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Weekend reading: Daddy, what did you do in the great pandemic?

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What caught my eye this week.

This year has already had more groundhog days than a count among my peers of the top five Bill Murray movies of all-time – but the last few days have really ladled it on.

It was all so six months ago! Johnson at the dispatch box like a kabuki Churchill. Rishi Sunak promising unprecedented state support to applause from the center, anger from the left (not enough!) and anger from the right (far too much!). An eye across the Channel for a sneak preview of what’s up next. R higher (a little) and the market down (a tad).

Like you I have opinions about this miserable virus, and where we’ve come since March. We may look at the same data and profoundly disagree. Covid-19 has something for everyone – a Rorschach test that can make differences over Brexit seem like a lover’s tiff. Unlike Brexit, however, we’ll only know what was the right decision in retrospect.

[Badum tish!]

A difference engine

I was interested in Sunak’s admission that the economy isn’t going back to exactly how it was. Not that it should be a big surprise to anyone. To paraphrase Boromir, one does not simply walk in and out of a 20% recession. Things will break along the way.

Indeed putting epidemiology and macro-economics aside, I have slightly shifted my view on what has changed because of this virus.

I still don’t think capitalism is finished or passive investing is broken or we’ll have to wait 20 years for a positive return from equities or any of the worst fears from the corona-crash. As my dad used to say: “Don’t be silly now.”

But I have come to believe most of us are being affected on a psychological level.

At first I resisted such talk as premature – fodder to fill opinion columns. But I keep seeing friends and family doing strange things or making atypical decisions. Heck, I’m behaving out of character – and I’m a Poundshop Sheldon Cooper.

Reports keep coming in of an exodus from the big cities, a rise in marriage proposals, a surge in the savings rate…

2020 hindsight redefined

Recent generations tended to get named before they’d barely put a foot into Big School.

But the Depression Babies and the Greatest Generation and even the “god damn hippies” earned their epithets after events had done a bit of transpiring.

Will all of us living through this be named like that? The Covid kids? The corona casualties?

If not yet then what about after another six months of restrictions? Or another year of two steps forward, one foot back? Or five years?

I was on the tube last night to visit a friend suffering a nervous breakdown (not wholly unrelated to the virus, incidentally) and everyone was wearing masks and it didn’t seem odd any more at all.

What will this shock do to how we save, spend, and invest? As with everything Covid, the answers probably go both ways.

When I was a teenager I was involved in a life-threatening motor accident and so was one of my closest friends.

I edit a blog focused on saving and investing for your future self. He’s barely saved a penny ever since and lives like Indiana Jones dodging murderous pendulums.

This pandemic is changing us all, at least a little bit. But how?

From Monevator

Should you use cash to bridge the gap between your ISAs and your pension? – Monevator

From the archive-ator: Tax avoidance versus tax evasion versus tax mitigation – Monevator


Note: Some links are Google search results – in PC/desktop view you can click to read the piece without being a paid subscriber. Try privacy/incognito mode to avoid cookies. Consider subscribing if you read them a lot!1

Rishi Sunak’s winter plan – here’s how will it affect you – Guardian

Has Sunak done enough for small businesses and the self-employed? – ThisIsMoney

Thousands of traditional retail jobs ‘unviable’ after lockdown, Next boss warns – BBC

UK public finances continue on path to record peacetime deficit [Search result]FT

UK car production slashed almost in half in August on weak global demand for new motors – ThisIsMoney

More than £200m lost to bank transfer fraud in the first half of 2020 – Which

[Click to enlarge]

The Financial Times has added an economic recovery tracker to its data suite – FT

Products and services

Marcus Bank cuts its easy-access rate to 0.7% – ThisIsMoney

NS&I also set to slash savings rates and Premium Bonds prizes – Guardian

Metro has acquired RateSetter; portfolio now to be run-off – Peer2Peer News & RateSetter

Sign-up to Freetrade via my link and we can both get a free share worth between £3 and £200 – Freetrade

No more £2 and 2p coins to be minted for a decade – Which

How to make your home green and add value to it – ThisIsMoney

Homes for sale by a canal [Gallery]Guardian

Comment and opinion

There’s still no such thing as a free lunch – The Financial Bodyguard

When are you going to retire? [Search result]FT

A sceptical look at ESG [Deep dive]Musings on Markets

The end of ‘big weddings’ — and why I won’t be weeping [Search result]FT

Put your portfolio on autopilot and enjoy the ride – Portfolio Charts

How much lifestyle creep is okay? – Of Dollars and Data

The game has changed – The Irrelevant Investor

How benchmarking impacts your decisions – A Wealth of Common Sense

Ultra-low interest rates and QE ‘broke 4% drawdown rule’ – Professional Pensions

Leaving early – Humble Dollar

Naughty corner: Active antics

Was ‘value’ just a hot hand thing? – Albert Bridge Capital

Egregious founder shares. Free money for hedge funds. A cluster***k of competing interests. Welcome to the Great 2020 SPAC Boom – Institutional Investor

Worldwide Healthcare Trust: everybody’s getting old – IT Investor

The realities of growth investing – Valididea

Coronavirus corner with a politics chaser

New local lockdowns in Cardiff and Swansea – Guardian

UK’s Covid-19 R rate could be as high as 1.5 as London is placed on watch-list – Daily Mail

Coronavirus hospitalisations are creeping up as case numbers grow – iNews

Sadiq Khan urges PM to ban household visits in London to tackle Covid – Guardian

Opinion: Could Sweden have got it right? – BMJ

Four scenarios on how we might develop immunity to Covid-19 – StatNews

Universities should be two-thirds empty to avoid Covid spikes, says expert – Guardian

The core lesson of the Covid-19 heart debate – The Atlantic

Like a Thames whale, Boris Johnson has got stranded at Westminster – Guardian

Kindle book bargains

You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero – £0.99 on Kindle

Radical Uncertainty: Decision Making for an Uncertain Future by Mervyn King – £0.99 on Kindle

The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory by Stephanie Kelton – £0.99 on Kindle

How to Get Rich by Felix Dennis – £0.99 on Kindle

Beliefs, opinions, and stories mini-special

A few rules – Morgan Housel

The spiral of silence – Farnam Street

Dancing with belief – Seth Godin

Off our beat

Why Netflix keeps cancelling shows after just two seasons – Wired

And finally…

“If you survive until tomorrow, it could mean that either a) you are more likely to be immortal or b) that you are closer to death.”
– Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Black Swan

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{ 160 comments… add one }
  • 1 BeardyBillionaireBloke September 25, 2020, 8:19 pm

    > To paraphrase Aragorn, one does not simply walk in and out of a 20% recession.

    I think you mean Boromir.

  • 2 Algernond September 25, 2020, 8:28 pm

    I answer to the title of this article: “Went to the protest where the fight back properly began in Trafalgar Sq. on 26th Sept 12pm”.

    How has it changed me? To know that even in the UK in the 21st Century, it’s possible to have a government & parliament that means the population real harm.

    Getting seriously worried about my large bond holding in my SIPP with the way the UK is going (UK + Global hedged to GBP). Shares are fine because VWRL.
    I suppose the only way to mitigate is to go into unhedged bonds + Gold.

  • 3 The Investor September 25, 2020, 8:42 pm

    @BBB — Yikes, of course you’re right! Cheers! This is why I’m a mere Poundshop Cooper. (I just realized Boromir also supplied the wonderful “They have a cave troll” which I’ve mentally remembered as Aragorn for years. Blame the latter’s superior hair.)

  • 4 Neverland September 25, 2020, 9:01 pm

    The one thing you can reliably predict from lockdown is a mini baby boom across Europe

  • 5 Vanguardfan September 25, 2020, 9:29 pm

    @neverland, actually no. People don’t tend to do babies when they are stressed and fearful for the future.

    I don’t know, all I can say is local lockdown is grim and it’s going to be a long winter. And it is much worse for the kids.
    I don’t need to go to the pub, but I do need to be able to meet with friends, in the garden, anywhere outside, I don’t mind, and I know it’s safe. These rules are no longer evidence based or humane.

  • 6 D September 25, 2020, 9:46 pm

    Great headline. It does feel like we’re on a war footing and there’s a lot of messaging that anybody who questions the measures is a dangerous conspiracy theorist. No conscientious objectors allowed. Masks still don’t feel normal to me. And I can’t believe people are so ready to give up their civil liberties and the social interactions that make us human, all for the sake of a phoney war. The Mayor of London has just asked the government to make that comforting visit to your friend a criminal offence, as it is already in Leeds, many other cities and the whole of Scotland.

    It seems you were right all along, and the BMJ blog spells out pretty clearly why the Swedish approach is the only sustainable one. My favourite quote from the article being:

    “Face masks are “more of a statement than actually a measure…Face masks are an easy solution, and I’m deeply distrustful of easy solutions to complex problems… but I can understand why easy solutions and quick fixes are attractive to politicians.”

  • 7 Al Cam September 26, 2020, 1:40 am

    Re: “I edit a blog ….” with “center” in paragraph two. Yikes!

    A couple of days ago I read a little bit about the 1957 and 1968 flu pandemics, see e.g. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)31201-0/fulltext
    and based on a totally unscientific straw-poll I conducted amongst people who lived through one or both – they are all but forgotten. Oddly, the 1957 outbreak was recalled by more people I spoke to than the 1968 episode – which incidentally seemed to prefer the younger folks too!
    My prediction therefore is that C-19 will pass in due course and – like a lot of other events that seem rather significant at the time – fade.

  • 8 Tony Edgecombe September 26, 2020, 9:58 am

    It has been interesting watching how quickly face masks were adopted. At the start I thought we would be importing all that libertarian bullshit from the US but we don’t seem to have much of that at all.

    I’m still not that convinced masks have much of an effect but on the other hand they have little cost either. You might even argue they have given some people the confidence to go out a bit more.

    At the start of the thing I assumed we would be dealing with it for 18 months, I even postponed two foreign holidays. Nothing has made me think this was the wrong decision.

    I was willing to give Boris the benefit of the doubt at the start, it was chaotic at the start and there wasn’t much reliable information to go on. Half way through and I’m having my doubts. He was clearly getting ahead of himself by relaxing the rules before track and trace was working.

    I’m not sure Sweden has all the answers but perhaps we should have locked down the over fifties (which includes myself) rather than everybody.

  • 9 xxd09 September 26, 2020, 10:30 am

    Sadly it’s now the end of the permissive society which I must admit I was part of-now 75!
    We had so many rules to kick against and we did-ŵhat a time it was!
    I never bought the whole “bananas “ – free love ,the pill and drugs-possibly cos I was training to be a veterinary surgeon -successful obstetrics and reproduction being the raison detre of large animal veterinary medicine
    No rules or boundaries does not suit most people-they cannot cope -broken homes ,broken marriages, neglected or no children etc
    Now severe rules are appearing again in a semi religious form-the church used to do it-so called virtuousness and every life is equal trumps everything
    People seem to want this -rules versus anarchy ?
    As for human reproduction-don’t count on it -up to 40% of women are childless
    Social media has stymied relations between the sexes-young men are very scared of being shamed-leave the girls well alone
    It all is becoming more and more 1950 mores again
    That’s my rant over

  • 10 Playing with Fire September 26, 2020, 10:34 am

    Thanks for highlighting the offer on The Deficit Myth, I bought last week and really enjoyed it. It changed my mind about a couple of things.

  • 11 Grumpy Old Paul September 26, 2020, 10:58 am

    @Al Cam,
    The Lancet article gave an interesting historical perspective. I was born in 1950 and remember very clearly the launch of the first Sputnik but I have only the vaguest recollections of the 1957 and 1968 flu outbreaks which, in the UK, resulted in far fewer excess deaths than the current pandemic and over a longer period of time. Furthermore, the pandemic is far from over and we don’t know and will never know what the impact within the UK would have been without lockdown and social distancing. I do believe that memory of this pandemic will be slow to fade because of the number of deaths, “long Covid”, the impact on daily life and the economy. Not to mention the psychological damage and financial hardship which many have suffered. Rolling news, near-instantaneous news and on-demand news via the internet also will have impinged on people’s consciousness in a way that main news bulletins at 6pm and 9pm did not.
    My mother died in 2015 at the age of 100 and was lucky enough to be reasonably lucid and live independently until she was 96. I asked her about the 1918 flu pandemic thinking that, as a small child, she may have heard her parents talking about it but she didn’t have any recollection. But perhaps it was overshadowed by WW1 , economic privation and subsequent experiences of the 1930s Depression, WW2, and rationing.

  • 12 KayD September 26, 2020, 11:10 am

    Valididea- what is it about active investors that means they have to sell so soon! Leave your investments alone. I’ve had some of my stocks since I started, over 25 years ago, some of them have tanked and some of them have increased 10-fold. I try and move them into an ISA to mitigate the effects of takeovers and avoid Capital Gains Tax, etc, but all active investors should try and reduce their trading to nil. It’s better for your wealth in the long term.
    A rule active investors should do is to keep buying the shares of new companies, to keep up with the changing economy. Then you will be Okay, it’s worked for me!

  • 13 Algernond September 26, 2020, 11:16 am

    You don’t need to go back as far as 1957 & 1968.
    Jan 2018 govt. figures show 64,000 people dying with-Flu in the single month of January 2018. [Erroneous data struck through by request from comment author: Please see down the thread for explanation]

    Even by the most stingy of standards, the ‘pandemic’ should have been declared as over by the time with Covid19 sank (permanantly) below with Flu/Pnuemonia deaths in early June (ref. ONS).

    I can’t understand why the public are so asleep on this. They seem to have been hoodwinked by govt. / Sage / Media into thinking the sciences of virology & epidemiologyy need to be completely re-re-written.

    Am I suffering some kind of cognitive dissonance?

    Anyway, time to go down to Trafalgar square after my muzzle-less travel to get to London.

  • 14 Jonathan September 26, 2020, 11:20 am

    Are yes the great pandemic! Unless we were actually told about it then most of us would not have noticed it amongst us other than masks and people jumping into hedges when you walk past them. Early on I went with the narrative and started to think what are the implications of the estimated 600,000 dead. Where will be the body collection points be and there will we get body bags from?
    Then after a few weeks or so when my neighbours were clapping for the NHS I started to think this was not quite right. I thought nobody clapped for the Parachute Regiment entrapped in Helmand Province and I started to think why. Nothing seemed to make sense as our world and has become a 77 Brigade psychological experiment with Nightingale hospitals being built and flights unchecked from Iran. Could a government ever be this incompetent.
    Many years ago I moved everything out of the UK due to the short termism of the UK stock market and saw them as a danger to the country. I have a long background in corporate banking and saw all of the great businesses being sold off to other countries for that short term stock market gain. Now in the Covid world of massive national debt we don’t have the businesses that can help us prosper. In February in the ‘old world’ we had 900,000 people in Britain making coffee and only 45,000 making steel. It would be interesting to see how many of these coffee jobs are left.
    I fear that we are approaching a seismic moment in our national history. It is a time where the young seemed to be blamed for everything and who will ultimately have to fund this debacle for the rest of their lives. Politics is never going to be the same again.

  • 15 Al Cam September 26, 2020, 12:03 pm

    I take your point re the numbers , but please bear in mind the UK population in 1968 was IIRC about 13 million lower than today. And I agree C-19 is not over yet.
    My main point is that, with time, memories – including bad ones – almost always fade. If you like, the other side of the recency bias coin!
    Your mums story is fascinating and actually an interesting case in point. Of all the events during her lifetime that you mention I think the 1918 flu was the biggest killer – albeit she would have been very young at the time.
    As a complete aside, I have always found it fascinating as to what is peoples earliest childhood memory. By way of an example, I had a fairly significant operation pre-school – and I have absolutely no memory of it at all (even though more than half a century later I still have the scar markings) – whereas my wife can recall events from her life before she could even walk upright. What is going on there I wonder?
    Lastly, IMO the media (all forms) has an awful lot to answer for!

  • 16 ZXSpectrum48k September 26, 2020, 12:07 pm

    I tend to think that the long-term impact on the economy of COVID is being overestimated. COVID is simply hastening (or bringing to the surface) macro themes that were already building. It didn’t cause them.

