Saturday, 17 October 2020

Eighty-six sages

This article is about SAGE. That is, the UK’s “Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.” Its self-stated remit is that it: “provides scientific and technical advice to support government decision makers during emergencies.” And it has been front and centre in recent spats about COVID-19 [[1]].

The list of SAGE participants can be found at [[2]]. That list, dated 17th July, shows 86 members, of whom up to about 20 may be involved in any one meeting or topic.

SAGE recently released the minutes of one of its meetings from last month. This was an immediate response to Boris Johnson’s newly announced tiered COVID lockdown system. The Guardian [[3]] titled the release: “SAGE documents show how scientists felt sidelined by economic considerations.” The experts, they said, wanted a dramatic increase in restrictions across the country to check the alarming rise in infections. To include a “circuit-breaker” lockdown of a couple of weeks, and “closure of all bars, cafes, restaurants, indoor gyms and personal services such as hairdressers.”

Let’s review how we got to this pass. The UK government’s handling of the COVID-19 epidemic has been, in one word, atrocious. The Cygnus report was shelved. Preparation for the virus seemed all but non-existent. Health workers were under-protected. People were sent back into care homes after discharge from hospital, without being tested for the virus. Patients were put on ventilators, when less invasive treatments would have been more appropriate. In May, health secretary Matt Hancock was caught misleading the public about testing data by Sir David Norgrove, chief of the UK Statistics Authority [[4]]. As one who has been analyzing the data over several months, I know that the UK in early June wiped out and re-wrote all its past testing data; then it later did the same thing with new cases. In July, Leicester City Council had no warning at all that they were about to be ordered to implement a lockdown, because they had not been given the correct numbers of tests and new cases. Moreover, as of the latest date I have looked at (October 6th), among major European countries the UK was third worst, behind only Portugal and Italy, in deaths per case (offset by 21 days). And according to the Blavatnik School of Government’s stringency index, the UK has been continuously the heaviest locked down among those major countries since the beginning of August.

Then, four weeks ago, there was talk of a “second national lockdown.” This caused a considerable number of people, including me, to write to their MPs strongly urging that this must not be allowed to happen. Remarkably, for the first time in years or even decades, the government – prompted, perhaps, by Tory backbenchers nervous about their own positions – actually bothered to listen to the people they are supposed to be serving. The result was the “tiered” system, which has just recently come into effect.

This new system seems to me, at first glance at least, to be along the right lines. Epidemic control, by the nature of disease transmission, must be a local matter. And to push out powers and responsibilities, as far as possible, to the health people “on the ground,” who are best aware of the situation in their own areas, makes a lot of sense. There will, no doubt, be many matters that need resolution – most of which, at the moment, seem to be about money hand-outs, not medical issues. But it’s a start.

Crucially, the new system avoids ridiculae like confining people in Cornwall to their homes when the nearest major outbreak is in Bristol more than a hundred miles away. The “circuit-breaker” proposal, in contrast, would do precisely that, for no gain at all to anyone.

Even better, the new system provides a framework within which the effects of different policies can be objectively evaluated. If for a month, say, City A closes the pubs, City B closes public transport, and City C closes the schools, would that not help to clarify the picture of what works against the virus, and what doesn’t?

And yet, SAGE are opposed to this new system. Now, it seems strange to me that a group, whose supposed remit is to provide scientific and technical advice, is in effect issuing policy demands. That sounds like tail wagging dog. Another odd thing, to me, is their pooh-poohing of “economic considerations.” Of course, these are members of a privileged class, high in the favours of the state, and many of them very comfortably rewarded by it. If the economy goes belly up because of policies they favour, they won’t be the ones suffering. Nor, under today’s political system, will they be held personally responsible for their share of the harms those policies cause. Even so, are they not short-sighted and heartless, if they disdain the economic needs and desires of the “little people” who are forced to pay for the “work” they do?

Here are a few recent statements from SAGE members and associates. Let’s start at the top. Chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance’s September 22nd predictions of case numbers continuing to double every week have proved to be grossly exaggerated [[5]]. We also get pessimism from Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer [[6]]. “The highest level of restrictions in England’s new three-tier local lockdown system ‘will not be sufficient’ to slow COVID-19 infections alone.”

Then there is Professor Susan Michie, director of the “Centre for Behaviour Change” at University College London and (according to Wikipedia) a leading member of the British communist party [[7]]. “At this critical moment the gulf between the scientific advice from SAGE and from @IndependentSage and the political decisions made by government has been laid bare.” Michie also relayed a tweet from Professor Stephen Reicher, who is on the SAGE-associated “Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours” [[8]]. “Johnson has ignored the science and blown our chance to stop a second wave.”

