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Britain Will Seek 'Herd Immunity' Covertly or by Default
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I was six years old in 1956 when my parents decided to return to Ireland from London, though a polio epidemic was in full swing in Cork city thirty miles from where we lived. They thought we would be safe in our house deep in the countryside and were encouraged by the fact that there were no cases in the nearest town.

As with coronavirus, the polio virus spreads asymptomatically – making it difficult to know precisely where it will strike next. We quarantined but this was less than complete because my father was travelling to-and-fro for work purposes between Cork and London.

Had my parents asked local doctors about the degree of risk in returning home, they would probably have been told that 98 to 99 per cent of those infected with the virus suffered no more than a sore throat, fatigue, a headache, constipation and, in some cases, a pain in the back of the neck. It was only a tiny unlucky minority, most of them young children, who would be crippled for life or die.

Unfortunately, my brother Andrew and I were among this unlucky few. I was diagnosed, admitted to hospital and nearly died. Although I ultimately recovered, the muscles in my legs were permanently weakened and I have a pronounced limp.

In Cork city, the public health officials repeatedly said that there was no alternative but to let the epidemic burn itself out, establishing what would now be called “herd immunity”. Efficient and experienced doctors, they were dismissive of those wanting to isolate Cork city and its inhabitants by cutting rail and road links to the rest of the country. They saw no point in cancelling sports fixtures and forbidding schools to reopen because they were convinced that this would not stop the virus.

Dr Gerald McCarthy, the medical officer of health for the county, said: “If I had my way, apart from isolating in hospital every case detected in its early stages, I would take no other elaborate precautions.” Along with others in charge of combating the epidemic, he was mystified when parents expressed outrage that public health officials appeared to be playing Russian roulette with the lives of their children, even if the chances were high that they would survive unscathed.

What those cool-headed public health officials failed to understand was that a life-threatening epidemic like polio produces sheer terror that anybody managing the outbreak must take into account. People in rural Cork would walk through the fields rather than travel down a road that went past a house where somebody was known to be ill. Police had to deliver food to the doors of some of those infected because otherwise they would have starved.

Medically, the Cork doctors may have been right but they were naïve to suppose that a thoroughly frightened population was going to stand still and let the epidemic wash over them without demanding that the authorities do everything to stop its advance. Fear for their immediate families inevitably trumped concerns about the good of the ‘herd’ or wider community.

Over half a century after the Cork epidemic, the British government and its medical advisers find themselves in something of the same dilemma. They clearly considered “herd immunity”, and going down the same road as Sweden, but they jumped away from the idea when it met with a fiercely negative public reaction. “Our aim,” said the chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Valance on 13 March, ten day before lockdown, “is to build up some degree of herd immunity whilst protecting the most vulnerable”.

Of course, protecting the most vulnerable turned out to be exactly what the government did not do as mass deaths in the care homes demonstrated. Countries around the world were likewise soon denying that they were pursuing “herd immunity” as the phrase became a synonym for state-sponsored euthanasia. Leaving aside the victims in the care homes, critics pointed out that, in addition to those that died, many would be permanently disabled, nor was there in any case, any guarantee that mass infection would confer long term immunity.

The dynamics of epidemics, their lethal ebbs and flows, are unpredictable and complicated involving more than a fixed proportion of people getting the illness.

Yet six months from “herd immunity” being pilloried worldwide as the equivalent of poisoning the wells, Britain may covertly or by default may be adopting just such a policy.

The reason for this creeping volte-face is that while “herd immunity” may or may not be achievable, the alternative policy of lockdown looks more and more like a bad bargain, bringing economic devastation in return for a temporary retreat of the epidemic. It only really works in countries where the state and society are so organised, China or Germany being prime examples, so that they can largely return to normality while at the same time suppressing new outbreaks. It helps if they are islands like New Zealand and Taiwan, but this advantage wanes as soon as full travel links are re-established.

Suppression of the virus only works if its elimination is near total and an effective system is in place to find, test and isolate new cases. Britain is clearly not one of the countries that can successfully do this, indeed, it has inflicted on itself the worst of all possible worlds with enough lockdown to wreck the economy but is still failing to bring the virus under control.

