Professor Chris Whitty is Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England, the UK government's Chief Medical Adviser and head of the public health profession. This is what he said on the fifth of May 2020, and subsequent events have, I think, shown him to be right:
'A significant proportion of people will not get this virus at all at any point in the epidemic which is going to go on for a long period of time.
'Of those who do, some of them will get the virus without even knowing it, they will have the virus with no symptoms at all, asymptomatic carriage, and we know that happens.
'Of those who get symptoms, the great majority, probably 80%, will have a mild or moderate disease, might be bad enough for them to have to go to bed for a few days, not bad enough for them to have to go to the doctor.
'An unfortunate minority will have to go as far as hospital; but the majority of those will just need oxygen and will then leave hospital; and then a minority of those will end up having to go to severe and critical care, and some of them sadly will die, but that’s a minority, it's 1%, or possibly even less than 1% overall, and even in the highest risk group, this is significantly less than 20%, i.e. the great majority of people, even the very highest groups, if they catch this virus will not die.'
So it's entirely fair, if not popular with the
censors 'fact-checkers' of the social and news media, to ask whether the right strategy has been adopted.
For example, the Government already had a contingency plan for a flu epidemic, drawn up in 2011 - https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/213717/dh_131040.pdf - in which the authors noted the costly and disruptive consequences of school closures (4.25), the importance to public morale of 'large public gatherings or crowded events' (4.21) and that face masks for the public tended not to be effective, because of incorrect habits of use (4.15).
Covid-19 spreads more easily than seasonal influenza and the mortality rate for those who have to be taken to hospital is higher - https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanres/article/PIIS2213-2600(20)30527-0/fulltext - but it is now clear that old age and comorbidities (e.g. obesity, diabetes) are significant factors; those who are younger and in reasonable health have little to fear.
Aside from the impact on the economy, it's also clear that there is a clinical - even a mortality - cost in terms of patients with other medical needs having their treatment delayed or cancelled.
Let the sceptical questioning continue - especially from the Opposition in Parliament, who seem to have adopted the line that they would have done the same as HMG, only earlier and more drastically.
In recent times I have seen increased calls for illicit drug-taking to be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal matter.
In which case, should users, and especially dealers, and those around them, be treated like potential Covid-19 spreaders?
Asking for a friend.
I have read Steve Dalton's comments on education (https://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2007/02/tories_ukip_and.html?cid=61044374#comment-6a00d8341c565553ef00d8351ad8bd69e2), as Peter has urged, and while I agree with him I think I can furnish some additional information. I was a little closer to the epicentre of the British Cultural Revolution, since I trained as an English teacher in 1975. So I can confirm that education has been betrayed quite as much from within as from without.
A generation of intelligent, idealistic but very misguided people came into teaching in the late 60s and 70s, and just like New Labour more recently, proceeded to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I have spoken to at least three teachers from different schools, who each told me that their respective Heads of English in the early 70s threw out all the coursebooks, to make sure that such dull teaching would not be possible in future. One firebrand in a major comprehensive in Birmingham actually put them all in a skip in the playground and burned them, as his Parthian shot before leaving for another school - I assume that he had got a promotion. Odd that they all did it around the same time - or maybe not so odd.
At a time of falling secondary school rolls, some of that generation - presumably including some of those zealots - were given early retirement on now-unobtainable terms, and/or subsequently reappeared as inspectors, advisers and consultants. Such people will have been able to influence policy and practices in their subjects, and even promotion, so that like-minded individuals (or pragmatic careerists) of the next generation would carry the same baton.
I believe that this "heritage" is a reason why, when it is clear that (in some cases) old teaching methods worked better, the return to them has only been partial - a full reinstatement would be a candid admission of failure. To give an example - chanting times tables does work, and without a knowledge of them you are seriously hampered in many number manipulations. But the modern return to this has a new and debilitating twist - the child is expected simply to remember a sequence (e.g. "7, 14, 21, 28...") rather than "one times seven is seven, two times seven is fourteen...". So ask a modern child what is 7 times 9, and you get a long and painful mumbling, and often the wrong answer, because the table was never learned in a way that connected the two numbers, so missteps and omitted steps are almost inevitable. A minor point, you may think, but it means that nine-year-olds are struggling with sums that my class did when I was 5 - and we had the (technically superior) duodecimal monetary system then, including farthings! This theme of the half-hearted prodigal son's return is further illustrated by the issues of synthetic phonics, reading schemes etc.
