Coronavirus is a well understood disease.* There are international strategies in place for meeting the challenges which are presented. Covid-19 is a novel sub-species of a well known disease. Public ignorance, fuelled by governments, has given it lethal qualities which, whilst real, aren’t unprecedented. Only Sweden and Brazil have resisted a GroupThink reaction. Pandemics are an audit of the health of a community. British Covid-19 deaths demonstrate that some citizens are almost preordained to suffer severe or fatal outcomes. This is because of their underlying health issues and the fragility of the health system. Proactive health policies would save lives and money and combat the fear and misery of this, and future, pandemics.
Tobacco and Alcohol
“Almost six million people die from tobacco use and 2.5 million from harmful use of alcohol each year worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports.”
Tobacco causes 77,800 British deaths annually. Alcohol’s negative impact is 6,000 deaths plus a large number of consequential deaths and social evils**. Two legal drugs account for a minimum of 230 British deaths every day of every year. In 38 days, 9th May – 16th June 2020, Covid-19 deaths have been below the daily average for the combined totals of tobacco and alcohol. These deaths are endorsed by government and are taxed and regulated. They reduce the health profile of the country, guaranteeing additional death during a pandemic.
“Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, and is responsible for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018…. Around one third of deaths from cancer are due to the 5 leading behavioural and dietary risks..”***
Cancer causes 164,901 British deaths annually, many from life style outcomes. Taxation reduces consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Those foods which are sodden with salt and sugar should also be taxed. Taxation is necessary if there is no political will to ban them altogether. Lethal consumer products need a pricing disincentive. Government policy can actively promote life style changes which would pay for itself in reduced hospital costs and higher productivity. If the daily British bulletin included deaths from cancer, that figure was only exceeded by Covid-19 on 24 days, 31st March – 23rd April 2020, at the height of the pandemic.**** Reducing the incidence of cancer would not only save people from untold misery but protect them against viral infections.
“In the 2016 to 2017 British winter period, there were an estimated 34,300 excess winter deaths…”*****
There wasn’t any government action. The narrative arc is crystal clear: badly maintained houses with inadequate heating are a lethal risk for the elderly poor. State intervention would immediately save thousands of lives every time Britain has a severe winter. To contextualise this, Italy has had 34,405 Covid-19 deaths and locked down the country because it’s a catastrophe. In the winter of 2016-7 Britain had 34,300 deaths from hypothermia and it was shrugged it off as ‘one of those things’. That’s 105 deaths fewer than the Italian catastrophe. Elderly poor people suffer inordinately, which combined with their frailty, increases the lethal intensity of Covid-19.
Pandemics are an audit on a nation’s health and health services. Governments with health policies promote healthy living with targeted interventions. Most pandemic victims are victims because of their age, underlying health status and their governments’ health service. In Britain, the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has underlined health inequalities, making thousands of deaths inevitable. Britain’s catastrophe is a result of a vulnerable population and years of poor policy decisions.
* Ebola caused panic because it wasn’t well understood unlike Covid-19
** Drunk driving, brawls, domestic abuse
*** https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cancer If Britain meets the WHO statistical profile then Britain has 54,967 life style deaths from cancer annually.
**** 452 deaths daily
For the massive variations in statistical predictions see https://reason.com/2020/03/27/no-british-epidemiologist-neil-ferguson-has-not-drastically-downgraded-his-worst-case-projection-of-covid-19-deaths/
For tobacco related deaths see https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/statistics-on-smoking/statistics-on-smoking-england-2019/part-1-smoking-related-ill-health-and-mortality and alcohol https://digital.nhs.uk/news-and-events/news/around-360000-admissions-to-hospital-as-a-result-of-alcohol-in-2018-19
For WHO global statistics see https://drugfree.org/learn/drug-and-alcohol-news/who-report-smoking-and-drinking-cause-millions-of-deaths-worldwide/
For daily Covid-19 deaths see https://www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/statistical-work-areas/covid-19-daily-deaths/ [accessed 16th June 2020]
For daily deaths from cancer see https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/mortality [accessed 16th June 2020]
For deaths caused by life style see https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/11/01/unhealthy-lifestyles-fuel-50-per-cent-rise-uk-deaths-liver-cancer/
For deaths from hypothermia in UK see https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/22/hypothermia-why-most-deaths-preventable-weatherwatch See also https://jech.bmj.com/content/57/10/784.full for a detailed discussion
For European deaths up to 17th June 2020 see https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases
For the 1968-9 Hong Kong flu pandemic which killed about 80,000 British people see https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/uk/history-of-major-virus-outbreaks-in-the-uk-in-recent-times-39009641.html