Diamond Princess

“The NHS is Going to be Smashed in Weeks”, Cummings’s Data Geek Told Boris – on the Day Infections Peaked in London

Lockdown Sceptics‘ readers have had their fill of Dominic Cummings stories in the last 24 hours. However, his claim, repeated yesterday in front of MPs, that without a lockdown last March “the NHS is going to be smashed in weeks” cannot go unanswered.

These are the words that, according to Cummings, data analyst Ben Warner said to Boris Johnson when he confronted him with “evidence” on Friday March 13th 2020 that a lockdown was necessary to prevent the NHS being imminently overwhelmed.

March 12th and 13th 2020 are notable for being the days when various Government advisers did the media rounds to sell to the public the idea of “building up some kind of herd immunity“, as Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance put it on Radio 4’s Today programme. Prior to this, the Government had been sticking to the script of their action plan and pandemic preparedness strategy that did not talk about herd immunity (even if it implied it) but about mitigation of the impact of the disease.

Whose idea it was to start talking about building up herd immunity by infection is not clear, and, despite pontificating for seven hours yesterday, Dominic Cummings did not enlighten us on that point. The move was, however, disastrous for Government public relations, as the concept jarred with the public. Worse, it was criticised by scientists and health care professionals, who argued that herd immunity through infection was not a sound policy aim even if it would be the inevitable result of the mitigation strategy. Dr Adam Kucharski from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine put the matter succinctly on Twitter:

The Diamond Princess Told Us About Pre-Existing Immunity, Asymptomatic Infection and the Infection Fatality Rate. Why Were Those Lessons Ignored?

A reader who’s just completed a PhD in biology has got in touch to point out just how prescient the data from the Diamond Princess cruise ship was. Why was that data ignored by public health panjandrums?

I thought to bring your attention to a paper published in MedRxiv by Russell et al from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on the 9th March 2020. They were looking at data from the Diamond Princess to try and establish case fatality rates. They got it wrong, but they did give the original data they used.

3,711 passengers and crew were on the Diamond Princess. Median age 58.

The virus had circulated undetected for 2 weeks, so given that masked-up health officials had caught COVID on board (The Maritime Executive 12.2.2020), it’s probably safe to assume everyone on the ship (or possibly only almost everyone) had been exposed.

Everyone on board had a PCR test (eventually)

619 out of 3,711 tested positive (17%)

Of which:

Symptomatic: 301
Asymptomatic: 318

Observed deaths:
(70 – 79 age bracket): 6
(80 – 89 age bracket: 1

So, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that 83% of passengers and crew may have had prior immunity.

Of positive tests, half were asymptomatic.

Of those who tested positive, ~1% died. No one died under the age of 70.

In the light of all the data collected in the last year as this pandemic has ranged across the world, it’s startling to think that the broad outline of what we could expect was already known, just no-one wanted to see.