I’m working on an eventual series of posts on above theme but currently focussed on current pretence at preparing for mRNA vaccine production in Australia that requires catching up on technical details.
Meanwhile Dominic Cummings started a twitter storm on 17 May, fully documenting from inside just how Shambolic the UK response was.
The 59 tweets (so far) are well worth reading and thinking about carefully.
There may well be more coming and the original thread view shows what he is responding to so here’s a link to that:
It also includes some responses on his own responsibility for helping promote that government.
More immediately relevant is a warning from Cummings that UK preparations for dealing with variants could be likewise shambolic and that transparency is vital to enable earlier reversals of wrong policies protected by official secrecy.
Naturally the “business case” for mRNA manufacturing in Australia is beiing witheld and an 8 week “process” is being rushed through to ask local manufacturers to confidentially provide detailed costings for know how and supply chains they don’t have. An engineering task needs to be recruited immediately (from anywhere, worldwide) to actually work out what can be done and who needs to be recruited and trained to do it. That will be difficult but is the obvious first step which simply is not being taken. They are instead talking to managers of the non-existant Australian BioPharma industry to fill out forms about matters they know nothing about.
I’ll write about that as soon as I can:
Meanwhile here’s the text of the 59 tweets, although it is better to read them with accompanying graphics at links above:
1/ Covid… Summary evidence on lockdowns. For UK political pundits obsessed with spreading nonsense on Sweden/lockdowns, cf. SW econ did a bit WORSE than Denmark which locked down, AND far more deaths in Sweden:
Yes, lockdowns were good
It’s a moot point now, but let’s set the record straight
One of the biggest misunderstandings, spread by political pundits even now, is the ‘tradeoff’ argument. Fact: evidence clear that fast hard effective action best policy for economy AND for reducing deaths/suffering
4/ Best example: Taiwan. Also shows that if you REALLY get your act together not only is econ largely unscathed but life is ~ normal. But SW1 (Remain/Leave, Rt/Left) = totally hostile to learning from East Asia
5/ There’s a general western problem based on nonsense memes like ‘asians all do as they’re told it won’t work here’. This is what many behavioural science ‘experts’/charlatans argued, disastrously, in Feb2020. This nonsense is STILL influencing policy, eg our joke borders policy
6/ Another confusion re Sweden: data shows despite no official ‘lockdown’ behaviour changed enormously. The closer your measures are to ‘welding people inside homes’ (per Wuhan at peak) the >> effect on transmission. Semantics of ‘lockdown’ obscure this really simple point
7/ If you are going to have to do measures ≈ lockdown to avoid health system collapse then the harder/earlier the better & the sooner they can be released. Pseudo ‘lockdowns’ w/o serious enforcement are hopeless: econ hit & people die anyway, nightmare rumbles on
8/ Waiting room, 1st jab. Remembered Vallance 24/3 amid disaster: will u support taking vaccines out of DH & a new Taskforce, we need different leadership & skills to drive it? CABSEC supported divvying up DH tasks. If not, normal Whitehall process, probably normal result
9/ Success seems to have blinded SW1 to important Qs. a/ We did it much better than Brussels, obviously, but Brussels is not a good comparison. How well did we do relative to ‘how well wd General Groves who ran the Manhattan Project have done it?’
10/ I think we’ll conclude we shd have done Human Challenge trials immediately & cd have got jabs in arms summer. This is not criticism of the VTF which has been constrained in ways they shdnt be. It’s cnctd to b/ where is the public plan for how the VTF will deal with variants?
11/ One of the most fundamental & unarguable lessons of Feb-March is that secrecy contributed greatly to the catastrophe. Openness to scrutiny wd have exposed Gvt errors weeks earlier than happened
12/ So why are MPs accepting the lack of a public plan now for VTF viz variants? Especially when rumours reach me that the silent entropy of Whitehall is slowly turning VTF back into a ‘normal’ entity?
