We’re all sat at home, listening to the air hissing out of the UK economy, thanks largely, though not entirely, to the advice given to the government by Imperial College, London.
It was their dire predictions of 200,000 to 500,000 dead Britons and a twisted heap of melted-down wreckage formerly known as the NHS that helped drive us into lockdown.
Even if the government wasn’t totally convinced by Imperial College’s advice to begin with, it was pinned against the wall of public opinion by the team’s leader, Prof. Neil Ferguson, popping up constantly in the media.
When he wasn’t around in person, the BBC and the papers bandied his figures around in every coronavirus story like they were as inescapable as gravity or taxes.
So now we’re a month into the UK’s outbreak and five days into lockdown. Almost as soon as everyone was shut in, Ferguson made a new prediction that two thirds of coronavirus victims may have died this year anyway, deaths probably won’t hit 20,000 and hospitals may not be overwhelmed.
Prof Ferguson said that the new social distancing measures announced by Boris Johnson earlier in the week meant the NHS would now be able to handle the incoming cases of coronavirus.
“The strategy being done now in some areas ICUs will get close to capacity but it won’t be reached at a national level,” he said.
“We are reasonably confident that at a national level we will be within capacity.”
That last factor – the fear that a tidal wave of COVID-19 patients would submerge NHS intensive care capacity – was why the UK government has paralysed millions of livelihoods to stop the virus spreading.
Never mind that plenty of good data was already available from Italy well before the UK’s lockdown decision, clearly showing that COVID-19 threatens an almost exclusively already seriously-ill part of the population than can easily be identified for targeted protection.
Italian health chiefs even publish a snappy daily infographic in English that even Boris Johnson should be able to take in. For example, the green, grey, blue and yellow segments of the doughnut graph at top right are patients with no or merely mild symptoms and the table bottom left shows the age distribution of coronavirus-associated deaths.
And never mind that for most of the other 80% of the population, COVID-19 symptoms range from feeling like a stiff case of flu to bleedin’ undetectable. Therefore they’ll scarcely ripple the surface of the NHS pond – just like the last time you sweated out flu at home on Lemsip, Night Nurse and Netflix.
Back in February when Boris Johnson and his cabinet listened to Imperials’ caseload prediction, their hair caught fire, their pants exploded and the rest is history.
The question for the UK government – and, to be fair, for most other European governments as well – is why they chose this particular previously-unknown strain of coronavirus for their batshit crazy experiment in “flattening the curve” of infection by shutting down 90 per cent of daily life.
Did they do it because China did it first? “I saw a big boy do it, so I copied him.”
Did they cave into pressure from the media, especially from the BBC with its relentlessly apocalyptic Wuhan coverage and enthusiasm for Dr Ferguson’s nightmarish numbers?
Who knows? All we know is they bought into the numbers.
Yes, the UK’s outbreak is still to peak. Lockdown IS buying lives, though at astronomical cost. Hard times are ahead. But when it’s passed, we may have deal with the most epic case of buyer’s remorse in history.
Main photo by @plqml // felipe pelaquim on Unsplash