Lady Hallett, Chair of the U.K. COVID-19 Inquiry has not had a good week. Lord Frost, Professor Heneghan, Dr. Jefferson and Fraser Nelson are among the commentators and witnesses who, to borrow a phrase much loved by Angela McLean, the Government’s Chief Scientific Officer, have effectively accused her of being something of a f***wit. Not a phrase, you understand, that I’d use myself.
One could well imagine that had Lady Hallett been chairing the 1912 Titanic disaster Inquiry, she would have focused all efforts on the decisions pertaining to the alignment or otherwise of deckchairs, before, during and after the sinking. Can anyone watching any part of the inquiry’s proceedings think they’ve learnt anything at all about the pandemic? A masterclass in obfuscation it may be, illuminating it certainly isn’t.
Spare a thought then for Lord Brailsford, the almost forgotten Chairman of the Scottish COVID-19 Inquiry, who, by the end of September, what with room bookings, the hefty fees of Edinburgh lawyers, plus his own, not inconsiderable remuneration, has managed to rack up £8,945,000 of spend (at the current rate of burn they’ll be well north of £10 million as I write) looking into the many aspects of the Covid pandemic in Scotland.
Of course, the reason pandemics are noteworthy at all is because they lead to an unfortunate level of excess deaths. In the absence of excess deaths, who would care? We don’t remember the annual outbreak of the common cold every winter because it doesn’t much kill anyone. We do remember the flu outbreak of 1919 and the Black Death because they killed so many.
Figure 1 is a chart I’ve copied from National Records of Scotland analysis of winter deaths. I’ve indicated in red some of the more notable pandemics that have occurred during the 70 or so years covered. The Asian flu pandemic in 1957-8, the memorable Hong Kong flu of 1968-9. In 1999-2000 there was a widespread flu outbreak; along with many of my colleagues I caught it myself, it was a nasty bug.
Who can forget the BBC minor news story published on November 30th 2018 concerning the flu outbreak of the prior winter that the authorities retrospectively discovered had killed over 50,000 people, relative to summer mortality levels? Not dissimilar to the number who officially died in the Covid waves of 2020. Yet in 2017-18 no one really noticed, because it wasn’t on the BBC every night.
Looking at Figure 1, following each pandemic deaths reverted to the mean the following year. But not this time. Despite Covid carrying off the vulnerable elderly, deaths have continued to increase.
The slightly awkward fact for Lord Brailsford and the SNP Government in Scotland is that as the current inquiry grinds ever on, deaths in 2023 are even higher than at the height of the Covid shenanigans.
The Scottish Inquiry is looking at the ‘pandemic’ period from January 1st 2020 to December 31st 2022. In setting up this time-limited period it was, we assume, presumed that deaths would have fallen back to their pre-pandemic level when the inquiry got under way, but not a bit of it.
Figure 3 is taken from the U.K. Government’s Coronavirus Dashboard. Towards the left hand side it shows the April 2020 and December-January 2020-21 peak Covid deaths in Scotland.
Recent data released by National Records Scotland include all-cause deaths in four-month periods: December-March, April-July and August-November.
Prior to April 2020 there were 297 registered Covid deaths in Scotland. During the period April-July there were 3,916 Covid deaths. This figure was exceeded by deaths during the December-March period of 2020/21 when 4,186 Covid deaths were registered. Figure 4 lays out the total Covid deaths in Scotland in each four-month period.
Surely, these pandemic Covid deaths must have pushed up the ‘all-cause’ deaths in Scotland? Who can forget the daily news-conferences when the daily toll would be read out as we seemingly headed towards Armageddon?
Well, figure 5 shows the Covid deaths (the blue line near the bottom of the chart), and the all-cause deaths (the red line at the top of the chart) totalled for each four month period.
And, what a surprise it is. Deaths during the December-March period of 2022-23, a period when Covid had all but disappeared, during one of the mildest winters on record, a winter with no significant flu outbreaks, there were more deaths than in any of the ‘pandemic’ periods.
Why is the Scottish Government spending millions of pounds to find out why more deaths weren’t averted during the pandemic period when they aren’t addressing the subject of excess deaths now when deaths are even higher?
Perhaps if you’re interested in the answer to this question you could ask your MSP. I’m sure Lord Brailsford and his chums would be delighted to follow up the current inquiry with yet another looking at “what actions, if any, taken during the pandemic period on Jan 1st 2020 to Dec 31st 2022 had any consequence on excess deaths in 2023?”