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Burying the hatchet

by Frank Schnittger Mon Apr 13th, 2020 at 10:44:04 PM EST

The Belfast Telegraph, a staunchly unionist paper, does not publish its letters to the editor online, and so it is only by chance that I have just spotted on Press Reader that they have published a riposte to my letter to the editor some days ago. I will have to draft a response. Once again my apologies for dragging the European Tribune into this. I list my home page on the auto-sig of all my emails and they must have used this to check out my credentials.

To refresh your memories, the offending missive is reproduced below:

I am in the process of drafting a reply. Something along the lines of:

Dear Sir,
I see Mr. Mason Powell has seen fit to respond to my letter arguing for an all island approach to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic by calling it a "disgraceful slur on unionist politicians". (Write Back, April 9th.)

In a long letter, name checking me in almost every paragraph, he makes not one reference to the widespread epidemiological research and expert opinion arguing that an all-island approach is the only viable approach to suppressing the virus - as most recently expressed by Professor Samuel McConkey on your own opinion page.

The sad fact, as noted by Dr. Gabriel Scally, President of the Epidemiology and Public Health section of the Royal Society of Medicine, is that UK government scientists initially considered WHO advice for managing the pandemic as "relevant only to low- and middle-income countries", and instead chose to follow "a novel and unevidenced approach" known as "herd immunity" with the result that the official published headline figure for deaths in the UK is now 170 people per million population, whereas in the Republic it is 74.

But worse than that, the Irish figure includes deaths in nursing homes and other residential care homes which make up 54% of the Irish total - in line with other European countries. The UK figures do not include deaths outside hospitals - almost uniquely in the world - and are thus a very considerable under-estimate. If like in the Republic, UK deaths in Nursing homes are also 54% of the true total, the figure for total deaths in the UK is 370 per million of population, or exactly 5 times the Irish rate.

But it gets even worse. The UK generally only tests for Covid-19 on admission to hospital with the result that rate of testing for Covid-19 is only about one third the Irish rate per million inhabitants. How many more Covid-19 cases and deaths would be uncovered if Britain tripled its testing rate by extending it to mildly symptomatic cases in the community? At the moment, even those who die from Covid-19 in the wider community are not recorded as such or at least not included in the national statistics even if they are tested and found to be positive.

It is impossible, at this stage, to estimate accurately just how great an under-count of actual covid-19 deaths this results in, but if only half of actual UK Covid-19 deaths are in Hospitals or nursing homes, this would result in deaths per Million inhabitants being anything up to ten times higher in the UK than in Ireland. (Death rates and testing figures courtesy of https:/www.worldometers.info/coronavirus as of 14/04/2020).

The point of raising these statistics is not to engage in some sort of morbid international league table, but rather to illustrated the fact that certain anti-pandemic strategies have been shown to work rather better than others. Left to its own devices, absent social distancing counter-measures, Covid-19 has been shown to double the number of infections in a society every 3 days, with the result that a 15 day delay in implementing stringent social distancing protocols can result in a 32 fold increase in total infections, and ultimately deaths. That is the nature of the exponential infection curve and the existential crisis we are dealing with.

Fortunately the infection seems to have arrived rather later in N. Ireland than in Britain, with the result that the delay in cancelling mass gatherings, closing schools and businesses, and implementing social distancing protocols may not have quite the same catastrophic effects we are seeing in Britain. Many citizens also appear to have begun to implement social distancing measures before being instructed to do so by the government. With luck, we can use the Irish sea to our advantage and test and quarantine all incoming travellers from more highly infected regions and thus succeed in suppressing the pandemic altogether on this island.

I fear it is too late to implement that strategy in Britain where millions may already be infected and spreading the disease unknown to themselves for lack of community testing and because the disease so often presents with only mild or non-existent symptoms, especially in its early stages.

But any effort to suppress the disease on this island can only succeed if we jointly pursue a strategy of widespread testing and contact tracing and strict controls on all incoming passengers at all ports and airports, north and south. Mr. Mason Powell mentions the 141 Garda checkpoints along the border during the foot and mouth crisis - I can assure him there were many more than that throughout the country these last few days preventing people from venturing more than 2KM from their homes except on urgent and essential business.

I am also pleased to note that since my letter was published the Irish and N. Irish public health and government officials have concluded a much needed but rather late in the day agreement to "cooperate" on Covid-19 containment and suppression arrangements in the future. I am sorry if Mr. Mason Powell feels that my criticism of N. Ireland politicians for their tardiness in coming to such arrangements earlier represents a "slur on unionist politicians", but as you can see from the above this is a life and death matter, possibly for many thousands, both north and south of the border.

I can understand why some unionist politicians and commentators may feel there is a nationalist agenda behind some calls for an all island approach, but the fact is that viruses like Covid-19 know no borders. The same argument we are having here is happening all over Europe between neighbouring countries pursuing different anti-pandemic strategies with the result that the pan-European response has been a mess, and much less effective than the strategies pursued in some Asian countries.

It would be a pity if we were to let different political allegiances interfere in the development of a comprehensive and coherent anti-pandemic response. Covid-19 could end up killing far more people on this island than the Troubles ever did. It's time to bury the hatchet and work together, but that also means implementing strategies that have been shown to work better, regardless of who proposed them first.

