I’m not going to apologise for this coronavirus post. It’s likely to piss you off. That’s the point. Check you’re wearing your big trousers then dive in if you think you can handle it.
When someone had the bottle to stand up and question the coronavirus stats my first reaction was: about bloody time.
There have been a few things I’ve been mulling over these past months while the world went crazy for very little reason. Firstly, that all it takes is one or two key people to start making some knee-jerk decisions, and everyone else is pressured to follow suit without question. Secondly, that the reason for these people taking that action in the first place might be either based on questionable data, media pressure based on the same data, or there may be other underlying reasons for shouting as loudly as they did.
Let’s explore all of these.
The closer you look, the more you see
Anyone who’s watched the amazing Hugh Laurie in House will know that he always advocates focusing on the root cause. Not the symptoms, not the patient (because “everybody lies”) and certainly not a whole-body MRI. Scanning the entire body will show you a tonne of things that are ‘wrong’ with a person, none of which may be relevant to the illness being presented.
I’ve got MRSA on my skin, just like everyone. My body runs hot when I’m stressed, causing skin irritation and splitting as my body burns up from the inside. I’m sure I’ve got all sorts of damage inside me that if anyone were to look closely enough would mean I’ve got the prospect of catching a whole spectrum of nasty things that’ll finish me off next week.
But they don’t.
Why? Because, overall, I’m healthy enough. I exercise enough. I avoid eating chemical-laden stuff where I can. I drink water and full-fat sugary drinks, not sweeteners. I try to stick to natural ingredients where I can: no MSG or flavour enhancers if I have a choice. I choose to eat organic fruit and veg whenever I can because ingestion of pesticides isn’t the answer to longevity of our species. I eat organic meat when I can, and less of it than many people do, having meat-free days a few times a week. You’d never get me going full vegetarian or vegan because the amount of chemicals in the substitutes they peddle are worse than the purported benefits of avoiding meat.
If I drop a crisp on the floor and it isn’t covered in cat fur or gunge when I retrieve it, there’s a good chance I’ll blow the dust off and eat it. A little bit of bacteria is good. Builds healthy immunity to keep your body on its toes, otherwise the first sniff of a cold or – in this case an equally communicable infection – and you fall apart.
If I were to put that crisp I dropped under a desktop microscope I’d see a tonne of unsavoury stuff clinging to it. If I were to put it under an electron microscope I’d see unsavoury stuff in its deliciously ridged grooves that would probably put me off eating for life. If I were to study it at the atomic level, who knows what I might find.
The point is, if you start to look closely at something – say, a population – the more you look or test, and the better and more accurate those tests become, the more things you’ll find that match what you’re looking for.
In this case, traces of COVID-19.
If I were tested today, I’m convinced I’d show “symptoms” if this thing is as infectious as it is claimed. I’ve been out and about interacting with people, as normally as I can under the theatric restrictions, with or without the thinnest face covering known to humankind. My boy goes to school and mixes with people, bringing viruses home, etc. It’s highly likely I’ve contracted it.
I don’t use hand sanitizer. Never have and I’m not starting now. If you’ve seen the state of my hands (cross-ref the admission above about the state of my skin) and don’t wish to see someone hit the roof when alcohol hits an open sore, you’ll appreciate why. And if I wear gloves, the heat inside my hands overheats and makes them itch.
Has this supposed lack of hygiene practice affected me or those around me? No. Because I’m just the right side of unhealthy for my body to give most viruses the finger. I practice good, basic hygiene. Not over the top.
Pre-existing condition? COPD? Lowered immunity? Any of those and I’d be high on the hit list and would have to take more care. But here’s the kicker: anyone in those situations is high on the hit list for any type of communicable disease. From colds to regular influenza to any number of things that’ll kill you.
Over-sanitization isn’t going to make you any less susceptible to it. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the sudden introduction of sanitizing the world is going to actually make things worse over time. We’ll get used to living in a germ-free environment where 99.9% of bacteria are killed on contact. Then, when the 0.01% mutates to survive – as they will because that’s the nature of nature – that’ll be the thing that wipes us out: we’ll have no natural immunity to it. You’ve read War of the Worlds, right?