    For example, the intergenerational divide and inequality has been widening for decades. COVID exacerbates this but it didn’t cause it. As demographics turn in the latter part of this decade, the political power of the Boomers will fade and the power of the Millennials will rise. They will probably want to alter the dominance of capital over labour. COVID may prompt this shift to be more aggressive but the risk was already there.

    Similarly, low levels of growth, higher unemployment and higher debt caused by COVID, will see further pushback against neoliberal or laissez-faire economic models. It may favour MMT/helicopter money. But, again, that trend was already there.

    You could make similar arguments regarding it accelerating the pre-eminence of technology companies, accelerating the deterioration in US/China relations, reversing unfettered globalisation etc. These, though, were all pre-existing conditions.

    We’ve had a phenomenal run for asset prices since 1980. The best in two hundred years. That economic regime change was triggered by one of the worst periods for asset prices, the 1970s. We’re now at the other end of the distribution.

    It’s clearly not the end of capitalism but it’s quite possible we’re in the dregs ends of the “second era of globalisation”. A new economic regime may evolve out it over the next decade or two. The transition is normally volatile and the balance of probabilities means it unlikely that such a period will sees recent (real) asset performance maintained. Time to take a hard look at asset allocations.

  • 17 Dave September 26, 2020, 12:10 pm

    64,000 people died of all causes in January 2018. I doubt that they all had flu.

  • 18 Al Cam September 26, 2020, 12:30 pm

    Over time I suspect there is at about an evens chance you will be more correct than otherwise. On the other hand, so-called, disruptive innovation has a habit of coming along and seemingly saving the day. Nobody can tell.
    Now about that vaccine….

  • 19 Factor September 26, 2020, 2:10 pm

    @xxd09 #9 – “up to 40% of women are childless”

    Not sure which women your % refers to but by way of comparison here are some fairly up to date figures for those hereabouts.


  • 20 Snowman September 26, 2020, 2:26 pm

    I looked up the England and Wales mortality for the 12 months ending in August 2002, August 2003…. August 2020.

    This is based on the monthly age standardised ONS mortality statistics for England and Wales (so adjusts for population size and age changing population)

    This shows that the mortality for the year up to August 2020 is less than that experienced for every year to August between 2002 and 2009. For example for the year to August 2002, the age standardised mortality was about 17% higher than the year to August 2020.

    Mortality has been higher up to August 2020 than all the years ending August from 2009 to 2019, but only just in some years (2018 is 4% lower and 2015 is 2% lower than 2020 for example).

    So really we are seeing mortality for 2020 marginally above what it has been for the worst most recent years (2018 and 2015) but better than mortality for every year from 2002 to 2009.

    That puts mortality in context. Covid-19 has had the same broad affect as a bad flu year it appears.

    Then add in that lockdowns seem to have no or next to no affect in reducing covid-19 deaths. For example look at the scatter plot of countries deaths per million vs severity of lockdown. You can’t see any association.

    Then factor in that Ro (for fatal community infections) had already fallen to below 1 when we locked down. For example English hospital deaths peaked on 8th April, and there is an average of 21 days from infection to death, and so peak infections occurred around 18th March before lockdown. More thorough analyses in numerous countries show the same but that’s the broad concept. So essentially the pandemic was already ending before we locked down. And lockdown probably had little or no affect over smart distancing measures.

    Then factor in that there is increasing evidence of community immunity out there through T cell immunity and very likely cross immunity from exposure to previous coronaviruses (20+ papers). And this immunity is massive relative to immunity through measured antibodies. Practically the work by Sunetra Gupta (Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology) and Professor Gabriella Gomes (Professor of Maths and Statistics) and Karl Friston (British neurologist) show that numerically that this community immunity or something equivalent to it is there.

    Then according to the Daily Mail (I know I know) there is a document that has been presented to SAGE that claims that nearly 75,000 people could die from non-Covid causes as a result of lockdown. So combine this with a the likelihood that the lockdown has had limited affect on direct covid-19 deaths….

  • 21 Nebilon September 26, 2020, 4:09 pm

    The statistics are certainly interesting. Algernond and Dave’s comments made me look up flu related deaths in 2018, which seem to be around 16,000 for the Oct 2017 to May 2018 flu season. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/740606/Surveillance_of_influenza_and_other_respiratory_viruses_in_the_UK_2017_to_2018.pdf
    I’m finding that hard to reconcile with Snowman’s “no worse than a bad flu year” comment, as 2017/18 was a bad year, and the Covid deaths are above that. What is clear is that while the Covid rates are fairly high they may not all be additional when compared to what might have occurred in a usual year. But also we only know what has happened with the lockdown, and it’s hard to extrapolate from other countries to what might have happened without lockdown. Likewise if lockdown is going to cause lots of non Covid deaths, why are those not showing up in the stats yet?

    Personally, I find wearing a mask when out in shops no more than a minor annoyance and think it’s worth doing even if the protection provided, for me or for others, is limited. Ditto for trying to keep a reasonable distance from other people. And I’m still loving working from home; if and when our office reopens I may only go in once a week…

  • 22 David September 26, 2020, 5:43 pm

    This “pandemic” is about 8th the past 27 years.


    It’s purely the worlds largest political balls up ever witnesses.

    Then only good thing to come out of this is a wider realisation by all that politicians are a waste of oxygen.

  • 23 Pinkney September 26, 2020, 6:19 pm

    @johnathan I agree and sometimes I wonder if I am living in a different place, time or mindset than most of the population. I am so glad that I transferred to a global strategy and stuck with it. The quality of uk companies created in the last 20 years is in my opinion poor and we rely heavily on foreign investment to keep a lot of things going. The level of animosity, incompetence or rhetoric is frankly embarrassing considering how much we depend on the rest of the world for our rich western lifestyle. I wonder sometimes what we will end up doing to keep all these people occupied as the events that have been set in place and accelerated by the pandemic gradually unfold.

  • 24 Snowman September 26, 2020, 6:37 pm

    Meant to say well done Algernond for attending the anti-lockdown demonstration in London.

    A friend who headed down from Manchester has told me what’s happening. Shocking police violence against peaceful protesters. Absolutely disgusting. It is a mere pretense that peaceful protest is still allowed at the moment.

  • 25 xxd09 September 26, 2020, 7:07 pm

    Apologies-wrong statistic
    Should have been 18%+ women are now childless-half the value I initially quoted

  • 26 Seeking Fire September 26, 2020, 9:05 pm

    Current govt actions seem (as ever) very politically driven. The media focus entirely on the number of CV cases and deaths as do the public at large and I would expect the govt number one priority above everything including even protecting care homes is to ensure that this winter they do not run out of ICU beds, which would be political suicide and to therefore minimise the possibility of additional deaths. The population has become far less accepting of death given increased life expectancy. In 1918, the UK population had just seen under a million men die over four years so was unlikely to be shocked by another 250k dying from the pandemic. Through that lense, whilst I don’t agree with the guidelines, I can see why the govt is acting as it is. It doesn’t have the political capacity to take the Swedish path nor the tools to take the china path. So we are where we are.

    There is a whiff of virtue signalling around the mask. Only today, I was informed in a couple of new settings that going forward a mask will be required to keep us safe. I did ask what evidence they have that a mask keeps you safe without an answer. Although it seems as if they do have benefits from the decades of usage that the Japanese and other Asian countries have from them so I’m willing to wear one. I can see g/f some vigorous debate over whether or masks should be a long term compulsory requirement perhaps in the winter months or in crowded situations – that could be a long term change.

    A lady at work aged 24, highly educated, was clearly terrified about dying from CV. I asked if she knew how many females her age and under had died with CV on the death certificate out of the 51k total deaths as of early Sept. She guessed around 5k. The answer…17. And that’s with CV not from CV.

    Here’s a laugh, I run a sports club for children on a Sunday. Latest first aid guidelines are that if a child has a cardiac arrest under no circumstances is anyone to give mouth to mouth due to the potential for the spread of CV. Although the head first aider acknowledges that in such a scenario the child concerned will certainly die.

    It is of no surprise that the govt. response has proved to be inadequate. Most of the cabinet have limited real world experience, are intellectually inadequate and those who currently wish to be PM do it largely to have their name adorned alongside Pitt / Disraeli & Churchill as opposed to primarily wanting to drive the country forward. It is equally of no surprise to me that the one person who is doing reasonably well, Rishi Sunak has a Goldman Sachs and then hedge fund pedigree. You might not like the bank but it is a reasonable probability that it is a better grounding than that of a fire place salesman. In addition, and I have no strong evidence to support it but the prime minister doesn’t look particularly well.

    Equally our approach isn’t particularly different to most western countries, aside from Sweden (I think?) so it’s right to be critical but in the govt shoes, it would be politically extremely tough to be seen to let the virus proliferate. But some tough decisions across most countries are coming if an end isn’t in sight by spring. I always felt it would be Q4 2021 until we were on the pathway to recovery.

    I did say back in March that I felt this would hasten the relative decline of European countries (particularly the UK) relative to RoW and particularly Asia and nothing seems to have disabused me of this. China seem to have been much more capable of getting on top of the virus through having superior technology and governance of its citizens than western countries. What would they do here? They’d lock down the cities forcibly if needs be and test everyone at the airports (which they do) and in any location until they stamped it out. We very clearly don’t appear to have the capabilities to do that here and hence it seems likely it will continue to bubble on. My friend in HK tested +ve and was forcibly removed from his apartment and put in a quarantine centre. Might not be nice but it’s effective.

    I agree it’s very easy to be negative on the relative outlook for the UK going forward. In my world of financial services, banks are quietly moving people and assets overseas given the likelihood we fall out of financial equivalence come the end of December. The UK will still be a large FS centre – 10% of GDP isn’t going to go to 0% but it’s not going up that’s for sure. Equally I am yet to see any evidence of how economically we are going to drive the country forward to take advantage of all the opportunities coming out way. I suspect we’ll struggle on and at the end be poorer in absolute and relative terms.

    On a +ve note, I think, if we get battery technology sorted at some point the prospect of energy being almost free is quite feasible. That would be a material positive uplift to standards of living.

    What’s this got to do with personal finance. Well more than ever and particularly in the UK, which feels in decline, financial independence / robustness is critical although that’s somewhat preaching to the choir with this readership. I suspect the general population will not have a change of habits unless something very materially negative happens (e.g. witness much of the German population still doesn’t much use credit cards). I continue to think tail risk for the UK is rising and have my assets largely global too accordingly – although I did overweight the UK a little equity wise as it’s truly in the doldrums. Not hedging those bonds….:)

    I didn’t think too much of the professional pensions article – it seemed to be encouraging you to have high fees! Although I also agree 4% looks shakier than ever.

    Bon weekend everyone.

  • 27 The Weasel September 26, 2020, 9:17 pm

    How peaceful is protest that sends 2 police officers to hospital?
    I do think you should take the liberty of not wearing a mask, as long as you have the consent of those around you. Your freedom ends where the other’s begin.

  • 28 Matthew September 26, 2020, 9:55 pm

    We should do what we reasonably can to suppress this until a vaccine comes – even if you don’t worry about the virus itself, the effect of allowing it to rocket would cause the shutting of non covid healthcare, and it’s cause panic lockdowns of the economy

    If we get a vaccine we won’t get to herd immunity by natural spread, so there’s no advantage in accelerating its natural peak – it won’t finish the lockdowns any quicker

    And indeed capitalism not dead, but I’d be interested to see how long it takes for all this fiscal spending and qe to free through and greatly inflate anything other than asset prices – it should in theory drip back into the economy eventually – maybe when a significant slug of the population starts deaccumulating? – maybe in many years we’ll have an underlying cpi inflation from that that’s harder to get back down – someone has to pay for all this eventually

  • 29 Snowman September 26, 2020, 10:02 pm

    @The Weasel
    Peaceful rally broken up by the police. The violence was instigated by the police, they tried to justify on the basis that the protesters weren’t social distancing. Here’s a short video of what happened. There is a longer German video circulating too, if anybody wants to make up their own mind on what happened. Friend confirmed this is what happened, he’s not in the habit of not telling the truth


  • 30 Matthew September 26, 2020, 10:11 pm

    If a protest itself might spread death by virus (indirectly of totally unconnected people even), then arguably the protest is inherently violent on that alone and breaking it up by force is less violent than letting it continue

  • 31 Snowman September 26, 2020, 10:30 pm

    It’s heinous weak justifications like that, that make it ever more important that we fight for our freedoms

    Serves her right she might have spread the virus……


    We thought the days of the SPG were

  • 32 Matthew September 26, 2020, 10:51 pm

    @snowman – limits to our freedom (ie laws) have always been there for public protection, it’s just that covid turned previously normal activities into something dangerous (for some) – like if the speed limit on a road was temporarily lowered for roadworks. The danger may well not be that high in terms of years of life lost vs something like the Spanish flu but it’s not nonexistent – what price do We put upon this particular level of danger?

    We never have been totally free, we’ve always had laws for our own safety, just that the parameters changed. I accept too that lockdown might cause indirect deaths in themselves from economic costs but since that is what the government will do, surely it makes sense to do what we can as individuals within the scope of what the laws are.

    It may be a valid point too that the cost to quality of life in wearing a mask and getting chapped hands from overwashing is too high but again it’s hard to put a price on it and it’s only until a vaccine comes -ie only for several months hopefully

    We shouldn’t blame the government since they couldn’t ever say that the projected level of deaths was ok, maybe that’s part of a problem of democracy. I do think in places like India things like starvation are more pressing but still I’d take what measures you could within the scope of what you can do

  • 33 Algernond September 26, 2020, 11:35 pm

    Need to apologise for my friskiness on the keyboard early. 64K was all deaths in Jan 2018. Sorry, not a good mistake to make.

    I was at the front. The police charged in after ~3hrs of speeches, during what was I think the last talk from Dr Heiko Schöning. No ‘social distancing’ was the excuse, although we’d already been standing next to each other for the preceding 3 hrs. Who knows why they did it. Suppose they needed to rile it up to generate negative reporting.

    @Matthew – If you’ve looked at the data, and read some basic virology & epidemiology from actual experts (not govt/SAGE/MSM), then you’d not have that outlook I believe.
    (Sunetra Gupta, Carl Heneghan, Ivor Cummins …etc..)

  • 34 Al Cam September 27, 2020, 12:38 am

    @Seeking Fire:
    Re “In 1918, the UK population had just seen under a million men die over four years”.

    I assume you are referring to UK WW1 deaths. AFAICT, the figure is between 600k and 750k, see for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_casualties and subtract the estimated deaths from the colonies. In any case, still a shockingly large number!

    Another slightly surprising statistic is the Blitz casualties from WW2, which at some 40,000 civilians in the seven-month period between September 1940 and May 1941 -almost half of them in London – is similar to the C-19 deaths in the UK to date.

  • 35 Algernond September 27, 2020, 12:53 am

    Seriously it’s major concern that we have a govt. where perhaps none of the cabinet understand some of the basics that are crucial at this time. Did anyone see Hancock this week clearly not understand that a 1% false positive rate can give easily lead to >90% of positive tests being false when the population infection rate is very low? One can’t help wondering why wouldn’t SAGE didn’t take the time to teach them the basics back in March? The explanation of the aforementioned example only takes a few minutes at most.

    @Snowman – thanks. Good people there. Even David Icke kept his bit focused purely on the Lockdown. None of his previous colourful theories on other things. He knew it was about the lockdown, and that there was a wide spectrum of people there. Interesting how Covid19 is selectivity dangerous depending on what one is demonstrating about. It appears to leave the BLM and XR lot alone.

    @SeekingFire. Interesting post. Lots to think about.
    It’s astonishing how so many can’t put things into perspective, and just want to be told what to think. In my office, there’s a lady that is the only person to be wearing a muzzle in the actual office (our office is small). She was shocked when she’d found out I’d been on a work trip uisng the trains and through London earlier in the week. When I pointed out that Covid19 sank below Flu deaths during June, so why would I be worried (well, I was never worried), she had to think of other things like, ‘well perhaps the long term effects may be worse than flu?’ And…. continued to wear her muzzle. Also tried explaining to her that that virology & epidemiology had quite a wealth of learning in the ~ 100 years before March of this year, and that actual experts quite well understand what is now happening based on the data of the last few months. She wasn’t having any of it though.
    Even though apparently there’s never been a recorded 2nd wave of a Coronavirus strain, the only reason I can see it last with a few little blips ‘til Q4 2021 is that lockdowns delay max. herd immunity (this is what the experts that I read say).

