Day Fifty Three: Thursday 7th May 2020

Nothing Grows Forever

Way back in the 1970s I read the Club of Rome report. I still have it on my bookshelf, yellowed and well-thumbed. It stated the obvious – that indefinite growth could not occur in a finite world. I was biology trained, with a particular interest in ecology, and I became a biology teacher. I think that ever since I was bought a cheap Japanese microscope for my tenth birthday I’ve been a biologist at heart, and that means understanding the basic shapes and patterns that accompany all living processes.

One of these key underlying patterns is the sigmoid, or s-shaped, graph. Lots of processes in biology follow the sigmoid curve, not least of all, growth. We, for example, do not grow indefinitely, and it’s not much of an insight to realise that most other things don’t either.

So it was rational to suppose that human population growth could not be indefinite, so long as we didn’t populate other worlds, and that was a long way off. Not only that, but our intermediary with ecology, economics, wouldn’t endure meaningful indefinite growth either. Sure, there would be bubbles, but they were momentary and would ultimately burst. When it came to meaningful growth, stuff would stop it – there’s be too many of us, we’d overconsume resources or get poisoned by our collective waste, in the same way yeast does in a fermentation jar.

But there we were as a species, behaving as if continued growth was inevitable. Capitalism needs an ever-increasing GDP. Fail to grow that GDP of yours and you’re in trouble.

Nothing can grow forever.

So the paradigm of an ever-growing GDP is fundamentally flawed.

In the 1970s, and for decades after that, we didn’t want to know how the sigmoid would flatten, and as a result policymakers haven’t really planned for it. It’s a bit like planning for your own death – dealing with the inconceivable. We just went on, making money with various degrees of success, some of the more successful getting richer and richer. In the 1980s greed became a virtue, because it generated wealth …… generated GDP. No one was going to give up on that one easily.

We needed to look at our own history to realise that those who were accumulating surpluses in the very uneven sharing out of resources were not going to give up their surplus acquisitions unless they had to. Like when it’s legislated that they must, or when life becomes intolerable, like it does in revolutions, when they don’t.

So we carried on. Economically sleepwalking towards disaster. People in the know knew about the ultimate inevitability of a pandemic, but policymakers did not register. We were in denial.

But the sigmoid was going to flatten.

It had to.

That’s natural law.

We thought that something more related to climate change would flatten it. Maybe when you could only get around Manhattan by canoe or had to wear waders to take part in New Orleans’ Mardi Gras we’d kinda do something then, and well, the market would sort that out, wouldn’t it?

Rather like 9/11, we were caught off-guard. Blindsided. Woken up from our somnambulations.

And it’s a shame, because we think we’re smart. We think we can stop the worst from happening.

However, the sad fact is, like most of our fellow living creatures on God’s Earth, we learn from trial and error.

And that’s how a paradigm shift has happened when a simple virus entered the human population.

Above, soft cumulus clouds float in the bluest of skies. I stop for a moment to read them. They’ve stopped growing. They’ve reached that mid-afternoon equilibrium where growth and decay are in balance. Decay will win. By evening they will have dissipated. I know this. I’ve been watching clouds for years.

I miss flying!

Rather a Light in Darkness, Than a Light in Fog

The novel coronavirus spread swiftly around the world from late 2019, and like a cuckoo in the nest has crowded out non-covid healthcare and drug development, redirecting research away from many labs in a crisis that has left some scientists scrambling to save their work, and left others grieving the loss of experiments they had dedicated months or even years to carrying out. Many are grappling with an overwhelming sense of uncertainty about how they’ll continue with their work.

By contrast, demand for knowledge about the virus has resulted in scientific research being released in a torrent, much of it unreviewed, as pre-publications, such is the rush.

The UK has been hit particularly hard. It began with a complacent and swaggering PM, eager to message about British exceptionalism with the boosterism that has become his trademark. His speech in the Royal Naval College in Greenwich on February 3rd was the first time he had mentioned the coronavirus in public:

“Global growth is itself anaemic and the decline in global poverty is beginning to slow. When barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational, to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government, somewhere, that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange.”

Not surrendering to the virus became central to Britain Unchained and an undercurrent to the many troublingly irrational decisions the PM would make throughout the duration of Covid-19’s UK presence. But that’s another story.

Or to be precise, many other stories.