Tracing the curve
My wife got test-and-traced last year. Someone at uni tested positive for corona and was in the building on the same day she was. As a knee-jerk reaction, someone phoned her up and said she had to stay indoors for two weeks. It was fine to be around us, just not anyone else for some reason, and we could come and go freely. Right, okay, whatever.
What baffled me about this was that at no point did any of the information she was given say: “Please take a COVID test”. It was just: “Stay indoors, don’t do this, don’t do that.” Out of the goodness of her heart, she ordered a test anyway. Negative. But she still wasn’t allowed to go out for the remaining ten days of quarantine, which made no sense whatsoever. The cited reasons were that the test wasn’t accurate, she still might have contracted it and not be showing symptoms, might this, might that, blah blah.
But not one piece of literature, not one booklet, not one campaign said: “if you’ve been near someone who has it, please please please take a test”.
From an infection viewpoint, that is the single most important piece of data. The number of people who came into contact with someone who had it and were not themselves infected is far more valuable than counting those people who did. That’s how you gauge and validate your precious R number right there. And (dis)prove theories about how infectious it really is.
So why did nobody want to know?
To answer that, we’ll need a little detour…
Masks, masks everywhere
Disposable masks are the new landfill. This whole debacle has put recycling and care over our environment back twenty or thirty years. Common sense has evaporated. Everything is shrink-wrapped in plastic for hygiene. Single use. Throw away. Fuck the environment: we’re all going to die of SARS, right?
But are we?
We’ve been told to take precautions, and that’s sensible. Common sense precautions we should have been taking a year ago before everything blew up and we sat looking up at Boris all doe-eyed for him to start making some sort of coherent sense. The thing is, much of the information – even from the scientific community – appears contradictory, and when it’s passed through the government and media filters, what comes out is a garbled mess.
If keeping our distance from one another works, then why are we told to stay at home to save lives when a few metres distance is good enough? If distance doesn’t work, why bother trying to enforce it with militant staff at Greggs shouting at you if there’s more than three people in the shop at once or you don’t stand exactly on the circle they stuck on the floor?
If facemasks reduce the spread risk, why are we not allowed to go out? If they don’t work, why are we told to wear them and not even allowed inside any building without one?
If the virus preys more heavily on the unhealthy and unfit – as it seems to do – why are gyms and swimming pools closed? How does being confined to your home and hiding from this virus help people’s physical and mental health? How does it help a nation become strong enough to fight infection? It doesn’t. So what’s going on?
If the posters are to be believed, a third of the world are “infected and don’t know it” – which is the flimsy excuse for sequestering the healthy not just the sick to avoid contaminating the vulnerable. If that’s true, then clearly the virus isn’t that deadly.
If more healthy people contract it, and can pass it on to other healthy people so we can all start to build up natural immunity, isn’t that a faster route to “curing” it than hiding at home and lengthening the process when people start mixing in dribs and drabs, or waiting for development of a vaccine?
Everyone’s heard of chicken pox parties where you wave your kid around in front of someone who’s got it so they can catch it. Grassroots vaccination! Herd immunity, if you will. Chicken pox may not be as virulent as COVID-19, but the mortality rate can be high and it can cause pneumonia and inflammation of the central nervous system, let alone the unknown levels of damage it causes long term to those that contract its counterpart, shingles, in later life.
We’re told to sit indoors. Not do this. Not do that. To wait and look up to science to provide the answer. To evangelise a vaccine like some holy grail, that will be administered to every living being on the planet and will rid the world of this particular evolution of SARS.
Until the next strain comes along.
Until we’re all too germ-free to resist its advances.
The magical vaccine
The media tell us that the number of cases – yes cases of people having a trace of the virus, not deaths – is exploding. That makes sense as mentioned above: increasing the number of people being tested and finding more accurate ways to isolate the markers that indicate if a person has the virus (or the antibodies that means they’ve had it) will result in number spikes, depending on who was tested, when, and where they live.
The media say it’s all our fault for daring to visit one other family member on Christmas Day, and this 2021 UK lockdown is a direct consequence of that one day. Some say it’s the government’s fault for faffing and not leading. I’m deliberately avoiding politics here because any bumbling idiot with a microphone, regardless of party, would base their decisions on the same data, the same scientists, the same media and the same pressure to do something about it.
