A Fantastic Recap of Everything That Is Wrong With the Hysterical Corona Spin by One Hell of a Scientist

Slowly, slowly the truth is coming out — not everyone is ruled by hype, emotion and images

Going down in flames


  • “We risk being convinced that we have averted something that was never really going to be as severe as we feared.”
  • “If we tracked flu or other seasonal viruses in the same way, we would also see an exponential increase.”
  • “We have yet to see any statistical evidence for excess deaths, in any part of the world.”
  • “When drastic measures are introduced, they should be based on clear evidence. In the case of Covid-19, the evidence is not clear.
  • “Much of the response to Covid-19 seems explained by the fact that we are watching this virus in a way that no virus has been watched before.”
  • “We have decided on policies of extraordinary magnitude without concrete evidence of excess harm already occurring, and without proper scrutiny of the science used to justify them.”
  • “Above all else, we must…look for what is, not for what we fear might be.”

In announcing the most far-reaching restrictions on personal freedom in the history of our nation, Boris Johnson resolutely followed the scientific advice that he had been given. The advisers to the government seem calm and collected, with a solid consensus among them. In the face of a new viral threat, with numbers of cases surging daily, I’m not sure that any prime minister would have acted very differently.

But I’d like to raise some perspectives that have hardly been aired in the past weeks, and which point to an interpretation of the figures rather different from that which the government is acting on. I’m a recently-retired Professor of Pathology and NHS consultant pathologist, and have spent most of my adult life in healthcare and science – fields which, all too often, are characterised by doubt rather than certainty. There is room for different interpretations of the current data. If some of these other interpretations are correct, or at least nearer to the truth, then conclusions about the actions required will change correspondingly.

The simplest way to judge whether we have an exceptionally lethal disease is to look at the death rates. Are more people dying than we would expect to die anyway in a given week or month?

Statistically, we would expect about 51,000 to die in Britain this month. At the time of writing, 422 deaths are linked to Covid-19 — so 0.8 per cent of that expected total.

On a global basis, we’d expect 14 million to die over the first three months of the year. The world’s 18,944 coronavirus deaths represent 0.14 per cent of that total.

These figures might shoot up but they are, right now, lower than other infectious diseases that we live with (such as flu). Not figures that would, in and of themselves, cause drastic global reactions.

Initial reported figures from China and Italy suggested a death rate of 5 per cent to 15 per cent, similar to Spanish flu. Given that cases were increasing exponentially, this raised the prospect of death rates that no healthcare system in the world would be able to cope with. The need to avoid this scenario is the justification for measures being implemented: the Spanish flu is believed to have infected about one in four of the world’s population between 1918 and 1920, or roughly 500 million people with 50 million deaths. We developed pandemic emergency plans, ready to snap into action in case this happened again.

At the time of writing, the UK’s 422 deaths and 8,077 known cases give an apparent death rate of 5 per cent. This is often cited as a cause for concern, contrasted with the mortality rate of seasonal flu, which is estimated at about 0.1 per cent. But we ought to look very carefully at the data. Are these figures really comparable?

Most of the UK testing has been in hospitals, where there is a high concentration of patients susceptible to the effects of any infection.

As anyone who has worked with sick people will know, any testing regime that is based only in hospitals will over-estimate the virulence of an infection. Also, we’re only dealing with those Covid-19 cases that have made people sick enough or worried enough to get tested. There will be many more unaware that they have the virus, with either no symptoms, or mild ones.

That’s why, when Britain had 590 diagnosed cases, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, suggested that the real figure was probably between 5,000 and 10,000 cases, ten to 20 times higher. If he’s right, the headline death rate due to this virus is likely to be ten to 20 times lower, say 0.25 per cent to 0.5 per cent. That puts the Covid-19 mortality rate in the range associated with infections like flu.

But there’s another, potentially even more serious problem: the way that deaths are recorded. If someone dies of a respiratory infection in the UK, the specific cause of the infection is not usually recorded, unless the illness is a rare ‘notifiable disease’. So the vast majority of respiratory deaths in the UK are recorded as bronchopneumonia, pneumonia, old age or a similar designation. We don’t really test for flu, or other seasonal infections. If the patient has, say, cancer, motor neurone disease or another serious disease, this will be recorded as the cause of death, even if the final illness was a respiratory infection. This means UK certifications normally under-record deaths due to respiratory infections.

Now look at what has happened since the emergence of Covid-19. The list of notifiable diseases has been updated. This list — as well as containing smallpox (which has been extinct for many years) and conditions such as anthrax, brucellosis, plague and rabies (which most UK doctors will never see in their entire careers) — has now been amended to include Covid-19. But not flu. That means every positive test for Covid-19 must be notified, in a way that it just would not be for flu or most other infections.

