a single lockdown would they?).

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  John Wilkes

But truth be told we don’t even know whether the curve was broadened. Recall in NYC the Mercy hospital ship was brought in and an emergency hospital at the Javitz center was set up. Neither were ever used.
And I assume your second paragraph is sarcasm, especially since the Swedes have not fared any worse than the US or UK, and if anything quite a bit better.

Sue Julians
Sue Julians
2 years ago

This article is utterly infuriating and makes many assumptions. It also feels like previous conversations, where journalists and tenured academics write off restrictions as ‘minor’ as they have no personal effect on them or their lives.
CoMix is completely flawed in it’s methodology, now that working patterns have changed. They will not measure the amount of different contacts someone has, just the number on a specific day, every two weeks.
Commuters get the same train with the same people and then sit in the same office with the same people when they get to work. Their offices have higher obligations on cleaning and covid risk in general than at home. Many office workers, particularly young ones, have abandoned their bedrooms for the local cafe. Where, of course, they mix with new and different people. Number of contacts in a week go up, not down: particularly now the restrictions have been removed for social activity.
Schools going back is an interesting test bed, since for the first time it has happened after a full social opening. There is a real possibility that cases will go down, as their lives become more structured, rather than travelling the country to see family and do summer activities.
the point i am taking a long time to make is that you cannot stop people from mixing for this length of time. They will find a different way to do it.
And businesses can’t just WFH. They may have the technology. And don’t say it was fine in the first lockdown, the innovation had happened, few people moved job, and they were carrying out work previously decided on. They have all realised now that it is unsustainable in the long run, hybrid fine, but teams need to spend time together in person. After all, nobody meets friends for zoom drinks any more if there’s a choice to see them in person.
As for saving the NHS? It is not working for anyone right now. There is no NHS for most people. This constant insistence that it’s our responsibility to save this deity is pathetic. I don’t blame the staff, but how have we still 1/2 of NHS staff as managers, not clinicians? It’s clear we need a clinician led service based on need, not admin targets set by ambitious managers.
And where is the innovation 18 months on? Australia have a ‘hospital at home’ system to keep covid patients out of hospital unless absolutely necessary. They are visited virtually each day and given equipment like SpO2 monitors so that they can be swiftly admitted if the need arises.
But no, lets just eff up the lives of those who have only just got theirs back, send depressed and anxious office workers back home, it’ll make their EAP services very busy after all, good for business!
I was in a strategy meeting with my biggest client, a company with 4000 workers, with the benefits team and all the healthcare vendors last week. If more people were in those type of meetings and could see the results of these policies playing out in the lives of young workers they would be absolutely horrified. Do not write this off as an irrelevance, a mere frippery. The sword of Damocles is back above us. Do you want to help wield the sword, Tom? (Love your work normally but this is completely blind to many people’s reality)

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  Sue Julians

1/2 NHS staff as managers – that claim would benefit from some analysis. Kings Fund ten years ago used estimates of around 4.5% ‘managers and senior managers’ as I recall, but I guess you have different data, or a different definition. I’d be interested to see. I’m not a fan of NHS management, btw.

Sue Julians
Sue Julians
2 years ago

Apologies, I meant admin staff. I saw the statistic a couple of days ago.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago
Reply to  Sue Julians

You have a point and that needs change but we are here this winter now.

Graeme Laws
Graeme Laws
2 years ago
Reply to  Sue Julians

Just looked at that and I’m not sure I am any the wiser. Is there stuff that the NHS should not be doing at all? How well are resources used? Are the managers any good? What is best practice, and can it be shared? Do nurses really have to have degrees? How many managers have been fired for failure to perform? Exactly why did we never hear from the chief executive of the NHS at the height of the pandemic? I suspect that the organisation is just too big, and needs to be broken into smaller units that reasonably competent managers can cope with.

I remember years ago one report on the NHS saying that if Florence Nightingale was found wandering the corridors of Hannibal House [then HQ of the NHS] she would probably be looking for the person in charge.

Sue Julians
Sue Julians
2 years ago
Reply to  Graeme Laws

When I did a stint at the Nightingale in Jan/ Feb, i would have been lucky to have spent more than 25% of my time with patients. The rest of my time was spent recording, in several different places, taking 10 mins to log on each time, providing measures that no-one would use and were completely inappropriate for the patients’ individual goals.It’s process driven, not patient driven. Service managers, the most experienced clinicians, were in back to back meetings all day.
In private practice I spend 85% with patients, 10% admin and 5% reading / learning. NHS has an ideological objection to using private practice, even for surge. All private hospitals that were set up, were virtually empty despite having green zones and being more than capable of seeing the stuff that has now ended up as a backlog.

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago
Reply to  Graeme Laws

I think part of the problem is that initially many of the managers were recruited from the hospitality sector. Yes they had managerial expertise, but not medical expertise. Having a fit healthy person stay with you on a jolly is totally different to providing care for the sick or injured. Failure to grasp this difference resulted in people being sent home far too soon after operations, with the outcome that many needed readmission. Decisions about which patient could go home when always rested with the clinicians, I don’t think that is the case these days.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  Sue Julians

Thanks for the link.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Sue Julians

Great comment. I hadn’t heard of the Aussie Hospital at Home idea. Very interesting.

