Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Second COVID Anniversary / Follow-up: Various

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We are not quite at the second year anniversary of my first text on COVID (COVID-19 reactions doing more harm than good?), but I might as well get it out of the way, especially as it ties in with some recent texts on my personal situation.

To begin, I will simply quote a portion of last year’s anniversary text:

[…] that the risks of isolation are severe and that the damage to the economy outweighed any gains from the lock-downs. Above all, perhaps, that politicians do not act in a reasonable and reasoned manner, based on scientific evidence (and a reasonable evaluation of such) and a holistic view that takes side-effects and opportunity costs into consideration. Even were the countermeasures justified and beneficial, which seems even less plausible today than back then, they do not constitute good decision-making but, on the outside, luck with pinning the tail on the COVID-donkey.

Another year in, and with reservations for very recent developments, this holds even more strongly now than it did back then—another year of abject failure, of propaganda posing as science, of unnecessary economic damage, whatnot.

The second year has certainly been far harder on me, personally, than the first, for reasons like growing frustration with and anger at governmental malpractice and disgusting propaganda (cf. below), my reduced ability to escape construction noise, the harsher shutdowns, etc., etc. Note e.g. that it has been roughly a year-and-a-half since I last visited a restaurant or even a cafe, that a visit to my father that was planned for the summer of 2020 has been delayed by almost two years (and counting),* that the limited opportunities to do something in town have reduced my motivation to leave the house, in turn reducing both my amount of exercise and my exposure to sunshine.

*Note that we live in different countries.

A few recent articles, e.g. The Nudge: Ethically Dubious and Ineffective from the Brownstone Institute, have dealt with the topic of “nudging”—a grossly unethical and destructive attempt by various governments to impose the ‘right” opinions on the population. (And the source of many inexcusable claims, e.g. the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” bullshit.) It is not the job of the government to govern the opinions of the people—the government is to be governed by the opinions of the people.* If not, we do not have a democracy. Worse, if those in power can dictate what opinions others should have, then we risk a further cementing of opinion corridors, with the associated loss of science, progress, free debate, whatnot.

*Which is not to say that a government, even in a democracy, should flail about like a weathervane as the whims of the public change. However, there must be a clear mentality of the politicians being the servants of the people, not its masters.

Indeed, in my previous anniversary text, I also wrote:

Worse, and something that I might have failed to predict or deduce, is an amount of misinformation which goes beyond what reasonable could arise, even taking the understandable early lack of knowledge into account. This might be sheer incompetence, but I cannot deny a very strong suspicion that politicians have deliberately lied in order to get the people to do what the politicians wanted. (Remember that slowly boiling frog?) For instance, few would go to the barricades over “two weeks to flatten the curve”, but very many would have over “it will be months and months and no end in sight, even a year later”.

This, too, has been supported by the subsequent events. (And while the end might be in sight this time, “a year” has been superseded by “two years”.)

A particular sub-issue is how this type of “nudging” and other manipulation is often based on the assumption of a complete idiot at the other end—as with much of advertising and “public relations” work. Maybe, the idiots are fooled, but what about those who are intelligent, think critically and for themselves, want actual scientific evidence,* etc.?

*As opposed not just to sloganeering but also to empty claims of scientific evidence.

Chances are that they will not only remain sceptical, but that they will grow more sceptical due to the cheap and intellectually dishonest argumentation. Indeed, in many cases, they might even be infuriated (as I have often been) by some of the manipulation attempts. Shaming attempts is something that I consider particularly offensive and particularly unconvincing—I viewed them as nonsensical and insulting even as a child. That I have to endure them as an adult is inexcusable. (The more so, as the ones attempting the shaming are usually of far lesser intelligence and insight.)

Indeed, I repeat my observation that publicity work is often directed at claiming the exact opposite of the truth. (Presumably, in the belief that “fixing” public opinion is easier and/or cheaper than fixing the actual problem.) Often, the claims are the louder and the more transparent the more severe the problem. For instance, among my recent mail, I have several claims from my health insurer (HUK Coburg) that I would receive terrific service and value for my money, winning over the entire line—but, in reality, this company is a fucking travesty, rent seekers protected by governmental coercion of customers, delivering over-expensive, low-value products, sometimes crossing the border to what I would consider criminal behavior, and showing horrifying signs of incompetence, to the point that even a notification that I have moved has overtaxed them.* But what happens when I am told that I am lucky to have the honor of being a customer? Do I go from severely dissatisfied to happy? Hell no! I am insulted, I grow angry, and I become even more dissatisfied. It is the same thing with the misleading government propaganda, which ignores facts and arguments in favor of assertion, emotional manipulation, and shaming attempts—I am insulted, I grow angry, and I become even more sceptical to the next thing that the government claims.

*I am still a “health” customer only because switching health insurers is tricky. A number of other policies that I once had with the same company are long terminated.

Moreover, the reactions of various groups, notably governments, seem more directed at stomping out dissent than at achieving something real. The point is not whether lockdowns, masks, vaccines work and/or are harmless—the point is that “we said so and you have to conform”. The point is not whether someone without a mask risks his own or someone else’s health—the point is that someone without a mask defies the will of the government. (Cf. similar problems with e.g. far-Left hate-mongering in various countries. Note how far too many issues, especially involving the Left, have turned into quasi-religious crusades, where emotions, unfounded and superficial beliefs, and “personal truth” rule, while facts, arguments, and actual truth are ignored or even condemned.)

