The New Dark Age, update

with Bronwyn Williams

The New Dark Age is a topic I’ve lectured on often since the late 90s, when I first realized the pseudo-religious nature of many of the ‘isms’ people many subscribe to. I found it rather amusing that they often bragged how they had outgrown religion, but were actually just substituting a new one for old and lacked the personal insight to recognise it. Since 2000, many others have noticed the same and it is now common to note the religious equivalence of many areas of political correctness. My early work in the field isn’t available online, but my first wordpress blog on it in 2011 bemoaned the return of stone age cultures:

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/stone-age-culture-returning-in-the-21st-century/

My most recent blog on the topic, including a slide set to make it easier to read is at:

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/utopia-scorned-the-21st-century-dark-age/

Even that was written a few years ago, before people started using that ridiculous term ‘woke’, so it is due an update given all that has happened recently. To that end, I have solicited the assistance of Bronwyn Williams, an insightful up-and-coming futurist from South Africa.

Perhaps the most conspicuous change since 2017 is that science has become even more politicised, to such an extent that it has lost a great deal of the trust it had. Without good science, we can’t progress reliably. If scientific results are only accepted and published when they align with the favoured political narrative, we might as well not bother doing the research, we could just jump straight to the conclusion without doing any – it will still be treated the same by the various branches of media, still get the same grants and political influence.

Even worse, perhaps, is the other, more ironic, side of this slide from science to sciencism, where populations are encouraged to blindly “believe the science” without question. Of course, science that cannot be questioned or tested or falsified is no science at all.

The present breakdown in trust in the intellectual integrity of science can be traced back to the environmental research field in the latter part of the 20th century, became highly conspicuous in the 2000s in the field of global warming, spread rapidly throughout energy production and has now spread to other areas such as biology, psychology and other areas of medicine – and even pure maths. More recently we have seen huge polarisation of the presentation and acceptance of science surrounding COVID treatments and medications, masks, vaccines, even lockdowns. New research in every field is parsed for political correctness before it is presented and will then be rejected, hidden, blocked by social media filters, or spun as fake news if it doesn’t align, announced as a major scientific breakthrough, amplified with any issues carefully concealed if it does. Regardless of any good intentions, that is a very anti-science position – on most social media we are not allowed to say so if we see that the emperor is naked (not if we would allow our accounts to remain open anyway). Sadly, some of those same companies are responsibly for much of the development of AI and automation, and we know from history that problems embedded in computer code can often remain a problem several decades after. Driven by activist positions today, instead of rigorous pursuit of scientific objective truth, they are very likely embedding flaws that will remain for the long term. After all, who fact-checks the “fact checkers” or bias-checks the “bias bounty hunters“?

Politicisation of science has reached the point where you can reliably determine someone’s views on the effectiveness against COVID of face masks or lockdowns by asking what they think of wind farms. Such is the nature of pre-packaged party-pack politics were the values of the faithful come defined as a menu fixe. Science that is just another branch of politics makes no contribution to development. This trend has been remarkably pervasive, with populist capture of once-trusted journals such as Nature, Scientific American, New Scientist and even bodies such as the Royal Society. Most news channels will only report research that supports their political leanings. Science is one of the most important pillars of progress, and its capture and distortion by politics is perhaps the strongest force pushing us further into a new dark age.

It isn’t only in science that large tracts of thinking are blocked. The last few years have seen severe stifling of free speech across large parts of the West, accompanies by equally severe distortion and redefining of language. The perceived truth of a statement now often depends more on the age, gender, background, ethnicity or political affiliation of the speaker than the meaning of their words. Again, this greatly undermines the structural integrity of knowledge and wisdom, lubricating our slippery descent back into the dark ages.

The prominent feature of this caustic cultural environment is the new religion of virtue, a collection of often nonsensical assertions with no supporting evidence apart than other nonsensical assertions, arising from the ever-shifting boundaries of political correctness as its advocates realised people were becoming more resistant to that term. Based primarily on emotion rather than reason, a whole new language has sprung up, the meaning of its words evolving quickly as its endless logical flaws are highlighted, searching for new niches where it can flourish. Like the Spanish Inquisition of old, its weapons are not logical reasoning and gentle persuasion, but oppression and aggression disguised as superior virtue. The law may not yet allow burning heretics at the stake, but destruction of careers and reputations and social exclusion are quite sufficient threats to force most people into line. Denying heretics platforms to speak, or simply shouting them out and intimidating potential attendees of the platform can’t be denied are hardly behaviours we’d associate with civilisation, but they are effective nonetheless. Accusing anyone who still won’t conform of being a racist, Marxist, or fascist can be an equally effective deterrent. Aggressive activism in an environment that doesn’t protect freedom of speech has created a semi-permeable cultural membrane, permitting flow in only one direction. As areas are captured, such as academia, any re-capture is prevented by ostracizing unbelievers and using consequent power to change syllabuses and ban teaching of anything that might resist the march of the new (ironically culturally homogenous, if optically diverse) virtuocracy.

This weaponising of virtue has resulted in many people, companies and other organisations falling in line with the ethical hegemony, sometimes even at the expense of losing many customers. As if making a sacrifice to the secular gods might just make someone else the target of their wrath instead.

This all coincides dangerously with the spread of surveillance technology, AI, and increasing tribalism. As one tribe gains control, and since that control can be more effective, the other feels more threatened, so emotions are reinforced, tribal lines strengthened, divisions deepened. Now, thanks to ubiquitous technology, the virtuocracy has the means, motive and opportunity to track and trace the virtue-compliance of other individuals and organisations. It’s no secret your passenger Uber and AirBnB score can penalise you (financially) for bad (moral) behaviour.

Now, we are seeing “citizenship grades” (reminiscent of Chinese-stye social credit scores) appearing in Californian schools – and potentially business-destroying guilty-until-proven-innocent Yelp ratings for businesses deemed (by legitimate customers… or malicious competitors) for moral, cultural or political transgressions.

In such an environment, where neighbours are incentivised to report neighbours; employees, turned whistleblower against fellow employees, employers and customers; trust – the very fabric of society – breaks down and social cooling, where everyone is incentivised to wear a social mask, perform a social ritual or publicly confess to a set of social beliefs they do not really believe in, sets in.

Cooperation suffers, and with it speed of progress. Progress slows and even reverses. Darkness takes hold.

If the dogma of the virtuocracy were different, it might not matter so much. But the “virtue” we are being pushed to adopt is divisive, tribalist, intolerant, racist, anti-capitalist, anti-equality, anti-science, anti-liberty, anti-thought. It replaces objective reality with a fantasy constructed from nonsensical assertions. We cannot possibly have a flourishing society based on such ethereal foundations, where something is true simply because it is asserted by a member of the self-appointed “right” side of history. If we do not act soon and effectively, descent further into the new dark age will be inevitable and it will take decades to recover.

In short, the progress into the new dark age has accelerated dramatically since my 2017 blog. The forces pushing us that way are stronger, barriers to our descent dismantled.

Where something is true simply because it is asserted. If we do not act soon and effectively, descent further into the new dark age will be inevitable and it will take decades to recover.

In short, the progress into the new dark age has accelerated dramatically since my 2017 blog. The forces pushing us that way are stronger, barriers to our descent dismantled.

