How should Christians respond to a new lockdown?

We appear to have entered a rather different phase of engagement with the question of Covid-19 and our response to this legally and socially. At the beginning of the ‘first wave’ in March, there was a widespread sense that we needed to respond quickly and drastically, and most of the criticism was that Government had not acted quickly or seriously enough.

The mood appears different now. There is so much more information around, and much more that we do in fact know about the virus—and with that there has been a clearer divergence of expert views on both how to make sense of what is happening and how to respond to it.

This sharpens the question of how Christians should respond. With the divergence of views elsewhere, I have noticed a divergence of views amongst Christian friends and ministry colleagues, and so I thought it worth making some observations about our response overall. I won’t be justifying everything I say; there has been such a torrent of literature, some of it technical and complex, that it would take weeks to note it all. But I think that the observations below are easy to support, and they need to shape appropriate Christian response.

1. Covid-19 is a particularly nasty and dangerous virus

You don’t have to stray very far into the by-ways of social media to find people who claim that the situation we are in has been created by some sort of Government conspiracy, and even to find people claiming that the virus is not ‘real’. But the medical evidence is clear: this is real, and it is particularly nasty, in two ways.

First, it is highly infectious, and can be spread by those who have it even before they manifest symptoms. Solving this problem is the aim of track-and-trace systems, alerting people to contact they might have had with others who were, at the time, asymptomatic. There is some irony at work here; more immediately deadly viruses like Ebola were in some sense less dangerous at a population level, since people become ill and died before they could spread the virus widely. Covid-19 is exactly the opposite.

Secondly, the mechanics of Covid-19 and its impact on the body have been largely unknown and difficult to understand. Early on, it was noted that it caused damaged through provoking an immune response that itself caused most of the problem, creating what is known as a cytokine storm in the body. But more recent research indicates that something different is going on (a bradykinin storm) which explains some of the strange symptoms, including ‘Covid toe’ where feeling is lost in the extremities.

The net result is that some who have been infected have suffered from nasty and unexpected long-term effects, and I know several friends who have been seriously ill for months on end.

Very early on, statistician David Spiegelhalter noticed that the mortality risk from Covid-19 tracked very closely normal mortality risk by age. In other words, whatever your risk of dying this year, Covid-19 brought that risk into the next two weeks. This accounts for why the elderly have been the main victims of the virus. On average in the UK, around 620,000 people die each year. At the time it looked as though, if Covid-19 had spread unchecked in the population, then we could have seen that many people die in a very short period of time, overwhelming every medical facility and mortuary in the country in a moment.

2. There are some in our society who are very vulnerable 

One of the complications in measuring the impact of Covid-19 has been distinguishing between those who have ‘died of Covid-19′ and those who have ‘died with Covid-19′. It is unusual for the virus itself to kill people; what happens is that it accelerates the deterioration of those who already have other conditions (‘co-morbidities’). Therefore those who are at risk from the virus include not only the elderly, but those with other conditions which make them vulnerable, particularly people with suppressed immune response, and those with disabilities which make them more susceptible to infection. Disability campaigner Katie Tupling expresses this sense of vulnerability well in her Facebook post:

Just so we are clear about what level of fact and opinion I will currently tolerate on my Profile…

2 million people in the country are CEV – Clinically Extremely Vulnerable to CV19… and 90,000 children. If they get CV19 – more than likely the next time time they come into our Church buildings it would be in a coffin…These are the people (dispensable) referred to by Gov and Media as ‘the elderly and vulnerable’ – in fact, not all CEVs are elderly, so you count in the over 70s and the 2million figure goes up…

Then factor in that most don’t live alone – now CEV and EV households go up to c.5+ million people, of all ages. Those households – statistically – are deemed more likely to be decimated by CV19… Tup-house is one of them.

I’m not afraid of being dead. I’m afraid that the gung-ho, Christ-triumphant ethos some people are articulating will lead to people taking risks, putting on pressure (‘real Christians are gathering for in-person worship’) and dismissing the reality for 5m people that CV19 is the actual threat, not your perceived lack of freedom…

This offers a powerful response to those who disregard either the actual or the perceived sense of threat from this virus.

3. The UK Government have failed to response coherently and competently

Now, dear reader, before you dismiss this observation as a cheap party-political leftist shot, it is worth pointing out that this view is pretty widespread across the political spectrum. Media outlets of every kind have reported this, and it is quickly confirmed by doing an internet search of ‘UK Government Covid failure’. One of the most charitable and balanced assessments of these failures can be found here.

The most significant and obvious failures include the following:

  1. Initial complacency about the early news, with inaccurate estimates of the early rate of growth of infections.
  2. Failure to implement checks on those returning to the UK from Covid-19 hotspots in Spain and Italy; 16 million returned in a few weeks in February, bringing the virus to multiple centres of infection across the UK.
  3. Failure to implement basic hygiene disciplines; I still cringe when I recall Boris Johnson boasting about shaking hands with people in hospital, leading to his own infection days later.
  4. Failure to prohibit large gatherings just prior to lockdown, which led to major centres of infection in several locations.
  5. The moving of infected elderly patients out of hospitals without testing, taking the virus into care homes across the country.
  6. The massive over-reaction to a non-peer reviewed report from Neil Ferguson at the University of London, driven by anxiety about electoral response rather than by a desire to get the overall decisions right.
  7. The lack of diverse voices in SAGE so that the group were locked into a single narrative without critical peer reflection.
  8. The complete failure to have a proper testing regime, including false claims about how many people were actually being tested at every stage.
  9. The complete failure to develop a test-and-trace app—it was promised in May! And it was promised to be world-beating!
  10. The issuing of arbitrary and conflicting rules that have no actual basis in evidence. The latest ‘rule of six’ really makes no sense at all, since it is the number of households involved in any meetings which is at least as important as the number of actual people.

These failures have had a material impact on the number people being infected and dying—but they have also created a particular culture of confusion in the UK population as a whole.

4. Much response has been irrational and ill-informed

Response in the UK to both the virus and restrictions has been very varied. On the one hand, some sections of society have been cavalier in disregarding restrictions, and when I have been shopping I have noticed a good number without masks, or not taking much notice of the need for distancing. A friend of a friend who has come to the UK to study from Spain has been really shocked by the lack of consistent compliance, in marked contrast to her experience back home; we do not have the kind of culture of social compliance which has, for example, enabled Sweden to take a quite different approach.

On the other hand, I have also noticed people taking an almost superstitious approach to the virus, as if the prevention measures were magical actions that we had to do which would ward off this mysterious evil. Thus you see people wearing masks when driving alone in their own car, or when walking alone in open space. I am aware of people who are in the vulnerable category mentioned above who have not been outside their own homes, when in fact walking in an open space away from others would have been completely safe. Others have avoided visiting elderly relatives, out of concern for the vulnerability of either themselves of the other, when in fact there are manageable ways of maintaining contact. Irrational fear, leading to hyper-risk avoidance (that we would not apply to any other aspect of life) is common.

Worst of all have been the stories, especially from earlier in the year, of people dying alone because loved ones were not allowed at the bedside, or of pregnant women having scans and confronting the tragedy of a still birth in isolation from their partner. These are the product of over-zealous administrators, implementing ill-thought-out policies, devised and rolled out without considering the wider implications of such actions. This appears to be a particularly British failing.

5. Narrow considerations of one aspect of ‘science’

The Government mantra has been to ‘follow the science’, and this sounds appealing and objective until you think about it for a short time. For one thing, the science in the early days of this crisis was actually unclear; there were important things that we did not know, and many people were shooting in the dark. There are always judgements to be made in both assessing scientific judgements, and in assessing how this information should sit in a wider context. To claim to reach for ‘science’ is often a strategy of avoiding making those judgements.