Looking back at some of my own early COVID-texts, they would often have gone even further, had I known back then what I know today. No, I am not talking about COVID-specific developments, but of more generic medical and epidemiological knowledge. For instance, I did not have a clear understanding of the difference between being infected and being a “case” resp. the “infection fatality rate” and the “case fatality rate”. (Then again, neither media nor politicians seemed to have such an understanding either.) For instance, there have been many claims made by e.g. various governments that seemed at least potentially plausible to me at the time, but are not so from a more informed point of view. The likely most notable example is the idea that COVID could be more-or-less exterminated even after a non-trivial international spread had already taken place and despite the high infectiousness. As the weeks went by, it became clear to me that this would not happen, but it should have been clear much earlier, possibly even at the time of my first text.

(Indeed, even in the early days, there were experts, e.g. immunologists, who clearly said that this or that is unlikely to work, violates prior practices, whatnot. They were ignored or condemned back then—but two years of experiences have proved them right.)

A particularly interesting case is the variations of “two weeks to flatten the curve”: I was sceptical from the beginning, because an exponential curve which is temporarily restrained would not be permanently flattened—once the flattening measures were removed, it would come roaring back. (In other words, it is less of a flattening and more of a postponement.) But let us call it “two weeks to give society and the healthcare system time to adapt”, which seemed somewhat plausible to me. Looking back, this adaption does not seem to have brought much and, if anything, it would have been better to flatten the curve when it had already grown steeper. Instead, I very strongly suspect, the “two weeks” were never about flattening or postponing anything—they were a matter of getting a foot in the door, so that two weeks could grow to four, eight, sixteen, whatnot weeks, while the frog boiled. Indeed, only after almost two years do the lockdowns and other overreaching countermeasures seem (knock on wood) to be on the way out.

Overlapping, there is one area where I am torn on whether I made a major error in prediction (most of the time, I have been right, even with the burden of some early medical naivete):

In a text from March 2020, I say:

The last (2020-03-30) data for Germany above has 57,298 cases and 455 deaths. The corresponding (yearly) numbers for influenza regularly go into the millions and the thousands, respectively—in Germany alone. It is not a given that COVID-19 will reach even that level—and it is outright unlikely that the numbers will be an order higher.

Official statistics at the moment have many millions of infections* and well above a hundred thousand dead**. At the two year mark, it is unfair to compare with a single (regular) influenza season, but it seems fair to say that the (regular) influenza numbers have been exceeded. (While still being well short of a truly severe influenza outbreak, notably the “Spanish Flu”.) When it comes to “an order higher”, things grow complicated (cf. footnotes and note that the influenza often has similar problems). For a comparison, look at German Wikipedia and the 2017/2018 flu season, which was an unusually bad year (but did not break through to Spanish-Flu levels):

*Not cases. This includes those who have tested positive but do not display enough symptoms to be considered cases. Chances are that I misused “case” in the original quote, however. Of course, the number also excludes those who were infected (or even cases) without being tested. I make great reservations for the use of the widely discredited PCR test, which is highly prone to false positives (at least, as used to test for COVID).

**But note that a poor separation between “died with” and “died from” could make this number misleading.

Das Robert Koch-Institut schätzt die Zahl der Toten durch Influenza in jener Saison in Deutschland jedoch insgesamt auf 25.100

(The Robert Koch-Institut estimates 25.100 deaths through influenza in that season in Germany)

We can see (a) that COVID is not astronomical worse than the 2017/18 flu (but might be for some lesser year), (b) that speaking of an order more in terms of deaths* might be justifiable when we look at the COVID epidemic in its entirety. We might be around a factor 5 at the moment, which is short of the roughly 10 usually used, but, logarithmically, we are closer to 10 than to 1 and COVID is still ongoing.**

*But not necessarily cases or infections. I see no good numbers on the linked-to page, but influenza is typically less deadly, which makes it likely that the difference (relative the difference in deaths) is considerably smaller.

**Order (of magnitude) is a somewhat vague concept and the focus on factors of 10 is a consequence of the number system used, with no “higher” meaning. The limits between them is similarly vague, but I often think in terms of the square-root of 10 or approx. 3.16, i.e. that the “range” of 10 is 3.16 to 31.6, the range of 100 is 31.6 to 316, etc. Above, 5 > 3.16 and therefore in the range of 10, not the range of 1 (i.e. 0.316 to 3.16). (However, chances are that I used a more simplistic 10-vs-1 thinking when writing the quoted text.)

On the other hand, if we look at comparable waves, e.g. the flu of 2017/18 against the original COVID, Delta, or Omicron, a different situation might apply—and the question arises, which comparison is the most fair. (To which I have no good answer or would answer “it depends”.) This is also where my original naivete plays in, in that I thought too much of COVID as one season or wave, which would run its course and then disappear—possibly, for the duration; possibly, until next year. This season or wave might well have been considerably longer than a flu season, but would not have lasted for years. Here I was, in part, too influenced by what I knew about the flu, in part, too influenced by the official propaganda of “if we lock down and wear masks, we can exterminate COVID”, which, of course, turned out to be complete bullshit.

Written by michaeleriksson

March 3, 2022 at 11:00 am

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  1. […] yesterday’s anniversary text ([1]), I left out a few points around vaccines that I had planned to […]


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