back to article Google employee helped UK government switch from disastrous COVID-19 strategy, according to Dominic Cummings

Demis Hassabis, CEO and co-founder of DeepMind, now part of Google, is said to have been instrumental in convincing the UK prime minister’s chief advisor Dominic Cummings to “hit the panic button and ditch the official plan” in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the early months of 2020. During testimony to a meeting of …

  1. jpo234

    Fog of war. Is this really "explosive"?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Eh - more like the temper tantrum of someone who thought he was really smart, important and indispensable trying to coming to terms with the fact that he is gone and simply replaced by someone else... and the world goes on.

      You can't even say that he's providing insight into Government thinking because of his lack of objectivity. Very weird guy. Would never hire someone like that.

  2. adam 40 Bronze badge

    Seems consistent with my timeline

    On 14th March 2020 Matt Hanckock was off to meet @DrTedros at the WHO.

    It seemed to me at the time that they were still aiming for herd immunity and that Mr Hancock needed educating - quickly - about the dangers.

    1. Lon24 Silver badge

      Re: Seems consistent with my timeline

      This was a time that the government maintained we were 4 weeks behind Italy when anyone putting our exponential growth line against Italy's could see it could be no more than two weeks. The issue is people were trying to fit the outbreak into a fnfluenza model and ignoring what the raw data was screaming.

      What really frightened me was Professor Ferguson's paper designed to shock the PM into action. It was probably sound but written for an elementary school audience. An acknowledgement that the decision makers had no real grasp of how to handle figures. So much for a PPE education

      Not Boris bashing. Corbyn might have been worse.

      1. Twanky

        Re: Seems consistent with my timeline

        exponential growth. That explains it then.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Seems consistent with my timeline

        What really frightened me was Professor Ferguson's paper designed to shock the PM into action. It was probably sound but written for an elementary school audience. An acknowledgement that the decision makers had no real grasp of how to handle figures. So much for a PPE education

        Given Ferguson's past performance in predicting pandemic outcomes, anyone could've been forgiven for taking what he said with a gigantic pinch of salt.

        The big mistake was not closing our borders at the start of March. As to the efficacy of lockdowns once a disease is endemic, I think the jury's still out.

        1. genghis_uk Silver badge

          Re: Seems consistent with my timeline

          I have never understood how we could go into a full UK-wide lockdown but leave the ports and airports fully open - expecting people to 'self isolate'. Was that really going to happen? In the important early days, before the massive exponential growth, people were not going to take self isolation that seriously and our ineffective tracing only compounded the problem.

          We are a bloody island! Our greatest defence in a pandemic is isolation. Catch the first few cases and lock the border, then you have control.

          Hindsight is 20:20 but some things are fairly obvious

          1. Sam Haine

            Re: Seems consistent with my timeline

            There were several arguments against closing the borders to non-UK residents. All were wrong.

            The first was the economic cost. Compared to what the last 14 months have cost us closing the borders would have been cheap at twice the price.

            The second was that people coming from countries with a lower prevalence of Covid would not worsen the problem. This ignored the fact that plenty of other countries' surveillance systems were less effective than the UK's and we had no idea what the true prevalence of Covid in those countries was.

            The third was that Track & Trace would work. I think that speaks for itself.

            1. Youngone Silver badge

              Re: Seems consistent with my timeline

              Britain could have been a European version of New Zealand (Brexit not withstanding, obviously) if you had had competent leadership.

              Unfortunately you don't.

              1. idiot taxpayer here again

                Re: Seems consistent with my timeline

                @Youngone.

                No it could not. Compare the difference in size of population and density. It's comparing apples with pears.

                1. katrinab Silver badge
                  Megaphone

                  Re: Seems consistent with my timeline

                  Compare the population density of Auckland with comparable English cities, it is about the same. Who cares if the rest of the country only has sheep. Nobody lives there, so no nobody benefits from it.

                  Or, compare Scotland with England. On the face of it, England is much more densely populated, but the urban proportion in both countries is exactly the same to one decimal point. It is actually higher in New Zealand.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: Compare the population density of Auckland

                    If by "density", you mean "people per square metre" or similar, you are very likely to be wrong - Auckland is very spread out compared to any UK city I am familiar with.

                2. Pat Att

                  Re: Seems consistent with my timeline

                  Both small fruit, with pips and a stalk. Pretty similar really.

                3. EnviableOne Silver badge

                  Re: Seems consistent with my timeline

                  Its not easy to directly compare any nation with any other, but it is possible to draw conclusions on who has done well and who has not, and compare the policies in place in each.

                  The UK still doesnt have a clue how many people have been infected, as a lot of those infected showed no or mild symptoms and were never tested. The testing regime has been largley ineffective as people might have been tested, but results took too long, with some still not comming back within 72 hours, unless they are in 24hrs or less, track and trace becomes a nigh on impossible task, as there are too many contacts and places to trace. its centralised tracing system was inefective, as they asked the wrong questions, didnt collect enough contacts, and didnt have the local knowledge to be effective, also they were only looking for who they may have infected, not who infected them, to cut off the source. its offical death figures are inaccurate as they only take into account people who have died within 28 days of a positive test, and there were people who went into ITU for longer than that, even so it has one of the highest deaths/100k in the world, which have only improved since vaccination took hold, and arguably securing a large supply of various vaccines was one thing they did right.