And a somewhat more refined tweet along the same lines, from Professor Michael Parker, director of the “Ethox Centre” at the University of Oxford [[9]]. “Ministers are rightly free not to follow scientific advice but when they do so they have an obligation to provide a clear and reasoned public justification for this and a coherent plan of action for if the scientific projections start to look right.” On the other hand, they might just as well formulate action plans for the, far more likely, situation where the scientists turn out to have been wrong!

Next, I’ll look in more detail at the composition of SAGE. The first distinction I chose to make was between “advisors” and “clients.” Advisors are the people, whose skills and knowledge should enable them to offer scientific advice on the matter under discussion. Clients, on the other hand, represent some other part of government, not directly involved with the virus. Their main interest is in the effects of the deliberations on their particular departments. A few of them, though, happen also to have skills appropriate to advisors. My count divided the 86 SAGE members into 64 advisors and 22 clients.

Within the advisor group, I divided the personnel into three subgroups. First, those whose backgrounds and skills are clearly appropriate to make them advisors in this case. Second, those who might, or might not, be able to bring something useful to the party. And third, those whose membership appears to be incompatible with a body whose remit is to provide scientific and technical advice on a virus epidemic.

Among the skilled advisors, we have three biochemists – including Sir Patrick Vallance himself, and Nobel Prize winner Professor Venki Ramakrishnan. Three tropical medicine specialists, including Professor Whitty. Three I would surmise are general clinicians, though it’s not clear just how much field experience they gained before they became academics. There are six immunologists, three virologists, two statisticians, five epidemiologists, a mathematical biologist, two microbiologists, a child health expert and an adolescent health expert. There are also the Welsh and Scottish chief medical officers; one of whom, would you believe, is also a general practitioner! The team is certainly heavyweight, if nothing else.

And then, there’s Professor Neil Ferguson. I already counted him under the heading of “epidemiologist.” But there’s more to be said. I’m not actually sure whether or not he is still part of SAGE; although he officially left in May, it seems he is still involved. And his name is still on the list, too. It’s interesting to review some of his past statements. “The British response [the first lockdown], Ferguson said on March 25th, makes him ‘reasonably confident’ that total deaths in the United Kingdom will be held below 20,000.” [[10]]. October 15th, cumulative deaths: 43,293 and counting. On August 17th, he was “‘optimistic’ Europe won't see very large numbers of new COVID-19 cases this year.” [[11]]. October 15th, daily new case count: 18,980. That’s 2.4 times the peak of 7,860 on April 10th. Then, on September 22nd, we had this headline in the Sun [[12]]: “Professor Lockdown doubles down on 500k UK coronavirus deaths forecast [from March] – and claims it was ‘underestimate’.” Ho hum.

Passing to the not-sures, I see an educationalist, a professor of intelligent transport systems, a zoologist, a materials scientist, a “safety” expert, a mathematical modeller, an entrepreneur and general bright guy, an “environmental engineer,” and a representative apparently from the World Health Organization. There are also seven “public health” people; several of whom, I suspect, are more political operators than they are scientists. And no less than five in a field called “data research” or “data science,” four of them from a start-up outfit called “Health Data Research.” Oh, and then there’s Baroness Dido Harding. Who gets a lot of flak from all around; but, I suspect, as much for who she is as for what she does.

And then, the oughtn’ts. In addition to a behavioural scientist and a psychologist, no less than five SAGE members work in the fields of “social intervention” and “behaviour change.” These include Dr Michie above, and Professor Theresa Marteau from Cambridge. Four years ago, I had occasion to write an April 1st spoof of an article by Professor Marteau in the Cambridge alumni magazine [[13]]. But I wonder, why would a government, if it is genuinely trying to serve the people rather than to control them, feel a need to employ such “nudgers?”

There is also a professor of “EU law and social justice.” And the aforementioned Professor Parker, who seems to have so many different hats that it’s difficult to work out what he actually does for his living.

Conspicuous by its absence from the SAGE list, to me at least, is the name of Professor Carl Heneghan of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at the University of Oxford. The group he leads belongs to the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, which ought to make him extremely well qualified for SAGE. And his reaction to the current controversies was typically forthright [[14]]. “There is no good evidence for a circuit-breaker lockdown. We urgently need to address the lack of credible research into which interventions work and which don’t.” That second sentence is even more key than the first; which is key enough!

Among the clients from other parts of government, there are: A statistician, two mathematical biologists and an epidemiologist. An engineer, a geochemist, a “digital initiatives” person, a vet, two astronomers, a professor of “architectura and urban computing,” an ecologist, a computer scientist, an educationalist and a former senior corporate executive. And seven more, whose relevant skills I haven’t been able to find.