In the current climate, anyone with a positive test for Covid-19 will certainly be known to clinical staff looking after them: if any of these patients dies, staff will have to record the Covid-19 designation on the death certificate — contrary to usual practice for most infections of this kind.

There is a big difference between Covid-19 causing death, and Covid-19 being found in someone who died of other causes. Making Covid-19 notifiable might give the appearance of it causing increasing numbers of deaths, whether this is true or not. It might appear far more of a killer than flu, simply because of the way deaths are recorded.

If we take drastic measures to reduce the incidence of Covid-19, it follows that the deaths will also go down. We risk being convinced that we have averted something that was never really going to be as severe as we feared.

This unusual way of reporting Covid-19 deaths explains the clear finding that most of its victims have underlying conditions — and would normally be susceptible to other seasonal viruses, which are virtually never recorded as a specific cause of death.

Let us also consider the Covid-19 graphs, showing an exponential rise in cases — and deaths. They can look alarming. But if we tracked flu or other seasonal viruses in the same way, we would also see an exponential increase. We would also see some countries behind others, and striking fatality rates. The United States Centers for Disease Control, for example, publishes weekly estimates of flu cases. The latest figures show that since September, flu has infected 38 million Americans, hospitalised 390,000 and killed 23,000. This does not cause public alarm because flu is familiar.

The data on Covid-19 differs wildly from country to country. Look at the figures for Italy and Germany. At the time of writing, Italy has 69,176 recorded cases and 6,820 deaths, a rate of 9.9 per cent. Germany has 32,986 cases and 157 deaths, a rate of 0.5 per cent. Do we think that the strain of virus is so different in these nearby countries as to virtually represent different diseases? Or that the populations are so different in their susceptibility to the virus that the death rate can vary more than twentyfold? If not, we ought to suspect systematic error, that the Covid-19 data we are seeing from different countries is not directly comparable.

Look at other rates: Spain 7.1 per cent, US 1.3 per cent, Switzerland 1.3 per cent, France 4.3 per cent, South Korea 1.3 per cent, Iran 7.8 per cent. We may very well be comparing apples with oranges. Recording cases where there was a positive test for the virus is a very different thing to recording the virus as the main cause of death.

Early evidence from Iceland, a country with a very strong organisation for wide testing within the population, suggests that as many as 50 per cent of infections are almost completely asymptomatic. Most of the rest are relatively minor. In fact, Iceland’s figures, 648 cases and two attributed deaths, give a death rate of 0.3 per cent. As population testing becomes more widespread elsewhere in the world, we will find a greater and greater proportion of cases where infections have already occurred and caused only mild effects. In fact, as time goes on, this will become generally truer too, because most infections tend to decrease in virulence as an epidemic progresses.

One pretty clear indicator is death. If a new infection is causing many extra people to die (as opposed to an infection present in people who would have died anyway) then it will cause an increase in the overall death rate. But we have yet to see any statistical evidence for excess deaths, in any part of the world.

Covid-19 can clearly cause serious respiratory tract compromise in some patients, especially those with chest issues, and in smokers. The elderly are probably more at risk, as they are for infections of any kind. The average age of those dying in Italy is 78.5 years, with almost nine in ten fatalities among the over-70s. The life expectancy in Italy — that is, the number of years you can expect to live to from birth, all things being equal — is 82.5 years. But all things are not equal when a new seasonal virus goes around.

It certainly seems reasonable, now, that a degree of social distancing should be maintained for a while, especially for the elderly and the immune-suppressed. But when drastic measures are introduced, they should be based on clear evidence. In the case of Covid-19, the evidence is not clear. The UK’s lockdown has been informed by modelling of what might happen. More needs to be known about these models. Do they correct for age, pre-existing conditions, changing virulence, the effects of death certification and other factors? Tweak any of these assumptions and the outcome (and predicted death toll) can change radically.

Much of the response to Covid-19 seems explained by the fact that we are watching this virus in a way that no virus has been watched before. The scenes from the Italian hospitals have been shocking, and make for grim television. But television is not science.

Clearly, the various lockdowns will slow the spread of Covid-19 so there will be fewer cases. When we relax the measures, there will be more cases again. But this need not be a reason to keep the lockdown: the spread of cases is only something to fear if we are dealing with an unusually lethal virus. That’s why the way we record data will be hugely important. Unless we tighten criteria for recording death due only to the virus (as opposed to it being present in those who died from other conditions), the official figures may show a lot more deaths apparently caused by the virus than is actually the case. What then? How do we measure the health consequences of taking people’s lives, jobs, leisure and purpose away from them to protect them from an anticipated threat? Which causes least harm?