The gravity of this calamity has not really sunk in in Britain, but the extent of the failure is becoming incontrovertible. The government has built up a great edifice of emergency measures and regulations but they are increasingly ignored. Only 18 per cent of those with coronavirus symptoms are self-isolating while just 11 per cent of those told by contact tracers to stay at home obey the instruction, according to a survey of 32,000 people commissioned by the Department of Health.


In other words, Britain has become like many countries about which I have reported in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union, where people only formally comply with official rules. It was both pathetic and frightening to watch Boris Johnson’s address to the nation on Monday in which he pretended to fight the resurgent epidemic by tweaking opening hours for pubs and restaurants and tightening up on the rules for the wearing of face masks.

What is really wrong – and probably impossible to put right at this late stage – is that the government suffers from chronic operational incapacity and, contrary to its winning general election slogan, simply does not know how to get things done, not Brexit, not anything.

The former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell pointed out in a lecture this week that all the relevant indices show the Johnson government have done far worse than others in the EU in coping with the epidemic. The figure of 65,700 excess deaths in Britain this year is four times more than in Germany, two-and-a-half times more than in France and exceeds the fatalities in Italy and Spain. O’Donnell says the government has been in “firefighter mode” too long.

In reality, it has been in “panic mode,” and thanks to its bumbling incompetence, there is plenty to panic about.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
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  1. unit472 says:

    They re-opened the schools in my Florida county ( for those parents willing to have their children attend) so I saw some elementary school kids standing at the bus stop. Little boys and girls ,6 to 10 years old standing there wearing face masks. It was very disturbing. Of course I don’t want the kids to get sick but I doubt a face mask is going to protect them, they are children and they will touch each other and laugh and yell like all children do so if they can be infected by the virus they will be. Fortunately they don’t seem to be much at risk from C ovid but they will bring the virus home with them. That’s unavoidable.

    Our politicians squabble over who is going to ‘follow the science’ as if there was some ‘settled science’ to adhere to and even if there was how in the world are they going to enforce whatever ‘scientific protocol’ they settle on? We aren’t Xi Jinping’s China where the ‘authorities’ can weld the doors to apartment towers shut. At the end of the day we are going to have to let the virus run its course and intervene only where it can be done effectively. Nursing homes for example. Other than that government should just monitor infection rates and be on the look out for clusters such as those that break out in meat processing plants and the like.

    • Agree: Sulu
    • Thanks: Pheasant
  2. Rahan says:

    There was a time a mere thirty years ago when the Anglosphere, especially the USA, the UK, and Australia, would have been leading the world in the fight against a virulent strain of the flu, and would have been showing everyone how to do so without sacrificing freedoms and the economy.

    Today bloody Croatia and Vietnam are better at this than the Anglosphere. Today the Anglosphere handles this crap on the level of Brazil and India.

    COVID-19 was a very important stress-test which showed what’s what. The Japs, the Germans, and the frogs are still more or less capable of performing the way one expects them to perform. Northern Europe too. But the Anglosphere… systemic entropy seems to have gone beyond a certain limit that prevents the system from maintaining equilibrium automatically. Now it has to function like late Rome–heroic individual leaders are the only ones who can provide some respite.

    And while all of the Anglosphere has been totally tribalised and deconstructed, only the US is demographically sabotaged to the extent of white kids being a minority in school, and whites as such suddenly becoming a minority in their own country once the boomers die off in another decade. The rest of the Anglosphere is still majority-white, but apparently once you’re tribalised and deconstructed beyond a specific limit, that’s all that counts.

    • Replies: @Snert
    , @Anonymous
  3. Snert says:

    The rot started setting in with the arrival of neoconservatism (think Thatcherism) where greed and corruption amongst the elites and 1% was allowed to run rampant. Jobs were offshored so that the greedy at the top could suck out even more wealth and destroy the middle class. Taxes were cut, largely for the benefit of the wealthy, along with subsidies in the mistaken belief they would create jobs and greater wealth for all.

    But all that the tax cuts and subsidies did was transfer still more wealth from the poor and the dwindling middle class to the wealthy and the elites. In the process, public education, infrastructure and a whole host of other things that once made Western society great were allowed to rot, and a pattern of disinvestment in these things was allowed to develop.