About Bronwyn Williams

Bronwyn Williams is a futurist, economist and trend analyst, who consults to business and government leaders on how to understand the world we live in today and change the world’s trajectory for tomorrow. She is also a regular media commentator on African socio-economic affairs. For more, visit http://whatthefuturenow.com

Twitter: twitter@bronwynwilliams

About ID Pearson

Dr Pearson has been a full time futurologist for 29 years, tracking and predicting developments across a wide range of technology, business, society, politics and the environment. Semi-retired and has relinquished four former professional fellowships, but still a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and life member of the British Computer Society.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/timeguide

Generation Bee – joint piece with Tracey Follows and Bronwyn Williams

Generation Z have only recently started getting media headlines as their first members reach adulthood, and a few journos are starting to talk about generation Alpha, still young kids now. But this a futures blog. What about the generation after alpha? Generation Beta? No of course not. Nobody wants to be beta. The alphas got lucky, but betas won’t want to be labelled second class to their predecessors.  So they won’t be called Beta. We think that Generation Bee is appropriate and we’ll explain why. It has a nice ring to it, and still fits the alphabetic naming sequence that began with Gen X.

Nobody ever remembers the exact dates of the various generations, and they aren’t written in titanium anyway; different sources differ. But here is a nice helpful chart from CMglee on Wikipedia showing the vague boundaries:

Generation Alpha

The Alphas are already here, some 6 or 7 years old now. COVID might define much of their lives, interfering so much with their education and their teens, suffering the consequences of social distancing damaging their emotional development, huge debts and high unemployment, holding back many of their parents, dampening leisure opportunities. By the time they reach adulthood, we’ll have had over a decade of recovery so although much debt will remain, the worst will be history.

Generation See

The Bees will start around 2028, give or take a year, and will run through to around 2044 if we take the typical 16 year generation duration, so Generation See should start in 2045. That’s a very convenient late marker because 2045 is when a lot of futurists such as me think we’ll start getting early direct brain links that increase our IQ, sensory capability, memory, and give us the first experiences of sharing minds and thoughts with other people telepathically. We might think of that next generation as the first transhumanists, with a higher ability to understand things hidden to their entire human ancestry. We’ll preemptively call that 2045-2061 generation Generation See, appropriate to their superhuman senses and capabilities offered by their bio-enhanced & hybrid AI brains, staying with the C alphabetic successor.

Generation Bee

So, back to generation Bee then. What will characterize them? Not quite superhuman yet, though with a few minor IT-enabled brain enhancements and smart drugs improving capabilities during their development. Some will have limited genetic modification, mainly having disease-related genes edited away, but possibly some positive enhancements that have been shown safe, and some that were picked from a multiple choice of embryos with different genes.

It’s possible that the Bees will be the first to make Mars their home, or at least visit in a meaningful way. They will be nomads by nature, like Gen X. Feeling somewhat alien in their home environment, never settling and pretty ambivalent about where home IS, they will be happy to wander anywhere in the hope of making their fortune, including space. Unlike their Zoomer parents who were conspicuously equality activists, Bees will be out to make the best of themselves, and to do their best for themselves. We might think of the exploration of space as a new gold rush.

In political and economics terms, they will have spent their childhood suffering the self-inflicted austerity of their Zoomer parents, their sanctimonious puritanism, their socialism, their defeatist degrowth and seeming determination to carry on living in unnecessary poverty long after the economy could have recovered so as not to make too much environmental impact. The Bees won’t experience any global warming and will wonder why, they won’t see any need for economy in a thriving world full of resources and high technology that allows things to be made with barely any environmental impact. Their Gen X and Millennial Grandparents will remember how they were as kids, spoiled rotten with loads of toys and computer games and they will be spoiling their grand-kids just as every generation of grandparent does. This will contrast heavily with the attitudes and behaviors of their Zoomer parents and will make the Bees determined to shed the austerity and grab back a life of plenty. The Bees will be rebels, they will want to return to prosperity. They will reject green dogma, reject the idea that they need to lead lives of austerity when the world can easily offer all they want and more. They will have a renewed work ethic, rebelling against a socialist world, demanding profits for their efforts, and will make a highly enthusiastic return to capitalism. They will have renewed enthusiasm for acquiring both things and experiences. They will become as busy as bees.

Having grown up in a thoroughly networked world accustomed to mature social networks, they will work together across distances instinctively, unlike the Alphas whose social networking went through generations of failed experimental legislation in futile attempts to curb political interference. By the time the Bees enter their teen years, augmented reality will be mature, and so will AI, operating at human-like levels across broad fields. Their friends and AI friends and partners will be there with them all the time. They will share realities, navigate city overlays, have their own secret signage and symbology, use multiple role avatars to denote functions. They will work cooperatively like bees, address new markets as intuitively and effectively as bees discovering a field of just-opened flowers. They will have their own information system, build new ideas and construct cellular organisations that other generations can’t even see. They will think together as effectively as a hive mind, because they’ll be so closely interwoven and connected they will essentially be a hive mind. Bees is a very appropriate name indeed. But it goes still further. When they face opposition or resistance, they will be more able to join in attacking their target than any previous generation. Their cyber-armory will be instant and a strong deterrent, as painful as a bee sting.

Having been brought up in this multiverse, where there is no single reality, no one real world, with many alternative real and virtual worlds competing for attention and immersion, their explorative mindset will spur them on to treat space as just another virtual frontier.

They will have been born after the crisis that we are going through now -the health, economic, political and societal crisis – so they will hear stories of ‘lockdown’ and ‘killing granny’ as if they are folklore and will perceive it historically as a collective madness and cult-like behaviour. Seeing this obvious widespread human liability to such failings, they will want to draw new boundaries between themselves and others – just for their own protection.

Technology development may well make it safe to take psycho-active drugs that today are dangerous. Bees will develop new legal frameworks for drug taking and hallucinogenics, which will be seen as just another type of experience that can lead to greater individual expression and personal and functional improvement. They might do their very best work under the influence.

Some of these drugs will work with trans-cranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) or even be carried in micro-capsules that allow their release to be controlled electronically via networks, enabling synchronization of drug release in a large group. Some capsules may also have capability to electronically stimulate nerves or brain regions, creating pleasure both chemically and electronically.

One thing’s for sure, the Bees will throw the best parties the world has ever seen.

About Tracey Follows

company: https://futuremade.consulting

twitter: twitter@traceyfutures

side hustle: https://www.femalefuturesbureau.com

Forbes contributor: tracey follows 

About Bronwyn Williams

Bronwyn Williams is a futurist, economist and trend analyst, who consults to business and government leaders on how to understand the world we live in today and change the world’s trajectory for tomorrow. She is also a regular media commentator on African socio-economic affairs. For more, visit http://whatthefuturenow.com

Twitter: twitter@bronwynwilliams

About ID Pearson

Dr Pearson has been a full time futurologist for 29 years, tracking and predicting developments across a wide range of technology, business, society, politics and the environment. Semi-retired and has relinquished four former professional fellowships, but still a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and life member of the British Computer Society.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/timeguide

Millennials get their revenge on the Boomers

I’ve been concerned about increasing generational conflict for many years. Some of it is justified, some isn’t, but in an era of fake news and conspiracy theories, it’s hard to resist having some fun with the idea. There’s too much reality right now. In any case, reality counts for little while perception is everything, and if your bubble tells you to feel aggrieved, that’s a lot easier than doing actual research on the figures. So here goes. Don’t take it too seriously.

