Categories
News

When was the first UK coronavirus case?

Over recent days the mainstream media have been vying with each other to reveal the identity of the United Kingdom’d Covid-19 “patient zero”.

According to The Guardian on June 1st:

In the UK, the first confirmed cases of coronavirus came on 31 January when two Chinese nationals staying in a hotel in York tested positive. But as the crisis has rolled on, and the virus’s range of distinctive symptoms become more widely known, many – some in letters to the Guardian – have asked themselves if they or their loved ones could have had it earlier.

The article reports that:

A day before the first confirmed fatality from coronavirus outside mainland China was reported on 2 February this year, the death of the influential guitarist and musician Andy Gill was announced. The 64-year-old, who fronted the post-punk band Gang of Four, died of pneumonia after two weeks in St Thomas’ hospital in London.

The trajectory of Gill’s illness, which took medics looking after him in January by surprise, is now familiar – sudden deterioration, low oxygen levels and organ failure. He had fallen sick after his band returned from a trip to China in late November.

Then on June 8th The Sunday Times published an article by their chief foreign correspondent, Christina Lamb describing her own Covid-19 like symptoms in early January and reporting that:

“Thousands of people have emailed me with classic Covid symptoms from late December and January,” said Professor Tim Spector, a leading epidemiologist at King’s College London, who runs the Covid-19 Symptom Study app to which 3.8 million people have signed up.

“Either there was another virus behaving in a similar way which has since disappeared or these were early cases.”

If so, why was it not reflected in a spike in hospital admissions or deaths? “That’s the medical mystery,” said Spector.

There were, he said, possible explanations. “People who got it were young and healthy and didn’t transfer it to the elderly, obese and so on. Many of those early cases were skiers coming back from holidays. Or the virus was in some way different and didn’t have that final stage which attacks the immune system.

Christina points out that:

Officially, the first case involving a Briton was Steve Walsh, 53, a businessman from Hove… On February 6 he was diagnosed and transferred to Guy’s Hospital in London.

Before suggesting that:

It now seems likely that Walsh was not the UK’s “patient zero”. A month earlier, Susannah Ford… had fallen ill after flying back from a skiing holiday in Austria. [She] became ill on January 6, two days after her return from a new year trip.

Ford had spent a week in the resort of Obergurgl, near the Italian border, with her husband and two teenage daughters, flying back into Gatwick on January 4. She was the only one in the family who fell ill and assumed it was something she had picked up on an earlier trip to Trinidad.

Last week Ford paid for a test that shows whether the patient’s blood contains the antibodies that form when a person successfully fights off the disease. It came back positive, confirming that she had had Covid-19, although not when.“I’m convinced it’s when I was ill in January,” she said. “I can’t prove it was then but I haven’t been ill since or come into contact with people with it.”

Is there any advance on early January? Not as far as I am aware in the UK, but there have been several reports that European athletes who attended the Military World Games in Wuhan, China in October 2019 fell ill with symptoms resembling those of Covid-19.

According to an article in The Times on May 8th:

A French athlete who fell ill after competing in Wuhan in October says she has been told by doctors that Covid-19 was the likely cause of her ailment.The claim by Élodie Clouvel, an Olympic silver-winning pentathlete, has bolstered speculation that the coronavirus may have been present in the Chinese city several weeks before it was declared and then carried around the world by those who had taken part in an international competition there.

However according to the Global Times on February 24th:

A Wuhan hospital clarified the clinical diagnoses of five foreign athletes at the 7th CISM Military World Games held in Wuhan, Central China’s Hubei Province in October 2019, saying that they contracted malaria and were not infected by the novel coronavirus.

And what of the science? According to a paper published in “Infection, Genetics and Evolution” in early May:

We observe an estimated time to the Most Recent Common Ancestor, which corresponds to the start of the COVID-19 epidemic, of 6 October 2019–11 December 2019 (95% CIs). These dates for the start of the epidemic are in broad agreement with previous estimates performed on smaller subsets of the COVID-19 genomic data using various computational methods.

It seems that it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that several athletes brought the SARS-CoV-2 virus to Europe from Wuhan in late October 2019.

Categories
News

Sir David King convenes Alt SAGE Covid-19 committee

Idly perusing the online version of The Sunday Times in anticipation of more BoJo bashing I instead stumbled across some discreet Dom bashing from an illustrious source. According to an article by Caroline Wheeler, Deputy Political Editor of the Sunday Times:

The government’s former chief scientific adviser is convening a rival panel of experts to offer advice on easing the lockdown.

