Another day in the Coronavirus Pandemic Blame Game Saga, another day of howls of outrage in ‘Our MSM’, garnished with reports of how the nation came together yesterday at 8pm to ‘clap for the NHS heroes’. While some comment writers and authors indulge in the usual Boris-Bashing – apparently he’s still not well and is snuffling while Matt Hancock was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at yesterday’s government PR production – there’s one ‘green shoot’ which escaped their attention. It was hidden in a DT report, so we’ll take a closer look.
There are two overarching issues and they go hand-in-hand: testing and modelling. It should be obvious by now that one cannot create a proper model if it’s based on lack of actual data. One way of acquiring actual data is by testing, always with the caution that one must know who is actually being tested: selected groups or the whole population. And so: “Teh Test”.
In yesterday morning’s column (here) I pointed my finger at the ‘performance’ of PHE, the ‘entity’ responsible for acquiring, validating, accrediting tests, laboratories and supplying ‘Our NHS’. Thus it was somewhat gratifying when I came across this quote in yesterday afternoon’s DT:
“I feel that quangos such as Public Health England, together with Whitehall mandarins, are managing this crisis in a way that is reminiscent of Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations. The smell of failure is in the air. To say that the UK is following scientific opinion makes no sense either because experts have widely divergent views.” (paywalled link)
That was written by none other than Nigel Farage. Then, there’s an exclusive report in today’s DT, titled ‘The systematic failures in the Government’s pandemic strategy laid bare’. This is where we can discern that tiny green shoot, see the following quotes:
“Public health officials in charge of defending the country from a major pandemic never drew up plans for mass community testing despite warnings from the World Health Organization, The Telegraph can disclose.” (link)
It’s sweet to see that the bureaucratic attitude to refer to ‘a higher organisation still prevails: the WHO must be right, their advice must be followed – just as the EU was always right and we had to wait for them to tell us what to do.
The WHO, as we remember, did not call this coronavirus outbreak a Pandemic until last month, when it was already sweeping into other countries. Recall also that on Jan 11 the WHO trustingly accepted China’s declaration that this virus could not be transmitted human-to-human. ‘Our MSM’ however criticise government for following WHO advice, with perfect hindsight. Now see the muddle:
“Emergency planners “did not discuss” the need for community testing because they wrongly believed a new strain of influenza would be the next outbreak to strike the UK, a senior Government adviser revealed. Instead, ministers, along with officials from Public Health England, the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health, decided against planning for mass testing despite an official warning from the WHO that it would slow the spread of disease.” (link)
That cry of ‘test-test-test’ from the WHO came on March 16th where they also advised:
“We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test. Test every suspected case. If they test positive, isolate them and find out who they have been in close contact with up to 2 days before they developed symptoms, and test those people too. [NOTE: WHO recommends testing contacts of confirmed cases only if they show symptoms of COVID-19]” (link)
Note the ‘NOTE’ – this is the WHO advice on March 16th (!) which the government probably followed! Not good enough for ‘Our MSM’ , is it! They use the failure of having tests available for everybody, now, to fuel their ongoing ‘Project Panic’ while bashing the government. They seem to think that Johnson must have a crystal ball, to predict what’ll be demanded next week … Next, more relevant quotes on PHE:
“One senior Whitehall official blamed the public health agency’s “control freakery” for the failure to ramp up testing sooner. Prof Medley, who also advises the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said public health officials had failed to draw up plans for mass testing in the mistaken belief that a new strain of influenza would be the next pandemic to threaten Britain. […] “Mass public testing has never been our strategy for any pandemic that I’m aware of,” he told The Telegraph. […] “We always knew that when it came to a pandemic, it was a case of when, not if. But there has been a focus on influenza preparedness. And for things like influenza, mass testing is not important, and it never figured as a potential strategy. Public Health England are central to the whole thing.” (link)
Never mind that one cannot prepare for something totally unforeseen – unless they, China and the WHO were aware of this potential outbreak late last year. But that’s surely a conspiracy theory, no?