    You’ve probably posted before about your bond allocation. But so I don’t have to go back to previous articles, is it all Global unhedged? Do you have any significant UK bonds at all?

  • 36 Learner September 27, 2020, 7:35 am

    > At the start I thought we would be importing all that libertarian bullshit from the US but we don’t seem to have much of that at all.

    Seems to be catching on. The QAnon and Agenda21 loons won’t be far behind.

  • 37 Snowman September 27, 2020, 7:37 am


    That’s really interesting to hear, it accords with what my friend told me about how the police came in, although he said it was before the Heiko Schoning speech started rather than during. If that was the last talk then it makes you wonder why the police didn’t wait until after that to try and disperse the crowd, not sure what their agenda was and who authorised it. But if they’d tried to disperse people in a reasonable way after the last talk you could understand at some level why they would do that.

    Didn’t realise that David Icke kept his bit purely focused on the lockdown, that’s encouraging, because it is easy for some to dismiss the protesters as a group of oddball conspiracy theorists. My friend said there were a big mix of everyday people of all ages there.

    Pretty shocking how Matt Hancock clearly doesn’t understand the testing and it’s limitations (and then there was the Raab 7% claim also). To be fair I don’t think it’s correct that 1% of ALL tests are false positives, but clearly a small false positive rate at a low prevalence rate still gives more false positives than true positives, for example if someone with no symptoms is tested. If someone has symptoms then that changes the conditional probabilities massively. Although now, even for those with symptoms, there is rhinovirus circulating, and the test may in many cases be picking up viral covid fragments from people who have no ‘live’ covid-19 virus and are not infectious, and the rhinovirus is causing the symptoms.

    A proper strategy perhaps includes recording the cycle threshold at which the PCR positive results occurs and retesting to see if the cycle threshold has gone down second time round to below 25 which might indicate someone who is infectious with live virus. It is hard to reconcile the prevalence under the ONS random sampling because there is an argument that it’s low point must be the maximum false positive rate, but I don’t think you can simplistically imply this, for example I think there are differences with the ONS test. And the issues of false positives and positives at high cycle thresholds are being conflated. The lack of information makes it hard to get at the truth.

    It is the complete lack of a coherent testing strategy that shows the government to be clueless, and I’m guessing we all think moonshot is plain silly?

    I think most people must have seen that Monty Python like Good Morning video with the 3 teachers quarantined in Italy for 5 weeks because the PCR test was still showing positive (for viral fragments) even though they clearly didn’t have live virus and weren’t infectious, and then one of them saying there was a guy on the balcony had been there 2.5 months.

    Certainly there seems to be an increase in covid-19 deaths at the moment, how many are those dying with covid-19 or from covid-19 is unclear and also how many are nosocomial is unclear. As you say there is no history of a second wave with other corona viruses (e.g. sars, mers). They need to monitor it of course but it looks like the sort of low level seasonal ripple that will occur with a virus that is endemic in a population with significant immunity. Hard to say how high deaths will go but no indication or expectation whatsoever that this is a second wave. Gabriela Gomes has given some good explanations of community immunity and how there isn’t a single community threshold but how we cycle in and out of community immunity due to seasonality and other factors, but because there is a good level of community immunity we reach the community immunity threshold again after a ripple and not a new wave.

    Getting very angry at the moment so apologies for the terseness in some of my posts, I will try and reign it in.

  • 38 D September 27, 2020, 8:17 am

    @ Algernond – Interesting on the false positives as I hadn’t really thought about that. So if 1,000 people get tested and only 1 person actually has the virus, you would still get maybe 10 other people (1% of the 1,000) getting a (false) positive result. That means you would get 11 positive results in total but only 1 would be a real case, therefore 90% of your positive test results (10 out of 11) are wrong.

  • 39 Barn Owl September 27, 2020, 8:33 am

    Whatever you think of individuals in the government, the maths of this virus seems pretty simple to me. Unchecked a 1% mortality rate with a UK population of £66 million would be 660,000 dead. So far we have around 45,000. The virus has not substantially changed, we are nowhere near herd immunity yet, nor do we have effective treatment or a vaccine. Of the 99% of people that survive the virus, many have to go through the existential anxiety of wondering whether they are one of the 1% or the people whose symptoms will persist. Furthermore, a small number of individuals can do a lot of virus spreading.

    I am all for individual freedom usually and don’t like seeing the police breaking up peaceful protests. However, I’m afraid there is a strong case for the greater good overriding individual liberty here.

  • 40 The Investor September 27, 2020, 8:58 am

    @all — Let’s leave the discussion of the protest there please, on this website.

    The right to protest is important, and I have been in protests where I felt the state was definitely heavy-handed, so I get the importance of the topic. But this isn’t the best site to discuss it, and it will crowd out other conversation. For that reason further protest related stuff will be deleted.

    Monevator generally has decent comments when we talk about the virus. There’s an increasingly political tone creeping in though. I understand why, I mentioned some politicians myself, and it’s clearly relevant, but it is a reliable death knell for discussion sooner or later. I have deleted (well, didn’t approve) a couple of political opinion comments from new commentators that IMHO didn’t add much to the discussion. Please keep in mind.

    @SeekingFire — Sorry, but I can’t believe that’s really the case with a child having cardiac arrest. You’re typically a very lucid commentator so I’m sure there must be a miscommunication error somewhere. 🙂

    Do you have a source please? Or is this based on just some local person in charge making a bad decision (which I can believe, I guess, ridiculous though it is).

    Or is it more a logical extrapolation of what the new rules state, that wouldn’t be expected to be tested under fire?

  • 41 Algernond September 27, 2020, 10:12 am

    @Barn Owl
    Can only say that you are under a massive misapprehension with those figures, and also what happens with new strains of viruses.
    I do recommend Ivor Cummins video on 8th September where he presents the data of Covid19 and also historical viral outbreaks very nicely.

    @D – Nicely illustrated! Would think it would be quite easy for SAGE to explain the concept to the cabinet right? Knowing the actual false-positve %’age of positive tests is of course very challenging as @Snowman has discussed, but the simple concepts of the pitfalls do need to be understood by those making decisions on the data.

  • 42 Prometheus September 27, 2020, 10:46 am

    Certainly has exposed Some fragile areas of the economy…also, a particular bug bear of mine, the rentier sector , rather a nerve demanding people get back to offices so their ‘non value adding’ sector survives.

    Anyway, the economy will have to change if for no other reason than the current one is unsustainable in terms of the damage it does to the environment and the equality gap it sustains.

    However knowing human nature we will return To ‘normal’ and won’t do anything much until it is far too late. Some might say it already is.

  • 43 Tony Edgecombe September 27, 2020, 10:50 am

    The low death rate looks like success to me. Arguing that it is evidence we did too much is ignoring what would have happened if we did nothing.

  • 44 Indecisive September 27, 2020, 11:36 am

    All the “How to make your home green and add value to it – ThisIsMoney” article manages to do is demonstrate how none of these improvements are cost-effective without subsidy. Loft insulation being the only exception, but the figure they quote assumes you have zero insulation to start with, rather than topping up from 100mm.

  • 45 SemiPassive September 27, 2020, 11:42 am

    Quite happy with people being forced to wear masks in places like supermarkets and public transport as it drastically reduces airborne delivery and viral load if everyone wears them – and more and more evidence is showing how critical this is in severity of cases if you do still catch it.
    And yes, masks do work especially well if surgical or FFP2 or FFP3 grade rather than the ones made out of knickers material. Been saying this since March personally when the government and WHO were saying publicly that they didn’t really help (because they were trying to conserve stocks of PPE purely for health workers, so even they knew it was complete BS), which I’ve never agreed with.

    As for readers quoting various scientists, they can’t agree on anything, go back and look at Carl Heneghan only a month or so ago saying it was petering out and there would be no second wave, or every day this week on Sky News various scientists bickering and contradicting each other.
    Sweden is seeing cases rise now along with the rest of Europe so the jury is still out there, I wouldn’t draw any conclusions from them until we get to January.

    My next prediction is for the pubs and and restaurants to be closed down before Christmas, possibly as soon as early November. I actually think they would prefer to shut just pubs down, but since there is no easy way to differentiate between any licensed premises selling eat-in food inside they will have to shutter the lot. Especially given the high % of staff that are also students.

    My reasoning is there is no way they can lockdown on people visiting others in their own homes, make masks mandatory in shops and public transport, and virtually shut down many/most schools and colleges, if pubs full of unmasked strangers drinking are kept open at the same time. It is ludicrous when you think about it like that.
    So closure of licensed premises until a vaccine is ready or the second wave subsides is the logical next step.

  • 46 WhiteSheep September 27, 2020, 11:53 am

    Well the death rate was still one of the highest in Europe, so a very limited success? But I think some people have started calling this the “prevention paradox” – the more successful you are in reducing disease incidence, the less likely people are to believe there was an issue in the first place. Some people appear so “angry” (quote) that it seems impossible for them to acknowledge intellectually that the real concern is not the current incidence of Covid, but what happens if it is allowed to grow exponentially again. (And again copious references to youtube “experts”, but little to actual medical research.)

    But I don’t think anyone is particularly happy with the handling of the Covid situation, and not just the random rule changes. I am puzzled for example why we still don’t seem to be hearing very little real analysis on how the virus is actually spreading at the moment, which seems to me would be quite important to know if you want to design effective rules.

    @Snowman. Pertinent point on false positive rates, but I think the vast majority of tested people are still symptomatic, so the relevant baseline appears to be the prevalence of Covid among other respiratory diseases, not the general population. Also the false positive rate of the RT-PCR is acually very low (and orders of magnitude lower than the false negative rate), unless the lab has issues. The biological false positive rate (people who carry some trace of the virus, but are not infectious) is likely much higher than the analytical false positive rate (assay detecting virus RNA when there isn’t any).

  • 47 Seeking Fire September 27, 2020, 11:57 am

    The Investor. Sure P6 – penultimate bullet.

    Only deliver CPR by chest compressions and use a defibrillator (if available) – don’t do rescue breaths.


    It is absolutely the case that in the extremely unlikely event this happened to a child our team would administer CPR in the conventional way. Nonetheless this is being cascaded down community clubs presumably for insurance purposes. Perhaps it’s miscommunication as the underlying guidance from the resuscitation council is more nuanced but feels strange none the less.

    You are absolutely right, as ever, that this is a financial website and a damn good one. I’ve only ever made some non financial comments to draw the link that I feel financial independence is assuming ever greater importance in people’s lives in the UK not just to escape work but to protect you against possible problems that hopefully won’t occur.

    So on bonds, I don’t hedge but that’s my personal position taking everything in the round. For example, if I was 20 years older, fully retired, then having thought a lot about the very good debate a few articles ago, I would hedge my bond position back to GBP. Your bond component is safety first. I might be a bit less keen if I was lucky enough to have a whopping DB pension but then I’d have less bonds anyway. Your equity component, assuming un-hedged provides you with non GBP exposure (even the FTSE 100). So that’s my view and others n/p to take a different one.

    Thanks as ever for a great set of links and writings.

  • 48 Rowan Tree September 27, 2020, 12:39 pm

    It’s time to say thank you and goodbye now, Monevator. I have learned much from this site over the years, and am very grateful.

  • 49 Matthew September 27, 2020, 1:32 pm

    I’d also say I insulation that it can increase the damp in a house, it creates a sharper temperature gradient between inside and outside, causing condensation. Other insulation methods like draft exculders reduce ventilation too so humid air doesn’t get removed. In my mind the risk of damaging a houses value with damp outweighs energy efficiency. Also dust mites like humidity and lack of ventilation, as does mould – not good for asthmatics

  • 50 Rich September 27, 2020, 2:59 pm

    Table 1 is what the Mail is referring to,
    Although worth comparing to Annex G – the document is still staying they believe intervention has reduced excess deaths.


  • 51 Rich September 27, 2020, 3:05 pm

    Primer for anyone getting overexcited about comparing 17/18 flu season to 19/20:
    Entirely different trajectory.

  • 52 The Details Man September 27, 2020, 3:13 pm

    @ SeekingFire – I replied earlier but my comment got eaten. That is unbelievable and contrary to what is said in the document, that is not consistent with the guidance set out by the resuscitation council (I’d link but afraid comment might get eaten again). They say that despite the risk of infection rescue breaths should be given in paediatric CPR. P. S. I’m a lapsed first aider and you’ve inspired me to sort that out.

  • 53 Snowman September 27, 2020, 4:40 pm

    @White Sheep

    You say
    ‘Some people appear so “angry” (quote) that it seems impossible for them to acknowledge intellectually that the real concern is not the current incidence of Covid, but what happens if it is allowed to grow exponentially again’

    The deaths did not increase exponentially during the first wave so I’m not expecting any exponential growth in the current ripple. Nothing to do with anger just looking at the data and what is highly likely from what we know. But we need to keep an eye on it. There may be a second wave of testing positives going on, the so called casedemic, but hospitalisations and deaths are all that matters.

    Once we reached about 50 hospital deaths per day in England during the first wave, the daily growth in deaths reduced fairly linearly over the next month or so until the peak of deaths was reached on 8th April of 783 deaths at which point there was no growth at all. For growth to be exponential the growth rate needs to be at least constant but it wasn’t it was falling. Note the fall off in growth of (fatal) infections happened around a month before we locked down so should have been evident to Ferguson.

    Michael Levitt had been fitting Gompertz curves to the data and informed Ferguson that his projections that essentially assumed exponential growth were wrong, but perhaps Ferguson wasn’t able to acknowledge he was wrong (his awful track record has already been documented). And the rest is history and the lockdown occurred based on Ferguson’s dodgy modelling it seems.

  • 54 D September 27, 2020, 5:01 pm

    Your comparison of Covid to Brexit in the opening paragraphs of this article made me laugh out loud! With such dire predictions from Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty, let’s hope epidemiology doesn’t become the next area of public life where the British people have had enough of experts.

  • 55 ZXSpectrum48k September 27, 2020, 5:23 pm

    @Snowman. Is that the same Michael Levitt who are Mar 20 said he will be “surprised if the number of deaths in Israel surpasses 10“? Currently 1446. Let’s assume he’s very surprised. (https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/nobel-laureate-israel-will-have-no-more-than-ten-coronavirus-deaths-621407)

    Or perhaps another Michael Levitt who on Mar 28 predicted Switzerland would have 250 deaths? Currently, 2060. (https://twitter.com/MLevitt_NP2013/status/1243929765876301825)

    Or his prediction on Jun 28 that deaths in Brazil would be 98,000? Currently 141,000 and rising (https://twitter.com/MLevitt_NP2013/status/1277278261979090945?s=20).

    Or even his forecast that the COVID pandemic would end in the US on Aug 22 with 170,000 deaths? Currently over 209k and rising. (https://twitter.com/MLevitt_NP2013/status/1287036738565738496?s=20)

    He states that “epidemiologists suck at their jobs” (https://twitter.com/gummibear737/status/1279167888038023170?s=20). He doesn’t seem to mention that he sucks even more at forecasts. Even more than Ferguson. I suppose if he throw enough darts eventually he’ll be right.

    It’s a shame since Levitt was Nobel Prize winner but he has no credibility anymore. Perhaps he should go back to Chemistry (that’s what the Nobel is for) and leave Virology to, well, virologists.

  • 56 Jonathan B September 27, 2020, 8:27 pm

    @Snowman, you have been a good source of Covid intelligence here, but today you have possibly let your emotions run away with you. Since your claim above surprised me (“Once we reached about 50 hospital deaths per day in England during the first wave, the daily growth in deaths reduced fairly linearly over the next month or so”) I clicked straight over to the Worldometer page and looked at the logarithmic form of the Total Deaths graph for the UK. It looks as if the log curve would have met any reasonable test for a straight line relationship (= exponential growth) right up to the end of March and almost 2500 cases. That was after lockdown, though the related infection events will all have been well before.

    The current situation is different, but on the face of it diagnosed cases are rising exponentially. I accept there are sampling issues with using cases and deaths haven’t risen enough to really know what is going on – but enough since August to be at least a little worried. The government did not understand the implications of exponential growth until rather too late in March, and while there are a number of reasons why things may not be quite the same this time I would hate them to wait until the situation was out of control again.