And it has been consistently clear that the politicians themselves have difficulty understanding the science they are referring to. Only this week, Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health, showed that he had no real understanding of the possibility of ‘false positives’ (when a test indicates that someone has the virus when they don’t) and its impact on infection data. (Listen to this week’s More or Less on Radio 4 through BBC Sounds for an account of this. More or Less has been essential listening during this time; it is worth going back and listening to all episodes since January to get a good perspective on all aspects of the pandemic.)

Part of the problem here is that data always needs interpretation. Carl Heneghan and the team from the University of Oxford have pointed out that the graph used by Chris Witty to show that infections are on the rise, thus leading to the call for new restrictions, is incorrect because he has not interpreted the data correctly. When you look at the information and relate it to the date when tests were done, not when the test results were reported, then it suggests that infections are in decline, both here and in Spain, and not on the increase. The fairly flat rate of hospital admissions and recorded deaths supports this.

There is an interesting assessment of whether we are facing a ‘second wave’ in this analysis here. The author, Dr Ivor Cummins, is not medically qualified, but he is concerned to bring consistent ‘scientific method’ to the data, and all his sources are peer-reviewed and use primary data. He points out something significant which I think has been missed in other commentary: we must put the data on ‘Covid deaths’ in the context of what has been happening with seasonal winter flu in different countries, which in the UK can easily be responsible for 28,000 deaths each season. The fact that we had a mild winter and so many fewer deaths this year means that there were many more people who were vulnerable to Covid-19 than we would have expected. And the differences here account to a large degree for the differences in Covid mortality between Sweden and the other Nordic countries. (His assessment has been criticised, but he offers a detailed response to criticisms in his latest video here.)

But the biggest problem has been isolating the data related to the spread of the virus from all other considerations. Dr Michael Yeadon is one of a group of scientists who  believe that the models the Government is relying on are wrong, that there will be no second wave, and that the current testing regime is based on false measurements (you can read the full argument here). But in a separate piece, he notes the huge price that has been paid in other ways—economic, relational and personal—and which does not appear to have been factored in to policy discussions.

We now know that lockdown made no difference at all to the spread of the virus. We can tell this because the interval between catching the virus and, in those who don’t make it, their death is longer than the interval between lockdown and peak daily deaths. There isn’t any controversy about this fact, easily demonstrated, but I’m aware some people like to pretend it was lockdown that turned the pandemic, perhaps to justify the extraordinary price we have all paid to do it. That price wasn’t just economic. It involved avoidable deaths from diseases other than COVID-19, as medical services were restricted, in order to focus on the virus.

Some say that lockdown, directly and indirectly, killed as many as the virus. I don’t know. It’s not something I’ve sought to learn. But I mention because interventions in all our lives should not be made lightly. Its not only inconvenience, but real suffering, loss of livelihoods, friendships, anchors of huge importance to us all, that are severed by such acts. We need to be certain that the prize is worth the price. While it is uncertain it was, even for the first lockdown, I too supported it, because we did not know what we faced, and frankly, almost everyone else did it, except Sweden. I am now resolutely against further interventions in what I have become convinced is a fruitless attempt to ‘control the virus’.

This morning, as I walked our dog Barney, I met Linda, a widow who lives on her own and her dog Bruno. I asked her how she was—and the answer was that she and her friends were terrified about the possible effects of another lockdown. I could see it in her eyes. Surely these concerns should feature in any policy calculation?

A distinctively Christian response?

Is there a distinctively Christian response to these realities? Well, yes and no. I hope and pray that Christians and Christian leaders might be able to contribute something distinctive to reflection, commentary and understanding of the situation we are in. But it is worth noting that being able to say something that no-one is saying anywhere else is not the test of whether we have a distinctive Christian contribution. This is evident in the way, for example, large parts of Scripture borrow from the wisdom traditions of other cultures, and even other religions, and then declare that these words are the words of God and his revelation to his people.

And yet I think that a Christian perspective does bring something distinctive. We should be able to speak both passionately and dispassionately. We should be able to address the immediate, that which is in front of us, but in the context of things that are eternal. Christians of all people should be able to understand this moment in the wider context of the past—not least because Christians have been faithfully bearing witness in the context of pandemics throughout human history. And we should be able to hold together both the personal and the social and have a distinct understanding of the importance of community in an age of individualism.

I therefore hope that Christian voices can speak for these things:

1. Seek the truth

We can have no truck with conspiracy theories that try to explain away the reality of the virus—nor should we ignore them. We need to engage with the testable facts about what has been happening, and challenge others to do the same.

2. Protect the vulnerable

Some of those arguing for fewer restrictions appear to present their case in terms of a trade-off between the protection of the vulnerable and the running of the economy, and it is not surprising that those in the ‘vulnerable’ group find this offensive. A Christian perspective must take the needs of the vulnerable seriously, and not treat it as part of a zero-sum game—but there is more than one kind of vulnerability at stake, and we need to consider the harm that is done by isolation, loss of livelihoods, fear and anxiety and other mental health issues along with those who feel exposed to risk from the virus itself.

3. Encourage debate

It is very clear now that there is more than one robust, well researched scientific perspective on the specific question of the nature and spread of the virus itself. Christians are committed to civil obedience in all but the most extreme cases, as articulated by Paul in Romans 13. But that does not necessarily entail agreeing with the perspective or agenda of any particular regime, as articulated by John in Revelation 13.

It seems to me rather strange when obedience to Government policy and supporting its implementation is interpreted as agreeing with Government scientists and supporting their interpretation of the evidence. The two are not the same.

4. Speak of death

The one distinctive thing that Christians can contribute to this moment is to speak fearlessly of the reality of death and human mortality, and the transcendent hope in the face of grief, loss and death that the resurrection of Jesus offers.

Last Saturday morning, a Labour spokesperson, as she criticised Government policy, was asked what would be an acceptable level of infection of the virus if policy was effective. ‘Zero’ was the answer, and it represented perfectly our culture’s delusion about illness and death. We live in an age of hubris, where medicine can cure all our ills, and death is an unfortunate and embarrassing issue we would rather not talk about. In Christian theology, mortality is actually a central reality of human life and a mark of our creatureliness.

In his metaphorical novel The Plague (which is actually a reflection on the ‘pestilence’ of Nazism), Albert Camus comments:

We tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away.

Pandemics remind us of our mortality, and it is a reminder that we resent.

The illustration at the top of this piece, borrowed from Michael Yeadon’s article, has a key and rather ironic significance in Christian thinking about pandemics. It is taken from Revelation 6, which many interpret as pointing forwards to some future ‘end times’ period of catastrophe. But, as I demonstrate in my commentary, the imagery of the four horsemen actually describe how life is for John’s readers in the first century, and in fact how life will continue to be until Jesus’ return—periodically marked by violence, conquest, disease, famine and death. His message of hope in Jesus and the free gift of the water of the river of life points to what we need to live in every age, and not just in some future ‘apocalypse’.

This last issue is the one where we have the most distinctive contribution to make—and I think it is the one of which, thus far, we have failed to speak out clearly enough.


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78 thoughts on “How should Christians respond to a new lockdown?”

  1. Some good stuff. I however find the challenge on infection rates rising potentially subject to questioning. If the data is based on when the tests were taken and there are delays in getting the results back, then yes, we would expect a sudden drop over the past few days because current results are not yet in. It would be like looking at the BBC’s league table on Saturday at 4:45pm when a lot of games are still playing. Similarly ?I am not sure that hospital admissions, ICU beds and deaths are flatlining.