Christopher Peter
Christopher Peter
2 years ago
Reply to  Sue Julians

Excellent comment; I was about to write my own but this pretty much states what I was thinking. Tom has written some very good articles but this one is mystifying. Normal, everyday freedoms that Tom describes are not a “nice to have”, in the gift of a capricious government and medical establishment to give or take away based on dodgy computer modelling. They are what we all assumed (naively as it turned out) were ours by right until about 18 months ago.
Unlike many posters here, I did broadly support lockdowns and other restrictions the first time around. I hated them of course but I believe they were justified given the situation at the time. But things have changed, and they cannot be part of the long term solution. If the “NHS can’t cope” with peak demand (which seems to happen most winters, even pre-covid) then it needs to change so that it can, with whatever mix of resources, innovation and reform is required (and I’m quite sure it’s not just a case of more money).
We cannot live under constant threat of basic freedoms being taken away; most people will be prepared to take sensible precautions and make certain sacrifices to help others, based on their own compassion and common sense, but constant totalitarian restrictions will only ever be tolerated for limited periods and in exceptional circumstances. A state of emergency can only last so long, pretty much by definition. The government did what it (arguably) needed to do – now it needs to get back in its box.

Sue Julians
Sue Julians
2 years ago

Thank you. I also supported the first lockdown and reluctantly, the third. But now that the devastation of this policy is beginning to come to light, and the measure of their long term success is more and more dubious, I’m of the strong opinion that they should never happen again.

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
2 years ago
Reply to  Sue Julians

Devastation is right. Health & social care staff deployed away from frontline services such as disability support for adults & children, are seeing that their services are not being reinstated or capacity dramatically reduced. The quality of life for people living with disabilities & their families is low and unlikely to improve soon.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Sue Julians

Apology accepted.

markcalunius
markcalunius
2 years ago
Reply to  Sue Julians

Well said on why “saving the NHS” is required.
When will the population wake up to the fact that the NHS is only an organisational structure for managing and funding provision of healthcare – and a very bad one at that. The alternative to the NHS for the UK is not a US-style survival of the richest but rather the alternative models used in countries such as Germany – highly decentralised providers independent of government. The government has a role in regulating and paying for health care but should not be in the business of trying to run hospitals.
The latest OECD comparison makes for interesting cross country reading:
https://www.oecd.org/health/health-systems/Health-at-a-Glance-2019-Chartset.pdf
Page 34 shows cost of providing the same basket of medical goods/ services:
US is indexed to 100
UK is 83
OECD average 72
Germany 68
i.e. UK pays 22% more than Germany for the same services
Why don’t politicians / media ask why that is?
Presumably some unholy cocktail of
– poor/excessive management
– monopoly providers with no incentive to improve productivity
– powerful unions protecting outmoded working practices
– central pay bargaining
 Of course this doesn’t even factor in the other elephant in the NHS cost-benefit equation being the real cost to the tax payer of NHS final salary pensions.
Now the government proposes to throw a load more money at the NHS which, due to short term capacity being fixed, will likely go directly into higher pay/bonuses for NHS staff.
I despair.

Sue Julians
Sue Julians
2 years ago
Reply to  markcalunius

Totally agree with this.
Cost of NHS physio is 50-100% higher than I provide my service for privately. And they earn more than us when pensions factored in. But we are ‘only in it for the money’.
Most private practitioners go into it for the autonomy, job satisfaction etc. Clinicians like spending their time with patients, not doing pointless admin or working with an IT system that isnt fit for purpose.
It’s time the demonisation of the private sector stopped and we were able to start collaborating more with our NHS colleagues.
Sadly, though, the way the private sector is procured by the NHS (for a ridiculously low price) means the quality is poor and reinforces the prejudice.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago

The difference is that no one believes the figures anymore. The 120 people a day who die are mostly people who have ‘tested positive’, usually as part of the routine on admission to hospital, and have subsequently died. Their admission to hospital could have been as a result of an accident, because they were about to give birth, or because they were extremely old or terminally ill and required end of life care. If they ‘tested positive’ and died within 28 days, they are classed as a a ‘Covid death’. People have rumbled this now.
I have never worn a mask or taken a test and never will. I have paid into the NHS for 40 years and I expect it to protect me, not the other way round. If people have gone blind ‘because of Covid’, when eye units are entirely separate areas of hospitals with specialist staff, that is criminal negligence. It has not been caused by someone not wearing a pointless mask in Tesco’s.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
2 years ago

Absolutely

Peta Seel
Peta Seel
2 years ago

You left out the people who go to hospital for non-Covid reasons, test negative then catch it while there. At a conservative estimate these people make up about 30% of people in hospital with Covid. As an aside, that also shows just how ineffective masks are.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Peta Seel

Absolutely.

G A
G A
2 years ago

Covid is over. It’s done. What we have now is what we’ll have forever. The media and government just can’t let go of this money spinner, though.

Toby Bray
Toby Bray
2 years ago

The usual “it might get a lot worse” argument, used to justify all kinds of *huge* changes to our lives – masks, working from home, vaccination certificates – which are blithely dismissed as “relatively minor adjustments”.
I’ve had it with these people. They’ll swallow anything. They say they’re bothered, but they don’t really care that our lives are being turned upside down & all our liberties taken away. To them it’s all just a small inconvenience.

Last edited 2 years ago by Toby Bray
Alan T
Alan T
2 years ago

Authoritarianism is a “minor adjustment”.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Is introducing vaccine certification not a stringent restriction? Tracking and control over the whereabouts of citizens sounds very serious to me. This for vaccines that do not confer immunity and more importantly do not prevent transmission.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago

I disagree with Tom’s statement that early action is desirable. If we had panicked in July and imposed restrictions when 50k cases looked like they might rise to 100k or 200k (as recommended by Labour) it would have ruined the summer and shuttered many businesses. The lesson I learned was: Don’t panic, Mr Johnson!

Government figures show cases of confirmed infections are dropping (last 7 days are 8% lower than previous 7 days). Case rates are falling in Scotland too where they have been stubbornly high. Lower case numbers mean fewer deaths so if this trend continues we should be OK.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt M
Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

Latest figures (4pm on 14th Sep) – cases now down 14%

Michael Richardson
Michael Richardson
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

No problem. The government can just lower the threshold. Simples.