With borders open, an all-pervasive lack of urgency, sporting events taking place with crowds in the thousands, Britain had that air of 1939 of eerie calm while storm clouds billowed on the horizon. It would not be long before they broke in all their fury, leaving the UK with the highest death toll from Covid-19 in Europe, with 30,076 people recorded dying from the disease. The actual total figure of direct and indirect deaths could be as high as 54,000, according to a former ONS statistician.

It was plain to see what had happened in Italy. For one of the world’s greatest air transport hubs, still with open borders, it was rational to see it was coming our way. But Johnson is still in denial. So when Sir David Spiegelhalter, a leading statistician, wrote in the Guardian a caveat about the variation of methodologies in gathering covid stats in different countries, Johnson uses that in a Trumpian twist to say that international comparisons should not be made at all.

Asked by Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer why the UK’s growing death figures, which today passed 30,000, were so grim compared to other countries, the PM said:

“In answer to his question, I would echo what we have heard from Professor David Spiegelhalter and others: at this stage I do not think that the international comparisons and the data are yet there to draw the conclusions that we want.”

It was a sleight of hand, a deflection away from the neglect the Government had shown to observe what had happened elsewhere and amend plans accordingly.

Sir David Spiegelhalter saw it as such, that Johnson had misinterpreted his article and asked But tonight, Sir David said the PM had misinterpreted his article, and asked him and his colleagues to stop.

He wrote on Twitter :

“Polite request to PM and others: please stop using my Guardian article to claim we cannot make any international comparisons yet. I refer only to detailed league tables-of course we should now use other countries to try and learn why our numbers are high.”

Where Brexit meets Covid-19 a Lewis Carroll reality emerges, syllogism rules and confusion results.

So a promise by the PM to reach a testing target of 200,000 by the end of May becomes clarified by his spokesman as referring to ‘capacity,’ not actual test, and Johnson adds to the confusion by saying it had been easier to build up testing capacity “on the way out” than it was as the epidemic took off. There had been “particular difficulties” at the time, he added, without exactly specifying what they were.

The Tory MP, Brandon Lewis adds to the Looking Glass world by telling us that the Government was right not to enforce airport screening, without exactly specifying why.

A shipment of 400,000 protective gowns from Turkey, procured at great expense to the taxpayer, are deemed unusable.

While a Labour MP has claimed she was sacked from her job as a temporary carer amid the pandemic after speaking out about PPE shortages. Nadia Whittome, the UK’s youngest MP, returned to her former role at Lark Hill retirement village, which is run by ExtraCare, to help relieve the strain on the care services.

And Neil Ferguson, the lead author of the study that prompted the UK’s Covid-19 lockdown has resigned from SAGE, the Government’s top science advisory team after breaking lockdown rules at least twice to meet a lover, and risking undermining the ‘stay at home’ message.

The only thing that keeps the lapsed professor out of the Looking Glass analogy is I don’t think Lewis Carroll wrote any adult stuff.

But he did have characters whose line of reasoning shot off at a tangent to pastures new.

We, of course, have Boris Johnson musing about the post-pandemic world.

“This should be a golden age for cycling,” he enthuses as he floats an alternative to mass transit commuting.

But there are moments when I think that the Looking Glass world that I find myself in, along with millions, if not billions of others, is an inevitability. It’s like being lost in the fog – the first thing that happens is disorientation, that in itself can lead to muddled thinking and poor decision-making. No one knows exactly how the pandemic will run its course. This is not the lost world of the Spanish Flu, where viruses were barely known about, even in the medical community, and air travel constituted a noisy hop from Croydon to Paris in a cold, canvas-covered flying machine for the intrepid few who could afford it. This is a very different world indeed, with different dynamics, and there is no spoiler alert for what the final chapter holds.

News filters through. From Pfizer and Moderna in the States, and AstraZeneca in the UK. A vaccine is on its way. It’s hope, but unlike a light in the darkness it’s more like a light in the fog. Some like Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Centre for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy, are worried people aren’t preparing for the possibility of an autumn wave of infections, which some experts fear will be bigger than what we’ve seen so far, simply because they expect a vaccine will be at hand. Mounting promises on Covid-19 vaccines are fuelling false expectations.

Osterholm went on to warn that the public will need clearer communications about realistic time lines to Covid-19 vaccine access. When vaccines do start to become available, demand will be enormous and supply will be minimal.

“It’s going to be like filling Lake Superior with a garden hose at first,” he added. “Let’s just be honest, whichever country gets the vaccine first … is going to both be in the driver’s seat and a very difficult spot.”

“Eight billion people are going to want this vaccine overnight when it becomes available.”