The boomer generation had an easy ride through life, buying their big houses cheaply and getting fat index-linked pensions from their late 50s, lazing around on golf courses, while millennials and zoomers are having to pay too much for their homes, won’t get the nice pensions and will have to work far longer. Also, the boomers trashed the environment and wrecked the climate, filled the world with nuclear weapons, and did nothing to reduce racial or LGBT oppression. They even forced the UK to leave the wonderful EU, so now all our businesses will die and it won’t be long before we’re all on minimum wage with nothing to eat but recycled cardboard. Millennials are having to fix everything, absorb all the debt and pay all the bills, and won’t even inherit anything until we are old and grey.

So, payback time then. What mechanisms are available to punish the horrible boomers and restore fairness for millennials.

Sadly, we can’t just go and murder them all, well not unless we defund the police first anyway. We could try that, and see how it works, maybe some scope for experimentation with different approaches. A few manipulated riots and who knows how many we can get rid of?  We could do with some sort of  Logan’s Run style carousel, where the over 60s are ceremoniously terminated. Too obvious in that form, but applying some basic PR gumption,how about a system that allows them to be killed for their own good, with us making the decisions of course? So we needs a nice name that sounds compassionate and caring. How about Liverpool Care Pathway?, Yeah that’ll do, maybe we can tweak that now and then if people start to get wise to it. Perhaps design a nice form and smile sweetly while asking them to sign it so they suspect nothing. After all, a nice doctor from the wonderful NHS, what could possibly be wrong. They’ll assume DNR is just another medical term, like check blood pressure or something. Most of them won’t know what resuscitate means anyway. “Do not resuscitate”, they’ll think we mean not to wake them too early in the morning, let them lie in a bit or whatever. They grew old trusting the NHS so won’t suspect a thing. So, a couple of forms and we can get rid of quite a few of the old scroungers.

Oh look, a virus, that kills old people. Who’d have thought? If anyone suspects it was commissioned by Obama funding research in the Wuham virus lab, adapting a bat virus for human transmission, we can just dismiss that as a conspiracy theory – the Chinese are good at hiding stuff anyway so there won’t be any proof, they’ll just disappear anyone that might give the game away. Nobody would ever believe it and the media will all help to keep it quiet. So all we have to do is let it come over in planes and ships, not do anything at all to stop if until it’s everywhere and boomers will start dropping dead. If we say we need space in hospitals, we can chuck lots of infected boomers out of hospitals into old folks’ homes where they’ll infect loads more. Keep feigning incompetence, make sure the infection gets all the best chances of spreading, keep the old people in homes and delay any promising medications for any that get to hospital and before you know it, tens of thousands of them will be history. Think of all the pensions and benefits and the huge care and medical costs we’ll save. And all the inheritances that will be passed on years earlier.

But there will still be millions left, so we’ll need more viruses every few years.

Meanwhile, we still need ways of transferring their money. Boomers have loads of savings and investments so we need a way to transfer that to the state so we can have low taxes but still get all the good things. Taxes would work, but they’re too obvious. This idea of printing money is pretty good though. Let’s call it quantitative easing so people won’t pay attention and will just get bored if they investigate. So we borrow loads or money and increase public services, but then print loads of money to pay off the debt instead of raising taxes. That means any existing money is diluted, so its value falls, but the debt is worth less. Magic! Sure the existing money is worth less, but the boomers have most of that, we don’t have much yet, so they pay, and we don’t, our taxes stay low and the boomers pay. Serves them right. Everyone sees inflation of course, but the we will get pay rises to keep up, but the horrible boomers that didn’t work in the public sector probably won’t have their pensions index-linked, so will see their pensions worth less and their savings evaporate as the value transfers to the state, keeping our taxes low. In fact, while we’re at it, if we can persuade them to swap their pensions for cash, let’s call it transferring out, the quantitative easing will work much faster so we can get their money even quicker. The public sector boomers will still get their index linking, but we’ll still get their savings, and they’ll carry on voting for the left too – what’s not to like? So, suppose we do £1 Trillion of QE, that’s a decent start, but probably won’t even get any headlines. 15k per capita if it was everyone paying, but 50% don’t pay net tax and most of the rest only pay a bit, so that’s like a £50k Boomer tax, £100k for a couple. And we can do that every few years, and most will never notice, they’ll just carry on whining about increasing prices and we’ll just carry on making fun of them.

So we get to legally kill off a lot of them, and as for the survivors, we get to take their pensions and their savings. Best of all, we still get to make them feel guilty about how awful they’ve made it for us.

Revenge is sweet!

 

 

Post-lockdown tribalism

Locked at home, people have spent more time on the net. Dismayed by MSM unithink and government data-picking, they have discovered new news sources. In a sense, they’ve built extensions on their bubbles – same architectural style, just more space to move in.

Humans are tribal in their basic nature. For hundreds of thousands of years, we lived in small groups, looking after each other and treating other groups as competition for the best access to resources. Those groups were 20-100 people typically. People would have a strong bond with their family members, a fairly strong bond with other tribe members, and often hostility to others. In spite of political correctness making it fashionable for some to pretend that we’ve left tribalism behind, it’s clear that those same people have retained strong tribal allegiance to their tribe and are hostile to those not in it. In fact, many surveys have shown that those most vocal about loving everyone are more likely to dislike others who aren’t like them than  other people, so they haven’t evolved above tribalism, they’ve just become more adept at hypocrisy.

Tribalism transformed into a hybrid of physical and virtual almost 30 years ago for a few, 20 years ago for everyone. The left-right divide has certainly flourished (though it has evolved and lost some of its former class correlation) with people forming stronger allegiance to similar groups in far-away countries than to neighbors who hold differing political views. Thanks to the net, it is easy to get all the news you can consume without ever leaving your comfy media bubble. Market forces have followed the customer, and media has become ever more polarized, reinforcing the trend in a positive feedback loop.

Lockdown has reinforced some of that existing tribalism, and created more dimensions for variation, so identity is evolving. Some of the divisions are becoming very obvious as we start to exit lockdown.

Financial effect

The first obvious split is around the effect of the lockdown on personal financial well-being. Some people have remained in full employment, on full pay, and a few have even become wealthier. A somewhat less fortunate group have been furloughed, and receive 80% of their previous pay, but with less outgoings on travel, catering and office attire have still been very comfortable. By contrast, many other people were made redundant early on as their company owners realized potential losses lay ahead and many others have followed. At the same time, many business owners have had to borrow heavily to pay staff and meet ongoing fixed costs, so have seen their savings badly depleted, debts growing and wealth based on the value of their company greatly reduce. Many other self-employed have received little or no state support, being on too high income to qualify or taking their income as dividends. So, even though all these groups went into the same lockdown, they have experienced it very differently in terms of financial effect.  Someone who has lost a great deal through no fault of their own, but because the government effectively closed their business, will exit lockdown with very different attitudes to those who sailed through it having a fully paid holiday in their back garden.