    (I have named myself “Jonathan B” instead of just “Jonathan” as before since there seem to be two of us now using the same first name identity).

  • 57 Sparschwein September 27, 2020, 9:03 pm

    “died ‘with’ Covid not of”
    “something something T cells”
    “Heneghan, Gupta, Cummins, Levitt”
    And David Icke, really??

    It’s the greatest hits festival of far-right propaganda here this weekend.

    Therefore a reminder how much disinformation about Covid is out there. Vested business interests want us to believe that the pandemic is “over”. (It is not, and this second wave was entirely predictable.) Those who want to destabilise the country see the opportunity and are fomenting unrest.
    Now the UK government is an easy target. They have been quite uniquely rubbish across the Western world (except the US, which is worse). Flip-flopping between doing nothing, even encouraging risky behaviour, and heavy-handed interventions. Test and trace is a perpetual fiasco.
    But, they seem to be *trying* to do the right thing, at least.

    So it is every citizen’s job to fill the leadership vacuum, stay informed, stay sensible and help stop the spread until, hopefully, vaccines will be available next year.

    Here is a good, factual piece about misinformation, social media echo chambers and the consequences for society:

  • 58 Vanguardfan September 27, 2020, 9:10 pm

    Thank you, sparchswein (and others). I don’t know where to start..

  • 59 Sparschwein September 27, 2020, 9:21 pm

    @Vanguardfan – it’s difficult. Brandolini’s law 🙂

  • 60 Barn Owl September 27, 2020, 10:26 pm


    Thanks for the reference. I listened to the first 5 mins or so of his video. This does help me understand your point of view and I would agree with you if I was convinced that Ivor was right.

    With his Gomperz curve he is implying that lockdown had no effect and that we have now reached herd immunity. That being the case, why are cases rising again?

  • 61 ermine September 27, 2020, 11:34 pm

    @Sparschwein Thank you. I was wondering where that rabbit hole was going to end up, and a little bit saddened. I am cheered that there’s pushback.

  • 62 The Investor September 28, 2020, 7:25 am

    @Rowan Tree — Very glad the site has been useful to you over the many years you’ve been reading (and occasionally commenting! 🙂 ) Best of luck with the next phase of your life.

  • 63 The Investor September 28, 2020, 7:38 am

    But, they seem to be *trying* to do the right thing, at least.

    Agreed. I am singularly aghast at the current crop of leaders (not least with them being the bungling Brexit prime movers) but talk about them — together with scientists — deliberately trying to engineer the misery of their citizens is ridiculous.

    I sense some more moderate readers might feel I’ve let this conversation run too far in that direction. As mentioned up the thread I’ve deleted a couple of wholly empty political screeds. I didn’t delete an early comment to the effect that the government was deliberately murderous, in order to allow people to understand the range of comments out there.

    Personally I’ve long doubted the value of full-on lockdown, as long-time readers will know, and I’ve welcomed and read a wide range of insights into the virus. But I think one can say our approach is not covering itself with glory without going full conspiratorial.

    Equally, echo chambers work whoever is speaking in them — not just when it’s those you disagree with. 😉

    There were plenty of people here who didn’t want to hear any dissent against almost any element of the prevailing ‘deadly to all, lockdown lockdown and damn the consequences!’ view in the chaos/panic of March. Things have become unhappily polarized since then, but at that point it was definitely still possible to have a rationally open mind.

    When I talk about the consequences of this virus lasting, I mean in this order: economically, politically, public health.

    Also, I don’t think you have to remember *what* exactly changed us — let alone the exact sequence of events — to be forever changed. There’s innumerable examples of that over history, not to mention in psychotherapists’ offices up and down the country.

  • 64 Snowman September 28, 2020, 9:48 am

    @Jonathon B

    Thank you for your comment. I’m happy to be challenged on my figures. That’s the way we make progress on trying to understand things.

    The source of my information to say the community fatal case growth wasn’t exponential in the first wave is the English total hospital deaths reported by date of death


    I calculated a 7 day average of deaths to take out the daily fluctuations, so the smoothed deaths at time t are ((deaths(t-3) + deaths(t-2)+……. + deaths(t+3))/7. I’ll call that deaths (t).

    I then worked out the daily growth rate as (deaths (t+4)/deaths(t-3))^(1/7)-1

    Doing this showed that deaths at their highest point were growing at 40% per day. The growth then decreased roughly linearly to 0% at 8th April (with it being 20% per day half way through of course).

    The reason deaths went up so sharply was that the daily growth rate was very high for a long period. Even at the mid-point of the fall in growth rate, deaths were still rising at roughly 20% per day.

    So there was a longish point where deaths were increasing very quickly. It’s just that the rate of growth wasn’t constant it was falling from quite an early point.That’s why I claim it wasn’t exponential.

    You can’t be precise on the death point at which the growth started decreasing, because the growth was so high at that point at 40% per day, so possibly at 25, possibly at 50, or possibly at 100.

    The averaging involved in those calculations does create some of the linearity of the fall, so it’s not perfect as a method, but I just wanted to keep things simple.

    I can’t easily post up the graph, but others can have a go if they want. Would be interesting to see if they reach the same conclusion (or not)

    It is also interesting to see how the 7 day death average has fallen since we passed the peak. There was a continuous fall in the 7 day death average (again using a 7 day period to assess the fall) of around 3-7% per day up until August. And there is no sign of any change in the rate of fall of deaths right up to August, it’s remarkably constant.

    The 7 day average of hospital deaths how now starting to increase again, with growth at about 10% per day. It’s not clear if growth is levelling off at that rate, or will go up again and at what point it will then fall. But looking at the slope of the death curve (relative to the first wave) doesn’t create a concern at the moment. But we need to wait and see and it may be possible to see what is happening in the coming weeks.

  • 65 xxd09 September 28, 2020, 10:30 am

    In Scotland for those aged under 25 there has been zero deaths-that is not just those with comorbidities, that is everyone
    No man under 45 has died since June 3rd,there have been 11 deaths in total
    The last women under 45 died on May 2nd,there have been 6 deaths in total

  • 66 Algernond September 28, 2020, 11:15 am

    Hi @Barn Owl.
    Just to say, Ivor Cummins didn’t change my mind on this (I already agreed with him it turns out). Just that I thought he explains the data in a way that was much better than I possibly could, which is whay I recommended the video.
    With regards to the current ‘case-demic’, there are some earlier comments relating to false-positives – @D explains the concept perfectly, and @Snowman discusses the factors in some detail.
    There is of course some rise in real cases, which I’ve seen well argued, are impacted by the delay of herd immunity and usual seasonal variation.

    @Sparschwein – Sunetra Gupta is certainly not right-wing.
    But your comment is a good example of how this has become partially a left vs. right thing.

  • 67 Algernond September 28, 2020, 11:25 am

    @TI. Any chance for comment no.13 you can put an editorial correction in brackets next to the misleading 64k figure I posted? I hate misinformation, doubly so when it’s from me…

  • 68 Jonathan B September 28, 2020, 11:41 am

    @Snowman, I haven’t tried to replicate your data, just gone back to Worldometer since the tab is still open on my computer. There were days when there was a 40% increase day on day, but that was when numbers were small (low tens) and less consistent. Over much of March it was in the 20-30% range.

    I stick with the pretty good linearity of the log curve of total deaths, which would be the normal test of exponential growth. Although being able to see how the curve continued allows one to suggest the first signs of slowing were round about the date of lockdown, if you had the dataset up to 31 March it looks as if it would have met all reasonable statistical tests for a straight line fit.

  • 69 ZXSpectrum48k September 28, 2020, 11:48 am

    @TI. I see echoes of the early 1980s. Thatcher’s policies cut through UK manufacturing like a scythe but that extreme pain was caused to putting off hard choices in the 60s/70s. We’re in the same place now. We need to allow obsolete, zombie businesses to die. Allow the rubbish and BS jobs they provide to disappear.

    The question really is whether govt can do what we didn’t do in the 80s: provide the infrastructure to replace what is too tired to save with something more productive. What we’ve seen from Rishi doesn’t give me much hope. An SDLT cut? Ok SDLT is a bad tax but is our number one priority bailing out property developers?

    So without any long-term plan, we’re just wasting money on furlough schemes and Kurzarbeit. It just a transfer of wealth from govt to corporates and the owners of SMEs. Instead tell those corps/SME either to pay their employees or fold. For far too long we’ve been held to ransom by rentier forms of capital. Instead increase unemployment benefit or introduce UBI. Let’s learn that we sometimes need to pay people not to work. Not everyone can be productive.

  • 70 Snowman September 28, 2020, 12:32 pm

    @Jonathan B

    If each person infects 3, and all of those infect 3 and there is next to no immunity in the population, and the R0 stays the same then you expect actual deaths to grow exponentially if infections and deaths are proportional (if the CFR stays constant over time). So reasonable to work off deaths.

    The daily England hospital death growth rates up to the peak based on my previously described method are (the selected figures in brackets are the number of deaths at which that growth rate is roughly occurring).

    36%, 38%, 45% (22), 40% (27), 35%, 32%, 29%, 29%, 27%, 25%, 24%, 24%, 23%, 22%, 20% (325), 20%, 19%, 17%, 15%, 14%, 13%, 12%, 10%, 9%, 8%, 6%, 5%, 4%, 3%, 2%, 1% (900), -1%

    If you take the raw death figures (without the 7 day averaging) the growth up to the peak (with the growth rate still based on a 7 day period around the date) is

    73%, 33%, 24%, 27%, 25%, 28%, 22%, 24%, 22%, 26% (159), 19%, 20%, 17%, 18%, 16%, 14%, 10%, 10%, 12%, 8%, 6%, 5%, 5%, 3%, 1%, 0%

    At the beginning of that second list at 159 deaths a 5% error is just 8 deaths so random fluctuations, can easily explain why the 26% is higher than the 3 previous days. Note the percentages go down steadily towards the right of the second list when the death numbers get higher and the random fluctuations matter less. Hence why I averaged the deaths over 7 days.

    It is easy to see how imprecise analysis of data, for example based on deaths reported and not date occurred (remember those silly graphs they used at the daily press conferences which were all over the place when deaths by date of occurrence were changing fairly smoothly) will hide the trend and could make it look like it has been growing at 20%+ something consistently. For example remember they typically report less deaths at the weekend (is the worldometer data based on the date the death is reported?)

  • 71 Grumpy Old Paul September 28, 2020, 12:52 pm

    A very interesting article in the BMJ regarding pre-existing Covid-19 immunity can be found at https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3563 .

    The piece also describes doubts among some researchers about the widely used formula to calculate population immunity.

    It also discusses the role of memory T cells although the studies cited regarding T cell protection in the absence of anti-bodies involve very small numbers of people. I understand from elsewhere that T cell analysis is difficult, expensive and slow and is only performed in specialised labs but I’m ready to be corrected by the semi-resident medics.

    Stating the obvious, it is still very difficult to understand what is going on, especially because of the impact of changes in behaviour which may vary both within and between countries and may not necessarily be mandated by statute.

  • 72 Snowman September 28, 2020, 1:21 pm


    Yes that is an interesting feature

    It reminds me this Chris Masterjohn podcast with Gabriela Gomes was brilliant


    I think Barn Owl might find it interesting also as an explanation as to how herd immunity might work, as it explains how herd immunity isn’t a single threshold that is crossed once, but might explain why a ripple of some size might follow the initial wave because the first wave creates significant community immunity.

  • 73 Indecisive September 28, 2020, 2:04 pm

    @Matthew, #49

    I’d also say I insulation that it can increase the damp in a house, it creates a sharper temperature gradient between inside and outside, causing condensation.

    While the temperature gradient is sharper, when the insulation is installed properly it should push the gradient to the external edge of the property, removing the condensation risk. “Properly” is the issue, and in houses pre-1975 I rarely see insulation that has been thought through before installing.

    Other insulation methods like draft exculders reduce ventilation too so humid air doesn’t get removed. In my mind the risk of damaging a houses value with damp outweighs energy efficiency.

    Agreed. I think there was a problem when insulation was first being applied – back in the ’80s? – and ventilation wasn’t communicated. There was a surge in interest in “breathable” materials in the early ’00s, materials that would absorb moisture and slowly let it out, but while it showed promise it never became mainstream.

    I think risks to house value are overstated, as so much can be hidden when selling and surveyor’s reports are extremely limited use. As I have found out with my purchase (not damp problems, thankfully).

  • 74 Jonathan B September 28, 2020, 2:16 pm

    Thanks @Grumpy. It is a very clear account.

    One methodogical question I have: would the antibody studies pick up all effective antibodies? Given the existence of other human coronavirus infections, I would expect those studies to have been designed to identify specifically those regions of SARS-CoV-2 unique to it. If so, they might not have picked up antibodies to other coronavirus epitopes which might possibly interact with the Covid virus and prevent (or at least attenuate) infection.

    But ultimately, what we are learning is that antibody tests may not be giving information as useful as had been hoped. (T cell measurements, or determinations of actual virus neutralisation, are not things that could be scaled up for public health use).

  • 75 Seeking Fire September 28, 2020, 2:17 pm

    57@ Sparschwein. “Died with CVID etc”…It’s a fair point – I use that terminology as that is the terminology “including deaths involving the coronovirus…” that the ONS use. Of the circa 48k out of 51k that died involving CV to Sept 11th, who were 60 and over per ONS, I’m very inclined to believe that CV was the primary cause although there are numerous studies across countries showing many elderly people also had additional complications.

    All I am seeking is proportionality amongst us so we can minimise the damage to our lives and the economy this is causing – the parent who is worried their 10 year old son will die from coronovirus at school – we’ve all seen such understandable fear is to my mind worrying unnecessarily. The 75 year old overweight smoker is not worrying unnecessarily based on the data.

    I always respect your views and I’m closer to the mainstream here – does the govt in reality have much of a choice – not really – we cannot seem to eradicate it in the way South Korea have largely done so far – unless we go down the route of video surveillance, smart phone tracking, credit card tracking, a compliant population (no abusing the police after 10pm in the streets :)) and the political risk of being seen to let it proliferate is far far too high. So we are where we are. I guess most of us would like to see consistency and a theme of under promising and over delivering. From that angle, I was pleased to see the govt say six months restrictions likely – far better to under promise and to be out by end of February (if we’re lucky say) than say it’s till Christmas and then have to extend. The flippy floppy and obvious foul up’s though is not good – do not say test and trace has nothing to do with spread of the disease for ex.

    Coming back to other’s earliest comments here on the 1918 pandemic etc, I don’t think we can really compare societies reaction, As we mentioned earlier, 700k British men had been killed over the last 4 years to 1918, the population in 1911 was circa 43 million. So that’s around 1.6% dead. Average life expectancy was circa 52 – 56 years (a lot of infant mortality still). Plus around 20m died globally in total in WW1 and the UK population had also if not been faced with invasion was in a battle for the empire. It’s an incomparable set of events to today – there was a lot of death and societal stress going around. Equivalent would be circa 1m people dying today from some other global crisis and then the cv pandemic killing circa 500k in the UK vs the 250k in 1918ish. Now very few people die young, life expectancy is circa 82 years, dementia is the biggest killer etc. Point is society is more shocked by “visible” death now because outside of care homes etc it occurs relatively infrequently and this understandably drives political decision making I feel. So the likelihood of government taking a risk seems v low particularly as the one soundbite against the conservatives that always sticks is they “can’t be trusted with the NHS” – if they properly drop the ball this winter they’ll have written the campaign script for the opposing parties.

    And what do I know, I read Grumpy Old Paul’s interesting link and conclude this really is so far outside my wheelhouse of expertise.

    XXDO9 – always like your comments.

    Jonathan – you said you moved everything out of the UK. Is that exposure or in terms of where the assets are located? If the latter, interested to hear any more if you can elaborate.

    The Details Man – Good luck!

  • 76 Indecisive September 28, 2020, 2:20 pm

    @TI, #63

    I sense some more moderate readers might feel I’ve let this conversation run too far in that direction.

    I do. I’ve been visiting this site less because of the Covid discussions since April-May this year. Whenever I pop back, the discussion sends me away again.

    You’ll have the stats, the commenter frequency etc to know if others have disengaged. Whatever you do I wish you & the Monevator team well, you got me into index funds and I’ll continue.

