The UK is completely rudderless in the face of coronavirus

Let’s be clear. It is not that the UK has a “contentious” approach to coronavirus. Right now it is in total chaos. Completely rudderless.

The basis for the UK government’s strategy is to achieve herd immunity. You only do this if 60% of the population get infected. If you get 55% infected you do not get herd immunity. The whole aim depends on mass infections. The government initially tried to sneak this policy past the public – with Vallance dropping little hints and Johnson choosing his words very carefully. They claimed they were “following the science” and tried to avoid admitting openly that (as they will have known full well) their policy was radically different from the science of the WHO. But now they openly admit that they are going for herd immunity. However; individuals and organisations are taking matters into their own hands; individuals are reducing their social contacts, colleges and universities are shifting classes to online, sports organisations are cancelling events and so on. These social distancing measures will reduce infections. They work directly against the government’s strategy. If there are enough of them they will mean that the required 60% is not reached.  So the government strategy is one thing and what people are doing is something completely different. This means that there is no coherent strategy at this moment of national crisis. It is amazing. It is also a sign of the times that (once again) this blog is pointing out what are simple and obvious matters but the MSM is not. By sign of the times I mean the huge deficit in intellectual acumen in mainstream media and political circles the UK.

The media is giving airtime to critics of the government policy but no one seems to have noticed that the divergence between the government’s strategy and what people are doing means the country is now rudderless.

Here is one attempt by a group of scientists to put the country back on track. 240 have signed an open letter calling for the UK to implement the correct and scientifically based strategy promoted by the WHO.

Is the UK’s coronavirus strategy being made by Dominic Cummins?

A few weeks ago there was a mini-scandal at No. 10. Mr Cummins hired a consultant (Sabisky) to work in Downing Street. The media discovered that the consultant had a history of published views on social media which appeared to support eugenics. The views included enforced contraception for the “underclass” and the tired old one about black people having lower IQs – and, rather nastilly, the implications this should have for immigration. In this case it appears that the views were not just the kind of foolish one-off that the media so often finds and exaggerates, but a series of really rather unpleasant and odd views. As always with the “black people have lower IQs” idea this was presented as having something to do with “scholarly” research. (The problem with the notion that ‘black people have lower IQs’ is not that it isn’t true. I don’t know about the evidence from analysis of IQ tests but I am willing to believe that it is true. The problem is that anyone can even think it worth mentioning let alone as the basis for policy).

During the course of this scandal I was struck by comments reported in The Guardian by Dr Adam Rutherford. This is how his comments were reported in The Guardian:

Dr Adam Rutherford, a geneticist and author, accused Sabisky and Cummings of being “bewitched by science, without having made the effort to understand the areas he is invoking, nor its history”.

He said the “moral repugnance” of the remarks was “overwhelming”, adding: “I am all for scientifically minded people advising government … [but] this resembles the marshalling of misunderstood or specious science into a political ideology. The history here is important, because this process is exactly what happened at the birth of scientific racism and the birth of eugenics.” [1]

I notice a parallel with what is happening now. Incidentally this analysis of Mr Cummins’s specious understanding of science is supported by his blog. I’ve just read one article but the impression was  clear.  It read like a naive and unworldly recent graduate student facing the world for the first time. Undoubtedly there was evidence of a high IQ but at the same time there was a failure to understand the topic he was talking about in all its breadth and depth. He’d read a few books, applied his Oxford University level IQ, and thought that he had all the answers. But, as I say, without understanding the topic in any depth. From another perspective this is a perennial problem with management consultants; they apply their intelligence to a field and come up with novel approaches. But they lack in-depth domain knowledge and so their ideas are impractical. Another well-known characteristic of Dominic Cummins is his belief that the Civil Service is moribund and is holding back the implementation of new ideas which can solve social and economic problems. Again; the problem may be that he hasn’t understood all the practical nuances and real-world difficulties which pertain to specific domains of social policy. Finally; the ludicrous and unscientific “herd immunity” plan seems to have parallels with eugenics – the ideology of improving the genetic stock of the population by thinning out the weaker members. Dominic Cummins has a track record in eugenics.