Public v Private Sector

That split correlates very strongly with working in the public or private sector. Just as in the 2008 crash, the public sector has been protected while the private sector takes a huge hit, but nevertheless is already managing to moan loudly about possibly not getting quite as generous pay rises as usual. Public sector unions are already making it hard to return to normal economy by linking returning to work to meeting pay demand and other unrelated conditions. Private sector employees who have kept their job at all will be grateful to have survived, very often noting that many of their colleagues haven’t. The public-private divide was already a major stress-line, but will now be an even stronger foundation for tribal conflict. Loud demands for pay rises for highly insulated public sector employees with secure jobs, higher pay and gold plated pensions will not go down well with people who have been suffering real hardship and whose wealth has been heavily depleted, especially when the main reason given for the lockdown was ‘to protect the NHS’, poster child of the badly managed public sector. With teachers and lecturers similarly playing the virus for every advantage and with local councils increasing taxes to make up holes in their budgets as no private sector company possibly can, this fault line could well become a quake.

For or against lockdown

Another lockdown tribal split is between those who want lockdown to end soon and quickly, many of whom always thought it too extreme a measure to deal with a virus which kills relatively few people, and those who are quite comfortable in lockdown and want it to continue. This split also correlates with the public-private divide, though many who want it to continue work for big companies and can easily work from home. A small number in the continue lockdown camp are simply lazy and are now too used to getting near full pay for doing nothing and now see going back to work as an extra 37.5 hours a week for no extra pay.

Now that we’re seeing lockdown being gradually lifted, tribal divisions are becoming even more pronounced. A lot of people are not only strongly resistant to going back to work, but also fiercely critical of people making the most of lockdown being lifted, especially those going to pubs or to beaches. Much of the criticism seems to hold a degree of snobbery, looking down on the sorts of people who go to the pub or the beach as inferiors with obviously poor characters. It is like a new class war. By contrast, many of those doing these activities just want to get back to some sort of normality and argue (with strong statistical justification) that the incidence of the virus is now so low that there is only a very small risk.

NHS Worship and #blacklivesmatter

Another tribe is the NHS worshippers, a peculiarly British phenomenon, engaging in the tribal ritual of going outside to clap in unison. Their elevation of the NHS is pseudo-religious and strongly resistant to new information showing that more than half of the UK’s deaths can be attributed to NHS failings. This has some similarities with the tribalism around the Black Lives Matter that surfaced four years ago and recently resurfaced. Last time around, people outside the tribe would often insist instead that all lives matter. This time, the antagonism has increased, but with more social media use now, it has become all-out hashtag warfare – #whitelivesmatter, #whitelivesdontmatter, #bluelivesmatter, #allblacklivesmatter and even #nolivesmatter, each with their own distinct tribal identities. That is rather similar to the non-NHS worshippers pointing out that supermarket shelf packers, checkout assistants, bus-drivers and many other workers are equally important to nurses and doctors for the survival of the nation.

Even before lockdown started to lift, anti-racist protesters in the #blacklivesmatter tribe started to demonstrate, right across the West, acting as an attractor for the usual far left anti-capitalists, but also creating a quite new trend of pulling down statues and demanding ‘decolonization’. As expected, some small opposition gathered from right wing groups, but what was more surprising was the lack of opposition from the large but very silent majority. It seemed to be accepted that this was as much a symptom of lockdown fever as support for anything in particular, but amplified by a significant degree of self-radicalization with people gazing at screens all day looking at propaganda from their bubbles.

COVID Victim-hood & Immunity Passports

Some people have lost loved ones, others have suffered tremendously themselves, others suffered varying degrees of symptoms, some were infected but had no symptoms, and most were not affected directly at all. Shared suffering can often be a factor in bonding, so COVID status will be a tribal factor.

Add to that immunity passports, certificates that someone carries COVID antibodies, and therefore the holder can access various places and activities closed to non holders. Holders and non-holders will have very different privileges and that is certain to cause tribal tensions.

Personal and Business Growth

Many people have used to lockdown situation to take courses, learn new skills, start new businesses, read lots of books or otherwise self-actualizing. Others have taken the opportunity to take stock of where they are in life, to better figure out who they are, what they want, and who they want to be with. Many of us have just carried on and tried to cope as best we can, not expecting any more than getting through it in one piece. When we get back to anything like normality, there will inevitably be some readjustment in social pecking orders in the many tribes to which we all simultaneously belong. Some people will have joined new tribes, some will change tribes, some will change employer, or even change friends.

Business tribes will also see changes in pecking order. Some companies will have done rather better than others, sometimes by pure luck or local circumstances, or by having different client bases, sometimes by better management. Status in business peer groups will inevitably change as a result.

Political tribal piggybacking

Many people have used to opportunity of the crisis to push various political views. There have been quite a few, and some have tribal-style behaviours and  allegiances. One that sprung up almost immediately after lockdown was mentioned was UBI (Universal Basic Income). In the weeks following, this has been overtaken in magnitude by the demands of environmentalists, often insisting for no reason in particular other than opportunism, that any solution to the virus or rebuilding after emerging from lockdown must also include sustainability and carbon reduction. In some cities, such as London, there are extremely rapid moves afoot to embed climate activist solutions before the opportunity evaporates. A good many even more tangential demands to migrate to non-growth systems or even to socialism have been piggybacked too. Authoritarianism has flourished, with many rules and personal tracking systems put in place superficially to control the spread of the virus, but with strong suspicion that they will be left in place ‘to control crime’ long after the virus is history. Privacy groups have fought against these systems but have been losing. Nonetheless, the freedom/privacy/rights tribe will fight afterwards with the many who favor an authoritarian society.

It remains to be seen how strong these new facets of tribal behavior remain as the lockdown moves into memory, and how they will interact. As with most things during the current crisis, things are changing too fast and too deeply to make accurate predictions yet. All we can really do at this stage is to spot some of the various factors that will interact.

Global tribalism – a newer, colder war

With increasing discussion about the origins of the virus, two opposing viewpoints exist, with those who believe the virus originated in a research lab (whether accidentally or deliberately) dismissed as stupid conspiracy theorists by those who want to believe it originated in a wet market. There seems remarkably little tolerance of a middle ground where it might have originated in either but more evidence is needed. However, what started off as a simple discussion about its origins has evolved into a new cold war. What was the USA versus Russia now has China as its new focus, with Russia reduced to a secondary role. This new even colder war divides the world into a more united West v a more united East. Although unconnected, the virus has caused Chinese telecoms involvement in the UK to be cancelled, general suspicion of 5G, and a greatly increased trade war. The level of distrust of China has greatly increased, though those who list the lab origin as conspiracy theory seem strongly to want to exonerate China generally from any blame, using the tried and tested racism slur where they can squeeze it in.

After the sales

The warehouses are full, shops are desperate to get rid of surplus stock, and customers are eager to make the most of the inevitable sales to refresh wardrobes and indulge in some much missed retail therapy. The sales starting now will be the best and longest and deepest sales ever. Shops will all have to offer deep discounts because everyone else will too, and there is only so much space in wardrobes. Inevitably, much of the stock will not be sold, however deep the discounts. Many people will still be hiding in their homes long after lockdown is lifted, only venturing out when they have to. Social distancing in shops will make them less appealing, scarier, and deter some potential customers. More importantly, although most people have kept their incomes and some have even managed to save and pay off debts, many others have lost their jobs, lost their savings, lost their spending power.

The result is all to obvious. Even if lockdown were lifted tomorrow, greatly reduced revenue and deep discounting will barely cover basic costs for many shops, and won’t for others, so there will be a long list of retail deaths to follow those we’ve already seen. A few healthy retailers will be able to buy weaker competitors and move into better stores, making the most of greatly reduced rents. With fewer retailers occupying more of the market, choice will soon dry up. They will have to cut costs too, and even after companies have been bought and merged, vast numbers of staff will be laid off, many shops will close, and with few ready to snap them up, high streets will soon look very sparse indeed. Fewer shops mean less temptation into town, less foot traffic, fewer people buying coffees and already frail high streets will shorten. Boarded-up shops at the end of high streets may soon be converted to accommodation.

