Putting the pandemic in perspective

The spiked team on the dangerous overreaction to Covid-19.

Has the government succumbed to panic over coronavirus? How did this health emergency become a political crisis? Can the economy survive a long-term lockdown?

Brendan O’Neill, Ella Whelan, Fraser Myers and special guest Norman Lewis discuss all this and more on this week’s spiked podcast.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Gerard L

22nd March 2020 at 10:15 pm

This is without doubt one of the most disappointing, wrong headed, callous and ignorant podcasts I’ve had the misfortune of listening to in ages.

The total lack of understanding on display with the speakers is astonishing to behold.

Each and every one of the people in this podcast will live to regret being stupid enough to take part.

alan smithee

23rd March 2020 at 4:18 am

It’s unbelievable but are we surprised?

Kent Willumsen

23rd March 2020 at 2:54 pm

Agree, Spiked should stick to free speech issues, which they are good at.
However their science and maths skills leave a lot to be desired.

Lyn Keay

22nd March 2020 at 4:22 pm

Excellent discussion from Brendan and Norman about the social panic around this health crisis. However, I had to listen too it twice and go an do a serious weekend of reading about the science to come to that conclusion. Because, like some of the contributors here, Ella Whelan and the Dutch scientists she mentions I was concerned that this disease was worse that it is. Spiked used to have excellent science commentators but they seem to be elsewhere at the moment.

On the science. Norman Lewis makes a mistake when he says this is a more severe form of flu. If it was just him that was making this mistake, it would not be a problem. However, the government’s advisers are basing their current advice on modelling from flu. While Covid-19 is more deadly than influenza it is importantly LESS easily transmitted between people. With flu casual transmission on fleeting social contact is quite common. With this virus it is quite rare, you seem to have to have either close or prolonged contact with someone to catch it. How do I know this? Because, if it was not true the virus would not have been contained in Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan or China outside Hubai. The main way that these countries are containing the virus is by contact tracing, testing and voluntary self-isolation.

Our government seems to have given up on contact tracing once they realised, they we getting unknown transmission from Europe. However, South Korea has not given up on this and is bringing their health crisis under control despite one of their earlier cases being as super spreader. Robert Walker at science20.org has an excellent article on how this could be applied in the UK.

These Asian countries have the advantage of being more prepared and knowledgeable about coronavirus than we are because of SARS. They are more dynamic and adaptable and don’t seem to have succumbed to the doomsday fears of western societies. We should be learning from then on how to combat this heath crisis and also on how to be more grown up about the risks we face. I’d like to see what spiked’s Hong Kong correspondent has to say on the subject.

Lyn Keay

22nd March 2020 at 5:12 pm

PS. Large scale contract tracing requires a contact management database & people who know how to use phones e.g. a call center. Neither technology are in short supply in this country. So why aren’t we doing it?

Kent Willumsen

23rd March 2020 at 2:51 pm

Spot on!!!


22nd March 2020 at 12:07 pm

Brendan O’Neill hates experts. BON would rather listen to BON than some stupid epidemiologist with years of subject-specific training and expertise.

alan smithee

23rd March 2020 at 4:19 am

I agree completely. This is irresponsible ‘journalism’ at best.

alan smithee

22nd March 2020 at 11:46 am

Same old Spiked. Disgraceful really, especially the recent articles on Italy. Yesterday’s death toll in Italy was 800. Wake up.

Kent Willumsen

22nd March 2020 at 11:03 am

The Spiked crew will be looking stupid within one month from now.
The cases double every 3 days hence number of infected 10 doubles around every 10 days.
The real worry is the mortality follows the same trajectory.
As-of today 21/3 we have 233 deaths. 31/3 10 days later there will be 2,000+ deaths.
Another 10 days on 10/4 we will have around 10,000 deaths.
I do hope I’m wrong, but this is not about medical expertise but simple maths.
If any of you from the Spiked crew reads the comments here, please feel free to contact me in 20 days time and “say sorry we were wrong”.

alan smithee

22nd March 2020 at 5:34 pm

Some idiot on here said there were only 50 deaths, it’s nearly 300 now

David Morris

22nd March 2020 at 6:10 pm

I think he meant deaths today, not deaths in total.

