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Three years down the line from when Covid first hit our consciousness and with the release of more time series data in digestible form some lessons can be learned from the Government's capitulation to the 'blob's' panicked measures in early 2020.

Undoubtedly the 'one size fits all' approach of Government at the start of the pandemic led to unnecessary deaths. I suspect the extent of these unnecessary excess deaths skewed the perception of many people about the risk they faced from Covid and also skewed the data which led, in turn, to bad decisions.

Back in March 2020, in anticipation of a wave of ill people it was decided to empty the hospitals. Go walk around a hospital, it's full of ill people, they're there for a reason. In England we expect about 225,000 people to die in hospital in any given year. The data in Table 1 come from my new favourite website produced by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (its staff have got their work cut out!). They show deaths in English hospitals over the past three years.

Deaths in hospitals in England

Table 1. Deaths in hospitals in England

One of the oddities of the data is that deaths with Covid are so much higher than excess deaths. In 2020 there were three times more Covid deaths than excess deaths. In 2021 there were 2.7 times more Covid deaths than excess deaths and in 2022 the figure was 1.75 times greater. Can it be true that in the absence of Covid we would have had so many fewer deaths than normal?

It's often stated, and certainly I would suggest that the man on the Clapham omnibus would think, that hospitals were overrun during the first lockdown in spring 2020. This is only true to the extent that two things happened that massively reduced capacity: we socially distanced the beds, reducing the overall capacity in the hospitals and staff absences went up due to self-isolation or illness. Of course, we built the Nightingale hospitals but these were never brought into service.

Figure 2 shows two charts. The top one shows the percentage of the average General and Acute (G&A) hospital bed occupancy by NHS trusts during April 2020. The lower one shows average critical care bed occupancy during April 2020. Due to space I've only named every fifth NHS trust but if you want to look at the data for your local trust you can find them here.

Usually hospitals run at about 90% capacity, overall, during the lockdown they were about 55% full. Hospitals weren't full, capacity was reduced.

G & A occupancy percentage
adult critical care bed occupancy

Figure 2
At the bottom of each table sits Royal Cornwall NHS Trust. Its average bed occupancy rate during April 2020 was 38%. Its critical care bed occupancy rate was 19%. Conversely, there were still some hospitals with relatively high occupancy rates. Croydon Health Services NHS Trust was top of the league at 85% General and Acute bed average occupancy.

I'm not trying to get at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust; I suspect it did what it was told. No, my point is rather broader: decisions were in all likelihood taken miles away in London with little consideration of how this all would play out in Cornwall. How much more likely that we'll end up with inappropriate decisions if the U.K. Government cedes pandemic control to the WHO, as spelt out by Dr. David Bell in his recent Daily Sceptic article?

Let's look at how this all worked out in Cornwall. As you can see in Figure 3, which uses data specific to Cornwall, all-cause deaths peaked in week ending April 17th. In that week overall excess deaths were 53% higher than the expected level and in week ending April 24th they were 55% higher than expected. At this time there was very limited testing to confirm the presence of Covid so, whether all these deaths were from (or with) Covid will never be known. But, it does seem odd that over 50% more people were dying and yet the hospitals were less than 40% full and the ICU wards below 20% pre-Covid capacity.

excess mortality england 1

Figure 3
There are two possible explanations for this huge rise in excess deaths:
  1. Covid, though the chart above shows that official Covid deaths accounted for about half of the excess deaths in April.
  2. The consequences of moving frail, ill people out of hospitals. Reductions in level of care associated with PPE protocols. Reductions in care home and care at home staff.
In a recent Daily Sceptic article, Nick Bowler looked at the rise in deaths other than respiratory illnesses. In Figure 4 you can see how deaths in England from some of these non-respiratory illnesses peaked during this first lockdown. How many of these excess deaths were down to policy? No doubt exactly the same pattern repeated itself in Cornwall: deaths of non-respiratory causes increased significantly due to the anticipation of a pandemic rather than because of a pandemic.

excess mortality england 2

Figure 4
It seems deeply ironic that China recently abandoned its zero-Covid policy in favour of what we were constantly told was a 'let it rip' strategy, though really more like the strategy advocated by the U.K.'s Pandemic Preparedness Plan and the Great Barrington Declaration. And what were the consequences for China? Virtually nothing. Okay, we may not know much about what goes on inside the Chinese Government, but with one million Westerners living in China and a couple of million Chinese living in the West we have a pretty good feel for what's going on in the street, and so far the Chinese 'great reopening' has gone pretty smoothly. Predictions of millions of deaths seem to be wide of the mark. It's amazing, when you leave people to make their own risk estimates and to take responsibility for themselves, they usually make a pretty good job of it.

Of course, we had our own 'great reopening' in July 2021 when cases, hospitalisations and deaths promptly fell.

All this leads me to the conclusion that you should be wary of big Government saying "we're here to help".