In the meantime, without a vaccine or other preventive medication, all that can be done is to mitigate the worst outcomes.

The pharmaceutical company, Gilead announces steps to widen global access to remdesivir, particularly addressing immediate needs in India. The world watches. Gilead has a history of price-gouging drugs, for example bringing out a hepatitis C drug that cost $1,000 a pill, and has found itself in a protracted and messy legal battle with the U.S. government over patents, and priced HIV drugs so high it gave rise to an international social movement of AIDS activists, for whom Gilead has represented a corporate villain like no other.

The famous playwright and AIDS activist, Larry Kramer, now 84 but still unreconciled. In an email to the American health news website, STAT, he said, “Gilead has always been selfish, greedy, tricky pigs. I have always hated them.”

Little wonder, then, that a Washington Gilead lobbyist said that with remdesivir, Gilead has “a perfect opportunity to show our value — and not come across like greedy bastards.”

Arguably, the best Covid-19 treatment to date and the world at its feet, does Gilead want to be seen as being as wealthy as Croesus, or the saviour of humanity? The world watches, mindful of the Midas touch.

It will be a recurring theme for a number of big pharma companies as the pandemic runs its course.

Less high profile, but equally important treatments continue to widen the gap between infection and deaths. Giving blood thinners to severely ill Covid-19 patients is gaining ground while trials begin for convalescent plasma, a treatment used a hundred years ago in the Spanish Flu pandemic.

Big Tobacco gets criticised for ‘coronavirus publicity stunt’ after donating ventilators. Philip Morris International, the world’s largest multinational tobacco company, has been accused of a “shameful publicity stunt” by a leading campaigner after it donated ventilators to the Greek government as coronavirus infections mount in the country.

Perhaps it’s an act of conscience, as evidence suggests that smokers are more likely to suffer a severe form of the disease than non-smokers?

Then again, perhaps not.

Public debt has shot up all over the world, like a collective immune reaction. Exactly what this means in terms of economic growth is unclear, but rather like any patient kicking up an immune response it’s not going to feel good. The Bank of England has warned of an economic hit close to thirty per cent by the summer, as it left interest rates at a historic low of 0.1 per cent after recent emergency action. The Bank said it expects GDP to fall by around three per cent in the first three months of 2020 and then plunge by a further 25 per cent in the second quarter, but like all other reactions to the pandemic there’s a lot of uncertainty. The twenty seven countries of the European Union have a collective budget, along with recovery plans to ensure a safe and healthy future for all. Billions of euros of public monies will be invested to restart Europe’s economy as countries emerge from the pandemic.

So much for the richer nations, but in the developing world things are much more precarious. Development in these countries depends to a large degree on microfinance lenders and Covid-19 has become an existential threat, even though in a post-pandemic world, the poor will need them more than ever.

And China, eager to be the first out of the pandemic, has its airlines flying again. It’s a competitive world and there’s the fear that they could threaten the world’s sickly legacy carriers on international routes.

China too has the first cohort of children returning to school in Wuhan, where the first case of Covid-19 was reported late last year. Students in grade 12 and 9 in schools in Hubei province were allowed to return to class on Wednesday to study for upcoming exams in the summer.

Like the resurgent airlines this is a sign of bullish confidence and ascendency in contrast to an uncertain and fragile West. In Britain the teacher’s union, NASUWT, warns that teachers are being “put at risk unnecessarily” as schools prepare for reopening. The anxiety is the same in France as plans to reopen schools are rebuked as being “untenable and unrealistic.” Some French schools will reopen from May 11th in a decision that many mayors in the Paris region have criticised.

In America there’s yet another blow to university enrolment and income, as the Trump administration looks to impose new restrictions on overseas students who want to work in the US after graduation. One in five students is reconsidering plans over concerns of the pandemic.

While across the EU graduates struggle. On the cusp of entering the world of work, uncertainty is hanging over young people’s employment opportunities. Prospects for getting a good traineeship or a short-term contract – the starting point for the majority of graduates – are slim. Before the pandemic hit, the outlook was already gloomy. The average rate for youth unemployment stood at 15 per cent. Now it can only get gloomier.

Without regenerating a well-educated, highly productive workforce entire economies will enter a ‘long covid’ for years to come.

So getting out of lockdown is critically important for national prosperity. The WHO warn that the risk of sliding back into Covid-19 lockdown is ‘very real’ without a careful, staged lift approach.