Marvin Jones

22nd March 2020 at 10:38 am

This really is a dilemma. Boris and his cohorts, though I would never vote for the other lot who hate everything about this country, Corbyn and his terrorist loving morons, stuck their heads in a dark place, hoping when they emerged it would all have gone away, instead preparing for the worst by opening the hospitals, A&Es and wards they shut since coming to power. Now we must hope for survival because of their indecisiveness. Scrap the foreign aid waste now! and stop the flood of illegal migrants from France NOW!

John Pretty

21st March 2020 at 11:33 pm

“Putting the pandemic in perspective”

I wish somebody would. 56 dead today in a country of 66,000,000 people.

You do realise just how tiny these numbers are don’t you?

The whole world is overdosing on virus fear porn.

James Conner

22nd March 2020 at 4:47 am

Yeah. It’s pathetic. But don’t worry, those figures are set to rise to something a bit more impressive. Italy, with a similar population to the UK has now seen almost 5,000 die. This time next week that could easily reach 10,000. Italy’s first death occurred exactly one month ago. What do you think it might be a month from now? If you aren’t concerned, then you don’t have a brain.

alan smithee

22nd March 2020 at 5:35 pm

Are you that thick?! It’s nearly 300.

David Morris

23rd March 2020 at 6:23 am

He said deaths TODAY! Can’t you read?

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Rob Newman

21st March 2020 at 6:36 pm

This was a disappointing podcast.Especially Norman Lewis, who only emboldened Brendan’s desire to push out rather contrary thoughts – albeit a lot in the past I have sided with…. Look, I love Spiked, but this was out of whack. At times woefully ill-informed, and Norman saying ‘it’s just a bad flu’ was absurd. If no action was taken there would be tens of millions of global deaths. Added to those from the virus, would be deaths caused by overstretched hospitals and lack of care. I don’t know what the best plan of action is at this stage, with countries so unprepared, but really, Spiked,. It’s easy just to sit in your pod and heartily agree with one another while not proposing any other option and down-grading the potential threat. If you want to say ‘let the chips fall where they may’ then so be it. Let all that succumb to it, succumb to it – fine …. But even if that was to happen, this is a virus that we know little about, particularly its long term effects on mild to severe patients who are not initially killed by it. I think Ella had a more reasoned and nuanced view, but didn’t seem to want to challenge Norman. Sometimes your communal nodding heads do not lead your arguments anywhere. You rally against the elites, but frankly, the working class will be buggered by this, any which way. So…. I dunno. I’m not saying anything, I guess. It was just depressing to hear Norman on a few of his soundbites. Thought he was better than that, too.

Dave Daversom

22nd March 2020 at 11:46 am

Came here to say practically the same thing – what a smug disappointment of an episode. The points about TB, Flu and the previous pandemics were particularly incoherent.

Ava Tar

21st March 2020 at 6:24 pm

That was disappointing as no one made a single suggestion about exactly what the country should be doing. They said the media was scaremongering to make the response more severe than it should be; but they also were scaremongering about the impact on our economy without saying how the pandemic should be dealt with in order to alleviate severe economic repercussions.

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DANIEL Williams

21st March 2020 at 4:50 pm

This isn’t an overhyped healthcare panic. Yes, flu kills around 8,000 per year in the UK. But how many cases of flu happen during a week? Maybe a 5,000 per week ?

The problem with COVID-19 is that potentially HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS in a population might be infected at any one time, and the stats show that around 5% of those will need ITU +/- ventilation, which is way beyond our current capacity. If we don’t introduce these draconian measures then don’t be surprised when ventilators are only being kept for people younger than 35 with a clean medical history. State power is sometimes necessary in these hard times.

jan mozelewski

21st March 2020 at 7:41 pm

The stats show nothing of the kind. We do not know how many people are affected by this but display few or no symptoms.
Today I saw a whole raft of ‘experts’ from various (crap) universities. They acknowledged that there were probably hundreds of thousands to millions of un-diagnosed cases. They then proceeded to extrapolate how many people would be hospitalised and die of this. And they based this on the number of people who had died out of the cases so far notified. Then they did the maths.
This is of course barmy. You can’t work out a death-rate if you don’t know the numbers infected. You most CERTAINLY can’t use a death-rate based on an extremely narrow sample (non-serious cases are told to self-isolate and not even tested) and then apply that to a wider sample which includes the cases that are so mild or asymptomatic that the infected person remains unaware that they have had it at all. (The medical officers of several countries now guesstimate that this is between 30 and 60%)

Lyn Keay

22nd March 2020 at 4:40 pm

You can get a pretty good estimate of the death rates by looking at countries where the heath crisis is more advanced. These turn out to be about 1% in countries where the health system is not overun and about 4% where it is.