                  If the UK had exploited its advantage as an island, and its leader had not been indecicive and "according to cummings" unable to understand the data, then an outcome similar to NZ, Australia, Taiwan, Hawaii could have been achieved. Where deaths are still in the hundreds or thousands, not hundreds off thousands, and cases are under 50k not over 4.5million even with new variants, and most places with the excepetion of local lockdowns on for outbreaks are relativley restriction free internally, but most still have travel bans or restrictive neighbour bubbles.

            2. David Glasgow

              Re: Seems consistent with my timeline

              "The third was that Track & Trace would work"

              I wish everyone would just leave Royal Mail out of this.

              1. tokai

                Re: Seems consistent with my timeline

                No fan of the government’s handling of this, but New Zealand comparison is a red herring.

                Due to their unique/isolated ecology, Biosecurity has been number 1 in their culture for decades with well funded organisations (DOC etc) and protocols (bag checks, cleaning procedures etc) already in place at airports.

                More importantly, the risk of an outside agent destroying their environment has been taught at schools etc for a long time and hence Biosecurity/the impact of a pandemic was already part of the public psyche/no behaviour change needed.

                It’s great what NZ have achieved, but they were starting from a very different place to the U.K. (we still b***xed it up).

      3. Captain Hogwash

        Re: So much for a PPE education

        Classics in Johnson's case. You'd think he'd know something about hubris & nemesis.

  3. Eclectic Man Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Cummings' testimony

    "The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its government in a crisis like this." (https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/cummings-boris-injected-covid_uk_60ae0424e4b019ef10e12d5e)

    For once I agree with Dominic Cummings. However he does seem to be blaming a whole lot of people other than himself, Boris Johnson for not ordering a lockdown earlier, Matt Hancock for being incompetent and lying, the scientists for arguing over things. He even claims that the PM joked that he would get Prof Chris Whitty to inject him with coronavirus on live TV to show people it was nothing to worry about.

    It does seem that Boris has a lot to respond to in Cummings' testimony, but Cummings also has to escape the 'spurned lover' image of someone who will do almost anything to harm his previous BFF.

    The newspapers will be full of this tomorrow morning.

    1. Nifty Silver badge

      Re: Cummings' testimony

      "However he does seem to be blaming a whole lot of people other than himself"

      Well this was knowledge speaking to power. I think you know which way around.

      1. Red Ted Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: Cummings' testimony

        He has also had a year to get his story polished up for the best possible effect.

      2. idiot taxpayer here again

        Re: Cummings' testimony

        @Nifty

        Given that he has changed his "eye test" story yet again I think it fair to say that this is a liar speaking to power.

        He reminds me very much of Mandelson. You know, the one who "forgot" he already had a 340.000 quid loan when he applied for a mortgage. As you do...

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Cummings' testimony

      He was particular scathing about Hancock's public announcement of the 100k tests goal, saying it was getting in the way of building the "proper" testing regime that would scale to the millions of tests required.

      I foresee Hancock appearing subsequently and saying he deliberately announced the 100k target to ensure there was pressure to deliver *something* at a time when it was needed rather than waiting for the "moonshot" to get off the ground: Cummings basically admitted that the all-singing, all-dancing test and trace system arrived too late to be of any practical use.

      I think the real tragedy of Cummings testimony is that it's clear noone was really in charge and the various bits of government, when they weren't floundering, were competing rather than co-operating. And that problem lies at the door of the man who can "make a case for anything" but make a decision about nothing.

      1. ConsumedByFire

        Re: Cummings' testimony

        It was interesting at the end of the testemony where he was aked what we can learn from this and said that the Civil Service need to be incentivised to get things done as opposed to the current state where they are incentivised to keep their heads down so its not their fault when it all goes pear shaped.

        Insightful!!

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

          Re: Cummings' testimony

          I've had several really terrible line managers*. Some were probably quite far along the 'psychopathy spectrum' towards the wrong end. However, the idea that Dominic Cummings has any idea about how to incentivise underlings to get things done rather than 'keep their heads down' is frankly off the scale of my ironyometer.

          No one who mimes chucking a hand grenade behind him as he leaves a meeting deserves to be in charge of anyone or anything important IMHO. Just exactly how is that 'incentivising people to get things done'?

          *(I did have a couple of good ones too.)

  4. Roger Greenwood

    Hang on

    It took over a week to realise that a doubling of cases every few days was going to be big trouble, given what was going on in Italy at the time? You didn't have to be a genius (or even a data scientist) to spot that one. Changing national policy/direction was always going to be difficult though, fair play to those who did the persuading.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Hang on

      A) The cabinet are all businessmen and so only have the HP financial calculator - it doesn't have an exponent button.

      B) Italy it is bad, but they are Italians, we are British so in Britain it will be NOT bad

      C) Lockdown hurt profits, that patch of sand looks comfortable, mind if I stick my head in it ?

      D) All of the above

      1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Hang on

        I must object to your ludicrous generalisation in the above.

        HP's stalwart HP-12C financial calculator most certainly has exponentiation and natural logarithm functions. :-)

      2. katrinab Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Hang on

        You need exponents to calculate compound interest, inflation and stuff like that.

        Having said that, there's a shockingly large number of supposed "experts" who don't even understand how to calculate currency futures. It is just the difference between two interest rates for the relevant period of time.

