by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 22
December 2020
Response
07:00

It’s not just the Covid cranks spreading misinformation

The FT's former editor claimed that the PM egged up the Covid threat
by Peter Franklin
Why would Boris Johnson want to “egg up” a virus that has cost more than 67,000 lives in the UK? Credit: Getty

It’s amazing what you can find in the murkier recesses of the Internet. For instance, yesterday I read that Boris Johnson had “egged up the transmissibility of the new strain of the virus” as an excuse for cancelling Christmas. However, he overdid it — and thus accidentally scared our neighbours into closing their borders. Whoops!

Here’s this shocking revelation in full, which was supplied by Lionel Barber:

Wow! You don’t get that sort of analysis from the BBC, do you? And that’s just as well, because it’s complete nonsense.

Boris Johnson didn’t “egg up” anything. What he said on Saturday was a fair reflection of the official scientific advice from NERVTAG — The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group. Here’s the relevant document, which includes the following key statement:

“In summary, NERVTAG has moderate confidence that VUI-202012/01 demonstrates a substantial increase in transmissibility compared to other variants.”
- NERVTAG meeting on SARS-CoV-2 variant under investigation

At this stage our understanding of the VUI-202012/01 variant is incomplete, but neither NERVTAG nor the Government have tried to hide that fact. Almost by definition, fighting a novel pathogen means acting upon incomplete information.

One also has to ask why Boris Johnson would want to “egg up” the threat. Having staked so much credibility on the Christmas relaxation, clamping down again was not in the Government’s political interest. Moreover, the current trajectory of new infections is rather alarming enough without having to exaggerate the threat from the new variant.

Who is this Lionel Barber, anyway? A mad conspiracy theorist? A libertarian grifter? A Trumpist troll? No, none of those. He is, in fact, a pillar of the British and European establishment — and, until recently, editor of the Financial Times.

Strange, then, that he didn’t come to a more logical conclusion: i.e. that Boris Johnson issued his warning because the British people and the international community needed to hear it. If we want to control this pandemic — and prevent future pandemics — then full transparency on the part of all governments is vital.

One day, I hope that the Chinese government is held accountable for what it did and didn’t tell the world a year ago. In the mean time, western governments need to exemplify the standards we expect of others. If that is indeed what the British government has done, then it should be congratulated not carped at.

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Ben Scott
Ben Scott
1 year ago

“If we want to control this pandemic…”

I may have missed something somewhere, but is there any example anywhere where this pandemic has been successfully “controlled”? I get that a few island nations have avoided it by restricting access and a few where prior immunity has protected populations, but I can’t see any evidence of an intervention that has controlled any aspect of it once the virus has set in. There are plenty of examples of interventions causing just about everything to spiral out of control. You may as well talk about controlling the weather.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Scott

Yes, there is a difference between ‘lockdown’ and “lockout’.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Scott

China, South Korea

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

I think they’re covered by “a few where prior immunity has protected populations”

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago

China 4 deaths per million, The Western Nations, 800-900 deaths per million. Vietnam, 0.4 deaths per million, Cambodia, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, negligible deaths per million.

The word ‘Dark Matter Immunity’ was coined for this. Dark matter must exist for physics to work, but it cannot be detected, but it must exist, and thus is known to exist. This immunity the West Pacific has, about 1/200th of Europe and the Americas deaths per million, must be in force. Because it is not antibodies it is thought to be T cells, or B cells, or something, but it MUST exist.

That we are in a war with China global dominance policy it is a great benefit this fortuitous virus did manage to escape the Wuhan Lab.

Not only is the West destroying its economy, but totally has its eyes internally navel gazing on its BLM/Covid, and China is colonizing Africa economically at a furious pace, taking over the region around China, and taking over some South and Central and Caribbean, SE Asian and buying much European infrastructure. Wile we kill ourselves and destroy the future of our young to give granny another 6 months.

Warren Alexander
Warren Alexander
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Scott

Of course there are examples of the pandemic being controlled. Here in Britain our lockdowns have succeeded in……whoops I must have missed something. We’re still in lockdown of one form or another after nearly 10 months. Could it be possible that if the lockdowns had worked we wouldn’t still be in lockdowns? No, of course not. That would be silly.

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Scott

” You may as well talk about controlling the weather. “ Meanwhile our govt is spending the rest of our money doing just that.

