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A Disgraceful Slur

by Frank Schnittger Thu Apr 16th, 2020 at 10:20:40 AM EST

Press reader image of Belfast Telegraph page - that newspaper doesn't publish letters online, and is not available where I live

The Belfast Telegraph has published a much abbreviated version of my response to Mason Powell accusing me of casting "a disgraceful slur on unionist politicians". They leave out my argument to the effect that UK statistics are a gross under count of the true death toll by leaving out deaths in nursing and residential homes and indeed in the wider community, but ironically my letter is published next to a facsimile front page banner headline noting the gruesome toll in just one such nursing home.

But that's OK. My key point has been retained, which is that we must pursue an all-Ireland strategy based on best international practice if we are to have some prospect of suppressing the virus in any part of Ireland. Attempts by unionist politicians and commentators to cast this approach as "political" or part of some nationalist conspiracy must be treated with the contempt they deserve. The only slur is the one they cast on their own reputations should the pandemic rage out of control on this island.

For those of you interested in the more detailed argument, I reproduce below the final version of the letter I sent to the Belfast Telegraph, complete with updated statistics.

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 190 people per million population, whereas in the Republic it is 90.

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 413 per million of population, or almost 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 less than 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 symptomatic cases and deaths 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.

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 related 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 15/04/2020).

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 2 Km 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 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 all island 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.

Good for them! Linked the author to the European Tribune to find the whole truth ... and nothing but the truth. ;-)
by Oui on Thu Apr 16th, 2020 at 11:35:06 AM EST
Got to promote this place somehow!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 16th, 2020 at 01:45:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't about that Frank ... it's an ugly world out there 😖 💥 and bugs 🐞
by Oui on Thu Apr 16th, 2020 at 01:53:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Welcome back Ask, - nice to see you again!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 16th, 2020 at 02:00:30 PM EST
Yep! 🎭
by Oui on Thu Apr 16th, 2020 at 02:59:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The last few days have not been good - north and south. There are some signs the pandemic may have peaked, but sadly there are still a lot of deaths "in the pipe line", particularly in Nursing homes, where the disease still seems to be spreading and where death usually happens about 4 weeks after infection. The median age of all deaths in the south is 82 years. It sometimes seems that we have almost abandoned nursing home residents to their fate. I know that's not the case, but that seems to be the way things are turning out.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 16th, 2020 at 02:05:54 PM EST

hat/tip Helen

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 16th, 2020 at 02:41:51 PM EST
Death should be prohibited by Tory Emergency Law ... a fallen number does not help to get to 60% needed for herd immunity.
by Oui on Thu Apr 16th, 2020 at 03:04:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Uh oh, whose head in fair Britannia is exploding? But yes, there is always a country doing it better. We should aspire to be ... Greenland!

Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Thu Apr 16th, 2020 at 09:47:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Including my estimate for the deaths of elderly in nursing homes, the Dutch under Mark Rutte are at an eightfold level of deaths compared to neighbor Germany.

The German hospitals have take corona patients for their ICU from Spain, Italy, France and The Netherlands. Thanking Angela Merkel and German healthcare.

by Oui on Thu Apr 16th, 2020 at 09:55:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An efficient way of of rationalizing death: It takes death out of the hospital statistics, and at the same time frees up space in homes for the elderly...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 16th, 2020 at 10:23:38 PM EST

The guidance states:

"As part of the national effort, the care sector also plays a vital role in accepting patients as they are discharged from hospital - both because recuperation is better in non-acute settings, and because hospitals need to have enough beds to treat acutely sick patients. Residents may also be admitted to a care home from a home setting. Some of these patients may have COVID-19, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic. All of these patients can be safely cared for in a care home if this guidance is followed."

This policy is simply: "Culling the elderly or the disabled needing care or for recovery."

A shortcut to reduce NHS costs combined with social security. We have been witness to large corporations  trying to survive by cutting the funds reserved for pensions. Tough ... hoving "saved" for years in employment setting aside a percentage of your salary. 😡

This guidance and UK Gov policy is an extension of the callous herd immunity goal ... letting the virus spread and accept "bad luck" for the elderly and less fortunate.

Unable to do the testing or protect first line health workers ... many of us are expendable, some are more expendable than others!

[a variant out of Animal Farm --  times are achanging 😉 or not -- WWII and Nazism]

Just released ...

Government to offer testing for "everyone who needs one" in social care settings

Unfortunately, the virus is very contagious in the days before the symptoms show.

by Oui on Fri Apr 17th, 2020 at 06:01:37 AM EST
Britain's productivity crisis in eight charts

Ageing of Europe

The elderly of Europe as a percentage of the total population (Reddit)

Eurostat: Population structure and ageing

by Oui on Fri Apr 17th, 2020 at 06:46:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
FT article opened for me, then it didn't. So perhaps through twitter link it will ...

by Oui on Fri Apr 17th, 2020 at 07:21:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So your point is that England is being taken over by a younger dumber/less trained or educated generation than almost anywhere else?

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Apr 17th, 2020 at 08:54:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Done a far better job to rid society of the elderly compared to continental Europe ... Tory establishment well done!

You did notice a clear shade of difference with Ireland? The Green must be supported by family size, could you corroborate? :-)

by Oui on Fri Apr 17th, 2020 at 09:00:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I really don't understand Chart 7 which consistently shows younger people far less skilled than their parents.  Did they get their colours mixed up?

In my experience, secondary education only became widely available in Ireland in the 1960s.  Before that it was mostly primary only, and since the 1990's most people have third level experience if not qualifications. If anything we have neglected manual trades and focused too much on the academic.

I would say second level education in Ireland is relatively good - students complete 6-9 subjects to Leaving Certificate= A-Level = Baccalaureate whereas in the UK the norm seems to be 2/3 subjects. Third level is relatively underfunded however, and needs a lot more investment.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Apr 17th, 2020 at 03:16:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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