Leaked messages showing Boris Johnson and his advisors deliberating over how many Covid-19 deaths there are likely to be has been described as “thoroughly depressing” by Robert Peston.
The back-and-forth unfolded on a WhatsApp chat between the then-prime minister and senior officials in charge of Government policy during the pandemic.
Johnson – who was responsible for the government’s approach – initially misread the figures, believing that just one in every 2,000 people infected with coronavirus was dying.
The error arose when he thought a figure of 0.04 percent was a percentage.
But Dominic Cummings and Patrick Valance explained that the figure was a probability and translated to four percent, rather than 0.04 per cent.
Johnson said to the group chat: “I have just read somewhere that it has fallen to 0.04 per cent from 0.1 per cent. So by my maths, that is down from one in a thousand to about one in two thousand. (And I seem to remember that when the plague began we thought the fatality rate was one in a hundred)
“So if all 66m people in UK were to be infected we could expect 33,000 deaths. And we have already had 41k. Is that why the death rate is going down? Is it possible that Covid is starting to run out of potential victims? How can we possibly justify the continuing paralysis to control a disease that has a death rate of one in 2000?”
Later in the conversation, Vallance explained: “It seems that the FT figure is 0.04 (ie four percent not 0.04 percent) and is the case fatality rate not the infection fatality rate (which would be 0.4-1% overall).”
Cummings continued: “0.04 as a probability means four percent”, adding: “It’s just confusion of using probability figure or % figure. They aren’t clear. This is a common confusion!”
Johnson simply asked: “Eh?” but there are no more texts available to confirm someone explained the full details to him.
Responding to the leak, Peston said: “If this wasn’t a real conversation between a PM and his scientific and political advisers about a lethal pandemic, it would be funny.
“Sadly it is real and thoroughly depressing.
“Is the teaching of maths at Eton so poor?”
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