13/ The best hedge re a variant escaping current vaccines is PUBLIC SCRUTINY of Gvt plans. This will hopefully show it’s been taken seriously. If not, better learn now that the Gvt has screwed up again than when ‘variant escapes’ news breaks
14/ I can think of no significant element of covid response that wd not have been improved by discarding secrecy and opening up. This was symbolised by e.g how COBR cd not be used: a constrained STRAP environment cd not cope with the scale/speed, another important lesson
15/ Having watched classified elements of covid response, Gvt cd make the vaccine plans 99% public without risks, ‘national security’ almost totally irrelevant to the critical parts of the problem, a few things cd be withheld while publishing all crucial parts of the plan
16/ These issues are relevant to c/ Who is writing the plan for ‘how we deal with something worse than covid?’ If we get this right now, we do not need to have this sort of disaster again. We’ll also be hedging vs future bioterrorism risks: cf:
Andy Weber on rendering bioweapons obsolete and ending the new nuclear arms race
Bioweapons are terrifying but scientific advances leave them on the verge of becoming an outdated technology.
17/ The covid plan was supposed to be ‘world class’ but turned out to be part disaster, part non-existent. I urged inside Gvt to do a review of other contingency plans for more dangerous things than covid, a largely open process with e.g @wtgowers helping. Happening?
18/ MPs shd force publication of vaccine/variant plan & require mostly open review of other contingency plans before we find out the hard way they’re as ‘world class’ as the covid plan…
19/ Such reviews shd seek out those were right & early on covid. Such people are more likely to spot that other plans have errors, gaps, that institutional planning has blind spots, failure to look at crucial operational details etc. E.g @MWStory
20/ P Vallance & I supported opening up SAGE much earlier than it happened. I argued before 1st lockdown to open up the CODE of SPI-M models for scrutiny. Barrier = SW1 cultural hostility to openness & this barrier means SAGE still too closed & too little of its workings public
21/ Looking at minutes does not give good insight to reality of discussions. E.g looking at minutes of crucial 18/3, which I attended, does not convey true situation, discussion, atmosphere, effects
22/ With something as critical as variants escaping vaccines, there is no justification for secrecy, public interest unarguably is open scrutiny of the plans
23/ This point is critical re Groves/Manhattan/vaccines & wider covid & wider issue of gvt performance: our civilisation is abysmal at seeking Groves/Bob Taylors & getting them into critical roles, bureaucracies exclude & expel them, as they did with Groves/Taylor!
24/ The public inquiry will at no point ask: how does the deep institutional wiring of the parties/civil service program destructive behaviour by putting the wrong ppl in wrong jobs with destructive incentives? It will all be about relatively surface errors
25/ If SW1 wanted to ‘learn’ there wd already be a serious exercise underway. The point of the inquiry is the opposite of learning, it is to delay scrutiny, preserve the broken system & distract public from real Qs, leaving the parties & senior civil service essentially untouched
26/ J Phillips, a brilliant young neuroscientist I recruited to no10, argued for immediate Human Challenge Trials, as did others. We were far too slow to listen to such advice. The science ‘misfits’ who urged this early were clearly right, the ‘ethicists’ disastrously wrong
27/ So true from @paulg, it’s amazingly rare to find people who deeply care about results at senior levels in politics/gvt, those who do are seen as mad/unreliable & are weeded out. SW1 incentives are ~all about rewarding process + fake signals. V relevant to covid fiascos
28/ Of the 20 ppl who I saw do most to save 1000s of lives, it’s striking how many gone or leaving or planning to leave, & how many who were disastrously wrong/useless been promoted to jobs they can’t do/given honours etc
29/ @pmarca on the west’s covid failures (‘the harsh reality is that it all failed’) & the General Groves mentality needed, influential in no10, 4/20, as we pushed thro the vaccine taskforce
IT’S TIME TO BUILD – Andreessen Horowitz
Every Western institution was unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic, despite many prior warnings. This monumental failure of institutional effectiveness will reverberate for the rest of the decade, …
30/ Crucial data generally ignored by those who want to downplay covid danger, many 1000s will have serious health problems for years because of our failure to act faster/harder in Feb/March & Sep. Those who predicted this issue wd be ‘Gulf War syndrome bollocks’ were wrong
31/ There was a PHE exercise called Exercise NIMBUS in a hypothetical future 14/4/20 with mock COBR slides. Assumed peak week 13/5 and >33M cases over 16 week wave, hospitals full by 14/4, >800K deaths, schools told stay open(!!). A/one know when exercise happened (think 3/20)?