PM Boris Johnson says measures to ease lockdown will begin next Monday, following updating  the public on Sunday, because the measures would begin the next day. The “stay at home” message expected to be ditched.

So have the five tests for lifting lockdown been met? Here’s a reminder:

  1. The NHS is able to cope and can provide sufficient critical care and specialist treatment right across the UK.
  2. There’s a sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rate from coronavirus – we have moved beyond the peak.
  3. There’s reliable data from SAGE showing the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels.
  4. The Government is confident that the range of operational challenges including testing capacity and PPE are in hand with supply able to meet future demand.
  5. And confident also that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelm the NHS.

It is true that deaths are past their peak and declining daily but they’re still high, averaging 549 daily over the last week. Cases are hardly declining – at about five thousand daily – but the level of testing is still inadequate for a virus that is becoming endemic, and as for not risking a second spike of infections, in the short term it might be so. It’s a gamble that PM Johnson is making on the basis of early signs.

As an aside, a Scottish survey reported in iNews comes up with novel ways of returning to normal life, from 10 mph speed limits to legalising cannabis. Other suggestions included reopening McDonald’s restaurants to improve the nation’s mental health.

Chancellor Merkel is more cautious, saying Germany’s reopening will have an “emergency brake” in case covid spikes. As an early sign the Bundesliga is cleared to return this month. Measures announced by chancellor Angela Merkel will allow top level football to return behind closed doors in the second half of May.

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern says her country is “halfway down Everest,” as she plans big easing of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Rome’s transport network comes back to life. Facemasks, temperature checks, socially distanced seating and a little less busy than in pre-pandemic days. But the hum of activity and tinny announcements over station speakers give the comforting illusion of a returning normality.

But it’s not for all. Over-70s and vulnerable groups will still need to self-isolate when the UK rules ease. Without a vaccine, shielding is really the only effective tool we have to protect vulnerable groups during this uncertain time.

For them the ‘New Reality’ continues, with all its shifts from what seems like a comfortable world, in the way we look at the Edwardian era that was blown away in August 1914.

Here are some stories from this New Reality:

  • A nurse in Maryland, US, describes how doctors have been instructed not to enter patients’ rooms unless they must as a way to minimize their exposure to the virus that causes Covid-19 while nurses go from one room to the next, medicating, bathing, turning, and comforting their patients without changing their uncomfortable personal protective equipment, since supplies are limited. This work can take hours. It is not uncommon for nurses to go all day without drinking water or eating because that would mean removing our protective gear.
  • Similarly, the comedian Rhod Gilbert, whose series about attempting other people’s ‘real jobs,’ as he puts it, Work Experience, shows that caring is a serious business. It’s perhaps the best half-hour programme he’s ever made, while UK charities urge the Government to better protect under pressure carers. More than 100 organisations, unions and think tanks have published an open letter, urging politicians across the UK to act.
  • Many, however, can escape the high risks of the frontline and the pandemic has not only sped up a revolution in home working, leaving offices around the world empty, but also brought people to question the necessity of the Monday to Friday nine to five in the office. It’s one of the covid paradigm shifts.
  • And that refocusing on the home has caused indoor air pollution to soar as Britons take to their kitchens in lockdown. The average person is exposed to nineteen per cent more particulate pollution now households spend an extra hour a day cooking.
  • Would you really trust Mark Zuckerberg to be your new babysitter? Maybe not in the flesh, but by proxy, it seems so. When Facebook Messenger Kids first came out, it was thought of as controversial for a big tech platform to target a children’s audience. Now, Messenger Kids is helping children stay in touch during quarantine.
  • iNews reporter Rosie Hopegood finds herself caught out mid-move from London to New York and finds herself stuck in an Airbnb. It’s been a revelation. “I’ve spent the whole of lockdown in an Airbnb,” she writes. “It’s made me realise I don’t need so much stuff and that neighbours matter.”
  • Some caught out in transit are not fortunate enough to philosophise about their plight, not least the EU nationals left homeless and hungry in London’s lockdown. “They are living hand to mouth because they were fired straightaway and were not put on unpaid leave or furloughed.
  • Others take advantage of the situation for malign ends. There is ‘clear evidence’ that cyber-criminals are targeting healthcare organisations tackling Covid-19. Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said that hostile states and criminal gangs are exploiting the coronavirus crisis for fraud and espionage.
  • It’s not just for monetary gain either. A 53 year-old Colorado man planning armed protest against his state’s coronavirus restrictions was arrested by federal agents for allegedly possessing four pipe bombs. The man, Bradley Bunn, repeatedly popped up on law enforcement radar after ‘angry and aggressive’ social media posts.