Robin Taylor
Robin Taylor
1 year ago

Unfortunately it is hard to believe anything the Government is saying about the virus. Matt Hancock, when he was not crying/laughing, appeared to be talking up the danger of the new Covid variant when he said that it was ‘out of control’ in the UK (a statement that was one of the more truthful comments given that the Government was not in control of the virus and never has been). He was trying to put the frighteners on the UK population to get them to behave over Christmas, but instead he spooked the markets and foreign Governments, with the latter slapping bans on UK travellers.

Hancock and the Government scientists are out of their depth and the country is in a serious mess as a consequence. In the past few months we have spent the entire annual budget of the NHS 3 x over with nothing to show for it other than massive debt, high unemployment, rising insolvencies, one of the highest deaths per capita with Covid, and a virus that is ‘out of control’. The only time it was ‘in control’ was in Summer when most restrictions had been lifted. We should stop the pretence that it can be controlled and instead protect the vulnerable (those who want to be protected) and let others get on with their jobs and lives helping to protect the NHS by keeping the country solvent.

blanes
blanes
1 year ago
Reply to  Robin Taylor

The scientists are not out of their depth, they are the wrong ones. Get rid of the ones with ulterior motives or financial interests and start taking notice of the 50,000+ doctors, nurses and scientists who are being muzzled from talking about the true facts.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  blanes

Bill Gates, what is he up to? The trillions spent have ended up in the pockets of the super rich, Gates, Zuckerberg, Dorsey, Bezos, the 4 horsemen, and crazy Musk, and all the other elite billionaires getting more billions daily, and CHINA. Weird set of winners in all this!

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
1 year ago
Reply to  Robin Taylor

So it was under control in the summer because there were fewer controls, which is what you imply (otherwise why mention it?), or the virus abated somewhat over the summer, as respiratory viruses do, and restrictions were lifted as this became apparent? It’s obviously the latter.

There’s a good argument for saying we should have dealt with the virus differently, but it needs to confront the reality that a lot more people would die as a result (mainly very old and not very well people) and a lot more would suffer a pretty unpleasant few days or weeks (as well as a lot not really having any obvious symptoms at all). It’s facile to pretend there is an easy third way. I don’t have any problem with your second paragraph, I should add, although I am sceptical about whether the super-shielding approach would work.

blanes
blanes
1 year ago

Johnson egged it up is laughable. Why would he when he has Ferguson doing it for him. Why is Ferguson still involved (Nervtag) after his record and misdemeanour. He should be no where near any consultative team. Boris doesn’t have to egg the pudding, just follow the (fake) science.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

If we want to control this pandemic “
I do believe we have found the problem. You cannot control the pandemic; that’s not how it works. You can take preventive measures, you can attempt to limit your risk, but that’s about it. After nearly a year of lockdowns, flight bans, and assorted other attempts at mitigation, you’d think that it would be obvious that the virus won’t simply give up a die just because we hide from it.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
1 year ago

The current incarnation of the FT sums up so much of what’s wrong with modern Britain: a self-interested and self-perpetuating elite hiding their crass, grasping vulgarity behind a veneer of woke and anti-British attitudes. Their lack of self-awareness (which is the basis of any critical reasoning ability) is astounding.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
1 year ago

Misinformation and spinning machines for pushing political agendas have reached bonkers levels and are now co-opting the supposedly scientific community, who it seems are dumb enough to play along with this stupid game, not realising that their own side will sooner or later turn against themselves for heresy, because Inquisitions always do. This is the title of an opinion piece in the graun today: “How a string of failures by the British government helped Covid-19 to mutate”. By one Anthony Costello, who is announced as a “professor of global health and sustainable development at University College London and a former director of maternal and child health at the WHO”. QAnon much?

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

The line Costello is taking is one he has always supported – we should have been aiming for as near as possible complete suppression of the virus. The fewer replications of the virus that occur, the fewer the opportunities for mutations. The British Government has consistently followed a policy of encouraging a certain level of virus to spread and replicate (thus risking mutations). Evidence for that being a deliberate policy is the lessening of restrictions as soon as it looks as though hospitals aren’t struggling, eat out to help out and returning students and secondary school children to on site schooling. You may disagree with the aim of near complete suppression but from that perspective Costello’s assertion is logical.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

To suggest that UK lockdown policy somehow helped the virus to mutate is no better than claiming that China is responsible for creating the virus in the first place. It may be ‘logical’ from the perspective of Costello, but from my perspective I will henceforth class anything that individual has to say in the same category as any pronouncement from the CCP – not to be taken seriously or as truthful, and politically driven garbage.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

So why is saying China is responsible for creating the virus not reasonable?, at least in as much as they had isolated it and had it in a Bio-Lab from which it escaped.