Other common themes run through the SAGE personnel, too. No less than 14 of its members have, now or in the past, a connection with University College London. UCL today describes itself as “London’s Global University.” It orients itself around six “Grand Challenges” [[15]]: Global Health, Sustainable Cities, Cultural Understanding, Human Wellbeing, Justice & Equality, Transformative Technology. All very “modern,” and with a strong and not very pleasant whiff of political correctness.

There are also eight SAGE members connected with Oxford University, and seven with Imperial College London. And five of its members have connections with the Wellcome Trust, the fourth wealthiest charitable foundation in the world. These include both the current and previous Directors of the Trust. In general, it’s fair to say that the senior members of SAGE are extremely well connected in government, academe, and in many cases commerce.

It’s hard to quantify, but some SAGE members, like far too many of today’s academics, seem to have views one might describe as “woke.” There is a mathematical modeller with an interest in “global inequalities.” A director of “a network which campaigns for the need and importance of better inclusion of all backgrounds, skillsets and disciplines in health technology.” A director of a government project on “Transforming food systems for UK human health and environmental health.” And the woman Neil Ferguson invited across London during lockdown [[16]], according to the Sun, works for US-based online network Avaaz, which “promotes global activism on issues such as climate change.”

Such “woke” views go hand in hand with hostility towards Western civilization, earned prosperity and individual freedom. That the SAGE group is infected by such views, may go some way towards explaining why their advice to government seems so often to be to hit the “little people” as hard as possible.

Boris Johnson and his aides deserve a (weak) cheer for – this once – actually listening to ordinary people, and trying to avoid unnecessary and harmful policies like locking down people in areas not seriously affected by the virus. But they need to do a lot more than just that. First and most obviously, they must resist the temptation to compromise with those, in SAGE and elsewhere, that do not wish well to the ordinary people of the UK. Having broken with the habits of decades by listening, however briefly, to the people they are supposed to serve, they must continue to listen. And they must make far more explicit their commitment to serve us, instead of ruling over us. That said, I confess I don’t have much hope that Boris the Bullingdon Boy will ever succeed in reforming himself. And as to Labour, forget it.

Beyond all that, the mechanics and culture of “scientific” advice to government needs to be re-examined and, very probably, re-booted. SAGE is as good a place to start as any. And cleaning out the Sagean stables, to use a phrase, will be good practice for the tougher tasks ahead, like neutralizing and overcoming the anti-scientific deep green mythmakers.

Monday, 21 September 2020

A follow-up to the letter to my MP

 I thought now would be a good time to report back on the status of the letter I sent to "my" MP, Jeremy Hunt, on 13th August regarding de-carbonization of transport and, incidentally, the COVID virus.

I did receive, on 26th August, the following reply from his staffer:

Thank you for your email to Jeremy Hunt MP. Jeremy is currently away for a short while and so has asked that I respond so that you don't have to wait too long for a reply.

I will make sure Jeremy is aware of both the paper you wrote for the WUWT website and your response to the consultation on decarbonising UK transport. Although he may not agree with everything you've written he is always interested in seeing well-argued positions to challenge his current thinking.

Best wishes,


Nothing further yet. But with the COVID situation taking an interesting turn, I sent him this morning another letter, as follows:

Dear Mr Hunt,

When I wrote to you about five weeks ago, the main subject of my letter was de-carbonization of transport. However, I also drew your attention to an article I had had published on the COVID lockdowns, and told you that I had found them to be “way over the top compared to what was actually necessary.”

I have very recently published another article on the subject of COVID – here: The figures show that, over the course of the last three months or so, the lethality of the virus in the UK (as measured by number of deaths divided by number of new cases as at 14 days beforehand) has gone down by a factor of around 60. This means that the virus is now considerably less dangerous than, for example, ’flu. And so, all lockdown measures ought to be released as soon as possible.

And yet, there is now serious talk of a re-lockdown at national level! For “two weeks.” We know from last time round what that means; we were told it would be three weeks, and now it’s been six months. Moreover, it feels like we are locked down harder than at any previous stage. And they want to make it longer, and worse!

The people-haters, that want to lock down as hard as possible for as long as possible and don’t care a damn about how much pain they cause to people, seem to be winning inside your party and others. And the arbitrary and extreme fines they are demanding are a sign of a rapacious monster that has lost all control over itself. I remind you of Edmund Burke’s aphorism that “Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.” And yet, these aren’t even bad laws – they are simply decrees of a small cadre! That isn’t the rule of law. That isn’t England. Moreover, in a democracy, government is supposed to be on the side of the people. It must never do anything which causes harm to those people without full and rigorous justification, which will stand up to scrutiny by objectively minded people (including me).

