It’s been a long time since the last contribution, during which quite a lot has not happened on the Covid-19 front, viz. no repeat of previous hysteria as the infection rate rocketed. I suspect part of this is because even the most hawkish advisers expected a peak and subsequent fall, which is what happened, without the need to return to lockdowns etc. Mind you this is not the case in China, where a repeat of internment has caused havoc. The enforcement scenes are grim. Is this new lockdown worth it? I doubt it very much.
It’s also true that although UK infections have gone up, there has not been a major rise in the serious consequences, presumably because Omicron is “milder”. There is also increasing evidence that vaccines are not that effective. Certainly it seems that one can acquire SARS-CoV-2 despite having had two jabs and a booster, and even acquire it more than once. But mask-wearing remains voluntary and certainly life in Cardiff (where we went for a reunion over the weekend) appears to be entirely normal, judging by the numbers on the street on a Friday night (partygoers, bouncers and police alike). And I would add that covid susceptibility might be higher than elsewhere judging by the size of many revellers.
On the other hand quite a lot has been happening in terms of the slow process of unravelling or debunking government and department of Health policies and management. There’s an interesting piece by Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson at https://brownstone.org/articles/the-uk-covid-response-a-stool-with-three-legs/. Their three legs are PCR testing (and its misuse), attribution of death (which brings us back to what so many people have questioned – whether deaths are with or from) and the recording of hospital episodes. The article is yet another example of how following “The Science” is all very well, but the principle falls down when the science is critically evaluated and found to be wanting, more especially when those in charge refuse to listen.
A court case has determined that the UK government’s initial policy of decanting elderly people from hospitals to care homes was unlawful and on that basis it made a mockery of the then Health Secretary’s claim that a defensive ring was being placed around those care homes. I suppose one could argue that many people have said this for quite a while. Whether anyone will be fined, or go to prison, is a moot point. Matt Hancock claims that he was not given the right information, which is a reasonable way to try and avoid being blamed, although the buck stopped with him. Someone should fall on their sword. Hancock? An expert? This actually mirrors my longstanding contention that the government was relying on the wrong experts, as I have again pointed out in a BMJ Rapid Response to an article titled “An untrustworthy government during a pandemic—a lethal combination” (BMJ 2022; 377 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o1011, published 20 April 2022):
Perhaps the real issue is not that the government got everything wrong with its management of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, but why it got it wrong. In my opinion it was because much of the expert decision-making was made by the wrong experts. It is clear now, and indeed was evident from early on, that not everyone who became infected with the virus went on to develop the severe and often fatal complications that were Covid-19, and why that should be was not a question that could be answered by epidemiologists and public health people but by clinicians who began to understand the underlying pathogenesis of severe disease – a major disturbance of immunological reactivity. These “wrong” experts failed to see the parallels with previous, similar trigger factors for a cytokine storm syndrome. They failed also to understand rapidly enough the investigation results that would confirm its development. They failed to realise that, just because the SARS-CoV-2 virus was novel, what it resulted in was not. Thus they failed to institute a system of rapid and appropriate diagnostic tests, relied on clinical signs that did not identify risk early enough, and failed to recommend treatments that already existed, deciding instead to embark on unnecessary trials.
Over the last two years I have conducted what seems like a one-man crusade to get the government and its advisers to include appropriate clinicians. My efforts were completely fruitless. I had no response to any of my submissions on testing and treatment (accurate as most of them turned out to be) – not even any acknowledgement of those submissions. Indeed I was later to learn that the inputs of so-called armchair commentators were immediately consigned to the waste paper basket or its electronic equivalent, the email junk folder.
Who then was responsible for this shameful and persistent exclusion of experts (I would argue the right experts)? Was it the government? Or was it the overblown SAGE committee that trusted in its own expertise? If the latter, then perhaps the government should not take the blame, not least if it did not know that there were other experts knocking on the door.
If SARS-CoV-2 infection never caused the severe sequel of Covid-19 the pandemic would indeed have had little more impact than a flu pandemic. So the only thing that mattered was to stop infection from progressing to Covid-19, thus reducing hospitalisation and intensive care requirements and reducing fatalities. This required the right tests and the right treatments, none of which were in the purview of the “experts”. Whether or not any community could contain or eradicate the virus (which time has shown to be impossible) is thereafter an irrelevance.
It has been very disappointing over the last two years to observe the blind and largely uncritical obedience of health workers to what had been proved to be flawed diktat. The one rule of research is that initial findings can be overturned later, so no-one can afford to be dogmatic. There is egg of faces when such dogmatism comes back to haunt you. I am pleased to see that some of my arguments are now being echoed by other non-governmental experts. How long will it be before the government’s “experts” are held to account? I imagine that first of all Lady Hallett has to set her Inquiry’s terms of reference.