We had better get used to managing bad news;- (thoughts on 64,500 excess deaths).

Over the past ten weeks the Government has played the statistics, firstly by excluding what was happening outside of hospitals and latterly by ignoring COVID related deaths.

But if you follow science, sooner or later science will turn round and ask that you fall in line with what is actually happening, rather than what you’d like your public to believe.

That time is now. And – according to plan- the point when we can look back on what happened in March, April and May, is from the relative safety of early June where we can congregate on beaches (but not in churches) to celebrate our survival.

Politely put

I do not think actuaries enjoy being rude. They use subtle nuance rather than plain speaking. This pair of tweets is about as close as the COVID-19 actuaries will get to criticising the Government’s use of data.

The definitions are important. In the early part of the pandemic, doctors were not always able to know whether a dying patient was infected. The infection may have brought on organ failure but it was the organ failure which was reported. But it was apparent from the excess deaths that COVID-19 was behind almost all of the black line, the higher hump.

And now we may have got to a point where we are seeing COVID-19 deaths not just bumping up mortality rates, but filling the trough created by an actual improvement in the underlying mortality statistics (something that the CMI has been reporting for years).

In the context of the glacial trends in improved mortality, the COVID-19 spike is such a stand out that we forget we living longer is still “business as usual” for most people.

A fearful blip on the way to a new normal

If these excess deaths become a blip in the CMI tables I will be pleased. It will mean that we have survived – perhaps with a second wave and a few ripples ahead.

But for those who have died or have now reduced life expectancy from the secondary’s of infection, COVID-19 being a blip is no consolation.

That is why I imagine Stuart McDonald keeps his tweet thread on excess deaths at the top of his twitter feed. Stuart’s argument is that a death is a death and that COVID-19 deprived someone of expected  life means that death was a personal disaster.

To live out ones days without fear, we will need to find either a means to keep ourselves alive (as we have to some extent with HIV) or a vaccine (as we have with smallpox).

Whichever occurs, there will undoubtedly be a way that society will adapt to the conditions imposed on it by the presence of COVID-19 and we will find a new normal.

And a new way to be governed?

It is clear that Government has not managed this crisis well. A lack of preparation, failures with testing and PPE, the neglect of care homes have led to a terrible outcome. 64,500 excess deaths may be the worst per capita outcome of any country in the world.

The one thing that the Government has managed well is the numbers – which they have managed to suppress for that period where they might have induced panic and explained, now we are over the worst. I say that fully aware that Durdle Door could become the symbol for an even worse wave than what we’ve just been hit by.

Screenshot 2020-06-01 at 05.32.44

The attempts of the press to take over the management of Government (which we saw most dramatically with Dominic Cummings) has been properly repelled by Downing Street , but big questions remain about our capacity to do things better next time around.

I suspect that in the coming months, the Government’s initial claim “to level with us” will be tested again and again. We have so far survived the brutal initial wave, though many of us are still recovering (including Boris Johnson). 64,500 of us are now dead who would otherwise be alive today and the Government will be held in part responsible. Johnson made his sole KPI to limit excess deaths and relative to other countries he has failed in that.

Now we will have to pay another price, we will have to pay for the furlough and for our lack of productivity these past months. We will have to pay more taxes and many of us will have less income from work. We will also have less in savings.

These grim realities will be delivered to us by the Chancellor and he will not be able to sugar coat the bitter pills for long. The management of recovery will impact everyone , not just those who were laid low. We had better get used to dealing with bad news.


The guy with the tough job


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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1 Response to We had better get used to managing bad news;- (thoughts on 64,500 excess deaths).

  1. John Mather says:

    Now add 3M passport holders from HK to the UK does this dilute the effect of the virus or increase the prospect of war in the South China Sea? Your right Henry, we need to think about the effect of the absence of Statesmen at the helm and the overworked department of the Minister of Truth

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