Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Discussing Lockdowns with Melanie Phillips

ADDED (22 May): ‘Japan shows faith in lockdowns misplaced
Below is an email I sent Melanie Phillips in response to a recent post of hers. Melanie is a rather famous journalist and commenter in Britain. She started her career at the Guardian until her spats over some left-wing shibboleths led her away and into the anti-regressive left world. She writes for the Times, awa being a prolific author.
Her blog, like mine, has no comment section hence my email
I haven’t asked Melanie for her permission to post her email replies to me so I’ll just summarise it as “your email rather proves my point”. She was referring to my passing comment that in some places, like Japan, cultural factors like bowing rather than hand shaking would have kept her virus spread lower than otherwise.
But I don’t see how that proves her point. Here’s why:
Her contention is A → B. That is “Lockdown → control of virus”.
My contention: the statistics show no correlation between A and B.
We all know that  “correlation does not (necessarily) imply causation”, BUT, causation does imply correlation. If A → B there must be a correlation, as measured by a correlation coefficient ≥ 0.6. There is not. Hence lockdowns are ineffective by themselves and the declines in infections must be due to other factors, perhaps simply the passage of time and the rhythm of the virus.
I mentioned as an aside, some places like Japan where the cultural practice is not to shake hands, to be socially distanced,  probably played a part in control. (I could have added that they tend not to love in multigenerational households, a factor that impacted Italy adversely). Also Hong Kong where we were.wary of viruses because of 2002 SARS, and so mask, disinfect, distance.
I simply cannot see how the mention of cultural factors “makes her point”. I would have thought it rather made my point! That lockdowns are ineffective, at least in and of themselves, as shown by lack of correlation.
Oh well, I leave it there.
Save for a final “I don’t get it”. In Britain a majority of people don’t want the lockdown to ease. I don’t get it. The science certainly doesn’t support it. Least of all the schools. All the science and the experience there is that children are just fine.
To repeat the Sceptics’ recommended path: protect the elderly and otherwise vulnerable. We know who they are: 70+ folks with other conditions (like me!). Let the rest of the world get back to work, school and play. With appropriate distancing, masking and disinfecting. That’s what we do in HK.
Taiwan, much admired for its handling of the virus, has no school closures, no stopping of sports events, no stay-at-home orders. Its secret appears to be having stopped inbound travel from the mainland, early. Something, let’s recall, the WHO was against. (Taiwan has lowest lockdown “stringency” index in the world, according to Oxford U).
My email below the fold
19 May 2020. To:

Dear Melanie, 

Not sure if you get this. I’m replying to your comment here.
You say:
Those not mesmerised by abstractions but who look instead for guidance at known realities and the lessons of history have had markedly more success in combating this scourge

Here is a “known reality”: I did a calculation of the relationship between Lockdown “stringency” (Oxford U) and its effect on Deaths/million and Cases/million (Worldometer), for around 20 countries. The results are at my spreadsheet here

In sum: there is no statistical correlation between the Stringency of Lockdown and the effect on Deaths and Cases. My post on that his here

As regards Greece that you quote, its lockdown started on 14 March and the UK’s on 22 March, 8 days apart. I wonder if those 8 days amount to  “recognising the danger immediately and acting”. In fact, like most complex issues, the causes are multivariate. Japan, for example, has a culture of not shaking hands and staying apart; natural distancing! We in Hong Kong (also doing well), went through SARS in 2002 and remained super attuned to viruses, ready to mask-up, disinfect and socially distance. 

I live in Hong Kong where we were on the front line at the outset of this pandemic. We handled it by what I call “Lockdown Lite”, and have managed world-best low cases and death rates per million. Note: we are also the most densely populated city in the world, one the factors you have mentioned for high rates. (Korea the same, btw. Also Taiwan, Japan and Singapore which have “overcrowded conditions”, all of which doing well comparatively, in cases and deaths per mill).
Therefore this comment of yours appears not correct:
This has been shown to be the case from the tragically demonstrable fact that people who live in communal or overcrowded conditions or communities with very high levels of group activities have suffered very high numbers of serious illnesses and deaths from Covid-19.

Worth also noting from my spreadsheet: two of the best (Taiwan and Singapore) are Low Stringency Index (limited lockdown). How is that to be explained?  On your claim that this is a “memorised abstraction”?

The point we are making as Lockdown Sceptics is not that there should be nothing done, but that what’s being done is over the top and often simply silly or ineffective.  Closing beaches, for example. Even closing schools is dubious given he numerous data and experience showing that kids either don’t get the virus, or if they do, do not transmit it to adults and don’t become sick. So, putting children in “bubbles” is simply silly. Similarly going to work ought to be fine, if people are sensible. They distance, wear masks, disinfect. That’s what we do in Hong Kong and most people are back at work. If you went into Central Hong Kong today you’d not know anything was different form 6 months ago.  Just everyone wearing masks. 

In short, our strategy ought be:  protection of the most vulnerable while the rest of us get back to work and play. All the figures — all of them — show that the average age of death is 80-yo and that of those, 89% have other diseases. The likelyhood of working age healthy people dying of this virus approaches zero (0.08% for all under 65yo). See here.

Melanie, don’t underplay the disaster this is for people that have their own businesses and have to be there to make them work, and have to bring in money to support their families. For you it may be not much different from normal. For many this is a disaster, for many a life and death disaster, and it’s a disaster for my children and grandchildren (I’m 70+), and I’d rather some risk, if they can get back to work and supporting their families. That is not ignoble.

Peter Forsythe
Hong Kong