It makes no difference who’s “in power” from which party, they’ll stuff it up with knee-jerk reactions based on incomplete numbers and best-guess information; they’ll just screw it up in different ways so the other guys can grumble and score opinion poll points.
The media tell us that we’re all saved because [insert name of drug company here] have developed a magical vaccine and we need to line up and take it. I’m going to sidestep the issue that the predictable vaccine wars will introduce, when someone tries to do something (enter a shop, go on holiday, move house, yahde yahde), waves their Pfizer papers and is refused entry because the person at the door only trusts the AstraZeneca one.
This situation is a dream for those who seek control, but again, conspiracy theories have no place in this article because it gives naysayers more ammo to discredit the remaining common sense. If you want to argue who developed the virus in the first place – Norton/Symantec stylie to fuel product sales and corporate stock market share value – or whether it was naturally occurring, or a Chinese warfare tactic, or a covert CIA operation, or instigated by the world banks and one-world government supporters to destabilise fiat currency, then please go elsewhere to do so. None or all of the above might be true but I’m focusing on the process and logic here.
What especially makes me smile is the usual gumph on the vaccination form:
Like all medicines, no vaccine is completely effective and it takes a few weeks for your body to build up protection from the vaccine. Some people may still get COVID-19 despite having a vaccination, but this should lessen the severity of any infection.
Love the wording choice there: should and may. Funny. The translation is:
We have no idea what the fuck we’re doing. We’ve synthesised the way this virus attacks the body, developed a benign payload that attaches to your cells in the same way the real thing does, to trigger an immune response in the vague hope that if your body does see the real thing present itself in exactly the same way, it’ll cope. Don’t sue us if it doesn’t work, as that’ll affect our stock value.
My gut feeling is that if we’d just left this damn thing to play out instead of intervening, it’d have all blown over by now. Reminds me of that age-old quip by the doctor who confirms you have a nasty cold and says, “You can take this medicine and be better in seven days, or do nothing and be better in about a week.”
In other words, just because we can act, doesn’t mean we should. That, in turn, reminds me of another wonderful analogy from the world of manufacturing that is especially pertinent to the knee-jerk reactions around the globe.
We could learn from Deming
While not very well-known outside of engineering circles, W Edwards Deming was a pioneer of common sense. A statistician and mathematical physicist, he paved the way with Shewhart’s work on control charts to demonstrate that manufacturing process quality had natural variation. In other words: shit happens.
I could wax lyrical about quality systems all day because I lived and breathed it for ten years and love common sense statistics, but the key take-away is that if you have a system that’s operating within its natural boundaries and you want to either improve it, or if some outside influence rocks the boat (a machine goes out of alignment, a contaminant is introduced, etc), the very worst thing you can do is immediately make changes to the process. The best course of action is to stand your ground; ignore the people who expect you to act, and stop to think about it first. To observe, record and analyse.
Deming used a range of wonderful experiments to prove this phenomenon, of which my personal favourite is the funnel experiment. I won’t go into it in detail because you can read about it at leisure, but the precis is that you clamp a funnel over a large piece of paper and drop a marble through the hole. With a pen, you mark the exact spot the marble hit with a little ‘x’.
You do that a few hundred times and you’ll get a cluster of ‘x’ marks. Some directly below the funnel, some a little way out. It’s not perfect. Those marbles represent the process behaving normally. If the marbles represented people, you might want to know why the group closest to the centre lived and those further away were more likely to die. You can’t explain it, but that’s what’s happening.
So you seek to fix it. You intervene, exploring a series of ideas.
Experiment 1: relative realignment
After each drop you move the funnel to compensate. First, you move the funnel in the opposite direction slightly to compensate for it not hitting the dead centre, then drop the next marble. You then compensate again by moving it relative to that new ‘x’ to compensate for how far the marble missed that point. You do this a few hundred times and check the results: your ‘x’ marks have wandered all over the place, usually skewed in a rough diagonal line away from the starting point.
Experiment 2: central realignment
Frustrated, you reset the experiment. New sheet of paper. This time, you adjust the funnel by moving it in the opposite direction to the last ‘x’ but before you move it, you reset it to the centre point. So if it landed a millimetre north-east of centre, you move the funnel a millimetre south-west of centre and drop the next marble. A few hundred drops later, your circle is wider than before. Stuff’s more spread out, there’s more variation; a greater distribution. More people are dying. How can that be?