Tomorrow Sir David King will chair the first meeting of the group, which is designed to act as an independent alternative to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

The move comes after weeks of unease about the transparency of SAGE decision-making. It has emerged that 16 of the 23 known members of the committee, which meets in secret, are employed by the government.

The independent group will broadcast live on YouTube and take evidence from global experts. It aims to present the government with “robust, unbiased advice” and some evidence-based policies to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

The committee will formally submit its recommendations to the health and social care select committee, heaping pressure on Boris Johnson as he draws up the government’s lockdown exit strategy.

The whole idea sounds crazy, until you consider how the official Covid-19 daily briefings are already spinning like crazy!

Sir David also has his very own Twitter feed, via which he announced:

Getting back to Caroline, she added:

Speaking before tomorrow’s meeting, which will be followed by a news conference, King said: “Science is fundamentally a system based on peer review. When it comes to scientific advice of any kind, transparency is essential.”

He added: “I am not at all critical of the scientists who are putting advice before the government . . . but because there is no transparency the government can say they are following scientific advice but we don’t know that they are.”

Dominic Cummings, a top aide to the prime minister, has attended the secret meetings of SAGE.

“Cummings is an adviser to the prime minister. And the chief scientific adviser is an adviser to the prime minister. So there are two voices from the scientific advisory group and I think that’s very dangerous because only one of the two understands the science,” King said.

The committee has a draft agenda and is seeking to end the pandemic “with the fewest casualties possible”.

Currently the YouTube URL at which tomorrow’s Alt SAGE meeting will be broadcast has not been revealed, so…..

[Edit – May 12th]

The Independent SAGE committee have just published their recommendations. We “retweeted” them forthwith!

To summarise the committee’s recommendations to Her Majesty’s Government concerning “Transitioning from lockdowns and closures”:

Four key components to managing transitions and modulating restrictive measures

  1. Public health and epidemiological considerations must drive the decision-making process.
  2. Available capacity for dual-track health system management to reinstate regular health services, while at the same time continuing to address COVID-19.
  3. Leveraging social and behavioural perspectives as tools for responsive engagement with populations.
  4. Social and economic support to mitigate the devastating effects of COVID-19 on individuals, families and communities.

Six conditions should be used as the basis to implement/adapt transitioning of measures

  1. Evidence shows that COVID-19 transmission is controlled.
  2. Sufficient public health and health system capacities are in place to identify, isolate, test and treat all cases, and to trace and quarantine contacts.
  3. Outbreak risks are minimized in high vulnerability settings, such as long-term care facilities (i.e. nursing homes, rehabilitative and mental health centres) and congregate settings.
  4. Preventive measures are established in workplaces, with physical distancing, handwashing facilities and respiratory etiquette in place, and potentially thermal monitoring.
  5. Manage the risk of exporting and importing cases from communities with high-risks of transmission.
  6. Communities have a voice, are informed, engaged and participatory in the transition.

Four cross-cutting mechanisms that are essential enablers throughout the transition process

  1. Governance of health systems.
  2. Data analytics to inform decisions.
  3. Digital technologies to support public health measures.
  4. Responsive communication with populations.

We “tweeted” a question to the powers that be:

We haven’t received an answer as yet.

Watch this space!

Categories
News

How Britain sleepwalked into disaster

It’s not often that I praise the reporting in the assorted organs of News UK. Usually quite the reverse! However this morning I commend to you this frankly shocking article by the Sunday Times Insight team, including on this occasion Jonathan Calvert, George Arbuthnott and Jonathan Leake:

Coronavirus: 38 days when Britain sleepwalked into disaster

I strongly suggest that you read the article from start to finish, always assuming that you have a strong enough stomach. Here are a few brief extracts:

On the third Friday of January a silent and stealthy killer was creeping across the world. Passing from person to person and borne on ships and planes, the coronavirus was already leaving a trail of bodies.

The virus had spread from China to six countries and was almost certainly in many others. Sensing the coming danger, the British government briefly went into wartime mode that day, holding a meeting of Cobra, its national crisis committee.

But it took just an hour that January 24 lunchtime to brush aside the coronavirus threat. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, bounced out of Whitehall after chairing the meeting and breezily told reporters the risk to the UK public was “low”.