    Reply
    • Well, in the end time will tell. Other articles on the same website provide more recent critique.

      The problem is when SAGE say ‘there will be a disaster, we must lockdown’ and then the numbers don’t go up, they can claim that lockdown worked. So the argument is entirely circular…and lacks support.

      Reply
      • I think to be fair that works the other way too. I have been their side of the fence in a minor role with Y2K. There are still people who see the lack of drama as proof it was a hoax not that we did our jobs properly. It’s no win situation for SAGE low cases means what the fuss high means they failed

        Reply
  2. What a helpful and balanced reflection on the key issues. Thank you. At the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, we have been continuing to put all the measures in place (as they continually change) so that people feel as safe as possible when they come and stay. This week we have 38 ordinands on retreat with us for four days, but we have been able to provide full video links to those who are experiencing the retreat from home and also a speaker who is being broadcast to two meeting rooms live from Birmingham. We want to be able create the most inclusion for those who wish to be together physically (at a distance) and for those who are remote. We are also starting to see many of the churches and charities start to come back to us, realising that physical remoteness has a large psychological impact over time on team and individuals work.

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  3. Excellent, thoughtful article, Ian! I do wish there was something comparable written about our situation here in the US. In my country, issues of the coronavirus have become so politicized, that one scarcely knows what to believe. Our public health officials have so misused and misrepresented the available data that they have lost huge amounts of credibility. When the terrorist attacks of 9/11 occurred, our country rallied and came together. So sadly, the coronavirus pandemic is apparently driving the citizens of the US far apart. If one were to look for the voice of the church for answers, one would have to ask “which church?”

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  4. Agree with your 4 points about a response. Not sure I agree with your tendency to question a rise in infections. For example, I just don’t understand the Carl Heneghan et al approach with its distinction between positive tests and positive clinical diagnoses. Surely the problem is that many people have COVID without ever seeking a clinical diagnosis, indeed maybe without knowing they have it? But I take your general point about truth seeking. At the moment I think we should be focusing a bit more on infection, transmission and medium term consequences for younger people and children. The history of many pandemics is that while they start with the elderly and vulnerable, they then, if not got under control, begin to wreak more havoc among the young.

    As you know I am a bit of a ‘second wave’ advocate myself and I fear that by denying the reality of the possibility (“all over by Christmas”) our politicians have underplayed the need for sensible measures. For example, why didn’t universities make provisions like setting up spaces (empty hotels?) where students who test positive can isolate and be ensured basic care? Whether we call it a second wave or not and whether it is exacerbated by flu or not, I think all the signs are there that we are heading in the wrong direction. Intensive care bed occupancy up, tested cases massively up, deaths now just about where they were at the start of the lockdown in March. A sensible approach would be to put out clear, well explained messages about reasonable precautions, isolation support and to provide prompt local testing. And to stress this is for the good of the whole population not just the vulnerable and elderly. We are in this together and I think Christian communities, who ought to be marked by their care for all ages and conditions, can help with this.

    Reply
      • The obvious comment is that he bases a lot of conclusions on the low death rate. Would he be able to write the same paper with the current increases, that are apparently Covid-19 based, not just flu or seasonal variations? But it’s worth a read, and the truth may be somewhere in the middle.

        Reply
      • Ian, I’ve got a lot out of your writing over the years.

        But that lockdownsceptics article is a poor source for you to reference. Within the scientific community, there are certainly many areas of debate on SARS-CoV-2. But the consensus is that the virus is spreading rapidly again and that a relatively small proportion of the population have so far developed immunity. The evidence is multiple – the daily testing figures, the NHS treatment figures, the weekly ONS surveys of randomly sampled population, the R number calculations, antibody surveys, research projects monitoring levels through many means. I cannot imagine why you would think that an unreviewed article on a website from sceptics ideologically opposed to lockdown represents a reliable source of information on this. I write this as a research scientist who is involved in Covid monitoring research.

        There are debates to be had about how society responds to the virus and what its priorities are. For example, is a lockdown necessary? How stringent should it be? Are we happy for weaker members of society to die so that the rest of society can live more normally? How much has the lockdown increased death rates from other illnesses? How has the government behaved?

        But as a scientist who is a Christian, I think it’s extremely dangerous when Christianity is linked with anti-science outlooks.

        Reply
        • Dear Richard, thanks for commenting, and for sharing your expertise. But I am slightly surprised at your suggestion that my outlook is ‘anti-science’.

          In the article I make two main points relating to the science. First, that it is a mistake to think about the ‘science’ and the ‘risk’ of the virus in isolation from other issues including the impact of lockdown. I quote from Michael Yeadon on that specific point. And were you aware that the Government’s own document estimated that deaths as a result of the lockdown are likely to be 75,000?

          My wife is a GP, and daily sees the collateral damage of lockdown, including increased mental health problems, and failure to diagnose and other treat other serious illnesses because of Covid priority.

          On the broader question, I am hesitant to question your view, but in fact there are reputable medics and research scientists who seriously question both the dominant analysis and strategy based on that analysis. Carl Heneghan is hardly ‘anti-science’, and there is clearly something very different going on at the moment, when a rapid rise in cases has not yet been followed by a rapid rise in deaths, when previously it would have been.

          What has been noted widely is that SAGE appears to have fallen into groupthink, and that they don’t answer questions or allow enough engagement from alternative views.

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          • Hi there,
            I can agree that Carl H. is a serious enough source but is a small minority in the medical world (at least he churns out decent pieces for the Spectator and online but nothing peer reviewed so far in the Pandemic).

            I’ll have to agree with Richard here. I think you are heading down an anti-science route when you are quoting lockdownsceptics and Ivor Cummins for an appeal to scientific divergence.

            Just for some context here – LockdownSceptics still has an article arguing against masks by someone who does not believe in the existence of the virus in the first place. (I wasted a few hours looking at it -https://marksurg.wordpress.com/2020/06/06/know-your-sources-how-to-not-waste-time-online/ )

            With that level of editorial rigour, then what can we expect from Dr Yeadon whom I note is also only seeming to publish on LockdownSceptics?

            When we are swimming in so much purposeful misinformation I think as Christians we have to be super-conscientious about referencing what we retweet and also sometimes accepting our blindspots and limits of expertise which will avoid us being hoodwinked by some pretty shoddy pseudo-science.

            Mark

          • Thanks Mark, comment appreciated. But note that you don’t have to be a virus sceptic to know that masks do not do what people claim for them. They don’t protect you as an individual; they only protect others if you are pre-symptomatic and infected. And they add no benefit at all if you are more than 2m away from people.

            So I appreciate the need to be wary—but an awful lot of the assumptions out there about the virus have little basis in science. (My wife is a GP, and she often despairs at the nonsense that is heard on the media, including from Government.)

          • Hi there,

            Maybe I wasn’t that clear – I personally think masks are debatable and definitely not a panacea but the point was not on masks. It’s on the quality of the sources that are being used by leading Christian voices (and I think I’m just echoing what many others have said here). It’s not just you – I see many other Christian leaders are tending towards amplifying these at best minority medical at worst, pure quackery, as it fits with a narrative they find more appealing. LockdownSceptics has no interest in the truth – they only have interest in furthering their view – the fact they accepted as “evidence” that article by a Virus denier phone mast engineer is just one (dramatic) example that shows that they just don’t have any peer review or real editorial overview.