    I might even switch to a low-cost broker one day.

  • 77 The Investor September 28, 2020, 3:00 pm

    @Algernond — I’ve inserted a comment into post #13 as a one-off favour. I can’t be editing comments like this routinely, it’s a time suck enough to moderate them. 🙂 (And before anyone asks, the most I will ever allow comments to be edited would be via some sort of three-minute post-posting window. I’ve seen editing abused too many times before.)

    @all — Any post using ‘muzzle’ as a synonym for ‘mask’ will be automatically deleted from here on. Don’t like that rule then don’t post, cheers! 🙂

    @Indecisive — This is the first Covid-19 related post for months I believe. 🙂 Also, while I think for various reasons the comments on Monevator articles are about the best that can be seen on a non-member site on the web for consistent higher-quality (even, relatively speaking, on C-19 and Brexit!) I personally almost never read comments on articles on any websites. Definitely consider them optional!

    But FWIW the only discernible impact of Covid-19 posts is higher engagement when the subject comes up, to be honest.

    If I wanted to boost traffic I’d write about active investing, Brexit, and Covid-19 every time.

    Writing posts about passive investing and telling people to ignore their portfolios, on the other hand, is a proven traffic killer! 😉 People learn what they need over a few weeks/months, and go on to other things.

    Unfortunately it’s very good advice for most people so we keep doling it out.

  • 78 Scott September 28, 2020, 3:06 pm

    Another one here who feels the conversation had been allowed to drift too far in one direction. It’s not so much that I believe those concerned are necessarily wrong in every point they make, but that the tone of their posts means I have no interest in reading about their calculations, certainties, predictions, solutions, etc.
    It amazes me that national governments, global health bodies and suchlike can be getting it all so wrong, yet some wee man (they’re usually male!) tapping away on his keyboard, in his lounge, in the downtime between Cash in the Attic and Pointless has all the answers.

  • 79 Brod September 28, 2020, 3:18 pm

    @Scott – well said!

    But it happens everywhere. I also hangout at a football club website and it’s amazing how much more many posters, who’ve never run a football club or any other type of business, know than the professionals.

  • 80 Getting Minted September 28, 2020, 4:36 pm

    After the scientists talked about cases doubling every week last Monday, I looked at the data (https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/) and prepared my own graphs. I looked at the 7-day growth in the moving average of daily deaths. Prior to the lockdown in March there was a 7-day growth rate of between 461% and 1,250% whereas it has not exceeded 81% in September so far. The statistics have worsened since August but not enough to justify a second lockdown in my opinion.

  • 81 xxd09 September 28, 2020, 4:43 pm

    I was a clinician many years ago of large animals admittedly
    When a virus hits a susceptible population there is a bell curve at the top of which occur the most of the illnesses and deaths that occur as the most susceptible are affected
    There is no second wave or third wave
    The virus ends up widespread throughout the population by the bottom of the curve
    This virus might be different but I doubt it
    A vaccine can prevent the viral attack-now too late cos virus is widespread
    Never been a successful corona virus vaccine yet-might be different this time
    If governments are determined to pursue the viruses progress through the population with testing -it will find the virus-so what!-the damage is done-stable door and horses bolted come to mind
    There will be some more illness and deaths but at low levels -certainly less than suicides,car crashes,heart attacks and cancer
    The virus seems to hit the oldest -80 and over hardest-children and young people thank goodness seem to be immune

  • 82 ZXSpectrum48k September 28, 2020, 4:52 pm

    @Scott/Brod. Spoilsports! Honestly what is the point of working from home if I can’t waste endless time talking rubbish about topics I don’t know anything about.

    Anyway, how do we all get to 80+ comments and still not mention the most important thing of 2020. Ocado is (finally) delivering M&S food. Life … is … good.

    Anyway must dash. Got to get back to the elite London metrosexual bubble I live in.

  • 83 Brod September 28, 2020, 9:48 pm

    @ZX – 😉

    But it’s not so much being a spoilsport, it’s more:

    1. I don’t “understand it” and I don’t have the time/energy to make the effort to understand it. (“Understand it” = having a passing, superficial awareness of a subject people spend decades studying.)
    2. To “understand it” would mean paying attention to the news, and frankly, that’s plain depressing. And all that news is basically outside my ability to control, so what’s the point?
    3. The football transfer window’s still open.
    4. There’s a new update on Monevator about Low Cost Trackers and there could be big moves in new, low-cost indexes they track.

  • 84 Sparschwein September 28, 2020, 10:17 pm

    It is truly bizarre to watch the discussion about PCR. I did many PCRs in the lab back in the day and was in that business for a decade (not anymore). It used to be a subject to bore people to tears at parties. Today, far-right extremists pontificate about PCR testing and toppling the government (a UKIP bloke on Youtube; obv not linking this).

    This is important to understand – how these very technical matters are being weaponised for political agitation, and where this is coming from. Their goals are clear. Next week it is a new bullshit narrative. And another one the week after. And so on, ad nauseam.

    All this nonsense distracts from the necessary debate about difficult choices as the second wave is approaching. It is not “full lockdown” vs “nothing”; it is about priorities for society, and which specific measures follow from those priorities and the latest (real) science.

    Anyway, for those interested in PCR testing, here are a few pieces from people who actually know what they are talking about:

  • 85 Barn Owl September 29, 2020, 7:39 am


    I am trying to be scientific and open minded about this.
    Ivor Cummings is really saying that we reached herd immunity earlier in the year and so new government restrictions are unnecessary. The recent rise in cases in the UK, France, Spain etc indicates that we have not reached herd immunity. So new aspects of the theory are being added to account for this; false positives, delayed herd immunity etc. The more you have to add to Ivor Cummings theory when they don’t fit the facts on the ground, the more shaky his fundamental theory gets and the more likely the mainstream theory (e.g. from the Imperial College paper) is to be correct.

    If Ivor Cummings has a scientific theory, it must make predictions that can be disproved. This is the case for all accepted science. Ask yourself would could happen in the future that would change your mind about Ivor Cummings theory? If the answer is nothing, then he doesn’t have a science based theory.

    My fear is that whatever happens he will just add more features to his theory to fit the facts.

    Ivor Cummings is starting from the required answer (government restrictions are unnecessary) and working back to the pseudo science to support it.

  • 86 D September 29, 2020, 9:34 am

    The tragedy is that humans prefer simple stories. The prevailing narrative for the last six months has been that lockdown “works” and it “saves lives”. A little critical thinking provokes questions like:
    – Did the lockdown in fact cause the fall in cases or was it partly a correlation caused by other factors like social distancing or partial immunity?
    – Although the headline figure of deaths with/from Covid fell, what about other types of deaths caused by shutting down parts of the NHS and caused by not having such a strong economy to fund future health improvements, all of which are harder to measure?

    Most governments are trapped in the simple story. Like a fund manager judged against his/her peers, they dare not depart too drastically from the ‘herd’ in their search for a better result, lest they get a worse result. They aren’t malevolent, but they have half an eye on the next election, as do the Opposition. It’s better for them to bring in a few draconian restrictions and point the finger at some refuseniks than to risk being accused of fiddling while Rome burns.

    Other competing stories are starting to emerge, but they are too far beyond the pale for most people. The Investor has talked about another story from Day 1 (Sweden). Many of us found the reasoning offensive back in March (“they would have died soon anyway”). Personally, I’ve come round to appreciate the point of view.

    The tangential tragedy is that the debate has polarised into Left versus Right and ad hominem attacks. It’s an emotional issue. Around 20 years ago some civil liberties were taken away during the War on Terror and The Left got angry and protested because they didn’t believe in the story. They were probably right. This time the Right has got angry and doesn’t believe in the story, but it’s too early to judge who is right this time.

    I do feel positive though because the next chapter in the “lockdown saves lives” narrative is that “a vaccine will get us out of this”. And we will get one soon enough, just like China and Russia already have. Given the degree of handwashing and social distancing, and the partial immunity in our population, the vaccine doesn’t need to be particularly good, it just needs to not kill people. From what I read the Oxford vaccine fits the bill. It’s even “made in England” so there’s another narrative that we can all feel good about.

  • 87 Algernond September 29, 2020, 9:45 am

    Hi @Barn Owl.
    Ivor Cummins is not putting his own theories forward relating to Epidemiology or Virology as far as I understand, i.e. he is not inventing new science. He give links to various experts in those fields in his video. He’s using his data analyst skills to present the publicly available data. E.g., the only correlation to size of initial mortality spike in a country noted so far appears to be inversely related to the severity of the preceding flu season within countries, and nothing easy to see related to different levels of lockdowns (not sure if you got that far in the video).

    @Sparschwein – I think the reason people are getting lost in the minutia (e.g. the specifics of PCR testing) is because they suspect that the govt. / media narrative is not correct.
    I don’t really understand why that is ‘far-right extremist’ position?

  • 88 Jonathan B September 29, 2020, 11:46 am

    @Piggybank, thank you for those links. Like you, I am familiar with PCR methodology – though not its diagnostic use – and it is good to see decent explanations out there.

    The question though which is referred to but hardly addressed, is not whether PCR works technically, it is whether a positive result really corresponds to an infectious level of virus. It is important because the vast majority of tests (“Pillar 2”) are done so that anyone infectious can take precautions to minimise their risk of passing it on (not all though, many “Pillar 1” tests are for hospitals to identify whether a seriously ill patient needs treatment for Covid or for something else). There have been reports that some people who continued to test positive long after an active infection actually don’t have active virus but residual RNA fragments (ironic really, thinking of all the care we used to take in the lab to guard against RNases). And in the context of acquiring immunity and assessing vaccines, it would be important to know whether the fact that virus has been detected again by PCR in a small number of individuals who have been documented to have Covid previously genuinely represents a second infection; if the detection limit is sufficiently small it could be some virus that their nasal surfaces have picked up from community contacts, but virus which is failing to establish an infection due to immunity from previously.

    @Algernond, I agree it is odd that there should be an apparent right-left controversy. One would have thought restricting citizens quite severely on the basis of incomplete evidence would concern civil rights campaigners on the left too – but it seems only the right think the proven serious risk to the frail and elderly is acceptable. My guess is that the advocates for dropping restrictions doesn’t include the 80-year-old right-wingers.

  • 89 xxd09 September 29, 2020, 12:25 pm

    I think you might be wrong there
    As a 75 year old who has lived the good life I deeply resent my children and grandchildren’s lives being screwed to give me and my wife a few more glorious years
    Many of my compatriots think the same
    Especially as the virus has done most of the damage it is going to do
    Let the old who want to isolate do so plus those with underlying conditions and let our children go-is that biblical?

  • 90 Brod September 29, 2020, 6:27 pm

    @xxd09 – that’s fine. But if you’re not taking care to isolate, can you please not also demand medical reasources be diverted from those who did?

  • 91 xxd09 September 29, 2020, 7:25 pm

    No one is talking about not obeying the rules
    Perhaps you are not aware that for instance medics have always rationed use of ICUs or all the old people in care homes in the country would be on one at the end of their lives
    It is not doable
    A little more public spirit and a little less selfishness/I’m all right Jack is what I am after
    Us oldies have had our turn -look after the young and prioritise them
    They are getting a very raw deal at the moment!

  • 92 Algernond September 29, 2020, 7:38 pm

    Just to add, although discussing the detail is interesting, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to look at much else for the average Joe apart from the ONS weekly update:
    (week ending 18-Sep appears that there was a terrifying 1.5% of all deaths attributed to Covid-19)

    It’s been over since June, with Flu/Pneumonia 10x higher in recent weeks.
    (wonder why we never see anything like this on MSM or from govt. updates?)

    But then I guess we must remember that Covid-19 is a special way of dying.

  • 93 The Investor September 29, 2020, 7:51 pm

    @Algernond — It’s clear that the rate of increase in cases/deaths is the worry, not the position over the past few weeks. Taking a “hardly anyone is dying so no worries” reading in early March would have been shown to be an extremely poor forecasting tool by end of May.

    The question is whether the rate of cases and deaths will keep increasing as we saw earlier this year, or whether it will plateau fairly early and then fall (particularly deaths).

    If the latter happens, especially in places like London that saw a lot of death in Round 1, then I’d agree we might consider standing down the panic stations. I still think this is a possibility.

    If on the other hand it continues to ramp up, then the ‘traditional’ view of the virus and our current state of resilience against it will have more legs.

    We’ll know by the end of October I suppose.

  • 94 Snowman September 29, 2020, 9:01 pm

    As I said earlier I’m ignoring the casedemic as it is impossible to know what’s going on there. It doesn’t matter if everbody tests positive if nobody is symptomatic, and nobody dies. For understanding the endemic dynamics only things to concentrate on are the hospitalisations and deaths (and a proper study into the sequelae is sensible)

    Here is the graph of England covid-19 hospital deaths by date of death (7 day average), last few days left out/slightly adjusted because deaths not reported will add in to the bars.


    It’s an astonishing graph. Such a smooth increase and fall from the peak. You’d almost think that all those non-pharmaceutical interventions made next to no difference wouldn’t you!

    I don’t think a surfer would call it a second wave, more likely to call it a ripple if they noticed it at all.

    Still early days of course, and that apparent easing off may well be genuinely misleading and turn into a surfable wave. but I’m not seeing any sign of exponential growth there, and there’s no epidemiological reason to expect exponential growth. Haven’t studied the hospitalisation data, but if that stabilises that will be encouraging.

  • 95 Brod September 29, 2020, 9:03 pm

    @xxd09 – Yes, I am aware that care is rationed. Please don’t be so patronising.

    But we both know people who say “I was being public spirited” will be those demanding the most if they get Covid-19. Just look at the fuss over giving up free TV licences or removing the pensions triple lock.

  • 96 Prometheus September 29, 2020, 9:21 pm

    You know what we need right now, yes!

    A referendum on our response to Covid….

    I’m sure that will unite the country…..

  • 97 Sparschwein September 29, 2020, 10:33 pm

    @Algernond – as I said, I saw this video from some UKIP bloke yesterday (or ex-UKIP, now leader of some other extremist group apparently). That’s what I was referring to.

    My point is how extremely politicised such technical matters have become. Why are we even discussing PCR? That’s the key question.
    It is a very common diagnostic method that has been used for decades. Normally, it is a matter for a few molecular biology wonks; but now, some people in the general public were made to think that there was something nefarious about PCR testing.
    People were *made* to think that.
    Such disinformation narratives don’t just “happen”, they are actively created and spread.

    And my observation is that the sources of the most egregious disinformation are far-right. Libertarians, the infamous Hoover institute, the UK billionaire press, UKIP, Trumpists, AfD in Germany etc.
    They spread this stuff, and all sorts of people might fall for it.

    As a sidenote, through August I read the FAZ, a staunchly conservative, pro-business etc newspaper in Germany and their coverage of all things Covid was absolutely excellent. They report the scientific consensus as far as it goes, and delve into the matters of true (true!) debate where appropriate, and regularly get the details right.

    A common problem with UK media is that fringe voices such as Gupta or Heneghan are blown up into an “experts say earth is round but some say it is flat” narrative:

    So if anyone reads German I’d absolutely recommend the FAZ.
    Otherwise, start with the journalistic parts of Nature and Science and anything from Ed Yong at the Atlantic.

  • 98 Sparschwein September 30, 2020, 12:33 am

    @Jonathan B – we can go into all sorts of technical details but I doubt that it is of much help here. The key point is that qPCR has been established for various infectious disease diagnostics for decades. It is very useful to track infections at the aggregate level (country-wide or local) as well as individuals who are likely infectious. It is cheap and can be deployed at massive scale.

    So, what should really be discussed is how Germany, South Korea, Taiwan and other countries have built efficient high throughput test-and-trace systems that helped them do better than the UK *both* in number of deaths *and* in the economy.

    The UK is still bungling this up. There are many reports that people cannot get tests even when they are symptomatic or otherwise high-priority; or they are made to drive hundreds of miles.
    When I was in Germany last month, I got a test within a few hours. From the local GP a few miles from home.