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
2 years ago

I actually do where a mask in shops. Despite the huge variety in standards (material, cleanliness etc) which defeat the object in a crowded area. I do it as a courtesy to fellow human beings who have been seriously spooked by this.
I also prefer sitting on a park bench in the fresh air, to being in a hot room with 30 sweaty men. But whatever floats your boat, Tom. I was born in a society where you could do either, and remain here because it is still the best way to live.
Seriously Tom – we need to start talking about the contract between the Health Service and it’s people. People’s duty to look after their own health, where they are able. It’s not 1945 anymore.
Start recording actually cause of death, note where CoVid was present but don’t guess that it was the primary cause. (Both my parents had pneumonia on their death certificate, although that was not the reason they were in hospital). Then look at primary cause, be brutally honest, and go from there, per the individual’s responsibility and what HMG can realistically do to help.
Authoritarianism should be the absolute last resort, not some convenient fallback because everything else seems too difficult.

Last edited 2 years ago by Dustin Needle
Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

The looking after own health issue is vital- diabetes 2 etc. How to persuade many millions of blokes with massive guts for example to change without untreated bodies in the streets as it were is a conundrum.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

It has been time enough for the ‘seriously spooked’ to apply some logic and knowledge – it is over 18 months since the spooking began. Why should these people be dictating how the bulk of people live? I find wearing masks a particularly onerous imposition. I cannot breathe and find mask wearing give a sense of a scary 1984 totalitarian world. Things are bad enough without being able to see the expressions of fellow human beings and being constantly reminded of the control and loss of freedoms that is being exerted by governments.
If you are particularly fearful or are badly health compromised, take the necessary precautions and wear a N95 mask when you go out.

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
2 years ago

Hi Lesley – I’m mindful of the number in my wife’s circle of friends (60 – 70-somethings) who have health issues across a range of severity and genuinely fear for their lives. Others, like my younger University-educated sister-in-law have been a state of depression for over a year. Common denominator? Their logic and knowledge is fed to them by BBC, Sky and/or Channel 4 news.
I’ll spare you all my views on 24 hour rolling news, other than to say I have for many years regarded it as a curse on modern society. I used to laugh at people who described it as a brainwashing tool. Not any more. Now I’m an average bloke, politically pretty moderate except when provoked, and whose view on the world is informed by family history and 60+ years of life including 40+ years of employment. So why is it that the bigger the news organisation, the smaller the chance of finding my views represented anywhere on it?
To get back to your point re masks; some wearers will have a form of comorbidity, and some have had their minds poisoned (see previous para) so need to time to adjust back to a world where my kids can get on with their futures. I don’t feel coerced in any way and am glad we have got to a point where it’s voluntary, at least for now. Yes, I’m probably being more empathetic than I need to be. But that’s probably the best response to your question I can muster.
A final point if I may. Tom reflected on his feelings after a 8 hour gaming session. Co-incidentally I too reflected on watching Day 5 of a Test Match. A packed crowd, the armpits of the bulky and rowdy bloke (friendly though) rarely far away from my upper body. Massive presence of a totally magnificent India supporters, in full cry from the off – deafening from the Root dismissal onwards. And one of the finest displays of Test cricket (by India) I have ever witnessed.
Now, the only people I know who have suffered serious health and family consequences as a direct result of CoVid, are Indian. The Test was an open-air event but even these are routinely described as “super-spreaders”.
And the conclusion of my reflection? A truly great Test performance (by India!) that I will remember for a long time. And that we shouldn’t be more afraid of life in a free society than we are of death – I suspect you may agree with that.
Thanks for your response, and if you’ve made it this far, for reading mine.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

Thanks Dustin. I am over 60 and still value my freedom and certainly value the freedom of those younger than me. So what it boils down to, is that because it has to all intents and purposes been proven that almost all masks don’t work, let those that are scared wear the effective but hugely uncomfortable N95 masks when they are forced to leave home.
They should also start doing some investigation into therapeutics. I understand the push back against Ivermectin by authorities, because there is no money to be made from it – hence even the FDA calling it a horse medication…. That right there is a smoking gun, because it is a complete untruth. A further recent smoking gun is accounts from CNN about so many people overdosing from Ivermectin that there is no place for gunshot victims in hospitals. That is complete fiction.
My attitude is that even if Ivermectin proves to be ineffective (which has yet to be proved!), the fact that the authorities are jumping through hoops to discredit it and the fact that it is one of the safest medications on planet earth would move me to take it. Safer than aspirin. There are options open to your friends.
I’m pleased that you enjoyed your cricket. Indeed it is valuable to live your live with enjoyment, rather than live a few more years cowering and terrified behind a closed door wearing two masks.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

I don’t do any of those things. I look after my own health and have paid for the NHS for 40 years. I’m not interested in ‘courtesy to others’. As masks don’t work, that is just sanctimonious virtue signalling.

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
2 years ago

Interesting response, thanks Caroline. I’d hate to think “courtesy to others” is regarded as “sanctimonious virtue signalling”. Is that really going through the minds of all those I encounter who aren’t wearing a mask? I’m certainly not judging them.
Pandemics in Asia have eventually evolved into a society where wearing masks in crowded areas is pretty routine. Now back at home our media has faithfully reported a “crisis in the NHS”, every flu season the “Conservatives” have been in power. And if we ever get decent data together we’ll probably discover that CoVid as a primary killer would be mid-table in the league table of Asian pandemics. There’s far worse out there, and Global commerce/travel isn’t going to disappear anytime soon.
So whose to say that wearing masks, say in peak flu season won’t become the norm here? I’m sure Ferguson could knock up a spreadsheet showing us how effective it would be in saving lives and taking the pressure off the NHS!
We’ve both made similar points regarding an individual’s responsibility for taking responsibility for your own health, and paying your National Health insurance. Still, there’s not enough money in the world that would allow the NHS to satisfy every demand on it. That expectation needs a reset, but mask wearing in busy public spaces may have to be part of that. It’s just not a hill I’m prepared to die on.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago

The lockdowns were a temporary measure to prevent the health service struggling, and give government time to come up with a long term solution. Thankfully now we have the vaccines, which are successful in preventing large numbers of deaths and hospitalisations. If after vaccines reducing the numbers the health service is still struggling then we need to increase the capacity rather than continually locking down society.

