We must pray for our governments. Though the International Health Regulations require notification of any new pathogen to the international community within 24 hours, China’s concealment of its virus’ person-to-person transmission for three fatal months from mid-October 2019 to 20 January 2020 prevented most governments from taking the initial precautions that could have spared very nearly all of the half million and counting who have died in consequence of the pandemic.
That said, it is time for the Church to exercise her traditional function of speaking up on behalf of those who have become impoverished, or whose poverty has deepened. From the Renaissance until World War II, the Church placed considerable emphasis on higher learning. She founded schools and universities. She trained her priests to a high intellectual standard. Therefore, when she spoke to the civil power, she spoke with the thunderous authority that profound knowledge tempered by Christian love imparts to all who possess them.
In the Church, as in the governing class generally, our leaders these days are nearly all mathematically innumerate and scientifically illiterate. It is probably true to say that most of today’s classe politique knows less mathematics than at any time since before the Renaissance. This profound ignorance of the scientific method has become not merely dangerous but fatal.
Like many world leaders, I was trained as a Classicist. Unlike nearly all of them, I also taught myself the rudiments of the physical sciences. Above all I learned to speak mathematics, the lingua franca of all the hard sciences. I went on to make a fortune from mathematics – which is more than most mathematicians can say.
Here, then, in just seven words, is the advice that a mathematician would give to governments wrestling with the Chinese virus.
You can Safely End Your Lockdowns Now.
There. I’ve said it.
But how can I state that conclusion so confidently, given that those countries that have ended their lockdowns are already suffering new outbreaks of infection? And what about Sweden, which had no lockdown and now has the seventh-largest death rate per head of population in the world?
And what of my own country, Britain? If a lockdown had been introduced just one week before it did, 25,000 lives would have been spared. If, like this household, HM Government had hermitized a month earlier, nearly all who have since died would have been spared.
Based on the excess mortality figures rather than the woefully incomplete statistics announced daily at the leaden Downing Street press conferences, some 75,000 have died in Britain – a greater fraction of the population than any nation except Belgium and Spain.
The spread of new infections is always near-strictly exponential. Cases and deaths multiply at compound daily rates. Outside China and occupied Tibet, where the numbers are simply made up to suit the Communist regime, in the three weeks to 13 March, when Mr Trump declared the pandemic a national emergency, cumulative deaths were increasing at 26 per cent a day. The count was doubling every three days. It was quintupling every week.
In these circumstances, how can it possibly be responsible to say that lockdowns were not needed?
Ah, but I’m not saying they weren’t needed. They were needed. They were needed far sooner than most countries realized. Britain, whose government dithered for a fatal five weeks, is the clearest demonstration of the need for prompt lockdowns, before the doubling and quintupling could get their boots on. You can’t dither for more than a month, as Mr Johnson did. Weeks count. Days count. Hours count.
But now lockdowns are not needed. How come? What has changed?
In applied mathematics, we start not with the fancy but valueless computer models that fascinate politicians no less in epidemiology than in climate “science”, but with data.
Governments should stop following fatal weeks after other countries; stop following “the science” that speaks with forked tongue; above all, stop following the “R number” from the models that has so obsessed Ministers in Britain.
Any competent epidemiologist would explain that that reproduction rate R (the average number infected by each carrier) is the wrong metric. For there is no single value of R. It will tend to be much higher where population is densest, for instance.
R is in any event valueless without keeping a meticulous and contemporaneous track of A, the removal rate (the rate at which people are recovering or dying and thus cannot infect anyone else). Most governments know so little elementary epidemiology that they have not bothered to track and report A at all.
Even then, one must deploy both R and A in a system of simultaneous ordinary differential equations. But very nearly all ministers and top civil servants have never learned calculus. They cannot differentiate even the simplest equation.
Let us replace the calculus of the failed Susceptible-Infected-Removed (SIR) computer model of epidemics that uses R and A and that, like the climate models that have expensively misled politicians, bureaucrats and academics into imagining that global warming is a problem, has generated such a wide range of excessive predictions as to be grossly, fatally misleading.
The first advice of this mathematician to governments is this. You need real-time reporting of high-resolution data. Proof: every Sunday and Monday your reported daily new cases and deaths are about half what they are each day from Tuesday to Saturday. That fact tells us that you have not bothered to tell your civil servants that in this emergency they have to work nights and weekends too. The virus doesn’t go to bed, and it doesn’t take Saturday and Sunday off.
As for the cumulative reported death tolls, in most countries (Britain again being a conspicuous example) they are about half the cumulative excess deaths since the pandemic began, because the data gathering and reporting have been so irresponsibly, dangerously sloppy. Sloppy because Ministers do not understand the importance of data.
Governments should at once issue orders for real-time, high-resolution reporting of new infections, hospitalizations, admissions to intensive care and deaths. Real-time reporting means reporting within the hour, not waiting till after the weekend, or after deaths have been registered, or until the civil servants have had a nice cup of tea and a biscuit.
It is not as though there is a shortage of labour. Tens of millions are furloughed. Press-gang as many as you need. No work, no taxpayer’s cash.