    *That’s* what really matters and we should hold the government accountable for.
    High throughput testing with fast turnaround.
    A contact tracing system that works.
    Support for those who need to isolate.
    Shorten quarantine (10 days sufficient apparently; or re-test every few days until negative).
    Let people meet & exercise outside – low risk.
    Enforce masks inside esp. where crowded – high risk.
    Ban potential super-spreader events.
    Prioritise opening schools over less important things – bars, pubs, parties, football etc

  • 99 ZXSpectrum48k September 30, 2020, 1:26 am

    What I find most disturbing is that people seem to lose sight of the fact pandemics are patently fat tailed events. It’s built into their exponential nature. So while pandemics represent an existential risk, in most scenarios (the body of the probability distribution and what is “modally” most likely to occur) the outcome will not be at all existential.

    The problem is that both sides, but especially the critics, just keep wanting to thinking in terms of point forecasts and modal outcomes. It violates probability theory and it’s just useless in a fat-tailed domain. You can’t expect scientists to make point forecasts under fat-tailed distributions. You can only forecast distributional properties.

    The risk management of pandemics should therefore be concerned with suppressing the risk of tails and extrema (that is where the signal resides), not focussing on modal outcomes (which are basically noise). Worryingly, many don’t see to recognize the obvious point that if the risk management is successful, you won’t ever see that tail event. They then argue that the countermeasures were unnecessary!

  • 100 Richard September 30, 2020, 7:01 am

    Testing turnaround needs to improve, esp as we head into the winter seasons. Kids will get colds and with this coughs and a cough causes panic. Even 24 hour turn around means two days off school, and remember the whole household needs to isolate until the results come back, so two days off for siblings and parents if they can’t work from home. Kids that come home with a cold every week or so means a lot of time off. I feel like kids should get priority testing with same day turn around at least. Perhaps roll out PCR to all schools (sure science teachers could handle it 😉 ).

  • 101 Algernond September 30, 2020, 10:36 am

    Hi @ZXSpectrum48k – ‘…if the risk management is successful, you won’t ever see that tail event’. The tail-event is not not the only measure of success is it. There’s the increased deaths of other causes and quality of life impact (much discussed on this blog); I’m sure you understand this and I’ve probably mis-interpreted what you are saying, but it’s astonishing how many people still approach this from the ‘if it just saves one life’ argument.

    @Richard – As I posted above, is Covid19 a special way of dying? Why do you want to bring in even more testing specifically for a virus which sank below Flu/Pneumonia deaths in June is now part of the viral baseline mix?

    @Sparschwein – I get the feeling it would be a long hard slog to agree on definitions of left or right extremism with you, so I’ll not attempt it.
    I’m also not sure that the definition of ‘fringe voices’ are those that are ignored by the govt. or their advisors at this time. A letter signed by a rather long list of these ‘fringe’ scientists / medics / legal experts was sent to the UK govt. last week.
    Thanks for the recommended reading though; something to look forward to at the weekend.

  • 102 Richard September 30, 2020, 10:48 am

    @Algernond – I didn’t say I want to bring in more testing. But if we are going to insist (and I mean schools etc) on testing everyone who has a cough then it should be quick to minimse disruption. I would be quite happy they took my word that it is a cold but they are managing the risks as they have been told to, meanwhile children miss out on their education.

  • 103 The Investor September 30, 2020, 10:59 am

    it’s astonishing how many people still approach this from the ‘if it just saves one life’ argument.

    @Algernond — I think the opposite view is being expressed, which is what @ZX is saying some people don’t grasp. It’s not (necessarily) that lockdown is worth it if it saves one life, or even one ‘net’ life.

    It’s that the future shape of the pandemic is unknowable, but there are scenarios where a lot of people (tens/hundreds of thousands) die.

    Say (making this up, obviously) that is a 10% probability event, and we don’t know how to avoid that 10% likely outcome for sure.

    In this case, a lockdown that 90% of the time perhaps wasn’t necessary might be justified, if it significantly reduces / removes the risk of that mass death event (/fat tail).

    I’ve never been convinced that’s what we likely face, though my conviction has certainly waxed and waned over the past six months as new developments have unfolded.

    But it’s very coherent intellectual argument. And important to recognize and understand it, even if one aims to refute it (or at least decide lockdown is still not worth it).

  • 104 Duncurin September 30, 2020, 12:51 pm

    The valiant may never taste of death but once but I do get the impression that death by Covid-19 is rather unpleasant, as opposed to pneumonia which used to be called the old man’s friend.

    Sensible article by Tom Chivers assessing progress here: https://unherd.com/2020/09/has-covid-become-less-dangerous/ . One for next week’s list no doubt.

  • 105 Snowman September 30, 2020, 2:03 pm

    There are tail risks also of locking down, for example the tail risk of societal collapse as more freedoms are taken away. And then there’s the tail risk of a rushed vaccine turning out not to be safe (n.b. not anti-vax, have had all jabs, advise others to get MMR jabs etc).

    Even if we use TI’s figure of 10% (way too high I say, albeit TI is using it to illustrate), and let’s say that it is a 10% chance of 400,000 (most older or with comorbidities, each death sad of course) dying of covid-19 if we don’t lockdown and 90% chance of around 40,000 dying of covid-19 if we don’t lockdown. And let’s assume that lockdowns would completely stop all covid-19 deaths. And let’s use the earlier complete guess of 75,000 indirect deaths because of the lockdown.

    Then the expected loss of life through not locking down is (0.1 x 400,000 + 0.9 x 40,000) = 76,000 deaths

    And the expected loss of life through locking down is 75,000, almost exactly the same.

    So you are having to make the ridiculous assumption that the lockdown stops all covid-19 direct deaths to make lockdown look vaguely reasonable. And even then the people you are killing though lockdown arguably lose more years of life on average (e.g. suicides, young cancer deaths etc) than those you kill by not locking down.

    Then look at the scatter plot of severity of lockdown and covid-19 deaths per mille and there is no obvious association. And so you are already struggling to argue lockdown saves any lives at all, that would have been taken by covid, let alone all lives. But you need lockdown to prevent ALL covid-19 deaths as an assumption to balance the books.

    Of course these figures of the non-lockdown tail risk are completely made up. Known unknowns and unknown unknowns are difficult to probabilitise, and you can’t really test your probabilities, because the tail risk event is such a low probability event. So yes you can tweek the figures and argue 400,000 is too low and 75,000 is too high and 10% is too low and get a different result etc. But you can get a feel for the heroic assumptions you need to make to justify lockdown.

    I’m guessing @ZXspectrum has been reading some Nassim Taleb who has been putting forward these sort of ideas on the covid response and tail risks. Taleb seems to have completely lost it sadly. You can check out what he is saying (I think he is talking about the risks of covid-19 wiping out all civilisation) and take your own view on whether he has lost it completely or whether he is making an important point.

    I’ve read Taleb’s books, found them useful, and have agreed with a massive chunk of what’s he’s said over the years, for example on black swan events. My favoutite investing book of all time is Benoit Mandelbrot’s; Misbehaviour of Markets, A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin and Reward.

    So you can tell from my reading I’m not saying tail risks aren’t important. I’m just saying you shouldn’t overly base policy on tail risk. Let’s look at an investing analogy with a tail risk.

    I have invested in the stock market for years, despite the risks that a fractal return distribution implies for returns, i.e that I may lose all or a large amount of the amount invested (relative to inflation) even if I invest for 30+ years. But the alternative of not investing is likely to be a worse option than taking the tail risk that I lose money.

  • 106 ZXSpectrum48k September 30, 2020, 2:53 pm

    @Snowman. Why would I need to books by Taleb? I’m pretty conversant in these methods after two and half decades of using them. There’s a huge literature out there.

    In fact I haven’t talked to him or even seen him since he left the options trading circuit in 2004 or so. I agree that he might have drunk a bit too deeply of his own hype but when enough people blow enough sunshine up your posterior that can happen. It’s unfortunate that he moved on from being an excellent option trader to restyling himself as some sort of philosopher-savant writing dumbed-down books.

    I’ve been in the fund he advises in small size for over a decade because I believe that maximal convexity hedging works. If you don’t believe in it, stick to the mediocrity of CAPM/diworsification. It’s what I do professionally, it’s generated great returns for 16 consecutive years and the less that do it, the longer it will still work for. Keeping picking up the pennies in front of the steamroller. I’m happy to ride on the steamroller.

  • 107 Snowman September 30, 2020, 3:09 pm


    Totally agree that the Capital Asset Pricing Model is nonsense, because I believe from memory that it requires an assumption that returns follow a symmetrical possibly normal distribution (sort of). And quite clearly they don’t. And don’t start me on mean variance optimisation.

    Which is why I think there is no such thing as an optimum portfolio.

    Haven’t got a clue what maximal convexity hedging is, but sounds interesting!

  • 108 Sparschwein September 30, 2020, 9:22 pm

    @Algernond – that letter you mentioned is actually a good example how certain media blow up fringe opinions to create the impression of a rift among scientists. The letter is from a short-ish and unimpressive list of authors with mostly irrelevant qualifications. What remains are the same outlier opinions that keep being mentioned – Gupta, Heneghan and a few others that are widely regarded as an embarrassment for their institutes.
    Balloux does good work on the genomics of SARS-CoV2, but his ideas about public health are a bit misguided.

    One should wonder why those certain media need to recycle the same few names over and over… clearly they cannot find anyone else with science-y credentials to support their political agenda.

    Here is a different letter that is very much worth reading, from relevant experts and largely in line with the scientific consensus:

  • 109 Sparschwein September 30, 2020, 9:38 pm

    @ZXSpectrum – is there some way for retail to access Universa?

    To start another controversial topic – I too think that 60/40 is dead, we need a new approach, and hedge funds or options strategies are probably part of the answer.

  • 110 Algernond September 30, 2020, 10:27 pm

    @Sparschwein – Thanks. Just read the letter. Seems that it fits your narrative, and the one last week from Gupta, Henghan et al, fits mine. I’m not sure how you are scoring the ‘fringe’ rating between the camps. Is it that BMJ automatically wins because it the BMJ?
    I haven’t seen any explanation of what is so special about this new(ish) strain of Coronavirus that warrants measures (causing death & societal devastation) not seen in our lifetimes when compared to lack of measures for previous viral outbreaks over the last few decades and normal seasonal flu peaks.
    Can you point me towards such an explanation & justification?

    According to the ONS website, 11% of deaths this year are related to Covid-19, and Flu/Pneumonia 13% – as I’m sure you would not disagree, a rather sizable proportion of the 11% Covid-19 would have been in the Flu/Pneumonia category instead or in the near future had Covid-19 not been in existence.
    The bulk of the (fat-tailed) mortality distribution was in April & May. For August + first-half of September Covid-19 was related to 1.2% of all deaths (OK, it’s gone up to 1.5% for the last week). Why are we so obsessed with something which is of extreme low risk to the healthy and may potentially show a few ripples as it gets lost in the viral baseline? Are the other 98.5% ways of dying not as important?
    I’m all for improving care home management and giving advice to those at risk so that they can make an informed choice of lifestyle, but again, where’s the justification for the current measures?

  • 111 Snowman October 1, 2020, 8:04 am

    Think you may find this twitter post interesting:


    ‘Did some basic analysis of the ONS data for respiratory mortality over the last 5 yrs. If you include coronavirus this year (save Mar/Apr, when it first struck) is not notably different, with cv taking up the 10% drop in other respiratory mortality analysis’.

    Haven’t looked at that carefully, but would like to see that data analysed more by others as we do need to see if we have about the same amount of seasonal respiratory illness going on with covid-19, it’s just the new ripple of covid-19 is taking a bit of a share of that normal activity.

    Does seem to be a lot of scientific group think going on. What must be remembered is that scientific ‘truth’ doesn’t work on a consensus of whether more scientists believe theory A or theory B and censoring those who put forward theory B. It works by using experiments and data to prove and disprove theories.

    Just look historically at Ignaz Semmelweis’s work that hand-washing could reduce the incidence of fever. Unfortunately his ideas were counter to the established scientific and medical opinions of the time and his ideas were rejected by the medical community

    There will be other examples where lone voices, will have had scientific ideas rejected by the scientific community and it turns out the scientific community were right and the ideas had no basis.

    But this sort of failure to do science has happened time and time again over the years and has stopped those ideas that have basis becoming established. It is scary that Gabriela Gomes and Prof Sunetra Gupta are struggling to get their papers published simply because it is deemed dangerous to suggest there is some community immunity out there. Surely you allow the papers to be published and then you allow others to pick up how these papers are wrong if they are wrong. And if they are partially wrong you try and improve on them.

    Meanwhile in Sweden……..

  • 112 Algernond October 1, 2020, 10:09 am

    Thanks @Snowman – I see Ivor Cummins is in on that thread again. It’s data analysis such as this and other quite simple looks at the data that make me think it’s not flippant to say the pandemic was over during June.
    We don’t see any simple analysis of this kind presented from govt./SAGE at all. I’m of the opinion that if restrictions that cause significant damage to life & society are going to be implemented, then some honest effort needs to be made to justify them by presenting actual analysis; every single engineering decision at my work has to be justified with sound data analysis, so why not govt./SAGE at this time? If the analysis has been done, then I can only assume it hasn’t been shared because it isn’t terrifying enough (call me cynical).

    As @TI says, we’ll know even more end of October. It’s just that every day the debacle continues, is another day where more people’s lives are being needlessly ruined or adversely affected.

  • 113 Duncurin October 1, 2020, 12:22 pm

    @Sparschwein – thank you for the link to Trish Greenhalgh’s letter in the BMJ. When I was a GP I admired her wise, thoughtful and well-informed writings over many years. This appears to be another such.

  • 114 Snowman October 1, 2020, 12:58 pm


    Spoke to Ivor Cummins at the Real Food Rocks last year, ever so nice bloke as well as being a brilliant analyst. He was on the excellent Telegraph podcast


  • 115 The Investor October 1, 2020, 3:09 pm

    There’s a very interesting article in The Atlantic today, which I will include in tomorrow’s links.

    It appeals to my prejudices because it puts front-and-centre the intriguing question I’ve asked from very near the start – why is *this* big city getting a mega outbreak and *that* big city not, despite similar-ish looking characteristics?

    It suggests the answer is partly just luck, because of the nature of this kind of virus and a concept called “over-dispersion”.

    We even get a new variable! (k)

    Well worth a read for virus heads:

    To return to the mysteries of this pandemic, what did happen early on to cause such drastically different trajectories in otherwise similar places? Why haven’t our usual analytic tools—case studies, multi-country comparisons—given us better answers? It’s not intellectually satisfying, but because of the overdispersion and its stochasticity, there may not be an explanation beyond that the worst-hit regions, at least initially, simply had a few unlucky early super-spreading events. It wasn’t just pure luck: Dense populations, older citizens, and congregate living, for example, made cities around the world more susceptible to outbreaks compared with rural, less dense places and those with younger populations, less mass transit, or healthier citizenry. But why Daegu in February and not Seoul, despite the two cities being in the same country, under the same government, people, weather, and more? As frustrating at it may be, sometimes, the answer is merely where Patient 31 and the megachurch she attended happened to be.


  • 116 Grumpy Old Paul October 1, 2020, 3:57 pm

    @The Investor,
    I saw that yesterday and was going to post a link but you beat me to it! Food for thought and a much more convincing explanation of the difference between countries and between comparable cities than ‘dark matter’.
    If correct, it implies that a radical change to our track and trace priorities is required.

  • 117 Algernond October 1, 2020, 11:13 pm

    @Snowman – that for podcast link – fascinating interview with Ivor Cummins. As he says, ‘we stopped following the science, even when we had the data’. So much clarity, and good quotes also!
    Sunetra Gupta, is on the new Spectator podcast with Andrew Neil this week. Worth a listen to.

    @TI – Interesting Atlantic link. They seem to have missed what appears to be an inverse correlation of Covid deaths with strength of preceding Flu season within different countries (highlighted by Ivor Cummins) – see 8:20 into his video that I mentioned earlier:
    This could apply to regions, within countries also.
    Multi-factor stuff…

  • 118 Vanguardfan October 2, 2020, 11:02 am

    I imagine this should make today’s links, but if not, here’s a link to the latest population based study of virus prevalence (much better for assessing where we actually are than the testing programme)

    Notable that infections in London starting to accelerate (from a low base).