It will be a very long and slow recovery from there to get back to anything like we saw before lockdown. It is not at all obvious why there would be a ‘V shaped recovery’. A very slow, weak recovery is more likely.

Online will do better. Many people will still be afraid or unwilling to go into town and put up with bleak social distancing, and no changing rooms. So lots of customers will carry on shopping online, and the retailers who have survived and upgraded their online presence will keep more of the market. But how healthy will that market be? People will still want new things, but social lives will not return to normal right away, with clubbing and eating out reduced, and lots of people will continue to work from home, so won’t need the same quantity of office outfits, especially since there is nobody to show off to. So although shopping online will keep much of the market gains it has made, the size of the pie will remain smaller. Retail will have shrunk, many retailers will have vanished, and there will be less choice. Warehouse-based automation will require far fewer staff, and many of the jobs lost will never return. With less competition, and costs of investments in infrastructure and tools to do online needing to be recouped, prices will soon start to rise.

The future of retail seems likely to be short term sales to dump old stock and get some cash flow, followed by rapid shrinkage, frantic retailer M&A activity, high street shrinkage, and many end-of-street properties switching from retail to accommodation. In the years following, as people gradually return to normal life, new retailers will gradually spring up, and a very slow recovery of the high street might occur, or it may well be that new business in the high street will only be enough to offset ongoing transfer to online.

It’s worth noting that in parallel to these changes, technology will continue to develop. Automated delivery will accelerate. Rapid custom manufacturing will reduce in cost, and if prices are increasing elsewhere, will become more competitive. As customers start expecting clothes to be made the their precise measurements and customisation, the relationship between customer and manufacturer may well be simplified, with retailers falling in importance. If so, the long term for retail looks even bleaker.

Retail, is just one industry. We should expect major changes in every industry as a consequence of lockdown. The world will not return to how it was before. Recovery will be slow, and the final destination will be quite different.

Some lingering impacts of COVID

COVID and lockdown will one day be history. Some of its effects will linger for a long time. Here I will look at just a few that spring to mind.

Introduction

Millions of people worldwide have been infected by the coronavirus Sars-CoV-2. A quarter of a million have died from it. Overlooking the platitudes about each being a personal tragedy, in the grand scale of things it isn’t very many, just 1 in 31,200 people, perhaps eventually rising to 1 in 20,000. At some point in the future humans may have to cope with a plague that kills as many as 1 in 4 people. We’ve known about the huge pandemic threat for decades, especially how fast it can spread around the world and in our big cities, but it has still caught some countries unforgivably unprepared.

Governments have behaved very differently. Some, like South Korea, did the sensible things at the outset, restricting its means of entry, tracking down and isolating people with symptoms and those they had been in recent contact with. Others, like the UK, watched as large numbers of infected people entered the country, allowed them to infect lots of other people, allowed large sports events to continue, infecting many more, and took no actions to limit people being crowded together in transport systems, such as in London underground and airport passport control. Only once infection rates were already sky high and many people were dying did government act and because they were far too late, the only option they were left with was lockdown, effectively shutting down much of the economy for months.

 

Easing Lockdown

Lockdown can’t last forever, since the economy takes a big financial hit every day. In the UK, the headline cost is £2.5Bn but that needs to be doubled to account for the interest costs in the decades paying it back, and it will be decades. £5Bn per day is a lot. Government still refuses to say when they will start to lift it, even saying that discussing it is too early. It is therefore realistic to assume it will stay in effect for a few more weeks, 10 weeks total with a gradual lifting over several more, we could optimistically assume an effective economic shutdown of 13-15 weeks. Lockdown may start to be lifted gradually for some small sectors such as DIY/garden centres in the next week or two, and in restricted form with extra spacing in restaurants and pubs later. People will be slowly encouraged to return to work. My prediction is that a return to work in cities will cause another large rise in infections, and government will panic and reintroduce lockdown for a few more. Government seems locked in to a mode of thinking that forces everywhere them to treat everyone the same, so the concept of having different controls in areas of different risk seems beyond them. A more sensible approach would be to restrict travel between areas of different infection rates and greatly restrict use of public transport in cities to limit cross-infection.

The UK government expects the economy to bounce back very quickly, everyone united in wartime spirit, all pulling together, the economy leaping back on its feet and everyone enthusiastically rebuilding every sector, leading to an even bigger and better economy that will easily pay back the debts built up. The future will be even brighter than before.

That is naïve at best.

 

For sure, there are a few winners

With most of us working from home, the big IT companies have done well so far. People have needed buy more IT kit and more subscriptions to more products and services. Getting involved in development of COVID tracking apps and AI assistance will create extra revenue streams for the likes of Google and Apple, while simultaneously giving them more of our intimate data and grater market control. With huge cash reserves and increasing income, they are perfectly placed to buy up many other companies and further increase their scope and power. Other rich people and companies in other sector with good reserves can similarly capitalise, increasing market share and breadth at the expense of those less well placed or able. The rich will get even richer, by eating the poor (albeit it not quite literally). So there will be some winners.

We might even spin the coming turbulence as a weeding out of the economy, allowing greater efficiency, enabling engagement in new technology, new systems, throwing away the old and putting in the new, steering us towards the lands of milk and honey. But it is mainly just spin.

 

Massive redundancies ahead, but entrepreneurialism has also taken a big hit

With a gradual lifting of lockdown, sectors gradually being reintroduced, social distancing very gradually eased, and some groups such as older and vulnerable people kept isolated for months longer, the economy will not bounce back quickly. Many companies are already going bust, their staff made redundant. Very many more will follow. Business owners in some sectors have received government grants, but most have had to take out loans or use their own money to keep their businesses alive, hoping for an early end to lockdown. A prolonged lockdown will find many of those companies running out of money and going out of business. Many people have been furloughed, but that is only a holding stage before redundancy if their company isn’t restored to normal working soon, and for many that furloughing will soon become a redundancy notice. There will be millions of redundancies, and a lot of previously comfortable or wealthy people now poor or very much less wealthy. Very many small businesses have found they were excluded from any government support. Self-employed people using Limited Companies would only have received compensation on the small part of their income taken as salary so would have seen incomes reduced enormously, other self-employed earning more than the £50,000 threshold would also have been abandoned. Having been burned badly by government, those businesspeople will think hard before deciding to take on such huge personal risk again, knowing it is they themselves to will have to bear the risk of government reintroducing another lockdown. It seems fair to assume that a lot of entrepreneurs have already made that personal assessment and will pull out and close their companies while they still have enough wealth left to survive. Their staff will be left jobless, and they will not be rushing to rebuild. Large market segments will be left empty, full of potential, but with very few entrepreneurs willing to take big personal risks to address that potential. Of course, some dead or dying companies will be bought out by better-funded competitors, but with such high risks and so little guarantee of survival, the enthusiasm to do so might be limited.

The post-lockdown economy will therefore have very high unemployment, a lot of dead companies and a shortage of willing entrepreneurs. Many low and medium income people will be on welfare, many previously wealthy people now unable to afford their previous luxuries, with reduced income and reduced savings. Older people with high savings might remain locked up for much longer, greatly delaying their much-needed cash injection.

