COVID-19 and trust

https://www.ft.com/video/0685a4ba-7b0b-442b-b38e-3f73101a6943

I think citizens have the right to express some unease at the way during a pandemic technology companies rode in to help governments all over the world, often free of charge, to collate and gain access to citizen data…

To beat a virus.

…with little scrutiny or oversight. Where was the vote, the public consultation in letting Amazon pair with the NHS, a private company, our health data? But that’s the point… isn’t it? …about algorithms. No one really knows how they work, even though in an increasingly automated world AI is making decisions for us all the time – what our insurance premiums should be, or A level results, or predictive policing, or even prison sentencing and release.

We know what you did during lockdown. An FT Film written by James Graham

A disturbing yet very wise film; we should all watch it.

But, instead of rejecting all lockdown restrictions and going down a rabbit hole of saying that all COVID19-related government actions are evil, we need to have a proper discussion of the balance between the private and public side of health-related behaviours.

I always thought of the lockdown measures as a covenant between the society (as represented by the government) and the individuals. In this covenant, we – as individuals – agree – temporarily and to a limited extent – to sacrifice our freedoms to save ourselves, our friends and relatives, and all others.

Why? Because we recognise that as individuals we are not always able to make the right decisions. We simply do not have all the information about the consequences of our actions, particularly during the pandemic.

It is the role of those in authority – be it the king (or the Queen), the Church, village elders, or the government, to control this balance.

We have been doing this for centuries.

But, the policy-makers need to be very clear why steps like hard lockdown, mask-wearing and track-and-trace – which James Graham is alluding to in this movie – are needed, how long they are there for, and what the exit strategy is.

During the pandemic, I have repeatedly said that I believe short and hard lockdowns, mask-wearing, wide vaccination, and border controls are needed to save lives and the economy.

But I also always said that the trust between the policy-makers and the individuals in the society must be there to successfully control the virus spread – successful control not only in terms of the virus suppression but also economic and societal costs and benefits.

I fear that this trust is missing across the globe. I fear that this is the reason why 100s of thousands of people have died and are dying unnecessarily early deaths. I fear this is the reason why we experience the biggest GDP slump since the 2nd World War. I fear this is why we see – and will continue to see – the repeated waves of epidemics and hard lockdowns desperately trying to save the health system.

I fear that the discussion about this COVID19 covenant is still missing and, more than that, the governments – and private companies – are going down the route illustrated in this film.

Plant Health Week 2021

It is amazing how fast time flies; it seems like it is only a very short time period since we last celebrated the Plant Health Week of 2020. And yet, it is back this year and – given that this blog is not only about COVID-19 (however timely and interesting it is) – definitely worth a mention.

Last time I wrote five posts starting here and still strongly recommend those articles. Unfortunately, I will not be able to do this again this year, but instead, I want to recommend the British Society for Plant Pathology blog – I have been a member of the BSPP since 2003 and I have always valued their outreach. They have also generously supported several summer student projects with me.

And the picture above is of myself with my ICRISAT India colleagues, looking at field trials of plant diseases.

Herd immunity as a process not target

My take on herd immunity in the UK:


Rather than focusing on whether we reached 70%-80% of the population – and the UK is not there yet – it is more useful to think of herd immunity as a process of virus suppression and elimination.

Herd immunity: can the UK get there?

My earlier articles on herd immunity:

Mutating coronavirus: reaching herd immunity just got harder, but there is still hope

Herd immunity: why the figure is always a bit vague

and some other recent articles:

We may never achieve long-term global herd immunity for COVID. But if we’re all vaccinated, we’ll be safe from the worst

What If We Never Reach Herd Immunity?