Coronavirus: How the UK Government did not listen to the WHO

Professor Anthony Costello, former Director of WHO

From sam:

It seems possible, and perhaps probable now, that UK government policy, followed by the Scottish and other UK governments, has been fatally flawed when dealing with covid19. That is the opinion of Professor Anthony Costello, former Director of WHO who has a piece in the New Statesman.Here is an extract.

“Marc Lipsitch and colleagues, from Harvard and Nanjing universities, report that between 10 January and 29 February Wuhan hospitals faced on average 637 intensive care unit patients and 3,454 serious inpatients every day. Instead, be like Guangzhou, the largest province in China, where strict disease control measures were implemented within one week of case importation. Between January 24 and February 29, Covid-19 accounted for an average of just 9 ICU patients and 20 inpatients on each day.

The British government did not listen. We had two months to get prepared for large-scale tests in the population, contact tracing and quarantine, to be like Guangzhou rather than Wuhan. Yet the advisory committee, comprising clinical knights of the realm, virologists, mathematical modellers, and behavioural scientists led by a former director of David Cameron’s Behavioural Nudge Unit, decided British science knew best.

We don’t know if they ever sought advice from China or Korea, where population testing had been ramped up to over 20,000 per day. Or from epidemic control experts at the WHO like Bruce Aylward, Maria van Kerkhove or Mike Ryan, who continually emphasised the importance of speed and data collection in the community. Instead they relied on mathematical models with incomplete datasets.

On 12 March, at Boris Johnson’s press conference, Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, announced that they had moved from a “contain” to a “delay”. We were four weeks behind Italy’s epidemic, he said, so the modelling told us we could phase in social distancing measures gradually to flatten the epidemic. People with symptoms should stay at home for seven days. Population testing would be stopped (it’s not clear if it had ever started) and 60 per cent of our population would become infected over the next few months building up “herd immunity”. Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said he didn’t think the mortality rate would be more than 1 per cent. The mainstream media swooned with their effortless, calm and professional authority.

Even a Sun journalist could do the maths. 400,000 people might die. Many of us in the public health community were horrified and questioned the science. Luckily, the whole policy unravelled over the weekend. Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College, one of their key groups, re-entered data from Italy into their models, which showed a higher proportion of hospital admissions required intensive care. The NHS would face meltdown, they concluded. And Adam Kucharski’s modelling group from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, other key advisers, reported that by the time a single death occurs, hundreds to thousands of cases are likely to be present in that population.

At a second PM press conference on 16 March, the whole strategy went into reverse: from the gradual mitigation and herd immunity plan back to intensive suppression of the epidemic. Social distancing had to start immediately. We still had time, said Vallance, and they hoped for no more than 20,000 deaths now. How many cases were there? They didn’t know. Around 1100 reported from tests, but it could be ten thousand, said Sir Patrick. Two days later, he suggested 55,000 possible cases, figures plucked out of the air without mathematical justification. And how were we doing with tests and case detection. Er…4000 per day, but we hope to get to 25,000. When? In a month.

When several of us raised questions about the failure to plan for testing, and the apparent lack of epidemic control expertise, or WHO inputs, we were reassured the strategy was based on the “very best British science”.

Right now, the epidemic appears to be surging through London, Hampshire and the Midlands. Without testing we have few data to inform us. No hospital admission data has been presented. A junior ITU doctor wrote to me saying they had three patients on ventilators on 15 March, which rose to 20, including a health worker, just two days later. Numerous reports criticised the lack of protective equipment in hospital. Quarantine rules told every health worker to stay at home for 14 days if they or anyone in their household had symptoms. No hotel accommodation had been requisitioned for those who wanted to avoid family contact, and no health workers were being tested. On this basis, the work force would quickly collapse.”

I would like to know if and when the Scottish government is going to order large scale testing for covid19 with follow up identification of contacts of those testing positive.

9 thoughts on “Coronavirus: How the UK Government did not listen to the WHO

  1. The Scottish Government did announce increased testing but I don’t know if it is of the scale needed. If they had been constrained by threats from the Government they should tell us.
    If there was financial constraints they could still have said this is what we want to do but the finance isn’t available from Westminster but we will be pushing very hard for it.They only got an emergency budget through a week ago.
    After this they really need to go all out campaigning for Ind regardless of Westminster.


    1. On your reference to Indy campaigning:

      Regularly on the news about the pandemic just now are positive stories about smaller independent countries demonstrating capacity and resilience; financial wherewithal; and exemplary support for their citizens and businesses. Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Iceland all come to mind.

      I well remember the scaremongers in 2014 who claimed (wrongly) that Scotland would not have survived the 2008-9 financial crash if it had been independent. And I’ve seen glimpses now of a similar message on social media in the context of the present health emergency. This may well get ramped up further in Unionist propaganda over time.

      Whilst the evidence of Denmark etc coping perfectly well is ‘fresh’ and available, it will be worthwhile banking information on this to use to reassure the uncertain and directly to counter the (inevitable) scaremongering as the need arises. The evident competence of the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland at the present time only helps reinforce the case.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Agreed Sam, government response has been woeful – whatever their emergency pandemic planning was for, it obviously wasn’t for this type of infection, and they have been too slow and inflexible in their responses, and not taking enough heed of advice.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Just listened to ‘Politics Live’ on BBC this morning. More convinced than ever and as I have been saying for over a fortnight now with the new ‘extensive powers’ being debated and with the virus accelerating at a faster rate in England the Scottish Government needs to close the border to protect not only our NHS and people but to stifle the spread of this virus as has been evident in Italy and elsewhere. The Army if necessary should be deployed to turn back any non essential traffic especially camper vans, caravans etc that cannot prove their Scot residential status. This is a national emergency and we need to protect our own from the actions of a few selfish English people. Again if this was reversed the UK Government would be doing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty should resign immediately.
    When trust in science is possibly at its lowest and when this virus is a hiccup compared to the Tsunami of climate change coming our way, science needs no spin doctors dictating policy.
    I am not trivialising the corona virus in any way, quite the opposite. This is very very bad and climate change is going multiple times worse.

    My partner and i knew they were talking bollocks but a very intelligent friend we were visiting thought they can’t be wrong these people are experts. Experts tarnished by politics, yes. All that guff about peaking too soon and fatigue. Utter bullshit. My partner and i just stared at each other. Has the world gone this mad. I am still fuming days later.
    Meanwhile at the same time in the sane world
    WHO. In emergency management ‘Be fast, have no regrets, you must be first mover, if you need to be right before you move, you will never win. Perfection is the enemy of the good. Everyone is afraid of error, but the greatest error is not to move.”

    UK: ‘hang on ‘i’m sure i haven’t pruned by hydrangeas’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. After reading this in the Canary i am even more convinced that those 2 should be in jail not just resign and that a few others should join them.

      They have blood on their hands and when the government gets sued for this who will pay? Us same as who will bail out the billionaires.
      It could have been a lot worse, fortunately some real scientists stepped up to the plate and the English gov is being forced against their will (and yesterday’s briefing) to change, at least on the surface.

      Liked by 1 person

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