The public need to be told the truth
BY ADAM HAMDY
In a follow up to his Monday long-read, Adam Hamdy asks Professor Whitty to tell the truth.
The government’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty has made a number of assumptions about the COVID-19 virus that are unsupported by clinical experience in China, Italy and elsewhere in the world. Not only does it seem his assumptions are wrong, his views are at odds with the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO), which is urging governments around the world to do everything possible to contain and eradicate this virus.
The government is responding to COVID-19 as though it is a highly contagious respiratory virus, like influenza. It is not. According to the WHO joint mission report, the transmission rate of the virus ranges between 1-3% in general settings, and 5-10% in a family setting. According to the WHO, “COVID-19 does not transmit as efficiently as influenza.” It is an unusual respiratory virus in that it can be contained with relatively simple measures.
Professor Whitty seems to know this, and has said people can catch the illness by doing things such as touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their face. Which cohort of the British population are always touching things, putting their hands in their mouths, touching their faces, touching each other’s faces, can be careless about hygiene, and are often in close contact with adults? Children. Given what he knows about the way this virus transmits and the recent research that shows an increasing number of children catching COVID-19, why has Professor Whitty not urged the government to close schools?
In his testimony to the House of Commons Health and Social Care committee, Professor Whitty said without serology tests we could not be sure of the size of the population who might already be infected with COVID-19 but suffer only mild symptoms or be asymptomatic. According to the WHO, “Evidence from China is that only 1% of reported cases do not have symptoms, and most of those cases develop symptoms within 2 days.”
The WHO joint mission found no evidence of a missed population suffering from mild symptoms, and given the volume of tests, and extensive contact tracing China has performed, it is highly unlikely the Chinese authorities have missed a significant population of positive, but asymptomatic cases. According to the WHO, “In Guangdong, scientists tested more than 320,000 samples from the community and only 0.14% were positive for COVID-19.”
Perhaps the most dangerous assumption Professor Whitty, and by extension, this government has, is around the low mortality and hospitalisation rates. In Italy, the hospitalisation rate among confirmed cases is 52%, with 9.2% of the total confirmed cases admitted to intensive care (4,636 confirmed cases, 2,394 hospitalised, 426 ICU). At the current rate, Italy will run out of intensive care beds in less than two weeks.
Italy’s fatality rate is 4.25% (197 deaths). 10% of medics in Lombardy have already been infected with the virus. Professor Whitty keeps repeating his belief that COVID-19 will kill fewer than 1% of those infected. He is wrong. Italy’s fatality ratio has been rising, as has China’s. In fact, COVID-19 is on the same trajectory as the SARS outbreak of 2003, which started with a fatality rate of 2% and had a final fatality rate of approximately 10% when all cases were resolved.
Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, says, “This is the most frightening disease I’ve ever encountered in my career, and that includes Ebola, it includes MERS and SARS.”
Instead of being a highly contagious virus with lots of asymptomatic cases and low hospitalisation and mortality, according to the World Health Organization this is a virus with low transmission characteristics, a small or non-existent asymptomatic population, high hospitalisation and high mortality.
China realised these characteristics and concluded it could not afford to let the virus run through its population. Italy has realised the same. Both countries imposed draconian measures in the face of outbreaks that were spiralling out of control.
Allowing this virus to spread will result in an unnecessary and avoidable loss of life and cause untold damage to the NHS. The government is wrong to advise us that this virus causes a ‘mild’ disease. That should be obvious from the 52% hospitalisation rate in Italy. But in addition, research suggests this virus has long term effects. Scientists in China have discovered that COVID-19 attacks the immune system and might leave recovered patients with long term health issues. There is evidence of permanent scarring to patients’ lungs, and long-term damage to other parts of the body. There is also growing evidence that even after recovery, COVID-19 might have persistent qualities and linger in the body for some time.
There has been insufficient scientific study of this virus for the government’s advisers to be cavalier about letting it run through the British people. Appearing on This Morning, Boris Johnson said, “One of the theories is perhaps you could take it in on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease to move through the population without really taking as many draconian measures.”
The Prime Minister is being very badly advised. Dr Tedros, Director-General of the WHO, has repeatedly said, “This virus is not influenza. With the right measures, it can be contained.” 24-hours ago, the World Health Organisation said, “With early, aggressive measures, countries can stop transmission and save lives.”
Our government already appears to have moved to the delay phase of its plan, largely, I believe on the misguided assumption there is already a high number of asymptomatic carriers in the population. Experience in China shows this is unlikely, and as such the containment and eradication of this virus should still be our objective.
With two confirmed cases of the virus transmitting from humans to dogs, and one possible case of it moving to cats, it seems COVID-19 can jump species barriers with ease. Has the government had any advice on COVID-19’s potential risk to Britain’s livestock herds? Has there been any assessment of the risk to the nation’s food supply? We simply do not know enough about this virus to have any understanding of its long term effects on human and animal health. In the absence of such science, we must err on the side of caution and make every effort to eradicate it.
I used to be a healthcare and management consultant. I’m now a novelist and screenwriter. As events have unfolded, I have felt increasingly as though I’m living in a work of fiction, one where the government makes all the wrong moves and courts disaster. Unfortunately, in real life we can’t rely on Tom Cruise to save us at the last minute.
Our fate is in the hands of a government that doesn’t seem to understand the unique characteristics of this virus. Its understanding needs to improve quickly before there is further loss of life.
If you believe the government isn’t doing enough and needs to be more proactive, there’s a petition asking them to close down schools. It already has more than 100,000 signatures and will be considered for debate, but if you’d like to add your voice, you can find it here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/300403
If you want to know why closing schools is so important, read this in-depth analysis: https://freemarketconservatives.org/the-government-needs-to-be-much-firmer-in-its-response-to-covid-19/
Then write to your MP to let him or her know that as its first duty this ‘people’s government’ should protect the people.
You can find their contact details here:
Adam Hamdy is a novelist and screenwriter who has previously worked as a management and healthcare consultant. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhamdy