What is the risk of dying from Covid 19

It is hard to keep the risks of Covid 19 in perspective.

If you are of working age the risk of dying is 8.4 per 100,000.
There is variability within that number; women are at a lower risk, men at a higher. BAME seem to be at higher risk, as are all those with underlying conditions or those working in certain public-facing occupations. This means the risk to those not in higher-risk categories have a lower risk than that 8.4 per 100,000.

To give that some context…the risk of death from motor accidents is about 5 per 100,000 in each year.

But before we decide that we should relax the lockdown, bear in mind that the risk quoted above, could rise dramatically if we do not maintain a tight lockdown.

Oh and if you are over 65 years old, the risk is 286 per 100,000

Long term changes resulting from the epidemic

As I write this, it is mid April 2020 and we are about 5 weeks into the lock-down that has been the response to the epidemic caused by Covid 19.

Covid19 is the current epidemic, but some sort of pandemic was widely predicted for many years and then just ignored or wished away.
For vulnerable people of a certain age (me) it probably means a change of life style for years to come. But ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’   so maybe it will provide a tipping point for changes that are necessary but had previously been avoided. So this is partly about what I hope will come out of it and partly what I predict will inevitably be part of a trend.

These are in no particular order.

  1. Probity in Business
  2. Just In Time Operations v Resilience
  3. Cities
  4. Working from home
  5. Schooling/ Education
  6. Global Warming & Economics
  1. Probity in Business

The old corporate virtues of a reputation for probity and fairness will be re-established as a business’s greatest asset.  Companies that use sharp practice (however legal) to avoid paying a contribution to the society – taxes – in which they live and operate and on whom they depend, will not be acceptable.
Companies that pass down risk to their employees through such practices as ‘zero hours contracts’ or who avoid liability through small print exclusions that pass risk to their customers, will become very much less acceptable. 
Why should society/government bail them out if they are not contributing?

  • Reputation management will be on every board agenda.
  • Some over-powerful corporates will be broken up.

Just In Time Operations v Resilience

JIT operations management will become less important than Resilience. This will be a long term change in the corporate attitude to risk.
The difficult work of good operations management has always been a weakness in the UK economy, probably driven by a city that prefers to rely on top down re-organisations (mergers and acquisitions, then break up and asset stripping). 

  • A focus on risk management should be a key part of all business plans.
  • Changes to the supply chain management

Cities

Cities will lose their appeal.
If crowding people together is no longer safe and our tech infrastructure enables an alternative way of being, why would anybody want/need to be in a city?
In general the weaknesses of attempts at centralised control are being exposed.

  • This could have pricked the city property price bubble. A longer term decline might start here.
  • Distributed management systems will become the norm in business, government, and services such as the NHS.  Technology is again key to making these changes and it is wonderful to see everybody embracing as ‘normal’ the use of video conferencing; from an appointment with your GP to how Parliament is run.
  • The high street, in general, is in deep trouble.  Retail was only 7% on-line before Covid19 and will eventually go to the default method of buying things. The strategic question will be how companies are going to manage the change and specifically whether they want to be part of the Amazon juggernaut with the dangers of becoming permanently dependant, or whether they want the up-front cost of running their own systems.

Working from home

Working from home or from local business hubs is already becoming the new norm and I think it is unlikely that we will go back to the old systems of massive daily commutes that have blighted so many people’s lives. This is a substantial change with all sorts of implications.

  • Finally (and 20 years later than I expected) everybody is getting used to managing with employees working outside the main office.
  • However, managing a distributed work force requires a different business model to make it work properly. Everything from systems of remuneration to how to retain a ‘team spirit’.  Change is not easy.
  • All businesses will want/need a resilient IT platform in the Cloud, accessible from everywhere
  • As a country we will need to change our infrastructure priorities towards our IT infrastructure.  As a first step we need a programme to make 1Gb/sec internet connections available to 80% of the country – we can downgrade investments in 19th and 20th Century infrastructures of rail and roads which will become less important!
  • I suggest that everybody in EMC invests in Microsoft 365 and gets used to using their Teams structure. It is still somewhat clunky and not immediately intuitive, but it is being very widely adopted and has had a massive boost from the current lockdown. It will get better.

Schooling/ Education

Schooling is the last remaining ‘mass production’ enterprise and is long overdue for change. 
I can’t guess how it will change, but I am pretty sure it will be unrecognisable in 10 years’ time.
Educational games that teach the basics and test progress, will be part of the solution, leaving teachers free to do the important stuff of helping individuals when they are stuck.

  • Education is a massive sector of the economy that will need help adjusting

Economics and Global Warming

The Covid19 pandemic is a relatively simple dry run for the far more dangerous Global Warming.  It has clearly exposed the failure of ‘the market’ in allocating resources to long term problems that are ‘important’ but not immediately ‘urgent’. It is also similar in vividly demonstrating the need for some level of global co-operation which has so far been completely lacking in our response to Covid 19, especially when you compare it to the response in 2008 to a Global banking crisis.
The need to co-operate in a globally inter-connected world, are obvious, but are not reflected in our current economic system – I hope/expect there to be significant changes in the way we do economics as happened in the Bretton Woods agreement in the Post WW2 world.

  • GDP growth is a meaningless measure and even worse as an aspiration. We need to focus on the underlying issue of managing the local tax take needed to finance the changes and services we collectively need.
  • Overall demand in the economy will be significantly reduced for a long time as a result of the massive increase in debt right across the board.
  • The discussion of a Universal Income (or Universal Dividend as I prefer to call it as it is enabled by the historic collective investment we have made in society) will now become more relevant as a way to helicopter money into the economy to provide a fiscal stimulus. We already do this for about 1/3rd of the adult population – its called a pension, perhaps we can extend it to all parents as a next step and that might help resolve the obscenity of 1/3rd of all children growing up in relative poverty.
  • The extreme levels of inequality between neighbours is especially unsustainable in a world where ‘society’ has bailed out everybody.
  • Our response to Lockdown has been ‘heroic’ – how will we create a society ‘fit for heroes’ once the crisis is past its peak?

It is amazing how quickly humans, the world over, have adapted to ‘lockdown’. There will be many opportunities that the loosening of the ‘status quo’ offers to all the SME businesses that are flexible enough to ride the wave of change that is already here.

Covid-19 as of 10th April 2020

The following statistics spell out the impact of this virus as collated by http://ourworldindata.org .

This is what an exponential growth looks like:

And this is how we compare with other countries. Note that it is a LOG scale

I was surprised that the ‘normal death toll in the UK is about 580,000 people per year or just under 1,600 per day. (Also surprised that there are 16 suicides per day which is more than road accidents and drug misuse combines

Exclusive: universal credit linked to higher suicide risk, says study

Exclusive: universal credit linked to higher suicide risk, says study

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/nov/15/exclusive-new-study-links-universal-credit-to-increased-suicide-risk?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_WordPress

If it weren’t for the Brexit train wreck, the incompetent roll out of Universal credit which is costing lives, would be the story of the day. But now it is relegated to the back pages.

Draft Brexit Agreement

Now that the agreement has been finally published we all have the chance to form our own opinion as to its quality.

My preliminary view is that this deal is worse than staying in the EU, but then I am an ardent ‘Remainer‘ and I have seen no evidence that gives any grounds for thinking that my original assessment was wrong.

If you think the main drive for Brexit was protecting our boarders from foreigners coming to this country – then this deal delivers.

If you think that Brexit was about regaining control and national sovereignty, then you are missing the point of the global world in which we now live. The only question is ‘with whom are we going to share our sovereignty?’ Just ask yourself what control we have over our exchange rate in this world of instant trading – if you remember the ‘run on the Pound’ and the endless problems faced by a lone £ on its own, then you know that control is an illusion.

You can find copies of the full agreement here

The question of the EU

The debate is now on and in 100 days we have to make a decision that will have repercussions for at least the next 30 years.

Sovereignty

Lots of people are arguing over the issues of sovereignty. But I should declare my point of view – In an increasingly global world, it not a question of whether we should pool our sovereignty, it is only a question of with whom we should be collaborating?

Great Britain has just 1.3% of the world’s people but we still run the 5th largest economy (by gdp). We are disproportionately well represented in the institutions of the world which is a legacy of our days as an imperial power. None of these benefits are seen by the rest of the world as ‘the natural order of things’, and they are unlikely to help us to sustain them beyond the very near future.

Democratic Deficit

Some claim that there is a democratic deficit at the heart of Europe and that is grounds for leaving. It is True there is a democratic deficit which I deplore!

But that democratic deficit is not unique to Europe. There is a democratic deficit in our 2nd chamber the Lords, or in our eviscerated local government. The house of commons is the most centralised and powerful of all the governments of Europe and whenever we try to deliver democratic accountability, central government closes rank to prevent it on the grounds that it diminishes their power. There is no real political will to give democratic legitimacy to any European institutions. That is why the political establishment is unified in its hatred of ‘ever closer union’. How will it help if we are outside of the EU especially if Scotland and Northern Island end up seceding from the UK.

The Economy

One of the advantages of living longer is that you remember the past. I particularly remember the time when each new Labour election victory was met by a ‘run on the £’. The expectation of poor economic performance meant that the ‘hot money’ of the world’s financiers fled the UK, which in turn devalued the currency and caused the economic problems that they predicted. A vicious circle of self-fulfilling prophesy that impoverished people in the real world. Today that same hot money has been pumping up the UK property bubble to the extent that many people in the South East are now making more from the appreciation of their houses, than they are capable of earning in a full time job.

Once you see lunacy of that magnitude, it is clear that there are troubled times ahead. How should we manage these difficult time? Now is the time when we should be trying hard to make friends not enemies.

Stop the world I want to get off

There are some people who think that the troubles of the EU are the cause of instability rather than the effect. They argue that the EU is on a terminal trajectory towards self-destruction and we should get off the boat before it sinks.

The EU might well be in deep difficulties and I am of the opinion that the global economy is in a worse state than we think because the repercussions of the 2008 banking crisis are yet to work their way through the global economy. Economic dangers abound in all countries and the only bright spot is likely to be the economic stimulus we will derive form the collapse in Oil prices

But even if the EU is especially vulnerable, there are 2 questions we need to consider. If we are at a tipping point of economic Armageddon

1. Could the UK choosing to leave the EU be exactly the push needed to tip the collapse of the EU that we are scared of? There is a sever risk of contagion throughout the continent if we choose to leave.

2. Whether we are inside or outside the EU we will be very adversely affected by a wholesale collapse of the largest economic block in the world. How would being outside the EU protect us from the consequences?

There is some strength in numbers and despite being separated by different languages, our European shared history means that we still have more in common with the people of the EU than we do with the dictatorships of Russia and China or even the type of America being advocated by Donald Trump.

I prefer to face whatever this uncertain future may bring, on the inside of the EU contributing to changes that will help us to collectively navigate a dangerous world, than facing it on our own.

I am sure that if the tectonic plates of the world economy are about to be convulsed by one of its periodic earthquakes, we will be better off as a part of Europe than as the pariah trigger that set it off. An easy target for economic or military forces that may wish to pick us off.

Sometime science developments are so amazing that all you can do is laugh

It has been suggested that at the heart of humour and what makes us laugh, is the dissonance that sometimes arises between how we think the world works, and the actual practice.

Today I was walking along the sea front enjoying the unseasonably lovely weather and listening to a Pod Caste celebrating the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

The programme was explaining how we can now make atomic clocks of unprecedented accuracy by using lasers to cool the essential components to just a billionth of a degree above absolute zero. First you have to take on board the whole concept of using a laser to cool things down (one Nobel prize), then you have to think that a billionth of a degree above absolute zero makes it the coldest thing in the universe – even in deepest space the residual temperature from the big bang is 2 or 3 degrees above absolute zero. The assault on my expectations started to make me smile.

They then went on to explain that this was not some theoretical idea, it had actually been made and the clock can now record time to (I think) 10–15 seconds (that is 1/1,000,000,000,000,000 of a sec or an accuracy of 1 second in 31 million years).  Which you might think is amazing but of limited use!

But there is a strange effect predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of relativity. He predicted that a clock in orbit round earth  would tick at a different rate of an identical clock on the surface of the earth.  A hundred years ago this was impossible to measure which is why so many people doubted Einstein’s theories which were so contrary to ‘common sense’.

Now we have Satellite Navigation that depend on  satellites in just such an orbit and if they did not compensate for this Relativistic effect accurately, we might very well find ourselves driving the wrong way up a one-way street.  The function  of these SatNav satellites is dependant on the accuracy of their clocks which now get updated by these new super accurate clocks on Earth to increase their accuracy even further.

Just to add icing on the cake; these clocks are now so accurate that if you lift them just 5 meters you can ‘see’ the Relativistic  change in the rate of time passing, predicted by Einstein, reducing this scientific controversy of a very few years ago, to the level of established fact.

I know this isn’t a joke, but I find myself laughing out loud at the absurdity of such a miraculous achievement.

It is also a tribute to the stunning productivity of the scientific method described by Richard Feynman as:

make a guess devise an experiment to test an implication of the guess if the evidence of the experiment shows the guess to be wrong. Make another guess.

UK Health care in the run up to the 2015 election

1. Our expenditure on Health is 9.2% of GDP.
The USA spends 17.9% of its GDP for a health outcome that is not appreciably better (though substantially less equal).

2. In the future we will be able to do more to intervene against the depredations of ill health and old age, so we will inevitably want to spend a greater proportion of our GDP on staying healthy. After all, can you think of a better way of spending money than on being healthy?

3. Politicians need to recognise that the focus should be on good Operational Management of this massive enterprise. Unfortunately both labour and Conservatives have listened too well to their city advisors whose solution to all problems is a top down meddling. Mergers of companies, break up of companies are always being recommended, despite all the evidence that they both inevitably erode shareholder value. We only have to look at the introduction of competition to other natural monopolies like energy or transport; the consumer has not gained – in fact we now have to dedicated lots of time every year to making sure that we are not disadvantaged by their completely legal, but totally immoral business practices.
The fact that these advisors and bankers make large fees from their role in these games of musical chairs, obviously taints their advice.

Hoping that the introduction of a ‘competitive market’ within the Health service, will somehow magically solve the problems that are all too evident, is nonsense. It cannot deliver us from the necessity of doing the hard work to improve efficient Operations Management.
Also, the idea that GPs with years of training in medicine could suddenly be transformed into a managerial elite for the health service, or that it is even a sensible use of their valuable time, seems utterly cock eyed.

4. The concept that we take ‘health’ out of politics has a superficial appeal. But if politics is not about how we spend £1 out of every £10 and an issue that will affect every citizen in the country, it would be a tragic loss of democratic relevance.

Global warming and the power of change

In 1898, delegates from across the globe gathered in New York City for the world’s first international urban planning conference. One topic dominated the discussion. It was not housing, land use, economic development, or infrastructure. The delegates were driven to desperation by horse manure.

The situation seemed dire. In 1894, the Times of London estimated that by 1950 every street in the city would be buried nine feet deep in horse manure. One New York prognosticator of the 1890s concluded that by 1930 the horse droppings would rise to Manhattan’s third-story windows. A public health and sanitation crisis of almost unimaginable dimensions loomed.
And no possible solution could be devised

The solution turned out to be the Automobile. This was much more than just a technological fix,  it also transformed the way we worked and lived, it arguably assisted in the democratisation of the word and played its part in a new era of prosperity in the Western world.

Today we are faced with a similar dilemma with Climate change.  We know that it is a pending disaster and it is on such a colossal scale that our individually puny efforts seem completely inadequate to form even a part of the solution.

Given the speed of technologic development that we are seeing today, it is very likely that the next 50 years will see more technology driven change than has occurred in the last 250 years since the beginning of the industrial revolution. It only takes a few moments of imagination to see how society has been transformed in that time, and the potential capacity to use that change to both solve the global warming problem in the long term and mitigate its effect in the short term.

Just imagine for a moment what the world might look like if we had an internet running at 1Tbps speeds instead of the current 24Mbps that is the norm.  We would immediately stop worrying about new airport runways, high speed trains, extra bypasses and focus on the requirements of the 21century’s infrastructure.  It would significantly reduce the amount of travelling that we do, and at the same time transform the way we work, educate, manage our health and socialise. And that is just one strand of the transformations we are likely to see. New materials that transform the thermal efficiency of our buildings, generate power, light our environments and enable us to grow foods, all have transformative power.

Just as the rise of the car eventually resolved the horse manure problem, so new developments can resolve the climate change problem.  But it will not happen automatically, it will be the result of a concerted effort by all of us to ensure that the political and economic environment is conducive to those changes that will help. Nor will it be an unalloyed benefit – dangers and disadvantages abound. The question of how and who makes the right choices at all levels should worry us all.

It is here that I am most concerned.  A recent survey discovered that the level of scientific literacy both here in the UK and in America is below 24% (and the bar to qualify as scientifically literate was already worryingly low!!). In America no politician who want to win an election can admit to believing the Darwinian explanation for our very existence.  The forces of conservatism both traditional and modern, are building in strength and risk choking off the best chances we have of evolving society into something more sustainable. There is a long tradition of vested interests strangling scientific progress in order to preserve their self serving status quo.

Our job as citizens is to give change a chance and be engaged in the battle.