Fraser Nelson, the editor of the Spectator, has written a piece for the magazine explaining his decision to publish the leaked, classified projections from SAGE that appear to be driving Government policy and panic going into winter.
The secrecy is odd. In classic pandemic theory, governments are supposed to keep the public informed at every stage about what they know and don’t know. The risk is that a lack of transparency erodes confidence in ministers, and creates space for misinformation. The other risk is that if government is relying on modelling, much depends on the accuracy of the modelling. If it’s not scrutinised, mistakes are more likely to go uncorrected. More fundamentally, if people are being deprived of their liberty, they deserve to know why.
That’s why the Spectator is publishing a document which the government has not until now acknowledged the existence of: the ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’ for this coming winter. The document is on our website and makes for grim reading: 85,000 dead from a new Covid wave, about a third more than have died so far. It envisages 356,000 heading for hospital. Deaths are expected to peak at a lower rate than the first wave — but what is very different, this time, is the duration. The second wave is expected to get steadily worse until March.
The problem is that no one is challenging this thinking. The secrecy prevents scientists and other observers from checking the working. But even within Government there does not appear to be a culture of subjecting SAGE reports to robust scrutiny.
But some in the Department of Health are scarred by Sage advice from the first wave and think that any modelling that looks more than two weeks into the future has vast error margins. Health officials were told on March 1st that 90,000 ventilator beds could be needed for Covid patients — use peaked at 3,300 beds. Later advice — dated March 17th — suggested 138,000 beds, 40 times the peak figure. At one stage, the NHS was told to prepare for two million Covid patients needing hospital care — ten times more than the eventual figure.
The big question is whether these assumptions are, as Sage says, ‘reasonable’. And if not, who is likely to say so? The Sage scenario assumes 66% of people with Covid showing symptoms: the last UK sample put this figure at 33%. It assumes an ‘infection fatality ratio’ of 0.7%: a World Health Organisation paper recently put the average estimate at 0.3%. There is no ‘red team’ of experts in No. 10 challenging the assumptions; and there can be no debate about them in public when they are being kept secret.