A national re-lockdown, in my opinion, would result in a meltdown in the public mood. As to myself, I have already lost all respect for the parliament as a whole, and for the great majority of those in it. Such a move would turn my disrespect into contempt and hatred, or worse.

So, I ask you immediately to add your voice in parliament to those who say “No” to any new lockdowns, and to demand that the public be provided with full, objective justification of every one of the measures that are already in place. Moreover, I would ask you, please, to use your seniority and your relevant expertise to metaphorically box the ears of those that are doing these things to us.

Yours sincerely,

Neil Lock

Thursday, 17 September 2020

COVID-19: Is the Virus Weakening?

This is another of my articles on the numbers relating to the COVID epidemic world-wide.  It follows on from the “Lock-downs or Cock-ups?” article, here: This time, I’ll focus on the question: what proportion of confirmed new cases, at each stage of the epidemic, are actually leading to deaths? That ratio ought to be a major factor in any rational consideration of when to release lockdowns (or not); because it hugely affects the load on health care systems. Avoiding health system overload, so we were assured at the beginning of the epidemic, was the only reason for going into lockdown – for three weeks. (Cough).

Again, my data comes from Our World in Data, The data for this paper was taken on, and runs up to, September 12th. Once again, the stringency data came from the Blavatnik School of Government, The detail file I used was the version from September 13th. I’ve commented earlier about the shortcomings of this data; but as I’ve said before, it’s the best data I’ve got, so I’ll use it.

My plan of campaign

I thought I would organize this article the same way as my first major article on the subject, back in June. That is, looking in turn at different regions of the world, with a section on the world-wide situation as well. I couldn’t afford the time to tackle all 213 affected countries (nor could you afford the time to read the result!) So, I did the following:

1.     I started with the 15 countries with the highest death rates per million, as of September 12th. That gave me: San Marino, Peru, Belgium, Andorra, Spain, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, UK, Ecuador, USA, Italy, Sweden, Mexico, Panama.

2.     I added those, among the 12 countries with the highest number of new cases on that same day, which weren’t already in my list. That added: India, Argentina, France, Colombia, Russia, Iraq, Philippines.

3.     I added those, among the 10 countries with the highest cases per million rate, which I didn’t already have. That gave: Qatar, Bahrain, Aruba, Kuwait, Oman.

4.     To ensure I had a world-wide mix, I added eight countries which received the virus back in January or February, and which weren’t already on my list. They were: China, Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, South Korea, Vietnam, Iran.

5.     I added a number of countries on which I had remarked in earlier articles. That gave me a total of 52 countries – around a quarter of all those affected – plus an entry for “World.”

Oh, and I looked at the Faeroes as well. But, beyond the fact that they have got on top of their second wave, though rather more slowly than they got on top of the first, there’s nothing to report from there.

The main decision I had to make was how big a lag time to allow between a new confirmed case and the death which might or might not result from that case. I ran across a paper from the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, which suggested that the mean time between confirmed case and death in the UK is of the order of 17.5 days; but also, that you should be able to pick out trends using a lag time of 14 days. So, I decided to keep it simple, and compare the numbers of COVID deaths in each country with the number of new confirmed cases reported 14 days previously. Of course, that lag time applies to the UK; it might be different elsewhere.

And because the raw data is very noisy, I weekly averaged both deaths and cases before dividing the one by the other.

The UK

Just recently, we had some news in the UK that wasn’t fake. COVID cases are going up!

Now, the ruling classes – in the UK, as everywhere else – only tell the truth when it suits their agenda. Which, in this case, is yet more tightening of the lockdown restrictions; in this case, restricting the maximum allowed group size of a gathering to six. Maybe they did this out of spite, because of the demonstration that Piers Corbyn (older brother of Jeremy, until recently leader of the Labour opposition) organized in Trafalgar Square a couple of weeks ago against the lockdowns. He’s even being called a “coronavirus denier!”

And what is a “case” is, it seems, a movable feast. Put out test kits with a higher false positive rate than earlier ones; et voilà! You can have as many new “cases” as you want.

But there’s a heart-warming graph to come next:

There’s a surge in late March and April, up to a plateau between 20% and 25%. The ratio of deaths to new cases from 14 days earlier peaked at 26.4% on June 10th, before starting a steep descent. As of September 9th, it had fallen all the way to 0.4%. The virus’s lethality in the UK has gone down by a factor of 60 over the course of just three months! That’s really good news.