Peta Seel
Peta Seel
2 years ago

How can you have a “flat” epidemic? I’d call that an oxymoron. Covid is now endemic – like flu and the common cold – and as such people will continue to get it and a few will die from it. That the NHS will come under pressure is a different problem altogether, has nothing to do with Covid and everything to do with the appallingly inefficient way it is run.
I would like to draw Tom Chivers’ attention to the indisputable facts that Sweden never closed schools for the U-16s, never locked down and never mandated masks. Their IFR is 1.2%, well below most European countries, average age of death 84, their hospitals were never overwhelmed and there has not been a single Covid fatality in anyone under 30 since the start.
In the event of a winter increase all that needs to be done is to protect the vulnerable and quarantine the sick – like the human race has been doing for centuries.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Peta Seel

Last time I looked Sweden was about 40th on deaths per capita, where last year they were on a consistent 8th. Their all cause mortality deaths for the decade from 2010 to 2020 was near flat – this is spite of their exacting death toll in care homes, where they admit to a slow approach. A note is that their care homes contain almost all end of life citizens, as opposed to many other countries who have a mixed age range in retirement homes.
They always asked to be judged in a few years time. That time is fast approaching.

Bashar Mardini
Bashar Mardini
2 years ago

If you think these “minor” adjustments are 1) minor and 2) going to make a lick of difference then I have a bridge id like to sell you

Jeff Carr
Jeff Carr
2 years ago

I think we need to remind ourselves of the statistic being measured: death within 28 days of a positive Covid test. Not death from Covid.
It will be interesting to see if case numbers peak without lockdown as the virus finds it more difficult to find new hosts.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

“On my 40th birthday late last year, during the autumn restrictions, I was allowed to meet one person, outside. I sat on a park bench on my 40th, drinking cans of beer”

!!! Come on Chivers – I see your picture and you have that crazy, hard man, look going. Why didn’t you just tell them to all F*** themselves and do what you wanted? I do not get people.

But then I took a break from your article and walked the dogs in the hot, dark, forest, night just now, and thought of my Birthdays over the years. Two of them were spent in jail, another one, around my 39th birthday, the Fed Cops had tried to run me off a remote part of the National forest as there had been some problems with a few crazies, so they closed the entire remote National Forest, and ran every one working back in the bush off. I told them I was not going anywhere, and after a bit of getting all intimidating and so on, I laughed at them – they said they would be back tomorrow and I had better pack my camp be gone or I would go to jail – and I said I would be there…. and they never came back. I became a bit famous for that as even the hard cases had left…But they figured that what – would they do with me? I was just doing my work back there, and what to do with my dog, and truck and camp? What to charge a working man doing his work with? This was a very long way back in the bush….

And I have told of my 40th birthday in the very remote bush where I was living alone with the dog, and ended up alone 5 months till I began to go a bit crazy, and the ground had became to frozen to work anymore – and I said I had had enough of being poor, off in the bush, and moved back into the city and worked 5.5 years 80+ hours a week at 2 construction jobs till I had made a load of money…..

And in my twenties…. around my birthday, badly drunk, getting a real good beating from some cops as a sort of attitude adjustment for a story I will leave…….I have lived outside the law half my life, I guess it takes all kinds – but I cannot understand you rabbits, why you put up with it….

Gotta stand up to the Man, Chivers. Look how well it has worked for me…And he** no – I will not mask or vax… or go along with my rights being abused – till they make me… which some times they do – but mostly not as they figure it is just not worth the bother.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

You need to write a book! I know very few people who have been to jail, though one friend spent some time in a Turkish jail which is quite scary – shades of Midnight Express. He recently had his FB account removed at the behest of the Cypriot government for pushing back against Covid restrictions which were hurting his business. This is perhaps as scary as the jail.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

I have just been locked up for misbehaving, not crime, so not Prison, just little things.

But I have spent a great deal of time with ex-cons, I have used them as workers as much as not – and I would not deal well with their experience. The two guys I work with mostly are both jail birds – one just recently out, the other one’s son just gone in for a long stretch. There is a segment of the population who basically think of jail/prison as just one of life’s misfortunes, one that cannot be avoided as eventually your luck just runs out. I have spend a lot of time with that class….

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I was assuming misbehaving and not criminal behaviour. It is alarming that you confirm that many people believe stretches in jail are just part of life’s path.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

It’s very interesting, living life outside/fringes of society. Although I don’t have the nerve, I do feel like I am stuck in the song “Hotel California” or in the “Matrix”. Unfortunately the rebels in Matrix have such a hard shi**y existence. Also the young people today will find it harder and harder to accept the Matrix. Could mean mental health issues of epic proportions or a mega revolution! Who knows! It just doesn’t feel right the way it is.

Alan T
Alan T
2 years ago

Has Tom made the case for vaccine certificates? He hasn’t here.

D Oliver
D Oliver
2 years ago

Chivers writes that:

“Either Covid numbers were going up, as they were in spring 2020 and autumn and winter, or we’d locked down and they were declining again.”

This seems to imply that Covid numbers would have increased continuously without government mandated lockdowns. The problem with this assumption is that such declines also occurred in places that did not have any restrictions. See certain US states for evidence.