The moral debate is not lives vs money. It is lives vs lives. It will take months, perhaps years, if ever, before we can assess the wider implications of what we are doing. The damage to children’s education, the excess suicides, the increase in mental health problems, the taking away of resources from other health problems that we were dealing with effectively. Those who need medical help now but won’t seek it, or might not be offered it. And what about the effects on food production and global commerce, that will have unquantifiable consequences for people of all ages, perhaps especially in developing economies?

Governments everywhere say they are responding to the science. The policies in the UK are not the government’s fault. They are trying to act responsibly based on the scientific advice given. But governments must remember that rushed science is almost always bad science.

We have decided on policies of extraordinary magnitude without concrete evidence of excess harm already occurring, and without proper scrutiny of the science used to justify them.

In the next few days and weeks, we must continue to look critically and dispassionately at the Covid-19 evidence as it comes in. Above all else, we must keep an open mind — and look for what is, not for what we fear might be.

John Lee is a recently retired professor of pathology and a former NHS consultant pathologist.

Source: The Spectator

  1. Vera Gottlieb says

    Even if the evidence is not clear…should we just go ahead and ignore it? What kind of a bs article is this? Interview those on respirators who can hardly stay alive.

  2. Craig MacMillan says

    maybe its stage 1 (to spread globally) before something else is triggered?

  3. Filip Poutintsev says

    So what? The panic around corona virus is doing great harm to economics, governments and corporations. And this is what we ordinary people want!

  4. Vijay Vallamudi says

    I said it once and I’ll say it again. The entire discussion on % death rates under “normal” conditions is meaningless unless you consider the quality of healthcare and what happens when it’s overwhelmed.

    As an example, I personally know of a psychiatrist (a friend’s brother), 51 with no health issues, who got COVID-19 in London earlier in the month (one of the first cases in the UK) and who had to be hospitalized in the ICU under a ventilator for 12 days. He survived and is now recovering at home.

    So the headline is, no death. But why? Because he had access for 12 days to a ventilator. If he didn’t? Dead.

    In NYC where large data is available, the hospitalization rate is 20% with around 25% of that or 5% in the ICU with ventilators. Most young (<50) will survive but only with the right care. This is running out and so like in hotspots all over the world (eg Wuhan, Qom, Lombardy, Madrid ans NYC) there will be healthcare crises.

    With the regular flu which also sees exponential growth, hospitalizations are less as well as time in ICUs. For example in NYC the average time in an ICU till discharge or death (ie when the ICU becomes available again) is 11-14 days for COVID-19. For the flu it’s 3-4 days.

    So EVEN IF Natural mortality of a virus is 0% - ie no one will die if the proportion who need hospitalization get the care they need, things change drastically once capacity runs out.

    For example, why is infant mortality so high in poorer countries compared to advanced countries? Not just of innate reason like better hygiene and so on, but because of superior healthcare capability. What happens if suddenly this healthcare is damaged? Well then infant mortality in advanced countries will shoot up to levels of less developed countries.

    So once again: the danger of COVID-19 is not just of “natural deaths” under standard healthcare conditions but of the healthcare system being quickly overwhelmed for an extended period of time leading to poorer outcomes not just with COVID-19 but potentially all healthcare.

    If you want actual proof, please follow what’s happening in New York City which has on average among the best hospitals/doctors in the world with a large number of beds/ICUs. This could be London soon or any number of densely populated cities.

  5. Per says

    reason and logic is NOT welcome!!

    1. come-and-take-it says

      That is really ANNOYING!

        1. come-and-take-it says

          Oh yeah!

  6. RussG553 says

    Great article, John – full of common sense.

  7. CHUCKMAN says

    A very strong article.

  8. Axiosromano says

    What kind of truly incompetent pathologist is this john lee??? He even f*cks up simple arirthmetic!!!

    His assertions about mortality are based on wild guesses where he freely changes both numerator and denominator as to falsely prove his allegation that the covid kill rate is just like that for another seasonal flu or viral infection. This john lee is both a pathetic fool and idealogue.

    He even used the same wild and free estimation on the spanish flu of 1918, where there clearly was no factual tracking and testing documentation, and thus morbidity rate was unknowable, as we know it today. Both the numerator and denominator was so screwed in death estimation from that pandemic that fatality was anywhere from 40 to 100 million. Unless john lee was alive then and had firsthand records as evidence in 1918. A range of mistakes in estimated deaths by 60 million is not a wild guess and very bad pathology??? John lee is a pathological liar.

    Worse, he is making his classically stupid estimates while the pandemic is still on the rise, and thus no deadliness scope and scale figures are yet final. The covid19 is running for 4 months, and he compares it with seasonal flu records of decades, and three-year spanish flu pandemic 100 years ago where all figures are guesses. This level of irresponsible science is incredible.