While worldwide:

  • China declares the whole country ‘at low risk’ after its Covid-19 outbreak.
  • Women demand a voice in Italy, where the virus response has been dominated by men.
  • In America, Trump says the White House’s Covid-19 Task Force will wind down. His son in law, Jared Kushner tried to address a looming supply shortage with volunteers from the private sector. More than 1,000 people have died each day for over a month. Meat is growing more scarce. And for the first time in its history, the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments via telephone and allowing live streaming of its audio. In another sign of change, Judge Clarence Thomas asked a question for the first time since March 2019 on Monday.
  • Tanzania’s president has suspended its head of national health laboratory amid a growing row that it is suppressing the number of deaths from Covid-19. John Magufuli claimed tests have been sabotaged after having a goat test positive at the lab. Opposition leaders have accused him of a cover-up.
  • Three Russian doctors working to treat Covid-19 patients have mysteriously fallen out of windows in recent weeks, underscoring the country’s struggling healthcare system and leading to suspicions of foul play. On April 24th, Natalya Lebedeva, the chief of emergency medical services at a training base for Russian cosmonauts, fell out of a window at the hospital where she was being treated for a Covid-19 infection and died. Yelena Nepomnyaschya, the top doctor at a hospital in Siberia, fell out of a window during a conference call at her hospital and died on May 1st after a week in intensive care. The next day Alexander Shulopov fell from a second floor window at the hospital where he worked and had been receiving treatment for Covid-19. He remains in a serious condition with a fractured skull.
  • Patients have been turned away from dozens of hospitals, even though Japan, with fewer than 15,000 cases, has relatively few Covid-19 patients. It also has more hospital beds per head of population than any other country in the world: twice as many as France and almost five times as many as the United States. Japan has drawn close to the limit of its health capacity in recent weeks, forcing it to declare a state of emergency. The Covid-19 outbreak has exposed long-standing structural problems caused by bureaucratic inflexibility and a plethora of small hospitals. “We have a lot of beds, but a limited number equipped for critical care,” said Shigeru Omi, one of the doctors leading Japan’s fight against Covid-19 in a recent interview with the Financial Times. Japan has approximately 6,000 intensive care beds, about the same number per head as the UK, but only a quarter of the US.

More locally I receive two public service notices:

The first is from PCSO Kirsty Brown, Glyndon Ward. We often see her walking the rounds which includes our common. It addresses locally one of the more widespread lockdown concerns:

If you suffer from domestic abuse it may have become harder to cope with during lockdown. Don’t suffer in silence – you are not alone. These are the numbers, if you need to use them. Stay safe.

The second is from the UK Government:

Local recycling centres are starting to open again. But they will be very busy to start with. So don’t go straightaway unless you need to. Keep rubbish at home, if it is safe to do so, or find other ways to get rid of it responsibly. Whatever you do, don’t dump it – you could be fined or prosecuted.

I’m sure there’s an excuse to visit the local recycling centre, just down the hill from here. I know – sad but true!

Finally, the background to the currently much vaunted mobile phone based track and trace systems is a shady one, with issues centred on refugees, who are dehumanised all too often on their long journey to a hopefully better life. Monitoring that’s being pitched to fight Covid-19 was tested on refugees. The pandemic has given a boost to controversial data-driven initiative to track population movements.

To date, in Italy, social media monitoring companies have been scouring Instagram to see who’s breaking the nationwide lockdown. In Israel, the government has made plans to “sift through geolocation data” collected by the Shin Bet intelligence agency and text people who have been in contact with an infected person. And in the UK, the government has asked mobile operators to share phone users’ aggregate location data to “help to predict broadly how the virus might move”.

This is just the most visible tip of a rapidly evolving industry combining the exploitation of data from the internet and mobile phones and the increasing number of sensors embedded on Earth and in space. Data scientists are intrigued by the new possibilities for behavioural prediction that such data offers.

The refugee crisis of 2015 was a stimulus for tech companies and research consortiums to develop projects using new data sources to predict movements of migrants into Europe. These ranged from broad efforts to extract intelligence from public social media profiles by hand, to more complex automated manipulation of big data sets through image recognition and machine learning.

The European Asylum Support Office (EASO), had fallen foul of the European data protection watchdog, the EDPS, for searching social media content from would-be migrants. The EASO had been using the data to flag “shifts in asylum and migration routes, smuggling offers and the discourse among social media community users on key issues – flights, human trafficking and asylum systems/processes”. The search covered a broad range of languages.

