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Tell Your MP: Look at Florida

Lockdown Sceptics contributor and mathematics student Glen Bishop has got in touch with a suggestion of something we could all send to our MPs to challenge their lazy lockdown thinking. In short: look at Florida.

On Monday, the British PM answered nearly 100 questions from MPs and journalists. Not one raised the case of Florida, the obvious counterexample to the course laid out by the PM. I am yet to see an MP or SAGE member acknowledge the case of Florida. That needs to change.

Empirical data from an experiment which has already taken place will always be a better measure of what to expect when repeating the experiment than speculative modelling based on dozens of assumptions that already predicted the first experiment wrong. That is why it is crucial policymakers take a long hard look at Florida before assuming their favoured modellers are on the money.

The Imperial team predicted 2.1 million deaths for the US within months if there were no restrictions. Accounting for population, that would estimate over 143,000 deaths for a state the size of Florida. Despite having one of the oldest populations in the US, its current death toll stands at just 30,000, less than a quarter of the original Imperial estimate after a year (including a winter), never mind 143,000 in the few months.

Trying to explain to MPs how or why the modelling is inaccurate is mostly a futile endeavour. However, showing them the reality of where the experiment has already been undertaken and the models proved wrong can hit them between the eyes. Why, then, don’t we all email our MPs politely and disarmingly asking why we are lifting our lockdown so slowly when Florida lifted theirs in the autumn and have fared better with fewer Covid deaths? Here is a rundown of key facts about Florida for inspiration.

In September of last year, the Governor of Florida called in an expert team including specialists from Stanford and Harvard Universities to assess whether restrictions had been effective enough to justify their continued use. They concluded they had not been. Subsequently, on September 25th the Governor nullified all public health measures connected to the coronavirus emergency. Instead he targeted resources on shielding the vulnerable and offering sensible advice to the public. This resulted in the following.

Contrary to the SAGE modelled predictions of massive surges in deaths and overwhelmed hospitals, they had a death rate 20% lower than the UK: 1,400 per million in Florida compared to 1,781 per million in the UK, lower than the US average. Case rates followed a similar pattern to that of the UK, peaking in January and subsequently falling sharply, despite having no meaningful restrictions in place.

Compared to the UK, Florida has been a major success. Children’s education has not been sacrificed this autumn and winter, unemployment is low because businesses have been operating freely. The economy is thriving: it only contracted 2.4% in 2020 compared to 10% in the UK and is already back at pre pandemic levels. The civil liberties of Florida’s citizens have been restored.

Florida has an older population than the UK with a median age of 42 compared to the UK median of 40. It has a similar population density, a more urban population distribution (87.7% vs 83.7% urban), worse metabolic health and has had community transmission of the Kent variant since at least December. Other than the warmer climate in Florida, on paper the UK should have performed better, not worse. This is why it is perhaps a better comparison for the UK than say Sweden or South Dakota, which have more differences in population demographics.

Over 30% of the UKs adult population have now received at least one dose of a vaccine, including our most vulnerable groups. We also have more population immunity from prior infection than Florida had in September and we are now coming into summer, when coronaviruses typically recede. Data now suggests that vaccines can reduce the chance of hospitalisation and death by around 90%. Yet we are still being told we need to continue the damaging restrictions for months longer. Florida managed fine with no vaccine and less natural immunity. Why would it be any different in the UK when our most vulnerable groups, who account for 88% of deaths and most hospitalisations, plus all NHS and care staff, have already been vaccinated and by April groups accounting for 99% of deaths will have too?

MPs owe their constituents an explanation for why we are following the SAGE path of at least four months more restrictions, when despite following their advice we have higher death rates than Florida, which did not? MPs need to explain why we are not switching to the approach proposed by Florida’s team from Stanford and Harvard, which was right about what would happen in Florida without restrictions this winter when SAGE was wrong again.

The website Write To Them makes it easy to email your MP. As the coronavirus endgame staggers forwards, let’s keep the pressure on.

Stop Press: The UK has one of the strictest lockdowns in the world according to Oxford University’s Coronavirus Response Tracker, the Mail reports. Only Ireland has harsher measures, having ceased construction. Worth bearing mind though that the Blavatnik School’s stringency index has been criticised for not distinguishing between mandatory and voluntary measures, hence why it ranks Sweden’s response as among the most stringent. It also does not distinguish between states in the US.



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