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Response to Denzil_DC (Original post)

Sun May 31, 2020, 02:44 PM

1. This has been Tweeted by some as a supposed "rebuttal" from health specialist Dr Richard North:

Coronavirus: thick as mince

The one thing for which we can thank Dominic Cummings is his popularising the phrase "thick as mince". Even though it's had currency since 2006, few had heard of it before he so spectacularly applied it to David Davis in 2017.

Giving it an airing again, it is particularly apt to apply it to the witless hacks of The Sunday Telegraph who today really excel themselves in their pursuit of "secret squirrel" reporting, thereby completely missing the point.

In the breathless style so typical of the legacy media, their (online) headline declares: "Revealed", as the hacks, Laura Donnelly, the health editor, and Tom Morgan, then tell us that: "test and trace was abandoned because system 'could only cope with five coronavirus cases a week'". This has been translated into a suitably lurid headline for the front page of the print edition.

Here, they are relying on the newly-released Sage papers as their source, and in particular the minutes of the meeting on 18 February where it is "revealed" that Public Health England (PHE) "can cope with five new cases a week", which will require the isolation of 800 contacts.

In the end, the picture North paints isn't really any better (nor do I think he intends it to be). SAGE was following a wrong-headed path based on the models based on this being a standard flu epidemic, the country was terribly badly prepared, and the response was (and still is) completely flat-footed, not least because politics - and the careeer and ambitions of Dominic Cummings - have been allowed to interfere with public health considerations:

Where the errors come, therefore, are at the planning stage, in not preparing a contingency plan for a SARS-like disease and then, as this pandemic took hold in the UK, the response wasn't flexible enough (or quick enough) to realise that the flu plan was no longer viable.

It is true though that, had the scientists and assembled "experts" at Sage realised the game was up, there was nothing immediately that could have been done, because of capacity issues. But, at least, they could have sounded the alarm, and got an expansion programme underway.

As it is, it was some weeks before a decision was made to reinstate the test and trace operation, on a flawed basis that has little chance of working effectively. But that is another story.

In response to the Telegraph article, someone tweeted an important question:

physicspodcast.com @physicspod

The same SAGE paper you're quoting from here (on 18th Feb) suggests 5 cases => 8,000 isolations to be sure of containment. So 1 case isolates 160 contacts.

We have 6,000-8,000 new cases per day now. Is test, track, + trace ready to tell nearly a million people to isolate?

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Denzil_DC May 2020 OP
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