The Bat Lady of Wuhan also said there are a great many of these viruses, some much worse.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
1 year ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

How can I frame this? This is a plea for balance over partisanship I guess. I don’t like the Chinese regime, but there is no basis for laying the blame for Covid-19 at their door at the moment. I’m not a fan of circumstancial evidence. It leads to conspiracy paranoia and worse, it leads to bad science. There are plenty of aspects of the CCP that are utterly odious, just as it is undeniable that the CCP has dragged China into the 21st century and lifted hundreds of millions out poverty in record time – by riding roughshod over anyone that got in the way of course.

I have a political stance, but my approach is to look at what’s in front me, not what fits into that, notwithstanding that a bunch of facts may be uncomfortable for my view of the world, I want to face what is there with my eyes wide open. There is room for holding a view that something can be both good and bad simultaneously, and room to hold differing opinions of the consequences of the same set of facts, but there is no need to invent stories.

Jerry Wilde
Jerry Wilde
1 year ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

Gene mapping of the first instances of the virus showed a normal bat / other, non-human, mammal (pangolin, as it turned out) source, with no evidence of human intervention. Most, if not all of the gene mapping and epidemiology groups have discounted the “lab produced” arguments. Bats are a source of many, many virii – must be a real bummer to be a bat, you get involved with one pandemic and you’re tarred for life!

Kelly Mitchell
Kelly Mitchell
1 year ago

What?!? EEk! A mutated form of the scary, scary virus that kills 1 person in 10,000. I know so many people that have died of the virus – I think the number is just below 1 – SO MANY Dead. And everybody knows somebody who has died. All of my friends have roughly the same number of people they know who have died – a number just below 1.
It’s everywhere, the piles of body. Meanwhile, let’s lockdown the world and push 130 million people (according to the UN’s World Economic Forum) into acute hunger and starvation. Yes, let’s celebrate these heroic world leaders for mass murder greater than Stalin, Hitler or Mao! Trophies all around.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago

An Austrian virologist (Bergthaler) was quoted in the Austrian daily newspaper “Kurier” yesterday as having the impression that “the British politicians were using this new strain of the virus to justify their strategy change shortly before Christmas.” The implication there, also, was that it had somehow been “talked up” for ulterior motives. Most Austrian newspapers are running some kind of scathing schadenfreude-spewing piece about it today – some of which seem to imply that the mutation is somehow a result of Johnson’s incompetence. Well, Johnson is incompetent – but blaming him for a virus mutation? Come on! Alternatively, the situation is framed as some kind of karmic retribution for having questioned the great religion of the EU and asserting a sense of individualism. It is absolutely mad.

But more fool me – if I will insist on reading this guff then I only have myself to blame for the resulting bad mood.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

The Aussie and Kiwi feel a national shame from their hiding in their holes and bolting the door. They still have the great ANZAC past to live up to, and could not be acting less like them. So they are super projecting, and lashing out at UK who sort of stood up to the virus for a little wile.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

Blimey that’s a point of view I wasn’t expecting!

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
1 year ago

Your hope that one day “the Chinese government is held accountable” is I’m afraid, completely unrealistic.

The only solution to China is total destruction, rather like Carthage, Corinth, and Adolph before it. It will not be missed.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

About as much hope as our own governments, past and present, being held accountable for what they have done.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Agreed, but they didn’t butcher between 5-7% of their own population, as Fu Manchu & Co did, within living memory.

Henry Longstop
Henry Longstop
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

God no. How would I buy cheap Xmas lights?

jon shaw
jon shaw
1 year ago

NERVTAG stated: ” moderate confidence that VUI-202012/01 demonstrates a substantial increase in transmissibility compared to other variants.” This appears to have been rendered as a 70% increase in transmissibility for public consumption.

NERVTAG’s statement reflects the incompleteness of our understanding on mutation. “70%” suggests a certainty that would be hard to ascertain at this stage.

As far as I can see, Mr. Franklin dismisses this. But, if I am right, it suggests that the former editor of the FT is absolutely correct in calling out Mr. Johnson’s framing, and questioning its purpose.

Happy to be corrected if I have misrepresented Mr. Johnson’s position. This is about communication, elsewhere highlighted as a major weakness of this government.

Warren Alexander
Warren Alexander
1 year ago

In the face of so much government spin and deliberate misinformation, is it any surprise that people have little or no confidence in anything Boris says?

