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Posts for May 29, 2020

We Have No Idea How Many of the Deaths Attributed to Covid-19 Really Were Due to the Disease’

Dr John Lee, writing in The Spectator (paywall, but free access to a few articles), explains what pathologists do, and goes on to say:

We are still struggling to understand coronavirus. I can think of no time in my medical career when it has been more important to have accurate diagnosis of a disease, and understanding of precisely why patients have died of it. Yet very early on in the epidemic, rules surrounding death certification were changed — in ways that make the statistics unreliable.

We’ve moved from needing two doctors to certify death, to only one if the cause is believed to be Covid-19. And sometimes the ‘cause’ is decided from a statement from care-home staff, who are not usually trained medical professionals.

So at a time when accurate death statistics are more important than ever, the rules have been changed in ways that make them less reliable than ever. In what proportion of Covid-19 ‘mentions’ was the disease actually present? And in how many cases, if actually present, was Covid-19 responsible for death? Despite what you may have understood from the daily briefings, the shocking truth is that we just don’t know. How many of the excess deaths during the epidemic are due to Covid-19, and how many are due to our societal responses of healthcare reorganisation, lockdown and social distancing? Again, we don’t know. Despite claims that they’re all due to Covid-19, there’s strong evidence that many, perhaps even a majority, are the result of our responses rather than the disease itself.

It sometimes seems like we’re trying, as a country, to handle this whole thing as badly as possible.

Boiling a Frog by Christoper Brookmyre (Books 2020, 8)

The last Brookmyre I read was Pandaemonium, in 2010. Before that, his first, Quite Ugly One Morning, before I started writing here. The second of those introduced campaigning journalist Jack Parlabane. There’s another one before this, but you don’t need to read them in order. There are also a stack more.1

Anyway, what’s it like? No bad, as we say in Scotland. It starts off with Parlabane in prison. Part of the story, including how he ended up there, is told in flashback. It’s all set in the early days of the new Scottish Pariliament, around 2000, 2001.

It’s a decent page turner, I can’t deny. My main criticism in writerly terms is about the old ‘show, don’t tell,’ thing, which we’ve discussed here before.

In at least one of those pieces I counsel against setting that injunction in stone. But it’s notable how much of this novel violates or ignores it. For large chunks of the flashbacks we’re told what happens. It’s fine. The writing style flows and it doesn’t feel like infodumps, but I was certainly aware of it.

Worth reading. I’ll probably read more of him, eventually. Still looking for a sequel to Pandaemonium, though.


  1. Apparently I’ve also read Be My Enemy. I don’t remember anything about that one, and I only mentioned it in passing there.