The same people who think that we can micro manage infection levels also thought that the UK’s July reopening would lead to catastrophe. Since that did not actually happen, it surely requires a bit of humility and an acknowledgement that there is more going on than whether there is a lockdown or not when cases rise and fall?

Jamie C
Jamie C
2 years ago

Lock yourself down if you want to. That is entirely compatible with the rest of us cracking on, living a life.
This is an overly simple statement. Doesn’t change the fact it’s correct.

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago

We are already living in a police state.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
2 years ago

Dear Tom,

I have a few polite requests for you to consider please.

Please tell someone who’s been raped by a masked man that everyone wearing face masks all around them is a ‘minor adjustment’.

Please tell someone who in their youth escaped from an oppressive Soviet regime that showing papers to enter shops is a ‘minor adjustment’.

Please tell a young person stuck in overcrowded accommodation who has never met their colleagues and is struggling with their mental health that near-permanent working from home is a ‘minor adjustment’.

Then consider whether there is any evidence at all that any of these things make any meaningful difference. There is plenty of evidence out there now that they don’t. It’s there if you want to look for it.

Then pause to consider why there appears to be much more sickness and staff shortages this summer than there were last summer. What’s changed?

Then, if you’re feeling really brave, ask whether it’s just about possible that – notwithstanding any benefits that vaccines might confer on individuals who are subsequently exposed to the virus after their jabs – mass vaccination has put evolutionary pressure on the virus to evolve in ways that make more virulent and more transmissible strains more likely to become dominant, and whether the experimental vaccinations that cause some relatively healthy people to feel really quite ill might – just might – be themselves the cause of some sickness and deaths. And then find the courage to look into that question in a lot more detail; the curiosity to question why information about the harms that they have caused in some people has been so heavily censored and to look into pharma’s past form on this; and the humility to write about what you find.

And finally, once you’ve done all of that, ask yourself whether this government really is trying to take pragmatic steps to protect public health against a virus brought into existence in a Chinese lab and marketed by the liars running the Chinese Communist Party as a deadly threat; or whether it is in today’s announcements doing the groundwork to push through authoritarian controls that actually have nothing to do with public health and all to do with power, greed, and fear.

Thanks, and have a nice day.

Kathryn Dwyer
Kathryn Dwyer
2 years ago

With “90% of all over sixteens vaccinated” what on earth would be the point of vaccine passports to bars, cultural activities….? In France, the pass sanitaire, applicable in the tiniest of gatherings in public places is a nightmare for those (usually voluntary workers who run the social and cultural life of most of France) who have to apply it and for those it excludes. It has simply added to the divisions and disputes surrounding the public health measures and aggravated the mistrust of the government by many. If vaccines are indeed shown to be less effective after 6 months, the “vaccine is the only solution” argument will look even more dubious and a vaccine passport policy shown to be incoherent at best and odious at worst.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago

Ahhh. The wonderful vaccines. Lol… but better get those passports out!

The SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant is poised to acquire complete resistance to wild-type spike vaccines

https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.08.22.457114v1.full

Last edited 2 years ago by Dennis Boylon
AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

I suspect we have collectively gone from a “Hiding From Covid” mindset to a “Living With Covid” mindset.
But, like all social views, there is a range of individual attitudes. My next door neighbours still isolate as much as possible, and have their food delivered (I don’t know their states of health). Many of the younger people have never been concerned about catching Covid – other things are more important to them.
You can argue that masks had a minor positive effect (there is research)… but that they were also ‘Health Theatre’. Both could be true at the same time. But the vaccination drive has been a mindset changer.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

What mask research are you referring to? I have seen no robust science supporting the efficacy of masks in this pandemic.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

It has been presented and discussed here and the majority feeling here is that it is a poor study. See the article of a few days ago.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

‘The majority feeling here’ is hardly a rigorous scientific post analysis. There are plenty of other sites, with more qualified authors and commentators that discuss the findings and which find them persuasive – such as https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20210907/masks-limit-covid-spread-study.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

It is rubbish even to the naked eye of the layman, Hope that clarifies things.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

“A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.”~ Paul Simon

David Shipley
David Shipley
2 years ago

I think you also need to look at infection rates which now appear to be falling. It seems that unlike previous variants the Delta variant is not seasonal which is consistent with its prevalence in warmer countries. The best indicator of likely death rates is the level of infection with a 3-4 week lag, although if age at death is getting lower because of the high vaccination rates among old people that lag could be a bit longer. So if we look at the infection rates over the last month that should be some sort of guide to what level of deaths we can expect. This is more reassuring than simply (and to my mind crudely and incorrectly) extrapolating, which has been wrong over and over again.

D Glover
D Glover
2 years ago

First, I am no anti-vaxxer. I had my two Astrazeneca jabs and am grateful.
I do note though that Prof. Sarah Gilbert isn’t pushing for booster jabs. She says that immunity is holding up well, and the doses would be better given to countries where even first jabs are rare.
I’m suspicious that our government are keen to get boosters going because they were seen as competent during the roll-out, and they want that reputation back. The EU have caught up in the ‘race’, our government are looking accident-prone; time for some more jabbing.
I’m also puzzled that Pfizer will be the booster for everyone. If Oxford-AZ isn’t used at all in the under 40’s and it’s not the booster of choice, what is it used for now?

David Slade
David Slade
2 years ago

The phrase proper vaccination certificates is a little sinister. Is there a proper and socially acceptable way to categorise humans as ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’ in the post enlightenment world?

A lepper’s bell is still a lepper’s bell, regardless of how you spin it.

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
2 years ago
Reply to  David Slade

I like the analogy to leprosy as it was subsequently found to be only mildly infectious – if at all!

