Sunday, 19 July 2020

What would have happened if we'd gone into lockdown two weeks earlier?

The Prime Minister + advisor
I had an interesting chat with one of my customers who knows about such things on Friday. The subject was "What would have happened if we'd gone into lockdown two weeks earlier". I got an interesting perspective, one I'd never thought of. If we'd locked down as soon as it became clear that the disease was highly infectious and spreading through our community, and taken an ultra cautious approach, what would have happened? Well it is likely that we'd have had around a quarter of the number of deaths we actually experienced. It is also likely that we'd have been able to emerge from lockdown far more quickly with far less damage to the economy. Possibly people, such as my auntie Audrey would still be alive. As our European friends would not have been influenced, we'd still most likely be having the Champions league played in August, but locally we'd have been out of lockdown far, far earlier, with much less damage to the economy.

But that isn't what we were discussing, marvelous though that scenario would have been. Just suppose the government had been ultra cautious and we'd completely missed the worst of the pandemic, as a result of early lockdown, tight restrictions and a super efficient ramp up of track and trace. What would the Press,the pundits and the twitterati be saying? Sadly, it was suggested that they would all be saying the government bungled the response, closed the economy and the ports for no good reason because nothing much had happened. There are plenty of precedents for this if you care to look. Not least the fact that we've had over 40,000 deaths and some people are still claiming the virus is a hoax. The best example is Y2K. The government and business spent billions on measures to mitigate Y2K and guess what? Nothing happened! Therefore the media has concluded that it was a complete waste of money and a big scam cooked up by the IT industry to make lots of money.

The truth is that a lot of money was spent, we did things properly and that mitigated the risk. Because the job was done, none of the fears occurred. I was working for a debit card processing company at the time. I got a hefty bonus to come in on the night. But I had spent the previous three years working on over 57 major changes to the code to ensure that when you paid for your baked beans in Waitrose the cash went through. I also did work on a Bank ATM system, which had a major upgrade for Y2K. The bank bought a whole new IT system to ensure that it tested all of its transactions end to end, with the new systems repeatedly being run on a future date. All manner of problems were identified and were fixed well in advance. That is the downside of doing your job properly, no one appreciates you.

Perhaps the worst example of this scenario was Germany after the first world war. Despite the carnage and the devastation, there was a school of thought in Germany that they had 'surrendered too easily'. Ultimately this lead to the rise of Nazism and an even more terrible world war. My father was a pilot for bomber command. I once discussed the bombing of cities that Arthur Harris had championed. I felt that the bombing of Dresden was immoral. This troubled my father, who felt that if you hadn't lived through the situation you could possibly understand. He did however make one point which I had to concede. He said that what the RAF had done to Germany had shown the world that if you have bad leaders and they make poor decisions, the whole population suffers. It seems to me that we are seeing this at the moment, what my father didn't realise is that if you have wise and competent leadership, no one really appreciates it because they never see the downside of bad leadership.

It's a bit like car insurance. No one reads the policy, no one checks out how good the service is when we need it, we just buy the cheapest one.Then when we have a smash, we find that they are a company that does everything to avoid paying out. It's only when you need something that you realise you should do things properly and have competent people in charge of important tasks. Whatever we have running the country right now, it isn't a competent team.

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