So that what I’m writing here cannot be dismissed entirely as an expression of a left-wing world view, let us start with some uncontested facts.

      • Speaking at a Public Health England laboratory in London (on March 1st) Johnson said: “I think the crucial thing for the public to understand is coronavirus is of concern, it is a novel illness, but it’s something this country really amply has the resources to deal with. We have state-of-the-art testing facilities, we have a fantastic NHS. We will have to get through this, but believe me we are going to beat it.”
      • Also in March*, and some time before the lockdown, the UK Government received a model for a Coronavirus strategy which would limit (!) the COVID specific deaths in the UK to 15,000 over 18 months.
    • Total deaths, on the same method of counting, after less than 3 months is 37,000.
*    I had thought, with the concensus on this, that the date was around March 12th  However after I had written much of this piece, the Sunday Times – that well know bastion of left-wing prejudice – claims the date was March 3rd!

How are we to explain these facts?

  • In France where easing of lockdown started on May 11th, the déconfinement was predicated on having test-track-trace capacity at of 100,000 a day. That was viewed enough to cope with an upper limit of 4,000 new cases a day, although the number had been below half that for over a week before May 11th. Right now the country is having around 300 new cases per day.
  • The UK Government is planning, in their own words, to have ready a “world-class test-track-trace (3T) capacity of 10,000 per day by June 1st”. Right now the country is having around 3,000 new cases per day.

So France’s planning ratio of 3T/Case is 10 times that of the UK., and their actual ratio is 100 times! Which is the appropriate ratio ?

I’ll leave you to consider these questions while I take some time discussing what I had always intended for this post: the two bell curves of deaths in France and England.


I can’t insert the graphs here as I can only access them in pdf format or on other blogs- but they are in the public domain and you can look them up yourself. Some features are clear:

At the time of French lockdown there were more deaths/day in France, however UK deaths climbed more steeply until and after the UK lockdown and diminished more slowly. The reasons for all that I’ll leave aside for the moment and just ask what do the mathematics suggest,  what would have been the result of a UK lockdown one week earlier?

One can just flatten the peak of the UK curve as that peak also occurs a week earlier- to have a very rough idea what might have happened if UK had locked down in exactly the same way a week earlier – on 16th March rather than 23rd. That rough re-modelling, assuming everything else was the same, cuts 44% from the total death toll to date. Around 16,000 people.

That is crude however, as the early lockdown would have change not just the peak of the curve but its shape. I had planned to work on this data, but it turned out last week that someone’s already done it. A one-week-earlier curve has been plotted by James Annan – you can see that here (look especially at the third graph!)

This shows the lives saved by an earlier lockdown are more like 75%., and predicts the real figure or deaths is now more like 43,000 than 37,000. That re-modelling means the delay in lockdown has cost 32,000 lives. It also means that the current relaxation wouldn’t be the huge risk it is now but instead a controlled moving from one phase to the next, roughly resembling the situation in France.

So a third question arises (perhaps replacing the first(): why didn’t the Government act earlier as advised so to do?


Anyone who has run a business, managed a project, or even organised that touchstone of competence – a piss-up in a brewery knows that there is an order to doing things. Discuss the idea with everyone involved; agree a plan; explain the reasons for doing what you’re doing; make proper preparations; announce the timetable and then press <<GO>>.

It seems this executive order is – for some reason – not the modus operandi of the Governement, Their model seems to be:

Announce something; see then if it is desirable/adequate/practical; dash around like mad trying to make it happen; if not claim it has; if that doesn’t work blame someone else; insist its both on the basis of scientific advice; iand a profound success; never admit error or responsibility; never apologise.

More or less the inverse of competent organisation.

Why is that, and why is the UK situation so bad when it had a week or two’s advantage at the start of the pandemic?

There are many suggestions as to why the performance of the UK Government is so many times more abject than any other European Country. To say nothing of Asian countries like South Korea or Hong Kong (do you know how many care home deaths there are in Hong Kong, given there are about a fifth as many people in care as in London? answer at end); or in African countries like Senegal. 

The obvious answers are that when ministers are selected for their adherence to a very specific interpretation of a very specific issue and loyalty to a particular strategy around that, rather any talent, aptitude, intelligence or performance you get people out of their depth. This is clearly the case, but not the whole issue.

Secondly the wider, more general, belief system of the ascendant and relatively small sect of politicians thus selected for Cabinet is extremely laisser faire, minimum intervention, let-them-get-on-with-it, small state ideological… It goes against the grain to do anything, and  soft peddling the issues, assuring national exceptionalism and just denying issues is hard-wired.

This is why completely obvious mistakes.. about the lockdown itself, testing, PPE, staying alert, the cordon sainitaire around care homes (keeping the virus in, it turns out), international lessons and comparisons, face masks, Cummings’ goings,.. are met with denial, blame shifting and downright lies. Scientific advice is not shared, the real reasons for not testing: “we haven’t enough tests due to our bungling” is never said. Countless scientist complain about the public sharing of evidence, even those directly advising the government say their advice has not been followed…. Obviously we are thought too stupid to be told the truth: the terrible and fatal hubris of those in power who think we are the stupid ones.

However even these are expressions of the problem, not its heart. That was nailed today by Professor Robert West, a health psychologist at UCL and an advisor on SAGE’s behavioural science group. In an interview which he asked about the scientific advice he said “I know concern is widespread among the group but not everybody feels comfortable speaking out and I completely understand that. But there has been considerable and growing unease. The worry is that the government has said from the beginning it is following the science, and that was never true.” However it is his explanation for that which rings truest:

“They are treating the whole health crisis as though it were a political crisis. If it’s a political crisis, what you do is try to manage your reputation. If it’s a health crisis you focus on saving lives, at whatever cost to your political reputation.”

How clearly that explains everything. To add my (left-wing?) interpretation of that we have a very neo-liberal government that narrowly represents perhaps only a quarter of its own supporters and will do anything to hang on to power. It’s is prepared to devalue and undermine democracy itself in that aim. It’s so bad at public health, because it doesn’t really believe in public.

Why? That’s for another post.

Wine posts next – Pandemic Politics back in 10 – 14 days.

Bon Courage

Care-home deaths in Hong Kong: Zero!