Experiment 3: direct realignment
You do it again. This time, after each drop you reposition the funnel directly over the point of the last ‘x’ before releasing the next marble. A few hundred drops later, you’re back to a skewed line of ‘x’ marks that zoom waaay off to the edge of the page.
I know someone’s bound to pull me up on the fact that process control is too simplistic, and the world is chaotic and nowhere near a normal distribution pattern, so it doesn’t apply. Maybe. I would argue even the most chaotic system is made up of individual elements and each of those can and often do exhibit a normal distribution curve, but that’s a sideline.
I’m not drawing an exact parallel, more highlighting that it takes a certain mindset from leaders to appreciate that each time you seek to control a system, each time you try and change it to improve things and ignore the acceptable limits within which it operates, you’re thwarted by natural variation. There will always be a degree of variability and if you acknowledge that, then the best course of action is often to ride the storm. Do nothing; at least at first.
By all means advise people to take sensible precautions, for those that can’t figure it out for themselves, as we should have done a year ago. But accept that there will be stuff outside your control that you cannot change. Study how the invader operates in as close to normal conditions as you can muster and then act when you know more. Making step changes too soon will disrupt the system and cause processes to wander completely out of control and then it’s harder – much harder – to reel them back in.
This is exactly what we’re seeing worldwide and why we’re still pissing about a year on, repositioning our funnel every few days trying to stop marbles from landing outside their natural dropzone. Right now, with the process so far out of control, the only option people see is to bring in the big guns: mass inoculation to drag us back to the centre.
Charts can tell a story, if interpreted correctly
I don’t understand the mad scramble to inoculate the world. Seems like a waste of natural resources, time and effort to me. Ignoring the fact that this scary looking chart is American-centric, we can probably extrapolate the information worldwide, since it’s the same virus.
Just in case the link gets pulled, here are a couple of screenshots of the data from Feb 10 2021:
My take-home from that information on actual deaths, not cases, is twofold:
- The average age for death is in the low-to-mid eighties. Sure there are going to be outliers and those will attract media attention exactly because of that: they’re outliers. They make headlines. Sell papers. But the fact is, if you’re under 75 and in good health, you’re more than likely to survive it. It might not be pleasant, but you’ll live.
- The second chart is the most interesting as it shows the death toll compared to other deaths such as cancer, dementia, heart disease, suicide, homicide, and so forth. COVID-19 is a tiny proportion of deaths compared with other causes, across all age groups.
This sentence above the chart sums it up:
Americans, regardless of age group, are far more likely to die of something other than COVID-19. Even among those in the most heavily impacted age group (85 and older), only 10.8 percent of all deaths since February 2020 were due to COVID-19.
So if around 90% of deaths in the over-forties are due to other reasons, why the kerfuffle over one cause?
This is where it gets interesting.
You can substitute the word ‘Americans’ for ‘Anyone’ in the above quote, as the extrapolated data will be roughly the same shape worldwide. But this is another nuance that is missed by a lot of publications. There will be regional variations, primarily due to culture; Italians, for example, were hit hard. Spain too. And predominantly Muslim areas of Britain.
Because of their attitude towards the elderly.
There are many other groups – I’m not going to list them all for fear of boring you or omitting one and being branded a racist – but the crucial factor is that, culturally, those groups look after older generations in the family home or have close contact with them. Other cultures are more likely to shove granny in a nursing home where, surprise surprise, more stringent hygiene practices are already in place and the old folk are naturally isolated from the population at large, bar contact with their carers.
The focus on this one cause is simply because it’s topical. It’s trendy to know someone who has died of COVID. I do (despite it not listed as that on the death certificate because it was contracted in hospital and therefore makes the institution look bad) but I’m not shouting about it.
Bad news sells, even if the source material is of suspect quality. Anyone can say anything they like on Twitter or in a Microsoft paper and claim we have less attention span than a goldfish or it’s possible to see the Great Wall of China from space without any proof. All of a sudden, everyone’s quoting stuff but nobody knows where it came from.
It’s exactly the same with coronavirus stats.
When is a death not a death?