Moreover, “The Week” ( reported a month ago that, by the end of July, ’flu was killing five times as many people in the UK than COVID was. Suggesting that there is now no objective reason for any lockdown at all.

So, why have the deaths per case figures fallen by such a big margin? Is the virus weakening? Has it taken most of the “low hanging fruit,” so those who are getting it now are healthier, so less likely to die from it, than earlier? Or could it be, perhaps, that testing has expanded by orders of magnitude over the last three months? Or that the latest generation of test kits has a higher false positive rate than the ones which were used at the beginning of the epidemic?

I can deal with two of these possibilities. The number of tests recorded from September 1st-10th inclusive was 1.82 million. Against the number from June 1st-10th inclusive, 0.67 million. The ratio is just over 2.7; significant, but nowhere near 60+. And even if new kits record twice as many positives in a given population as the older ones did (and that would be a serious violation of any half decent set of quality standards), that still doesn’t get us even within a factor of 10 of the improvement we see. So, the drop in deaths per case is real, not an artefact of the measurement process. Thus, it ought to be taken into account in policy decisions.

Furthermore, as of September 17th, I see no clear evidence of any increase in deaths 14 or so days after the surge in cases in late August and early September.

So, why tighten the lockdown? They should be opening up, not locking down harder. Many people have gone without normal human social relations for six months now, and people are getting tired, stressed and angry – not to mention short of money. But that’s typical of the political class – never let a good crisis go to waste, particularly when it’s only the “little people” who are suffering. Meanwhile, bureaucrats and “key workers” are being paid overtime!

Now, they have recently re-opened the schools, and that may be the main reason behind the recent surge in cases. If so, isn’t that a good thing? As long as the hospitals aren’t overloaded, won’t going for herd immunity – which we were told was the original strategy, weren’t we? – get rid of the damned thing with minimum pain from here on in?

As to compulsory “face coverings,” they are counter-productive. Nothing less than a professional-level mask will protect the wearer. And if the idea is to protect everyone else, then you’d do better to take the things off and let the virus run its course towards herd immunity.

I think the main difficulty is that the establishment, and the bureaucrats in particular, enjoy their power to make people kow-tow. They will tend to advise for restrictions rather than against. And they will hold out against any opening up, even if the politicians wanted to do that. As I know from having worked with a few of them, government managers tend to be risk averse. They won’t take a risk, if it might make them look bad. But the problem is, the awful political system we suffer under doesn’t put them under any pressure in the opposite direction. If what they do (or fail to do) causes real problems to us “little people” out here in the real world, they don’t get held accountable. The worst that can happen is that their political masters will be booted out at the next election; but they themselves will still have well-paid jobs, cushy pensions and power.

This lack of accountability tends to result in bad situations being perpetuated, for far longer than is reasonable. A good example was food rationing in the UK after the second world war. It lasted for eight whole years after VE Day – longer than the war itself! If Johnson or someone doesn’t start bashing some heads together, I can foresee us still being under lockdown in two years’ time.

But it’s worse than that. There is a significant faction within the UK ruling class, that wants to use the COVID virus as an excuse to impose their own destructive agendas on people. This is the same faction that, last year, kow-towed to Extinction Rebellion, and instituted “citizens’ climate assemblies.” They hate us “little people,” and they hate our Western industrial civilization. Unsurprisingly, they want the lockdowns continued as long as possible, even intensified. In their Utopian dreams, they’d like to make the restrictions permanent. And they have made regulations that let them severely punish anyone who objects – like Piers Corbyn. As shown by the £10,000 fine they slapped on him after his London protest.

Northern Europe

Next, I collected together the deaths and deaths versus cases data for a group of eight Northern European countries. Here are the cumulative deaths per million.

As you can see, things have been very quiet indeed for several weeks. New deaths from COVID are minimal in comparison to a few months ago. And with the possible exceptions of Belgium and Luxembourg, they all look ready to call off the lockdowns, and get back to living again.

Now, here are the ratios of deaths to cases (with a lag of 14 days) for those same eight countries. Spaghetti warning!

The French have given us a passable imitation of the façade of Notre-Dame cathedral; but then, I haven’t trusted any of their figures, right from the start. The Belgian peak was horribly high. Why the Dutch peak was later than the others, I don’t know. Maybe the virus got into the care homes later there than elsewhere? The UK and Sweden – and, interestingly, Germany – have bumbled along somewhere in the middle. The Icelanders are thumbing their noses at the rest of us. And Luxembourg… some strange things happening there recently. Maybe the praise I gave them a month ago went to their heads.

Let’s take a closer look at the last three months.

So, the UK is not alone in having got on top of the virus. All eight countries are at or below 1% deaths per case now.