 

Looking forward to the sales?

Most people on lockdown have been on full or 80% salaries and many seem to believe they will be unaffected; some are even asking for lockdown to continue much longer until it is totally safe. They have saved lots of spare cash and are eager to go back out and spend, and for a short time that will offset the impacts of the many others on much lower incomes, but it will be a short term boost. While they may reasonably expect to encounter lots of closing down sales and fill their wardrobes, it may come as a shock to them that many of the places they want to spend at will no longer exist. Beyond clearance sales, any remaining outlets will have higher infrastructure costs to cope with social distancing, some will have to pay higher prices on the markets and all will have to repay large bills, so they will have no choice but to greatly increase their prices. Those high prices might well deter much of their enthusiasm, and even in areas where prices don’t sky-rocket, buyers will soon catch up with their spending. So there will be some clearance sales, some high prices, a lot of companies closing down, much merging and acquisition activity and a huge amount of shrinking, with national chains closing many of their outlets.

In short, a lot of turbulence for several months while the post-lockdown economy settles down. All of that is already guaranteed, the only remaining question being how much worse it will get as lockdown lingers. Not quite something to look forward to.

 

Some secondary effects are obvious too:

Again, most people have remained employed, on full pay of 80%, and many feel unaffected economically. However, at a cost of £5Bn per day, national debt during a 15-week lockdown will increase by £525Bn, let’s say £500Bn since accuracy here is impossible. The economy will also have shrunk significantly. Many dead companies will take years to replace. Lost savings will greatly impede recovery in luxury sectors. Even supermarkets will not be safe, even though they sell essentials. Sainsbury’s has just announced that although it made a lot of extra sales during the panic buying, it has taken a £500M hit overall, already. Other supermarkets likely have been similarly affected. With several million more people unemployed and on universal credit, sales of absolute basics may remain, but premium brands will have reduced markets. Premium brands normally account for much of the profits, so it will be harder to cross-subsidise basic prices. Prices across the board are likely to rise, especially as other costs are increased.

Prices will also rise in restaurants, pubs, bars and coffee shops, where people will need to be far more spread out. Rents and rates may fall somewhat, but prices will still need to go up. This will ripple through into hotel and tourism costs, where air travel will also be much more expensive, a double hit.

We can therefore expect to see much higher prices for many of the things we buy, especially on the high street. In many town centres, cascading effects of closing stores and high prices elsewhere will lead to less footfall, less income and even more closures and redundancies, for at least several months after lockdown is lifted. That means less business rates and car park income for councils, leading to higher council taxes for us all. Combined with many closures of business right across the economy, government income will also be greatly reduced. Money available to pay public sector workers their traditionally generous premium over their private sector counterparts will not be there. With severe austerity ahead, public sector wage rises will be squeezed badly, except perhaps for NHS staff (annoyingly, probably even the administrators whose incompetence got us into this mess) and MPs, who will likely be able to keep their extra expense allowances.

Income tax and many hidden taxes will have to rise a lot to make up for greatly reduced income to government, while costs will remain higher than normal for some time. Faced with massive extra debt, we can also be certain government will resort to printing money, or quantitative easing as they call it, effectively stealing from people’s pensions and savings even more than a decade of near-zero interest has already done.

In short, everyone will have to pay higher taxes, higher local taxes, higher inheritance taxes, higher VAT, higher prices, and have their cash reserves eroded away by inflation and quantitative easing. Even if you’ve worked from home on full pay throughout, you are still going to take a big financial hit. Your pay will not rise as fast, but your outgoings will accelerate and you’ll get less for your money.

 

The UK will tumble down the world tables

The UK government has made some very bad and expensive decisions. With very many dead and badly wounded companies, and some sectors barely functioning, with a lot of missing and broken links, our economy will be greatly reduced in size, our national debt will be greatly increased, and the severely ill economy will be far less able to recover quickly than government assumes. For many years, the UK will be much less prosperous than it was. We started the COVID crisis in early January in 5th place in the global wealth table. By not doing anything but watch until March, the UK government and its poor advisers have badly damaged our economy. Many other countries that made better decisions earlier will have overtaken us. I have no models to predict how far we will fall, but it will be several places at least.

 

Social gains and losses

After months of near solitary confinement, most people will be looking forward to seeing their families and friends again. Lots of hugs and kissed are ahead. We will almost certainly value our friends even more, and feel closer as a result of being kept apart so long. How long that will all last is anyone’s guess. A month? A year? We’ll see.

On the downside, lots of relationships are breaking up or suffering due to the stresses of living together constantly. Many marriages will die, many children will see their parents split up. There have already been lots of mental breakdowns and suicides and there will be many more. Some people will suffer many years from mental problems arising from this crisis and the lockdown. Even though children have been virtually immune to the direct effects of COVID, many of them will suffer mental effects for years, perhaps the rest of their lives.

There will be some lingering resentments. Some people have been able to work normally, still going out and meeting colleagues, still having lots of social interaction. Some have worked from home doing their normal job. Some have been furloughed so are at home doing no work but remained on full pay, others on 80% of pay. Imagine if you work for a company with 50 workers and 25 of them are at home furloughed, being paid the same or 80% while you still have to go to work and risk being infected for no extra pay. You might well feel resentful. Bad feeling between workers or between neighbours treated very differently by the state might last for a long time.

Young people will face economic consequences for decades to come. Given that the people most vulnerable to COVID were older people, and that the economy was wrecked to protect them, they may well feel justified resentment to older people, especially since many of those older people were the Boomers who younger people already considered to have had an easy go in life. Inter-generational conflict will inevitably rise, permanently.

Immunity passports could cause issues too, creating two tribes, clean and unclean. Some people want them because they imagine they’d be in the clean camp and can use their passport to resume normal life again, while laughing at the others held in captivity. It’s pretty obvious they are not a good idea, but our leaders may well add them to their already long list of bad decisions.

Privacy is threatened by the NHS COVID tracking scheme. As with many previous NHS decisions, they have gone for centralisation in spite of history repeatedly showing that is the wrong way to go. They are also sharing all their data with GCHQ. Once they have an extra means of gathering masses of personal data, they are unlikely to relinquish it, so privacy loss may well be permanent. Such schemes might even be adapted and extended as future crises of various kinds emerge.

The police will also see a lingering drop in respect as a result of their sometimes questionable behaviour during lockdown.

Perhaps the biggest cost though is the knowledge that our government is quite prepared to put the entire population under house arrest on the flimsy recommendations of proven inaccurate computer models and advisers new to their posts. We used to think the UK superior to countries like China who would treat their people in such a way. Now we know as fact that our country really is no better.

 

COVID and the NHS

It’s impossible to ignore current demands to go out and clap for the NHS. It’s often been noted for some years that the NHS is the UK’s replacement for religion, and this conspicuous NHS worship certainly suggests so. Some of us find this worship mis-targeted at best. The NHS as a huge organisation is not the same as the dedicated staff looking after COVID patients. Its unpreparedness to cope with the pandemic has been the main reason the government has enforced lockdown, to ‘flatten the curve’, to ‘protect the NHS’. Given the magnitude of damage resulting from that, I did some googling to find some stats that question whether the NHS is really a world-leading health service full of heroes risking their lives to save us all.

