Boris Johnson is right, there’s no sense in death toll comparisons to Europe – so let’s quit now and stop counting

They’ve sacked professor Neil Ferguson, who actually seemed concerned with the numbers. So perhaps now he can be replaced with a philosopher whose response to the daily tally is ‘what is life, really?’

Mark Steel
Thursday 07 May 2020 15:49
Comments
Some lockdown measures could be eased as early as next week, Boris Johnson suggests

What a splendid spirit beams across the land. One newspaper declared “Happy Monday”, on the day we became the country with the worst record in Europe. Because the most important thing is to stay jolly. If we carry on like this for a year, The Sun’s front page will be “Triumph for Britain: there’s still a handful of us left”.

One of the beacons of good news was the government kept its promise of carrying out 100,000 tests a day by the end of April. It included 50,000 tests that were sent out in the post, but they all count. In the same way, I got a job as lead violinist in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Tuesday. I haven’t heard from them, but I sent the application off in the post, so that counts.

Maybe it will turn out the 100,000 tests include geography tests and piano Grade 3 tests and tests to see if there’s an airlock in the radiator, but what sort of miserable traitor would wish to spoil good news like this?

Strangely, it was only on 30 April that the testing figures reached 100,000, no other day has come near it. So it might be possible that we misunderstood and they were determined to announce they’d reached that number on one day only.

In that case, they should have made more of it, with Dominic Raab stood six feet from Holly Willoughby in a studio, with the number flashing at midnight and glitter fired from a canon and Matt Hancock sliding down a giant ventilator while The Proclaimers, standing six feet apart, sing “I’ll do a hundred thousand tests, and I’ll do a hundred thousand more.”

In any case, Boris Johnson made it clear, when asked by Keir Starmer why we had the second-worst record in the world, there was no point in looking at “international comparisons”, for testing and for fatalities.

This could make you wonder why they bother announcing the figures every day, so from now on I suppose they’ll say “Here are today’s figures, but I wouldn’t take any notice of them if I were you. We only give them out because a Far East betting syndicate has millions of dollars riding on whatever number we say.”

Johnson should be in charge of international football tournaments, then if England lose 3-1 to Germany, he can claim we still go through to the next round because it’s stupid to take notice of international comparisons.

But he’s right that there’s no point in comparing our numbers to Spain or Germany, because numbers work differently over there. In Europe, eight means five and four means a circle, so their numbers can’t be compared to ours and that’s one of the reasons we had to leave the EU.

Another issue, Raab explained, is when it comes to counting the fatalities, “Our own Office of National Statistics is widely acknowledged as a world leader.” This is a magnificent patriotic effort, to concoct a nationalist boast out of having the worst figures in Europe, by crowing “This shows we can count quicker than anywhere else.”

Other stupid countries like Greece have low figures because their statistics office stands in the morgue, going “23, 24... what comes next? Oh bollocks, I’ve put the kettle on and lost my place, back to the start.”

Some people might wonder, if the figures have no relation to the actual numbers, wouldn’t someone have noticed? New Zealand says it’s only had 19 fatalities, but perhaps their Office of National Statistics is lazy. So that’s as far as they’ve counted and all human life has ended in Auckland, which is now under the control of antelopes and frogs.

Raab also said we won’t know the real figures “until the pandemic is over”. He’s right there, which is why there’s no point in providing a running tally, we’ll just tot them up at the end. Then we’ll see how well we’ve done, because when it comes to pandemics, we’re like a long-distance runner with an astounding sprint finish. On the last day, France and Denmark and all these places will lose a couple of million and we’ll do so well our numbers of dead will go down and we’ll tie for first place with the Faroe Islands.

Going on to answer another question about our figures overtaking those of Italy, Raab said: “Every death is a tragedy.” That’s enough of an answer to satisfy everyone, surely.

When Harold Shipman was convicted of murdering dozens of people, he should have said: “There’s no point in comparing my numbers to the numbers of people killed by doctors that weren’t serial killers. In any case, every death is a tragedy.”

But there could be one other crucial reason why, despite the pointless numbers that unfairly place us at the bottom, other countries are admiring our “apparent success”.

Because now they’ve sacked professor Neil Ferguson, the scientist who was caught breaking the lockdown rules. He actually seemed concerned with those unreliable “numbers”, that only tell you how many people have been infected or have died.

Perhaps he’s been replaced with a philosopher, so from now on, when Hancock is asked for the daily tally, he’ll hand over to professor Pierre Longchamp, who will say: “Who can be sure – because what – is – death? If we live on in memories, in the unfolding outcomes of our deeds, are we not still alive? If so, we have had no deaths. But if we, with an empty soul, exist day to day with no time for love, for passion, are we truly alive?”

“There you are”, Raab will say, “So from tomorrow it’s safe to all go out for a picnic.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in