There is only one of these countries for which I feel a need to follow up: Luxembourg.

Despite the unsightly adjustment, I see nothing to worry about there. And yet, after I applauded them a month ago for their excellent lockdown release strategy, they have started to impose the lockdowns again! I wonder why? Political pressure, perhaps, from neighbouring countries?

Southern and Central Europe

Here is the data from seven Southern and Central European countries:

Spain and Portugal are still moving upwards a bit; the others all look good.

The Spanish data is marred by two large adjustments. But otherwise, apart from Andorra’s nightmare, we see many of the same features here as in Northern Europe.

Let’s look at Austria first.

The Austrians seem to be managing things as well as anyone. Lots of new cases in September, coinciding with back-to-school time, just as in the UK (and in the Netherlands too). But also, fast-dropping deaths per case since the second peak in June, and a commendable reluctance (so far, at least) to panic and re-impose lockdowns once lifted. And they have (as we’ll see later) the fourth lightest lockdown in the world as at the end of August!

The Italian new cases per day has a similar shape to the UK’s, and the deaths per case has a similar shape too, but shows a far later peak. In Portugal, the new cases graph has followed a similar path to other European countries, but the deaths per case, while never going as high as in Italy or Switzerland, has been relatively slow to come down.

Spain is the first country I’ve seen to have gone above the daily new case levels from the first peak.

Unfortunately, due to the adjustments you can see on the deaths line, the detailed deaths per case data for Spain is meaningless. But as the comparison with the other countries shows, their deaths per case now (September) is less than 1%. And yet, the political trend in Spain since late June has been towards locking down again.      

I wonder if they are taking too much notice of the new case count, and not enough of the (lack of) deaths?

To sum up where the Southern Europeans are, here are the deaths versus cases for the last three months, excluding Spain.

As of September 9th, all these countries had deaths per case ratios below 1%; and neither Andorra nor San Marino had had a COVID death for some months. So Western Europe as a whole appears to be all but recovered.

The world

Time to take a step back, and look at some world-wide data. The individual graphs of cases and deaths are easily available elsewhere, so I’ll just show you the deaths per case:

You can clearly see the Chinese peak in February, and the European one in April. Since then, it’s been downhill; but it seems to have levelled off since July.

Meanwhile, the “league leaders” in deaths per million population, cases per million population, and deaths per case, are as follows:

All this data is as of September 12th. Now, Yemen is an outlier, being a war zone. But otherwise, deaths per case is a good measure of the lack of quality in a country’s health care system. For both insufficient testing resources early in the epidemic, and poor standards or the wrong treatments in hospitals, will drive up the deaths per case.

Italy, the UK and Belgium all have health care systems over which government keeps close control. Germany, on the other hand, is known for its consumer-oriented health care system. It would be interesting to compare the performance of each of the European health care systems over the COVID outbreak, against the level of political control!

Now, to lockdowns. Here are the harshest locked down and least locked down countries in the world, on the Blavatnik measure, as of the end of August.

Austria, Iceland and Luxembourg are notable contenders for the best handling of lockdown release. Our Swedish friends, I think, have made very clearly their point that stringent lockdowns were a bad idea in the first place. And San Marino and Andorra, obviously, have had few recent cases, since the virus is already all but “burned out” there. Taiwan, though, is surprising; particularly given that China across the water is the eighth hardest locked down country in the world!

And here are the horror stories – the countries with the highest lockdowns at their peak.


North America

Across the Atlantic now. First, let’s have a look at the deaths per million and deaths per case for the five countries from my sample which are in North (and Central) America.

Canada looks OK. Panama has just about started on a downturn in death rates. But the USA, Mexico and Aruba are all on the way up, with no bend in sight.

Canada looks to have a similar profile to the European countries. The USA started out heading that way, but suffered an upturn again in July. In Mexico, deaths per case are high, and there’s no sign yet of them coming down; ouch! And Panama seems now to have settled on a similar trajectory to the USA.

Now all of a sudden, a country I hadn’t looked at before, Aruba (a Dutch dependency in the Caribbean) has rushed into third place in the cases per million stakes. In the graph above, you can just see it as a little blue spike in the bottom right-hand corner. So, what’s going on there?

So, they had a relatively easy first wave, thought it was all over, started unlocking, then got hit by a second wave at the beginning of August. This may, perhaps, be evidence that the virus genuinely has weakened over the months. If Aruba had got this thing early – as Sint Maarten did – would they have got off so lightly? Today, Sint Maarten’s deaths per million is more than twice Aruba’s.

You can see how badly “in the wars” Mexico is from the daily cases and deaths below, and the grey line in the deaths versus cases graph above.