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago

Boris is a broken husk of a man. He faced death and found he was not of strong stuff, and it broke him. He is led about by Carrie Simmons and a bunch of almost hysterically frightened counselors like a dog on a lead with its tail and ears down.

Barry Coombes
Barry Coombes
1 year ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

Would you mind if I copied that and sent it on a postcard to 10 Downing Street? Someone has to tell him.

Jerry Smith
Jerry Smith
1 year ago

OK, I agree he didn’t deliberately ‘egg up’ the announcement. But does anyone advise the PM on the essentials of public communication? Surely – if one accepts the need for the restrictions which of course is moot – the announcement should have been along the lines of “Thanks to our world-beating geneticists this potentially much more transmissive variant [NB not ‘mutation’ with its scary sci-fi overtones] has been identified. It will by now have spread widely around the globe and here are the measures we in the UK are taking to deal with it. We would be happy to advise other governments should they request it.” Instead it was presented as a peculiarly British catastrophe with the blindingly predictable conclusions of border closures and pariah state status. Bit of an own goal?

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
1 year ago
Reply to  Jerry Smith

I think there are other factors that don’t often get discussed that are quite important.

One is that carrying out the tactics that countries like China routinely carry out are difficult…sealing off huge cities with armed troops clearing streets etc etc.

But my two main points are that countries that have done badly across Europe, and including the USA have two things present that others don’t.

One is they are divided socities..whether Spain with separatists, here with Scottish separatists (and thus this applies inside Scotland as well ) and Brexit, France with Le pen/Islamists Vs the secular republic/Macron, Belgium, Italy etc

Two this has helped create very partisan broadcast and print media who amplify the social media division and so make consistent, solid decison makign more difficult than in other countries without these pre-existing enormous kind of existential identity level divisions.

Whether Sweden’s approach *works* or not almost seems to be something that is itself as dependent on where one stands on various issues as any really solid data.

But irrespective of whether the approach is working or not trying to even do it their way is impossible in these pre-divided countries. The howling down of the *herd immunity* idea in the UK was instant and ear shattering.

All the way through countries with these problems (economy Vs Lives– stupid label for it but….is another) find it difficult to stick to decisions, and also change speedily when necessary…either way, either coming out of, or going into, lockdown.

Obviously just having a shouty social media scene, amplified (and also basically slavishly followed) by traditional media, themselves often quite partisan themselves, isn’t *the* reason we haven’t done as well as some others. I don’t think there is a *the* reason.

But I think it is something that should be disected to understand what part it has played.

It IS axiomatic that in democracies, however large the vote that gets one in power, the government is meant to be receptive to it’s people’s opinions when they are focibly expressed. China or Russia doesn’t have that same problem..and where undivided exist (so Taiwan unified by the Chinese threat for example) people then will have much greater trust in government edicts despite any downsides.

On the media , and I very much include social media aka *all of us* and don’t just lazily shift this onto the convenient usual suspects (guilty as they are as really social media agendas (ie ‘trending’) really do drive newsroom attitudes as to what is *news* each hour)

a) Donald Trump has been inept and buffoonish and culpable, a clownish woefully ineffective leader because
population 331Million
Deaths 307,000
(numbers a couple of days old now, which wouldn’t have mattered a jot very recently but in the social media the news cycles refresh and change 3 or 4 times a day now)
b) Nicola Sturgeon has been capable, controlled and an effective leader because(?)
population 5.45M
deaths 6,100

Round up Scotlands population to the size of the USA and the United States of Sturgeonland
population 331M
Deaths 360,000

The deaths are 53,000 more than the real world USA total.

Yet the perception is utterley at odds with the reality.

Because of social media assertions, management and manipulation, weak Scottish media, and a UK media, all chained into multiple feedback loops every hour of the day, and more interested in seeing Sturgeon as a source for basically anti Brexit/anti-Boris topics and quotes to fuel their news output (rather than a leader with agency who should be held to account.)

Divided countries with over-partisan media.

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
1 year ago

He’s just being taken for a ride with the rest of us. But I think I’d be putting a few more questions to his enormous team of medical advisers. They wouldn’t last long back in the private sector with there track record this year. They’d probably be sued.
That minor detail aside recent history provides enough examples of disastrous pharmaceuticals from Thalidomide to Tamiflu to the hundreds of thousands of rna vax that Germany had incinerated not so long ago. It seems fine by me to be cautious like every other country and particularly the EU where they all have to agree.