    Feminism was allowed to rise and influence the public narrative, and in the process gave millions of white women no incentives to have children. Now we’re having to import millions of culturally and cognitively incompatible people from non-white Third World countries to obtain labour because birth rates amongst whites has cratered, reaching far less than replacement levels.

    These Third World migrants have been of little benefit to Western societies. At best, they provide cheap labour. And if you doubt the lack of benefit, ask the French, the Brits, and the Swedish how their importation of Third World migrants is working out for them.

    • Replies: @animalogic
    , @Rod
  4. As ever, COCKburn misrepresents the facts. Coronavirus deaths in the UK are presently 42,000. Hong Kong Flu in 1968-69 killed 80,000 . Taking population growth into account this equates to 100,000 at 2020 figures.
    The excess deaths figure is misleading, because so much cancer and heart disease treatment has been cancelled because of coronavirus. Accordingly, large numbers of cancer and heart patients have died.

    Right from the beginning, COVID-19 has been represented as being 10X or more as fatal as seasonal flu. This is untrue. Please see the following article.
    The article links to a scientific journal published by Cambridge University, of all places.
    Unsurprisingly, you will not find this article in the Unz Paul Craig Roberts Archive. Ron Unz, the proprietor, is a Coronavirus fanatic, which may be the reason.

    • Replies: @Dieter Kief
  5. jsinton says:

    Herd immunity remains the only possible outcome in a free society. Either the virus evolves itself into oblivion, as Spanish flu once did, or we develop a miracle “vaccine” which is unlikely to be 100% effective. Countries like Germany are finding that out. China and Vietnam are control freak societies, they can control the virus into oblivion: Not many countries have that kind of control. So maybe lockdowns can stop the virus, but who will pay for the economic damage? Who will send aid to Africa now and save them from malaria? How many people will die from starvation? From poverty? From eating dirty food? From drinking dirty water? How many people will hang themselves in the closet like my cousin in Florida who lost all his money because his flooring company closed?

    These are simple questions that anyone could have foreseen as the likely outcome of shutting down the world economy. It’s been my greatest concern since we got the data from the Diamond Princess (Petri Dish of the Seas) and knew the case fatality rate was only .26%. So smart people KNEW we couldn’t and shouldn’t shut down the economy, it is plain to see. There is no question.

    Then there is the question of “planned demic” which is likely once you examine the hydroxychloriquine fiasco. The stuff works, and we have that hard data now. Countries that embraced HCQ early on for COVID cases had an 86% lower death rate. That’s 6 out of 7 deaths that could have been prevented, or 170,000 lives saved in the US had not the media and the corporations not throw shit on Trump’s embracing of HCQ.

    A lot of leaders/psychopaths should be charged with mass murder/crimes against humanity, or at least criminal negligence in my view.

    • Agree: Bro43rd, Sulu
    • Replies: @RodW
  6. @Verymuchalive

    on Unz, the proprietor, is a Coronavirus fanatic, which may be the reason.

    Thanks for the Cambridge CO-19- link.

    Ron Unz does not censor Paul Craig Roberts.

    • Replies: @Verymuchalive
  7. lloyd says: • Website

    Herd immunity is impossible in societies that have inculcated the messages from Schindler’s List. “He who kills a single human being kills a world.” The hysterical panic pumping media are a huge factor. In 1968, mortality and sickness were treated as medical and police matters. Privacy of bereaved families was respected by media unless they were celebrities. Perhaps I should say politicians or stars. I don’t think the word celebrity existed then.

  8. Sean says:

    BMJ opinion: Karl Friston

    How should we respond to an upsurge in covid-19 cases?
    September 24, 2020
    There is a third way beyond lockdown or herd immunity, says Karl FristonThe adversarial premise is that there are three mutually exclusive things that work in our favour: (i) reducing contact rates, (ii) establishing a sufficient level of population immunity (via exposure or vaccination) and (iii) suppression of community transmission, through tracing the contacts of infected people and supporting them in isolation. The adversarial premise can be challenged because all the available evidence points to a synergetic interaction between these factors, meaning they work hand-in-hand to promote each other.

  9. @Dieter Kief

    I was not suggesting that Mr Unz was censoring Dr Roberts or any other blogger or columnist, as opposed to commenter. However, any articles taken from the website ( or other writings ) of Dr Roberts for publication in the Unz Review will be selected by Mr Unz. This applies to all other bloggers and columnists, too.
    Like all human beings, this selection will be on the basis of the interests, predilections and prejudices of the selector.