In shutting down the EASO’s social media monitoring project, the watchdog cited numerous concerns about process, the impact on fundamental rights and the lack of a legal basis for the work.

“This processing operation concerns a vast number of social media users,” the EDPS pointed out. Because EASO’s reports are read by border security forces, there was a significant risk that data shared by asylum seekers to help others travel safely to Europe could instead be unfairly used against them without their knowledge.

Social media monitoring “poses high risks to individuals’ rights and freedoms,” the regulator concluded in an assessment it delivered last November. “It involves the use of personal data in a way that goes beyond their initial purpose, their initial context of publication and in ways that individuals could not reasonably anticipate. This may have a chilling effect on people’s ability and willingness to express themselves and form relationships freely.”

But the genie was out of the bottle, and the arrival of Covid-19 meant that people-tracking could in principle be applied to tracking the spread of the virus. All that was needed was identifying whether people were infectious or not. It was tempting to those in government, especially technophiles like the UK government’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, already well-versed in the opportunities presented by big data from the 2016 Brexit campaign.

Human rights advocates worry about the longer term effects of such efforts, however. “Right now, we’re seeing states around the world roll out powerful new surveillance measures and strike up hasty partnerships with tech companies,” Anna Bacciarelli, a technology researcher at Amnesty International, told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. “While states must act to protect people in this pandemic, it is vital that we ensure that invasive surveillance measures do not become normalised and permanent, beyond their emergency status.”

Tracking covid opened the door for repressive states to tighten their grip. In Moscow use of the tracking app was made mandatory during the lockdowns last month when most Muscovites were required to stay indoors. Vladimir Putin signed laws introducing criminal penalties, including up to seven years imprisonment, for quarantine violations that led to others being infected. Moscow also implemented government issued QR codes that were made mandatory. It was not disclosed what information the codes contain but they must be shown to police when requested. The dubious behavioral interpretations recorded by the social monitoring tracking application led to the mistaken fining of hundreds of people in Moscow.

A number of European countries have gone for a decentralised system, in conjunction with Apple and Google, relying on Bluetooth between phones in close proximity, with much greater privacy protection, but this too ran into difficulties with false positives and false negatives. Bluetooth can even connect phones through walls, through which, of course viruses can’t travel – enough said.

Personally, I’ve always thought that the allure of high tech gadgetry clouded clear thinking on the matter and, as many others are warning, more creative methods of surveillance and prediction are not necessarily answering the right question.

“The single largest determinant of Covid-19 mortality is healthcare system capacity,” said Sean McDonald, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, who studied the use of phone data in the west African Ebola outbreak of 2014-5. “But governments are focusing on the pandemic as a problem of people management rather than a problem of building response capacity. More broadly, there is nowhere near enough proof that the science or math underlying the technologies being deployed meaningfully contribute to controlling the virus at all.”

The cost of a not especially successful test, track and isolate system in the UK will turn out costing £37 billion in the fullness of time, about a third of the cost of the entire NHS. Corruption and pocket-lining by the chumocracy might account for a lot of this scandalously enormous amount of money, but muddled thinking will have played a significant part.

But all of that is yet to come.

Sources: Associated Press, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Business Insider, Economist, Euronews, Evening Standard, Forbes, France 24, Gilead News, Guardian, Huffington Post, Independent, iNews, LBC News, Mirror, New Statesman, New York Times, netdoctor, Nextdoor, Ozy, PA Media, ResearchLive,  Reuters, Sky News, STAT, Wikipedia.   

9 thoughts on “Day Fifty Three: Thursday 7th May 2020

  1. When you look at places where antiviral treatments were used, you see better results than in places which were locked down.

    Even the RECOVERY trial said that its HCQ results couldn’t be applied to community antiviral treatment.

    If you follow, I follow.


    • Thank you for the heads up about the RECOVERY trial. As a result I’ve come across UKRI’s website, which gives a clear, useful and concise summary.

      As a paraglider pilot who’s been flying regularly for many years I consider myself to be reasonably familiar with mitigating risks in the face of hazardous situations. It’s not an either/or when it comes to risk mitigation but a layering. So for example, having a vaccination programme doesn’t mean people don’t have to wear masks in enclosed spaces, for example. In the case of a full lockdown there is a massive trade-off, because a degree of economic paralysis occurs – there is a cost-benefit involved. I am interested in what’s going to happen with Merck’s Molnupiravir, not only as a treatment but whether it shows potential prophylactically.

