The views expressed below are my own, and I’m not speaking in any official capacity.

Many of you know I’m a meteorologist. What you may not know is that my particular job role is ‘Civil Contingency Advisor’. What that means is that for my region of England, I’m responsible for engaging with what we call ‘Local Resilience Forums’ to communicate effectively, the risks associated with severe weather which is expected to impact in the coming days/weeks.

The Local Resilience Forums are made up of all responding organisations at a local government level (Fire, Police, Health, Military, Environment Agency, Meteorological Office, Mountain Rescue, Utility Companies, Voluntary Organisations). It’s a mixture of government bodies, charities and private sector organisations. The purpose  ? To prepare/plan/exercise for all scenarios on the National Risk Register and fulfil obligations under the Civil Contingencies Act. In other words, to make sure that in a disaster/emergency, all of the people who have to respond have prepared for it, and are able to respond effectively – talking to each other in an open and responsible way. We need to know each others abilities, what we can all do to help in such a response.

Pandemic Flu has long been number 1 on the UK’s National Risk Register.

First things first. The UK has a population somewhere in the region of 66-67 million. London is a mega-city with a population of around 10 million. Our flu season typically runs from Autumn to Spring (ending in March), and results in an average 17,000 fatalities.

Our flu season had all but ended as Covid-19 arrived. Our annual loss due to flu was pretty much over. Anyone with flu-like symptoms from that point onwards was, more than likely, suffering from Coronavirus.

Our ‘official’ death toll due to Covid-19 is close to 35,000. Our excess deaths (difference from the average) is at least 50,000 (during the 2-3 months since the virus arrived). It appears from early statistics that around 10% of the population may have been exposed to the virus, leaving 90% vulnerable. Like everywhere else, the deaths are highly concentrated amongst the over 70’s, and those with pre-existing health conditions. Despite that, we’ve lost dozens, possibly hundreds of apparently fit and healthy frontline workers/doctors/nurses/medical staff/bus drivers, as well as children and babies. I’ve lost 2 relatives and know many who got very, very ill, and are now experiencing health problems. There are so many tragic stories… – Look at the faces – they are not all old – Young people also dying

Anyway, these are just a tiny fraction of those 50,000 sad stories. The point is this – what choice did our government have ? We were told by the modellers that if we locked down quickly a death toll of 20,000 would be a good outcome. In other words, the only way to keep the number of deaths similar to a flu season (bearing in mind that we had just come out of flu season) would be to lock down immediately and prevent transmission. At that point, everyone who had the illness was passing it onto 3 others. The ‘r’ rate was 3. That meant that if we had 100,000 infected, that would become 400,000 (The original 100,000 plus another 300,000), then 1.6 million (400,000 plus another 1.2 million), then 4.8 million… you get the idea. That’s just simple mathematics and how virus spread works. We needed to get the reproduction rate (the ‘r’ number) below 1, and fast. The virus was already present across the entire country.

As it turned out, we couldn’t manage to achieve the better outcome of 20,000 dead, but we did slow it down enough to prevent the hospital system from becoming overwhelmed and collapsing. The death toll is likely past 50,000, but the ‘r’ number is below 1, meaning the case numbers are going down, not up. Here’s a graph (2 weeks old now) which gives an idea of where we were at with Covid-19 deaths in the UK…

Addressing the ‘conspiracy theory’ that all deaths are being recorded as Covid – categorically not true. If this was flu season, I’d be concerned that flu deaths and Covid deaths were getting ‘combined’ and it may be unclear whether it was a flu death or a Covid death. As it is, there is very little circulating in the UK population at the moment that would cause 50,000+ excess deaths other than Covid. In fact it’s more likely that many cases that WERE Covid didn’t get recorded as such. My wifes Uncle for example, was one of the first who died in his retirement/care home. Tests weren’t available, more died, and they weren’t recorded as Covid. They may experience 1 death on average, in an 8 week period, probably less, but 16 died ! The later casualties were tested and it was found to be an outbreak of Covid-19.

So any incorrect recordings of death by Covid-19 that weren’t, are in my view, more than balanced by Covid deaths that weren’t recorded as such. Overall, I think the ‘numbers’, whilst not perfect, are not adversely manipulated or false as some claim.

The decision to lockdown, in the face of a virus which had killed thousands very quickly in Italy and overwhelmed the health system seems to me, to have been the right one in the UK. In countries where the virus is concentrated in very specific areas/cities, a more nuanced approach may have been possible, but that is up to each jurisdiction to decide. Here in the UK, the 50,000 fatalities would easily have been 200,000-500,000 if the r rate was allowed to remain at 3. That would be totally unacceptable. It would’ve meant bodies piling up in the street, literally.

So the easy decision is behind us. I agree, the damage the lockdown is doing is enormous and it’s going to have huge consequences. Here in the UK, government has been paying 80% of workers wages, so that employers don’t need to fire them. The hard bit, is what comes next. Lockdowns are being eased, and the r number is being monitored (currently between 0.7 and 1 for much of the country). The government is tapering the payments to employees over the next few months, so at some point the decision will have to be made to either keep them on, and let them go back to work, or (if business has dried up), to fire them.

I just pray that we don’t have a repeat of the Spanish Flu (a second wave, much deadlier than the first). No vaccine is likely before the Northern Hemisphere Winter arrives, and no combination of drug therapies has been found that works for everyone – there are many claimed miraculous therapies on the internet – if they work (as claimed), we have little to worry about, so we’ll see about that. Here, our healthcare is free, so readily available, licensed drugs would be made available to everyone free of charge. If such a combination treatment exists we can rest easy.

Flu season will arrive as usual at the end of this year. If we get a resurgence of Covid-19, the threat to society will be far, far worse than anything we’ve seen in the last few months…