Nobody can agree on what constitutes a ‘covid death’, let alone how severe you have to exhibit symptoms to become a ‘case’. If you die within ten days, is that enough causality? What about fourteen days? Twenty-eight days? Six months? What if you contract it and a decade later die of a respiratory infection? Was the fact you contracted the coronavirus enough to have weakened your immune system sufficiently to let something else finish you off? Who’s to say that if you hadn’t contracted it in the first place, you might have survived the second infection? And can you get it again, even if you’ve been exposed to it or the vaccine?
Nobody has up-to-the-minute information anyway. How come, all of a sudden, we can get ‘overnight’ numbers of cases and deaths? There has to be some delay. What time period are we talking about? A rolling window? Midnight to midnight? 8am to 8am? Data from a few days ago that’s just been compiled and released by some minimum wage lackey with access to the database?
If I turn up to hospital one afternoon and I’m confirmed to have some form of cancer, it takes the NHS weeks to send me a letter about it. Weeks. And cancer’s potentially more fatal than coronavirus, and a lot more costly to treat. Would my ‘case’ be counted overnight by a diligent data analyst fresh out of university, from the sprawling swarm of medical data that SystemOne holds on everyone in the country? No. Further, would that information be sent to newspapers in time for the nightly print run to make front-page news on the shocking number of cancer patients that were diagnosed the day before? No. It’s not trendy enough. It doesn’t sell enough.
It’s the same reason that dementia isn’t given the funding it needs. It’s an umbrella term, like cancer, that covers an incredible array of brain dysfunction from TIAs that damage speech/motor centres of the brain, or mini-strokes and misfires and seizures that cut off blood flow to parts of the brain that control memory and vital functions like swallowing.
There’s research available that says poor overall dental hygiene – which often results in greater need for invasive dental intervention – is a major contributing factor to dementia because mouth bacteria can travel to the brain, triggering immune system responses that kill off neurons, increasing the risk of developing various forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s.
Such links, made up of long-term abuse of our bodies, is hard to prove. But the science is out there. The correlation is unnervingly high. And yet with vast swathes of the population slumming it at home, living in our pyjamas, not exercising, becoming depressed and lax with basic hygiene in stark contrast to the over-zealous hygiene practices “outside”, why are the media campaigns focusing on dying people in oxygen masks, guilting us into going shopping solo instead of as a family, or not wearing a piece of cloth over our mouths?
Why are we not reminded to keep up dental hygiene to reduce the chance of our future mental capacity being impaired? Why are we not encouraged to exercise instead of being confined to our houses? Why are we bombarded with bad news and more bad news every single day?
The reason is simple: because when we’re all worn down by the drudgery, when the magicians in white coats come to the rescue, we jump at the chance to line up and take the shot to get back to “normal”. And before your conspiracy radar peaks, that’s not my angle: fear not.
So we’re all worn down. We’re all clamouring for a solution and looking to the heavens / science / government for answers. But our state of mind and the race for a vaccine is still a symptom, not the cause. To find the root cause requires answering one simple question…
Look at the data again. Look at the shape of the graphs. The solution has been clear from very, very early on: keep the vulnerable – not the healthy – as isolated as possible. Then there are two courses of action available:
- Wait it out. With the groups segregated, cross-contamination is minimal. And if anyone brings it home, well, most of those people might be off work for a few days or weeks then bounce back.
- Work on a vaccine if you have to and offer to administer it to those that are directly vulnerable. The elderly, primarily. The immuno-compromised. The care workers who have direct contact with these groups of people, if they want it. Focus efforts there and leave the rest of us the fuck alone to contract it and “not know it” (the government’s words).
Put it this way: if I’m the last person on earth who has not had the vaccine, and I get this strain of COVID-19, who exactly am I going to infect? Nobody. If I’m the only person on earth without the vaccine and I spit in the faces of every octogenarian on the planet who’s had the vaccine or has the antibodies, who am I going to kill? Nobody. If I’m one of fifty million people below the age of 80 who haven’t had the vaccine and we all go and lick the eyeballs of every octogenarian who’s been vaccinated, how many will we kill? None. Well, maybe one.
So my question still stands: why oh why are we trying to develop 14 billion doses of the vaccine – two shots for every person on earth – when there’s absolutely no need? What’s it going to do to the planet? What’s it going to do to the economy while we wait and wait and wait for the already stretched care systems to inoculate 90% of people who don’t need it? What long-term effects is this year of pissing about and worldwide theatrics going to have on the physical and mental well-being of the currently healthy?
And how is any of this going to help when, faced with extinction, the virus panics and mutates, faster and faster, attaching itself to hosts in ever more clever ways? Ah yes, one final little piece of the puzzle to unearth.
The nature of viruses
Imagine you’re a virus. Your sole purpose is to survive. To live. To replicate. It’s the basic tenet of every organism on earth. Maybe the universe. Now imagine you have a certain amount of time to do that. For argument’s sake, let’s say it’s about two weeks, which is what we’re told is the infection window for coronavirus. If you want to survive and you need a host to do that, why would you be so deadly that you wipe out your transmission source before you’ve had a chance to pass to the next host?
If you go and kill off half the world, you’ve just reduced your attack vector by half. You’ve made your job of surviving twice as hard. That doesn’t make any sense at all. With the possible exception of mankind, no naturally occurring pathogen would be so stupid to engineer its own demise.
The key to being successful and surviving is to be highly contagious and not deadly. To live within the bounds of an ecosystem and spread. That’s the perfect combination. Then you have all the time in the world to pass from host to host, and as you find hosts that have immunity, you adapt and do it all over again in a slightly different way. Just like the common cold. Just like influenza. We live in harmony with it, put up with it.
Now imagine we vaccinate at speed. We start to chip away at this pool of potential hosts, accelerating the demise of the virus. If any species is faced with annihilation, what does it do? Does it sit back and go: well played, guys: you win. No, of course not. It fights for survival. It speeds up its mutation rate. It finds a way to be more contagious and less deadly faster, because that’s the endgame. The perfect virus. Make hosts sick enough that they pass on the infection, but let them live to tell the tale so they can be infected all over again next time.
Our initial meddling by forcing people to stay at home screwed things up. Tipped the scales, rocketed this situation out of all proportions and we’re now so far down the rabbit hole, with so much wasted money, time, energy and resources, that nobody wants to admit it was their mistake that caused it.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the key reason why nobody who makes decisions really wants to know how slow it’s spreading, only how fast. That’s why nobody in power gives a rat’s ass who has been near someone with the virus and survived. Because the endgame is to focus on those that do have it to justify their ridiculous knee-jerk reactions.
Whether the outcome is greed, a power grab, the wealthy 1% playing games, a naturally occurring phenomenon being exploited, an engineered experiment, an accident, whatever. Doesn’t matter. Somebody doesn’t want us to see that this virus isn’t as deadly as reported, simply to save face. The bombardment of numbers and charts and rates and curves and deaths and masks and lockdowns and clapping is all theatre on the world stage to cover up this simple human fact that somebody fucked up big time.
And nobody wants that on their conscience for the history books.
The parting shot
Draw your own conclusions on where this virus came from. It doesn’t matter much. What matters is making the right decision for yourself now. Look at as much data as you can from as many sources as you can. Ask yourself why a natural pathogen would deliberately be as nasty as reported and bump off millions of potential hosts, effectively wiping itself out faster.
Then, when you receive your letter inviting you to roll up your sleeve and take a shot of some hastily-engineered vaccine narrowly targeted at this particular strain, decide whether to do it (or not) with the same rationality as you do when the letter about your flu jab comes through. You and only you know if you’re healthy; whether you’re actually at significant risk of respiratory infection. If you are, do it. I urge you to get vaccinated.
If, however, you feel you’re not at risk, please do the planet a favour and make it known you don’t need a shot. Save the natural resources we have on this rock we call home and let your allocated vaccine doses go to someone who truly needs it or, better, not manufactured in the first place. Give the planet some breathing room.
Trust your instincts. Make the call and don’t be pressured into it because everyone else is telling you to take it “just in case”. The reasons for that message being broadcast may well be based on incomplete or misinterpreted information – from raw data that’s published in plain sight to those that seek it beyond the front page hype.
Whatever you decide, base it on what’s right for you. Just bear in mind that the perpetrators of every bumbling act of faux control since December 2019 could be using this vaccine as a means to claim they had our best interests at heart all along; to portray themselves the heroes we’ve been conditioned to think we need, now that our resolve has been eroded by over a year of constant fear, uncertainty and doubt.