This is an article by Jeremy Harris. Jeremy is a businessman and investor in New Zealand, one of the few whose businesses seems to have profited from Covid madness thus far – the advantage of being well hedged.
Background from Hector: A New Zealand professor, Rod Jackson, published a scaremongering article in the NZ Herald, claiming that Sweden was at serious risk of having another 56,000 deaths from Covid-19. Fellow New Zealander Jeremy Harris got in touch with me to ask me to publish this open letter to Jackson.
As a lover of mathematics with an interest in all science I am writing to you to beg my case that you and the other epidemiologists who are obviously enjoying your moment in the sun need to stop engaging in hysterical scaremongering.
When I read your piece in the paper today I thought it was the typical ill-informed disaster fetishism that our journalists here in New Zealand, and others around the world, have been engaging in to their shame over the last few months. To say I was surprised when I saw it was produced by a Professor, let alone one specialising in epidemiology no less, would be understatement.
I also heard your interview on Newstalk ZB where you doubled down on the irrationality that the final death toll in Sweden will be ~60,000.
Let’s look at your piece with the totality of the evidence in mind. The IFR for Covid-19 in the general population of western nations is highly likely to be ~0.25%, with an upper bound of 0.4% (95% CI) and a lower bound of 0.08% (95 CI). This is clear from the now dozens of detailed serological surveys done and the likely IFR of ~0.25% becomes much clearer in the serological surveys done with multiple checks of accuracy and/or larger sample sizes (as one example of many, the one done in Gangelt). Yet you didn’t mention any of these, only a couple that were done more as snap shots for Health Departments, i.e. those that allowed you to drive a myopic negative narrative. You also didn’t mention that the US CDC has now advised the IFR is 0.4% for symptomatic cases, and we have good reason to believe that at least 50%+ of cases are asymptomatic, driving their likely estimate of the actual IFR down to ~0.25% range. The US CDC, not some conspiracy website.
The Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford gives an estimate of 0.1%–0.4% for the IFR, noting that the IFR usually tends down as epidemics progress. There are many, many more significant data points reinforcing this that I will omit for time, as my point is made. Despite this overwhelming global IFR evidence you choose to present the IFR today to be over 1%. This was possibly acceptable for the more dim-witted epidemiologist a couple of months ago, but it is frankly scandalous to be doing so now. This offends not only my love of mathematics and science but also my common sense. You must know this is not true if you have any basic competency, so it should offend you too, and to present it in public when you must know how inflammatory it is to an already panicked and hyper risk-adverse population causing yet more fear in already scared people is disgraceful.
Let’s come to your second main point regarding herd immunity. The standard formula for herd immunity is 1-1/R0 (where R0 is the basic reproduction rate), about as simple as formulas get. The standard assumed R0 for Sars-Cov-2 is given as 2.5. (This is without getting into the fact that during the early stage of the epidemic as tests increased the number of cases rose in most places at almost the exact same rate, meaning we don’t really know if the R0 is any different to standard influenzas, or if the R0 for increasing testing in developed nations is ~2.5). A R0 of 2.5 gives a required herd immunity of 60%.
However a reasonable person would ask, is there any evidence from the history of my profession that would lead me to believe this is an overestimate? Swine Flu, Asian Flu, Hong Kong Flu, and even the Spanish Flu, all novel influenzas or mutations, with R0s approaching 2 (if not above and highly likely to be similar to Sars-Cov-2) all infected at least ~50% less than the bare formula would indicate. We now have two papers in preprint globally that strongly indicate that there is cross immunity being provided by people’s exposure to the four existing endemic coronaviruses, or natural T-cell immunity in certain genetic populations, driving the required herd immunity to 10% – 40% max depending on the population density.
How do we know both the facts I give above regarding the IFR and herd immunity are true? Because maths, that why. There has been a remarkable lack of statistical difference in the rates of death for countries and US states that have locked down compared to those that haven’t, in fact when comparing similar population densities the rate of death is slightly lower for non-locked down countries and US states (your colleague Dr. Thornley has done detailed graphs if you’d like to go down the hall to learn). Additionally when we look at the countries that have opened up, we see that there has been no spike in R0 rates, and things are continuing to trend down at the essentially the same rates logarithmically. All of this is remarkably strong evidence, confirming mathematically the reality of the situation through observation.
And that is the final point proving you are hopelessly incorrect, in addition to the IFR and herd immunity evidence. Mathematically, when the numbers of cases and deaths are viewed logarithmically, this epidemic is burning out fast in EU and USA. A simple calculation of the final area that will be under the curve for Sweden, given what was transpired so far, and the current rate of logarithmic decline, gives a total of approximately 6,000 total deaths. This total also squares very accurately with the global evidence of IFR and the actual required herd immunity. 8,800,000 (Swedish population) x 0.3 (30% herd immunity) x .0025 (IFR) = 6600.
How many of those people would have died in the next year? 66%, according to Prof. Neil Ferguson, so given Sweden’s yearly deaths of 60,000 odd, we are taking about ~3% excess deaths (it will be far less in Africa, Asia, Latin Amercia due to demographics). All this for global economic collapse and millions of non-Covid-19 excess deaths over the next few years?
So, demonstrably, the likely final number of deaths in Sweden before steady state, which at this point can be essentially mathematically proven, will be an order of magnitude less than 60,000 death you’ve repeatedly claimed today. I cannot get over how absurd it is for you to claim this publicly. It requires an IFR of over 1%, which from the evidence from the Diamond Princess cruise ship alone, all those months ago, we know cannot be true, as its IFR was approximately this with a demographic at many times the risk of the general population in Western countries, let alone the developing world. (By the by, the Diamond Princess is also almost a perfect closed experiment. proving where the herd immunity is likely to end up, as even in this petri dish of 250,000 people per/sq km it peaked at 25%).