Last edited 2 years ago by Michael Hanson
Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor
2 years ago

Just to comment on vaccine passports, I carry around or have to carry when travelling overseas, a clutch of cards and documents that give me access to facilities that may not be available to everyone. These are simply because we don’t live and move in villages where everyone knows everyone else and everyone else’s business. If you infect other people, or expose yourself to infection unnecessarily risking spreading it to others and multiplying public costs, that is negligence, plain and simple.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago

Those who are scared of COVID should stay home and let the rest of us lead our lives. I’m tired of my life being governed by the fear of others.

Gordon Welford
Gordon Welford
2 years ago

After all these months arent we all coming to the conclusion that the Great Barrington Declaration had the most effective health solution,the least disruptive solution in terms of the economy and freedoms and maybe an apology is due to those who wrote it and were reviled both personally and professionally

Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
2 years ago
Reply to  Gordon Welford

Good point. It is time for Unherd to write another article on Sweden & covid. The current deaths per million for UK and US are nearly identical at 2k/million residents each. Sweden is at just over 1,400/million.

John Vaccaro
John Vaccaro
2 years ago

“Relatively minor adjustments like wearing masks in shops?” Might as well walk around with garlic cloves around your neck for all the good they do. How much damage do you think this fear mongering talk about further restrictions does? If you don’t follow the daily media or government narrative, as I haven’t for the past 6 months, people’s mental health improves and they start living life again. Real life, not looking over your shoulder and qualifying everyone you meet on their virus threat level. Get real, Covid isn’t going away, flu isn’t either, nor heart disease or cancer. But with vaccine passports what could be going away is the way of life we all took for granted. Resistance at all costs.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

Perhaps Chivers can write a memoir someday about the dreadful and heroic sacrifices he made during the Covid years. This book would sit right next to those written by WWII heroes, who risked everything while storming the beaches at Normandy.

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago

This time last year a majority were practically incontinent with fear of catching it. This justified the government’s plans alongside knowing perfectly well to ignore the disease a la Sweden would play into Labour’s hands. There are still a lot of nervous folk about. It would be an interesting study to find out what other peculiar ideas they entertain. I am tired of the subject now although pleased to say I have not caught a single cold or stomach bug in eighteen months. I was of the opinion we should let it run from the outset and suspect the mortality would be similar. We are now confronted with anxiety problems of people forced out of lockdown. Will it never end?

Susan
Susan
2 years ago

Tom Chivers – AKA Dr Whitty??? You make about as much sense as he does, anyway.

Neven Curlin
Neven Curlin
2 years ago

Now I understand why you treat this thing like a wargame, where you just sacrifice people to meet your ends. The good news is you’re winning, the bad news is you’ve sold your soul to the devil.

If you want to keep up the semblance of being a journalist, I suggest you cut down on the ‘we this’, ‘we that’, and the ‘if we want to, we should’. That’s the language of activists, ideologues and propagandists.

Last edited 2 years ago by Neven Curlin
JĂŒrg Gassmann
JĂŒrg Gassmann
2 years ago

Deaths will rise again in winter; they always do. Whether the deaths will be blamed on Covid depends on the testing regime, which produces positive results when desired, and the fraudulent death certificate wheeze.
The fact that you can refer to life as “amazingly open” is a deeply shocking reflection of how arbitrary totalitarian repression can become quickly normalised.

Deborah B
Deborah B
2 years ago

Two points that I think are worthy of consideration.
Covid tests your immune system in a way that other endemic bacterial and viral diseases do not. You will not find out how good your immune system actually is until you catch it. Hence the unexplainable sudden deaths of people early on in the pandemic. The data is simply aiming to predict who will be badly affected but many stories abound that defy the data. So you may think you aren’t at risk, but do you really know how your own individual body will respond? No, you don’t. So stop being so infuriated by having to do some inconvenient things you don’t much like. Boohoo.
Secondly, if I was Covid I’d be adapting to my next target. Bearing in mind my only motivation is to keep spreading. Children. I’m not being alarmist here, but remember 1919 when young people were severely affected in comparison with older generations. The infection may not be serious in youngsters now but adaptations will keep occurring.

Raymond Inauen
Raymond Inauen
2 years ago

If masks are so effective, why weren’t they mandatory in hospitals before COVID?
Can anyone answer this question?

Riccardo Tomlinson
Riccardo Tomlinson
2 years ago

This virus has a knack of confounding all predictions and it looks like Tom Chivers wrote this a week too late. The numbers aren’t going up in England and even the return to school has had no effect. Who knows, maybe Whitty’s plan to get all the youngsters infected over the summer actually worked.

And we’re not exactly being careful are we? My kids are in night clubs and crowded boozers every week. In church last week everyone filed in wearing masks and then stuffed them in their pockets.

Personally I am looking forward to crowded apres ski bars with the windows shut.

But perhaps the Virus will confound me too.

Michelle Johnston
Michelle Johnston
2 years ago

Excess deaths at home remain at 800 a week on average of which 98% are non-virus related. (Source ONS). That has been the characteristic since May 2020. So excess deaths of 40,000 a year. The overall outcome of the policies enacted is no lives have been saved the number of Covid Deaths remains just over 2 1/2 to 1 per flu season. (Source NHS)
Long Covid is self-reported and is at less than a million with about a third going beyond 12 weeks. The really important point is the diagnosis is self-reported.
92% of all deaths remain whatever the policy, whatever the vaccination status 60 + Co-Morbid. Those people who are vulnerable know who they are and the death toll will depend entirely on their behaviour to shield.
One other stat that goes with the deaths. Diabetes is the number one associated condition. (Source ONS).

Phil Thompson
Phil Thompson
2 years ago

Focussed protection is the solution and booster jabs for the vulnerable. Asking healthy individuals to isolate beggars belief. There were a multitude of individuals suggesting this over 12 months ago and the Government have well and truly ballsed it up by listening to Ferguson et al. Why are we still seeing predictions based on modelling rather than actual real world data? Ans= The data doesn’t fit the agenda or the narrative.