And there’s the tiny green shoot: an actual critique of PHE. It’s now ‘official’ – you read it here first! Next see this:
“A senior Whitehall official involved in drawing up Cygnus admitted that because the imagined epidemic had been one of influenza, the need for mass testing had never been discussed. “We didn’t plan for mass community testing at all, no. You could argue that was the wrong thing to do,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. […] However, the source heaped blame on Public Health England for failing to “seize the moment” when other countries began ramping up their own testing programmes.” (link)
Note that there are ‘sources’ who are quite outspoken but that ‘Our MSM’ seem to have avoided them, so far, because ‘Our NHS’ and thus PHE must be clapped on the doorsteps of the Nation but never criticized in public. That anonymous source next really puts the boot in:
“The problem with Public Health England is their complete control freakery, I’m afraid. That’s been the story for many years. They have had to be reined in many times simply because they don’t understand how to collaborate. That’s why there has been a reluctance to get outside people involved. It’s a total culture clash. Ultimately, they are a group of scientists, and they’re not keen on giving work to others.” In the various pandemic strategies issued by Public Health England and the Department of Health over the past decade, the need to plan for mass testing involving private laboratories and universities does not appear once.” (link)
But of course it’s not PHE’s fault, oh no! Here’s their defence:
“A source at Public Health England insisted the agency did not “own the pandemic plan” and said preparations for an outbreak had been led by the Department of Health and the Cabinet Office. The source added that PHE was not responsible for ramping up tests for NHS workers and said the agency had met its targets for testing unwell coronavirus patients in hospital.” (link)
So they did well then, according to their own box-ticking strategy! And the muddle doesn’t stop there. Under the accusatory headline “Government has bought no Covid-19 home testing kits despite Matt Hancock’s claim millions had been purchased” we find yet again that government, i.e. the PM and by extension Hancock, are criticised – this time by ‘a senior minister’ who seems to think that one can ‘ramp up’ a brand new test without testing first if it works:
“One senior minister said on Thursday that Downing Street’s handling of the crisis was “embarrassing” and questioned why testing – both for antibodies that showed if someone had caught the virus and to check if someone had it currently – had not been ramped up.” (link)
While that ‘senior minister’ seems keen on distancing himself from the PM, ‘Our MSM’ are keen on using the test numbers game to get another ‘gotcha’ moment:
“Government sources subsequently briefed that the target was to purchase 17.5 million tests, covering almost a third of the population. But on Thursday, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) conceded that the Government had not actually bought the tests but had put agreements in place to allow them to buy 3.5 million kits from a number of manufacturers, provided they receive official approval.” (link)
A ‘target’, in the eyes of ‘Our MSM’, magically allows the complaint: ‘why ain’t there jam today?’. While I’m in no doubt that PHE will again muddle this up because of bureaucratic rules, what Mr Hancock said makes eminent sense:
“At Thursday evening’s Downing Street press conference, Mr Hancock made no mention of a timetable for rolling out the antibody test but insisted tests would have to be proved to be accurate before receiving approval. He said that several tests being checked had failed, and in one case a test missed three out of four cases of coronavirus. Mr Hancock said: “Approving tests that don’t work is dangerous, and I will not do it.” (link)
Note the last two sentences! What is it with ‘Our MSM’ – are they really demanding that we bulk-buy test kits to show ‘we’ are doing something, and never mind that these tests do need to be accurate before letting them out into the wild that is the Nation?
While we can’t do anything except sit at home, we have time to scrutinise those ‘experts’ advice’, taking special notice of those who lead the various health quangos as they defend their decisions in good old bureaucrats’ fashion: “not our fault, guv – we only followed the rules”.
Tomorrow – unless there are astounding developments – we’ll take a closer look at modelling. Meanwhile, take good care and