Your ridiculous prediction also requires a completely homogenous population, the likes of which we know doesn’t exist from any previous outbreak of respiratory disease, and we have good reason to believe doesn’t exist from the aforementioned studies of differing natural immunity/cross immunity in the population driving down the required herd immunity. Sweden and the US have not made an error in staying open or opening up; quite the opposite. New Zealand is the one who has made the mistake because we have sacrificed 10%-15% (at minimum) of our economy for no immunity, and no way out until a vaccine – which is highly unlikely to be ready safely within 5 years at best – is available.
Our mistake is especially stupid given how quick the decline in the disease is, and how widespread it is globally, and how likely a massive economic depression now is. We will be desperate for every tourist, student and business person who can afford to get on a plane. Oh yes, we are going to open our borders before a vaccine, and it will happen once the above numbers prove correct and people begin to get scared of what they should have been scared of all along – economic collapse, losing their house, suicidal thoughts due to joblessness, etc. You may think that your job is safe but given the decline in international students and the collapse of the tax base I wouldn’t be so sure, and frankly I wouldn’t hire you as a simple actuary given what I’ve seen.
To prove my point, I would be more than happy to bet you NZD $1,000.00 that Sweden will have less (and likely far less) than 10,000 deaths before they reach herd immunity, as defined as sustained one-to-one transmission. A bet I’m sure you will not take up.
There is also no evidence at all we’ll have a second wave, especially given that that’s a feature of influenza, and this coronavirus seems to mutate at half the rate. Within the next six months it is highly likely that this virus will settle down into being the fifth endemic cold-causing coronavirus, but the cost we’ll have to pay in death and economic and mental depression will be borne for years to come. If you continue with performances like today you are in part responsible for prolonging the death and pain, rather than being part of the solution.
I know this will be hard for you as an epidemiologist to accept, but in science observation is more predictive than modelling. Let me repeat that for you: observation is more predictive than modelling. Especially modelling done with hundreds of variables and with the code that you and your fellows have written so hilariously badly that actual software engineers are furious that their taxes have been paid to write it. I’m thinking in particular of the code written by Imperial College London which is so bad they won’t release it, but given what I’ve seen from most of the epidemiological community so far I’m sure whatever you’ve written and are basing your (frankly embarrassing) pronouncements on, is just as turgid. Given Dr. Thornley’s position in the University and the quality of his work maybe he could give you some lessons on this too.
I also note that you try to wade into economic waters here, and infer that Sweden has made an error because they are going to suffer almost as much economically as the rest of Europe. If this is true it is only because the rest of Europe hysterically panicked in the same way you are trying to engender people to do through your work today. It’s like someone shooting themselves in the knee, then shooting the person next to them in the knee and then saying “see you’re no better than me, you’re hobbled too”.
It is the economic damage caused, and the resultant deaths that will come from it, which is why people like myself and others will do our best to ensure your professional culpability, and those of Dr. Wiles, Dr. Hendry, et al, is brought into full light, after the public has calmed down from their current state of hyper-‘rationality’ and cult of safetyism. Because when they realise how benign this virus is, when compared to the deaths that will come from the secondary and tertiary effects, which people like yourself seem completely unable to analyse, they will be angry. Very angry. While academics in the past have paid no professional price for their gargantuan failures, this time it will be different. We are already planning the books, books that will shine a light on bumbling academics like never before. A working title: A Perfect Storm of Stupid: How the ‘Experts’ Panicked New Zealand and the World.
For your edification, a 1% decline in GDP results in an average loss of 0.11 years off all New Zealander’s lives, and to be frank it likely won’t be people like you or me paying the price, it will be the poor. So if we lose 15% of our GDP it will result in the loss of 1.65 years off 5,000,000 lives, or 8,250,000 years of life lost, borne mainly by the poor. The alternative is having a controlled outbreak where we reach herd immunity via our young and healthy population, where the IFR is approaching zero, resulting in maybe a few tens of thousands, or just thousands, of years of life lost (at worst).
We also now know that the suspension of vaccination programs for TB, measles and the like in Africa and the subcontinent is likely to result in 1-2 million lives lost, and 130 million additional people will be at risk of starvation this year, likely resulting in additional millions of deaths. I hope you can sleep at night given these stark realities. I’m having trouble and I’m doing everything I can to avert this insanity.
In my opinion all these deaths and the blood from them are on the hands of ‘experts’ like you that have failed so spectacularly with even the most basic parts of your job, and recommended these completely unnecessary, draconian and unlawful stay at home orders throughout the world. The moronic politicians relied on recommendations like yours, so the refrain I am starting to hear ‘we don’t consider economics, only public health’ will fall on deaf ears. The developing world has aped us and it is a humanitarian disaster. You and your ilk should be ashamed of yourself. There is a reason why a WHO report in 2019 did not find much evidence for lockdowns. Someone there last year at least had the common decency at that time to consider the ramifications of the type of madness we are currently all being subjected to. (The WHO’s corruption by China in this disaster is a scandal for another day.)
Additionally, the damage that you and others of your ilk are doing to the scientific method will take those of us who seem to have kept a level head and actually give a damn about integrity a generation to fix. Despite your assertions, there are a myriad of physicists, epidemiologists, chemists, mathematicians, medical doctors, and even Nobel Laureates, that have been repeating the above case. Not only will people like me be trying to resurrect faith in the scientific method, I’ll be doing this while also trying to fix the economic damage your kind has wrought via my company, investments and employees.
It’s hard to express my disgust in totality, the above is but a snap shot.