Jeffrey Chongsathien
Jeffrey Chongsathien
2 years ago

Tom Chivers sucks. Why Unherd keeps employing this slavishly unquestioning muppet, I’ve no idea. He must be a friend of the founders because professionally he does not fit the bill.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jeffrey Chongsathien
Jonathan Bagley
Jonathan Bagley
2 years ago

Working from home is not a minor adjustment.

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
2 years ago

Can you please brush up on your science about covid before writing anything. For instance: read the publications of the IHU Meditarean-infection and check out https://www.questioneverything.io/ and listen to the podcasts of your own publication…. etc evt etc etc
…or go an work for a MSM mouthpiece of the gouvenrment

Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor
2 years ago

After over a year, the conditions and mechanisms of spreading infection remain anecdotal. Maybe the government, apart from smarting from the effect of economic shutdowns, has concluded that nothing it has done other than vaccination ever made any difference. Even the simplest precaution – mask wearing – is controversial because of the role of aerosols, and now sporadic too. There are still notices and electronic messages on buses and at rail stations telling people to wear masks, but few now do so. On a recent quite busy train journey I could hear people coughing and sneezing, as though they had never heard of ‘pandemic’. Everyone has become blase because the risk of serious illness and death is seen to be greatly reduced – except who knows what new variants are in the pipeline? This again may reflect a rational perception that the sort of restrictions government and service-providers are able to impose are barely effective, while waves of infection like the sharply peaked one that began around June, and the current slow wave that took over abruptly on 28 July – approaching 40,000 new cases daily – may be set off by specific events and then just follow a natural course. When I look at the similarity in shape of the first four UK waves and the two Australian waves, I suspect this is the case, but does anyone with full access to the data know?

Chris Eaton
Chris Eaton
2 years ago

I guess the author doesn’t understand basic statistics. Despite vaccinations, the number in North Carolina regarding cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are within a whisker of what they were mid January 2021. Vaccination rates don’t mean anything. Masks don’t mean anything. This author is so stupid as to not realize it is the INTERMIXING of people at a high level that drives this pandemic. Maybe the author will grow a brain on day and learn how to read the numbers that are being reported. I doubt it. His liberal, lock down, agenda doesn’t allow for that. I have an idea for the author….take a long swim into the North Sea.

PB Storyman
PB Storyman
2 years ago

I guess I was always hoping for “herd immunity”. But with your 90% vaccination rate and steady if not rising infection rates, that seems like a fanciful concept. Here in the USA, we have a much lower jab rate and we’re seeing the effects, from San Francisco (left politically) to lower Louisiana (on the other political side). Hospitals in both geographies will state openly that most in their ICUs are the unvaccinated, and complain that the unjabbed are costing a fortune in time and resources (though they are ironically duly and well paid for their services). Whether on the left or right, many are taking the high-risk approach. So I suppose we’ll continue fighting over mandatory jabs, mask mandates and shaming, lockdowns, and the political pressure that comes from federal antibody rationing and finger-wagging. In the meantime, if you happen to determine the magic jab/infection percentage for herd immunity, let us know … at least we’d have a goal.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago

“….the vaccines work, really quite well.”
Maybe. But what if the vaccines don’t work after a year or so, that the antibodies return to zero and it is as if you were never vaccinated? Many reports seem to suggest that actually having had Corona offers the best protection. Annual shot as with the flu? Maybe.
I’m vaccinated. I will get the “booster” jab when it’s my time (WHO be damned), but I am stridently against lockdowns (stupid, ineffective), against vaccine passports (evil, ineffective), and try to balance the risk of Corona vs. the risk of not having a life.
Why are there so few suggestions that the world must learn to live with Corona, just as it has learned to live with HIV/AIDS, SARS, Marburg, Ebola, any number of potentially serious viruses and/or diseases that simply aren’t going away anytime soon?
Finally, in the age of global warming panic, is it possible that these small viruses are sending a message to the people on the top of the food chain that some culling is necessary, from a purely biological point of view, as the world has far too many people?

Jacques Rossat
Jacques Rossat
2 years ago

Kudos to Tom Shivers for writing this balanced article in an Unherd world were 99% of the readership seems to be anti-vax and knows better how to handle this nightmare.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jacques Rossat
Deborah B
Deborah B
2 years ago
Reply to  Jacques Rossat

Yes, we are all armchair experts now.
What makes me laugh is the specious arguments about freedoms being curtailed by Covid measures when we already endure many more restrictions that aren’t being mentioned in debate. Not wearing a seatbelt gets you prosecuted. Smoking in a pub ( Oh God how I long to go into a pub and smell the smoke … seems like a dream now). Having to pay a TV licence for watching a lefty dominated channel that has little relevance to real life. Paying Council tax for self-aggrandising local politicians to spend on vanity projects. Telling a man that he/she/they/it cannot be a real woman.
Really, it’s making my blood pressure go up thinking about more examples so I’ll stop.
But seriously, we do not enjoy freedom. We are a subjugated people.
Please, hand me a Woodbine and let me get on with knitting a new batch of masks.

Last edited 2 years ago by Deborah B
David Slade
David Slade
2 years ago
Reply to  Deborah B

So, your argument is that we don’t really have freedom so it doesn’t matter if we really, really don’t have any.

Good to know.

Deborah B
Deborah B
2 years ago
Reply to  David Slade

Not in the least. It’s the pretence that we already have freedom, when we don’t.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Jacques Rossat

On the contrary – not anti-vax, rather assiduously questioning the false narratives being fed us by governments, large organisations, big tech and compromised scientists i.e. those in the pay of large businesses and organisations.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  Jacques Rossat

I second that, Tom is doing his best to evaluate all the data and is not being influenced by any outside pressures whilst doing that . It is fine to hold a differing opinion or interpretation of the data but it is NOT FINE to make personal attacks on anyone who holds a different view. If Unherd readers fall into this habit they are displaying behaviours that will lose the site respect and are at risk of becoming yet another echo chamber. Come on guys lets keep being grown ups here !