Currently, schools are so concerned to keep up with the ever-changing National Curriculum that they are constantly driving children on from one half-learned thing to another. In itself, innovation is not all bad - but there's never time to consolidate.
Not that fashion-following started with the baby boomers. I could give anecdotes of useless one-off shows for visiting VIPs in the late 50s, at my primary school near Chatham. Politicians and eager-to-please teachers have always made a mess of education, they've just done it with a vengeance in the last 30 years.
And then there is the general cultural and moral deterioration. TV (especially the soaps, of which many children will follow several) is a training in despair. There is much fashionable talk of healthy eating, but none of healthy viewing, listening, speaking and thinking. If you think cheery positive thinkers are a pain, you haven't looked closely at the suffering caused by abandoning children's imaginations to the worst that skilful nihilists can do.
I am not a Bible-basher, but I've witnessed with disbelief (you may say) the decline of hymns in assemblies, then prayers, then all religion. RE (once the ONLY subject that was compulsory in all schools!) was eventually replaced by PSME (personal, social and moral education), then PSHE (the H signifies the substitution of Health for Moral). The underlying assumption is that there is such common agreement on all practical issues that morality, theology and philosophy are only airy-fairy approaches to simple political decisions - usually, the spending of public money in the pursuit of social equality (ironically, itself an abstract and ill-defined notion). Chairman Mao praised Pol Pot because he got rid of all classes in one blow, and one feels the same insane anti-human dogmatism at work behind modern political thinking today.
If I had children I should do what a friend did, and home-educate them all to 16, just to keep them away from the madness. I continue to teach, but sanity is only possible because I no longer expect the system to work properly, or indeed to be working in the right direction. If you dislike the products of British education and upbringing, please remember that you cannot blame the children for the lunacy of their elders and betters.
Another reader comments:
Rolf Norfolk, above, claims a duodecimal monetary system is technically superior to the decimal system we use now. How so? Simple calculations (addition and multiplication) are much easier when our measurement systems have the same radix as our counting system.
You've commented on a rather minor aside, but it's a fair question. As a monetary system the 240 pence /960 farthing pound was technically superior because it could be divided lots more ways. I grant you that this had greater significance when one pound was worth more than a day's pay, though as it happens the greatest damage to the value of the pound happened after decimalisation, not before. (Inflation doubled in the 20 years before 1971, but increased more than sixfold over the next 20 years). Obviously I'm not proposing a return - except perhaps to linking the currency to gold, so the politicians can't use inflation to steal from us.
As to the simplicity argument, after a long time in teaching I've found that the easier you make things for people, the stupider they become.
I've just frittered away seven hours or so watching Adam Curtis' latest six-part video essay 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head' (available on BBC iPlayer, also on Youtube for non-UK residents: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHFrhIAj0ME .)
It tries to cover a lot of ground - mass movements, resistance to elites, whether humans can be manipulated and so on. But I think it stretches too far, generalises terribly and ends up with no definite conclusion, disappearing up itself like the Oozlum Bird https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oozlum_bird.
It gives us lots of interesting snippets, and looks as though it's making coherent sense because Curtis uses his familar tricks - strange dissociative music, lively footage of frightening events and so on. I think a corrective would be to publish the transcripts so we could spot the use of emotive language, insecurely founded assertions, questionable linkages.
Just for example, I pluck a couple of dubious statements and references from the fifth episode - I'm sure others could find more, throughout the series:
1. Curtis appears to suggest that the Brexiteers voted Out from some nostalgia for lost Empire. I have never heard anybody here, let alone a Brexiteer, state that they wanted to recolonise India and so on. On the other hand Curtis says nothing of the malign domestic socio-economic effects of our EU membership and globalisation generally, which in my view would go much further to explain ordinary people's frustration with the cosy cross-party pro-internationalism setup in Westminster.
2. Curtis quite rightly talks about the evils of the opium trade which Britain foisted on China; but in referring to the flood of silver this raised and returned to Britain, he fails to make mention of another trade that was a major factor: tea, payment for which the Chinese government insisted had to be in silver only, thus causing a monetary problem for Britain.
I'm not sure what the transcripts, presented as an Oxbridge undergraduate essay, would score from the dons. Sooner or later we must recognise that the 'flight from language' or the use of audio-visuals to override the critical faculty, has its limitations and pernicious tendencies.