Following the Science

The few SAGE minutes that are available show little evidence of any disagreements or heated discussions. Their proposals after infections rose this Autumn are just ever more stringent lockdowns on the  social and economic life of the country until case rates start to fall. Current infection levels are simply due to the failure of the over-centralised Track and Trace which  was supposed to stop localised outbreaks spreading (“Whack A Mole”).

People are tired of continuous emergency measures when nothing else is changing. The basic numbers (14 day isolation, 14 day quarantine) have not changed since March despite the availability of rapid testing. This is destroying the travel industry, aviation and airports.  Why can’t we pay for  20 minute tests which PHE refuses to authorise? How is it that  China managed to test 9 million people in 5 days in Qingdao thereby eliminating the entire outbreak, whereas in the UK  you can wait up to 5 days for one individual result!

Scientists outside of SAGE who disagree with their conclusions risk being castigated and  ostracised. Has SAGE perhaps though become an echo chamber of group think, or do they critically assess and evaluate past positions? How do they balance the downsides of lockdown measures such as increases in  cancer and heart disease deaths, effects on jobs, domestic violence, mental health and suicides ? If so then how do they balance these against  the benefits of their recommendations ?

The latest infection rates per 100,000 population show that the UK is actually doing rather better than most other European Countries.

Notice the kink in the UK data due to the Excel reporting bug. In general though UK cases are now growing far slower than France and more recently Italy. This is even more evident if we include The Czech Republic and Belgium. Note also how cases are now rising too in Germany.

Belgium updates cases with a delay of 1-2 days hence the downtick is an artefact.

Italy had one of the worst outbreaks in Europe early in March and its hospitals in Lombardia were overwhelmed.  Italy too is experiencing a delayed second wave and rates are approaching those in the UK. However I discovered this interesting article in Corriere della Sera about the views of one of their leading Virologists Prof. Palù .  His views contrast starkly with the more pessimistic views of SAGE.

Here is my translation of his key points:

“There is far too much alarmism. Of course there is a second wave, because the virus never stopped circulating even though in July cases were falling thanks to the summer weather, outside living, and high UV that kills the virus. Now the return from holidays, change of season, reopening of the economy and above all the return to schools has reversed that trend.”

“I am against any new lockdown as a citizen because it would be economic suicide, as a scientist because it penalises the education of the young who are our future, and as a doctor because it would mean that the sick especially those with cancer would not have access to be cured”. And all of this to confront an illness Covid-19, which has anyway a low lethality. We have to put a stop to this hysteria”.

“Forget the PCR cases data. Point 1: Up to 95% of cases are asymptomatic so cannot be defined as sick. Point 2: Certainly these people have been infected but that doesn’t mean they are contagious i.e. can infect others. They can only be contagious if they have a high viral load, but currently available tests can’t distinguish this in time to avoid these infections”.

“Only the numbers in intensive care really matter.”

Giorgio Palu, Prof of Virology & Microbiology, Padova,

It is clear that there is a balance between curbing Covid protections through lockdowns and the damage done to other health threats, the economy, mental health, children’s education and jobs. NPIs only make sense if there is a vaccine available say within 3 months. Otherwise lockdowns  just delay the inevitable.

About Clive Best

PhD High Energy Physics Worked at CERN, Rutherford Lab, JET, JRC, OSVision
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6 Responses to Following the Science

  1. alsomaninthemirror says:

    Completely agree with your analysis. The body politic has completely fallen for the “Group Think” of those SAGE members and seems to be under the spell of the opinions of these computer modelers whose predictions have been vastly inaccurate, alarmist and fear mongering. But don’t hold your breath, the the UK government is not going to change course, Boris unfortunately in this situation is “not for the turning.” Very sad for the health and wealth of the UK.

  2. Luc Cooseman says:

    About one week after infection, some get sick. About one, two weeks after sickness, some get hospitalized. About one week later some are transferred to ICU. In other words occupation of ICU beds follows the spread of the pandemic with a retard of 3-4 weeks. This gives the virus a window of 3-4 weeks to spread exponentially. In case of doubling the number of infections in a week, typically, this means: 8-16 times more infected people. Using ICU occupation as a measure for the epidemic spread is simply stupid. Using hospitalizations and ICU as tools will result in a complete breakdown of the health system.

    • Clive Best says:

      Yes there is roughly a 2- week delay from infection to ICU so it reflects the epidemic shifted in time. However Palu is claiming that the vast majority (95%) of any random sample of the population testing positive have no symptoms and furthermore most of them are not contagious. Therefore counting positive cases in a random sample of the population like the ONS or Imperial College over estimates the epidemic.

      He is implying that many people will come into contact with tiny amounts of the virus either through dead viral parts or a very low dose (viral load). The PCR test is binary – yes/no. It doesn’t measure the viral load. So these people test positive but are neither ill nor infectious. So you need a measure of the symptomatic people – hospital cases/ICU beds.

      I have no idea if he is right !

  3. There seems to be an interesting effect with latitude – southerly countries being worse affected than UK and Sweden right now.**

    Or maybe their lockdowns were more effective the first time and large pockets were left untouched.

    **Except Greece in spite of, or because of, many tourists.

  4. Hi Clive,
    A good article on the ICU/Hospitalsation rates is here
    The main problem with government data is classification.
    Is a patient who tests positive on admission classified as ‘COVID’ despite being admitted for something else?
    Despite the 2 week lag, it’s fairly easy to analyse time series data, so the comments above are irrelevant.
    As far as PCR tests go, the effects of PPV (simple Bayes) has not been communicated to the general public. That is, the probability of being infected given that you test positive is still under 50%. The PCR test is therefore not binary which is why it has never been used as a diagnostic tool before now. The government has spent £10 billion on this nonsense.

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