The two ways you estimate are using Deaths/Total Cases and Death/Closed Cases. The first underestimates (open cases can still die), the second overestimates (deaths happen quicker than recoveries) but over time these 2 estimates converge. Tomas Pueyo has a reasonable guide to the maths on medium.com. Though don’t be taken in by the case he is making.

Ven Oods

21st March 2020 at 9:00 pm

I’m glad you put ‘hundreds of thousands’ in CAPITALS, otherwise I might not have grasped what you meant to emphasise.
Your point may be reasonable, but the jury’s still out on this one. What seems to be the case is that governments worldwide are reacting to what they perceive as ‘currently expedient’, given the level of panic that the media coverage has produced.
If we emerge from this thing with a sense that it was overhyped, but that the world’s economies have taken a huge hit, I would imagine that it will be the very poorest that will bear the worst of the brunt, despite having had the least influence on events.

Walter Braun

21st March 2020 at 10:58 am

Dear Brendan,
a point which has not been addressed but which might warrant a podcast of its own: what if the world has become too complicated? What if the recent trend towards authoritarianism is a subconscious reaction to rapid change,to technologies and scientific insights beyond what most can easily digest? Perhaps this might also explain the recent hatred of experts – makes some people feel small and insignificant because they can’t follow the argument?
Anyways, excellent podcast, thanks!

Stef Steer

21st March 2020 at 9:43 am

I think spiked have this wrong, right now. There is uncertainty over the numbers, over the number who will get infected, how many will die and indeed there is uncertainty over treatment, testing and eventually vaccination.

I hate liberties being curtailed and I hate the idea of the economy taking a hit especially as personally speaking I have already been out of work for 2 months but I think we have to see where we are in a month or so.

If by then cases are going down and we have enough ventilators and we capacity to test and know how best to treat, then having a lock down at that point starts to become untenable but right now I think it is the right thing to do.

What will need to be kept an eye on is has legislation taking liberties or govt or quango’s or whatever made a power grab during this that has not been given up at the end of it.

Also yes of course the elite will point to this in the future and tell us that we need the same kind of thing for climate change or whatever, but people aren’t stupid and won’t even begin to accept these kind of measures for such a far off unproven nebulous threat.

Tony Benn

21st March 2020 at 8:30 am

At last a sensible discussion on the novel Corona Virus!

The govt and all other govts in the EU clearly new this wasn’t a serious health risk when they kept the border with China open for months. They knew it when they allowed sporting events to continue after the first cases came to the UK. They know it’s not serious now when they’ve ruined many kids’ chances of going to university by cancelling exams as they give the order to bail out the companies who are going to go under because they’ve folded to media pressure and decided to make businesses shut their doors.

There is no “epidemic” by any definition of the word, why are we panicking?

alan smithee

22nd March 2020 at 11:47 am

It’s a pandemic. Yeah let’s all go for walks like they did in Italy. Yesterday’s death toll in Italy was 800. Wake up.

James Conner

21st March 2020 at 4:22 am

This podcast would have been more interesting if the contributors were speaking from hospital beds, hooked up to ventilators (if they can find one) and gasping for their last breaths.

Steve Roberts

20th March 2020 at 9:15 pm

Excellent comments from all these guys, in a created social crisis much is exposed, the world will not be the same after all this, in periods like this, defining moments, leadership is required, political leadership and bravery are needed because there is a Tsunami of conformity and authoritarianism emerging ,of which ordinary folk will pay the price, we have to resist it now, most people reflect afterwards, from political protagonists the latter smells of cowardice, the former is leadership
Thank you Spiked guys.

James Knight

20th March 2020 at 7:57 pm

When doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Ven Oods

21st March 2020 at 6:17 pm

That’s what my missus tells me every time she thrashes me to within an inch of my life.
(Looking on the bright side, people are paying top money for that sort of thing in Soho.)

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