Staying Alert?

Yesterday PM finally took what turned out to be faltering steps to sketching the way out of Lock Down . Disappointingly rather than building consensus on way forward his speech and the build up to it confused and left us with more more questions than answers

At the centre of the speech – and ultimately the justification for switching from the clear Stay Home to the vague Stay Alert message – was a new system of Covid Alert Levels . Obviously resembling the Terror Alert System the immediate question is what lies behind the new system and how will it work

No doubt we will learn more over the next few days but the model does raise a number of pressing practical questions – particularly around the R Rate as perceptively raised here by Professor Colin Talbot

In response I offer a couple of thoughts about both the weight the new system places on the R Rate – and the difficulties around that – and any parallels or not with the Terror Level Threat System it appears to resemble

Overall it is my suspicion there is less coherent and deliverable strategic thinking behind this new system than one would want to see . I hope I am proved profoundly wrong . However nothing in the government’s handling of the Covid Crisis so far gives rise to great optimism that this is the point at which the corner has been turned

R Rate is as far as I know assessed through lagging indicators .There is a lack of clarity and sensitivity about the virus’s prevalence in the community

Some of the judgement is based on inference eg Social Distancing observance

Current range between the lower and upper limits of R Rate is .4

It’s difficult to see how timely precise judgements can be made

Imprecision about R Rate is compounded by the extremely narrow margin of error between top end of range ( = suppression )and R 1.1 (= potential exponential spread)

This looks worryingly like the government risks following the same strategic misstep it took in relation to original Mitigation/Controlled Spread Strategy which is :

Seeking to calibrate vitally necessary action on imprecise and lagging data

Turning to the Terror Threat – about which one used to be briefed regularly – threat level was determined through a closed process of detailed analysis of intelligence . Mainly (an impression not something I have checked ) it hovered between Levels 3 and 4, occasionally going to 5 .To reach 5 there would usually would be specific intelligence about threat

Crucially the Alert System had a specific and actionable purpose . Heightening vigilance . This was generally regarded as critical in combatting IRA terror . Furthermore in the context of fighting terror maintaining vigilance was only marginally disruptive to normal life

There are some obvious differences between the practical operation and effect of the two models which raise some testing questions about how effective the new Alert Level System will be as a framework for guiding – and explaining -action

Frankly this looks like a lash up without anything much behind it in terms of coherent and deliverable strategy

More a case of window dressing behind a vague slogan

And in the worst – and most worrying – case presents us with an acute risk of our government repeating same error as it did with Mitigation/Controlled Spread Strategy

Falsely believing it could ride the tiger of viral spread while choosing precisely the right moment to dismount and clamp down on the disease

It was too late last time – costing tens of thousands of avoidable deaths

Please – for all our sakes don’t repeat the same mistake

Comparing the two – disturbingly similar – Alert Level Systems pictured above one would have to conclude that the Periometer on the right was rather better thought out , evidence based and actionable

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