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
2 years ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

Chris, the problem with this statement is about which data you look at and more so how you interpret it. In any way, and that is something we all should be able to agree with (it is part of the licence conditions of the vaccines) is that the real data will take another 5 or more years to come out since the covid vaccination experiment ends Dec 2022.
So for now: one either decides to take part in the experiment or not. There is nothing else to say. I hop the vaccination experiment turns out to be a good one but I do not know, and nobody can say for sure regardless what temporary data we come up with for now.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago

Everybody forgets – conveniently so that their own particular argument is supported.

When the jabs came out there was a clear statement : these would not stop you from catching Covid but could make the symptoms more bearable. There was a quoted efficacy, maybe 93%, which meant that 93% of people catching Covid might not get serious symptoms. This figure, as with flu, reduces over time. Today, it has been quoted that people who had jabs 6 months ago might only be 60% protected. NOTE – not against catching the virus but against having life-threatening symptoms.

So, if 5 million people are ‘vulnerable’, 2 million are seriously at risk.

It is clear to me that the great believers in ‘freedom’ on this site are people who are not vulnerable. It is easy to have wonderful, heady feelings of individual freedom if you are smug and know that you are safe.

Last edited 2 years ago by Chris Wheatley
Norman Powers
Norman Powers
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

This is a 1984 style rewriting of history and exactly the sort of thing that makes vaccine advocates seem so utterly untrustworthy.
Let me quote the Pfizer press release from all of, gosh, three months ago:

“The topline results from this six-month analysis were shared on April 1, 2021, and the data confirm that the vaccine continues to be safe, well tolerated, and remains highly efficacious in preventing COVID-19, including disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 …. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine …. has been authorized for emergency use by FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to prevent Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Actual reality: Public Health England data now shows that the vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-19 has become negative, that is, a higher proportion of people are testing positive for COVID-19 amongst the vaccinated subset of the population than the unvaccinated.
It is infuriating beyond measure that vaccine advocates are now openly gaslighting people by trying to convince them that things they were told literally this summer never happened and their own memory is faulty. We have the internet! Do you seriously believe this will work?

Jack Streuth
Jack Streuth
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Given that the IFR for COVID is 0.23% across all age ranges and falls to 0.05% for the under 70s ( WHO John Ioannidis ), I think your suggestion that 5 million people are vulnerable and 2 million are seriously at risk is somewhat doubtful.
I am sure that even if the believers in freedom are not vulnerable themselves, they will have parents or grand-parents, friends or family who do fall in that category and whom they love very much.
How low does the percentage of vulnerable people have to be before we allow freedoms to return fully ? Do we ask children to miss school and avoid parks for a vulnerable 2% ? Or students to attend university via zoom for 1% ? Or ban foreign travel for 0.5%, that is still well over 500,000 people ? Or perhaps we could inform people clearly and honestly about the risk posed by COVID and let people decide how to act for themselves. We might be pleasantly surprised.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I don’t believe your facts are quite accurate. The quoted effectiveness of 900-95% for the two mRNA vaccines was for preventing one from being PCR positive. That was what they were looking for in their trial. They were not looking at whether the vaccines made the symptoms less severe. And indeed given the very small percentage of people who actually contracted COVID in both trials (whether in the control or vaccinated arms) it would have been very hard to ascertain anything regarding severity of symptoms. The reduction of symptom severity is supposedly observational but it may not even be that. After all, in Israel the majority hospitalized for COVID are doubly vaccinated. i.e. these are severe cases and not a simple common cold.
Personally, I think the reporting of cases, hospitalization etc… has been so messed around with and distorted that it’s no longer possible to ascertain what is true and what isn’t, especially in the US. But one thing is for sure: if the vaccine effectiveness drops to 40-60% after 6 months and requires continual boosters, the boffins are going to have to come up with an alternate delivery vehicle for the mRNA vaccines. The reason is that it is well known from previous Moderna trial on cancer mRNA vaccines that one cannot administer more than 3-4 doses without untoward and dangerous side effects which is why those trials were shutdown. Given that they were dealing with cancer patients and the mRNA cancer vaccines were a treatment of last resort, it follows that those side effects were major and life threatening.
With all that being said, there are some rather simple things one can do to reduce one’s chances of catching COVID. For example, don’t spend any significant amount of time in crowded indoor places, don’t go to large gatherings whether scientific conferences, business conferences, or cocktail parties (whether of the political variety or not), don’t travel on the tube or train, etc….. And lastly, be careful when visiting individuals with an active and symptomatic COVID infections (where appropriate protection such as wearing a N95 mask, just as one would when visiting an active TB case on a hospital ward are in order). Lastly many businesses would do well to improve on their ventilation and HVAC systems to afford appropriately filtered and rapidly circulating fresh air.

Last edited 2 years ago by Johann Strauss
chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

IT seems that you are saying that vulnerable people need to take responsibility for their health rather than expecting someone else to magically manage that – gosh that might mean making lifestyle choices to be healthier as well – heck that might actually lead to a healthier population that will be more resilient to any kind of medical threat………………………………….

Jamie C
Jamie C
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Everybody forgets – conveniently so – that their death is guaranteed.
I’m safe from nothing, that’s the entire point here.

Deborah B
Deborah B
2 years ago
Reply to  Jamie C

Except Jeff Bezos, he’s going to live forever. Sadly, when I next come back to this planet for my future incarnation, dear Jeff will still be around. Yikes! Something else to worry about.