I just wonder if the UK’s maverick strategy for SARS-CoV-2 isn’t being led behind the scenes by Cummins. It has exactly the hallmarks we have discussed above. A thin and specious understanding of science. A taste for developing a break-out new idea based on an assumption that you are very intelligent and everyone else is very stupid. A belief that Civil Servants are a pedestrian set of thinkers and that ‘truth’ lies in new thinking. (The WHO are of course Civil Servants).

The government claims it is “following the science”. But, of course, as in any field of science and especially so in a field of ‘soft science’ where multiple disciplines interact and it is not possible to establish facts by laboratory tests, such as medical epidemiology, there will be contending viewpoints and different emphasises. When forming their advisory panel it would have been quite possible for No. 10 to have pre-selected academics who agree with their approach and to have excluded academics who are known to follow the WHO line.

I don’t know to what extent Dominic Cummins is behind the UK’s disastrous appoach to SARS-CoV-2 but there is a similarity of approaches. Possibly there is more than one Dominic Cummins in No.10 and this just reflects that the government is now essentially being run by management consultants and ‘behaviour experts’ rather than politicians and Civil Servants.

Update – confirmation that UK gov is in a state of complete chaos.

This is Matt Hannock, the Health Secretary today:

What we will do is listen to all the credible scientists and we will look at all the evidence. Herd immunity is not our goal or policy, it’s a scientific concept. Our policy is to protect lives and to beat this virus. [2]

This is Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser speaking in the last few days:

Communities will become immune to it and that’s going to be an important part of controlling this longer term…. About 60 per cent is the sort of figure you need to get herd immunity.

If you suppress something very, very hard, when you release those measures it bounces back and it bounces back at the wrong time.

Our aim is to try to reduce the peak, broaden the peak, not suppress it completely; also, because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission, at the same time we protect those who are most vulnerable to it


Our aim… to build up some kind of herd immunity.

Which is it?

What is UK policy now?

It isn’t clear to me what is happening. Either the government is doing a u-turn and they have abandoned the lunatic and unscientific “herd immunity” idea. Or, with Hancock’s new explanation that herd immunity is just a “concept”, they are just trying to massage the messaging. Today they have been floating the idea of over 70s being asked to self-isolate. This is in fact still consistent with them going for the supposed “herd immunity”; they will try to build up their herd immunity in the remaining population while saving the over 70s. As one article by an American Professor of epidemiology at Harvard points out one of the many problems with this idea is that amongst this under 70 population who are going to be deliberately exposed to the virus are many who work in healthcare and in care homes for the elderly. So you would need to take these people out of circulation as well. William Hanage also points out (as this site has previously) that this plan will mean that very large numbers of people will get very sick. (That people under 70 are also presenting with severe symptoms has been confirmed by doctors in Italy). This will put a burden on the NHS. There will be knock on effects. And all this based on the idea which is an assumption that there will be a second wave of the virus next Winter. And on the assumption that having the virus will in fact confer immunity. And, finally, my point, not Professor Hanage’s; the mortality rate, based on figures from China, is 1.2% for those aged 50-59 and 3.6% for those aged 60-69.  So this plan would still envisage a mass cull in order to build up “herd immunity” – which may not be necessary and which may not work.

As of now it looks like the government is still pursuing its lunatic idea of herd immunity. (Professor Hanage says he assumed it was a satire when he first heard about it). We will know they have given up on this only when we see robust and concrete testing and quarantine measures being implemented as per WHO recommendations.


As a footnote I’ve just read that 30,000 British tourists now need to be repatriated from France as the ski resorts have closed. There are ‘angry’ comments from industry representatives; no one told us about this. Haven’t they been watching the news? Did they not hear about a pandemic? As for the people – the mind boggles at the selfishness and idiocy. It is already clear that one of the main drivers in spreading coronavirus around Europe has been people returning from holidays in Italy. What were they thinking? Nothing at all apparently.



Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer