It is disturbing that our Prime Minister is in intensive care. The leader of a nation has symbolic as well as instrumental value. It is reasonable for the public to assume that any Prime Minister has good security, good health care, good advice and plenty of material comforts.
10 Downing Street is not that comfortable, since most of it is an office, with the flat at 11 better than that over 10, so it is the former that Prime Ministers use. I have never been in the flats, but the rest of the house is reassuringly modest. The famous staircase with pictures of former prime ministers is, er, just a staircase up to the offices. Nothing grand about it. Frankly, if they hadn’t thought of putting some photographs on the wall there would be nothing of interest to notice, other than possibly the monitors when you eventually get to the office upstairs.
So, there is symbolic damage. In the UK we haven’t been able to protect our top guy. Also, there is an instrumental problem. Who is in charge now? When the top man goes down the coming men surge forward. They have the loyalty of ferrets, and if he does not survive, there will be another battle royal, just months after the last one. Not good for a country in trouble.
In retrospect, it is fair to note that the Prime Minister took a relaxed attitude to precautions, still shaking hands mid-March, even with Covid patients; attending meetings and political events, and giving advice about social distancing to journalists crowded into a Downing Street room, which are none of them very large, thus negating the message being given. No face masks anywhere. This was of a piece with his general outlook, that personal freedoms are to be cherished, not curtailed unless there are very good reasons. The Imperial model is credited with changing his mind, and making him move to lockdown, though later than was prudent. Whatever the criticisms of the model, if accepted sooner it could have saved him from a major threat to his health.
Intensive care is not a lovely place to be. Only half survive, despite the best efforts of highly trained and dedicated staff. Have a look at the detailed study which came out a few days ago. It is not reassuring. Even those previously in reasonable health, able to cope with everyday living without assistance, are almost just as much at risk.
There are still those who see this pandemic as simply the flu with a new name, and suggest we have made too much fuss about it. I don’t think so.
What we need to look at are the weekly death rates now compared to the weekly death rates in previous years. These data exist for Europe, and show that many countries are experiencing excess deaths, though for the most part not yet at the rates previously experienced for flu.
However, the flu deaths are for all types, and the current upturn is due to the newest variant, if we are to call it just another flu. Corvid-19 has only had a few months to spread, but it already showing excess deaths in many countries. By simple inspection there are excess deaths in Belgium +4, France +4, Italy +8, Spain +8, Switzerland + 4 and England +4. Those are Z scores, so the figures show death rates between 4 and 8 times normal weekly variation. That is alarming.
Call it flu if you like. Very contagious flu. Flu that you can get from people who appear to have no symptoms. Cryptic flu.
It might be too early to work out the infection to death ratio, but what if it is 1.0 to 1.2%? That would be 10 to 12 times worse than flu, and it may be with us for many years to come.