            It takes away from your point of Seek the Truth – and I find it as scientist and Doctor (albeit a surgeon) profoundly depressing and unsettling to see so many Christian leaders being hoodwinked by this. It comes down to how we treat evidence and reliable witnesses – I am convinced by the resurrection but when I see people who are also convinced by it being convinced by pseudo-science it does give one pause for thought.

          • LockdownSceptics has no interest in the truth – they only have interest in furthering their view – the fact they accepted as “evidence” that article by a Virus denier phone mast engineer is just one (dramatic) example that shows that they just don’t have any peer review or real editorial overview.

            So? All that proves is that you shouldn’t believe something simply because it has been published by them.

            The fact they publish some rubbish doesn’t mean that all they publish is rubbish.

            It means you have to consider each thing they publish on its own merits, rather than simply trusting everything they publish because they have published it.

            But shouldn’t we be doing that anyway?

            I am convinced by the resurrection but when I see people who are also convinced by it being convinced by pseudo-science it does give one pause for thought.

            You should see some of the nonsense people who aren’t convinced by the resurrection are also convinced by.

      • There are so many false assumptions in it I don’t really know where to start! It reads to me like someone using the data to back up what they want to think! Have you seen this – it’s based on research that suggests we are looking at the spread of COVID-19 in the wrong way – it is essentially a stochastic phenomenon, not linear in the way flu mostly is. Ie. the dispersal factor ‘k’, largely overlooked in favour of ‘R’ in the West, is a better tool for identifying how the disease is spreading. Explains many of the anomalies we have been seeing (including Sweden). Also gives some excellent pointers for better control of the spread, better prevention measures and a little hope in that if we could get on top of super spreading clusters we could keep the transmission down even before a vaccine. You’ll see we are not doing the right kind of test and trace in the UK!

        https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/09/k-overlooked-variable-driving-pandemic/616548/?fbclid=IwAR3ReeYfnOl5b2DLZ4iICcZyMCY9VS6PYiNV93drNlQuizH2mEM9RSbzecQ

        Unfortunately some of the measures would probably affect church activities quite heavily. I am interested in ways that people are currently keeping their spiritual lives vibrant – I do think there has been a move toward more daily prayer alone and with others online and some new and interesting study groups…

        Reply
    • Indeed, It will not be ‘all over by Christmas’. My old alma mater, Glasgow University, is now experiencing the folly of having thousands of students back on campus. Could you imagine the consequences if all those now infected students were walking around passing it on to many more, including older people? Even the students themselves are asking, why did you bring us back so soon?

      Far too many stupid risks are being taken for the sake of the ‘economy’ and supposed normality. Wise up!

      Reply
  5. A very helpful article, Ian, thank you. An important issue for me is the militaristic language used during this crisis, and the possibly related absence of women’s voices as reported in today’s press (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/sep/24/female-voices-drowned-out-in-reporting-on-covid-19-report-finds?CMP=share_btn_link). Many areas of industry, for example Network Rail and the Institution of Civil Engineers have realised the importance of women in sites of significant risk, because they tend to balance a common ‘gung-ho’ approach, with the effect of making risky operations safer.

    Similarly, I suspect the lack of women’s voices in discussing the crisis, and the fact that women appear to be suffering most from its effects are not unrelated. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02006-z

    Reply
    • the fact that women appear to be suffering most from its effects

      Um it’s actually the opposite: the mortality rate for men from coronavirus is twice that for women.

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      • was Liz only referring to death? For those suffering domestic abuse, death from Covid might well be preferable to death by their partner’s hand.

        Reply
        • For those suffering domestic abuse, death from Covid might well be preferable to death by their partner’s hand.

          I doubt either would be particularly pleasant.

          But I really don’t see how you can defend the statement that women are suffering most (not just equally, but most) when we’re talking about a killer virus which is twice as deadly to men as to women.

          Reply
      • So? All that proves is that you shouldn’t believe something simply because it has been published by them
        I won’t desbelieve it jsut on that basis but as they are not doing any peer review or due diligence on who or what they print, everything they publish is by definition no very likely to be serious.

        I just don’t think we should be promoting pseudo-science or non-peer reviewed science from unreliable sources – but that’s the majority of what I see peddled these days by Christians on the internet (with some rare exceptions – see https://statement.biologos.org/ )

        Reply
        • I won’t desbelieve it jsut on that basis but as they are not doing any peer review or due diligence on who or what they print, everything they publish is by definition no very likely to be serious.

          Surely not? It doesn’t mean it’s not very likely to be serious, it just means that there is no a priori assumption either way, either that it is serious or that it isn’t.

          I mean, the Guardian and the Telegraph don’t do peer review either. Doesn’t mean you discount anything they publish; just that you have to use your own judgement.

          I just don’t think we should be promoting pseudo-science or non-peer reviewed science from unreliable sources – but that’s the majority of what I see peddled these days by Christians on the internet (with some rare exceptions – see https://statement.biologos.org/ )

          Though that would mean holding Christian to a much higher standard than the actual government, which has transformed the country, and enacted the destruction of liberty at a scale never before seen in Britain outside wartime, entirely on the basis of non-peer-reviewed psuedo-science.

          Reply
  6. I disagree with you on whether Dominic Cummings had broken the rules, but

    My biggest concern is that — so far as I can tell — the government has no plan to get us out of this situation. They seem to have decided to go into permanent lockdown until something magical happens: the virus spontaneously mutates into a harmless form, a safe and effective vaccine is discovered, some total and instant cure is found.

    But none of these things is guaranteed to happen in any reasonable time, or at all. Waiting for any of them is not a strategy: it’s at best hope, at worst burying one’s head in the sand. If we carry on that way we could be living this way in five, ten, twenty years. Is there anyone who would find that acceptable? Some friends of mine had a baby last year. Would anyone accept that baby graduating from university without ever getting closer than six feet from anyone outside their household, or seeing a stranger’s smile indoors?

    The other thing we really need is to have an open debate about what our goal is. Is it to get back to normal life (and that means life without distancing, masks, or invasive daily ‘moonshot’ testing) with as little loss of life as possible, or is is to prevent every possible death, no matter the cost to normality?

    I think it’s obvious that our goal should be the former, but far too many people seem to think that either the aim should be the latter, or that there is some way that we could somehow have the best of both, which just isn’t the case.

    Reply
  7. Interesting discussion but I can’t help feeling it’s another opinion gloriously missing the point. The church has been effectively shutdown worldwide, along with corporate praise and prayer, the church’s key weapons. This is unprecedented in church history. Yes there are desperate needs that are arising, and we should address them, but ‘Fresh expressions’ of praise and prayer must surely be our primary and urgent spiritual goal?

    Reply
        • Indeed,
          With precautions to minimise risk.
          I find it a little odd that those attending on a Sunday morning, to watch a screened pre-recording are of the older generations who would be in a risk category merely by virtue of their age. Even taking account of difficulties faced by families with young children, there seems to be a reduced appetite from younger generations to be physically present with one another in church.
          There seems to be so little, actual clinical research into transmission risk and actual infections in specific physical settings. Maybe that independent research is some the church could commission.
          My wife and I, both in an age related risk category and with extant medical vulnerabilities attend church meetings where actual risk is minimal, even though we can’t meet up afterwards with others and offer little more than passing comments outside at a distance. It is a three dimensional real person fellowship even at a distance, far closer than any zoom meeting.
          This is too general a comment – but we are risk adverse and are strangers to concepts such as therapeutic risk.
          Lord Sumption, retired Supreme Court Judge has had some interesting things to say recently about freedom and control through fear.
          We just need to look to Scotland to see the control sought to be exerted over higher education students.

