Tuesday 3 November 2020

Protecting or excluding?


Never a man to let a good opportunity for self-publicity pass him by, Farage has decided to rebrand the PLC formally known as the Brexit Party as Reform UK and concentrate his campaigning on opposing any form of lockdown. It’s easy to be dismissive, but he seems to have caught the mood of a number of Tory MPs who are currently providing the main opposition to the Tory Government’s approach on Covid-19 – and the last time he did that, he succeeded in turning the Tory party into a Brexit cult. He and they claim that their position is based on science, and Farage specifically referenced the Great Barrington Declaration as being the route to follow, but their position actually owes more to an ideological perspective than to science. In strictly scientific terms, the Declaration is very much a minority view. That doesn’t necessarily make it wrong, of course, because scientific truth depends on facts, experiments, and observations, all of which can change. It's not about which view has the most supporters. The Declaration has, though, been widely critiqued, and the big underlying assumption, which is that immunity builds up after contact with the disease, is far from proven, with some recent research suggesting that immunity may turn out to be temporary at best. The assumption behind the Declaration may ultimately be proved correct, but it hasn’t been as yet, making the approach a risky one.

Leaving aside the disputed science, the practical implication of the alternative route being suggested would be that, instead of identifying and isolating the carriers of the disease, we should attempt to identify and isolate those most at risk of dying from it whilst the carriers are free to act as normal and infect any or all of those with whom they come into contact. Whilst it superficially sounds attractive, and it might in practice be easier to identify the bulk of those most at risk than to find all carriers, the difference between the numbers involved is dramatic. We don’t actually know how many people in the UK are currently infectious given that not all show symptoms, but a reasonable guess (based on around 100,000 infections per day and an infectious period of 14 days) would be somewhere between 1 and 2 million. We do know, though, how many old people there are: around 12 million over 65 and around 5.4 million of those over 75. To that we need to add all those younger than that with other potential comorbidities – another couple of million probably. What that means is that protecting the most vulnerable involves isolating considerably more people than isolating the carriers. But it’s worse than that – whilst carriers need to be isolated for only a fortnight, the vulnerable need to be isolated for months: at least until there is a vaccine and possibly indefinitely if no vaccine is ever found to give the long term protection required. And during that period of isolation, they would need not to engage in normal activities such as shopping, going to work (many pensioners still do that), using public transport, mixing freely with younger family members – it’s a long list of prohibitions.

Ultimately, that underlines the assertion that the difference between the two approaches is more about ideology than science. There are two vastly different views here about what sort of a society we should be. What is presented as ‘protecting the vulnerable’ actually turns out to look a lot more like restricting their freedom and excluding them from society, all in the name of giving back ‘freedom’ to those less likely to suffer seriously from the virus. Even making it ‘voluntary’, and ‘allowing’ those in the vulnerable groups to ‘decide for themselves’ how much risk to take makes it clear that that large group of citizens are less valued than maintaining the economy, laying bare the economic underpinning of the policy.

Farage, of course, is a man of extreme views, but it is too easy to dismiss him as a freak or an outlier. As was alluded to above, there are plenty in the governing party who share his view and, given the obvious rifts over policy, it seems that there are many in the cabinet who also do so. The delay and dither hasn’t just been a stellar display of incompetence (although that is not to say that stellar incompetence has not been on display), it has also revealed that there is a significant body of opinion within the government that wants to let the virus rip. Insofar as there is any calculation behind Johnson’s actions, it’s probably got more to do with what he thinks he might be able to get away with than the welfare of the public.


dafis said...

Quite easy to see Farage's angle of approach or more precisely angles in the plural.

He's going to make loads of loot out of Brexit via speculation - hedge funds and other vehicles. Then the politics of divide and rule, a deception which will take in gullible types across all segments of society in the UK.

There remains a significant following here in Wales among those who A) dislike the EU B)dislike immigrants c) dislike people of colour d) justifiably pissed off with the Anglo Brit ruling elites and their Welsh lackeys e) are fed up with wokey, virtue signalling types who blow hot air but do little or nothing about our own predicament.
Sadly to be a follower you don't necessarily need to tick all those boxes, and the choice is made easier by so many of the other parties treating anyone who ticks any of these boxes as pariahs requiring reeducation.It all makes mini Furher Farage's job that much easier.

Ddirpytnop said...

The very most vulnerable are incapable of
individual shielding because of high level of personal care and continual medical interventions that they require. To keep them 'safe' adopting the GB Declaration approach effectively means that everyone who provide medical or personal care to them also needs to shield, along with their families. That is, virtually everyone in the health service and care sectors plus everyone they live with. I don't know what number that adds up to but it's huge. And hopelessly impracticable.