      Please alert me when you have content in your ‘Navigating The Covid Confusion.’ I would be most interesting to read it.


      • Unfortunately, the UKRI site is misleading. In VERY LARGE PRINT we see “Hydroxychloroquine has no clinical benefits” and in small print we see the word “hospitalised” and no mention of a large number of outpatient treatment studies which have shown a great deal of benefit.

        On that same site you see this codswallop, “Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine had received a lot of media attention in early 2020 and was used widely to treat COVID patients, despite the absence of any good evidence.”

        This statement by UKRI is distortion and disinformation and a smear against an inexpensive drug that is truly safe and effective when used with outpatients to treat covid. Why the smear? No $$$ for pharma.

        Any workable strategy wrt covid involves strengthening the immune system with nutraceutical supplementation and getting antivirals before you need them. Getting sun exposure will help when available. Vitamin D is a complex topic which I am planning to write about.

        I have written about my plan which I instituted for my family which has proven effective. 1st layer is nutraceutical supplements to boost the immune system. 2nd layer is early antiviral therapy. You may have to find a way to get the antivirals yourself. We used elderberry concentrate, which contains quercetin. There have been a few research studies which have shown that quercetin transports zinc into cells, where it can inhibit covid virus replication. So we used a layering strategy to mitigate risk.

        Vaccination mitigates risk for a few months at most, then it quickly fades. And you have to roll your dice with the clotshot with each vaccination. (Using the term “clotshot” is simply descriptive and is not rhetorical excess.)

        I don’t favor prophylactic treatment with antivirals as your body just develops fast ways to clear them and the long term risks can be a problem.

        You are welcome to visit my site where I have written several articles around the covid and covid response phenomena.


      • Unfortunately, your apparent faith in Hydroxychloroquine and Chloroquine in the treatment of Covid-19 simply doesn’t bear up to scientific scrutiny. I refer to Axfors et al, “Mortality outcomes with hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in COVID-19 from an international collaborative meta-analysis of randomized trials,” published by Nature (nature communications 12, Article 2349, 15th April 2021). The drugs do have a good record as antimalarials, and have success with arthritis and lupus. They do work prophylactically for malaria, although that’s a separate issue.

        There’s no doubt that actions that assist the immune system are likely to be helpful, but to my mind they provide a layer of additional security along with vaccination and are not an alternative. The likelihood of blood clots from Covid-19 vaccines is very small, and dwarfed by damage by blood clots resulting from Covid-19 infections and the cytokine storms they produce.

        Having said that, as the purpose of ‘The Covid Chronicle’ is the creation of a historical record, views other than my own are welcome. Thank you for your particular insights,


      • It’s not a question of faith, but of science. There is a cornucopia of scientific evidence that treating high risk patients early with HCQ is effective at preventing progression to hospitalization.

        From your referenced article: “Results for hydroxychloroquine are dominated by RECOVERY and WHO SOLIDARITY, two highly pragmatic trials, which employed relatively high doses and included 4716 and 1853 patients, respectively (67% of the total sample size).”

        An article published in NEJM stated that RECOVERY’s results only applied to hospitalised patients, not to patients treated in the community. My contention is that HCQ should only be given to high risk outpatients, preferably before 72 hours have passed since symptom onset. So your referenced article is irrelevant to the my contention that outpatient treatment is effective. The article which you referenced is part of pharma’s ongoing smear campaign against HCQ. Pharma is very well aware that early treatment with HCQ is likely effective, but that would cut into pharma’s profits since people would not be as likely to choose vaccination with inadequately tested vaccines if an antiviral option were available.

        If the vaccines were effective, you wouldn’t see increased cases in all age cohorts in the UK data in October.

        And if the clotshot were safe, you wouldn’t see 16,000 reports of covid deaths in VAERS, which is 30x the TOTAL of all other vaccines for 2020. If the CDC actually cared to find out cause of death for the VAERS covid vaccine death reports, it would conduct autopsies and issue autopsy reports. But all we get from the CDC is crickets.

        If you search google scholar for “covid vaccines clotting elevated d-dimer”, you will get about 5700 hits.

        If you care to investigate meta analysis of early treatment of high risk patients with HCQ, you might look at what Dr. Harvey says. Risch is not only an epidemiologist with an MD, but he also has a PhD in Biostatistics, which is exceptionally helpful at analyzing research papers.