          Reply
    • “The church has been effectively shutdown worldwide, along with corporate praise and prayer, the church’s key weapons”

      Surely that’s untrue? Certainly the worldwide Church isn’t shutdown. Some expressions have been closed off in various places but the Church isn’t “shutdown”. At other times and in other places the “persecuted” church has had similar experiences, if with clearly different causes…. even alone in prison.

      I’m not that comfortable with the weaponising descriptions of prayer as if it has power of its own. That’s probably not meant….

      Reply
  8. Re ‘false positives’, true but then up to 29% of people who have the virus can show a ‘false negative’ test result, which you strangely didnt mention. I think it’s obvious which is the more dangerous.

    Reply
  9. As ever though provoking and well balanced. Thank you again Ian!
    I am currently a GP, my wife a hospital Physician.
    So I comment in that light – it provides both perhaps insight and some blindspots. Perhaps only a forester truly loses the wood in the trees!

    It did not feel to us like lockdown made no difference. Whatever the numbers say – and remember, not everything worth counting is countable; not everything counted is worth counting – lockdown felt like it palpably altered viral spread through the community. Talking as a GP not only did to seem to slow household to household transmission, frankly it felt like everything apart from COVID…just…stopped. No colds, no spring GI viral infections…all gone. Just occasional COVID.

    Secondly, the numbers game is based on large populations, but at least part of the response of lockdown was about trying to deal with sub-populations of variously more vulnerable individuals. They get lost in the data as the numbers are too small, and will not be well reported. The population level argument against lockdown may make sense when viewed as a graph; less so as your gran. And this is – at least in part – a valid response to the problems of personalising population data. We all do it. For some of us, granny wins. For others it’s the economy. I’m not making a value judgement. Both are personalisations – judgements – based on some data and perhaps more our own circumstances and run through the blender of our decision making apparatus! Here, Ian’s point about plurality on decision making bodies such as SAGE is of course extremely well made.

    A bleak point about the purpose of lockdown. I don’t think it was about preventing infection. I don’t think it was about preventing death. It was about preventing Italy on our TV screens. The purpose of lockdown was to prevent overwhelm of the NHS’ systems and capacity. It came too close for comfort. I know of few NHS or Care system staff who do not greatly fear this winter.

    Finally a word about Christian response. Yes, we should talk about death. But note Geoff’s point. The young stay home with zoom; the older are hungry for human contact. I’m sure there are many influences at play here but speaking from the consulting room, the levels of anxiety in our young people are epidemic. What do we have to say to a generation who seem to me to be in bondage to the fear of death? The power of him who holds the power of death is broken…by the Son, incarnate. They need to know Him! How can they without someone preaching?

    Reply
    • A bleak point about the purpose of lockdown. I don’t think it was about preventing infection. I don’t think it was about preventing death. It was about preventing Italy on our TV screens. The purpose of lockdown was to prevent overwhelm of the NHS’ systems and capacity.

      That was the initial purpose, certainly, and it was a perfectly reasonable one (the jury is still out, I think, on whether overall the lock-down did more harm than good, and the truth of that won’t be known for many years as its effects continue to be felt in things like missed cancer diagnoses and stunted educations, but even if it turns out to have been the wrong move in hindsight, there’s no way that could have been known with the information we had at the time).

      The problem is that it seems to have morphed from a measure to ensure the health service was not overrun into an attempt (probably a doomed attempt) to suppress the spread of the virus indefinitely, with no end in sight, and that’s a totally different deal, and not something I think anyone signed up for.

      Reply
    • Thanks Jamie. Just a response on the one point: the numbers dropped too soon after lockdown was announced to be the result of lockdown. There is quite wide agreement on that, and a couple of episodes of More or Less explored it at the time.

      Of course there will have been other consequences…but I think again all of these can be accounted for by the social distancing and hygiene measures. These would also stop the transmission of coughs and colds.

      Reply
      • Yes quite possibly – I take the point readily. What’s harder to know, (and to my mind is the sharp question of the moment) is how far they would have continued to fall without lockdown. For what it’s worth, my take would be that they would not have fallen as far as they did based on social distancing and hygiene alone. Why do I think this? Frankly, because of what’s happening now. I may be wrong – distancing and and hygiene may be all that’s needed. Here’s hoping! But my feeling is that the message of distancing and hygiene will not result in the needed consistent behaviour change not least because of the extremely well made points you highlight in 3) about coherence and competence. I wish it were not so. And yet, despite the incompetence corruption and downright wickedness of the government of NT times, still civil obedience was the position of the NT church.

        Should this position also be a part of a distinctively christian response to new restrictions? The tone of debate even within christian circles (perhaps at times reflected in this thread) suggests our willingness to comply is perhaps wearing thin…

        Reply
        • Yes, there are a lot of unknowns. But there is some strong epidemiological evidence that the numbers would have fallen regardless, not least based on the fact that the shape of the curve in every country and region has been the same!

          You raise the question of ‘willingness to comply’, and I think I note that this is not a great British trait (though it has led to trouble in other European countries in the past…!). That then raises a question which I haven’t touched on in this piece, but which is out there in the narrative: what powers should democratic government have to force people to comply to arbitrary requirements? This helpful piece notes that mentioned fines of £10,000 is singularly counter-productive.

          https://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/prayingthrough_gritted_teeth

          Reply
          • I agree – large fines and Police being “backfilled” (should we hear backed up?) by the army are not what I want to hear from the PM!

            But on point, the evidence is debatable I think rather than strong – on all sides of this debate! It’s not weak; it’s not absent. But it’s not strong and there are simply too many unknowns to be comfortable “ruling” on it. In the consulting room this is common; I tell patients “on the one hand some studies show, and on the other, studies also suggest, and here are their weaknesses all round”. In general it goes over terribly as medical evasiveness!

            It’s not quite the case that the curves are all the same. We have a test case of what happens when there is less intervention – Peru. See it here; it should give us awful pause (roughly 2 years worth of deaths in 6m in a population that is way younger than ours): https://twitter.com/rparrawong/status/1299803289144487937/photo/1
            It’s also interesting to note (in the context of the Think Theology piece) that the economic impact in Sweden has been very similar to that in “locked-down” countries.

            Nothing is simple – no position is clear enough to be viewed as strong yet I think. I hope yours wins out over time.

            Anyway – thanks for engaging with me on this, I have really enjoyed the discussion with you and the other commenters on your brilliant blog (for which many thanks – you feed and stimulate in equal measure and I love Psephizo – thank you, Ian). Tomorrow I go back to it all – I covet the prayers of all who read your blog for those of us who love Jesus and are serving in whatever way in the NHS and Care services over the next few months!

          • Peru. See it here; it should give us awful pause (roughly 2 years worth of deaths in 6m in a population that is way younger than ours):

            I don’t understand the language, but assuming your interpretation is right, it tallies with the general impression I get that catching coronavirus basically gives you a chance of death equal to what your chance of dying this year would have been anyway (that is, it’s like packing two years of risk into one).

            I suppose it’s a matter of perspective whether you consider that cause for ‘awful pause’, or great relief that this isn’t something like the Spanish ‘flu which had something like a 2.5% mortality rate amongst the young and healthy.

        • Why do I think this? Frankly, because of what’s happening now. I may be wrong – distancing and and hygiene may be all that’s needed. But my feeling is that the message of distancing and hygiene will not result in the needed consistent behaviour change

          We know little about this virus, but we do know that it seems to be highly seasonal. Rates fell in all countries as spring turned into summer, and they increased again as summer turned to autumn. The shift of season seems to have a far greater effect on the rate of spread than any behaviour change.

          It is likely that the virus will continue on much the same trajectory whatever we do, and that all we can hope for is to change the shape of the outbreak a little, without much affecting the overall effect.

