If ever there was a date to freak out a nation with the message of a further lock down you'd struggle to beat Halloween. Whoever leaked the conversations of 10 Downing Street last Friday played an act of comedic timing and if the news weren't so tragic, could have lined up as script from a new horror movie with Christmas truly spooked and any chance of celebrations more stuffed than the festive turkey.
As someone not easily given to conspiracy theory I've sat with a degree of bewilderment as what to make of the sorry saga of COVID-19. In the early days I related to the concept of herd immunity camp, the idea that if enough of us get the virus then we could step into a level of normality and just get on with it - Sweden here we come. It sounded like a plan and one that had my attention.
Enter Time magazine.
'The Swedish COVID-19 experiment of not implementing early and strong measures to safeguard the population has been hotly debated around the world, but at this point we can predict it is almost certain to result in a net failure in terms of death and suffering. As of Oct. 13, Sweden’s per capita death rate is 58.4 per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University data, 12th highest in the world (not including tiny Andorra and San Marino). But perhaps more striking are the findings of a study published Oct. 12 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which pointed out that, of the countries the researchers investigated, Sweden and the U.S. essentially make up a category of two: they are the only countries with high overall mortality rates that failed to rapidly reduce those numbers as the pandemic progressed.'
I mean you still may conclude that herd immunity is the best natural form of infection control we have - but it's not pain free and more recently antibody testing has shown that we don't retain antibodies for very long at all, which has resulted in people being re-infected with Covid which throws the herd immunity theory out of the water!
So, in the light of low immunity we are back to management and the 3, soon to be 4 tier system and the play off between wrecking the economy and stopping the rising R rate. Politics aside - the whole saga's a bloody nightmare as the rest of Europe (remember the days when all we debated was Brexit) highlights.
Anyhow, at some point last week the PM got spooked and it has nothing to do with any pumpkins carved in the Johnson household. Rather it was in the form of the latest presentation by SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) and the fact that behind closed doors, (as I understand the report is not in the public domain) the RWC (reasonable worst case) scenario of COVID-19 deaths for winter 2020 is way off the expected trajectory and needs a dramatic and significant alteration. When Conservative MP, and lock down skeptic Steve Baker appeared in Downing Street on Saturday afternoon his message to Sky News was stark, 'Boris Johnson has "very difficult choices to make", and urges members of the public and other MPs to "listen carefully" to what the prime minister has to say.' You can be reasonably confident that the news shared in Number 10 had stirred the pot as to what could certainly / possibly happen - and there's a fine balance when trying to manage the risk between certainty and possibility - especially when it involves the non-negotiable reality of death. Neither pause nor reverse are options in the world of COVID-19.
So when Peter Hitchens columnist for the Mail tweets, 'The oddest thing about the Panicdemic is that nobody would know it existed if the Government and its mouthpiece the BBC did not constantly seek to terrify us into a state of servile fear.' and Palliative Care Doctor, Rachel Clarke replies: 'Hospital palliative care doctor here. Believe me, it could not be more real, Peter.' There's a reality on the ground that needs to act as a wake up call.
Earlier that week the Spectator had published the leaked July 30 SAGE RWC analysis and I read it with interest understanding that the Cabinet is using this data to inform its decision making. Fraser Nelson, editor of Spectator wrote, '... we ran the whole document with every assumption in it. Some of them are quite important: for example, that the infection fatality ratio is 0.7 per cent. That is pretty important because it’s a death rate more than twice as high as the current consensus (0.3 per cent). SAGE seemed to be pushing the ‘worst case’ parameters to the max, yet its daily death projections are now dwarfed by the new 'scenarios'.
Nelson continues, 'It's understandable that Boris Johnson should change his mind when presented with startling new evidence. But if he now seeks to persuade others, it would help him - and everyone - if he published that evidence.' Too damned right it would. It would help in numerous regards like: giving a perspective that neutralises some of the conspiracy theories doing their rounds; helping see clearly why we have to give up our liberties whilst wrecking the economy as the lesser of two evils; and seeking to unite a divided country based on leadership offered from a place of transparency, vulnerability, humility - but also hope.
SAGE Leader and senior advisor, Sir Jeremy Farrar tweeted: 'No easy answers, no easy solutions. This is the worst crisis (outside war) any country has faced in 100yrs. There is light for the end of this pandemic, but we have 3-6 months to get through until we can change the fundamentals.’ It was in response to the new data from SAGE - kept hidden from the general public that led to the dramatic change from the PM this weekend. Again, Farrar tweeted: 'The best time to act was a month ago but these are very tough decisions which we would all like to avoid. The second-best time is now. The sooner we get on top of the disease, reduce transmission, r<1, the sooner we can get our society back to normal and the economy back on track.'
It may be sometime before we get to see the full details of the latest modelling from the SAGE report - albeit the headlines were on display for all to see in the Press Conference on Saturday evening. But when figures of multiple thousands of deaths are being presented surely anyone around the table has to conclude: we can repair an economy - you can't resurrect a life.
As our minds migrate towards Christmas a weary world awaits good news. Will we get back to the old normal? Will we sit around the Christmas dinner table with our loved ones? And then we pause to wonder where three years from now we will be? Queuing up for our bi-annual vaccine whilst browsing the internet booking our latest vacation grumbling at the extra surcharge for the COVID-19 test and pondering whether we can afford it when we've paid the new COVID-19 tax introduced to save the country from bankruptcy. But then if we do that in light of the fact that we and our loved ones scrapped through the two years of hell that was the COVID-19 era we'll be grateful to still be around to be spooked by the next challenge life throws our way.