  • 119 Snowman October 2, 2020, 2:30 pm

    An interesting twitter thread for those who still need convincing that the UK first wave didn’t involve exponential growth. In reality it wasn’t exponential from a very early and low level of deaths


    From the official data (that ONS graph in Pishpish Cat’s tweet) you can see that the doubling time was increasing steadily from a very early point in the death curve, and early time point. And doubling time increasing steadily is another way of saying that while the growth rate is positive it is declining steadily.

    The importance of this is to point out how Vallance’s continuing talk of exponential growth is complete nonsense. In reality growth was declining well before we locked down in the first wave, in fact it had even gone negative at that point. So there is no reason to suspect exponential growth now, and certainly Vallance has given no plausible reason.

    The reason deaths got high in the first wave was that growth was quite high (40% per day region at one point) and although the growth wasn’t constant, instead falling, and so not exponential, it was still high for a long period.

    The maximum growth we are seeing in deaths at the moment is about 10% per day and based on the curve shape this may possibly be showing signs it is falling like it did in the first wave (it’s certainly not obviously increasing).

    And the difference between 40% (and decreasing) growth in the first wave and 10% growth (and possibly decreasing soon?) is huge. That’s why the shape of the death graph at the moment based on any sensible projection indicates we are experiencing a ripple and not a second wave. But obviously we will have to see what happens.

  • 120 Snowman October 2, 2020, 2:55 pm

    The weekly Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey pilot: England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 2 October 2020 has been released


    Encouraging that they say

    ‘There is uncertainty around the incidence rate for England in the most recent period; there is some limited evidence that the incidence rate may be levelling off following steep increases during August and September, however the wide credible intervals mean it is too early to say’

  • 121 Al Cam October 2, 2020, 5:29 pm

    @Vanguardfan & @Snowman
    AFAICT, the REACT study and the ONS document both broadly cover the same period. However, unless I have misread them, they report apparently rather different prevalence rates – roughly 400,000 and 100,000 respectively. Any thoughts/suggestions?

  • 122 Barn Owl October 2, 2020, 6:34 pm

    “The importance of this is to point out how Vallance’s continuing talk of exponential growth is complete nonsense. ”

    @Snowman Sorry I am with Sir Patrick Vallance all the way. The data from UK cases and deaths is the super position of many factors: test capacity, delayed reporting, incorrect reporting, the effect of changes of behaviour due to government interventions and people getting worried.

    If endless data analysis does not show an exponential rise, that does not prove that the unchecked spread would not be exponential. Thank God we do not have unchecked spread.

    What the epidemiologists are saying is that, unchecked, the spread will be exponential because each person that gets it spread it to R people. If that happens it’s a mathematical certainty that the growth will be exponential. Furthermore the studies of the number of people that have immunity show that it is consistently low so far.

    I am not expecting to persuade you of this :-).

  • 123 Algernond October 2, 2020, 9:25 pm

    @Barn Owl.
    Please do ask yourself what is so special about this virus strain, that we’ll see exponential growth for the first time ever known (infections or death). Really not sure why people are so taken in with the Govt./ SAGE / Media propaganda campaign.

    It’s all very interesting getting involved in epidemiological theory. However, really only need to check in with the ONS latest update once per week, and ask why is society being radically altered without consent for a strain which is now just part of the viral baseline:

    (thinks that’s all I’ll do from now on)

  • 124 The Investor October 2, 2020, 10:07 pm

    @Algernond — You’re just repeating yourself (and links I think now?) As has been said several times on this thread, the issue isn’t how many people the virus is killing today, it’s where it’s going. That’s why the debate about growth rates are so important. If it’s not growing much or plateauing then yes, it’s just part of the noise. If it’s growing rapidly (and what is “so special” is obviously that it’s new, so there’s little certain inherent immunity to start with) then that’s different.

  • 125 Snowman October 2, 2020, 10:24 pm

    @AI Cam

    From a very quick glance at the REACT study, I see the same discrepancy as you, and I can’t immediately explain it, sorry, although it could be something obvious.

    The ZOE covid symptom study was showing about 120,000 for the UK had SYMPTOMATIC covid in the UK at 21st September (there is a sampling swab element in their study so it’s fairly comparable). Would an average person have symptoms for about a week perhaps, so that could be compared allowing for the asymptomatic and slightly different geographic region. And so ZOE would suggest a significantly higher figure than the ONS also?

  • 126 Vanguardfan October 2, 2020, 10:48 pm

    The React study has a much bigger sample size, and the studies have different sampling frames (ie the way they select participants). It’s hard to know how that might affect the types of people who are selected and (crucially) who decide to take part.
    But it is hard to accurately measure something which is a) changing rapidly and b) quite highly spatially clustered. In fact it’s possibly not that meaningful to think about a single overall prevalence rate, given large variations geographically.
    But the consistency in trends between the studies is reassuring, as is the hint that transmission may be turning a corner, likely in response to the new restrictions and reversion to wfh etc. Though my own region looks pretty alarming in the latest ONS survey…and it’s slightly depressing facing a winter largely confined to zoom socialising.

  • 127 Al Cam October 3, 2020, 12:10 am

    @Snowman & @Vanguardfan
    Thanks for your thoughts.
    I had also spotted that the trends are very similar across the two studies – and yes I agree that the disease appears to be developing quickly and geographically clustered. But, even allowing for that, a ratio of 4:1 still surprises me, especially given that both studies essentially examine the same period (offset by two days if I recall correctly). Furthermore, their reported confidence levels come nowhere near to accounting for this level of difference.

  • 128 Al Cam October 3, 2020, 1:43 am

    @Snowman & @Vanguardfan:
    One thing that may come into play is that the ONS study seems, I think, to be a longitudinal survey (testing the same people over time) with additional cohorts added as the study progresses, whereas the REACT study explicitly states that it uses random sampling.
    The best clue I could find to the ONS frame is at Table 4 in the accompanying dataset, see: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/datasets/coronaviruscovid19infectionsurveydata

  • 129 Vanguardfan October 3, 2020, 7:22 am

    I agree it’s curious. I’d also picked up on the longitudinal nature of the ons study, but on my reading (if you look at the actual linked protocol), it’s a rolling cross sectional survey, new cohorts are added each week, and within each cohort they do longitudinal follow ups. That’s how they can estimate incidence as well as prevalence, but I think the prevalence figures are based on the initial swabbing of each new cohort. I wondered if that might mean that the recruitment for ONS would be more likely to be biased as it requires more commitment. A common and fairly intractable issue with all large scale observational studies is that people who participate are not representative of people who choose not to take part. You can easily see that diligent risk averse middle aged low risk individuals are more likely to do their swabbing than youngsters busy with illegal raves 😉
    But that again is an issue that should affect both studies. Dunno. It would be interesting to know what the investigators think.
    I’m inclined to lean more towards React as it’s bigger.

  • 130 Al Cam October 3, 2020, 8:24 am

    I did read through the ONS protocol, but found it disappointingly unclear. For example, is the follow-up continuous [until the survey ends] or limited to five consecutive weekly tests plus one a year later or something else? Normally, I find ONS reports to be clearly written and generally unambiguous. I also noted that the protocol is developing over time – IIRC the protocol is now at issue 5.
    Some other things that struck me were:
    a) the earliest survey invitees were all previously known to the ONS – but that has seemingly changed as time has gone on; and
    b) the focus on acquiring new participants from areas with reportedly high infection rates.
    As Alice might say: “curiouser and curiouser”!

  • 131 Al Cam October 3, 2020, 8:39 am

    And the following from the REACT study might be relevant:
    “Also, it is possible that some of the recent rise in prevalence may be explained by difficulties in obtaining a PCR test through the routine testing programme. This is supported by the prevalence of people without symptoms on the day of testing or week before being lower in the most recent round compared to previous rounds.”
    However, the report then goes on to explain this away – although some of the evidence called upon is “not shown”.

    Who really knows?

  • 132 Snowman October 3, 2020, 9:08 am

    @AI Cam

    Thanks, really interesting attempts to analyse what is going on based on limited information. Can’t add anything of use.

    My mum was invited to take part in the ONS sampling at the beginning of this because she had taken part in an ONS survey previously, I think it was last year. She didn’t want someone coming round to her house so declined. I think they had a big problem particularly recruiting older age groups. Changes of prevalence in older age groups are both quite important and subject to most selection bias I would guess.

    Have to think there must be a lot of useful information in the longitudinal follow ups, as you can study what is going on with those who test positive for months because of say viral fragments (but of course you would want the cycle threshold at which the test becomes positive to be recorded too). I tried to work out what the ONS were doing a while back but gave up.

  • 133 Al Cam October 3, 2020, 10:43 am

    Interesting feedback re ONS.
    It is a shame that it appears, at least to us, rather opaque!
    I think there is potentially a lot going on there too and there are some smart folks helping them out too.
    As it happens, I know somebody who did a one-off test for the REACT study.

    However, the discrepancy in the two sets of broadly comparable prevalence results seems odd – and I just wonder if/how this is reflected in other testing results?

    I suspect the discrepancy is probably down to some form of systematic difference – which could include the survey design but also the actual testing chains from the basic swabs, swabbing method, transportation, test labs, thresholds, etc, etc. IMO, the testing chains are even more of a black box.

  • 134 Snowman October 3, 2020, 11:04 am

    @Barn Owl

    Epidemiological models that assume that nobody is immune or pretty much nobody is immune (even if they’ve encountered the virus) and passes it onto say 3 (if R0 is 3) simply haven’t worked to describe how new respiratory viruses initially spread and later become endemic. Look at the swine flu models for example. There are many reasons for that, not least there turns out to be significant existing immunity, and the infection fatality rate is usually overestimated at the start because you are only counting the cases where people are say hospitalised. And community immunity slows down the exponential growth.

    Then look at the pandemic curves during the first wave and notice again that the exponential models described above don’t work. And notice how the shape of the curves is roughly the same for countries at the same latitude who did and didn’t lockdown (e.g. UK vs Sweden). And then look at the 20+ studies that provide an explanation as to why some community immunity might exist and slow the growth, albeit don’t prove why there is immunity out there, and so explain why growth isn’t exponential. Another excellent one came out in the past few days that indicated as many as 80% might have some immunity now through T cells.

    Even if we’ve got it wrong and there is no community immunity out there, you still need to provide an explanation as to what stopped the growth in infections in the first wave in countries such as Sweden.

    But you are saying that regardless of how much data analysis there is to show that as per previous new respiratory viruses the exponential growth model doesn’t work at all, and despite how much data analysis there is that the current seasonal uptick isn’t getting out of control, we should still base policy on exponential growth. And if lockdown measures result in say 20,000, 50,000 or 75,000 indirect preventable non-covid19 deaths now and all sorts of societal damage as well that is OK?

    It’s like saying I need to drive my car today to an important hospital appointment which I can only attend by driving. But I might be involved in a fatal accident while driving there, albeit I know through data analysis of past journeys the risk is very small. But because there is an accident risk I won’t drive there because if I die that’s terrible, even though the risk of me dying from the illness for which hospital treatment is sought is much greater.

    You might think after not attending that hospital appointment, thank God I didn’t drive and die in an accident on the way. It’s not surprising I don’t buy that logic.

  • 135 The Investor October 3, 2020, 11:58 am

    @Snowman — Genuine question: How do you explain the large second wave in Madrid right now? As you know I am sympathetic to the higher immunity than generally perceived the argument, but Madrid is a challenge to that.

  • 136 The Investor October 3, 2020, 11:59 am

    *higher immunity

  • 137 Vanguardfan October 3, 2020, 12:24 pm

    Regarding Sweden. Spoke to my Swedish colleague recently, the main thing that they are doing differently is that they have not relaxed their social distancing advice. They always presented it as a long term change that needed to be liveable with, and they haven’t changed that approach.
    So life is like this: there is a legal limit on gatherings of more than 50. Restaurants are open but with table service only. Theatres and performances remain closed. Over 70s are advised to limit social contact (she has not seen her elderly relatives since February). Choirs cannot practice. Everyone who can work from home does so, and work has changed to dramatically reduce face to face meetings. Commuting is by bike.

    A quick read of the regulations ( https://www.krisinformation.se/en/hazards-and-risks/disasters-and-incidents/2020/official-information-on-the-new-coronavirus )
    suggests quite a few other social distancing measures – limits to numbers in shops and restaurants and on public transport, and advising against social gatherings. Also, crucially imo, there is a great emphasis on staying off work if you feel even the slightest bit of work, and there is adequate financial support to do so. Most employees receive sick pay at 80% of full pay, and those not eligible receive a payment of around £60-70 per day. (https://www.forsakringskassan.se/privatpers/sjuk/anstalld/sjukpenning/!ut/p/z1/fc9NC4JAEAbgX-PVGVst6baUaFpoCGl7CY1tldQVP7Kfn1QnKec2w_MOM8AgBlYlj1wkXS6rpBj7M1tedGe70ewNemgZFKnlnSzH32sWIRC9Af4pisDm8yGvxh1sltn6PDhoqykwbWIgPQYa0f2F64b4BTOHusBEIdPP07RKiSmANfzGG96ofTOOs66r27WCCg7DoAopRcHVq1T7u4K_QplsO4inFuoyfu7yoIzMlr4AMqrNgA!!/dz/d5/L2dBISEvZ0FBIS9nQSEh/ ) Contrast that with our SSP of £95 per week, and pretty much nothing for those not eligible for SSP.

    So it’s quite wrong to think of Sweden as somewhere with no social distancing restrictions. What they have avoided is the flip flopping ‘go to work/don’t go to work – stay at home/eat out to help out’ that we seem trapped in.

  • 138 Vanguardfan October 3, 2020, 12:26 pm

    ‘Slightest bit unwell’ that should read.

  • 139 Snowman October 3, 2020, 1:16 pm

    Here’s an 18th September CEBM article on Spain. So a bit out of date now.


    But near the top you will see a link to ‘deaths by date of death from the Spanish government’ that opens a spreadsheet which includes data for Madrid. Quickly turning that into a graph gives the following


    Ignore the big down bit at the end because that is presumably to do with deaths that have occurred but have not been reported yet. However it looks like deaths may flatten out under the current uptick at about 50 deaths vs nearly about 350 at the first peak.

    I guess it depends how you define large, but it still looks like just a seasonal increase in viral deaths consistent with what you would see during a normal autumn/winter season.

    I think Witty and Vallance were asked at the latest briefing to explain the regional variations that are going on here at the moment. They didn’t answer the question at all.

    It is easy to hypothesise that London was hit hard in the first wave and so there was a bigger herd immunity threshold overshoot that went on, hence why London is relatively unaffected by the uptick, so although we cycle in and out of herd immunity it’s taking a bit longer for London to cycle back out again.

    But then you have the South West who you might expect to be hit hardest now relatively because it was least hit in the first wave, and through all the tourists mixing with locals in Cornwall and Devon, and yet the exact opposite is the case so far.

    So accurate prediction of where will be hardest hit under the current uptick is pretty difficult to do. It just looks like nowhere will the current increase get anywhere near the levels of the first (based on data at the moment).

    The ‘illusion of control’ at the moment is particularly noticeable and that seems to be part of the we must do something major or it will spiral out of control exponentially thinking. You hear government ministers and scientists continually say things like ‘we will wait until our measures take affect’, and if there is a drop ‘that must be a sign our measures are working’ and if there is an increase ‘people can’t be following our restrictions’ but they can’t conceive of the possibility that their measures may have only limited or even no affect.

    You would expect in the UK local lockdowns areas to be showing a reduction in infection levels towards average country wide levels just because of reversion to the mean, and this would be amplified if local lockdown measures were working. But broadly speaking this reversion isn’t happening as far as I can see.

  • 140 Sparschwein October 3, 2020, 3:09 pm

    @TI – cases are going up again in other places too that were previously hard-hit. And that’s despite government measures and the persistent behavioural changes. This is incompatible with the idea that we are anywhere near “herd immunity”.
    An epidemiologist explains it here:

    The idea that there was any widespread pre-existing immunity has always been nothing more than an adventurous speculation with hardly any data to back it up.
    While there is a huge amount of data from dozens of serology studies that all show we are far away from “herd immunity”.