        “Every one of the now 10 studies of high-risk outpatient hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) use
        has shown risk reduction for hospitalization or mortality. Meta-analysis demonstrates
        44% reduction in hospitalization, p=10−5.5, and 75% reduction in mortality, p=10−19.
        • The numerous systematic case-series studies have shown exceedingly good treatment
        benefit vs mortality. They have already saved many tens of thousands of lives.
        • The “natural experiment” studies of population medication responses provide
        compelling evidence of temporal relations between medication use and mortality
        • The RCT studies proclaimed supposedly as definitively showing no benefit of HCQ use in
        outpatients have all involved almost entirely low-risk subjects with virtually no
        hospitalization or mortality events and are uninformative and irrelevant for bearing
        upon risks according to HCQ use in high-risk outpatients. “


      • But Dr Risch’s work concerning HCQ is flawed and open to critique on a number of points, as Fox et al in the American Journal of Epidemiology point out.
        I think the best way forward at this point in time is to say (i) the jury’s out; (ii) there is confirmation bias (possibly even on both sides); (iii) it may be some time yet before a thorough academic review occurs into the various treatments for Covid-19, particularly bearing in mind that these are still early days relative to the histories of other viral epidemics, such as Ebola and AIDS, even though the progress in knowledge has been much more rapid.


      • The early treatment studies almost uniformly show benefit from HCQ cocktails. Boulware’s and Skipper’s designed-to-not-show-benefit studies are the exception. Maybe working for Gilead had something to do with the exceptions.

        I skimmed the Fox paper and it makes mountains out of mole hills and ignores the early treatment window. The authors cite the late-treatment Cavalcanti study of hospitalized patients. Meh. The only question is: “Were they really this ignorant or were they paid by pharma?”

        You see people smearing effective treatment by claiming there are “mixed” results. The smearing occurs when you “mix” late treatment and early treatment studies.

        There was an interesting paper out of Peru which showed that treating within 72 hours of symptom onset seemed to prevent all premature deaths.

        Brian Tyson’s clinic has seen 30,000 covid patients and treated 6,000 high risk patients with his HCQ/IVM cocktail. Only 3 died–and they presented too late for treatment. That is an astounding result.


  2. Hello from the UK

    This is a very interesting article and analysis. However, Covid 19 is the ‘flu, the seasonal ‘flu re-branded, and made out to be a monster. The real pandemic, apart from lies, is vitamin D deficiency due to increasing indoor working and living. But acknowledging that does not make money for big pharma etc.

    A large proportion of the nation has been duped into thinking (in reality not thinking as people seem to have lost their marbles), that they must do everything the government says. I personally think the government is teasing the nation when things get sillier and sillier and still so many people remain dim and dumb.

    The more ridiculous matters become the more it should be blindingly obvious that the narrative is a load of bollux and other things are going on. Which of course they are.

    But people have abandoned common sense in many cases, except perhaps those who had to carry on working to keep the nation working while the useless stayed at home.

    Still, it did give people time to reflect and to change ways of working etc and regain hopefully some of the common sense that was once common.

    Whilst I have written much about Covid 19 in my Covid 19 Summary, you might like my amusing (hopefully!) take on government guidance. I have done various articles but this link would be a good start if you are interested.

    Kind regards

    Baldmichael Theresoluteprotector’sson


    • Thank you for your perspective on the pandemic. The purpose of my blog ‘The Covid Chronicle’ is to be a diarist, at this stage of the three UK lockdowns. It’s more about some people recording their lived experiences and comparing them with what was happening in the wider world as I saw it through my newsfeeds. I think it would be a very dry exercise without my own analysis and commentary on what I considered to be the leading news stories each day.

      I enjoyed your blog about government notices. It made me smile. There’s a story yet to be told about an ambitious and narcissistic man who bought a ticket to great power. The acquiring of power actually mattered more to him than the agenda he was pursuing – so long as a mythology could be created around it – something that as a Classics scholar from Oxford he was well versed in – everything would be fine. For him, that is. The novel coronavirus was a nuisance. He was irked by it. Had he been engaged from the get-go, there would have been an underlying strategy that would have involved the precautionary and pre-emptive principle. But he wasn’t, so what we’ve seen have been late off the mark reactions, like an amoeba poked with an electrode under a microscope – spasmodic, incoherent and lacking a significant health education element. So little wonder people see them as meaningless and nonsensical, and worse than that undermining even the most basic and sensible precautionary measures.

      Keep me posted! Thanks.


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