      3. SundogUK Silver badge

        Re: Hang on

        "The cabinet are all businessmen..." Your very first point is bollocks. They're pretty much all lawyers.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hang on

          Judging by their university degrees, it's not so clear. The internet claims:

          Johnson did Classics. Gove did English. Rees-Mogg and Jenrick did History. Kwarteng did Classics & History. Sunak, Truss and Hancock did PPE. Patel did Economics. Wallace was at Sandhurst. Sharma did Physics. Shapps did Business & Finance. Williamson did Social Sciences. Raab and Buckland did Law.

          It's fewer lawyers than I expected, to be honest. I'm sure I've missed some out.

    2. You aint sin me, roit Silver badge

      "Understand the technicalities in a way I couldn't do"

      To these people you DO have to be a genius to see it. It really does seem that they didn't grasp exponential growth, and needed Tim Gowers to tell them!

      Now I suppose that it's "cool" that Cummings could call on Dr Gowers, even if it's not his area of expertise. But it's shocking that before he did so the people in charge of our response to the virus had so little understanding.

      It's almost as if a degree in classics doesn't prepare one for solving problems of a more scientific or mathematical nature...

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. General Purpose Bronze badge

        Re: "Understand the technicalities in a way I couldn't do"

        they didn't grasp exponential growth

        It's as if they didn't want to grasp exponential growth. Call it compound interest on steroids – at least Sunak understands compond interest and Johnson's akways had an eye for an opportunity. Or say it's like hyperinflation turned up to 11 – Johnson knows about hyperinflation from his classics studies, he's used the example of Emperor Diocletian to argue that price controls don't work.

        I fear Johnson's dream of being Prime Minister didn't include a situation in which he wasn't the cheery urbane hero, so he couldn't believe it was happening.

        1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Re: "Understand the technicalities in a way I couldn't do"

          You could tell them the story about the chessboard and the grain.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheat_and_chessboard_problem

          For instance, someone does a favour for, er, the government and they claim only this nominal reward... (see also "Private Finance Initiative").

          OK, maybe do not give them this particular version of the problem.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "Understand the technicalities in a way I couldn't do"

          > It's as if they didn't want to grasp exponential growth. Call it compound interest on steroids

          Compound interest is exponential growth. There's no "on steroids" bit to it.

          1. General Purpose Bronze badge

            Re: "Understand the technicalities in a way I couldn't do"

            Well, quite. Just thinking about how to communicate the urgency of rapid pandemic spread to someone who's got used to interest rates of only a few percent at most.

      3. olderbutnowiser

        Re: "Understand the technicalities in a way I couldn't do"

        Anyone with a good A level in maths, a Stem degree, a job as a secondary school maths teacher, .... would have understood exponential growth well enough to see that exponential growth plus a lethality of 1% means trouble. That's probably million people able to explain it to the Prime Minister. Why on earth isn't one out of that million actually Prime Minister?

    3. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: Hang on

      The fundamental issue is that exponential growths are one of those things that the human mind is really, really bad at modelling. Another one is very low probability events, e.g. getting severe side effects from a vaccine.

      For such concepts, you cannot just trust your instinct. You have to run the numbers, at least in a crude way. Problem is, the vast majority of people do not run the numbers on anything, ever, for any reason. They trust what their gut tells them. That includes politicians, and how could it be any different? The whole system is supposed to make them represent majorities, after all.

      In late February, even first days of March 2020, I wasn't too worried about the virus.

      Then I fit the numbers into an exponential model, and I still wasn't worried, because I just thought that it could not possibly be that bad, and surely I was just using an oversimplified model, and I am not an epidemiologist after all.

      I only crapped myself when I saw that, 10 days later, the actual numbers matched my prediction to within a 1% margin. If I had been in charge of anything, that would have been 10 critical days wasted.

      And that's me, with my STEM training and all. What chance does a regular Joe have, when half the media tells him to panic and the other half tells him to chill?

      1. Cederic Silver badge

        Re: Hang on

        Plus of course the official Sage minutes telling us that Sage were not recommending a lockdown even in early March.

        Mistakes were made. People made poor decisions. Data was inadequate or inaccurate. Models were fucking awful. We knew that anyway, but finding out where and why will help improve systems and processes, and hopefully enable a better response to future unplanned events.

        I'm still not going to get irate at the individuals involved. Hindsight is wonderful but I'm honest enough to know I'd have made mistakes too, and I still genuinely couldn't tell you the best balance between 'let people die' and 'save the economy' - not least because if you don't save the economy, more people die.

        So I'm just going to ignore all the finger pointing and media agitation over the next couple of weeks. They're just after scapegoats and stories.

        1. SundogUK Silver badge

          Re: Hang on

          I cannot up-vote this enough...

      2. Eclectic Man Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: Hang on

        Filippo: "If I had been in charge of anything, that would have been 10 critical days wasted."

        But you weren't in charge, and had I assume lots of other things to think about instead of fighting a novel coronavirus. You might even have insisted that Test and Trace be managed by someone competent with experience in healthcare, and not the first acquaintance of yours who said she'd do it for nothing.

        You might even have learnt from your initial mistake in February and listened to the scientists in September and gone for a short lockdown, and bravely 'cancelled Christmas' to save lives instead of sacrificing probably several thousand lives on an emotional inability to speak bad news.