32/ This, evening of 31/10 re lockdown2, from @wtgowers who was ahead of the game in 3/20, was spot on. If mass testing had been developed properly earlier in year as cd/shd have been, wd probably have avoided lockdowns 2&3 while awaiting vaccine
33/ True but also UK gvt did v badly, turned out we cd/shd have had these tests at millions p/day scale by Sep latest, instead of seriously starting in Sep, which wd have greatly changed q42020. Those screaming from ~Feb/March were ignored, months/lives/£ needlessly lost
34/ Mass testing same story as elsewhere: some brilliant/dedicated relatively junior officials (e.g Alex Cooper) + great young scientists (e.g @gaurav_ven) + entrepreneurs held back by senior management/DHSC/PHE (particularly awful) & Whitehall legacy procurement & HR horrorshows
35/ Even tho the PM/CABSEC/I all told 9/20 most senior HR & procurement officials to treat mass testing ‘like a wartime project’, ignore their usual bullshit multimonth processes, mass testing hugely hampered by Whitehall’s optimisation for ‘[awful] process over results’
36/ So much ‘lockdown’ confusion. Obv they’re ‘destructive’. But if you have to do it cos alternative is 100s of 1000s choking to death + no NHS for months for everybody else + econ sunk cos everybody hiding in terror then earlier/harder is better for health AND econ
37/ If we’d had the right preparations + competent people in charge, we wd probably have avoided lockdown1, definitely no need for lockdowns 2&3. Given the plan was AWOL/disaster + awful decisions delayed everything, lockdown1 became necessary
38/ Media generally abysmal on covid but even I’ve been surprised by 1 thing: how many hacks have parroted Hancock’s line that ‘herd immunity wasn’t the plan’ when ‘herd immunity by Sep’ was literally the official plan in all docs/graphs/meetings until it was ditched
39/ Yes the media is often incompetent but something deeper is at work: much of SW1 was happy to believe Hancock’s bullshit that ‘it’s not the plan’ so they didn’t have to face the shocking truth. Most political hacks believe in ‘the system’…
40/ In week of 9/3, No10 was made aware by various people that the official plan wd lead to catastrophe. It was then replaced by Plan B. But how ‘herd immunity by Sep’ cd have been the plan until that week is a fundamental issue in the whole disaster
41/ All those referring to the Sunday Times story 22/3/20 re me dramatically ‘changing my mind’ at SAGE on 12/3: there was no SAGE on 12/3! It’s an invented meeting & invented story repeated for a year by political hacks as ‘fact’
42/ No10 decided to lie: ‘herd immunity has never been… part of our coronavirus strategy’. V foolish, & appalling ethics, to lie about it. The right line wd have been what PM knows is true: our original plan was wrong & we changed when we realised
43/ Lots of hacks have lost their minds. Herd immunity wasn’t ‘a secret strategy’, it was THE OFFICIAL PUBLIC EXPLAINED ON TV/RADIO STRATEGY! Halpern, on SAGE, literally explained it on radio explicitly, 11/3/20, as did others!!
