In the week ending 15 April, there were 644 deaths registered in England and Wales involving Covid-19 as the underlying cause. In total, there were 9,919 deaths registered. Or, to put it in terms that a Covid hysteric might understand, enough people to fill 24 jumbo jets.
You don’t hear much about the 9,275 deaths that didn’t involve Covid because other respiratory diseases haven’t attracted a vocal lobby group that puts platitudinous opposition to them at the very core of its being.
Despite the latest wave of Covid being on its way out in Britain, there still exists a surprisingly resilient and increasingly hysterical movement calling for lockdown restrictions to be reintroduced. And as the health service has struggled in recent weeks, there have been predictable calls for society to close down again.
Two weeks ago, the chief executive of NHS Providers called for the government to bring back facemasks and social distancing to protect the health service. Independent Sage, a knock-off version of the government advisory body, has lobbied for restrictions to return. Academics on Twitter are still calling for masks and ventilation to prevent long-Covid.
James O’Brien, LBC’s pied piper of mid-wits, told his listeners on 22 April that ‘646 people died yesterday’ of Covid-19. He acknowledged that official statistics showed that the infection rate was falling, but muttered conspiratorially that he was ‘a little bit confused about how we’re keeping a proper handle on the number of infections now given that most of us have stopped testing’.
If even Mr O’Brien, whose books include How To Be Right and How Not To Be Wrong, is still confused by Covid statistics after two years, what hope is there for those us who didn’t attend a top public school? Sure enough, Twitter was awash with people repeating the 646 deaths figure and rebutting claims about falling infection rates with the words ‘we’re not testing’.
Anyone with an internet connection and mild curiosity knows this to be nonsense. The number of people in the UK who have died with Covid-19 written on their death certificate has not exceeded 200 a day since January 2022 and has not exceeded 300 a day since February 2021. Under the alternative measure of ‘deaths within 28 days of a positive test’, the figure has only exceeded 300 twice in the last year, but that metric has become increasingly misleading since the highly infectious Omicron variant became dominant.
Even the death certificate figures overstate the scale of the problem. In previous waves, Covid-19 was the underlying cause of around 90 per cent of deaths when the disease was listed on the death certificate. In recent weeks it has fallen below 65 per cent.
There were not 646 Covid-related deaths on 21 April, nor anything close to it. Instead, there was a backlog of reported deaths following a bank holiday weekend. No deaths were reported on Good Friday, Saturday, Easter Sunday or Monday. If you still haven’t got the hang of this after all this time, you should probably keep your opinions to yourself.
Nor is it true that ‘we’re not testing’. Remember when Matt Hancock set himself the challenge of carrying out 100,000 tests a day? It seemed like a big number at the time. Today, despite the end of ‘free’ testing, we’re still doing well over 300,000 most days. We are doing a lot less than we did but, on a per capita basis, the UK is registering twice as many tests as Germany and four times as many as Spain.
Figures published every Friday by the Office for National Statistics show that the number of infections has been falling since the end of March. The ONS Infection Survey is based on a random, representative sample of the population and always has been. They’ve been doing it since May 2020. That is how we know that the recent wave has been our biggest yet in terms of infections. In England, four times as many people had Covid at the end of last month than they did in January 2021. The crucial difference is that Covid was killing more than a thousand people a day in January 2021 whereas it was killing less than 150 people a day last month.
The stock response to these stark facts is to argue that regardless of whether the real death count is 600 or 60, it is unacceptably high. To which one must reply ‘compared to what?’ The recent spike, which is now in sharp retreat, is no different in scale to the waves seen across Europe in recent months. Over the whole course of the pandemic, 13 EU countries have had a higher Covid death rate than the UK, despite the Alpha variant emerging in England and despite the UK using a measure (‘within 28 days of a positive test’) that has been increasingly inflating the figures.
When Matthew Taylor of the NHS Confederation called for more restrictions this month it was not because the NHS was collapsing or even exceptionally busy, but merely because it was quite busy for this time of year. He accused the government of having a ‘living without restrictions ideology’ rather than a ‘living with Covid plan’. The word ‘ideology’ is nearly always a pejorative. How telling that he spits it out when talking about living normally.
You would think that the head of the NHS Confederation would have noticed the 140 million Covid vaccines that the NHS has been distributing since December 2020. That is the living with Covid plan. Covid-19 has joined the gruesome family of diseases that will make us sick from time to time, but for those who have been vaccinated, you’d have to be very unwell or very unlucky to die from it.
The Office for National Statistics recently estimated that 71 per cent of the English population had Covid between 27 April 2020 and 11 February 2022. Add in the people infected before and after this period and it seems reasonable to assume that four out of five of us have had the disease at least once. What is the point of trying to suppress a virus that everybody is going to get? As China’s Canute-like efforts to eliminate Omicron become more draconian and surreal, does it ever occur to the likes of ‘Independent Sage’ that this is not a virus that is going to be beaten by face masks and air filters? Is it all performative now? Is it just political?
Will they ever let it go? The EU referendum took place nearly six years ago and yet there are still thousands of Twitter accounts with #FBPE (follow back, pro-Europe) in their profile. Until June 2016, the only people who put EU flags in their profile were employees of the European Commission. Now they are legion. Being pro-EU has become part of their identity. You see the same thing with some Leave voters, albeit to a lesser extent since being anti-EU is a low status opinion.
Will it be the same with Covid? Will people still be wearing face masks in four years’ time? Will they still be using hashtags like #PlagueIsland? Will they still be holding the government personally responsible for every infection? Will they still be wilfully misrepresenting simple data? Will they still be giving money to Diet Sage to hold Zoom meetings? Will anyone be watching them?
The latest wave of Covid-19 is on its way out. As it happens, the number of people in hospital with Covid (only 40 per cent of whom were in hospital because of Covid) peaked a few days before Matthew Taylor made his appeal for a ‘plan’. It has since dropped steeply and will likely continue falling for the foreseeable future. As it fades, the howls will turn into grumbles. Will the hysteria be whipped up again when the next wave arrives? And the one after that? How long can they keep this up?
To its credit, the government has stonewalled every demand to reimpose restrictions. It has effectively disbanded Sage. Boris Johnson has shown no interest in anything the mask fetishists and lockdown junkies have been saying in recent months. It surely cannot be long before they start boring themselves.
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