Coronavirus – 3rd April 2020

Dr Vernon Coleman MB ChB DSc FRSA

1. A couple of weeks ago I felt quite alone in my views about the coronavirus. Now, I don’t feel quite so alone. For example, Professor John P.A.Ionannidis, co-director of Stanford University’s Meta-Research Innovation Center and professor of medicine, biomedical data science, statistics and epidemiology and population health has described the response to the coronavirus infection as a `fiasco in the making’. He says that we making are major decisions based on `utterly unreliable’ data. Moreover, he claims that the data which is available suggests that we are likely to be severely overreacting and that the extreme measures being taken may result in unnecessary and catastrophic consequences. He says (as I have frequently argued here) that the limited testing means that we are probably missing most of the people who have been infected and that this makes reported fatality rates from the World Health Organisation meaningless. Professor Ionannidis points out that although the fatality rate on the Diamond Princess cruise ship was 1.0%, the population was mostly elderly – the most at risk group. He calculates that the death rate from the coronavirus is probably more likely 0.125% with a range between 0.025% and 0.625% and adds that a death rate of 0.05% is lower than the death rate with the ordinary winter flu. Finally, Professor Ionannidis points out that some other coronaviruses which have been regarded as `mild’ or `common cold type’ have had fatality rates as high as 8% in nursing homes. Other experts agree with Professor Ionnannidis.

2. The UK Government’s policy on the coronavirus (and the prediction of 500,000 deaths and the most draconian controls on our freedom in history) came from Professor Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College London. Professor Ferguson (who appears to be a mathematician and does not seem to have a medical degree) has criticised those (like me) who have compared the coronavirus to flu. `It is ludicrous, frankly, to suggest that the severity of this virus is comparable to season flu – ludicrous and dangerous,’ he is reported to have said though, as a qualified doctor, I find it difficult to understand why he says this. He criticised Professor Sunetra Gupta and her team who suggested that half the UK’s population could have been affected. Professor Gupta’s suggestion was also criticised because it hasn’t been peer reviewed. But as far as I can see the work done by Imperial College hasn’t been peer reviewed either.

3. Recent figures from the United States Centers for Disease Control show that during the last few months the flu has infected 38 million Americans, put 390,000 in hospital and killed 23,000. Those are almost certainly massive underestimates for reasons I will explain later. No one seems bothered by these figures because the flu isn’t a new disease. (Actually, other coronaviruses have been around for a long time too.)

4. It is Ferguson’s theories which have led to the lockdown which is causing so much distress. But another academic, Professor Michael Thrusfield of Edinburgh University has pointed out that Ferguson was `instrumental’ for the modelling which led to the cull of more than six million animals during the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001. Professor Thrusfield, an expert in animal diseases, claimed that the cull was a result of incorrect assumptions and that Imperial’s report was `not fit for purpose’ and `severely flawed’. Professor Ferguson defended Imperial’s work on foot and mouth, claiming that they were using `limited data’ at the time. But now, with coronavirus, they are again using limited data.

5. Polling from MORI has found that 20% of Britons think it is likely they have already had the coronavirus. Another 14% think it is fairly likely that they have had the virus. If they are correct then a third of the country has had the disease, had relatively mild symptoms and could be out and about without risk.

6. I will tell you if I was wrong about the coronavirus. But will Professor Ferguson and the Government tell you if they were wrong?

7. The UK now appears to be quoted as giving mortality rate figures for `people who have died after testing positive for coronavirus’. `If you died with it then you died of it.’ This is exactly what was done in Italy – resulting in a much higher death rate than in other countries. As I have said many times before, people who test positive for the virus and who die have not necessarily died because of the virus. They may have died of heart or lung disease. They may have fallen out of bed and cracked their skulls. This is a schoolboy mistake. Or it isn’t a mistake at all, but a deliberate attempt to cover up the truth.

8. Has the Government delayed mass testing because they fear what the tests will show? The Government is going to be vilified if it is proven that the lockdown was unnecessary. Boris Johnson and the Tory Government appear to have put their faith in Professor Ferguson and Imperial College.

9. A new app is being introduced that will enable the authorities to know exactly where you are at all times and, moreover, to know who you have met and for how long and where. George Orwell didn’t make that one up.