Rosie Bruce
Rosie Bruce
1 year ago

Of course Boris Johnson did just that. He was getting nervous about the criticism that would inevitably have come his way had we been allowed anything like a normal Christmas and then somebody caught Covid over Christmas and died of it, or if the NHS became overwhelmed in January. The underlying theme throughout all of this has been the government’s desire to head off criticism, nothing more and nothing less, hence their policy of prioritising the virus at all costs. When the fear finally subsides, and people see the damage that has been caused, it will I believe come to be seen as a massive miscalculation which will cost them very dear. They were I believe intending to lift restrictions in May but lost their bottle, and since then have had no option but to exaggerate the threat to justify their failure to lift restrictions, and hence the vaccine is their only way out without losing face.

William Gladstone
William Gladstone
1 year ago

If we want to control this pandemic ” and prevent future pandemics ”
then full transparency on the part of all governments is vital.

This really is the most hilarious thing I have read today. As if any of that sentence will ever come true.

Simon Newman
Simon Newman
1 year ago

Well said.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
1 year ago

There are as many people angry with Boris that he cancelled Christmas at all as there are who are angry that he did not cancel it earlier or that he ever promised Christmas at all – he can’t win.

However just what do our neighbours hope to achieve by closing borders at short notice, screwing up the lives of their own citizens as much if not more than ours?

A mutation appeared in Sept when borders were open and tourism welcomed. By mid Dec there is sufficient evidence to be moderately confident that this mutated version is more transmissible than the earlier variant. Great let’s lock the stable door months after the horse has bolted to make a political point with no thought what so ever for the people it leaves trapped, confused and terrified. Yep that is what we have come to expect from our caring sharing neighbours. I wonder if the Frogs have stopped all the illegal immigrants leaving their borders to enter ours in order to protect them from this new strain!

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

It is a shame, but probably not a surprise that the issue of covid seems to have become just another front in the culture war. We should be a little more humble to the many things we don’t know and challenge our own views rather than only seek to confirm them.

A few slightly random thoughts:

1) Japan seems very much an outlier with far better record than we’d expect. Mild measures, no extensive track and trace systems. Why? (I don’t know the answer…?)

2) There are clear cultural differences between the levels of intrusion we (used to?) find acceptable in Western countries from those in East Asia. Do we want governments to track our phones, bank accounts ertc. Perhaps many now do, it rather chills me….

3) Quite obviously, there is now a big divergence between the severe restrictions people say they support,and the widespread breaking of the rules now clearly being undertaken. We should be less coy, among many other things we are telling young people not to socialise or have sex – is this very likely to be realistic in our society over many months or even years?

4) Western Europe seems to have suffered mainly from a different and more transmissible variant of the virus than the Wuham one, though it has now moved to East Asia and so far they are still doing better than Western Europe.

5) The recent UK and South Africa strains seem to be more transmisable
still – actually that is what the virus ‘wants’ to do, which just goes
to show how difficult it will be to suppress it, short of imprisoning us

all in individual cells…..

6) The much better record of Germany in the Spring initially seemed to emphasise the narrative of the role of competence and government policies on covid case numbers. However their recent experience goes rather against this.

7) Regarding Sweden, while often being cited as a failed approach isn’t an extreme outlier in terms of outcomes (deaths per million). On the other hand it hasn’t ‘done nothing’ either. I read somewhere that a while back there had been no excess deaths there compared to normal, but more covid deaths may have balanced fewer flu deaths. It had an approach which depended more on individual judgement, which I am attracted to (I note the word ‘forcibly’ used approvingly several times in one of the below posts).

8) Levels of travel surely must be a factor: France, the UK and New York, all with hundreds of flights in and out daily probably imported the virus hundreds if not thousands of times. Countries such as New Zealand are far more isolated, and had a better chance of get on top of the virus (which however they do seem to have done).

9) I am sure many of could agree, that seemingly inconsistent, not to say idiotic, regulations do nothing to garner public support, especially among those very unlikely to get ill. In Tier 3, saunas and gyms could remain open (lots of panting going on as I observed through plate glass windows) but cinemas, where you sat quietly weraing a mask in a socially-distanced auditorium with most seats out of us, had to close….). But micro-managing people’s lives may inevitably lead to this sort of outcome…

10) Despite all the often self-righteous indignation by the against those questioning our approach, I know from my own experience with my mother that we have done essentially nothing directly to protect and support vulnerable people, Just think what could have been done with a fraction of those billions…