Preferring silver bullets to public health has deadly consequences

.”..there is no official word to explain clearly why the Republic of Ireland, which has followed WHO advice, records a death rate a third lower than that in Northern Ireland, which follows UK advice. Such are the delusions of national character that too many members of the government, from the prime minister down, suffer from. People are dying. It is time to give up on the fantasies of British exceptionalism.”

Editorial  www.theguardian.com 

The Guardian view on following viral science: why did we go it alone?

If there is a simple way of showing how out of step this government is with the rest of the world on coronavirus, it can be found in the gap last week between the five criteria that Dominic Raab said the country must fulfil before the lockdown was lifted and the six tests the World Health Organization set. Missing from Mr Raab’s list was that health system capacities ought to be “in place to detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact”.

What divides these two approaches is the “science”, which is why claims of following it ring so empty. On one side we have those who believe that testing, tracing and the isolating of infected individuals is needed to defeat coronavirus. In this camp are public health experts such as Anthony Costello of University College London and Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary.

They have facts on their side. South Korea registered its first 10 deaths of patients with Covid-19 by 25 February, and by following the WHO’s advice Seoul had suppressed the epidemic within 22 days. Prof Costello says that by the time the UK had recorded its first 10 deaths, by 13 March, the government had stopped all testing and contact-tracing in the community. How has that gone? South Korea sees 17 new cases daily, while the UK records 5,000. These numbers convinced the health secretary, Matt Hancock, who on Thursday outlined his “test, track and trace” strategy, which would start “as the new number of cases begins to fall”.

On the other side are those who believed the UK ought to go it alone – with a response determined by mathematical models and control measures while waiting for the silver bullet of a vaccine. In this camp appeared to be Mr Raab, the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, and his deputy, Jenny Harries, who condescendingly claimed South Korea’s outbreak was atypical and akin to controlling that found in a single care home. Sir Patrick Vallance’s promotion of “some kind of herd immunity” put him, as chief scientific adviser, at odds with public health doctors. The evidence suggests that was also the case for Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s chief adviser, who has long been entranced by computational modelling “fast enough for epidemic ‘war games’”.

Sir Patrick chairs the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies which last month warned that “if interventions that are perceived to be effective [in other countries] are not applied [in the UK]”, then this would increase “the risk of public concern”. Sage recommended “a clear explanation as to why expected interventions are not being implemented”.

Yet there is no official word to explain clearly why the Republic of Ireland, which has followed WHO advice, records a death rate a third lower than that in Northern Ireland, which follows UK advice. Such are the delusions of national character that too many members of the government, from the prime minister down, suffer from. People are dying. It is time to give up on the fantasies of British exceptionalism.

 

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