          That seemed to be recognised early on, with all the talk of ‘squashing the curve’ but not changing the are under it. Why has that been forgotten? Why do we persist in overstating the effect of human agency, and thinking it is in our power to change the course of a pandemic? If only our modern leaders had the wisdom of Canute, rather than shouting ever shriller instructions thinking they really can turn the tide of the virus!

          This is what makes me fear the messaging from the government that if we fail to comply with the regulations and the rate of infection increases, then tougher measures are on the way. What if — as seems increasingly likely — we do comply with the regulations, and the rate of infection increases anyway, because it’s winter and that’s just what happens in winter? Do we get the promised harsher measures? And when they also fail to halt the spread, because, as above, it’s winter? What then?

          Reply
          • Dear S
            Lots here I am not the man to reply to, but one thing I can perhaps try to help clear up.
            The Peru data is not about risk as such. It’s about outcome. The number of deaths in 6 months is what you would expect to see over two years, roughly (i.e. roughly four times expected number of deaths over that time period). The implications of this can be imagined by thinking of a quadrupled volume for everyone and every service involved in illness that leads to death, to say nothing of the impact on families and the wider community. Sorry to be so blunt – it’s not pleasant to contemplate I know. Again, it’s worth remembering that the average age of that population is far younger than ours (i.e. it is a fair assumption – tho an assumption nonetheless – that in our population, unmitigated spread would result in worse outcomes than that) Hope that helps explain!

          • The number of deaths in 6 months is what you would expect to see over two years, roughly (i.e. roughly four times expected number of deaths over that time period). The implications of this can be imagined by thinking of a quadrupled volume for everyone and every service involved in illness that leads to death, to say nothing of the impact on families and the wider community.

            But just because they’ve had twice the normal deaths for a year in six months doesn’t mean that rate will continue, does it? It depends on what proportion of the population who are going to get coronavirus got it in those six months, and either died or developed immunity.

            If the virus spread through Peru as far as it was ever going to in those six months, then chances are the next six months won’t see any greater a rate of deaths, and may even see fewer deaths than normal due to displacement.

            Only at the end of twelve months can we really compare the death rates for a full year. Any claims about what they will be made before that — such as that they will be quadruple the

            Again, it’s worth remembering that the average age of that population is far younger than ours (i.e. it is a fair assumption – tho an assumption nonetheless – that in our population, unmitigated spread would result in worse outcomes than that)

            Worse outcomes in relative or absolute terms? There might well be a greater number of deaths per head of population here, due to our older population, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that our deaths would be greater as a proportion of a normal year here.

            The UK’s death rate has been falling quite dizzyingly since about 1980, from over 11 people per 1,000 just just over 9 people per 1,000. By comparison, Peru’s death rate in recent years has been about 5-6 per 1,000 people.

            So if coronavirus causes death rates for 2020 to jump to 12 per 1,000 in Peru, but 18 per 1,000 in the UK (the extra six / 1,000 people here dying because of our older population) then that’s still only the equivalent of a single year’s extra deaths in the UK.

            And actually even that — a doubling of the UK death rate for the year — would equate, in a population of 67 million to over 600,000 people (unless my maths is wrong) which is way beyond even Professors Ferguson’s most catastrophic worst-case predictions, and those have been proven by events to be utterly unrealistic (for example, the Imperial model predicted 85,000 deaths in Sweden if they didn’t have a compulsory lock-down; they didn’t, relying instead on voluntary measures, and the total so far is under 6,000).

            Hope that helps explain!

            It does help to show where your mistakes are, yes.

  10. We who are not experts need to be careful here when quoting papers since there have been many criticisms that some authors who make the headlines are not experts in the field and their work has not been subject to peer review. Like with climate change we need to be mindful of the scientific consensus while keeping and open mind to new ideas, but guarding against those who are just plain wrong. A difficult balance.

    Then there are people trying to interpret the data who have no skills at all, but have positions of influence in politics or Journalism and who draw dangerous conclusions from misunderstanding the data. This article on false positive tests tells us about and example. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/coronavirus-false-positives-testing-covid-19-test-b550133.html

    I note that much of the controversy is about interpreting the data. Possibly that is because, due to the problems with testing, we don’t have the data we need to be certain about what the data is saying.

    Reply
  11. An excellent and most helpful piece as usual Ian.

    My wife and I have also found the BBC’s ‘More or Less’ to be a much welcomed spotlight shining into the confusion and misrepresentation (deliberate or not) which has been occurring.

    Further help on a Christian perspective can be found in 2 Peter 3:3-14 ( see my sermon, Covid 19 and the End of the World https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOriyEtXVBI ). The late John Webster’s comment on how this radically shapes the Church’s perspective and challenges the the world’s is especially pertinent”
    ‘Advent lodges in the middle of the life of the Church a contradiction of the whole process in which human life and culture and politics and even religion can become one busy evasion of God. Advent tells us that the truly wise person is not the person who builds a life on such solidity and firmness that nothing can shake it. No, the truly wise person is one who lives and travels light, who doesn’t invest too deeply, who is open to judgment . Advent tells us that communities which build their political lives around an idea of invulnerability, which assume that the earth and the works on it will remain for ever, are in the end idolatrous. Advent tells us that ways of religious belief which like to think that everything about God can be fixed with routines and habits and order are not ways of discipleship, but ways of resisting God’s claim upon us. For these things also are to be dissolved, burned up, and brought to nothing.'(‘Confronted by Grace’).

    This is a time for both reflection and action for the Church to let go of its attempts to domesticate God and for our society to come to terms with the fact what is for now is not forever, and there is a kingdom which does last forever in which mercy and grace are to be found.

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  12. The first slogan the Government used was “Save the NHS”, when it is actually the NHS duty to save us! They then created a Covid only health service which is causing the deaths of cancer patients and others because their treatment was cancelled. This was pure panic and the Nightingale hospitals were hardly used. However, no one understood the new virus and we are where we are.

    We now do understand more and doctors do have drugs they have found work and that ventilating patients is not always the best practice. We also now have statistics for age groups and risk. The younger population need to be living and working normally and those more at risk need to be more cautious using cleanliness and masks etc. As someone who is in the age group more at risk, I must say that it is not a good strategy to wreck the life chances of the young to keep me alive a few more years.

    My daughter is working with the elderly in a care home and is tested every Friday and has the result by Sunday. It should not be impossible to make this available to near relatives to enable visiting. Are we really suggesting that families should be denied even hand holding for another six months or even longer. What does a 80 or 90 year benefit from this or someone who has been married for 71 years is deprived comfort. When does this become abusE? It is pointless testing the young – testing should be targeted at the most needed areas. I for one will not be having a vaccine which has bee rushed into production and am ready to meet my maker when he calls. As a church we seem to have been remiss in talking about life eternal.

    Reply
  13. An afterthought, stimulated by the last paragraph of Jamie’s comment and Melvin Tinker and Tricia’s last sentence: thank you.
    From a purely “impractical” but pastoral? position, something which some may dismiss as pietism:
    Is entering the throne room of God a mere theological abstraction, intellectual gymnastics, doctrine devoid of evidence, of experience?
    Is practicing the Presence of God a discipline, a discipline of holiness.
    Is communion with God restricted to bread and wine remembrance?
    Are we in lockdown with God, or is God locked out? As we zoom in to each other is God zoomed out?
    John Owen (who live in troubled and shape-shifting troubling times, who suffer Job-like family deaths) in his “Communion with God” is a teacher, more of an exultant preacher, from experience. It flows from Union with Christ but not as mere doctrine.
    Is enjoyment of God to be a Spiritual reality not solely a cauterised catechism?
    When fear turns to dark dread, even in the present:
    ” O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
    2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
    3 You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
    4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
    5 You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
    6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

    7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
    8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
    9 If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
    10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
    11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
    12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.”
    Psalm 139 ESV

    Encouragement and the concreteness, certainty of Christian covenantal hope of life eternal -starting now- with God is needed by and offered to all, a life of dwelling in and in-dwelling.
    Little wonder St Paul could exclaim. “To live is Christ, to die is gain.”
    That is nowhere else to be found.