  • 141 Vanguardfan October 3, 2020, 6:49 pm

    I don’t know about Spain, but in the UK our flu season is generally much later than September…that’s why the flu vaccination programme is in October/November.
    And it would be staggering(ly incompetent) if we (or Spain) reached death rates similar to March. It would represent complete failure to learn anything. The whole point of tracking the cases is because (as in that article you cite) they are a leading indicator of mortality and morbidity. So rising cases should trigger action, since the aim is actually to prevent death, rather than merely observe it happening.
    I do agree that the local lockdowns have not been particularly effective. I think this is because local experts are still not being given the powers and resources they need to investigate and contain outbreaks, and also because the messaging about what types of activity we most need to avoid has been extremely inconsistent.

  • 142 Snowman October 4, 2020, 8:19 am

    Some amazing charts here, especially the first one


    The fifth chart, Sweden all cause mortality is also interesting as it shows the outcome of implementing sensible policies on all cause mortality, and it puts the current covid-19 impact in context, for example in comparison with the 1918-20 Spanish flu.

    So when people say it is only because of the lockdowns that we have avoided a Spanish flu type sort of outcome, you look at that and could think ‘I don’t think so’

    I know a lot of people personally thinking like myself at the moment. And none of them think we should or should have done nothing. So this political language suggesting some people want to ‘let it rip’ is irritating as it misrepresents the position of the majority opposing lockdowns, and misrepresents the likely outcome of strategies such as in Sweden . The point isn’t that Sweden did nothing, it is that they took and are taking sensible precautions that has and is allowing a pretty normal sort of life to go on. By their own admission, they didn’t protect care homes, so their strategy wasn’t without errors, but overall their strategy looks like it will be vindicated. Let’s first see what happens over the Winter in Sweden, but I’m expecting just small upticks and ripples of viral deaths in Sweden (through covid-19 or influenza) akin to what we would normally see over Winter.

  • 143 The Investor October 4, 2020, 8:52 am

    @Snowman — Thanks for your earlier thoughts on Madrid. I suppose we will have to see how their second wave ultimately transpires to make any conclusions.

    On Sweden, you write:

    The point isn’t that Sweden did nothing, it is that they took and are taking sensible precautions that has and is allowing a pretty normal sort of life to go on. By their own admission, they didn’t protect care homes, so their strategy wasn’t without errors, but overall their strategy looks like it will be vindicated.

    Yes, this is the key. Sweden is sitting there as a counterfactual that you don’t have to experience a 15-20% decline in GDP and the near-complete cessation of social activity (full lockdown) to see a strong wave of Covid-19 abate. That does not mean you do not do nothing! (And equally, it does not mean you pretend the virus does not/did not exist.)

  • 144 Sparschwein October 5, 2020, 1:10 am

    Good idea to start learning from other countries. The other nordic countries that are quite comparable to Sweden all have a much lower death toll per capita than Sweden.
    As for GDP (change in Q2):
    United Kingdom -21.7%
    Sweden -8.3%
    Finland -5.2%
    Norway -5.3%
    Denmark -8.5%

    So why is the discussion still about “Sweden, Sweden, Sweden” and not Finland, Norway or Denmark?

    Actually a better comparison for the UK are larger countries such as:
    South Korea (GDP -3%)
    Germany (-11.7%)
    both with a small fraction of the UK’s death toll.

    The data actually suggests that generally those countries that controlled the pandemic well also do better economically.

  • 145 The Investor October 5, 2020, 10:59 am

    So why is the discussion still about “Sweden, Sweden, Sweden” and not Finland, Norway or Denmark?

    Sweden is an important counter-factual because it appears to have controlled the virus without a full lockdown. Yes, it still saw a recession but as commentators pointed out at the time (ironically, perhaps, in defending full lockdown) this was partly because in a global economy you can’t escape GDP drawdowns elsewhere.

    Perhaps if the world had followed the Swedish model, we’d have seen 3-5% GDP declines across Europe and the US, rather than 10-20%?

    Yes they paid a price with their deaths. I remain of the view that comparing one countries quantum of death with another is fraught with difficulty. See the ‘k’ article above, which puts science behind what’s long been apparent.

    Yes, Sweden still had social distancing. Agreed. Most people now have a more nuanced view of social distancing, but this was not the case in March. Many people were screaming for total lockdown, and chastising people for taking a walk in the woods etc. Apologies, I can’t remember your exact position, but I well remember because when I suggested multiple different approaches to social distancing could be better than full lockdown (based on my reading and intuition, not on being an epidemiologist) I was shouted down and even received emails from readers who said I clearly only cared about my portfolio value and was a heartless so-and-so and goodbye forever.

    Sweden doesn’t matter much if it sees another big wave of deaths. In that case it ‘bought’ nothing for its alternative path. But if the virus is just in the background there, and eventually goes away with a vaccine without another big wave, then in that case I’d say — with the benefit of hindsight — that its more measured and long-term approach would probably have done better for the world.

  • 146 Snowman October 5, 2020, 12:31 pm


    The scatter plots by country with degree of lockdown and covid-19 mortality per mille on the axes shows no obvious association between degree of lockdowns and deaths.

    What affects which countries have most deaths is clearly multi-factoral. Examples of things that potentially affect it are severity of prior flu season (the dry tinder affect), differences in criteria on whether a death is recorded as a covid-19 death, age profile of the population, population density and health profile of the country (e.g. vitamin D levels and metabolic health).

    In a multi-factorial scenario like that it is always going to be easy to selectively pick out two countries one who had a lockdown and one who didn’t where the country who had the lockdown had the higher deaths.

    Yes, we make the Sweden comparison with the UK, because we live in the UK. Perhaps we should caveat the comparison better by making it clearer that we aren’t basing our evaluation of the respective strategies solely based on the logic

    Sweden covid-19 deaths per mille < UK covid-19 deaths per mille + indirect deaths and indirect societal and economic affects massively worse in the UK, implies Sweden strategy is right.

    And you have a point there. But you can't then make your own selective compare based on a country's nearest neighbors because that helps your comparison, and ignore all the factors that clearly are associated with higher covid-19 deaths (e.g. less severe prior flu season) or logically imply more covid-19 deaths (e.g. weak criteria for recording a death as covid-19).

    There was a paper which attempted to explain why Sweden's covid-19 death toll was higher than its Nordic neighbours. One key factor from memory is that Sweden's nordic neighbours had a much harsher prior flu season than did Sweden. If you look at Sweden's all cause mortality over 2019 (adjusting for population size), it shows they had very low all cause mortality in 2019 relative to 2018 and 2017. In fact it looks like combined mortality for 2017 and 2018 will be about the same as combined mortality for 2019 and 2020.

  • 147 Snowman October 5, 2020, 2:57 pm

    The ’16 Possible Factors for Sweden’s High COVID Death Rate among the Nordics’ I mentioned


  • 148 Al Cam October 5, 2020, 9:33 pm

    @Vanguardfan & @Snowman:
    Re our previous discussion on “apparently rather different prevalence rates” between ONS Report and REACT Study, I guess IT screw ups could also be classified as a systematic difference, see e.g. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-54423988

    Every time I get a peek inside what I call “the testing chains black box” above I just shudder!

  • 149 Sparschwein October 6, 2020, 2:05 am

    I’d agree that it is quite difficult to compare countries. So an elaborate analysis of the (quite similar) nordic countries is needed to explain why Sweden’s result might be not quite as bad as it looks. Fair enough.
    So, if the superficial comparison between such *similar* neighbouring countries is misleading, then how can we make sweeping conclusions from comparing the quite *different* Sweden and the UK in this simplistic manner, # deaths SWE vs UK / GDP SWE vs UK, therefore SWE good, lockdown bad?

    And if we are interested in learning from other countries, the rational approach is to rank them by death rate and GDP impact, and look at all the countries that did better than the UK (that is, most countries). What did Finland and Norway right? I don’t know, but they clearly did better than both UK and Sweden, so that’s an obvious start for an investigation.

    For Germany and South Korea, a key success factor has been that they built a good testing and contact tracing system. Probably a key factor in other successful countries too.
    Public health experts have been pointing out how important test & trace is since the start of the pandemic. This is one element of good governance that we should hold the govt accountable for.

  • 150 Sparschwein October 6, 2020, 2:39 am

    The UK’s testing system has had serious disruptions since last month. The Economist reported this 3 weeks ago:
    I suppose this makes it hard to draw conclusions from the reported new case data, if results are delayed due to backlogs and many could not get a test at all.

    General trend is up though (percentage of positive tests):

  • 151 Vanguardfan October 6, 2020, 7:39 am

    Meanwhile back in the real world, I am told by frontline colleagues that they are now experiencing a surge in covid admissions. Some localities back to levels seen in the first wave, and some places about to cancel planned care/reconvert surge capacity. It is barely the first week of October. Not looking good for keeping education going (my personal priority, I realise others may consider other sectors more important). We cannot return to ‘normal’ levels of economic or social activity unless we keep transmission under control. Not the best time to lose 15,000 cases down the back of the sofa.

  • 152 The Investor October 6, 2020, 7:44 am

    @Sparschwein — from my perspective, you keep missing the elephant in the room with your responses.

    The key is that Sweden did not have a lockdown and to a great extent life went on.

    Yet the virus abated anyway.

    According to many people – including experts and politicians, and including many commentators on this site at the time — this should not have been possible. Sweden’s less rigorous response meant the virus ‘should’ have continued to spread and grow exponentially until most people in Sweden more or less had been through it. We would then, we were told, simply be able to multiply Sweden’s population by the presumed fairly high case fatality rate, to see a massive number of deaths.

    This did not happen. At all.

    So Sweden for me isn’t quantitatively different. It’s qualitatively different.

    I’m repeating myself, but that is why Sweden important.

  • 153 Vanguardfan October 6, 2020, 8:26 am

    @TI, and that’s why I keep trying to bring people back to first principles instead of simplistic lockdown/no lockdown arguments as though that is a binary switch.
    The virus spreads by contact between people. Changing behaviour to reduce the number of contacts that have transmission potential is the absolute key. The problem is it is rather difficult to directly measure this variable, hence we end up debating the laws and guidance, rather than their end effects. Sweden may not have had a legal stay at home/shelter in place order, but they clearly changed much behaviour. For example, many schools (not primaries) were closed for a period in March/April, even though there was no legal requirement to do so. They changed to working from home. Etc etc. We also changed behaviour before we were legally mandated to during the first wave. It also appears that we may have increase our transmission friendly contacts rather more rapidly in August/September.
    Local lockdowns may be ineffective because people are still connecting in ways that can transmit the virus, in sufficient numbers to keep the infection increasing. We don’t really know enough about what these are because our rather s**** contact tracing system doesn’t actually try to find where people become infected. However in my locality the local public health team have identified plenty of clusters around hospitality venues. Clearly university campuses are also an issue, the question is how far they are a closed system.

    The thing is, all ‘sides’ of the debate will eventually converge. All outbreaks and surges of infection subside as fewer susceptibles can be found. It’s all about the interaction between connection and susceptibility.
    All informed opinion I have encountered agrees that eventually Sars-Cov-2 will become endemic with seasonal surges. We don’t yet know what the longer term pattern will be because a) we don’t know how long it takes for immunity to fade and people to re-enter as susceptible and b) we don’t know what impact vaccination will have. We also don’t know how long it will take before we can manage the level of infection without needing social distancing to modify our ‘normal’ levels of connection to prevent large surges. Will it be spring 21? Will winter 21 also be difficult? I don’t know. At some point there will be an end, but it isn’t now.

  • 154 Vanguardfan October 6, 2020, 9:11 am

    I wonder if the thing Sweden got most right was priming their population for the long haul.
    We were told 12 weeks to ‘wrestle the mugger to the ground’, then ‘normal by Christmas’, now it’s 6 months more…
    No wonder we are fed up and impatient and distrustful.

  • 155 Al Cam October 6, 2020, 9:27 am

    Re “It also appears that we may have increase our transmission friendly contacts rather more rapidly in August/September.”
    Why the doubt? IMO this has been clear for many months.

    Furthermore, whilst I agree with your grading of the contact tracing system, it can only ever deliver useful results with a high degree of cooperation and honest disclosure from those contacted. From early on it seemed to me that this might be a challenge after I read in a PHE report that most of those infected early doors in a particular hotspot claimed that the only reason they had left their homes was to go to the supermarket! That should have provided a pretty good clue as to how things might just develop.

    For the system to work all the components (inc. the users) have to all play their part.

    So, as you so nicely put it “to lose 15,000 cases down the back of the sofa” may have grabbed the attention but IMO the real issues are much more fundamental.

  • 156 Snowman October 6, 2020, 9:59 am

    Deaths registered weekly in England and Wales, provisional: week ending 25 September 2020


    [start quote]
    In Week 39, the number of deaths registered was 2.7% above the five-year average (257 deaths higher)

    The numbers of deaths in hospitals and care homes were below the five-year average in Week 39 (416 and 71 fewer deaths respectively), while the number of deaths in private homes remained above the five-year average (749 more deaths).
    [end quote]

    The worrying excess home deaths trend continues. To put this 749 figure in context, there were 215 covid-19 deaths recorded for the week.

    To what extent are the excess home deaths people who aren’t being hospitalised but would probably have died in hospital had they been hospitalised, and to what extent is it deaths through the indirect consequences of covid-19?

    If you assume that the 416 fall in hospital deaths consist totally of people who have died at home instead and would have instead died in hospital had they been hospitalised, that still leaves you with 333 (= 749 – 416) excess home deaths vs 215 all settings covid-19 deaths.

    Some massive assumptions here of course. But the starting hypothesis is perhaps that more people are dying at home through not being able to access treatment than are dying of covid-19. And this is before we allow for all the other indirect deaths such as the extra medical deaths e.g. cancer deaths for example through missed diagnoses, screening and treatment delays, and through the affects on the economy that filter in over time.

    Has anyone seen any good analysis of what’s going on with these excess home deaths?

  • 157 Vanguardfan October 6, 2020, 11:03 am

    @Al Cam, yes the actual behaviour change achieved by test and trace is very small it appears. That’s because it’s ‘test and trace’ not ‘test, trace and support’. If you look at their weekly reports the flow chart stops at ‘contact reached and advised to isolate’ – that’s the easy bit, isn’t it? No follow up, no referral for support. How many people will stay home for two weeks if it means significant loss of income or potential loss of livelihood? Or if they have no means of getting food and provisions. Before you even get to the people who can’t really be bothered because they feel well and don’t think they are at risk of serious illness.
    This is clearly hopelessly inadequate, and again, local authorities have been left to pick up the pieces. Again, all this was well known by people who have experience of contact tracing. The hard part is helping to support people to do something that might actually be quite difficult for them.
    But I’m repeating myself too. I couldn’t believe that in all the income support schemes we never made provision for those asked to quarantine. (The current £500 scheme, not even sure if it is up and running yet, only applies to working people claiming means tested benefits)

  • 158 Al Cam October 6, 2020, 11:37 am

    I hear what you are saying, but please read para 1.5 of this report from way back in June:

    If people are not prepared to respond and cooperate ie be responsible for themselves (let alone others) in the face of an apparently life threatening disease I fail to see how offers of support would significantly improve things. However, I can imagine that such support could easily be seen to have unintended consequences – such as being perceived as “rewarding” people who have deliberately been irresponsible.
    A tricky path to navigate – but there is clearly so much more to this system than IT glitches. BTW, such incidents actually serve a purpose in so far as they divert attention away from the real fundamentals that have never been addressed. IMO, lessons should have been taken from previous successful behaviour changing campaigns such as seatbelts and more recently smoking in public places.

  • 159 Vanguardfan October 6, 2020, 2:18 pm

    I read that para, I think that rather proves my point? If people aren’t willing to cooperate, the question is why? Would you give full and frank information to some faceless bureaucrat if you thought it would land you, or worse, your mate, out of work?

    The test and trace system is designed without reference to the real world. It assumes that everyone is like me (and you?). And it assumes that all employers are fair and reasonable (and solvent). If I had to isolate, the only inconvenience would be having to ask my friends to do my shopping. It’s much easier to be responsible when the costs are trivial.

  • 160 Al Cam October 6, 2020, 3:52 pm

    I may be wrong, but my understanding was that this pilot was being done by local folks and not by the centralized T&T machine. In any case, your question is absolutely the correct one – I just disagree with your answer. IMO, rights come with responsibilities, and you cannot have one without the other! Having said that, what I find even more puzzling is that three months down the line no acceptable solution seems to have been found (or even sought) and a dumb IT screw-up grabs the headlines. Unbelievable……

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