        And lastly, you might, had you made all those mistakes anyway, have had the decency to resign and let someone competent take over (but that would be the first time since Carrington resigned over the Falklands Islands invasion).

        But then, as I said, you weren't in charge.

        1. Danny 2 Silver badge

          Re: Hang on

          Hi EM,

          I was warning folk here about the pandemic on the fourth of February because of the word 'novel'. Back then I ordered filter material from China to make my own face masks as you couldn't buy them at the time. I followed the science and realised it is almost exclusively an airborne disease, and handwashing / surface cleaning is theatrics, I predicted 200,000 Brits would die but I never expected a working vaccine so quickly, it was nice to be wrong on that. I was downvoted most of the time. More recently I criticised the CDC and WHO and was downvoted, yet they've released their own 'mea culpa' reports now.

          Cummings said anyone from the top 1% of competent people would have done better than Boris, and I think you'd have to select from the bottom 1% of competent people to have worse leadership. And Boris is still blighting Blighty. Keeping India on the travel list because he wanted to travel there for a trade deal. Dido not tracking or tracing passengers from India.

          It's not a matter of a public inquiry kicking the can down the road, there should be police arrests of top politicians for corporate manslaughter.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: Hang on

            I was warning folk here about the pandemic on the fourth of February because of the word 'novel'.

            The first warning signs came in November/December 2019 with reports of a novel virus and hospitalisations, with the virus being sequenced over silly season (in the West) 2019.

            I followed the science and realised it is almost exclusively an airborne disease, and handwashing / surface cleaning is theatrics, I predicted 200,000 Brits would die but I never expected a working vaccine so quickly, it was nice to be wrong on that. I was downvoted most of the time.

            Anyone sceptical of the official dogma was, guts & thumbs and all that. But by March 2020, a bit more was known about the characteristics, and the risks. But then Ferguson with his Doomsday model that predicted huge numbers of deaths. And that model seems to have shaped or influenced official thinking, ie the US and other countries citing it as justification for their crackdowns.

            So then the governments shambled into action. They must do something, especially if voters would end up blaming them for doing the wrong thing. Dead voters cast no votes, except when they do, but that's just good'ol voting fraud. But like others have pointed out, some of the obvious things weren't done in time. Like closing the borders. Even my sim-Pandemic PC game encourages you to do that to stop spread. Not sure how much of the thinking was due to dealing with stranded citizens, or if 'open borders' also influenced the decision. Or it was just too little, too late once travel restrictions were imposed.

            More recently I criticised the CDC and WHO and was downvoted, yet they've released their own 'mea culpa' reports now.

            Both have done a few interesting things of late. One being the way Covid has suddenly ended. Which is curious given vaccination levels. That suggests several posibilities, like herd immunity > vaccination, or just some cheating. Like this-

            https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/health-departments/breakthrough-cases.html

            For cases with a known RT-PCR cycle threshold (Ct) value, submit only specimens with Ct value ≤28 to CDC for sequencing.

            and-

            As of May 1, 2021, CDC transitioned from monitoring all reported vaccine breakthrough cases to focus on identifying and investigating only hospitalized or fatal cases due to any cause. This shift will help maximize the quality of the data collected on cases of greatest clinical and public health importance.

            Previously high Ct values were accepted as 'cases', even though that increases the risk of false positives. And the MSM dutifully copied case trackers to help spread the FUDemic. Now, the rules have changed to both amplify vaccine effectiveness, ie a positive at Ct>29 won't be regarded as a 'case', even though prior to May 1, it would have been.

            But such is politics. It'll be interesting to see how far inquiries go. Politicians (which includes senior health service types) did both good, and bad. So bad being things like sending infected people back to care homes, or just being very slow to focus priorities on who is the most vulnerable. Ok, some of that takes time to figure out, but by fairly early last year, it was pretty clear that people under 50 without pre-existing conditions were very low risk.. But that's been one of the big problems, risks were greatly exagerated.

            But the good news is it eradicate most flu deaths, mainly because they became Covid deaths. Bad news is governments don't seem keen to relax restrictions any time soon, even though we now have official permission to hug again. But remember to sanitise first, and wear a facemask or three..

            1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
              Unhappy

              Re: Hang on

              Jellied Eel: "But the good news is it eradicate most flu deaths,"

              The bad news is, sadly, that the immunologists do not have any idea which variants of seasonal 'flu to generate vaccines for this autumn, so even if Covid-19 is controlled by the vaccines (and I fervently hope so) this winter could see significantly more deaths from 'flu.

              1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                Re: Hang on

                ...so even if Covid-19 is controlled by the vaccines (and I fervently hope so) this winter could see significantly more deaths from 'flu.

                That's a simple problem to solve. Just code them as Covid deaths*. But that's going to be the challenge for statisticians and actuaries, ie figuring out just how many deaths were directly attributable to Covid, and how many to Covid policies. So for example I had an appointment with Endocrinology yesterday that had been booked in Dec 2019. I doubt the delay in that appointment will have caused me any problems, but a lot of hospital appointments were cancelled or delayed that may have resulted in harm to patients.