This was despite the publication that day of an alarming study by Chinese doctors in the medical journal The Lancet. It assessed the lethal potential of the virus, for the first time suggesting it was comparable to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed up to 50 million people.

Unusually, Boris Johnson had been absent from Cobra. The committee — which includes ministers, intelligence chiefs and military generals — gathers at moments of great peril such as terrorist attacks, natural disasters and other threats to the nation and is normally chaired by the prime minister.

Johnson had found time that day, however, to join in a lunar-new-year dragon eyes ritual as part of Downing Street’s reception for the Chinese community, led by the country’s ambassador.

It was a big day for Johnson and there was a triumphal mood in Downing Street because the withdrawal treaty from the European Union was being signed in the late afternoon. It could have been the defining moment of his premiership — but that was before the world changed.

Over on the “Consequences” section of the Arctic Sea Ice Forum we have been discussing the “Chinese coronavirus” since January 25th, and before that in other threads on the forum. By way of just one example:

Judging by footage from a hospital in Wuhan, it is a serious problem over there.

An epidemic would also overwhelm healthcare here in Sweden. Which patients would be given the few available respirator beds when there are too many very sick people?

Since he obviously didn’t heed that early warning signal I can only assume that BoJo isn’t too concerned about an Arctic sea ice tipping point either?

The Insight team continue:

Sure enough, five days later, on Wednesday January 29, the first coronavirus cases on British soil were found when two Chinese nationals from the same family fell ill at a hotel in York. The next day the government raised the threat level from low to moderate.

On January 31 — or Brexit day, as it had become known — there was a rousing 11pm speech by the prime minister promising that withdrawal from the European Union would be the dawn of a new era, unleashing the British people, who would “grow in confidence” month by month.

By this time there was good reason for the government’s top scientific advisers to feel creeping unease about the virus. The WHO had declared the coronavirus a global emergency just the previous day, and scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine had confirmed to [Professor Chris] Whitty in a private meeting of the Nervtag advisory committee on respiratory illness that the virus’s infectivity could be as bad as Ferguson’s worst estimate several days earlier.

It sounds as though Boris Johnson had his eye firmly fixed on just one ball. Juggling two was beyond him. “Get Brexit Done” now belatedly reads “Stay Home, Save Lives” on his Twitter feed:

Please do read the entire article, but for now let us skip to the conclusion of the Sunday Times cautionary tale of staggering incompetence in high places?

A Downing Street spokesman said: “Our response has ensured that the NHS has been given all the support it needs to ensure everyone requiring treatment has received it, as well as providing protection to businesses and reassurance to workers. The prime minister has been at the helm of the response to this, providing leadership during this hugely challenging period for the whole nation.”

Merely business as usual in the age of “Fake News” and “Truth Decay“.

[Edit – April 20th]

Last night the Department of Health and Social Care “tweeted” a response to the Sunday Times article:

Clicking through to the DoH blog we read:

A Government spokesman said: ‘This article contains a series of falsehoods and errors and actively misrepresents the enormous amount of work which was going on in government at the earliest stages of the Coronavirus outbreak.’

‘This is an unprecedented global pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it, guided at all times by the best scientific advice.

‘The Government has been working day and night to battle against coronavirus, delivering a strategy designed at all times to protect our NHS and save lives.

‘Our response has ensured that the NHS has been given all the support it needs to ensure everyone requiring treatment has received it, as well as providing protection to businesses and reassurance to workers.

‘The Prime Minister has been at the helm of the response to this, providing leadership during this hugely challenging period for the whole nation.’

Followed by a long list of rebuttals of specific points in the Sunday Times article. How about this one for starters?

Claim –  ‘This was despite the publication that day of an alarming study by Chinese doctors in the medical journal The Lancet. It assessed the lethal potential of the virus, for the first time suggesting it was comparable to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed up to 50 million people.’

Response –  The editor of the Lancet, on exactly the same day – 23 January – called for “caution” and accused the media of ‘escalating anxiety by talking of a ‘killer virus’ and ‘growing fears’. He wrote: ‘In truth, from what we currently know, 2019-nCoV has moderate transmissibility and relatively low pathogenicity. There is no reason to foster panic with exaggerated language.’ The Sunday Times is suggesting that there was a scientific consensus around the fact that this was going to be a pandemic – that is plainly untrue.

Here’s one interpretation of these events:

Will Michael Gove shortly become our next Prime Minister?