    Reply
  14. Thanks for the article…. As usual, helpful.

    Perhaps some small (?) points. Some years ago I recall being told by someone that their elderly Christian parents didn’t mind dying. But they were concerned about what the manner might be. Where we say “I’m happy to die because….” this isn’t necessarily a simple binary state. Dying from an aggressive pneumonia-type illness may not be pleasant in the slightest. I wonder if we sanitise dying? My sister in law died this way in well under 24 hours from being at the GP and feeling unwell. It’s not nice.

    It’s also true, statistically, that the younger one is the more likely survival is. Again, this isn’t the whole story. “Long Covid-19” is one of the very large groups of survivors. It seems that some may have lifelong problems. The death rate is important but not the only thing.

    Lockdown (we’re in extra measures here) isn’t good psychologically but the clear “looseness” of people’s attention to the rules, may prolong it.

    Are we in it together? I want schools to continue even if that means others have to do more to reduce the R rate… including churches.

    PS… I think every university student should have their fees paid if they choose to continue. They have been let down totally, even exploited.

    Reply
    • Yes indeed, where he points out that admissions and deaths are not doubling at the rate that ministers claim—and also highlights how Matt Hancock doesn’t understand the arguments!

      Reply
      • Christians should certainly be vocal in condemning the dishonesty of that graph that was presented as ‘not a prediction’, despite knowing that it would be reported as a prediction, and intending for it to be so, in order to terrify people.

        Whatever side you’re on, blatant lying to scare the population is not acceptable.

        Reply
  15. I have cause, more than a lot of people, to be grateful for medical interventions and treatment in my life, including a now retired wise Christian GP, but there is one thing that is common; the exclusive focus on the physical body, to the exclusion of the knock-on effects, such as effect on work, illness- human -resources- records, income, human relations in all aspects. (My GP was an exception to this.)
    And having been employed in the NHS, latterly in Public Health, before transfer to Local Authorities, to me it is little wonder that Public Health England and epidemiologist concentrate, exclusively? on physical health. I don’t know whether there has been any research into whether the move of Public Health to Local Government has been beneficial, and I don’t know how far it has influenced national government decision making. But at the time of the swine flu (2009) the methodology was a one known as national “command and control.”
    On local TV I’ve seen how someone who is now local director of Public Health, who I came across in the NHS, and who took a broad view of the remit of Public Health to include wellbeing, differed in his approach to answering TV interviewer questions, far more objective and professional compared to the Council Leader , alongside him, who was a typical politician of any stripe.
    But, to return to the main point, Covid 19 seems to have been predominately address with the “medical model” of health.

    Reply
    • Public Health England

      Oh, don’t get me started on Public Health England. A bunch of nannying busybodies who were supposed to prepare for a pandemic but instead spaffed most of their budget up the wall on misguided efforts to micromanage people’s diets, and then had the sheer gall to imply they were underfunded.

      Good riddance to them, though I suppose they’ll be back under a new name: the despicable nanny-state little Hitlers always are.

      Reply
  16. What goes round, comes round!
    New boss, same as the old boss. Always change. In the NHS, which frequently undergoes structural change, flying in the face of well documented evidence that the change invariably does not achieve its stated goals, the ever changing secretaries of state for health seek to stamp their own imprint with change.
    Ian above has said that Matt Handcock doesn’t understand. One of the better Health Secretaries, in my view, in my time in the NHS was Andy Burnham, but I think it was today that I read/heard him say he wasn’t sure how the virus was spread more effectively : in outside social settings or within households with bubble bursting family visitors? The context was discussion of what is known as the night-time economy, students, and comparison with household families in Manchester.
    I’d be extremely surprised if the virus would be more likely to spread say, if wife and I who have no symptoms, who adhere to hygiene measures met in the house of husband and wife friends, in their 80’s who take similar precautions, compared with a laxity in student and pub culture life.
    I’d really like to see the evidence.

    Reply
    • I’d be extremely surprised if the virus would be more likely to spread say, if wife and I who have no symptoms, who adhere to hygiene measures met in the house of husband and wife friends, in their 80’s who take similar precautions, compared with a laxity in student and pub culture life.

      If you spend, say, two hours indoors with your friends, then if one of the four of you has it, it’s probably at least evens they will infect at least one other.

      The only difference between that and the ‘student and pub culture life’ you sneer at is that there may be more people in the pub and therefore more chances to infect someone.

      The government cares about that, obviously, as that will determine how fast the disease spreads through the population.

      But on an individual level, what you ought to care about is how likely you are, if you are carrying the virus, to infect your elderly / vulnerable friends. And I’m afraid that if you think that not being in a pub, not being a student, lack of loud music, wearing a mask (unless you are careful to put it on and take it off properly using the correct medical-grade procedures) or anything else like that provides any kind of protection against infection they you are (possibly quite literally) dead wrong.

      Reply
  17. “I’d be extremely surprised if the virus would be more likely to spread say, if wife and I who have no symptoms, who adhere to hygiene measures met in the house of husband and wife friends, in their 80’s who take similar precautions, compared with a laxity in student and pub culture life.”

    As they say” bang on the money “. And it describes (not that old yet though) the contacts we have lost.

    Reply
    • As they say” bang on the money “.

      No. Not ‘bang on the money’ at all. Utterly wrong. And dangerously so: if people believe this nonsense — that the virus only spreads in raucous pubs, and not in nice genteel settings where people are polite and hygienic and only drink tea and chat — then they will be lulled into a false sense of security that, if any of them are elderly or vulnerable, could quite literally be fatal.

      If you are shedding virus particles, and you spend a couple of hours indoors with someone else, there’s a good chance you could infect them. However hygienic you are. However civilised and genteel your conversation. If you are in the infectious phase you are literally pumping out virus with every breath you take. That doesn’t matter so much outdoors, where the wind will quickly dilute it and carry it away, but indoors those particles will build up in the air, stick to surfaces, and generally make the entire place a viral hazard zone.

      And that is just as much true in your friends’ front room as it is in a pub. Perhaps more so, if the pub has a decent ventilation system while the air in the front room doesn’t circulate and just stays there becoming more and more virus-laden.

      Reply
  18. S, Don’t agree that I was sneering at student or pub culture.
    You have no idea of the life I or our friends live or how rigorous in hygiene.
    I attended GP today for a 6 month delayed annual birthday check – up including blood taking.
    The masks and precautions were not any more clinical grade applied, but we’re the common blue ones, nor rigourously rigourously than in a bank and some retail outlet, such as restaurants.

    Reply
    • S, Don’t agree that I was sneering at student or pub culture.

      Well, the tone I got was very much, ‘we are careful and hygienic, unlike those raucous students, so clearly we’re not going to transmit the virus in our civilised visit like they are in their crowded pubs’.

      With an unpleasant side-order of, ‘and if they spread the virus it’s their fault, if they’d been careful like us it wouldn’t have spread’.

      You have no idea of the life I or our friends live or how rigorous in hygiene.