                *I've also seen suggestions that current mask rules become the 'new normal' to reduce flu, colds, fly swallowing and at least until stocks of N95 masks have been flogged off.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Hang on

              > The first warning signs came in November/December 2019 with reports of a novel virus and hospitalisations, with the virus being sequenced over silly season (in the West) 2019.

              Hindsight is strong in this one, master Yoda.

              "silly season" is in the summer. If you mean over Christmas then that seems unlikely as the Chinese themselves didn't sequence it until Jan 5th, releasing the sequence to the West on Jan 11th.

              https://time.com/5882918/zhang-yongzhen-interview-china-coronavirus-genome/

              1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                Re: Hang on

                "silly season" is in the summer. If you mean over Christmas then that seems unlikely as the Chinese themselves didn't sequence it until Jan 5th, releasing the sequence to the West on Jan 11th.

                Possibly a better timeline and report here-

                https://apnews.com/article/united-nations-health-ap-top-news-virus-outbreak-public-health-3c061794970661042b18d5aeaaed9fae

                By Dec. 27, one lab, Vision Medicals, had pieced together most of the genome of a new coronavirus with striking similarities to SARS. Vision Medicals shared its data with Wuhan officials and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, as reported first by Chinese finance publication Caixin and independently confirmed by the AP.

                ...The next day, Chinese CDC director Gao Fu dispatched a team of experts to Wuhan. Also on Dec. 31, WHO first learned about the cases from an open-source platform that scouts for intelligence on outbreaks, emergencies chief Ryan has said.

                WHO officially requested more information on Jan. 1. Under international law, members have 24 to 48 hours to respond, and China reported two days later that there were 44 cases and no deaths.

                I guess it can depend on when it became 'official', ie did submitting sequence data to GenBank count? But despite some deserved criticism of the WHO, it looked like the outbreak detection system was pretty quick off the err.. bat.

          2. Falmari Silver badge

            Re: Hang on

            "Cummings said anyone from the top 1% of competent people would have done better than Boris" So 99% of competent people would not have done better?

            Not really the damming indictment of Boris he was aiming for.

            1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
              Joke

              Re: Hang on

              "Cummings said anyone from the top 1% of competent people would have done better than Boris"

              What a shame none of them are in the cabinet. (Gavin Williamson, Priti Patel, Matt Hancock, ... )

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Hang on

                What a shame none of them are in the cabinet parliament. If someone is in the "top 1%" then why would they take the almost guaranteed pay-cut + put up with all the abuse, vitriol, attacks etc and become an MP? We probably end up with the politicians we as a society deserve.

                1. tiggity Silver badge

                  Re: Hang on

                  Odd to correlate top 1% competence with high salary (which is what MP salary is if you live in the sticks as opposed to London).

                  Lots of very competent people in low paid roles.

                  Lots of very incompetent (some blissfully unaware a la Dunning Kruger effect), BS merchants in well paid roles

    4. John Sturdy
      Mushroom

      Re: Hang on

      That may not have been the key realization; taking politicians' primary aim to be re-election, the realization that the people most at risk from Covid were the same people more likely to vote for his party may have been what did it.

  5. Patched Out

    Meanwhile, here in the U.S., we still have influential politicians and pundits claiming the whole COVID-19 thing is a conspiracy and that it is/was no worse than the the common flu!

    At least it appears that the UK is having an honest discourse over the government's response so maybe, just maybe, they will do better the next time this happens.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      We don't know if it's honest. Cummings is a professional spin artist and its his skill and profession to make things look a certain way to influence people. He has been very effective at it and maintained the government for many years in the face of some very unpopular policies.

      Last year the whole country was scathing of Cummings words. This year the nation seems to be swallowing every word.

      Tell 'em what they want to hear, trigger the old confirmation bias.

      I don't believe him and I don't disbelieve him. I certainly don't trust him. So he might as well be Basil Brush as far as I'm concerned. Actually I don't trust any politician.

      Boom Boom

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      UK put on a good show of 'caring and sharing' But .....

      Patched Out,

      You were doing so well until ......

      "At least it appears that the UK is having an honest discourse over the government's response so maybe, just maybe, they will do better the next time this happens."

      Sorry to say but, the 'honest' discourse is all a sham and as usual the opportunity to 'learn' from our mistakes will be fudged and 'nothing' will be learned other than not to depend on someone who you may sack/fire, as they can be vindictive and spoil your political career if they can !!!

      example:

      Look at how much we have learnt from the Grenfell fire response, as in what has actually changed !!!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: UK put on a good show of 'caring and sharing' But .....

        >Sorry to say but, the 'honest' discourse is all a sham

        If a US president had still screwed up the response, killed 500,000 people but had the peasants standing outside every night firing AR15s into the air (the US equivalent of banging pans) for the nurses - he would have been reelected.

    3. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      Indeed, I just recently heard that no less a person than the former US National Security Adviser , former Lt. General Mike Flynn claims that Covid-19 was used to affect the election in November 2020.

      As for honest discourse in the UK, not sure about that, I wouldn't trust these people as far as I can spit wearing a face mask.

      1. Falmari Silver badge

        Too trusting

        @Eclectic Man that far you have a lot more trust in those people than I do. :)

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

          Re: Too trusting

          @Falmari, I'm asthmatic, I cannot spit very far even when I'm not wearing a mask.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    >Cummings painted an alarming picture of how a combination of groupthink and poor data

    Given this is the chap leading the group of people charged with thinking up policy and that this is also the chap who put himself in charge of all government data I really don't think this is the damning indictment of everyone else Cummings seems to think it is

  7. Commswonk Silver badge

    But No Mention of...