As I remarked last time, nothing the Mexicans have tried to do to control the virus seems to be having any effect – either way. The organism is just doing as it damn well pleases.

Panama’s daily cases and deaths graph looks much like Mexico’s, but it has consistently lower deaths per case. Both countries have a combination of state and private health care, but the Mexican state system (which is a similar age to the UK NHS) has a bit of a chequered history.

As to the USA, deaths per case recently are significantly higher than in Europe. This may well be due to the virus still spreading across the country into previously unaffected or lightly affected states and populations. There’s obviously still a long way to go.

South America

To South America, the continent worst affected by the virus at present. Apart from Chile and Brazil, all the seven countries shown below have been subjected to lockdowns above 90%. And as at the end of August, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Peru were five of the top seven heaviest locked down countries in the world. Moreover, all of them have high ratios of cases per test, suggesting they have a shortage of testing capability.

So, here are the cumulative deaths per million for the seven South American countries in my sample.

The quality of the data from South America isn’t good. You can see, above, two big upward deaths adjustments for Peru, two smaller ones for Chile, and a large one each (on the same day) for Bolivia and Ecuador. And that’s only the deaths; the case counts may not be so good, either. So, the deaths per case data may not be all that meaningful. Ecuador’s data, indeed, is so bad I had to discard it. But let’s have a look at the rest.

Among all the spaghetti, I get a sense that many of these countries are going the same way as Panama and the USA. Up to a peak, down and then back up again. Bolivia is in big trouble, like Mexico; all the others are currently running at around 2% to 4% deaths to cases. Which, to be fair, is far better than the Europeans near the peaks of their epidemics. But only Chile shows any recent downward movement.

For more detail, I’ll look at Brazil first.

At least they’re “over the hump” in terms of new cases. That’s something. And the lockdown graph again shows the “Mexico effect.” It seems to be characteristic of Latin America that even the heaviest lockdowns have had no discernible effect in either direction.

Argentina’s cases are still on the way up. But their deaths per case graph looks not dissimilar to Brazil’s (blue line above, against the grey).

All the figures from Chile and Ecuador, and the deaths from Peru, are marred by adjustments so large that they render the data all but meaningless. Peru’s case counts, on the other hand, show them having “turned the corner.” And lastly, Colombia shows a pattern similar to Brazil.


Let’s go round the world the other way this time; to Aussie and NZ.

Both these countries set out their stalls to keep the virus out, and let other people deal with it. A rather questionable strategy, in my view. So far, New Zealand has been the more successful of the two.

Australia has had a two-phase epidemic. In contrast to Europe, the second phase looks more lethal than the first. Have they been too successful in halting the first phase quickly? And Australians remained locked down for two months or so, during which there were few cases and very few deaths. A whole lot of pain for little, or perhaps even no, gain.

New Zealand also has had a two-phase epidemic. They released the domestic lockdowns, though not the draconian border restrictions, for a couple of months. But they brought them in again, on a regional basis only, for the second phase.

South-East Asia

Deaths per million here are low by the standards of Europe or the Americas. These countries divide into three groups. Indian deaths are still rising almost exponentially. Bangladesh and Indonesia are at about the same level; but Bangladesh’s curve has straightened out, while Indonesia’s hasn’t yet. Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam have had only 27, 58 and 35 COVID deaths respectively. Which makes me wonder, is there a benefit against a virus like this to having a Chinese heritage?

Here are the deaths per case. They are rather distorted by the fact that the outbreak in Vietnam was both recent and quickly snuffed out.

To make things clearer, here are the ratios for the last 3 months, with Vietnam removed.

In India, new cases per day are still rising. But the deaths to cases ratio is now down to not far above 1%. That’s good news.

Indonesia is on a similar trend to India, but with a lower number of cases per million and a somewhat higher deaths per case. Bangladesh has “turned the corner” in number of cases; but its deaths per case ratio has been, very slowly, edging upwards since May.

Singapore cases have gone up and down like a yo-yo, though they are now down into double figures per day. But they have had so few deaths (only 27 in the whole epidemic) that the deaths per case figure is pretty much zero. Thailand had basically beaten the virus by the end of April, and they haven’t had a death since June 3rd; job done.

But Vietnam is more interesting. They have had a multi-phase epidemic, without any deaths until August. The apparent runaway in deaths per case in August and September is simply due to the small number of cases. The reality shows better in the cumulative deaths per case graph, below.

East Asia

Under the heading “East Asia” I have put: China, Japan, the Philippines, Russia, South Korea and Taiwan. Including Russia here is perhaps a little unfair; but it’s a big country, and it does have a substantial border with China.