The death rate in the UK under the NHS is far higher than most countries

The UK death rate so far, estimated at 29,000 deaths out of 66M population, is 440 per million

(https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/04/27/uk-coronavirus-death-toll-january/),

compared to 37 deaths per million in the rest of the world (https://www.ft.com/content/6bd88b7d-3386-4543-b2e9-0d5c6fac846c).

The UK is seeing 12 times more deaths per capita than the rest of the world!

There are very many factors that cause this terrible UK result. High population density is one, London being a global business hub may arguably be another, but lethargic and incompetent government led by poor advisers, and badly administered, relying on an poorly managed, poorly prepared NHS must account for much of the difference.

In this blog, I have done some data diving on some stats, lengthy because appropriate figures are often very hard to find.

NHS deaths are actually lower than average

The UK media frequently emphasises the number of NHS deaths but surprisingly the death rate for NHS staff is lower than for the population as a whole:

The latest figures I can find show that 106 NHS staff have died from COVID (not counting retired workers). That’s a rate of 1 in 17,452.

This compares to 20,626 out of 64.2M in the rest of the population, and adding in the estimated 40% more who have died in care homes, that’s 7.86 times higher than that for NHS workers.

However, most of those deaths are old people (86% of COVID deaths are people over 65). A like-for-like comparison should include only those of working age and exclude the ‘extra’ 40% extra older people dying in care homes.

If only deaths of working age people are included, the non-NHS death rate stands at 1 in 13,000, still a third higher than that for NHS workers.

NHS workers’ death rate is only 75% of that for the normal working age population. I offer no hypothesis to explain why you’re 25% less likely to die from COVID if you work for the NHS.

NHS staff numbers – how many are the heroes?

I have my own good reasons for being critical of the NHS, but I am far from alone in finding the current NHS worship annoying. The NHS is very bloated, badly managed, inefficient and ineffective. Many people gladly cheer the doctors and nurses but not for the useless managers.

According to

https://fullfact.org/health/how-many-nhs-employees-are-there/

1,850,000 work for the NHS, not counting dentists and opticians. That’s 4.5% of the UK working age population!

You may have seen lower figures. Some work part time, and the 1,400,000 NHS workers you often read about are the full-time equivalents. That’s probably why.

Around 900,000 of these are medical and medical support staff such as doctors, nurses, radiographers, hospital physicists, pathology staff and so on. The rest aren’t. Over the last 20 years, as a response to criticism of its near half million managers and administrators, the NHS has gone to some lengths to reduce the numbers of its staff it officially classifies as ‘managers’, managing to get the estimate down to a laughable 3.5%.

It is extremely hard to find how many ‘front line’ workers there are dealing with COVID patients. However, it is estimated that if fully operational, the 4000 bed Nightingale hospital would require 16,000 staff in ‘clinical and ancillary roles’, so that’s a neat 4 staff per bed.

25,000 beds are required for COVID patients according to https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/coronavirus-nhs-england-intensive-care-beds-lockdown-uk-a9462276.html

If they were are all in use and needed 4 staff each, i.e. Nightingale staff levels, that would mean around 100,000 staff, 5.4% of the NHS. In practice, up to half of beds are unoccupied, and many don’t need so many staff, so that suggests that as few as 2.5% of NHS staff may be realistically considered to be on the COVID front line. 2.5%-5%. In the absence of accurate up to date figures, let’s call it a few percent.

I definitely applaud the few percent of the NHS who are working long and stressful hours doing their very best to keep COVID patients alive, taking personal risks while doing so. I am very happy to agree that they are heroes.

However, I refuse to conflate that few percent with the NHS as an organisation and thus treat as heroes the many percent of NHS managers whose negligent planning and incompetent administration got us into this mess. They deserve strong criticism and once it’s safe to do so, government should look hard at why the NHS wasn’t ready to cope with this long-predicted pandemic, roll some heads and design a new health service that is fit for purpose.

Lifting lockdown – common sense

I wouldn’t start from here obviously, but even in this government-induced mess, there are clear routes back to normality.

There are large differences in UK infection rates, ranging from 400 to 3500 cases per million. The rates correlate very strongly with population density. A one-size-fits-all policy is counter-productive, maximising social and economic damage as well as deaths related to lockdown, without any offsetting gains other than a very weak notion of fairness and simplicity.

In a low infection area, people tend to be more spread out too. There are far fewer infected people, and they are also far less likely to come close to you, so you are doubly less likely to become infected. It is therefore far safer to lift or ease lockdown in low infection areas first. Doing so would get many people and large chunks of the economy returning to normal quickly.

To make this work, it is important to reduce infection rates as much as possible.

Firstly, people should be encouraged to wear masks to reduce their chances of infecting others, and also their chance of being infected. In supermarkets and other areas where people must touch the same surfaces (e.g trolley handles, packaging, handrails in tube trains) disposable gloves should also be encouraged and changed frequently. Public education on how to do so while reducing adverse side effects should accompany it – teaching habits about changing them often, not touching your face etc.

Obviously, until the virus is gone, it still makes good sense to try to keep social distancing. Even if we aren’t perfect at it, keeping distance more than usual will still reduce infection. Every handshake or kiss avoided is another missed opportunity for the virus to spread.

We should strongly restrict travel to and from high-infection areas and enforce testing on any remaining essential travel from high infection areas. In that case, the low infection rate would continue to fall and large areas would return to normal. This would not make infection rates any worse in high infection areas so would be a net benefit.

In high-infection areas, there are still pockets of relatively high and low infection. London has an extremely wide range of infection density for example. The same principle can be applied here, preventing movement between the highest infection areas and less infected ones. Even within shared areas such as city centres, there are ways infection can be greatly reduced by separating the most infected groups.

For example, with traffic on the roads reduced by 75%, there is a lot of free road capacity, so residents and workers from  high-infection areas could be encouraged to use private transport to move around, leaving public transport much less infected for everyone else.

Alternatively or in addition, different trains could be used to separate these groups.

Doing this would reduce infection rates significantly, taking load of NHS, flattening the curve, and accelerating the fall in case numbers, thus reducing necessary lockdown time, total number of cases, total suffering and total deaths.

As rapid testing becomes available, (even cameras looking for people with high temperatures would help somewhat) many infected people could be spotted and removed. It is not essential to test everyone or for tests to be accurate, all that is required is a statistically useful separation to reduce infection rate.

All of the above would reduce infection rates and accelerate progress towards normality.

Lifting or easing lockdown is starting to happen in other countries so we will have the advantage of seeing how well different techniques work, but there are some obvious no-brainers:

Large and dense gatherings such as sports events and concerts should not be permitted until the virus has almost gone.

By contrast, social groups such as families and friends, or even some companies, have a strong self-interest in being open and honest with one another about any potential infections, so it will become safe to allow them to meet up soon using their own discretion.

Restaurants, shops and personal services such as salons also have a strong incentive not to make their customers ill, so they could open next.

There are some problems too though.

The nature of the virus means that many (~35%) people under 40 don’t generate antibodies. To me that implies firstly that it may be very difficult to make a vaccine that will work for everyone, secondly that immunity certificates might not be feasible and thirdly that the virus might behave similarly to HIV, infecting some people for life and essentially infiltrating their immune systems. If that is the case, even if they don’t show strong symptoms on first infection, they might well suffer an assortment of serious conditions later.

