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Statistics don’t tell the whole COVID story

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Have you noticed the bizarre custom of marking every day of the year with some celebration? Nothing is ignored, and one day you could be asked to Honor The Paperclip and another to Celebrate Your Bicycle Pump. 

Recently, it was World Statistics Day, and I certainly didn’t let the day pass without a small celebration. I drank 0.47 percent more alcohol than usual and increased my risk of a raised blood pressure reading by a factor of 1.87 times against someone who hadn’t drunk 0.47 percent more alcohol.

Strangely, the day is celebrated once every five years, so perhaps it’s seen to be only 20 percent as important as, say, National Lederhosen Day. But when they celebrate, those statisticians know how to party. The motto of the day was: “Connecting the world with data we can trust.”

I’m assuming the whole thing is ironic. As far as I’m aware, statisticians have been ruling the world ever since the wretched Covid-19 virus reared its spiky head, and they haven’t produced one statistic on the subject we can rely upon.

Instead, blinded by sheer terror, world leaders have handed the steering wheel of state to the scientists and statisticians, who’ve acted like the geeky teenager who lurks in his dark, Goth-like bedroom, finally let out into the sunshine to drive the open-top Ferrari with the glamorous blonde from next door in the passenger seat.

We know it won’t end well, and it hasn’t. Come to that, it didn’t even start well. 

Chief geek Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London was one of the first into the driving seat, advising UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson that 500,000 Brits would die from the virus and chipped in at no extra cost that 2.2 million Americans would also succumb. 

The Greek chorus of the World Health Organization provided a sorrowful lament to accompany his prognostications, estimating 3 percent of the world’s population was going to die. As 7.8 billion people inhabit the planet, that suggests around 234 million would die, making it around three times more lethal even than the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918.

Frightened into a blind panic with those statistics “we can trust,” our leaders imposed strict lockdowns that destroyed lives and economies. Public borrowing soared to levels not seen since wartime, and millions of people have lost their jobs, livelihoods and businesses.

Of course, these weren’t statistics at all: they were statistical predictions. But what were they based on? Ferguson’s colleagues revealed he was using data from the Spanish Flu outbreak, and the WHO scientists feared that Covid-19 was the “big one” that Bill Gates, Dr Anthony Fauci and others had predicted would hit mankind soon.

They were terribly wrong. Covid-19 is certainly a nasty virus and is somewhat novel, although it’s a member of the corona family of viruses our immune systems know only too well—but it’s not the Big Hairy Gorilla. 

The real statistics bear that out: at the time of writing, 44,000 Britons had died (not 500,000), 221,000 Americans had succumbed to the virus (not 2.2 million), and it has claimed the lives of 1.12 million people in total around the world (again, not 234 million).

The WHO has also recalibrated its original prediction and is now stating the mortality rate from the virus is around 0.2 percent.  That would put the number of deaths at around 1.5 million and so, by the time the virus mutates into something more benign, this will probably be where we end up, give or take.

It’s also worth noting—especially as those saying so at the time were screamed into silence by those who “followed the science” (ahem), or were banned from Facebook and the rest—the mortality rate of Covid-19 is roughly in line with seasonal flu.

The other real-life statistic is that around twice as many people have died as a consequence of the lockdown—from missed hospital treatment, dementia, suicide and alcoholism—as have died from the virus.

Perhaps the most extraordinary part of all of this is our refusal to see the enormous mistake we’ve made. The geek has brought the sports car back: it’s a wreck, with dents and scratches everywhere and the front lights hanging out, and the blonde has gone missing in a field somewhere. And what do we do? We welcome our son back and invite him in to have a drink.

It is his day, after all.

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