44/ The whole ‘flatten the curve’ plan A was to get herd immunity by summer & avoid 2nd peak during annual NHS winter crisis. That’s why our official graphs had ONE peak over by summer! COBR docs/graphs describe herd immunity as ‘the optimal single peak strategy’ etc
45/ What happened is a/ panic about the phrase, ‘comms disaster’. b/ We ditched the herd immunity plan and shifted to Plan B, suppression, which previously the Gvt said/thought would be worse cos it wd lead to a 2nd peak in winter 2020 during the annual NHS crisis
46/ A COBR doc from week of 9/3/20 explains official thinking behind Plan A: ie. suppression either won’t work or wd lead to 2nd peak during NHS winter crisis, so the advised herd immunity approach was what DHSC/Cabinet Office described as ‘single peak optimal strategy’
47/ In that week it became clear neither Hancock/CABOFF understood herd immunity effects: 100s of 1000s choking to death + no NHS for anybody for months + dead unburied + econ implosion; so we moved to Plan B: suppression + Manhattan Project for drugs/vaccines + test&trace etc
48/ Critical as I am of the PM in all sorts of ways, it’s vital to understand the disaster was not just his fault: the official plan was disastrously misconceived, DHSC/CABOFF did not understand this or why, & a PlanB had to be bodged amid total & utter chaos
49/ Jenny Harries told us, the same week herd immunity was the official plan, masks are a ‘BAD idea’, ‘we don’t want to disrupt people’s lives’, acting ‘too early we will just pop up with another epidemic peak later’. So Whitehall has promoted her, obviously
50/ ‘Herd immunity’ was officially seen as UNAVOIDABLE week of 9/3. It wd come either a) in a single peak over by Sep, or b) in a 2nd peak in winter. (a) was seen as easier to manage & less of a catastrophe so it was Plan A. Cf SAGE 13/3: ‘a near certainty’ suppression>2nd peak
51/ It was in week of 9/3 that we started to figure out Plan B to dodge herd immunity until vaccines. Even AFTER we shifted to PlanB, COBR documents had the ‘OPTIMAL single peak strategy’ graphs showing 260k dead cos the system was so confused in the chaos, see below
52/ Hodges = wrong: there was neither an intention to lockdown nor as of Fri13/3 any official plan for doing so. The SAGE minutes show the opposite of what Dan says they say…
53/ Dan says the SAGE minutes show ‘The strategy was to wait for the optimum moment to lockdown’. No. SAGE said literally the opposite: lockdown = suppression = ‘near certainty’ of 2nd peak & this was thought to be much WORSE than single peak/herd immunity by Sep, hence graph
54/ On 14/3 one of the things being screamed at the PM was ‘there is no plan for lockdown & our current official plan will kill at least 250k & destroy the NHS’. Cf the graph: ‘optimal single peak strategy’ with 3 interventions. That was the official plan, which was abandoned
55/ Another reason we ditched Plan A was it became clear the official system had given ~no thought to all the second order effects of 250k dying, almost all without ICU care. True deaths wd clearly be much >250k cos there would be no NHS for anybody for months
56/ On 12/3, the most surreal day of 18 months in Gvt, it was argued to the PM that a/ individual isolation be delayed (‘we’re not ready’), b/ we might not do household quarantine at all, c/ given Halpern’s interview on 11th, the PM shd publicly explain the ‘herd immunity’ plan
57/ Re D Halpern: a/ on 11/3 he was simply explaining the OFFICIAL plan, not freelancing; b/ unlike many he supported the switch to Plan B in the next week & told the CABSEC & DHSC that…
58/ NB. Even at SAGE on 18/3 it was not all clearly agreed ‘must do national lockdown ASAP’. Halpern supported it with others. Senior DHSC officials were saying even on 18/3: lockdown just means it pops back up again in 2nd wave so why change strategy?
59/ Even at SAGE on 18/3 some argued: even if lockdown needed, delay, finesse timing. Others argued: there’s no alternative so sooner must be better. The latter were right (I think) & that argument prevailed
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