    Cummings painted an alarming picture of how a combination of groupthink and poor data led the UK authorities to stick with a response to the spread of the virus, characterised by a flawed plan to acquire herd immunity.

    From what I have heard today I cannot recall hearing the names Whitty or Vallance being mentioned.

    Where were they while all this was going on? Were they providing input to government or not? Was it clear and unambiguous, and if so what was it, or was it so dressed up in Civil Service wooliness that what they were saying was wholly unclear?

    It just seems odd that while various politicians have been identified from what Cummings has said the "scientific community" might well have not been in the room... ever.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why does Cummings think anybody cares what he has to say? He's an unpleasant little man on a quest for revenge. We've all worked with people like him, convinced of their own abilities & blaming all problems on the managers who didn't listen to his advice.

    He may remember that one of his justifications for Brexit was to take control away from unelected officials, and give it back to our elected politicians. Well, a SPAD like Cummings is definitely in the first category, and most people were delighted to see him go.

    If he wants to be involved in running the country, let him stand for election first.

    1. Jason Hindle Silver badge

      Wooooosh!

    2. 2+2=5 Silver badge

      > Why does Cummings...

      One of Cummings claims is:

      Then deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara walked into a meeting with Mr Cummings and other officials on 13 March 2020 and said: "I've been told for years that there's a whole plan for this, there is not plan, we're in huge trouble.

      "I think we're absolutely f****d and we're going to kill thousands of people."

      It's interesting that the deputy cabinet secretary is talking to Cummings and not the PM directly. Perhaps that's because Cummings was responsible for putting in place a system whereby nobody got to talk to the PM unless they went through him first? And maybe that lack of access prevented the right message from getting through early enough, given that, at that time, Cummings and his best mate, Director of Communications, Lee Cain still had a considerable interest in spinning things positively for the PM?

      But the main thing that stands out is that Cummings didn't say what he did with this information. So you knew you were f*cked... And?

    3. eldakka Silver badge

      > Why does Cummings think anybody cares what he has to say?

      Because he knows where all the bodies are burried and knows everyone is hoping he'll spill.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surprised there was no discussion about the hard limit of safe hospital capacity and the effects of exceeding that capacity - repeated cross infections of doctors, nurses, and patients, resulting in excessive viral load. By excessive viral load I mean reintroducing viral loads into individuals who have some immunity faster than their immune system can get rid of those virus loads. The immune system becomes confused and goes haywire. The death rate then rises in the hospitals, and outside the hospital for those who cannot the basic care which they need (for COVID or any other sickness).

    That was seen in at least Wuhan, Italy, New York, and now India. That's where the idea of 1-year herd immunity hits a brick wall, because safe hospital capacity in any country - even OECD countries - cannot handle even 1 in a 1000 needing care simultaneously.

    It's worth adding that, in OECD hospitals, steroids were found to be effective at suppressing the immune system's haywire reaction, but now in India there is a problem with opportunist black fungus taking advantage of that suppressed immunity and rotting eyes for example. ("Mucormycosis: The 'black fungus' maiming Covid patients in India", BBC) Just one doctor in Mumbai reported seeing 40 cases.

  10. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    The only thing

    this is starting to prove is that we need people with technical ability in government rather than a bunch of PPE arse lickers

    <<drags godwins law out

    Albert Speer was a technical person.. could plan and do stuff... once the nazis put him in charge of war production instead of the arse lickers and toadys they had before, they got a shit ton more war fighting materials made. extending the second world war by 18 months-2yrs

    Having leaders with no understanding of the technical side of things means they wont understand things like exponential growth and the resistance to the disease being basically 0 as us humans have'nt encountered that virus before.

    Which does'nt take a dunderhead to realise that using 1/2 our intensive care beds for covid one week with an R figure of 2, would mean that all the beds would be full of covid the following week, and the following week only 1/2 of covid patients would get a bed. and gawd knows what happens in 4 weeks time.

    And then stir in the 1% fatality rate claimed for covid.

    Herd immunity was going to kill 700 000 - 800 000 UK people.

    I understood this in feb last year... and then the government took no action.....allowing 1000 s of people to goto football matches, horse racing, etc etc with the result that the few who had covid already would spread it around so much faster.

    The only success to this whole sorry saga has been the vaccination program because the government left it to the experts rather than have bozo the clown and co run it

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The only thing

      Yes. This. This. This.

      Much of this was known or deducible _at_ _the_ _time_

      I still don't understand why no one seemed to be saying at the time that, in the absence of a vaccine, herd immunity means everyone gets exposed, everyone without natural immunity (if that is a thing) gets infected and then a certain proportion die (or get permanent effects or recover or whatever). And we get to find out, without modelling, exactly what that proportion is.

      "Spreading the peak" was not limiting the numbers it was simply spreading them out so that the ICUs didn't get completely overwhelmed.