Any comments, before I press send?

From the archive: 'A catastrophe looms,' read The Irish Times editorial in March 2001

When foot and mouth disease ground Ireland to a halt | Irish Times - Nov. 17, 2019 |

Interesting when Paisley calls on Brussels [!] ...

Paisley ready to lobby in defence of NI meat

The North's First Minister, the Rev Ian Paisley, said he is prepared to engage in worldwide lobbying to prove Northern Ireland's meat products are safe amid concern that Northern meat is being linked to the foot-and-mouth outbreak in England.

The North's Minister for Agriculture Michelle Gildernew made similar commitments yesterday ahead of a crucial meeting in Brussels today about establishing a clear distinction between Northern Irish and British beef.

Archives: Irish Times of March 13, 2001

Foot-and-mouth-and-Joyce | Irish Times - April 14, 2001 |

    'Bullock-befriending bard." Such is the title that Stephen Dedalus, in Ulysses, imagines that his "friend" Mulligan will give him after he decides to become involved in a campaign to rid Ireland of foot-and-mouth disease. But Dedalus's involvement, however odd it may appear, is also that of his creator, James Joyce, who was himself part of just such a campaign, and who would sympathise with those being affected by the current outbreak.
by Oui on Tue Apr 14th, 2020 at 12:20:07 AM EST
Thanks for those links. You've been doing some good research on this! Interestingly James Joyce's role in this in the early 1900s is the exact reverse of Ian Paisley in the early 2000's. Joyce was trying to support the eradication of foot in mouth disease in Ireland so that exports could resume to Britain. Ian Paisley was trying to prevent an outbreak in Britain resulting in an export ban of N. Ireland Cows to the EU. Neither ever considered not treating the island of Ireland as one unit, for the purposes of disease eradication and supporting farm exports. Today's unionists don't like me pointing this out however...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Apr 14th, 2020 at 01:03:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Somehow I get the feeling ask is around. Lovely memory of curly too.
by Oui on Thu Apr 16th, 2020 at 12:04:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Belfast Telegraph - July 04 2008 01:25 AM

Contrary to the illogical assertions of Mason Powell (Write Back, November 7) the single electricity market is exactly the type of sensible economic co-operation for mutual benefit between Northern Ireland and the Republic which unionists can and do support.

by Oui on Tue Apr 14th, 2020 at 12:50:47 AM EST
The more reliable number of deaths due to coronavirus can be found in these weekly statistics ...

See graph with the spike in deaths due to the pandemic -  Number of deaths increasing. In last three weeks 12-13-14 total deaths above average is 4,152. The RIVM official count up to Sunday April 5 was 1,766 - a difference of 2,386! [57,5%]

Half of coronavirus deaths happen in care homes, data from EU suggests | The Guardian |

Data from 5 European countries suggest that care home residents have so far accounted for between 42% and 57% of all deaths related to COVID-19.

by Oui on Tue Apr 14th, 2020 at 01:18:02 AM EST
Latest numbers of lives of loved ones lost ...

by Oui on Tue Apr 14th, 2020 at 11:16:03 AM EST
About deaths in hospitals and in nursing homes, as I mentioned in several comments these past days, the French Health Ministry reported only the former until the end of March. When the press started reporting about "a carnage" in the 7,000 or so nursing homes around the country, the officials were prompted to (shamed into?) add the two figures in their daily briefing for the past ten days now.

As of today, April 15:
Hospital deaths: 10,643 (+514 in the last 24hours)
Nursing homes deaths: 6,524 since March 1st

Hence the 17,167 deaths reported for France in the Johns Hopkins dashboard, and other "morbid international league table", to use your expression.

Meanwhile the UK (same population as in France, ~66 million) reported 12,868 deaths (+761 in the past 24hours), but only in hospitals, as you pointed out.

By that metric, the UK has had more COVID-19 fatalities than France for several days now, and the difference keeps increasing.

by Bernard on Wed Apr 15th, 2020 at 08:15:28 PM EST
Yes, part of the point of the letter is to shame the N. Ireland authorities into publishing the true death totals. I have been shocked by the degree the UK media have been unquestioningly reporting the "official totals" without demanding that all deaths be included. Stories about massive problems in UK nursing homes are starting to emerge but so far little official acknowledgement of the scale.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Apr 15th, 2020 at 09:24:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well the Guardian raised the point a week ago:

Hundreds of UK care home deaths not added to official coronavirus toll

Hundreds of people are dying in care homes from confirmed or suspected coronavirus without yet being officially counted, the Guardian has learned.

More than 120 residents of the UK's largest charitable provider of care homes are thought to have died from the virus in the last three weeks, while another network of care homes is reported to have recorded 88 deaths.

Care England, the industry body, estimated that the death toll is likely to be close to 1,000, despite the only available official figure for care home fatalities being dramatically lower. The Office for National Statistics said this week that 20 people died in care homes across the whole of England and Wales in the week to 27 March.