To China first.

That looks to me a high lockdown level to be maintaining for such a small number of cases! When I looked at the Blavatnik data, I found that the national lockdowns ended way back in March; so apart from a ban on international arrivals, these lockdowns are all at the provincial level. Not that we can believe the Chinese on coronavirus matters, of course.

But that raises a question mark against the Blavatnik methodology. If one province out of many is locked down, how much should that count towards a national lockdown index? “According to its population” is the obvious answer. But that isn’t what they’ve done.

Now let’s look at the other five together.

As I expected, Russia is an outlier here; its deaths per million now being comparable to countries like Germany. And it’s still going up, though it does look to be on the second half of the S-shape. The death toll in the Philippines is still rising, but from a low base. The others all have low deaths per million.

Let’s look at Japan.

The lag from cases to deaths in Japan seems to be quite a bit longer than 14 days, which explains the peak being in May, when cases were right down. Here, also, there is an epidemic of two phases; the first more lethal than the second. As of September 9th, the deaths to cases ratio was 2.3%.

The Philippines, too, have had an initial lethal outbreak, followed by a much larger and far less lethal one.

South Korea looks comparable to Japan; a lethal outbreak in February, followed by a smaller and far less lethal one in August.

And Taiwan? Less than 500 cases, and only 7 deaths, in the entire epidemic so far. And they have, on the Blavatnik measure, the least stringent lockdown regime in the world! If you’re Taiwanese, that is; for the borders are all but closed, and are only being opened up slowly to business and student travellers, with mandatory quarantine. I also wonder, does their Chinese ancestry help them against a type of disease that has, very probably, been circulating in that part of the world for centuries?

The Middle East

This doesn’t look very good. Iran is in trouble, with no sign of any slackening in the death toll. Iraq, too, has deaths per million higher than countries like Portugal. At the other extreme, Pakistan seems to have “got away with it.” Most of the rest are in a linear phase, with deaths rising at a roughly constant rate.

How did Pakistan achieve this? The best information I could find is that the virus has been confined almost entirely to the biggest cities. The Blavatnik data tells me that there have been mandatory travel restrictions for much of the time, and people are still being encouraged to stay at home. So, the actual effect of the lockdown is a lot more stringent than the 48% figure suggests. I suspect that, when they finally open up internal travel, they may find their initial success coming back to bite them.

This puts another question mark against the Blavatnik methodology. Forced stay-at-home is well more than 80% lockdown in my opinion, even if not accompanied by any other measures at all.

The deaths per case spaghetti, on the other hand, is all over the place.

Iran and Iraq have both had two-phase epidemics, which Iraq seems to have got through more effectively. Saudi Arabia’s deaths per case are still climbing.  Oman got the virus relatively late, and has now reached a deaths per case of about 2%; comparable with Pakistan, Iraq and Turkey.

The relative success stories are Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar, all of which have managed to reduce their deaths per case rates below 1%. They are all in the top 10 in the world in cases per million, so I suspect this is down to a strong testing program.

South Africa

I’ll conclude with a geographical outlier; the only country in Africa which qualified for my list.

It’s bad at the moment, because they’re at the top of the “lethality hump.” But I think they’ll make it.


Western European countries, in my view, are all but recovered from the virus. With enough cases per million, and so enough immunity, to make a highly lethal “second wave” very unlikely. We must fully re-open international travel and the economy in Europe as quickly as possible. And, of course, we must get rid – permanently – of all the bad regulations that were made in the name of fighting the virus.

What I would like to see is the different countries in Europe co-operating against the virus. Each should try a different combination of unlocks; monitoring the results, and seeing what works and what doesn’t. Then what works in Luxembourg, say, can be tried in France. What works in Switzerland can be tried in Germany. And what works (and has worked all along) in Sweden can be tried in the UK. This should return Europeans to some semblance of normality as fast as possible. Then, we can start on the long road towards economic re-building. Moreover, such a friendly co-operation would show up for all to see the superfluity and worthlessness of the EU.

Outside Europe, only Canada, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar have the deaths per case rate down below 1%. People in most of the rest of the world now find the virus spreading around them, but nowhere near as lethally as it did in Europe. A 2-3% case fatality rate seems to be the norm. That’s bad; but nothing like what happened in Belgium, the Netherlands or the UK. People in these places should simply be able to get on with their lives. There may be some countries – such as Mexico, Bolivia, Iran, perhaps Saudi Arabia – which will need to continue harsh restrictions for a time. But there should be no more than a few of these. And the countries that have shut down travel – Taiwan, New Zealand, Pakistan, to name but three – need to open up again.