      And when they said the first peak was over I ended up saying to people who seemed to think everything could go back to normal: "no, the point isn't that the virus is over, all this means is that the grave diggers and crematoriums have caught up and are ready for you now"

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: The only thing

        I get the impression that Boris and his 'chums' thought that 'Herd Immunity' meant you protected the vulnerable (the ones for whom it would be fatal), let the fit and less vulnerable get the disease, recover from it and become immune and then you could stop protecting the vulnerable because so many people had immunity that the newly released vulnerable were unlikely to meet anyone contagious.

        If it was just a bit like the 'flu, then they expected people to take a few days or a week off work and be back, not clog up the hospitals. But wishful thinking doesn't always work. As my Mum told me when I was little " 'I want' doesn't get".

        Herd immunity by letting a disease run wild in a country of 65 million is a complete fallacy, as it ignores people who are asymptomatic carriers, it ignores the evolution of the virus (which happens a lot if it is allowed to run rampant) and it assumes that you can both identify the vast majority of vulnerable people, and also effectively isolate them from the contagion for several months. It also ignores the fact that people keep on getting born, so new ones emerge all the time who have to be factored into the strategy.

        Its sole advantage being that 'Boris doesn't have to play the heavy' make a hard decision and curtail economic activity.

        1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Re: The only thing

          My impression from BBC coverage at the time is that while someone was talking about "herd immunity" in front of a microphone, the government had already had it beaten into their thick skulls that it is a stupid idea. Possibly also that it doesn't work.

  11. werdsmith Silver badge

    I think they had a chat about herd immunity, as some other nations did. Then backed away from it when the reality sunk in.

    The vaccination program is a success because the government chucked money at securing the supply early. The roll out side of it is little to do with them. They approached the procurement like a chav looking for big rolls in Tesco’s at the start of the first lockdown.

    1. TiredNConfused80

      The roll out side of it is little to do with them.....

      Probably why it's going well!

  12. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    One thing is for sure

    We're not done hearing about how things could have been managed better.

    And it's not just the UK. In France I'm hearing a lot about how there are treatments that could facilitate the ordeal of the hospital bed, but apparently doctors are forbidden to mention them.

    I have difficulty in believing that, but on the other hand the French government is clearly on a no-holes-barred quest to get everyone vaccinated at any cost, so what am I supposed to think ?

    There will be fallout on this, of that I am certain.

  13. Claptrap314 Silver badge
    Megaphone

    This again?

    I'm a mathematician. I work as a SWE or SRE-SWE. I have a passing interest in medicine, especially communicable diseases.

    I was HERE in JANUARY explaining to anyone who would listen that "novel" and "airborne disease" are a couple of things that you do NOT want to hear in the same sentence. I was explaining that the majority of infections from airborne diseases are in people who are presymptomatic--and why. I was explaining that universal masking was BY FAR the best defense we had to slow things down. I was explaining that slowing things down was critical to prevent hospitals from being overloaded. And...I was explaining that masking would be needed until effective vaccines were fully deployed.

    I also torn into the CDC for using emotional language and perennially lying regarding the flu.

    I also mentioned that given the data we had (which was still quite sparse), it looked like young people would be minimally affected, meaning that _if you could control things_, "COVID-19 parties" _for the young_ _might_ be a good idea.

    I got a lot of up votes. I got more down votes. I also recall President Trump being called an anti-Asian racist for closing the air travel from China.

    I especially got hammered because Fauci was out there claiming that only people who were sick should wear masks.

    Sorry, but no. I might be a genius, but anyone with a short-course education in airborne infectious disease knew all of these things.

    It neither surprises nor bothers me that the people in power don't have this knowledge, however. What annoys the **** out of me is that the "experts" that they were relying on refused to acknowledge that the things that we know to be true regarding airborne infectious diseases in general actually applied in this particular case. If the CDC & Fauci had not been more worried about making President Trump look bad in January-February than in fighting this thing, we might have saved a couple of weeks _globally_.

  14. Winkypop Silver badge
    FAIL

    What shocks me the most

    I’m shocked that this shower of shites were as bad as I suspected.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: What shocks me the most

      What shocks me is that people are prepared to accept what comes out of this snake’s mouth now. What’s changed from Barnard Castle? Best not to forget that while he has the stage to himself and is pointing the finger, he was in the thick of it, and as much part of it as anyone he is trying to push under the buses.

      The reason this is a rather silly dog and pony show. Is the showman cannot be trusted.

  15. xyz Silver badge

    I said at the time...

    That treating covid like some flood to be spread out across a large area rather than a forest fire that you needed to starve of fuel was nuts. All I got back was "herd immunity, herd immunity".

    I'm obviously not smart.

  16. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    Lockdowns were only ever intended to SLOW the spread of the virus, to give the NHS a chance of coping with the influx of patients, to give the vaccine creators time to create their vaccines. Once they were finally implemented they worked.

    Herd immunity is something that happens at the end of a pandemic, not the beginning. By then the disease has killed off all of those vulnerable to the disease. I'm no epidemiologist but even I was shocked at the lack of response by our government in Feb 2020. What's worse is that they HAVE NOT LEARNED from their mistakes and have just repeated themselves by allowing the Indian Variant here, rather than locking down all travel from India several weeks ago. It's like watching a looped Laurel & Hardy comedy!

    As for Cummings, well it's been amusing to see a lying scumbag rat trying to take down the rest of the lying scumbag rats with him, but his chances of succeeding against the might of the media who are supporting BloJo are minimal. BloJo could kill a kitten with his bare hands on primetime TV and get away with it because far too many powerful people have tied themselves to him, so they can't afford for him to fall. Somehow it would get spun into something harmless like "fake video", or the kitten was a Covid superspreader,.... etc.

  17. Val Halla

    Doctored evidence

    There's too many spin doctors and not enough doctors of science.

  18. Twanky

    Not exponential

    Firstly, does nobody else find it alarming that Dominic Cummings had retained a photograph of a whiteboard from a brainstorming session with the Prime Minister and others and just published it on Twitter?

    There will be endless claims of who knew, or should have known, what and when; how they interpreted and/or should have interpreted it; what the actual facts were at various stages; and what subsequent interpretation of the facts reveals. From these we'll have multiple diverging opinions about what would have happened if only: <fill in whatever scenario springs to mind>. I'm certain that prevailing opinions about all of these will change over time. In 20 years Wikipedia (or whatever it evolves into) will still be torn over what actually happened and what was and should have been done about it.

    I'm happy this process has started and I'm hoping it will include all the advisers (and former members) from SAGE and reveal any dissenting opinions. People are becoming more concerned about what should have been done than what will be done next. In other words they think it's over.

    I like many others was engaged in curve-fitting available data from the first UK lockdown onwards. I was looking at data published by ONS (ie for England and Wales), by PHE and the data collated by the UK Government 'dashboard'. I would hope that advisers to the government and health services had quicker access to the data than we as members of the general public had.

    To gain context I retrieved ONS weekly mortality data going back to 2010 and population estimates and projections. For added context I retrieved ONS annual main cause of death data (as reported on death certificates) via the NOMIS system going back to 2013. In addition I looked at ONS' excess winter mortality figures back to 1950 and compared that with annual death rates for the standard population subsets of male/female, age: <1, 1-14, 15-44, 45-64, 65-74, 75-84 and 85+.

    The first wave of Covid-related deaths (as reported on death certificates) in England and Wales up to September follows a Gompertz curve (cumulative deaths). It is such an exact match as to be astonishing.

    A general formula for a Gompertz curve is: a * EXP(-b * EXP(-c * time))

    The ONS data up to 10 April 2020 (published 21 April) fits a Gompertz curve with the formula: 6.22E+04 * EXP(-1.23E+02 * EXP(-6.25E-02 * <day no>)) where <day no>=1 is 30 Jan 2020. For context 10 April 2020 would be <day no>=72 by which time ONS was reporting 15,785 deaths. The formula 'predicts' 62,200 deaths.

    Even by plotting just the first thousand deaths (ie as at 23 March 2010, <day no>=54) it was obvious that we were not following an exponential curve.

    The ONS data up to 4 September 2020 (published 15 September) fits a Gompertz curve with the formula: 5.17E+04 * EXP(-7.14E+01 * EXP(-5.66E-02 * <day no>)). ie it predicts 51,700 deaths. As I said above the fit is astonishingly close.

    Rather interestingly the data from October onwards is chaotic and does not fit a Gompertz curve at all. I'm sure this will attract different interpretations but it's almost as if multiple different things were happening rather than a single-cause epidemic.

    1. Richard 30

      Re: Not exponential

      At a guess, because there were multiple outbreaks, seeded by foreign travel in the summer, and because of internal dynamics of the original strain being overtaken by the new improved Kent strain. You need a superposition of curves with different starting times.

      1. Twanky

        Re: Not exponential

        Certainly a superposition of Gompertz curves from multiple outbreaks would appear chaotic but it is not a good explanation for the observed data and implies an assertion that the only reason the first wave of deaths in early-mid 2020 fits a Gompertz curve so neatly is that there was a single outbreak which spanned the two countries (ie there was a single patient 'zero' in England and Wales (yes, I know that's a misnomer for patient 'O')). I find that unlikely in the extreme.

        As for the different variants (which we must now refer to by Greek letter suffixes) overtaking each other: they won't do that unless there is some sort of selection pressure. Understanding what that pressure is is important.

        If we ignore the death diagnoses in the registrations and instead compare rates of death for each subset of the population against the average for that subset, taking into account long term (10 year) trends and seasonal variations (eg what percentage of the population of females over 85 years of age died this week compared with the expected percentage of that subset) we can arrive at figures for 'excess' deaths for each subset of the population. For example, we should expect about 0.31% of males and 0.27% of females over the age of 85 to die in each week (the percentage is lower in the Summer weeks than in the Winter weeks and there are about twice as many females as males in the 85+ age group in England and Wales). The rates for excess deaths in the first wave of the epidemic in England and Wales shows a very close match to Gompertz curves for the 45-64, 65-74, 75-84 and 85+ age groups. There is almost no excess for the younger groups. The key point though is that the ratio between the excess death rates for these sub groups remains the same throughout. This does not hold from October onwards - different subsets show disproportionate increases compared with others - in other words the excess does not match a single cause epidemic from October onwards.

        We can validate this analysis by looking at the data from the Winters of 2014-15 and 2017-18. Excess deaths data for 2014-15 (calculated as described above) shows almost perfect Gompertz curves for the more elderly age groups from late December 2014 to late March 2015. However, the excess deaths data for 2017-18 is chaotic. 2014-15 was a bad 'flu year but 2017-18 was a bad weather year in England and Wales.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021