    And really worst of all, he argues, without any proof, that all corona viruses are the same as a flu virus that goes mild over time. This retard apparently does not know anything at all about ebola and hiv whose kill rates never diminished. Viruses are not humans, and it is unknowable why the two viruses are terminating humans with extreme prejudice despite being known to infect humans for decades. Indeed, why should viruses like ebola, hiv and sars-ncov19 become milder over time, when assumptions about humans being preferred hosts are absolute speculation at this time??? Just because these viruses are comfortable about living in bats and pangolins dont mean shit, as they may consider humans too hollywood shitty in pandemic movies to consider homos as nice hosts. SO WHERE THE F*CK IS THE MILDER AND KINDER VERSION OF THE SPANISH FLU OF 1918??? HAS ANY COUNTRY HAVE STRAINS OF THESE MILDER VERSIONS, INCLUDING THE CUDDLY HERD-IMMUNIZED HUMAN STRAINS OF SARS-NCOV19, HIV AND EBOLA, IN 2020 TO SUPPORT JOHN LEE AND HIS ILK???

    And where are the more robust factor analysis methods to correctly and carefully remove the explanatory power of age, preexisting medical conditions, hospital care quality, governmental quarantine effects, scope and scale of road and transport networks (to proxy for geographic population, concentration, dispersal and mobility) and other external factors, to make covid stats more comparable to specific viral epidemic figures??? Does this john lee idiot know that countries with high 2019 WHO global health security index (on biosecurity preparedness) are among the worst covid-damaged ones? Without such factor decomposition and removal, the good mortality rate result of germany and switzerland factually proxies directly for — if not directly measure — the quality of health care support, and not viral deadliness at all. Let him try to explain the large disparity in german 0.6% and dutch 6.2% — wealthy neighbors both (and certainly cleaner habit-wise ) than the english 5.9%– case fatality rate. Arent switzerland and italy neighbors? As the idiot himself ironically poses the question, “are we talking about the same virus in these neighboring populations???”. Bwahaha…

    I would certainly flunk him in an arithmetic class so he cant ever be a societal menace. John lee never deserved his retirement pension. He is a dangerous viral fool, in a time when social media fools like him constitute an epidemic, to be in a public policy setting position where life protection is a must.

    In a month or less, almost all countries will be forced to dequarantine, as the economic and fiscal damages become unbearable. With the virus running wild and free, and probably running in assault waves, in globally opened economies again, we can get better indicators of the deadliness of covid19. This virus hasnt even emptied one clip of his rambo assault rifle yet in his FIRST WAVE ONLY.

    This article is really a fantastic recap. It is based on a fantasy worthy of harry potter.

    1. disqus_79r3exFrhB says

      You lost the debate when you resorted to ‘name-calling’ and the use of inflamitory swear-words !

  9. Godfree Roberts says

    Agreed. Here’s Valerie Van Kerckhove:

    I actually find the response by the Chinese government to be extremely interesting. It seems like it’s overblowing the matter on purpose. Considering the low number of cases (compared to China’s population) and low death rates, it feels like the Chinese government is overblowing fears on purpose, with maps filled with dark areas and shutting down everything everywhere (and this is during China’s most important holiday season).

    I suspect it’s practicing for when a Really serious disease breaks out, the sort with people dying like flies. So I find all this fuss quite interesting. We’ve been warned about a potential superbug outbreak for years, and now we can see how the response will look like. No doubt the Chinese government is busy taking notes on what it could have done better.

    Not to mention, I don’t think most Westerners realize just how big Wuhan is, just how significant Chinese New Year is in terms of people moving around and just how many people go in and out of those wet markets every day. That’s like, tens of thousands of people leaving the wet markets, taking public transport then going home to expose all their visiting relatives, and all those people in turn going to all sorts of crowded areas too. With a high enough contagion rate, we’d easily be at 1 million infected. The fact that we haven’t reached such numbers means that this virus isn’t That bad.

    1. CHUCKMAN says

      Interesting words.

      Yes, Wuhan is a mighty big city with 11 million people.

      And yes, Chinese New Year is at least like American Thanksgiving for travel and family gatherings plus gift giving.

      I’m sure the Chinese are analyzing their response. It will be helpful information for the world.

      Considering just how many articles have speculated on a bio-weapon attack, it is important to be prepared.

      I’m tending to doubt the attack idea, but it is importantly in the air, and we have certifiable lunatics leading the US.

      Check this view out:


  10. Mikhail Garchenko says

    …just a bit of “common sense”…
    Thank you..!

  11. Babbo says

    Nobody is saying a word about the tens of thousands of homelesses,, are they just killing them by starvation or worse?

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