The gulf in the figures has prompted warnings that ministers are underestimating the impact of Covid-19 on society's most frail, and are failing to sufficiently help besieged care homes and workers.

And other media seem to catch up, like Sky:

However, it has now been well established that the UK's true COVID-19 death toll is far higher than the daily hospital figures would suggest.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics suggested there were around 75% more coronavirus-related fatalities in England and Wales last month than previously reported by the government.

More than half of those happened in care homes, while others took place in people's homes and in hospices.

by Bernard on Thu Apr 16th, 2020 at 05:43:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I still think the Guardian and others are being far too conservative about this. My estimate is that the true figure is at least 3X the official estimate, ad possibly as much as 5X. But without testing in care homes and the community we may never know for sure - which is presumably the whole point of not testing...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 16th, 2020 at 07:07:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think it's that high. 2X is plausible. 3X is possible, at a stretch.

The ONS death stats for 3rd April (England and Wales only) include an extra 7,000 or so deaths over and above the usual average totals for weeks 13 and 14.

The official DHSC total of COVID deaths in hospitals on that date was almost exactly half that.

The waters have been muddied now by confusion over whether future DHSC totals will - or won't - include care home deaths.

The ONS figures are more likely to be definitive because they include all registered deaths from all causes. There has to be some allowance made for smaller numbers of deaths from driving and other accidents that aren't happening because people are staying at home, but that adjustment turns to be relatively small.

We'll start seeing a more accurate picture from now on in the weekly ONS updates. Bottom line is a factor of 2X is fairly likely when including Scotland, and it may stretch to 3X, but it's unlikely to be higher.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Apr 16th, 2020 at 08:27:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... from behind. Unreported nursing homes deaths stands at 57.5% of total!

CBS: Dutch National Statistics  

Even today the Minister of Health Hugo De Jong dares to hide behind the Cabinet's team of exports ... non-argumentative statements.

No face masks needed like in Germany and Belgium ... and many locations world-wide. Why? Because there are none in stock, the Dutch can hardly cope with PPE for the doctors and nurses in hospitals. Totally unprepared. Same for test kits ... admits there will only be tested once there are symptoms ... thus the coronavirus will spread throughout the nursing homes. There are no gowns, face masks and experienced medical staff to care for the elderly.

From the second week of March the official directive was to triage ... no one with lesser chance to survive would be admitted in hospitals. After the "herd" principle as goal was abandoned, one sees that the effort to save the elderly was unchanged. Not caring ...

Netherlands "cannot open all at once": PM; Cabinet responds to Trump attack on WHO

by Oui on Wed Apr 15th, 2020 at 10:26:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Excellent, Frank. Kudos!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Apr 15th, 2020 at 10:19:28 PM EST
Sometimes I feel I am writing into a vacuum and wonder what's the point. But I have had 6 letters to the editor published in the last 2 weeks - including one today - which makes me feel like I am at least reaching some people!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Apr 15th, 2020 at 10:34:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Will we be picking up visits from curious/confused unionists?
Should we be worried?

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Fri Apr 17th, 2020 at 10:31:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I doubt it. One look at this place will probably put most off. Most older unionists are v. conservative, right wing, British nationalists and Brexiteers and feel somewhat uncomfortable in southern Ireland never mind the European Tribune. I'm afraid I no longer know any younger ones - I suspect many would prefer to avoid politics altogether...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Apr 17th, 2020 at 03:28:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ET is still running a December thread. That was like before Australian fires, Soleimani assassination, Trump's impeachment, the Iowa primary. Boris looked good then.
by das monde on Fri Apr 17th, 2020 at 04:05:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, the future turned out to suck so I vote for just staying in December.
by generic on Fri Apr 17th, 2020 at 04:20:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A new thread would help to keep the time
by das monde on Fri Apr 17th, 2020 at 07:03:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We have run out of staff!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Apr 17th, 2020 at 08:41:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cat had offered to assist ... I would also be willing, no problem.
by Oui on Fri Apr 17th, 2020 at 09:10:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I will ask again...
Apparently it requires unanimity...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Apr 17th, 2020 at 09:43:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sometimes I feel I am writing into a vacuum

Steady on, we your faithful readers resemble that!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Apr 18th, 2020 at 05:36:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think you resemble a vacuum at all, Melo!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Apr 18th, 2020 at 09:36:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From the Sunday Times, of all places:

Coronavirus: 38 days when Britain sleepwalked into disaster

Boris Johnson skipped five Cobra meetings on the virus, calls to order protective gear were ignored and scientists' warnings fell on deaf ears. Failings in February may have cost thousands of lives

On the third Friday of January a silent and stealthy killer was creeping across the world. Passing from person to person and borne on ships and planes, the coronavirus was already leaving a trail of bodies.

The virus had spread from China to six countries and was almost certainly in many others. Sensing the coming danger, the British government briefly went into wartime mode that day, holding a meeting of Cobra, its national crisis committee.

But it took just an hour that January 24 lunchtime to brush aside the coronavirus threat. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, bounced out of Whitehall after chairing the meeting and breezily told reporters the risk to the UK public was "low".

by Bernard on Mon Apr 20th, 2020 at 06:16:58 PM EST

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