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An (almost) unique view March 20, 2020

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Newton Emerson in the IT has a curious take on the disagreements in Northern Ireland over school closures and other measures to tackle the crisis. He writes that:

Every Minister in the five-party Executive held a joint press conference to explain their shared coronavirus policy, based on scientific advice they had received from the North’s chief medical officer.
There had been differences of opinion among the parties on accepting school closure advice. However, all put on a reassuring display of collective responsibility for the public.
Less than 24 hours later, without consulting Executive partners, Sinn Féin demanded immediate school closures. Pressure had built on the party after the UK government’s policy was wrongly characterised as “herd immunity”, following a thoughtless remark at a Downing Street press conference.
Although other countries in Europe were practising the same policy at various stages, Irish exceptionalism saw only a difference between the UK and Ireland, while Anglophobia interpreted this as a callous experiment.

Moreover Emerson argues that:

Northern Ireland is closing its schools this evening, at an earlier point in the epidemic than the Republic.

How on earth can we tell given that testing in the North is so limited.

But to argue that ‘herd immunity’ was a mischaracterisation is to mischaracterise the overall context. As Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, the Guardian noted yesterday, this wasn’t a throwaway remark:

The scientists advising ministers seemed to believe that this new virus could be treated much like influenza. Graham Medley, one of the government’s expert scientific advisers, was disarmingly explicit. In an interview on Newsnight last week, he explained the UK’s approach: to allow a controlled epidemic of large numbers of people, which would generate “herd immunity”. Our scientists recommended “a situation where the majority of the population are immune to the infection. And the only way of developing that, in the absence of a vaccine, is for the majority of the population to become infected.”


Medley suggested that, “ideally”, we might need “a nice big epidemic” among the less vulnerable. “What we are going to have to try and do,” he said, was to “manage this acquisition of herd immunity and minimise the exposure of people who are vulnerable.”

But it wasn’t just Medley.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, suggested that the target was to infect 60% of the UK’s population.

And it concludes:

After weeks of inaction, the government announced a sudden U-turn on Monday, declaring that new modelling by scientists at Imperial College had convinced them to change their initial plans. Many journalists, led by the BBC, reported that “the science had changed” and so the government had responded accordingly. But this interpretation of events is wrong. The science has been the same since January. What changed is that government advisers at last understood what had really taken place in China.

Let’s consider some non-UK or ROI based analyses of the events of the last week. Foreign Policy notes that:

While continental Europeans were closing schools and putting soldiers on the streets to enforce strict quarantine rules, the British government’s official advice to its citizens was, essentially, just to keep calm and carry on. Schools, restaurants, theaters, clubs, and sporting venues remained open; only the over-70s and those with flu-like symptoms were advised to stay at home. The low-key British response was driven by a controversial theory embraced by the U.K. government’s top scientists: that the best way to ease the long-term consequences of the coronavirus pandemic was to allow the virus to spread naturally in order to build up the population’s herd immunity.


On Monday night, that theory collided with the facts. A new analysis by immunologists at Imperial College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine of the impact of the coronavirus in Italy suggested that up to 30 percent of patients hospitalized with the virus would require intensive care treatment. Those numbers, if repeated in the U.K., would quickly overwhelm Britain’s state-run National Health Service.

Within hours of the report, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared at a daily briefing at No. 10 Downing St. to reverse the herd immunity policy. Acknowledging that “drastic action” was required, Johnson announced that from now on Britons should try to work from home and voluntarily refrain from unnecessary travel and social contact.

And as this piece in the Atlantic notes, herd immunity was most certainly articulated as a part of the British government plan only to be reversed within 48 hours in the face of a rising chorus of hostility from the scientific community which pointed out the basic flaws in said plan.

As the Atlantic notes:

To avoid a second peak in the winter, Vallance said the U.K. would suppress the virus “but not get rid of it completely,” while focusing on protecting vulnerable groups, such as the elderly. In the meantime, other people would get sick. But since the virus causes milder illness in younger age groups, most would recover and subsequently be immune to the virus. This “herd immunity” would reduce transmission in the event of a winter resurgence. On Sky News, Vallance said that “probably about 60 percent” of people would need to be infected to achieve herd immunity.

And a key point:

…critics of the U.K. strategy argue that swift, decisive action matters more than future hypotheticals do. The country’s current caseload puts it only a few weeks behind Italy, where more than 24,000 cases have so overburdened hospitals that doctors must now make awful decisions about whom to treat. South Korea, by contrast, seems to have brought COVID-19 to heel through a combination of social-distancing measures and extensive testing. Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan have been similarly successful. “That’s what you need to be doing. You go all in, or not at all. And not at all ends up like Italy,” Hanage says. “Making plans for what you are going to be doing in six months when you have a catastrophe awaiting you in three weeks is just stupid.”

In other words to try to see this as simply a nationalist/unionist dispute or to attempt to wave away the intrinsic contradictions on the part of the British government and unionism in relation to this is a stretch. More than a stretch.


1. Fergal - March 20, 2020

This is petty, narrow-minded, sectarian and nationalistic clap-trap… everything a ‘centrist dad’ like Emerson claims not to be..awful stuff


2. Joe - March 20, 2020

I’ve been trying to push the ‘Trust the experts, trust the scientists, trust the government’ line on this from the start.
It is disconcerting though when we see some scientists propose one approach and others a different one – and particularly when different governments implement different policies based on their local (or maybe their chosen?) expert and scientific advice.

In the case of this island though. Everything usually does boil down to a competition between usuns and themuns. So in the north, during this crisis, usuns will want to follow the advice and practice of the Irish government and themuns will want to follow the advice and practice of the British. That’s the way we are. Sadly.
And usuns can criticize themuns and build our case by e.g. saying but look we’re testing more than them. And themuns can point at the numbers of confirmed cases as evidence that they’re doing better at this than usuns.

It’s all very sad really. Funny too if humour helps at all.

But c’mere. What about this? I often insist that the north is different. The north I do be referring to is the six counties. But lookit. Lower numbers of diagnosed cases in the six. And what county in the south has zero cases so far – Monaghan! A county which is further north than a lot of the territory of the six.
So Joe Scientist in this case says – the virus is less likely to thrive in the Ulster air. Put Ulster Scotch on that now.


sonofstan - March 20, 2020

” Lower numbers of diagnosed cases in the six”

Different testing regime. Like the way they used to count votes up there.

Liked by 2 people

Joe - March 20, 2020



3. Roger Cole - March 20, 2020

I totally agree with Wordstorm’s remarks on Emerson’s comments.
Emerson is not some sort of moderate unionists, he is a hard line unionist. The reality is that Covid 19 kills eveybody. It is the policy that Governments adopts to fight it have consequences. If in NI has less tests, don’t close pubs and restaurants, don’t stop gathering of people etc, as they did in China, then the consequences will be that more people will die. As Wordstorm makes clear the UK government policy was to support the “herd” policy as advocated by its Chief Scientist, while others (virtually from the rest of the entire world and other British scientists) disagreed. As sonofstan points out if you do less tests you get lower results, it does not mean the consequence, a massive number of deaths wil occur compared to those countries that do take decisive action. Our Caretaker FG were initially very slow to act and allowed Italians and horse racing Irish idiots infect us, but is now finally acting decisively. The sooner the UK and the Irish territory it controls also acts decisively the better.

Liked by 1 person

Joe - March 20, 2020

Wordstorm. I love it.


4. CL - March 20, 2020

A somewhat ‘greener’ view:

“Why are there such starkly different approaches on different sides of the island?….
In the North, the DUP are being True Brits….
The Nationalist North, from Catholic Archbishop Eamon Martin, to the SDLP to Sinn Féin, favours aggressive State action, such as school closures, to attempt to slow the spread of the virus despite the economic consequences.
The Unionist North prioritises the economy…
this difference of emphasis has its roots in the UK’s political history.
It is, essentially, a “laissez-faire” approach, an expression most of us first encountered when we studied the British government’s response to the Great Irish Famine of 1845-48….
Writing the Irish Famine, by Christopher Morash…shows how Thomas Malthus’s On Population migrated from theory into public policy and entered “that realm of truth which masks its origins under the name of “ ‘common sense’.”…
While Malthus was extreme in seeing Famine and plague as effective tools for limiting the population in the context of diminishing resources, the Famine era British treasury secretary, Charles Trevelyan, merely insisted that there should be, “as little disturbance as possible to the ordinary course of private trade.”
This is a statement which could come, in the context of Covid 19, from Boris Johnson, from Donald Trump, or Arlene Foster.
Charles Darwin assimilated Malthusian theories into his theory of natural selection, by which the species is strengthened by the deaths of the weak.
No one is suggesting Boris Johnson had this in mind when he announced that “herd immunity” would be pursued and that the British public should prepare to “lose loved ones before their time.”
However, I am suggesting that the political culture into which he was born allowed him to articulate that policy.”

Liked by 2 people

5. Joe - March 20, 2020

Sorry now for bolting from the Irish nationalist herd. It’s dreary steeples time again. It always is.

I propose we park this bunfight because the game has only just kicked off / the ball has only just been thrown in [delete according to you know what].
So park it now and do a body count – say in September – and we’ll have a reliable metric then for which is better, green or orange.


Fergal - March 20, 2020

Joe… the green/orange divide is irrelevant… a pandemic respects no borders…
Britain and Holland are the two European countries that took the herd immunity line and are now changing tack…


sonofstan - March 20, 2020

Always fancied ‘Dreary Steeples’ as a band name. Or maybe a social media alias. If nothing else, Winnie the C has Boris beaten hands down for memorable lines.


WorldbyStorm - March 20, 2020

It is a good name.

Re the Orange and Green, I do think that the primary authority planetwide on these matters would be the WHO – note least given that it has been in charge of giving advice and guidelines and assisting states and governments across many many decades. I think any government or administration diverging from WHO approaches would need to be able to demonstrate with considerable robustness and information and models just how and why such a divergence was feasible. I don’t think the UK government was able to do so, and I don’t think that was unpredictable.


WorldbyStorm - March 20, 2020
Fergal - March 20, 2020

Lol! A friend in a band wanted to call them ‘The cul de sac of identity politics’ … he lost out…

Liked by 1 person

6. roddy - March 20, 2020

Emerson got sacked from the civil service for running a “satirical” blog when he should have been working.So we’ll take no lectures on community responsibility from that source.


WorldbyStorm - March 20, 2020

I always liked his stuff, I think his voice is useful. What I find depressing is that his mainstream or centrist unionism seems to revert to unionist orthodoxy a little too often. In fairness to him Stephen Collins in the IT (also a nice guy in real life) has exactly the same tendency albeit towards a certain sort of approach (a classic is his column today in the IT). I think it’s fair to see this in class terms as much as community – that there’s a ‘middle class’ worldview that skews towards the given authority in a community. No surprise that Emerson is the same.


7. CL - March 20, 2020

“Cuba’s early entry into the biotech industry allowed it to harness international expertise and develop medicines to fight dengue fever and meningitis. One of these, Interferon Alfa-2B, is now being used to combat the effects of COVID-19…
Amongst the 30 medicines chosen by the Chinese National Health Commission to fight the virus was a Cuban anti-viral drug called Interferon Alfa-2B, which has been produced in China by the Cuban-Chinese joint venture ChangHeber since 2003…
Cuban Interferon Alfa-2B has proven effective for viruses with characteristics similar to those of COVID-19”


Probably too early to say how effective this medicine will be in treating COVID-19.

The type of non-pharmaceutical, social and political responses to the pandemic can differ in different jurisdictions. But some evidence is available as to what works.

“As the new coronavirus marches around the globe, countries with escalating outbreaks are eager to learn whether China’s extreme lockdowns were responsible for bringing the crisis there under control. Other nations are now following China’s lead and limiting movement within their borders, while dozens of countries have restricted international visitors.”

Central coordination is essential to make testing, surveillance, isolation and quarantine effective.
With two jurisdictions in Ireland such coordination is more difficult.

Liked by 1 person

8. tomasoflatharta - March 20, 2020

Professor Gabriel Scally came to the attention of many people in Ireland because of his no-holds-barred examination of a Cervical Smear Scandal in the Irish Health Service. https://www.thejournal.ie/scally-review-outsourcing-labs-4677380-Jun2019/

Scally assesses the behaviour of Stormont Government Health Minister Robin Swann (recent leader of the Ulster Unionist Party)

Robin Swan n Must Go!
Robin Swann Must Go!
Professor Gabriel Scally writes :

Ridiculous assertion on BBC from N Ireland minister @RobinSwannMoH

“the RoI has worse #corvid19 position than N Ireland.”

The South has more cases. But that’s because they have 32 community based testing stations. The North has ZERO and stopped testing in communities last week https://twitter.com/i/web/status/1240923430318456832


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