  10. @Snert

    Dont disagree with your comment — except a couple points:
    “Taxes were cut, largely for the benefit of the wealthy, along with subsidies in the mistaken belief they would create jobs and greater wealth for all.” There was no, or very limited, “mistaken belief” — Elites knew that, in combination with off-shoring & immigration that there would be no “greater wealth for all”. They never, never subscribed to or intended the “rising tide raises all ships” view.
    As for immigration — whatever lower birth rates there were could have been helped with methods other than mass immigration: ie create an environment in which couples CAN comfortably have 2-3 kids. Indeed, a lot of people would love to have more kids, if it were possible. Low birth rates was another BS reason for mass immigration. Wage suppression & demand inflation were more to the Elite point….

  11. Eradicating Polio was the reason for the vaccine campaign instituted by Polio victim FDR. It was based on ignorance though, be ause Polio is not contagious through respiration. It is not an airborn disease, eben though it does affect the lungs. Polio is a gastrointestinal tract virus which is transmitted through feces that have been contamintated by a Polio virus victim in either the food or water supply. Better filtration, better plumbing, better sanitation, and adding minut quantities of chlorine to the water is what eradicated Polio, not vaccines.

    It was also indoor plumbing and shared wells that started polio outbreaks, the first in Vermont in the U.S. in 1856. The wealthy did have indoor plumbing then.

    Vaccines do not work. They force people to be exposed to a virus that they may or may not have bedn exposed to. m-RNA vaccines reprogram DNA and the body to effectively attack itself if the virus would be contracted. The virus enters cells, so any cell with a viral load would end up being attacked with a programmed messenger RNA response. It is a hoax. Viruses quickley mutate as well. It is Nazi junk science.

    Andrea Iravani

  12. RodW says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your cousin. The huge human cost of destroyed businesses is so often overlooked by the ‘doctors’, the ‘scientists’, and those who have secure incomes whatever the hell they advocate.

  13. anon[137] • Disclaimer says:

    Two things, Polio was a disease that was a clearly identifiable disease, with clearly identifiable symptoms. Everyone knew someone or knew of someone who had come down with it. In the 1950’s, most doctors really cared about their patients and the pharmaceutical companies had much less influence over public health policy than the total control they have today. Fast forward to 2020, we’ve had endless propaganda over the past 20 years about a series of diseases that were going to kill us all, endless propaganda about the ozone, global warming and a hundred other man caused problems all coming from NGO’s and United Nations agencies who roll out dubious “studies” showing us this and showing us that while each time there are prominent scientist skeptics that put their lives and careers on the line to tell us to question the propaganda that is accepted by governments as the gospel. We can see that the NGO’s, big business, public health agencies and big pharma are all joined at the hip (it takes very little research to find this out) so that all that needs to be done to create another crisis is for some legitimate looking agency to come out with studies done by “experts” to create another one. This Covid crisis is the biggest one perpetrated so far. We have the whole world getting in on the act and the net result is that they have put the global economy almost to a halt for the past 6 months. We keep on hearing from the compliant news media that the disease numbers are waxing and waning but we are going to have a second wave because we aren’t being good little children and wearing our face diapers and practicing social distancing. My first question is, where are the bodies? I keep on asking people do they know someone who died of Covid? The answer is always no, but I know of someone who died in the nursing home that my ex-wife’s sister-in-law’s boyfriend’s mother used to work in.

    • Thanks: mark green
  14. Anonymous[962] • Disclaimer says:

    British people have also been chaotically disobedient of simple rules to reduce the risk of the virus, more like a third world country. I get the impression even Indians have followed the rules more diligently.

  15. Rod says:

    Thatcher and her worshippers are the middle class – Thatcher was literally a shopkeeper’s daughter. Politically they are Whigs: middling merchant types who want the fruits of an orderly & sane society, but none of the restrictions or responsibilities.

    Actual “elites” (aristocrats) have practically zero power in Europe, haven’t since the so-called “Enlightenment”, and won’t until long after the middle class has finished destroying everything through their collective insistence on democratic liberalism.

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