These aspects of the virus could well mean that much of existing government policy will not work. No herd immunity, no vaccine and no immunity certificates. Attempts to generate herd immunity will still maximise the number of eventual deaths and maximise the amount of suffering but will not succeed in its intent. I strongly oppose seeking herd immunity as a policy for these reasons.

Deaths resulting from lockdown will accelerate as it continues. Depression, stress, and relationship breakdowns, household violence will all get more frequent and more serious. Undetected cancers and other illnesses will become more serious as well as more numerous.

Economic damage accelerates with lockdown duration. Debts will increase, while ability to recover and repay debts will decrease.

Political damage to democracy will get worse as it continues –  more surveillance, loss of privacy, and contempt for police will all worsen as just a few examples.

So it is imperative that lockdown be lifted as quickly and as broadly as possible. The current one-size-fits-all approach is very poorly designed and should be scrapped as soon as possible, replaced with a sensibly phased lifting and easing using the principles above.

 

 

 

Antibody test results could be bad news

Another ‘I’m not an epidemiologist but’ article. As usual on this theme, please don’t read too much into it, it may well be nonsense.

Progress on producing antibody tests have shown that many under-40s don’t produce many antibodies. It is possible that instead, their T-cells simply destroy the virus without requiring antibodies. 

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/04/15/uk-coronavirus-antibody-test-validated-results-show-under-40s/

That might at first look like good news – young people don’t even need the antibodies, they have such wonderful immune systems that they just deal with the viruses directly – but it isn’t.

As the article points out, this may firstly hinder the possibility of producing virus immunity certificates, because it would be difficult to prove that a young person has had the disease, and secondly, may indicate likelihood that that person may become infected again. If that is true, herd immunity might be impossible to achieve.

Immunity certificates are problematic in any case, making two tribes with conflicting interests:

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2020/04/03/when-two-tribes-go-to-war/

The second effect is much more worrying, and even more so if you believe (as I do) that the virus resulted from meddling with one from bats to produce versions that can better attack humans.

Viruses use proteins to fuse with target cells. The gp41 protein used in the coronavirus is the same as that used in both HIV and its sister virus HTLV-1. Both of those target T-cells, a major part of the body’s immune system, and remain permanently in the body for life. By infiltrating and sabotaging the immune system in this way, they cause repeated and sometimes serious illnesses by disrupting the immune system.

If we were to indulge in pure speculation, a military looking to produce a virus that could bypass the human body’s immunity might well consider using such a proven mechanism. It would be somewhat consistent with early candidate shortlisting for future bioweapon research. At such early research stages, military intent could easily be hidden. Investigating classes of viruses and their impacts on humans could be entirely benign, looking for potential new medicines for example. At early stage investigation, it is perfectly possible that it might take place in a medical research establishment, staff might well not be fully aware of the purpose of their research, and full precautions might not be taken, hence the unfortunate researcher infection, release and the resulting pandemic. The accidental release at such an early stage could explain why the disease only has weak lethality and infection compared to high infection, high lethality you might expects from a military virus.

Without the speculation, the virus does nevertheless exist, does have its particular properties, and is causing its problems, regardless of its origin. It does not have to have been deliberately created to be harmful.

If the virus does work similarly to HIV/HTLV-1 in young people, that is bad news. They may initially escape the worst effects of the virus immune response, not becoming seriously ill immediately, but that doesn’t mean they are safe. If the virus stays in their bodies for life, there will be plenty more opportunities for it to flare up. Worse, by effectively sabotaging the immune system, HIV and HTLV-1 can cause other diseases such as cancer, neural degradation, loss of consciousness, severe pain, angina and many other problems.

The lack of antibodies could therefore be an early indication that the virus is not so much destroyed by the young people’s T-cells as merging with them and infiltrating the immune system in a similar way to HIV or HTLV-1, that both use the same gp41 fusing protein. The bad effects we see now on older people showing severe immune reactions might be followed down the line by large numbers of younger people exhibiting AIDS-like problems.

It might also be bad news for development of a vaccine. I suspect that a vaccine for COVID-19 might use similar principles to one for HIV or HTLV-1. However, we’ve spent 40 years looking for an HIV vaccine, and have barely even started looking for one for HTLV-1. There have been some successes on HIV vaccines, but most have been disappointing: http://www.aidsmap.com/news/mar-2020/hiv-vaccine-generates-broadly-neutralising-antibodies-passes-first-safety-and-proof.

A vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 might well face the same problems, but progress in HIV viruses might speed up search for COVID vaccines. However, looking at the results of the antibody tests, it could well be that a vaccine only works for some people.

It’s too early to say. All of this might be nonsense. But I think it’s also too early to say that until we know more about why young people are not generating antibodies. It might be that the problem will stay with us far longer than we had hoped, and that we’re only seeing the first stage of its effects.

 

Face masks don’t have to be 100% effective to be useful

There are apparently two sides to the argument on face masks.

One thing all sensible people would agree on is that those health and essential workers on the front line should be prioritized if there is a shortage.

The World Health Organisation said very recently that there is no point in wearing them because there is no proof they stop infection. It has changed its mind and now says that people with the symptoms should wear them. Matt Hancock still insists the evidence they are useless has been very clear right from the start. Sadly, he is still in office, making other poor judgments too, such as threatening to punish the whole class if the one or two at the back don’t behave.

This ‘masks are useless’ side of the argument relies on the fact that viruses are small, whereas holes in thin fabric masks are big. Viruses can pass through them. The tiniest droplets can too, or some of them at least. That is all true. A cheap thin fabric mask will not give you total protection. Accepted. However, I do wonder if advocates of this argument have any idea how breathable waterproof coats work. They block rain, big clumps of water molecules in one direction but allow individual water molecules of water vapour to pass through. Not perfect. You’ll still sweat and get damp, but breathability will help.

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) urges all Americans to wear them. Not only that, but to make makeshift masks out of their scarves etc in public transport or supermarkets. The argument relies on the fact that firstly, even a thin porous membrane will reduce the number of viruses a person breathes in, so will reduce the chance of infection, but far more importantly, that they can stop most of the droplets other infected people will give off as the speak, cough or sneeze and therefore greatly reduce the number of airborne particles in an area that are infested with virus. Infected people will emit such infected droplets even before they experience symptoms, so waiting for symptoms to develop means many infected people still infecting others because they weren’t wearing masks. This is all true.

If you sneeze, you probably sneeze into a tissue or handkerchief, both of which are very porous, but it still stops you filling half the room with infected water droplets, and even stops your hand getting soaked. That’s everyday example proof enough – I don’t need to wait for a massive 5-year peer-reviewed study. How many of those saying masks are useless would be happy for you to sneeze of cough in their face without making some effort to use your hanky or even your hand to intercept most of the blast? Zero I think. Not 100% effective for sure, but one hell of a lot better than useless.

So although both sides of the argument are based on truth, you should still wear a mask if there is a big enough infection risk of infecting or being infected. It will reduce the chances of both, and even if the reduction isn’t complete, it’s still sensible. If there is only a tiny risk, you might reasonably judge that the inconvenience isn’t worth the bother. The overwhelmingly important point is that a mask does not have to be 100% effective to be useful. If it’s 50% or 10% it is still useful. The more it can filter out the better, obviously, but even a simple mask will do some good. Keep the best ones for those that need them, but make others available for everyone else asap. Saying they’re useless is just wrong.