Everyone who dies, regardless of the apparent proximate cause of death, should be immediately tested for the presence of the infection and the result reported as soon as it is to hand. Had that been done from the outset, the drama in care homes in many countries would have come to light long before it became a crisis.
The data must not only be contemporaneous: they must be high-resolution. One needs detail. All who are admitted to hospital should be tested for the infection. Each patient’s case file should show the patient’s age, sex, ethnicity, comorbidities, postcode and dates of admission as a confirmed case, of transfer to intensive care and of death or recovery. All medications administered, whether or not as treatments for the infection, should be recorded.
The first thing the data will show – and would have shown months ago if Ministers had understood enough mathematics to understand the need for contemporaneous, high-resolution data – is that this particular virus is not indiscriminate. It selectively kills the old and infirm. In that fact lies the clue to ending lockdowns – provided that you know a little math.
The mathematics that governments need is not the mathematics of the failed SIR model – failed because it is unduly theoretical and it is not informed by proper data.
It is set theory that governments need. Members of the set of those under 50 are no more likely to die of the Chinese virus than of the annual flu. So they can all safely go straight back to work and play at once. They can mingle. They can go to mass raves if they want. They don’t need to worry about social distancing. They can restart the economy today. Now. Weeks count. Days count. Hours count.
More than nine in ten deaths from the virus are in those over 80 or with comorbidities or both. How do I know? Because data are at last becoming available – late, inadequate, incomplete, insufficiently detailed, fatally uncontemporaneous – but, at last, available.
A survey of 16,479 hospitalized patients in 166 UK hospitals shows that the median ages of those hospitalized and those dying with the Chinese virus 72 and 80 years respectively. Those aged 50-70 were 4 times likelier to die than the under-50s; those in their 70s were 10 times likelier to die; those over 80 were 14 times likelier to die.
The comorbidities are also revealing. A third of all Chinese-virus patients had lung disease – 19% without asthma and 14% with; and 5% were smokers. Nearly a third had chronic heart disease. A quarter had diabetes – 19% without complications, 6% with; and 8% were obese. One in seven had kidney disease, one in eight had dementia, one in ten had neurological disease, one in 12 had cancer, one in 12 had rheumatoid disease. Fewer than half had no comorbidities.
All of this information, and a great deal more, would have been available at least a month earlier if just one of the useless scientists on the plethora of interlocking committees that feed into Britain’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE by name but not by nature) had been competent enough to tell Ministers how crucial such detailed data are during the early stages of a pandemic, so as to learn how to neutralize it.
These data amply confirm other such data gathered worldwide. It is the set of the over-50s and the set of the infirm, and in particular the union of these two sets – i.e., those who are both old and suffering from comorbidities – who are at serious risk of death.
To end the lockdown safely and immediately, regardless of the numerous and hence uselessly uninformative R numbers or of the undetermined A number, all that is necessary is to advise – not even to compel – the at-risk sets to avoid close, prolonged exposure to the risk-free set.
If, like me, you are gracefully old, you know you are gracefully old. You don’t need nanny State to tell you. If you are crook, you know you are crook, for your doctor will have told you. You know who you are. You know you need to take care. You don’t need the Government to order you not to commit suicide.
If you are young, the only precaution you need to take is not to get too close to anyone old or sick for long enough to transmit the infection to him. And that’s it. A little elementary set theory goes a long, long way.
A couple of final pointers. It has long been known that eliminating Vitamin D3 deficiency – which is particularly prevalent in the elderly and in non-whites – reduces the incidence and severity of respiratory infections. And data from all over the world show that those with adequate Vitamin D3 are far less likely to suffer or to die than those who are deficient.
Irresponsibly, Public Death England – which will be swept away as soon as this pandemic is over – says on its website that there is “no evidence” for the efficacy of Vitamin D3 against the Chinese virus. There are not yet any large-scale clinical trials, but there are now dozens of case reports providing good evidence that the cheapest, simplest method of reducing the risk of severe symptoms or death is to take a daily 25 microgram gel tablet of Vitamin D3, which is so safe that you can order it over the counter. Check with your doctor: he is unlikely to advise you against it.
Finally, type 2 diabetes and obesity are entirely avoidable. Just eat more fat (which is not bad for you, doesn’t cause heart attacks, doesn’t make you fat and doesn’t give you diabetes) and a lot less carbohydrate (which is bad for you, does cause heart attacks, does make you fat and is the principal cause of type 2 diabetes).
Remove those risk factors – Vitamin D3 deficiency and carbohydrate excess – and you are a lot less likely to die of the Chinese virus.
What can you do to get the correct mathematics into the hands of the governing class? Please feel free to send this article to your elected representative, and to your bishop. Armed with this information, the bishops should be banging at the door of the Taoiseach’s office, demanding that the lockdown be ended at once, for we now have the data that shows the way.
Just imagine how cruel this pandemic and its attendant lockdown are for those who are poor, or have lost their jobs, their business and their income. Now that we know enough to end the lockdown, weeks count. Days count. Hours count. Circulate this article now.