The Express leads with the number of healthcare workers who’ve lost their lives to the virus, a story that’s been getting a fair amount of attention over the last few days because it seems to show the price they’re paying for the PPE shortage. On BBC Breakfast yesterday it was claimed that 43 NHS workers have died, and the presenter took if for granted that these deaths came about because of their exposure to patients infected with COVID-19. But tragic though any death is, it is worth pausing to consider whether NHS workers really are more likely to die from COVID-19 than other members of the working population. One of the commentators on this site, Guy de la Bédoyère, has crunched the numbers. The NHS employs roughly 1.5 million people across the UK, which is about 1/43 of the UK population. That figure is also about 1/25 of the population of working age (20-65). To date 1,272 people aged 20-59 have died of COVID-19 in the UK, 1/25th of which is 50 – or slightly more than the actual number of NHS workers who have died, at least according to BBC Breakfast. In other words, just as a function of the general risk to which the whole UK population is subject we would expect at least 50 NHS workers to have died anyway this year, regardless of any higher risk they might face from their jobs. Having said that, 53% of NHS employee are 44 or younger – under-45s are at a lower risk of dying from coronavirus than over-45s – and it’s a safe bet the majority don’t have underlying health conditions. So in all likelihood NHS workers are more vulnerable. Nonetheless, taken by themselves, the raw figures suggest they are less likely to die of coronavirus than the general population. To mean anything, the headline figures need to be put into context, something few journalists seem willing to do.
In other news, the ONS released some data this morning about the number of deaths in Week 15 (April 4th to April 10th). The total number in England and Wales in the week ending April 10th was 18,516, an increase of 2,129 compared to the previous week and 7,996 higher than the five-year average for Week 15. It’s also the highest weekly total since Week 1 in 2000. But let’s contextualise these figures. The most important comparison is not between the total number of deaths in Week 15 this year with the five-year average for Week 15, but the cumulative total compared with the five-year average. That gives us 184,960 deaths up to the end of Week 15, compared to a five-year average of 174,693. Admittedly, that’s an excess of 10,267, but as Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at Cambridge University, has pointed out: “Many people who die of COVID would have died anyway within a short period.” Incidentally, the total by the end of Week 15 in 2018 was 187, 720, higher than it is this year. The truth is, we won’t know how many more deaths there have been in 2020 compared to the previous five years until the end of Week 52. (There’s a good analysis of the latest ONS data here.)
Another point about these figures. Yesterday’s COVID-19 death toll was 449, which amounts to a 47% decrease in the 12 days since April 8th, according to the Telegraph. If April 8th was the peak, given the three-week lag time between infection and death, that suggests infection peaked before the lockdown was introduced on March 23rd. (If April 8th was the peak, the ONS data should show fewer people dying from COVID-19 in Week 16 than in Week 15.) That’s the conclusion of Carl Heneghan, Oxford Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine, who says infection rates halved as a result of hand-washing and keeping two metres apart, which were urged on the British public on March 16th, a week before the lockdown. Maintaining the severe restrictions isn’t necessary, according to Professor Heneghan. “In fact, the damaging effect now of lockdown is going to outweigh the damaging effect of coronavirus,” he told the Today programme yesterday.
According to this morning’s Guardian, the Government has been warned by its advisors on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) that any relaxation of lockdown measures could trigger an exponential rise in coronavirus cases, and it notes that two of the Cabinet hawks – Gavin Williamson and Alok Sharma – have begun to wobble since the news leaked that Boris is leaning towards the doves. Has BoJo lost his mojo? That’s the question James Delingpole and I discuss on our weekly London Calling podcast that you can listen to here.
But it’s possible his aides are briefing the papers that he won’t ease the lockdown until he’s satisfied there’s no risk of a second wave overwhelming the NHS so that when he returns to Downing Street – rumoured to be next week – he can announce he’s now assured of this and, like Moses, lead us out of Egypt into the Promised Land. The rationale would be there’s no point in ending the lockdown if the British public still think the virus is stalking the land because they won’t then send their children back to school or return to work. But if Boris, the great communicator, is able to tell them he’s looked into it and now thinks it’s safe to leave their homes, they’ll begin to venture outside again. Is that the plan? James Delingpole thinks I’m clutching at straws and another person who isn’t optimistic is Stephen Hazell-Smith (otherwise known as the City Grump). You can read his blog post about why he thinks politicians are being led by the nose by crystal-ball-gazing scientific experts here.
One reason to think there won’t be a second wave when the lockdown is lifted is the work of Isaac Ben-Israel, Chairman of the Israeli Space Agency and the National Council for Research and Development. As I reported a couple of days ago, he’s crunched the numbers and concluded infections decline to almost zero 70 days after the first outbreak in each country, regardless of the measures imposed to try to thwart it. You can read a transcript of his talk on the subject here.
In case you haven’t been lectured enough about just how important it is to stay home and protect the NHS, Apple’s digital assistant has now joined the ranks of the finger waggers. If you say to Siri, “Where are you?” you get the following reply: “I’m wherever you need me to be. And I hope you’re staying in as much as you can.” Are liberal democracies on the cusp of becoming totalitarian states, aided by the tech giants? Yes, according to a piece by Jim Fedako published by the Mises Institute. And one worrying sign is this story in the Independent. It says NHS staff have been ordered by their bureaucratic overlords not to tweet about “political issues”, including lack of PPE. Sounds like a case for the Free Speech Union. (For those readers who don’t know, I helped set up the FSU at the end of February.) If any NHS workers have been sanctioned for exercising their lawful right to free speech on social media – or are being put through a disciplinary process – please email the FSU’s Case Management Director Peter Ainsworth and he’ll look into it.
I get daily messages from readers telling me about the heavy-handed behaviour of the police, but this one stood out:
My sister (50 years old, works full time) was pulled over tonight by the police on her way home from shopping for groceries. The police pulled over every car on the A4 between Newbury and Hungerford to ask where they were going/where they had been. She was driving alone so could not be accused of breaching the lockdown rule with regard to congregating with more than one other person. She advised she had been shopping for food (after working all day at home), asked the officer why she had been stopped given she was not committing any crime and inquired whether the police had any real crimes to investigate. (FYI she has been mugged at knifepoint and burgled twice in London and there was no response from the police.) The officer then accused her of “not being very polite”, called over her superior and informed my sister they were taking a note of her number plate. Clearly this was supposed to intimidate her. She has since received a call from the police telling her they have the right to stop motorists and they are enforcing the law. She is now concerned she could lose her job.
Douglas Carswell, the former Conservative and UKIP MP, tells me he never leaves his home in West London without a copy of the Coronavirus Act in his back pocket. If he’s ever button-holed by our boys in blue, his plan is to whip it out and draw their attention to which rules the police are expected to enforce and which they aren’t.
A big thank you to all those readers who made a donation yesterday to pay for the upkeep of this website. If you’d like to make a donation to Lockdown Sceptics, please click here. Incidentally, we passed 100,000 page views yesterday. Help me grow this to 250,000 by the end of the week by spreading the word. Let’s keep the pressure up on the Government.