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Herd Impunity

A bit of a lengthy read, so I know I’ll lose quite a lot of people who absorb their knowledge through the cut and paste the meme culture of social media. If you believe the UK government has handled this situation correctly, then I’m not here to convince you otherwise or even attempt to change your mind. I suggest you stop reading now and go about your day. Those that remain please I encourage you to read on.

It may come as no surprise that you have been spun. Such is the growing unease in government it has been reported that Johnson has now hired the same ‘messaging gurus’ who sold the successful 2019 Conservative election campaign to oversee the communications on the UK’s response to the virus.  Public exposure to the Government’s cock-ups started just over a week ago when they admitted that “a communications mix-up meant it missed the deadline to join an EU scheme to get extra ventilators for the coronavirus crisis.” Until then No. 10 was ahead of the game with their slick new chancellor leading the public message, but you can only spend the same money a limited number of times before the fig leaf slips.

Remember as early as January 2020 reports of the severity of this virus were known by governments across the world. Those who immediately attacked it are now in the best position to manage it, which does not mean it will be easy, but it does look percentage-wise fewer people will die in those countries. As well the as lockdown, public advice and large funding stimulus packages to protect the economy. The key seems to be mass testing, in effect to hunt the virus down and kill it. This enables governments to understand the hotspots, how it is spreading and respond with appropriate restrictions when needed. This is precisely the strategy Germany has adopted and the results are the envy of those fighting the virus.

And here is the marked difference in German and UK leadership. The German chancellor has a Doctorate in quantum chemistry and the training to appreciate what the scientists were telling her and she act on it. As a country, Germany has a well-resourced health service and a strong industrial base. They had the capacity to respond. In the UK we have a clickbait writer in charge who is far more interested in projecting his pound shop Churchill pantomime act.

From January to March the Johnson administration with its pool of ‘weirdos and misfits’. The mavericks who think off the wall because Johnson and Cumings do not trust Whitehall civil servants seemed more interested in the notion of herd immunity. It was widely reported that Cummings had made some reference to, “if a few old people die, so be it. The priority is to protect the economy.” If this is true or not is hardly the point. The fact is that Johnson went on TV in the same period of time and spoke openly about herd immunity, letting the virus simply pass through the population and in his own words, “take it on the chin.” Johnson talked openly about shaking hands at the start of the crisis. His cavalier approach seems to confirm what many people believed. In the initial stages of the virus spreading, he did not take the threat seriously and viewed it as nothing more than the seasonal flu.

Let me try to explain herd immunity. This is simply the notion of allowing a majority of the UK population to catch the virus or the disease so they become immune. At this point, the virus can no longer spread and you achieve herd immunity. Measles can’t spread because our population is immune. So if someone comes to the UK with measles, one or two unimmunised people might get infected, but it no longer spreads. We have herd immunity. The herd is protecting the weak. Johnson’s self-entitled ‘weirdos and misfits’ had this idea that they could just let the population get infected. Once 60 per cent of the population was infected, the epidemic would be over because there would be herd immunity.

The trouble is if you just let the virus spread at any rate and lose control, you actually get overwhelmed with the numbers of infected people. The UK’s population is 70 million, 60 per cent of them is 42 million people. Even with a 1 per cent mortality, that’s 400,000 deaths. (Further reading here) Currently, in the UK, the mortality rate is 5 per cent, which translates to an estimated 2 million deaths.

Boris Johnson suddenly realising the magnitude of his dreadful mistake in taking time to listen to his ‘weirdos and misfits’ who seemed more excited about eugenics than the immediate task of saving lives. While some governments had started to fight back Johnson was still caught pondering his university undergraduate days and the privileged networks where along with his friends and fellow toffs like Toby Young they would self-flagellate over (Young’s term) “progressive eugenics.”   

Johnson went into full panic mode to change policy by backtracking and staying away from public scrutiny. He is now beyond accountability and questioning as he is self-isolating. From the confines of his isolation, he makes pronouncements. His latest is “testing would unlock the puzzle.” 

Firstly, it’s not a puzzle. It is a virus and like all virus’s you need to hunt it down and kill it. You can only do this with information and data. You only get this information by (you’ve guessed it) mass testing. Secondly, he is now spinning beyond his own control by repeating things he does not understand. It’s straight out the Trump playbook, say something often enough, and ultimately some people will believe you and he will probably get away with it. People want to believe. And when you have a sizable proportion of the public in fear they are hungry for belief and will believe in anything. At the moment, the UK is some way behind other countries when it comes to testing. South Korea, for example, has been able to test far more widely than the UK. Despite having a slightly smaller population than the UK, it has twice as many labs and about two-and-a-half times the weekly testing capacity.

At the end of the day, people have died because of Johnson’s stupidy. Though the vast majority of people (thankfully) will not be faced with losing a loved one because of his incompetency. Any decent person under the illusion that Johnson is fit to be a world leader will no doubt seek herd impunity once this is all over.

*Written as a criticism of his policies and competency and not the man. I wish him and his partner a speedy recovery. 

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