      I don’t, but I don’t need to. However you live and however rigorous your hygiene, if you are carrying this virus and you spend a couple of hours indoors with someone who doesn’t have it, there’s a good chance you’ll transmit it to them.

      It’s nothing to do with how hygienic you are or how you live: it’s to do with the fact that this is a virus which is very, very well-adapted for spreading from human to human.

      The virus isn’t going to be to embarrassed to spread because you’re nice and civilised.

      I attended GP today for a 6 month delayed annual birthday check – up including blood taking.
      The masks and precautions were not any more clinical grade applied, but we’re the common blue ones, nor rigourously rigourously than in a bank and some retail outlet, such as restaurants.

      I am pretty sure that the GP was, for example, taking their mask on and off using the proper clinical procedures, not — as members of the general public tend to do when entering or leaving a shop, say — plucking it off one ear and then the other and stuffing it in a pocket. If not then I’d be rather concerned and disappointed. I’m also pretty sure that you didn’t see that as they wouldn’t have been removing or donning the mask in your presence (that being part of the procedure as there’s not much point in wearing it at all if you take if off while the other person is present).

      Reply
      • Funny that, S. You were there. My appointment was with a nursing assistant.
        And those behind the reception, in the office weren’t wearing masks, putting them on in an ordinary way as they came to the desk.
        I’m not going to continue with your suppositions, seemingly for argument’s sake. But that just my supposition!
        Sleep well.

        Reply
        • Funny that, S. You were there. My appointment was with a nursing assistant.
          And those behind the reception, in the office weren’t wearing masks, putting them on in an ordinary way as they came to the desk.

          In that case the masks were providing little to no benefit, and if one of the staff comes into work while infectious they will likely infect the others, and any patients they spend significant time close to.

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  19. ‘How should Christians respond to a new lockdown?’

    Under this title Ian has offered a truly excellent piece; we seem to be in general and happy agreement on this. But is there is or even should there be a ‘Christian’ response? Perhaps the answer comes in two parts.

    In terms of our human experience right now we must surely be looking for the kind of wisdom which looks at the known scientific facts, places them in context, keeps them in proportion and makes a judgement based on sound common sense. My own human cogitation (for which I claim no superiority) leads me to conclude that Covid-19 is no great threat to the general population but can be extremely nasty or lethal if you are unlucky enough to be one of its victims. We should long since have accepted that it would become endemic because it is infectious but causes generally mild or silent effects for the great majority. Spread can only be temporarily slowed by highly damaging lockdowns which may well carry more lethality than the virus itself in the long run. The inevitable economic ruin caused by lockdowns means that they are a council of despair. Eradication is therefore a fool’s ambition. We must accept its long term presence and advise people with known vulnerabilities of how to mitigate their risk according to their own choosing. We probably don’t know enough yet to be sure whether allowing the virus to run its course through the population will produce the kind of herd immunity where a widespread low level viral load will help to keep our individual immunity ‘topped up’. At this point I don’t see any other option.

    The Christian in me demands that that I first use the gifts God has given all of us (our brains and human experience) to think through the kind of science and common sense which I’ve just offered above. But then I instinctively turn to look at Him, to inhabit all that his words in the Bible have taught me over the years, to remain calm and assured that he remains Lord of all, as worthy of our gratitude, love and praise as ever he was. Covid-19 is a thoroughly normal little entity in a world which remains as wholly belonging to God as it has always been. From cover to cover the Bible leaves no doubt that the mortal lives we have been given will be challenged by all manner of troubles, regularly characterised by unpredictability and unfairness. We don’t like it but we can’t pretend not to know why it is so. We rightly do our best to make the best of it. We don’t really have any other option. But ultimately we know that something infinitely better awaits us. And that helps us to keep our present troubles in proportion – something that surely ought to make Christians stand out for their wisdom in times of trouble. After all, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I wonder if that’s how we are generally perceived. Perhaps it’s best not to ask!

    Reply
    • Thanks Don,
      For me, you have closed the comments on this blog with your view. I don’t need to read any more. I will try and just do my best and not get excited or angry with any other’s course of action.
      Ta

      Reply
  20. Dear Dr Paul,
    Thank you for a good summary of the present predicament we all face ( but some less than others).
    I also read the CEBM reports. I share the latest problem, for anyone interested.
    There is evidence that a ‘positive result’ for this wretched bug, is NOT evidence on its own for the poor person being infectious. Evidence remains in the body long after the disease is no longer active. If this study is correct, how utterly dreadful.
    People ‘isolating’ across the land for no good reason at all.
    I am an older generation; We live and move at our own risk!
    The younger generations should live their lives!
    We call ourselves Christians! Oh this is way past reason.
    I have written to a member of Parliament. I beg others to do the same.
    Kind regards and thank you, Miss H.F.T. ( Oxford).

    Reply
  21. I welcome the article Ian, in prayer the Eucharist is boundless and has no boarders. It can be effecte din a prion camp, and in a cathedral, it is the work of Christ, linking us to the Father, we ar enever alone, we are never deprived, we are never in want.

    even when we are forced to isolate, forced to separate, forced to be hygienic. and it reminds on St Bruno’s day, that the world in in his cell.
    Prayer of the Church prayed alone in some dark dank room, or in a warm and bright cathedral is still Christ’s prayer for the Church his body.

    Reply
  22. I mean, the Guardian and the Telegraph don’t do peer review either. Doesn’t mean you discount anything they publish; just that you have to use your own judgement.
    As I said, due diligence. If the Guardian start publishing anti-MMR screeds by Andrew Wakefield or David Icked, I’d think they’d not done due diligence. Same here – the chap doesn’t believe in viruses. He’s in no place to comment on masks being effective or not against something he believes is a hoax…

    Though that would mean holding Christian to a much higher standard than the actual government, which has transformed the country, and enacted the destruction of liberty at a scale never before seen in Britain outside wartime, entirely on the basis of non-peer-reviewed psuedo-science.
    Do I hold Christians to a higher standards in regard to truth telling than non-Christians? Of course I do. Given that Boris has never been good at telling the truth and not believer, I’m hardly surprised he initially misused science to not lockdown and is now playing catchup.

    On that note, DM me on twitter if you want to continue this conversation – the comments here are getting impossible to follow

    Reply
    • As I said, due diligence. If the Guardian start publishing anti-MMR screeds by Andrew Wakefield or David Icked, I’d think they’d not done due diligence. Same here – the chap doesn’t believe in viruses. He’s in no place to comment on masks being effective or not against something he believes is a hoax…

      Right, but the point is that the fact that one author published on a given outlet is a fool doesn’t necessarily mean that a different author published on the same outlet is too (unless there are other relevant selection factors at work).

      On that note, DM me on twitter if you want to continue this conversation

      The point of publicly discussing things here is that readers can read both sides and make up their minds. There would be no point at all in a private conversation.

      Reply
      • It’s a bit hard to find the responses here – just tweet to me then since it’s a public forum you seem to prefer. Anyway, picking up on that point about the outlet – I’m not implying that Yeadon is a fool by implication, but if he is making grand claims (such as getting the common cold will protect you from Covid-19) then “publishing” on what is a glorified blog is not really helpful. For one, there’s no peer review (so no feedback), no-one scientific will take you seriously if you don’t submit your ideas to scrutiny and show your data. It’s mere opinion by someone whose specialty is outwith the area he is talking about (he admits as much in his latest addition).

        Anyway, I’ve written a two blog posts in response to this.
        (the first was picked up by Premier Christianity)

        https://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/Christians-must-stop-embracing-pseudo-scientific-claptrap
        https://marksurg.wordpress.com/2020/10/16/dying-expertise/

        Reply

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