10. Imperial College claims that the first week of the lockdown saved 370 British lives. Even if this is true (and I don’t have the foggiest idea how they can be so sure) I believe that the number of deaths caused by the lockdown far exceeds 370. Many patients have had essential, potentially life-saving surgery delayed. Tests have been delayed. Treatments have been delayed. How many thousands will die as a result? I don’t know and nor does anyone else. But if death rates from cancer rise in the next year or two we will know the cause. My guess is that the number who will die as a direct result of the lockdown will be far, far greater than 370. Once again, the cure will be worse than the disease.

11. The coronavirus will stop being a problem when enough people in the country have immunity. That’s the principle behind mass vaccination. But locking people in their homes means that people will not acquire immunity. Once we are allowed out of our homes then the number of people with the virus will increase. And the lockdown will be reintroduced. This could go on for years. There will doubtless be a spike of infections in the autumn as the weather gets colder.

12. We are now being told to prepare for blackouts as a result of a shortage of staff at electric companies. Will that be the last straw? The nation will be locked in their homes, with no light, no heat, no hot food or drinks and no television, no computer games and no radio or mobile telephone. Treating the human consequences will require thousands of psychiatrists, psychologists and marriage guidance counsellors.

13. Epidemiologists do not have a great track record. They are rather like investment analysts and astrologers in having very patchy results. In 2014, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forecast 1.4 million cases of Ebola in West Africa. In the end the epidemic resulted in less than 30,000 reported cases. In the UK predictions for deaths from SARS etc have been way off the mark. However, even if Professor Ferguson turns out to have been wrong my guess is that he’ll end up with a knighthood or a peerage.

14. In my YouTube video I warned that the coronavirus fiasco would lead to the demonization and abandonment of the elderly. I was mocked and criticised for airing this fear. However, there seems little doubt now that this was entirely accurate and that health services are discriminating against the elderly. Indeed, there have been suggestions that many care home residents will be denied any hospital care. This is discrimination. Imagine the furore if the NHS decided not to treat any other group in society. `Children to be denied health care’. `Women to be denied health care’. `Gays to be denied health care’. The mind boggles.

15. If the Government had done more widespread testing and if that testing had shown that the number of people with the virus was ten or twenty times as high as is currently being suggested then the death rate would be one tenth or one twentieth. And that would put the coronavirus death rate in the same range as flu. These are not wild assumptions. Indeed, the Government’s own chief scientific adviser suggested, when there had been 590 diagnosed cases, that the real figure was 5,000 to 10,000 cases. So, as I say, that would put the death rate alongside that of flu.

16. On March 19th it was officially decided that the coronavirus should no longer be classified as a "high consequence infectious disease" this downgrade was not published until March 21st. Shortly afterwards, the country was put into lockdown and the 358-page emergency bill (Coronavirus Act 2020) was published giving the Government and the police massive powers.

17. The Government is in due course almost certain to claim that its lockdown policy has reduced the number of coronavirus deaths. But this is nonsense because we don’t know how many would have died of the coronavirus without the lockdown policy. It is perfectly possible that the lockdown policy has made little or no difference to mortality rates from the coronavirus. Indeed, I strongly suspect that the lockdown policy has already increased the number of people dying because it has deprived people with other illnesses of normal medical care.

18. The figures from Italy are constantly being used to frighten us. But the average age of those dying in Italy was 78.5 years. And as I have previously explained most of the deaths were probably not caused by the coronavirus though that is what was put on the death certificates.

19. The authorities in Iceland have been testing their population very enthusiastically and they have found that up to half of coronavirus infections are almost completely without symptoms. Most of the rest are fairly trivial. In Iceland there have been 648 cases and two deaths – which give a death rate of 0.3 % which is much the same as we would expect from the flu.

20. There has been very little debate about Professor Ferguson’s `models’ for the coronavirus. There should be a great debate because if Professor Ferguson is wrong then incalculable damage being done to whichever countries are following the Imperial College thinking. The Imperial College `model’ should be closely examined and dissected. Has anyone outside Imperial taken a look at it? I’d love to see precisely how Professor Ferguson and his team reached their conclusions. If they are wrong then they must surely take responsibility for the biggest cock up in history. If the Imperial College advice was overly pessimistic, as I believe it was, then Boris Johnson is surely toast. The nation will be damned near destroyed for nothing. Vast numbers of people will have been forced to wait for essential medical treatment. Vast numbers of people will be left unemployed. Vast numbers of businesses will go bust. The education of millions of children will have been savagely disrupted and probably permanently damaged. And, as I showed on on 26th March the Government has now passed a Bill which takes away almost all our traditional freedoms.

Copyright Vernon Coleman 3rd April 2020